When we first discovered that MakerBot was looking to partner with Stratasys, I was a bit non-plussed. MakerBot, as I’ve noted before, has a certain indie cred that makes this move a bit unpalatable.
But, at the same time, it’s immensely important.
Stratasys makes expensive, industrial-quality 3D printers. They are the “big iron” of the 3D printing world. Items printed on Stratasys hardware are as solid as anything produced by, say, injection molding, and the resolution make them indispensable for engineers and designers. In short, Stratasys is making mainframes and MakerBot is making the Apple I. While I’m loath to claim that Bre Pettis is Woz (let alone Steve Jobs), he is a charismatic leader who makes 3D printing fun, something the folks at Stratasys probably could never do.
And, like Apple, MakerBot had to ramp up. By signing with Stratasys, MakerBot will be able to maintain its breakneck speed and growth. The company recently opened a 50,000-square-foot space in Brooklyn where it is assembling machines and it has office space in downtown Brooklyn overlooking the Brooklyn Bridge. They have made it big with very little investment — they recently closed a $10 million round and were nosing around for more before this news — and they suffered from some severe growing pains along the way, especially in employee satisfaction. This purchase gives the company some breathing room, at the very least.
Could MakerBot have made it without selling? Possibly, but it wouldn’t have been pretty. Home 3D printing is taking off. It’s not ubiquitous, to be sure, but it’s a method to turn bits into atoms that will become increasingly important in a post manufacturing world. Sadly, VCs are still suspicious of hardware startups (but that’s changing) and MakerBot could have gotten a few infusions of cash to help them glide to cruising altitude. Now they’re already there.
Many will say that MakerBot sold out. Many will complain that the company lost open-source roots. Many will claim that there are better printers out there. None of these claims are absolutely false, to be clear, but things are not as cut and dried as we like to think. MakerBot took something simple and made it amazing. They sold when they had to, especially considering issues with quality control and support, and I trust Pettis will bring the open-source ethos to Stratasys headquarters and tell them it’s off limits. 3D printing isn’t new, just as computing wasn’t new when Apple hit the scene. MakerBot, like Apple, made it accessible.
[image via MakerBot]
If there’s one striking thing about those PRISM slides, other than their hideous aesthetics, it’s that Apple’s allocated yellow oval, instead of a date, has the words “(added Oct 2012)” underneath it. That difference is most striking when you consider the fact that Apple competitor Microsoft cooperated with the government a full five years earlier.
The company, which denies ever having heard of PRISM, released its FISA request numbers today, starting on December 1st, 2012, through this May 2013. Though it’s plausible that the government would not have disclosed the name of the program, the NYT confirmed Apple’s participation in a government surveillance network designed to make data collection more efficient for the NSA — whatever that entails, like “a broad sweep for intelligence, like logs of certain search terms.”
From Claire Cain Miller’s article:
While handing over data in response to a legitimate FISA request is a legal requirement, making it easier for the government to get the information is not, which is why Twitter could decline to do so.
The October 2012 date is notable as coming a year after the death of Apple founder Steve Jobs. Perhaps, because it is an interesting coincidence, it’s led to speculation that Steve Jobs resisted systematic data collection from the NSA until his death. That statement was echoed on the record by NeXt developer Andrew Stone, who told Cult of Mac, “Steve Jobs would’ve rather died than give into that, even though he had a lot of friends at the NSA. Microsoft caved in first, then everyone else. Steve would’ve just never done it.”
The speculation, which I’ve heard from a couple of sources, has grounds. NeXT was publicly a vendor for the NSA and many other security agencies, and Jobs had many contacts at the agency who perhaps had offered him immunity. It could be that his connections, Apple’s brand popularity or straight-up his legend allowed him to escape Microsoft’s, which had been embroiled in a series of antitrust cases up until then, or Yahoo’s fates.
All of these explanations make sense, though it could be something like the Twitter loophole that caused Apple’s tardiness. In Twitter’s case most of its data is public, so it’s not that big of a loss to the NSA until it becomes more of a communication node. Perhaps only recently did Apple collect the kinds of data the government would want, like the metadata around iMessage, which, though encrypted, doesn’t pass the “pud muddle” test.
We will likely never know what Jobs did in those last few years as PRISM loomed ever larger, but whatever he did it looks like he held out as long as he could. The image of Steve Jobs playing chicken with Uncle Sam fits right into his myth. Even if it is just a myth.
[Prism photo by Adam Hart-Davis
The MacBook Air was the only new Apple hardware to be announced and launched at WWDC this year (besides the new AirPort Extreme), and while it isn’t a big change from the previous version, it packs some crucial improvements that really cater to the Air’s existing strengths. The 2013 Air is really Apple pushing the envelope with its ultraportable, and that has helped make one of the best computers in the world even better.
Basics (as tested)
- 1440 x 900, 13.3-inch display
- 128GB storage
- 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
- 4GB of RAM
- 0.11-0.68 inches thick, 2.96 lbs
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi
- 12 hours battery life
- MacBook Air portability/construction still amazing
- Next-gen Wi-Fi great for LAN transfers
- All-day battery life literally lets you forget the power cord at home
- Still no Retina display
- Could use more ports
Apple hasn’t changed the MacBook Air’s physical design since its last major update a few years ago, but the sleek, aluminum chassis isn’t showing its age. Sure, thinner computers have emerged (though the Air is still thinner at its tapered end) but the fact that PC form factors are really only just now catching up speaks volumes to the quality of the Air’s industrial design.
Apart from overall good looks, the Air has a tremendous leg up on most computers in terms of size, weight and portability. If you haven’t yet used one for any sustained period of time, you’ll be absolutely blown away. Going from the 13-inch MacBook Pro to the 13-inch Air is like leaving the past behind and joining the future; big leaps in computing design are seldom so observable, and so noticeable in terms of your daily usage.
A concern with many who aren’t familiar with the Air is that the thin and light chassis won’t be durable, but having used both the 11- and 13-inch as my daily working computer for months at a time, while jumping from desks to various remote working locations, I can attest to those fears being unsubstantiated. The Air may not feel quite as rock solid as the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, for instance, but it isn’t fragile by any means.
Apple has improved the Air in key areas with this redesign, and that’s where it makes sense to focus, based on the understanding that the previous version was already one of our favourite computers. Apple has focused on changes that should have the biggest impact, like the new Intel Haswell processors, the much speedier flash storage, a near doubling of battery life, and networking speeds that embrace 802.11ac, a tech on the verge of becoming conspicuous in consumer goods.
Of these changes, the one with the greatest impact for the average user will be the new, all-day battery life afforded by the 12-hour capacity built-in pack (on the 13-inch Air; the 11-inch also gets a boost, but should afford you 9 hours, not 12). Apple is also testing battery life under more demanding conditions now, which suggests that if people go to extreme measures to conserve juice they might be able to get past that 12 hour mark. And indeed, I was able to eke out around 13 hours at least once, with screen brightness dialed down and other battery drains like Bluetooth disabled.
The battery is truly remarkable. In standby mode, I haven’t yet even begun to scratch the surface of how long it can last after a week of usage. It really sips power when managing background tasks, and that should improve even further under OS X 10.9 Mavericks, which adds even more battery-conserving features to Apple’s desktop OS. The Air still ships with Mountain Lion, but you can bet Apple’s engineers were working on the upcoming OS X release when they were developing the new Air hardware.
Even without the extreme measures, this is a computer that you can forget is unplugged without fear of running into dire problems. If you’ve got a charge in the morning, and provided you aren’t doing anything too demanding that’s burning CPU cycles, you should have enough to get you through a reasonable mobile workday. Which is to say, we’re nearly at the point most people really badly want to be in terms of their MacBook’s battery life (short of limitless, endlessly clean and cool energy).
And the other upgrades help as well; the MacBook Air I reviewed was the 13-inch base model version, which retails for $1,099, but it come with double the internal storage standard vs. the 2012 model (128GB vs. 64GB), and Apple says that its new type of flash is a better performer, beating the previous generation’s storage performance speed by up to 45 percent. Certainly in testing the Air near-instantly recovered from sleep, and side-by-side with my top-end 2011 model, was snappier with nearly every task – likely also helped by the next-generation Intel Haswell processor.
Some nice new features on the MacBook Air that add to the computer in small ways are the addition of dual mics, which greatly improves call quality for things like FaceTime when you aren’t using headphones, and the new Intel HD Graphics 5000, which gives you around a 25 percent bump in performance over the Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset used in previous generations.
The other big new step-up in terms of features is the 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking card, which is complemented by the new AirPort Extreme router that offers the same. It’s a technology that’s becoming more and more commonly available on other routers, too, so it’s a very nice-to-have feature on the new Air, even if you can’t take advantage of it just yet. Still, in my brief tests with LAN performance over 802.11ac, I found that transfer times for files between computer and network-attached storage on the new router were just about halved vs. 802.11n speeds, though still lagged far behind wired Ethernet transfer times of course.
The new MacBook Air isn’t a dramatic change, but it is a very good one. I’ve fallen in love with Apple’s Retina displays, so if I have one complaint about the computer it’s that there’s no ultra-high resolution display, but incorporating that kind of screen in this generation would’ve likely meant trading a big chunk of that new battery life away, and also increasing the price tag by around $400-500. For those who value the portability, flexibility and economy of the Air above all, the 2013 edition definitely hits all the right notes.
In the “ask me anything” format made famous by Reddit, NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden returned to the Guardian’s website this morning to answer questions from the general public as part of a live event known as “AskSnowden.”
It was a fascinating exchange, and you can see the whole thing here — and we’ll have a rundown of the full event here soon. But there was one standout bit of good news from Snowden along with the disturbing details of the government’s surveillance of our web activity: Encryption works as a method to keep your personal data private.
A commenter named Mathius1 asked (typos included here), “Is encrypting my email any good at defeating the NSA survelielance? Id my data protected by standard encryption?”
“Encryption works. Properly implemented strong crypto systems are one of the few things that you can rely on. Unfortunately, endpoint security is so terrifically weak that NSA can frequently find ways around it.”
Snowden doesn’t add more details, but in general some examples of well-reputed third party crypto systems would be the Gnu Privacy Guard, or “GPG,” and the Pretty Good Privacy program, or “PGP.” And a number of messaging systems even built by companies that have been implicated as part of PRISM have end-to-end encryption, as Apple highlighted in its updated response to the NSA news:
“…we don’t collect or maintain a mountain of personal details about our customers in the first place. There are certain categories of information which we do not provide to law enforcement or any other group because we choose not to retain it.
For example, conversations which take place over iMessage and FaceTime are protected by end-to-end encryption so no one but the sender and receiver can see or read them. Apple cannot decrypt that data. Similarly, we do not store data related to customers’ location, Map searches or Siri requests in any identifiable form.”
And while these protections are all relatively solid, Snowden makes a good point about endpoint security being a different beast. Here Snowden likely means that there are ways that the government can ultimately read your emails and messages even if they’re not able to intercept them along the way, by accessing them somehow at either end of the delivery process. A real-world analogy would be that even if the entire postal mail system up until a letter is delivered to you is completely impenetrable, someone can still snatch a letter out of your unlocked mailbox — or, say, read it over your shoulder once it’s in your hands.
All of this underscores a larger point being discussed lately, that having any real power to control your privacy may increasingly depend on how tech-savvy you are. The folks at Codecademy are seeing this as a lesson to help encourage more people to become digitally literate, writing in a blog post today:
Moreover, the better you understand the programs and platforms you use – and the permanence of almost everything you do online – the better equipped you will be to choose what the data watchers know about you, and what they don’t.
May the digitally illiterate proceed at their own risk. Once again, you have been warned.”
Of course, it’s a smart message to make if you’re a company whose business it is to teach as many people to code as possible, like Codecademy is. But even so, it’s hard to argue against the idea that knowledge is power — especially when it comes to technology.
Sunrise, the Google-friendly calendar app that focuses on design, may have some competition coming from iOS 7, but even with the added pressure, the Sunrise team is clearly making strides.
Today, Sunrise was updated in the App Store to add support for foursquare check-ins, CrunchBase and Google Maps, along with some design tweaks.
The biggest part of the update comes via foursquare. Users now have the ability to see their past foursquare checkins direct from the app, complete with mapping support. As the folks over at Sunrise know, the more information you can source from a single app, the better.
Foursquare integration makes sense, considering that the Sunrise team is made up of ex-foursquare engineers and designers. In fact, it’s a wonder why it took so long to bake in the location-based social network in the first place.
Foursquare integration transforms the calendar into a log of where you’ve been just as much as a plan for where you’ll go.
Speaking of where you’ll go, Sunrise also added Google Maps integration to the app instead of Apple Maps, which should make many a weary traveler feel just slightly better on their way to someplace new.
But the update isn’t just about where you’re going, but how awesome you are at life when you get there. That said, Sunrise has baked in support for CrunchBase, a database of people, companies, and investors that is a part of the TechCrunch network. CrunchBase support will now automatically pull in extra data about companies and people you’re meeting based on the domain of their email address.
In terms of design tweaks, Sunrise has switched up multi-day events to show their duration on the main view, with a countdown for the duration left of the multi-day event. Moreover, the app now offers cilckable links for all phone numbers, websites and addresses.
Sunrise v 1.4 is available now in the App Store for free.