Monday, February 29, 2016

Thematic Photographic 367 - Data

Look it up
London, ON
January 2016
A long time ago in a galaxy not so far away, we didn't have computers. Or Google. Or smartphones. Or anything remotely electronic, connected or wireless. Or even wired. Man, the bad old days were pretty boring.

Databases were made of paper, and they took up huge swaths of office floorspace. The bigger and taller they were, the more impressive they seemed. Or so that's what we were led to believe.

The tech revolution has, of course, rendered file cabinets, file cards and other forms of physical data management as obsolete as the secretaries and office clerks who once mastered them. Today's databases are virtual, intelligent, blindingly fast and so much more capable.

All well and good, but they don't invite you to explore history like the old paper-based methods once did. Or, still do. Like this card-based system that once served as a catalog of televised video content. Once a staple of local television, I don't think this particular database has been added to in years. Still, I often pause as I walk past and flip through a page or two to remind myself that data once looked and felt very different. No command prompt or blinking cursor will ever be as inviting as these dusty, manual-typewritten pages.

Your turn: This week's Thematic theme is data. There are oh so many ways you can make this real, and I can't wait to see how you interpret it. As always, take a picture that evokes the theme and share it to your website or blog. Leave a comment here letting everyone know where to find it. Visit other participants, and feel free to share additional themed photos through the rest of the week. If you'd like to learn more about how Thematic works, click here. Otherwise, have fun shooting and sharing!

TV's next chapter: Pick and play comes to Canada

If you're Canadian, then mark tomorrow, March 1st, on your calendar. That's the day when Canadian cable and satellite distributors are required by the national broadcast regulator to make $25 entry-level packages - so-called "Skinny Basic" - available to subscribers.

The Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission (CRTC) ruled last year that television service providers would have to make the low-cost packages available no later than March 1, 2016. By December of this year, consumers who want more than just the basic package of local and regional stations, public interest channels, education outlets and community channels and services will be able to subscribe to additional channels a la carte as well as via small, affordable packages. If you're happy with what you're already subscribed to, you'll be able to keep that, as well: No one's being forced to change anything.

Leading up to tomorrow's deadline, the cable and satellite distributors were somewhat low-key about these changes, largely because a mass migration of subscribers to cheaper packages could potentially have a significant impact to their bottom line. Bell quietly updated its offerings over the weekend, while Rogers had its plans leaked on Reddit last week.

If you're expecting a massive discount, however, keep dreaming, as the availability of less expensive entry-level offerings won't necessarily lower consumers' bills. If you have a taste for steak when it comes to your TV choices - say, specialty movie networks and sports packages - then don't expect to suddenly be paying hamburger prices. As always, good entertainment will cost you.

And there could be other costs, as well. Removing the protective coverage of bundling - along with its guaranteed revenue streams for normally low-demand channels which would otherwise have difficulty selling themselves to a mass audience in a completely free market - could force the price of individual channels up, in some cases significantly. It could also result in a number of more niche-focused channels going dark. Either way, we must be careful what we wish for, because when we get it, it may not be everything we had originally hoped.

I was quoted in a piece by Christopher Reynolds for the Toronto Star, Bell’s TV Starter package is now only $25 — but will anyone want it?

I also discussed it with Marci Ien on CTV's Canada AM earlier this morning. Here's the link to the interview. Here's another one because, you know, redundancy.

The CTV National News included a clip in a report by Richard Madan. Video here. CTV London ran a clip in its 6 p.m. newscast, as part of a report by Sean Irvine. Newscast video here. Report video here.

Your turn: Have you cut the chord to cable or satellite? What does the future of TV look like in your house?

Apple blinks on Error 53

Earlier this month, I shared the story of Apple's Error 53 problem, where thousands of iPhone and iPad owners had their devices "bricked" - in other words, turned into useless doorstoppers - after they had their broken screens replaced at non-Apple-authorized repair shops, and then upgraded to iOS9. Disgruntled owners were considering legal action against the tech giant in both the U.S. and UK.

Well, those lawsuits may have to wait a while, because Apple has had a change of heart. Following a wave of online anger over the company's position. Apple introduced an update to iOS - version 9.2.1 - that fixes the affected devices. It also released a statement to the influential tech blog, TechCrunch:
"Some customers’ devices are showing ‘Connect to iTunes’ after attempting an iOS update or a restore from iTunes on a Mac or PC. This reports as an Error 53 in iTunes and appears when a device fails a security test. This test was designed to check whether Touch ID works properly before the device leaves the factory. 
Today, Apple released a software update that allows customers who have encountered this error message to successfully restore their device using iTunes on a Mac or PC. 
We apologize for any inconvenience, this was designed to be a factory test and was not intended to affect customers. Customers who paid for an out-of-warranty replacement of their device based on this issue should contact AppleCare about a reimbursement."
The company says affected users must apply the iOS 9.2.1 update by physically connecting it to a computer with iTunes. Wireless updates will not work in this case. So if you don't normally tether your device to a computer, you'll have to grab a cable and find a library.

The only other caveat is the TouchID login-with-your-fingerprint capability will not be re-enabled on devices that have third-party screens/home buttons. But at least Apple's offering users a way out, which is light-years ahead of where it was when this story first broke.

Now, if only it could extricate itself from the FBI/privacy/San Bernardino investigation mess just as easily. I'll keep following that one. Watch this space for more.

Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Montreal Canadiens learn a hard Twitter lesson

Disclosure: I'm originally from Montreal, and I root for the Montreal Canadiens hockey team. I wouldn't call myself a superfan or anything remotely approaching that level of commitment - I'd rather play a sport than watch it - but when you grow up in a city that's home to such a storied franchise, it's hard to let go even after you move away.
But enough about me. Why am I sharing my deepest and darkest hockey fandom secret? Because my beloved Habs had a rough time on Twitter last week. Come with me and I'll explain:
The team wanted to do something nice for their fans to mark the 1 millionth follower to their Twitter account, @CanadiensMTL. So they tweeted their fans to let them know if they tweeted the hashtag #CanadiensMTL1M, they would receive an autotweet in response, complete with a picture of a Habs jersey with their customized Twitter handle.

Unfortunately, the process was automated, and before long, trolls from racist and profanity-laden Twitter accounts - including @ILoveISIS and some we can't even talk about on a family-friendly blog - began sharing the resulting Habs jersey pics online.

As background, there are lots of Twitter accounts set up by trolls that monitor Twitter for this kind of thing, and will automatically respond to hashtag-based contests with the intent of reaching a wider audience with their unique form of bile. Machine talking to machine: It's quite the modern twist on online vandalism.

There are indeed filters to keep “bad” words out and prevent them from being retweeted, but the trolls easily get around the filters by changing a letter here or a letter there, or substituting the occasional number in - i.e. a 3 instead of an E, or a 1 instead of an I. It’s a huge risk of automation, and the Habs simply didn’t anticipate it. The mortified Canadiens hockey club soon shut the campaign down, but not before the damage had gone viral. The team later apologized.

Interestingly, the same thing happened to the New England Patriots a year ago November. You'd think professional sports teams would do more due diligence before launching Twitter campaigns like this, but you'd be sadly mistaken.

On art. And therapy.

"Art does not discriminate; there is no wrong nor right. Art allows us to be free, escape from hardship even for a short time. Art is therapy for the soul."
Matteo Charles
So please don't mind if I grab this camera over here and head out to make some more. Art as therapy. Who would have thought?

More importantly, who's with me?

Saturday, February 27, 2016

Forgotten: Vertical AND Horizontal Hold

Firmly analog
London, ON
January 2016
We're often so busy keeping an eye on new and future technologies that we tend to forget about the stuff that's no longer with us. When things that were once staples of everyday life fall off the back of the modernist treadmill, they tend to do so not with a whimper, but rather in complete silence.

It often takes us years to realize they're gone - if we ever realize it at all.

Which brings me to the vertical hold control and its closely related and not-quite-as-famous sister, horizontal hold. We hardly knew you.

Your turn: Vanished technology...aaaaaand GO!

Monday, February 22, 2016

3 years on...

Three years ago today, my wife lost her mom. It's hard to believe it's been that long, as it still feels like yesterday, still feels unreal, still feels as if it's a bad dream from which we'll eventually wake up.

Sadly, it's no dream, and sadly there's no waking up from the stark reality of the person responsible for your being on this planet no longer being there with you. We all know that life isn't forever, but that doesn't make losing a parent any easier to accept.

I often read the obits from back home in Montreal. It's my strange way of staying connected to the place where I grew up and the people who made it what it was. I used to cringe at what people would write as messages of condolence. They seemed like cookie-cutter, cut-and-paste messages, designed more to check off a To Do list entry than really make a difference in the lives of those left behind.

But in the years since, I've somewhat softened my attitude. As much as the writer in me would like to critique the ridiculous banality of most condolence notices, I just can't. That's because there really are no words. And even the writers among us can never come up with the right combination of words and phrases. It's hard to know what to say. Words don't fix this, don't fill the void, and don't get us back to where we once were. They're powerless to actually do much of anything, yet they're often the only thing we have.

This isn't something you ever truly get over. You don't heal from it, and you never reach a point where you're "done" grieving. You learn to live within a radically altered reality, where questions remain unanswered and the myriad relationships left behind continue to evolve in different directions. Three years on, the crowds of people who packed the cemetery and shiva house have long since dissipated. The chaos of those first few days, where her not being there seemed beyond unreal, has long since settled into something very different. On the surface, it seems...normal. But we all know it isn't. There's an emptiness that never really goes away, a sense of incompleteness, that there could have, should have been more.

And you learn to connect more tightly to the important people around you. Because in the end all we have is time, and if my mother-in-law taught my wife one thing (she taught her many things, of course, but humor me while I clumsily make this point) it was to cherish family in all its forms, and to grab onto every opportunity to create moments that matter.

And every day I watch my wife and realize she learned her mother's lessons so incredibly well. She continues to make moments, continues to connect us, continues to revolve the lives of our family and friends around home and community - just like her mom taught her. We are who we are because of what's been passed down and carried forward. One life continues to imprint others long after it ends. Which, I guess, is ample validation of a life well lived.

I wish I had more than words to offer my wife, today and every day. But for now, words - and time - will have to do. I miss you, Mom.

Saturday, February 20, 2016

Apple's Tim Cook to FBI: "Bite me."

There's a titanic battle shaping up between the world's largest tech company and the top law enforcement agency in the U.S. It's Apple vs. the FBI, and I'd suggest you make some popcorn and pull up a seat.

The issue: When Sayed Farook and his wife, Tashfeen Malik, killed 14 co-workers in San Bernardino, California in December, he left behind an iPhone that authorities think might contain clues to the couple's motives and activities leading up to the massacre. Unfortunately for the FBI, the iPhone is locked by a four-digit PIN, and it has only ten tries before the device, as a security feature, bricks itself and becomes unrecoverable. The FBI has obtained a court order requiring Apple to provide a way in - a so-called "back door"

Apple says such a back door does not currently exist. The company, with enough engineering effort, can very well build such a back door (think of it as a master key.) But by handing the resulting technology over to the FBI, it puts end user security at great risk in the event that it falls into the wrong hands. Given how frequently USB drives and laptops loaded with private information are stolen from the trunks of parked cars, it's reasonable to question the FBI's assurances that it'll never be compromised. History suggests it will be.

Apple's response: CEO Tim Cook, in a posting to the Apple website, says if it complies with the court order to help the FBI break into the San Bernardino shooters’ iPhone, it will set a precedent for future cases like this. He calls the request “dangerous” and “chilling”. While company engineers complied with FBI requests in the days after the December attack, Cook says the current order - gain physical access to a locked iPhone - goes too far.

The FBI's defence: The bureau promises the tools - think of them as something like a master key for encrypted devices like the iPhone and iPad - won’t fall into the wrong hands. History suggests otherwise: hackers, crooks and thieves eventually get their hands on tools like this, and the never-ending cops-and-robbers battle goes on.

The context: All this comes just a couple of years after the big NSA scandal, where the government security agency was busted for wantonly snooping on a wide range of devices and networks owned/used by innocent civilians and companies. Tech companies were widely criticized for “rolling over” and simply handing over the keys to the kingdom. They denied being complicit in citizen-spying, but the perception has stuck, and Tim Cook’s stand in this case could at least be partially designed to show how Big Tech is not going to blindly follow government orders.

Apple is already receiving support from other major tech companies, including Google, Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft. None of them wants to be seen as being "soft" in the eyes of consumers. In many respects, this has as much to do with PR as it does security.

As you can imagine, this has been the leading tech story of the week, and it has implications that extend well beyond the tech space, and well beyond America's borders. At issue: Big Government's Big Brother-like ability to track our every online move, and Big Technology's role in either allowing it to happen, or drawing a line in the sand.

We all want to be protected, but I'm guessing not at the expense of our personal freedoms. We all want to prevent the next terrorist attack, but not if it means sacrificing our privacy. Clearly, balance is needed.

Your turn: Where do you stand? Who's right? Wrong? Why? How does this get solved?

Update: I discussed this with CTV News Channel. Link here.

Wednesday, February 17, 2016

Error 53, and why Apple isn't getting a Christmas card this year

Another day, another Big Tech Company behaving badly. Come along for the ride, shall we?

Who this affects: Owners of relatively recent Apple iPhones and iPads that have the Touch ID fingerprint scanner/home button (iPhone 5s and newer, and iPad Air 2 and Mini 3 and newer.)

The problem: If you've broken your screen and had it repaired by a non-authorized repair shop, you'll want to pay attention. If the Touch ID component - which is part of the screen assembly - is not an Apple-authorized part, then the device will lock up with something called at Error 53 when it is later upgraded to iOS9. That's because iOS9 checks all the hardware, and if the Touch ID module isn't recognized, it deliberately locks the device as a security measure.

The real problem: Error 53 basically "bricks" the device, turning it into a very expensive - and useless - doorstopper. Data and apps are lost, and it cannot be recovered or reset. Users must buy a new device.

What it means: While Apple claims its policy is aimed at maximizing the security of its products - it essentially wants to make it difficult-to-impossible for the Touch ID sensor to be replaced by something less secure, that might allow hackers to gain access to the device - the cynic in me sees this as a huge cash grab.

The net effect will be to, ah, encourage iPhone and iPad owners to seek repairs from the Apple Store or similarly authorized repair outlets - which is more expensive and not always convenient or even possible for customers who live away from major urban centres.

It's as if Toyota, GM and Honda decided to "encourage" owners to bring their cars ONLY to the dealer by threatening to leave them stranded permanently by the side of the road with a destroyed engine if they dared get their oil changed by the friendly neighborhood mechanic. That kind of consumerist bullying wouldn't stand in the automotive industry, and it shouldn't stand here, either.

The issue has caused thousands of devices to be essentially destroyed - admittedly a relatively small number considering Apple sold 75 million iPhones last quarter. But already lawyers in the U.S. and the UK are gearing up to launch class action lawsuits against Apple.

In the meantime, if you have a relatively new iPhone or iPad and your screen breaks, be very careful about where you bring it to be fixed. Although it'll probably cost you more for an off-warranty repair, stick to an Apple Store or an Apple-authorized retailer or repair outlet, just to be safe. If you've already had your device repaired, you may want to hold off on upgrading to iOS9 until this whole mess is cleaned up.

Your turn: Does this tick you off as much as it ticks me off?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Thematic Photographic 366 - Cold

London, ON
February 2016
After an extended period where it looked like we weren't going to have a winter at all, Mother Nature decided to change gears. London got blasted with three days of Lake effect snow followed by super-cold temperatures, and now eastern Ontario and Quebec are being blanketed by what promises to be the region's largest storm of the year.

Cue the oh-so-Canadian complaining about the weather. And cue the inevitable wintry pictures. My $0.02: Bring it. Winter may be cold and miserable, and we own it. May as well embrace it and find the joy.

So to honor the season, I'd like us to share photos that evoke the cold. How you interpret the cold theme is, as always, entirely up to you. I just want you to enjoy the ride.

Your turn: Take a cold-themed pic. Share it to your blog or website. Leave a comment here letting folks know where to find it. Visit other participants and feel free to share additional pics throughout the week. For more info on how Thematic works, head here. And please accept my thanks - because photography is way more fun when the experience is shared.

The Windows 10 scourge continues

Here's another example of Big Technology Companies messing with the heads of unsuspecting consumers, all in the interest of forcing them to buy stuff they don't need.

This time, it's Microsoft's turn in the needs-to-be-spanked chair, but let's be honest with ourselves: They all do it. Microsoft's sin? Making it all too easy for the computers of otherwise-occupied folks - they have lives, imagine that! - to be automatically updated to Windows 10 even if they explicitly did not click the Update button.

So if you're happy with your old version of Windows 7 or 8.1 and don't really want to go through the hassle of upgrading to Windows 10, pay attention. Because you may find Windows 10 installing itself on your machine, anyway.

The problem: When no one was looking a few weeks backMicrosoft quietly made Windows 10 a "recommended update". Which means, depending on how your Windows settings are configured, could, according to Terry Myerson, Executive Vice President, Windows and Devices Group, "May cause the upgrade process to automatically initiate on your device.”

If the automatic download or auto update feature is activated on your Windows PC, and if you've enabled the “Give me recommended updates the same way I receive important updates” feature, don't be surprised if Windows 10 starts to install all on its own over the next few days.

My $0.02: Deactivate the auto-update feature. Stick with your current OS. Windows 10 works best when it's pre-installed on a device right from the factory.

One wonders when this anti-consumer idiocy will end. Probably never, because most consumers simply don't take the time to notice. They should. Because ignorance comes with a cost.

Monday, February 15, 2016

On avoiding sheepdom

"If you put fences around people, you get sheep. Give people the room they need."
William L. McKnight
Never mind that the word "sheepdom" probably doesn't exist. I sometimes invent words. It's an occupational-hazard thing.

The late Mr. McKnight is credited with turning 3M into the landscape-influencing multinational that it is today. He died in 1978, but his words ring as true today as they ever have. Great leaders create the conditions within which their people can meet and exceed their potential. Lousy leaders don't.

It should be as simple as this. For reasons that I fail to understand, it isn't.

Be Like Bill? No thanks.

It may be the planet's most  successful social media service, but Facebook can still be annoying and dangerous.

In recent weeks, Facebook has been overrun with "Be Like Bill" memes. The Better Business Bureau has issued a warning advising users to not create these memes on their timelines, or respond to or click on them if their friends post them.

It's called clickbait, and under the original terms of use posted by the meme's creator, Bobla, the company said "You will allow us to use, edit your content with our service permanently, no limit and no recover."

While the company has since changed its terms in response to the ensuing uproar on social media, and now says it does not collect any data from the user's Facebook account, countless me-too memes have popped up, and they don't play nice.

In some cases, clickbait, which uses cute memes or provocative headlines - "exclusive", "shocking", "you're not gonna believe this!" - to get you to click, takes you to another website which can infect your computer with malware, spyware, adware or other nasty (at worst) or annoying stuff. It can also allow advertisers to scoop your Facebook information, which can in turn allow them to target you with even more ads.

Facebook allows users to block individual apps and memes, and the BBB recommends that in this case. It also recommends deleting unsolicited emails or social media messages that raise red flags, and not blindly trusting something just because a friend posted it. Also hover over links without clicking them: if the URL that pops up is unfamiliar to you - which is often the case - then don't click.

Or we could all just stop blindly sharing ridiculously brain-dead memes on social media.

Yeah, right. That'll never happen.

Friday, February 05, 2016

Introducing: Tech Tips with Carmi on CJBK

It's been a couple of weeks since I launched my new show on NewsTalk 1290 CJBK here in London, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying the daylights out of the experience.

Tech Tips with Carmi is an hour-long program that runs live on Saturday from 11am to noon. The goal is simple: Give London's tech community a voice, and serve as a a weekly outlet to share news, talk about the issues that matter both here and beyond, and answer any tech questions that come in along the way.

Every week, we invite some of our city's and region's smartest tech wizards and geniuses to join us for the kind of radio that opens eyes, opens minds and sparks conversation. Tomorrow's show features folks from two of London's - and indeed the Internet's - most prominent game developers, Big Blue Bubble and Big Viking Games. We'll talk about the state of the gaming market here, and how that benefits even folks who've never played a game in their life. It's quite the hotbed here, and we'll get the lowdown tomorrow.

We're live from the Green Room at the Covent Garden Market - middle of downtown, can't miss it, or click here for the Google Map - and there's always room for folks to drop by and hang out. We also invite callers to call in (519.643.1290), email (, text (101290) or tweet us @CJBK. If you've got a question that needs an answer, set an alarm for 11 a.m. Saturday and have at it.

If you want to tune in online, point your browser here - - or download the app (iOS and Android).

Hear ya then!

Time to drop this brain into gear...

Creativity is a funny thing. Sometimes it fires on all cylinders, and the ideas seem to tumble all by themselves out of my brain and through my fingers. When the creativity gods are smiling on me, ideas seem to coalesce out of nothing, while the words that bring them to life virtually tie themselves together with barely any effort.

Other times, the spigot seems to go dry, with blinking cursors on paper-white displays replacing the easy flow that once was. On days like this, I can stare at the relentlessly alternating vertical line of pixels and rake my mind for inspiration, yet all that emerges is a whole lot of silence.

I'm not entirely sure how any of this works, and fortunately the quiet times are few and far between. Yet this week, that's where I find myself. I'm not any more or less busy than I usually am - which means I'm typically flat out from before dawn to ridiculously late - but instead of carving out precious moments to create in those in-between slices of the clock (read early morning, late at night or while I'm waiting to pick up a smaller version of me after school) I'm allowing my usual channels - social media, blog, whatever - to lie silent.

Living on the wrong side of the creativity curve, however temporary it may be, bugs me. I know the mind eventually finds its own gear and returns to form, but I'm not willing to wait for that to happen on its own. Time to kickstart my muse.

Your turn: How do you break the creativity logjam?

Monday, February 01, 2016

Why Shodan should scare the hell out of you

The Internet has always been a bit of a scary place for the uninitiated. Well, it just got scarier thanks to, Shodan, a new search engine. You can find it at, and unlike Google, it doesn't search for websites. Instead, it's a search engine for the emerging Internet of Things (IoT), which refers to once-dumb devices - like your refrigerator, baby monitor and running shoes - that are increasingly becoming smart thanks to the addition of computing power, sensors and wireless connectivity.

How it works: Like any search engine, Shodan automatically searches for resources and adds them to its index, which makes them searchable by anyone with an Internet connection. Unlike any search engine, instead of looking for websites, it looks for webcams and other Internet-connected devices that don't have all their security features activated*. So if you ever set up a webcam or a baby monitor and didn't bother to use a password, don't be surprised if it shows up here.

What it means for you: The feed for your child's "smart" baby monitor could end up on this search engine, along with feeds from schools, in-store security cameras, home-based webcams, traffic cams, you name it. And you'd probably never know that a complete stranger is watching your kid, or house, or whatever. It's frightening beyond words.

What it means for the industry: The vulnerability highlights just how weak IoT security is, and how little attention the industry has been paying to the issue in the rush to sell us more stuff. Cheap webcams and related hardware are partially to blame: to keep prices down, security corners are cut. Video streams may be unencrypted. The few included security features are typically set to "off" by default at the factory, and documentation and security help are either non-existent or difficult to access, so unaware consumers unwittingly install them in a wide-open state. There are no government regulations to force vendors to tighten security and no common standards similar to those that have long been in place for consumer product safety.

So what's next? The risks will only grow as IoT becomes The Next Big Thing in tech, and the number of connected devices grows from the millions into the billions and beyond.

What we must all do, right now: Open the apps that come with our connected devices and activate the security settings - smart passwords, encryption, whatever's there - before we do anything else. Otherwise, we're vulnerable to search engines like Shodan making it ridiculously easy for anyone to peek inside our homes and lives.

Your turn: Are we giving up too much of our privacy in exchange for an ultra-connected life?

* In case you're feeling geeky, the new section is located at Interestingly, it's only available to paid subscribers. But anyone can use the feature for free by simply adding the following setting to each search in the main search engine: filter port:554 has_screenshot:true. Shodan will list the vulnerable devices just like a Google search. Click one and you're watching a webcam half a world away.