I was just reading A Two-Step Plan to Stop Hackers at the NYT in the aftermath of 1.2 billion username-password combinations possibly stolen by Russian hackers. The article covers strategies in place by major financial institutions and suggestions we’ve all heard. The literal bottom line: change your password frequently. Good advice, but not enough.
Here’s something I’d like to see: Financial institutions granting us two sets of credentials. One would grant read-only access to information like account balances. The output would be masked enough to shield my full account numbers and name while letting me see my balances. Using these credentials I would not be able to make any changes to my accounts or transfer funds. I started thinking about this when I was considering using Intuit-owned mint.com. Mint is an incredibly convenient tool with one giant drawback: You have to trust Intuit with the usernames and passwords to all your financial accounts. As a Mint user you have to rely on both your bank and Mint to protect your information. Once you’ve shared your sacred information with Mint you can get your entire financial picture on one website.
I’m frequently asked about various services and how secure they are. My stock answer is that they’re all using similar security technology. The problem is that the systems are complex and subject to errors committed by the human administrators. This is true with any sort of password protected account you have on the Internet.
I trust that Mint has a plan to keep my information secure, just as the big banks, gmail, and Dropbox do. But they’re susceptible to mistakes, and any of them could be the next headline detailing a mainstream cloud provider that’s been hacked.
So banks, if you’re listening, how about some read-only credentials that I’d probably be able to use 80% of the time? And a full-access credential set for when I need to shift some money around? I’ll give the read-only credentials to Mint and worry less. I’ll be very careful with my full-access credentials, and employ the tools covered by the NYT.
What’s Apple’s Answer to Sonos?
Speculation about Apple’s product pipeline is endless. Lately the frontrunner has been an Apple TV. Wall Street and the media want nothing short of a miracle: A device that combines the current Apple TV and the best display ever imagined — while instantly replacing every cable box for every carrier.
But how many could they sell? Devices like the iPhone and iPad sell in very large numbers, like the iPod before them. The reason? iPods, iPhones, and iPads are largely personal devices. A typical household buys more than one and upgrades regularly. Some households would buy more than one television from Apple. But how many? And how often?
For Murphy, the next product is obvious and Sonos is already making it: Intelligent, wireless speakers.
How often do we hear about Apple’s ecosystem? How big is music in the ecosystem? It’s huge. Apple’s stranglehold on the digital music industry has helped lock in customers. But one could argue that the stranglehold is loosening. Why not sell consumers more devices for music playback? And here’s the kicker: A significant number of households would buy more than one speaker.
Tim Cook’s quote about the television feeling decades behind has been repeated over and over. But what about stereos? Receivers with an endless array of ports on the back. Speaker zones. Digital inputs, analog outputs, consumer confusion. Speaker wire catching dog hair on the floor. Awkward remotes requiring line of sight.
Sonos has a lot of these problems beat. Wireless speakers with decent sound. Your phone, tablet, or computer as a convenient and simple remote. Dead-simple configuration. Built-in support for services like Pandora and Internet radio stations. In a way Sonos is an Apple TV for music.
So where’s Apple on this? You can be sure Apple is well-aware of Sonos. Steve Jobs even warned Sonos they could be infringing on Apple intellectual property. So why isn’t Apple competing with Sonos?
Sonos speakers aren’t for budget shoppers and aren’t what I’d call an impulse buy. In our case we were looking at wired speakers throughout the house. By the time you add receivers, amps, speakers, wiring, and an Airport Express for each “zone” of the house you’re into some significant expense. Sonos is a viable and affordable alternative to this path. We actually rejected Sonos based on cost until we started researching the alternatives.
Back to Apple: They launched a speaker unit years ago that didn’t last long. The Apple HiFi had an iPod dock and Jobs said he was getting rid of his stereo. But the HiFi didn’t have WiFi – limiting it to one room. Sonos speakers can be deployed throughout your house and play in sync or independently.
Maybe Apple was a little too early with the HiFi. They shouldn’t let that stop them from trying again. iPods didn’t have wifi back then, there was no AirPlay. But now AirPlay and Homesharing are the glue holding the ecosystem together. Apple shouldn’t be ignoring speakers. Speakers should at least have the hobby status (or is it ‘intense area of interest’ now?) the current Apple TV holds.
Buy Sonos or Build Your Own
Should Apple just buy Sonos? Sonos isn’t making a huge profit. But their equipment is somewhat expensive. It seems like the margins could be high if they charged near the current prices and were selling an Apple-like number of units instead of a Sonos-like number of units. There might be some sticker shock when you see Sonos pricing. But Sonos customers seem to have an Apple-like satisfaction with their purchase.
It’s hard to see why Apple couldn’t make their own wireless speakers. They’re not unfamiliar with speakers. They know wifi. But could they do it as well as Sonos? What does Sonos have that makes them a buyout target?
The most obvious one is Sonosnet, the technology the speakers use to communicate with one another. Sonosnet is self-configuring, allowing each Sonos component you add to your system to communicate seamlessly with the others. The underlying protocol is essentially wifi, but there’s more to Sonosnet than just wifi. Each speaker is capable of communicating with all the rest. That speaker in a remote corner of the house only has to reach one other speaker wirelessly to participate in sync with the other speakers. And you don’t have to configure any of that.
What about multiple speakers? Sonos speakers can work as individuals or all in sync. Or anything in between. All your downstairs speakers can be playing Pandora while all the upstairs speakers play directly from an iPhone’s local music store. With a few taps every speaker could be playing Pandora.
Currently you can play to multiple Airport Expresses or Apple TVs from a Mac or PC running iTunes. But you can’t do that from iOS devices, including Apple TV. AirPlay on iOS and Apple TV limits you to selecting one output. That’s a pretty big limitation when your goal is whole-house audio. Worth buying Sonos for? Probably not.
What about the speaker technology? I don’t know. Sonos sounds good and they play in sync. That’s all I know about speakers.
Sonos gear already has an Apple-y feel to it. The products have a minimalist, clean finish and the interfaces are designed well. Apple would quickly have a number of products ready to ship, including the new Sonos Playbar.
Sonos isn’t perfect. Its iTunes interoperability isn’t via any APIs. Sonos scans your underlying music files instead (which it helps you share) and builds its own index. That’s an opportunity for Apple: Allowing Sonos to pull directly from iTunes and iTunes Match.
The more I think about it the more I think it won’t happen. It would have happened by now. If Apple does make its own wireless speakers I can think of some added features I’d like to see. Like a system-wide intercom to boss people around in my house.
Note: Sonos recently added a new component, the Playbar. It’s designed to complement your television.
Make that 50GB. Saw this post at TUAW promoting 25gb of free storage at Box. Followed the TUAW link to an Engadget post where there was a comment linking to a 50gb free offer.
File size limited to 250mb.
Offer could end any minute.
Requires setting up new Box account.
Must agree to personal use only.
I use Box from time to time. There’s a lot of overlap with Dropbox but it looks like Box is more interested in facilitating sharing for commercial purposes. That said, this offer is only good for personal use.
The inside of my MBP, before replacing the drive.
A few weeks ago I realized I was going to need a dedicated laptop for a client I’m working with. I thought about taking Mrs. Murphy’s first-gen Air off her hands – but it seemed pretty pokey and I quickly lost interest. I looked at buying a new Air and realized that by the time I configured some customizations it would be more than I wanted to shell out for a machine that would get limited use.
Then I remembered a Macbook Pro sitting on a shelf in my office. It used to be our DVR until I got a top-of-the-line iMac last year. The MBP hasn’t done much since – partly because the battery bulged about a year ago and a laptop without a battery is somewhat limited.
The MBP is a 3,1 for those of you who know that sort of thing. For the rest of us: it’s a model that was introduced at the end of 2007. Five years ago. A little less for this particular serial number, which according to Powerbook Medic was stamped out in early 2008. It shipped with 2GB of RAM and a 5400RPM hdd, 160GB of storage. It’s a 2.4ghz Core 2 Duo. Back in 2008 it was a mighty fine Mac.
The problem: After years of use I had little faith in its reliability going forward. The drive had worked hard recording HD television shows and football games and converting them to m4v files using a Turbo.264 USB hardware encoder. The drive sounded a little tired. Whether it actually was or not didn’t matter, I didn’t trust it. So I started reading up on SSD drives. I didn’t, and still don’t, know much about them. Mrs. Murphy’s Air is the only machine we’ve ever had with an SSD. In hindsight I should have gotten one for my iMac, without a doubt. The hdd is clearly the bottleneck on that machine.
Anyway, I did some reading about SSD drives in an effort to find one compatible with my MBP’s SATA support. After a lot of reading at Newegg and Amazon I settled on a Crucial M4. I got it from Amazon for $99. Like I said, I don’t know much about SSDs so I wasn’t 100% sure it was compatible.
The tricky part was installing the SSD. I’d only opened up a MBP once before. Apple opened one for me once to repair a fan, and they never got the case back on properly. It was bent in the front and the trackpad button was never quite right, it had a dull or non-existent response every time you clicked it. More on that later.
If you’re patient and you have the right tools the MBP isn’t horrible to take apart. The screws are tiny and uncommon and there are a lot of them. But if you have a container to sort them in it’ll make things much easier. I labeled each group of screws and placed them in a divided sorting box. Ice cube trays would work well too.
The hardest part: separating the top case housing the keyboard and trackpad from the lower case along the front edge. There are hidden clips that you need to release without bending. If you get past that you’re golden, all the other sides use screws and are already separated when you go after the front edge.
Inside the laptop the hdd is wedged in pretty tight. Mine was a tiny bit different than the description at ifixit, where I found the instructions. Still, it was a fairly straight-forward procedure to remove the old drive and install the new. Work slow, be careful, be patient. And make sure you have the right tools. There’s a ribbon cable glued to the drive that needs to be gently pried away.
I also got 4GB of RAM ($54), doubling what I had and maxing out the machine’s capacity. Finally, I got an Anker replacement battery for $69. It seems to hold a couple hours of charge. I’m just happy to have the machine stay powered when the MagSafe gets disconnected.
I didn’t open the RAM or the battery packaging right away. If the SSD surgery had gone south I probably would have sent them back. So the next step was installing OS X.
I opted for Snow Leopard and simply installed from the DVD. For a while I wasn’t sure it was going to install, some people reported having trouble getting OS X running after installing an SSD. The install froze for a long long time, saying it had 28 minutes left. I believe it said that for over twenty minutes before finally moving on and finishing the install.
I powered up the machine, ran through the first-time setup, and everything was fine. In fact, it boots from powered off to a user desktop in about 24 seconds. I installed my new RAM and battery, no issues.
Here are the instructions I followed, at iFixit. As someone noted in the comments there’s a step where you’re told to disconnect the drive’s ribbon cable from the logic board, and it seems unnecessary. I skipped that step, and see no reason to do it unless you have trouble freeing the drive.
Anyway, the upgraded machine is fantastic. So incredibly responsive. I’m not pushing it really hard. I’ll be using it for administrative tasks, not Photoshop or Final Cut. I had to install Windows on it too. I went with XP, and it’s running fine using Boot Camp. I thought about using Fusion, but thought I’d suffer with only 4GB of RAM and no way to install more.
Windows doesn’t boot in 24 seconds, it’s more like 37 to the login screen.
Now I’ve got a 15″ laptop that’s over four years old, based on a model that’s five years old. I can install Mountain Lion on it. And it’s as snappy as can be. Applications open in an instant. The boot time is great. It’s silent. The battery, the SSD, the RAM – all for less than $225.
**Back to that MBP that Apple never got reassembled right: this machine was a free replacement for that one. The original’s fan went bad with only days left on the warranty. Then there were a few trips back to the store: the dull trackpad, the keyboard wouldn’t light, the case wasn’t reassembled correctly. At this point it was no longer under warranty. But Apple had started working on it while it was under warranty. They honored that detail and handed me a brand new machine with a new warranty. My original was a Core Duo. The one they replaced it with was a Core 2 Duo, along with other upgrades.
The tagline on CNBC’s Options Action show on Friday was something like Get Paid to Buy Apple Stock. Sound too good to be true? Take a look:
The show outlined a plan where you could buy an aapl call option that expires in December for about $2500 and simultaneously sell two call option contracts for about $2600. Specifically, the contracts looked like this at the close on Friday:
Buy this for $2520 ($25.20×100):
Strike Symbol Last Chg Bid Ask
380.00 AAPL111217C00380000 25.20 3.60 25.40 25.80
Sell two of these for $2690($26.90×100):
Strike Symbol Last Chg Bid Ask
410.00 AAPL111217C00410000 13.45 1.35 13.15 13.65
You immediately pocket the $100 and hope Apple climbs – but not too far. Why ?
Because the two contracts you sell in their transaction are for a strike price of $410. The one you buy is for a strike price of $380. So the contract you bought will gain value as it rises above $380, but your gains will be capped when the underlying stock price reaches $410. And there’s more:
You sold TWO contracts. For each of those sales you’re obligated to sell 100 shares for $410 each if the contract is executed. That’s 200 shares. The good news is that 100 of those shares are provided by the call option you bought. Hopefully you were holding 100 shares of aapl outright when you entered into this transaction so you can deliver the other 100 shares. They do mention on the show that this example is for current stock-holders looking to tweak their position. If you find a way to exit the position by buying back your call you can keep your shares. But keep in mind the price of the contracts you sold will rise with the underlying shares.
Like they say on the show, you make your profit above the strike price of the option you bought, but your profits are capped because of the contract you sold. Essentially, you want aapl to rise to $410 but no further. As aapl goes past $410 the 100 shares you held outright aren’t going for the ride – because the option you sold called them away.
You can watch the show here, they start talking about this some time past the 8 minute mark. So – what about their claim? Are you getting paid to buy Apple? Maybe you could look at it that way, but the caveats are quite substantial.
Regardless, I have little interest in this play at this time of year. Apple has the potential to make a decent run between now and the end of the calendar year. Look at what’s coming up: new iPhone launch, iOS5, iCloud, Earnings in October, Christmas shoppers waiting in line, China… The last thing I want right now is a cap on my holdings. It’s not Apple that might hurt the share price between now and January. It’s everything else in the economy that I’m worried about.
Past performance is no indication of future results, but take a look at the last two years and how aapl has done between September and January. Then add a reality check by looking at 2008.