Archive

February 28, 2015

Google, Our Patron Saint of the Closed Web

Drew Crawford on Google’s acquisition of the .app TLD, and planned acquisition of .blog:

My point is that if you think Google is some kind of Patron Saint of the Open Web, shit son. Tim Cook on his best day could not conceive of a dastardly plan like this. This is a methodical, coordinated, long-running and well-planned attack on the open web that comes from the highest levels of Google leadership. And we’re giving Apple a free pass? Pshaw.

February 27, 2015

There’s Optimism and Then There’s Delusional

One of those “financial analysts”, Jim Suva of Citigroup, is in the latter category with his predictions for Apple’s upcoming media event:

We expect Apple to give specifics on the launch time, price, and geographic locations, which we estimate as: Launch date: April 16th; Price points: $350, $550 and $950; with a launch limited to the U.S., followed by Europe and Asia in the subsequent months. A flurry of fashionable accessories including various colors and materials (plastic, leather, and metal, including high-end metals such as gold, silver and platinum), starting at $29 and ranging over several hundred dollars.

$350 was announced, while $550 is very optimistic for the no-suffix Watch. But $950 is delusional for the Edition model — it’s made of fucking gold. (I would also be surprised if the Sport Band starts at $29, if that’s the implication.)

Samsung’s Ebb and Flow

Business Insider’s Steve Kovach penned a well-researched missive on Samsung’s astronomical rise and quick downfall in the smartphone space:

A powerful narrative began to emerge in the press: Apple was in trouble if it didn’t catch up with Samsung and start offering phones with bigger screens. Many asked if Apple had lost its knack for innovation following the death of Steve Jobs, and Samsung was doing a good job at making that theory seem plausible. Apple’s stock dropped as low as about $380 from its all-time high of about $705, largely on fears that Apple didn’t have a revolutionary new product up its sleeves.

I wonder who might have pushed such a narrative.

Net Neutrality Is Now the Law

Amy Schatz, Recode:

The new proposal essentially reverses a 2003 agency decision to deregulate Internet lines. The FCC is relying on legal authority Congress granted it under Title II of the Communications Act, which was written for old phone lines, to police Internet providers.

Since many of the provisions of Title II don’t make sense when applied to modern networks, the agency is only using a few of those provisions when it comes to net neutrality. For example, FCC officials have vowed to not try and regulate broadband rates, or require current broadband providers to offer a potential rival access to their networks at reasonable rates.

This is very, very good news. There are plenty of reasons why service providers shouldn’t be policing themselves, chief among which is exemplified by Verizon’s petulant response:

Today (Feb. 26) the Federal Communications Commission approved an order urged by President Obama that imposes rules on broadband Internet services that were written in the era of the steam locomotive and the telegraph.

Only rules that apply to the internet and which make sense will be used. And I’m really not sure why the age of a rule has any bearing on its validity. In fact, I’m not sure Verizon even believes that:

Verizon pressed its argument against the Federal Communications Commission’s new network neutrality rules on Monday; filing a legal brief with the United States Court of Appeals for the DC Circuit. The company argued the FCC’s rules not only exceeded the agency’s regulatory authority, but also violated network owners’ constitutional rights. Specifically, Verizon believes that the FCC is threatening its First Amendment right to freedom of speech and its property rights under the Fifth Amendment.

The Bill of Rights was ratified in 1791, or as a Verizon PR person might write, in the time of the French Revolution and George Washington.

“What has been and will remain constant before, during and after the existence of any regulations is Verizon’s commitment to an open Internet that provides consumers with competitive broadband choices and Internet access when, where, and how they want.”

Limited time offer, subject to additional rules which can be found at verizon.com. Not valid when combined with other offers. See store for details.

Update: The Times illustrates why this is necessary.

February 25, 2015

The Apple Watch Edition’s Upgrade Dilemma

Serenity Caldwell, iMore:

I understand the justification of replacing an iPhone or a Mac when they’ve become too slow or outdated for their task — at most, I’ve spent $2000-$3000 on such a device, and its cost-per-year averages out to something where I don’t feel wasteful in replacing the machine.

Watches are different. They’re jewelry. They’re as much a fashion accessory as they are a device. And watches can have a long lifespan, if treated properly. Watches have people trained in the art of repair, keeping someone’s $20,000 timepiece from becoming a useless paperweight.

Once Apple jumps into that price point and that industry, should it expect that users will pay $10,000 again 18-30 months down the line to replace their watch? Does the advent of digital mean we’re expected to replace our heirlooms now, rather than pass them down? I really don’t know. Maybe the Edition is truly just meant for those who look at $5000 cost-per-year of ownership as no big deal on their bank account. Companies like Vertu have made a living off those customers; why shouldn’t Apple?

But I’d like to believe Apple is better than that. If they truly want to command the watch industry, they might take another page from watch-makers: repairability.

I’d love for this to be the case. I think owners of the Edition, especially, but also the no-suffix Watch, should be able to go into an Apple Store and get the S1 swapped for an S2, when the second version is released. Then, they could leave with the same watch they’ve worn for a year, complete with the unique characteristics that make it distinctly yours. Potentially in favour of this is Abdel Ibrahim’s suggestion that the Watch might not change shapes year-to-year, which means Apple can design subsequent modular chip designs to fit the same space. Further in favour of this is the fact that the Apple Watch has an everything-in-one chip. But I don’t think it’s going to happen.

If the animation in the introduction video is to be believed, the S1 is sandwiched in the middle of the Watch’s stack, between the Taptic Engine and the sensors on the back. And, if Apple’s site is to be believed, the body of the Watch is one seamless form, with cutouts only for the buttons, display, and sensors. Perhaps there’s some way of cracking one open; perhaps there’s a hidden latch in strap attachment areas or something. Or perhaps the front or back glass — excuse me — sapphire can be removed. But this strikes me as exceedingly unlikely.

Furthermore, the next-generation Watch is likely to have more than an upgraded processor. It’s likely to include new sensors, which may require somewhat different capabilities than the current hardware can provide.

I would love to be proved wrong on this, but I think it’s unlikely that the Watch will be upgradeable into the future. I think Apple sees the Edition1 similarly to the other models in the lineup in this regard. They’re packing it with some pretty good hardware that should be better than adequate for a few solid years of use.

Apple really is in uncharted territory here. A Rolex can be handed down generation after generation because the technology inside it hasn’t changed that much for a hundred years. It’s not really a question of whether a tech company can make a good watch; it’s whether the watch industry can support rapid technology changes.


  1. Which, by the way, isn’t going to sell in the mad hotcakes fashion that the WSJ predicts

Permalinks

Matt Gemmell on the ugliness of having dates in permalinks:

Right now, a tiny subset of humans (technical people, who think of code examples or software tutorials when they read the phrase “blog post”) are going to argue that the date does matter. They are wrong. Any article with time-sensitive information will either mention its vintage explicitly, or is by definition poorly constructed.

Entirely agreed. Someone emailed or tweeted at me a few years ago asking why I don’t have dates in my permalinks. My response was a lot simpler than Gemmell’s: they just look better without.

Gemalto Has No Clue Whether It Was Hacked by the NSA

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, Vice:

In the press release, Gemalto refers to two “sophisticated” hacking attempts it detected in 2010 and 2011, which at the time it didn’t think were coming from NSA or GHCQ. But now, given the Snowden documents, the company believes those attacks actually came from the spy agencies.

The two “sophisticated” attacks are described pretty vaguely. The statement refers to one attempt to “spy on the office network” of one of Gemalto’s French sites, and another involving emails that tried to trick receivers into installing malware.

But for Ronald Prins, the founder of Dutch security firm Fox-IT, Gemalto has “no clue if the traces they’ve seen were from the NSA,” since the spy agency is “very good” at removing evidence of its attacks, and using phishing emails with malware is not the way the NSA hacks its targets.

Apparently, Gemalto thinks it can dust its hands after six days of investigation and they think it’s sufficiently thorough. Weak.

February 24, 2015

Reddit Blocks Non-Consensual Sharing of Nude Photos and Video

Charlie Warzel of Buzzfeed asked them twelve questions about this policy. This is relieving:

Will users need to meet a certain standard of proof — or will requests immediately trigger a takedown?

Reddit: We are not going to require proof. That is salt in the wound to someone going through the process of removing images like this. It’s often not limited to reddit and is rather difficult. The requests will be treated individually and not trigger an automatic takedown.

Good move, but I have a thirteenth question: why has it taken this long to prohibit this on Reddit? And a fourteenth question: how is this not illegal everywhere in the world by now? The only way that it may run afoul of the law is that the subject(s) could claim copyright infringement, but only if they were the photographer.

New Emoji and Paul Kafasis’ Favourite Radar

Paul Kafasis reacts to the new emoji in iOS 8.3 and OS X 10.10.3:

None of the emoji from the updated Unicode 7 spec are included. Apple continues to flip us the figurative bird by refusing to provide us with a literal middle finger. Diversity of races is surely a good thing, but where is the diversity for people who wish to communicate with widely recognized hand gestures?

This is actually — no bullshit — a very good question. Apple tends to be super cautious about being family friendly, to a sometimes ridiculous degree, but the “Reversed Hand With Middle Finger Extended” emoji is a totally valid Unicode character, as much as the letter ‘p’ is. Does Apple’s avoidance of anything even slightly profane trump their full support of the Unicode character set? I don’t think it should. It’s a character, like anything else, and Apple should support it.

On a less challenging note, you might be interested to know the new multiracial emoji appear to be ligatures. If you send one of them to a device that doesn’t support the new character set, that device will display the old-style “white” version plus the fallback “not found” character. Conversely, sending an old-style emoji from a device that doesn’t support multiracial emoji to a device that does will display the cartoonish yellow character on the updated device.

February 23, 2015

Test-Driving Amazon Prime Now

Nicole Dieker, Boing Boing:

I like sparkling water, so I add a liter bottle of San Pellegrino ($1.50) to my order. I wonder if it will arrive cold. This feels ridiculous, like I am the most decadent and silly person ever. I am going to order this bottled water and then I am going to be disappointed when Amazon delivers a room-temperature bottle. In the midst of luxury, I am frustrated that my experience is not luxurious enough.

Kinda sums this whole service up, doesn’t it?

“It’s Just This Feeling I Have That This Person Will Be Able to Get Stuff Done Faster Than You”

Tracey Lien, Los Angeles Times:

[Ana Redmond] had built a prototype for a travel website, she said, a feature to auto-suggest cities and airports based on the first three letters typed into the search field, fixing a long-standing problem.

Her male bosses told her she’d built it without permission. Then they said only architects within the company could pitch features — and all the architects were male. In the end, the project was handed to someone else, and she was assigned to less interesting tasks.

[…]

Tracy Chou, 27, a well-known engineer at Pinterest, said she was once bypassed at a previous start-up because her boss thought a new male hire was more qualified. When Chou pressed for an explanation, she recalled him saying: “It’s just this feeling I have that this person will be able to get stuff done faster than you.”

This weekend, my girlfriend headed to Home Depot to pick up a few pieces of hardware for a work she’s exhibiting later this month; I tagged along because the nearby Williams-Sonoma was having a pretty sweet sale. We couldn’t find a water pump, so she asked an employee, who — in a dismissive and almost condescending tone — told her that they don’t carry them in the winter. I checked online and found one in stock, then asked another associate to point us to it, which he helpfully did.

This isn’t an isolated incident. Each and every time we’ve gone into Home Depot together, I see sales staff treating her differently. Whenever she asks for something, they always look at me as if I need to confirm what she’s asking for, or ask me directly if that’s the case. It’s insulting and it is infuriating. She knows way more about this than pretty much anyone I know, but they don’t trust her because she lacks a penis.

I can’t imagine being subjected to that day in, day out.

Behind the Relaunch of The New York Times Magazine

Jake Silverstein, of the Times:

This magazine is 119 years old; nearly four million people read it in print every weekend. It did not need to be dismantled, sawed into pieces or drilled full of holes. Instead, we have set out to honor the shape of the magazine as it has been, while creating something that will, we hope, strike you as a version you have never read before.

To this end we have made many alterations. You will find new concepts for columns, new writers, new ideas about how to compose headlines, new typefaces, new page designs in print and online, new ideas about the relationship between print and digital and, animating it all, a new spirit of inquiry that is both subversive and sincere. (You will also find, in this Sunday’s print edition, more pages of advertising than in any issue since October 2007.)

Make no mistake: this is a tall order. The new page layouts are seriously impressive, with big, wide imagery and a recognizable kinship with the rest of the Times’ site, though decidedly its own style. The typography is fairly impressive as well:

The redesign was led by our design director, Gail Bichler, a 10-year veteran of The Times, along with our art director, Matt Willey. They worked closely with the talented designer Anton Ioukhnovets, who created the look and feel of these pages. Gail and Matt also oversaw the creation of an entire suite of typefaces.

Not a single letter in this relaunch issue has ever seen the light of day. They are infants; treat them gently. Gail also had the magazine’s logo redrawn by the typographer Matthew Carter.

I love the redrawn logo. Carter has done a terrific job of retaining the feel of it while allowing it a little more breathing room. It’s way easier to read, too. I love the standard serif and sans-serif faces, too; the latter is particularly exciting, as it shares qualities of Gotham, Avenir, and Akzidenz Grotesk, without directly aping any of them or feeling like an ungainly mashup.

I’m much less keen on the condensed slab serif the magazine is using for headlines, though. It feels a bit Old West, and it’s pretty tricky to read on index pages. It’s not so much that it’s bad; it’s a perfectly functional and rather nice condensed slab. It just doesn’t fit the Times very well, I don’t think.

February 21, 2015

New Oakridge Apple Store

Maybe I was a bit hard on Apple’s decision to remove the Genius Bar logos from behind the counter. The new Oakridge store is a much nicer example, but I still feel like it lacks some character. More importantly, it’s also a little confusing. I know plenty of people who are already weirded out by the somewhat awkward and undefined buying process in an Apple Store, where there’s no clear register or cash counter. Now, there’s no obvious signposting of the support area.

It does look less dated than the embedded TVs, though, so that’s something.

Update: The Stonestown store in San Francisco has a similar treatment, as do the Westfarms, Rockingham Park, Nanuet, Twelve Oaks, and several other stores. I’m not sure why I hadn’t noticed this before. It looks as though Apple started omitting the Genius Bar signage with stores opened around the time of the iPhone 5S/5C release, or perhaps even earlier.

Crazy Apple Rumours

Remember CARS? The site that John Moltz ran? “Crazy Apple Rumors”? It’s back, insomuch as actual crazy Apple rumours about cars constitutes Crazy Apple Rumors.

Daniel Jalkut:

Personally, I’ve flipped over to being cautiously optimistic that the Apple car will become a reality. My first inclination was to worry that it represented a deparature of focus for Apple, and that it would mean stretching their limited resources even thinner. But the 9to5Mac story drives home that a lot of the expertise required to pursue this dream, if that’s what they do, can be hired from outside the pool of software and hardware engineers that Apple has typically employed. I think it’s reasonable, for example, to be optimistic that a drive-train engineer’s efforts are not being wasted by working on a car instead of a MacBook Pro’s cooling fans.

I was initially skeptical of these rumours, but when you see a list of employees working on such a project, like the one 9to5Mac published, it goes from zero to “this is happening” faster than a hypothetical Apple Car.

iOS Rumoured to Receive Public Beta Program

Once again, it’s the guy with the Cupertino hotline, Mark Gurman, breaking this news:1

Following the successful launch of the OS X Public Beta program with OS X Yosemite last year, Apple intends to release the upcoming iOS 8.3 as a public beta via the company’s existing AppleSeed program in mid-March, according to the sources. This release will match the third iOS 8.3 beta for developers, which is planned for release the same week. Apple then expects to debut iOS 9 at its June Worldwide Developer Conference, with a public beta release during the summer, and final release in the fall.

Makes sense. It should minimize the amount of developer account reselling that goes on around the release of every iOS beta, and those people likely weren’t filing radars.

With this program should, hopefully, come an automatic block on App Store ratings and reviews from devices enrolled in the beta program, but this isn’t as straightforward as it sounds. Apple could simply block ratings and reviews on the device itself, but this doesn’t prevent the extra determined from submitting a review on a non-beta device. This could be solved by blocking ratings from users with any device enrolled in a beta program, but that means that developers with multiple devices — some running beta releases, some not — couldn’t submit any App Store ratings. I anticipate that Apple would take the first route here, which is “just enough”.


  1. Also, Gurman clarifies that “Stowe” is the codename for iOS 8.3. 

February 19, 2015

Apple Watch Configurations

The array of personalization options with the Apple Watch is kind of dizzying. Louie Mantia has put together a huge table showing all of the default Watch and strap combinations, based on the information available on Apple’s website.

However, this table doesn’t answer a lot of questions, and raises some new ones. What about the Edition’s apparently matched crown and strap? The straps are designed to be easily swappable, but my hunch is that the crown colour can’t be changed, even if the strap can. Why does it appear that there are so few strap options available for the Space Black Stainless model? Do you think all of the straps will be available for separate purchase? Why are some straps only available for the 38mm case, while others are only available for the 42mm model?

SuperPhish

Robert Graham of Errata Security has more details on that crazy Lenovo adware story:

Note that the password “komodia” is suggestive — that’s a company that makes an SSL “redirector” for doing exactly the sort of interception that SuperFish is doing. They market it as security software so you can spy on your kids, and stuff. A description of this component, their “SSL Digester”, is here. They market it for “ad injection” here. That site teaches us a lot about what SuperFish can do.

Meanwhile, Lenovo’s PR department is really working for their paycheques today:

We have thoroughly investigated this technology and do not find any evidence to substantiate security concerns.

Bullshit. Anything that intercepts or falsifies an SSL certificate is a security concern. Period.

The relationship with Superfish is not financially significant; our goal was to enhance the experience for users.

Bullshit. Lenovo thought they could fatten their per-unit profit by installing this software.

Lenovo does provide uninstall instructions, but…

Superfish will be removed from Program Files and Program Data directories, files in user directory will stay intact for the privacy reason. Registry entry and root certificate will remain as well.

The emphasis is mine, but the words are all theirs. They’re actually going to leave the enormous security hole — their root self-signed security certificate — installed on machines. That’s super sketchy.

Thursday, Creepy Thursday

Jeremy Scahill and Josh Begley, writing for the Intercept:

The hack was perpetrated by a joint unit consisting of operatives from the NSA and its British counterpart Government Communications Headquarters, or GCHQ. The breach, detailed in a secret 2010 GCHQ document, gave the surveillance agencies the potential to secretly monitor a large portion of the world’s cellular communications, including both voice and data.

The company targeted by the intelligence agencies, Gemalto, is a multinational firm incorporated in the Netherlands that makes the chips used in mobile phones and next-generation credit cards. Among its clients are AT&T, T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and some 450 wireless network providers around the world. The company operates in 85 countries and has more than 40 manufacturing facilities. One of its three global headquarters is in Austin, Texas and it has a large factory in Pennsylvania.

“Well that’s the government,” you begin, “can’t trust ’em.” Surely, then, a private corporation will fare better?

Allow Ars Technica’s Dan Goodin to pour cold water all over that theory:

Lenovo is selling computers that come preinstalled with adware that hijacks encrypted Web sessions and may make users vulnerable to HTTPS man-in-the-middle attacks that are trivial for attackers to carry out, security researchers said.

The critical threat is present on Lenovo PCs that have adware from a company called Superfish installed. As unsavory as many people find software that injects ads into Web pages, there’s something much more nefarious about the Superfish package. It installs a self-signed root HTTPS certificate that can intercept encrypted traffic for every website a user visits. When a user visits an HTTPS site, the site certificate is signed and controlled by Superfish and falsely represents itself as the official website certificate.

Even worse, the private encryption key accompanying the Superfish-signed Transport Layer Security certificate appears to be the same for every Lenovo machine.

“Phew, at least I don’t have a Lenovo PC,” you sigh.

Yeah, but do you have OnStar? Or a Kinect? Or an LG TV? Or a bunch of other products?

Earlier this month, Samsung was the target of a privacy dust-up due to a disturbing sentence in the privacy policy for its smart TVs: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party.”

[…]

But Samsung’s televisions are far from the only seeing-and-listening devices coming into our lives. If we’re going to freak out about a Samsung TV that listens in on our living rooms, we should also be panicking about a number of other emergent gadgets that capture voice and visual data in many of the same ways.

At this point, you’re forgiven if you’re preparing to crawl into the fetal position under your desk. Happy Thursday, everyone.

February 18, 2015

The Artful Dodge

John Gruber pours cold water on Daisuke Wakabayashi and his sources:

The way it reads to me is that Wakabayashi’s sources for the June 2014 story were not “familiar with the matter”, but rather were familiar with, at best, already-outdated plans to ship a more fitness/health-focused Apple Watch in 2014. And his report this week reads more like an attempt to make it look like it’s the Apple Watch that is actually coming in April that is wrong, not his reporting from last year.

Plans change, but Wakabayashi wants to pen the narrative again.

Barack Obama Speaks With Kara Swisher

It’s about time an interview like this occurred. The United States needs a President who is well-versed in technological issues. Barack Obama is far better than any of his predecessors and his competitors in this department, but still not always brilliant. Case in point:

Let’s talk about encryption. What’s wrong with what Google and Apple are doing? You have encrypted email — shouldn’t everybody have encrypted email, or have their protections?

Everybody should. And I’m a strong believer in strong encryption. Where the tension has come up, historically, what has happened, is that — let’s say you knew a particular person was involved in a terrorist plot. And the FBI is trying to figure out who else were they communicating with, in order to prevent the plot.

Traditionally, what has been able to happen is that the FBI gets a court order. They go to the company, they request those records the same way that they’d go get a court order to request a wiretap. The company technically can comply. The issue here is that — partly in response to customer demand, partly in response to legitimate concerns about consumer privacy — the technologies may be built to a point where, when the government goes to …

They can’t get the information.

The company says, “Sorry, we just can’t pull it. It’s so sealed and tight that, even though government has a legitimate request, technologically we cannot do it.”

Is what they’re doing wrong?

No, I think they are properly responding to a market demand. All of us are really concerned about making sure our …

So what are you going to do?

Well, what we’re going to try to do is to see: Is there a way for us to narrow this gap? Ultimately, everybody — and certainly this is true for me and my family — we all want to know that if we’re using a smartphone for transactions, sending messages, having private conversations, that we don’t have a bunch of people compromising that process.

So there’s no scenario in which we don’t want really strong encryption. The narrow question is going to be if there is a proper request for … this isn’t bulk collection, this isn’t sort of fishing expeditions by government.

Where there is a situation in which we’re trying to get a specific case of a possible national security threat — is there a way of accessing it? If it turns out it’s not, then we’re really gonna have to have a public debate. And, you know, I think some in Silicon Valley would make the argument — which is a fair argument, and I get — that the harms done by having any kind of compromised encryption are far greater …

This excerpt is extremely revealing. First, it’s obvious just what a good interviewer Kara Swisher is. She doesn’t allow for digressions or monologues; she wants the answers.

But it also reveals — or at least suggests — that the President believes there’s a middle ground between strong encryption and accessibility by law enforcement. While I’m empathetic to his hopes, the fact is that any encryption strong enough to protect against financial fraud or message interception by nefarious third parties is also strong enough to prevent the FBI from poking around. There is simply no way to have strong encryption that offers a law enforcement-only backdoor.

Swisher presses him on this for a little bit afterward, but it’s clear that he’s not budging. And that’s fair. The President of the United States, regardless of who it is, sees dozens of national security threats dropped into their lap every morning, and it’s hard to reconcile that with a hard-line stance on personal privacy.

The President is right: there needs to be a debate on how much we value our privacy, weighed against the actual threat and consequence of violent crimes committed using the same tools we all use. But I don’t know that such a debate will produce a singular right answer.

February 17, 2015

My Favourite Records of 2014

2014 was a weird year for new music, he began his month-and-a-half-late choice retrospective. After a totally killer 2013, it was pretty hard to imagine 2014 could top it. And, indeed, it didn’t, I don’t think. The closest we got to an “MBV” moment this year was a new D’Angelo record — which was great, by the way, so keep reading — but there were a few absolutely incredible records released over the past twelve months, and I’d like to highlight them. Some of these are obvious and you probably own them already; others are much more unique. I’d like to think that there’s something on this list for everybody.

All of the album links are iTunes affiliate links, so if you’d like to financially support what I do here and you want new music, please feel free to click through and buy an album from these links. If you like the sound of a record but would prefer not to buy through the affiliate link, please search the record out and buy it from your local independent music store.

Beyoncé — Beyoncé

I start this list with an omission from my favourite albums of 2013. Released right at the tail end of last year, Beyoncé’s self-titled fifth album cemented her as the world’s biggest pop star. While it was conceived as entwined musical and video components, I’ve only “watched” the album a couple of times. However, since each song on the album has a video, when every song is, in effect, a single, no song is a single. Through explorations of beauty, marriage, feminism, and sexuality, Beyoncé is truly best listened to as a full album, not as individual songs. To top it all off, the album is produced with a special kind of finesse and care that I haven’t heard in a long time. It’s an event unlike any album released this year. Praise Queen Bey.

Picks: Ghost/Haunted; Drunk in Love; Yoncé/Partition; Flawless

Beauty & Ruin — Bob Mould

Bob Mould spent the majority of his twenties and thirties defining and influencing the sound of alternative rock music in the 1980’s and ’90’s, as the frontman of Hüsker Dü and Sugar, as well as forging a successful solo career. On Beauty & Ruin, Mould has decided to take stock of decades of being a badass rock icon, which isn’t exactly a novel concept. But Mould approaches it with the kind of ferocity and intensity only he can muster, backed by a crazy-tight rhythm section. The album’s opener, Low Season, was panned by critics, but it’s one of my favourite songs on the record — it has a very special kind of warmth. But, then again, so does the rest of the album.

Picks: Low Season; Little Glass Pill; Tomorrow Morning

Our Love — Caribou

Eking a sense of emotion or genuine passion from electronic instruments is no small feat. The subtle differences in the way two guitarists may place their fingers on the fretboard aren’t really present between two different MIDI arrangements; at least, not in the same way. Some artists, like Burial, embrace the inherent coolness of electronic instruments to further their sonic investigation into loneliness and despair. Dan Snaith, as Caribou, has gone the other way and somehow imbued his electronic music with a sense of genuine warmth, as he ruminates on — and you may have been expecting this from the title — love. Love for his fans, for his family, for his wife, and for his new daughter. Opener “Can’t Do Without You” is neatly juxtaposed at the end by “Your Love Will Set You Free”: the first, an exploration of a love presumed lost; the latter, a love that Snaith can count on. This back-and-forth duelling-narrative element weaves itself through much of this record in a subtle and intriguing way that inspires effortless repeat listens.

Picks: Can’t Do Without You; Our Love; Your Love Will Set You Free

Here and Nowhere Else — Cloud Nothings

Do not adjust your dial: Here and Nowhere Else often does sound like it is being transmitted through a poor AM connection. It’s this lo-fi charm blended with post-hardcore delivery and pop catchiness that makes for one of the year’s best records. With its eight tracks clocking in at a neat 31 minutes, there’s very little room for waste or error, and it’s plain that the band is cognizant of that. But, though most of the songs on here are sub-four-minutes, there’s a wonderfully extended jam on “Pattern Walks”, elaborating on the band’s unique take on noisy, aggressive indie rock. It marks a departure from its predecessor in a number of ways — a new guitarist, and drums mixed really loud — but it’s just as catchy as ever, despite being way, way noisier. After seven breakneck songs, though, the album closer is tender, melancholic, and almost sweet. It’s a perfect end to a brilliant album.

Picks: No Thoughts, Pattern Walks, I’m Not Part Of Me

Black Messiah — D’Angelo and the Vanguard

In his twenty year career, D‘Angelo has released a total of three records. That’s glacial by any standard, but his work has never been disappointing. His previous record, Voodoo, set the template and high watermark for all R&B that followed it, and Black Messiah will surely be no different. It has been in the works for something like ten years, and it shows: every drum line, every melody, every vocal, every harmony, and every sample feels honed to perfection, and simultaneously utterly effortless. There feels like more focus than ever on D’Angelo’s unique vocal style, with hints of Curtis Mayfield and George Clinton floating over largely-real instrumentation, including drums by ?uestlove. If this record has even a whiff of the impact that Voodoo did, expect plenty of D’Angelo’s contemporaries to ape his unique style, more or less. But savour this original moment. It feels more like an event than a simple album release.

Picks: 1000 Deaths; Really Love; Another Life

Glass Boys — Fucked Up

Every time I think Fucked Up couldn’t produce a more dense, orchestral version of hardcore, they turn up the dial just a little more, making the resulting sound just a little more powerful. One day, if they’re not absolutely careful, it will become claustrophobic; for now, though, it’s cinematic and melodic in a most unique way. Though each record they make now will be inevitably compared to The Chemistry of Common Life, I think that’s a little unfair. This is a completely different beast than both Chemistry and interim release “David Comes to Life”; it’s simultaneously less ambitious, in the sense that it’s not a rock opera drama, and more ambitious, in that it attempts to breathe fresh life into those clichés of youth and age. And I think it works. Featuring a brilliant collection of guest vocalists from Dinosaur Jr. and the Tragically Hip, Glass Boys tugs pretty hard at the nostalgia heartstrings without straying onto the cheesy side. It’s warm and folky, for a hardcore punk record, and I love it.

Picks: Warm Change; Paper the House; The Great Divide

El Pintor — Interpol

There is no greater false hope than thinking the next Interpol album might actually be great. And yet here I am. Hoping.

I was wrong.

I’m glad I stuck with my apparently false hope. After two fairly mediocre albums and the departure of original bassist Carlos Dengler, Interpol has reemerged as a tight three-piece, with an energy and vigor unseen since — dare I say it? — the Turn on the Bright Lights days. Yes, the album still occasionally falters — Everything Is Wrong is a bit of a slog — but the strongest songs on El Pintor sit right with the strongest songs the band has ever released. “Fuck the ancient ways,” indeed, but El Pintor doesn’t totally distance itself with the band’s formula. It’s an alluring balance between fresh energy and expected style.

Picks: All the Rage Back Home; My Blue Supreme; Tidal Wave.

Sines — Jakob

Eight years ago, Jakob released the gorgeous Solace; after that, things got a little quiet. They still toured and played loads of shows, including opening for Tool for two of the band’s Australian tours, but a new record seemed elusive; or, at the very least, stuck in development hell. But, at long last, an album has emerged, and it’s amazing. It’s post rock as only Jakob know how to do it, complete with towering guitar lines, precise percussion, and warm bass lines. Yeah, it opens with the somewhat-predictable “Blind Them With Science”, but stick with it; it’s an adventure and a journey, and decidedly not much of a destination. I appreciate the band’s dedication to building an atmosphere over an easy end product: it feels explorative, not definitive.

Picks: Emergent; Harmonia; Resolve

Darlings — Kevin Drew

It took just one song into seeing one of Kevin Drew’s live performances for me to really get this record. Despite my affinity for Canadian indie royalty by way of Broken Social Scene, et. al., I’m not that familiar with Drew’s solo output. To be fair (to me), he has just one prior solo record. But “Darlings” is a wonderful exercise in slow burning warm and fuzzy indie rock. It reminds me an awful lot of one of my all-time favourite records, “Know By Heart”, by the American Analog Set: it’s unobtrusive and quiet, yet somehow demands your attention to every note. It’s like a warm blanket and a mug of tea. There are lyrics, and I’m sure they’re very nice; they seem to speak to romance, sex, monogamy, and all sorts of hot topical. But this is a record about feel, more than anything, for me at least. And it feels really good.

Picks: Mexican After Show Party; You Gotta Feel It; And That’s All I Know

Run the Jewels 2 — Run the Jewels

It’s generally hard for me to pick a “record of the year”. I tend to come up with a list of ten or fifteen albums that I really loved and will keep listening to in the years to come, but I can’t ever pick one that strikes me as the best. This year, though, Run the Jewels 2 easily took that crown. It has everything: a keen mix of social awareness and braggadocio over spectacular production, in a perfect back-and-forth style with moments of aggression and tenderness in harmony. It feels urgent and necessary, and very of-the-times. It’s a landmark kind of record, with guest contributions galore — including brilliant verses from Zack de la Rocha and Gangsta Boo, and a haunting chorus by Boots — mixing with El-P and Killer Mike’s exquisite duelling. I love this record.

Picks: Close Your Eyes (And Count To Fuck); Early; Love Again (Akinyele Back)

Heal — Strand of Oaks

There’s a bit about halfway through “JM”, the song in the middle of the album, where you get the sense as a listener that Timothy Showalter has poured absolutely everything into this record. It certainly reads like it: as he was in the middle of recording the album, he had a near-death accident that markedly changed the tone of the songs. A bunch of songs were mixed to be huge — far bigger than any of his previous work, and seemingly written to lift the roofs off stadiums, not small clubs or bars. Yeah, there’s a little bit of cheese on this record, but so what? This is ambitious, haunting, and at times, deceivingly charming. It feels like Showalter is willing to bear all to, indeed, heal.

Picks: Shut In; JM; Wait For Love

Seeds — TV on the Radio

After the tragic 2011 death of bassist Gerard Smith, TV on the Radio took a few years to grieve and regroup. Their first album as a reformed band, though without a full-time bassist, is a beautiful, disconcerting, yet oddly charming work. The attributes of a sound as distinctive as is TV on the Radio’s become more acute when paired with a subject as delicate and challenging as death, and all that comes with that. It’s not an instant classic in the way “Return to Cookie Mountain” was for me, and it does drag a little towards the middle, but it’s one hell of an impressive effort that improves with each listen.

Picks: Could You; Winter; Lazerray

Deep Fantasy — White Lung

I was eating dinner a few nights ago with a friend of mine who I haven’t seen for the better part of a decade1 and he pointed out that there’s something uniquely fascinating about a sub-30-minute record. Case in point: White Lung’s effort this year, flying by in less time than my daily commute, but packing a series of impressive punches along the way. In a year of seemingly nonstop degredation of women, as a whole, Deep Fantasy is a vital feminist voice, exploring its most pressing and necessary challenges. As with most great short-and-fast records, not a second of this album’s 22-minute running time feels wasted. Despite the aggressive delivery, though, there are plenty of catchy and, often, downright beautiful melodies to make this record feel more pop than it truly is. That’s nothing but a compliment, by the way.

Picks: Face Down; Just For You; In Your Home

Runners-Up

There are plenty of records this year that I really enjoyed, but weren’t necessarily “favourites”, for whatever reason. Here’s a small selection.

The Worst Album of the Year

Last year, I proclaimed Jay Z’s “Magna Carta Holy Grail” to be the worst record of the year, on account of its genius creator getting lazy. This year, there’s an awful lot of choice.

By the criteria of last year’s “winner”, Pink Floyd’s “The Endless River” is an easy contender. I’m a huge Pink Floyd fan — let’s face it, who actively dislikes Pink Floyd? — but they’re clearly just trading on their name at this point. “The Endless River” was an insipid record that I had to force myself to slog through. There are remnants of past Floyd, with almost self-conscious instrumental references to the greatest albums of their long and impressive career, but there’s very little on this record that I seek to listen to again. It feels like an endless river. Of boring.

I should, in fact, pick truly terrible records for this coveted prize. Lil Wayne released an album in 2014 that contained a song called “Bitches Love Me”, which included this gem of a lyric:

She said “I never want to make you mad
I just want to make you proud”
I said “Baby just make me cum
Then don’t make a sound”

Apparently, nobody involved with this record’s production found anything wrong with this. I am beside myself. I defer to the Rap Critic on this one.

Nickelback decided that writing songs about drugs and sex and booze wasn’t enough any more, so they wrote a protest song:

Head high, protest line
Freedom scribbled on your spine
Headline, New York Times
Standing on the edge of a revolution
Hey, hey, just obey
Your secret’s safe with the NSA
In God we trust, or the CIA
Standing on the edge of a revolution

It is truly this century’s “Eve of Destruction”, if Barry Mcguire kept hitting his head on a concrete wall while being forced to fill in a counterculture Mad Lib.

Alas, this award must go to the sole artist capable of producing a bad record from the first whiff of it.

And that, of course, is U2.

U2 gets ragged on a lot these days. They haven’t released anything really good since “The Joshua Tree”, but they mostly remained inoffensive for the past couple of decades. That all changed with “Songs of Innocence”, which was pushed to every iTunes account on the planet for free. Why is that so bad? Well, allow me to quote myself, like some kind of asshole:

[A] music library is a deeply personal collection. It is the whole sum of your life’s soundtrack. It has songs that played while you were laughing with friends, crying alone, making out with your significant other, cooking, cleaning, falling asleep, waking up, working, walking, and so much more. As we are able to take increasing amounts of music everywhere with us, we are increasingly experiencing our lives alongside a soundtrack. Songs of Innocence is an unwelcome wart on my life’s soundtrack. It has inserted itself into my library near albums of far greater importance to me. It feels like a violation of something I cherish.

Was it the worst music I’ve heard all year? No. It’s like the wallpaper in a dentist’s office. But imagine your dentist showing up at your house and re-papering your living room to match their office. It’s deeply offensive purely because it’s so invasive. I blame U2 and Apple equally for this shitstorm. “Songs of Innocence” was the worst album of 2014.


If you’ve made it this far, congratulations! And thank you for reading. See you next year, hopefully when a list like this is more relevant. Like I wrote at the top, these are all affiliate links, so buying a couple of these albums will help support this site financially. If you think affiliate links are wrong — or that putting together a list like this is kind of a lazy way of making a few bucks even though, and I swear this is true, I am genuinely recommending all of these records — that’s fine: please buy the albums of your choice at your local independent record store.


  1. If you’re reading this, hi Scott. 

Dan Lyons Continues to Be an Insufferable Jackass

Dan Lyons sounds jealous:

There is surprisingly little to be learned about Sir Jonathan Ive in this 17,000-word piece in The New Yorker, except this: The fucker gets driven to work in a Bentley Mulsanne, “a car for a head of state,” as Ian Parker puts it.

That one detail says it all. If you want to know who wields the real power at Apple, look no further. The Mulsanne starting price is a tick over $300,000, and can go higher (like if you get the special Grey Poupon refrigerator, I guess)…

Jonathan Ive is probably the best-known industrial designer anywhere, and determines the direction of both the hardware and software of one of the world’s biggest companies. A $300,000 car isn’t really that big of a deal in that context, is it?

…but the price is not the point.

Oh? Enlighten me, Lyons.

The point is the chauffeur. His name is Jean.

This is crazy even by Dan Lyons’ extremely high standards.

You know how Wikipedia typically lists notable people with a certain given name? There are so many people named Jean that Wikipedia just presents you with a list of articles that begin with Jean.

Ive, possibly the most influential person at Apple including Tim Cook, has a chauffeur. His name is the French equivalent of John. This is outrageous to Dan Lyons.

And then this article gets really weird:

There’s no word in the article about whether Ive makes Jean wear a uniform, and if so, whether Ive designed the uniform himself, and if so, if he selected his driver by making a few dozen candidates line up and pose to see which one would look best in the uniform that Ive designed, and/or which ones would agree to have plastic surgery to make themselves look just so in that uniform and hat.

Every time you think Dan can’t get any more abstruse or bizarre, he proves you wrong. He is truly a gift that keeps on giving, except it’s like receiving a flaming bag of dog shit on your doorstep that increases in size with each delivery.

Jon Ive is off the fucking rails…

Yes, Jonathan Ive is the one off the fucking rails. Not you, Dan. Jony. Got it.

…and the only person who could rein him in is no longer among the living.

Steve Jobs owned a fucking plane, which almost certainly had a pilot, who might have had a French name. Bring on the proportional outrage.

This article is so fantastically terrible that the link goes instead to a video of a dog riding a bicycle. If you’d like to read Lyons’ particular brand of bizarre, feel free to Google any of the quotes in this post. You have better things to do, though.

Stop, Collaborate, and Listen

The Verge’s John Lagomarsino wants you to stop speeding up your podcasts:

Radio — like film, music, TV, theater, and dance — is a temporal art. It relies on the passage of time to play with anticipation, tension, and release. A good radio producer knows how long a thought will linger in a listener’s consciousness, and either grants her that time, or purposely denies it. A conversation between two hosts is riddled with pregnant pauses and interruptions designed to head off miscommunications. We’re used to these patterns, and a good podcast is paced to play into them. Why, then, should we mess with that balance in the name of efficiency?

Lagomarsino cites the dramatic and deliberate pauses in shows like This American Life and Serial — and even The War of the Worlds — as instances where a podcast app’s speed adjustment feature would ruin the moment. But most podcasts aren’t like Serial; most podcasts are a few guys talking aimlessly about topics that interest them. For every This American Life that’s made worse by a speed adjustment feature, there’s a 5 By 5 show that’s made unquestionably better by such a feature.1

Podcast acceleration features are there because the people who build podcast apps also listen to podcasts. Most podcasts simply don’t respect the listeners’ time.


  1. I don’t mean to rag on 5 By 5, but the network is full of shows that are little more than casual banter. 

Debating the Rules and Ethics of Digital Photojournalism

These sorts of articles and debates are always interesting to me because, while it’s true that digital tools make photo manipulation easier, photos have never been 100% free of manipulation.

In college, I took a class on the history of photography, and we were presented with this incredible photo of an arched promenade, and we were asked what was odd about it. After a beat, the professor noted that it was actually a composite of several negatives, each taken at a different focal length. I wish I remembered the name of this particular photo to cross-reference this account, but I don’t think I’m mistaken. Photo manipulation has a very long history.

On the other hand, these are examples of photojournalism, which one expects to be unadulterated. On the other hand, are different white balance or exposure settings adulterating an image by transforming its mood? Such photos would, after all, be straight out of the camera, so to speak. Is the determination of whether manipulation is excessive like pornography, in that “you know it when you see it”?

Goodbye, Mini Stores

Pour one of those travel-sized bottles of whatever out for the Mini Store. Like so many other smaller stores, I’ve always held an affection for Apple’s Mini Store concept.1 It scales horribly, especially for Apple’s current size and demands, but it’s always been a very unique concept. And now it’s gone.


  1. I really like kiosks, and I can’t explain why. I like the tiny retailers inside train stations, I like newsstands, and I really like weird hole-in-the-wall shops. Colour me crazy. 

Apple Watch’s First Quarter

Daisuke Wakabayashi, in a Wall Street Journal article entitled “What Exactly Is an Apple Watch For?”:

When Apple Inc. started developing its smartwatch, executives envisioned a state-of-the-art health-monitoring device that could measure blood pressure, heart activity and stress levels, among other things, according to people familiar with the matter.

But none of those technologies made it into the much-anticipated Apple Watch, due in April. Some didn’t work reliably. Others proved too complex. And still others could have prompted unwanted regulatory oversight, these people said.

That left Apple executives struggling to define the purpose of the smartwatch and wrestling with why a consumer would need or want such a device. Their answer, for now, is a little bit of everything: displaying a fashion accessory; glancing at information nuggets more easily than reaching for a phone; buying with Apple Pay; communicating in new ways through remote taps, swapped heartbeats or drawings; and tracking daily activity.

Lorraine Luk and Daisuke Wakabayashi, also for the Journal:

Apple has asked its suppliers in Asia to make a combined five to six million units of its three Apple Watch models during the first quarter ahead of the product’s release in April, according to people familiar with the matter.

Half of the first-quarter production order is earmarked for the entry-level Apple Watch Sport model, while the mid-tied Apple Watch is expected to account for one-third of output, one of these people said.

Orders for Apple Watch Edition – the high-end model featuring 18-karat gold casing – are relatively small in the first quarter but Apple plans to start producing more than one million units per month in the second quarter, the person said. Analysts expect demand for the high-end watches to be strong in China where Apple’s sales are booming.

Analyst Ben Bajarin on Twitter:

I have multiple supply chain sources which suggest a lot more than 5m Apple Watches being built.

(Presumably he means in its first quarter.)

Finally, Apple, in July 2010:

The Company began selling iPads during the quarter, with total sales of 3.27 million.

“It was a phenomenal quarter that exceeded our expectations all around, including the most successful product launch in Apple’s history with iPhone 4,” said Steve Jobs, Apple’s CEO. “iPad is off to a terrific start, more people are buying Macs than ever before, and we have amazing new products still to come this year.”

So, the Apple Watch is an aimless gadget that doesn’t meet Apple’s expectations and is “struggling” to find purpose, which will sell at least five million units during its first quarter, which is 60% more than the number of iPads sold during that product’s first quarter, which was the most successful consumer electronics product launch in history at the time, and in the Watch’s second quarter, a terrific number of the presumed pricey “Edition” model will exceed one million units.

Either Apple executives have no idea how to run a company any more, or the Journal is trying to write the story line again.

February 16, 2015

Jonathan Ive and the Future of Apple

The New Yorker’s Ian Parker put together an incredible portrait of Apple from the perspective of Jony Ive, with a level of depth and access never before allowed. It’s really very long, and it is impossible to summarize; every word is worth reading. There are details about the Apple Watch (“an Apple Watch uses a new display technology whose blacks are blacker than those in an iPhone’s L.E.D. display”); about Ive’s personal views (the near palpable sigh when asked about the camera bulge on the iPhones 6); and about what makes him tick. Do make half an hour to fully digest this.

Ive certainly has a lot of pressure on his shoulders. After Steve Jobs resigned his CEO post, and again after he died, Apple’s stock price was — perhaps surprisingly — unaffected. But if and when Jony Ive leaves Apple, I can’t imagine their share price and their perceived future viability would be unaffected to the same or greater extent. Jobs left a willing and public successor, Tim Cook, in his wake; Ive doesn’t have anyone like that. He is both irreplaceable, and yet he must eventually be replaced.

The Fantastic Apple Car

Jean-Louis Gassée:

An autonomous car is good PR and to some it may seem like an inevitability, but as Lee Gomes, a former tech writer for the Wall Street Journal, explains in this Slate piece: The autonomous Google car may never actually happen. This isn’t because Google engineers are incompetent, but because actual, in-the-wild autonomous driving is fraught with countless intractable exceptions. What happens in heavy rain or snow, or when the software behind the camera has trouble recognizing objects that are blown onto the road? What happens when your car approaches a a last minute detour around new construction site?

There are a lot of really great reasons why Apple isn’t building a car. The rumours are pretty explicit; the WSJ is pretty clear that it’s definitely a car project, and not CarPlay-related. Daisuke Wakabayashi, who co-wrote the WSJ story, has decent sources, but he also couched his story in words that make it sound more like a distant and implausible rumour:

The Cupertino, Calif., company has several hundred employees working secretly toward creating an Apple-branded electric vehicle, according to people familiar with the matter. The project, code-named “Titan,” initially is working on the design of a vehicle that resembles a minivan, one of the people said.

An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Apple ultimately could decide not to proceed with a car. In addition, many technologies used in an electric car, such as advanced batteries and in-car electronics, could be useful to other Apple products, including the iPhone and iPad.

Apple often investigates technologies and potential products, going as far as building multiple prototypes for some things that it won’t ever sell. Any car would take several years to complete and obtain safety certifications.

My impression of this whole thing, for what it’s worth, is that Apple experiments with lots of things immediately related to products and services they’re already working on or shipping. They’ve done it with both software and hardware.1

I wouldn’t be surprised if there is, indeed, a team at Apple that is building a very early prototype of an electric car. I doubt the final result is to be a minivan. I think it’s most likely that this is not aimless spitballing, but nor is it something that they’re entirely committed to shipping. Yet.


  1. Remember the cellular MacBook Pro and the “Asteroid” breakout box for GarageBand, references to which shipped in GarageBand 2.0?

    On the software side — to name just one example — early internal builds of Yosemite included a version of iOS’ Control Centre, similar to Notification Centre, which was to appear on the lefthand side of the screen. This was scrapped in later internal builds. 

The Requirement of Perpetually Lowered Standards

Seth Godin:

Google the source of so much traffic is under huge pressure from Wall Street to deliver increased profits, and until self-driving cars kick in, the largest share of those earnings is going to come from the ads they sell. To maximize their profit, Google has spent the last nine years aggressively working to increase the share of ads on each page in their search results, as well as working hard to keep as many clicks as they can within the Google ecosystem.

If you want traffic, Google’s arc makes clear to publishers, you’re going to have to pay for it.

Which is their right, of course, but that means that the ad tactics on every other site have to get ever more aggressive, because search traffic is harder to earn with good content. And even more germane to my headline, it means that content publishers are moving toward social and viral traffic, because they can no longer count on search to work for them. It’s this addiction to social that makes the web dumber. If you want tonnage, lower your standards.

Google is decreasingly rewarding great writing online, because what people click on — and, therefore, what people “want” — are listicles, clickbait headlines,1 and rushed “shareable” graphics. I get that perspective for marketers, but there’s still a place for great writing on the web. It’s just getting harder to find.


  1. Say, for instance, “Is Google Making the Web Stupid?”. I don’t blame Godin for choosing this title, because it is proving his point. 

February 15, 2015

Google Has Made Its Internet Archive Impossible to Search

I don’t see any reason why Google would drop Google Groups’ search-by-date functionality. I presume few people use that feature, but those who do are more likely to be power users. It can’t take a huge amount of resources to keep supporting that feature, and its removal leaves a lot of power users feeling cold towards Google.

February 13, 2015

Workflow 1.1

1.1 is a really big update to Workflow, including a crap-ton of new actions. I’m still trying to figure out a perfect “Post to Pixel Envy”-type action-type workflow, though, that will include selected text in Safari — ideally with formatting and links preserved — and convert it to Markdown. It’s a fun app to play with; there are so many possibilities.

David Carr: Your Best Friend

Hamilton Nolan, writing on Gawker:

The first time I met David Carr, maybe seven years ago, I mistook him for a crazy person. (He actually was a crazy person, in the warmest possible sense of the word.) He was a big guy, and he walked with a hunched-over shuffle, and when I spied his indistinct shape walking towards me from a couple of blocks away I assumed he was a homeless man in a trenchcoat, struggling for each step. The fact that he was a feared and respected media figure at a fancy newspaper always seemed like a wonderful cosmic prank against the existence of stereotypes. Within five minutes of meeting, he was telling the sort of personal stories that most people reserve for their very, very closest friends. Before you knew it, you were telling the same kind of stories. And then you were friends for life. There is a great story in his book about a surprise birthday party for him where everyone wore t-shirts saying “I Am A Close Personal Friend of David Carr,” and I have no doubt that everyone believed it, because it was true. If you were friends with him then so was your family and so were your friends and so were their friends.

Here’s a beautiful story from Anthony De Rosa:

A common refrain you’ll hear in the stories people will tell about David is that he made you feel comfortable. Sure, he was intimidating at first and intense. He could turn a phrase that often took a second to decipher. But once you settled in, you were under his spell. He knew how to get you to be sincere and at your least self-aware. He was unguarded which led you to be unguarded. This was also a key to why he was such a great reporter, along with the masterful way he could string words together.

And Nick Bilton:

I had come out to Los Angeles for a month to try and escape New York, where the life I had built there was crumbling. Upon my arrival in Hollywood I had taken over an empty desk in the The New York Times L.A. Bureau. While the new environment was a temporary distraction, I often took quick walks downstairs where I burst into tears and felt sorry for myself, overwhelmed by what life was throwing my way.

As I stood outside one afternoon, doing just that, my phone bleated with a message from David Carr. “How are you doing Nickols?” he asked, a nickname he often used for me in lieu of Nick.

In tears, I told him, “Not good.” Explaining that it was over. That my life had fallen apart. That I… and then, he calmly interrupted me, explaining that he was in L.A. on a last minute trip, and instructed me to meet him on the rooftop of The Standard Hotel downtown in 30 minutes. “Don’t take the freeway,” he said. “I’ll never see you again.”

Remember TechMeme on the day Steve Jobs died? It’s just as busy today on MediaGazer: dozens upon dozens of people celebrating the talents of David Carr, and sharing their personal stories and memories.

As for me? I never got the opportunity to meet the man. I was just a reader, poring over every word he wrote for the past several years. He had a singular ability to string words together in a way that felt more like they were hewn from his thoughts than merely words on a page. It clearly took a lot of effort for him to put his stories together — you should watch the film “Page One” — but it resulted in a near-effortless read. And I’m going to miss that greatly.

February 12, 2015

Goodbye, David Carr

Awful news from the Times:

David Carr, who wrote about media as it intersects with business, culture and government in his Media Equation column for The New York Times, died at the office on Thursday. He was 58.

Just yesterday, Carr brilliantly juxtaposed Jon Stewart’s retirement from the Daily Show with Brian Williams’ suspension:

Both men spent more than a decade on top of their businesses for good reasons. Mr. Stewart had a remarkable eye for hypocrisy, found amazing writers and executed their work and his own with savage grace, no small feat. Mr. Williams managed to convey gravitas and self-awareness at the same time while sitting atop one of the best television news operations in the business. They were kings of their respective crafts.

I’m going to miss Carr’s columns a lot. The man was brilliant.

Apple’s 2015 Supplier Responsibility Report

Apple’s annual supplier reports are a particularly unique combination of depressing and promising. They’re the latter because Apple is really the only tech company — and, really, one of the only companies period — that does such extensive audits and makes them public, embarrassing blemishes and all.

They’re the former because they show just how dismal the working conditions are of those who assemble much of the physical components of our daily lives. Think: if these are the conditions that are revealed when Apple audits factories that they’ve worked with for a very long time, imagine the conditions in factories that go unaudited.

If we want to outsource manufacturing in exchange for lower prices, I think we have an obligation to be cognizant of the working conditions of those who produce our goods. It’s extraordinarily difficult to purchase products that are guaranteed to be produced in a totally ethical environment, but we can do our best to support companies that make an attempt, or avoid purchasing from companies that aren’t nearly as ethical.

You can read Apple’s full report here (PDF).

Now It’s Google’s Turn to Face the Wrath of Shitty Journalism

Rob Price, for — surprise, surprise — Business Insider:

Last year, a record 1 billion Android smartphones were shipped. Theoretically, Google should be in a position of massive growth: Android phones are increasingly less expensive compared to Apple’s, while its potential customer base is expanding as the next billion people get access to the internet in emerging markets.

And yet, for the first time ever, sales of Android devices declined in Q4 compared to Q3. Google is failing to capitalise on what should be an easy market, as it faces growing competition from up-and-coming budget smartphone manufacturers, like Xiaomi.

Search — Google’s bread-and-butter — is another problem area. While it remains the dominant player in the sphere, it is now in decline. Thanks to a Yahoo!-Mozilla deal that saw Yahoo’s search bundled with the Firefox browser, Google’s share of the search market is below 75% for the first time in years.

Certainly, Google isn’t growing at the rate that they once were, but, as Price points out, they just set an Android unit shipment record last year. And, while Google Search now has less than 75% market share, it’s still — by far and away — the most popular search engine for most of the world.

Apple is also reportedly mulling over dropping Google search as a default from its iOS Safari browser for a competitor or in-house version. It’s still unconfirmed, but it would be a massive blow for Google if it happened.

To interpolate the idiom, “it’s amazing how future Apple products beat current Google products”. Apple has made no indication that they’re creating a search engine, but if they do, who knows how well it will perform,1 or what it will do to Google?

There’s no single, existential threat to Google.

That’s weird. Price’s BI colleague Jim Edwards — who is a masterful trollthinks differently:

Apple is now an existential threat to Android

It seems like BI writers think they sound smarter when they use the phrase “existential threat”. It doesn’t actually make their writing or reporting any better, though.


  1. Judging by Apple Maps’ search function, not particularly well. 

Foxy Lady

Apparently, Siri is programmed to match the word “fox” to that one truly abysmal song, and whatever developer added that Easter Egg didn’t realize that there are potentially other reasons someone may ask Siri about foxes.

Introducing Darkroom

Majd Taby introduces Darkroom, a new app that he and Matt Brown created:

For starters, filters didn’t always fit our images. They might capture the right tone in the shadows but not the highlights; adjustments were either hard or impossible. As a result, we ended up picking from a limited set of looks that lead us to filter fatigue. We wanted a way to define the precise tone and effect on our images.

Our insight was that mobile filters were developed using desktop tools. What if the same tools existed on a mobile app?

Darkroom is our answer. By putting the tools used to make filters in an app, we’ve turned static filters to jumping off points for editing. For the first time, you can capture the perfect tone, and you can create your own filters. The editing tools we offer are carefully chosen and powerful. Everything about Darkroom is designed to be fast and get out of your way.

I’ve been using Darkroom for the past couple of months and I’ve really enjoyed my time with it. It’s fast — really fast — and it offers something I’ve long wished for in other apps: a way to quickly edit the selected filter. While it hasn’t replaced VSCOcam for me, it has become a worthy part of my workflow. It’s free on the App Store, and RGB curves are unlocked with a $3.49 in-app purchase ($2.99 USD). You should check it out.

February 11, 2015

Risking Her Life Standing Up to Gamergate

Brianna Wu, writing for Bustle:

My name is Brianna Wu. I develop video games for your phone. I lead one of the largest professional game-development teams of women in the field. Sometimes I speak out on women in tech issues. I’m doing everything I can to save my life except be silent. 

The week before last, I went to court to file a restraining order against a man who calls himself “The Commander.” He made a video holding up a knife, explaining how he’ll murder me “Assassin’s Creed Style.” He wrecked his car en route to my house to “deliver justice.” In logs that leaked, he claimed to have weapons and a compatriot to do a drive-by. 

After the crash, he sent me a deranged video that Jezebel called “bizarre” and “terrifying.” Sam Biddle of Gawker said that if this happened to him, he’d be “locked in a closet rocking back and forth.” For me, it’s just another Tuesday. My capacity to feel fear has worn out, as if it’s a muscle that can do no more.

Nobody in their right mind thinks death threats are okay, to anyone, in any capacity. But there is a deep-seated resentment of women baked into much of tech culture — specifically, gaming culture, but it’s pervasive throughout the industry too — and it culminates in threats and assault. This has to stop.

Disguising Ads as Stories

Damaris Colhoun, the Columbia Journalism Review:

Last month, when Conde Nast announced the launch of 23 Stories, its branded content studio that gives marketers “unparalleled access” to its “editorial assets,” the company made its narrative expertise a central part of the sales pitch. “As clients seek to elevate their storytelling and define themselves as publishers, we believe Condé Nast is uniquely qualified to partner with them to deliver compelling content, targeted to the right audiences at scale,” CMO Edward Menicheschi said in the press release.

Advertorials have always been present in some Conde Nast titles, in its fashion and makeup layouts, so what makes this new direction so troubling is not the creeping ad-think. It’s the creeping cynicism. When the press release says, “Our Industry is evolving, and so too are our ways of storytelling,” what it’s really saying is that branded stories are the future of new media, and those who disagree are behind the times.

See also: John Oliver doing what he does best:

It’s not trickery; it’s sharing storytelling tools. And that’s not bullshit; it’s repurposed bovine waste.

Genius Bar Logos Are Being Removed From Apple Stores

Gary Allen:

An original and significant element of Apple’s retail stores is disappearing. Over the past month workers have been removing the “atom” symbol that has pinpointed the Genius Bars since the first store opened in 2001, and they are replacing it with wall graphics to match those recently installed in back-lit wall displays.

It might just be the crappy photo used to illustrate the new behind-the-bar backlit photos installation, or the store itself not being one of Apple’s nicer ones,1 but this looks decidedly low-rent to me.


  1. Speaking of which, have you seen the Westlake store in China? It’s not as distinctive as, say, Fifth Avenue or Shanghai, but it might just be my new favourite non-historic Apple store. More photos from Apple, and take a look at the evolution of these store design in the renderings for the new San Francisco store — just look at those big-ass sliding doors on the front. 

Rich People Want You to Work For Free

Ted Gioia, the Daily Beast:

I am even more troubled by the NFL’s audacity in booking its Super Bowl entertainment. This mega-billion-dollar business with an antitrust exemption has long demanded artists perform for free at the half-time show, but now it allegedly wants entertainers to make a financial contribution for the exposure—perhaps even give a share of their post-Super Bowl tour income to the sports league.

Hey, bands, can you help NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell out? He only made $74 million during the last two years.

It is almost exclusively the “creative” professions from which others demand free products and services, and I struggle to think of why. It’s true that many STEM-type professions are crucial to the raw fabric of life: they produce our energy, our infrastructure, and our communications. So, in that regard, art is an indulgence. Why, then, are the stars of the art world producing extroardinarily valuable collectibles, while so many others fit the stereotypical “starving artist” profile? Why is art consistently undervalued, and its creators deemed capable of giving away their knowledge and craft?

A little while ago, I was speaking to someone who argued that my city’s public art budget should be entirely eliminated because “plenty of artists will work for free”. Apparently, “exposure” is payment enough. I would have found this extroardinarily offensive even if I didn’t go to art college, have a bunch of friends in the arts, and was working on a couple of new works myself. But this seems to be a commonly-held belief, and I struggle to think of why or how.

Update: Chris Clark makes a good point:

Power asymmetry. Business sharks are confident & manipulative, creatives are self-conscious. Get duped.

If I was artistically talentless I’d probably believe that art therefore has no inherent value and exploit artists too

*If I was also a total asshole who believed that other people are there to be exploited, that is.

Dangerous Thought of the Day

Danny Yadron, Wall Street Journal:

The companies, iSight Partners and Invincea, said hackers who appear to be linked to China had reprogrammed Forbes’ “Thought of the Day” widget to send malicious computer code to readers’ computers.

The site appears to have been compromised from Nov. 28 to Dec. 1, the firms said. They said they did not know how many Internet users may have been affected.

I assumed that this Forbes feature was merely very irritating. Little did I know.

Samsung Smart TVs, Now With Interstit—Nothing Beats the Refreshing Taste of Pepsi—ial Ads

Janko Roettgers, GigaOm:

Thought you could watch that video on your local hard drive without ads? Think again: A number of owners of Samsung’s smart TVs are reporting this week that their TV sets started to interrupt their movie viewing with Pepsi ads, which seem to be dynamically inserted into third-party content.

“Every movie I play 20-30 minutes in it plays the pepsi ad, no audio but crisp clear ad. It has happened on 6 movies today,” a user reported on Reddit, where a number of others were struggling with the same problem.

Samsung insists this is a bug, but why does the code for this exist in the first place? Sure, TVs are a low-margin product, but forcing ads into the middle of viewers’ videos seems like a rather on-the-nose way of admitting that.

February 10, 2015

Jon Stewart Is Leaving the Daily Show

Crushing news. The baton has been passed, in a way, to John Oliver, who is doing fantastic work every week on Last Week Tonight. I’ll miss Stewart a lot, though.

Here Comes the Sun

Steven Sande, writing for the (brand new) Apple World Today:

Speaking at the Goldman Sachs Technology conference this afternoon, Apple CEO Tim Cook announced plans for a huge $850 million, 1,300 acre solar farm to be constructed in Monterey County, California south of the company’s corporate headquarters in Cupertino.

The facility is designed to produce enough power for about 60,000 homes — or all of Apple’s operations in California. Those operations include the current offices, the Campus 2 corporate headquarters under construction, a data center in Newark, California and 52 Apple retail stores in the state.

Apple isn’t the only company doing this sort of thing, but they’re building what are probably some of the biggest sources of renewable energy in North America. It’s definitely not about the bloody ROI.

Samsung Smart TVs Are a Little Creepy

Cory Doctorow, on BoingBoing:

Part of the Samsung Smarttv EULA: “Please be aware that if your spoken words include personal or other sensitive information, that information will be among the data captured and transmitted to a third party through your use of Voice Recognition.”

I can’t decide whether I’m more comfortable with a singular company like, say, Google or Apple collecting a lot of information in one giant silo, or having a bunch of third parties collecting bits and pieces of my identity across multiple silos that aren’t necessarily connected. In any case, having a giant always-listening, always-transmitting gadget in your living room is rather invasive. At least “virtual assistants” — Siri, Google Now, and Amazon’s Echo — are only listening for a key phrase at any time.

Also, every time BoingBoing writes a post like this, it feels a bit rich to me because Ghostery reports seven separate trackers on their site, including Google Analytics and AdSense, Quantcast, and Scorecard Research.

Update: Samsung says that the language in the privacy policy isn’t perfectly clear, and the TV isn’t exactly always listening to everything you say. But, if that’s the case — and a third party, Nuance, is doing the processing — how is it listening for commands without listening for and transmitting everything? At least other virtual assistants are first-party.

February 9, 2015

A Curated Collection of ’Casts

Maybe you’re bored of ATP and the Talk Show, or you’re waiting for Serial to come back, but you’re a bit overwhelmed by the amount of podcasts out there. Wailin Wong of Basecamp has put together and categorized a pretty fantastic selection of podcasts for your enjoyment. Decent stuff in the comments, too.

Patreon’s “Rather Creative Interpretation of the VATMOSS Rules”

Heather Burns:

People who use Patreon as creators to share digital output within the EU will be personally responsible for calculating and processing VATMOSS taxes for each and every patron.

On the surface this would suggest that Patreon is effectively off limits for digital creators within Europe. Those who choose to use it will have to personally query each European patron for their tax status, VAT number, IP address, and/or any of the information required to substantiate the proof of supply. They will be responsible for issuing their own tax invoices to their patrons. They will have to supply the invoice and proof of supply data with their VATMOSS return. They will also, of course, have to store this information in a secure format on an EU-based and data protection compliant server for ten years.

iOS in 2015

It’s going to be a really big year for iOS. On top of 8.2, which isn’t out of beta yet, and today’s surprise 8.3 beta, Apple’s reportedly prepping iOS 8.4 way down the line, likely for a May-June release.

Then there’s iOS 9. Mark Gurman, 9to5Mac:1

For 2015, iOS 9, which is codenamed Monarch, is going to include a collection of under-the-hood improvements. Sources tell us that iOS 9 engineers are putting a “huge” focus on fixing bugs, maintaining stability, and boosting performance for the new operating system, rather than solely focusing on delivering major new feature additions. Apple will also continue to make efforts to keep the size of the OS and updates manageable, especially for the many millions of iOS device owners with 16GB devices.

If you’ve been waiting to file any bug reports against any version of iOS, now’s your time to get them in.


  1. I heard a different codename for iOS 9 last year, and Gurman’s original post included the same codename, so I’m a little unclear what “Stowe” is now, or whether it’s anything any more. 

Swift 1.2

As a professional idiot, Swift really appeals to me. I’m a pretty mediocre programmer, so the easier a language is to jump into, the happier I am. Alongside today’s surprise iOS 8.3 beta seed (emoji!) are new betas of Xcode and Swift. This should be a boon to all the developers who are using it on big projects.

February 6, 2015

Blame Game

Kurt Wanger and Dawn Chmielewski, Recode:

Twitter added a total of four million new users last quarter, a number that seems surprisingly low.

During the company’s earnings call, CFO Anthony Noto provided an excuse for its lack of growth: …

Oh, oh: I think I know this one. Is it because Twitter rarely adds new features that people actually want unless a third-party developer thinks of them first, and because Twitter is slowly squeezing third-party developers, they haven’t thought of anything truly fresh that people will really use, thereby reducing the draw for new users?

… An “unforeseen bug” in Twitter’s integration with iOS 8, Apple’s mobile software update that launched in September. This “bug” caused Twitter to lose four million users, he added, or half of the company’s actual growth.

Did not guess that. Twitter integration in iOS 8 is virtually unchanged. What’s the story?

Well, one million of those users were people who downloaded iOS 8 and either never reopened Twitter, or forgot their password and couldn’t log back in.

That’s not exactly an iOS 8 bug, now, is it?

The other three million were lost due to Safari’s Reader section, which no longer pings Twitter automatically for content like it did in iOS 7. Users who were counted as active because of this automatic pinging on iOS 7 were then lost when they updated to iOS 8.

Oh, so Twitter lost some of the ways in which they were padding their active user stats. Got it.

Unsurprisingly, Twitter is now backpedalling.

February 5, 2015

UXKit

Jason Snell:

For a while, iOS developers have complained that the UIKit framework they use to develop apps isn’t available on the Mac, making it harder to apply the same tools and techniques and code they build for iOS to Mac apps.

Today Apple dropped Photos for Mac via a developer release, and some developers are reporting signs that Apple has built this new app using something called UXKit, which sits above the Mac’s familiar AppKit frameworks and strongly resembles UIKit on iOS.

More from the legendary Steven Troughton-Smith:

It’s still mostly all AppKit, but with a UIKit-like API shim. I’m guessing Photos for Mac builds out of the same project tree as iOS

And:

UXKit has navigation controllers, tab bar controllers, table view controllers, toolbars & tintColor support

And:

Maybe someday we’ll program apps simply to ‘UXKit’ and it will map to AppKit or UIKit under the hood.

Intriguing.

Photos for OS X

Macworld’s Christopher Breen got a sneak peek at Apple’s new Photos app for the Mac, and it sounds pretty great:

I’ve had very little time with Photos but my general impression is that it hits a sweet spot for the casual-to-enthusiastic iOS and digital camera shooter. Its navigation is more nimble and, from what I can tell, its performance is significantly improved over iPhoto’s, which I found sluggish with large image libraries. And, scaling back to the big picture, it’s the first of the old iLife apps that shares a common experience among the Mac, iOS devices, and iCloud. All your photos, your most recent edits, wherever you are.

Lots of new details. Photos does, indeed, support both RAW and JPG files, and it doesn’t look entirely like a scaled-up version of the iOS app. It even includes printed products, contrary to the word I received that they might be removed. I’m happy to be wrong here.

Apple’s spotty record with cloud services is worrying, though. I feel comfortable with syncing my calendars and contacts with iCloud, but I’m not sure if I can entrust my most precious memories to the company. I should be able to — my local backup solution is nothing compared to Apple’s server farms — but I worry about whether all my photos will be there when I need them to be. Federico Viticci has put his whole photo library in iCloud, but I’m not sure I’m ready for that yet, especially considering the spotty record I’ve had trying to set up iCloud Photo Library.1

See also: Apple’s promo page for Photos. The adjustment options are few, but powerful. I do hope VSCO releases their film stock imitation processes as a Photos extension; I get a lot of use out of the Aperture plugins.


  1. No matter what I’ve done, enabling iCloud Photo Library in Settings has shown a dialog reading “iCloud Photo Library will begin syncing when restore is complete”, or something to that effect. There hasn’t been an ongoing restore, and there appears to be no way to override this. Visiting iCloud.com would also not show the Photos web “app”.

    After toggling with a bunch of settings today, I finally made the web app appear, but it’s been “preparing [my] library” for about an hour, so I’m not entirely sure it’s working. My iPhone has also said that it’s “uploading 2,541 items” all day, so I have no idea whether anything’s working at this point. Not a confidence builder.

    Cupertino-area folks, rdar://19744889

February 4, 2015

Bloomberg Business’ New Site

The first fruits of the Joshua Topolsky-led Bloomberg web presence are slowly revealing themselves. First, it was the new error pages; then, the whole new site was revealed, and it looks a bit Verge-y. It’s not pretty, but it has a quirky charm to it that befits a business magazine that’s trying to lose its stogy perception.

Topolsky was interviewed about the new strategy by Caroline O’Donovan for Nieman, and it’s a pretty good discussion. This bit is golden, though:

Another public-facing change loyal readers are sure to notice: Bloomberg killed its comments section. Lots of media companies, from Recode to Reuters, have done this lately, which Topolsky said made him more confident in the decision. He says both writers and editors are more comfortable engaging with readers on external social platforms, where they’re likely to reach a more representative percentage of the audience.

“I’ve looked at the analytics on the commenting community versus overall audience. You’re really talking about less than one percent of the overall audience that’s engaged in commenting, even if it looks like a very active community,” he says. “In the grand scheme of the audience, it doesn’t represent the readership.”

Good.

I quite like the new site myself. Bloomberg is more of a weekly read for me, and I think the new direction helps remove some of the feeling that this is a site purely for readers with MBAs or Economics degrees. (Though, it must be said, it does this at the risk of alienating some readers who have a more conservative design sense.)

The individual article pages are more of a miss for me, though. Take their reporting on Tom Wheeler’s net neutrality proposal:

U.S. Federal Communications Commission Chairman Tom Wheeler said he will propose utility-style rules to ensure Internet service providers don’t interfere with subscribers’ Web traffic.

Wheeler, in an article published Wednesday on Wired.com, also said he would apply “bright-line rules” to mobile services for the first time. He said the agency would not seek to regulate pricing and would seek to modernize rules to encourage investment and competition.

Good reporting, right? Well, not exactly. The bulk of this article comes from the referenced Wired article, but it simply isn’t linked. I don’t get that at all — this is the web, and they’ve already couched this in language that suggests a link. Why not do the extra step and add it?

Also, there’s an autoplaying video at the top, which is very irritating.

While I’m criticizing strange linking practices, I feel compelled to point out that Nieman isn’t innocent here. For some reason, they’ve styled their links to look identical to standard paragraph text, and it’s only when you hover over them that you see the link. That’s a basic usability and accessibility no-no. It isn’t a difficult concept.

Placeholder for All of the Laughable Statements That Will Soon Be Released by ISPs in Response to Tom Wheeler’s Proposal

Speaking of the worst companies in the US, Kellen Barranger over at Droid Life is assembling the responses from ISPs to the proposed net neutrality regulations. They’re pretty much exactly what you’d expect. Verizon:

Moreover, Congress is working on legislation that would codify open Internet rules once and for all. It is counterproductive because heavy regulation of the Internet will create uncertainty and chill investment among the many players — not just Internet service providers — that now will need to consider FCC rules before launching new services.

Is there a problem with a company ensuring they’re following the law before launching new services? Isn’t this… good?

AT&T, who are filing a lawsuit because they are assholes:

The FCC cannot mandate that a service be offered on a common carrier basis without, at a minimum, a finding that a particular provider has market power in a particular geographic market. Needless to say the FCC has engaged in no analysis of market power on a geographic market basis. Accordingly, this option is simply not available to the FCC.

Bullshit.

This Is How the FCC Will Ensure Net Neutrality

FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, in a guest article for Wired (really):

I am proposing that the FCC use its Title II authority to implement and enforce open internet protections.

Using this authority, I am submitting to my colleagues the strongest open internet protections ever proposed by the FCC. These enforceable, bright-line rules will ban paid prioritization, and the blocking and throttling of lawful content and services. I propose to fully apply—for the first time ever—those bright-line rules to mobile broadband. My proposal assures the rights of internet users to go where they want, when they want, and the rights of innovators to introduce new products without asking anyone’s permission.

All of this can be accomplished while encouraging investment in broadband networks. To preserve incentives for broadband operators to invest in their networks, my proposal will modernize Title II, tailoring it for the 21st century, in order to provide returns necessary to construct competitive networks. For example, there will be no rate regulation, no tariffs, no last-mile unbundling.

Overall, this is fantastic news. The FCC will be classifying both terrestrial and mobile internet providers as utility providers, requiring them to follow the same general principles as your phone company. This is really, really good news: a full 180° turn from what Wheeler was originally proposing, which I coherently summarized thusly:

Fuck.

So this is generally good. My only worry is that Wheeler’s proposal exempts ISPs from rate regulation. Let me tell you a story along those lines.

A few years ago, pretty much all Canadian cellphone carriers offered three year contracts as standard. The Canadian government body responsible for overseeing the wireless industry here — the CRTC — wisely decided that this was ridiculous. They couldn’t directly legislate a two-year cap on contracts, so they said that all new contracts could not have any cancellation fees after 24 months. Clever, right?

But the wireless carriers here were already ahead of them. Each and every one of the three big players here — Telus, Rogers, and Bell — cut all their contracts to two years, but increased monthly rates by about 50% across the board to compensate. My plan at the time was about $60 per month; it would have been just shy of $90 per month if I chose to re-sign with Telus. (I didn’t, obviously.) The carriers ensured that the cost of a contract was the same, but you were paying more any way you look at it. Nobody actually has a cellphone for just two years, do they?

I worry that something similar will happen in the US with ISPs. There’s no doubt in my mind that they will seize this chance to jack up their rates. Maybe there’s some cynicism leaking out of me — I really don’t like that — but ISPs are generally loathsome, and this decision won’t change that.

iOS 8 Adoption Now 72%

Following last week’s iOS 8.1.3 update, iOS 8 adoption is now up 3 percentage points. Looks like plenty of people updated after the update reduced the amount of space required. Good news, especially for developers who don’t want to have to continue supporting legacy versions of iOS.

ARM’s A72 Chip Design Makes Big Efficiency Strides

Ina Fried, Recode:

ARM, the British company whose chip designs are at the core of nearly all mobile phone processors, on Tuesday showed off a new processor core it says can deliver three times as much performance as its current designs.

Perhaps more importantly, ARM says the new A72 — due out in phones by next year — can use 75 percent less power while offering the same performance as today’s chips. That means phones that are thinner and more powerful don’t need fans, ARM says.

Some of the power and performance gains come from changes to ARM’s chip design, while others bank on the fact that the new chip is expected to be manufactured in plants using a thinner 16-nanometer generation of transistors.

This is really good news, but not necessarily because the phones don’t need fans.1 This isn’t likely to be in the 2015 iPhone, but it lends credence to Ming-Chi Kuo’s speculation that the A10 in the 2016 iPhone models will use a 16nm process. It’s not like that generation of iPhone won’t get thinner, either, but this development means that a thinner phone won’t necessarily come at the expense of battery life. If these performance improvements are as significant as ARM claims, the 2016 iPhones could be really thin, really powerful, and have way longer battery life, too.


  1. Was this a serious consideration at any point? 

February 2, 2015

Google Is Developing an Uber Competitor

Today must be a day of battles between entities, neither of which are to my liking. Brad Stone, Bloomberg:

Google is preparing to offer its own ride-hailing service, most likely in conjunction with its long-in-development driverless car project. Drummond has informed Uber’s board of this possibility, according to a person close to the Uber board, and Uber executives have seen screenshots of what appears to be a Google ride-sharing app that is currently being used by Google employees. This person, who requested not to be named because the talks are private, said the Uber board is now weighing whether to ask Drummond to resign his position as an Uber board member.

Drummond, here, is David Drummond, Google’s senior vice president of corporate development who also happens to sit on Uber’s board. Google has also invested in Uber through their Ventures arm.

I don’t like Uber very much. While the idea of calling taxis on a smartphone and linking them to your credit card for automatic payments is appealing, I find the company itself to be appalling — especially the practice of surge pricing — and I think the focus on “black cars” is exclusionary. However, they are still a startup, and it looks like they’re about to be screwed over by one of the largest companies in the world.

Also, recall that then-CEO of Google Eric Schmidt was on Apple’s board when they were working on the iPhone. It’s like they create their own conflicts of interest.

Update: According to the WSJ, the app that the Uber board saw was an internal ride-sharing app for Google employees.

The Emperor Has No Clothes

David Pogue reviews the Pono Player for Yahoo:

The company says it has 2 million songs for sale, but 90 percent of it is in 44.1kHz format — no better than what’s on a CD. The remaining 10 percent, the good stuff, the remastered high-resolution songs, is hard to find.

[…]

At 96kHz (which is still not 192), there’s one album each from John Mayer, Kid Rock, Harry Connick Jr., David Bowie, Sting, Carole King, and Blake Shelton. Out of Tony Bennett’s 68 live and studio albums, only two are available at 96kHz.

The Pono store is almost completely devoid of high-res classical music, which is baffling — wouldn’t classical fans cherish high audio quality as much as rock fans?

If anything, classical music — with its much greater dynamic range — would be the most beneficial from higher-resolution audio formats. This whole thing feels like some kind of sham. Take this part of Pogue’s review:

You may remember that 14 of my test subjects said they didn’t hear enough difference to justify buying a Pono. The 15th guy, however, said, “I would and I did!”

That is, he was already the owner of a Pono.

I pointed out to him that in my test, even he had preferred the sound of the iPhone. His reply: The Pono may not actually sound better, but it delivers more emotion.

Re-read that sentence, but mentally change the subject from the Pono Player and sound quality to putting a drop of honey in your water every day for supposed health benefits. It feels as dishonest as any sort of homeopathic health claim.

Update: Sam Machkovech reviewed it for Ars Technica (via Michael Tsai):

Want to use studio-quality headphones with your new audio player? They better come with a 3.5mm adapter, because Pono doesn’t support any larger jacks. If you happen to own a pair of headphones with two “balanced XLR connectors,” you can plug them both in for supposedly improved sound.

I don’t get this decision at all. Isn’t this supposed to be for “audiophiles”?

We took the Pono Player on the go for an entire day, which proved to be a bit of a logistical nightmare. This isn’t just a bad device to put in a pocket—the triangular shape feels noticeable and obnoxious in your pants pocket—but it’s also lousy in a messenger bag. The creators elected not to include a hardware “hold” button of any sort. As a result, the volume and multi-function buttons got pressed on a regular basis during our testing—meaning this thing reached its maximum, incredibly high volume level so quickly that we had to rip earbuds out.

Gross.

Google, Microsoft, and Amazon Pay to Get Around AdBlock

Robert Cookson, Financial Times:

Eyeo makes money by operating a “whitelist” of certain ads that are not blocked. It says sites can join this “acceptable ads” programme only if they meet criteria such as being “transparent with us about being an ad” and “do not disrupt or distort the page content we’re trying to read”.

While the whitelisting process is free for small websites and blogs, Eyeo charges a fee to large companies in order “to make the initiative sustainable”. Eyeo declined to say how much it charges.

One digital media company, which asked not to be named, said Eyeo had asked for a fee equivalent to 30 per cent of the additional ad revenues that it would make from being unblocked.

I sort of get this. I mean, I have an ad spot on Pixel Envy and, while it isn’t quit-my-day-job money, it does pay for the bills for this site. Thank you to those of you who keep AdBlock off.

But this sort of feels like a protection racket between kinds of companies I hate. Here’s a company that released a product which blocks a lot of advertising on the web, because there’s an awful lot of obnoxious stuff out there. It’s also nice because Google and Amazon, among many others, like to collect oodles of information about you across the web. So blocking all of that nonsense is, in some way, justified.

But there are publishers who depend on ad revenue for survival. That’s the way it’s always been; nothing comes entirely for free. So AdBlock has started to allow some of the less intrusive ads through, in exchange for a fee. Which just feels gross.

This whole debacle could be avoided if web ads were unobtrusive and obeyed Do Not Track flags, or some other one-click way for users to tell ad exchanges that they don’t want to have their personal information harvested and profiled. Of course, that makes web ads no more effective than print ads, but nobody’s clicking on them anyway.

January 30, 2015

“No Fast Lanes and Slow Lanes”

Michael Geist:

The CRTC has issued a major new decision with implications for net neutrality, ruling that Bell and Videotron violated the Telecommunications Act by granting their own wireless television services an undue preference by exempting them from data charges. The Commission grounded the decision in net neutrality concerns, stating the Bell and Videotron services “may end up inhibiting the introduction and growth of other mobile TV services accessed over the Internet, which reduces innovation and consumer choice.”

The case arose from a complaint filed by Ben Klass, a graduate student, who noted that Bell offers a $5 per month mobile TV service that allows users to watch dozens of Bell-owned or licensed television channels for ten hours without affecting their data cap. By comparison, users accessing the same online video through a third-party service such as Netflix would be on the hook for a far more expensive data plan since all of the data usage would count against their monthly cap.

I like to bring you good news whenever I can. Consider it a service, or a token of just how much I dig you.

January 29, 2015

“Ha Ha”

If you like pointing and laughing at people who are massively wrong a lot of the time as much as Nelson Muntz or, well, me, Gruber has been collecting a bunch of recipes of his favourite claim chowder over the past few days.

Nothing Can Stop Apple Doom

The Macalope is on fire lately. Not literally, of course; that’s like a weird combination of venison and that distinct burning plastic smell when you have inevitably fried something in a circuit you’re messing with.

The Blame Game

The Macalope:

Apple, of course, is roundly chastised for not making the big deals like Woodside did in bringing about Google’s acquisition of Motorola. Now it has to suffer the barbs of Gizmodo, laced with weapons-grade dumb, for making a smart acquisition that enhanced its products and crippled those of its competitors.

This whole manufactured controversy is atomic stupid.

White House Preps Expansive Online Privacy Bill

Tony Romm, Politico:

The forthcoming measure — slated for release next month — would require large Internet companies, online advertisers, mobile app makers and others to ask permission from consumers before collecting and sharing their most sensitive personal information, according to three sources briefed by administration officials. Companies that collect data for one purpose would in some cases need to get user sign-off before deploying it in a markedly different way, the sources said.

The draft bill would also enhance the enforcement authority of the FTC, which has become Washington’s de facto privacy cop. Among the proposed changes, the Obama administration wants to give the agency its long-sought ability to fine companies for online privacy missteps, according to the sources. And the measure would strengthen government oversight of data brokers, firms that siphon up and sell vast amounts of consumer information, often behind the scenes.

About time.

iTunes Connect Roulette

Kyle Russell, TechCrunch:

An issue with Apple’s iTunes Connect service, which lets developers upload new versions of their apps to the App Store and track sales and income, is causing some developers to log into the wrong accounts this morning.

That’s kind of a big problem. I’ve noticed tweets from a few different people that ended up in BlackBerry’s iTunes Connect example, though, which makes me think that some accounts were shown more often than others. That’s kind of weird, and it makes me wonder what kind of weird session management issue caused this.

Apple has pulled iTunes Connect offline while they work to resolve the issue. Unfortunately, because it’s Apple, there’s almost no chance of any of us finding out what the root of this issue was, unless someone in the know were to leak it.

My contact information is on the “About” page, by the way.

Update: This problem has apparently been fixed. I was able to log in to iTunes Connect with my developer ID and it did, indeed, go to the correct portal.

January 28, 2015

Bad Assumptions

One of the more popular criticisms of Apple bloggers is that Apple is a big company now and they don’t need a public defence. It’s true that they don’t need defending from valid critics, nor the cheering of mindless support in whatever they do. But I don’t think Apple bloggers are the ones thinking that the company is still tiny. The vast majority of reports from alarmist analysts are predicated on the notion that Apple is a competitor or a misstep away from bankruptcy. Many analysts have still got it in their heads that it’s a tiny company that sells a handful of products to a devoted but small following. That’s simply not the case.

January 27, 2015

Apple Made So Much Money in Q1 2015 That They Could Buy Richard Branson, Tie His Legs Together, and Hang Him Upside Down in the Atrium of 1 Infinite Loop While Being Forced to Sing “A Milli” on Loop Day and Night

It’s true. Look it up.

Also, check out what Tim Cook said on the conference call today, particularly:

Demand for iPhone has been staggering, shattering our high expectations, with sales over 74 million units, driven by the unprecedented popularity of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus. This volume is hard to comprehend. On average, we sold over 34,000 iPhones every hour, 24 hours a day, every day of the quarter.

In 2007, Steve Jobs said that he wanted the iPhone, in 2008, to capture 1% of the worldwide cellphone market, which would have given the company ten million sales over the course of a year. Apple just sold over 1% of everyone on Earth an iPhone in three months. Bananas.

(And, yes, the Apple TV question in Jason Snell’s transcript was from Gene Munster. Collect your prize, reader: a 65″ Apple TV, scheduled for release when Gene Munster stops sobbing into the phone while asking when it’s going to be released.)

OS X 10.10.2 Released

It includes a plethora of security fixes, including a solid patch for Thunderstrike, a fix for displaying remote email content in Spotlight, and a bunch of other critical patches. It also ostensibly fixes, once and for all, some consistently awful WiFi connection problems.1 Despite only seeing a partial improvement in the beta versions I’ve been using, I’m hopeful for the final version to have its kinks ironed out. It may not fix all of the bugs, but it’s big progress.

Update: I’m seeing reports indicating that this might fix issues with an incrementing Sharing name, too. Here’s hoping.


  1. My WiFi connection stops responding about two or three minutes after waking from sleep. Thankfully, Yosemite added a “disconnect from network” option when Option-clicking the WiFi menubar icon, as if they knew we’d need something like that. 

iOS 8.1.3 Released

John Callaham, iMore:

If you’ll recall, the iOS 8.1.1 update returned some 500MB of free space to users. The free space needed to implement the many major under-the-hood changes that comprised iOS 8 did cause some grief for many updaters, so hopefully after installing iOS 8.1.3 we won’t have to resort to less civilized means of updating when the next update comes along.

Good stuff, and it sounds like the reduced space requirement takes effect immediately without having to wait for the next update. I wonder if this will help those who were unable to update from iOS 7, and what kind of uptick this will produce in version stats, which currently sits at 69% running iOS 8.

I still think 16GB iOS products should be abolished, though. I doubt there’s anyone in Apple’s senior ranks who uses a 16GB iPhone, and it’s not because they’re rich.

Reporters Vulnerable to Misreporting Macintosh Security Problems

Bad reporting on the state of Macintosh security is nothing new, and ZDNet’s Adrian Kingsley-Hughes adds another one to the stack. I missed this one when it was written a couple of weeks ago, but I thought I’d make up for some lost time today:

Macs vulnerable to virtually undetectable virus that “can’t be removed”

That headline can be broken into three distinct parts:

  1. Is the malware “undetectable”, or virtually so?
  2. Is it a “virus”?
  3. Is it, in fact, impossible to remove?

Let’s start with the first claim in the headline: Thunderstrike is “virtually undetectable”. Kingsley-Hughes reports it so:

“Since it is the first OS X firmware bootkit, there is nothing currently scanning for its presence. It controls the system from the very first instruction, which allows it to log keystrokes, including disk encryption keys, place backdoors into the OS X kernel and bypass firmware passwords,” Hudson said.

Well, when I say “reports”, Kingsley-Hughes basically dumps bits of Trammel Hudson’s original post into the ZDNet CMS, adds a few summarizing phrases, and dusts his hands before hitting the “Publish” button. But I digress.

Kingsley-Hughes’ selected quote, however, clearly states that nothing is currently detecting this malware; that doesn’t mean that nothing could. In Hudson’s original post, he clearly says that the boot ROM — where this attack lives on the system — is being verified at boot in software. It’s entirely possible that its contents could be dumped and checked against a known safe version during a reboot.

Hudson suggests basically that for Option ROM, which is loaded when a PCIe Thunderbolt device is mounted:

If they really need to support Option ROMs on Thunderbolt, Apple could implement the EFI architecture specific security protocol to enforce driver signing — PCIe OptionROMs can be signed and checked before they are executed.

In fact, even in Hudson’s worst-case scenario, the boot ROM could hypothetically be verified in this fashion:

It could also be very stealthy and hide in system management mode, through virtualization or possibly in the Management Engine (although there is lots of work to be done there).

In theory, the user downloads a firmware update from the App Store and is prompted to restart their Mac. They do, the firmware is checked, and, if it fails, they’re prompted to visit a retail store to have it fixed.

So, no, it’s not “virtually undetectable”. Like any security gap, it takes time for it to be detectable.

Next claim: it’s a “virus”.

Not exactly, no, and certainly not in its current form:

Hudson discovered that he could use a modified Apple gigabit Ethernet Thunderbolt adapter to carry out the attack.

It spreads through hardware-to-hardware contact, not over the air. If Kingsley-Hughes were a health reporter, he’d probably say that gonorrhoea can be spread by sneezing or something.

I get that the term “virus” gets tossed around in mainstream publications the way everyone calls any tablet an iPad, but ZDNet is an industry-targeted site, and not really for general audiences. Using the term “malware” would be more correct.

Finally, is it true that it “can’t be removed”? Well, that’s a little hard to know, as Hudson, to my knowledge, didn’t actually attempt a removal, only stating that:

Since the public RSA key in the boot ROM is now one that we control, only updates that are signed by our private key can be used to update the firmware.

So, hypothetically, it wouldn’t be possible to update the firmware through software if the system were infected. A thorough software fix comes as part of OS X 10.10.2, and a hardware fix for infected computers — currently estimated at zero — would still be possible, though Kingsley-Hughes reports it in typically doomsday terms:

Fortunately, Hudson reports that Apple is working on an update that will prevent malicious code from being written to the Boot ROM via the Thunderbolt port. However, this update would not protect the system from having the Boot ROM tampered with directly.

If you have direct access to the boot ROM chip, you have direct access to everything. It’s a bit like pointing out the flaws of having locks on the doors of your house because you still have a wall that, when combined with a chainsaw, can be entered through.

However, if someone could rewrite the public RSA key on the chip, surely Apple could write it back, even if it requires in-store service.

There’s no doubt that Thunderstrike exposed a pretty serious vulnerability in the security of the Thunderbolt port. But Apple is rolling out a very thorough fix in 10.10.2 that even prevents an attacker from undoing the patches. This is clearly not being ignored, but hyperbolic and incendiary reporting doesn’t help anyone.

Update: Small revision to clarify the difference between Option ROM and boot ROM.

January 26, 2015

A Human Centipede of Public Relations

Though I’ve been hard on the Verge of late, they still do some killer reporting. Spencer Woodman:

On August 21st, 2014, Mayor Jere Wood of Roswell, Georgia, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission expressing emphatic support for Comcast’s controversial effort to merge with Time Warner Cable. Not only did the mayor’s letter express personal excitement for the gargantuan deal — which critics say will create a monopoly that will harm millions of consumers — but it also claimed that the entire town of Roswell adored Comcast. “When Comcast makes a promise to act, it is comforting to know that they will always follow through,” Wood’s letter explained. “This is the type of attitude that makes Roswell proud to be involved with such a company,” the letter asserts, “our residents are happy with the services it has provided and continues to provide each day.”

Yet Wood’s letter made one key omission: Neither Wood nor anyone representing Roswell’s residents wrote his letter to the FCC. Instead, a vice president of external affairs at Comcast authored the missive word for word in Mayor Wood’s voice. According to email correspondence obtained through a public records request, the Republican mayor’s office apparently added one sign-off sentence and his signature to the corporate PR document, then sent it to federal regulators on the official letterhead of Roswell, Georgia.

And, as Woodman’s reporting reveals, at least two other public officials did something similar with Comcast on this issue alone. This reporting isn’t that shocking; lobbyists have long worked far too closely with public officials. But the blatant and indefensible nature of these emails is noteworthy.

In response to a list of questions from the Verge, Comcast emphasized that it did not have final say in the substance of the letters. “We reached out to policy makers, community leaders, business groups and others across the country to detail the public interest benefits of our transaction with Time Warner Cable,” Sena Fitzmaurice, a Comcast spokesperson, said in an email. “When such leaders indicate they’d like to support our transaction in public filings, we’ve provided them with information on the transaction. All filings are ultimately decided upon by the filers, not Comcast.”

Bullshit. Comcast wrote these letters in the voice of the public officials they’re targeting, under the presumption that the public officials will submit the letters largely unchanged to the FCC. These are not informational briefs, but fully-formed letters of support.

The public officials should be shamed for signing their names on these things — and, for what it’s worth, for supporting a Comcast/TWC merger — but Comcast isn’t anywhere close to innocent here.

January 25, 2015

Microsoft, Apple, and Disappointment

Gus Mueller:

Apple is your favorite aunt or uncle, who isn’t talking about crazy future ideas, but is instead showing you how to hold a pencil correctly, or a tie your shoe. Something you can do today. Apple isn’t flailing about trying to grab onto whatever it can so, yelling out for attention. Apple is solid, reliable, dependable.

And I think that is why we’re seeing so many people reacting to Apple’s software quality lately. You expect Microsoft not to deliver. But we expect Apple to. And lately, it really hasn’t felt like they’ve been doing it.

Well said.

Organ Banked

Michael Tsai:

The comments from Apple insiders underscore that there are many factors that affect software quality. It is not simply a matter of dropping the yearly schedule or of deciding to do “another Snow Leopard.” The development schedule and cycles matter. It also matters who the engineers and managers are, how they are treated, whether they are shuffled between projects, etc.

Precisely why I’m not in the “just do a Snow Yosemite release this year” camp, nor in the “delay software releases by several months” group. Apple needs to refine the features they already have, absolutely, but it cannot come at the cost of releasing zero new features this year either. The annual release cycle is impressive, and it can work for them if everything else is in order. Much of Apple’s quality issues appear to be a byproduct of much greater forces.

January 23, 2015

Fear China

Craig Hockenberry:

The number of requests [to the Iconfactory’s main server] peaked out at 52 Mbps. Let’s put that number in perspective: Daring Fireball is notorious for taking down sites by sending them about 500 Kbps of traffic. What we had just experienced was roughly the equivalent of 100 fireballs.

If each of those requests were 500 bytes, that’s 13,000 requests per second. That’s about a third of Google’s global search traffic. Look at how much careful planning went into handling Kim Kardashian’s butt at 8,000 requests per second.

All of this traffic directed at one IP address backed by a single server with a four core CPU.

Like I said, “Holy shit.”

On a scale of One to Deep Wedgie, this ranks pretty high on the nerdy scale, but it’s a real “holy shit” kind of story. I’ve had to block a couple of IP addresses for DDoS attempts, but I’ve never seen anything like this. Madness.

January 22, 2015

Marissa Mayer’s Plan for Yahoo Takes Hold

You know that scene at the beginning of “Goldeneye”, where Bond leaps off the cliff to chase the rapidly-plummeting plane, manages to get into the cockpit, and jostles the stick just in time for the nose to come up over the mountain?

Mayer’s job is a bit like that.

Large-Capacity Hard Drive Failure Rates

As Backblaze has thousands of very high-capacity hard drives running all the time, they’re in a unique position to analyze the failure rates of popular models. No surprises that Seagate lives up to their abysmal reputation here, though I was a little surprised to see a somewhat poor showing from Western Digital. Pretty much all of my dozen-or-so spinning hard drives are from WD and I haven’t had a single failure in as much as eight years. Unlike Backblaze, though, I’m not running them full-time, my sample size is comparatively tiny, and they’re not the recent ultra-high-capacity models (my biggest is a 2TB “Green” model).

The Difference Between Microsoft and Apple

Shorter Dan Frommer: Apple tends to make stuff that people actually buy, use, and love. Microsoft makes crazy bets in loads of sectors, only some of which pan out. Frommer:

[The HoloLens] looks technically impressive, and Microsoft’s demo went about as smoothly as something like this could have. This could become a big deal someday.

But it’s hard to get over how strange someone looks using it. And it’s hard to imagine Apple doing something like this any time soon, whether or not it’s the future of computing.

Given how huge and dorky these goggles are, it seems as though Microsoft intends this to be something used in private, likely when doing specialized tasks. They may have a really crap sense of fashion — just look at the big feature image in the linked article — but I don’t think they’re completely oblivious.

BlackBerry Has Gone Bananas

BlackBerry CEO John Chen (emphasis, including underlines, removed, because who the hell uses underlines to emphasize words on the internet?):

Unfortunately, not all content and applications providers have embraced openness and neutrality. Unlike BlackBerry, which allows iPhone users to download and use our BBM service, Apple does not allow BlackBerry or Android users to download Apple’s iMessage messaging service. Netflix, which has forcefully advocated for carrier neutrality, has discriminated against BlackBerry customers by refusing to make its streaming movie service available to them. Many other applications providers similarly offer service only to iPhone and Android users. This dynamic has created a two-tiered wireless broadband ecosystem, in which iPhone and Android users are able to access far more content and applications than customers using devices running other operating systems. These are precisely the sort of discriminatory practices that neutrality advocates have criticized at the carrier level.

Therefore, neutrality must be mandated at the application and content layer if we truly want a free, open and non-discriminatory internet. All wireless broadband customers must have the ability to access any lawful applications and content they choose, and applications/content providers must be prohibited from discriminating based on the customer’s mobile operating system.

I mean, this is just completely insane. The difference between apps being available on all platforms and the neutrality of all internet traffic is obvious to any of you, I’m sure. Much in the same way Apple shouldn’t have to make iTunes songs with DRM playable on every device in the known universe, developers shouldn’t be forced to spend months rewriting their apps for an OS that very few people use. BlackBerry didn’t take the iPhone seriously, then they fell behind. This is just an attempt to confuse the issue.

January 21, 2015

Other Stuff From Microsoft Today

Microsoft didn’t just unveil a slightly hyperbolic version of the future today. They also unveiled a big-ass wall-mounted table. Er, a “Surface Hub”. Emil Protalinski, VentureBeat:

In fact, Surface Hub can take content from any device in the room (think of it as a projector) and then share it again to your conference call. This will be the device’s main use: A meeting mode lets users conduct presentations and send them to users that are dialed in from conference rooms or their personal computers.

“It will make your meetings productive and engaging,” Microsoft declared. This is not the first time a company has declared that, and it’s unlikely to be the last.

Nobody likes meetings. Nobody likes them even if they have a gigantic dynamic whiteboard to stare at. Seriously, why is Microsoft obsessed with whiteboards?

Bigger news than that was the pricing for Windows 10: free, in a very Microsoftian kinda way. Jordan Novet, VentureBeat:

“I’m very excited to announce that for the first year after Windows 10 is available, we will be making available a free upgrade to Windows 10 to all devices running Windows 8.1,” said Terry Myerson, executive vice president of Microsoft’s Operating Systems group, kicking off a series of news announcements at a press event.

A free Windows 10 upgrade is coming to all devices running Windows Phone 8.1. And for the first year after Windows 10 is available, Microsoft will provide a free upgrade to all customers still running Windows 7, Myerson said.

I might be incredibly stupid, but this sounds way more complicated than it needs to be. Why is it only free for a year? Why not just make it, well, free, at least as an update? Why did a gigantic metaphorical asterisk appear over Myerson’s head when he said this at the launch event?

Microsoft HoloLens

Jessi Hempel of Wired got a sneak peek back in October at what is — by a gigantic margin — the coolest and most interesting piece of technology Microsoft unveiled at their big Windows 10 event today:

[Alex] Kipman leads me into a briefing room with a drop-down screen, plush couches, and a corner bar stocked with wine and soda (we abstain). He sits beside me, then stands, paces a bit, then sits down again. His wind-up is long. He gives me an abbreviated history of computing, speaking in complete paragraphs, with bushy, expressive eyebrows and saucer eyes that expand as he talks. The next era of computing, he explains, won’t be about that original digital universe. “It’s about the analog universe,” he says. “And the analog universe has a fundamentally different rule set.”

Translation: you used to compute on a screen, entering commands on a keyboard. Cyberspace was somewhere else. Computers responded to programs that detailed explicit commands. In the very near future, you’ll compute in the physical world, using voice and gesture to summon data and layer it atop physical objects. Computer programs will be able to digest so much data that they’ll be able to handle far more complex and nuanced situations. Cyberspace will be all around you.

What will this look like? Well, holograms.

This sounds incredible, in the most literal sense — I could scarcely believe this was actually being launched. To be sure, the promo video exaggerates the quality of the holograms, but the live demo during today’s event looked impressive. And it would be, because Kipman was also responsible for the Xbox Kinect.

Of course there were some things not announced today: battery life, a price, or a launch date. I’m also skeptical of how much I’ll tolerate a speech-and-gesture-driven interface if it isn’t nearly perfect. But let’s enjoy this moment. It feels like I’m ten years from now, and that’s crazy.

January 20, 2015

You Want Me to Whine and Complain?

I’ve heard you. I’ve touched on Apple’s apparently declining quality controls, and I’ve heard your feedback. Some of you agree with me; others think Apple’s software is markedly worse these days. And you might be right. Jeffrey Zeldman:

First came software failure: Apple applications such as Safari quit on launch; the machine could not find the network. Then came kernel panics. (This is where the machine reboots into a black and white Unix screen, spitting out Matrix-like error messages. To exit, you must type the appropriate Unix commands, which implies that you know what they are.) Finally, the machine would not boot, period.

Jeez, that sounds terrible.

John Gruber adds:

[T]he fact that something went wrong for Mr. Zeldman [is not] an indication that Apple “doesn’t test” their updaters, or that they have rampant QA problems.

Bugs happen. Some will slip through even the tightest QA tests. It has always been the case, and always will be, that every upgrade of your OS ought to be preceded by a full backup.

Agreed, but this sounds pretty serious. Zeldman again:

But I wonder if Apple has lost sight of the non-Unix-oriented creative professionals whose loyalty supported the company through its hardest times. There are many of us. We admire what Apple designs, we remain committed to the platform, and we want the company to succeed. But a simple OS upgrade should not fail, should not induce panic, and should not waste three days of a user’s life.

Wait, “non-Unix-oriented creative professionals”? It’s 2015 — who writes like that?

Friday, 23 April 2004

Oh.

[Zeldman’s] report detailing the entire experience is exquisitely detailed, and well worth reading — even if you, just like me and the vast majority of Panther users, upgraded to Panther without a hitch.

Panther. Huh.

The Verge Has a Super Bowl Ad

Apparently, Vox Media decided to drop around $4.5 million to promote the Verge during the Super Bowl because the ad leaked in a since-retracted post from Nilay Patel. Google has it cached, and the video is still on YouTube, if you’re interested.

It’s an ad about the Future-with-a-capital-F in which we are living, surrounded by technology, especially our smartphones. From some angles, it’s an oddly dystopic kind of mission statement. From others, it’s just reality. I’m just amazed that Vox Media had $4.5 million to blow on a Super Bowl ad.

Update: Cute:

The Verge, a technology website owned by the online media company Vox, said on Tuesday that it would be airing a Super Bowl advertisement, before revealing that it would in fact be spending just $700 on a regional spot in Helena, Mont.

Also cute is Nilay Patel’s reaction:

Also @VergeVideo is pretty miffed that people thought that ad is up to their standards; we made it ultra silly and generic on purpose.

Here’s the thing: I don’t know whether this is an elaborate troll or rapid backpedalling. The Verge isn’t even close to being classy enough not to run something like this; it’s not like the New Yorker putting out something crappy and generic. The fact that a lot of people — myself included — could conceivably believe this says a lot more about what the Verge churns out than it does about the public’s gullibility.

John Moltz Bought a PC

He hasn’t lost it completely; it’s for his son. And it sounds like a continuation of the nightmare buying a PC has always been. Moltz:

What I don’t understand is why there’s no PC OEM that takes the user experience as seriously as Apple does. Why isn’t there one with a rationalized product lineup, aimed at a broad swath of customers (Razer’s is rationalized, but only focuses on high-end gaming), that all come with a clean Windows install? OK, I’m not a great businessman, but if I were in the PC OEM business what I’d copy about Apple is not the silver body and black keys but the giving a darn about the user experience. Yes, you’ll never get Microsoft out of the mix, but that’s no excuse for junking up everything else.

From start to finish, Moltz’s experience sounds depressing, but virtually unchanged from how it has been for the past couple of decades. Most manufacturers’ lineups are a dizzying array of letters and numbers, or meaningless names that defy categorization. Then they junk up the computer with all kinds of trial- and crapware, plaster it with stickers, and treat it like a disposable good rather than the investment that it is. I suppose the amount of trialware pays for the steep advertised discounts,1 but it shows a deep-seated disrespect for the customer to prioritize pre-installed advertisements over user experience.


  1. I question the legitimacy of these discounts. 

Audio Hijack 3

This looks really impressive. The interface, in particular, is brilliant; it reminds me of Max or Pure Data, but without the complexity that comes with either.

January 19, 2015

What the Web Said Yesterday

Jill Lepore, writing for the New Yorker:

The address of the Internet Archive is archive.org, but another way to visit is to take a plane to San Francisco and ride in a cab to the Presidio, past cypresses that look as though someone had drawn them there with a smudgy crayon. At 300 Funston Avenue, climb a set of stone steps and knock on the brass door of a Greek Revival temple. You can’t miss it: it’s painted wedding-cake white and it’s got, out front, eight Corinthian columns and six marble urns.

“We bought it because it matched our logo,” Brewster Kahle told me when I met him there, and he wasn’t kidding.

Apple Pay Enrolment Trends

Neil Cybart:

Running with a conservative estimate of the percent of Apple Pay users Bank of America (50M total banking customers) represents, Apple Pay enrollment rates in the U.S. would stand at 8%. If using aggressive metrics, Apple Pay enrollment would be 16%. I estimate 10-15% of iPhone 6 and 6 Plus owners in the U.S. have registered with Apple Pay.

It’s only been about three months since Apple Pay was released with iOS 8.1. I’m guessing some pretty gigantic usage numbers are coming with Apple’s Q1 2015 earnings release.

Something Slightly Less Terrible

Loren Brichter was interviewed by objc.io magazine. He is, as usual, chock full of insight and brilliance. On the greater goals of building stuff:

Personally, I’m tired of the trivial app stuff, and the App Store isn’t conducive to anything more interesting. I think the next big thing in software will happen outside of it.

And on the actual process:

Remember that nothing is magic. Even though it seems like you’re working at the top of a stack of impenetrable abstractions, they’re made by people (who were probably rushed, or drunk, or both). Learn how they work, then figure out how to minimize your dependence on them.

Wonderful.

January 16, 2015

The Siri Standard

Daniel Jalkut:

I don’t doubt that the groups at Apple responsible for [other] technologies are comprised of individuals striving to improve things as quickly as possible. It’s hard to say how much the impression of slow progress is due to internal challenges we don’t know about, Apple’s lack of knowledge about the breadth of defects, or the public’s perception being skewed by severity of the impact from problems that persist.

Whatever combination of luck, hard work, and pragmatism is powering the Siri team’s “year of good work,” perhaps it should serve as a model, or at least as a symbol of hope for these teams as they move forward adding features, fixing bugs, and finessing the public’s perception of the value of their work. A world in which every group at Apple somehow achieved the standard of apparent progress that Siri has achieved would be a very good world indeed.

It’s a beacon of hope for me, at least. If Siri can get from where it was to where it is now, anything can.

Nobody Likes David Cameron’s Plan to Decrypt the Internet

Not even the NSA, at least in 2009. James Ball, of the Guardian:

Part of the cache given to the Guardian by Snowden was published in 2009 and gives a five-year forecast on the “global cyber threat to the US information infrastructure”. It covers communications, commercial and financial networks, and government and critical infrastructure systems. It was shared with GCHQ and made available to the agency’s staff through its intranet.

One of the biggest issues in protecting businesses and citizens from espionage, sabotage and crime – hacking attacks are estimated to cost the global economy up to $400bn a year – was a clear imbalance between the development of offensive versus defensive capabilities, “due to the slower than expected adoption … of encryption and other technologies”, it said.

An unclassified table accompanying the report states that encryption is the “[b]est defense to protect data”, especially if made particularly strong through “multi-factor authentication” – similar to two-step verification used by Google and others for email – or biometrics.

While Cameron’s position might be politically advantageous, it’s impossible to create encryption that can only be broken by Good Guys™.