Month: October 2022

The European Parliament:

By the end of 2024, all mobile phones, tablets and cameras sold in the EU will have to be equipped with a USB Type-C charging port. From spring 2026, the obligation will extend to laptops. The new law, adopted by plenary on Tuesday with 602 votes in favour, 13 against and 8 abstentions, is part of a broader EU effort to reduce e-waste and to empower consumers to make more sustainable choices.

I covered this plan earlier this year. I appreciate the spirit of standardizing around a single charging format. What I still find bizarre is that it specifically mandates USB-C for wired charging — a data cable type which also provides power. It means any improvements to the data transfer part of the equation must either be compatible with a USB-C plug or the device must have additional connectors.

Apple’s laptops already solve for this by permitting charging with USB-C in addition to the superior MagSafe port. Recent improvements in wired data transfer are also generally compatible with USB-C-type connectors. At the moment, these worries seem mostly theoretical, but I understand concerns when something like this is codified into law.

Still, the company this impacts most is Apple. It has stuck with Lightning and its USB 2.0 speeds on iPhones for ten years, so it is ridiculous to see it claiming this will be a problem for users:

Apple said it shared the European Commission’s commitment to protecting the environment but questioned whether the proposals would help consumers.

“We remain concerned that strict regulation mandating just one type of connector stifles innovation rather than encouraging it, which in turn will harm consumers in Europe and around the world,” the company said in a statement.

I would love for my iPhone to be “stifled” by USB4 speeds when I sync my music library. If Apple thinks replacing Lightning with USB-C will make the iPhone worse for its users, it should more clearly articulate why. For example, one test found USB-C connectors left more material in the port in the case of the cable tip breaking, which could damage the device. Alas, Apple does not even offer that explanation, just some nonspecific worries.

The E.U. is also looking at standardizing wireless charging:

As wireless charging becomes more prevalent, the European Commission will have to harmonise interoperability requirements by the end of 2024, to avoid having a negative impact on consumers and the environment. This will also get rid of the so-called technological “lock-in” effect, whereby a consumer becomes dependent on a single manufacturer.

Even as someone living squarely in Apple’s universe, I still have to pack a half-dozen types of cable when travelling. I still cannot tell the difference between mini-USB and micro-USB at a glance. When I forgot my headphones and had to buy a pair at the airport, I had to settle for the one model with a Lightning connector because the shop did not sell a Lightning-to-headphone adaptor. It would be nice to avoid repeating all these mistakes as more devices support inductive charging.

Pew Research Center:

Although fewer than one-in-ten Americans say they use any of these sites for news, most who do say they have found a community of like-minded people there. And news consumers on the four sites with large enough numbers to be analyzed individually – Parler, Rumble, Telegram and Truth Social – largely say they are satisfied with their experience getting news on the sites, that they find the information there to be mostly accurate, and that the discussions are mostly friendly.

At the same time, however, the study finds signs that these sites may be another symptom of the increasingly polarized public discourse – and Americans’ partisan divisions in the broader news media environment.

Justin Ling:

It’s entirely possible that these platforms will simply crumble, as will their successors.

It seems equally likely we will see an increased balkanization of the broader internet, however. On many fronts, that will be a welcome change.

If that does happen, if we do we retreat into our own little caves, it’s hard to say whether that will improve this political polarization or make it worse. In the most optimistic scenario, arranging the internet more by smaller communities of interests — like it used to be — could remove politics as a more central rallying point online and create friendlier, less combative online spaces. In the worst case scenario, we all burrow into our dens, retreat from broader society, and radicalize each other, creating a thousand little networks of unrelated conspiracy theories and deranged grievances that, back in the real world, further make nation-state politics untenable.

This is a good companion piece to Joshua Benton’s reporting (previously linked) on a study indicating that few Twitter users are in ideological bubbles. One cannot generally say the same about the audiences on many of these alternative social platforms, which are specifically marketed as more accepting of edgelords and extremists.

Alex Heath, of the Verge, obtained internal memos written by Vishal Shah, Meta’s “VP, Metaverse”:1

A key issue with Horizon’s development to date, according to Shah’s internal memos, is that the people building it inside Meta appear to not be using it that much. “For many of us, we don’t spend that much time in Horizon and our dogfooding dashboards show this pretty clearly,” he wrote to employees on September 15th. “Why is that? Why don’t we love the product we’ve built so much that we use it all the time? The simple truth is, if we don’t love it, how can we expect our users to love it?”

In a follow-up memo dated September 30th, Shah said that employees still weren’t using Horizon enough, writing that a plan was being made to “hold managers accountable” for having their teams use Horizon at least once a week. “Everyone in this organization should make it their mission to fall in love with Horizon Worlds. You can’t do that without using it. Get in there. Organize times to do it with your colleagues or friends, in both internal builds but also the public build so you can interact with our community.”

If Meta’s employees are not compelled enough by this bet-the-company effort to use it even once per week, why should any of us treat it with a higher degree of seriousness?

Looking forward to Meta Connect next week. In addition to the usual streaming options, it will also be available in Horizon Worlds. If you are a Meta employee working on metaverse projects, you can use Mark Zuckerberg’s keynote to fill your once-per-week quota.

  1. Do metaverse occupants get to vote for their president and vice president? ↥︎

Joshua Benton, Nieman Lab:

In other words: Most people don’t follow a bunch of political “elites” on Twitter — a group that, for these authors’ purposes, also includes news organizations. But those who do typically follow many more people they agree with politically than people who they don’t. Conservatives follow many more conservatives; liberals follow many more liberals. When it comes to retweeting, people are even more likely to share their political allies than their enemies. And when people do retweet their enemies, they’re often dunking on how dumb/terrible/wrong/evil those other guys are. And conservatives do this more than liberals, overall.

But remember: Most people follow zero of these politics-focused accounts and most of those who follow any follow only a few. You’re weird.

Much like “cancel culture” panic, ideological Twitter bubbles seem like the kind of thing that affect a disproportionately loud and status obsessed group. Do not worry: I am weird and, if you read this and recognized the Nieman Lab credit, you are weird too.

Dave Lee, Financial Times:

Today, the archive’s founder Brewster Kahle tells me, the project is on the brink of surpassing 100 petabytes – approximately 50,000 times larger than in 1997. It contains more than 700bn web pages.

The work isn’t getting any easier. Websites today are highly dynamic, changing with every refresh. Walled gardens like Facebook are a source of great frustration to Kahle, who worries that much of the political activity that has taken place on the platform could be lost to history if not properly captured. In the name of privacy and security, Facebook (and others) make scraping difficult.

An increasing amount of the internet’s activity is happening in video and audio formats, too, which require vastly greater amounts of space to preserve. The Internet Archive is no stranger to hosting that kind of material but expecting it to duplicate YouTube alone is a tall order.

Frank Landymore, Futurism:

Basically, Zuckerberg and his vanity project have been taking hits left and right online, getting relentlessly roasted and memed while failing to produce a convincing product. And lately, the metaverse has been catching strays from big names in the space, this time from Apple CEO Tim Cook.

“I always think it’s important that people understand what something is,” Cook told the Dutch publication Bright last week, via Google Translate. “And I’m really not sure the average person can tell you what the metaverse is.”

Cook sounds excited by the potential for augmented reality. I am skeptical; the most compelling use case I have seen is of a projection mapped story of dinner, and that is not really augmented reality in the vein I imagine Cook or Zuckerberg are envisioning it.

It seems like Meta is bored and out of ideas. Its strategy after the success of Facebook has largely been to copy or acquire, and it has done so with aplomb. But its attempts to duplicate TikTok have been received poorly, and it is clear there is a long road ahead for its augmented reality ambitions. Apple has clearly been laying the groundwork for its own entry into the space. I have my doubts about any company’s success for a brand new technology, but I wonder if Meta’s long-term strategy has been to build enough of a foundation to copy whatever Apple eventually releases. Again, I have zero idea of what it is or if it will be any good. But maybe Meta looked at Apple’s track record and realized it did not need to invent much of anything — it just needed to wait long enough for someone else to do the hard conceptual work. If I gambled, I would bet Meta’s augmented reality products more closely resemble Apple’s in the months and years following the latter’s debut.

Jef Feely and Ed Hammond, Bloomberg:

Elon Musk is proposing to buy Twitter Inc. for the original offer price of $54.20 a share, potentially avoiding a courtroom fight over one of the most contentious acquisitions in recent history.

Musk made the proposal in a letter to Twitter, according to people familiar with the matter, who asked not to be identified discussing confidential information. Shares in Twitter climbed as much as 18% on the news, and is now halted. Representatives for Musk and for San Francisco-based Twitter didn’t immediately respond to requests for comment.

The letter says Musk will proceed if Twitter drops its litigation against him. So far, that trial has been particularly embarrassing for Musk and some of the wealthiest and most influential personalities in Silicon Valley. This rapid about-face suggests Musk realized, at long last, that he is legally obligated to proceed with this acquisition.


Dan Moren, Macworld:

The iPad shouldn’t be a big iPhone and it shouldn’t just become a Mac. So what’s left? The trickiest needle to thread of them all: making the iPad truly its own device. A good start would be to question the assumptions that the tablet inherited from iOS. For example, is a simple screen full of application icons the best use of the device’s most valuable real estate? There’s no reason to be beholden to decisions made for an entirely different device.

Twelve-and-a-bit years since the iPad’s launch seems like as good a time as any to think more about why this product is the way it is today, and where it can go from here. Moren hits on at least a couple of those questions in this piece: why is the widgets experience on the iPad more limited than either the iPhone or the Mac, for example? The question I most want answered is whether the new memory swap system in iPadOS 16 will finally make it more of a multitasking-friendly system. This is something I have been wishing for since I got my first iPad in 2011, and the inability for multiple apps to remain in memory is a significant deterrent for my use.

Earlier this year, the fine people at Rogue Amoeba asked if it would be possible to pay for some sponsored posts on Pixel Envy. How does one say no to Rogue Amoeba? Anyway, you probably saw the results of that ask for the company’s twentieth anniversary.

I want to publicly thank Rogue Amoeba for taking the plunge and working on the specifics with me.

If you want to sponsor the site, I have drafted my standards for how paid posts will be presented. I have zero expectations of how this will go.

And, to my readers: I endeavour to not meaningfully change the tone or purpose of this site. I have no intention of turning this into a mechanism for promoting other stuff, and I am cognizant of the risks of so-called “native” advertising. If things start to get weird, I have no problem with stopping this. Thank you for reading.

Morgan Meaker, Wired:

Advertising didn’t always used to be like this. Augustine Fou, who has been a digital marketer for 25 years, says that in the past decade there’s been an explosion in fake traffic. Fou believes the industry was corrupted around a decade ago, when a series of opaque middlemen entered the scene. “Prior to that, advertisers would buy ads from publishers like The New York Times,” he says. But now it’s typical for brands to approach a digital ad exchange—which facilitates the buying and selling of advertising from different ad networks—to place their adverts on huge numbers of websites and apps. And it is this part of the system that has become vulnerable to bots, claims Fou.

“The exchanges have deliberately looked the other way when there are fraudulent sites and mobile apps that become part of that exchange,” he claims. Google and Facebook are among the companies that run these exchanges alongside other listed US companies such as Pubmatic and Magnite. “The ad exchanges don’t want to solve fraud because fraud generates so much volume,” Fou claims. “And the exchanges essentially make more money when more volume passes through their platforms.” None of the exchanges responded to requests for comment.

App Tracking Transparency and Safari’s anti-tracking protections have undeniably had an effect on advertisers, but I feel like behavioural advertising has bigger concerns than the stuff Apple does — which, by the way, many of these companies have been able to work around. Regulators are increasingly wary of tracking, users do not like their privacy being violated, currency fluctuations are a risk for this U.S.-centric business model, and the industry is rife with fraud. Maybe some of that is a higher priority.

Ximena González, the Sprawl:

Last year, Vanessa Acevedo worked part time as a driver for Amazon. Using her personal vehicle, a 2014 Ford Fiesta, five times per week she drove the 26 km of Stoney Trail (a.k.a. the ring road) between her home in Redstone, in Calgary’s far northeast, and Amazon’s distribution centre, DCG4, in the southeast.


Occasionally, it would take her up to an hour to arrive at the address to drop off her first delivery. Over the six months she drove for Amazon, Acevedo delivered parcels as far as Chestermere, Airdrie and acreages in the deep south, beyond Calgary’s city limits.

Driving her Fiesta through the sprawling infrastructure that helps satisfy consumer wants in Calgary, Acevedo got to experience what for most Calgarians remains hidden in plain sight.

Some of this is surely an effect of the way cities are designed, especially suburb-heavy cities like Calgary. But it seems more layered than that. The lure of same- or next-day delivery is obvious, but its incentives are more questionable. From safety problems to questions about the climate impact of the transportation system and the goods themselves, it seems worth rethinking.