Patent Trolls: The End of Innovation as We Know It.

Patent trolls have been all over the press lately with companies like Lodsys suing Rovio Mobile, the maker of Angry Birds.  They also have been going after small iOS and Android developers too.  They are claiming they own the rights to in-app-purchase, upgrade buttons, and even links to the App Store. It kind of feels like a new form of the Mafia.

There has been a lot of advice floating around out on the Internet.  Patrick Igoe, who is a patent attorney, says settling with the trolls is a bad idea.  He has provided a lot of technical analysis on the patent claim charts and is having a hard time understanding how developers could be in violation. On the other side of the spectrum is Florian Mueller who is telling developers that they should just settle because of the costs involved.  I contacted Apple Legal to see what they thought and received a one-liner saying “You may wish to consult the advice of an attorney as we cannot provide you with any legal advice on Lodsys’ patent infringement claim.”

It’s sad that the App industry that I truly have enjoyed being a part of for the last 3 years might actually be coming to an end.  Independent developers won’t be able to afford legal representation, especially for a patent litigation case.  I recently learned at the MoDevDC meetup group that an average patent litigation defense costs around 2.5 million dollars.  It’s just not possible to fight a troll that has deep pockets.  If we just roll over and pay the troll to go away, there is no guarantee that others won’t come knocking.  There doesn’t seem to be an easy answer.

I was once proud to have my name listed as the inventor on a series of software inventions.  I no longer feel this way after seeing how vague patents are awarded and then misused. Patents are supposed to be non-obvious, but all of the software patents I have read, including my own, seem pretty obvious to me. I would be the first person to sign up to have all software patents invalidated.  My blood boiled when I recently listened to When Patents Attack! by This American Life.  I suggest you give it a listen.  I can only hope that one day patent reform can fix our patent system and help bring back innovation.

Tech 411 Show is Back!

I’m now doing a weekly iTunes podcast called Tech 411 Show. Oscar Santana and I use to do this show on CBS Radio 106.7 FM (WJFK) out of Washington, D.C. We teamed up with Mike O’Meara’s network (MORE Broadcasting) and will be pushing out a 30 minute show every week on iTunes.

After doing only three shows, Apple decided to feature us on the main podcast page! We immediately shot up into the Top 10 for Technology podcasts. We even hit the #1 spot a couple times which was very exciting! I’ve always been a huge fan of Leo Laporte, so seeing our show next to his was a real treat. Check out this screenshot of iTunes:

I just wanted to spread the word and let everyone know about the show. Please subscribe on iTunes so you can listen to our show every week. I do my best to recap the best in tech news and we try to make the topics easy to understand and even entertaining. That’s the real goal, learn a few things about tech while being entertained at the same time. You can find out more at our Tech 411 website and follow the show on twitter @tech411show. Thanks and please let me know what you think of the show!

Google wants to put your House in the Cloud

House in the CloudDo you ever want to live in a world in which your coffee maker preferences persist in the cloud so you can wake up anywhere in the world and enjoy your favorite cup of java? At one time I thought the company that would bring it to me was AT&T, but today I found out it was Google. (That reference is from 1993 TV commercials with AT&T and Tom Selleck, as shown below)

The Google IO keynote speech given today showed us where Google wants to take the Android platform. And that is… everywhere.

We already knew that they wanted it to run your smartphone, tablet, and television. But now they want to control your house and all your appliances. Home automation has been around forever and I’ve been using smarthome devices for years now. I only use it to turn off lights when I’m about to go to sleep. I know I can do a lot more than that but that is what I’ve found it most convenient to control–I’m tired and the lights need to be turned off.

Google gave me the impression that they weren’t just thinking about lights, although their demonstration did focus on light bulbs that you just screw in that could be controlled easily. What I found interesting is they demoed an exercise machine that connects to your phone and provides an interactive game to help you exercise. The game was pretty boring, but it illustrates something more important. They want your Android phone to be command central for everything. I can’t argue with that as I’m a big fan of simplification. I currently have 3 things that are always in my pocket–Car keys, wallet, and phone. If I could own a smartphone that can control all my devices, pay for anything, and even start my car then my life just got simpler. One device to control them all.

I reported the awesomeness of Arduino in a previous post and when Google announced their open accessory development kit that integrates with Arduino, I could only think of one thing–Brilliant. You can use your Android device to control anything and everything. And if you wanted to control something that wasn’t supported by the device, then then you could just build it yourself. The fact that they are using Arduino means that building hardware would be inexpensive. In addition to that, Arduino has a thriving open source community which could potentially build controllers for everything. This might just turn into an App Store of hardware accessories. Allowing developers build on top of a platform without having to pay licensing fees only means the platform could really grow fast. It will be a platform that people will want to have.

I think we can all agree that Google is great at pushing technology forward and worrying about the consequences later. I really like everything I heard today, and only hope that their Do No Evil motto doesn’t one day turn into Dr. Evil. I really don’t want an evil corporation taking control of my coffee maker.

iPhone Game Development

Just returned from a trip to Dallas, TX where I filmed a four day series on creating iPhone Games.  It will be published by O’Reilly Media and hopefully available within a couple months.  It will cover creating games using the iPhone foundation classes and also includes a day on the popular 2D gaming library cocos2d.

O'Reilly Breakdown Series

On the set of the O'Reilly Breakdown Series

The videos cover a wide range of topics including animation, collision detection, physics, multi-touch, graphics, sounds, and even computer AI.

My favorite part of the entire series was a discussion on how to record and edit realistic sounds into your game.  We built an air hockey game and used real paddles and a puck to simulate and record sounds that you would typically hear while playing.  My co-host said it reminded her of this video on the art of Foley which I have watched at least 20 times now:

SoundWorks Collection: Gary Hecker – Veteran Foley Artist from Michael Coleman on Vimeo.

UPDATE: Instructional O’Reilly Videos on how to make games are now available at

Verizon iPhone beats AT&T iPhone in speed test

I just bought my new Verizon iPhone4 today and decided to run a speed test to compare AT&T with Verizon.  Here are the results:

My location was inside the iPhone Apple store in Reston, VA.  I disabled all WiFi connections during the test.  The business manager of the store watched me perform the test and couldn’t believe the results.  Let’s go over the numbers.

Let’s start with the Ping stat which measures network latency–This is amount of time when a request is sent from the device to when the first response arrives.  You want the lowest number possible.  It’s like if you typed in a URL in your browser and measured the time it took when you first hit enter, to when you first saw content displaying on the page.  It took AT&T almost a half second while Verizon was a fraction of that time.

Let’s look at download speed where we want the highest number possible.  Verizon killed it with 1.34 Mbps while AT&T struggled at 0.35 Mbps.  That’s almost 4 times faster.  Upload speeds for Verizon were even better.

Does this test really mean anything?  Probably not for most people unless they only use their phone in that single spot I tested from.  It does mean something to me–The latency, download, and upload speeds for Verizon was a pleasant surprise.  The numbers were pretty good.   It really comes down to this–Do you have good coverage and signal quality in your area?  I along with millions of other customers did not have good AT&T coverage in the areas I spent the most time.  Like my house, for example, which was always searching for an AT&T signal.  I was able to talk on my Verizon iPhone for hours today without a single dropped call, both while driving and in my house.

I’ve been waiting a long time to use my phone to actually make phone calls.  Thanks Verizon.

Yes, I’m switching to Verizon iPhone4

Verizon Morphine

What is your current pain level?

Should you switch to the Verizon iPhone4?  I answer this question the same way a nurse asks you about an injury–On a scale between 1 and 10, what level of pain are you in?  If you give the nurse a high number, she will give you a shot of morphine, and the pain will go away.  In the same manner, if your AT&T pain level is high enough, maybe a shot of Verizon is exactly what you need.

My AT&T pain level is about a 9 right now.  I reserve 10 for women in labor trying to get directions to the hospital and their call drops.  That would be a solid 10.  I put myself at a 9 because I’ve gotten to the point that I scream and yell at my phone when it drops or fails to send a text.  The other day I was on an important call when it dropped and I started beating up my car’s steering wheel and screaming irrationally.  I should be throwing the iPhone out the window instead of beating up my car.  I’m just so tired of dropped calls and the red icon on my text messages prompting me to try again.  I’m tired of beginning every call with, “I’m on an AT&T iPhone so if this call drops I will call you back from a land line.”

Should you make the switch?  The first factor you need to consider is how much will it cost above the initial $199 for the phone?  In my case, I bought the iPhone 3GS on the day it came out so I have about 6 months left in my contract.  It will cost  me around $75 in early termination fees.  If you already bought the iPhone4 then you should know that AT&T changed it’s terms and conditions and placed a much higher penalty on early termination.  Pull up your terms on AT&T’s website and calculate what it will cost to get out of your contract.

If you are okay with the early termination fees, we then need to ask the question, how upset will you be if they introduce an iPhone5 in June?  History does show that every year a new iPhone gets introduced. My best guess is there won’t be a major new version of the iPhone.  Maybe they will introduce the iPhone4S and make the current model faster while fixing the AT&T antenna issue.  I don’t think they will support 4G LTE this year.  Verizon is just rolling out their LTE network and AT&T hasn’t even announced their 4G strategy other than saying it’s coming.  It’s just too early for Apple to jump in.

I think this is going to be the year of iPad and Mac.  All the rumors are currently pointing to a new iPad2.  The iPad needs a ton of features to bring it up to the feature list of the iPhone4.  It can’t take pictures. It can’t FaceTime. It doesn’t have an insane amount of pixels per inch found in the retina display. Compared to the iPhone4, the iPad is outdated technology. That’s why I think the big announcement this year at WWDC will be about the iPad.  Steve Jobs has even said it’s time for the rest of the products to catch up.

Some of you may want to hold out until June to see what happens.  Or maybe you think AT&T’s network will become better with the mass exodus of people switching to Verizon.  All I know is my car will thank me for making the switch.  On February 10th, you should ask what level of pain are you in?

Making it Rain with Arduino!

Long way to go...

Arduino kits from Maker SHED arrived at my doorstep this week and today I finally had a chance to put it together.  I bought a starter kit which comes with the main Arduino controller and a bunch of parts like buttons, LEDs, resisters, and bread boards.   I ran through all the basic experiments in a day such as making LED’s blink, push button toggles, and performing IO over USB between the Arduino and computer. The Arduino software for creating programs is simple and really easy to use.  In addition to the starter kit, I also purchased some shield kits which are basically expansion kits for the Arduino.  I decided to build the LoL (Lot’s of LEDs) shield which mounts directly to the top of Arduino and provides visual feedback.

Back of Board

The back of the board shows many rows and columns of solder.

The LoL board has 126 LEDs arranged in a 14 x 9 rectangle.  In order to put this thing together, I had to run out to Radio Shack today to buy a 40W solder iron, flush cutters, pliers, and of course solder.   This shield requires soldering almost 300 connections!

My soldering skills were a little weak at first, but after a couple rows it became much easier.  It took me a couple hours, but I finally got every LED soldered and clipped.  Look at the back of the board and all the drops of goo it required.

The connections are very close together so you really have to be careful.  I constantly worried about holding the iron for too long against the board which might change some of the underlying logic or even worse make the board unusable.  I also worried about shorting out pins from using too much solder.  I don’t think I blinked much because I had to get up twice to get eye drops.

There is nothing like finishing up that last row of LEDs.  I did a final inspection to make sure everything looked in order.  I touched up a few places, adding solder where needed, and clipping where there was too much.  The crop of red LEDs were aligned evenly and looked great.

Now came the real test to see if it worked.  I attached the shield to the top of the Arduino controller, plugged it into the USB port of my Mac, and then brought up the Arduino development environment.  I went over to Google code and downloaded the LoL shield library.  It took me a minute to figure out how to install the library but dropping it into your sketches folder under libraries/LoL did the trick.  The compiler was now able to find the library and all the sample code compiled without error.  I ran the basic test and was extremely relieved to see all the LEDs working.

I decided it was time to code something of my own.  I started with the example code for Conway’s Game of Life and stripped it down to the bare essentials.  I ended up creating a rain effect, where dots are placed randomly at the top, and then they fall down until they are off the screen.  Here is a video of the final result:

Building and coding the Arduino Lol Shield has been a lot of fun.  My next goal will be to create a game of some kind.  I know others have created Pong and Space Invaders.  I’d like to come up with something different.  Any ideas?

Download Rain Source Code

Verizon to announce iPhone at CES?

Verizon iPhoneVerizon has never given a keynote speech at CES but will be doing so in a couple days. What’s the big news? Last year, they announced their LTE network for faster speeds and this year it is expected they will unveil new 4G phones that will use it. The rumor mill has been running at full force over what operating system the new phones will use–Android or iOS?

I will add to all the rumors and say one of my friends, who works for CES, has been telling me for months it will be the iPhone. But reports came out early this week that it will be a series of 4G Android phones.

All I know for sure is that I have not upgraded my 3GS iPhone because I want an iPhone4 on Verizon’s network. I think many people are in the same boat. January 6th will be an interesting day with the Mac App Store being released and the Verizon keynote. Buckle up.

WordPress Mods

I have been troubleshooting WordPress today as I have noticed a couple issues:

1. On my first Hello World blog I noticed when using an apostrophe it had a strange behavior. It keeps adding additional apostrophes every time I save. So if I wrote I’m, it would change it into I”m. If I saved the blog again it would change to I””m.

2. Downloading and upgrading plugins would fail with “Could not create Temporary file.”

It turns out that problem #1 is not a WordPress issue but a PHP setting issue. I found this site which explains how to disable Magic Quotes. Just had to add “php_flag magic_quotes_gpc off” to my .htaccess file and no more issues.

The solution to Problem #2 was not as nice. Tried numerous things from the support thread but in the end the only thing that works was changing the permissions for the wp-content folder to 777, perform the updates, and then revert the permissions back to 755. Not ideal but I suppose I won’t be updating and download plugins that often.

I was able to easily add the Twitter integration to pull from @toddmoore using the “Wickett Twitter Widget” Plugin. It was so simple that I highly recommended it. My previous WordPress blog suffered from a lot of SPAM in the comments so I also enabled the Akismet plugin to manage it.

I think WordPress and the various plugins are great.

My name is now in the hands of myself!

This is my first blog posting as I just purchased the domain which is something Ive been trying to do for the last 15 years.  It always seemed another Todd Moore owned it or it was being sold by a cyber-squatter looking to make some easy cash.  That’s who I just bought the domain from, a money hungry cyber-squatter.  Such an awful way to make money but at least I finally own my name.

I’m currently thinking about writing a book on iPhone gaming so it made sense to go ahead, bite the bullet, and pay the ransom for this domain.  I immediately registered it for like 20 years just for good measure.  I’ve installed the latest Word Press and I’ll be expanding it with new content and features.  I think integration with twitter will be the first thing I try.