Turn Off All Your Push Notifications

Really? Someone had to write a 500 word ‘article‘ about what should be common sense?

There’s a solution, though: Kill your notifications. Yes, really. Turn them all off. (You can leave on phone calls and text messages, if you must, but nothing else.) You’ll discover that you don’t miss the stream of cards filling your lockscreen, because they never existed for your benefit. They’re for brands and developers, methods by which thirsty growth hackers can grab your attention anytime they want. Allowing an app to send you push notifications is like allowing a store clerk to grab you by the ear and drag you into their store. You’re letting someone insert a commercial into your life anytime they want. Time to turn it off.

The New Razor and Razor Blade?

It seems like ‘free’ access to large datasets is the new giveaway/razor in the hopes that revenue will be generated by usage of the AI/analytics tools/razor blades that are co-hosted with the datasets.

Welcome to Our Startup Where Everyone is 23 Years Old Because We Believe Old People Are Visually Displeasing and Out of Ideas 

https://www.mcsweeneys.net/articles/welcome-to-our-startup-where-everyone-is-23-years-old-because-we-believe-old-people-are-visually-displeasing-and-out-of-ideas

This is hilarious because it is true. I’ve seen so many ‘startups’ spend a huge amount of money and effort trying to imitate the trappings of a startup rather than having original ideas and actually producing something. Here is a sample (more at the link above):

Hello, and welcome to our startup. We hope you’re enjoying your complimentary snifter of vaporized coconut water. Once you’re done, please place the glass into one of the blue receptacles around the office, which will send the glass to be washed and dried. Do not place it into one of the red receptacles. The red receptacles take whatever you put inside of them and launch it into space.

If you look to your left, you’ll see one of our employees using a state-of-the-art ergonomic sleeping desk. Most startups have standing desks, but we have sleeping desks, dancing desks, and even skateboarding desks. The skateboarding desks are just large skateboards you can use to skate around the office. Be careful while skating, though, because we don’t offer any sort of medical insurance, since our benefits budget all goes toward cool desks.

Volvo’s Electric Car Announcement

I think that Volvo’s announcement regarding electric vehicles (EVs) has been largely misunderstood or mis-reported as them stating that they will only have EVs by 2020. Actually, they stated that they will only design and release NEW EVs after that date. The existing stable of gasoline powered vehicles will continue to live on past 2020.

Headphones Evesdropping On You

This is an older story, but it has come around again recently.

Researchers at Israel’s Ben Gurion University have created a piece of proof-of-concept code they call “Speake(a)r,” designed to demonstrate how determined hackers could find a way to surreptitiously hijack a computer to record audio even when the device’s microphones have been entirely removed or disabled. The experimental malware instead repurposes the speakers in earbuds or headphones to use them as microphones, converting the vibrations in air into electromagnetic signals to clearly capture audio from across a room.

But, as it turns out, this is less of an out-and-out hack, but just simply taking advantage of a somewhat questionable ‘feature’:

But the Ben Gurion researchers took that hack a step further. Their malware uses a little-known feature of RealTek audio codec chips to silently “retask” the computer’s output channel as an input channel, allowing the malware to record audio even when the headphones remain connected into an output-only jack and don’t even have a microphone channel on their plug. The researchers say the RealTek chips are so common that the attack works on practically any desktop computer, whether it runs Windows or MacOS, and most laptops, too. RealTek didn’t immediately respond to WIRED’s request for comment on the Ben Gurion researchers’ work. “This is the real vulnerability,” says Guri. “It’s what makes almost every computer today vulnerable to this type of attack.”

Scalable Microservices

Here is an excellent, in-depth discussion on creating scalable microservices.

In this article, we will look at microservices, not as a tool to scale the organization, development and release process (even though it’s one of the main reasons for adopting microservices), but from an architecture and design perspective, and put it in its true context: distributed systems. In particular, we will discuss how to leverage Events-first Domain Driven Design and Reactive principles to build scalable microservices, working our way through the evolution of a scalable microservices-based system.

Reactions To Failure

Great article on system failures in IT and how groups/people react to them. Here is a summary:

tl;dr: Catastrophic system failures are remarkably common in IT-dependent environments. The reactions to such failures varies but is often some version of blame-and-train. There are a number of problems with blame-and-train but perhaps the most important is it is a form of organizational blindness that forestalls improvement.

Three things:

  1. These failures are markers of systemic brittleness, the inverse of resilience.
  2. The blame-and-train reaction is a diversion, a red herring, and counterproductive; it increases brittleness.
  3. There are productive reactions to failure but they are difficult to accomplish, especially when the failure has big consequences.

Serverless Approach To Testing

Here is a thought provoking article on testing in a serverless environment:

Serverless architecture uses a lot of services — hence why some prefer to call the architecture “service-full” instead of serverless. Those services are essentially elements of an application that are independent of your testing regime.

An external element.

A good external service will be tested for you. And that’s really important. Because you shouldn’t have to test the service itself. You only really need to test the effect of your interaction with it.

Here’s an example …

Let’s say you have a Function as a Service (e.g. Lambda function) and you utilise a database service (e.g. DynamoDB). You’ll want to test the interaction with the database service from the function to ensure your data is saved/read correctly, and that your function can deal with the responses from the service.

Now, the above scenario is relatively easy because you can utilise DynamoDB from your local machine, and run unit tests to check the values stored in the database. But have you spotted something with this scenario? It’s not the live service — it’s a copy of it. But the API is the same. So, as long as the API doesn’t change we’re ok, right?

To be honest, I’ve reached a point where I’m realising that if we use an AWS service, the likelihood is that AWS have done a much better job of testing it than I have. So we mock the majority of our interactions with AWS (and other) services in unit tests. This makes it relatively simple to develop a function of logic and unit test it — with mocks for services required.

Android Things Developer Preview Available

Here is a quick summary of what is new in the latest Android Things Developer Preview.

Earlier this month Google announced a partnership with AIY by releasing a co-produced build-your-own Google Home kit. Built on Google’s Raspberry Pi 3 developer board, the kit showcased Android Things’ ever-expanding features, particularly the integration of Voice Kit. Enabling developers to build a proper Voice User Interface (VUI) Voice Kit is an open-source platform which can integrate cloud services such as Google Assistant SDK or Cloud Speech API or simply run similar services directly on the device with Tensorflow – Google’s on-board neural-network.

Google also added some important drivers to the mix – most notably those necessary for implementing Google Assistant SDK on any certified development board. Also in tow is support for Inter-IC Sound Bus (I2S) which has been Added to the Peripheral I/O API. A Voice Kit sample for which is included, aimed at demonstrating the use of I2S for audio.

Developer Preview 4 will also bring new hardware, adding a Board Support Package for the NXP i.MX7D. Also, in a display of Android Things’ scalability, Google has released Edison Candle – a sample of custom hardware which fits modularly with SoM’s (system-on-modules) running the lightweight OS. Code for this sample is hosted on GitHub while hardware design files can be found on CircuitHub.

Things seem to be coming together quite well for Google’s IoT solution. With the 1.0 release of Tensorflow in February and I/O kicking off, we hope to see even bigger strides today.

Microservices Need Architects

Microservices Need Architects – An excellent article on the complexity of something with ‘micro’ in it’s name. And, yes, I know and I am here to help with over a decade of experience in service design and enterprise integration skills.

For the past two years, microservices have been taking the software development world by storm. Their use has been popularized by organizations adopting Agile Software Development, continuous delivery and DevOps, as a logical next step in the progression to remove bottlenecks that slow down software delivery. As a result, much of the public discussion on microservices is coming from software developers who feel liberated by the chance to code without the constraints and dependencies of a monolithic application structure. While this “inside the microservice” perspective is important and compelling for the developer community, there are a number of other important areas of microservice architecture that aren’t getting enough attention.

Specifically, as the number of microservices in an organization grows linearly, this new collection of services forms an unbounded system whose complexity threatens to increase exponentially. This complexity introduces problems with security, visibility, testability, and service discoverability. However, many developers currently treat these as “operational issues” and leave them for someone else to fix downstream. If addressed up front—when the software system is being designed—these aspects can be handled more effectively. Likewise, although there is discussion on techniques to define service boundaries and on the linkage between organizational structure and software composition, these areas can also benefit from an architectural approach. So, where are the architects?

A Farewell to Evernote

After a solid year of disappointment and frustration with Evernote, I have finally replaced it with Google Drive.

One of the last things that was keeping me using Evernote was the web clipper. The recent, nearly month-long outage with the web clipper pushed me to find an alternative. Oddly enough, the alternative was there all the time within Chrome in the form of the Share->Print->Save to (Google) Drive option which renders the current page as a PDF and saves the PDF to GDrive.

I had been a Evernote user since 2009, having moved from del.icio.us and diigo. Evernote added some good features (like the web clipper, PDF upload, OCR, multi-device sync) and things were great. Then they lost the plot. I mean, this was supposed to be a note taking app, but someone decided it needed to have chat built into it (bad idea). Next they messed up the sharing options by polluting the URLs to point at evernote.com instead of the original source. Then the convoluted sharing model that made trying to share anything extremely cumbersome and time consuming. The last straw was the announced plan to add ‘machine learning’ to Evernote which would require user to consent to having people ‘inspect’ their content if you wanted to keep using the service. My question was ‘who needs this?’ It just sounded like they are trying to data mine my content while adding this me-to AI-ish sounding feature.

Along with these missteps, it seemed the Mac OS X client just got slower and slower as more and more irrelevant features where added. For reference, I just started the Mac Evernote client – 4 minutes and 48 seconds later I could finally click on a menu and have it drop down. In comparison, I can open Google Drive and begin using it within seconds.

Dealing with Legacy Evernote Notes
Last August, I started using CloudHQ to migrate my tens of thousands of Evernote notes to Google Drive. After a few hiccups, the (one way) sync process was working flawlessly (I think at the time, I was the largest migration that CloudHQ had ever done, at least with Evernote). It took several months to move all of the notes to Google Drive because Evernote would ‘throttle’ access to CloudHQ, forcing me to re-authorize CloudHQ’s access to my Evernote content.

In September, I downgraded my Evernote account from Premium to Plus. In December, I downgraded to Free. As of January 2017, I am going to upgrade my Evernote subscription to ‘Delete my Account’.

The Disease of Superfluous Intermediation 

There is a lot of talk these days of the evil of ‘fake news’. As far as I can tell, fake news is just a symptom. The real problem is the ‘easy money’ mentality of the online ad machine. This largely anonymous (and most definitely unregulated) mechanism rewards any and all bad behavior by handing out cash for page views. These days, that means page views creaking from the overload of irrelevant advertising that delivers no value to the viewer but does enrich the bottom-dwellers that plaster ads all over the page. Fake news, clickbait, porn, gossip, real news – at this point they are rewarded equally by advertisers.

Fake news is only the most headline grabbing; there is so much more of this dubious activity festering everywhere and in more subtle ways. Most recently, I have noticed online retailers starting to use unnecessary parcel tracking services ‘to better server their customers’. In this case, to better serve customers bandwidth wasting, unnecessary advertising. I have strongly suggested to some retailers that I do business with to just stick the tracking number for my order in the shipment confirmation email. I don’t want to (or need to) click on a series of links that are awash with advertising just to get to the tracking number that could and should be provided me in plain text in my email.

I can’t tell if companies are just ill-informed or just don’t care that much about customer satisfaction and privacy when it comes to things like this. We recently stayed at a hotel in San Diego that offered as one of it’s ‘customer services’ the ability to text the hotel if something was needed. What was not disclosed was that this service is not operated by the hotel, but by a third party. So, by texting the ‘hotel’ you are (probably unwittingly) providing this third party with your cell phone number, name, info about your stay and who knows what else. That information gets sold immediately and you get nothing for it. Just like the dubious ‘free’ safe in your room that requires you to swipe a credit card to ‘activate it’. As soon as you swipe, some unknown, undisclosed third party now has your credit card number, name and whatever else is encoded on your credit card’s magstripe. That’s right, I don’t need or want your data harvesting in the middle.

Additionally, I have little sympathy for all of the web sites that block visitors if they are using ad blocking software (which has been shown to prevent the distribution of ad-based malware (aka, forbes, businessinsider, wsj, wired, etc). They whine about not getting their vig from online ads but are silent about the 10, 15, 20 trackers and beacons (in the form of cookies and local storage) that they DO profit from that are placed on your system without your knowledge or approval (again ‘to better provide you service’). But, don’t believe me, run a browser extension like Ghostery to see all the garbage that gets placed on your system when you visit one of these cookie cesspools. Alternatively, you can at least click on the site information icon in Chrome and see all the ‘3rd party’ cookies that are placed on your system.

Increasingly, the web is moving away from its roots as a means to easily share information (and actual data) into the realm of the quick buck, ‘publish anything that will generate a click’ crapfest we have now.

Install ad-blocking in your browser and think before (and after) you click.