Sen. Franken Quizzes Apple Over Touch ID

US Senator Al Franken has sent an open letter to Apple CEO Tim Cook regarding the privacy implications of the Touch ID technology introduced in the iPhone 5S.

A couple of years ago Senator Franken demanded answers from Apple over the logging of device locations. At the time there was a lot of push back against Senator Franken, dismissing his concerns as being ill-informed and technologically illiterate. “Location Gate” was a bug. Don’t worry about it. For those of us who know how software works, yeah, it was pretty obvious that what was happening wasn’t what was intended. Honestly? When writing software what happens not being what we intended is the default state.

Given the revelations of how much access the American government has into our online communications Senator Franken doesn’t sound so stupid now, does he?

When your job is to represent the people I’d argue that the best thing you could do is to actually represent the people.

Nobody likes what the NSA has been doing. Apple has just introduced a new device, that’s destined to be incredibly popular, and it’s core feature is identification by what a layman may as well describe as a very personally invasive magic.

Asking questions and getting answers on behalf of the people is the essence of democratic governance.

We nerds may already know the answers but most people don’t. They deserve to know. More over they deserve to have it explained in the most understandable and approachable terms.

Ballmer’s Straitjacket

Steve Ballmer announced today that he will be stepping down as CEO of Microsoft within the next twelve months. This comes a little over a month since Microsoft announced a massive reorganization which was aimed at breaking down old fiefdoms and setting a new course.

To quote the Microsoft press release:

Microsoft Corp. today announced that Chief Executive Officer Steve Ballmer has decided to retire as CEO within the next 12 months, upon the completion of a process to choose his successor.

No successor has been chosen yet. At least not one they’re willing to announce.

Regardless of how you feel about Ballmer’s ability to lead Microsoft, his ability to have his company adapt to the quickly shifting fulcrum from desktop to mobile, or his ability to address his customers and developers in a respectful manner; this is terrible timing.

Ballmer writes in his farewell memo:

There is never a perfect time for this type of transition, but now is the right time.

No. It’s not.

They’ve just completely recreated the company in a pattern that’s totally alien to most organizations of their size. Indeed, the current configuration only seems to work for Apple. Which, arguably, grew into it completely organically. The structure of Apple certainly wasn’t created by fiat a month prior to a CEO hitting the bricks.

The only way that today’s news could have been good for Microsoft is to have announced a successor and to have said that the new structure was determined after long discussions with them. The only story that could be positive is that Ballmer and his successor, whoever they are, have worked closely together and now that the structure has changed there’ll be a year of handing over the reigns.

As it stands? Ballmer has completely shaken up the way that Microsoft has always worked. Now they don’t only need to find a new CEO who believes they can lead Microsoft out of the hole they’ve dug themselves but one who believes that the last decision that Steve Ballmer made, a company wide reorganization, is the way they, as the new leadership, want to run the company.

Microsoft is currently searching for a new CEO who’ll fit the straight jacket Steve Ballmer has left behind.

If you’re going to change leadership I suggest it’s a good idea to let the new leader figure out how to best run things. You don’t see outgoing national leaders being able to appoint the incoming cabinet. That looks like what Ballmer has just done.

The New Mac Pro

A lot of ink has been spilt over the past week discussing the design language adopted by iOS 7. It is, without a doubt, the most significant visual change to the platform since it was introduced. It’s fascinating, somewhat flawed, forward looking yet slightly regressive all at the same time. It deserves the attention it’s garnered.

But.

I keep finding myself thinking about this new Mac Pro. I’d always been a Mac Pro kind of person until my old Pro died and it looked like the product was stagnant so I bought a 27″ Core i7 iMac. Which was amazing and I totally fell in love. I’ll never need a Mac Pro again, I thought. Then the hard drive in that died and now I work on a relatively old MacBook Air as my primary. (It’s plugged into a 27″ Thunderbolt Display. I’m not an animal.) And, it turns out, even working on this old Air is fine. I don’t need the crazy compute muscle I used to think I needed.

But.

I keep finding myself thinking about this new Mac Pro. It’s not that I’m lusting after speed of the memory, SSD, CPU, or GPUs for what I do. The more I think about this new Mac Pro the more I find myself wanting to write software for it. To me it’s become the most interesting piece of new hardware since the original iPad. Well, maybe Retina in the iPhone 4 but that didn’t present an entire new class of problems to think about.

This new Mac Pro does. I don’t think Geekbench scores for this machine will be terribly meaningful. Benchmarks have the curse of trying to capture how a machine will perform under typical, or extreme, conditions. What they don’t do is give a broad perspective of the actual capabilities of the machine. They’re informed by history. If you do something new history will be less relevant.

The new Mac Pro has two distinct GPUs. Each of which has “up to 6GB” of RAM which is sitting at the end of an “up to 40GB/s” PCI Express 3 bus. That’s some serious working space at the end of a very wide pipe, one that was, until a few years ago, what you’d have to direct RAM access.

This machine fascinates me not because it seems like it’ll make everything I currently do faster. It fascinates me because it’s fundamentally new. There’s only one CPU socket and it bets heavily on the bus and GPU performance. While this looks to software to be just another Mac, it isn’t. Its capabilities aren’t traditional. The CPU is a front end to a couple of very capable massively parallel processors at the end of a relatively fast bus. One of those GPUs isn’t even hooked up to do graphics. I think that’s a serious tell. If you leverage your massively parallel GPU to run a computation that runs even one second and in that time you can’t update your screen, that’s a problem. Have one GPU dedicated to rendering and a second available for serious computation and you’ve got an architecture that’ll feel incredible to work with.

I’ve no idea how this will actually work out. I expect Rev A. to be riddled with minor problems because of all the new suppliers and how new a design this machine actually is. I am very excited to see how things go, how this architecture plays itself out and how software adapts to make the best use of this sort of hardware.

Apple sat on the Mac Pro for years. They’ve come at the problem space with fresh eyes and have pointed in a direction I believe in. One that’s not particularly suited to getting the best scores on current benchmarks but one that’s more serious and looking to the future.

I’m not excited to buy the new Mac Pro for the speed advantage it will give me.

But.

I keep finding myself thinking up applications for all that compute power and dreaming up what kind of software I could write to take advantage of it.

Not since the iPad have I really rethought what was possible. Sure, iOS 7 is incredibly interesting and shakes everything up. But I think this new Mac Pro is exactly that. Something new.