technology

Now that 2014 has come to a close, we can definitively say that the PC market has turned around in the US, growing 5% after years of decline.

Without much category competition, PC innovation grew stagnant over the decades. Then tablets came and easily beat PCs that catered to low cost, light computing needs. PC makers tried new things, but the technology wasn’t ready. New, experimental devices were either too heavy, too slow, too short on battery life or too expensive. Windows 8’s bad reputation certainly didn’t help.

2014 was a comeback because the entire PC value curve shifted upwards significantly. You got far better PCs for a given price, and customers — now used to great smartphones and tablets — demanded and expected quality. Only the top PC makers met that expectation.

Meanwhile, the tablet form factor saw little change so naturally, it made sense for customers to upgrade their old PCs for a dramatically better experience. The tablets they already had were just fine.

Now that we are on the brink of “good enough” convergence between PCs and tablets, I expect the hybrid form factor to grow even more as people seek to save money and do work on their tablets.

Last year, I consistently beat the gong for big display smartphones, and that was before the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus made the notion popular. This year I am beating the gong for hybrid devices.

Well, that was a longer lead-in than I expected to write. On with actual numbers from IDC.

Read Full Article

Think you’re good at poker? Well then, I’ll wager you can’t beat this robot 1-on-1. Developers and researchers from Alberta University have created Cepheus, a self-learning poker AI that’s supposedly unbeatable.

It became good by stimulating literally billions of poker games, and then learning from each one. 10,000 hours of experience is a flash in the pan compared to the education Cepheus gave itself.

If you’d like to try to take down the tech monster, you can here.

So this is cool, but when you think about it, it’s also really scary. This is just poker. One day, technology would have advanced enough that an AI can run billions of simulations about anything and learn everything — it won’t need stupid, slow humans to teach them.

Self-learning AI will either usher in an unprecedented golden age for humanity…or doom us as an obsolete species.

A teenager wrote about how teens use social media and it’s fascinating. It’s based off his experiences and observations of peers, so perhaps the sample size is limited, but it’s well written and insightful in connecting human psyche to products. It’s worth a read, and if you’d like the TL:DR here it is…

  • Nobody really shares on Facebook, but it’s weird to not be on it
  • Everyone is on Instagram — it’s a high quality experience
  • Few understand Twitter
  • Teens like Snapchat because they can be themselves, they don’t really care about privacy or security
  • Tumblr is about anonymity
  • Yik Yak is great for schools and maybe not elsewhere
  • Women use Pinterest

One thing I do wonder about is the premise of the article — the fascination the tech punditry have about teenagers, their behavior and what products they use. Knowing what teens like is good data of course, because they tend to be early adopters and can signal what everyone else will eventually use; moreover, they’ll grow older and eventually comprise the mass market.

However, their importance in the grand scheme of things is a little exaggerated. Teen obsession doesn’t always translate into to adult obsession. Off the top of my head: Pokémon, One Direction, Cancun and existential angst.

Read Full Article

There’s a cat fight happening between Google and Microsoft. Basically, Google has a policy to publicly disclose any bugs it finds within 90 days of informing the software provider. In this case, it was a bug in Windows that allowed a person’s system to be taken over. It’s not easy to do, but possible nevertheless.

The 90 window passed with still no fix from Microsoft, so Google went ahead and published the bug for all hackers to learn. Microsoft did issue a fix just two days after Google went public, and obviously isn’t happy with Google. As a Microsoft representative wrote:

Although following through keeps to Google’s announced timeline for disclosure, the decision feels less like principles and more like a “gotcha”, with customers the ones who may suffer as a result. . .What’s right for Google is not always right for customers. We urge Google to make protection of customers our collective primary goal.”

So who’s right, who’s wrong?

Read Full Article

When I moved out of the US, one of the things I missed was Netflix. I considered keeping my subscription and streaming via VPN, but decided I needed to cut down on TV anyway and so canceled the subscription. I do have friends in similar situations who opted to keep subscribing, signing up for VPN services so they can watch in countries where Netflix is not present.

Unfortunately, according to TorrentFreak, it appears Netflix is now cracking down on customers using VPN to watch its shows. Note, that they are in fact customers.

This is in likelihood due to pressure from studios, who often have geography-focused licensing schemes. So if you’re in Australia, for example, that show you saw on Netflix via VPN was likely paid for by an Australian operator to show in Australia. I.e., it presents a lost profit opportunity for the Australian operator.

So Netflix cracking down on VPN use is perfectly fine, in my view. It’s their prerogative to structure their business however they see fit. What I do take issue with is these same Australian operators calling customers who watch via VPN as “pirates,” as if they are criminals breaking the law.

Highlighting how the TV networks view these people, an article this morning in News Corp-owned The Australian went as far as labeling subscribers as “pirates”, even though they are paying for the service.

It’s a little offensive if you think about it, and I’m not even part of the group being slandered.

Read Full Article

Lizard Squad is pissing me off. First, because I couldn’t play Destiny or go on the PlayStation Network for several days because the hacker group launched DDoS attacks that brought it down. Second, because it appears at least one or them did it for money, and small money at that.

According to The Guardian, Lizard Squad launched Lizard Stresser, a service that can be used to take down any website or network for only $6, upwards to $500. The attacks on Sony and Microsoft were supposedly a “huge marketing scheme” for this DDoS service.

How…incredibly short sighted. $6?? A good coder can earn so much more doing something legitimate. The world is your oyster and the best thing you can do is charge peanuts to do evil?

The thought of every Dick and Jane spending just a few bucks to cause havoc over the smallest slight is disturbing.

Read Full Article

The hype for Bitcoin was almost oppressive earlier this year. I took a look and concluded it was too early to be a mainstream opportunity: it’s not consumer friendly, not widely accepted and worse, too extreme in its volatility for most to stomach.

Yet, hundreds of millions poured into Bitcoin – from rose colored speculators to blue chip venture capitalists.

Bloomberg’s recent study is a fresh reminder that hype does not always translate into immediate payoffs. Bitcoin was actually the worst performing currency of 2014, having lost 56% of its value from last year.

Read Full Article