Tag: Apple (Page 1 of 17)

Beat(s) It: What’s Up, Apple?

Hello again.

I am writing to you whilst listening to Metronomy on Spotify streaming from my iPad Mini using a Bose headset. Musical zen, so to speak. Earlier, I had the whole thing running via my Denon RCD-N7 with the Airplay patch (but using Mordaunt-Short speakers). Life is good.

Earlier today, I got my new iPhone 6. Spotify works on it. My Bose headphones fit into the headphone jack (but, why, of course).

What is my gripe about then, you ask? Well, you see, I hold about 5 Apple shares (that’s about it, honest). And said company has recently (well, not so recently anymore) spent some $3 billion on acquiring Beats, “that” company fronted by the much (and rightly) revered Dr Dre and Jimmy Iovine, which sells mediocre (sorry, I meant to say, totally friggin’ awesome, headphones to sports superstars (and their fans). Oh, and they also have some sort of streaming service, apparently.

Mind you, my shiny new iPhone 6 nor my equally shiny new iOS 8 show any sign of a music streaming service. Or Beats. Or both. Or either. And today, the formidable (erm) TechCrunch ponders whether Apple may shut down the Beats streaming service (because of said absence of it on the new iPhone and iOS). And the mind boggles.

Let’s have a look at the lay of the land then:

There are a number of streaming services in the world. Spotify tops the charts, undoubtedly (unless your worldmap starts and ends in the US, then it’s probably Pandora). Their valuation is pegged somewhere at North of $10 billion. I do not know a single person that uses Beats streaming service (but then, I know, I am a middle-aged white European). However, my American friends, have you heard of Deezer? No, thought not. Alas, it has 20x the subscribers of Beats though (5m vs 250,000). Could you have bought them for $60 billion? I would guess so. But they don’t have the hardware or brand value, you say. And right you are. But, come on, a difference of nearly $57 billion for this? Really?

I would posit that the Beats acquisition was – a British technical term – complete bollocks. Let’s look further:

Here’s what Apple said (BTW, that Endgadget piece is enlightening on so many levels):

It was a no-brainer for us,” said Cue, outlining the three reasons in more detail. First, Cue says the Beats team is sensational, and will be a perfect fit for Apple; additionally, Dr. Dre is an incredible artist with an incredible ear.

$3.2b for a sensational team with an incredible ear. Yeah, right… Eddy Cue, you rule (or not).

Beats hardware is middle of the road at best (I know Dre would disagree, but he’d have to, no? He’s HipHop’s first billionaire because of it, doh…). For how much could you have had, say, Sennheiser (surely a good fit on hardware), a conservative, German, family-owned company? Would a bid of $3.1b have sealed it? Of off-shore money (which would’ve, what, halved that cost? Mmmh, I wonder (that’s a yes). See, the main (and a super-impressive feat at that) of Beats was its marketing and branding prowess. But Apple really doesn’t have anything it needs in that department, does it? It is the world’s most powerful brand (more than 2x its nearest competitor).

So what is our conclusion, half-way? Apple bought a brand (it didn’t need) that produces mediocre hardware (the one part where Apple always excelled and led everyone else) with the add-on of a also-ran streaming service. $3.2b worth? Erm,Β  no! And now we are hearing that they’re going to shut down that streaming service (which desperate Apple lovers had quickly termed the main rationale of the genius Apple pulling off another one), You see, Apple has never been great in M&A. T (I’m available). <sigh/>

Next-Gen Mobile Computing

So now I am no longer affiliated with a mobile platform provider, I can again afford to have a wider look at the world out there (publicly, that is), and how timely, huh? With Microsoft buying some of the remains of the once mighty Nokia and the iPhone 5S announcement, we have a bit to play with, I suppose.

Apple then? Are you underwhelmed? Hey, you can have it in blingy gold now, you know? Do you love the new design of iOS 7 (and, yes, we all know they “sought inspiration” from Windows, etc.)? Or do you turn away in disgust that the guys from Cupertino managed again to sprinkle pixie dust in their fanboys’ and girls’ eyes?

64 Bit and ARMv8

I tell you what, the (r)evolution sits elsewhere: I would posit that the switch to a 64 bit architecture plus iBeacon (see below) will have the biggest impact. Here’s why: the chip architecture (not only the 64 bit bit but also the ARMv8 stuff) offer some performance boosts today but, more importantly, set the stage for tomorrow: you can do a lot more with this (from RAM going over 4GB, to using Trustzone, ARM’s response to BlackBerry Balance – offering two virtual processors and hence “spaces” on one phone, so you can play Angry Birds on one side without your IT folks getting grey hair over compromising precious enterprise data on the other). But it also sets the stage for using your phone as the center point of your computing life: it is powerful enough to do all this (heck, it has more power than my wife’s MacBook from 5 years ago – other than RAM, for now, that is). In effect, you will be carrying the power of a proper desktop computer. More on why this matters later.

BLE and iBeacon (and NFC?)

Add iBeacon then. Another fancy Apple marketing term, right? Well, yes, because it is basically part of package that uses Bluetooth Low Energy (or “BLE”; it’s official branding is “Bluetooth Smart” now; see here for an overview), which was deployed first by – gasp – Nokia in 2006 (!) and is also present in the BlackBerry Z10, Q10 or the stunning Z30 – all of which also sport NFC on top). The HTC One has it, too, and a few more. So what’s the big deal? Well, BLE was always a big deal: the low-energy bit means you can run peripherals that can interact with your phone that will run for years on a single small battery. The range is better, too. And all of a sudden, you are looking at something which I have been hallucinating about for the past ten years: your phone as the center of your computing needs: you walk out of the door (yes, you can lock that door with your phone, too) and you have everything with you: files, photos, music, the whole thing. You walk into your office, your phone will pick up the BLE signal from peripherals such as keyboards, monitors, a mouse (or touchpad), connects with them and you have your office computer running. You come home (yes, again unlocking your fancy door), and it will connect with the same set up (or your TV if you don’t want an additional screen scarring your interior design approach) and you have all your stuff on there, too. Your central processing unit was in your pocket all the time…

It will be interesting to see if this will kill NFC. Google has supported NFC and only recently announced BLE support for Android 4.3. Some manufacturers (BlackBerry, Samsung, HTC) support both. But BLE’s advantage is two-fold: low energy and proximity. You see, NFC only works in close range (hence the name, I guess: “near-field” communication). This can make it a bit awkward: you have to be close (any London travelers will know that: you have to get that bloody Oyster Card out of the depth of your bag/pocket/wallet to make it work; imagine you could just walk through continuing to hold your Latte and free Metro paper, taking it all in your stride). In other words: BLE is a lot more Appelesque than NFC. It doesn’t only provide the functionality (connecting device A with peripheral B) but it also does it in the most unobtrusive and somewhat stylish way.

1 + 1 = 3+

So let’s put the two together then: you have a desktop computer in your pocket and have an invisible cable connecting you to the things you need to actually also use it as a desktop computer (or laptop). What more would you need, right? Yes, exactly, nothing.

Now, mind you, Apple wasn’t first with this (whatever their marketing folks pre- or post-Steve may want you to believe). There has been the Motorola Atrix, which was the dernier crie at CES a couple of years ago: a phone with a laptop dock and off you were with a full computer. Well, you had a keyboard, laptop screen and access to a browser. Alas, it didn’t have the power of a normal PC, so wouldn’t do the full trick (read the reviews on Amazon’s product page to get an idea). For an up-to-date version, have a look at the Motorola Atrix 4G.

The thing is this: as most reviewers will tell you, Motorola did not give you the comfort of a computer, only a more comfortable and more feature-rich way to run stuff.

Apple wouldn’t do that (not even in the post-Jobs era, I would think). And this is why the 64 bit architecture matters: because that *could* deliver just that (even if it might not do so yet, which is though not down to the hardware but the lack of application software). Fast forward not very much and that might be done. And then you would have what the Atrix wanted to be (and, believe me, I was very impressed when I saw it in Las Vegas on that cold January day in 2011).

There’s More…

Let us now have a very brief glimpse at the one feature Apple gave a lot more attention to during its 5S keynote, namely that fingerprint reader. In itself, it is more of a geeky delight: don’t we all love it (well, unless you hate Apple)? But do we have anything functional to do for it other than all of us now duly locking our phones (though iOS7 now forces you to do that anyway) as we should? Well, not that much.

Alas, bring back the memories of that computer in your pocket connecting to those peripherals and then add authentication by finger-tip. Now that’s looking better, doesn’t it? All of a sudden, that makes sense, huh? You can log into your company’s enterprise e-mail – by fingerprint, you can make those PayPal payments – by fingerprint, you can log into your Facebook account – by fingerprint (no more posting nasty or just not so very funny status updates in other people’s Facebook accounts), etc. It closes the circle of mobile-centric computing.

Fear Not: Not Only Apple

Of course this is not Apple country. As I pointed out above, many manufacturers had these things before. Apple however – and that deserves a hat tip even from the trenches of the haters – has (yet again) shown its capability of packaging things in a way that make them comprehensible to people who do not fancy setting up for hours on end, who want stuff to just work. Unlike the Atrix it is not only “almost” working, it does work. Unlike Oyster, you don’t have to touch, you just need to be there. If only my old folks at BlackBerry had that marketing department…

But we will see similar solutions from many folks. They’re not daft, you see (phew!). From Apple’s perspective, it might have managed to escape the Innovator’s Dilemma once more. This, alas, is no guarantee for the future… For now though, I reckon we might be seeing glimpes of the next generation of mobile computing and, boy, am I excited! πŸ™‚

Apple, Bubble Designs? Dude, We Can Do That!

Today is a day where I have to sing our own praise a little. Today, as some of you will know, Apple released iOS 7 into the wild. I will spare you a wider critique (I reckon there will be plenty of them out there). But one thing caught my eye. Given my historical interest in social gaming platforms (after all, Scoreloop did a lot of the things – and better – that Apple tried to mimic with Game Center), I went to have a look how they re-designed it (Jony Ive’s hues and all). Now, not only is the dreaded felt gone (phew!) but also did they adopt a playful bubble design. Fits the image and all, right?

Now, it did look somewhat familiar though. And then it struck me: it is very similar to the design approach our very own Blue Beck took when we (well, our teams as I didn’t do much) designed the app for Three, the UK network operator. Compare for yourself (left our Three app, right Apple Game Center):

I actually think, we did the colour scheme a lot nicer! I am still not a fan of Jony’s hues, I’m afraid (though I like the more “contemporary” feel of the new iOS generally…). You can, incidentally, download it here:

And so, tonight I would like to sing the praise of our wonderful team at Blue Beck and our esteemed client Three (on whose style guide we based the design) and will sit with a smug face and think that Apple “borrowed” (which they probably didn’t, but hey) from our own design prowess. Carleton, Dose, Rick, Pete, you rock (and, of course we always knew that), and tonight is the night to call it out! (and, to the rest of the Blue Beck team: so do you – just don’t get the hang of them hues, OK?).

Hail the kings of Blue Beck castle! πŸ˜‰ (and if you haven’t realised: full disclaimer: I am a shareholder and director of Blue Beck).

Mobile Gaming today: about whales, self-publishing and the like…

Didn’t the world change and quickly? Only a few years ago, mobile games worked like a supermarket: if you have shelf-space, you rule. The early kings of mobile gaming 1.0 (which many users today won’t even know about) were the ones that “owned” the relationships with mobile operators (or carriers if you prefer that word), OEM and the like. Those relationships guaranteed that you would be in front of consumers. Those of your competitors who didn’t? Well, tough luck. Today, the picture is very different. There were a few waves since those early days: the Wild West days of iOS and Android (which didn’t happen simultaneously but with similar patterns), the rise and fall of the Zynga empire (and folks who thought that that approach would cure all [business] evils of gaming and, in its latest pattern, the rise of Supercell, Kabam and King and the scratching of heads (and lay-offs of people) in a lot of other gaming outfits.

So what’s this all about then? Now, I won’t be able to offer you the full Monty in just one small blog post (it’s bloody late already) but there are a few pointers that show both the opportunities but also the pitfalls of the whole thing.

Fun Matters

Ilkka Paananen is the CEO of Supercell who are, arguably, the undisputed money-spinners these days. $2.4m/day is their benchmark, and that was a while back. In Q1/2013, they made $179m in revenues and $109m in operating profits (or so says the FT). Their two (!) games ride comfortably in the top-5 of the top-grossing charts of Apple all around the world, sometimes #1 and #2, sometimes #2 and #4 but never far off… When asked, Ilkka (who is as nice a person as you’ll ever meet) will always tell you that fun is what matters first and foremost (and I reckon this is what young master Pinkus wishes he had known earlier…). Ilkka managed to combine a dream of the free-wheeling nature of the likes of Valve, Inc. with the experience he gained in running as tight a ship as Digital Chocolate who, from the olden days of mobile gaming, were amongst the ones who had perfected the tightly-strung mastery of processes and engines. The result were – now famously – a number of canned projects plus two of the most profitable games (on an ROI basis) produced ever.

Alas, Ilkka will tell you that fun matters. If your game is rubbish and no fun, no one will like it, at least not longer term. Some earlier appstore succresses might have wanted to take note… It is an important bit to remember though: games are part of the entertainment side of things. And entertainment is about fun. No fun = no (long-term) success. There is only so much conning you can do…

Marketing is Part of Design

In the olden days, you had developers and suits. The former had grand ideas and the latter were a pain in the rearside. The success of a game always was due to the former and the success was always claimed by the latter. Now though, even the geekiest of developers has realized that you need to market efficiently if you want to be successful (which also means that your company has a chance of survival). Here’s a post you should read in this respect (it is a bit patronizing but there is a lot of good – if harsh – insight there nonetheless).

Building Brands is Cool (and Hard)

So, let’s go and build a brand, right? Because then we can replicate things, right? I mean, Rovio did this with Angry Birds, right? Yes, they did. How many others do you know who did? Not very many, right? Because, you know, it is not easy. Many tried (and are trying). Many see some traction. None I know of have had counterfeited bobble hats sold in San Francisco so far (yes, there are hand-knitted Angry Birds beanies on sale every weekend at the farmers market at the Ferry Terminal in SF! No, I haven’t seen beanies of the Cut-the-Rope frog yet…).

If you can get it right (and there is some magic (and hard work required), building an entertainment brand is insanely rewarding (just ask Walt Disney, George Lucas, Stan Lee, etc.). However, it is also very hard to do. And it is not for the faint of heart. So think twice… Oh, and hire the right people (two of Rovio’s rockstars just started his own thing in this realm. Go, Andrew!).

Those Bloody Whales

There was a time when only one-legged near-pirates hunted whales. Nowadays every game developer and their dogs (or cats or rats or pet hedgehogs do). According to Forbes, here’s (well, below) is why. Those are the folks who bring in the money. By my reckoning, the numbers Forbes calls out are not actually the industry benchmark but – perhaps – an averaged out number. This means that, if you’re good at what you do, you should be pulling in a lot more than what their article has you believe you should. And that is something that can be a little daunting. So, kids, there goes your easy career in game development…

Before I link to this Forbes thing then: it is not easy, mind the fun, get some kudos to them suits and be in for the ride… πŸ˜‰

Here’s the Forbes article (from which I copied the infographic below and where you can get the fully scalable version).

Leap Motion: First Impressions

I signed up for the pre-order of the Leap Motion controller ages ago. And, of course, it must arrive whilst I was on vacation… But, hey, it’s here now and since I was asked by a couple of friends to provide them with my thoughts, this is my first ever product review. A few words of caution though: I am not providing a fully-fledged review, just a few bits and bobs and my thoughts on the overall thing. For more traditional things, see e.g. here or here (consumer-focussed simple overview) or here (more in-depth technical).

Installation Environment

I installed it on my MacBook Pro (13” Retina, 3 GHz i7, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD) running on the latest OS (at the time of writing, that’s 10.8.4). It comes with two cables, a long and a short one, which is a neat idea. Alas, I would actually have wanted a cordless one but the, I guess, it might be a wee bit early for some BlueTooth 4.0 magic, so I’ll let this pass. It does not come with a manual and whilst that is oh-so-valley-style, a “cheat sheet” for the various gestures might be a good idea: as it is such a completely novel interaction method, it would make peoples’ lives a lot easier if they could check back quickly in the old-fashioned style. I mean, you could do it hipster-infographic-style as a hat-tip to the Valley, could you not?

You plug in, are asked to go to a website and install the software. Simple.

The Start

The first thing you do is go through an “orientation” programme, which is sheer beauty and gives you the first, well, orientation on what to do (and what not). This is the first bit where it shows you what it sees (in rough but pretty terms):

Then it shows you what it really sees (in more accurate and mechanical terms):

The rest is play. Here’s my son practicing his signature:

Using Leap Motion…

Then I started off. There are quite a few pretty cool apps available already (the company announced 1m downloads today, a mere 4 weeks after starting to ship to consumers). The New York Times app is nice (if practical). There are some sweet ones exploring molecules, etc. There are, alas, also some that don’t really work (yet). The usual shenanigans every new platform goes through. Anyway, I then downloaded the “Touchless for Mac” app, which turns the Leap controller into a navigation tool for your computer. And it works: It took me the best part of 20 minutes to actually get going nicely. I could open web pages, scroll through my Facebook feed, open links, play (and pause) video, etc. without too much struggle or stress. Latency is basically absent.

Mind you, this is not Minority Report if you are in the early stages of use (there is a “basic” and an “advanced” setting; I haven’t ventured beyond “basic” yet). But what would you expect? It is new, you have never used gesture controls in space (unless you’re Tom Cruise of course), so you will have to learn. I have little times for nay-sayers that already point out that it’ll fail because it is not perfect. It is a very impressive start!

My son (18, slightly geeky [and designy] aspiring Physicist and skateboard apparel entrepreneur) was, unsurprisingly, a lot faster than I in picking this up. It took him the best part of 5 minutes to successfully navigate around the parts that caused me some trial and error (small buttons, e.g. the “close window” one). BTW: Even my wife thinks is cool, and she hasn’t even seen Minority Report!

Apps, Apps, Apps…

In the year of the Lord (if you are so inclined) 2013, we all know that any device is only ever as useful as the applications that exist for it. And this is where the whole Leap experience delights and, erm, shows potential for growth at the same time: there are some apps out there already (and bear in mind that it’s a mere 4-5 weeks they are in the market only) that show you what can be done with this. And I would say it shows great promise! There are, however, also some absolute dogs (I won’t name and shame as I have no inclination of rubbishing brave developers that took an early leap [sic!] of faith to get behind a new platform).

User Interface

The biggest challenge is the bridge between today’s computer interfaces (I have yet to play around with it on Windows 8; need to “borrow” my daughter’s computer for that) are either mouse- or touch-centric. This is to say that they do not take into account the intrinsic constraints of gesture-based UX systems. That is to say: there is a natural constraint in how the Leap Motion can work with today’s computer systems. That, however, is (arguably) not the Leap Motion’s fault. The promises are huge as it removes artificial middlemen between the content and the user’s natural input mechanism (of which gesture is one). However, the full power of it will only come to fruition if paired with an OS interface that is designed for it, and this might – at least in the short term – be the snag: Leap doesn’t have that.

They have done a lot of things right though (the developer uptake is testament to that for a start) and it would be thrilling to see it being married to an interface that is actually built for it. It is not that hard, I think: Leap Motion’s own store shows (in a webpage) how to adapt a few things that make it very usable indeed.

Big buttons, clear borders between items, etc. make it a whole lot easier to navigate fluently and quickly using the gesture input. This is running in a present-day browser, so can’t be rocket science. There are already some convincing implementations of the Leap’s controls into live services: Google Earth as well as Nokia’s Here Maps already allow you to use the Leap Motion controller as an input device and that works really well!

One downside is the “jump” if you scroll: it sometimes just drops when you move your finger forward (a “click”), essentially misinterpreting what you want to do. This then can open another app (because it got “hooked” in the app tray below) or do some other stuff you didn’t really want it to do. Because of the above-mentioned challenge with small “close window” buttons, this is not a welcome distraction.

Another challenging piece is to use the Leap Motion in concert with keyboard and touchpad: because your fingers move in and/or near the “vision” of the controller, it sometimes interferes by e.g. re-setting your pointer to somewhere else on the screen, which is somewhat annoying. For everyday use, this is even fatal: if you always have to activate/de-activate and/or connect/dis-connect, you will probably not be using it at all once the early excitement has worn off. But let this not deter you from the concept: this last challenge could very easily be abolished would OEM incorporate the controller into an actual computer: the moment you use the keyboard, the Leap controller would simply be “muted” (or something a whole lot smarter than that). None of the constraints are flaws of the technology but merely on how it interacts with today’s commercially available hardware. If you allow a crude comparison: a Lamborghini Aventador would not have been much fun on cart tracks in the 19th century: the device would simply not interact that well with its incumbent environment. Alas, we are not 150 years apart here: all components exist and could work hand in glove (I know, tacky pun) with each other with only very few tweaks.

And Onwards!

And this is where it gets exciting: imagine a controller like this for navigation tasks, voice, etc for things like text input and couple this with anything from Google Glass to Pico Projectors (fairly sure Wikipedia needs an update here) to proximity-aware screens in your environment (you walk into your home, it all comes alive on a 50” screen whereas it would happily play on your Google Glass-type screen whilst you are on your way from work in the metro/tube/bus/subway). You have the freedom to choose and use natural inputs (voice, gestures) depending on what makes most sense for the task at hand. Doable? Absolutely. Close? I suspect so!


So what do I think? After the above, you’d appreciate this is only an interim conclusion. In principle: I love it! How often will I use it in the next six months or so? Not very much, I guess, as it still doesn’t have the critical bits I particularly need (I am one of the boring MS Office/Keynote/Chrome types). But what can it (and/or competitors, successors, subsequent evolutions of it) do? Enormous things!

Humanities and the (Global) Silicon Valley

So… this is something I have been carrying around with me for a while. A long while. The thing is this: the Zuckerbergs, Pages, Jobs (may he rest in peace) and all those other rockstars from the valley generally missed (and, unfortunately, still do miss) one thing, and that is a decent ethical compass. Now, I won’t accuse any of them of being bad people, not at all. However, I do think that the infatuation with engineering talent does tend to blank out the “good” in as most people would see it. The Valley is, essentially, a left-brain affair. Now, don’t get me wrong, there is a lot of creativity, etc going on in the Valley (see the capitalized way of putting it?) but a lot of it is lacking essential ethical values. Why is that? Because engineers don’t think that way.

Engineering is Cool… but not enough…

Now, I think this is missing a huge trick (and, yes, as a humanities guy I would of course say that) because it leaves aside the sentiment of at least half of the population (I would posit that it is more than that as – although perhaps in a foggy, undefined way – most people do actually prefer ethically sound principles.

Now look at the major success stories of recent times. Let’s say Apple of Facebook. As to the latter, there has been a scathing (but rather excellent) article by Hamish McKenzie on PandoDaily today (which actually triggered me to write this thing tonight; thank you, jetlag…) looking at the missed tricks of Facebook Platform. This followed a piece by the most excellent Walter Isaacson in the Harvard Business Review of “The Real Leadership Lessons of Steve Jobs” (eminently readable and highly recommended!).

Both Jobs and (admittedly) to a lesser extent Zuckerberg are quite awesome entrepreneurs (and I use both their products daily) but there was always something that irked me… And I realized it was their lack of ethics. Because, you see, I believe they have none. That is also why my regard for the “don’t do evil” motto of Google reached an all time low recently (check here if you don’t believe I could have such a low; I did!). And the reason is not that they are bad people. The reason is they are (were…) engineers. And engineers don’t think in certain ways. But, I would say, that (absent) way of thinking is important… really important in fact!

Humanities to the Fore!

And so I would call for every company to make sure to have someone in their upper ranks who comes from the humanities (yes, Google, I am looking at you; you are particularly bad in hiring those…) because, you see, those folks add (or can add) this additional dimension that will really allow you not to do evil. If you only have shit-hot engineers (and I adore those as much as anyone), you won’t be able to add that balance that you really need.

The challenging thing is that the result may – in the interim – be OK as in you might be making loads of dollars, and, yes, I know that this is good enough in most engineers’ book. However, if you want to build something to last, you will need to make sure that you have a balance that makes the Karma be good (and remember I am Atheist, so this is about doing the right thing and all…). And you’ll need those touchy-feely folks for that! There is – often, not always – a distinct lack of this in modern-day hot-shot start-ups. And the only thing I will say is this: to preach to the altar of engineering is as bad as preaching to any other altar; it tends to blank out other bits of life, and that, in itself, is bad.


Oh America, where art thou?

I am pretty angry, America (OK, American government; that is)! What on earth are you doing? (oh, and hello, NSA, thanks for checking in).

Let me open with Plato (Laws):

“Where the law is subject to some other authority and has none of its own, the collapse of the state, in my view, is not far off; but if law is the master of the government and the government is its slave, then the situation is full of promise and men enjoy all the blessings that the gods shower on a state.”

Those were the days, huh? Shame…

Daddy is Cheating…

You know, I have suspected for some time. But I didn’t want to believe. Lipstick on your collar? Hey, there’s a good explanation, right? Right? But now I saw you with that other girl. And, you know, she wasn’t even the gorgeous blonde where I might have grumbled but acknowledged that she’s pretty hot (sorry for the outdated simile, ladies). But what I am looking at is greed, suspicion, police state perversion. And that is not good!

So now the scene is set, let’s go. You see, I have been a loyal friend for decades. I have been working with your companies, furthered your wealth in the process, befriended your people. I am a fan of your forefathers (Jefferson and Lincoln count amongst my biggest heroes) and I defended your values (and, believe me, the latter wasn’t always easy, what with all that Bush, gun-slinging, death-penalty stuff that is often not easy to understand to Europeans). Other than being atheist, I think I’d fit (or would have fitted) right in with you (even though I’d order smaller burgers).

NSA Dragnets

And now this! So, you have been running huge dragnets, it seems (never mind the details, I will leave those to Michael Arrington); by the looks of it even the most rose-tinted version is pretty nasty).

And you also have the audacity to say that a secret court to which I cannot appeal is sufficient legal oversight. And the President (yes, I am looking at you, Mr Nobel Peace Price-winning Obama) doesn’t even dare to crawl out of his White House to defend this (being humbled wasn’t enough, it seems; you should have acted upon it!).

And then, quite besides the scale of this alone, you find it perfectly OK to just about capture everything from everyone who doesn’t happen to hold a US passport. Never mind if she has shown to be a friend of yours or not. Earthlings of a lower class we are then. You basically declare war on everyone else (because that is really what you do, right? It is OK to spy on people even to further the US cause; given your tight language these days, I take it this includes industrial espionage; I mean you were on it for a while, no?).

So, let me break this down: for me as a European (although, as far as I understand, I might as well be a war-mongering nutcase of Klingon origin), you do not think I should be afforded any rights – and not even think of the rule of law or access to courts or any such fancy stuff? Further, even as it concerns your own people, you still think secret courts to which no one can appeal and that do not publish their opinions, that have none of the “checks and balances” that made your system famous are sufficient? Are you kidding me? Have you all – after all – inhaled and, for that matter, way too much?

Friends don’t Matter

This is to the first point: So you, America, think that no one other than you matters. Friend or foe – no difference. I find this appalling. What do you think this will get you? More friends? More visitors that hatch nasty plans for your downfall? Probably the latter. You know, I do not wish you bad. But I am not sure if I will be as motivated to go out of my way the next time. Don’t you know we live on a globe (as in global – get it?) with many people and regimes that require a certain amount of goodwill, trust and – for goodness sake – decency? What do you think? That we will just swallow shallow press releases referring to dubious “we acted within the law” statements? Whose laws? Who is overseeing those? Who is testing you? Who is checking your power? Where, oh where is due process?

You see, the American constitution is a blueprint for law students all over the world because it introduced the principle that the various powers within a state need to be checked and balanced against each other. They must not bloody collude to provide some lop-sided monster! Wake up! How can it be that not vast majorities of your lawmakers are up in arms over this? How can it be that this gentle, inclusive dream of a President (yes, we all loved you very much, Mr Obama) hides behind, I don’t know what. How can it be that he not only simply carried on but – apparently (I trust the Guardian more than your press releases, Mr President) – extended this highly doubtful grip on the world’s information? How could you have drifted away so far from the path of the righteous and right? I am horrified!

I live near Manchester. That is in the UK. We have an Abraham-Lincoln-Square there. And in the middle of it is a statue of the great man with a facsimile of the letter he wrote to the workers over here. Because they suffered when America fought for its independence. And Lincoln was grateful. Mr Obama, you failed! You don’t write thank-you-letters. You’d rather read our letters and try to extract as much information as you possibly can to further whatever cause it is you are pursuing. Shame on you!

Secret Courts, Habeas Corpus & Due Process

Now then, let’s knuckle down a bit. One of the pre-eminent rights that define the pride of the US Constitution is the right to due process. Would I first have to travel to the US, get myself arrested to be able to cry habeas corpus? If this your understanding of it, make yourself acquainted with the “effet utile” or direct effect: a law (or indeed the constitution) should be interpreted such that it gives direct effect. It is – if you need a reminder – related to your very own Implied Powers doctrine. And you are now saying that this only applies to US citizens? Oh, hang on, you do. You signed the treaty but did not ratify as you

consider[…] many of the provisions of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to constitute customary international law on the law of treaties (source)

What the bloody f***? Get yourself some lawyers that think straight rather than trying to exploit every friggin’ loophole, will you? You consider it customary but don’t ratify? Huh? I’ll have some fun in that court…

What would you say if your citizens in the UK, Germany, Italy, France, Spain, etc. were being denied due process? You’d be howling. How dare we? And you? Do not give a flying [you get it].

So listen: a secret court is something for oppressive regimes, for states that have nasty stuff to hide, for the folks that you are so trigger-happy to pursue. They are NOT for enlightened democracies. Change it! Now!

The dichotomy between Sharing and Transparency is NONE

You know, I happily share stuff, I really do. I know Google scans my e-mails for keywords to serve me the “right” AdWords (it fails more often than not). That’s fine. You know why? Because they told me. It’s transparent. And that (Google and all you others, are you listening?) is the word! I am a little more suspicious about the moral compass of Mr Zuckerberg, but, hey, I’m in for the right. The thing though is this: the “contrat social” (that’s French, and, no, it’s not communist) in the digital world is one of reciprocity when it comes to being transparent. Tell me what you want to do so I can decide if I will take you up on your offer. Spying and dragnets are not included in this definition! Not by one bit (get it?)!

Your behaviour – and the obscene ignorance to the present day you show whilst displaying it – does also highlight the antiquity of ancient laws (you know that your own spying law dates from 1917, right?) when it comes to digital communications. So let’s get this straight: I use the services of Google, Facebook, Skype Apple, Amazon and Microsoft and, rarely (I’m a little old, you see), YouTube (I don’t use the others – and hadn’t even heard of PalTalk before the Guardian/Washington Post revelations). And that’s perfectly fine. I know they collect data. Because, you know, we all know they’ve got to live and there’s this great big network thing going on with ads and stuff; that’s OK. Now, am I in any way related to the US? Not really, right? I mean: I have visited but never lived there. I am working with Americans in various ways (this is not a bad thing, right?). But to treat me as a subject because my domain happens to be hosted stateside (which I guess it is), because I happen to use the above services is, frankly, ludicrous. It is like establishing an exclusive jurisdiction in China for owners of iPhones. Because, you know, that is where they actually are built. And you don’t even blink? Shame on you! Is this where your great big dream descended to? Good Lord, this is sad – and, of course, scary.

What do you want me (and all us 6.5 billion non-US-Americans) to do? Stop using the “nasty 9” plus DropBox, Evernote, Twitter, Instagram and everyone else because, you know, it can only be a matter of time before you haul them in, too? That’s great. Just great! I suspect you really believe you’ll get away with it, right? And the worst thing is that you probably will. But you haven’t understood a thing.

This is not what this was set up for. A good society – and the digital one is built on this very concept – is based on concepts of trust and reciprocity. Your cold-war antics don’t fit into this. They won’t help either. Don’t you realise that stuff gets worse, not better, the more you behave like a rogue state? You won’t be winning like this! And that would be sad. Because that was one cool dream you had!

You, America, are – can I say it? – getting paranoid about way too much stuff, America, and it spoils your good looks, you know. The country where milk and honey flows, the place where the grass is greener starts looking aged and not so bright anymore. Ruthless and reckless you appear more often these days. This is not good. Because, you know, I’d like to like you again. Your recent behaviour doesn’t do you any good whatsoever. And you, Mr President, have a whole lot of work to do to win me back!

Bad day!

PS: BlackBerry did not endorse this message. As forΒ everything (but particularly on this post), this is my very own and personal anger…

PPS: To my American friends: you know I still love you! πŸ™‚

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