Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for October, 2017

iPhone 8 and Qi Inductive Charging

Ben Bajarin:

There is a lot to like about the promise of wireless charging. That said, I’ve used wireless charging solutions from many smartphone manufacturers through the years, and I’ve never had a flawless experience with any of them. Unfortunately, the same is true with Apple’s latest offering with iPhone 8/8 Plus. In the few weeks, I’ve been using an iPhone 8 and the Mophie wireless charging pad I have woken up the next day to an iPhone that did not charge and has less than 10% battery at least several times a week. This last week alone it happened three times. For a myriad of reasons, from charging coils, to pad design, etc., when using this pad the iPhone and Mophie pad have to be aligned just right, or it won’t charge. You can’t just drop it down anywhere on the pad but instead need to align it just right. Where this impacts me, is throughout the night my phone may get a notification buzz and as a result will move off the sweet spot and then stop charging.

Via Michael Tsai who received a tip from Phil Wu that Panasonic’s QE-TM101 charger — which, as far as I can figure out, was never officially sold outside of Japan — includes moving charging coils that automatically align to your phone. There are also Qi charging pads that have multiple coils to reduce the likelihood of a phone slipping out of range.

Even so, this shows why Qi isn’t a real wireless charging standard. True wireless charging shouldn’t care that your phone is within a couple of centimetres of a precise area. True wireless charging wouldn’t care which way up your phone is placed, either — maybe I’m just a little bitter about that because my sleep tracking app of choice requires my iPhone to be placed screen side down on my nightstand.

There may be some relief coming: Apple says that they’re going to release a software update that will enable faster charging speeds, and the coming AirPower charger will have support for multiple devices, which indicates to me that you won’t have to be quite so precise in placing any particular device.

But I still don’t see Qi as anything more than an obvious stepping stone between a cable plugged directly into your phone, and some kind of power emitter placed in the general vicinity of your phone. Until that latter technology arrives, I think the intermediate solutions will feel half-baked and inadequate.

Designing Apps for the iPhone X’s Notch

Max Rudberg has followed his excellent piece on designing UI elements for the bottom of the iPhone X’s display with this piece about designing for the top. There are a lot of great ideas here that, to my eye, make the most of a less-than-satisfactory resolution of the sensor housing. These design decisions are currently being made without an iPhone X in hand, though; I’m very interested to see the evolution of app design within, say, the first few months of the X’s availability.

IRS Awards Multimillion-Dollar Fraud-Prevention Contract to Equifax

Steven Overly and Nancy Scola, Politico:

The IRS will pay Equifax $7.25 million to verify taxpayer identities and help prevent fraud under a no-bid contract issued last week, even as lawmakers lash the embattled company about a massive security breach that exposed personal information of as many as 145.5 million Americans.

A contract award for Equifax’s data services was posted to the Federal Business Opportunities database Sept. 30 — the final day of the fiscal year. The credit agency will “verify taxpayer identity” and “assist in ongoing identity verification and validations” at the IRS, according to the award.

The notice describes the contract as a “sole source order,” meaning Equifax is the only company deemed capable of providing the service. It says the order was issued to prevent a lapse in identity checks while officials resolve a dispute over a separate contract.

This is the single greatest example of incompetence I’ve seen today, and that includes the American president flinging paper towels at suffering people in Puerto Rico and confusing the Coast Guard and Air Force at a press conference.

Yahoo Announces That All Three Billion User Accounts Were Compromised in 2013

Hey, remember that gigantic security breach at Yahoo? No, not that one. No, not that one either. The one where they announced that over a billion user accounts had been compromised. Well, Oath’s PR department dropped a doozy of a press release today:

Subsequent to Yahoo’s acquisition by Verizon, and during integration, the company recently obtained new intelligence and now believes, following an investigation with the assistance of outside forensic experts, that all Yahoo user accounts were affected by the August 2013 theft. While this is not a new security issue, Yahoo is sending email notifications to the additional affected user accounts. The investigation indicates that the user account information that was stolen did not include passwords in clear text, payment card data, or bank account information. The company is continuing to work closely with law enforcement.

Yep — every single one of the three billion accounts that Yahoo was in charge of maintaining had its information stolen. If you ignore the press release’s spin of what wasn’t stolen, you’ll notice that they omit what was: as acknowledged previously, that includes names, email addresses, MD5 hashed passwords, phone numbers, birthdates, and security questions and answers.

This is the second greatest example of incompetence I’ve seen today.

There’s an Easy Apple Maps Joke Here, I Just Know It

Kirk McElhearn:

I set up two-factor authentication for my Apple ID yesterday. I had tried previously, and it was a disaster. In spite of some confusing instructions from Apple, it seems to have worked so far.

But I was surprised to find that, when I was logging into different devices, it didn’t show the correct location.

I’m not near London; I’m about 100 miles away.

Glenn Fleishman, Macworld:

[…] My wife routinely is told she’s logging in from about 30 miles south, although on the same home network, it’s more accurate for me. If we both had this issue, I’d expect that the IP address of our network was misplaced in whatever geo-identification system Apple relied on to match IPs with a rough place on the globe.

This is particularly troubling because two factor authentication is promoted as being a more secure login option. If a typical user were to set that up and then be shown a map of a login attempt from miles away, they may be concerned, and reasonably so. I get that the map is supposed to help authenticate a login attempt with an additional piece of information, but is that enough of a reason to display it, if it is unreliable? I’m not so sure.

Taking Responsibility for Algorithms

Two great articles on the rash of bullshit — not inaccurate, not erroneous, but bullshit — stories that dominated the top of Google’s search results after Sunday night’s tragedy in Las Vegas and, indeed, after every major tragedy in recent years.

First, Charlie Warzel, Buzzfeed:

Facebook hopes to become a top destination for breaking news, but in pivotal moments it often seems to betray that intention with an ill-conceived product design or a fraught strategic decision. In 2014, it struggled to highlight news about the shooting of Michael Brown and the ensuing Ferguson protests. News coverage of the events went largely unnoticed on the network, while instead, News Feeds were jammed with algorithmically pleasing Ice Bucket Challenge videos. And during the 2016 US presidential election, it failed to moderate the fake news, propaganda, and Russian-purchased advertising for which it is now under congressional scrutiny. Meanwhile, it has made no substantive disclosures about the inner workings of its platform.

Google has had its fair share of stumbles around news curation as well, particularly in 2016. Shortly after the US presidential election, Google’s top news hits for the final 2016 election results included a fake news site claiming that Donald Trump won both the popular and electoral votes (he did not win the popular vote). Less than a month later, the company came under fire again for surfacing a Holocaust denier and white supremacist webpage as the top results for the query “The Holocaust.”

And William Turton, the Outline:

The only reasonable conclusion at this point is that tech companies like Google and Facebook do not care about fixing this. Based on Google’s statements it does not appear that the company plans to prevent 4chan from popping up in its top stories module in the future. Instead it defers to the vagaries of its algorithms, as if doing anything proactive would be interfering with their sacred work. “There are trillions of searches on Google every year. In fact, 15 percent of searches we see every day are new. Before the 4chan story broke, there wasn’t much surfacing about [geary danley], and so we weren’t showing a Top Stories section for this set of queries. So when the fresh 4chan story broke, it triggered Top Stories which unfortunately led to this inaccurate result,” the company said in an email. The wording from Google here is strange, as 4chan has no news stories, only threads populated with the images and musings of 4chan users.

As with advertising on their platforms, Google and Facebook are only too happy to take credit for the successes of the algorithms they built, but demur to take the blame when their code does something stupid. They will gladly own their code — do you think Google would ever make public their precise methodology behind search rankings? — but refuse to take responsibility for it.

Senate Confirms Ajit Pai to New Five-Year Term at FCC

David Shepardson, Reuters:

The U.S. Senate on Monday confirmed Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai for another five-year term on the telecommunications regulatory panel where he faces decisions over dismantling Obama-era internet protections and a major television station merger.

Pai won confirmation by 52-41 over objections from Democrats, who criticized him for moving to deregulate U.S. telecommunications rules. Republicans praised him for taking steps to boost rural internet service.

The FCC under Pai was recently criticized for their slow response to the aftermath of hurricanes devastating Puerto Rico, and couldn’t be bothered to check FCC regulatory filings before demanding that Apple activate nonexistent FM radio chips in iPhones.

To his and Republicans’ credit, Pai is taking steps to improve broadband access for those in rural communities, but he’s also proposing to reduce the standard of what constitutes “broadband” internet access. If the latter adjustment passes, that could allow the FCC to fudge the numbers on how many Americans have sufficient access to broadband internet.

Even so, Pai’s proposal to reject attempts to regulate large internet service providers cum media conglomerates, and prevent them from restricting competing services or certain websites is dogmatic crappy policy, and should have been enough to turf this jackass.

This vote is retroactive; Pai’s new five-year term began in July of last year.

Equifax Announces More Americans Impacted by Security Breach

Equifax’s press release today, announcing the conclusion of Mandiant’s investigation:

The completed review determined that approximately 2.5 million additional U.S. consumers were potentially impacted, for a total of 145.5 million. Mandiant did not identify any evidence of additional or new attacker activity or any access to new databases or tables. Instead, this additional population of consumers was confirmed during Mandiant’s completion of the remaining investigative tasks and quality assurance procedures built into the investigative process.

The relatively good news is that the number of Canadians impacted is far lower than previously estimated.

Additionally, it strikes me as slimy and opportunistic of Equifax to announce this while news of the worst mass shooting in post-war American history is on everyone’s mind. Their inability to adequately secure even more Americans’ information can wait until people have time to mourn, grieve, and — over time — find any means of turning their pain into ideas and policies that make the country a better place to live.

Western Digital Bungled Their Attempt to Purchase Toshiba’s Flash Storage Business

Pavel Alpeyev and Ian King, Bloomberg:

Tempers first flared at an April meeting at Western Digital’s headquarters, where [Western Digital CEO Steve Milligan] sat across from Toshiba’s head of the chip unit, Yasuo Naruke. The American CEO made a low-ball offer of $13 billion for the business and said he’d use his rights as Toshiba’s partner to block a sale to anyone else, according to people who attended the meeting.

With a helmet of dark hair parted neatly on the side, Naruke projects an image of calm restraint, but the 62-year-old engineer fumed the whole way home to Tokyo on the airplane, according to the people. He believed Milligan was trying to take advantage of Toshiba’s problems to buy the chip business on the cheap, they said.

Ultimately, a Bain Capital consortium that includes Apple bought the division for $18 billion, which means a couple of things: Western Digital blew a major chance to own a big slice of one of the hottest industries on the planet, and this acquisition will likely be seen in the future similarly to how we now see Apple’s purchase of P.A. Semi in 2008. The biggest differences between the acquisition of P.A. Semi and this Toshiba buy are in exclusivity — Apple is just one of several buyers — and total price tag. But even if Apple won’t be taking over Toshiba’s entire production, it should give them an opportunity to lower their costs — and, hopefully, prices to consumers — in a complicated market.

Documenting Our Experiences

Hannah S. Ostroff, on Twitter, responded to Arielle Pardes’ article last week in Wired about Instagram-friendly art installations:

Let’s stop looking down on how people experience the world around them […]

People take photos to document their lives and share them with friends. This was true before Instagram. Time to embrace it.

Social media won’t put an end to educational exhibitions, thoughtful discourse. It can open up the conversation in new ways.

An always-connected camera on all of us affords such a great opportunity to artists and institutions like museums and galleries. I look forward to a new generation of exhibitions that are more cognizant of this change.