Ian Robinson

March 7, 2021

Ian Robinson's Weekly Digest 7th March 2021

Welcome to the latest Weekly Digest with pointers and commentary on things that have caught my eye in the last week. As you can see, if you are reading this, I've moved from Revue to HEY World. I'm all in on HEY services - HEY (which includes HEY World) and HEY for Work for my Canicula domain email. 

This week's post has four items plus six new music pointers! All links from names of people or companies go to their Twitter account if they have one, or their website if they don’t.

Technology - Networks

Global Cell Tower Distribution - Link
If you were asked to guess how many mobile phone cell towers there were on Earth, what would you guess? 10 million? 50 million? 100 million? 500 million? It turns out it's about 40 million, which is a lot fewer than I guessed. This zoomable map plots all those that can be gleaned from public data sources. You can zoom in and see how many are in your local area. There are about two hundred 4G capable towers in the smallest box available when centered on my house. 

Technology - Software

App stores, trust and anti-trust - Benedict Evans - Link
There has been a lot of activity on the anti-trust and app store monopoly fronts this week. Google is changing the way they track users for targeted advertising. However, it looks like they are collecting so much data from Google services they can still do targeted ads without tracking people across the web. So it's not much of a change. Several US states are considering Bills to prevent Apple and Google from forcing third-party developers into using their app store payment methods. Arizona's lower house passed just such a bill this week. It still needs to be ratified in the Arizona Senate and then signed into law by the Governor. The same or very similar Bills have been introduced in several other states. They all seem to have been written by lobbyists hired by the self-styled Coalition for App Fairness, a well-funded front for large and small companies who have a beef with Apple mostly, and Google to a lesser extent. They want to be able to do lots of things that are prohibited at present, including running their own app stores. I think that's a step too far. In my view, Apple and Google should do the following:

  1. Allow third-party subscription payment links from within apps. These would either link out to a website for payments or allow the app to inform users that they can go to a website to sign up. Apple prohibits this at present. I'm not sure if Google does.
  2. Still require using their In-App Purchase (IAP) APIs for any developer who wants to offer subscriptions or other purchases in the app. But reduce the cut that Apple and Google take from the current 30% to a much lower figure. Maybe 10% maximum. Then developers who still wanted to use the Apple and Google IAP tools could do so without losing almost a third of their revenue (or having to inflate prices to offset this 30% cut).

All that is just preamble before getting to Benedict Evans's essay from last August on App stores, trust and anti-trust. The Apple App Store and the locked-down nature of iOS have provided real benefits to billions of people over the last decade. The security model largely makes it simple for non-technical users to be sure that the apps they are downloading will not steal their money or data. I say largely as they are certainly too many scam apps on the App Store. We need to be very careful we don't destroy the App Store's good aspects to further the interests of big companies like Unreal and Spotify via The Coalition for App Fairness. Benedict Evans outlines the issues in his post

Technology - Cybersecurity

Tens of thousands of US organizations hit in ongoing Microsoft Exchange hack - Ars Technica - Link
If you work as a system admin and use Microsoft Exchange Server, you probably know about this. If you are a manager at a company that uses Exchange, ask your IT team if they have patched your Exchange Servers. This seems to be a nasty vulnerability that is being actively exploited.


Science - Climate Change

Don’t forget about coal miners and cement makers on the way to zero emissions - Bill Gates - Link
An excellent article by Bill Gates on the importance of not forgetting about the industries and communities that rely on the fossil fuel industry as we transition to a green economy.  If the move to a modern, greener industry is to be successful and done in time, then the people in industries that will lose out need to be beneficiaries of the new manufacturing processes and industries that emerge. Universal Basic Income for all should play a part in the transition in my opinion. But that's an argument for another day.   


Culture - New music I discovered this week