New iDongle Universal Adapter

With the mission Apple is on with removing as many ports from their products as possible, it’s time for a universal adapter to make everyone’s life easier:

idongle-apple

 

Cyndi Lauper As You’ve Never Heard Her Before

cyndi_lauper_-_i_drove_all_night_-_youtubeI’ve been a fan of Cyndi Lauper’s for more than thirty years and over that time it’s been amazing to watch how she’s continued to go from strength to strength.

Her voice is as brilliant as it’s ever been and it got me thinking. I saw someone had done a 33rpm upload of Dolly Parton’s Jolene and I immediately wanted to try the same with one of Cyndi Lauper’s songs. And what a gem it’s turned out to be.

Check out I Drove All Night on vinyl at 33rpm.

What do you think? Would love to hear your thoughts

Review: Hole In Your Pocket – The Panics

562871_5f525ddd5b5c43b78b6c255a2e7ab09bmv2_d_2000_2000_s_2I don’t know what it is specifically about WA-bred bands, but they know how to write some big songs.

As someone who rates The Triffids as one of the best bands to ever come out of Australia, I’m more than willing to put The Panics in that company. And they’ve produced enough great songs to give Born Sandy Devotional one hell of a run for its money. Yes that’s a big call but i stand by it.

Hole In Your Pocket is the fifth album from The Panics and it’d be unfair to say they’ve hit their stride as that arguably happened more than five years ago. This album is polished without sounding self-assured and passionate without being florid. Cinematic is a term often applied to this group and it’s for good reason – the scope of these songs vary but they all feel like significant events.

Highlights for me are Carparks of Greschen, Not Apart, Not Together and the first release from the album, Weatherman. That said, at nine songs the album has no flab anyway so it’s an academic exercise finding outright favourites.

If you’re after fist-pumping four to the floor rock then look elsewhere – although this outfit are no slouches in the live arena either from the couple of gigs I’ve seen. They’re about to hit the road in coming months in support of the album.

If you like some real meat on the bones of your rock music, then you may just want to check out Hole In Your Pocket and pretty much every other release from these guys.

Check out Weatherman right now:

The 2016 Hugo Awards: An Overview

Introduction___The_Hugo_AwardsThe Hugos are on again, and I’ve managed to read the novels. The range this year is varied, with series science, high action fantasy, and completely original takes on old themes on the nomination list.

First of all, I have to say that I have avoided getting into the problems that the various puppy groups have bought to the Hugos. It’s not a question of do I think they are right or wrong – personally, the points that they bring up about the direction of the genre prove we have a  living genre that is always evolving.  Instead, I have taken each book on its merits and have been impressed this year with the overall quality of the writing. If this was an award based entirely on writing ability, the decisions for those voting would be difficult given the high level of writing. What I did find was five varied novels, although this year the nominations seemed to lean towards fantasy, with three of the five in that setting. It was the settings that impressed , be it the steampunk of the Cinder Spires, the barren rocks of the Fifth season, or Russian folklore of Uprooted, all three are good fantasy novels, and were reading time well spent. Leaving Ancillery Mercy and Seveneves.

 Ancillery Mercy, the closing of a trilogy, continued to an ending that was nice and clean. Seveneves was a wonderful, well-written book, let down by a final act that could have been removed without ruining the novel.

So which is the best? I looked back at the previous winners, and those that I have read. It seemed to me that the Hugo award should go to a novel that was original in content, with well written characters, and taking place in a possible world that made sense within itself and presented the reader with some wonder.

This narrows possibilites down. Uprooted, The Fifth Season and Seveneves seemed to fulfill these criteria the best.

Which makes the final cut difficult. Which one will win? Often, it appears winning the Nebula is pretty good indication of Hugo results, in which case, Uprooted would the be pick.

However, after reading it, my mind keeps coming back to the images that Seveneves  put in there. The cramped living quarters so close to the vastness of the universe, as well as the science it explained along the way. This was a novel that extrapolated the current situation, and made it credible. In terms of a science fiction novel, this one fulfills all the needs that we have when we read one.

Which is why my personal feeling is that Seveneves should be the one to win the Hugos this year.

Review: The Cinder Spires – The Aeronaut’s Windlass

jim-butcher-aeronauts-windlass-cover-530x800Jim Butcher does fantasy and does it very well. In The Aeronaut’s Cutlass, Butcher shows how well. In the fantasy world he sets up, the population live in a number of spires which are accessed through airships.

Once this is set up, the action starts, as an attack is launched between two spires, and the pace barely slows from there.  In a fantasy novel, the setting is the major thing. The steampunk setting is very well realised with the information dumps and techncal details kept to a bare minimum. The canvas for the story is  easy to picture thanks to Butcher’s descriptions. What I found interesting was that I saw all this in an Anime setting, which is not something I usually do.

Caught up in all the action are spire guards, half crazed magicians, intelligent cats, and a disgraced air ship captain. The characters that we meet are all so very confident of themselves and of those around them, which results in not much personality depth. However, given the fun that this book is to read, it can be quickly forgiven. This is the first book of a series and sets the tone and the world very well. With the high adventure and enjoyable characters, this novel would not be out of place sitting next to your David Eddings.

Review: Seveneves by Neal Stephenson

sevenevesThe name of Neal Stephenson is one that has come across my desk and various internet feeds over the last couple of decades, and was always on my to do list. With his newest novel, Seveneves, I get to tick that box.

Stephenson starts the novel with the moon being destroyed. After that, things get worse. With characters based on Neil Degrasse Tyson,Elon Musk and Hilary Clinton, you know that things are going to be interesting. This is certainly true during the first two thirds of the book. As the human race deals with the consequences of the explosion, characters appear that are well developed, as is the habitat they now live in. There are sections here where Stephenson’s descriptions are so good, you start to feel the claustrophobia, smell the unclean people, and see gaunt figures moving around. That’s not to say that is entirely engrossing. To start with, there are information dumps on orbital mechanics; if you were looking for a primer on the subject, this would be a good place to start.

It is the ending where this novel is really let down. If a reader was to close the book and walk away before the final act, they would end with an ambigious ending that would have made this story a near perfect science fiction novel. Instead, we get this last act which feels almost tacked on. While it is interesting, it felt unnecessary.

If you are looking for a piece of hard science fiction, this would have to be one of the best examples around at the moment. It extraplolates current science and throws in some well developed characters, but is disappointed by its final act.

Review: Uprooted by Naomi Novik

us-uprooted-e1433948641794When a novel starts with a dragon taking a girl, you may begin to suspect that you are about to slip into a few hundred pages of cliches .

In Naomi Novik’s Uprooted, you can feel at times that this is the case. Novik draws on Eastern European mythology for the framework of this story, and this was helped by the narration on the audio book by Julia Emelin’s accent. Given how many tropes are floating through the book – village girl plucked from mundane life, powerful wizards,  an ancient evil that must be defeated – it is very easy to see where this book is going to go.

Don’t let this dissuade you though. By not having to spend as much time on the story, Novik is able to spend more time creating a unique world , which becomes very vivid. Given the story, there are milestones that are expected to be reached, and the reader is guided to each as the main character grows from the simple village girl to where she’s gotten to by the end of the novel. Along the way, characters are introduced and developed with the care that is required for you to really feel for them. This is where Novik is at her best. Despite feeling that this story is familiar, I found myself caring for these people, and any interruption to the audio presentation was seen as annoying .

Overall, for those who enjoy a rip snorting fantasy that’s light on the politics but has a  coherent mythology, then this one’s for you. And it’s contained in a rarity for the genre – a single book.

Review: Ancillary Mercy by Ann Leckie

Ancillary_Mercy_CoverWhen you get to the last installment of a trilogy, you expect big things. This is the installment that ties up loose ends, and completes a character’s journey.

In Ancillary Mercy, Anne Leckie manages to do both of these. The action here picks up a few weeks after 2014’s Ancillary Sword, with much of the first few chapters dealing with the immediate aftermath of that novel. It then moves into a holding pattern, with various other tasks at hand, as the novel waits for the Empire at war with themselves to arrive.

That’s not to say that this makes the novel uninteresting. As a world building exercise, this novel certainly expands the universe that the Ancillary Trilogy lives in, and Leckie should be congratulated for creating such a vivid, true enviroment for the characters to inhabit. During all this, the confusion of Breq with gender continues, and despite the idea of journey the character never seems to be any hurry to try remedy this situation. Since the story is told from Breq’s view, everyone being referenced in the female can make it feel like this is a world only of women.

The climax  is something that seemed like it was going to be massive. Without going into spoilers, it isn’t. Overall Leckie has certainly shown herself to be a talent to look for in the future, and one that I will certainly read when her name comes across my desk. As for this novel ? Well, I would say it is a satisfactory ending to the trilogy, with enough room for this universe to be revisited.

Sometimes CEOs earn their money

Customer_Letter_-_AppleYes it definitely does occur: even some of our highest paid CEOs earn their money sometimes. Apple CEO Tim Cook probably has certainly earned some of his stash the past few months if the open letter he’s just published is any indication.

The full text is below (or the original can be found here). The summary: according to Apple the FBI have asked them to create a version of iOS that has some back doors that the FBI could use to access a suspect’s data. Apple have said no. My guess is that Apple have had to say no multiple times and are still feeling pressured so have published the open letter.

For what it’s worth I think Cook’s stance is correct. For sure they should be helping authorities on a case by case basis, but having an alternate version of iOS with holes in it is a recipe for disaster. What do you think?

A Message to Our Customers
The United States government has demanded that Apple take an unprecedented step which threatens the security of our customers. We oppose this order, which has implications far beyond the legal case at hand.

This moment calls for public discussion, and we want our customers and people around the country to understand what is at stake.

The Need for Encryption
Smartphones, led by iPhone, have become an essential part of our lives. People use them to store an incredible amount of personal information, from our private conversations to our photos, our music, our notes, our calendars and contacts, our financial information and health data, even where we have been and where we are going.

All that information needs to be protected from hackers and criminals who want to access it, steal it, and use it without our knowledge or permission. Customers expect Apple and other technology companies to do everything in our power to protect their personal information, and at Apple we are deeply committed to safeguarding their data.

Compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk. That is why encryption has become so important to all of us.

For many years, we have used encryption to protect our customers’ personal data because we believe it’s the only way to keep their information safe. We have even put that data out of our own reach, because we believe the contents of your iPhone are none of our business.

The San Bernardino Case
We were shocked and outraged by the deadly act of terrorism in San Bernardino last December. We mourn the loss of life and want justice for all those whose lives were affected. The FBI asked us for help in the days following the attack, and we have worked hard to support the government’s efforts to solve this horrible crime. We have no sympathy for terrorists.

When the FBI has requested data that’s in our possession, we have provided it. Apple complies with valid subpoenas and search warrants, as we have in the San Bernardino case. We have also made Apple engineers available to advise the FBI, and we’ve offered our best ideas on a number of investigative options at their disposal.

We have great respect for the professionals at the FBI, and we believe their intentions are good. Up to this point, we have done everything that is both within our power and within the law to help them. But now the U.S. government has asked us for something we simply do not have, and something we consider too dangerous to create. They have asked us to build a backdoor to the iPhone.

Specifically, the FBI wants us to make a new version of the iPhone operating system, circumventing several important security features, and install it on an iPhone recovered during the investigation. In the wrong hands, this software — which does not exist today — would have the potential to unlock any iPhone in someone’s physical possession.

The FBI may use different words to describe this tool, but make no mistake: Building a version of iOS that bypasses security in this way would undeniably create a backdoor. And while the government may argue that its use would be limited to this case, there is no way to guarantee such control.

The Threat to Data Security
Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

A Dangerous Precedent
Rather than asking for legislative action through Congress, the FBI is proposing an unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority.

The government would have us remove security features and add new capabilities to the operating system, allowing a passcode to be input electronically. This would make it easier to unlock an iPhone by “brute force,” trying thousands or millions of combinations with the speed of a modern computer.

The implications of the government’s demands are chilling. If the government can use the All Writs Act to make it easier to unlock your iPhone, it would have the power to reach into anyone’s device to capture their data. The government could extend this breach of privacy and demand that Apple build surveillance software to intercept your messages, access your health records or financial data, track your location, or even access your phone’s microphone or camera without your knowledge.

Opposing this order is not something we take lightly. We feel we must speak up in the face of what we see as an overreach by the U.S. government.

We are challenging the FBI’s demands with the deepest respect for American democracy and a love of our country. We believe it would be in the best interest of everyone to step back and consider the implications.

While we believe the FBI’s intentions are good, it would be wrong for the government to force us to build a backdoor into our products. And ultimately, we fear that this demand would undermine the very freedoms and liberty our government is meant to protect.

Tim Cook

Review: Aurora by Kim Stanley Robinson

aurora-ksrKim Stanley Robinson’s latest novel tells the story of a multi-generational voyage to Tau Ceti, and what happens when the craft gets there. Robinson’s novel is a well researched piece of fiction and he manages to do this whilst avoiding esoteric information dumps.

We follow the life of Freya, in the beginning a teenage girl on the craft, as she experiences attempts to colonise, then maturing into a woman as the events reach their climax. The story is bookended by an omniscent voice, but  the main part of the novel is narrated by the ship’s Artificial Intelligence. This is where it can sometimes get a little odd, as there is the occasional discourse on the varying aspects of language, story telling, and logic. These ponderings by the AI have the potential to bring the story to a standstill, but Robinson manages to keep them short and easily understood.

As the story progresses, we not only follow Freya growing up, but the narrator also grows with the course of the novel. I listened to the audio version, which was narrated by Ali Ahn. She does a good job of pacing the spoken word – it is young males that are her only challenge, with the three that Freya interacts with all sounding the same to me.

The final part of the novel was not an ending that felt satisfactory. If it had ended in the previous section, it would have finished on a bit of a downer, and yet an optimistic note with all journeys completed .

Overall, if you enjoy good character driven science fiction that will make you think, I would recommend it.

Previous Posts