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A few months ago Apple made some controversial changes to its App Store developer terms, which were seen as overly restrictive. The scuttlebutt was that the changes were aimed at banning Adobe Flash from the iPhone, since Apple had already said that Flash was not going to be included, nor allowed on the iPad. The developer terms said that all apps. which could be downloaded through the App Store had to be originally written only in C, C++, Objective-C, or Javascript compatible with Apple’s WebKit engine. No cross-compiled code, private libraries, translation or compatibility layers were allowed. Apple claimed they made these changes to increase the stability and security of the iOS environment for users. I considered this a somewhat dubious claim given that they were allowing C and C++. We all know the myriad security issues that Microsoft has had to deal with as a result of using C and C++ in Windows, and in the applications that run on it. A side-effect I noticed was that the terms also banned Squeak apps., since Squeak’s VM source code is written in Smalltalk and is translated to C for cross-compilation. In addition any apps. written in it are originally written in Smalltalk (typically), and are executed by the Squeak VM, which would be considered a translation layer. The reason this was relevant was that someone had ported Squeak to the iPhone a couple years ago, and had developed several apps. in it.

The Weekly Squeak revealed today that Apple has made changes to its App Store terms, and they just so happen to allow Squeak apps. As Daring Fireball has revealed, Apple has removed all programming language restrictions. They have even removed the ban on “intermediary translation or compatibility layers”. The one caveat is they do not allow App Store apps. to download code. So if you’re using an interpreter in your app., the interpreter and all of the code that will execute on it must be included in the package. (Update 9-12-10: Justin James pointed out that the one exception to this rule is Javascript code which is downloaded and run by the WebKit engine). This still restricts Squeak some, because it would disallow users or the app. from using something like SqueakMap or SqueakSource as a source for downloading code into a Squeak image, but it allows the typical stand-alone application case to work.

John Gruber, the author of Daring Fireball, speculates that these new rules could allow developers to use Adobe’s Flash cross-compiler, which Adobe had scuttled when Apple imposed the previous restrictions. John said, “If you can produce a binary that complies with the guidelines, how you produced it doesn’t matter.” Sounds right to me.

However, looking over the other terms that John excerpts from the license agreement gives me the impression that Apple still hasn’t figured everything out yet about what it will allow, and what it won’t allow, in the future. It has this capricious attitude of, “Just be cool, bro.” So things could still change. That’s the thing that would be disappointing to me about this if I were an iPhone developer right now. I got the impression when the last license terms came out that Apple hadn’t really thought through what they were doing. While I get a better impression about the recent changes, I still have a sense that they haven’t thought everything through. To me the question is why? I guess it’s like what Tom R. Halfhill once told me, that Steve Jobs never understood developers, even back in the days when the company was young. Steve Wozniak was the resident “master developer” in those days, and he had Jobs’s ear. Once he left Apple in the 1980s that influence was gone.

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My first instinct to hearing this news (h/t to Bill Kerr) was, “About friggin time!” Here’s a permalink to Bill’s post on it.

Google discovered recently that some of its servers, as well as the servers at 34 other companies were attacked in a sophisticated cracking campaign originating in China. As far as Google’s services were concerned, the attacks seemed to be targeted at trying to access the e-mails of Chinese human rights activists, and Google’s intellectual property. The attack on the former failed, but the attack on the latter apparently succeeded. Google announced after this discovery that it is removing censorship measures on google.cn, their Chinese search service, and they acknowledged that they are facing the prospect of being forced to leave China altogether. Wow! Now, I understand that this was discussed as a business decision, probably from a security standpoint, but I think that this burnishes Google’s image, nevertheless, of “not being evil”. China’s government and business environment are not compatible with Google’s corporate culture. This isn’t the first time that Google has gotten harassed, apparently. The conflicts with the Chinese government have gone on a long time, partly, Google suspects, at the behest of its competitors.

Here’s a link to video of a news segment on this on the News Hour with Jim Lehrer.

Ethan Zuckerman made a good point that Google was blamed for moving into China and agreeing to their censorship guidelines, but they’ve been less stringent on internet communications, and have been more willing to do things the Chinese government doesn’t like, than Google’s competitors, such as Microsoft and Yahoo. The reason they got beat up on more than the others is that Google began with the motto “don’t be evil”. None of their competitors had such a mission statement.

I was originally opposed to Google entering China a few years ago for these reasons. However, apparently Google offered enough openings for human rights activists in China so they could use Google’s services to organize and exert some power in Chinese politics. I hadn’t heard of this until now. It turns out they offered private GMail accounts to Chinese users, based in a U.S. server, and this was one avenue that activists have been using.

Now, these same Chinese activists are worried that Google may be forced to leave, thereby removing a powerful tool they had in advancing their causes. I do feel for these people.

I feel in a strange way after hearing this news that if it took Google continuing the censorship to stay so that Chinese activists would have something that they could continue to use for their causes, then I’d say “bring on the censorship!” It’s better than nothing, and I’m now realizing that this was probably Google’s calculation all along. But I think the jig is up. Probably not even that would repair this situation. As I read about this it felt like the situation with NBC, Conan O’Brien, and the Tonight Show. Basically, “I have to leave, because these bozos want me to do something that will betray my sense of integrity.”

Edit 5-22-2010: I was informed yesterday by Tammy Bruce that despite what some might have heard, Google has not left China. Instead they have relocated to Hong Kong, and have managed to set up what I’d call a “beach head” where they are not censoring their searches. This does not mean that most Chinese have unfettered access to information. From what I hear the Chinese are blocking Google, though my guess is this is not total, or else they would have no choice but to leave entirely.

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I don’t have a dog in this fight, since I graduated high school more than 20 years ago, and I don’t have kids in school. I am a citizen who’s concerned about educational issues though. So I thought I’d weigh in.

I saw a story yesterday that 80 BVSD teachers in Broomfield, CO. had called in and said they were not showing up for work for the day. Students were planning on attending review sessions with their teachers for finals next week. Oh well. The school district hurriedly found substitute teachers to replace the ones who didn’t show up (apparently there was no advance notice of this event). Kids either sat in class with no activities, or “watched movies” as a few put it.

What was behind the walkout was a contractual dispute with the school district. From what I can surmise from the comments that followed the article (follow the above link), contract negotiations were in progress. The understanding of the teachers was that the district was going to be fully funded with no cuts, but the district kept coming back with lower offers for the teachers (in terms of raises), and possibly beefy offers for administrators (I’m not clear on that part). The fact that administrators were making more than the teachers wasn’t surprising to me. I knew this was the case 16 years ago. As far as I’m concerned this is the way it’s been and the way it always will be in public schools. Some commenters said that in a few cases teachers make more than administrators (if the teacher has upped their pay with higher credentials, and the principal is new, for example).

Anyway the teachers reacted, and in my opinion the students suffered for it. Finals are an important and stressful time for students as things are. For teachers to do this at this time just adds to the stress, not to mention some confusion. They don’t need this right now.

From the way teachers were describing the situation, they’ve been feeling financially stressed, and to boot they were feeling shafted. Well in my estimation they shafted their students and caused them stress yesterday. How about we leave the students out of the dispute, okay? They don’t deserve this. It’s apparent to me these teachers were not thinking about how their actions would affect students. There’s a time and a place for this sort of thing, and now is not it.

Edit 5/20/09: More “sick outs” have been happening this week, now in Boulder, to protest contract negotiations. Here’s an editorial in the Denver Post about it which echoes my sentiments.

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I missed something pretty big. My life got turned upside down last December so I guess I can see why I missed it. I was looking through videos on YouTube and Google Video today, as I often do, and I came upon some videos about CFLs, Compact Flourescent Lights, particularly how they present different health hazards than incandescents.

We’re used to incandescents. We know you have to be careful storing them and putting them into sockets, lest you drop and break them, or crush them (if improperly stored, or stepped on). They are made of thin glass, so you can get serious cuts from them if you’re not careful. You can electrocute yourself if you try to remove a broken bulb from a fixture without turning the power off. We know all this.

The federal government passed a law with a bunch of energy conservation measures in December. One of its provisions says that it will be illegal for stores to sell incandescent bulbs by the year 2012 2014. What to use instead? CFLs. That’s what everyone seems to be saying anyway. There are LED bulbs on the market now, but they don’t get much play. One review I read of LED bulbs said that their downside is they’re really only good for direct lighting, like a spotlight, penlight, or flashlight, and not so good for lighting a room unless you don’t mind indirect lighting.

CFLs trouble me. Environmentalists used to be concerned about toxins in our environment that could affect our health. They still are concerned with industrial toxic waste sites, but I don’t hear much from them these days about toxins in consumer products. CFLs are an example. I feel like environmentalists are taking their eye off the ball here to favor another set of priorities. Secondly I have the suspicion that some special interests are getting a deal out of this.

As I’ll talk about below, you don’t have to call a toxic waste cleanup company in case you break one of them, but you may want to anyway… Seeing an opportunity, one company I’ve found is selling CFL cleanup and recycling kits for quite a sum.

The following report is from Australia:

It surprises me that environmentalists are so eager to get people to use these things, and are willing to let the issue of hazardous waste disposal be a back burner issue. The report above says that mandatory recycling should take care of the hazard (at least from an environmental standpoint). From where I sit though mandatory recycling isn’t in place yet. Shouldn’t it be?

This strikes me as kind of insane. Basically the message is, “You might be risking your health with these things, but take heart, because you’re preventing global warming.” Somehow I feel like this is like Dumbo’s feather. He thought he needed it to fly, when it was just a symbol, a placebo. Yes, CFLs will save on electricity, but incandescents don’t use that much to begin with. Let’s get some perspective. You’ll save a LOT more by not running TVs/CRTs in your house, running your refrigerator, using an electric stove/oven, using a microwave, and by not running your air conditioning in the summer. This is like focusing on that drip in the kitchen faucet rather than the flood in your basement that occurred because your pipes froze.

These days a lot of people in the environmental and scientific community are concerned about the specter of global warming, CO2 emissions and such. CFLs are supposed to help with this because they consume a fraction of the electricity that incandescents do, last a lot longer, and there’s the good feeling about not putting more waste into landfills. The downside is CFLs contain 5mg of mercury (the Australian report said up to 25mg). Mercury is extremely toxic. Miniscule amounts are dangerous to your health. So long as you do not break a CFL, you’re fine.

You’re encouraged to recycle your bulbs rather than throw them in the trash when they burn out, but from what I’ve read, consumers are not necessarily required to recycle them. It depends on the regulations in your state. You can read more about this here. If you do dispose of them in the trash the EPA asks that you seal each bulb inside two plastic bags beforehand to (hopefully) contain the mercury when the bulbs are crushed by the dump trucks that collect the trash. Somehow I find this to be dubious. Won’t the glass from broken bulbs (or something sharp in the dump truck compactor) puncture the plastic bags?

Home Depot offers a CFL recycling program. Your local community may have a toxic waste disposal site as well where you can drop off your dead CFLs.

With incandescents we’re pretty familiar with what to do if a bulb breaks. You clean up the glass with a broom and pail, use a wet paper towel on a hard surface to collect any small fragments, or use a vacuum cleaner on a rug, and put the broken bulb in the trash. Pretty simple, and takes maybe 10 minutes.

What to do if a CFL breaks? The EPA has some instructions on this. It’s an involved process:

  • Evacuate the room. The reason is that the broken bulb releases mercury as dust/vapor into the room. Close off the room and open windows in it to air it out for 15 minutes. Personally, I’m a bit dubious about the idea of opening the windows, though the idea of inhaling mercury vapor is not appealing. What if it’s a windy day? Couldn’t that spread the dust around the room? The EPA also says to shut off your central heat or air conditioning, since it could spread the mercury dust/vapor to other rooms in the house.
  • Once the room has been aired out: For hard surfaces, clean up the wreckage by carefully scooping up any glass pieces and mercury powder using stiff paper or cardboard and place the debris into a glass jar with a metal lid, or a sealed plastic bag. Do not use a broom or vacuum cleaner on hard surfaces, as this will spread mercury dust. For carpets, the EPA says you can use a vacuum cleaner, but you’ll need to take the vacuum bag out afterwards and put it in a sealed plastic bag immediately. For the newer bagless vacuums you’ll need to dump the contents into a plastic bag, and seal it, and then wipe out the vacuum’s canister.
  • Use sticky tape, such as duct tape, to pick up any remaining glass fragments and mercury powder (do this both for hard surfaces and carpets. Ugh! Duct tape on carpet!).
  • For a hard surface, wipe the area clean with a damp paper towel or wet wipes, and put the paper towel or wipes in a glass jar or plastic bag.

The EPA has special instructions for if the glass and/or powder has come in contact with clothes, bedding, or other soft materials. Basically they’re goners. They don’t recommend you try to wipe or wash off the powder. Don’t put these items in a washing machine as the mercury powder may contaminate it. Basically, if you don’t want this stuff hanging around you, you have to throw out the affected items. Kiss them goodbye. The EPA does say that you can wash what you were wearing at the time when you cleaned up the broken CFL, when they (and you, by the way!) were “exposed to the mercury vapor”, so long as what you were wearing didn’t come in direct contact with the mercury powder (on the floor). Oh…GREAT!

One consolation they offer is that shoes are apparently salvageable. If powder gets on them, just wipe them off with damp paper towels or wet wipes (and put the towels/wet wipes in sealed plastic bags). Somehow, I think I’d just trash the shoes. What if the powder got inside them? We sweat profusely in our shoes. I wouldn’t want to absorb that stuff into my skin, thank you!

The last step, immediately place all waste items outside in the trash, that is if your locality/state allows this. In some areas they require you to take the waste items to a recycling center.

Oh. One other thing. The EPA says the next few times you vacuum the room where the CFL broke, shut off the central heating or AC and open the windows before vacuuming it, and keep the heat/AC off and the windows open for 15 minutes after you’re done. Hmm. So there’s going to be some residue, huh?

Now, think about this. How many people even know they’re supposed to do this?? Maybe 0.0001% 3% of the population? (Update 8-9-08: I was emotional and kind of tired when I wrote this part. My math was way off! I’m just guessing, of course, but this is more along the lines of what I meant to communicate) Some who have a clue will call their local poison center for advice. Most people are going to do what they’d do for a broken incandescent bulb, pick up the debris with their bare hands or use a paper towel or washcloth, and then sweep and/or vacuum the area without getting rid of the vacuum bag, and without ventilating the room first. That’s a potential recipe for mercury poisoning. I wouldn’t be the least surprised if cases of this start showing up years down the road.

How many people do you think are going to think to recycle their CFLs, or put their dead ones in plastic bags before they go in the trash? I’m thinking less than the number of people who bother to recycle bottles, cans, and newsaper today, unless governments and/or manufacturers make this real easy.

Cheer up! At least you’re doing your part to prevent global warming…er, right? Cool! You mean I don’t have to buy a hybrid, too? 🙂

Edit: Just to clarify things, I read here that the government is going to “fade out” the sale of incandescents, starting in 2012. They’ll start with the 100 watt bulbs, ending with the 40 watt bulbs in 2014.

I don’t mind energy efficiency. I just wish the bulbs were safer. If someone came up with a bright bulb (full spectrum light would be nice as well) that was much more energy efficient, like CFLs, and didn’t have the hazardous waste problems I’d be all for it.

—Mark Miller, https://tekkie.wordpress.com

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