Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for September 27th, 2019

Study Indicates the FCC’s Core Justification for Killing Net Neutrality Was False

Karl Bode, Vice:

“Under the heavy-handed regulations adopted by the prior Commission in 2015, network investment declined for two straight years, the first time that had happened outside of a recession in the broadband era,” [Ajit] Pai told Congress last year at an oversight hearing.

“We now have a regulatory framework in place that is encouraging the private sector to make the investments necessary to bring better, faster, and cheaper broadband to more Americans,” Pai proclaimed.

But a new study from George Washington University indicates that Pai’s claims were patently false. The study took a closer look at the earnings reports and SEC filings of 8,577 unique companies from Q1 2009 through Q3 2018 to conclude that the passage and repeal of the rules had no meaningful impact on broadband investment. Several hundred of these were telecom companies.

“The results of the paper are clear and should be both unsurprising and uncontroversial,” The researchers said. “The key finding is there were no impacts on telecommunication industry investment from the net neutrality policy changes. Neither the 2010 or 2015 US net neutrality rule changes had any causal impact on telecommunications investment.”

We knew this. We knew it before Pai rolled back net neutrality regulations. But it bears repeating that he made law by amplifying the cable industry’s lies, leading to abuses of power from an increasingly-concentrated media and telecom industry.

Art in the Age of Digital Subscription

Maddy Myers, Kotaku:

I feel like I actually have started to devalue a lot of pieces of media in ways that I didn’t do when I was growing up in the ’90s. I used to go to Blockbuster and spend a couple of bucks on renting a movie. But nowadays, I don’t want to spend 5 dollars on “renting” a movie from iTunes. I just don’t. I’d rather watch a different movie on a subscription service that I pay for than pay not that much more money to rent a movie. Why is that? That’s interesting. That’s clearly a mental change in me that I’ve observed.

Matt Birchler:

This resonates with me a ton. There is more amazing content out there today that ever before, whether it be video games or movies or TV shows, but I think I cherish less of it than I used to. As a consumer, streaming music is an incredible deal. I get to listen to basically every song ever made, everything new this week, and everything coming out in the future for $9.99 per month. That’s less than buying a single album every month, which is just insane.

But while this is wonderful, I do get the feeling that I appreciate individual things less. Spending $15 on an album meant I was invested in giving it a serious listen. Now it costs me what feels like nothing to hear everything and it’s super easy to bounce off albums and try something else. Again, this could be considered a benefit as I keep seeking out the best things, but I find I know fewer albums from start to finish than before streaming.

I empathize with both Myers’ and Birchler’s perspectives, but I feel a little differently about this when it comes to music.

To generalize, most people like music, a few monsters actively dislike the entire idea of it, and some people love everything about music to the point where it’s obsessive. I’m in the latter category. There are few genres I don’t listen to, and nothing I won’t take a chance on. I hoard records — physical and digital, alike.

If you also love music and have somewhat flexible morals, you’re probably familiar with early 2000s music blogs. You could visit these sites, often hosted on Blogspot, multiple times every day and discover something unfamiliar. It could be a brand new record, a classic album you recognize but never listened to, a deep cut from an artist you’ve heard of, or something in a language you don’t understand. On every post, there would be a Rapidshare link for you to download the full record — just below a reminder to pay for the album.

Of course, this is morally- and legally-dubious. I’m not going to defend that. However, they were also remarkably well-curated places to discover bands and artists you’d likely never find on your own. And, of course, free downloads meant that there was no risk to trying something unexpected. Again, I offer no counterargument to depriving artists of earnings, except to note that multiple studies suggest that people who download music illegally also tend to buy the most music. That’s probably because these people are simply the biggest fans of music and want to listen to as much of it as they possibly can.

Streaming services allow the same kind of risk-free exploration without the guilt and legal jeopardy of music blogs. You can still use music blogs and other discovery mechanisms to find new music, but you can listen to it with Apple Music or Spotify instead.

One more thing: I’ve never found CDs or cassette tapes to be particularly valued ways of listening to music. CDs, in particular, are a brittle delivery mechanism for music that sounds basically the same as what you’d get from iTunes. This is only a smidge less corny than talking about the warmth of vinyl and the way it friggin breathes; but, for me, a vinyl record is a fantastic way of expressing the personal value of an album.

There’s a great piece of writing at the top of the Nine Inch Nails online store that mirrors my thoughts in hard-to-read small uppercase text:

Vinyl has returned to being a priority for us – not just for the warmth of the sound, but the interaction it demands from the listener. The canvas of artwork, the weight of the record, the smell of the vinyl, the dropping of the needle, the difficulty of skipping tracks, the changing of sides, the secrets hidden within, and having a physical object that exists in the real world with you… all part of the experience and magic.

I get why this makes people roll their eyes, but it’s exactly how I feel. Putting on a record is a completely different experience. It’s more whole, somehow; more fulfilling.

An Apple Music subscription and a turntable — that’s how I listen to music. And I feel like I value music no less than when I was buying CDs every week.1

  1. I was trying to find a link for this piece and I stumbled across a 1995 issue of Billboard in which Ed Christman argues that CD subscription clubs were devaluing music. ↩︎

Researcher Discovers Method for Exploiting Boot ROM in Several iPhone Models

Sean Gallagher, Ars Technica:

Today, an iOS security researcher who earlier developed software to “jailbreak” older Apple iOS devices posted a new software tool that he claims uses a “permanent unpatchable bootrom exploit” that could bypass boot security for millions of Apple devices, from the iPhone 4S to the iPhone X. The developer, who goes by axi0mX on Twitter and GitHub, posted via Twitter, “This is possibly the biggest news in iOS jailbreak community in years. I am releasing my exploit for free for the benefit of iOS jailbreak and security research community.”


It’s possible that this exploit has been found by other researchers and is already in use, especially via tools used by intelligence and law enforcement agencies, such as GreyShift’s GreyKey. Many of these tools use proprietary hardware to collect data off iOS devices.

Ryan Stortz, writing on the Trail of Bits blog:

We strongly urge all journalists, activists, and politicians to upgrade to an iPhone that was released in the past two years with an A12 or higher CPU. All other devices, including models that are still sold — like the iPhone 8, are vulnerable to this exploit. Regardless of your device, we also recommend an alphanumeric passcode, rather than a 6-digit numeric passcode. A strong alphanumeric passcode will protect the data on your phone from this and similar attacks.

The bad news is that A11-and-older iPhone models — and their iPad and iPod Touch equivalents — are vulnerable to this exploit. Because this vulnerability exists in boot ROM, it reportedly cannot be patched in a software update and it’s extremely powerful.

But it requires hardware access to a device; your iPhone cannot be breached through a remote attack, and someone would need to connect it to another device. It also resets itself every time the phone is rebooted, and the Secure Enclave is not at risk through this vulnerability. Finally, it is overwhelmingly unlikely an average person’s phone would be at risk of someone actually using this exploit against it. The categories of possible victims are more-or-less how Stortz describes them: public figures, politicians, judges, journalists, activists, and spies.

Regardless, this exploit is both worrisome because of the impossibility of patching it, and deeply impressive.

A unique complicating risk factor of late is that someone wishing to exfiltrate lots of data about you need not breach your phone, specifically. If you’re using cloud services to keep your devices in sync, they could breach — for example — your iPad while your iPhone remains untouched.

All I Want to Do Is Create Havoc as a Terrible Goose

Kelsey McKinney, Deadspin:

I have tried for years to love a video game. I understand the appeal. I too want to forget all of my anxieties and struggles by immersing myself in another world. I too want entertainment that forbids me (by nature of its controller) from looking at my phone while I do it and scrolling a real-time chronicle of democracy’s crumbling. But I had two problems: 1) I do not know how the buttons work so every game has a massive learning curve for me. and 2) I don’t like to hit things or die. This makes me feel stressed and I don’t like to feel stressed in my down time.

What I like is to be told a story. I like a narrative arc and a riveting main character. I like to be entertained. And that is how I became a terrible, horrible, no-good, extremely bad goose.

I struggle with video games generally, but Untitled Goose Game is pretty much perfect for my tastes. It’s charming, it’s silly, and you play as a goose; it’s kind of calming because of the music, but it also requires just a little bit of thought for the different puzzles. It is wonderful.