Short Takes: February 13, 2015

Short Takes: February 13, 2015

An often irreverent look at this week's other news

An often irreverent look at this week's other news. In this edition: N-trig is a hired killer, a plea for better quality control, your living room is bugged, a hotel written, directed and produced by Michael Crichton, in-OS purchases on the horizon, new life for an old celebrity, Threatbook, the illustrious Edward Nigma,  and some time away for a very important reason.

Hired Killer 

In our last issue of Short Takes, I talked about a quick-fire interview that Satya Nadella provided for ABC news last week. One of Satya's rapid responses during the interview was in reply to the question: "what technology do you believe will be obsolete in the future?" Satya fumbled for the response. He stammered for a brief moment and then just as you saw clarity restored in his eyes, he blurted out:  "the - the ink pen."

How brash. How impetuous. How bold.

Apparently, Satya's fumbling was an attempt to say something without actually saying something. Looking back on it now, it seemed a concerted effort not to foil upcoming news and get in trouble with his own legal teams. Now we know, based on this week's development, that Satya was less interested in allowing the ink pen to just fade quietly into history and more intent in pulling the trigger and offering last rites himself. If dealing a death blow to the ink pen was a line item on Satya's bucket list, he had his pen in hand and ready to cross it out. Because, just announced on Thursday, Microsoft acquired N-trig for $200 million or so. N-trig is the Israeli company that invented the technology behind the digital pen that comes with the Surface Pro 3. N-trig will be integrated into a new research and development center that is being built in Israel. So, its obvious to us now why Satya believed the ink pen's days were numbered.

This could put a lot of squid out of work. Get it? Squid. Ink. Oh, never mind.

Stop the Madness, Please

February has rolled in like a lion thanks to the good folks behind the patching mechanisms at Microsoft. January was suspiciously quiet on the Microsoft patching front, with only some minor problems reported. Maybe the company got too cocky, because customers have been scrambling since Tuesday to come terms again with a patching system that is horribly broken. Once again, Microsoft has delivered shoddy updates that seem to have been tested in a grinder instead of a clean room. When will this end?

Some are putting hope behind Windows 10 as the cure-all for Microsoft's degrading patch QC. But, let me warn you now. Let me just put the "I told you so" out there on record. If Microsoft can't deliver good patches now, how will they ever be able to deliver major OS feature updates for Windows 10 that will be constantly bombarding the planet?

The company needs to find some way of putting the "trust" back into Trustworthy Computing. Oh right. The Trustworthy Computing group was disbanded after layoffs last year.

Stalker TV

When I was a kid, it was rumored that somehow the government was able to see you through your television. This was before cable TV even existed and all channels were provided over the UHF and VHF spectrums. TV sets were full of tubes and resistors and no thought was ever given to attaching them to a massive interconnected network. The capability just wasn't there. So, there was absolutely no way it could be true. But, being an imaginative kid that loved Sci-Fi and read stacks of comic books, I believed it anyway. Ah, the innocence of youth.

It didn't stop me from watching TV, but it did actually alter what I did in front of the TV when it was on. It creeped me out then and when I think about it now, it still creeps me out. But, those were just stories that fueled childhood nightmares. To this day I still can't stand naked in front a TV that is powered on. It makes me uncomfortable. And, that's probably a good thing and still a best practice. Here's why…

This week we learn that Samsung's Smart TVs are capable of listening and recording your conversations.

Samsung's privacy policy actually says this:

Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.

This is what happens when everything we own has a connection to the Cloud and we continue callously trading privacy for convenience. There's a fix, but it involves turning off Voice Recognition completely, which effectively turns the Smart TV back into a Dumb TV.

The privacy policy says nothing about passing along naked images, but, thanks Samsung, the nightmares are back.

Even Creepier

The next time you're in Japan, need a place to stay, and don't mind if the staff smells of lubricant, silicon, and polymer you should check out Henn-na Hotel in Nagasaki. The hotel, a 72-room stay-over, is expected to open in 2016 and will be fully staffed with Actroids. Actroids are lifelike robots from Japanese firm Kokoro that can speak Chinese, Japanese, Korean and English, and will soon be able to sweat and show goose-bumps.

The plan is to have a human-free employee environment where the robot will check you in, take your bags, and escort you to your room.

This has shades of Westworld written all over it.

Microsoft Caught Trademarking Windows 365

There's very little news here at the moment, but enough rumor to fuel a rocketship into space. This week a newly surfaced trademark was uncovered from the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office that suggests Microsoft is planning a subscription service for Windows. The trademark, "Windows 365," lends credibility to rumors that Microsoft may offer some type of operating system subscription service sometime soon. As with any trademark filing, the devil is in the details. When a company files to trademark a proposed technology, it will generally include enough extraneous detail to cover any direction the technology eventually undertakes. It gives the company wiggle room to evolve the idea without having to refile later on. But, if you dig deep into this actual filing, you see something new and absolutely telling: operating software as a service (OSAAS).

Allow me to summarize what I believe the potential is here.

Windows 10 will be free for the most part. We know that. But, what we don’t know yet is how Microsoft intends to make money from a free operating system, beyond how the company already makes money through OEM licensing and Enterprise licensing. If you look at the apps in the Windows and Windows Phone store, the ones that include in-app purchases make stacks of money. The apps are free, but to continue playing or to continue to improve your standing, you have to purchase add-ons, extra lives, and other things. I've been caught by this a couple times where I was so embroiled in gameplay that I consciously decided that $10 bucks here or there was worth the price to keep going. $50 later and I felt so much remorse that I uninstalled the game completely and never looked back. I don't like the thought of having an addiction, no matter how minor it seems.

I believe Windows 10 will eventually use this model, delivering paid features inside the OS framework. The core capabilities will still be free, but some extra features might cost you. How Microsoft intends to hook you into it using only OS features and add-ons, is anyone's guess. Those would have to be some seriously excellent and addictive add-ons.

"Hi. My name is Rod. And, I'm a Windowsholic."

Lumia Icon is the Best Windows Phone - Again

Released a year ago, the Lumia Icon was touted as a best-of-breed smartphone and clearly the form factor and features is what made it an overnight success. But, over time, due to Verizon's brash lack of support for Windows Phone, the once great smartphone lost its luster. A lack of updates caused many to shelve the unit and move on to new devices.

After a year of promises and flowery memos, Verizon has finally delivered the most current update to the Lumia Icon this week. I watched yesterday as many who had purchased the Icon, dusted it off, installed the update and decided to use it again.

This has to give hope to former NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams.  If the Lumia Icon can dust itself off and find new life, surely a Peabody Award winner can, too. Unless I'm misremembering the story.

It's Now OK to LIKE Security Threats

Facebook. Yes, Facebook is partnering with Bitly, Dropbox, Pinteretst, Tumblr, Twitter, and Yahoo to launch a new social network designed to connect security experts and companies to allow collaboration about online threats. Called ThreatExchange, the platform will enable security professionals to share threat information from anywhere, with the assumption that the platform will support both online and mobile operations.

This has been tried before – many times. How can a company like Facebook, that relies primarily on ad revenue and that receives so many customer complaints over constantly changing privacy policies lead in helping protect sensitive data? I hope this works out, but I have my doubts.

ThreatExchange, of course, is a great functional name, but I think ThreatBook has a better ring to it.

Riddle Me This, Batman

One of my favorite all time Batman villains is the Riddler. It took some imaginative script writing but, in the TV series that lasted from 1966-1968, whenever the Riddler was on tap as the episode villain you could expect a large slice of carefully and smartly crafted riddles to confound and confuse the Gotham Knight and the Boy Wonder.

This week, Gabe Aul was so inundated with Twitter queries (some, not so nice) asking (almost demanding) when Windows Phone 10 Technical Preview would deliver, that he started channeling the Riddler. Instead of coming clean and directly stating the day and time when the bits would release, Gabe delivered a puzzle…

Are we there yet? Are we there yet?

Fortunately, the riddle wasn't a key that was required to obtain Windows 10 for Windows Phones. It rolled out anyway Thursday afternoon in a limited run.

And, speaking of the rollout. Poor Gabe. He went from Riddle-master to Soup Nazi in the span of about a half an hour. Many on Twitter decided to lambaste Microsoft's decision to limit the first Technical Preview to only a small subset of Lumia phones.

I blame Verizon for the pent up anger (just because I can), but c'mon folks, this is a beta product with lots of known issues. The verbal angst was nothing short of bullying and bellyaching. We're better than that.

And, finally…

Next week, the wife and I are heading back to our point of origin. We celebrate our 25th wedding anniversary on February 24th and will spend next week revisiting our old honeymoon spot. We'll be spending the week soaking in what the Kentucky countryside has to offer, hiking, running, and reminiscing. 25 years, folks. In this day and age, that's a monumental victory and one that I'm extremely proud of.

I'm not ashamed to say that I have absolutely the best wife. If you're not married and are still looking for that perfect someone, you should just give up and settle because I found her. She's my best friend and my lifelong companion. How she puts up with me is beyond my comprehension sometimes. We've shared tough times and joys and she's been the most awesome mother to our four kids.

But, while I'm really looking forward to our excursion next week, I'm also fully aware that I will probably not have Internet service the entire time. That, to me, is almost painful. But, it will definitely make celebrating our silver anniversary much more unique and intimately ours.

So, you probably won't see me online at all next week and Short Takes will be handled by our very own Richard Hay. Richard is doing an awesome job providing great news and content over on the Supersite these days. You remember recently that Paul Thurrott gave up the site to venture out on his own, but with Richard's help the Supersite's traffic continues to build beyond anything it has experienced before. That's saying something. So, I leave you in good hands.


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