Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for September, 2014

Anger Over Songs Of Innocence

Marco Arment nails it:

The damage here isn’t that a bunch of people need to figure out how to delete a (really quite bad) album that they got for free and are now whining about. It’s that Apple did something inconsiderate, tone-deaf, and kinda creepy for the sake of a relatively unimportant marketing campaign, and they seemingly didn’t think it would be a problem.

There’s one further point I’d like to add as to why this felt so wrong: a music library is a deeply personal collection. It is the whole sum of your life’s soundtrack. It has songs that played while you were laughing with friends, crying alone, making out with your significant other, cooking, cleaning, falling asleep, waking up, working, walking, and so much more. As we are able to take increasing amounts of music everywhere with us, we are increasingly experiencing our lives alongside a soundtrack. Songs of Innocence is an unwelcome wart on my life’s soundtrack. It has inserted itself into my library near albums of far greater importance to me. It feels like a violation of something I cherish.

Here’s a thought exercise: what if it wasn’t a U2 promotion, with their fairly vanilla, insipid tunes? What if it was a band with a bit more bite, like Deftones, or a thirtieth-anniversary reissue of Hüsker Dü’s excellent Zen Arcade? What if it was a tie-in with Run the Jewels’ new record? I wouldn’t have a problem with any of these options, but I suspect many would take offence at being pushed an album with profanity or — shock! horror! — a pointed opinion. I would, however, have a problem with the principle of it. As much as I love Run the Jewels, their new record won’t be added to my iTunes library until I do it myself.

On Death and iPods

Mat Honan, Wired:

Nobody had seen anything like it before. It had a 5GB hard drive packed into a device the size of a pack of cigarettes. I didn’t even know anyone was making hard drives that small. To get through all your songs, it had this wheel that let you click and click and clickckckckckckckckckckck your way through thousands and thousands of songs.

It cost $400. Out of my price range, by a long shot. (I was a junior editor at Macworld trying to pay rent in San Francisco.) But I saved and saved until I could afford one.

Suddenly, they were everywhere. White earbuds on the bus. White earbuds on the plane. White earbuds on every street I walked down, in every city in America. Sometimes you’d go to a party, and the host would leave the iPod hooked up to the speakers, so everyone could take turns DJing. Click the wheel and rock the party.

This day was bound to come eventually, but the quiet death of the Classic is a truly saddening moment. The iPod cemented Apple as the purveyor of cool, and you were immediately mad cooler if you owned one. I felt immediately cooler with my silver Mini, and then my ridiculously oversized (for the time) 60 GB Classic. A friend of mine owned a third-generation iPod — the one with the wheel and the four touch-sensitive buttons across the middle, below the screen. I had friends with Nanos when they were first released, and other friends with Shuffles. Even if you didn’t own an iPod by 2006 or so, you could quickly name ten people you knew with one. And the ads have become totally iconic.

I’ve long harboured a suspicion that the iPod Classic would be discontinued as soon as the iPod Touch got 128 GB of storage, though, and I think this is the year that happens.

Every product line has a lifespan, though. The iPod’s was long — 13 years — and it’s still going. Just not with the one that started it all.

iPhone 6 Displays Demystified

If you followed the rumour blogs prior to Tuesday’s Apple event, very little about the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus came as a surprise to you. The one thing that is surprising is the way in which the 6 Plus handles scaling. It is, as many predicted, a 1,242 × 2,208 pixel interface, but the display itself is 1,080 × 1,920 pixels, so the interface is scaled down to fit. Pixel-perfect scaling of @2x interface elements was already going to be a challenge, but the display itself is not pixel-perfect. It’s “better” in a numbers game against the iPhone 6 and it may look alright at 401 pixels-per-inch density, but that feels like a significant compromise.

“Historical”, My Achtung Ass

Remember ABC’s use of the word “historical” to tease Apple’s keynote? Remember how I got suckered into this, but also reminded you that the last time Apple hyped something to this extent it was the Beatles on iTunes?

Should have seen the U2 thing coming:

“U2 has been an important part of Apple’s history in music and we’re thrilled to make ‘Songs of Innocence’ the largest album release ever,” said Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services. “We get to share our love of music today by gifting this great new album to over half a billion iTunes customers around the world.”

That’s why ABC called it “historical”, and likely not without some prodding.

Gotta wonder if this has a similar arrangement to Samsung’s giveaway of Jay-Z’s Magna Carta Holy Grail, too. Samsung, if you recall, bought a million copies of the album, thereby qualifying it for top 40 charts. Did Apple “buy” 500 million copies of Songs of Innocence? While we’re at it, is U2, as Mitch Bartlett so eloquently put it, a band or a business?

Sure, it’s “historical” for 500 million people to own a single album all at the same time. But there’s a huge difference between 500 million people buying an album and 500 million people being given an album. We buy albums we like or might potentially like, from artists that we already know or look interesting. I wasn’t planning on buying this record, yet I now own it. That’s weird, and not in a “pleasant surprise” kinda way.

It’s not like when Radiohead released In Rainbows, or Saul Williams released “Niggy Tardust”, or Nine Inch Nails released “The Slip” for as much as you want to pay — even free. They didn’t push it to my phone or your iPad. As a result, they felt less like marketing ploys and more experimental and genuine. And, as a result of that, I have purchased all three albums, and I suspect many others have done the same.

As for the U2 album itself, it’s pretty typical U2. Once you’ve heard anything from All That You Can’t Leave Behind onward, you’ve heard everything they’ve done in that time period. They call this record “very personal“, but they also said that about their previous effort. It’s not bad so much as consistently uninteresting.

Unexposed Edition Field Notes

Field Notes:

Here’s what we can tell you: each “Unexposed” pack features three 5.5-inch x 3.5-inch 48-page memo books in an opaque black sleeve.

We won’t ruin the surprise by giving away any more than that, except to say that each pack contains three of the six memo books that make up this edition. So, there are 20 different possible combinations. Which combination you receive is left up to chance. You don’t know what you’ll get, and neither do we! But we’re confident you’ll enjoy them.

I’m ordering a pack of these because of the accompanying film alone.

Stepping Off

Macworld senior editor Roman Loyola was laid off today, along with much of the rest of Macworld. Truly terrible news.

Jason Snell also quit today:

Last December, after several corporate leadership changes, and with budget cuts looming on the horizon, I decided I couldn’t go on. My newest set of bosses persuaded me to stay give them a chance. So I continued to work and ponder my next move.

Then another leadership shift occurred, the sixth in 24 months. The new bosses were actually my old bosses, and they knew exactly how I was feeling about my job and the prospect of going through more painful changes. To their great credit, they allowed us to end our relationship amicably. I thank them for their support and their generosity.

Just awful news all around.

Understanding Apple’s Mastery of the Media

Speaking of Apple and the media, Mark Gurman’s extensive explanation of the way the company plays with the press is required reading. Linking to it is, I assume, grounds for not receiving any more of the press invites and sweet scoops that I never got anyway. C’est la vie.

Apple’s really good at pushing buttons behind the scenes and, of course, great at working the press post-launch. But I think the aforementioned “historic” teaser on ABC is unprecedented. I’m sure it’s ABC who used the word “historic”, not Apple, but how often does a teaser that strong come along about Apple, and what prompted the use of that word?

The Elephant Outside of the Frame

The photographer Errol Morris once gave an excellent lecture wherein he explained the concept of a hypothetical elephant outside of the frame. The idea of this is whether a photograph — often considered prime proof of an event — can be honest if it doesn’t include all available information. Put another way, is there anything just outside of the framed area that might be relevant or pertinent?

Anyway, I only bring this up because Amazon reduced the price of the Fire Phone from $200 to $0.99 today, and I made Jeff Bezos a graph of Fire Phone sales for his next presentation:

Amazon Fire Phone sales

“What Smart, Efficient Design Looks Like”

The main way Samsung’s Galaxy Alpha is differentiated from the iPhone 5S is that its faux antenna breaks are on the top and bottom instead of on the sides. Also, it says “SAMSUNG” on the front, just in case you forget what phone you’re using. I wouldn’t blame you, though.

Joan Rivers

Another one of my very favourite public figures has passed away.

“My parents just didn’t like me. Till I was 9, my mother was trying to get an abortion. That sticks with you. That hurts. She said to her doctor, ‘Is there any possible way to get rid of this thing?'”

Twitpic is Shutting Down

More Twitter-is-now-behaving-like-a-huge-company news. Noah Everett:

We originally filed for our trademark in 2009 and our first use in commerce dates back to February 2008 when we launched. We encountered several hurdles and difficulties in getting our trademark approved even though our first use in commerce predated other applications, but we worked through each challenge and in fact had just recently finished the last one. During the “published for opposition” phase of the trademark is when Twitter reached out to our counsel and implied we could be denied access to their API if we did not give up our mark.

Unfortunately we do not have the resources to fend off a large company like Twitter to maintain our mark which we believe whole heartedly is rightfully ours. Therefore, we have decided to shut down Twitpic.

Guess we have to get used to the formerly-friendly Twitter becoming a bully. Shame.

Twitter Timelines Are Going to Change in a Big Way

Yoree Koh, Wall Street Journal:

This is related to Twitter’s larger aim to better organize its content—to separate the interesting and timely tweets from the noise. Twitter has already begun tweaking the timeline where tweets appear—most notably (and controversially), by introducing tweets from accounts users haven’t chosen to follow.

Twitter’s timeline is organized in reverse chronological order, a delivery system that has not changed since the product was created eight years ago and one that some early adopters consider sacred to the core Twitter experience. But this “isn’t the most relevant experience for a user,” Noto said. Timely tweets can get buried at the bottom of the feed if the user doesn’t have the app open, for example. “Putting that content in front of the person at that moment in time is a way to organize that content better.”

Twitter has always had a bit of a shaky business model, especially if you look at the way it was used in about 2008 or 2009. I understand that these changes will allow users to Engage with Brands™ and therefore drive Twitter’s revenue, but this is ultimately a really shitty move for users. A Twitter timeline is a user’s rolling guide to the day, as viewed through the scope of their interests and time. That much is absolutely central to the Twitter experience, and should be sacrosanct for the company. It’s too bad that they don’t see it that way.

Notes on the Celebrity Data Theft

Nik Cubrilovic:

What we see in the public with these hacking incidents seems to only be scratching the surface. There are entire communities and trading networks where the data that is stolen remains private and is rarely shared with the public. The networks are broken down horizontally with specific people carrying out specific roles, loosely organized across a large number of sites (both clearnet and darknet) with most organization and communication taking place in private (email, IM).

This is frightening. It’s not just celebrities who are targeted, but the accounts of women — almost exclusively — of any level of fame, or lack thereof.

What I was trying to say earlier and did not entirely elaborate on is that this subculture is a product of a culture that objectifies women and their bodies. It turns intimate images into currency for a particular group of men who see what they’re doing as a challenge, or as a threat vector. It would be irresponsible to equate this to the physical act of rape, but, on some level, it works toward a similar psychological trauma. It’s less typically violent, but it is no less a violation.

(Please avoid reading the comments on the linked article.)

Update: Edited to clarify that rape is not always a violent act.

The Great Naked Celebrity Photo Leak of 2014

Roxane Gay, in an editorial for the Guardian:

It’s not clear what the people who leak these photos hope to achieve beyond financial gain and a moment of notoriety. I suppose such impoverished currency is enough. The why of these questions is hardly relevant. These hackers are not revealing anything the general public does not already know. BREAKING: beneath their clothes, celebrities are naked.

What these people are doing is reminding women that, no matter who they are, they are still women. They are forever vulnerable.

I’ve seen a handful of people (read: men, typically) on Twitter suggest that weak passwords were at fault here. That’s like saying that a lack of a deadbolt on the door of the women’s locker room is invitation enough for people (read: men, typically) to creep around in there. There are others stating that celebrities shouldn’t back up their nude selfies, or take nude photos at all. Again, this is entirely wrong.

If you are a man — especially a white male — and a member of the general public, you’re probably not going to be targeted to have your most intimate photos or text broadcast to the world. If you’re a woman — and especially a public figure — there are assholes who feel entitled to your most intimate photos, and think that it’s fair game for them to be in the public realm. Not only is this criminal, it’s morally bankrupt. There is absolutely no excuse for anyone to view these photos, or for them to be leaked in the first place.

Given enough time, anyone can crack Jennifer Lawrence’s password, but, really, nobody should even be trying to. We should respect everyone’s right to privacy equally.