Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for June, 2013

Firefox Web Browser to Move Ahead Plan to Block Tracking

Craig Timberg, of the Washington Post:

The maker of the popular Firefox browser is moving ahead with plans to block the most common forms of Internet tracking, allowing hundreds of millions of users to eventually limit who watches their movements across the Web, company officials said Wednesday.

Firefox’s developers made the decision despite intense resistance from advertising groups, which have argued that tracking is essential to delivering well-targeted, lucrative ads that pay for many popular Internet services.

When this is implemented, there will be just one major web browser which does not block third-party cookies nor enable the Do Not Track standard by default. No surprises, then, that it’s made by an advertising company.

Flood

Two weeks of relentless downpour combined with the accelerated summer melting of the glaciers to Calgary’s west has culminated in a major flood. I’m far enough away from the evacuation zones that I should be fine, but others haven’t been so lucky; vast swathes of the city are currently underwater.

C’mon Jim

Jim Dalrymple:

Whenever I see “Presented by Samsung Galaxy S4” I have to wonder. I don’t remember Josh [Topolsky] ever being so brutal—some might say unfair—on an Apple product that is clearly not finished.

While I disagree with parts of Topolsky’s criticism and find his response to a developer preview somewhat premature, it’s something else entirely for Dalrymple to accuse him of being biased and ethically deficient. From the Verge’s ethics statement:

Our company has its own advertising team responsible for selling ad space on our site. We do not accept money or other consideration from companies as a condition or incentive to write a review or story, whether favorable or unfavorable, on The Verge. All reviews and other editorial on The Verge are based on our editorial discretion, and not based on the desire of any company, advertiser or PR firm. Our editorial staff may not interact with the sales or marketing teams of companies or advertisers that offer products that may be reviewed by us.

It is unambiguous: the editorial and advertisement departments are separate. This is the way it has been in advertisement-supported media for a long-ass time. While there are instances of advertiser bias (PDF) in media, it’s a giant stretch for Dalrymple to accuse the Verge of it based on one editorial from their editor-in-chief.

Inside Digg’s Race to Build the New Google Reader

Mat Honan, Wired:

“I would love to be able to configure the Digg button to just do what I want,” McLaughlin says. “We’ve got to rejuvenate that whole infrastructure. Digg buttons have remained remarkably resilient around the Internet. But to rejuvenate that we have to make the verb meaningful again.”

McLaughlin is talking about the future of Digg Reader, the project he and his small team of fifteen have been working on for the past month. Right now it’s just a mess of code, Keynote sides, and shit on a whiteboard. They need to turn it into a real product, one to take the place of Google Reader, which shuts down on July 1. They have less than 60 days.

The way Honan puts together the entirety of this fascinating story makes the bigger Betaworks picture more complete. It all starting to make sense.

Video on Instagram

Kevin Systrom:

Today, we’re thrilled to introduce Video on Instagram and bring you another way to share your stories. When you go to take a photo on Instagram, you’ll now see a movie camera icon. Tap it to enter video mode, where you can take up to fifteen seconds of video through the Instagram camera.

It’s like Instagram, but for video. It’s Vine, but the videos are longer, have filters, and don’t get embedded in your Twitter stream. It’s exactly what you expected.

Was this an inevitable progression, or was this almost solely a reaction to Vine?

Microsoft Nearly Acquired Nokia

Wall Street Journal:

Microsoft Corp. was recently in advanced discussions with Nokia Corp. about a purchase of the Finnish company’s device business, according to people familiar with the matter, in a marriage that could have reshaped the mobile-phone industry.

Fascinating stuff. Imagine a Surface Phone — a combination of Nokia’s hardware engineering, Windows Phone for the OS, and some dubstep in the ad.

Great Basin

Coudal Partners has put together another understated and subtle way of selling their Field Notes notebooks:

The idea was fairly simple, though complex in the making: for those of us in big metropolitan, light-polluted areas like Chicago who can’t see the night sky very clearly, we wanted to travel to this beautiful, dark section of rural Nevada and then bring the stars back with us, capturing a full night sky to be played back, in real time.

I haven’t seen the stars like this for a long time. Beautiful.

“The NDA Is More Defensive Than Offensive”

Stephen Hackett:

While Apple is surely more relaxed than it used to be when it comes to the NDA, I can’t help but think that it is still in place just so Apple has something in its back pocket if something truly crazy ever happened. It’s a safety net, in some respects, like patenting any thing the company’s employees can think of. The NDA is more defensive than offensive at this point.

I figured Apple would use the NDA to nuke idiots who review betas three months before release time, but that doesn’t appear to be the case. It doesn’t make sense if they don’t enforce it.

Wrong

Neven Mrgan:

Jony Ive’s new “icon grid” is a guide meant to ensure that different apps’ icons look harmonious on the home screen. That’s a lofty goal. The issue of whether a grid can really accomplish that is complex; most designers think that non-block-based designs (so, not paragraphs of text, not photos, not headings) require a lot of “optical adjustment”. This is fancy talk for “tweak it so it looks right.”

Astute. It’s the same reason why monospaced fonts don’t look “right” for body text; different letters require varying amounts of space to appear visually similar.

What Part of “Beta” Does Farhad Manjoo Not Understand?

Farhad Manjoo, Slate:

It’s been almost a week since I installed Apple’s new mobile operating system on my iPhone 5. (You can get iOS 7 if you’re an iOS developer, or if a kind developer registers your iPhone with Apple. Beware: The OS is still in beta phase, so it’s annoyingly buggy.) Because the software is clearly a work in progress, I’ve tried to give it every benefit of the doubt, and I expect that a lot of it will be improved by the time it’s launched publicly in the fall. At this point, though, I’m puzzled by iOS 7.

Are you really doing this? A review of iOS 7, several months before it is due to be released in a currently-unfinished state, while flouting the non-disclosure agreement?

Manjoo addresses the latter point on Twitter:

@BodyofBreen @drm510 @Slate Which part of “beta” do you find difficult to understand? (I did not sign an NDA.)

Looks like he paid some money to have his UDID registered.

And what part of “beta” does Manjoo not understand, for that matter? It’s not a Google “beta”; it’s an honest-to-goodness unfinished piece of software for development purposes only.

Manjoo doesn’t even know what his own point is:

Take one of the biggest design innovations in iOS 7, the use of translucent interface “layers” that pile on top of one another. When you look at the home screen, you’ll see two different planes—a layer of app icons on top, and beneath that a layer of wallpaper. You don’t know they’re two layers until you angle your phone; when you do, you’ll notice the top layer of icons shift against the bottom layer of wallpaper, creating the effect of parallax. Then swipe down from the top of the screen to bring down iOS’s Notification Center. In old iOS, this pane was opaque, carrying the texture of faux linen; all such textures have been removed in iOS 7. Now the Notification Center is another translucent plane—just behind it, you can see your app icons, like you’ve brought down a piece of frosted glass over your home screen.

Got that? The redesign has clarified the layers of iOS.

OK, so? How do these planes improve how your phone works? They don’t. The parallax effect is an innovation Ron Popeil of Ronco might prize—it will look great in ads, but on your own phone, having your icon shift position as you move your screen feels gimmicky, purposeless, and mildly irritating. It smacks of unnecessary ornamentation, calling into question Apple’s iOS 7’s marketing copy: “We don’t add features simply because we can, because it’s technologically possible.”

The parallax home screen helped Manjoo understand that the new iOS is made of layers. At the same time, he claims it’s “purposeless”. Are you kidding me?

If Manjoo had an interest in remedying the problems he finds in iOS 7, he’d file a radar. I’d be willing to bet you a MacBook Air that, as of posting time, he hasn’t filed a single bug report.

Morning for iPad

Chris Masterson and Jeff Dlouhy recently launched Tamper, an iOS apps company. Their first app is called Morning, and it’s fantastic. My only complaint is that it launched without portrait orientation support.

MacBook Air Reviews Roundup

Nilay Patel, The Verge:

13 hours and 29 minutes. That’s all you really need to know — that’s how long the new MacBook Air running Safari lasted running The Verge Battery Test, which cycles through a series of websites and images at 65 percent brightness. Run time in Chrome was shorter, at 11 hours and 29 minutes, but both are still ridiculously impressive. In fact, it’s the record for a laptop running our test without an external battery.

It’s the same story for Tim Stevens at Engadget:

This year’s Air survived 12 hours and 51 minutes on a charge. That’s a stunning number from a laptop this thin, achieved with WiFi enabled and without any external batteries.

PC Magazine’s Joel Santo Domingo got an even more impressive result:

The new MacBook Air 13-inch lasted a staggering 15 hours 33 minutes on our battery rundown test. That is more than double the six hours we get from the best ultrabooks using 3rd-generation Intel Core processors…

These results are with Mountain Lion, too; imagine the kind of battery life you can expect with the totally bitchin’ advances in Mavericks.

Shakespeare.txt.jpg

Tom Scott:

JPEG image compression is lossy. Every time you edit and save a picture, some of the original content is lost. But it’s difficult to see that with the naked eye, so I compressed Shakespeare instead.

I wish I had thought of this. Very clever.

Apple’s Commitment to Customer Privacy

Apple now joins Facebook and Microsoft in issuing a more robust explanation as to the extent of US government data requests. The truth of the PRISM program seems to be somewhere down the middle of what has been reported so far. Ed Bott, ZDNet:

On Thursday, June 6, the Washington Post published a bombshell of a story, alleging that nine giants of the tech industry had “knowingly participated” in a widespread program by the United States National Security Agency (NSA).

One day later, with no acknowledgment except for a change in the timestamp, the Post revised the story, backing down from sensational claims it made originally. But the damage was already done.

Indeed, the statements by Facebook, Microsoft, and Apple correlate with their assertion that they do not provide open and complete server access to the NSA. This is contrary to the initial reporting from the Guardian and Washington Post, both of which stated that the companies were handing over data in bulk and with open access.

From Apple:

We do not provide any government agency with direct access to our servers, and any government agency requesting customer content must get a court order. […]

Regardless of the circumstances, our Legal team conducts an evaluation of each request and, only if appropriate, we retrieve and deliver the narrowest possible set of information to the authorities. In fact, from time to time when we see inconsistencies or inaccuracies in a request, we will refuse to fulfill it.

Microsoft:1

We have not received any national security orders of the type that Verizon was reported to have received that required Verizon to provide business records about U.S. customers.

Facebook:

We’ve reiterated in recent days that we scrutinize every government data request that we receive – whether from state, local, federal, or foreign governments. We’ve also made clear that we aggressively protect our users’ data when confronted with such requests: we frequently reject such requests outright, or require the government to substantially scale down its requests, or simply give the government much less data than it has requested. And we respond only as required by law.

This is still very uncomfortable to me, a non-American necessarily using vast amounts of American products. This isn’t over yet, and that’s a good thing. This stuff is important.


  1. Microsoft provides much more information than this, including details on the specific restrictions of reporting these requests: “We are permitted to publish data on national security orders received (including, if any, FISA Orders and FISA Directives), but only if aggregated with law enforcement requests from all other U.S. local, state and federal law enforcement agencies; only for the six-month period of July 1, 2012 thru December 31, 2012; only if the totals are presented in bands of 1,000; and all Microsoft consumer services had to be reported together.” ↩︎

A Surprisingly Simple Fix for Imbalanced Volume From Apple In-Ear Headphones

I’ve tried a lot of headphones and earbuds, but I’ve been unabashedly impressed with Apple’s in-ear headphones since I bought my first pair in 2011. Apple’s standard headphones are mediocre, but the combination of rich bass and crisp highs in the in-ears is worthy of comparison to headphones that cost three times as much.

The left channel of the first pair seemed to crap out in February 2012, but the headphones were replaced under warranty. You can imagine my surprise, then, when the left channel of my replacement pair apparently died yesterday. The sound was barely audible out of the one channel.

Since I take very good care of them, I figured it must be either a build defect with the headphones, or something must be stuck inside. I disassembled both earbuds to find nothing wrong, did a basic Q-Tip cleaning, and reassembled them. But now the sound was inaudible from the right channel. What gives?

It seems that the tiniest bit of lint on the mesh caps is sufficient to almost completely block the sound from the tiny buds. I found that it was easy enough to clean the mesh caps by dropping them in a glass jar half-full of water, screwing the cap on, and shaking gently for about 30 seconds. Apple recommends letting them sit in hot water with a drop of dish soap for 30 minutes, but my method is quicker and should be just as effective if your mesh caps aren’t completely disgusting.

Now I’m doubting that my 2011 earbuds were broken. It could have just been lint.

Requiem for a Back Button

Khoi Vihn doesn’t like the back “button” in iOS 7:

The pre-iOS 7 back button consolidated these things into a single button shape that tapers into an arrowhead on the left side, and it housed a text description of where the button would lead you. It basically did three jobs with a single element.

The old back button really is a clever piece of design.

You Know What’s Cool?

Leena Rao and Alexis Tsotsis, TechCrunch:

We’re hearing from multiple sources that private social network Path is raising a new round of funding that could value the company as high as $1 billion. […]

Path, which now has 12 million users, was founded in 2010 and is led by former Facebooker Dave Morin.

A valuation of $83 per user is a little over twice that of Instagram when it was acquired, and Instagram isn’t slimy or spammy. Path thinks they’re worth twice the GDP of the British Virgin Islands.

What a crock of shit.

Why Apple Added a Male Voice to Siri

Josh Centers, Tidbits:

One of the less-discussed features in iOS 7 is the new male voice for Siri, but why is Apple adding it now? According to Stanford professor Clifford Nass, one cringeworthy reason could be because female voices are sometimes seen as less intelligent than male voices.

Basically, because of shitheads.