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.

Recall of Apple AC Wall Plug Adapters

apple-acIf you live in Australia, Argentina, Brazil, Continental Europe, New Zealand or South Korea, and own an AC wall adepter that came with your iPhone, iPad, iPod or Mac device, you may want to read below:

CUPERTINO, California — 29 January 2016— Apple® today announced a voluntary recall of AC wall plug adapters designed for use in Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Continental Europe, New Zealand and South Korea. In very rare cases, affected Apple two-prong wall plug adapters may break and create a risk of electrical shock if touched. These wall plug adapters shipped with Mac® and certain iOS devices between 2003 and 2015 and were also included in the Apple World Travel Adapter Kit. Apple is aware of 12 incidents worldwide.


The recall does not affect any other Apple AC wall plug adapters designed for Canada, China, Hong Kong, Japan, United Kingdom, United States or any Apple USB power adapters.
 
Because customer safety is the company’s top priority, Apple is asking customers to stop using affected plug adapters. Customers should visit www.apple.com/support/ac-wallplug-adapter for details about how to exchange the affected adapters for new, redesigned ones.
 
An affected two-prong plug adapter has either four or five characters or no characters on the inside slot where it attaches to the main Apple power adapter. Visit the program website for more details on how to identify an affected adapter.

Vinyl From The Vault: Gilles Pellegrini 12 Hits No.76

An ongoing series showcasing less common albums and their covers

French pop covers record – no. 76 in the series. No year displayed but given there’s covers of Elton John’s Nikita and Lionel Richie’s Say You Say Me, it was released circa 1986-1987:

gilles-pellegrini-12hits-no.76

Dune Turns 50: Is It Still Relevant?

illustdnEarlier this year, Frank Herbert’s  “Dune” celebrated fifty years since it was first published in novel form – it had previously been serialised in Analog magazine from 1963. My first exposure to the Dune universe came through the David Lynch movie, and I got my first copy of the first book shortly after that. As a teenager, I found myself reading the book as a novelisation that wasn’t written by Alan Dean Foster. Over the next decade or so, the novel was on my high rotation – I read it at least every other year – and I started to discover the other themes and ideas.

As a man now in his forties talking about a book I’ve read since my teens, the question becomes: is it still relevant? Some would say the basic premise – a bunch of fanatical killers sitting on the edge of the desert waiting to destroy civilisation – would be fairly relevant, given recent events. However, there is more to this book than that. There is enviromental change,  politics, leadership, hero worship, the dangers of messiah, addiction,  and resource management. I read the novel this year, and discovered that many of the ideas in book are something that have become part of my philosophy in life. When you look around and see the blind worship of those we see as heroes, and how that power can be harnessed and abused, Dune remains very relevant. Many have commented on the ecological side of the novel, which is certainly a main theme – but given the feudal universe in the novel, there is a lot of deception; something the characters note to themselves as they talk about feints within feints and plans within plans.

And what of the novel? It can come across as a little simple.  The noble good Atreides , the evil Harkonnens headed by a pedophile, the servile Fremen Stilgar . These characters can sometimes come across as a little wooden in places, placing plaititudes here and there. Once the novel gets going, they do tend to flesh out a little better , espically Paul and his struggle with who and what he is becoming. Where the novelt excels is in description – although describing a desert doesn’t seem all that hard in theory –  Herbert created an ecosystem that was logical and true to itself. There are prey and predators, all evolved to survive in the desert and to hunt every trace of moisture they can.

Away from the planet, there is a formed society of kings, dukes, merchants, spacing guilds, sisterhoods, the whole shebang. The shaping of this larger universe is helped by the use of quotes of fictitious books at the start of each section which not only sum up the theme of the next bit, but expand our understanding of the larger universe. The impression created is that this story takes place in a book bigger than it actually is.

This is a book that has maintained its appeal over the years because there is so much in it. You can read it as I first did – a rollicking Space Opera – and then read it again and see the subtle things going on in the book. If you haven’t read “Dune” in the last twelve months, do yourself a favour. Read it.

Apple Mail and POP Account Offline in El Capitan

Since upgrading to OSX El Capitan, I noticed one of my POP accounts keeps going offline. That account is hosted on Godaddy and after some web trawling it seems that Godaddy hosted POP email accounts won’t play nicely with Apple Mail under El Capitan. This may be the case with other hosting providers as well.

Thankfully, the solution is simple. Go to Preferences in Apple Mail and under the ‘Advanced’ tab there’s an option labeled ‘Automatically detect and maintain account settings’. If you
uncheck that box, your account will start working again.

Here’s a screen shot example:

Accounts

I hope that’s of some help!

My Teen Is Moody – Is It Normal?

Some reassuring news from science this week, on the mood swings of teens. A Dutch study published in Child Development has a bunch of outcomes that should put at least some parents’ minds at ease:

Most Teen Mood Swings Decline with Age

Adolescence is typically regarded as a period of heightened emotionality. Although the teen years are an important time for youth to learn to regulate their emotions, little research has looked at the development of teens’ emotional stability. Now a new longitudinal study has found that adolescents’ mood swings decline gradually as they get older, which should reassure parents about their moody teens while also helping identify when instability is considered risky and requires intervention.

The study, conducted by researchers at VU University Amsterdam, the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, Utrecht University, and Tilburg University, all in the Netherlands, appears in the journal Child Development.

“We found that early adolescence is the period of the greatest volatility, but adolescents gradually stabilize in their moods,” according to Hans M. Koot, professor of developmental psychology at VU University Amsterdam and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, a coauthor of the study. “An important message to teens, parents, and teachers is that temporary mood swings during early adolescence might actually be normal and aren’t necessarily a reason to worry.”

Researchers followed 474 middle- to high-income Dutch adolescents from ages 13 to 18. Forty percent of these adolescents were at high risk for externalizing behaviors (e.g., aggressive or delinquent behavior) at age 12. Using Internet diaries, the teens rated their daily moods in terms of happiness, anger, sadness, and anxiety during three weeks of the school year for five years (that is, a total of 15 weeks spread over five years). Using these daily assessments, the researchers calculated fluctuations in day-to-day mood and then analyzed whether these showed any developmental changes across the five-year period.

During the course of adolescence, teens’ moods became more stable for happiness, anger, and sadness, the study found. Although girls had higher variability than boys in happiness and sadness, the rate of change across adolescence was similar for both sexes.

The researchers posited that teens’ moods could become more stable because events that are new in early adolescence (such as first romances, which can be exciting, and conflicts with parents about leisure time, which can be frustrating) happen less frequently as teens grow older. And it’s likely that adolescents figure out over time how to deal more effectively with changes in their moods.

Anxiety was the only mood that didn’t fit in with this overall pattern. The variability in teens’ anxious moods waxed and waned, with an initial increase, then a decrease, followed by an increase again toward the end of adolescence. This trend could be explained by the transition toward adulthood, the researchers suggest, which might induce more anxiety swings in late adolescence due to teens’ increasing responsibilities (such as leaving school, going on to higher education, or getting a job).

“In general, heightened mood variability will eventually pass,” notes Dominique F. Maciejewski, a Ph.D. student at VU University Amsterdam and the EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research, and the study’s first author. “By demonstrating that most teens get less moody across adolescence, our study provides a solid basis for identifying adolescents who develop in a deviant way. In particular, teens who continue to be extremely moody or who get even moodier across adolescence may need to be monitored more closely since earlier studies have shown that extreme mood swings are related to more emotional, behavioral, and interpersonal problems.”

So there you have it – though there’s one very important point to make. You are likely to know your teen best so if you think something’s up, then perhaps there is an issue to discuss or get help for. If in doubt, seek guidance from a qualified professional such as a psychologist, counsellor or general practitioner.

[For the research nerds to full citation is: Child Development, A Five-Year Longitudinal Study on Mood Variability Across Adolescence using Daily Diaries by Maciejewski, DF, van Lier, PAC (VU University Amsterdam and EMGO Institute for Health and Care Research), Branje, SJT (Utrecht University), Meeus, WHJ (Utrecht University and Tilburg University), and Koot, HM (VU University Amsterdam and EMGO Institute for Health Care Research). Copyright 2015 The Society for Research in Child Development, Inc. All rights reserved.]

Is Skype Dead? Why Yes It Is

Update: Skype came back online for a few minutes at 11.30am AEST but is down again now.

In case you hadn’t heard, for the past half a dozen hours and counting, Skype has been dead:

Cursor_and_Skype_Support___SkypeSupport____Twitter

The said the fix is hopefully close, but in the meantime queue the Microsoft gags….

Can’t Find The Apple News App On Your iOS 9 Device? Here’s Why

Happy man distracted when reading a newspaper.

No News App FOR YOU!

Today I downloaded iOS 9 for one reason only: to check out the News app and see how it compared to the third-party options out there. After installing iOS 9 I was surprised to find no news app. After trawling for a while online for reasons why, I then resorted to asking friends on Facebook.

Thankfully Macworld Australia’s editor pointed me in the right direction: Australia alongside a bunch of other countries don’t have content deals sealed, so it’s no News app for us.

Not happy but not surprised when i think about it. Now it’s a waiting game on how long it takes. Anyone want to place wagers on 2016 or 2017?

[Huge hat tip to Macworld Australia Magazine]

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