Apple and Cisco acknowledge that 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is too unreliable and crowded

Apple and Cisco acknowledge that 2.4GHz Wi-Fi is too unreliable and crowded
By Owen Williams
Feb 3 2016

In a document released by Apple and Cisco this week, the companies all but declare 2.4GHz Wi-Fi dead.

The document, which was released on February 3, is targeted at enterprises and details best practices for Wi-Fi networks supporting iOS devices, but we can take that advice to the home too.

It says that “both Cisco and Apple’s joint recommendation [is that] the use of the 2.4 GHz band is not considered suitable for use for any business and/or mission critical enterprise applications.”

2.4GHz Wi-Fi, which is basically universally used by default in most devices, is a nightmare. That’s especially pronounced in urban environments like apartment buildings where the available channels are so crowded that speed is significantly impacted. And that’s not even including the fact that home appliances like microwave ovens can interfere with your speed.

It’s almost impossible to get real performance out of the standard anymore, with most channels littered with hundreds of noisy Wi-Fi networks — mostly because people don’t know how to enable the more powerful 5GHz band.

Instead, “Cisco and Apple strongly [recommend] a 5 GHz-only (802.11a/n/ac) wireless network for Apple devices” as a “best practice” approach. So much so that Apple won’t even provide advice on the 2.4GHz standard for businesses.

The best result would be if companies like Apple and Google would add warnings to their smartphones and other devices to let you know when a network might be affected by interference because it’s using the older standard so that everyone’s aware of how bad it can be.


Why are YouTube stars so popular?

Why are YouTube stars so popular?
With millions of subscribers, top YouTubers such as Zoella have huge, passionate audiences. Here’s a handy guide to help you understand their popularity
By Stuart Dredge
Feb 3 2016

British vlogger Zoella has just reached the milestone of 10m subscribers to her main YouTube channel, but she has a long way to go to catch its most popular creator PewDiePie, who is about to pass 42m.

They’re just two of the most prominent YouTube stars. In October 2015, online-video tracking firm Tubular Labs reported that there were more than 17,000 YouTube channels with more than 100,000 subscribers, and nearly 1,500 with more than 1m.

How have these YouTubers become so popular? It can seem baffling to people outside their main viewing demographic: smartphone-toting “millennials” who spend as much time (if not more) watching shortform video online as they do traditional TV shows.

Yet the top YouTube stars aren’t just popular: they are genuinely influential figures for their young fans. A fact that entertainment industry magazine Variety has been confronting its readers with since 2014.

That year, it commissioned a survey of 13-18 year-olds in the US, asking them to rate the 10 most popular English-language YouTubers and 10 of the most popular traditional celebrities across a range of qualities representing “influence”.

YouTubers took the top five places in the resulting chart, with Smosh, the Fine Bros, PewDiePie, KSI and Ryan Higa deemed more influential than Paul Walker, Jennifer Lawrence, Katy Perry and other celebrities.

When Variety ran the same survey again in 2015, YouTubers took the top six slots, ahead of stars including Bruno Mars and Taylor Swift.

The surveys provided some useful evidence on why the online stars are so popular.

“YouTubers were judged to be more engaging, extraordinary and relatable than mainstream stars, who were rated as being smarter and more reliable. In terms of sex appeal, the two types of celebs finished just about even,” explained Variety in 2014.

“Looking at survey comments and feedback, teens enjoy an intimate and authentic experience with YouTube celebrities, who aren’t subject to image strategies carefully orchestrated by PR pros. Teens also say they appreciate YouTube stars’ more candid sense of humour, lack of filter and risk-taking spirit, behaviours often curbed by Hollywood handlers.”

That’s one of the key things to understand about the popularity of YouTubers, if you’re struggling to see it in their content – for their fans, the contrast with stars from the world of music, film and television has been a big factor in their rise.

Their very ordinariness – their relatability – is what makes them so appealing. The “girl or boy next door” who is “just like us” is not an unusual trope in the entertainment world but on YouTube, it’s heightened.

Variety’s 2015 study suggested that teenagers’ emotional attachment to YouTube stars is “as much as seven times greater than that toward a traditional celebrity” for these reasons.

Many YouTube stars foster this sense of connection in the way they talk to their fans in videos, from the coming-out announcements of stars such as Connor Franta, Ingrid Nilsen and Shane Dawson to Zoella vlogging about her experience of anxiety attacks, or PewDiePie addressing speculation about his earnings.


Re: Cops hate encryption but the NSA loves it when you use PGP

[Note:  This comment comes from a reader of Dave Farber’s IP List.]

From: Mitra Ardron <>
Date: February 4, 2016 at 12:10:53 PM EST
Subject: Re: [IP] Re: Cops hate encryption but the NSA loves it when you use PGP
Dave, For IP if you like …
Around twenty years ago there was a battle going on inside internet circles – especially at IETF meetings – between two proposals for encrypting email, PGP and S/MIME. For those of us outside the specific circles it was sometimes known as the battle between the “Unusable” versus the “Unimplementable”. The conversation was such that this sector became known as one of those dysfunctional areas to avoid within IETF (along with IPv6 and SGML)
Some of us wondered if the problem with PGP was exactly what Jim described, that it was so hard to use that it made it unlilkely that the general population would not move to an encrypt everything mentality.   Usability is key, and often its the conflict between usability and cryptographic perfection that has stopped progress.
For example usability could mean that my mail program automatically inserted my public key into my mail headers, and automatically turned on encryption whenever it discovered such a public key – that could push all communication with regular correspondents into encryption, achieving much of what Jim suggests. But there are obvious exploitation opportunities to that approach so the crypto-purists have blocked its adoption whenever suggested.
Recently a small group of us who communicate regularly – but don’t really need to hide our emails – setup PGP,  but the experiment lasted only a very short time, for example PGP wouldn’t encrypt HTML messages, so all the formating was lost, and that was far from the only issue. So nothing really has changed, there is still no easy to use way to encrypt all email, and there are certainly people in whose interest it is that PGP is so unusable that it does not become default in any popular email program.
But of course … with the gag orders associated with this sector, we would never know if there was a order from NSA from Gmail telling them not to make encryption standard, or if it was just that Gmail didn’t want to annoy users whose regular communications got blocked by PGP’s bugs.
– Mitra
The third comes from friend Jim Warren:
About 25-30 years ago, in some of my old MicroTimes columns (and online), I repeatedly suggested encrypting absolutely EVERYthing. Aside from giving the NSA, CIA, DIA, FBI, et al, excuses to ask for even LARGER secret funding, I tho’t – and still think – that it would be a GREAT DETERRANT to crackers. Even if they could hack into someone’s system, everything there would be encrypted. Very boring targets! ;-)

Cops hate encryption but the NSA loves it when you use PGP


It lights you up like a Vegas casino, says compsci boffin


By Iain Thomson


Jan 27 2016




Countries Sign The TPP… Whatever Happened To The ‘Debate’ We Were Promised Before Signing?

Countries Sign The TPP… Whatever Happened To The ‘Debate’ We Were Promised Before Signing?
from the now-the-ratification-fight dept
By Mike Masnick
Feb 3 2016

About an hour ago, representatives from 12 different nations officially signed the Trans Pacific Partnership (TTP) agreement in Auckland, New Zealand. The date, February 4th (New Zealand time) is noteworthy, because it’s 90 days after the official text was released. There was a 90 day clock that was required between releasing the text and before the US could actually sign onto the agreement. The stated purpose of this 90 day clock was in order to allow “debate” about the agreement. Remember, the entire agreement was negotiated in secret, with US officials treating the text of the document as if it were a national security secret (unless you were an industry lobbyist, of course). So as a nod to pretend “transparency” there was a promise that nothing would be signed for 90 days after the text was actually released. 

So… uh… what happened to that “debate”? It didn’t happen at all. The TPP was barely mentioned at all by the administration in the last 90 days. Even during the State of the Union, Obama breezed past the TPP with a quick comment, even though it’s supposedly a defining part of his “legacy.” But there’s been no debate. Because there was never any intent for an actual debate. The 90 day clock was just something that was put into the process so that the USTR and the White House could pretendthat there was more “transparency” and that they wouldn’t sign the agreement until after it had been looked at and understood by the public. 

Of course, the signing is a totally meaningless bit of theater. The real fight is over ratification. The various countries need to ratify the TPP for the agreement to go into effect. Technically, the TPP will enter into force 60 days after all signers ratify it… or, if that doesn’t happen, within two years if at least six of the 12 participant countries ratify it and those six countries account for 85% of the combined gross domestic product of the 12 countries. Got that? In short, this means that if the US doesn’t ratify it, the TPP is effectively dead. The US needs a majority of both houses of Congress to approve it, similar to a typical bill. And that’s no sure thing right now. Unfortunately, that’s mainly because a group of our elected officials are upset that the TPP doesn’t go far enough in helping big businesses block competition, but it’s still worth following. 


Mossberg: Apple’s apps need work

Mossberg: Apple’s apps need work
Complexity, feature gaps, and bugs have crept in
By Walt Mossberg
Feb 3 2016

People think of Apple as a maker of excellent premium hardware. In fact, many reviewers regard Apple devices as the best you can buy. For instance, I’m on record as saying its most important product, the iPhone, is the best smartphone on the market. So is The Verge overall.

But there’s more than just metal, glass, and silicon to these products. Apple’s built-in software is a huge part of the experience, and has been since the company introduced the first Mac in 1984. Whether it’s the operating systems or the core apps, a major aspect of what makes both users and reviewers value Apple products is software that melds power, reliability, and ease of use. “It just works!” was a favorite Steve Jobs phrase.

In the last couple of years, however, I’ve noticed a gradual degradation in the quality and reliability of Apple’s core apps, on both the mobile iOS operating system and its Mac OS X platform. It’s almost as if the tech giant has taken its eye off the ball when it comes to these core software products, while it pursues big new dreams, like smartwatches and cars.

Let me be clear: most of the time, in most scenarios, I find the core Apple apps work well enough, sometimes delightfully well. Otherwise, I couldn’t recommend the hardware. I love iMessage, the new Notes, Apple Pay, Touch ID, Safari, AirPlay, and more. And it isn’t as though the core apps made by competitors are generally fabulous.

But the exceptions are increasing. And I hold Apple to its own, higher, often-proclaimed standard, based on all those “It just works” claims and the oft-repeated contention by Mr. Jobs and his successor, Tim Cook, that Apple is in business to make “great products.” Apple’s advantage is that it designs and builds software together, so if the software isn’t excellent, it does the superlative hardware a disservice.


National Security Agency plans major reorganization

National Security Agency plans major reorganization
By Ellen Nakashima
Feb 2 2016

The National Security Agency, the largest electronic spy agency in the world, is undertaking a major reorganization, merging its offensive and defensive organizations in the hope of making them more adept at facing the digital threats of the 21st century, according to current and former officials.

In place of the Signals Intelligence and Information Assurance directorates — the organizations that historically have spied on foreign targets and defended classified networks against spying, respectively — the NSA is creating a Directorate of Operations that combines the operational elements of each.

“This traditional approach we have where we created these two cylinders of excellence and then built walls of granite between them really is not the way for us to do business,” said NSA Director Michael S. Rogers, hinting at the reorganization — dubbed NSA21 — that is expected to be publicly rolled out this week.

“We’ve got to be flat,” he told an audience at the Atlantic Council last month. “We’ve got to be agile.”

Some lawmakers who have been briefed on the broad parameters consider restructuring a smart thing to do because an increasing amount of intelligence and threat activity is coursing through global computer networks.

“When it comes to cyber in particular, the line between collection capabilities and our own vulnerabilities — between the acquisition of signals intelligence and the assurance of our own information — is virtually nonexistent,” said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee. “What is a vulnerability to be patched at home is often a potential collection opportunity abroad and vice versa.”

But there have been rumblings of discontent within the NSA, which is based at Fort Meade, Md., as some fear a loss of influence or stature.

Some advocates for the comparatively small Information Assurance Directorate, which has about 3,000 people, fear that its ability to work with industry on cybersecurity issues will be undermined if it is viewed as part of the much larger “sigint” collection arm, which has about eight times as many personnel. The latter spies on overseas targets by hacking into computer networks, collecting satellite signals and capturing radio waves.

“The NSA21 initiative will ensure the National Security Agency continues to be the preeminent signals intelligence and information assurance organization in the world,” said Jonathan Freed, director of strategic communications at the NSA. “These core missions are critical as we position NSA to face complex and evolving threats to the nation. Out of respect for our workforce, we cannot comment on any details or speculation before the plan is announced.”


The Scariest Cable Merger Nobody In Washington Is Talking About

The Scariest Cable Merger Nobody In Washington Is Talking About
By Michael Copps
Feb 1 2016

When Comcast tried to merge with Time Warner Cable last year, reaction was swift and negative. Not many people liked the idea of America’s largest and least loved cable company getting any bigger; the deal collapsed after hundreds of thousands of Americans spoke out and federal regulators signaled that they would not let it go forward.

Big Cable should have gotten the message. But here we are just a year later with a new cable mega-merger in the works. This time, Charter Communications wants to snatch up Time Warner Cable along with Bright House Networks.

Unfortunately, this deal hasn’t received nearly as much public attention as the Comcast-Time Warner Cable proposal. The harms it presents are just as serious however — serious enough for lawmakers and regulators to give this outrageous proposal the attention it merits.

Let’s start with some basics. The three merging companies would create a new Mega Cable company, controlling about one-third of the nation’s cable and cable broadband markets. In addition, the new colossus would own programming, including regional sports networks all across the country, and would completely dominate some of America’s largest media markets, including New York City, Los Angeles, Dallas, Charlotte, Tampa Bay, Orlando and St. Louis. Finally, the combined companies would have an anticompetitive incentive to preference their streaming video offering over that of competitors.

When you add it up, the new company would look a lot like, well, Comcast. Yes, this merger would create a new Comcast — a national cable giant with the ability and the incentive to thwart competition, diversity, and consumer choice.

And it gets worse. Because they don’t compete in any markets, Comcast and the new Mega Cable company would stand shoulder-to-shoulder in control of more than 70 percent of the high-speed broadband market. The two companies would have no incentive to compete against each other, but every incentive to coordinate against their shared marketplace competitors.

Thanks to services like Netflix, Hulu, and Sling, television is are in the midst of a creative renaissance. These emerging services are finally breaking the decades-long stranglehold of the cable bundle on American consumers who have been forced to collectively fork over billions of dollars in monthly cable bills, largely to pay for channels they never watch. The services’ growth has been fabulous for consumers, content creators, and workers in the entertainment industry. Now, just when competition is finally gaining traction, the Comcast-Mega Cable duopoly could squash it.

Then there is the issue of independent programming. Already, too much of the cable dial is filled with content produced by a handful of media conglomerates. When the vast majority of cable homes are served by just two companies, it will become even harder for independent and diverse voices to gain a foothold. That is especially problematic because Comcast and the new Mega Cable will own content that directly competes with independent programmers.