The Sizzle

Issue 320 - Monday, 30th January 2017


Trump sets a fire under tech companies who want to prove they embrace diversity
By far the biggest story over the weekend was President Trump's executive order to ban the entry of anyone from a bunch of specific Middle Eastern countries, into the USA. This, unsurprisingly, has upset people and our friends, the big friendly tech companies we love and adore, have taken a stand. Airbnb is offering free housing to people stranded. Uber, noticing people were deleting their app out of disgust for the company's initial statement, has made a $3m legal defence fund to help any of their drivers caught in this mess. Lyft has donated to the ACLU. Elon Musk wants our input as to any amendments he can recommend to Trump next time sees him. Tim Cook sent a memo to Apple staff saying this is bad and he doesn't like it. So has Netflix's CEO and Microsoft's CEO.

There's loads of dodgy VPN apps on Android
The CSIRO has released a report stating that pretty much every free VPN app on Android, is a dud. Out of 283 apps the CSIRO investigated, 18% didn't even encrypt traffic, 38% used MITM attacks to install malware and over 80% wanted access to personal info like text messages and contacts. It's basically a shitshow for Android VPN apps. The full report is available to read in a PDF. Most people using these free VPN apps simply want to get around geolocks anyways - but still, some can be dodgy as fuck.

Denmark makes "digital ambassador" a thing
The Danish have gone and made a digital ambassador - a person who's job it is to work tech companies like Google, Facebook and Apple, to make sure what they do doesn't fuck over the people of Denmark. A person hasn't been appointed to the role yet, but the Danish Foreign Minister said that, "These companies have become a type of new nations and we need to confront that" and "we simply need to have closer ties to some of the companies that affect us". Makes sense, can't hurt I guess.

Apple shitcans site to check if a used phone is iCloud locked
Apple removed the website where you can check an iPhone's IMEI or serial number to check if it's iCloud locked. It's a valuable tool for those buying 2nd hand iPhones, so they can check they're not buying a phone someone's stolen and the owner has locked. An iCloud locked phone is a brick, that's good for nothing except throwing at people. Of course Apple hasn't said anything as to why it's gone or if there will be a replacement. Apparently it's also used to check if a randomly generated serial is valid, in an elaborate process (desoldering the SSD!) to unlock iCloud locked iPhones and iPads.

SAAB to make electric cars in China, go on sale in 2018
There's a few SAAB fans reading this that'll be happy to know that the brand may be making a comeback. National Electric Vehicle Sweden (NEVS), who purchased SAAB when it went bankrupt a few years ago, finally received a license from the Chinese government to build electric cars. It's allowed to make 200,000 a year out of its factory in Tianjin. The factory will start pumping out cars in 2018 and already has an order for 150,000 SAAB 9-3 electric sedans, from a Chinese leasing company. More electric cars mean more chance of one of them getting to the 300km range for $30,000 and be sold in Australia. Hurry up!


An audio codec that uses just 700bits/sec
Some loose unit has made an audio voice codec that is pretty clear and audible, using just 700 bits/s. That's 0.7kb/sec! I have no idea what's going on in the development of this, as outlined in the blog post, but damn, it's impressive. It's excellent for use over very low bandwidth radio communications, where you may only have a few kilobytes per second of data, so any sort of improvement is welcome I assume. Anyone know more about where this sort of audio codec would be practically applicable?

Fancy ergonomic portable folding table and chair unit
Sometimes I go outside for no other reason than to be outside. Thanks to the magic of mobile data networks, I can write this stupid newsletter pretty much anywhere the radio waves reach (an external antenna helps). I currently I use this crappy picnic table set thing from KMart that I saw on sale for $20, and it gets the job done, but check out this fancy all in one ergonomic folding table setup. Unfortunately it's US$350, but it looks great. I'd like one of these for when I decide to go out in the bush and write. They even have one with a cup holder. Nice.

Mechanical keyboard that doesn't look like it belongs in a basement dweller's nerd nest
Look at this fancy looking mechanical keyboard. It's all designery and nice lookin'. It looks like a typewriter! The Lofree is even Bluetooth enabled. Bluetooth! Mechanical keyboard! It comes in nice pastel colours. It's backlit with multiple colour options. Unfortunately, there's no price, or date. These could come out in 2018 for $250 each, I dunno. It's a much nicer match to your Apple computer than say, this thing.

Here endeth the sizzle (until tomorrow!)

The Sizzle is curated by Anthony "@decryption" Agius and emailed every weekday afternoon. Like The Sizzle? Like it on Facebook!