KishCom

Developer. Gamer. Yo-Yo Thrower.

We Let Companies Own Us

There are two types of people in the world today: People who control technology and people who let technology control them. Rarely is there a middle ground. The gap between the two is ever widening because there is a good amount of money out there for companies that want to control your whole computing experience. Sadly, the people who control technology are far fewer in number than the number of people who let technology control them.

The most prominent example of this phenomenon is with cell phones. The iPhone has such a dominant grasp on our culture so many things are glossed over in the name of marketing hype, peer pressure and nice aesthetics. It doesn’t even matter that the hardware powering the latest iteration of iPhone is roughly equivalent to last years Windows Mobile and Android devices – it’s already old technology! It’s using “new” features borrowed from the last version of Android, but yet continues to dominate the market. If you take a close look it’s not hard to ascertain why. It’s the same reason RIM has held on so long, a kind of technical ‘peer pressure’ (“Oh, you don’t have a BBM messenger PIN?”, “Oh, you can’t Facetime with me?”, “Why won’t you follow me on Instagram?”). Nevermind that all of these technical feats are available on every platform with different names – the fact that your friends have this particular flavour and you don’t is enough for 90% of people to go out and plunk down a whack of cash for out-of-date hardware bundled with secret police spies-on-you software (Claim it doesn’t all you want, but how can you ever really know what’s going on under the hood? Especially in light of recent NSA revelations).

The digital revolution is here (it has been for almost a decade), and it’s getting bigger – not just physically, but bigger parts of our whole lives in general. If people decide to remain technologically illiterate they will be left behind. Left behind not just in a “hard to find a job” sense, but things like: stuck paying (and re-paying) for videos/music locked with “Digital Rights Management” (DRM), forced to watch more ads, becoming a prisoner to whatever company you clicked “I Agree” with. Your ‘common’ hardware/software will be the ones most susceptible to attack (your wetware will also be more susceptible to phishing and other scams).

A friend of mine works at a large media conglomerate retail store and we were having a discussion about just how many people upgrade cell phones without fully knowing or understanding what it is they’re getting (or even why they need it). Not even wilfully either, I think some people just feel overwhelmed and almost desperate to keep up, so in an attempt to do so just go out and get what their friends have (knowing they can get ‘support’ from them easier than manuals/call-centers if they need it). This also led to people coming in to the store and asking about “the iPhone with the most gee-bees” – having no idea what a gigabyte is, what it does, or what having more means – just that higher numbers are “better”. These are the people who let technology control them, and it’s about 80% of people (that statistical data provided by The Institute of My Own Meandering Experiences).

I feel stuck. On the one hand, I want nothing more than to show these people the other options, to teach them how to choose properly. On the other hand, no one is interested in learning, things are expected to “just work” (a euphemism for “don’t ask me to troubleshoot problems”). I understand; people have priorities other than learning what SSL is, or what open source is, or what meta-data is — but these things are creeping farther and farther into our lives, are you really OK with not knowing? Are you OK just throwing money at a problem until it “just works” again (regardless if it’s done right)?

Nifcee and The Internet of Things

I’ve been working on a side project for the past 10 months. It’s something I’m really excited about, something I feel like can actually change how we physically interact with the internet. It involves two fairly new concepts you have to be familiar with: NFC and “the internet of things”. First of all, let me introduce my company…

Nifcee
Nifcee is my brand new startup: a platform for users to take advantage of NFC in their day to day lives (beyond just mobile payments). Using Nifcee, users can create, write, share, and track NFC tags using our web platform, Android app, Blackberry app, and Windows Phone 8 app (all apps are currently in closed beta). iPhones are the only major smartphones out right now that are not NFC capable. Nifcee also has a developer SDK and API – this means that web developers can easily develop their own types of NFC tags and take advantage of the built-in real-time tracking and analytics Nifcee has for all it’s tags (don’t worry, your privacy is safe). The whole idea is to enable ideas that sound like this: “I’d like to tap my phone on a ___________ and have it ___________” — fill in the blanks and build it with Nifcee!

What is NFC?

I blogged about it before, but for a very short answer just watch this 20 second video.

In this case tap on my Nifcee sticker, opens the Nifcee website. You can do so much more than just open websites. You can think of NFC tags as almost a kind of wireless usb memory drive that’s really really small in size and capacity. Nifcee started building a platform for web developers to make their own NFC “payloads”, they get to write their own data structure to tags. This means they can utilize the entire NDEF specification through simple JavaScript and HTML, as well as getting to tie into the built in real-time analytics system.

What is “The Internet of Things”?

The Internet of Things is the idea that everyday devices and objects are fully integrated with the Web. I call it the “thingernet” because it’s the layer of the internet network that is real, physical things. Tapping your phone on a movie poster to watch the trailer and buy tickets is only the first step. Watch this 2 minute video that explains the idea.

I have a great vision for Nifcee on the much longer term. I see NFC as the beginning of the “internet of things”. With this in mind, I built Nifcee as a platform that will easily allow users to integrate other internet connected “things” to their Nifcee cloud account — your personal “network of things” managed in a Nifcee account. The Nifcee closed beta right now is just NFC based, thingernet stuff is always on my mind though.

As if this wasn’t enough, my day job is another startup where I get to build a different kind of amazing new technology (Viafoura! But that’s for another post…) AND we’ve got a whole floor in an awesome incubator (The Ryerson DMZ! But again: for another post…). Being this immersed in startup culture, it’s hard not to get excited. It’s unlike any other job experience I’ve ever had.

The future holds some amazing things — and I’m helping build them.

A brief update to my long ignored blog

I don’t update KishCom.com as much as I should. I tweet far more than I blog, so if you want to get more of me, you should follow me on Twitter.

Since September for work I’ve been completely immersed in startup culture, it’s fantastic. To get an idea of what I’m working on there, checkout the video. Outside of work in my spare time I’ve been working on something great I can’t wait to show off very soon! 2013 looks good already!

Extra! Extra! Read All About It!

Being a digital frontier kind of guy it might surprise you to know my life has been fairly intertwined with newspapers. Way back in 1990, my parents decided the state of our little towns newspaper was insufficient (Bothwell Ontario, population 900, where I spent the first 16 years of my life). I remember them telling me that in our area, all the papers for the majority of tiny communities like ours were printed by one company. That often, aside from the front page, there was no actual content about our little town. If I remember correctly, because my Dad had just finished at FRAM engineering they decided they could do better and set out to make their new business a newspaper for our community. I don’t recall what the name of our actual first publication was, but it was intentionally something generic because we planned to hold a naming contest. A few weeks/editions into it, I clearly remember in our first temporary office (an old auto/welding shop in the middle of town), surrounded by the make shift layout table, hot wax roller, and scrap strips of paper from the cutting board was the voting cork-board and piles of peoples votes they had clipped from the paper themselves. “The Spirit of Bothwell”, was the name the town picked, I remember hoping for “Bothwell News and Views”, a close runner up.
From the beginning we were eager to get into the digital age. We did layouts on the computer in PageMaker, printed them out, carefully cut them out with Xacto knives or cutting boards, and waxed them up on to the proofs themselves. The proofs were laid out on this really awesome lightbox type thing my Dad built, it gave all the proofs this back-lighting that is reminiscent of LCD backlights today. We had a pretty awesome scanner because we developed black and white pictures in our own darkroom. We actually had one of the first digital cameras available in Canada, the Dycam 10C (AKA Kodak DC50). We used it, but with meager 640×480 resolution images, it had slightly noticeable digital distortions when printed.
We sold the paper in 1995 after my Dad passed away, and I thought that was the end of my relationship with printed newspapers.

Since January of this year I’ve been on contract at The Globe and Mail, working on a cool new product for their premium subscriber members (can’t say much more, but you should see sometime this year). It’s such an odd feeling being back at a newspaper. It doesn’t help that The Globe is about to get a new building, so their current digs are a little dated and rough around the edges. The feeling I got walking in each morning is a little like going into an old summer camp building you might have went to… the ones the adults stayed in, or the common area buildings that were air conditioned. I’m sure it’s an odd mix of my nostalgic youth and the age of the building.
My first sight every morning was desks and Globe employees awash in a sea of various kinds of papers. The age range is predominantly older than I’m used to working with, and every morning when I walked past I couldn’t shake the feeling that there was a vague and general sense unease around the computers… perhaps rightfully so. The Globe is a state of flux and no one is quite sure what the final result is going to be. This is true for all traditional media companies, each seems to be trying their own thing in an attempt to maintain profitability. “Pay walls” are a big idea, they satisfy an idea that many people inside the business have, but those outside don’t: “Our content is the absolute best you can get, why wouldn’t someone want to pay for it?”. It’s a good opinion to hold about your own content, but obviously not everyone is going to agree and therein lies the problem.
These days “the best” information content you can get doesn’t come from one source. It can’t just come from one source, it doesn’t make sense to restrict yourself to just one source, even if that one source really is the absolute best journalism you can get. The simple reason is because the network, our internet, is the great publishing equalizer. Publishing something for everyone to see used to mean you put in a huge amount of time and effort into creating and distributing that content physically. Today you write, then literally push a button to publish it, and almost magically it’s everywhere anyone wants it to be. The ease of which information flows today means that it’s virtually impossible to limit yourself to a single source, so you train yourself to filter out sources you don’t like and or trust.
This flow of information is what’s important. If you intentionally put resistance up in front of people, be it pay walls, “Like/+1/Tweet Us To See This”, or “sign up for our newsletter”, it puts too much impedance on the flow of information from that source, people will automatically filter it out in favour of information sources that flow more freely. This is especially for content that is not exclusive and in demand. No one will pay for a re-written wire service story – those days are over. I don’t purport to have a solution (if I did, I think I’d be rich), but I do know the current strategies being tried out won’t work.

Today was my last day at The Globe and Mail, I just opted not to renew my contract, but to instead move on to a cool new start up (more details on this later). There were many reasons, but not the least of which was their digital strategy was not one I could get behind. It’s going to be interesting to see what comes of newspapers in the coming decade, we’re at a critical point, it’s make or break time for publications world-wide and I feel like I’ve had a front row seat for the whole thing.

Revenge of the New Design

It’s that time of the year, I overhauled the design of this website again! I’ve been maintaining KishCom.com since about 2002 and it’s seen countless redesigns over the years. This time I choose a more pixelated motif, the showpiece obviously being the stunning background image. There is so much detail and thought put into every pixel of this creation that, when I saw it, I knew I wanted to use it with my website.

The background is from an arcade fighting game called Garou: Mark of the Wolves, part of the Fatal Fury series. At only 320 x 224 pixels and 4096 colours, there is an impressive amount of detail packed into a small amount of data. You can still get this game for Xbox 360 on XBLA. While I love the backgrounds and the rest of the artwork in the game, I must admit: I am horrible at it.

If you’re on a current browser that supports newer 3D CSS stuff (Chrome, FireFox, Safari, Internet Explorer 10) you’ll be able to browse posts by scrolling over the alley way and watching as the posts fly in place. If you’re on a browser that doesn’t support newer 3D CSS stuff (IE9 and under, Opera, mobile browsers) you’ll see singular posts that you can scroll through one by one. I’ve also added a table of contents and a reader friendly mode (you mean there are people who don’t want to read pixelated text?!).

If you’re interested in more technical details check the rendered source of this page (CTRL+U).

My Life as an Android’ian

I use Android as my mobile platform because it gives me the most choice. That’s really what it all boils down to. This is because it features something special that is in no other major smart phone: the software is free, and open source. The specialness of this feature is marred by wireless carriers making their own decisions, demonstrating that this freedom is a two way street (like all true freedom). The mobile carriers (Bell, Rogers, AT&T, T-Mobile, etc) tend implement a few ‘software locks’ that can make it harder to take advantage of the open source community – they feel that because you’re on their network that they should be able to dictate how your device works. The result of this is that your brand new phone gets updates from their carrier once or twice in their lifetime – if that. However, there is a thriving vibrant community of developers who all put in a tremendous amount of time and effort to provide software alternatives (IF you have the patience for it and in some cases the nerve to risk ‘bricking’ your device). If you take some time and read lots of somewhat technical stuff, learn how to obtain root access for your phone, install a new software image designed specifically for your phone (“ROMs”, but oh how I hate that antiquated term, it’s not ‘read only memory’ if you’re always writing it!) and VOILA: your 3 or 4 year old device is running the newest version of Android, obviously not as fast and perfect as a new phone, but it’s still a better experience and it feels like a new phone… for free.
No other mainstream phone can do this. Blackberry, Windows Phone 7, and Apple iOS are all closed-source. If you care enough to look you can’t see what’s really going on in the background. Which most people don’t (which is fine). The trade off, in my opinion, is that with a little more effort to learn about how your phone works you can literally treat your phone as if it were a mini-computer. A “computer”, as in a real desktop computer with: USB ports (so: floppy drives, flash drives, hard drives, keyboards, mice, Xbox controller … almost anything with Linux support is possible), and full HD video and sound over a mini-HDMI cable. All off of your phone!
I understand to some people the concept of their phone having even text messaging seems overkill, “I remember when a phone was just a phone” they say. They’re looking at their phone as if it was the big clunky phone they kept on their wall growing up. The problem is they’re not phones anymore, stop thinking like that. What they really are is miniature computers that happen to have a phone number attached to them. Even without cellular service a “smartphone” is still a very useful device: a music/movie player, GPS access, WiFi, e-reader, gaming, even payments. In fact, WiFi is becoming so ubiquitous it’s to the point where you could get away with having a $5 a month VOIP account, only use WiFi on your smart phone, and only not be reachable by phone while you’re in transit (and even then you could probably convince a friend to lend you WiFi hotspot access from their connection).

I’ve used the other devices, I know how they work. I prefer Android because I prefer to continue to learn, and I also enjoy being free as in freedom.

My Week as a Windows Phone 7′er

After a crummy end to my Blackberry trial I’m eager to get into something new again. Before the days of Android and iPhone there were two big players in “PDAs” (note: not smart phones) Palm and Microsoft. Palm, sadly, is gone (I would have loved to do a week with a Pre) and “Windows Mobile 6.5″ which is a completely different OS than Windows Phone 7. I found this complete rewrite move by Microsoft particularly odd – everyone knows that for a mobile OS platform to be succuessful you need two things: users and developers. WinMo6 had both of these – hell I had a working RealVNC client on my WinMo 6.5 device (guess what software doesn’t exist for WinPhone7: RealVNC!). I think it sucks that MS decided to basically crap on their developer base just to relaunch a new platform – traditionally Microsoft has been great at ensuring old versions working on new OSes (hell, you can run DOS and Windows 3.1 programs in Windows 7 very easily).
Anyways, on to the device. Sadly, I’m not testing the new Nokia Lumina device, it’s the older Windows Phone 7 (henceforth: WP7) device the HTC HD7.
Read more…

My Week as a BlackBerry’er

I got my first Blackberry in 2005, it was a Blackberry Charm 7100 and it was my first real smartphone (I had upgraded from a Noika 5100 – amazing phone). I used it for only maybe a year before I upgraded to an HTC P3600 WinMo 6.5 phone. So unlike my iPhone experience I do have a little background with this type of device.
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My Week as an iPhoney

This year seems to have a common theme for me: trying things out that I’ve previously proclaimed to hate. The contract I’m on is working with a Java backend, they gave me a MacBook Pro to develop on and now I’ve been given the opportunity to try out a bunch of new phones — including the iPhone 4S. Java, Macbooks, iPhones — things I’ve never been a big fan of, not because I had used them before and didn’t like them, all because of personal philosophical hangups. So this year I’ve been trying them all out while being as unbiased as I possibly can be. Thus far almost all of the things I’ve tried confirmed my previous assumptions (my work Macbook Pro now runs Linux Mint 12, and Java is still as cumbersome as ever).

This week I’m going to try and use the iPhone 4S as my “daily driver” – that is to say I’ll be taking the SIM card out of my Galaxy S II X and putting it in the iPhone to take it for a test drive as if it was my only phone. I’ll be updating this blog post through out the week with my thoughts.
Read more…

My Entitled Generation

I’ve had this blog post brewing for months now, almost a year. However this Globe and Mail article titled “2012 vs. 1984: Young adults really do have it harder today” and the subsequent Reddit conversation around it really was the tipping point for me to write my thoughts out on the issue. I was blown away by how many people my age (20 somethings) were upset (absolutely furious even) that they weren’t getting the same deal as their parents. The same people seemed blind to the sheer number of opportunities around them. My comment on Reddit was a simple jab: “Oh woe is us and our iPhones.” – I’ve never had such hate directed at me for such a simple comment. What I loved most is being accused of being a baby boomer myself because someone in their 20s couldn’t possibly disagree with The Globe’s article. When the comment came in trying to compare a Sony Walkman with an Apple iPhone – I realized my generation didn’t truly understand the stunning gift that technology and the internet had given us. To me it was a gateway into anything I could imagine – to them it was a glorified music box. Few people saw why the prevalence of smart phones had anything at all to do with the economy, education, or employment. All they see is how the baby boomer generation “screwed us” because we’re not going get the same things as they did for the same price.

The two big points I want to drive home:
1) The world in 1984 is a completely different one than ours today in 2012. The main factor for this is simple: technology and the internet.
2) The old school mentality of: “Go to university -> Get great job with your degree -> Buy a house + car -> Work 2 or 3 jobs for 35-40 years -> Retire” is LONG OVER. Our baby boomer parents may not believe it, but it is, and the evidence of such is all around us.

Read more…

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