Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for March, 2014

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.

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.

Profanity

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.

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.

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.

At

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.

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.

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.