April 22, 2014

Nobody Lives Here

Nik Freeman:

A Block is the smallest area unit used by the U.S. Census Bureau for tabulating statistics. As of the 2010 census, the United States consists of 11,078,300 Census Blocks. Of them, 4,871,270 blocks totaling 4.61 million square kilometers were reported to have no population living inside them. Despite having a population of more than 310 million people, 47 percent of the USA remains unoccupied.

A fascinating and strange look at the United States.

OS X Beta Seed Program

Beta seeds of OS X and core apps are now available for free to anyone who signs up. Previously, this program was limited to Mac developers ($99 per year) and specially-selected AppleSeed participants. Still doesn’t explain why the Feedback Assistant app, which only works for authorized beta testers, was included with the general Mavericks release, though.

April 21, 2014

Apple Steps Up Payments Push

There are some speculating that Apple might buy Square. I don’t see what that acquisition would buy Apple — they already know how to process credit cards and have loads on file. Square’s hardware is nice, but swiping credit cards is either on its way out, as in the US, or gone completely in most parts of the world. Sure, Square has a prominent retail deal with Starbucks, but that’s the first deal Apple would sign, too.

This report from Recode, though, seems much more Apple’s speed: rolling an in-house payments system. It’s the obvious missing part of Passbook. The question now — aside from the credibility and actuality of this report, obviously — is whether there will be NFC support in the next iPhone. Ming Chi-Kuo thinks it’s coming, for what it’s worth. (To quash one oft-cited reason for a lack of NFC — the metal back — that’s what the top and bottom cutout windows are for and, potentially, the Apple logo.)

It Was a Good Day

Speaking of Beats, the service has released the footage from an hour-long show from earlier this year, and it’s amazing. It’s all of your favourite 90s hip-hop legends (less Biggie and Tupac) performing on the same stage, one after another.

Beats Music’s First Hundred Days

Yinka Adegoke and Alex Pham of Billboard:

Label sources estimate the Beats Music subscriber count to be in the “low six figures.” Beats representatives declined to comment for this story, but company insiders argue that subscriptions and consumer reaction has met expectations and that the “millions of people” trying out the service exceeded internal projections.

The editorial portions of this story describe Beats’ numbers as “disappointing”, but getting a few-hundred-thousand paying subscribers in three months sounds pretty great to me. Consider the article’s own comparison with Spotify:

Spotify has just over 2 million subscribers in the United States, according to people familiar with the company’s data. They point out that it took two-and-a-half years of educating the U.S. market and giving away millions of dollars’ worth of music for subscribers to reach that number.

Beats is only available in the US, and it’s only been a few months since its launch. I see a lot of expansion potential.

April 19, 2014

Pono Kickstarter Closes at $6.2 Million

Whenever I bring up the Pono, I always have to second-guess myself as to whether it’s worth investing time and effort into writing about the tech equivalent of homeopathy when it’s probably a niche product that few will ever buy. And then I see that the Pono Kickstarter has closed as the third highest-grossing Kickstarter campaign of all time, and, coincidentally, that people actually still buy homeopathic remedies.

April 18, 2014

Nike Will Stop Making Wearable Hardware

Huge scoop from Nick Statt, CNet:

Nike is gearing up to shutter its wearable-hardware efforts, and the sportswear company this week fired the majority of the team responsible for the development of its FuelBand fitness tracker, a person familiar with the matter told CNET.

“As a fast-paced, global business we continually align resources with business priorities,” Nike spokesman Brian Strong said in an email. “As our Digital Sport priorities evolve, we expect to make changes within the team, and there will be a small number of layoffs. We do not comment on individual employment matters.”

It’s worth remembering that Tim Cook is on Nike’s board, and that Nike and Apple have long collaborated on fitness. Nike+ has been preloaded on iPhones and iPods Touch since the 2008 models, for example, and has functioned with the iPod Nano for even longer. Cook has also noted publicly how much he likes his FuelBand. I’m not saying this means that anything specific is going to happen, I’m just saying that it’s interesting.

April 17, 2014

Facebook Launches Optional Nearby Friends

I recall a similar feature being in the Facebook app about four years ago, but it relied on your friends to manually check in. This new interpretation is more like Find My Friends insomuch as it’s a passive location feature. Unlike Find My Friends, though, it appears to only require confirmation on one end of the exchange. That is, if you’ve enabled Nearby Friends, all of your Facebook friends can now see your location unless you’ve explicitly blacklisted them. It’s only available in the US right now, but expect it to roll out quickly if Facebook decides to run ads against your location.

April 16, 2014

Samsung on Design

Samsung launched a website today in an attempt to highlight their design philosophy, presumably to counteract Apple’s assertions in the ongoing Big Company 1 v. Big Company 2 trial. Jony Ive has taken a fair amount of flak for what he’s said in product introduction videos, but it’s nothing on the bullshit Samsung espouses:

Using the idea ‘Make It Meaningful’ as inspiration, we wanted to create a platform to present influential design stories and solutions to be shared around the world. Samsung Electronics’ introduces the meaningful stories behind the design of their products as they strive to create the culture of tomorrow.

Seems confused to me. Perhaps it needs more buzzwords?

Samsung believes in the value of people’s dreams. Therefore, our design should begin with empathy for people’s lives.

I have no idea what that means. I understand what all the words mean, but I don’t understand how Samsung is applying this to industrial and interface design. Maybe it’ll be clearer when it’s explained in the context of a specific product like, I dunno, the Galaxy S4:

Sensory Organic

The design of the Galaxy S4 is an organic combination of rational form and emotional CMF (Color, Material, and Finish).

Still confused.

Contrast, if you will, to the oft-parodied style1 of a Jony Ive video, like the one for the iPad Air. After talking about the engineering required to make it smaller and lighter, Ive explains why this engineering was necessary:

There’s a simplicity to it, but there’s nothing precious about it. This integrity — this durability — inspires confidence in a product that’s meant to be taken places, handled, and really used.

I think this is the essential difference between the two approaches. Good design — like that from Apple — starts with the end goal of how a product will be used, and what the customer will gain from owning and using the product. Poor design doesn’t necessarily consider this, and hopes to justify its choices after those decisions have been made. In other words, the choices are arbitrary, or made with a goal not necessarily driven by the usage of the product. For example, Samsung may choose to make their phones primarily from plastic because it simplifies the production process. But a user doesn’t care about the production process; they’re interested only in how they use the product. Good design is concerned primarily with its function.

  1. I love that parody so much. 

April 15, 2014

iPhone, Embiggened

I don’t trust most analysts, but KGI Securities’ Ming Chi-Kuo has ridiculously good sources. While his word is not as golden as that of some other pundits, he’s usually reasonably accurate with product details. So, when he provided previously undisclosed details on the next iPhone, my ears perked up a little:

In line with previous rumors, Kuo believes the new 4.7-inch model will come with a 1334×750 Retina display at 326 pixels per inch, while the 5.5″ will see a 1920×1080 screen at 401 ppi. Both devices will have the same aspect ratio to the iPhone 5, meaning apps will not need to be redesigned for the second time in three years.

As far as I know, this is the first time anyone has mentioned a precise display resolution — other reports have merely guessed at display size. That difference gives me a smidge more confidence in Chi-Kuo’s report.

Now, let’s talk scaling. Apple has been emphasizing the use of auto layout and PDF assets where possible for a couple of years now, but what about bitmap assets, or apps that don’t use auto layout? Barring a ridiculous idea of Apple simply barring the installation of those apps until they get updated, there are two ways scaling could be handled:

  1. Apps could be letterboxed, like when you run an iPhone app on an iPad. That mans that everything stays the same pixel size, and, if the 326 PPI density on the 4.7-inch model is true, the same physical size, too. But, while that looks passable on an iPad, it’s probably a lot less nice on a phone.

  2. Apps could be stretched to fill the display. This seems much more likely, given that it’s what occurred when the iPhone 4 was introduced. But, while scaling non-Retina apps to the Retina display looked gross, scaling Retina apps up by a little bit will probably look a helluva lot better. Consider the scaling options available on Retina MacBook Pros, for example: while non-panel-native resolutions make everything look a little bit blurry, it’s largely masked by the high-density display.

I’m still very skeptical of the 5.5-inch model, though. That seems gigantic, even by crazy huge Android phone standards. It’s going to be an exciting 2014.

New Details on Amazon’s Smartphone

Even a stopped clock is right twice daily. Zach Epstein of BGR got a big scoop on details of Amazon’s upcoming smartphone. Most of it is par for the course for a contemporary phone, but this is new:

Beyond those two units, the device houses an additional four front-facing cameras that work with other sensors to facilitate the software’s 3D effects. One source tells us these four cameras, which are situated in each of the four corners on the face of the phone, are low-power infrared cameras.

The device’s extra cameras are used to track the position of the user’s face and eyes in relation to the phone’s display. This allows Amazon’s software to make constant adjustments to the positioning of on-screen elements, altering the perspective of visuals on the screen.


April 14, 2014

Windows Phone 8.1 Is Somehow Working With Apple’s Passbook

Well-spotted feature by Tom Warren, as reported by iMore’s Rene Ritchie:

Passbook passes are just collection of data that get rendered into a card and displayed in Apple’s Passbook app. Think of the Passbook files like the HTML, CSS, and JavaScript data that makes up a webpage, and the Passbook app like the browser that renders the actual page. It looks like Windows Phone 8 is taking the same data and rendering a similar card out of it, and then pushing that card to Microsoft Wallet.

Apple could obviously change the PassKit format to block what Microsoft is doing here, and I think they have fair grounds to do so, but I hope they don’t. There are loads of Android apps that support the .pkpass format, and it’s become a de facto standard in the industry. In fact, it’s one of the only standards in the mobile payment solution space.

Time’s Windows Phone 8.1 Review

Windows Phone 8.1 has sort of been released. It’s only available to developers right now, but it appears to be the gold master version that will be installed on new phones starting later this month. The reviews have been rolling in this morning; I liked Harry McCracken’s, for Time. On Cortana, the new virtual assistant:

Cortana understands some complex requests beyond the ken of Siri and Google Now, such as ”Schedule the Reno trip for Monday through Thursday.” It’s also particularly adept at reminders. For instance you can tell it to remind you to buy key lime frozen yogurt the next time you’re at Safeway—either a specific Safeway, or any Safeway. Or to nudge you to ask your boss for a raise the next time you talk to him on the phone.

Also nice for people who think talking to a fake person inside their phone is a bit weird, like me: you can type anything you want to say to Cortana. It sounds like an exciting mashup of Google Now and Siri, bettering both in some ways, and not matching either in other, bafflingly obvious, ways.

The biggest issue with all of these virtual assistants, though, is their unpredictability:

Of course, all three of these assistants are capable of being eerily helpful one moment, and hopeless the next: For instance, none of them gave me a direct answer when I asked “What time is Mad Men on tonight?”

There are commands and queries which feel completely natural for the software to interpret, yet they fail in a strange black hole sort of way.

This update looks huge, and very exciting. Would I switch from my iPhone? Well, not yet. Windows Phone now matches its competition in features you’d expect, but its ecosystem is still pretty weak. It’s an unfortunate Catch 22: users won’t buy Windows Phones because their favourite apps aren’t on it because users won’t buy Windows Phones because…

I’d love to take one of these phones for an extended spin, however. Spending a month with a Lumia would be very interesting.

April 13, 2014

This Presentation Can’t Be Opened Because It’s Too Old

Michael Tsai:

Apple — and, to a lesser extent, other developers such as Microsoft — cannot be relied upon to support old file formats. The responsibility then falls to the user. If you use an app that creates files in a proprietary format, as soon as a new version comes out you should update all of your documents to the new format. It’s not fun to do this, but there will probably never be an easier time. And it may be a lossy process, so you should also keep the versions in the older format.

At WWDC 2005, Steve Jobs quoted some of his favourite reviews for the then-new OS X Tiger release. One in particular, from CBS’ Larry Magid, stood out to me:

I remember writing an article about Lotus 1-2-3 back when the product was released during the 80s … It may have been nearly two decades since I wrote that column, but it took Spotlight less than two seconds to find it.

Unwavering support for older versions of software has a tendency to produce cruft and bugs, but it also means that old-ass files can be launched without too much hassle. I bet Magid could find that article even faster on today’s SSD-equipped Macs, but he’d be damned if he could open it.

Then again, I subscribe to the school of thought that we’re still trying to figure out this digital archival monkey business.1 In the future, I think we will find ways of recovering data from outdated and proprietary formats if that data is really important.

  1. One of my professors works at the Government of Alberta archive, backing up and restoring old recordings to a digital format. Since they’re stored on Government servers, the great irony is that these digital files will, inevitably, be backed up to a magnetic tape. 

April 12, 2014

Happy Birthday, Spam

Apparently, internet spam was invented twenty years ago today, with a simple Perl script posting to Usenet. My, how far we’ve come since then.

“iCloud in Its Current Implementation Is Chock Full of Stupid”

Rob Griffiths has some choice words for iCloud:

iCloud has potential—given the size of the iOS and Mac OS X user base, it’d be stupid to claim it didn’t. But to really succeed, especially if Apple wants it to eventually replace the filesystem, I think iCloud needs to address its capacity and pricing disparity; it needs some way to handle documents outside of applications (an iCloud folder with subfolders would work well), and it needs to be available to all developers, regardless of where they sell their apps.

As a sync service, iCloud spans the gamut of frustrating to sublime, depending on where you live and whether Mercury is in retrograde. As a cloud storage service, it’s woefully frustrating. Griffiths mentions three great reasons why.

For me, the single biggest frustration is the inability to edit a single document with multiple applications, because everything is siloed and segregated. This is great for security, but terrible for much real-world use, especially for so-called “power” users. When I write a longer-form article, for example, I like to make changes on my iPhone and iPad using Byword, but I prefer Markdrop or TextMate on my Mac, because I’m hardcore like that. TextMate doesn’t support iCloud (it isn’t sold in the Mac App Store), but even if it did, I wouldn’t be able to seamlessly edit that file using different apps on different platforms.

Even on the same platform, iCloud makes for a frustrating experience. Imagine a dream world where you’d be able to store your iPhoto library in iCloud, so it’s always backed up and safe. Now imagine editing photos in that dream world, and witness how it crumbles: you make a few basic edits in iPhoto, then you want to remove that distracting telephone pole using Photoshop. What do you do?

iCloud has the potential to be a great product, and it needs to be. It isn’t yet, though.

April 11, 2014

Behind “Bliss”

With Windows XP having reached end-of-life status, Microsoft took the opportunity to look back at the creation of Bliss, the default desktop picture. It’s too bad that such a beautiful photograph was never distributed in a resolution suitable for today’s dense displays, but it’s the kind of photo that works quite well even on the lower-resolution displays of 2001.

Appeals Court Reverses Hacker/Troll “weev” Conviction and Sentence

There are a couple of reasons I’m linking to this article from Ars Technica’s David Kravets. The first reason is that the headline contains the phrase “hacker/troll”, which is both very apt for weev, and would be pretty great on his business card.

The second reason is far more important: weev was charged and convicted under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, despite him not having hacked anything, really:

His attorneys argued all along that in order for the CFAA to have applied in this case, there needed to be some sort of “password-gate” or other way of keeping someone out of the AT&T website, which was not present here. They maintained that Auernheimer did not hack into servers or steal passwords. Rather, a major network security flaw at AT&T was discovered and exploited.

Basically, AT&T was stupid enough to verify authorization based on the validity of a URL. All weev did was play around with the URL, thereby exposing information that is implicitly public, but should be private. In other words, weev was convicted for an AT&T problem. The reversal of these obviously overzealous charges is very good news.

April 10, 2014

Memories of Steve

Don Melton generously shared some of his memories of Steve Jobs in Jim Dalrymple’s Loop Magazine; now he’s published those memories in full on his own website:

Ken and I hadn’t seen Bud [Tribble] in months, not since Eazel shut down, so were all making guesses about the reason for his visit. Tiring of the conjecture, I finally just stood up, cupped my hands and called out to him.

“Hey, Bud! Come over and see your old pals when you’re done to talking to that guy.” Bud looked up — slight pause — and “that guy” turned around to stare at me.

It was Steve Jobs. Of course.

I will forever remember his look — a slightly lopsided and tight-lipped half-smile, eyebrows narrowed as if to say, “I don’t know who you are but I won’t forget that.”

Some of these memories — like the one above — are of Jobs’ famously intense personality. Others are relaxed and personal, and quite touching. Well worth the read.

iOS, OS X, and “Key Web Services” Not Affected by Heartbleed

Mike Isaac, Recode:

“Apple takes security very seriously. [iOS] and OS X never incorporated the vulnerable software and key Web-based services were not affected,” an Apple spokesperson told Re/code.

Apple took their usual much-too-long amount of time to address this, but it’s good news.

Morning for iPhone

Last year, the two-man team of Tamper released Morning, which was a super nice way to view an overview of your day should you pick up your iPad first thing. However, if you’re like me, you reach for your iPhone first. Happily, the same beautiful experience is now available there.

Ideally, this is the sort of thing which should be built-in. Until it is, Morning is a beautiful way to start your day. It’s a free update for existing users, or you can pick it up for $3.99 (that’s an affiliate link, by the way).

April 9, 2014

Dropbox’s Next Chapter

Insightful article from Brad Stone and Ari Levy, for Bloomberg Businessweek. There’s something worrying about the new Dropbox direction, though:

After a months-long search, the company recently added a chief operating officer, former Google executive and Motorola CEO Dennis Woodside. Dropbox has also added a prominent fourth member to a board of directors that Houston has until now kept small — Condoleezza Rice. The former secretary of state’s consulting firm, RiceHadleyGates, has been advising the startup on management issues for the last year. Now she’ll help the company think about such matters as international expansion and privacy, an issue that dogs every cloud company in the age of Edward Snowden and the NSA. “As a country, we are having a great national conversation and debate about exactly how to manage privacy concerns,” Rice says about her new position. “I look forward to helping Dropbox navigate it.”

Rice was the American National Security Advisor from 2001 until 2005, and was Secretary of State thereafter until 2008; she was therefore one of the people who helped craft the eavesdropping laws and strategy that form the backbone of the “great national … debate about … privacy”. To my knowledge, she has not changed her views on these issues, nor publicly disagreed with warrantless wiretapping or other anti-privacy policies. Now she’s advising Dropbox on privacy. That’s worrying.

Apple Testing Maps Notifications to Inform Users of Fixed Problems

Good news from MacRumors’ Richard Padilla:

Apple seems to be testing a new notification feature in its Maps application, based on a report and screenshots captured by a MacRumors reader.

The user reported an error to Apple in the Maps app on April 6 and was given an option to receive a notification when the issue was resolved, with Apple sending a push notification on April 8 indicating the problem had been fixed.

This is a great start to letting users know that their problems are being looked at and resolved. However, there remain longstanding problems, such as Redwood Meadows Golf Club appearing roughly forty kilometres away from where it should be (I reported this in July 2012), and the entire city of Belgrade being shafted. Some of the other issues I noted in my iOS 7 review have been fixed, however, so all it takes is writing an article which then gets picked up on TechMeme and Daring Fireball. Easy, right?

Dropbox Announces Mailbox for Android and Desktop; Carousel

I’m an on-again-off-again Mailbox user; one of the reasons I’m currently using the default iOS Mail app is due to a lack of a Mac version. While the emphasis on “Inbox Zero” is a little irritating, I do enjoy the inbox-as-todo-list metaphor. For me, at least, this is usually the case.

Happily, there’s lots of big news from Dropbox today, kicking off with a version of Mailbox now available for Android, and a beta of the app for Mac. The Android app looks great (that article from Ellis Hamburger is chock full of great insidery stuff about Mailbox, too), while the Mac app is a beautiful complementary product. It might be enough to get me to switch back on iOS.

Also new in the entire Mailbox suite are a host of automation tools, which Ellis Hamburger smartly describes:

Let’s say you’re included in an office email chain welcoming a new employee. It’s probably the right thing to do to say hello to your new colleague, but at that point, who needs to see each and every reply? Most people would archive the thread, and then sigh as it returned to their inbox with each and every reply-all.

Automation tools like these tend to come from a very earnest intent, but often lack the sophistication and nuance of an actual human being. Therefore, they tend to replace the problems they solve with new ones. Given the intelligence of Dropbox and Mailbox, however, I’m optimistic.

Dropbox is also releasing an intriguing new app called Carousel, which is essentially a dedicated app for Dropbox’s existing Camera Roll feature. In a hilarious promo video, it appears that Dropbox intends for you to add all your photos to the app, including those from analog sources. I’m excited to see how that works.

After all this, it’s even more weird to me that Box is the online storage company currently going through the IPO process.

There Won’t Be Another iPhone-Class Product for a Very Long Time

Smart take from Rene Ritchie of iMore:

There won’t be another iPhone, not even if Steve Jobs were still running Apple, not for many years to come. But there will be many, many things that, taken together, make the iPhone much more valuable. There won’t be anything as big as the iPhone but there will be things that, taken together, make the iPhone bigger.


I’m sure you’ve seen the news about this, so it seems a little redundant to restate just how catastrophic this flaw is.

That said, I’ve seen a fair amount of speculation that this bug was either used or even introduced by the NSA. Apparently, honeypots have seen activity related to this bug, so it was at least a little bit known prior to its disclosure earlier this week; therefore, it wouldn’t surprise me if it were one of the (likely many) vulnerabilities used by intelligence agencies. However, it appears to be an honest bug that has been present in OpenSSL’s heartbeat implementation since day one. That raises questions of its own regarding the safety and reliability of the open source critical security tools that form the backbone of the web, but it does not indicate malicious intent.

See also OpenSSL’s commit to fix the bug.

April 8, 2014

The Rise of the Patent Troll

Great new “bonus” edition of Kirby Ferguson’s excellent Everything is a Remix series explaining the shitty entity of the patent troll.

As a non-lawyer idiot on the internet, I still think parts of the proposed American legislation don’t go far enough. Patents — especially technology patents — should be valid for much less time than they are currently. Additionally, there should be a requirement for filed patents to be used in a real-world product within a certain number of years; if the patent goes unused after this time, it becomes invalidated. Sort of a reverse of “patent pending”.

New Twitter Profile Pages Are Rolling Out

I haven’t received the new profile layout yet, but based on those who have, it looks substantially more complex and intimidating than Twitter really is. I’ve seen some people comparing the new layout to Facebook’s profiles; that’s not encouraging.

Still, as someone who enjoys Tweetbot, I won’t see this redesign.

April 7, 2014

“Something Drastic Has to Change”

In January 2013, James Vincent of TBWA/Media Arts Lab — Apple’s ad agency — wrote a pretty brutal email to Phil Schiller suggesting that Apple reconsider much of their internal corporate culture (capitalization [sic]):

we understand that this moment is pretty close to 1997 in terms of the need for advertising to help pull apple through this moment.

Schiller didn’t like that at all:

This is not 1997. Nothing like it in any way.


The timing of these emails — considering turnaround time — suggests that these are the kinds of ads that were being discussed as being insufficient and a bit wet. Shortly after, the impeccable “Photos Every Day” ad aired, followed by the equally wonderful “Music Every Day”. I’d say Schiller got his wish for a drastically better campaign.

Update: Apparently, Media Arts Lab encourages entirely lowercase emails.

Practical Advice for the Obsessive Compulsive Traveler

Great article from Michael Lopp:

I started this piece at the San Francisco airport. I wrote the majority of it in the city of Leicester. I found the ending sitting in the park at Soho Square, and I finished it somewhere over northern Canada at 32,000 feet. That’s five days. That’s 5,654 miles and counting. This might not be your travel life, but these could be your travel tips.

I don’t get to travel much, but when I do, I follow much the same carry-on-only, crazy-organized strategy. It saves stressing over whether your bag made the connecting flight, whether you forgot to pack something, and — for those of us who prefer trains over planes — a smaller bag means you won’t worry that someone is diddling with your luggage at the other end of the train car. It’s just a better way to travel.

Blue Bottle Buys Tonx

Tony Konecny of Tonx:

As Tonx has grown we’ve added friends to the team, assembling top talents in green coffee sourcing, coffee roasting, software development, design, marketing, and customer service. One thing we lacked though was a dedicated production facility that would allow us to continue growing and improving. Getting there meant either raising a serious wad of venture capital (no picnic!) or finding a partner in the industry that shared our values and ambitions.

With Blue Bottle, we have found a more established company that still has an innovative startup culture, continues to evolve, and is dedicated to improving people’s experience of coffee on an ambitious scale. And they have resources we could only dream of.

Huge and great news for Tonx. While I wasn’t necessarily a fan of the coffee I received, Tonx’s beans are still far better than almost anything else you can buy; I’m just spoiled. Blue Bottle’s roasting expertise and Tonx’s pioneering distribution sounds like a great combination to me.

April 5, 2014

Teaching the Camera to See My Skin

Syreeta McFadden for BuzzFeed:

I don’t know when the first time was I learned that I was ugly. Or the part where I was taught to despise my dark skin, or the part where my mother’s friends or old aunts yelled at us to stay out of the sun and not get so dark. I hear this from dark girls all the time. I don’t know how we were taught to see a flattened blackness, to fear our own shades of dark. I do know how we accepted the narratives of white society to say that dark skin must be pitied, feared, or overcome. There are overwhelming images of dark-skinned peoples in Western imagination that show us looking desperate, whipped, animalistic. Our skin blown out in contrast from film technologies that overemphasize white skin and denigrate black skin. Our teeth and our eyes shimmer through the image, which in its turn become appropriated to imply this is how black people are, mimicked to fit some racialized nightmare that erases our humanity.

April 4, 2014


Kelly Stout anthropomorphises a mobile banking alert service for the New Yorker:

Mobile Banking: Your $.99 transaction with ez budget was less than the $50.00 limit in your Alerts setting.

Me: Why did you text me if it was below my limit?

Mobile Banking: I thought it was amusing that you bought a budgeting app.

April 3, 2014

Brendan Eich’s Freedoms and Mozilla’s Freedoms

Eleven days ago, Brendan Eich took the CEO reins at the for-profit Mozilla Corporation. Due to two donations in favour of the Proposition 8 ballot initiative in California in 2008, there were immediate calls for his resignation. Today — just eleven days later — he has stepped down. But, while there was significant controversy when he was promoted, the reactions to his resignation have been just as fierce. Some see this as an assault on his freedom of speech; others consider the juxtaposition of the outcry for inclusiveness and the protests against Eich hypocritical. In reality, all parties freely expressed themselves; as a result, Eich was found to be unfit for the CEO position at Mozilla.

Let’s go back to 2008. Proposition 8 is placed on the California ballot, its full text reading:

Section I. Title

This measure shall be known and may be cited as the “California Marriage Protection Act.”

Section 2. Article I. Section 7.5 is added to the California Constitution, to read:

Sec. 7.5. Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.

If successful, this text would be added to the State Constitution of California, establishing significant precedent against the right for same-sex couples to marry not just in the state, but across the US.

Owing to a substantial campaign and support from donors like Eich, the ballot initiative passed in November 2008. Same-sex marriage was now illegal and unrecognized in the state of California.

Jump cut to April 2012, when a Hacker News user noted one of Brendan Eich’s donations in favour of Prop 8 to the tune of $1,000. A second donation of $500 was also uncovered. Eich responded by defending his contributions, but did not elaborate or provide context:

If we are acquainted, have good-faith assumptions, and circumstances allow it, we can discuss 1:1 in person. Online communication doesn’t seem to work very well for potentially divisive issues. Getting to know each other works better in my experience.

Two years later, on March 24, 2014, Eich was appointed CEO of Mozilla. Again, his past donations (or, more specifically, the $1,000 one; the $500 one fell by the wayside for some reason) caught the eyes of the press and the broader tech community. Three board members resigned in the wake of his appointance, though the degree to which their resignations were caused by him remains unclear. In an interview with CNet, Eich opened up a little more than he did in 2012:

[W]ithout getting into my personal beliefs, which I separate from my Mozilla work … when people learned of the donation, they felt pain. I saw that in friends’ eyes, [friends] who are LGBT [lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgendered]. I saw that in 2012. I am sorry for causing that pain.

Mozilla also affirmed their support of same-sex rights, while Eich publicly committed to maintaining Mozilla’s inclusiveness, regardless of his personal views. However, he stopped short of apologizing for the donation itself or attempting to set things right for the LGBTQ community.

Eich also continued to dodge why he made those contributions in 2008. He hasn’t clarified whether his views are for religious reasons, political reasons, or just because he finds two kissing dudes icky. But that’s his First Amendment right, and so is making a substantial financial pledge to reduce the rights of a segment of the population.

Eich’s right to his freedom of expression does not mean he is free from the consequences of that expression, however. Mozilla’s users and employees have First Amendment rights, too, and they have the right to disagree with Eich’s CEO-ship. Their board members also have that right, and have the right to exercise it if they feel the CEO is not meeting the expectations or goals for the company. As far as it has been reported, Eich resigned under his own accord. Kara Swisher, Recode:

In an interview this morning, Mozilla Executive Chairwoman Mitchell Baker said that Eich’s ability to lead the company that makes the Firefox Web browser had been badly damaged by the continued scrutiny over the hot-button issue, which had actually been known since 2012 inside the Mozilla community.

“It’s clear that Brendan cannot lead Mozilla in this setting,” said Baker, who added that she would not and could not speak for Eich. “The ability to lead — particularly for the CEO — is fundamental to the role and that is not possible here.”

She said that Eich — who created the JavaScript programming language, among other prominent computing achievements — had not been forced to resign by her or others on its board, which includes prominent Silicon Valley entrepreneur and investor Reid Hoffman.

“I think there has been pressure from all sides, of course, but this is Brendan’s decision,” Baker said. “Given the circumstances, this is not surprising.”

This is ethical capitalism in action: a company that prides itself on inclusiveness and which supports LGBTQ rights finds itself with a new leader that has made a financial commitment to opposing those values in private. Many people make it known that they oppose this decision. The leader realizes that either they go or the company’s reputation suffers. They resign. End of story.

Except, for a certain group of people, this isn’t fair. They claim Eich’s rights are being trampled on. Andrew Sullivan of the Dish promoted a reader’s comment to that effect:

This really frightens me. Eich may well be wrong – very wrong, in fact – but he has a right to his opinion, and the fact that the Internet threw a hissy fit certainly doesn’t justify firing him. There’s no freedom of speech if you can’t be employed while holding your opinion. And he even made it clear that he wasn’t going to change any of Mozilla’s benefit policies or the like! This wasn’t going to affect anybody in any way. This is entirely about his right to hold his opinion.

Sullivan himself opined:

The whole episode disgusts me – as it should disgust anyone interested in a tolerant and diverse society. If this is the gay rights movement today – hounding our opponents with a fanaticism more like the religious right than anyone else – then count me out. If we are about intimidating the free speech of others, we are no better than the anti-gay bullies who came before us.

Sullivan does make a good point: the hounding of Eich is unnecessary and unhelpful, as is the puerile name-calling I’ve seen on Twitter and comment forms. Aside from that, I disagree. As I made plain above, our freedom of expression does not absolve us of our accountability for those words or actions. Eich’s actions demonstrated a gross intolerance of the rights of LGBTQ couples, and we should not support the institutionalizing of the right to be intolerant. If Eich thinks that same-sex marriage is against his beliefs, that’s fine, even if you (as I) disagree with him. But, by making a commitment to impress that belief upon others, he created a situation where his freedom of expression trampled the freedoms and rights of others.

If Eich disagrees with same-sex marriage on religious grounds, that’s also his First Amendment right. But unless there’s a law requiring religious institutions to officially support same-sex marriages, his right to practice a religion is not infringed upon by their legality. And, again, I stress the critical difference between disagreeing with something and campaigning to write that disagreement into law. There is a direct path between Eich’s $1,500 donation and the pain of thousands of same-sex couples in California after Proposition 8 passed.

I also wish to stress that the discrimination of rights between same-sex couples and opposite-sex couples is not an issue with two equally valid sides. Remember: marriage isn’t just about love. There are tax benefits and medical proxy rights, to name just two rights that straight couples have enjoyed for centuries but have been unavailable to same-sex couples. There’s love, and that’s important, but there are tangible rights that are not shared by two otherwise-identical groups of people.

We are very lucky to enjoy a large number of rights. Let’s ensure we all have those rights, and that we exercise them for the best of all.

Mozilla Co-Founder Brendan Eich Resigns as CEO

Brendan Eich, earlier this week, in an interview with the Guardian with the headline “Mozilla CEO Insists He Won’t Resign Over ‘Private’ Opposition to Prop 8″:

Giving interviews for the first time since he was announced as the new boss of Mozilla on 24 March, Brendan Eich repeatedly refused to be drawn on his stance on gay rights amid a widespread row over his $1,000 donation in support of the successful Proposition 8 ballot measure.

“So I don’t want to talk about my personal beliefs because I kept them out of Mozilla all these 15 years we’ve been going,” he told the Guardian. “I don’t believe they’re relevant.”

Kara Swisher reports today:

Brendan Eich, the well-known techie who has gotten swept up in a controversy about his support of California’s anti-gay marriage law Proposition 8, is resigning as CEO of for-profit Mozilla Corporation and also from the board of the nonprofit foundation which wholly owns it.

There’s been some chatter lately about the apparent hypocrisy of those who encourage inclusiveness not being inclusive when people like Eich express their views. It’s not hypocritical; there’s simply no reason to be inclusive of institutionalized discrimination. Eich was a poor choice to lead a company that so proudly proclaims its openness and inclusiveness.

WWDC 2014 Kicks Off June 2

Last year, WWDC tickets sold out in just over a minute, so this year, things are set up a little bit differently:

Developers can apply for tickets via the WWDC website ( now through Monday, April 7 at 10:00 a.m. PDT, and tickets will be issued to attendees through random selection. Developers will know their status by Monday, April 7 at 5:00 p.m. PDT.

Google has a similar lottery setup for I/O this year, too. This is probably the most fair way of dealing with the high demand.

Beautiful logo this year as well.


Interesting new app from the Times, unveiled last month at SXSW and available yesterday. Joshua Benton for the Nieman Journalism Lab:

In general, as one might expect or fear from a mobile experience (depends on your perspective!), the story presentation in NYT Now is more stripped down than on the web. This story on a laptop has four photos, a five-minute embedded video, and a link to an interactive. In NYT Now, it just has one photo. Even the mobile web version of the story comes with all those bells and whistles. (Also, no comments on NYT Now— you can’t read ’em and you can’t write ’em.)

NYT Now also includes morning and evening briefings, kind of like Mule Design’s Evening Edition experiment.

Another interesting difference between this app and the standard Times iOS app: this one isn’t in Newsstand. I don’t think that’s unintentional: this a different kind of news app, but also at play is the unattractive-to-publishers iOS 7 version of Newsstand.

April 2, 2014

USB-IF Posts First Photos of New Reversible Type-C Connector

In my mind, there are three possible acceptable ways of designing a connector, in descending order of preference:

  1. Most preferable is a round connector insertable in any orientation. Assuming you’re plugging your headphones into the correct port, you don’t have to rotate or adjust anything: they just work.

  2. Slightly less preferable, but still very acceptable, are reversible connectors. Connecting the MagSafe to your MacBook requires you to ensure that the cable is horizontal, but it doesn’t matter which way is up.

  3. Assuming the rounded connector is impractical for the number of pins and that the pins cannot be reversed, the connector should be shaped to be insertable in only one orientation. A FireWire connector can only be inserted into the port one way.

The existing USB connector is a terrible design, and it has long been overdue for replacement. Unfortunately, the 3.1 Type-C connector isn’t going to be introduced smoothly, as Ars Technica’s Andrew Cunningham explains:

Current USB protocols and connectors are so widespread that it’s difficult to say for sure how long it will take USB Type-C and USB 3.1 to replace them all. Computers with the nearly two-decades-old Type-A plug will be particularly slow to change, meaning that even if phones and tablets are quick to adopt USB Type-C connectors, we’ll still be using adapters to connect them to computers and chargers for some time to come.

At least the ball is rolling. The Type-C connector fits the third second qualification above so, while not perfect, it’s now an acceptable connector design, in my eyes.

Update: Thanks to Benjamin Esham for pointing out that this reversible connector is, indeed, reversible. I am an idiot.

The Story of Cortana

Among the many, many updates in Windows Phone 8.1, the OS has gained its own contextual, voice-based search assistant, Cortana. The very-connected Tom Warren has a look inside its development:

Rival services like Google Now dig deep into data from devices, and while that’s often useful it can also be irritating in the form of non-stop notifications, or just scary that the system knows so much about you. To avoid this, Microsoft spoke to a number of high-level personal assistants — yes, actual humans — and found one that kept a notebook with all the key information and interests of the person they had to look after.

That simple idea inspired Microsoft to create a virtual “Notebook” for Cortana which stores personal information and anything that’s approved for Cortana to see and use. It’s not a privacy control panel, per se, but a list of everything Cortana knows about you.

Sounds like an intriguing mashup between the personal flavour of Siri and the contextual learning capabilities of Google Now, but with more flexibility.

The headline of this article leaves much to be desired, though:

The story of Cortana, Microsoft’s Siri killer

Remember how the Zune was the “iPod killer”, and the Surface was supposed to be the “iPad killer”? To be fair, Tom Warren has never used either of those phrases before, but how Cortana is a “Siri killer” is never explained. It just is, apparently. It certainly appears more capable in many respects, but it’s hard to call it a “killer” when it’s a feature of a mobile OS with a relatively small user base.

Regardless, I’d love to get my hands on a phone running 8.1.

April 1, 2014

Apple Releases Safari 7.0.3

Among the contents of this update, I spotted solid gold:

Fixes an issue that could cause the search and address field to load a webpage or send a search term before the return key is pressed.

I filed this as a bug on December 3, 2012; it was closed as a duplicate. For the past year and a half, I have spent significant time fighting with my address bar. In my limited time testing this, I believe this has been fully patched. I cannot describe how relieved I am that this has been fixed.

Update: In a day of use, this issue has been largely resolved, but I’ve seen the occasional premature activation still.

Fools of the Year

The Macalope has found his ten Fools of the Year, and they’re generally agreeable. I’m surprised that Trip Chowdhry isn’t on this one.


Stephen Hackett:

There’s no doubt in my mind that Apple wanted iOS 7 to feel opinionated, but its design choices led to issues for many users, so the company keeps cramming more toggles in the Accessibility panel. […]

Opinionated software can be great, as long as the opinions are well-considered. The myriad of UI tweaks available in iOS 7 feel like a failure of design.

I disagree: OS X has loads of accessibility options, many of which seem just as trivial to those of us fortunate not to require them. The cursor can be enlarged to a comical size, contrast can be cranked up, and the entire display can be made greyscale. I don’t hear anyone moaning about these options, nor calling OS X a failure of design.

Don’t get me wrong: there are questionable aspects of iOS 7′s design direction — I called attention to the ambiguity of the text-based “buttons” last year. But to look at these options specifically designed for accessibility reasons and see them as an admission that iOS 7 fails in its design is, I think, misguided.

Mark All as Read

Brent Simmons reflects on unread badges:

If you’re an app developer, please consider the effects of your work on other people. It may be hard to guess — but just try imagining what spiral someone who’s compulsive might fall into.

On a similar note, Chris Bowler on winning the dopamine lottery (via Kyle Dreger):

Driving to an appointment recently, I felt the familiar urge to check my email while waiting for a light to change. Ignoring for now the aspects of looking at our small screens while driving, there is a danger in this urge all on its own. The need to be up to date at all times is a lie. A myth. And it’s one that should be removed, ruthlessly, from your thinking.

There are many reasons why I think wearable products are weak, and I’ve explained these reasons before. But I think the idea that it’s pertinent to be constantly connected to your notifications, to your email, and to your Twitter account is among the biggest reasons why I’m not interested in a wearable piece of technology.

Anyone who knows me knows that I reply quickly to most emails, texts, and Twitter messages when I’m already in those apps. But I also don’t compulsively pay attention to notifications. My phone often sits on my desk, occasionally buzzing away to itself.

But, every so often, I fall into the trap of feeling compelled to reply to everything that comes my way. I’ll get several notifications in the span of a couple of minutes and start to feel overwhelmed, as if not seeing these notifications immediately will accelerate the Sun’s demise, or something. This is exacerbated by stress; when I am rushing to meet a deadline, these notifications are a further burden. My solution is simple: I flick upwards from the Home button and turn on Do Not Disturb mode. Perhaps this compulsion runs a lot deeper than that toggle suggests, though.

The Case for Profanity in Print

Jesse Sheidlower, in an editorial for the New York Times:

In 1934, in the journal “American Speech,” the scholar Allen Walker Read published “An Obscenity Symbol,” still the most important article written about the F-word. Over the course of 14 pages, he explored the word’s etymology, its history in dictionaries and, at some length, the nature of taboo itself, writing that “no sensible person would maintain that sex in itself is obscene, for it can be a wholesome, ennobling force.” Mr. Read criticized the editors of the Oxford English Dictionary, referring to “the lasting shame” of their omission of this and other taboo terms. Yet in this serious essay, which appeared in an academic journal published by a well-established scholarly society, he did not once use, or even quote, the word in question. Mr. Read was writing 80 years ago. It’s time to print exactly what we mean.

In a bit of meta-critique, the editorial itself dances around saying “fuck” and all other epithets. See also the fantastic Fit to Print Tumblr.

March 28, 2014

Three Mozilla Board Members Resign Over Choice of New CEO

Alistair Barr, Wall Street Journal:

Three Mozilla board members resigned over the choice of Brendan Eich, a Mozilla co-founder, as the new CEO. Gary Kovacs, a former Mozilla CEO who runs online security company AVG Technologies; John Lilly, another former Mozilla CEO now a partner at venture-capital firm Greylock Partners; and Ellen Siminoff, CEO of online education startup Shmoop, left the board last week. […]

The board departures are not the only source of early pressure on the new Mozilla CEO. Some employees of the organization are calling for Eich to step down because he donated $1,000 to the campaign in support of Proposition 8, a 2008 California ballot measure that banned same-sex marriage in the state.

For his part, Eich responded on his blog

I know some will be skeptical about this, and that words alone will not change anything. I can only ask for your support to have the time to “show, not tell”; and in the meantime express my sorrow at having caused pain.

If Eich were serious about being inclusive, he’d publicly rescind his support of Prop 8 and donate at least an equivalent amount to an LGBTQ support organization.


Matt Gemmell:

Yes, there are a hundred words you might use instead, and plenty of people who would sanctimoniously thank you for doing so. But are you still truly making your point? Is your voice authentic? What of art, and aptness?

Sometimes, the word you’re really looking for is fuck.

Profanity — especially fuck — loses its magic when it’s overused. A Precision F-Strike, though, can be so much more effective than a sanitized version of the same sentence.

March 27, 2014

Office 255.5

Ina Fried, reporting for Recode:

While one of the big holdups for Office for iPad was getting the software just right, another was Apple’s policy that apps that sell things — including subscriptions — use Apple’s in-app purchase mechanism and hand over 30 percent of that revenue to Apple.

I was wondering about this. Fried’s report lends some credibility to my theory that Starbucks also sacrifices 30% through in-app card top-ups.

Microsoft Launches Office for iPad

As I was getting ready to head into the studio this morning, I asked myself whether I should bring my iPad with me. I didn’t. In hindsight, that was a dumb decision, considering today’s release of Office for iPad.

There’s going to be a debate today over whether these apps are really that significant. The iPad has sold extremely well without Office, and its intimacy is welcoming for productivity, even without PowerPoint and Word. But, make no mistake, these are important applications for Microsoft, and they’re considering this a big deal: these apps have been in the works since just after the first iPad launched, but held up by red tape. Consider, too, that this is the first public presentation as CEO for Satya Nadella, and it’s about iPad support. Big news.

Since I left my iPad on my desk, though, my initial impressions will have to wait. For now, I’m intrigued by Microsoft’s business model, as explained by Emil Protalinski:

Just like for the iPhone, the iPad version of these apps is free to download and view documents, spreadsheets, and presentations. Once you want to edit documents, however, a paid subscription to Office 365 is required. […]

The Office 365 Home Premium subscription costs $99 per year, or $10 per month. A cheaper subscription (Office 365 Personal) has been announced, but it’s not available just yet.

That compares to the iWork suite’s price of free with the purchase of a new iOS device post-October 2013. Its cost makes me feel comfortable about Microsoft’s business model. Consider:

  • Apple makes their money on hardware sales. Therefore, they can give away iWork for iOS by baking its development costs into the overall iOS development costs.
  • Google makes their money on targeted advertising. Therefore, they can give away Google Drive because they’re scraping documents and tailoring ad content as a result. That’s pretty creepy, and might be against your employer’s best practices for confidentiality of information.
  • Microsoft doesn’t make money on iPad hardware sales, nor do they scrape Office documents for ads. Therefore, they charge you money to use their software beyond the basics. Makes sense to me.

Sonnet’s New Rack Mount for the 2013 Mac Pro

Sonnet’s mount requires only 4U of space; for comparison, rack mounting the old Power Mac G5/Mac Pro required 7U of space. While this rack mount is ridiculously heavy and big compared to the Mac Pro itself, it’s got three PCI Express slots and — hilariously — space for a tape backup.

Mark Zuckerberg Pursued Oculus Over Several Months

Recode’s Kara Swisher has a look inside the deal-making process behind Facebook’s acquisition of Oculus VR:

“I had thought it would be Google, that would have not surprised me,” said one person close to the situation. “But Facebook sees this as a major new platform for the future and wants to build on it.”

Indeed, and not for just gaming, as some have noted already. Many think there are a myriad of ways such devices can be deployed, well beyond games, in the same way tablets and even smartphones have developed.

It seemed a bit cute when, in 2012, a social networking website filed for an IPO. It’s become very clear that Facebook doesn’t strive to be a website, but rather a Google-esque umbrella company with dozens of different ways to gain users (not customers) and, therefore, sell ads against.

But perhaps this Oculus deal marks a serious foray into hardware sales. While the HTC First was a pretty half-assed attempt, the Oculus is an innovative product that’s already semi-available. A friend of mine has a first-generation development kit and it’s a pretty amazing experience. He isn’t so stoked for this deal, though.

March 25, 2014

The New HTC One

Resident reviewer-in-chief David Pierce of the Verge has been using the new HTC One, announced today, for about a week, and has some thoughts on it:

I got to drive my girlfriend’s brother’s brand-new, black Audi A4. I’ll never forget it: it tore through corners and took off with the slightest tap of the pedal, its glowing dashboard of red lights all the while making me feel like I was at the helm of a dangerous weapon.

Well, I think he’s reviewing the phone. Maybe he and Jeremy Clarkson switched roles for a day. Let’s fast-forward a bit:

The phone’s body is the real stunner here, though. It comes in silver and gold (gorgeous and avert-your-eyes ugly, respectively), along with a slightly more subdued brushed-metal gray.

I wonder where they got that idea from.

I’m nitpicking, really. Based on the reviews I’ve seen, the HTC One is almost the phone I’d buy if I were in the market for an Android phone. The only problem? Its camera is still depressingly bad, and I think that’s a deal breaker for many people in 2014. Pity.


Craig Hockenberry, on the pronunciation of the “@” character:

What we’ve seen happen with the @ symbol is the opposite. Many different cultures have seen our “COMMERCIAL AT” symbol and given it a name based on its appearance.

So even though John and I are right about the pronunciation, this is certainly a case where English pales when compared with other languages. I envy my colleagues that get to play with snails and monkeys while coding in Objective-C!

I’ve been working on a project which requires me to use Sina Weibo, and it’s interesting how those of us with English as our first language completely miss that most major programming languages are Anglocentric. We often miss how these languages are interpreted and used by those who do not speak or write English as their first language.

There are, however, some non-English-based programming languages of varying popularity. Dolittle is particularly charming.

March 24, 2014

Obama to Seek NSA Curb on Call Data

Charlie Savage, New York Times:

Under the proposal, data about Americans’ calling habits would be kept in the hands of phone companies, which would not be required to retain the data for any longer than they normally would, according to senior administration officials. If approved by Congress, the changes would end the most controversial part of the bulk phone records program, a major focus of privacy concerns inside the United States since its existence was leaked last year.

As I have said before, I remain optimistic that reforming this system is being taken very seriously. But, while this provides some level of comfort to some Americans, it does nothing for those of us who live outside of the country. While I live in one of the Five Eyes nations, the extent to which Canadian communications are being monitored is unclear. As for those who live elsewhere, this spying remains unethical by the United States’ own standards. As Glenn Greenwald noted yesterday:

Somewhere along the way, this idea arose that the only “legitimate” disclosures involve ones showing violations of the rights of American citizens. Anything else, this reasoning holds, is invalid, and because Snowden leaked documents that go beyond the violation of Americans’ rights, he is not a legitimate whistleblower.

Who created the uber-nationalistic standard that the only valid disclosures are ones involving the rights of Americans? Are we are all supposed to regard non-Americans as irrelevant?

Greenwald goes on to cite the NSA’s hypocrisy of accusing the Chinese government of backdoors in Huawei products while the NSA was actively exploiting similar backdoors in Huawei products.

Yet, I remain a little optimistic. The American people, and people all over the world, have demonstrated that they’re not willing to let this issue slide. With the pressure on, I think reforms will be necessary.

Apple in Talks With Comcast About Streaming Service

Shalini Ramachandran, Daisuke Wakabayashi and Amol Sharma, of the Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. is in talks with Comcast Corp. about teaming up for a streaming-television service that would use an Apple set-top box and get special treatment on Comcast’s cables to ensure it bypasses congestion on the Web, people familiar with the matter say.

The discussions between the world’s most valuable company and the nation’s largest cable provider are still in early stages and many hurdles remain. But the deal, if sealed, would mark a new level of cooperation and integration between a technology company and a cable provider to modernize TV viewing.

This is comparable to the Netflix/Comcast deal announced last month. If Apple’s version of this deal goes through, it will continue to set the precedent for taking a dump on network neutrality. What about a hypothetical New Startup X that can’t afford to make these kinds of deals? Do their customers get a shittier experience until the company can afford to pay Comcast to prioritize their traffic? Does this sound like a scene out of Goodfellas to you, too?

Field Notes “Shelterwood” Edition

The fine Field Notes people:

We all know that paper is made from wood. Our 22nd Field Notes Colors seasonal release is made of wood. The “Shelterwood” edition features covers made from actual American Cherry wood, sliced ever-so-thin and bonded to a substrate of kraft paper for durability. We believe we’re the first notebook company to manufacture such a product at such a scale.

They don’t sponsor this site, and I don’t need notebooks right now, but I had to order a pack because these things are so damn cool. Check out the little film they made, too.

Yahoo, Google and Apple Also Claim Right to Read User Emails

Microsoft isn’t alone. Alex Hern, of the Guardian:

“The problem is, this is a technically legal activity that we all agree to when we sign up to certain cloud services – whether knowingly or not,” says Charlie Howe, director, EMEA at Skyhigh Networks, a cloud security software firm, of Microsoft’s snooping.

“For instance, I would guess that most people don’t actually read the full Terms and Conditions before using a new application, and they would probably be surprised by what they are actually agreeing to when they click the ‘accept’ button on certain cloud services.”

In all cases cited by Hern, each provider’s terms of service allow them to access user email in cases when the provider thinks that it would be reasonable to protect that provider’s service. This is pretty ambiguous, allowing each company some wiggle room as to what may be considered “reasonably necessary to protect the property” of the company in question. Even FastMail, cited by some (including yours truly) as a great way to roll your own email service, has this in their Terms and Conditions (emphasis mine):

The Service Provider will not monitor, edit, or disclose any personal information about you (including your credit card information) or your use of the Service, including its contents, without your prior permission unless required or allowed by law, or where the Service Provider has a good faith belief that such action is necessary to: (1) conform to legal requirements or comply with legal process; (2) protect and defend the rights or property of the Service Provider; (3) enforce the TOS; (4) act to protect the interests of its members or others

Basically, if you want to be absolutely certain that nobody will be snooping your email account, you need to run your own email server. But I’m not aware of FastMail ever using this power, nor Apple, nor Yahoo. Microsoft, obviously, has snooped email accounts and, if you believe Michael Arrington, so has Google.

Apple After Jobs: Pretty Much the Same as Ever

Farhad Manjoo, now writing for the New York Times:

The fact that we don’t know what Apple will do next could be evidence that it has run out of ideas. But you could have said the same thing late in 2001, just before it launched the iPod, or in 2007 just before it launched the iPhone, or in 2010 just before it launched the iPad.

Indeed, people did make such claims then, pointing each time to Apple’s slip into just making incremental improvements, and insisting each time that it meant Apple was done for. History hasn’t been kind to their predictions.

Could those critics be correct now? Sure. The technology industry is brutal, and Apple, like any other company, could fail. But the fact that Apple has gone four years without some category-defining new product isn’t evidence that Apple has lost its way. Instead, it mainly proves that Apple under Mr. Cook is operating just like Apple under Mr. Jobs.

He’s reviewing the tech world’s favourite book, but these three paragraphs are applicable to the predictions from all Apple doomsday prophets.

March 20, 2014

What I Learned Hanging Out With Nigerian Email Scammers

While on the Nigerian scammer tangent, I came across this great little article. Based on the headline, I assumed this would be a story in Vice, but no luck — here’s Erika Eichelberger reporting for Mother Jones:

Ten years ago, Sheye and Danjuma, who are both in their mid-30s, say they could make up to 2 million naira—about $12,000—per Yahoo job, but the “US are very wise” now, Sheye says. They typically only make about $200 per “client” these days, though they know other scammers who still rake in millions of naira through the email schemes. “There is this boy in Kaduna [a city in northern Nigeria] who made over 2 million naira” last year on 419 scams, Danjuma says. “And he is not even 18.”

Also interesting: those involved with the scam don’t see themselves as thieves, and don’t see what they do as stealing.

Trip Chowdhry Is My Favourite Analyst Ever

Look, I know Gruber linked to this, and so you’ve probably read this already, but I’m going to link to it, too, because it amuses me to no end:

Apple needs an iWatch sooner rather than later, or the company will risk losing its innovative edge to rivals, analysts say.

“They only have 60 days left to either come up with something or they will disappear,” said Trip Chowdhry, managing director at Global Equities Research.

“It will take years for Apple’s $130 billion in cash to vanish, but it will become an irrelevant company … it will become a zombie, if they don’t come up with an iWatch.”

There are real people in this world who see Chowdhry’s analysis as astute financial advice, and trade real money based on it. There are also real people who send money to “Nigerian princes” they meet via email.

On Preview, Tags and iOS 8

I think Stephen Hackett is onto something with regard to inter-app file management in iOS. As Android has shown, it’s a really hard user interface problem to solve; they’ve taken a good crack at it, but it’s still not great for users.

I’ve been thinking about file management in the future for a while now. One of the things I think might change is a shift from a file/folder metaphor to a project-based metaphor. Files from one project, regardless of their location in the system, could be grouped together, and the same file could be shared between multiple projects. That’s kind of what tags in Mavericks does, but I imagine a much more intensive implementation.

March 19, 2014

Apple Launches Cheaper 8GB iPhone 5C

I’d still love to know what the mix of 5C to 5S is relative to the mix of 4S to 5 was this time last year. I wouldn’t be surprised if the 5C were selling better in that context, but dramatically below Apple’s expectations.

Also, remember how Apple “had” to introduce a cheaper iPhone because the cheaper competition was selling well? There are two scenarios here:

  1. the pundit- and analyst-friendly interpretation is that the 5C wasn’t cheap enough; or,
  2. iPhone buyers aren’t cross-shopping with less expensive smartphones, and aren’t that interested in a budget version of the iPhone.

I think the latter is far more likely.


Shawn Blanc likes his watches dumb:

My affinity for analog watches doesn’t mean I dislike the concept of the smartwatch. My iPhone is one of the most incredible items I have ever owned and used. But my experience with it has also taught me that the promise of convenient notifications and relevant information is almost always paired with the reality of constant distractions, tugs for attention, and perhaps even an addiction to the “just checks”.

There are people who like constant notification. They might have a smartphone with a little light on it which blinks different colours to tell them what has arrived since they last looked at its screen, or they might have six different news apps, all with breaking news notifications turned on. And, therefore, they might enjoy a smartwatch which buzzes their wrist every time someone mentions them on Twitter.

I kind of get this philosophy; I am, after all, someone who has toyed with the idea of hanging one of those ultra-slim-bezel televisions vertically above my desk with today’s weather, email, and newsy things on it. But I haven’t actually proceeded with that idea. It’s a distraction, and it’s unnecessary.

A 26-Story History of San Francisco

Alexis Madrigal, the Atlantic:

There’s a sense, perhaps, that this latest round of young people to inhabit the shell of the city are somehow not of it, that these tech kids don’t appreciate the the city like the artists and weirdos do. And therefore they don’t deserve it. 

I’m suspicious of those who would exclude the latest wave of arrivals, no matter how boorish or inelegant or rich, especially in San Francisco, a place that has historically been defined by greed and relentless desire for self-creation.

This is the story of 140 New Montgomery, but the building is also a way of thinking about the history and future of the city. 

March 18, 2014

Why Do Big Magazines Hire Hacks for Big Tech Stories?

Jeff Carlson, on the Sunday Times Jony Ive interview:

I really do wish I knew why such high-profile, information-rich interview opportunities like this one are squandered by big magazines. I’m sure it will get lots of page views and maybe newsstand sales, but the editors at Time (and The Sunday Times Magazine, which originally ran the piece) should be embarrassed. I’m not optimistic on that front.

We react this way to tech stories because those of us who understand technology recognize just how flawed they are. But perhaps other stories — arts and entertainment, world news, etc. — are covered in a similarly flawed fashion, and we don’t know where they falter because we’re not sufficiently knowledgeable.

There’s a name for this phenomenon: the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect. Michael Crichton:

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.

Android Coming to Wearables With Moto 360

The promotional video and photos show a simulated display, which is par for the course for marketing materials. Yet, despite a scheduled release for several months away (“Summer 2014″), I can’t find any real-world examples of its use, or even any tech specs. The promo video doesn’t show any product examples, only mockups and a 3D-printed shell.

However, the immediate and predictive qualities of Google Now creates a much more intriguing to-be product than most other smartwatch concepts I’ve seen, but this is still, at its core, a dedicated screen for notifications. I’m interested to see what third parties can do with the form factor as well.

It’s also worth noting that Motorola is introducing a new product in the midst of being sold to Lenovo. I wasn’t expecting that.

March 17, 2014

Making Espresso for Milk Drinks

Canadian barista champion Ben Put of Phil & Sebastian writes about how they recently dialled in their espresso shots when pulling for drinks which include milk:

Espresso can be a very intense and acidic drink if it is not properly brewed. In order to create a balanced espresso, baristas will often adjust how much blonde they add to the end of the shot. The blonde is low in acid and does not contain much coffee solubles so it does a very good job balancing the espresso. Generally, the espresso parameters used to dial in are designed to create this style of espresso: straight espresso for drinking.

Lattes and cappuccinos present a different acidity/bitterness ratio because they contain a third ingredient: milk. Because the milk is sweet and is not acidic it does a very good job softening the intensity and acidity of the espresso. Now a smaller, less extracted, more intense shot is a good thing. The lower amount of extraction will ensure that there is not any perceivable bitterness in the latte and the lower amount of total water in the espresso means that the milk isn’t getting too watered down, which maximizes the sweetness of the drink.

Letting the Machines Mess With Your Text

Harry Marks took at look at two apps which are supposed to help improve writing:

What these apps have taught me is no application can make you a better writer. No application is going to examine your work with an editor’s eye. If you don’t adhere to a series of set black-and-white rules administered by dumb machines, your prose will be considered ill-written and marked for further edits, or worse yet, deletion.

For a fun time, try feeding these apps text from your favourite classic authors to see how their writing could be “improved”

Sniff Petrol’s 2014 Formula 1 Guide

If you’re having trouble remembering what the teams are this year and what kinds of engines they’re using, Sniff Petrol has got your back with their hilarious guide.

In related news, Daniel Riccardo, the second-place finisher of this past weekend’s season debut race in Australia, has been disqualified for exceeding the maximum fuel flow regulations. Red Bull is blaming this on an FIA-spec sensor problem, but no other teams had a similar problem. It’s too bad — Riccardo had a spectacular race.

Introducing OneNote for Mac

Microsoft’s OneNote team:

We’ve seen the countless requests for a Mac client of OneNote, and we’ve been hard at work to deliver it. We’ve been counting the days to finally share with you that OneNote for Mac is now available and you can download it from the app store for free today!

A highly-anticipated Microsoft product that’s available for free on the Mac? Up is down. White is black. I’m so very confused.

There’s a bit of the Microsoft you know and sort-of-admire in OneNote for Mac. Window redrawing is still the pits, and the interface design still leaves a lot to be desired — I’ve always hated the cluttered “Ribbon” toolbar design. But it’s a really unique application that a few of my Windows-to-Mac switcher friends have long wanted back.

Perhaps this signifies the beginning of a new era of Microsoft; one where they become a cross-platform services and products company that happens to have the world’s most popular desktop operating system.

The Jonathan Ive Interview

The Sunday Times yesterday published an in-depth interview with Jonathan Ive, but it was behind a paywall. Time has now published a copy of the story not behind a paywall and it’s, well, an okay interview. In many places, interviewer John Arlidge resorts to tech journalist tropes:

But critics complain about the built-in obsolescence of Apple products, its hermetically sealed operating systems, the need to buy new chargers for new products and the prices it charges. Oh, the prices! $20 for a plastic charger that probably costs less than $2 to make!

Or, take this:

Since Jobs died, Apple has hit a rough patch, at least by its ludicrously high standards. It has not had a break-out hit. There has been no Apple TV set to revolutionize home entertainment. No spiffy watch. (Yet.) The firm’s share price has slumped and it has lost its title of the world’s most valuable firm. Some speculate that, without Jobs, Apple has lost its golden touch.

There’s arguably reasonable justification for including this commentary: Apple, of course, hasn’t launched an all new category since the iPad, and the legacy of Jobs is obvious and irreplaceable. But these tropes illustrate that there’s a disconnect between what some journalists want Apple to be (a lucky fluke) and what it actually is (smart).

There are other points of contention, too — Arlidge writes “[the] titanium Powerbook, the first lightweight aluminum laptop …”, which is just boneheaded. But the interview includes gems of quotes from Ive, like this one:

“We’re surrounded by anonymous, poorly made objects. It’s tempting to think it’s because the people who use them don’t care — just like the people who make them. But what we’ve shown is that people do care. It’s not just about aesthetics. They care about things that are thoughtfully conceived and well made. We make and sell a very, very large number of (hopefully) beautiful, well-made things. our success is a victory for purity, integrity — for giving a damn.”

Design is what Apple knows very well, and it’s not a superfluous thing. It requires a comprehensive understanding of people, materials, behaviour, and so much more. This is what so many fail to understand about design, and it’s why so many tech journalists scoffed when the iPod, iPhone, and iPad were introduced. And, they’ll do it again when Apple introduces its next product because it won’t stack up in a feature checklist. But Ive gets it, and Apple’s customers have proved that they get it, too.

CarPlay Thoughts

Among the many insightful observations in Jean-Louis Gassée’s Monday Note for today, there’s this:

CarPlay replicates your iDevice’s screen as H.264 video spewed through an intelligent Lightning cable connected to your car’s USB port.

Remember all of the bitching and moaning about how changing to the Lightning port was a hassle, and how the proprietary nature of it was so dreadful?

March 16, 2014

Are Malls Over?

Amy Merrick writes for the New Yorker:

… Victor Gruen [is] the father of the enclosed mall in America, and the subject of a 2004 Profile by Malcolm Gladwell. Sixty years ago, construction began on Gruen’s most famous project: the Southdale Center, in Edina, Minnesota, which ended up serving as the prototype for what has become the traditional mall. As Gladwell explains, Gruen envisioned Southdale at the center of a four-hundred-and-sixty-three-acre development that would include apartment buildings, schools, and a medical center. “Southdale was not a suburban alternative to downtown Minneapolis,” Gladwell wrote. “It was the Minneapolis downtown you would get if you started over and corrected all the mistakes that were made the first time around.” But the rest of the development never materialized. Years later, Gruen said that he was in “severe emotional shock” to see malls stranded in their acres of parking lots.

While this article is US-centric, I can think of two more examples of this ridiculous approach to retail and, consequently, the creation of communities and (sub-) urban environments. The first is the creation of the “power centre” — disparate stores, typically of big box brands, surrounding an enormous parking lot. While there are arguably major advantages for brands like Costco and Best Buy being able to operate warehouse-sized stores for a fraction of the cost of inner-city real estate, they aren’t inviting places to shop. Tumbleweeds don’t feel out of place in the parking lots, which have optimistically been built for Black Friday and are nearly empty most other times.

There was a great article about this recently — and I’ll be damned if I can find it; if you know what I’m talking about, please send me a link — which mentioned that people think they prefer the wide, open spaces of a park, or a city with enormous roads. In reality, though, these spaces make us feel vulnerable; we are much more comfortable in enclosed, tighter spaces, as long as loads of other people are squished into the same space as well. It seems paradoxical, but think of how a tight street full of cafés and pedestrians in Paris is much more comfortable than an eight-lane highway.

The second part of mall-centric planning which is so asinine is the idea that building something will draw others towards it and create a community around it. This doesn’t seem to be the case. A few years ago, a gigantic mall opened just north of Calgary’s city limits. During the development permit stage, the provincial government made plain that the closest irrigation district to the mall was at capacity; undeterred, the developers tapped into the resources of the next-closest district. Then the developers realized that the only bus that would pass the mall was a twice-daily intercity route, so they petitioned the city to drive another bus out there more frequently. This is unsustainable.

Then there’s the case of the New South China Mall. It’s the world’s largest shopping mall, but it has sat nearly entirely empty for its entire existence. Interestingly, it was built in the middle of the economically-flourishing region of Dongguan, surrounded by an existing community. However, it has remained 98% empty. Sam Green and Carrie Lozano put together an excellent film about it for PBS’ “POV” program.

Much of the research into “Millennials” (I guess that’s what “we” are being called) has revealed that we are increasingly interested in a more urban lifestyle. Malls can adapt to this, but they will significantly change their form. In Calgary’s in-development East Village, there’s an area called the “Crossing” which, broadly speaking, takes the form of an outdoor mall, with retail on the ground floor and offices or residencies on upper floors. It’s not an original concept by any means — European cities have been doing this for centuries — but the meshing of retail, office, and residential is perhaps the mall of the future. Maybe the promise of an indoor racetrack layout series of not-dissimilar stores isn’t that exciting, really.

However, another mall in Calgary — Chinook Centre — opened a huge expansion just a couple of years ago. It’s an upscale addition to what was a pretty generic — if fairly large — mall, with Tiffany’s, Burberry, and Apple locations. Come September, it will be home to Canada’s first Nordstrom location, too. But, for the hundreds of Apple Store locations in malls, the company also has a bevy of unique, standalone stores. These are far more considered, architecturally-interesting, and impressive locations. Burberry and Tiffany’s are the same. All of these companies understand the value that a unique, separated location can have.

Are malls dead? I’m not entirely sure they are. They’re just evolving.

March 15, 2014

Something That May or May Not Exist Has Been “Cancelled”

Sam Mattera, who you may remember, of the Motley Fool:

This rumored “iPad Pro” (which many sell-side analysts have said is forthcoming) allegedly would’ve sported a 12.9-inch screen. Aimed at enterprise users, it could’ve competed with Samsung’s Galaxy NotePRO 12.2, and may have put pressure on Intel.

But according to DigiTimes, the iPad Pro isn’t coming. The Taiwanese outlet, which has a fairly good track record, has said Apple cancelled the project.

Okay, I’m going to stop you right there. The phrase “fairly good track record” doesn’t belong in the same sentence as any reference to DigiTimes. At all.

Mattera, again:

Finding little support among developers, Apple has killed the iPad Pro…

By definition, a product that doesn’t exist will have little support from developers. Developers don’t build for nonexistent platforms.

The Motley Fool is pretty stupid most days (not to mention slimy — check out the paragraph titled “A Better Investment Than Apple?”). But this is a little dumber than their usual analysis, for the sole reason that Mattera called DigiTimes “reliable”.

March 14, 2014

The End of Trust

Nick Valery, of the Economist:

So, what can be done to prevent another disaster on the scale of the Snowden fiasco, or the recent theft of 110m customer credit- and debit-card details from Target stores that has affected one in three Americans? Best to start by accepting that there is no such thing as a totally secure computer network; that data theft is always going to happen, whether by malicious outsiders or disgruntled employees. The answer (in so far as there is one) is to make the crime as difficult and time-consuming to perform as possible. For those with the know-how, it is laughably easy at present.

Until the first Snowden documents started to trickle out last year, there was a general assumption that many of the software- and hardware-based components of the security chain were fairly secure. Things like HTTPS and RSA keys were regarded as sacrosanct, while the weakest link in the chain was always understood to be people. Now, everything is assumed to be tampered with or totally insecure.

March 13, 2014

High-Resolution Music Is a Marketing Ploy

Kirk McElhearn (via Michael Tsai):

However, if someone really wants to provide “music as it was intended to be heard,” they’d do a lot better to look at the mastering process that’s been destroying music in recent decades. Colloquially known as “the loudness wars,” music producers, prodded by record labels, use dynamic compression to increase the overall volume of music, making it sound horrendous. Since, in general, louder sounds better, or brighter, when you compare two songs, producers have been cranking up the volume to make their songs stand out. But string together an albums worth of overly loud tracks, and it’s fatiguing. But it’s a war of attrition, and our ears are the losers. No high-resolution files will make this music sound better, ever.

I’ve been working on an article of my own on the Pono, but I think McElhearn nails the biggest problem with high resolution audio: the source files directly from the studio are generally terrible. It doesn’t matter if you listen to “Californication” in shitty YouTube quality or via the finest amplifier $150,000 can buy; the original album is mastered so horribly that it’s an affront to proud owners of ears.

Apple iSight

Andrew Kim has started a series of photo essays on early-mid-2000s Apple products. A couple of weeks ago, he published his first on the iPod Mini which, by the way, was my very first Apple product. But the most recent photo essay is of the iSight, which is something really special:

Because electronics have become so miniaturized, I feel like we have lost some connection to our devices. I am typing this on my Retina MacBook Pro and my FaceTime camera is nearly invisible and I have no idea where my microphones are located. Today, we don’t think about turning on our webcam when we call someone – it’s just there. This has put content, and the interactions we have with our computers center stage, but has also made technology more enigmatic.

March 12, 2014

Flying ‘Internet Drones’ Over Africa Is a Dumb Fantasy

Iain Marlow, for the Globe and Mail:

Let me be even more clear: The Internet already exists in Africa! With few exceptions, no matter where I went in Ghana, I got wireless service – and was even able to tether my laptop to my BlackBerry. All of these experiences, as well as quickly signing up for a pre-paid wireless service in nearby Nigeria, make me deeply skeptical about the much-hyped attempts by massive Western corporations to “bring” Internet service to Africans. Google is planning on floating balloons over unconnected parts of the continent. And now Facebook, according to Techcrunch, is looking at buying a drone company called Titan Aerospace to do much the same thing: Toss up solar-powered unmanned flying craft that will beam down Internet to remote areas – like something out of a remake of The Gods Must Be Crazy.

(Marlow clarifies earlier in the article that his use of a BlackBerry put him as an outsider; even in Ghana, there are plenty of Android phones and iPhones in use.)

The efforts of Google and Facebook to bring internet-beaming aircraft to Africa have been greeted with something approaching applause in the tech press, but Marlow points out the significant flaws in their efforts. It’s a cynical article, and that’s even without Marlow raising the profit motivations for spreading internet access to rural Africa. Despite the cynicism, it’s an article that’s on point.

Candy Crush Maker Decides It Will Be Worth About $7.6 Billion Before Its Collapse

John Teti, A.V. Club:

King has filed a revised prospectus for an initial public offering of stock, and it intends to price its shares between $21 and $24. That means that a single share’s worth of King will cost the same as about 30 chocolate bombs in Candy Crush Saga, a game that nobody will be playing a couple years from now. The $7.6 billion self-valuation is an important public-relations step for the company, as it gives journalists a number they can reference when they eventually write stories about the studio’s sudden and calamitous decline.

The Cutting Up of Content

MG Siegler:

True Detective as a seven hour film would be just as amazing as the television show is, but it would be very hard to watch. Attention spans aside, it’s hard to sit through anything for seven hours straight. The genius of True Detective is using the traditional television format of “episodes” to break up the content into easier-to-consume pieces. The sum of those parts is equal to — or perhaps even greater than — the whole if it were one continuous entity.

It’s an interesting point to contemplate, particularly in the wake of the second season of House of Cards, released all on the same day. I didn’t watch all thirteen episodes of the latter on the same day — I spread them over three days — but watching about four hours a day of drama is still overwhelming. True Detective and House of Cards share a high-drama, high-tension format, but the latter’s release format offered viewers the opportunity to overdose on it.

Listening to Nirvana With a Two-Year-Old

Thomas Beller for the New Yorker (via Jason Kottke):

Listening to the song with my son, I noticed an abandon that was childish in its total commitment. You can hear it in the force with which Grohl hits the drums, in Krist Novoselic’s playing, and, most of all, in the release in Cobain’s voice, which is a somewhere between a wail of despair and a delighted squandering of the moment.

Everything was going along fine in our living room until the song got to the break—the low, murky part—at which point Alexander called out to me, “Daddy! It’s scary!”

Nirvana’s music, in its anguish and energy, is scary. “Nevermind” is scary. But the break in “Drain You” is especially scary. I either had to turn it off or find a way to make this work. I didn’t want to turn it off.

I remember the first time I heard “Drain You”: it wasn’t on Nevermind, but rather the still-totally-killer version from MTV’s “Live and Loud” that I downloaded via some shitty P2P application (in fact, I’m pretty sure the linked copy is exactly the same rip I downloaded). While I prefer In Utero over Nevermind any day, “Drain You” remains one of my all-time favourite songs because of the breakdown Beller references.

On a related note, a YouTuber compiled what they consider to be Kurt Cobain’s top five “Drain You” screams, which I completely agree with. Also, Eagle Rock Entertainment produced a Nevermind edition of their Classic Albums series which features an excellent deconstruction of “Drain You” from producer Butch Vig.

March 10, 2014

iOS 7.1’s Incoming Call Screen

One final tidbit about iOS 7.1 (for now): the incoming call screen now shows a small portrait in the upper-right; previously, it was a full screen portrait. Why the change? Well, if you’ve looked at many of the screenshot galleries, you’ve probably noticed that most of them don’t show any portrait at all, because the phone owner hasn’t added photos to their contacts.

Even if you’ve ensured that all of your contacts do have photos, those photos probably don’t have the beautiful focus and smooth depth of field of a stock photo. It’s the same problem that Facebook Home faced: you probably don’t have a lot of professional photographer friends, so most of your friends’ photos probably have lousy lighting and poor focus wrapped in a low-quality image.

This is probably the impetus for the change to the lock screen layout. I have no special insider knowledge or anything, but it seems like the most pragmatic reason.

CarPlay in iOS Simulator

Steven Troughton-Smith found a way to enable a (very temporary) version of CarPlay in the iOS Simulator in the 7.1 SDK. It’s currently intended only for Apple’s internal use, though, so this isn’t necessarily an indication that CarPlay will be open to third parties.

Dot One

There’s a rule of thumb — especially in the institutional or corporate IT world — that it’s advisable to wait until the first “point” update or major system pack of an operating system before upgrading. That release typically includes a host of bugfixes, performance improvements, and various refinements. In the case of iOS 7, with its major interface overhaul and app rewrites, this guideline seems especially pertinent. And, indeed, iOS 7.1 includes a bevy of significant improvements.

Left: iOS 7.0; right: iOS 7.1. Hallelujah.
Italics comparison

For starters, iOS 7 introduced a bug with the display of italicised 400-weight Helvetica Neue: a noticeably heavier weight was used compared to non-italicised text. As the operator of a website with italicised 400-weight Helvetica Neue, you can imagine how happy I am that this has been fixed, and that I can remove my stupid em{font-family:'Helvetica';} hack.

Most intriguingly, there are a bunch of little graphical changes to the overhauled iOS 7. The design team has furthered their use of circles, with a crazy new phone notification screen, small changes to the phone dialer, and a new shutdown slider. This seems arbitrary at first, but it creates consistency between the buttons in the Phone, especially. These buttons are broadly the same size as the iPhone home button which creates a connection between them all (and remember: the home button on an 5S is flat, too). This continuity between individual applications and between hardware and software has been the goal of iOS 7 since its earliest days.

iOS 7.1 shift key

Then there’s the shift key. Look at the screenshots above, and try to guess which of those shift keys are active, from iOS 6 at the top, through iOS 7.0 in the middle, and iOS 7.1 at the bottom. Would you be surprised if I told you that this wasn’t a trick question, and that the activated shift key screenshot is always in the righthand column?

In iOS 6 and 7, the shift key was outlined in an inactive state, and filled in an active state — iOS 7 simply lost the glow effect. In iOS 7.1, this has been changed to a filled look for both states, and you get to guess each time you glance at your keyboard whether the shift key is active or not. The only reason I can think of for this to be changed would be for those with vision problems who can’t see the thin outline of prior keys. Improvements for accessibility reasons are fine, but this is confusing for — and I may be overreaching here — everyone. While I’ve supported many of the changes made in iOS 7, this is a huge step in the wrong direction. At least it’s not as bad as it was in the third beta.

Accessibility options, as a whole, have also been improved in this release. The parallax effect can now be turned off for wallpapers, and you can now enable shapes around buttons. The latter is clearly a feature designed for people who need it, not those who are miserable with the way iOS 7 looks. There’s also a new view in the Calendar app, but you should probably use Fantastical instead — it’s just better. Serenity Caldwell, Dan Moren, and Dan Frakes of Macworld have published a full rundown, if that’s more your speed.

There are some really tiny changes, too. The systemwide light grey has been tweaked to a more grey-blue, which looks far better. The green gradient for Phone, Messages, and FaceTime has changed from lime-like to a more leafy colour. The paging dots on the Springboard are now, blessedly, centred.

I’ve heard that 7.1 runs way faster on an iPhone 4, and it seems way more stable on iPads and 64-bit systems, like my Retina iPad Mini. Animations are generally faster, though I suspect that’s not a code optimization thing but rather a simple duration change. And, of course, there’s the usual slew of security refinements.

I’ve been using the betas of 7.1 since November which, incidentally, was a mistake for the first couple of releases. The changes are subtle and relatively minor, but when I used a friend’s iOS 7.0.x phone recently, I realized how significant these improvements feel. From the faster animations to the slight tweaks, I’m very impressed with the progress that has been made. If you have an iPhone 5S or 4 or any iPad, and you’ve waited to update until the bugs get worked out, I think you’ll be happy with the stability of 7.1. If you’re already running 7.0 on any product, this release makes it that much better.

Of course, if you hated iOS 7’s aesthetic from the start, this won’t interest you in the slightest. But you knew that, didn’t you?

The Data Brokers

Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes reported on data brokers like Acxiom and Epsilon. Nobody at Acxiom would talk to him for the report, but Epsilon did, and it’s a load of horse shit:

Bryan Kennedy is chairman and CEO of Epsilon, which claim to have “the world’s largest cooperative database” including more than 8 billion consumer transactions, combined with an extensive network of online sources. He doesn’t like the term “data broker,” and says Epsilon is a marketing firm that uses data.

Steve Kroft: Can I go on your website and see everything you have about me?

Bryan Kennedy: You can go on our website today and we offer a method by which we can show you the kind of information that we have about you.

Indeed, they do. The process requires you to fill in a form and mail it with a blank, void cheque for verification, requiring a separate form for each name combination you may have (for example, if you go by your maiden name and your marital name separately).

There is no way to do this via the internet because Epsilon believes that “more consumers will have an opportunity to make a/this Marketing Data Summary request”, which is a crock of shit.

Steve Kroft: You’re saying that any kind of regulation on this could cripple the economy?

Bryan Kennedy: I am.

Steve Kroft: And this should be left to industry groups? To self-enforce?

Bryan Kennedy: We think that self-regulation has been very effective. What we’re hearing today is a lot of discussion in Washington. We’re not hearing a lot of discussion, frankly, from consumers. It’s one of the odd things. So, consumers are rushing to the Internet to provide more information about themselves than, you know, we would’ve ever imagined.

Steve Kroft: That surprise you?

Bryan Kennedy: It does surprise me. I don’t do it myself. I’m a consumer, like, like you are.

This is the crucial point of Kroft and Kennedy’s exchange because it’s the most revealing about Kennedy’s habits and what he thinks of his own industry. Kennedy himself points out that more people are handing over more information than ever. Let’s assume Kennedy is of average suspicion of corporate interests — a charitable assumption, I think, given his attitude towards self-regulation. As the CEO of a data brokerage firm, he’s fully aware of the ways his data is being used and has taken steps to limit it. Does he really think consumers are cognizant of how much of their information is being collected and how it is being used?

Meanwhile, self-regulation doesn’t work in cases where it is against the interests of the industry. The less aware consumers are of how their information is being used, the more information they’ll willingly provide and the better the industry will do. Conversely, if consumers were made more aware of how much information is being collected and how it is used, the industry would suffer.

Of course, Kennedy couldn’t really say any of this. Epsilon is part of the crazy huge Alliance Data company, and is publicly traded. Admitting that the industry needs regulation would send the stock tanking. Yet, for all of the flack 60 Minutes deservedly received for their atrocious NSA/Snowden story, this marks a significant improvement for them. Hopefully, this report will make consumers more aware of this industry.

March 8, 2014

GeoGuessr House Rules and Hints

If you’re looking for a moderately educational way to waste away a weekend, you could do a lot worse than playing a few games of GeoGuessr. For those uninitiated, the premise is very simple: you are presented with a Street View of somewhere in the world, and you have to guess on a map where this is in the world. There are five rounds in a game, and you receive more points the closer your guess is to the actual location.

As far as I can figure out, GeoGuessr has no official rules. These are mine.

  1. You can take as long as you feel like on each location.
  2. You can move around as much as you like.
  3. You must discern everything about where you are based on what you see via the Street View area. You cannot use any outside resources — no Google, no texting your Russian friend for a translation.
  4. If you’ve figured out what city or town you’re in or near, you may search that online to get a rough idea of where in the country you are. I find this helps speed up needless wandering through Poland or Northern Canada.

Those are the rules I play by. I find they keep the game challenging while remaining playable.

For a more difficult game, you can toss in these rules, too:

  1. Each round has a set time limit of one, five, or ten minutes.
  2. You cannot move around in the Street View. You may use the zoom control, but nothing else.

Finally, here are a few tips:

  • Pay attention to your compass.
  • Most of Northern Europe has similar looking highways.
  • If it looks like sub-Saharan Africa, it’s probably Western Australia.
  • If it looks vaguely Central or South American, it’s probably somewhere in Brazil.
  • If it looks sparse but still treed, it’s probably the Yukon.
  • If the signs are Cyrillic, it’s likely in the Westernmost third of Russia.

This game has been out for a year, but it’s still as much a challenging timesink as it ever has been.

March 7, 2014

The Satoshi Paradox

Great article from Felix Salmon, for Reuters:

[T]he responsible thing to do, from Newsweek’s perspective, would have been to present a thesis, rather than a fact. For instance, when Ted Nelson attempted to reveal Satoshi’s identity last May, he put together a video where he put forward a theory which he said was “consistent, plausible, and, I believe, compelling”. He then took a step back, and let the bitcoin community more generally come to their own conclusions about whether or not to believe him; in the end, they (generally) didn’t.

Newsweek could have done that. It could have said “here’s a theory”, and then let the world decide. Many people would have believed the theory; others wouldn’t. And lots of us would probably have changed our minds a few times as we weighed the evidence and as Dorian’s own words came out.

But Newsweek didn’t want a theory, it wanted a scoop. And so, faced with what was ultimately only circumstantial evidence, it went ahead and claimed that it had uncovered Satoshi — that, basically, it was 100% certain.

For their part, Newsweek is standing by their story, while the Associated Press is confident in Satoshi’s denial. The dust hasn’t settled on this chaos yet, but, so far, it looks like Newsweek made some guy in Los Angeles hounded and miserable.

Snooping and Charging

Alice Truong, for Fast Company:

On Friday, antivirus software company Avast announced it has detected another bad app(le): Cámara Visión Nocturna, a night-vision video recording app that has been snooping on users’ address books, scraping phone numbers, and automatically signing them up for a paid messaging service.

Softpedia notes that this app was installed by 10,000–50,000 users. Not only that, but it’s a fakey night vision app which includes Play Store screenshots showing a woman in a shower. How fucking creepy is that?

March 6, 2014

The Invention of the AeroPress

Great profile of AeroPress and Aerobie frisbee inventor Alan Adler by Zachary Crockett (via Shawn Blanc):

After a few weeks in his garage, he’d already created a prototype: a plastic tube that used plunger-like action to compress the flavors quickly out of the grounds. He brewed his first cup with the invention, and knew he’d made something special. Immediately, he called his business manager Alex Tennant.

Tennant tasted the brew, and stepped back. “Alan,” he said, “I can sell a ton of these.”

For all its brilliance, it’s really quite a simple product. It has no mechanically moving parts, and the only things which will likely require replacement are the filters, and the rubber plunger end (after a long time). It’s an inexpensive little thing which allows virtually anyone to brew a fantastic cup of coffee. It’s how I start my day, every day.

Considering CarPlay

Speaking of CarPlay, Wes Miller has a question (sic):

It is yet another Apple walled garden (like Apple TV, or iOS as a whole). Apple controls the UI of CarPlay, how it works, and what apps and content are or are not available. Just like Apple TV is at present. The fact that it is not an open platform or open spec also bothers some.

I’m not really bothered by the lack of an open spec, but the extent of third party support is a giant question mark right now. It appears that the auto manufacturer gets an app for various car controls, if they so choose, and a few select third parties also have support.

But are these simply built for another target platform — that is, an iPhone, iPad, and CarPlay universal app — or are they separate apps? Is the development process like that for the Apple TV, where Apple provides a comprehensive framework and it’s simply “skinned” by the third party, or is it a blank slate? Hopefully some internet sleuths can answer all the questions I, and others, have about this.