Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2014

iOS in the Car to Debut Next Week

Henry Foy and Daniel Thomas of the Financial Times know their audience: this article was published with the headline “Apple software to drive smart Ferrari”. Anyway:

First the mobile phone, now the car. Having revolutionised personal communication Apple now wants to change the way we drive.

The technology group will next week launch its first in-car operating system with Ferrari, Mercedes-Benz and Volvo as it attempts to take the lead in a fierce race to dominate tomorrow’s smart cars.

This probably means iOS 7.1 will drop next week, so that’s something to look forward to.

Tim Cook Soundly Rejects Politics of the NCPPR

Bryan Chaffin, for the Mac Observer:

[Tim Cook] looked directly at the NCPPR representative and said, “If you want me to do things only for ROI reasons, you should get out of this stock.”

It was a clear rejection of the climate change denial, anything-for-the-sake-of-profits politics espoused by the NCPPR. It was also an unequivocal message that Apple would continue to invest in sustainable energy and related areas.

For context, the National Center for Public Policy Research is an American right-wing think tank. And, also for context, Apple is one of the most profitable companies in the world, not just in spite of their commitment to seemingly non-ROI-friendly things, but likely because of it. Yet, none of that matters: being environmentally responsible is just the right thing for a company to do.

“Like a Fire Alarm”

Shawn Blanc:

…[I]t’s a bit annoying when an incoming message causes all my devices to beep. […]

It’s not just iMessages either — it’s also reminders and calendar notifications. As I said in my calendar-centric interview with Lex, when an event reminder goes off at my desk, it’s like a fire alarm.

I’ve noticed that Messages is better at detecting activity on a specific device and trying to send the notification to the active device first while delaying others, but everything else that makes noise is still a bit “dumb” to other synced devices. My calendar syncs to my Mac, iPhone, iPad, and another Mac that I use as a local web server — four notifications for the same event is pretty hilarious, I guess.

This is such a challenging problem to solve, though. It sounds easy to detect activity on a particular device and delay notifications to other devices connected to the same account, but it’s awfully hard to execute. Consider that a device may be actively used, but the app in question may not be in the foreground, or the user may not take action on a notification. I know that I frequently let things like calendar notifications slide away without opening the app.

Uber’s Unique Take on Supply and Demand

On the subject of Uber, here’s the Verge’s Ben Popper:

But this Valentines day, while traveling through San Diego in an Uber car, Andrew Lane heard something that disturbed him. “The driver had a Ford Sync system, and it read his text messages out loud.” The message, which came wedged between numerous texts about a promotion for free roses, said, “UberX is very close to SURGE. It’s Valentine’s Day! People will be out all night and we didn’t activate new drivers to make earnings even higher this weekend.”

Sketchy.

Uber Cab Confessions

GQ’s Mickey Rapkin spent a week as an UberX driver:

If there’s one thing these fares all had in common, it was the need to escape: a bad party, Mom’s house, a too crowded post-concert clusterfuck. Uber isn’t worth $3.7 billion dollars just because they built a better taxi service. They built a magic carpet. If you’re at a party and you hear there’s a better one across town? Uber it. Super-rich folks have enjoyed private drivers for years. UberX just brings that luxury to the masses. At the start of 2013, Kalanick told me, 90 percent of Uber’s business was town cars—the fancier line known as UberBLACK. He expects uberX to eclipse it soon. I’m sure he’s right. It’s too easy. No one feels like a baller getting out of a yellow cab. But disappearing into the night? You’re not lame—you’re Rick Ross.

iOS Security White Paper (PDF)

Apple released a white paper today detailing much of the security infrastructure in iOS:

Apple designed the iOS platform with security at its core. When we set out to create the best possible mobile OS, we drew from decades of experience to build an entirely new architecture. We thought about the security hazards of the desktop environment, and established a new approach to security in the design of iOS. We developed and incorporated innovative features that tighten mobile security and protect the entire system by default. As a result, iOS is a major leap forward in OS security.

Absolutely worth a read, especially as it is so readable. While this may be useful to security experts, most of it reads as though it were written for it to be understandable to you and I.

Yahoo Webcam Images From Millions of Users Intercepted by GCHQ

Spencer Ackerman and James Ball, of the Guardian:

GCHQ files dating between 2008 and 2010 explicitly state that a surveillance program codenamed Optic Nerve collected still images of Yahoo webcam chats in bulk and saved them to agency databases, regardless of whether individual users were an intelligence target or not.

In one six-month period in 2008 alone, the agency collected webcam imagery – including substantial quantities of sexually explicit communications – from more than 1.8 million Yahoo user accounts globally.

Just when you thought intelligence agencies had reached Peak Creepy with their interception of web browsing, text messages, Angry Birds, and so forth, they go for the full David Bailey. Along the way, a human being actually approved of this program, thinking it was a great idea. Does anyone in the intelligence community live in the real world where stuff like this is repulsive?

The “Watch” and the “Phone”

Bryce Roberts:

Pushing functionality from a phone to a wrist is a clever trick and maybe there is demand for it. But, my guess is this move by the heavies is less about market demand and more about market saturation.

And:

If you’ve been paying attention to who Apple has been hiring and what job reqs they have open, it’s pretty clear that they’re on the cusp of making a “watch” in the same way they made a “phone”.

Bingo.

VSCO Grid Wants to Be a Museum

Speaking of VSCO Cam, Tyler Hayes asked VSCO CEO Joel Flory about the update:

“The number one request since we launched VSCO Grid was the ability to follow other photographers,” says Flory. “As humans, we are inherently ‘social’, but VSCO Grid is not, nor will ever be a social network. You’ll notice there are no follower counts, no likes, no comments. We like the metaphor of a physical art museum. You would never walk into a exhibition and scribble comments or smiley faces next to a piece of artwork. It’s photography for the sake of photography, without the pressure to create images for the sake of gaining followers. We see the ability to follow photographers’ work as an ever-changing art gallery, not a social network.”

It’s a good metaphor: personal Grids (like mine) are like a portfolio, while the VSCO-curated Grid is like the museum. But, as someone who has curated gallery shows, a small part of me is resistant to the idea that this is as valuable as a museum or gallery for one simple reason: it lacks a curatorial premise greater than “it looks good”. There’s no underlying concept or statement which ties images together, and little regard for placement and organization of images on the page.

But perhaps there’s something to this. Perhaps it’s not curatorially sound on the level of a well-executed show; Ydessa Hendeles certainly wouldn’t use a Grid instead of a gallery. I’m looking forward to seeing how this progresses, however. Right now, though, it feels a bit like someone making a mixtape1 and calling it an album.

Update: It’s unclear as to whether Hayes spoke with Flory; many of the quotations appear to be lifted from this Fast Company article. Flory is a contributor to that site, but he does not link to that post in his.


  1. In the compilation sense of mixtape, not a hip hop mixtape. ↩︎

The VSCO Cam 3.0 Update

I wrote a little update to my review of VSCO Cam for the Sweet Setup. In summary, the best got even better because of some subtle but important improvements.

Mail Improvements in OS X 10.9.2

Joe Kissell, over at TidBits:

Mail is now at the point where it should have been when Mavericks was released.

[…] I’ll begin with the usual disclaimers: not every problem has disappeared, and what works for one person doesn’t necessarily work for everyone. Even so, this is the first version of Mail in Mavericks that feels reasonably reliable, and it’s about time!

I’ll say. Maybe Apple could fix a few longstanding and painful Safari bugs next.

Apple Fixes Its Shit

Among many other things, this fixes the SSH vulnerability. “Only” took five days.

Also adds FaceTime Audio, contact blocking, and an apparent fix for Mail’s myriad problems. Better late than never.

Facebook Quietly Ends Email Address System

The BBC:

Facebook has quietly shuttered its three-year-old email service that gave users “@facebook.com” email addresses.

From now on, emails sent to an “@facebook.com” address will be forwarded to the personal email address from which the member signed up for the site.

This looks like a security problem waiting to happen. Since @facebook.com accounts use a member’s public username, it’s trivial to now email a given user at their personal email address. That opens the door to the possibility of a targeted attack on that email address, which, if connected to anything else, is potentially disastrous.

Perspective

The Verge, when the iPhone 5 was announced:

By all accounts, Apple’s new iPhone 5 is a fine product, a line drive down the middle. It will easily sell millions and likely even break some records — the massive iPhone ecosystem alone will guarantee that. It’s also a little boring, which has led to serious questions about Apple’s willingness or ability to innovate.

The Verge, on the Samsung Galaxy S5 announcement:

What do you do when you’re one of the world’s largest smartphone makers and it’s time to update your flagship device? If you’re Samsung, you trot out the new Galaxy S5, a refined and updated take on last year’s wildly successful Galaxy S4. Like the new Gear wearables, the Galaxy S5 looks and feels familiar, but offers a number of improvements over last year’s edition.

No “serious questions” about their “willingness or ability to innovate.” No “boring” in sight. Just “refined and updated”. Maybe the Verge has much lower expectations for Samsung than for Apple, or perhaps they have simply realized that most companies can’t completely blow their minds every time they update their products. All I’m saying is that some perspective proves useful.

Dear Apple, Fix Your Shit

Kristin Paget:

Come the hell on, Apple. You just dropped an ugly 0day on us and then went home for the weekend – goto fail indeed.

I’m sure it’s more difficult to push out a patch than simply deleting the duplicate line of code, recompiling, and building an installer, but there are millions of Macs out there which are vulnerable to one of the most severe security problems in recent memory. Apple can’t be approaching this lightly, but that’s what it feels like. It’s been three full days since the bug was disclosed and a patch was made available for iOS. Why they couldn’t patch OS X at the same time is a mystery, but it’s a painful and stupid one.

Reverse Engineering ‘Frequency’

We’ve all seen the stats about how many people are born every minute, or how many flights depart every hour, but the genius of Randall Munroe’s implementation is in demonstrating how frequently events occur, especially in relation to each other.

Jeremy Singer-Vine’s reverse-engineering of the Frequency comic back to numbers is less meaningful, but what he does so well is in explaining some of the technical issues with the GIF-based presentation. It’s a great companion piece.

Torpedoed

Back in August, Discovery Channel aired what they presented as a documentary about C. megalodon, the long-extinct giant shark species. The film was widely criticised for presenting the opinion that the megalodon still exists, contrary to scientific consensus and every shred of documentation available. It was akin to Discovery presenting “Expelled” as insightful and factual.

Anyway, the absence of evidence is not necessarily evidence of absence. One of George Monbiot’s readers, though, has found clear evidence of fakery in the documentary. Shameful.

The Nokia X

Nokia has introduced an Android phone, and Tom Warren of the Verge reports:

The X introduces a new “forked” version of Android that’s akin to what Amazon does with its Kindle Fire line. Nokia is effectively taking the open-source elements of Android and then bolting on its own services, a Windows Phone-like UI, and yet another Android app store. The downside to this is that the Nokia X devices won’t have access to Google’s Play store or Google-specific apps like Gmail, Chrome, Maps, and others. However, Android apps will run on the devices with only limited changes required by developers.

I’m sure there are a handful of developers who will modify their apps so that they run on the Nokia X, but redeveloping an app to target a specific model that might not sell that well is probably not that high on most developers’ to-do lists. Couple that to buyers who won’t be able to use Google’s apps and I don’t think this has a chance, even in the emerging markets where this is being targeted. It’s like Nokia decided to make a phone with the app selection of Windows Phone and the lag of Android — the worst of both worlds.

Microsoft’s acquisition of the company is still expected to be complete in the first quarter of this year, so presumably by the end of March. If this lives past June, I’ll be shocked.

Netflix Is Now Paying Comcast for Faster Streaming

Jon Brodkin, Ars Technica:

Netflix has agreed to pay Comcast for a direct connection to the cable and Internet service provider’s network, a move that will improve streaming video quality for Comcast customers, the Wall Street Journal reported today.

News of a paid peering deal comes two days after a traceroute showed that the two companies were exchanging traffic with each other directly.

Those revised net neutrality rules can’t come soon enough.

What House of Cards Got Right About Hackers

Fruzsina Eördögh, writing for Vice Motherboard:

Of all the things that should be celebrated about House of Cards, the accuracy of its hacker story arc should be high among them. This Netflix original series is one of those rare Hollywood-esque projects that bothers to portray the so-called hacker with some authenticity, even going as far as hiring the hacktivist Gregg Housh to consult on the show for months and changing the script based on his suggestions. The show’s hacker subplot is not perfect, but it’s better than most anything else out there right now. More importantly, the hacker character in the show, Gavin Orsay, could have easily been a despicable and scary villain, as the media is wont to portray them. But he’s none of these things.

As this whole hacker and computer culture thing becomes more mainstream, I think the behaviour of hackers, source code, and so forth will become more accurate. At least, that seems to be the case; many of the more ridiculous examples on the Movie Code Tumblr are older.

Another thing of note: David Fincher is an executive producer on House of Cards and, while I’m not certain that he reads every draft of every script of every episode, this attention to detail certainly fits his approach.

(As an aside, Motherboard recently redesigned their website and, in doing so, introduced a “feature” whereby highlighting a short selection will throw up a button to tweet that selection. In some ways, it’s even worse than Tynt: instead of appending a URL to the copied portion when pasted, copy and paste is completely broken — try highlighting a section on the page and copying it. Furthermore, Tynt is served from one domain — tynt.com — which I have blocked in my Javascript blacklist; this is served from Vice’s own servers and, somehow, cannot be blocked.)