Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Tidal May Have Inflated Its Subscription Numbers

Anna Washenko, for Radio & Internet News:

Tidal is facing allegations that it has inflated subscriber numbers. Norwegian newspaper Dagens Næringsliv claimed that it has obtained internal reports that show Tidal only had 350,000 subscribers in September 2015. That same month, owner Jay-Z had tweeted that Tidal was “1,000,000 people and counting.” The publication also said that in March 2016, Tidal had 1.2 million activated accounts and 850,000 subscribers, even though it announced publicly that it had 3 million subscribers. Tidal has not issued a comment yet about the claims.

For comparison, Apple Music has twenty million paying subscribers and Spotify has over forty million. It’s not looking good for Tidal. Also of note: I can’t find any information on the number of Pono Music subscribers, but their homepage has been “under constructionsince July.

Hands-On Impressions of the Leica M10

Leica just launched their replacement for the M9, and it looks like a worthy entry in their illustrious history of rangefinders. I really like the sound of the new ISO hardware dial, as described by Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape:

The ISO dial is new. It is nice to have the ISO dial on top of the camera. You lift the dial, turn it to your selection, and push it back down. In other words, it won’t be possible to change this setting by accident. I do wish the dial was a bit bigger. You have to pinch the dial to lift it up. The way the dial is positioned, there is very little space, which is inconvenient if you have large fingers (like me). Once again, this was a hard setting to change with cold fingers. Leica should have thought twice before sending me out on one of the coldest days in NYC. You can change the ISO using the menu, which seemed to be easier at times.

There’s nothing inherently wrong with using the menus, but I’ve found that having hardware controls available keeps you in the moment. I generally have ISO set to automatic and use the hardware shutter speed and aperture dials on my camera, but there are times when I really want to be able to set the ISO. A physical control sounds like a worthy addition.

Barney Britton of DP Review was brave enough to take his review model to a rock show and the results look great. His impressions:

For all that, I’ve never really enjoyed the digital M-series models. The M8’s APS-H sensor felt like a compromise, and both that camera and the full-frame M9 always felt a little bloated, their shutters a bit too loud, their images a bit too noisy. Things got better – the Typ 240 and Typ 262 are very good cameras, and the Monochroms are fun – but neither they nor their predecessors ever really truly felt like a continuation of the classic film models. Leica claims that adding a movie mode to the Typ 240 was in response to demand from its customers, but the idea of shooting video on a rangefinder always seemed a bit silly to me.

The M10 can’t shoot video – let’s just get that out of the way. If you really need video in an M-series body, the Typ 240 is still available.

Personally, as you might be able to tell, I like the M10 a lot more than the Typ 240 and 262. There’s no single major change which makes all the difference, but rather a raft of little tweaks which add up to (in my opinion) a more attractive product than the the digital Ms which came before it.

At nearly $6,000 USD for the body alone, plus over $5,000 for an appropriate lens, the M10 is eye-wateringly expensive. But if you’re comfortable with that kind of outlay, it looks like it delivers in spades.

Google Contributor Has Been Shut Down Without a Replacement

Remember Google Contributor? It was a U.S.-only service where you could pay Google to remove their ads, with the money being distributed to the ad-supported websites you visited. Well, like so many of Google’s pet projects, it’s dead.

Andrew Martonik, Android Central:

After announcing back in December that its pay-to-remove-ads product would be replaced with something new come January, Google swiftly and abruptly shut down the service in a less-than-graceful manor. Now, it’s completely dead.

[…]

Despite claiming that Contributor would be replaced with something entirely new, we haven’t heard a peep. At this point it seems as though whatever may replace Contributor will more than likely have a new name, otherwise this whole process of shutting everything down would seem like a bit of unnecessary work. But then again, perhaps that’s a bit of foreshadowing that nothing, in fact, will replace Contributor.

Contributor wasn’t widely promoted and was never expanded beyond the United States. I wouldn’t hold your breath for a new version.

Apple Releases iOS UI Templates for Photoshop and Sketch

It has only taken nine years since the release of the iPhone OS 2.0 SDK for Apple to offer an official PSD file for mockup purposes, but it’s here, at last.

There’s a lot in this package: individual UI elements like toolbars and keyboards, blank app UIs, the iOS colour palette, and a copy of the San Francisco typeface. Some parts of this are rather familiar — San Francisco and the app icon template were both previously provided for download — but unlike the first release of the official app icon template, I’m not seeing any obvious discrepancies between these resources and the real iOS interface.

Requiem for the Thunderbolt Display

Every nerd I know can name a component of their workstation that they feel is indispensable. That one thing that, should everything else in their workflow be switched out, they’d fight to keep. Many would probably fight for their computer, while others feel an affinity towards a specific keyboard or headphones.

For me, that one special thing is my Apple Thunderbolt Display. I know: it’s crazy to spend a thousand bucks on a 27-inch display, even back when I bought it in 2012. It has other faults beyond price, too: there’s an air gap between the glass and the panel, so the image isn’t as sharp as it could be, and it’s heavy. Really heavy. I bent the desk I used for three years because of the weight of this display.

Yet, it remains the thing on my desk that I would fight the hardest to keep.1 There are a lot of reasons why, but I’ll give you just two.

First, a bit of personal history: when I was in my early teens, I saw a 30-inch Cinema Display in a local reseller’s store, and I coveted it immediately. I wanted to work on a display that large, with enough room in virtually any application for any kind of task. Its horizontal resolution was great enough that you could fit full HD video onscreen with some room left over for a clip bin. Its vertical resolution was enough to keep webpages and documents open in a more comfortable portrait orientation. My Thunderbolt Display is missing 160 pixels of vertical space, but it still feels massive — and it didn’t cost me the nearly $5,000 Apple was asking for the 30 inch Cinema Display when it was introduced in Canada.

Even better, though, is what the Thunderbolt Display does for a laptop. There are a great many complaints I’ve had with Apple’s computers over the years, but one thing I think they get absolutely right is their relentless pursuit of lightness and thinness in their portable products. When you lug a laptop around all day long, the last thing you want is for it to be heavy, or to take up more than its fair share of space in your bag. This is doubly true when travelling with it.2

However, when that laptop stops being a portable and is plopped onto a desk, the priorities of the computer change. Where overall smallness is desirable in a bag, a desk makes it possible to attach something as large and heavy as a gigantic display. Photo and video editing benefits most obviously, of course, but even something like web development is nicer on a big screen: you can have your IDE and two browser windows open at the same time, instead of juggling between windows.

While a computer is at a desk, it should be able to take advantage of a few other things that laptops aren’t very good at, too. A terrestrial gigabit Ethernet connection, for instance, better speakers, and external hard drives can all be connected. And no other product makes this as seamless as the Thunderbolt Display. Indeed, connected to my display are an Ethernet cable, two external hard drives, a Lightning cable, and a USB DAC. That’s a lot, and I have to connect just one cable to get all of those peripherals on board when I get home with my MacBook Air. I think that’s amazing.

Alas, Apple no longer makes the Thunderbolt Display. That’s probably for the best — who wants to pay $1,000 for a 27-inch display that has a density of just 109 pixels per inch? But instead of replacing it with that long-rumoured 5K Thunderbolt Display, they’ve elected to collaborate with LG on a plastic fantastic that accomplishes some of the same goals, and even improves upon Apple’s displays in some ways. It obviously features a much higher resolution — 218 pixels per inch — and a wide P3 colour gamut, and it’s priced competitively with other 4K and 5K displays on the market. It also offers even easier connectivity: because Thunderbolt 3 can provide much more power, just one cable is required to connect a new MacBook Pro to the display for both charging and data.

Unfortunately, the best reason to buy a Thunderbolt Display over its competitors hasn’t been carried over to the UltraFine 5K: it is no longer the amazing docking station that the Thunderbolt Display once was.

Instead of an assortment of ports on its back, LG’s display features just three USB-C ports. And that kind of makes sense: the future, as evidenced by Apple’s new MacBook Pro lineup, belongs to USB-C. Except the new MacBook Pro doesn’t have four USB ports; it has four Thunderbolt ports, with far greater speeds and capabilities than the standard USB spec offers, like daisy chaining.

It’s not just the variety of ports, but the quantity. Three ports is pitiful on a product like this, especially if you’d — logically — like to keep your peripherals permanently connected to it. And, while you can pick up a hub, the ports on the back of the display are apparently throttled, so a hub will be splitting an already-weakened connection. That’s disappointing on a product that’s explicitly designed to connect to Apple’s most professional notebooks.

If I were to swap my setup for a new MacBook Pro and LG’s 5K display, I’d need an Ethernet dongle, and three USB-A adaptors for my hard drives — my carefully-chosen Thunderbolt-connected drive would be getting a serious downgrade there — and DAC. I’d also want to pick up a USB-C Lightning cable, and a hub to have enough ports to run it all, and I’d have to tolerate everything running at a reduced speed.

Don’t let me get you down — LG’s 5K display might work just fine for your setup. But it doesn’t seem like an adequate replacement for the Thunderbolt Display. It doesn’t have the same hardware quality as an Apple product, it doesn’t have comparable functionality, and it has an ugly “forehead” to house the camera. Unfortunately, it seems like Apple won’t make a true successor to the Thunderbolt Display because they’re not making displays any longer. For a niche of Mac users, that’s a big loss.


  1. I recently picked up one hell of a camera, though, so it might be a tough call. ↩︎

  2. While there’s a market for the “portable workstation”, I’d wager that the discontinuation of the 17-inch MacBook Pro several years ago indicates that said market is rather tiny. Then again, perhaps the discontinuation of the Thunderbolt Display indicates that its market is also tiny. ↩︎

Secure and Trusted Phishing

Eric Lawrence:

One unfortunate (albeit entirely predictable) consequence of making HTTPS certificates “fast, open, automated, and free” is that both good guys and bad guys alike will take advantage of the offer and obtain HTTPS certificates for their websites.

[…]

By December 8, 2016, LetsEncrypt had issued 409 certificates containing “Paypal” in the hostname; that number is up to 709 as of this morning. Other targets include BankOfAmerica (14 certificates), Apple, Amazon, American Express, Chase Bank, Microsoft, Google, and many other major brands. LetsEncrypt validates only that (at one point in time) the certificate applicant can publish on the target domain. The CA also grudgingly checks with the SafeBrowsing service to see if the target domain has already been blocked as malicious, although they “disagree” that this should be their responsibility. LetsEncrypt’s short position paper is worth a read; many reasonable people agree with it.

Josh Aas of Let’s Encrypt writes in that position paper:

Let’s Encrypt is going to be issuing Domain Validation (DV) certificates. On a technical level, a DV certificate asserts that a public key belongs to a domain – it says nothing else about a site’s content or who runs it. DV certificates do not include any information about a website’s reputation, real-world identity, or safety. However, many people believe the mere presence of DV certificate ought to connote at least some of these things.

The impression that a site with a DV certificate is, technically speaking, secure is largely the fault of the browser UI. Specifically, it’s the fault of Chrome’s UI, which displays a green lock icon and the word “Secure” in the address bar for sites with DV certificates. A site with an EV certificate — the kind of certificate that “guarantees” that a site is from a specific company — is displayed in the same green, but the “secure” text is replaced with the company name. This treatment is overly generous towards vouching for DV certificates, to a misleading extent. And that’s a problem, because Chrome is the world’s most popular browser.

Other browsers treat the two types of HTTPS certificates with a little more care. Both Safari and Microsoft Edge display a grey lock icon in the address bar when a site has a DV certificate, and a green lock icon with the company name when the site has an EV certificate. Firefox, on the other hand, displays the same green lock icon for sites with DV or EV certificates, but EV certificates also display the company name; DV certificates have no additional wording at all.

I think the approach that Apple and Microsoft are taking here is much clearer than what Google and Mozilla are offering in their browsers. In that sense, Aas’ position is correct. But I think that there’s more that certificate authorities could do as well. For instance, Let’s Encrypt could automatically flag any signing attempt with words like “bank”, “PayPal”, or the names of well-known companies and their products — “Google”, “iCloud”, and so forth. Let’s Encrypt could then revoke that certificate if it is being misused.

However, even with better protections in place to restrict the use of HTTPS certificates on phishing sites, I’m not sure how much difference it will make. Plenty of people who should know better have been convinced by phishing attempts.

Google’s Custom Server Security Silicon

Simon Sharwood, writing for the Register [sic]:

Google has published a Infrastructure Security Design Overview that explains how it secures the cloud it uses for its own operations and for public cloud services.

Revealed last Friday, the document outlines six layers of security and reveals some interesting factoids about the Alphabet subsidiary’s operations, none more so than the revelation that “we also design custom chips, including a hardware security chip that is currently being deployed on both servers and peripherals. These chips allow us to securely identify and authenticate legitimate Google devices at the hardware level.”

That silicon works alongside cryptographic signatures employed “over low-level components like the BIOS, bootloader, kernel, and base operating system image.”

Via Charles Arthur who quipped:

Google is paranoid about people penetrating its security because it relies on peoples’ trust; without that it would be Yahoo.

Last year, Apple was rumoured to be designing its own server infrastructure with similar hardware-level verification and security components. I haven’t heard anything about the project since. I wonder if we’ll hear something about it later this year.

Chelsea Manning’s Sentence Commuted

Charlie Savage of the New York Times breaks the news:

President Obama on Tuesday largely commuted the remaining prison sentence of Chelsea Manning, the army intelligence analyst convicted of an enormous 2010 leak that revealed American military and diplomatic activities across the world, disrupted the administration and made WikiLeaks, the recipient of those disclosures, famous.

The decision by Mr. Obama rescued Ms. Manning, who twice tried to kill herself last year, from an uncertain future as a transgender woman incarcerated at the men’s military prison at Fort Leavenworth, Kan. She has been jailed for nearly seven years, and her 35-year sentence was by far the longest punishment ever imposed in the United States for a leak conviction.

The act of clemency could be seen as a reversal, at least in part, of the Obama administration’s unprecedented criminal crackdown on leaking: The administration has brought charges in about nine cases, about twice as many as under all previous presidents combined.

In addition, Gen. James Cartwright was pardoned today, as reported by Katie Bo Williams at the Hill:

President Obama on Tuesday pardoned retired Gen. James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff accused of lying to the FBI about his conversations with reporters regarding U.S. efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program.

Cartwright pleaded guilty in October to one felony count of making false statements during the FBI’s investigation into leaks about the government’s role in a highly classified operation known as Operation Olympic Games.

The clandestine effort — untaken with Israel — deployed a computer virus known as Stuxnet that destroyed Iranian centrifuges used in creating nuclear fuel.

Both of these cases were troubling when they were first heard, and helped set the precedent for the treatment of leakers that the president-elect has already pledged to continue. Nevertheless, this is a positive development. Your move, Julian Assange.

Dribbble Acquirrred

Andrew Wilkinson:

When I first started MetaLab, Dan Cederholm was my hero. Bulletproof Web Design was the first book I read when I was learning the ropes, and I regularly reverse engineered his stylesheets on SimpleBits to learn CSS tricks. Anything he did, I did, and I drove my early frontend developers nuts, getting them to implement every little 1-pixel detail I’d learned from Dan.

[…]

For years, I’ve been bugging Dan and Rich, begging them to let me invest in Dribbble. I’ve been like Dennis The Menace, poking them every month or two asking them to let me know if they ever think about partnering with someone or selling the business.

This September, my moxie finally paid off. Dan sent me an email saying that he and Rich were thinking about taking on a partner. My business partner Chris and I hopped on the phone with Dan and Rich, and they told us that while they loved running Dribbble, they had been at it for eight years and were ready to team up with someone who could help them take things to the next level.

MetaLab — you’ll know them as the designers of Slack — has also restructured and is now a child company of Tiny, a la Google and Alphabet. Aside from Dribbble, Tiny also owns Designer News and Flow, a Slack-ish project management service. All from a relatively small company based in Victoria, BC. Very cool.

The Mac Mini Family Tree

Stephen Hackett, in a guest piece for MacStories:

For some long-time fans, the Mac mini brought back memories of the Macintosh LC, Apple’s low-cost Mac in the early 1990s. While totally adorable, the LC was hamstrung to hit a price point, something that Apple managed to avoid with the Mac mini, at least at first. The Mac mini was slower than other desktop Macs at the time, but I thought the compromises made were perfectly fair.

[…]

Currently, the Late 2014 Mac mini is the newest model available. While it may look like the 2011 and 2012 machines, Apple made several changes that have made its smallest Mac noticeably worse.

[…]

From its humble beginnings as the BYODKM Mac to its role as a server, the Mac mini has been a faithful workhorse for 12 years now. It deserves another chance.

I can’t help but think that the days of the Mac Mini are numbered, even more so than the Mac Pro’s. Its price points compete with the iPad line, which Apple has long said represents their vision for the future of the computer. I would love for there to be another Mac Mini, in the vein of the upgradable 2012 model, but I’m not convinced it’s likely.

South Korea Prosecutor Seeks Arrest of Samsung Chief

Ju-min Park and Se Young Lee, Reuters:

South Korea’s special prosecutor on Monday sought a warrant to arrest the head of Samsung Group, the country’s largest conglomerate, accusing him of paying multi-million dollar bribes to a friend of President Park Geun-hye.

Investigators had grilled Samsung Group chief Jay Y. Lee for 22 straight hours last week as a suspect in a corruption scandal, which last month led to parliament impeaching Park.

The special prosecutor’s office accused Lee of paying bribes total 43 billion won ($36.42 million) to organizations linked to Choi Soon-sil, a friend of the president who is at the center of the scandal, in order to secure the 2015 merger of two affiliates and cement his control of the family business.

This sounded awfully familiar, so I did a little digging and found this Times article by Choe Sang-Hun, from 2007:

Prosecutors are investigating three major allegations of criminal behavior: the creation of a slush fund; bribing prosecutors and government officials; and an effort by the chairman, Lee Kun Hee, and his aide to illegally help his son take over control of Samsung.

“We are ready to unveil the truth through a stern, fair and thorough probe,” said Kim Kyong Soo, a prosecution spokesman. He said prosecutors would also investigate colleagues who allegedly received bribes from Samsung.

In previous scandals that have plagued Samsung, several executives have been convicted of illegally trying to help Lee’s son, Jae Yong, take control of management, and of bribing politicians.

But Lee’s family has escaped largely unscathed. This has lead critics to charge that Samsung runs a vast network of bribery and influence-peddling through the government, the judicial branch, and the media, making the Lee family “untouchable” – a claim vehemently rejected by Samsung.

Sam Byford of the Verge summarized the outcome of that bribery case based on “Thinking About Samsung”, a book by the company’s former legal chief Kim Yong-chul:

Lee Kun-hee resigned from Samsung in 2008 after being indicted and found guilty of embezzlement and tax evasion in Samsung’s infamous slush funds scandal. Kim Yong-chul alleged that the company had a 200 billion won (roughly $200 million) budget for bribing prosecutors and politicians into turning a blind eye to its legal misconduct. Despite prosecutors seeking seven years in jail with a fine of 350 billion won ($350 million), Lee was handed a suspended three-year sentence and fined just 110 billion won ($100 million) — a relative pittance for the world’s 106th richest man. Months later, South Korean president Lee Myung-bak gave Lee Kun-hee a second personal pardon so that he could remain on the International Olympic Committee; the Samsung chairman went on to lead a successful bid to host the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeonchang. Amidst widespread criticism that the incident highlighted the favorable treatment given to corrupt chaebol executives, Lee returned as Samsung Electronics chairman the following year.

Like father, like son.

Barack Obama on Reading and Writing

Barack Obama, in an interview with the New York Times’ chief book critic Michiko Kakutani:

I was hermetic — it really is true. I had one plate, one towel, and I’d buy clothes from thrift shops. And I was very intense, and sort of humorless. But it reintroduced me to the power of words as a way to figure out who you are and what you think, and what you believe, and what’s important, and to sort through and interpret this swirl of events that is happening around you every minute.

Writing — by which, of course, I mean really good writing — forces both the writer and the reader to slow down and focus on what is being conveyed and in what context. That requires dexterity, but it can also lead both parties to create connections between ideas in ways that otherwise could never happen. The same thing happens in speeches; for example, Martin Luther King Jr., accepting the Nobel Peace Prize:

I accept this award today with an abiding faith in America and an audacious faith in the future of mankind. I refuse to accept despair as the final response to the ambiguities of history. I refuse to accept the idea that the “isness” of man’s present nature makes him morally incapable of reaching up for the eternal “oughtness” that forever confronts him. I refuse to accept the idea that man is mere flotsom and jetsom in the river of life, unable to influence the unfolding events which surround him. I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality.

In one paragraph, King manages to point out that the award he has been given is both in recognition of his ability so far — to peacefully yet forcefully fight for equality — and also alludes to the prescience of the award’s shortcomings; the need for recognizing that we are not equal is not over, even today, and the fight for equality will not always be without violence. Yet, through great effort and empathy, we can approach these ideals.

Canadian Apparel

Ellie Shechet, Jezebel:

The charred remains of long-embattled retailer American Apparel were bought at auction for $88 million by Canada’s Gildan Activewear, which plans to close its 110 remaining U.S. stores and shutter its Los Angeles manufacturing facilities. At its height in 2007, American Apparel was valued at nearly $1 billion, and late last year at between $180 and $270 million.

Around 3,500 factory and headquarters workers are expected to lose their jobs.

I’m a huge fan of American Apparel’s basics, so this news is pretty heartbreaking. The fashion industry is particularly unethical, but AA challenged aspects of that (while, of course, creating its own ethical quandaries). If you’re looking for basics made in countries with stronger employee protections, you might be interested in Stanfield’s, Reigning Champ, and Royal Apparel.

Andy Rubin’s New Venture: ‘Essential’

Mark Gurman and Mark Bergen, Bloomberg:

Rubin, creator of the Android operating system, is planning to marry his background in software with artificial intelligence in a risky business: consumer hardware. Armed with about a 40-person team, filled with recruits from Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, Rubin is preparing to announce a new company called Essential and serve as its Chief Executive Officer, according to people familiar with the matter.

[…]

The centerpiece of the system is a high-end smartphone with a large edge-to-edge screen that lacks a surrounding bezel. At the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in early January, Rubin discussed the smartphone with mobile carrier executives, including some from Sprint Corp., people familiar with the talks said.

[…]

While still in the prototyping stage, Rubin’s phone is aimed at the top of the market where Apple Inc.’s iPhone and Alphabet Inc.’s new Pixel reside. It’s expected to include high-end materials and the ability to gain new hardware features over time, the people said. Representatives for Rubin and Sprint declined to comment.

That sounds a little bit like a modular phone. Consider me skeptical.

Behind the Scenes of the Project Ara Modular Smartphone

Harrison Weber, reporting for VentureBeat:

“We had a philosophy that this phone was not for the iPhone-carrying, latest Samsung Galaxy-carrying smartphone owner in the U.S.,” said Makoski. “We wanted to bring access to the internet, to the smartphone space, to those who previously didn’t have it. And part of the ways to do that is to create a platform where an India telecom could put customized radios into Ara for a $50 price point or a $100 price point, or it could scale all the way up to something for Latin America or the U.S.”

[…]

At the start of 2015, Eremenko’s dream of a $50 phone had evaporated. “The evolution of what Ara was supposed to be had changed so much because of the big question mark around what consumers actually wanted,” a source who worked on Ara told VentureBeat. “And a $50 [smartphone] is just not technically possible. That’s the truth. Anybody who makes smartphones can tell you that.”

So Ara pivoted.

“Pivoted” is a curious euphemism for “tanked”. The article also features the headline “Inside the rise and fall of the world’s most revolutionary phone”, but I’m not sure something can be called “revolutionary” when the smartphone market has moved towards more singular products, not the modular ideas of Ara. It’s a novel idea, but nobody I know was even remotely interested in assembling their own smartphone.

The Influence of Partisanship on Gullibility

Amanda Taub, New York Times, in a section with the subheading “how partisan bias fuels fake news”:

“If I’m a rabid Trump voter and I don’t know much about public affairs, and I see something about some scandal about Hillary Clinton’s aides being involved in an assassination attempt, or that story about the pope endorsing Trump, then I’d be inclined to believe it,” Mr. Iyengar said. “This is reinforcing my beliefs about the value of a Trump candidacy.”

And Clinton voters, he said, would be similarly drawn to stories that deride Mr. Trump as a demagogue or a sexual predator.

There’s a lot that can be drawn from this story, but this false equivalence masks that value. The pope never endorsed Clinton, and her aides are not assassins. But Trump said — on tape — that he could grab women by their genitals and that he “[doesn’t] even wait” to kiss someone because he’s famous and can get away with it. That’s not fake news; that’s sexual assault.

Consumer Reports Retests the New MacBook Pro Lineup

Consumer Reports:

We first evaluated the MacBook Pro laptops in December, and found that battery life results were highly inconsistent from one test to the next. (They ran anywhere from a low of 3.75 hours up to 19.5 hours between charges.) That led the laptops to receive low overall scores, despite strong showings in areas such as display quality and performance.

The process we followed with Apple is the same process we follow with any manufacturer when we discover a significant problem. We shared our test results with the company so it could better understand our findings and deliver a fix to consumers. Since Apple made a fix, we retested the laptops.

The new tests show battery lives far in excess of Apple’s estimates and anything I’ve heard from MacBook Pro owners, which suggests that Consumer Reports’ battery test is not an effective real-world benchmark. But now, at least, its results are consistent.

App.net and Micro.blog

Dalton Caldwell, cofounder of App.net:

In May of 2014, App.net entered maintenance mode. At that time we made the difficult decision to put App.net into autopilot mode in an effort to preserve funds and to give it ample time to bake. Since then every dollar App.net has charged has gone towards paying for the hosting and services needed to keep the site running. Unfortunately, revenue has consistently diminished over the past 2+ years, and we have been unable to return the service to active development.

We will be shutting down the App.net service on March 14, 2017. We are immediately turning off new signups and any pending subscription renewals. We are also going to open-source the code behind App.net on our GitHub page. You will have until the shutdown date to export your data. At that time, all user data will be deleted.

I’m surprised that App.net lasted as long as it did in “maintenance mode”, but this news isn’t exactly shocking. Even its most ardent users — by which I mean any user who has regularly opened the site in the past two years — saw this coming.

App.net’s announcement comes less than two weeks after Manton Reece launched a Kickstarter campaign for his in-development Twitter alternative Micro.blog. Reece’s campaign is off to a flying start, but I wouldn’t blame you for having lingering doubts about its future. The biggest difference between App.net and Micro.blog is that the latter can be self-hosted, and is entirely decentralized. If Reece were to stop development of Micro.blog in ten years, existing installations would continue to work as long as the programming languages that power it remain compatible.

Because of that, I think Micro.blog can have a future where App.net couldn’t. There’s less requirement for mass adoption. I hope it works out.

Apple’s 2016 Report Card

Thirty of Jason Snell’s closest friends graded Apple’s 2016, and it went about as well as you can expect:

Judging by my panel’s responses, Apple had a rough year — which I think most close observers of the company would probably agree with. While opinions on the Apple Watch, Apple’s cloud services, and developer relations were improved, there were strong negative trends for the Mac and Apple TV.

On the Mac:

“The Mac was almost entirely neglected this year,” wrote Accidental Tech Podcast’s John Siracusa, who called the never-updated Mac Pro “an embarrassment.” Many Tricks co-founder Rob Griffiths called it “a horrid year,” and most of our panelists had similar bad things to say.

The iPad was seen as generally positive in 2016, which surprised me. I tend to align more with Engst and Ritchie’s feelings here:

“It doesn’t feel as though Apple has followed through on the iPad’s promise by driving its evolution more quickly,” said Adam Engst.

“While Apple is finding its groove with technology like Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard Case, they’re still not telling a compelling story,” said Rene Ritchie.

The Apple TV didn’t have a terrific year either:

“Apple just can’t seem to bring the content deals together to make the Apple TV my primary box,” said Mac Power Users podcaster Katie Floyd. “Unfortunately, if you’re a cord cutter (like I am) there’s still not a whole lot of traditional network content accessible on the Apple TV unless you buy it show-by-show through iTunes.”

And the remote still sucks.

Cloud services, software quality, and HomeKit were also on the receiving end of some pretty harsh comments, though not consistently. However, highlights in Apple’s year included the Apple Watch, iPhone, and social issues — Tim Cook’s handling of the FBI incident was a standout moment for this panel.

From my perspective, Apple’s 2016 was uneven, at best. Unlike the panel, I thought the iPad had a pretty poor 2016: the 9.7-inch iPad Pro was introduced in the spring, and then it seemed like they forgot all about the iPad’s hardware and software for the rest of the year. My Apple TV gets lots of use, but mostly as a Netflix and YouTube box; very few streaming services are available in Canada. The Mac story is frustrating, and software quality is still rough. Over the course of many of the products and updates introduced this year, I’ve also felt that Apple has struggled to establish clear narratives and compelling rationales.

On a positive note, the reliability of Apple’s cloud services have noticeably improved, iOS 10 fixes many of my biggest complaints — while introducing some new ones — developer relations seem improved, and the company’s commitment to privacy is a particular highlight.

I don’t think that 2016 is the new normal, and I’m sure the internal dialogue in Apple’s executive offices would echo many of the panel’s observations. It seems like a year in flux, and I think the fruits of it may start to be seen as soon as March. I’m not expecting a lot this year, but new Macs and a stronger commitment to the iPad as the future of computing ought to be high priorities.

For me, the critical question is how different is Apple’s lineup at the end of 2016 compared to the end of 2015?, and the answer is “not much”.

Be sure to read the panelists’ unedited comments.

Techdirt’s Fight

Mike Masnick of Techdirt makes an official response to a nasty lawsuit filed by Shiva Ayyadurai:

There is a larger point here. Defamation claims like this can force independent media companies to capitulate and shut down due to mounting legal costs. Ayyadurai’s attorney, Charles Harder, has already shown that this model can lead to exactly that result. His efforts helped put a much larger and much more well-resourced company than Techdirt completely out of business.

So, in our view, this is not a fight about who invented email. This is a fight about whether or not our legal system will silence independent publications for publishing opinions that public figures do not like.

As I wrote when Gawker filed for bankruptcy, the ability for the wealthy to use the legal system to bleed publications dry is deeply concerning. If the only media organizations that can survive this precedent are those that either only publish anodyne stories, or those that can afford a regular battering from billionaires, then public figures and governments will not be held to account for their actions. Smaller, independent publications — like ProPublica, Mother Jones, and Techdirt — are at least as vital as more well-known entities. I can think of little worse than accelerating the conglomeration of media companies through the bullying of independents.

If you can, throw a couple of bucks at Techdirt. They’re going to need it.

The Logic of a Rumoured 10.5-Inch iPad

Just a few months ago, I wasn’t sure about the logic of a 10.5-inch iPad; now, Dan Provost presents a compelling case:

The math works out perfectly. This new 10.5″ iPad would have the exact same resolution as the 12.9″ iPad Pro (2732 x 2048), but the same pixel density of the iPad mini (326 ppi instead of 264 ppi). Crunch the numbers, do a little Pythagorean Theorem, and you end up with a screen 10.5″ diagonal (10.47″ to be precise, but none of Apple’s stated screen sizes are exact). In terms of physcial dimensions, the width of this 10.5″ screen would be exactly the same as the height of the iPad mini screen.

Alongside some presumed software improvements,1 this would also create a more logical delineation between the “standard” iPad line and the iPads Pro. I’m very curious to see how the entire iPad lineup evolves this year, and whether Apple’s plans will enable a more central role for the iPad in my workflow.


  1. If a major iOS release this year doesn’t fix that scrolling list of rectangular app tiles in the multitasking popover, I’m going to lose my shit. ↩︎

Apple Reportedly Loses Another High-Profile Employee to Tesla

Seth Weintraub, 9to5Mac:

Chris Lattner isn’t the only high profile Apple executive who departed for Tesla over the past month, rather than sticking around to work on Titan. 9to5mac has learned that Matt Casebolt, a high profile Senior Director of Design for Apple’s Mac lineup left the company last month for a role at Tesla as Sr. Director Engineering, Closures & Mechanisms.

Casebolt is credited on patents related to the design and engineering of the MacBook Air and Mac Pro. From the outside, it sure seems like Apple’s car project isn’t retaining top talent that is interested in working on the future of transportation.

Chris Lattner Is Leaving Apple

Chris Lattner, in a post to the Swift Evolution mailing list:

I’m happy to announce that Ted Kremenek will be taking over for me as “Project Lead” for the Swift project, managing the administrative and leadership responsibility for Swift.org. This recognizes the incredible effort he has already been putting into the project, and reflects a decision I’ve made to leave Apple later this month to pursue an opportunity in another space. This decision wasn’t made lightly, and I want you all to know that I’m still completely committed to Swift. I plan to remain an active member of the Swift Core Team, as well as a contributor to the swift-evolution mailing list.

That “other space” that Lattner alludes to is, according to Mark Gurman, a VP position at Tesla.

Also making news today is Daniel Gross’ announcement that he’s leaving Apple for Y Combinator. Gross directed many of Apple’s machine learning initiatives, while Lattner created Swift; these are two of the highest-profile initiatives within the company.

Update: Tesla confirms:

We would like to welcome Chris Lattner, who will join Tesla as our Vice President of Autopilot Software. […]

It must be a weird day at Apple for Project Titan team members.

Update: A fun thought experiment is to consider whether Tesla offered Lattner the position, or if Lattner sought it out.

Google Pulls Ads From Fark for Five Weeks Over Misinterpretation

Fark founder Drew Curtis:

You would probably assume that Google, a company that makes nearly all of its money from advertising, has a crack team of ninjas instantly handling issues in their publisher network. That assumption would be totally wrong.

This past October we suffered a huge financial hit because Google mistakenly identified an image that was posted in our comments section over half a decade ago as an underage adult image – which is a felony by the way. Our ads were turned off for almost five weeks – completely and totally their mistake – and they refuse to make it right.

Apple’s Statement on Consumer Reports’ MacBook Pro Battery Tests

Apple PR, in a statement provided to news outlets:

We learned that when testing battery life on Mac notebooks, Consumer Reports uses a hidden Safari setting for developing web sites which turns off the browser cache. This is not a setting used by customers and does not reflect real-world usage. Their use of this developer setting also triggered an obscure and intermittent bug reloading icons which created inconsistent results in their lab.

The statement goes on a little longer, but the nutshell version comprises these three sentences. And I have issues with all of them.

Calling the Disable Caches setting “hidden” seems, at best, misleading. While it’s true that a user has to switch on the Develop menu in Safari’s preferences to expose this setting, that’s all done through Safari’s GUI. A “hidden” setting would be one that requires a Terminal command, wouldn’t it?

At any rate, arguably no battery test can truly reflect “real-world usage”, since all tests are — by definition — simulations of some kind of usage. Someone browsing the same three or four websites all day long with little else running would likely get very good battery life, while a user editing RAW photos that are synced to iCloud Photo Library would see pretty poor life. That’s just how it works. As the product becomes more targeted towards power users, the gap between the extremes of battery life will only get wider — you can bet that the number of users running Final Cut on a 12-inch MacBook is very, very low.

Consumer Reports’ browser-based battery test is, as Apple says, inconsistent with typical web browser usage. Most users will leave their cache on. But they’ll also probably browse more than ten web pages repeatedly, and might have iTunes, Messages, a couple of Finder windows, and Mail all running in the background.

We could argue about the validity of Consumer Reports’ test all day long. The third sentence in the excerpt I quoted above is the part where Apple admits that there is a flaw, but it seems pained and couched. Furthermore, it’s hard to see how a bug like this, when combined with a disabled cache, could lead to Consumer Reports seeing some test results with less than half that of Apple’s estimates, while other results were nearly double what Apple says. That’s a massive chasm, and I haven’t seen any MacBook Pro owner claiming to get battery life at the upper end of that spectrum.

The Post-Acquisition Yahoo IP Holding Company Will Be Called ‘Altaba’

Olivia Solon of the Guardian:

Verizon agreed to buy Yahoo’s search engine and web portal for $4.83bn back in July. However, Yahoo’s shareholders held onto the company’s lucrative investments – including a 36% stake in Yahoo Japan and a 16% stake in Alibaba – and patent portfolio. This remaining entity has no product and no staff members.

According to an SEC filing released today, that entity will, provided the Verizon deal goes through, be know as Altaba and Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer, along with five other board members, will resign from its board.

Use caution when consuming Altaba. Frequent use of Altaba may lead to headaches, back pain, and incontinence. Altaba is not recommended for pregnant or nursing women, children, or those over the age of sixty.

Altaba is the Tronc of 2017.

The Case for Transparency at Twitter

Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed:

In the span of a few days [Martin Shkreli] 1) direct-messaged [journalist Lauren] Duca to invite her to be his date at the inauguration, 2) changed his Twitter bio to read “i have a small crush on @laurenduca (hope she doesn’t find out),” 3) created a collage of images of Duca as his Twitter header, 4) changed his profile picture to a doctored image of Duca and her husband, where Shkreli’s face is photoshopped over Duca’s husband’s. Duca, who has over 130,000 Twitter followers, posted Shkreli’s bio and images around 11 a.m. Sunday. They went viral instantly and Shkreli was banned in just over two hours. “The Twitter Rules prohibit targeted harassment, and we will take action on accounts violating those policies,” a Twitter spokesperson told BuzzFeed News.

To Twitter’s credit, the company responded quickly to Duca’s plea and the subsequent tweets about Shkreli’s behavior. But Twitter’s vague, one-sentence justification for the suspension — the result of its long-stated policy not to comment on individual accounts for the privacy of its users — highlights a broader concern for the company in 2017: Twitter, despite its attempts to police its platform, appears unwilling to engage in the necessary transparency surrounding the harassment of its users.

The entirety of this story — Shkreli’s harassment in front of an audience of hundreds of thousands, Twitter’s response, and the ongoing abuse targeted towards Duca from Shkreli’s followers — is symptomatic of far deeper and more egregious concerns in the way we approach harassment in a primarily written form.

When I was young, I — like many of you, I’m sure — was taught that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me”. I’m sure the sentiment behind this is earnest, but reality shows that it is complete bullshit. The tweets and messages directed towards Duca aren’t mere words; they’re a call to action to a wide audience. The laws against online harassment are inconsistent state-to-state, and federal laws require a high level of evidence which, due to the way tweets and emails can be interpreted,1 isn’t always easy to prove.

Even if that’s resolved, the intent behind this abuse won’t go away. There’s a deeper cultural problem in the way that threats against women and people of colour, in particular, are perceived. The only way to make progress here is to listen to, and empathize with, those most affected.


  1. Frequently by a white, male prosecutor↩︎

‘The Best 1.0 in Tech History’

Marco Arment:

Not only was it truly mind-blowing at the time, but in retrospect, so much of modern computing was invented for that first iPhone phone and revealed to the world for the first time in that hour. Just watch the software demos: most modern UI mechanics and behaviors, large and small, began that day.

Brian McCullough:

With ten years of perspective, perhaps the most remarkable thing about the iPhone is the fact that, for all its retrospective imperfections, the original model was in fact so conceptually perfect, right out of the gate. Automobiles had to evolve for almost 40 years until they settled into the standard configuration we are familiar with today. On their first attempt, the team at Apple managed to stumble upon the perfect form factor, the perfect incarnation of the modern smartphone. Smartphones had existed for several years previous to the iPhone, but the standard form of the smartphone as we know it today — physical keyboard-less, a single slab of screen, a “black mirror” that is both a reflection of, and a conduit for, all of our hopes and desires — they nailed it on the first try. And that’s quite remarkable. Whatever you may think about the subsequent lawsuits and charges of copycat-ing, there’s a very good reason why everyone in the industry moved toward the paradigm the iPhone pioneered.

Plenty of commentators are expressing similar sentiments today. The iPhone really is the bridge into the post-PC world.

Man Who Didn’t Invent Email Sues Techdirt for Saying So

Brian Feldman, New York magazine:

Shiva Ayyadurai, the man who claims to have invented email — and who sued now-defunct gossip blog Gawker for saying he didn’t — announced this morning that he’s filed a new lawsuit yesterday against the website Techdirt. Ayyadurai is seeking $15 million in damages — and is represented by Charles Harder, the lawyer who represented him and Hulk Hogan in their suits against Gawker.

The only person who truly believes that Ayyadurai invented email is Ayyadurai himself. It must be pretty nice to be able to use the American legal system as a means for legitimizing a false narrative, while bleeding dry any publication that bothers to fact-check those claims.

Update: In an apparent attempt to support his claims, Ayyadurai is appearing tomorrow on conspiracy theorist Alex Jones’ show. Apt.

Update: Mike Masnick, writing in November at Techdirt:

It’s a victory for bullshit. It’s a victory for trying to rewrite history and smear the actual truth. And it was aided by Peter Thiel. I do wonder, though, if Ayyadurai continues to sue publications that properly point out that he is not telling the truth, and targets us, if Thiel will come to our aid. Hell, I’m not even a single-digit millionaire. So, clearly, he’s going to help us out, right?

Apple Celebrates the Tenth Anniversary of the iPhone’s Launch

Apple PR:

January 9 marks the tenth anniversary of iPhone’s blockbuster debut. At Macworld 2007 in San Francisco, Steve Jobs introduced the world to iPhone as three products in one — “a widescreen iPod with touch controls, a revolutionary mobile phone and a breakthrough internet communications device.” In the ten years since, iPhone has enriched the lives of people around the world with over one billion units sold. It quickly grew into a revolutionary platform for hardware, software and services integration, and inspired new products, including iPad and Apple Watch, along with millions of apps that have become essential to people’s daily lives.

No press release for the iPhone’s tenth anniversary has been published to the official press release library, but there is one in the “Newsroom”. By contrast, no press release was published at all for the thirtieth anniversary of the Mac in 2014,1 though it was acknowledged onstage on a couple of instances.

I’m not really sure there’s anything to make of this, though. The iPhone is one of the most successful products of all time, so I’m not surprised to see a nod towards it. And, as John Gruber wrote late last year, it’s extremely unlikely that the iPhone that will be released this year will be an “anniversary” model or anything of the sort.

Update: But, for the thirtieth anniversary of the Mac, they did launch a campaign. Thanks to Matt Christensen for the reminder; I completely forgot.


  1. Nor for the 20th and 25th anniversaries in 2004 and 2009, respectively. Apple’s PR library doesn’t go back farther. ↩︎

The Humans and Machines That Built New York’s Second Avenue Subway

Derek Mead, Madison Margolin, and Alex Pasternack, Vice:

Back in June 26, 2012, a Second Avenue subway construction crew blasted rock for the future 72 St. Station in Manhattan. At that time, Motherboard dove into the story of the longest-lasting transportation project in New York City’s history. First proposed in 1929 and again in 1951, but persistently hobbled by money woes and community opposition, the Second Avenue subway finally opened this year.

We went underground to see the construction of the subway — controlled explosions, and lots of manpower and machinery — being carried out back in 2013, and again when it opened just a few days ago. We went back this week to see the fruits of one of the largest transportation projects ever mounted in human history. Here is our journey.

Untapped Cities also has an impressive set of photos from the construction of the subway, including a few before-and-afters.

Instagram Gains Support for Live Photos, Wide Colour Gamut

Aldrin Calimlim, App Advice:

Live Photos support in Instagram allows you to take any of the GIF-like images you’ve taken on your iPhone and convert it into a back-and-forth looping Boomerang video to be shared on the app’s Stories platform or as a direct message.

[…]

In addition to Live Photos support in Instagram, support for the wide color gamut of the iPhone 7 and the iPhone 7 Plus has been incorporated into the app. This means that users of the newer iPhones will now be able to see and capture more vivid Instagram images.

Facebook has supported Live Photos since shortly after the iPhone 6S’ debut, so it’s a little odd that it has taken Instagram a full year more to become compatible. Both of these features are delivered via a back-end architectural adjustment, though, so an app update isn’t required. Nice.

On a side note, I haven’t seen an ad in Instagram for several months now. That’s not a complaint.

Medium’s Pivot Caught Its Publishing Partners by Surprise

After Medium announced yesterday that they would be laying off fifty employees and terminating their advertising program, they apparently forgot to give a heads-up to the publishers who moved to the platform in April.

Peter Sterne and Kelsey Sutton, Politico:

Medium’s exit from the online ad business was news to some of its publishing partners, many of whom have come to depend on the publishing platform as a key source of revenue. More than two dozen publications are members of Medium’s revenue beta program, which allows them to sell paid subscriptions to readers and to receive a cut of Medium’s native advertising revenue.

Five members of the revenue beta program told POLITICO that they did not receive any advance notice of Medium’s change in strategy before Williams’ public announcement. One publishing partner only learned about the pivot after reading an article about it on the tech news site Recode.

“Our publishers were informed about the changes by our team in addition to the post,” a Medium spokeswoman told POLITICO.

Via Jason Kottke, who writes:

New businesses are unstable…that’s just the way it is. In Silicon Valley (and in other startup-rich areas), these unstable businesses have lots of someone else’s money to throw around — which makes them appear more stable in the short term — but they cannot escape the reality of the extreme risk involved in building a new business, particularly a business that needs to grow quickly (as almost all VC-backed startups are required to do). All of which can make it difficult to enter into a business arrangement with a startup…just ask publishers working with Facebook or businesses dependent on Twitter’s API or Vine or Tumblr, not to mention the thousands of startups that have ceased to exist over the years.

Couldn’t have said it any better.

DJI Reportedly Acquires Majority Share in Hasselblad

Kevin Raber of Luminous Landscape:

Hasselblad still needed to stay afloat. The investors wanted their money and they were not willing to contribute any more to this cause. What now?

Simple, the minority shareholder becomes the majority shareholder. DJI now owns the majority share of Hasselblad. You heard me right. This information has come from numerous, reliable sources. Hasselblad, the iconic Swedish camera company, is now owned by the Chinese drone maker DJI. Sooner or later, this will all become public. Maybe now that I am spilling the beans, it will be sooner rather than later. It seems that everyone inside Hasselblad knows about this, as well as some distributors and resellers. You can’t keep something this big a secret for very long, eventually, it is going to get out.

This is pretty wild. Historically, Hasselblad made some of the best film cameras in — and out of — the world. When everything turned digital, they were left behind, but have since created the wildly successful X1D. After I spent far too long gawping at some sample photos posted by Ming Thein last year, it’s no wonder it has been such a runaway hit.

DJI, meanwhile, builds some of the best semi-professional drones in the world. The attached cameras produce remarkably high-quality video, but I’m worried that Hasselblad’s name will be used to sell products they had little to do with. They’re no stranger to that — they’ve released a lot of rebadged Sony cameras — but their reputation is back on the right track with the X1D. I worry that it will be squandered.

For what it’s worth, both DJI and Hasselblad said that they could only tell me that they “have no further news about DJI’s partnership”, but TechCrunch is confirming Raber’s report.

Missing WatchOS Updates

Martin Vyderna pointed out today that it has been three weeks since Apple pulled WatchOS 3.1.1 just after it was launched due to allegedly bricking Series 2 models. The update has not yet been reinstated, and I have my doubts that it never will be.

Shortly after the 3.1.1 update was released and pulled — and just before the winter holidays — a build of WatchOS 3.1.3 was seeded to developers. My guess, without knowing anything specific, is that the bug fixes and features in 3.1.1 are considered to be relatively minor, and will be rolled into 3.1.3, likely headed for a release alongside other platform updates. I have no idea why a 3.1.2 version is apparently missing — perhaps it was intended to be the fix for the 3.1.1 update issues.

But, to reiterate, that’s all just guesswork. I’ve asked Apple for clarification, but they never return my emails, and I don’t expect them to on a matter of a minor update. The lack of urgency on this update does make the Watch feel a bit neglected, though.

Weather Line Updated With Today Widget

Weather Line, my favourite weather app, has been updated for iOS 10. I’ve been testing this release for a couple of months now and it’s a terrific update, with San Francisco used throughout the app, and a new Today widget that shows the trend graph for the next eight hours. It’s the only weather app I use, mostly because of the day’s trend line. You can grab the update free for existing users, or just $3 for new users.

Comparing the Mac Pro’s Price and Performance in 2006

Speaking of the Mac Pro, I was reminded today about a time when Apple was proud of the professional Macs they shipped. Until the middle of last year, they had a dedicated page for professional users and case studies.

And then there was the competition. Dan Frakes, Macworld:

If you caught the Mac Pro’s introduction during last week’s Worldwide Developers Conference keynote, you know that Phil Schiller, Apple’s senior vice president for worldwide product marketing, punctuated his demo of the new high-end desktop by uttering the “D” word — Dell. Specifically, Schiller brought up Dell to compare its price to the standard 2.66GHz Mac Pro Quad’s $2,499 price tag. By Schiller’s math, a similarly configured Dell Precision 690 would run you $3,448 — around $950 more than the Mac Pro.

Today, you can’t even run a similar comparison because Dell doesn’t offer a Precision tower with a processor as old as the one fitted to the currently-available Mac Pro.

It’s About Trust

A guess: Apple’s greatest asset is the trust users and customers have in them to be doing the right thing for them, whether in the near term or over a longer run. You could say that about nearly any technology company, but here’s another guess: few others require a user’s trust to the extent that Apple does.

Forgive me for pointing out the obvious here, but Apple, unlike its peers, is the only company that makes hardware that can officially run MacOS and iOS. Google and Microsoft may now have their own integrated hardware and software products — in the form of the Pixel and Surface, respectively — but other companies make hardware that runs Android and Windows.

This puts Apple in a position of incredible power and responsibility. Their platforms are exceptional. Even as I complain at length about the myriad bugs and quality issues in MacOS, I’ve also used Windows recently and I can assure you that there’s a gigantic gap. Yet this responsibility, I feel, is something that they haven’t always treated with the respect it deserves.

Chuq Von Rospach, in a rightfully-popular essay on the state of Apple’s 2016:

A big percentage of complaints over the new MacBook Pro devices is that they ignore the needs of the “power” user. I think a better way to define this is that these units define “power user” different than many people who see themselves as power users do, and they’re upset (justifiably) that there aren’t options that allow them to solve their needs.

[…]

It’s been over a thousand days since [the Mac Pro] has seen an update. As Apple’s high end flagship, this is unconscionable. It shows a lack of respect for its high end power users that have depended on it.

Professional and power users are not a large market — at least, not when compared to millions of more average consumers — but they remain integral to all of Apple’s platforms. Developers rely upon the Mac to build great apps for all of Apple’s platforms, and that ecosystem is a key selling point.

And, on the subject of money, pro and power users are more likely to make a far greater investment in Apple’s platforms. A really powerful Mac runs upwards of $4,000, and pro users are far more likely to buy external displays, make large software commitments, and even buy additional computers. The market may be small, but ask a Mac-based professional video editor or composer how much they’ve sunk into their workstation, especially if they’ve been a longtime customer. They could typically have a couple of nice cars for that money.

That kind of investment feels like it has been squandered. No company should be selling the exact same computer for a thousand days at exactly the same price points, but Apple certainly shouldn’t, especially not when it’s a professional Mac. It’s this kind of thing — and continuing to sell outdated WiFi hardware, and not updating the Mac Mini or even the iMac, and reducing the future-proofing of professional Macs — that makes longtime users seriously consider fleeing the platform.

Above all, it feels like an abuse of trust. Many of us have sunk tens of thousands of dollars into Apple’s ecosystem in hardware, software, accessories, and services. Don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying that Mac is dead, or that Apple is doomed. But, as Apple encourages ever greater investment in their entire ecosystem through various inter-device features and cloud services, they’ll need ever-greater amounts of trust. And right now, as a “power” Mac user, I’m more uneasy than I can remember.

Gamifying Health With the Apple Watch

Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

There’s something super effective for me about gaming health with easy-to-capture metrics and achievable short-term and long-term goals. I could diet and exercise on my own but I had no idea where to start before; relying on Apple Watch as a coach has totally made the difference for me. Apple Watch has tremendously helped motivate me to change my life for the better and I’m happier for it today.

Even if you — as I — don’t really track your weight or diet, Hall’s story is a great reminder of how the Watch simply makes you aware of your health. The very concept of needing a prompt to stand up or exercise more is a bit deflating, in the sense that this is something that all of us should be doing automatically, but trying to do so regularly when you’re focused on so many things at a sedentary desk job can be a bit tricky.

Silly as it may be, the achievements in Activity got me to start thinking about my physical activity a lot more this past year. I began walking to work in the spring, and continued to walk in at least one direction until partway through November. Since I didn’t want to break my monthly streak, I found a way to use Calgary’s +15 system to walk most of the length of downtown to my apartment. It’s not much, but it keeps me active, even on cold days — Weather Line reports that it’s going to feel like –32°C (about –25°F) around the time I’ll be headed home. It’s encouraging. No matter how ridiculous that may seem, the ends really do justify the means.

Insurance Firm to Replace Human Workers With IBM’s Watson

The Mainichi, with no byline:

Fukoku Mutual Life Insurance Co. is planning to slash nearly 30 percent of its payment assessment department’s human staff after it introduces an artificial intelligence (AI) system in January 2017 to improve operating efficiency.

[…]

Fukoku Mutual has already begun staff reductions in preparation for the system’s installation. In total, 34 people are expected to be made redundant by the end of March 2017, primarily from a pool of 47 workers on about five-year contracts. The company is planning to let a number of the contracts run out their term and will not renew them or seek replacements.

The insurance firm will spend about 200 million yen to install the AI system, and maintenance is expected to cost about 15 million yen annually. Meanwhile, it’s expected that Fukoku Mutual will save about 140 million yen per year by cutting the 34 staff.

About a month ago, I finished reading Cathy O’Neil’s excellent “Weapons of Math Destruction” and I’m currently midway through “Data Love” by Roberto Simanowski.1 While finding out why an institution has made a particular decision has always been somewhat difficult, both books make the case that offloading a decision to mass data collection and automation can have disastrous consequences that aren’t fully understood. Furthermore, there’s a sense of certainty and finality to a decision made by a computer program — humans can see nuance and context, but a machine typically doesn’t. And, to make matters worse, the specific rationale for a machine’s decision may never be known because the source code is almost always considered confidential.

This is the direction we’re headed in and, while I don’t want this to come off as curmudgeonly, unregulated and proprietary big data programs are making decisions we don’t fully understand or control. That ought to be concerning.


  1. Both of those links are affiliate links. ↩︎

The Leap Second

Jack Forster, writing for Hodinkee:

There probably were not a lot of us that noticed it during the countdown to midnight, and the New Year, last Saturday, but this year, time needed a tweak. At 23:59:59 on December 31, 2016, an additional second was added to UTC (Universal Time Coordinated, the international time standard) so that, for exactly one second, UTC time was 23:59:60. 

This might sound a little ‘who cares’ for most of us, but managing the Leap Second is, among other things, essential for little things like running the Internet, and ensuring GPS doesn’t think you’re halfway to the Moon when you’re just trying to find your mother-in-law’s house (literally).

Accurate time is also essential for things like HTTPS certificates and, apparently, Cloudfare’s CDN services.

France Gives Workers the Legal Right to Ignore Out-of-Hours Email

David Renshaw, the Fader:

The French government has passed a law designed to tackle the problems caused by the ‘always on’ culture of staff who are available 24/7 via their phones. As of January 1, employees of companies with over 50 members of staff now have the legal right to ignore emails sent out of office hours. This ‘right to disconnect’ is designed to quell the rise in unpaid overtime, as well as issues like burnout and sleeplessness that a permanent level of accessibility can cause.

It astonishes me that this practice has become so common and expected that it deserves a law to curtail it. Still, why should it apply only to companies with greater than fifty employees?

How China Built ‘iPhone City’

David Barboza, New York Times:

The state-of-the-art facility was built several years ago to serve a single global exporter: Apple, now the world’s most valuable company and one of China’s largest retailers.

The well-choreographed customs routine is part of a hidden bounty of perks, tax breaks and subsidies in China that supports the world’s biggest iPhone factory, according to confidential government records reviewed by The New York Times, as well as more than 100 interviews with factory workers, logistics handlers, truck drivers, tax specialists and current and former Apple executives. The package of sweeteners and incentives, worth billions of dollars, is central to the production of the iPhone, Apple’s best-selling and most profitable product.

It all centers on Zhengzhou, a city of six million people in an impoverished region of China. Running at full tilt, the factory here, owned and operated by Apple’s manufacturing partner Foxconn, can produce 500,000 iPhones a day. Locals now refer to Zhengzhou as “iPhone City.”

Barboza replied to a reader’s comment:

About labor costs, you are right about the huge differences. But what fascinates me about China is not just the difference between wages there and in the U.S., but the way the system works in China.

Let me tell you a brief story. When I arrived in China and started visiting factories, I was astounded by the factory system. In eastern and southern China, there were all these factory zones — mile after mile of huge, gated factory complexes with dormitories right next to the production sites. Workers were generally 16 to 24 years old, living in dorm rooms with eight to ten roommates. The ate at the factory canteen, worked 60 to 80 hours a week, and then, after two or three years or so, quit and moved back home with their savings.

It is illegal to work more than 20 hours of overtime a week at a Chinese factory, but very few companies paid any attention to this law. Even Apple’s suppliers had repeatedly violated this, because demand swings can be sharp and the companies would some time go into 24-hour production cycles. Apple has now forced its suppliers to comply with the law. But this type of things persists in many factories. The system was set up to dramatically reduce the cost of manufacturing. And wages, in 2004, when I arrived in China, were generally about 25 cents an hour.

I say all this to explain that this is one part of a system that drives costs down. The government offered cheap land, energy subsidies, overtime violations. There were poor environmental and workplace safety standards. So you shouldn’t just think about the cost of labor, but the entire package of what makes a region or a place competitive. And also other things about the culture. Things have improved dramatically in China over the past decade. The factories have gotten better, the laws are enforced more, and global brands are working harder to comply with the law. But it’s still a pretty dark area, if you visit enough factories.

This article is breathtaking — in terms of the scale of operations required by Apple’s operations — and troubling: while there’s little explanation of labour conditions, Barboza explores the various economic “sweeteners” and tax structures offered to companies like Apple. Cumulatively, it’s pretty clear that Apple cannot upend their manufacturing operations and bring them to the United States, despite political pressure.

I think there’s maybe a way to bring part of the production line to the United States, however, should whole-product imports from China be taxed at rates that would make it economically unviable to retaining the current manufacturing setup. If iPhones are brought to the U.S. in parts and are assembled largely robotically, I could see this being viable from a labour and cost perspective, if only for the American market. It would also allow Apple to circumvent new security restrictions:

Apple has agreed to the government’s request to store more of its local data on Chinese servers. It must also undergo “security audits” on new models of the iPhone before gaining approval to sell the product.

That can’t make Tim Cook very happy.

Barboza’s report contains photography from Gilles Sabrié, who also photographed “iPhone city” last year.

The ‘K iPhone’

Mike Wehner of BGR:

KryptAll says its modified iPhone utilizes modified components, a custom firmware, and the company’s own VoIP app to make end-to-end encrypted phone calls to anyone in the world. But while it can make calls to any number, it can only take incoming calls from other KryptAll devices, to ensure security. The company says that phone calls made of its encrypted network cannot be tapped or tracked, and that not oven KryptAll has any way of knowing the details of the calls.

[…]

That makes a lot of sense, because in order to afford one of these custom iPhones you’ll definitely need a pretty healthy paycheck. The devices, which the company sells on eBay for some reason, are several thousands of dollars each, and the current price of the iPhone 7 version is over $4,500.

So let me get this straight: for over five times the cost of an actual iPhone, you can purchase — from eBay, the natural habitat of hucksters — a modified and jailbroken iPhone with sketchy software made by a company you’ve never heard of. Given that the iPhone is recommended by security experts and that there are plenty of secure calling apps available for iOS, why would anyone buy one of these?

Moreover, does anyone find BGR’s unblinking rehash of KryptAll’s press release not just lazy but dangerous? A jailbroken iPhone introduces all sorts of security vulnerabilities, and it’s necessarily impossible to keep up with Apple’s iOS updates. Put another way, BGR has fallen for the marketing of a less secure and more expensive iPhone. Awful.

Prospects for the American Press

Jay Rosen:

For a free press as a check on power this is the darkest time in American history since World War I, when there was massive censorship and suppression of dissent. I say this because so many things are happening at once to disarm and disable serious journalism, or to push it out of the frame. Most of these are well known, but it helps to put them all together. Here is my list.

Any one of the things on Rosen’s list would be troubling; he lists seventeen factors and conditions of that nature. I would add an eighteenth: the likely demise of net neutrality policies, the result of which will threaten news organizations large and small.

Untraditional Media Companies

Samuel Gibbs, of the Guardian:

Facebook’s chief executive, Mark Zuckerberg, appears to have finally conceded that the social network is a media company, just not a “traditional media company”.

In a video chat with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, Zuckerberg said: “Facebook is a new kind of platform. It’s not a traditional technology company. It’s not a traditional media company. You know, we build technology and we feel responsible for how it’s used.”

Alex Kantrowitz, Buzzfeed:

At a time when social media companies shirk the “media company” label, Twitter, which has also balked at such descriptions in the past, seems to be embracing the role. Twitter is hiring editors and testing breaking news push notifications. It’s regularly announcing deals for new, premium live video content traditionally associated with “media” companies (last week, it was a Golden Globe pre-show). It’s making daily calls on what’s news and what’s not in its Moments tab and on Periscope. And after years of being classified as a “social networking” application in Apple’s App Store, it’s found a new home in the store’s “news” category.

Now that two of the most notable purveyors of fake news are identifying themselves as being in, you know, the news business, will they start taking on the responsibilities of other news organizations? I’m not solely referring to a commitment to accuracy, though that is obviously necessary, but also defending the public’s access to high-quality journalism.

World War Three, by Mistake

Eric Schlosser, writing in a rather pleasant and lighthearted piece for the New Yorker about America’s outdated and buggy nuclear control system:

Missiles launched from Russia would give the President about twenty minutes to make a decision, after consultation with the head of the U.S. Strategic Command. The President might have as few as five minutes, if missiles had been launched from Russian submarines in the western Atlantic. A decision to retaliate at once, to launch Minuteman missiles before they could be destroyed, runs the risk of killing millions of people by mistake. A decision to wait — to make sure that the attack is for real, to take no action until Russian warheads began to detonate in the United States — runs the risk losing the ability of the command-and-control system to order a retaliation. In that desperate situation, with the fate of the world in the balance, the temperament of the President would be less important than the quality of the information being offered by the system. Could you trust the sensors?

Happy New Year, everyone.

Innovation in Desktop Macs

Dan Moren, Macworld:

On its laptop line, the company continues to solve for weight, thinness, and battery life, and for good reason: those are what most consumers want in a laptop. But some of those design decisions have rubbed off on the desktop line, such as the impetus to make the iMac super thin, or to redesign the Mac Pro as an objet d’art.

As the Mac shifts more and more to a power machine, the truck to the iPad’s car, it may be time for Apple to take a step back and reconsider those design decisions. Does the iMac really have to be that thin to look good? Could some width be traded for performance? And while hiding away all the cables on the most recent Mac Pro made good aesthetic sense, accessing them by rotating the machine — when it’s already plugged in to a bunch of cables — isn’t necessarily a usability coup.

Since it is, ostensibly, far more consumer orientated, I don’t mind the iMac getting thinner or having a more adventurous enclosure.

But the Mac Pro is, first and foremost, a professional desktop computer. It should have maximum power, frequent updates, and great flexibility, in the quietest possible package. I think a lot of professional users would have been totally fine with a refreshed version of the previous Mac Pro — the one with the hardware design that goes back to the Power Mac G5 — if it meant a more frequent update cycle.

The “new” Mac Pro has its advantages, of course: it’s basically a powerful core to which a tonne of peripherals can be attached, which means it’s adaptable to nearly any industry. Yet, it has been sold in the exact same configurations at the same price points for three years now, and its externally-focused extensibility creates a lot more clutter. Either the hardware is preventing Apple from making regular updates, or it’s simply not their focus. Whatever the case, it’s not acceptable to professionals.

Apple’s innovation in desktops for 2017 could simply be to update the products they think are valuable, and kill the ones they don’t.

Goodbye Mint, Goodbye Fever

Shaun Inman:

As of today I’m officially suspending sales and support of Mint and Fever. But! As self-hosted software, absolutely nothing changes and you can continue using both Mint and Fever as you were yesterday.

Mint remains one of the lightest and most user-respecting analytics packages around. The default installation basically lets an administrator see how many people accessed their site over different time periods, and how they — in aggregate — got there. That’s about it, and that’s why I’ve continued to use Mint despite it clearly being at end-of-life status for the past two years.1 Thankfully, as Inman didn’t build Mint on a subscription-based software-as-a-service model, my copies of it will continue to work just fine.


  1. There wasn’t a single tweet from Inman about Mint between him announcing that it turned nine and him announcing that it had turned ten↩︎

Google Is Adjusting Results to Compensate for Holocaust Denialist Sites

Danny Sullivan, Search Engine Land:

Several days after Google put a search ranking change into place, the first page of results for “did the holocaust happen” now appears to be entirely free of denial sites.

The algorithm change happened earlier this week. As we covered, it caused the Stormfront denial site that was ranking tops for that search to slip to the second spot, bumped behind the authoritative US Holocaust Memorial Museum site. Now Stormfront is entirely gone while USHMM remains.

[…]

So buckle up. Google’s likely to be on a long ride of having one problematic search after another get raised. As I’ve said before, it definitely deserves criticism over this. As I’ve also said before, Cadwalladr deserves huge praise for bringing attention to these problems. But as I’ve also said before, it’s not something that I expect will get solved easily, nor is it just a “right-wing bias” problem or solely a Google problem.

There’s no way this is sustainable if Google’s engineers have to make case-by-case adjustments. Disreputable sites are pretty good at gaming search engines to raise their profile, especially since many of these publications like to reference each other. This can look to search engines as though these publications are reliable, since they’re so heavily cited — they’ve even been getting links from mainstream publications in articles fact-checking their erroneous claims.

For this to work, search engines will have to get better at distinguishing between reputable sources and crappy websites that fit the patterns of reputable sources. But, with websites in the latter category are already deliberately blurring the lines between themselves and actual journalism, I’m not sure that it will make a difference. Those who are driven more by narrative than facts will always find the narrative that defines their world view.

Redefining ‘Fake News’

Jeremy W. Peters, New York Times:

In defining ”fake news“ so broadly and seeking to dilute its meaning, they are capitalizing on the declining credibility of all purveyors of information, one product of the country’s increasing political polarization. And conservatives, seeing an opening to undermine the mainstream media, a longtime foe, are more than happy to dig the hole deeper.

“Over the years, we’ve effectively brainwashed the core of our audience to distrust anything that they disagree with. And now it’s gone too far,” said John Ziegler, a conservative radio host, who has been critical of what he sees as excessive partisanship by pundits. “Because the gatekeepers have lost all credibility in the minds of consumers, I don’t see how you reverse it.”

Conservative commentators aren’t the only ones trying to frame mainstream news reports under the guise of “fake news”; so-called “alternative” news sites, many of which are not explicitly conservative — Infowars, NaturalNews, Zero Hedge, and Global Research — have all run stories recently that redefine “fake news” as anything published by a mainstream source.1

These sites have all thrived from promoting a stance that anything appearing in mainstream publications is false, while anything written by “alternative” sources2 or uploaded to YouTube is totally legitimate. This must be undone, but any opposition to it will be seen as a reason to fortify their stance. “Alternative” and partisan media has successfully built an impenetrable fact-free fortress that grows stronger with each punch thrown against it. That scares me.


  1. I’m not linking to any of them because they thrive on ad views and sales of “herbal supplements”, but you can preview these stories with a quick web search↩︎

  2. They also like the word “independent”. Both of these terms mask the narrative-driven approach that defines these kinds of publications, and makes them different from independent and reputable media entities. ↩︎

Assorted Year-End Lists

The Atlantic has published National Geographic’s collection of the best nature photography of the year. It’s inspiring.

Poynter’s list is their annual roundup of the best media corrections, including this gem from the New York Times magazine:

An article on March 20 about wave piloting in the Marshall Islands misstated the number of possible paths that could be navigated without instruments among the 34 islands and atolls of the Marshall Islands. It is 561, not a trillion trillion.

Pure gold.

The Times also asked a bunch of public figures about what they read in 2016. For what it’s worth, my favourite reads of the year, in no particular order:

  • “Weapons of Math Destruction” by Cathy O’Neil. A bit of a corny title doesn’t undermine a critical look at what “big data” has wrought.

  • “One Day Soon Time Will Have No Place Left to Hide” by Christian Kiefer. Written as a film, a story about an installation artist wrestling with the complexities of balancing his life with his craft.

  • “The Jokes” by Stephen Thomas. If you like Lydia Davis’ punchy style of flash fiction, you’ll dig Thomas’ wry debut.

  • “We Gon’ Be Alright” by Jeff Chang. An immediate, urgent collection of essays touching on various aspects of the modern concept of race in America, including a particularly brilliant piece on Asian-Americanness.

  • “Seven Brief Lessons on Physics” by Carlo Rovelli. A very short set of explanations of the rules governing our universe that, while presented in plain English, never feels dumbed-down.

Meanwhile, every music review site has published their best-of-2016 lists: Pitchfork, Spin, NME, and the Quietus. You’ll probably find something you like from each of those; the latter has some especially strange stuff that no other reviewer would touch.

Countering Consumer Reports’ MacBook Pro Battery Tests

Following Consumer Reports’ wildly inconsistent battery life tests of the new MacBook Pro lineup, Phil Schiller tweeted:

Working with CR to understand their battery tests. Results do not match our extensive lab tests or field data.

It’s pretty strange, isn’t it? Their test seems basic enough:

For the battery test, we download a series of 10 web pages sequentially, starting with the battery fully charged, and ending when the laptop shuts down. The web pages are stored on a server in our lab, and transmitted over a WiFi network set up specifically for this purpose. We conduct our battery tests using the computer’s default browser — Safari, in the case of the MacBook Pro laptops.

If anything, I’d argue that their test is far too basic and doesn’t do a good job of simulating real-world activity; very few people are just browsing the web on any laptop. But to get such inconsistent results from something as straightforward as web browsing makes me think that there’s some edge case at play here.

Anyway, get ready to close all your apps and spin up your fans — more skepticism comes from Rene Ritchie of iMore:

Those results make very little sense and I’d take apart my chain, link by link, until I found out what was going on. I’d check and re-check my tests, I’d watch the systems like a hawk, and I’d do everything possible to find what was causing the variance. I’d even — gasp — try testing different machines and something other than web pages to see if that revealed more information.

Something truly doesn’t seem right with these tests. Matthew Panzarino’s sources say that they’re not seeing this kind of variance in real-world data, and having such a wide range of results is something you’d think would be caught during Apple’s testing, if it’s something that’s typical for these models.

That’s not to say that these benchmarks are wrong, necessarily. If Consumer Reports managed to get 4.5 hours in one version of their test and nearly 20 in another, something is clearly wrong. The question is whether it’s with the hardware, the software, or their testing methodology.

Update: Walt Mossberg also saw unpredictable battery life, though not to the extent that Consumer Reports did:

The biggest surprise in my tests was just how inconsistent the Touch Bar Pro’s battery life was. I have tested hundreds of laptops over the years and Macs have almost always excelled at meeting or beating their promised battery lives, both in my longtime battery test regime and in typical daily use. But the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar wasn’t as reliably consistent as previous Macs.

Mossberg’s reporting was the result of his impressions more than a controlled test.

Consumer Reports Finds Wildly Inconsistent Battery Life With New MacBook Pros

Jerry Beilinson, Consumer Reports:

For instance, in a series of three consecutive tests, the 13-inch model with the Touch Bar ran for 16 hours in the first trial, 12.75 hours in the second, and just 3.75 hours in the third. The 13-inch model without the Touch Bar worked for 19.5 hours in one trial but only 4.5 hours in the next. And the numbers for the 15-inch laptop ranged from 18.5 down to 8 hours.

Those were just a few of the results; we tested battery life on these laptops repeatedly.

This doesn’t look good.

Strangely, Beilinson writes that a handful of tests performed using Chrome instead of Safari yielded more consistent and longer battery life than tests using Safari. If you’re seeing bizarre battery performance with your new MacBook Pro, maybe give Chrome a shot. This seems counterintuitive to me, though — Chrome has always been a battery hog.

FCC Republicans Vow to Gut Net Neutrality Rules “As Soon as Possible”

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

FCC Republicans Ajit Pai and Michael O’Rielly sent a letter to five lobby groups representing wireless carriers and small ISPs; while the letter is mostly about plans to extend an exemption for small providers from certain disclosure requirements, the commissioners also said they will tackle the entire net neutrality order shortly after President-elect Donald Trump’s inauguration on January 20.

“[W]e will seek to revisit [the disclosure] requirements, and the Title II Net Neutrality proceeding more broadly, as soon as possible,” they wrote, referring to the order that imposed net neutrality rules and reclassified ISPs as common carriers under Title II of the Communications Act. Pai and O’Rielly noted that they “dissented from the Commission’s February 2015 Net Neutrality decision, including the Order’s imposition of unnecessary and unjustified burdens on providers.”

The “burdens” placed on providers included rules designed to expose hidden fees, average real-world network performance, and a ban on creating a tiered system of individual service availability or speed. These are reasonable rules, and the way Pai and O’Rielly frame it as “burdensome” on “small business” ISPs is farcical.

The day when this entirely partisan debate formalizes into law that more money means a greater freedom of speech is the day that will be remembered as a gigantic mistake.

In Latest Bid to Compete With Facebook, Twitter Unveils Grossly Inflated Video Ad Metrics

Alex Heath, Business Insider:

A bug in a recent version of Twitter’s Android app inflated video advertising metrics by as much as 35%, a person familiar with the matter told Business Insider.

[…]

“We recently discovered a technical error due to a Twitter product update to Android clients that affected some video ad campaigns from November 7 to December 12,” the spokesperson said. “Once we discovered the issue, we resolved it and communicated the impact to affected partners. Given this was a technical error, not a policy or definition issue, we are confident it has been resolved.”

As Nicholas Thompson says, “weird that all the recent bugs seem to inflate numbers.”

Apple Indefinitely Delays ATS Requirement

Apple Developer Relations:

App Transport Security (ATS), introduced in iOS 9 and OS X v10.11, improves user security and privacy by requiring apps to use secure network connections over HTTPS. At WWDC 2016 we announced that apps submitted to the App Store will be required to support ATS at the end of the year. To give you additional time to prepare, this deadline has been extended and we will provide another update when a new deadline is confirmed.

No concrete reason has been provided for the delay, but I hope a hard deadline comes soon and that Apple sticks to it. It’s easy to confirm that a connection is private on the web; it isn’t within an app.

AirPods Latency

Justine Ezarik:

…..there’s a pretty big delay in audio using AirPods on my MacBook […] can’t edit!!

It’s not just MacBooks. Stephen Coyle:

I just received my AirPods yesterday, and I love them. As advertised, they paired easily, switch between devices seamlessly and sound great. So, the natural thing to do was test their latency and compare it to the previous results. For the sake of consistency, I also re-ran the test with a wired connection and the Brainwavz earphones I compared originally. The latter two gave almost identical results to the first test, so I’m happy that there’s a pretty good degree of consistency between the tests. For reference, the latency I’m measuring is the difference in time between tapping on the glass, and when a sound is actually produced.

Disappointingly, and contrary to what I expected, AirPods have the worst latency of everything I’ve tested so far.

This doesn’t matter too much when listening to music or podcasts, but for something like a game, as Coyle demonstrates, it can mean the difference between playable and not. While iOS seems to compensate for wireless latency when playing back media — including video — it clearly isn’t doing so for all audio output. Perhaps this is something that ought to be baked deep into both iOS and MacOS as a way to keep Bluetooth devices in sync for all apps.

CRTC Declares Broadband Internet Access a Basic Service

Matthew Kupfer, CBC News:

Until now, local landline telephone service was the only service deemed “basic” or essential by the CRTC, although Blais has previously called internet service “vital” and essential to life and success.

With today’s ruling, the CRTC has set new targets for internet service providers to offer customers in all parts of the country download speeds of at least 50 megabits per second (Mbps) and upload speeds of at least 10 Mbps, and to also offer the option of unlimited data.

This is an important step for ensuring the protection of internet access for all Canadians, and for treating it more like a utility than a privately-controlled service. But, without direct involvement in pricing, I worry that this will push prices up overall. Canadians already pay some of the highest bills for internet service anywhere in the world and we have little choice for providers. My internet bill goes up like clockwork as it is, and I wouldn’t be surprised if my ISP chooses to use this decision as an excuse to pad their quarterly report.

AirPods Post-Launch Round-Up

Now that Apple’s AirPods have been shipping for about a week, some initial impressions and reviews have started to roll in.

iFixIt, naturally, tore into their pair and discovered a world of glue and tightly-packed components, to nobody’s surprise. But they did discover something in the case, as Mitchel Broussard explains on MacRumors:

iFixit took a few x-ray shots of the charging case’s internals, and found “quality issues” within the chip’s solder joints. A few empty spaces can be seen, referred to as “voiding,” which iFixit said “could be evidence of low quality standards, or a rushed product release.” This suggests that the source of the AirPods’ delay was with the charging case and not with the AirPods.

I’m not sure how well this squares with what John Gruber’s little birdies told him, but — with admittedly little information that is publicly known — it seems to make sense.

Meanwhile, I’ve seen nothing but rave reviews from those who bought a pair.

Federico Viticci:

No issue with double-tapping AirPods whatsoever. [They] fit better than EarPods and whole thing is so elegant and clever. A+ for now.

Steven Aquino:

Fast-forward to the present, and I’ve been using a set since last Friday. My overall take after a few days with them is short: It’s a great product. They’re yet another example of quintessential Apple—the weaving of hardware and software that works so well you’d swear it’s due more to wizard-like magic than it is to bonafide engineering prowess. Along with Apple Pencil, AirPods is the best, most Apple-y product the company has released in a long time. Both may be accessories, but they’re nonetheless important. They’re every bit as technologically advanced and forward-thinking as an iPhone 7 or iPad Pro.

Joanna Stern:

Every time someone stares at my Airpods on the train I just want to say: “Yes, they’re real and they’re spectacular.”

Dom Esposito:

If I’m being honest, AirPods are my favorite Apple product of 2016.

I’ve seen some complaints with audio quality and the lack of buttons, but I’ve also seen Esposito’s point echoed elsewhere: the AirPods are a classic Apple product. I wish they fit my ears, because they sound like a jewel. Hopefully, for those of us with incompatible ears, Apple will create an AirPods-like version of their premium in-ear headphones with silicone tips.

Uber’s Losses May Hit $3 Billion by Year’s End

Eric Newcomer, Bloomberg:

Even as Uber Technologies Inc. exited China, the company’s financial loss has remained eye-popping. In the first nine months of this year, the ride-hailing company lost significantly more than $2.2 billion, according to a person familiar with the matter. In the third quarter, Uber lost more than $800 million, not including its Chinese operation.

[…]

Uber, a closely held company based in San Francisco, has stayed mum about its financial performance even as its valuation has soared to $69 billion, making it more valuable on paper than General Motors Co. and Twitter Inc. combined.

For what it’s worth, Pixel Envy has a more modest revenue stream and valuation, but it’s on track to earn approximately $3 billion more than Uber this year.

Twenty Years Ago, Apple Acquired NeXT

Stephen Hackett:

I’d argue that this is probably the single most important tech acquisition of all time. What came out of this deal not only saved Apple and the Mac, but made the iPhone, iPad and more possible as well.

I can’t think of an acquisition that has produced greater real-dollar returns than this, nor — more importantly — as much of a groundbreaking product portfolio.

The Mac

Of the frustrations I’ve had with Apple’s products and services this year, perhaps the most galling is the state of the Mac. From a software standpoint, many of the consumer-facing changes in MacOS Sierra are so modest as to be perfunctory. Sierra’s most obvious new feature, Siri, is ported from iOS, albeit with a few Mac-specific tweaks.

The hardware side tells a similar story. Of the six Mac lines that Apple sells, just one — the MacBook Pro — saw a major revision this year. The MacBook received a minor spec bump update. The other four Macs Apple makes were untouched in 2016, including all three desktop models.

What’s more, the updates to the MacBook Pro have proved to be — as with any major change in product direction — controversial, with reviewers questioning its performance, lack of upgradability, battery life, and price.1

I would not blame you for being a tiny bit worried about that.

Apple employees are clearly concerned as well, with one asking yesterday about the state of the desktop Mac, in particular, on the company’s internal messaging system. Tim Cook replied:

The desktop is very strategic for us. It’s unique compared to the notebook because you can pack a lot more performance in a desktop — the largest screens, the most memory and storage, a greater variety of I/O, and fastest performance. So there are many different reasons why desktops are really important, and in some cases critical, to people.

The current generation iMac is the best desktop we have ever made and its beautiful Retina 5K display is the best desktop display in the world.

Some folks in the media have raised the question about whether we’re committed to desktops. If there’s any doubt about that with our teams, let me be very clear: we have great desktops in our roadmap. Nobody should worry about that.

Cook’s answer here is cagey, as is usual for Apple executives, with Marco Arment pointing to the singling-out of the iMac as evidence for the Mac Pro’s departure. I think Stephen Hackett’s impression is more correct: as the Mac Mini and Mac Pro haven’t been updated since 2014 and 2013, respectively, calling them the best of anything would be dishonest.

Then, today, a big report from Mark Gurman of Bloomberg:

Interviews with people familiar with Apple’s inner workings reveal that the Mac is getting far less attention than it once did. They say the Mac team has lost clout with the famed industrial design group led by Jony Ive and the company’s software team. They also describe a lack of clear direction from senior management, departures of key people working on Mac hardware and technical challenges that have delayed the roll-out of new computers.

As usual for one of Gurman’s pieces, it’s packed with scoops and intriguing asides. But even if you read it with a heavy dose of skepticism, the impression it gives is dire. In short, the Mac is, reportedly, not seen as an important product at Apple today. If you doubt that, just look at the state of the Mac for the past year.

Frankly, I don’t care if the Mac doesn’t interest the industrial design team any more. While I’d love to see a smaller Mac Mini, a radical new Mac Pro design, or an even thinner MacBook, what I — and, I’m sure, so many others — would prefer are regular internal upgrades for improved performance and longer battery life.

This is never as simple as it sounds. Apple is dependent on third-party suppliers for new components, and those components may require different thermal envelopes, a different chip configuration, or new drivers. Updating these products isn’t as simple as we want to believe. And, yet, the company has previously managed to update their Mac lineup on an annual basis without changing the enclosure. Why can’t they do so now?

I have quibbles with Gurman’s article. For example:

Apple prioritizes features, like thinness and minimal ports, that sell its iPhones and iPads, which generated about 75 percent of revenue this year. Those are contrary to professional needs, like maximum computing power.

I don’t necessarily agree that prioritizing thinness and lightness is inherently contradictory to performance — or, at least, not in a way that cannot be solved. Earlier in the piece, Gurman says that Apple was working on a “stepped” battery for the MacBook Pro, similar to the one fitted to the MacBook, that would improve its capacity while keeping the product light. Apple has also excelled at designing high-performance processors for the iPhone and iPad that minimize power consumption.

Nitpicks aside, Gurman’s closing paragraph does little to assuage concerns:

Mac fans shouldn’t hold their breath for radical new designs in 2017 though. Instead, the company is preparing modest updates: USB-C ports and a new Advanced Micro Devices Inc. graphics processor for the iMac, and minor bumps in processing power for the 12-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro. Cue the outrage.

Gurman says little about the Mac Pro in the article, aside from noting how difficult it was to build in the United States, and says nothing about the Mac Mini. That doesn’t necessarily mean that updates to those products aren’t coming, of course, but there’s clearly a lack of enthusiasm for them.

Something that’s increasingly clear is that not all of today’s Macs may be important to Apple’s strategy. The MacBook Air only exists today to serve its price point; once the MacBook can be the same price as the Air, you can bet that it will be. Perhaps the Mac lineup goes back to the “grid of four” from the late-’90s, with the MacBook and MacBook Pro filling the consumer and professional portable roles, respectively, and the iMac and a revised Mac Pro doing the same on the desktop.

All I really want, though, is some confidence again in the Mac as a product line and a platform.


  1. Michael Tsai’s roundups continue to be my favourite way to see the zeitgeist of responses to major tech news items. ↩︎

750,000 L.A. County Residents’ Personal Information Compromised by Phishing Attack

Ryan Carter, Los Angeles Daily News:

The attack occurred May 13, 2016, when 108 county employees were deceived by an email they believed to be legitimate into providing their usernames and passwords, according to officials.

Some of those employees, according to officials at the county, had “confidential client/patient information” in their email accounts through their county responsibilities.

[…]

That information may have included first and last names, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, driver’s license or state identification numbers, payment card information, bank account information, home addresses, phone numbers, and/or medical information, such as Medi-Cal or insurance carrier identification numbers, diagnosis, treatment history or medical record numbers.

It’s worth noting that a small typo — “legitimate” instead of “illegitimate” — and a similar phishing email likely changed the course and result of the 2016 election. Both of these attacks could have been prevented by using two-factor authentication and being more aware of what a phishing email looks like.

Sadly, as electronic communications and data storage are increasingly consolidated around a handful of popular providers — Google, Apple, Oracle, Salesforce, and a handful of others — it is easy enough for enterprising hackers to slap together a fake login page and send it to thousands of users. If only a fraction of them take the bait, that may still represent hundreds of thousands, or even millions, of records.

And another thing: why did it take officials seven months to notify those affected? Given the kind of data at stake here, that’s egregiously irresponsible.

Nine Inch Nails Announce New EP, Vinyl Reissues

Samantha Maine, NME:

Nine Inch Nails have announced a new EP ‘Not the Actual Events’, set to be self-released on December 23.

[…]

The band are also releasing a limited edition 4xLP vinyl version of the 1999 NIN album ‘The Fragile’, containing 37 bonus tracks. “The Fragile occupies a very interesting and intimate place in my heart,” Reznor said in a press release.

I wouldn’t say this news is “saving” 2016, but it’s pretty close to being The Thing that averts an entirely tragic year. I’ve ordered both the four-LP set and the “digital + physical component” copy of the EP, the latter of which features this curious note:

The intention of this record is for it to exist in the physical world, just like you. Choosing this package gets you the digital files and we will ship the proper physical component to your house for you to deal with, while very limited supplies last.

I don’t know what I will be “dealing” with when whatever “it” is arrives in the mail, but I’m intrigued.

Funny enough, Reznor — an Apple employee, via their acquisition of Beats Music — announced this news on Instagram and Twitter, but there’s still no word of it on Apple Music Connect.

Google and Apple Say They Would Not Help Build a Muslim Registry

Nitasha Tiku, Buzzfeed:

In response to questions from BuzzFeed News, Google, Apple, and Uber clarified their position on President-elect Donald Trump’s proposed Muslim registry. “In relation to the hypothetical of whether we would ever help build a ‘muslim registry’ – we haven’t been asked, of course we wouldn’t do this and we are glad – from all that we’ve read – that the proposal doesn’t seem to be on the table,” a spokesperson for Google told BuzzFeed News in an email.

BuzzFeed News asked whether they would help build or provide data for a Muslim registry. An Apple spokesperson said: “We think people should be treated the same no matter how they worship, what they look like, who they love. We haven’t been asked and we would oppose such an effort.”

While it’s admirable that both of these companies would object to helping create such a registry — one of Donald Trump’s campaign promises — the bulk collection of user data is, in effect, creating that registry for them. Between the two, only Apple has demonstrated that they oppose the collection and utilization of user data. I think it’s great that tech companies are taking a stance on this issue, but they ought to act on it as well by reducing user data collection and enabling strong encryption on any data they possess.

Evernote Decides Not to Let Employees Read Users’ Notes

Greg Chiemingo of Evernote responds to an outrageous privacy policy update that would allow their employees to peruse users’ notes unless they opted out (emphasis his):

After receiving a lot of customer feedback expressing concerns about our upcoming Privacy Policy changes over the past few days, Evernote is reaffirming its commitment to keep privacy at the center of what we do. As a result, we will not implement the previously announced Privacy Policy changes that were scheduled to go into effect January 23, 2017.

Instead, in the coming months we will be revising our existing Privacy Policy to address our customers’ concerns, reinforce that their data remains private by default, and confirm the trust they have placed in Evernote is well founded. In addition, we will make machine learning technologies available to our users, but no employees will be reading note content as part of this process unless users opt in. We will invite Evernote customers to help us build a better product by joining the program.

I don’t know why Evernote thought they’d get away with the proposed change. Perhaps they think none of their users would bother to read the privacy policy.

Still, if you haven’t switched away from Evernote, now isn’t a bad time to do so. Depending on what features you use, consider Bear — Apple’s pick for App of the Year — or the always-reliable Notational Velocity. I primarily use the latter, with nvAlt on the Mac and nvNotes on my iPhone. Unfortunately, I’ve synced them via Dropbox; I’d like to switch to a more encrypted sync system — iCloud, for instance — but it doesn’t appear to be supported yet in nvNotes.

‘It’s Almost Like Recode Was in the Air Duct at Trump Tower’

Kara Swisher, Recode:

Thank goodness, you have Recode to tell you who said what in the room immediately after Trump did a decidedly odd little handshake with investor Peter Thiel (who rounded up the Silicon Valley potentates for Trump), talked about a stock market “bounce,” and noted how smart those gathered were. (It was def a collection of smarties, all wearing their fancy clothes!)

But after the press left and the doors were closed, the visitors from the digital world actually did try to bring up a number of substantive major issues with Trump and those gathered there. Trump’s three eldest kids were present, which most sources close to the execs (no, I am not saying which ones) thought was inappropriate on a number of levels.

Nearly all of the questions asked by those who attended seem fairly expected. I don’t think there’s much here — aside from Larry Page’s apparent questioning of delivering AC vs. DC over power lines — that surprised me. Still, it’s worth a read.

I think the part that is most astonishing, to me, of all of these meetings is how much of it is being done behind closed doors and away from the press. The president-elect hasn’t held a press conference since July. His meetings with high-powered executives in off-the-record exchanges where he’s promised that “anything we can do to help […] you’ll call my people, you’ll call me” are in the public interest.

One of the most interesting exchanges was with Alphabet executive chairman Eric Schmidt, who briefly noted that he pondered what he would do if he were president […]

Please, no.

FCC Chair Tom Wheeler to Step Down January 20

Margaret Harding Mcgill and Alex Byers, Politico:

Democratic FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler said Thursday he will leave the agency Jan. 20, ending months of will-he or won’t-he speculation about his plans.

[…]

With Wheeler departing next month, chief among the GOP targets are Wheeler’s net neutrality rules, passed last year, which require internet service providers to treat all web traffic equally. The rules reclassify broadband akin to a utility making it subject to stricter oversight. Republicans called the regulations burdensome on companies, and the telecom industry has sued — so far unsuccessfully — to overturn them.

The partisan response to an issue as essential as net neutrality is baffling to me. It will have dire long-term consequences, with telecom companies exerting far greater influence over what passes through their infrastructure, and consumers receiving the brunt of the effect in terms of cost and experience.

Quitting the News

David Cain (via Jason Kottke):

The news isn’t interested in creating an accurate sample. They select for what’s 1) unusual, 2) awful, and 3) probably going to be popular. So the idea that you can get a meaningful sense of the “state of the world” by watching the news is absurd.

[…]

There is an extraordinary gulf between having a functional understanding of an issue, and the cursory glance you get from the news. If you ever come across a water-cooler conversation on a topic you happen to know a lot about, you see right through the emperor’s clothes. It’s kind of hilarious how willing people are to speak boldly on issues they’ve known about for all of three hours.

It feels good to make cutting remarks and take hard stands, even when we’re wrong, and the news gives us perfect fodder for that. The less you know about an issue, the easier it is to make bold proclamations about it, because at newscast-distance it still looks black and white enough that you can feel certain about what needs to happen next.

This isn’t a condemnation of journalism; it’s a succinct explanation of why watching most television news is ultimately meaningless. That’s not to say that all of it is, or that newspapers are inherently better, or that we should always only be reading multithousand-word investigations. But it isn’t helpful — for your knowledge and your mental health — to be watching the news obsessively.

Facebook Is Going to Try Tackling Fake News With Fact-Checkers

Mark Bergen, Bloomberg:

Two of the incoming changes are very visible. Facebook users will be able to flag content on the site as a “fake news story.” Articles deemed false by Facebook’s partner, Poynter Institute’s International Fact Checking Network, will have a new tag attached: “Disputed by 3rd Party Fact-Checkers.” Publishers behind these articles will no longer be able to promote these articles as Facebook paid ads. The social network also will be working with fact-checking organizations Politfact, Snopes and FactCheck.org, as well as ABC News and the Associated Press to identify articles as fake.

These are reputable, non-partisan news organizations that, while not perfect 100% of the time, have good track track records for sorting out the fact from the bullshit.

Unfortunately, I doubt Facebook’s initiative will have a significant effect on the spread of fake news — “fake” news, of course, being stories and posts that range from oversimplified rumours and satire, to made-up, fact-free articles, conspiracy theories, and websites that look legitimate but aren’t.

While Fox News is reporting Facebook’s decision through a neutral lens, major right-wing blogs are already decrying this as a liberally-biased move. This is predictable — both Breitbart and the Daily Caller tend to dabble in fake news themselves. Meanwhile, perennial libertarian garbage peddler Natural News posted an “urgent action alert” across their site, and are calling Facebook’s decision “Orwellian”.

I agree with Will Alden:

Prediction: “disputed” will be similar to “deplorables.” People will embrace it and flaunt it.

For those who already believe in these stories, “disputed” is a badge of honour. It says to them that the “mainstream” is, for whatever reason, trying to suppress the article. I hope this isn’t the case, but I fear that this will backfire.

Trump’s Tech Summit

David Streitfeld, New York Times:

One by one, the leaders of the world’s most elite and successful technology companies trooped up to the 25th floor to meet President-elect Donald J. Trump, who had criticized them and who they, in turn, had criticized. The executives did not acknowledge or speak to the press on the way in.

[…]

The technology world had been in turmoil as the meeting drew near. Some argued the chief executives should boycott the event to show their disdain for Mr. Trump’s values. Others maintained they should go and forthrightly make their values clear. And still others thought they should attend and make their accommodations with the new reality.

According to a source for Emily Chang of Bloomberg, the topics of this meeting were infrastructure, education, and cash repatriation policy. Also attending the largely white, largely male meeting were Ivanka, Eric, and Donald Trump Jr., because untangling Trump’s conflicts of interest is so hard that it’s easier to define his entire presidency through nepotism and profiteering.

I’m trying to remain optimistic that the executives in attendance today made known their disagreements and objections to many of Trump’s campaign promises. Despite their faces, I’m worried that they didn’t, and are accepting what is unfolding as though it were normal. It isn’t.

Over One Billion Yahoo Accounts Compromised

In a post on Tumblr that is not a repeat from 2012 or 2014, yet feels entirely familiar, Yahoo is admitting to an enormous security breach — this time, from 2013.

Bob Lord of Yahoo:

As we previously disclosed in November, law enforcement provided us with data files that a third party claimed was Yahoo user data. We analyzed this data with the assistance of outside forensic experts and found that it appears to be Yahoo user data. Based on further analysis of this data by the forensic experts, we believe an unauthorized third party, in August 2013, stole data associated with more than one billion user accounts. We have not been able to identify the intrusion associated with this theft. We believe this incident is likely distinct from the incident we disclosed on September 22, 2016.

For potentially affected accounts, the stolen user account information may have included names, email addresses, telephone numbers, dates of birth, hashed passwords (using MD5) and, in some cases, encrypted or unencrypted security questions and answers. The investigation indicates that the stolen information did not include passwords in clear text, payment card data, or bank account information. Payment card data and bank account information are not stored in the system the company believes was affected.

In September 2013, Yahoo said that they had 800 million monthly active users, which means that a breach of over a billion accounts likely comprises the vast majority — if not the entirety — of Yahoo’s user base.

I wonder how the transition to Verizon ownership is going.

Tech Companies and a Muslim Registry

Two weeks ago, Sam Biddle of the Intercept asked large tech companies whether they would help build the hypothetical Muslim registry proposed by Donald Trump while campaigning. Just two responded to Biddle, and only Twitter specifically said “no”; Microsoft refused to “talk about hypotheticals at this point”. One would think that IBM would have a clear and immediate “no” response as well, given their history, but they didn’t.

Of course, when this article was reposted elsewhere, it was dutifully given much clickbait-ier headlines. My favourite topped off David Z. Morris’ article in Fortune:

Facebook, Google, Microsoft, IBM, and Apple Don’t Rule Out Helping Track Muslims

Typical Fortune bullshit, right? Not responding to an inquiry is not the same as maybe being okay with tracking Muslims. That said, I wish all of these companies were more assertive with their replies.

Anyway, Buzzfeed decided to keep going after this story in light of tomorrow’s big tech summit at Trump Tower, to which Facebook has been invited. A PR rep for the company replied to Nitasha Tiku’s emailed questions — accidentally:

Happy to talk to her off record about why this is attacking a straw man. Also I heard back from her that she may or may not write an additional piece depending on what response she gets from companies. So sounds like not making any stmt on record is the way to go.

This was pretty clearly intended to be included in a forward to another member of their PR team, not as a reply to Tiku. Embarrassing, especially considering the flippant tone of the email. No word on why Facebook considers a Muslim registry to be a “straw man”.

Other companies that will be sending representatives to meet with Trump tomorrow include Apple, Alphabet, Microsoft, IBM, Intel, and others. Curiously, the CEO of Trump’s favourite social network — Twitter — hasn’t been invited. I doubt it’s related to their disinclination to assist with building a Muslim registry. Besides, even if Twitter itself opts out, there are plenty of companies with access to their so-called “firehose”.

Regardless of any tech company’s response to the Intercept’s questions, to what Trump might ask tomorrow, or what individual workers may pledge, many employees are going to wake up tomorrow and go to work to build software that could facilitate a Muslim registry. That’s not what the software is for, nor is it the intent of these employees, but it’s what they will do.

Allen Tan:

It’s nice that tech ppl are pledging to never explicitly build a Muslim registry but…you’ve already made things that will be bent to serve

“I will never make a racial profiling database!”

*continues working on social networks, analytics, ad tech*

The most effective way to combat the utilization of data in unsavoury, unethical, and immoral ways is to not collect data in the first place.

Update: Twitter reportedly wasn’t invited not because they pledged to not cooperate with a Muslim registry, but for a reason much, much pettier. Nancy Scola, Politico:

Twitter was told it was “bounced” from Wednesday’s meeting between tech executives and President-elect Donald Trump in retribution for refusing during the campaign to allow an emoji version of the hashtag #CrookedHillary, according to a source close to the situation.

Unreal, and I’m using that word literally. I cannot believe this is reality. Alex Kantrowitz of Buzzfeed disputes Scola’s report.

The Hampered Web

I don’t get why publishers are so eager to get on board with Google’s AMP project. Its biggest promise is that it provides a reliably fast, clutter-free experience for mobile users, but that’s full of crap. It’s a custom fork of HTML that provides all of the limitations of a proprietary platform with very few upsides. AMP is ruining URLs — the most fundamental foundation of the web — and, now, it seems like the supposed speed improvements from Google’s cache aren’t all they seem to be. Danny Sullivan of Search Engine Land:

One of the biggest disadvantages for publishers in using AMP — the accelerated mobile pages format — is that Google will not show a publisher’s actual URL when displaying AMP pages. Google says this is so AMP pages load quickly. However, using a publisher’s URL might hardly slow a page down. In fact, using Google’s URL might actually cause AMP pages to load more slowly.

When using Google’s mobile page speed tool, Google’s cached AMP pages were rated as significantly better than non-cached AMP pages. When using other page speed checkers, Google’s cache loaded far slower than the non-cached versions.

I ask again: what do publishers see in AMP? Is it just because Google is prioritizing it in their search rankings? Why are publishers so eager to hand control of their web presence to a company that clearly doesn’t have their best interests at heart?

Apple Releases More OS Updates

Hot on the heels of yesterday’s iOS and tvOS updates come updates for Apple’s other operating systems, WatchOS and MacOS.1

The WatchOS update contains a bevy of bug fixes and performance improvements, as usual, but some users are reporting that it’s bricking their Apple Watches and it has — for now at least — been pulled.

It’s particularly troublesome for a Watch update because, unlike any other Apple product, the Watch isn’t serviced in-store. If Apple’s standard troubleshooting instructions don’t work, each one must be shipped off for assessment and repair with an estimated two-week turnaround.2

The MacOS update includes some great new wallpapers and a new set of emoji, but it also removes the battery life estimator from the menu bar.

Jim Dalrymple:

However, to help users better determine the battery life, Apple has removed the “time remaining” indicator from the battery icon in the menu bar with the latest update. You can still see the image on the top of the screen, and you can see the percentage, but you will no longer be able to see how much time is remaining before your battery dies.

The reason for removing it is very simple: it wasn’t accurate.

Removing a primary indicator of battery life and saying that it’s a means to “help users better determine the battery life” is, frankly, hilarious.

Michael Tsai:

I tend to think that an inaccurate (but constantly updating) estimate is better than none. Otherwise, people will have to make their own estimates, which takes attention and is likely to be even less accurate. I never liked how the estimate claimed to be accurate down to the minute. I would like to see an estimate with fewer significant digits, both to hide the erratic changes and to avoid over-representing the accuracy.

Agreed. I’ve never been one of those people who enables the percentage battery meter, but having an indicator of how much time I have left on my Mac is very helpful. I’d be much happier if the estimator rounded to the nearest quarter-hour, downwards, and indicated that it was an approximation.

Update: Marco Arment:

Having used Apple laptops for over a decade, I’ve always found the time-remaining estimate to also be a good indicator of how much power I’m burning with my current activities so I can “budget” my battery usage when I’m going to need it.

At the start of a long flight, for instance, I can check the time estimate, and if it only says I have 2 hours left at 90%, I know something’s burning a ton of power and I can go do something about that. A percentage only tells you the current state, not the rate of change — it would take much longer to notice an unexpected power drain from the percentage alone.

Apple tried this once already, in Mountain Lion, but reinstated the “time remaining” display because it’s the single most useful metric to users running on battery power. It should be brought back.


  1. For those wondering, the capitalization of these is, in my head, dictated by whether the prefix is pronounced as individual letters, or as a word. ↩︎

  2. My nine-year run of never damaging a mobile Apple product came to an end recently when I dropped my first-generation Watch on the tiled floor in my kitchen, shattering its screen. The cost to repair it was nearly the same as buying a Series 1 model and I wouldn’t have to wait, so that’s what I got. A shame, really. ↩︎

AirPods Are Now Available

Apple PR:

[AirPods are] available today from Apple.com and will start delivering to customers and arriving at Apple Stores, Apple Authorized Resellers and select carriers next week.

AirPods will be shipping in limited quantities at launch and customers are encouraged to check online for updates on availability and estimated delivery dates. Stores will receive regular AirPod shipments.

“Limited quantities” shouldn’t be underestimated: I just tried adding a set to my cart and its estimated delivery date has slipped to January 5.

That’s okay for me, though. All early reports suggest that they fit nearly identically to Apple’s EarPods, which I can’t wear. The in-ear model that’s more likely to work for the shape of my ears is the new BeatsX. Unfortunately, its availability has been adjusted to February.

This launch has been a case study in why it’s often a risky bet to announce a product well in advance of its estimated shipping date. This time, Apple bet wrong.

Lawsuit: Uber Retains Location Data, Staff Have Spied on Public Figures

Will Evans, in a blockbuster story for Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting:

For anyone who’s snagged a ride with Uber, Ward Spangenberg has a warning: Your personal information is not safe.

Internal Uber employees helped ex-boyfriends stalk their ex-girlfriends and searched for the trip information of celebrities such as Beyoncé, the company’s former forensic investigator said.

“Uber’s lack of security regarding its customer data was resulting in Uber employees being able to track high profile politicians, celebrities, and even personal acquaintances of Uber employees, including ex-boyfriends/girlfriends, and ex-spouses,” Spangenberg wrote in a court declaration, signed in October under penalty of perjury.

In separate news, Uber recently updated their privacy policy to allow tracking users’ location data for up to five minutes after exiting the vehicle.

Apple Releases OS Updates, New TV App

Ryan Christoffel reviewed the TV app for MacStories, and it sounds really terrific:

In its October keynote that announced the TV app, Apple highlighted one new Siri feature for iOS. In a demo, Apple’s presenter used Siri to play a video on an iPad, saying, “Play Brooklyn Nine-Nine.” Siri knew exactly which episode was located in TV’s Up Next queue and played it immediately. When you know exactly what you want to watch, Siri can be very useful in bypassing the TV app interface altogether.

A Siri feature the company didn’t demo in October was the digital assistant’s ability to perform complex video searches on iOS. Now any type of search you could make with Siri on the Apple TV can also be done on the iPhone and iPad. So you can say things like, “Show me some great comedies,” or, “Let’s see some Jennifer Lawrence films,” and Siri will get the job done. And just like on the Apple TV, Siri on iOS can also handle follow-up commands to refine searches, such as, “Only the best ones,” “Only the new ones,” or, “Only the ones from the last two years.”

The TV app is debuting only in the U.S.,1 but Siri’s complex video knowledge is available on the Apple TV in plenty more countries. I find it a little odd that this information couldn’t be provided more widely through an update on Apple’s end.

Apple has made the interesting decision to remap the Home button on the Apple TV’s Siri Remote. In previous versions of tvOS, the button with the picture of a television would take you back to the Home screen. That has changed. Now the same button instead takes you directly to Watch Now in the TV app.

The way Christoffel has described the home screen and remote interactions half-answers my questions from when the app was announced: due to its default mapping on the remote, TV effectively becomes the new home screen. Because of that, though, it might be confusing to anyone who watches Netflix, as they’re not yet participating in the TV app.

The TV app and single sign-on capabilities are included with today’s iOS 10.2 update, which also contains a host of additional changes to emoji, new wallpaper for iPhone 7 users — still no new Dynamic wallpapers or Live Photos, though — and lots of bug fixes.


  1. Countries where the TV app isn’t available will continue to see the lowly Videos app on iOS. ↩︎

When Trump Tweets

Jenna Johnson, Washington Post:

About a year ago, 18-year-old college student Lauren Batchelder stood up at a political forum in New Hampshire and told Donald Trump that she didn’t think he was “a friend to women.”

The next morning, Trump fired back on Twitter — calling Batchelder an “arrogant young woman” and accusing her of being a “plant” from a rival campaign. Her phone began ringing with callers leaving threatening messages that were often sexual in nature. Her Facebook and email inboxes filled with similar messages. As her addresses circulated on social media and her photo flashed on the news, she fled home to hide.

Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed:

It’s tricky and unprecedented territory for Twitter. Trump is obviously free to mention individuals by name on Twitter, especially as they relate to policy and governing. However, Trump’s new role as the most powerful leader in the free world as well as, his extreme visibility, and the history of his followers targeting and harassing his enemies create potential fallout that stands to affect real people, regardless of the intent with which they are made. Simply put: as President, the potential consequences of Trump’s speech make his case — and Twitter’s potential enforcement — somewhat unique.

I don’t think this is just unprecedented for Twitter; this is unprecedented for a civilized democracy. In no comparable country does someone operating at the national governance level publicly denounce private citizens or individual companies.

Philip Bump, Washington Post:

Shares of stock in aircraft manufacturer Boeing fell nearly $2 a share before markets opened on Tuesday.

The reason? A tweet from the president-elect.

In an extraordinary display of capitulation, lobbying, and — arguably — a flirtation with outright bribery, Boeing has now pledged $1 million to support Trump’s inaugural events.

Facebook Begins a Series of Press Releases Admitting to Inaccurate Metrics

Facebook:

We know how important it is to be open about meaningful updates we make to our metrics, so we’ve created this channel for regular information on metrics enhancements. This series will be similar to our News Feed FYI series.

Translation: We have been reporting inaccurate metrics to advertisers for years and now we’re correcting them. Join us as we put a positive spin on this utterly discrediting news.

AirPods Reportedly Delayed Due to Audio Synchronization Issues

Tripp Mickle, writing for the Wall Street Journal (MacRumors has a copy of the salient paragraphs):

In the case of AirPods, the cause remains unclear. The earbuds contain a new chip that Apple developed. But the same chip is included in two models of headphones, which are available for sale, from Apple’s Beats unit.

A person familiar with the development of the AirPod said the trouble appears to stem from Apple’s effort to chart a new path for wireless headphones. In most other wireless headphones, only one earpiece receives a signal from the phone via wireless Bluetooth technology; it then transmits the signal to the other earpiece.

Apple has said AirPod earpieces each receive independent signals from an iPhone, Mac or other Apple device. But Apple must ensure that both earpieces receive audio at the same time to avoid distortion, the person familiar with their development said. That person said Apple also must resolve what happens when a user loses one of the earpieces or the battery dies.

This is a bizarre delay, but it’s not the only one for an announced piece of hardware this year: LG has yet to start shipping the 5K display announced alongside the new MacBook Pro models.

What’s more curious to me about the AirPods is that this issue isn’t something I saw reported in any of the early reviews published back in September. That’s not to say that the reviewers were lying, but if this is the reason for the AirPods’ delay, it must happen regularly enough that Apple wasn’t happy with it.

It also makes me wonder why the BeatsX model is also delayed. As Mickle points out, other Beats models are shipping with the W1 and they work just fine. Does the BeatsX use the same dual-W1 setup as the AirPods, or is its delay more about protecting the AirPods’ in-ear style thunder?

Update: There’s something here that keeps rattling around in my brain:

That person said Apple also must resolve what happens when a user loses one of the earpieces or the battery dies.

“That person” is ill-informed. When the battery dies, the AirPods go back in the charging box; when that battery dies, you plug it in. When you lose an AirPod, you have one AirPod and one empty ear.

Delays like this are why Apple normally announces products only when they’re ready to ship. Not only is this embarrassing, it’s costly — the days are ticking down in the all-important holiday quarter.

The Finder GUI Tax

Rob Griffiths:

If you work with lots of compressed files, you’re probably familiar with what happens in Finder (see note) when you go to expand any semi-large number of files: The infamous Dancing Dialog™.

[…]

Not only is this randomly-resizing dialog box visually annoying, it turns what should be a super-fast process into one that takes a ridiculous amount of time. The end result is that users think they have a slow machine — ”it took over 12 seconds to expand 25 tiny little archives!” — when what they really have is a horrendously slow GUI interface to a super fast task.

I get the need for visual feedback and a more elegant, “gentle” interface — hence the gratuitous animation when using the “New Folder With Selection” command — but many archives will take less than a second to expand using the Terminal. Those files should, ideally, be unarchived in place, without opening an additional window.

Live, for the Moment

Writing for the Outline, Joe Carmichael, on the increasing pressure on extreme athletes to top each other with filmed and live-streamed events:

“Backcountry social media users should be challenged to consider the questions to whom and for what purpose they are constructing their online narratives,” Isaak wrote. Decisions made in dangerous situations are no longer made only by the adventurer, he said; research shows they are influenced by the people nearby, and these days, that includes Facebook followers.

The impulse to do dangerous things isn’t new, he concluded. Extreme athletes are motivated by a sense of personal fulfillment and the yearning to compete with peers. “That impulse, to figure out who we are and our place in a community, that’s a human impulse, regardless of whether you were born in 1950 or 1990,” he said. The difference today is that every adventurer is expected to produce videos and build a fanbase, and now that fanbase is always looking over their shoulder. “Now, they’re able to tell stories with YouTube and Instagram, or Snapchat, or any of the other social media tools. So it’s just the publication cycle that is changing the desire to tell our story or to compete.”

There’s this kid I discovered recently on YouTube. He goes by the name “Illsight”, is about 17, and climbs cranes in Hong Kong without any safety equipment. Part of me is, of course, absolutely amazed by his skill. Yet, I can’t help but wonder whether he’d be taking these risks if he didn’t see others doing the same thing, or putting the videos on YouTube.

Apple Said to Fly Drones to Improve Maps Data

Mark Gurman and Alan Levin, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. plans to use drones and new indoor navigation features to improve its Maps service and catch longtime leader Google, according to people familiar with the matter.

[…]

Apple wants to fly drones around to do things like examine street signs, track changes to roads and monitor if areas are under construction, the person said. The data collected would be sent to Apple teams that rapidly update the Maps app to provide fresh information to users, the person added.

Coincidentally, when I read this article on Friday, my girlfriend told me that the store where she works received a visit from a Google representative. The rep said that they were confirming the store’s location and details for Google Maps. I asked my girlfriend if her store had ever seen a visit from an Apple Maps representative to do the same thing; she said they hadn’t.

Any improvement to Apple’s mapping data is a very good thing, in my books. If flying drones around to confirm roads and street signs is what it takes, so be it.1 I also think they need more people who are familiar with each city to physically go door-to-door and confirm that the details in Maps are correct. Just recently, I had to add a store location that has been open in the biggest mall in the city for the past six years. This would have been resolved far sooner if anyone from the Maps team paid a visit to the mall. I could say the same about dozens of reports that I’ve filed since Apple Maps launched.


  1. Many of these issues could easily be fixed if Apple’s cartographers bothered to look at the satellite view. Many of the reports I’ve filed are something along the lines of “just look at the actual road and you’ll see that there’s no corner in it”. ↩︎

A History of the ‘Get a Mac’ Campaign

A wonderful two-part article and podcast about the “I’m a Mac; I’m a PC” ads that began airing ten years ago. Douglas Quenqua, writing for Campaign:

Scott Trattner: I have a much younger sister, and I was seeing these really charming little theatrical things at her school, where like a kid plays a tree and a kid plays a rock. I remember being so charmed by this notion that your part in a play could be a rock.

Eric Grunbaum: I was surfing with Scott somewhere in Malibu, and we were discussing our frustration with coming up with an idea, and I said to him, “You know, it’s almost like we have to get so basic. It’s like, we need a Mac and a PC sitting on a white site, and we need to say, ‘This is a Mac. It’s good at A, B and C. And this is a PC, and it’s good at D, E and F.'”

Scott Trattner: I then remember saying to Barton, “What if we embody the two characters? One guy could say, ‘I’m a Mac.’ One guy could say, ‘I’m a PC.’ The Mac could be on roller skates circling the PC saying how fast he is.” Barton just took it and really ran.

The second part contains some smart observations from Justin Long and John Hodgman about what it’s like to become a ubiquitous character, and the impact it had on their careers.

‘Very Small Number’

Something I noticed in the mentions about my piece on Apple’s support gap are reports from lots of people claiming that their local retail outlets don’t have enough iPhone 6S batteries for the repair program.

Priyanjana Bengani:

Friend in London got an appointment to get her battery replaced. Went in only to be told they’re out of stock.

Timothy King:

[Just] noticed that recently (trying to set up 6S battery repair; & yes, out of stock on battery). Totally infuriating

Andy Welland:

3 day wait, then told no batteries for a week – ring helpline instead. Also no communication between phone & store support. Odd

Keegan Sands:

I got an appt for the 6S battery replacement, got to the store and they were out of batteries and have to go back this week

Matt Ruzz:

Call center sets up battery repair appointment at store but store won’t reserve replacement battery kits for appointments

Michael Tsai:

When I talked with Apple about what to do, I had two options. I could do a mail-in repair, which would mean not having a phone or camera for a week or so. Or I could wait 2+ weeks until one of the local Apple Stores might be accepting appointments to replace the battery. (There is apparently a shortage of replacement batteries.)

The problem here seems twofold. First, and perhaps most obvious, is the poor communication between AppleCare and retail stores. Second is that the “very small number” of iPhones affected might be a greater number than expected.

Tim Cook Says That the Watch Is Having Its Best Quarter Yet

In what appears to be a rebuttal of a popular IDC report claiming that Apple Watch shipments dropped by 71% year-over-year in the third quarter, Tim Cook revealed to Reuters that the Watch is on track to have its best quarter yet. Julia Love quotes Cook:

“Our data shows that Apple Watch is doing great and looks to be one of the most popular holiday gifts this year,” Cook wrote.

“Sales growth is off the charts. In fact, during the first week of holiday shopping, our sell-through of Apple Watch was greater than any week in the product’s history. And as we expected, we’re on track for the best quarter ever for Apple Watch,” he said.

I don’t think IDC’s estimates, if accurate, are entirely unexpected; nor do I think Cook’s response is incongruous with what IDC said. IDC specifically looked at the third calendar quarter: July through the end of September. The new Apple Watch lineup was announced on September 7 and began shipping on September 16, just 14 days before the end of the quarter IDC measured. Furthermore, even at the beginning of the quarter, the then-current Watch was over a year old. Those combined factors are enough to make Watch sales decline significantly for those three months.

Apple is going into this holiday quarter with a fresh Watch lineup that starts (and tops out) at a lower price, is easier to use, and has even more integrations. Cook’s statement seems solid to me, and he seems exuberant about the sales prospects of the Watch this quarter.

Then again, as Jason Snell says:

Or, to put this in a form Amazon’s Jeff Bezos would understand

I wonder if there’s a time when Apple will start revealing hard sales figures for the Watch.

Joshua Topolsky and Friends Launch the Outline

Joshua Topolsky:

Welcome to The Outline, a new kind of publication for a new kind of human. We made this thing because we believe that the right story told in the right way can change someone’s life.

I have no idea what this means.

We wanted to make something from the ground up that is capable of rejecting and/or subverting conventional wisdom about what a media company does. That means at every level of what we’ve built we’re trying to create what is right for us and what is right for you, not what the industry is demanding.

We built a brand new platform for our team so that we can tell stories in the form that seems most appropriate for that story. Obviously we made this for a mobile-everything world (because we’re not insane), but it actually scales to lots of devices in lots of ways.

This new platform isn’t a complete rethink of the web. There’s a <marquee>-esque element across the homepage, and some stories are sometimes placed into a slider, which the Outline calls a “stack”. Like many new web-based publications, the developers behind the Outline have re-built standard browser features, like HTML rendering and scrolling. As a result, the pages are big — really big — and the back button is broken for some reason.

What makes the Outline a little different from most of its peers is its business model. Mike Shields of the Wall Street Journal explains (behind a paywall again, naturally):

There will be no standard ad placements on The Outline, and no programmatic selling, said Amanda Hale, chief revenue officer. Like its editorial, The Outline’s ads are designed to be full-screen, highly visual placements that are not unlike classic magazine ads on a phone.

Direct sales aren’t anything new or innovative, even on the web. But combining these ads with a policy that makes programmatic advertising verboten is deeply interesting to me. It ought to reduce the number of trackers that are on the Outline,1 and completely eradicate the chance for “malvertising”. It’s not a complete boon for privacy — their policy permits additional third-party trackers as advertisers request them — but it’s progress.

All of this is wrapped in Topolskified design elements: brash colours, ’70s and ’80s throwbacks, and a lot of animation. It’s not necessarily beautiful, but it is a statement. Whether this package will work is anyone’s guess, but the killer team behind it is probably enough to get me to check it out daily.


  1. Four, by my count: Google Analytics, Parse.ly, Facebook remarketing, and Amplitude. ↩︎

Tech Companies Delay Diversity Reports

Georgia Wells, Wall Street Journal (paywalled, of course, but you know how to get around that):

Twitter Inc. and Pinterest Inc. are set to release their updates this month, according to spokeswomen at each company, about 16 months after their previous reports. This year, however, they will both focus on hiring goals, rather than just the racial and gender breakdown of their employees that has become the industry standard.

“It’s not about hitting a number for the sake of doing so,” said Candice Morgan, Pinterest’s head of diversity and inclusion. “The goals are about fundamentally making progress towards doing our most innovative work.”

Salesforce.com Inc. released its report on Monday after having pushed it back by three months to accommodate the hiring of its first equality chief. The report showed women and underrepresented minorities made up the same portion of the company’s workforce as a year ago EBay Inc., which hasn’t reported its diversity breakdown since April 2015, said it would not issue an update until early next year because of the July 2015 spinoff of its PayPal Holdings Inc. unit.

I’ve been trying to track down updated reports for my annual survey and it has not been easy. These reports shouldn’t be delayed to give the companies a chance to make themselves look better; they should be doing better, and if they aren’t, they should own up to that.

Apple’s Support Gap

I’ve been trying to book some time at my local Apple Store to get my iPhone’s battery swapped, and it has not been easy — at least, not compared to the way it used to be. Previously, I’d open the Apple Store app on my phone, open up my store’s page, and tap the button to get support. I could easily make a Genius Bar appointment from there with just a few taps.

An update to the Store app earlier this year removed the ability to create a Genius Bar appointment from within the app. Instead, it sends you to Safari to complete the booking with a button confusingly labelled “Contact Apple Support”.

Once you’re directed to Apple’s support site, you’re in for another blow: it’s probably the least-stable online service Apple offers, in a really big way. It frequently doesn’t load at all; when it does, I often see some form of server-side failure midway through the booking process. This isn’t new — a friend of mine asked me several months ago to help him book an appointment because the website wasn’t loading for him, and I wasn’t able to make it work either.

Apple appears to be aware of this gap in support offerings because they began rolling out an app about a month ago that allows users to book Genius Bar appointments, see their Apple ID history, and chat with an agent. Unfortunately, this app is region-limited and doesn’t appear to be available in Canada or the United States.

It’s even difficult to get an appointment via a phone call. I’ve only phoned my Apple Store a few times over the past several years, but they have twice told me to complete the support request online.

This seems like a pretty significant gap. Of all the things that may have changed about Apple in the past fifteen years, the ability to walk into one with your gear and get personalized service hasn’t wavered. Whenever I ask someone why they stick with Apple over time, one of the reasons I almost always hear is the retail and support experience. I sincerely hope that this gets resolved soon.

Update: Apple appears to have brought the Support app to the U.S. Judging by the replies to that linked tweet, it appears that Support is now in a total of two countries: the U.S., and the Netherlands. No word on how soon Apple will be rolling Support out to any other country where they have a retail presence.

Nico Rosberg Announces His Retirement From Formula 1

Ollie Kew, Top Gear magazine:

Nico Rosberg has retired from Formula One with immediate effect. The German Mercedes-AMG F1 driver made the shock announcement at the 2016 FIA prizegiving in Vienna less than a week after clinching his first world championship title at the 2016 Abu Dhabi grand prix.

Rosberg has had an incredible career, and has managed to cap it off with a hard-fought championship win. It takes guts to stop when you’re well and truly ahead, but he’s done it. Kudos.

FCC Says AT&T and Verizon Are Violating Net Neutrality Rules

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

With Sponsored Data, AT&T charges other companies for the right to bypass customers’ data caps on AT&T’s wireless network. At the time same, AT&T lets its subsidiary DirecTV stream on the mobile network without counting against data caps. DirecTV technically pays AT&T for the privilege, but the money is just shifting hands from one part of AT&T to another. AT&T is using DirecTV’s data cap exemption to market the new DirecTV Now streaming service.

[…]

Separately, Wilkins sent a letter to Verizon yesterday about the company’s FreeBee Data 360 program, which also charges online service providers for data cap exemptions. The FCC’s wireless bureau “believes that the FreeBee Data 360 offering to edge providers unaffiliated with Verizon, combined with Verizon’s current practice of zero-rating its affiliated edge services for Verizon subscribers, has the potential to hinder competition and harm consumers.”

These programs — and others like them — effectively create a tiered system that benefits only the providers, not consumers. This is why it’s so important that there’s a strong FCC that rigorously enforces net neutrality regulations.

WordPress Will Begin Requiring SSL for Some Features

Matt Mullenweg [sic]:

We’re at a turning point: 2017 is going to be the year that we’re going to see features in WordPress which require hosts to have HTTPS available. Just as JavaScript is a near necessity for smoother user experiences and more modern PHP versions are critical for performance, SSL .

Presumably, Mullenweg aimed to end that sentence with something like “SSL is necessary for additional functionality and greater security”.

At any rate, this is a good move. WordPress powers an inordinately high percentage of the web — something like one in four websites is built on WordPress. Between their encouragement and nudges from Google and Apple, it’s time that the web became more secure.

On that note, I plan on making HTTPS mandatory for Pixel Envy over the winter break, when I have some time to make sure nothing goes awry.

Brookings: U.S. Manufacturing Sector Is More Productive Despite Fewer Jobs

Somewhat related to the earlier post about Uber’s economics and its autonomous future, I found this article today from Alison Burke of the Brookings Institution:

Many are quick to blame trade for a loss of jobs in the manufacturing sector, yet [Foreign Policy Senior Fellow Mireya Solís] affirms that the predominant force behind losses in manufacturing employment has been technological change (85 percent), not international trade. As she explains, automation has transformed the American factory, and the advent of new technologies (like robotics and 3D printing) has rendered many low-skilled jobs unnecessary.

Coincidentally, this article was released the same day that the Nikkei Asian Review published their scoop that Foxconn was looking into what it would take to move iPhone production to the U.S., should a large tariff be imposed on goods imported from China. Manufacturing automation would be absolutely critical should such a move occur.

Do the Twist

I empathize with people who struggle with the durability of their cables, but I’m always a little surprised when I hear about friends who see their Lightning and power cables fray after just a few months. I’ve never had this problem. My first Lightning cable, acquired in 2012, only stopped working a month ago — and it’s the one I keep in my bag so it constantly gets wrapped and unwrapped.

Joe Cieplinski has shared a tip that I also use, perhaps because of a common background in live audio:

I won’t speculate why my friends’ cables are so often yellowed, sticky, etc. But I can say with certainty that the way most developers wrap their cables has a great deal to do with the condition they end up in after a few months. I’ve seen all sorts of variations of wrapping the cord around itself, around devices, twisting them into knots, etc. Usually, the ends are completely stressed when they are done wrapping. And then they throw them into a bag that way for several days at a time.

I’m not saying that Apple’s cables shouldn’t be able to withstand a bit more torture than they get from most people, but there is something to be said for being a bit more careful.

And that’s where the “twist” comes in.

I suspect the very tight cable wraps I’ve seen around most MacBook power bricks is one reason Apple removed the small “arms” on the side of the brick that comes with the newest MacBook Pros.

George Hotz Releases Open-Source Autonomous Driving Software

Sean O’Kane and Lauren Goode, the Verge:

Famed iPhone and PlayStation cracker George Hotz is resurrecting the DIY autonomous car project he canceled in October. But this time, there’s a twist: instead of selling a physical product, Hotz’s Comma.ai is releasing the company’s self-driving software, as well as the plans for the necessary hardware, which Hotz calls Comma Neo. All of this code will be available for free — in fact, it is already on Github.

[…]

Hotz compared Open Pilot to Android, and said that it’s really aimed at “hobbyists and researchers and people who love” self-driving technology. “It’s for people who want to push the future forward,” he said. When asked how or if Comma.ai plans to make any money off of this project, Hotz responded: “How does anybody make money? Our goal is to basically own the network. We want to own the network of self driving cars that is out there.”

On a tangentially related note, Check Point Research announced yesterday that they had found malware that compromised over a million Google accounts. The good news is that the malware affects Android 4 and 5, not more recent versions. The bad news is that those two version families represent around three-quarters of all Android devices in use today because the manufacturers and carriers have no incentive to upgrade.

Imagine the above paragraph, but instead of “Android” and “devices”, it’s “Open Pilot” and “cars”.

Understanding Uber’s Bleak Operating Economics

Hubert Horan (bio), in a guest piece for Naked Capitalism:

There have been hundreds of articles claiming that Uber has produced wonderful benefits, but none of these benefits increase consumer welfare because they depended on billions in subsidies. Uber is currently a staggeringly unprofitable company. Aside from the imposition of unilateral cuts in driver compensation, there is no evidence of any progress towards breakeven, and no one can provide a credible explanation of how Uber could achieve the billions in P&L improvements needed to achieve sustainable profits and investor returns.

Uber’s growth to date is entirely explained by its willingness to engage in predatory competition funded by Silicon Valley billionaires pursuing industry dominance. But this financial evidence, while highly suggestive, cannot completely answer the question of how an Uber-dominated industry would impact overall economic welfare.

Uber is about to relaunch in Calgary after councillors capitulated to an adjusted fee structure; no other parts of the law were changed, despite Uber’s claim that the rules are “unworkable”. Unfortunately, this means that we’re about to see an influx of cars subsidized by venture capitalists in California, operating at a rate entirely unsustainable for traditional taxi companies.

Two questions:

  1. What happens to taxi drivers and truck drivers who are displaced by Uber’s predatory intrusion into their markets?

  2. What happens to drivers who work for Uber when they will, eventually, be made redundant by the company’s growing interest in self-driving vehicles?

See Also: Washio’s Legacy.