Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for February, 2019

Spectre Camera

Interesting new long exposure camera app from the team behind Halide. Sebastiaan de With:

A traditional shutter takes a single photo over a long period of time, collecting light to create a singular final image.

Spectre reimagines long exposures: its intelligent shutter takes hundreds of photos during the exposure time and merges the result. That means you don’t just get a final still image, but also a video of the entire exposure as it happened.

[…]

Long exposures typically requires setting up a tripod and meticulously stabilizing your camera: but don’t fret, Spectre requires no extra equipment. Spectre’s AI stabilizes your shot for you, allowing up to 9-second long handheld long exposures.

I’ve been goofing around with Spectre all day today and, while some of my shots are blurry from camera shake, many have turned out rather well. I’ve had a lot of success simply bracing my phone flat against a vertical surface; if you’re particularly wary of scratching the back of your phone, this isn’t recommended.

The thing I like most about this app is how easy it makes long exposure photography. It has never been particularly difficult — I think it’s one of the first things people try their hand at when they discover how to change their camera’s shutter speed — but Spectre makes it far simpler. You can even do long exposures in bright daylight without mucking around with shutter speed and ISO.

This is one of those apps that, I think, is worth having around even if you use it rarely.

Cellebrite’s Smartphone Unlocking Tools Found on Secondhand Market, Some with User Data

Thomas Brewster, Forbes (and, yes, I feel terrible exposing you to the Forbes website):

Cellebrite isn’t happy about those secondhand sales. On Tuesday, two sources from the forensics industry passed Forbes a letter from Cellebrite warning customers about reselling its hugely popular hacking devices because they could be used to access individuals’ private data. Rather than return the UFEDs to Cellebrite so they can be properly decommissioned, it appears police or other individuals who’ve acquired the machines are flogging them and failing to properly wipe them. Cybersecurity researchers are now warning that valuable case data and powerful police hacking tools could have leaked as a result.

Earlier this month, Matthew Hickey, a cybersecurity researcher and cofounder of training academy Hacker House, bought a dozen UFED devices and probed them for data. He discovered that the secondhand kit contained information on what devices were searched, when they were searched and what kinds of data were removed. Mobile identifier numbers like the IMEI code were also retrievable.

Hickey believes he could have extracted more personal information, such as contact lists or chats, though he decided not to delve into such data. “I would feel a little awful if there was a picture of a crime scene or something,” he said. But using the information within a UFED, Hickey believes a malicious hacker could identify the suspects and their relevant cases.

Remember when Apple refused to build a special version of iOS for the FBI to take as many cracks at user passcodes as they’d like, so they could bypass user encryption, on the grounds that it wouldn’t just be that one phone, and they couldn’t guarantee the security of that special version of iOS? Seems prescient, doesn’t it? Apple has also been taking heat for defending end-to-end encryption in the U.K. and Australia, where a law was recently passed that would require companies to provide unspecified support to law enforcement for accessing encrypted data.

Attempts to undermine encryption are attempts to make all personal technology users less secure. While it can make law enforcement’s job harder in some investigations, it would be foolish to universally compromise security.

‘Cooler Screens’ Is a Digital Door for Supermarkets With Iris Tracking and Cameras

Last year, Cadillac Fairview was caught testing mall signage with facial recognition across Canada. Then, a week ago, Nicole Nguyen of Buzzfeed reported that Singapore Airlines and American Airlines use seatback entertainment systems with built-in cameras; both companies said that the cameras were just a component of the commodity part and had never been activated.

Now, Paul Kafasis writes about Cooler Screens’ commercial refrigerator doors. They have cameras in the bezel, and software to estimate the age and gender of anyone standing in front of it and even track that person’s irises.1

How is this sort of thing not tightly controlled, if not entirely illegal? Not every surface needs a camera or a microphone; we don’t need to be tracked everywhere, especially for silly marketing purposes. There’s also virtually no consent: if you stand in front of one of these doors, your age is being estimated and your eyes are being tracked.

There is a glimmer of hope, though. After CBC News reported the existence of Cadillac Fairview’s creepy mall directories, the company said that they would stop tracking visitors. Merely bringing to light these practices and drawing attention to them seems to trigger retailers to have some second thoughts about whether they want to use them.

But outrage isn’t enough; stronger regulation is desperately needed. Because, while Cooler Screens says that they do not retain camera recordings and the airlines say that they’re not using the cameras in every seatback, both of those situations could easily change. The absolute baseline for private businesses recording customers is that they post signs advising them that video cameras are in use. That’s simply not good enough for instances where that video may be more deeply analyzed for customer-specific marketing, shared with third parties, or when cameras are used in enclosed spaces like airplanes where there are few alternative choices.


  1. The purple prose of startups like these never fails to make me vomit a little in my mouth. Cooler Screens’ “About” page proudly proclaims that they are — emphasis mine — “technologists, designers, merchants and dreamers“. They’re building a screen into a door and pairing it with dystopian software. Gross. ↩︎

In Letter, Apple Confirms Layoffs in Autonomous Vehicle Team

Roland Li, San Francisco Chronicle:

Apple will lay off 190 employees in Santa Clara and Sunnyvale in its self-driving car division, the company said.

The layoffs were disclosed, along with new details, in a letter this month to the California Employment Development Department. CNBC reported last month that layoffs were occurring in the self-driving car division, known as Project Titan. Tom Neumayr, an Apple spokesman, confirmed that the letter to the state referenced the same layoffs.

Most of the affected employees are engineers, including 38 engineering program managers, 33 hardware engineers, 31 product design engineers and 22 software engineers. The layoffs will take effect April 16, according to the filing.

That’s awful for those employees, who I hope will quickly find work again doing something they love.

Here’s where the reporting of this breaks down for me, though:

The layoffs coincide with falling iPhone sales, with revenue dropping by 15 percent in the last three months of 2018. An economic slowdown in China is also hurting Apple’s business.

“A sudden and significant shortfall in iPhone revenue is causing a level of distress within Apple that is forcing it to make hard choices,” wrote Lynx Equity Strategies in an analyst report last month that speculated that the self-driving car division could be shut down.

What a load of nonsense. Companies that are apparently in “distress” don’t make over $23 billion in three months — profit. It is ridiculous to connect these layoffs to reduced iPhone sales, especially as the company’s research and development spending continues to climb, including $500 million more in Q1 2019 than in Q1 2018. Also, there are about 2,700 employees working on this project; laying off 7% of them, while terrible for those employees, indicates nothing specific about the health of the project itself or Apple.

The Importance of Third-Party Repair Shops

Molly McHugh, the Ringer:

Retail was supposed to be Apple’s big sell. Fashion executive Angela Ahrendts left Burberry and joined Apple in 2014 to transform the company’s retail strategy; the idea was for the brick-and-mortar shops to feel less like a store and more like a community center. Ahrendts is now departing Apple, and while certain elements of the stores have been upgraded, Genius Bars were not a primary focus. For starters, Ahrendts launched the Today in Apple series, free seminars held at Apple Stores that teach people everything from how to use the iPhone’s photo-editing tools to programming in Swift. Ahrendts also wanted to evolve the look of Apple Stores, making them more of a place to hang out and explore Apple’s products (and, you know, maybe buy one) versus getting help with them. But in reality, consumers don’t need more space to kill time and play with their iPhones — the existing Apple Stores have already filled that role very well. What is lacking and what they do need are well-trained and readily available support services to help with them. Slivka says that while Ahrendts did redesign the Genius Bar to be more physically integrated into Apple Store’s layouts, little else changed on the support side. He says he’s optimistic about what her replacement, Deirdre O’Brien, a 30-year Apple veteran, will do with the retail operations moving forward.

Dennis Sellers, Apple World Today:

I suggested this idea four years ago. It never came to fruition, but I still think it’s a timely idea: Apple should open small retail stores — Apple mini stores, if you will — in towns that are too small for the traditional, bigger Apple retail stores and Mac Specialists.

I always liked the old “mini” stores but they are clearly too small for today’s crowds.

I don’t know that Apple needs to be directly involved in operating smaller stores for repairs. If anything, I’d like to see them invest more in flagship stores and simultaneously giving greater support to the Authorized Service Provider network. These third-party shops should be able to repair common problems like broken displays and replacing old batteries, but also the more complex things that may be impeded by the T2 chip in Apple’s newest Macs. I’m not buying into the fear, uncertainty, and doubt around the T2; I just think that third-party repair shops should be afforded the opportunity to repair as many aspects of these products as possible.

Critics Are Wary of the FTC’s New Tech Antitrust Task Force

Issie Lapowsky, Wired:

While some tech critics, like former FTC chief technologist Ashkan Soltani, saw the announcement as a sign that the agency is taking antitrust issues seriously, others worried the task force amounts to little more than bureaucratic reconfiguring for FTC lawyers.

“I’m scornful of the new seating arrangements, because the FTC has consistently proven they do not want to wield power,” says Matt Stoller, a fellow at the Open Markets Institute, an antimonopoly think tank that has called for a breakup of Facebook. “They want to hold hearings. They want to get their friend economists and antitrust lawyers to fly into DC and talk to each other. They don’t want to do their No. 1 job, which is to police markets for unfair and anticompetitive behavior.”

There is lots of solid criticism of today’s news in this piece.

Karl Bode also points out that this task force explicitly targets tech companies, which ought to make ISPs very happy. I argued that Facebook’s acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp are one example of a toxic antitrust move; Comcast’s acquisition of NBCUniversal is absolutely on a similar plane, but it will escape this task force’s mandate because Comcast is a telecom company, not a tech firm.

FTC Creates Antitrust Task Force to Monitor Tech Industry

Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch:

This isn’t necessarily a precursor to some big action like breaking up a big company or imposing rules or anything like that. It seems to be more a recognition that the FTC needs to be ready to ascertain quickly and move decisively in tech matters, and a crack team of tech-savvy staff attorneys is the way to do it.

The Technology Task Force will live under the competition bureau within the FTC, the director of which, Bruce Hoffman, commented as follows in the agency’s announcement:

Technology markets, which are rapidly evolving and touch so many other sectors of the economy, raise distinct challenges for antitrust enforcement. By centralizing our expertise and attention, the new task force will be able to focus on these markets exclusively – ensuring they are operating pursuant to the antitrust laws, and taking action where they are not.

That it is under this bureau and not the bureau of consumer protection gives a good indicator of its purpose. This won’t be a way for the FTC to, for instance, more closely scrutinize Google or Facebook’s shady user data practices. That said the lawyers are stated to have expertise in “advertising, social networking, mobile operating systems and apps, and platform businesses,” which I doubt they mention for no reason.

Spencer Dailey:

Notable: the timing of Facebook recently shutting down its Onavo/”Research” efforts completely (on Android too) — if buying competition is actually going to see scrutiny, maybe collecting all internet traffic of teens with root certificates isn’t as savory, business-wise?

Hamza Shaban:

The FTC is creating a team dedicated to monitoring competition in the tech industry. What jumps out:

1) That it’s 2019 and they’re only doing this now

2) A mandate to review mergers that have already taken place — Facebook/Instagram comes to mind

I’ve long harboured a feeling that a failure to interpret antitrust law beyond the simple question of dollar cost to consumers has been among the most detrimental forces in the tech landscape. For example, Facebook’s unabated growth and acquisitions of Instagram and Whatsapp have helped it become a single company with nearly twice as many monthly active users as China has people, but it is incapable of successfully moderating its own scale despite being effectively an international lawmaker for the communications of billions of people. Another example: Amazon controls much of the infrastructure of the web, yet it also competes with its own customers; Amazon’s music and video offerings are comparable to Spotify and Netflix, both of which use Amazon Web Services for some of their hosting.

Adam Clark Estes Ditched Chrome for Safari and You Can Too

If you’re someone who has continued to use Chrome because it’s what you’re used to, I highly recommend giving Safari another go. In addition to the excellent reasons Adam Clark Estes enumerates in this piece at Gizmodo, there is also plenty of evidence that you’ll get better battery life on a laptop if you use Safari. Also, it’s worth mentioning again that a disproportionate dominance of Chrome is hurting the web.

So, unless you absolutely need a specific Chrome extension or really enjoy being tracked all over the web for some reason, consider giving Safari or Safari Technology Preview another shot.

Content Moderators Describe Traumatizing Work for Facebook and Twitter

Casey Newton of the Verge spoke with content moderators who are employed by Cognizant but working on Facebook’s behalf:

Collectively, the employees described a workplace that is perpetually teetering on the brink of chaos. It is an environment where workers cope by telling dark jokes about committing suicide, then smoke weed during breaks to numb their emotions. It’s a place where employees can be fired for making just a few errors a week — and where those who remain live in fear of the former colleagues who return seeking vengeance.

It’s a place where, in stark contrast to the perks lavished on Facebook employees, team leaders micromanage content moderators’ every bathroom and prayer break; where employees, desperate for a dopamine rush amid the misery, have been found having sex inside stairwells and a room reserved for lactating mothers; where people develop severe anxiety while still in training, and continue to struggle with trauma symptoms long after they leave; and where the counseling that Cognizant offers them ends the moment they quit — or are simply let go.

The moderators told me it’s a place where the conspiracy videos and memes that they see each day gradually lead them to embrace fringe views. One auditor walks the floor promoting the idea that the Earth is flat. A former employee told me he has begun to question certain aspects of the Holocaust. Another former employee, who told me he has mapped every escape route out of his house and sleeps with a gun at his side, said: “I no longer believe 9/11 was a terrorist attack.”

A heads-up: as you might imagine, this is a troubling read.

A couple of years ago, two filmmakers created a short documentary about moderators working in India for low wages performing the same equally-disturbing job. They’re seeing the worst things that people share online, whether that’s a post that refers to a person by a racial epithet — allowed, by the way, if the epithet is used in a positive context — to videos of murder and sexual assault. According to Newton, contractors are paid $15 per hour at Cognizant’s facility in Arizona.

Perhaps part of the blame can be assigned to Cognizant. They are, after all, the employer. But it’s entirely possible that they are just one of several bidders for a Facebook contract, and it’s plausible that offering employees a lower wage helped ensure that they got the contract. That’s a crappy reason, but it is a reason.

J. Sack shared their perspective as a former moderator at Twitter. It’s short, but it’s worth reading as well. I bet it’s just as hard at YouTube; as of four years ago, three hundred hours of video were uploaded every minute overwhelming their moderation teams at the time.

A nagging feeling that sits in my brain is that these platforms seem designed to encourage users to share lots of stuff and to share it more often, with the implicit assumption that all the baby pictures we share will drown out a small amount unsavoury and disturbing stuff that could easily be taken care of by a smaller group of staff. Facebook has over two billion active users. They’re moderating the planet; if that’s not impossible, it’s damn near close, and it is ruining the lives of the people who are doing their best.

These platforms are putting the best and worst of humanity on an equal plane, with disastrous results.

Huawei Introduces the Mate X

Vlad Savov, the Verge:

Samsung’s Galaxy Fold announcement isn’t even a week old yet, and we already have a competitor that is thinner, has a bigger screen, and folds flatter. Say hello to the Huawei Mate X. Launching this very moment at MWC 2019, the Mate X has an 8-inch wraparound OLED display, a folded thickness of a mere 11mm, and a formidable spec sheet highlighted by 5G, a 4,500mAh battery, and Huawei’s in-house Kirin 980 processor.

Nice name. Huawei really is in a class of one when it comes to lifting ideas from Apple and others to the extent that it reportedly engages in industrial espionage.

I got to see, but not touch — again, this is a theme with foldable devices so far, no touching — the Mate X up close at MWC, and the most immediately impressive thing for me was how casually the demonstrator was handling it. There was no white-gloves tenderness about his use of the device: he unfolded and folded the Mate X quickly and naturally, and I got no sense of any fragility about the slate. My overriding concern about foldables is that they’ll fail to be perfectly flat when actually opened up, but the Mate X again stands up to scrutiny. Though I can still see small bits of unevenness where the hinge resides, those don’t seem like deal breakers.

This is probably the most convincing product I’ve seen so far in this emerging category of bendy phones, but I’m still not sold. The best argument I can think of for this is the frequency with which someone uses landscape mode. If you rotate your phone sideways a lot for games and more complex apps, perhaps this is more compelling to you. I’m in the other group of users: those who have rotation lock enabled and virtually never turn it off.

Still, there’s a part of me that thinks that, so far, this is a high-tech solution searching desperately for the problems it’s trying to solve.

Om Malik Re-Embraces Flickr

Om Malik:

During the early days of Flickr, I didn’t take photos. It was a story. When Yahoo bought the company, I broke the story on my blog. It made news because the news was on a blog. Go figure. I made a mistake by hotlinking Caterina Fake’s photo. She Goatse-d me. I apologized. A friendship blossomed. Stewart Butterfield, the other Flickr co-founder, and the master of a pivot, now is the head honcho at Slack, where I am a nano-investor.

The world has moved on, but it wasn’t till this month, I started to appreciate the foresight and the specialness of Flickr, and it’s a foundational role in the history of the modern web. I am finding joy in it — and hopefully the new owner, SmugMug will be able to find ways to energize the community around it. They could start by bundling it with SmugMug Pro.

It’s shocking just how much Flickr missed out on the smartphone photo boom. Nobody used Flickr like they use Instagram or even Twitter for sharing photos now, and Yahoo just sort of let it languish. But maybe that doesn’t matter. Maybe Flickr can be a fantastic smaller platform. There’s no reason it needs to compete with the biggest players so long as it can attract a great community.

I let my Flickr Pro membership lapse years ago because I wasn’t taking photos as much, so I didn’t want to pay for a photo sharing website. Over the past couple of years, I’ve been much more active with my camera, and Malik’s post has made me think harder about whether I want to buy Pro again. I still haven’t made my mind up, but it could be worth a year’s experiment to see if I really will use Flickr again.

Ad Buyers Shrug at YouTube’s Child Exploitation Crisis

Shareen Pathak And Jack Marshall, Digiday:

As a number of major brands, including Disney, Nestle, McDonald’s, AT&T and Epic Games, are pulling their ads from YouTube due to its latest brand-safety “crisis,” media buyers are largely reacting with a collective shrug.

In a poll conducted by Digiday Research on Thursday, Feb. 21, only 14 percent of 100 buyers said they expect the crisis to have any impact on long-term spending on the platform. Nearly a third of buyers said they expect any cutbacks they make to be temporary. Meanwhile, 37 percent of respondents said the crisis would not impact their advertising plans for the platform.

[…]

But for agency buyers, gathered in Nashville this week for the Digiday Media Buying Summit, this is just the latest in a long line of supposed brand-safety crises that won’t really amount to much other than a temporary pause. “It’ll never happen [that this hurts anyone]. YouTube is such a brand-unsafe environment. But it works. They give you the views, they give you the conversions,” said one C-level exec at a major agency.

This will remain a problem as long as advertising is served programmatically on under-moderated monopolistic platforms, or as long as ad buyers don’t take it seriously.

Some Apps Using Facebook’s SDK Are Sending Sensitive User Data to Facebook

Sam Schechner, Wall Street Journal (like all WSJ articles, this is paywalled, but a Twitter link is a ladder over the wall):

Apple Inc. and Alphabet Inc.’s Google, which operate the two dominant app stores, don’t require apps to disclose all the partners with whom data is shared. Users can decide not to grant permission for an app to access certain types of information, such as their contacts or locations. But these permissions generally don’t apply to the information users supply directly to apps, which is sometimes the most personal.

In the Journal’s testing, Instant Heart Rate: HR Monitor, the most popular heart-rate app on Apple’s iOS, made by California-based Azumio Inc., sent a user’s heart rate to Facebook immediately after it was recorded.

Flo Health Inc.’s Flo Period & Ovulation Tracker, which claims 25 million active users, told Facebook when a user was having her period or informed the app of an intention to get pregnant, the tests showed.

Real-estate app Realtor.com, owned by Move Inc., a subsidiary of Wall Street Journal parent News Corp , sent the social network the location and price of listings that a user viewed, noting which ones were marked as favorites, the tests showed.

Reckless data sharing by app developers is a recurring concern. Two years ago, Will Strafach found that the AccuWeather app was providing users’ location data to Reveal Mobile. Last year, reporters at the New York Times found that many apps were still selling users’ locations to unscrupulous analytics and adtech firms. At the time, I wrote:

App developers should, at the very least, be required to be completely forthright in their permissions request dialogs. If a developer is scooping and selling user data, they should be able to defend that practice to users in language that they can understand; if they cannot, then perhaps that’s a practice they should cease.

At an absolute minimum, users should know which companies their data may be shared with and why, in plain language terms — now more than ever. That’s the responsibility of app developers, Apple, and Google; unfortunately, users simply have very little control:

Facebook allows users to turn off the company’s ability to use the data it collects from third-party apps and websites for targeted ads. There is currently no way to stop the company from collecting the information in the first place, or using it for other purposes, such as detecting fake accounts. Germany’s top antitrust enforcer earlier this month ordered Facebook to stop using that data at all without permission, a ruling Facebook is appealing.

Vile.

Even with better disclosure rules, I think all developers should assume users don’t read privacy policies; they place their blind trust that the app will do the right thing. Developers are abusing users’ naivet&eacut;, and I think the corrosion of user trust will do long-term damage to the digital economy if it is not curtailed.

A Critique of the Presentation of ‘Classical’ Music on Apple Music

Mitchel Broussard of MacRumors interviewed Benjamin Charles and Franz Rumiz for a thoughtful critique of the way streaming services — and Apple Music, in particular — approach classical music:

In the end, Apple — and Spotify, Google, Amazon, etc. — have a tricky battle ahead of them if and when they decide to address the issue of classical music on streaming services. “It doesn’t seem to be a business priority [for Apple],” Charles admits, and in the current scheme of things, the company’s focus on pop and hip-hop in Apple Music is logical from a financial standpoint.

But that doesn’t change the fact that there are millions of classical music fans willing and ready to pay the company that can get these things right. “This is a completely untapped market,” Charles tells me. “One streaming service could completely own the classical music audience if it wanted to.”

A big point of contention is that Apple Music is designed for credited performers only, not for separate composers, performers, conductors, and soloists. This is critical for classical works, but I think an incorporation of multiple credits would also benefit pop, hip-hop, and rock genres. The producers and writers of contemporary music also deserve credit that simply isn’t surfaced in most streaming music services.

Study: Broadband ‘Zero Rating’ Actually Costs Customers More

Karl Bode, Vice:

In more recent years, ISPs have been pushing the idea of zero rating, which involves exempting select content from these arbitrary limits. AT&T, for example, now routinely exempts its own streaming content from its usage caps, yet still penalizes users should they use a competitor like Netflix. Comcast engages in the same behavior on its cable broadband network.

The anticompetitive and free speech issues with letting ISPs determine which services get an unfair advantage on the network should be fairly obvious. But broadband providers have tried to downplay those concerns by claiming that zero rating saves consumers money, and should be seen as akin to a 1-800 number for data or the bandwidth equivalent of free shipping.

Consumers, who often don’t understand that broadband usage caps are bogus cash grabs in the first place, often buy into the argument that they’re getting something for free by being allowed to bypass them.

But a new multi-year study by the non-profit Epicenter.works challenges those assumptions. The study, which took a look at wireless data prices in 30 European Union nations, found that the cost of wireless data plans were notably more expensive in countries that allowed zero rating as opposed to those that have prohibited the practice.

This study ought to be taken seriously around the world, but particularly in the United States where the FCC has gutted net neutrality legislation. Broadband should be treated as the utility it is, especially since telecommunications companies have morphed into vertically-integrated media conglomerates. The combination of a lack of antitrust enforcement and no net neutrality rules has created opportunities for abuse, price gouging, and increasingly siloed behaviour.

An Investigation of Fake FCC Comments Ostensibly Against Net Neutrality

Dell Cameron and Jason Prechtel, Gizmodo:

In May 2017, dozens of Americans came forward with claims that their identities had been used, without their consent, in a campaign to inundate the Federal Communications Commission with public comments critical of the Obama-era policy. Some told reporters that they’d never heard of net neutrality. Twenty seven signed an open letter to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai demanding a response. A year on, each of their names and addresses are still displayed on the federal agency’s website, right above, as the letter puts it, “a political statement that we did not sign onto.”

What was most curious, however, is that each of these people had supposedly submitted the very same comment; a veritable word salad of telecom industry talking points. In particular, the comment was a rebuke of the Obama administration’s exercise of “unprecedented regulatory power” in pursuit of net neutrality, a policy which it accused of “smothering innovation, damaging the American economy, and obstructing job creation.”

Internal FCC logs reviewed by Gizmodo for the first time offer clues as to why the matching comments led investigators in October to the doorstep of CQ Roll Call, a company that, while running an august newsroom in the nation’s capital, is also in the business of helping lobbyists construct digital “grassroots” campaigns aimed at influencing policymakers, and specifically, those controlling the FCC’s rulemaking process.

There’s a lot in Cameron and Prechtel’s excellent investigation, but the payoff is worth it. Apparently, CQ verifies everything submitted through its API, but also emailed the FCC to ask if a rate of 250,000 submissions per day would be fine with them. Oh, and the millions of cut-and-paste comments just so happen to overlap with submissions from CQ’s API key.

It is equally astonishing how blatant this kind of arguably fraudulent astroturfing is, and how the clever use of FOIAs by hardworking journalists is able to expose it.

Ejector App for MacOS Makes the Eject Key Useful

This new single-purpose app from Dave DeLong is excellent. Apple hasn’t sold a Mac with an optical drive in years, but many of their keyboards still feature an eject key — presumably for both legacy support and because they do still sell that external SuperDrive. My dad has one; I think he’s used it once in the last five years.

Anyway, Ejector runs in the background so, when you hit the eject key on your keyboard, you get a neat little window with all of your mounted drives, and you can pick which one to eject. There’s a free seven-day trial and it’s just ten bucks.

Like its creator, I hope this gets sherlocked.

Bloomberg Reports Multistage Rollout of ‘Marzipan’ Apps to Eventually Scale From iPhone to MacOS

Mark Gurman, Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. wants to make it easier for software coders to create tools, games and other applications for its main devices in one fell swoop — an overhaul designed to encourage app development and, ultimately, boost revenue.

The aim of the multistep initiative, code-named “Marzipan,” is that by 2021, developers will be able to build an app once and have it work on the iPhone, iPad and Mac computers, people familiar with the effort said. That should spur the creation of new software, increasing the utility of the company’s gadgets.

You can tell Bloomberg is a capital-B business publication because the reporting of every Apple rumour must be justified by couching it in terms shareholders understand, like “revenue” and “gadgets”.

A three-year rollout forecast — or four-year, if you count Mojave’s superlatively sub-par collection of demo apps — seems generous, but I remain skeptical of the likelihood that any cross-platform app framework can be truly great. I get that things change, and that many Mac customers today might want to run their iOS apps across all of their Apple devices. But, man, what a pisser it would be if the Mac became a third-tier dumping ground for crappy ports.

Apple plans to hold its annual software conference from June 3 to June 7 in San Jose, California, according to permit filings reported recently by website MacRumors.

At the event, Apple also plans to debut new software features for its devices, including a dark mode for easier nighttime viewing and new productivity tools for the iPad. The company has also internally weighed previewing a new version of the high-end Mac Pro, according to people familiar with the deliberations.

The spectre of the new Mac Pro looms large over any other Mac updates this year. Even if it doesn’t ship until the end of the year, WWDC’s developers would be the perfect crowd to preview it for, as in 2012.

Samsung Announces Galaxy Fold, a Weird Folding Smartphone Available in April

Nicole Nguyen, Buzzfeed:

At an event in San Francisco on Wednesday, Samsung officially announced a name for its new foldable phone: the Galaxy Fold (lol).

It’s a mobile device that can be folded in half to fit in one hand or in your pocket, with a touchscreen that works like you’d expect a smartphone to. Then, when you need to see something in a larger format — BAM! — you can flip open the Galaxy Fold to reveal a gigantic 7.3-inch display.

Vlad Savov:

The Galaxy Fold is Samsung’s Google Glass: an exciting technical showcase that should never be released to the public, because it’ll sour everyone on the entire nascent category.

This comment probably won’t age well, but I don’t yet get the real-word allure of a device like this. Count me with Savov so far: this isn’t a great ambassador for a technology that may become spectacular, in more capable hands.

During the unveiling, Samsung emphasized the Fold’s versatility in being able to transform from an ordinary smartphone into a tablet just by opening it up. But this device — and others like it — are bad phones, and worse tablets. Every shot of the closed phone looks like it’s begging to be unfolded; its display looks narrow, uncomfortable, and cramped. It seems far better in its tablet-like configuration, but it is at best a diet version of a tablet.

I’m not down on this because it’s Samsung. I dig that this is experimental and weird. But it isn’t compelling to me as either a phone or a tablet, and it’s certainly not compelling to me as a device trying to be both.