How Cloudflare’s fight with a ‘patent troll’ could alter the game

Matthew Prince knew what was coming. The CEO of Cloudflare, an internet security company and content delivery network in San Francisco, was behind his desk when the emails began to trickle in, slowly at first, then in bursts. College classmates-turned-defense attorneys, including from the University of Chicago, where Prince had nabbed his law degree years earlier, were reaching out to say hello and to ask: did Prince perhaps need help to fight a lawsuit they’d seen filed against Cloudflare in Delaware?

The paperwork would itself arrive shortly after from a registered agent in a thick white envelope. The claim: patent infringement. The firm going after Cloudflare: Blackbird Technologies, a three-year-old, Boston- and Chicago-based firm founded by two former attorneys with white-shoe law firms who’d previously litigated intellectual property cases on behalf of some of the largest tech companies in the world.

Blackbird has since amassed a portfolio of roughly 37 broad-seeming patents that it has so far used to file more than 100 lawsuits, including against Asics, New Balance and Lululemon over a sports bra, and Amazon, PetSmart and Walmart over a bicycle pet carrier.

Blackbird’s specific lawsuit against Cloudflare accuses it of violating U.S. Patent No. 6,453,335, a patent filed 18 years ago by the owner of a Web hosting company in Germany that describes providing a “third party data channel” online and whose original owner, Oliver Kaufmann, doesn’t seem to have tried using it to create anything.

Kaufmann hasn’t responded to a request for comment for this story, but a patent record shows he sold the patent last October for $1 plus “other good and valuable consideration” to Blackbird, which is also using the patent to sue another startup called Fastly.

The Cloudflare suit is fairly typical. So-called non-practicing entities — or holders of a patent for a process or product that they don’t plan to develop — often use them to sue companies that would sooner settle rather than pay what can add up to $1 million by the time a case reaches a courtroom. Prince calls Blackbird uniquely dangerous because its founders’ law backgrounds make it even easier for the outfit to sue companies like Cloudflare; they needn’t pay an attorney to represent their interests.

Even more unusual, however, and potentially more meaningful for other companies, is Cloudflare’s response to the suit. Indeed, when Prince was handed that envelope on a sunny March afternoon, he saw it as a moment he’d been waiting for since co-founding Cloudflare seven years earlier. As far as he was concerned, this was war, and he was ready for it.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/11/the-hunted-becomes-the-hunter-how-cloudflares-fight-with-a-patent-troll-could-alter-the-game/

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How Apple is Shaping Its Activity-Tracking Algorithms with secretive gyms.

For several years now, Apple has operated a hush-hush fitness lab in an undisclosed location at its campus in Cupertino, California, and this week the company offered up a few details about how it’s studying all kinds of activities—on dry land and in water—in order to build algorithms for tracking them on the Apple Watch.

Jay Blahnik, Apple’s director of fitness for health technologies, said Tuesday that Apple believes the gym-like lab—which was built before the Apple Watch was released in 2015 and uses employee volunteers as guinea pigs—has now collected more biometric data than anyone else. It has also become the largest purchaser of metabolic carts, which are used to keep tabs on oxygen consumption; it now has 50 of these machines, he said, and half of them are portable so they can be used for activities like swimming and cycling. (And employees do use them, along with a security guard, for a daily bike ride, he added.)

The swimming happens in an indoor endless pool, and Blahnik said observations revealed that people don’t swim as well as they think they do. It turns out that even when people are pretty regular swimmers, it’s hard to measure a difference between, say, their crawl and breaststroke.

That’s not to say that everyone who comes into this data gym is going to partake in physical activity.

Short article, but interesting reading.

Source: https://www.technologyreview.com/s/608250/how-apples-ai-secretive-gym-is-shaping-its-activity-tracking-algorithms/

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Cracking the code behind Apple’s App Store promo cards

Cracking the code behind Apple’s App Store promo cards

Equinux blog:

Apple is known for doing things with more attention to detail than most companies. So it should come as no surprise that even App Store gift cards with their promo codes have a few secret details that help make the experience more Apple-like.

So what powers the simple App Store promo codes? Secret fonts, special dimensions, and many more.

Today, we uncover these secrets.

[..]

Apple’s App Store gift cards have a special trick: you can simply hold one up to your iPhone or Mac’s camera and it’ll automatically scan in the code and redeem the card for you. As developers, we thought it’d be cool to print some of our own promo code cards to give away at events, so we tried to create our own scannable cards. Turns out, there’s more to it than meets the eye…

Over all, This post does some interesting reverse engineering, and is definitely worth a read, they’ve even included templates in Sketch, Photoshop, FileMaker and Mail Designer Pro that you can use to make your own scannable codes if you’re a developer with an app to share.

Source: http://blog.equinux.com/2017/07/cracking-the-code-behind-apples-app-store-promo-card-design/

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Facebook slashes price of Oculus Rift for second time

Facebook slashes price of Oculus Rift for second time

Facebook has slashed the price of the Oculus Rift for a second time, as part of its “Summer of Rift” sales season. The Oculus Rift and Touch controller are available for $399 and will remain at that price for six weeks.

It is the second time Facebook has cut the price of the Oculus Rift since it acquired the company for $2 billion in 2014. Oculus launched its first consumer version in early 2016, but the first few months were plagued by shipping delays.

The original cost of the Oculus Rift, $599, put a lot of consumers off, especially with the additional hardware cost to make the games playable. Consumers that don’t already own a PC could see the cost pass $1,500, before purchasing any games or accessories.

[..]

The VR market has not blossomed as much as Facebook may have been hoping, but analysts project a growth in sales over the next five years, led by mobile VR headsets. Oculus already works with Samsung on the Gear VR, but may look to build its own hardware in the future.

I can see this price dropping at least once more to try to entice people into desktop VR.

I’ve been using the Gear VR and DayDream VR myself and enjoy them.

I was an owner of both the Oculus Rift DK1 and DK2, and the headsets worked fine (with noticeable issues), but I was never a fan of the wires, hence the switch when Gear VR when it came out, and later to DayDream (because it had Need for Speed and a much faster phone more than anything else to be honest).

Source: https://readwrite.com/2017/07/12/facebook-oculus-rift-dl4/

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The Internet Is Fucked (Again)

Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

FCC chairman Ajit Pai is fond of saying that “the internet was not broken in 2015” when he argues for repeal of our nation’s net neutrality rules. This is particularly funny to me, because in 2014 I literally wrote an article called “The internet is fucked.”

Why was it fucked? Because the free and open internet was in danger of becoming tightly controlled by giant telecom corporations that were already doing things like blocking apps and services from phones and excusing their own services from data caps. Because the lack of competition in the internet access market let these companies act like predatory monopolies. And because our government lacked the will or clarity to just say what everyone already knows: internet access is a utility.

Most of these things are still true, even after the Obama-era FCC under Chairman Tom Wheeler reclassified internet access as a Title II telecommunications service and imposed strict net neutrality rules on wired and wireless internet providers. And most of these things will get even worse when Pai pushes through his plan to rescind Title II and those rules, despite widespread public outcry.

The lack of competition in the broadband access market is so acute that it doesn’t matter if Comcast is still the most-hated company in America, or that Spectrum (formerly Time Warner Cable) has the worst customer service: you don’t have a choice, so you just have to pay them anyway. Consumers and tech publications can review and argue and debate the merits of products from Apple, Google, and Microsoft, but you just have to take what you get from your ISP.

[..]

Is this what you want? Does this sound like a path toward better, faster, cheaper internet access? Toward better products and services in a more competitive market? To me, it sounds like Americans need to demand that our government actually hear our concerns, look at our skyrocketing bills, and make real policy that respects us, instead of watching the staff of an unelected official laugh as he ignores us. It sounds like we need to flood the offices of the FCC and Congress with calls and paperwork, demanding to know how giving handouts to huge corporations will help us.

Read the entire article, it’s long but a very worthwhile read.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/12/15715030/what-is-net-neutrality-fcc-ajit-pai-bill-rules-repealed

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SoundCloud sinks as leaks say layoffs buy little time

But as security ominously filed into SoundCloud’s meeting rooms at its offices around the world during the all-hands video conference broadcast from its Berlin headquarters, the startup’s staff discovered they wouldn’t be getting the answers they wanted. Instead, sources at SoundCloud tell TechCrunch that founders Alex Ljung and Eric Wahlforss confessed the layoffs only saved the company enough money to have runway “until Q4” — which begins in just 50 days.

Source: https://techcrunch.com/2017/07/12/soundshroud/

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Apple’s new PayPal support makes it easier to trick iTunes

Apple’s new PayPal support makes it easier to trick iTunes

Apple has introduced PayPal support as a way to make purchases within its ecosystem, meaning it’s going to get easier to trick iTunes into thinking you’re in another country if you want access to different apps.

Users in Canada and Mexico will now be able to use PayPal to pay for purchases from iTunes, the App Store, Apple Music, and iBooks, with that capability being rolled out to other countries including the US “soon,” according to PayPal.

PayPal hides your credit card information, meaning you could technically trick the App Store into thinking you’re in another country and access another country’s suite of apps.

Previously, you needed a US credit card to pay for apps on the US store. You could already create an Apple ID in any country you wanted without a credit card for free downloads, but you had to buy gift cards first to access paid apps.

This was never that difficult anyhow, go to the store and buy a pre-paid Vanilla mastercard, and you can pay on the US app store.

But this does make it easier to do, maybe Apple is reaching the point where they just don’t care where you are anymore?

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2017/7/12/15958210/apple-new-paypal-support-trick-itunes

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Jason Snell on if the iPad Pro is ready to be your work machine

Jason Snell:

With the iPad Pro, Apple is unabashedly making the case that the iPad is a platform that can be used for serious work. While the iPad isn’t going to work for every person’s specific needs, its successes in the enterprise and among grassroots iPad-only professionals suggests that the iPad is already being used to do a whole lot of serious work. The new iPad Pro models and this fall’s release of iOS 11 (now in public beta) are great news for anyone who wants to use an iPad to get work done.

In June, Apple updated both of its iPad Pro models. The larger one, with a 12.9-inch screen, has always been great at text input because of its expanded dimensions: Apple’s Smart Keyboard accessory offers full-sized keys, and even the on-screen keyboard is big enough to be considered full-sized. But the smaller iPad Pro model, which gained a 10.5-inch screen (up from 9.7 inches) and a few millimeters of extra width in landscape mode, is a much better device for typing than its predecessor, with the Smart Keyboard gaining full-size QWERTY keys and its software keyboard stretching to take advantage of the wider screen.

With iOS 11, the typing story gets even better: Apple’s new software keyboard features a second set of symbols that can be triggers with a flicking gesture while typing; once you get used to it, text entry on the iPad speeds up a lot because toggling to the secondary keyboard for numbers and symbols becomes a rarity.

[..]

Still, it’s a bit baffling that with all this focus on files and productivity, Apple seems to not believe that sometimes files live on external storage devices. Files works with items in the cloud, but not (natively, at least) with local SMB shares, USB flash drives, external hard drives, or SD-card media. If a coworker gives you a few PowerPoint slides on a thumb drive for addition to the presentation, and all you have is an iPad, you’re out of luck—even if you’ve brought along your Lightning-to-USB adapter. You’ll need to get someone to upload that file to a cloud service or send it in an email. That’s a bit silly, isn’t it? Yes, one day our sneakers will be uploaded with the rest of us into the cloud, but for now, support for external storage devices will make the iPad Pro less likely to fail just when we need it.

Source: http://www.techrepublic.com/article/yes-ipad-pro-is-ready-to-be-your-work-machine-with-one-baffling-exception/

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Nintendo’s first Switch streaming app launches Thursday in Japan (But don’t get too excited)

Other than its still-in-development online gaming setup, the Nintendo Switch launched without the suite of video streaming apps we’re used to seeing on new consoles. Now there’s an announcement of one video app for the Switch that’s scheduled to launch July 13th, but unfortunately, it’s only for Japanese users.

Niconico is a YouTube-like video sharing site where users comments float in over videos while the play. From the preview video, it all seems quite straightforward, but we still have no information on when apps like Netflix or Hulu will be available for gamers in other countries.

I love the Switch, but the lack of video apps has just been very odd, and this seems like an equally odd choice to launch as the first video app.

Source: https://www.engadget.com/2017/07/11/nintendo-switch-streaming-niconico/

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The iPhone killed my inner nerd

The iPhone killed my inner nerd

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

When I was a teenager, this time of year would be insufferable. My bedroom would be nearly 90 degrees Fahrenheit without air conditioning, but it wasn’t even particularly hot outside. I had at least five tower PCs running inside my bedroom, all contributing a lot of heat to my tiny little room. Each performed its own role in my home network, with a file server, domain server, Exchange server, and media center PC among them. All of those tower PCs are now inside my pocket, thanks to the iPhone.

I used to run a full Active Directory with individual organizational units and push out group policies to manage my family’s local PCs. I had a proxy server set up to control web access, and revoked administrator rights to ensure my family never installed malicious software. All of our email went through my Exchange server, and I had a custom app that pulled mail from ISP and Hotmail POP3 accounts and filtered it through an assortment of anti-spam tools before it was allowed to hit an Exchange inbox. All of my family’s important documents were stored on a file server, backed up in a RAID array. I even used Zip drives for the really important stuff. I was a true IT administrator, and I was only 15.

All of these PCs were built by hand, with custom cases, cooling configurations, and my own selection of processors or RAM. I laughed at the thought of having to buy a Toshiba or Packard Bell PC, and opted for AMD’s Athlon 64 processors. I’d build powerful gaming rigs and spend hours writing scripts to get a better field of view in games, or a slight advantage by squeezing out every single drop of performance by altering textures per map. I would enter contests and win better processors or RAM, upgrade my PC and push the older components down to my servers.

These servers were so powerful at the time that I was able to get push email on my phone, something you couldn’t really do back in 2002 unless you were a business using BlackBerry devices. I’d sit smugly reading my emails on a train with my iPAQ or one of the original HTC Pocket PC devices with a stylus. I couldn’t download apps from an app store for these phones because those stores didn’t even exist yet. Instead, I’d find apps on the internet and load them on, modifying the registry along the way to tweak things. I used to spend hours browsing on XDA-Developers for the latest ROMs, downloading and installing them to tweak and test the latest software and firmware. It was an exciting time, and I miss it.

All of that tinkering and hacking things ended for me shortly after the iPhone arrived, and the closest I’ve come to it recently is playing around with a Raspberry Pi and Kodi.

[..]

Apple’s App Store and the iPhone have altered computing massively, beyond my own examples. Nokia, BlackBerry, Microsoft, Motorola, and Palm have all had their businesses disrupted by the iPhone. The iPhone’s impact has also shaped how we use PCs today, and our expectations of computing in general. Apple’s iPhone has been on the market for 10 years now, and it hasn’t experienced a single instance of a mass malware attack like we’ve seen twice in the past month on Windows PCs.

Apple’s locked down and sandboxed environment for apps is a new model that has succeeded with consumers and security. Sure, there have been vulnerabilities, bugs, and near misses, but nobody has been forced to pay $300 to unlock their iPhone after a huge malware attack.

I’ve been in Tom’s shoes. Some days, I miss the old days of building computers by hand and swapping out everything: RAM, drives, graphics cards, processors.

In fact, at some point in time, I have owned at least one of each of the devices that Tom refers to.

I still thinker with electronics. Raspberry Pis especially as well as a few Arduinos, etc.

And I recently started laying out ideas to build a new Linux workstation from scratch, but it’s not like it used to be in the old days.

Source: https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/29/15892222/i-miss-the-days-of-hacking-things-before-the-iphone-first-click

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