Critiquing a New Typeface 

My friend Louie Mantia has recently taken to type design. He posted a preview to Twitter, and Jonathan Hoefler provided a detailed critique. (He marked it up using Notability on an iPad Pro.)

Another Tale of Rampant Sexual Harassment at Uber 

“Amy Vertino”, a former Uber engineer writing under a pen name:

On a bright and windy day last summer, while working on some updates to Uber’s driver payment system, Mike#2 proposed an idea which to me seemed as unfair to the drivers. It would block the payments to the driver if a customer complained about the ride before a ride ends. Fortunately, this never made it into the app. When we were brainstorming this idea, I openly spoke up against it. I told them that it was unethical to block a driver’s payments without researching the complaint to make sure it was the driver’s fault. Many of the Uber drivers in some countries do not own the cars they drive. They are owned by rich people who give the drivers a fixed monthly salary and take the money Uber pays the drivers from their bank accounts. So, if a payment is blocked because of a customer complaint, the drivers may go home without the pay they need to feed their families. When I voiced my concern, Mike#2 looked at me and said “There is no place for ethics in this business sweetheart. We are not a charity.” I was upset to hear such an insensitive comment. I repeated my point and this time, I raised my voice to show that I was unhappy with his attitude. Visibly angry, Mike #2 covered the microphone of the conference phone, he reached over to hold my hand tightly and told me to stop being a whiny little bitch. Two of the men in the room looked at each other and laughed while the rest of the men, like me, were shocked.

Ordinarily I wouldn’t link to an unverifiable anonymous story. But for me, Uber has lost the benefit of the doubt.

Emails Show Uber Deceived California DMV 

Andrew J. Hawkins, reporting for The Verge:

According to a lengthy email exchange between Uber and the DMV obtained by The Verge from a public records request, Uber was repeatedly urged to sign up for the state’s autonomous testing permit, with the DMV even offering to expedite the process to make it as quick and seamless as possible. Had it done so, Uber could have saved itself a lot of embarrassment and could be offering trips in self-driving cars in San Francisco right now.

But in multiple emails to the DMV, Anthony Levandowski, vice president at Uber’s Advanced Technologies Group and the company’s top executive in charge of autonomous technology, argued that what it was doing did not meet the legal definition of autonomous vehicle testing, spurring a brain-bending debate over the letter of the law. The debate ended inconclusively, and Uber ultimately launched its doomed public pilot without ever notifying state regulators of its intentions to invite members of the public into the backseat of its self-driving cars.

“In their minds, they really thought they weren’t autonomous,” Jessica Gonzalez, assistant deputy director of public affairs at the DMV, told The Verge. “But we decide what’s autonomous. And under our regulations, it was.”

Levandowski is the guy accused of stealing intellectual property from Alphabet subsidiary Waymo and taking it with him to Uber.

Recode: ‘Uber’s SVP of Engineering Is Out After He Did Not Disclose He Left Google in a Dispute Over a Sexual Harassment Allegation’ 

Kara Swisher, reporting for Recode:

Amit Singhal has left his job at Uber as its SVP of engineering because he did not disclose to the car-hailing company that he left Google a year earlier after top executives there informed him of an allegation of sexual harassment from an employee that an internal investigation had found “credible.”

Singhal was asked to resign by Uber CEO Travis Kalanick this morning.

Uber execs found out about the situation after Recode informed them of the chain of events between Singhal and the search giant this week.

It’s possible that Uber never would have hired Singhal in the first place if they knew of the allegations against him at Google. It’s also possible that they would have, and Kalanick only asked him to resign today because the company is going through a firestorm of bad publicity regarding their poisonous corporate culture. They have no credibility here.

Internet-Connected Teddy Bear Leaked 2 Million Recordings of Parents and Kids 

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai, reporting for Motherboard:

A company that sells “smart” teddy bears leaked 800,000 user account credentials — and then hackers locked it and held it for ransom.

A company that sells internet-connected teddy bears that allow kids and their far-away parents to exchange heartfelt messages left more than 800,000 customer credentials, as well as two million message recordings, totally exposed online for anyone to see and listen. […]

As we’ve seen time and time again in the last couple of years, so-called “smart” devices connected to the internet — what is popularly known as the Internet of Things or IoT — are often left insecure or are easily hackable, and often leak sensitive data. There will be a time when IoT developers and manufacturers learn the lesson and make secure by default devices, but that time hasn’t come yet. So if you are a parent who doesn’t want your loving messages with your kids leaked online, you might want to buy a good old fashioned teddy bear that doesn’t connect to a remote, insecure server.

Of course, anyone who isn’t a computer security expert has no hope of being able to determine whether any particular internet-connected device is actually secure. And even security experts can’t be sure. If you’re going to use an internet-connected device, you have to trust the company who made it.

See also: This story from October, about HomeKit’s stringent security requirements.

Warren Buffett Has Doubled Berkshire Hathaway’s Stake in Apple to More Than $18 Billion 

Bloomberg:

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. increased its stake in iPhone maker Apple Inc. to about 133 million shares, Chairman Warren Buffett told CNBC. That’s more than twice as much as Berkshire held as of Dec. 31, the billionaire told the cable network in an interview Monday. The stake is valued at more than $18 billion, based on Friday’s closing price of $136.66. […]

“Apple strikes me as having quite a sticky product and an enormously useful product to people that use it, not that I do,” Buffett said, praising Tim Cook, the technology company’s chief executive officer. “He’s been very intelligent about capital deployment.”

According to Recode, Berkshire didn’t have a single share in Apple a year ago:

Buffett famously insists that he’s not a technology investor, but says he bought Apple anyway, “because I liked it.”

“There’s a vast, untapped market up there,” Buffett said on CNBC, where he disclosed the new purchase and showed off his existing phone — not an iPhone, but a vintage flip model.

Trump Dines Out 

Benny Johnson:

The president was heading to his new flagship property in D.C., the Trump Hotel, for a private dinner at the BLT Steakhouse inside. Once the president arrived at the location, the reporter who was on assignment to cover him, Jordan Fabian of The Hill, was not let into the building and had to wait in the van outside for the remainder of the dinner, without a guest list or details of what was happening inside.

Inside the restaurant, I was seated at a table which I had booked hours earlier, directly next to where Trump would be dining. I made the booking based on a tip from a trusted source. I was ready to tell the story no one else would get to see and was personally fascinated to observe how a restaurant prepares for a president — and how Trump interacts when he believes no press are present.

The night was a wild one. Here is what happens when President Trump goes to dinner.

I enjoy a behind-the-scenes story like this. It’s fascinating to me that Johnson correctly predicted the exact table at which Trump would sit, and was able to book the nearest table for himself. Update: Ah, apparently not so fascinating at all how he scored the perfect table: Johnson is friends with White House spokesman Sean Spicer. Still, I found it fascinating to read about how a restaurant and the Secret Service prepare for the president to dine out.

Daniel Dourvaris’s 2015 MacBook Pro Retina Exploded 

Daniel Dourvaris:

One afternoon as I was lying on my bed browsing the internet, my MacBook Pro suddenly turned off. I turned it back on and within a few seconds there was weird hissing sound, followed by white smoke and thin flames coming out of from the back.

I got up and ran with the laptop for the bathroom where I could put it on the ceramic tiles. Not more than ten seconds had passed and already the heat from the bottom of the laptop burnt my middle and ring fingers so badly I had to let it drop.

Just in time.

There was a bang as I backed away causing the back to pop and smoke kept pouring out. It kept sizzling for a few minutes and then finally it stopped.

Wow. Scary how fast it went from something is wrong to dangerous.

Mac Private Clouds From MacStadium 

My thanks to MacStadium for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed.

It’s time to get your Mac infrastructure out of the office closet and into the hands of the experts. Some of the biggest companies in the world use MacStadium for their agile software development needs. With three worldwide locations, and the ability to scale infinitely, it’s the AWS-like service for iOS and MacOS. A hosted Mac Private Cloud is powered by VMware and running on dedicated Mac hardware. It allows quick deployment of virtual servers of any OS, on demand.

MacStadium works with CI/CD companies, internal dev teams in need of a hybrid cloud, and thousands of other customers around the world.

Mention that you found them via Daring Fireball and MacStadium will set you up with a production-ready private cloud for a 30-day trial.

Uber Misled Public About Its Self-Driving Car That Was Caught Running a Red Light 

Mike Isaac and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The New York Times:

The experiment quickly ran into problems. In one case, an autonomous Volvo zoomed through a red light on a busy street in front of the city’s Museum of Modern Art.

Uber, a ride-hailing service, said the incident was because of human error. “This is why we believe so much in making the roads safer by building self-driving Ubers,” Chelsea Kohler, a company spokeswoman, said in December.

But even though Uber said it had suspended an employee riding in the Volvo, the self-driving car was, in fact, driving itself when it barreled through the red light, according to two Uber employees, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they signed nondisclosure agreements with the company, and internal Uber documents viewed by The New York Times. All told, the mapping programs used by Uber’s cars failed to recognize six traffic lights in the San Francisco area. “In this case, the car went through a red light,” the documents said.

I called this correctly back in December: their PR statement was carefully worded to mislead:

At first read, it sounds like Uber is saying there was a human driving the car. But if you parse it closely, it could also be the case that the car was in autonomous mode, and the “human error” was that the human behind the wheel didn’t notice the car was going to sail through a red light, and failed to manually activate the brake. I think that’s what happened — otherwise the statement wouldn’t be ambiguous.

Another case where lying has made a situation much worse. Everyone now knows the truth — their self-driving car was caught running a red light in downtown San Francisco — and the company’s (already questionable) credibility is shot. No one will believe a word the company says about future incidents with its autonomous cars.

White House Bars News Outlets From Press Briefing 

Michael M. Grynbaum, reporting for The New York Times:

Reporters from The Times, BuzzFeed News, CNN, The Los Angeles Times and Politico were not allowed to enter the West Wing office of the press secretary, Sean M. Spicer, for the scheduled briefing. Aides to Mr. Spicer only allowed in reporters from a handpicked group of news organizations that, the White House said, had been previously confirmed.

Those organizations included Breitbart News, the One America News Network and The Washington Times, all with conservative leanings. Journalists from ABC, CBS, The Wall Street Journal, Bloomberg, and Fox News also attended.

Reporters from Time magazine and The Associated Press, who were set to be allowed in, chose not to attend the briefing in protest of the White House’s actions.

Every news organization should have joined the AP and Time in boycotting this briefing.

Josh Marshall:

I think it is both more accurate and more productive to see this as cowardice rather than some sacrilege against journalism.

Apple Says iOS 10.2.1 Has Reduced Unexpected Shutdown Issue on iPhone 6 and 6S 

Matthew Panzarino:

Over the past couple of iPhone versions users have complained of “unexpected” shutdowns of their devices. Some iPhone 6, 6S, 6 Plus and 6S Plus devices could basically go dark unexpectedly, forcing a user to have to plug them into an outlet to get them to power back on.

Apple has been working on this very annoying bug and it says it has come up with a fix of sorts that should mitigate the problem on a majority of iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s devices. The fix is actually already on your iPhone if you have installed iOS 10.2.1 — something that around 50 percent of iOS users have already done. After letting the fix simmer on customer devices, Apple now has statistics to share on how it has improved the issue, citing 80 percent reduction on iPhone 6s and 70 percent reduction on iPhone 6 devices.

I used to see this occasionally on my 6S, but as Panzarino notes, it was never a problem with the 7.

Tech Companies Stand Against Trump’s Rollback of Transgender Rights 

Tony Romm, reporting for Politico:

Apple, Uber and Microsoft led a growing collection of tech companies taking aim at President Donald Trump after he issued a directive on Wednesday that rolls back federal protections for transgender students in public schools.

In a statement, Apple stressed its belief that “everyone deserves a chance to thrive in an environment free from stigma and discrimination,” adding: “We support efforts toward greater acceptance, not less, and we strongly believe that transgender students should be treated as equals. We disagree with any effort to limit or rescind their rights and protections.”

Uber, meanwhile, said it’s “proud of our longstanding opposition to harmful initiatives aimed at the LGBT community,” and it pledged it would “continue to speak out against discriminatory actions and in favor of good policy that champions equality and inclusion for all.”

And Microsoft, through a tweet from president and chief legal officer Brad Smith, swiped at the order in a subtle way. “Since Jan. 1, 1863, the federal government has played a vital role in protecting the rights of all Americans. Let’s not stop now,” Smith wrote, referencing the Emancipation Proclamation.

Trump’s retrograde stance on transgender rights is heartbreaking, but it’s not going to take us back. Trump’s administration can change how the law is enforced, but it can’t change society. Laws can (and sadly, will) be rolled back. Our collective social conscience cannot.

Amazon Says Alexa’s Speech Is Protected by the First Amendment 

Ashley Carman, reporting for The Verge:

Amazon has filed a motion to dismiss a search warrant for recordings from an Echo owned by a suspected murderer. Amazon argues that both its users’ requests to Alexa and the response the company produces are protected under the First Amendment. The company says it should only have to turn this data over if law enforcement meets a high burden of proof.

Good for them.

CNN: ‘FBI Refused White House Request to Knock Down Recent Trump-Russia Stories’ 

CNN:

The FBI rejected a recent White House request to publicly knock down media reports about communications between Donald Trump’s associates and Russians known to US intelligence during the 2016 presidential campaign, multiple US officials briefed on the matter tell CNN.

White House officials had sought the help of the bureau and other agencies investigating the Russia matter to say that the reports were wrong and that there had been no contacts, the officials said. The reports of the contacts were first published by The New York Times and CNN on February 14.

The direct communications between the White House and the FBI were unusual because of decade-old restrictions on such contacts. Such a request from the White House is a violation of procedures that limit communications with the FBI on pending investigations.

Something outrageous comes out of the Trump Kakistocracy every single day, but we should never tire of calling it out. This story is outrageous. It’s a baldfaced attempt to subvert the rule of law.

The discussions between the White House and the bureau began with FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe and White House Chief of Staff Reince Priebus on the sidelines of a separate White House meeting the day after the stories were published, according to a U.S. law enforcement official.

The White House initially disputed that account, saying that McCabe called Priebus early that morning and said The New York Times story vastly overstates what the FBI knows about the contacts. But a White House official later corrected their version of events to confirm what the law enforcement official described.

The same White House official said that Priebus later reached out again to McCabe and to FBI Director James Comey asking for the FBI to at least talk to reporters on background to dispute the stories. A law enforcement official says McCabe didn’t discuss aspects of the case but wouldn’t say exactly what McCabe told Priebus.

I would love to know who the White House official is who sold Priebus out here. Whoever it is is trying to get Priebus to resign or be fired. (And if the allegations are true, he should be fired, if not prosecuted for obstruction of justice.)

Neil Cybart: ‘Apple Doesn’t Need to Buy Netflix’ 

Speaking of Neil Cybart, his public column this week is a great read:

Calls for Apple to buy Netflix are getting louder. Instead of evaluating whether Apple should buy Netflix, a more valuable question is whether or not Apple actually needs to buy Netflix to accomplish its goals. Upon closer examination, it becomes clear that calls to buy Netflix are misplaced as Apple is chasing after something entirely different in the video streaming space.

I agree with his analysis wholeheartedly.

From the Department of ‘Other Than That, How Did You Enjoy the Play, Mrs. Lincoln?’ 

Wirecutter headphone editor Laura Dragan, in The New York Times’s “Ask the Wirecutter” column:

Why aren’t the new Apple cordless earbuds on the list?

Ah, the AirPods. The current working term for those kinds of headphones is “true wireless.” Aside from not having a cord to tangle and being decent at taking phone calls, the AirPods didn’t improve much over the corded EarPods. The sound quality is the same (which is to say, meh, with no bass). Plus the battery life is less than a full day at work, so you had better remember to charge them at lunch time. And this for $130 more than a replacement pair of EarPods? I don’t think they’re fully cooked yet.

“Aside from not having a cord to tangle” is a bizarre thing to say about AirPods. Not having a cord to tangle is the entire reason they exist. The fact that Apple now thinks wireless headphones are ready for mass market use is the primary reason the iPhone 7 doesn’t have a headphone jack.

The sound quality is not the same as with Apple’s wired earbuds — almost everyone seems to agree it’s better. And the battery life can easily get you through a full work day with a few trips to the charging case. I totally get why many people — audiophiles in particular — would still prefer wired headphones, but AirPods are fully “cooked”.

Even weirder, in Dragan’s own report on The Wirecutter, she ranked AirPods as the “best for iOS and phone calls”. I don’t see how that previous advice possibly squares with the headline on this column, “How to Decide Which Headphones to Buy (Hint: Not Apple’s AirPods)”.

My best guess here is that the problem isn’t with Dragan, but rather with the Times selectively editing her comments and choosing an explosive but entirely misleading headline for the purpose of clickbait. Shameful.

(Via Neil Cybart on Twitter.)

Alphabet Subsidiary Waymo Files Suit Against Uber, Accuses Former Employee With Theft of Trade Secrets 

Waymo:

We found that six weeks before his resignation this former employee, Anthony Levandowski, downloaded over 14,000 highly confidential and proprietary design files for Waymo’s various hardware systems, including designs of Waymo’s LiDAR and circuit board. To gain access to Waymo’s design server, Mr. Levandowski searched for and installed specialized software onto his company-issued laptop. Once inside, he downloaded 9.7 GB of Waymo’s highly confidential files and trade secrets, including blueprints, design files and testing documentation. Then he connected an external drive to the laptop. Mr. Levandowski then wiped and reformatted the laptop in an attempt to erase forensic fingerprints. Beyond Mr. Levandowki’s actions, we discovered that other former Waymo employees, now at Otto and Uber, downloaded additional highly confidential information pertaining to our custom-built LiDAR including supplier lists, manufacturing details and statements of work with highly technical information.

We believe these actions were part of a concerted plan to steal Waymo’s trade secrets and intellectual property. Months before the mass download of files, Mr. Levandowski told colleagues that he had plans to “replicate” Waymo’s technology at a competitor.

A bad week for Uber just got a lot worse.

Netflix Buys Worldwide Rights to Martin Scorsese’s ‘The Irishman’, Starring Robert De Niro 

Dave McNary, reporting for Variety:

Netflix has acquired worldwide rights to Martin Scorsese’s gangster movie “The Irishman,” starring Robert De Niro. Netflix would not comment on the deal but sources close to the project confirmed a report by IndieWire.

“The Irishman” will be the ninth collaboration between Scorsese and De Niro. Steven Zaillian has written the script, based on the Charles Brandt’s 2004 book, “I Heard You Paint Houses,” which centered on the life of the mob hitman Frank “The Irishman” Sheeran.

Scorsese and De Niro first partnered on 1973’s “Mean Streets,” followed by “Taxi Driver,” “New York, New York,” “Raging Bull,” “The King of Comedy,” “Goodfellas,” “Cape Fear” and 1995’s “Casino.”

The greatest director-actor partnership in the history of film. Coming soon to Netflix.

Maciej Ceglowski: ‘Social Media Needs a Travel Mode’ 

Maciej Ceglowski:

We need a ‘trip mode’ for social media sites that reduces our contact list and history to a minimal subset of what the site normally offers. Not only would such a feature protect people forced to give their passwords at the border, but it would mitigate the many additional threats to privacy they face when they use their social media accounts away from home.

Both Facebook and Google make lofty claims about user safety, but they’ve done little to show they take the darkening political climate around the world seriously. A ‘trip mode’ would be a chance for them to demonstrate their commitment to user safety beyond press releases and anodyne letters of support.

What’s required is a small amount of engineering, a good marketing effort, and the conviction that any company that makes its fortune hoarding user data has a moral responsibility to protect its users.

To work effectively, a trip mode feature would need to be easy to turn on, configurable (so you can choose how long you want the protection turned on for) and irrevocable for an amount of time chosen by the user once it’s set. There’s no sense in having a ‘trip mode’ if the person demanding your password can simply switch it off, or coerce you into switching it off.

This is a good idea, but I worry that it won’t be enough. Even if it’s irrevocable for a temporary period, what happens if the rules are changed such that a customs agent inspecting your phone can detain you if any of your social media accounts are in “travel mode”? Is there a way to make such a mode undetectable?

“Travel mode” would be better than nothing, but no technical solution is a substitution for proper civil liberties. Our phones and devices should be protected against unwarranted search and seizure, period.

Video Pros Moving From Mac to Windows for High-End GPUs 

Marco Solorio, writing for One River Media:

But as good as that juiced up Mac Pro Tower is today, I know at some point, the time will have to come to an end, simply because Apple hasn’t built a PCIe-based system in many years now. As my article described, the alternative Mac Pro trashcan is simply not a solution for our needs, imposing too many limitations combined with a very high price tag.

The Nvidia GTX 1080 might be the final nail in the coffin. I can guarantee at this point, we will have to move to a Windows-based workstation for our main edit suite and one that supports multiple PCIe slots specifically for the GTX 1080 (I’ll most likely get two 1080s that that new price-point). I’m no stranger to working on Windows systems (I’ve built my own Windows boxes since Windows 3/NT) and have Windows systems running now in our facility. But with that said, I do prefer Apple OS X when possible. But with no support of a modern PCIe-based workstation from Apple, our hands are tied to move to Windows. […]

With all that said, I see (and have already seen) a huge migration of longtime Apple users (such as me) going to Windows systems for their main workstation needs. The sheer power and lower cost is just too huge at this point. The Nvidia GTX 1080 just compounded that point exponentially stronger.

This may be a small market, but it’s a lucrative one. Seems shortsighted for Apple to cede it.

Update: I didn’t notice that this post was from May of last year, but given that there haven’t been any changes at all to the Mac Pro lineup since then, I can only imagine the situation is worse today than then.

Castro 2.3 

Nice update to another great indie podcast player. The custom notifications for new episode triage look like a great idea.

Trappist-1: Scientists Find 7 Earth-Like Planets Orbiting Nearby Ultracool Star 

Nsikan Akpan, writing for PBS News:

Skip 39 light-years across our galaxy, and you’ll arrive at Trappist-1, an ultracool dwarf star with a band of special followers. This dim star hosts seven Earth-like planets within its habitable zone, according to a study published today in the journal Nature. Exoplanets are a dime a dozen these days, but due to unique properties in this exosolar system, the new discovery may usher in a movement in the hunt for habitable worlds — one where astrophysicists can ascertain the presence of life without traveling across the cosmos.

“Ultracool” means that it’s a low-radition dwarf star, but the adjective works the other way too. They even registered a clever domain name.

New Episode of Computer Show 

“Why would you ever need to print anything?”

Apple’s New Campus Has a Name: Apple Park 

Apple:

Apple today announced that Apple Park, the company’s new 175-acre campus, will be ready for employees to begin occupying in April. The process of moving more than 12,000 people will take over six months, and construction of the buildings and parklands is scheduled to continue through the summer. […]

Steve would have turned 62 this Friday, February 24. To honor his memory and his enduring influence on Apple and the world, the theater at Apple Park will be named the Steve Jobs Theater. Opening later this year, the entrance to the 1,000-seat auditorium is a 20-foot-tall glass cylinder, 165 feet in diameter, supporting a metallic carbon-fiber roof. The Steve Jobs Theater is situated atop a hill — one of the highest points within Apple Park — overlooking meadows and the main building.

“Apple Park” — I like it. Naming the theater after Jobs is a deft touch as well.

Joanna Stern on Why Digital Assistants Tend to Have Female Voices 

Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

You get the point: The virtual assistants popping up in our lives sound overwhelmingly female. “I’m female in character,” Amazon’s Alexa responds if you ask her if she is a woman. In their own clever ways Google, Apple and Microsoft’s voice assistants will tell you they’re genderless…in unmistakably womanlike voices.

As femme bot after femme bot has invaded our phones , speakers, cars, TVs — even our refrigerators — I’ve been left wondering: Where the man bots at? And why do these hunks of plastic and electronics need to be assigned a gender at all? My Amazon Echo doesn’t have any reproductive organs.

Siri is the only one of the bunch with a male option:

Siri may default to a female voice in the U.S. but Apple provides both male and female voice options for iPhone and iPad users to choose from. In fact, on iPhones where the language is Arabic, French, Dutch or British English, Siri defaults to a male voice.

Overcast 3: Design Walkthrough 

Marco Arment just released version 3.0 of his iOS podcast player, Overcast, and here he documents all of the significant UI changes. I have two high-level takeaways:

  • This is a terrific update. A lot has changed, and I think every single one of the changes is for the better. But, I think casual Overcast users might not realize just how much has changed. It still feels familiar. That’s hard to pull off.

  • The work that went into re-doing existing features in 3.0 is exactly why we, as a community of users, need developers to be able to generate sustainable revenue for apps. The 1.0 for any app always has conceptual mistakes, and even when the developer is not correcting mistakes, the OS state of the art moves forward. Old parts of the app need to be revisited just to stay up to date. The idea that you pay once — and just a few bucks at that — and then get updates for years to come just doesn’t allow for something like Overcast 3.0. There are some nice new features in Overcast 3.0, but the best aspects of Overcast 3.0 are the ways that existing features have been improved.

Just 4 Miles From Center City Philadelphia, a Heroin Hellscape Hidden in Plain Sight 

Eye-opening report by Stephanie Farr and Sam Wood for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Along a half-mile gorge cut by a Conrail line that runs through Kensington and Fairhill, tens of thousands of used syringes and their tossed off orange caps cover the sloping ground like a plague of locusts. The contaminated needles make conditions so hazardous that even some police officers are reluctant to traverse the embankments to get to dead overdose victims at the bottom.

The squalor and chaos along the rail line resembles a scene from Hieronymus Bosch. Addicts - many with needle marks so fresh that still-drying blood glistens in the sun - twist their bodies into unnatural forms to crouch and teeter on the trash-covered banks as they shoot up. Others sleep under nearby bridges or in makeshift shelters surrounded by garbage, drugs, and death.

How Is the New York Times Really Doing? 

Om Malik:

Wired magazine recently published, Keeping Up with the Times, a story about the New York Times and its slow & painful transition to a digital first publication. “It’s to transform the Times’ digital subscriptions into the main engine of a billion-dollar business, one that could pay to put reporters on the ground in 174 countries even if (OK, when) the printing presses stop forever,” Gabriel Snyder (one of my favorite writers, by the way) wrote in his in-depth feature, which is worth reading.

After reading the piece, I thought let’s see how the Times is really doing — by the numbers. With help of Nima Wedlake, I came up with data to chart the progress made by the company, to see how far it really is from its transformation into a billion-dollars-in-digital-business.

Uber CEO Travis Kalanick Says the Company Has Hired Former Attorney General Eric Holder to Probe Allegations of Sexism 

Travis Kalanick, in a company-wide memo leaked to Kara Swisher:

First, Eric Holder, former US Attorney General under President Obama, and Tammy Albarran — both partners at the leading law firm Covington & Burling — will conduct an independent review into the specific issues relating to the work place environment raised by Susan Fowler, as well as diversity and inclusion at Uber more broadly. Joining them will be Arianna Huffington, who sits on Uber’s board, Liane Hornsey, our recently hired Chief Human Resources Officer, and Angela Padilla, our Associate General Counsel. I expect them to conduct this review in short order.

This is about as vigorous a response to Susan Fowler’s allegations as Kalanick could possibly pursue. Eric Holder isn’t going to sweep anything under the rug.

But I suspect it’s too little, too late. I think Uber’s company culture is toxic, and Holder’s report will prove it. What then?

ZTE Is Shutting Down Its Failed Hawkeye Phone Kickstarter Campaign 

Ashley Carman, writing for The Verge:

After a month and a half of letting its Hawkeye phone flounder on Kickstarter, ZTE is finally ending the campaign. It received $36,245 out of its $500,000 funding goal. In a post on the Kickstarter today, ZTE writes that it’s decided to end the campaign after considering feedback provided on the campaign page and its user Z-Community forum.

Like I said last month, crowdsourcing is no way to design anything.

ANSI Standard K100.1-1974: Safety Code and Requirements for Dry Martinis (PDF) 

Most interesting thing I learned over the weekend: there’s a delightful ANSI standard for dry martinis — 16 to 1 ratio of gin to vermouth. (Thanks to Jim Lipsey.)

Susan J. Fowler on Uber’s Institutional Support for Sexual Harassment 

Susan J. Fowler, now an engineer at Stripe, on her year at Uber:

Uber was a pretty good-sized company at that time, and I had pretty standard expectations of how they would handle situations like this. I expected that I would report him to HR, they would handle the situation appropriately, and then life would go on — unfortunately, things played out quite a bit differently. When I reported the situation, I was told by both HR and upper management that even though this was clearly sexual harassment and he was propositioning me, it was this man’s first offense, and that they wouldn’t feel comfortable giving him anything other than a warning and a stern talking-to. Upper management told me that he “was a high performer” (i.e. had stellar performance reviews from his superiors) and they wouldn’t feel comfortable punishing him for what was probably just an innocent mistake on his part.

Later:

Over the next few months, I began to meet more women engineers in the company. As I got to know them, and heard their stories, I was surprised that some of them had stories similar to my own. Some of the women even had stories about reporting the exact same manager I had reported, and had reported inappropriate interactions with him long before I had even joined the company. It became obvious that both HR and management had been lying about this being “his first offense”, and it certainly wasn’t his last. Within a few months, he was reported once again for inappropriate behavior, and those who reported him were told it was still his “first offense”. The situation was escalated as far up the chain as it could be escalated, and still nothing was done.

The whole story is compelling, and paints a scathing picture of Uber’s company culture. But the fact that the company’s HR department blatantly lied to a series of women harassed by the same man, telling each of them it was his “first offense”, is not just cruel, but shows just how confident they were that the women in the company would keep quiet about their harassment.

Now that Fowler’s story has broken, expect a flood of additional stories.


The World’s Worst Cocktail: The Alexa Martini

Speaking of martinis, out of curiosity I tried asking my Amazon Echo “How do you make a martini?” The answer was appalling:

“The martini is a cocktail made with 1 part gin and 6 parts vermouth.”

Those of you who enjoy a martini know that that recipe is backwards, and would make for a truly wretched drink — the International Bartenders Association standard recipe for a dry martini calls for 6 parts gin to 1 part vermouth. If anything, many martini aficionados prefer less vermouth than the IBA recipe.

Given the same query, Siri tells you (rather ungrammatically) “The main ingredient in martini (cocktail) is gin”, and points you to Wikipedia, which offers the IBA recipe. Google Assistant on a Pixel tells you “The Martini is a cocktail made with gin and vermouth, and garnished with an olive or a lemon twist.” You can then tap “Ingredients” to be shown a recipe with the IBA standard 6-to-1 gin-to-vermouth ratio.

Neither Siri nor Google Assistant are perfect here, but both put you one tap away from getting an acceptable recipe. Google gets points for doing it entirely within the Assistant interface (rather than punting you over to a web browser), but Siri gets points because Wikipedia’s page contains instructions on how to prepare the drink, not just what to put in it.

Alexa’s response is clearly the most ambitious, but it’s by far the worst because it’s so criminally wrong. “I don’t know, go check Wikipedia” is a much better response than a wrong answer.

Update: Two days after I tweeted about this, Alexa now correctly prescribes 6 parts of gin to 1 of vermouth. 


DF RSS Feed Sponsorships 

Long story short, this coming week’s DF RSS feed sponsorship was sold, but now it’s open. If you’ve got a cool product or service you want to promote to DF’s discerning audience, and can make a deal quick, get in touch.

David Wondrich: ‘Why I Hate Barstools and You Should, Too’ 

David Wondrich, writing for The Daily Beast:

I hate barstools.

OK, let me amend that. I like them well enough at 2:15 on a Tuesday afternoon, when you can pull one up, lay a stack of bills on the bar and let the afternoon pad away on quiet cat feet of jukebox C&W and Crown Royal.

But when 6:30 p.m. rolls around and you’re trying to get a drink and the bar is palisaded with a Trumpian wall of backs; when putting in a simple drink order means you have to stick your head into someone’s side eye-patrolled personal space and yell past their ear; when reaching over the tight-packed shoulders to get your Martini is like playing one of those rigged claw games — then, barstools suck.

Never really thought about it before, but it really does suck trying to get a drink at a bar when all the stools are occupied.

Squarespace Domains 

My thanks to Squarespace for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. When it comes to your craft, you’re the expert. With Squarespace’s designer templates and easy-to-use interface, you can create a website that brings out the best in what you’re passionate about. Not ready to design your website yet? Reserve a spot for your big idea with Squarespace Domains. Then roll out your website when it’s ready.

Try Squarespace for free today. When you decide to subscribe, use offer code “DARING17” to get 10 percent off.

Apple’s New iPad Campaign: ‘We Hear You’ 

Rene Ritchie, on a just-launched iPad commercial campaign:

“We Hear You”, Apple’s new iPad Pro campaign, reminded me immediately of “Get a Mac”, the classic series of ads that had John Hodgman as PC and Justin Long as Mac show how Windows pain points could be easily, often delightfully fixed simply by switching to a Mac.

A few thoughts:

  • At just 15 seconds each, these spots are tight, in a good way.
  • The target is clearly getting people to switch from Windows PCs to iPads.
  • Each spot shows the iPad in multitasking mode. Usually with something work-related on the left, and iMessage on the right.
  • They show Numbers in the first spot, but Microsoft Office apps (Word especially) are the primary examples of doing “work”.
  • I find it interesting that the framing for each spot is a tweet, printed out and held on screen as a poster.
Financial Times: ‘Apple’s Stalled Talks With Ron Howard Flag Content Confusion’ 

Matthew Garrahan, reporting for The Financial Times:

The iPhone maker has been stalking Hollywood for more than a year, talking to leading industry players while it tries to formulate a cogent video strategy. It has considered a range of acquisitions and targets including, most recently, Imagine Entertainment, the Hollywood production company owned by Ron Howard and Brian Grazer, according to several people briefed on the discussions.

The talks were serious enough to involve Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive, and Eddy Cue, its senior vice-president of internet software and services. The talks included a possible “first look” distribution deal of Imagine movies and television shows, as well as an investment by Apple — or even a full purchase. But, as with many other potential deals involving Apple, the discussions fizzled out.

Would have worked out just great if only Apple had hired some investment bankers, I’m sure.


Apple Moves WWDC Back to San Jose

Here’s an announcement from Apple that I wouldn’t have guessed in a hundred tries: they’re moving WWDC back to the McEnery Convention Center in San Jose.

The dates for WWDC 2017 are June 5–9. But the ticketing process isn’t until March 27. Like in previous years, it’ll be a lottery-type application system.

I had the chance to speak with Phil Schiller about this yesterday. The call was scheduled a few days in advance, but as usual with Apple, I didn’t know the topic. I spent the intervening days trying to guess. Moving WWDC back to San Jose truly didn’t even enter my mind. But now that I’ve had a day to think about it, I can see the logic.

First, announcing early really helps people who have to travel long distances to attend, particularly those from outside the U.S. In recent years, Apple has announced WWDC dates in April — as early as April 3 in 2014, and as late as April 28. Announcing the dates now, in mid-February, should help people save on airfare. It’s another sign that Apple is slowly getting more open. (Let’s see if they announce the dates this early next year too. It’s possible they only announced this early this year to brace people for the venue change.)

For people who will travel only if they get a conference pass, the timing doesn’t change as much. But even a few extra weeks is an improvement. And in recent years — particularly since the demise of Macworld Expo — WWDC is more than just the developer conference. It’s become the communal heart of the Apple world’s calendar. I know more people who come to WWDC without passes for the conference than who attend.

The San Jose Convention Center is the original home of WWDC — that’s where it was held from 1988 through 2002. (WWDC 2002 was the year Steve Jobs held a funeral for Mac OS 9 during the keynote.) San Jose is way closer to Apple headquarters. San Francisco is about an hour drive from 1 Infinite Loop. The San Jose Convention Center is only minutes away from Apple’s new San Jose campus, and is much closer to their Cupertino headquarters than San Francisco. Schiller emphasized to me that this is a big deal: more Apple employees from more teams will be present, simply because they won’t have to devote an entire day to being there. (This could be a particular boon to WWDC’s developer labs, where attendees can get precious face time with Apple’s engineers.)

I asked whether the move to San Jose changed the number of people who’d be able to attend. Schiller said it did not — attendance will be about the same. (To my knowledge, Apple has never revealed exact attendance figures, and Schiller didn’t offer an exact number, but it’s somewhere around 5,000.)

My first WWDC was 2006, a few years after the move to San Francisco, so I’ve never been to one in San Jose. The rap from my friends who did attend WWDC back when it was in San Jose is that San Jose was a bit of a sleepy town. It’s a work-oriented city, where it gets quiet after 5 pm. But WWDC was, compared to now, sparsely attended back then. WWDC didn’t sell out until 2008 (the first year of the iPhone App Store).

Schiller seems confident that there’s going to be a lot going on outside the convention center. Apple is working with the city and San Jose mayor Sam Liccardo to stage events around the downtown area throughout the week.

WWDC is the biggest event of the year for the Apple world. But for the city of San Francisco, it’s just another conference at Moscone. In fact, by Moscone standards, WWDC is actually kind of small. Oracle’s OpenWorld conference has over 60,000 attendees — 12 times the size of WWDC. Update: Salesforce’s Dreamforce conference had 170,000 attendees last year.

WWDC will be the biggest thing going on in San Jose that week. I don’t have a feel for San Jose — the only time I’ve ever set foot there was for Apple’s 2012 October event. I could see it going one of two ways: either dreadfully dull, or, something akin to SXSW in Austin, where the conference and its attendees more or less take over the entire convention center area downtown. In San Francisco, WWDC attendees are a small school of like-minded fish in a big pond. In San Jose, they’ll own the pond. WWDC’s presence can expand outside the confines of McEnery in a way that it can’t expand outside Moscone.

One last factor, unstated by Apple, but very obvious to anyone who knows how to comparison shop for hotel rooms: downtown San Jose is way cheaper than downtown San Francisco, and the surrounding area has a ton of good hotel rooms at very affordable rates. In San Francisco nice hotels are very expensive, and the hotels that aren’t expensive are not nice. In recent years, a lot of people who come to WWDC have been booking hotels down closer to San Jose simply because they’re so much cheaper.

So here’s my take:

  • For Apple, this is a win. They’ll cumulatively spend thousands of fewer hours driving up and down Highway 280. They have the potential to involve their soon-to-open new campus in the event somehow. They have more influence and control over the area around the convention center, rather than just inside it.

  • For attendees, it’s hard to say. For those on a budget, it’s surely a win. San Jose is way more affordable than San Francisco. (But the hotels closest to the convention center in downtown San Jose are running around $350 a night — no savings at all compared to Moscone-area hotels in San Francisco.) For those more concerned with the social scene, it’s too early to judge. If it resembles the social scene from the previous era of San Jose WWDCs, it’ll be a bust. If you’d asked me in recent years whether it’s worth it to go to WWDC even if you’re not attending the conference proper, I’d have said yes without hesitation. I really don’t know if that’s going to be true now that it’s in San Jose.

The word that comes to mind is nostalgia. For most of the regular WWDC attendees in my circle, San Francisco and Moscone are all we know. There’s an established familiarity to the places (hotels, restaurants, bars) and the schedule. Even if WWDC works out great in San Jose, there is a lot that I will miss about WWDC’s years in San Francisco. But WWDC is only moving, not ending, so it’s a very different nostalgia than that for Macworld Expo.

WWDC in San Jose hearkens back to what was truly a different era for Apple. When the last WWDC was held in San Jose in 2002, the original iPod was only six months old, and I was three months away from starting Daring Fireball. An investment in Apple stock in 2002 would have increased around a hundredfold if held through today.

Apple doesn’t like to explain itself. I don’t know why Apple moved WWDC to San Francisco in 2003. But my guess is that they sought more media attention. Apple went to where the attention was. Today, the attention comes to Apple. They could hold WWDC in the middle of a desert and it would still sell out in an instant and there’d be the same convoy of media trucks outside the hall the morning of the keynote. If a large corporation can be described as a homebody, Apple is it. And San Francisco is not Apple’s home turf.

Schiller has been at Apple (and on stage at WWDC) throughout this entire run, and he seems ready to go back. “It feels like WWDC is going home,” he told me. 


Investment Bankers Urge Apple to Spend Money Hiring Investment Bankers, News at 11

I cannot believe that Bloomberg published this story by Alex Webb and Alex Sherman, “Apple Struggles to Make Big Deals, Hampering Strategy Shifts”. The entire story consists of quotes from investment bankers arguing that Apple should hire investment bankers to make more large acquisitions. Really, that’s it.

But Apple has struggled for years to pull off bigger deals because of a series of quirks: an aversion to risk, reluctance to work with external advisers like investment banks and inexperience in closing and integrating large takeovers, said people who have worked on acquisitions with the company. They asked not to be identified speaking about private merger and acquisition deliberations.

The only proof offered that Apple has struggled in any way to make any acquisitions is that they haven’t made more acquisitions. There’s no mention of any companies that Apple pursued but failed to acquire. Not one.

Apple’s biggest deal in its 41-year history was the $3 billion purchase Beats Electronics in 2014, followed by the $400 million acquisition of NeXT Computer in 1996. In Facebook Inc.’s 13 years, it has made three acquisitions of at least $1 billion, including its $22 billion WhatsApp purchase. Google, founded in 1998, has done four such deals, while Microsoft Corp. has completed at least 10, according to data compiled by Bloomberg.

The comparison in the above paragraph completely rests on the assumption that more and bigger acquisitions are a good thing in and of themselves. No mention is made as to whether these acquisitions were actually good for the companies. (Apple’s $400 million NeXT acquisition worked out OK.)

Instead of closing big deals, Cook has so far focused on growing Apple’s services businesses, including Apple Music, the App Store and iCloud. That’s beginning to work, with the company recently forecasting that annual revenue from those operations will top $50 billion by 2021.

But even here, some analysts and investors argue for a big acquisition, especially in online video streaming. Apple has started distributing videos through the Music service, and pooling other providers’ video in its mobile TV app, but it has no service akin to Netflix or Amazon.com Inc.’s Prime Video.

Apple can’t buy Prime, but they could buy Netflix. But Netflix has a market cap of just over $60 billion, and Apple has a service “akin” to Netflix called Apple Music. Netflix has over 90 million subscribers. Apple Music hit 20 million paying subscribers in December. At the Code conference this week, Eddy Cue claimed Apple Music hit 20 million paying subscribers faster than any other subscription service he’s aware of. And at this point they’re only just preparing to scratch the surface of including original video content.1

Apple would probably have to offer at least $75 billion to buy Netflix. At least. It would cost a fraction of that to turn Apple Music into a serious video service.

On Friday, Sanford C. Bernstein analyst Toni Sacconaghi said Apple needs at least one big acquisition in online video.

No they don’t. All they need to do is negotiate with studios and TV networks to get movies and TV shows currently in the iTunes Store (as purchases) licensed for Netflix-style “pay $10 a month and watch what you want” streaming.

To reach its $50 billion target, the company must find an extra $13 billion in services revenue over the next four years — beyond what it can generate itself. Netflix Inc. ended 2016 with sales of less than $9 billion, so even buying that business may not be enough, the analyst said.

Even a $75 billion purchase of Netflix may not be enough. Who said that with a straight face? These fuckers wouldn’t be satisfied unless Apple drunkenly spent every goddamn penny of their cash.

“They’re going to have to pursue something bigger than a Beats-like acquisition,” said Erick Maronak, chief investment officer at Victory Capital Management, which holds Apple stock among its $55 billion under management.

They might, but they do not “have to”. What exactly is the result going to be if they don’t? (I am reminded of Trip “Claim” Chowdhry’s declaration in March 2014 that Apple would “disappear” if they didn’t “come up with an iWatch” within 60 days. Seriously, he said that.)

When AT&T Inc. agreed to purchase Time Warner Inc. for $85 billion in October, the telecom company was concerned Apple might make a competing bid, people familiar with AT&T’s thinking said at the time. Apple had held tentative talks about a year earlier, but when the AT&T deal emerged, a person familiar with the technology giant’s thinking said it wouldn’t be able to pull together a competing proposal quickly enough.

Translation: If only Apple had hired the investment bankers who fed this story to Bloomberg they could have bought Time Warner.

Apple’s deals team is composed of about a dozen people under former Goldman Sachs banker Adrian Perica, and most acquisitions take place at the behest of the company’s engineers. Product managers usually meet every month with Perica’s team members to identify targets with attractive technology or talented engineers, according to a person familiar with the process.

Microsoft’s deals team is not significantly bigger, and it still hired investment bank Morgan Stanley for its $26 billion acquisition of LinkedIn last year, beating rival bidders including Salesforce.com Inc. and Facebook.

Translation: Microsoft has its own in-house team but they still hired a big investment bank, so why can’t Apple let these banks get their fair share of Apple’s cash?

Apple often refuses to work with investment bankers appointed by the seller, preferring to deal directly with company management, according to people who have been involved in such negotiations. Apple also dictates terms and tells targets to take it or leave it, betting that the promise of product development support later and the chance of appearing in future iPhones are alluring enough, the people said.

That was the case when Apple acquired Metaio GmbH in 2015. Bankers appointed by the augmented-reality firm to negotiate weren’t allowed in the room, and while Metaio executives felt the offer was low, Apple’s vision for the technology convinced them to sell, according to a person familiar with the discussions.

This anecdote really strengthens the case that Apple is doing itself a disservice by not hiring outside investment banks, and that the company suffers from “inexperience in closing”. Not.

Apple’s current M&A strategy works well for acquiring startups developing new technology that can be added to existing Apple products. It bought 15 to 20 companies per year over the last four years. But buying larger companies presents a different challenge, particularly if there are rival bids. Bankers often diffuse tension between bidders and targets, but Apple’s approach can make that process difficult. […]

For Apple’s acquisition of Beats, neither party used an investment bank. Apple struggled to integrate the team, and when the initial Apple Music offering emerged from the combination, it got lukewarm reviews. Later versions of the service improved. However, Apple’s lack of a successful track record integrating big acquisitions puts off sellers, according to a person who has negotiated with Apple’s deals team.

Yes, I’m sure a large team of investment bankers would have helped “integrate” Beats within Apple, and the bankers would have made Apple Music — which, again, has over 20 million paying subscribers and is growing fast — a better product at launch.

Apple’s Beats acquisition suggests the opposite of this article’s central thesis: Apple is better off not working with investment bankers even for a $3 billion deal. 


  1. Now that they’re getting into original video content, it does make me wonder whether “Apple Music” was a shortsighted name for the service. Then again, they built a nice business selling movies though a service called the iTunes Music Store. ↩︎


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