The Daring Fireball Linked List

Sheldon Whitehouse on the Politics of Climate Change 

Terrific 5-minute video from Senator Sheldon Whitehouse of Rhode Island on the politics behind the Republican Party’s stonewalling on climate change. Watch it and pass it along.

(I’m surely the millionth person to make this observation, but how great would it be if he were elected president and we had a Whitehouse White House?)

Are Trump Voters Ruining America for All of Us? 

Tom Nichols, in an op-ed for USA Today:

There is a serious danger to American democracy in all this. When voters choose ill-informed grudges and diffuse resentment over the public good, a republic becomes unsustainable. The temperance and prudent reasoning required of representative government gets pushed aside in favor of whatever ignorant idea has seized the public at that moment. The Washington Post recently changed its motto to “democracy dies in darkness,” a phrase that is not only pretentious but inaccurate. More likely, American democracy will die in dumbness.

Those of us who criticized Trump voters for their angry populism were often told during and after the election not to condescend to our fellow citizens, and to respect their choices. This is fair. In a democracy, every vote counts equally and the president won an impressive and legitimate electoral victory.

Even so, the unwillingness of so many of his supporters to hold him to even a minimal standard of accountability means that a certain amount of condescension from the rest of us is unavoidable.

If you say “I voted for Trump because I want to say ‘Fuck you’ to everyone — my life’s in the toilet and I’d like to see the world burn”, OK, I get it. I don’t like you, but you made the right choice in Trump and I can see why you’re happy so far. But if you’re pleased with Trump because you think he’s running an effective administration and is accomplishing the things he promised to accomplish, you’re as disconnected from reality as he is.

(Also, kudos to Nichols for the rare exception to Betteridge’s Law of Headlines.)

Amazon Echo Look – A Camera for Your Dressing Room 

There are a few fleeting shots of men in Amazon’s intro video for the Echo Look, but this is clearly envisioned as a product for women. I’m trying to think of another gadget whose advertising is so heavily skewed toward women, and I’m coming up blank.

Once you start thinking about the implications of an AI-driven device that can both see and hear you, it becomes obvious just how primitive these devices still are. I want a C-3PO, not a talking camera fixed on my dresser that tells me if my socks and shirt match.

Privacy-wise, this bit seems rather alarming:

Motherboard also asked if Echo Look photos, videos, and the data gleaned from them would be sold to third parties; the company did not address that question.

Apple can’t get into this category fast enough.

‘Today at Apple’ 

Apple:

Apple today announced plans to launch dozens of new educational sessions next month in all 495 Apple stores ranging in topics from photo and video to music, coding, art and design and more. The hands-on sessions, collectively called “Today at Apple,” will be led by highly-trained team members, and in select cities world-class artists, photographers and musicians, teaching sessions from basics and how-to lessons to professional-level programs.

I think Apple’s retail stores are one of the most overlooked / under-estimated advantages in all of technology. They have spaces around the world where people can have interactions with real people, in real life. Not through a screen. Real life. Who else has that? I think taking that to the next level is what this “Today at Apple” program is all about.

Animated Bézier Curves 

Very cool web page by Jason Davies that interactively shows how Bézier curves work.

(Via Gus Mueller.)

Google Rewrites Its Powerful Search Rankings to Bury Fake News 

Mark Bergen, writing for Bloomberg:

The Alphabet Inc. company is making a rare, sweeping change to the algorithm behind its powerful search engine to demote misleading, false and offensive articles online. Google is also setting new rules encouraging its “raters” — the 10,000-plus staff that assess search results — to flag web pages that host hoaxes, conspiracy theories and what the company calls “low-quality” content.

The moves follow months after criticism of Google and Facebook Inc. for hosting misleading information, particular tied to the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Google executives claimed the type of web pages categorized in this bucket are relatively small, which is a reason why the search giant hadn’t addressed the issue before.

“It was not a large fraction of queries — only about a quarter percent of our traffic — but they were important queries,” said Ben Gomes, vice president of engineering for Google.

Good for them. What Gomes said is exactly right — it may not be many queries, but they are important queries.

In Response to Guardian’s Irresponsible Reporting on WhatsApp 

Speaking of The Guardian, it’s now the last week of April and they still haven’t issued a retraction of their grievously irresponsible story alleging a “backdoor” in WhatsApp from January. Zeynep Tufekci, in an open letter signed by dozens of security/cryptography experts:

Unfortunately, your story was the equivalent of putting “VACCINES KILL PEOPLE” in a blaring headline over a poorly contextualized piece. While it is true that in a few cases, vaccines kill people through rare and unfortunate side effects, they also save millions of lives.

You would have no problem understanding why “Vaccines Kill People” would be a problem headline for a story, especially given the context of anti-vaccination movements. But your series of stories on WhatsApp does the same disservice and perpetrates a similar public health threat against secure communications.

The behavior described in your article is not a backdoor in WhatsApp. This is the overwhelming consensus of the cryptography and security community. It is also the collective opinion of the cryptography professionals whose names appear below. The behavior you highlight is a measured tradeoff that poses a remote threat in return for real benefits that help keep users secure, as we will discuss in a moment. […]

Since the publication of this story, we’ve observed and heard from worried activists, journalists and ordinary people who use WhatsApp, who tell us that people are switching to SMS and Facebook Messenger, among other options–many services that are strictly less secure than WhatsApp.

The Guardian has stretched this out for three months, so it looks like they think they can run out the clock on it. Shameful — this should be an everlasting hit to their credibility.

The Guardian Pulls Out of Facebook’s Instant Articles and Apple News, but Not Google’s AMP 

Jessica Davies, reporting for Digiday:

A Guardian News and Media spokesperson confirmed the removal, and issued the following statement to Digiday: “We have run extensive trials on Facebook Instant Articles and Apple News to assess how they fit with our editorial and commercial objectives. Having evaluated these trials, we have decided to stop publishing in those formats on both platforms. Our primary objective is to bring audiences to the trusted environment of the Guardian to support building deeper relationships with our readers, and growing membership and contributions to fund our world-class journalism.”

But:

Meanwhile the Guardian’s use of Google’s Accelerated Mobile Pages, the rival to Instant Articles, seems to be going strong. In March the Guardian presented at AMP Conf, a two-day conference hosted in New York, where it revealed that 60 percent of the Guardian’s Google-referred mobile traffic was coming via AMP.

Follow that link, though, and it doesn’t sound like The Guardian is getting much out of AMP:

AMP pages are 2 percent more likely to be clicked on and clickthrough rates on AMP pages to non-AMP pages is 8.6 percent higher than they are on regular mobile pages, according to Natalia Baltazar, a developer for the British newspaper, who presented at AMP Conf, a two-day conference hosted by Google taking place in New York City March 7-8.

Wikitribune: An ‘Evidence-Based’ News Site From Jimmy Wales 

New ad-free news site from Jimmy Wales, with professional journalists and Wikipedia-style volunteers working side-by-side. Terrific idea, and there’s a great launch video by Sandwich Video and Kirby Ferguson that explains the concept well.

Here’s Why Juicero’s Press Is So Expensive 

Ben Einstein has a nice tear-down of Juicero’s $399 juicer:

Our usual advice to hardware founders is to focus on getting a product to market to test the core assumptions on actual target customers, and then iterate. Instead, Juicero spent $120M over two years to build a complex supply chain and perfectly engineered product that is too expensive for their target demographic.

Imagine a world where Juicero raised only $10M and built a product subject to significant constraints. Maybe the Press wouldn’t be so perfectly engineered but it might have a fewer features and cost a fraction of the original $699. Or maybe with a more iterative approach, they would have quickly found that customers vary greatly in their juice consumption patterns, and would have chosen a per-pack pricing model rather than one-size-fits-all $35/week subscription. Suddenly Juicero is incredibly compelling as a product offering, at least to this consumer.

CleanEmail 

If you’re looking for an alternative to Unroll.me, CleanEmail looks like a good choice:

Here at CleanEmail, we are committed to your security and privacy. In short: we don’t keep, sell, or analyze your data for the purposes beyond our public features. Read below for more details.

They don’t have to sell your personal email data because they charge an honest price for their service.

The Gentlemen’s Journal’s Ranking of Bond Cars 

Not a bad list, but I would move the Toyota 2000GT from You Only Live Twice up to number 3, and I would have put the Aston Martin V8 from The Living Daylights on the list.

One for the Thumbs 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Siskel and Ebert had it right. The two critics were forced to provide star ratings for their newspapers, but when they created their own TV movie-reviews show, they famously boiled the whole thing down to thumbs up and thumbs down. And they were critics who reviewed hundreds of films a year! If it was good enough for them, it’s good enough for the rest of us — and for the algorithms fed by our sentiment.

👍

Apple Cuts Affiliate Commissions on Apps and In-App Purchases 

John Voorhees, reporting for MacStories:

Today, Apple announced that it is reducing the commissions it pays on apps and In-App Purchases from 7% to 2.5% effective May 1st. The iTunes Affiliate Program pays a commission from Apple’s portion of the sale of apps and other media when a purchase is made with a link that contains the affiliate credentials of a member of the program. Anyone can join, but the Affiliate Program is used heavily by websites that cover media sold by Apple and app developers. […]

With ad revenue in decline, affiliate commissions are one way that many websites that write about apps generate revenue, MacStories included. Many developers also use affiliate links in their apps and on their websites to supplement their app income. This change will put additional financial pressure on both groups, which is why it’s especially unfortunate that the changes are being made on just one week’s notice.

Everything about this strikes me as strange, including the mere one week notice and the severity of the cut. It’s not a small reduction — it’s effectively been cut by two thirds. Note too that Apple is only reducing the affiliate commission for apps and in-app purchases — movies, music, and books are all still at 7 percent.

I ask: Why? I can almost always see logic behind Apple’s decisions, even when I don’t agree with them. But not this one.

Update: I should add that I don’t have any skin in this decision, personally. I don’t use affiliate codes when linking to apps here at DF, and I’m no longer in Amazon’s affiliate program either. I think we did use affiliate codes at Q Branch to get a commission on links to Vesper, but that’s over now.

‘Heartbreaking’ 

Unroll.me CEO and founder Jojo Hedaya, in a blog post responding to the outcry after Mike Isaac of The New York Times revealed that the company does things like sell “anonymized” Lyft receipts to Lyft arch-rival Uber:

Our users are the heart of our company and service. So it was heartbreaking to see that some of our users were upset to learn about how we monetize our free service.

And while we try our best to be open about our business model, recent customer feedback tells me we weren’t explicit enough.

Give me a fucking break. They’re not “heartbroken” because their users are upset. They’re in damage-control mode because they were operating under the radar and now they’ve been revealed, very publicly, as the shitbags that they are. If you’ve signed up for Unroll.me, delete your account. They make money by selling your purchase receipts to the highest bidder. That’s their business.

Unsubstantiated, but from a post on Hacker News:

I worked for a company that nearly acquired unroll.me. At the time, which was over three years ago, they had kept a copy of every single email of yours that you sent or received while a part of their service. Those emails were kept in a series of poorly secured S3 buckets. A large part of Slice buying unroll.me was for access to those email archives. Specifically, they wanted to look for keyword trends and for receipts from online purchases.

Fastly 

My thanks to Fastly for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. Fastly’s content delivery network was built by developers for developers — they speed up sites and applications no matter where your customers are or which devices they use. Fastly integrates seamlessly with your existing stack and workflows, delivering content quickly and securely to your end users while giving you the real-time metrics you need to make better decisions. Fastly customers include open source projects like Python and Ruby, as well as major developer and consumer companies like GitHub, New Relic, and Airbnb.

They even have a special deal for Daring Fireball readers: test up to $50 of traffic free of charge.

The Talk Show: Apple VP Lisa Jackson 

Special guest Lisa Jackson — Apple’s vice president of Environment, Policy, and Social Initiatives — joins the show for an Earth Day discussion of the state of Apple’s environmental efforts: climate change, renewable energy, responsible packaging, and Apple’s new goal to create a “closed-loop supply chain”, wherein the company’s products would be manufactured entirely from recycled materials.

Sponsored exclusively by:

  • Circle With Disney: Disney’s new way for families to manage content and time across devices. Use code THETALKSHOW to get free shipping and $10 off.
How Apple Won Silicon: Why Galaxy S8 Can’t Go Core-to-Core With iPhone 7 

Rene Ritchie, writing for iMore:

Conversely, Apple’s silicon team also doesn’t have to carry the baggage of competing vendors and devices. For example, Apple A10 doesn’t have to support Microsoft’s Direct X. It only and exactly has to support Apple’s specific technologies and implementations.

In other words, what iOS wants fast, the A-team can deliver fast.

I’ve said it before and will say it again: I’d prefer the iPhone over Android even if it were Android that had the massive lead in CPU performance. But Apple is literally over a year ahead of the competition — even the iPhone 6S and SE outperform the S8 in single-threaded performance.

New Apple Watch NikeLab 

New limited edition Nike Apple Watch — space gray watch with a bone-colored watch strap with near-black accents. Looks cool in a Stormtrooper-y way. (I’m thinking the pin for the watch strap should be space gray too, though, right?)

Update: Yours truly two years ago:

New Stormtroopers look like their armor was designed by Nike.

(This is a compliment, it’s a cool look.)

Apple’s New Earth Day Videos 

Lance Ulanoff, writing at Mashable:

A typical Apple promotional video has a type: Clean, dispassionate, slightly British (thanks Jony Ive) and self-congratulatory. It’s not quirky, whimsical, or funny.

But each of the four short animated stories detailing Apple’s efforts to become a 100 percent renewable company and released just a few days before Earth Day, are unlike anything Apple has produced before.

What’s more interesting is that the audio is 100 percent true and, taken by itself, not particularly funny. But when combined with the hand-drawn animation from illustrator James Blagden the stories become whimsical and even a little odd.

Apple is hosting versions of all four videos on their home page:

Speed Test Between iPhone 7 Plus and Top Android Phones 

I don’t know how much these sort of tests matter in terms of real-world experience, but it really is striking how much faster the iPhone is going through the loop the second time. Part of this is iOS being better at memory management than Android, but a big factor is that the A10 is a much faster chip than anything available for Android.

A Software Developer’s Mac Pro 

Justin Williams:

I can’t speak to what the other five types of users need, but I have a pretty good idea of what I’d want as an iOS developer who uses a Mac every day. Not that anyone in Cupertino is asking me, but if they did I’d say this is my dream Mac.

This sounds about right to me.

The New Mac Pro Needs to Be Versatile 

Marco Arment, examining the wildly-varying needs of Mac Pro customers:

Or, to distill the requirements down to a single word:

Versatility.

Just as macOS’ versatility allows iOS to remain lightweight, the ability of the rest of the Mac lineup to be more aggressive, minimalist, and forward-looking depends on the Mac Pro to cover everyone whose needs don’t fit into them. The Mac Pro must be the catch-all at the high end: anytime someone says the iMac or MacBook Pro isn’t something enough for them, the solution should be the Mac Pro.

That link is to my Macworld column from 7 years ago, which reads like it was written today:

Here’s the short version of the “Mac is doomed” scenario: iOS is the future, Mac OS X is the past, and Apple is strongly inclined to abandon the past in the name of the future.

You can’t really argue with that, can you? But the premise that the end is near for the Mac presupposes quite a bit about the near-term future of iOS.

[…]

At typical companies, “legacy” technology is something you figure out how to carry forward. At Apple, legacy technology is something you figure out how to get rid of. The question isn’t whether iOS has a brighter future than the Mac. There is no doubt: it does. The question is whether the Mac has become “legacy.” Is the Mac slowing iOS down or in any way holding it back

Conservatives Hated an Uppity Negro Golfing President 

Shaun King, in his column for The New York Daily News:

Imagine Michelle Obama demanded to live in a gold-plated penthouse in the middle of Manhattan, costs be damned, while President Obama lived in the White House alone. The outrage would be riot-level fierce. Now, conservatives no longer care.

$400 VC-Backed Juice Machine Is Completely Unnecessary 

Ellen Huet and Olivia Zaleski, reporting for Bloomberg:

Doug Evans, the company’s founder, would compare himself with Steve Jobs in his pursuit of juicing perfection. He declared that his juice press wields four tons of force — “enough to lift two Teslas,” he said. Google’s venture capital arm and other backers poured about $120 million into the startup. Juicero sells the machine for $400, plus the cost of individual juice packs delivered weekly. Tech blogs have dubbed it a “Keurig for juice.”

But after the product hit the market, some investors were surprised to discover a much cheaper alternative: You can squeeze the Juicero bags with your bare hands. Two backers said the final device was bulkier than what was originally pitched and that they were puzzled to find that customers could achieve similar results without it. Bloomberg performed its own press test, pitting a Juicero machine against a reporter’s grip. The experiment found that squeezing the bag yields nearly the same amount of juice just as quickly — and in some cases, faster — than using the device.

Juicero declined to comment.

This is hilarious. Terrific video demonstration too.

But after the product’s introduction last year, at least two Juicero investors were taken aback after finding the packs could be squeezed by hand. They also said the machine was much bigger than what Evans had proposed.

This says as much about the investors as it does about the company.

Fox News Fires Bill O’Reilly 

Gabriel Sherman, reporting for New York magazine this morning:

The Murdochs have decided Bill O’Reilly’s 21-year run at Fox News will come to an end. According to sources briefed on the discussions, network executives are preparing to announce O’Reilly’s departure before he returns from an Italian vacation on April 24. Now the big questions are how the exit will look and who will replace him.

Wednesday morning, according to sources, executives are holding emergency meetings to discuss how they can sever the relationship with the country’s highest-rated cable-news host without causing collateral damage to the network. The board of Fox News’ parent company, 21st Century Fox, is scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss the matter.

Official statement from Fox News:

After a thorough and careful review of the allegations, the Company and Bill O’Reilly have agreed that Bill O’Reilly will not be returning to the Fox News Channel.

What an ignominious end. His last episode was just 41 minutes long, because so many sponsors had pulled out, and he doesn’t even get to say goodbye to his audience.

The Talk Show: ‘Forget About Frodo and Sam’ 

That’s right, another new episode of The Talk Show. Special guest MG Siegler returns to the show. Topics includes Virgin America’s sad fate as a subsidiary of Alaska Airlines, the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros, “doing work” on an iPad Pro, Walt Mossberg, the absurd bloat of iOS apps, Clips, Netflix and Amazon’s spending on video, and more.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Squarespace: Make your next move. Use code gruber for 10% off your first order.
  • Eero: Finally, Wi-Fi that works.
  • Fracture: Your photos, printed directly on glass. Great gift idea.
Video of Facebook Spaces in Action 

I’m calling this an “emperor has no clothes” moment. This is a horror show. Disembodied torsos? Virtual selfie sticks? This looks like the way people would socialize in a post-apocalyptic scenario where everyone is quarantined in a bunker to shelter themselves from the zombie virus. It’s clunky and painfully awkward.

Who the hell wants to strap on a headset to have a video call with the disembodied Wii-like avatars of their friends when they can just hold up their phones and have a regular video call where they can see their actual friends? This is stupid.

Internet Archive Now Has a Browser-Based Emulator of Classic Mac Hardware 

Jason Scott:

After offering in-browser emulation of console games, arcade machines, and a range of other home computers, the Internet Archive can now emulate the early models of the Apple Macintosh, the black-and-white, mouse driven computer that radically shifted the future of home computing in 1984.

This is amazing. HyperCard! ResEdit! Quit commands in their rightful place in the File menu!

One thing that struck me clicking around for a few minutes: the original Mac team got it wrong with their decision to only keep a menu open while holding down the mouse button. Years later, Apple switched to allowing both click-and-hold and just plain click-and-release to navigate menus. I’ve long since lost my muscle memory for the old way. The menus keep disappearing on me in this emulator.

Another thing that struck me: the classic Mac OS was beautiful. So well designed.

Update: Here’s Mac Missiles, a pretty good Missile Command clone written in 1985 by some kid named Avie Tevanian. He also wrote MacLanding, a Defender clone, but I can’t get that one to work.

Steve Ballmer Unveils USAFacts 

Andrew Ross Sorkin, writing for DealBook:

On Tuesday, Mr. Ballmer plans to make public a database and a report that he and a small army of economists, professors and other professionals have been assembling as part of a stealth start-up over the last three years called USAFacts. The database is perhaps the first nonpartisan effort to create a fully integrated look at revenue and spending across federal, state and local governments.

Want to know how many police officers are employed in various parts of the country and compare that against crime rates? Want to know how much revenue is brought in from parking tickets and the cost to collect? Want to know what percentage of Americans suffer from diagnosed depression and how much the government spends on it? That’s in there. You can slice the numbers in all sorts of ways.

He’s paid for the whole thing out of pocket:

With an unlimited budget, he went about hiring a team of researchers in Seattle and made a grant to the University of Pennsylvania to help his staff put the information together. Altogether, he has spent more than $10 million between direct funding and grants.

“Let’s say it costs three, four, five million a year,” he said. “I’m happy to fund the damn thing.”

This is just great.

Shocker: Facebook Instant Articles Are a Bad Deal for Publishers 

Casey Newton, writing for The Verge:

But across a wide swath of major publishers, results have been uniformly weak. “The revenue in no way backed up the amount of time that was being spent on it,” says Jason Kint, CEO of Digital Content Next. DCN is a trade group that represents many large publishers, including NBC, The New York Times, Conde Nast, ESPN, Slate, Business Insider, and Vox Media. (Vox Media owns The Verge.)

At the end of last year, DCN surveyed its members on the financial performance of content published to third-party platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, and Google’s AMP project. It found that not one publisher reported earning more money through Instant Articles than they did through their own properties. “We make less money on Instant Articles than we do on mobile web, which is probably everyone’s experience,” said Bill Carey, director of audience development at Slate. And while Facebook reported that publishers using Instant Articles saw readers consuming 25 percent more content, most DCN members had seen no such increase.

Called it.

Cover Photo for May Issue of Bon Appétit Shot Using iPhone 7 Plus 

Anthony Ha, writing for TechCrunch:

Creative Director Alex Grossman said it made sense to finally put an iPhone pic out front with the May travel issue, particularly given the connection between photography and travel. The cover was shot on an iPhone 7 Plus, in the Tlacolula Market of Oaxaca, Mexico, and it combines people and food, with a woman showing off a strawberry Paleta.

(Also worth noting: Apple is a Bon Appétit advertiser. In fact, an ad on the back cover will highlight the fact that the cover photo was taken on an iPhone.)

Steve Lacy, Musician and Producer Who Prefers Creating Music on His iPhone 

David Pierce, writing for Wired:

A few minutes after Steve Lacy arrived at a dingy, weed-clouded recording studio in Burbank, the 18-year-old musician flopped down in a plush leather chair in the control room. Vince, one of the studio’s proprietors, came in to show Lacy how the mixing boards and monitors worked. Lacy didn’t care; he was just in it for the chair. He picked up his new black-and-white Rickenbacker guitar, then reached into his Herschel backpack and yanked out a mess of cables. Out of the mess emerged his iRig, an interface adapter that connects his guitar directly into his iPhone 6. He shoved it into the Lightning port and began tuning his instrument, staring at the GarageBand pitch meter through the cracks on the screen of his phone. […]

It’s a weird recording setup, but it’s working for Lacy. Last year, he was nominated for a Grammy for executive-producing and performing on the 2015 funk-R&B-soul album Ego Death, the third release from The Internet and Lacy’s first with the band. He’s a sought-after producer, featured on albums like J. Cole’s “4 Your Eyez Only” and Kendrick Lamar’s new “Damn.” Earlier in 2017, he released his first solo material, which he’s playing as part of the setlist for The Internet’s worldwide tour. (Somewhere in there he also graduated high school.) The only connection between his many projects? All that music is stored on his iPhone.

How Google Ate CelebrityNetWorth.com 

Adrianne Jeffries, writing for The Outline:

At the end of it, we just said ‘Look, we’re not comfortable with this.’”

“But then they went ahead and took the data anyway.”

In February 2016, Google started displaying a Featured Snippet for each of the 25,000 celebrities in the CelebrityNetWorth database, Warner said. He knew this because he added a few fake listings for friends who were not celebrities to see if they would pop up as featured answers, and they did.

“Our traffic immediately crumbled,” Warner said. “Comparing January 2016 (a full month where they had not yet scraped our content) to January 2017, our traffic is down 65 percent.” Warner said he had to lay off half his staff. (Google declined to answer specific questions for this story, including whether it was shooting itself in the foot by destroying its best sources of information.)

That’s just outright theft, pure and simple. And it’s foolish — the only reason the good data from CelebrityNetWorth exists is that the site was able to make enough money to hire a staff of researchers. Now that Warner has had to lay off half his staff, the data is surely going to suffer. Forget about “Don’t be evil”, how about “Don’t be stupid”?

AirPods Still on a 6-Week Shipping Delay 

AirPods are, in my opinion, the best new Apple product in years. I forgot to pack them on a recent trip (out to California for the Mac Pro roundtable), and using wired ear buds for a day made me love my AirPods even more.

But if you order them today, they’re still on a 6-week shipping delay. They’re either unexpectedly popular (like last year’s iPhone SE) or unexpectedly difficult to manufacture (or both).

Proposed Key Path Syntax for Swift 

David Smith, Michael LeHew, and Joe Groff, explaining why they chose backslash (\) as the syntax for their new key path proposal for Swift:

During review many different sigils were considered:

No Sigil: This matches function type references, but suffers from ambiguity with wanting to actually call a type property. Having to type let foo: KeyPath<Baz, Bar> while consistent with function type references, really is not that great (even for function type references).

Backtick: Borrowing from Lisp, backtick was what we used in initial discussions of this proposal (it was easy to write on a white-board), but it was not chosen because it is hard to type in Markdown, and comes dangerously close to conflicting with other parser intrinsics.

It kind of blows my mind that the ease of typing in Markdown would factor into a syntax decision for Swift. However, I disagree. It is not hard to type a literal backtick in Markdown. Here’s the relevant section of the Markdown syntax documentation.

In short, to include a literal backtick inside a <code> span, you can just use two backticks as the opening and closing delimiters. This input:

```Person.friends[0].name``

produces this HTML output:

<code>`Person.friends[0].name</code>

For the sake of clarity, you can include a space at the beginning (or end) of the delimited code span, which will be omitted from the output, like this:

`` `Person.friends[0].name``

Far be it for me to tell the Swift folks what to do, but I think backtick looks far better in the above example than backslash does. To me, backslash in any language should mean “escape the following character” and nothing else.

Apple’s Achilles Heel 

Neil Cybart, in his weekly Above Avalon column last week, “The Mac Is Turning into Apple’s Achilles Heel”:

Apple’s decision to change course and develop a new Mac Pro has received near-universal praise from the company’s pro community. While developing a new Mac Pro is the right decision for Apple to make given the current situation, it has become clear that the Mac is a major vulnerability in Apple’s broader product strategy. The product that helped save Apple from bankruptcy 20 years ago is now turning into a barrier that is preventing Apple from focusing on what comes next.

I read this last week and it didn’t sit right with me at all. But I couldn’t put my finger on why until this weekend. It’s actually very simple: I think Cybart’s entire premise is completely backwards. The Mac is not Apple’s Achilles heel. The iPhone is. That’s why the rest of his column doesn’t make much sense.

The iPhone hasn’t suffered because Apple is focused on the Mac. New iPhones come out like clockwork every year. Apple has really gotten it down to a science in recent years. The Mac lineup, however — and the Mac Pro in particular — has clearly suffered from a lack of attention. Where did that institutional attention go? Surely much of it went to iPhone.

I’m not arguing that it’s a mistake for Apple to devote more attention to the iPhone than any other product. Smartphones are the greatest opportunity in the history of mass market consumer goods, and also the greatest opportunity in the history of personal computing. The iPhone epitomizes everything Apple stands for. But it’s a mistake to focus so much attention on the iPhone that other important products suffer.

Fastly 

My thanks to Fastly for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Fastly’s content delivery network was built by developers for developers — they speed up sites and applications no matter where your customers are or which devices they use. Fastly integrates seamlessly with your existing stack and workflows, delivering content quickly and securely to your end users while giving you the real-time metrics you need to make better decisions. Fastly customers include open source projects like Python and Ruby, as well as major developer and consumer companies like GitHub, New Relic, and Airbnb.

Special deal for Daring Fireball readers: test up to $50 of traffic for free.

Nintendo Discontinues the NES Classic Edition, Even Though It’s So in Demand You Can’t Get One 

Nintendo:

Throughout April, [Nintendo of America] territories will receive the last shipments of Nintendo Entertainment System: NES Classic Edition systems for this year. We encourage anyone interested in obtaining this system to check with retail outlets regarding availability. We understand that it has been difficult for many consumers to find a system, and for that we apologize. We have paid close attention to consumer feedback, and we greatly appreciate the incredible level of consumer interest and support for this product.

This makes no sense to me. I’ve been waiting to buy one at the regular retail price, but it looks like that’s never going to happen.

‘It’s Not What You Would Think’ 

From a Wall Street Journal report on Trump’s meeting last week with President Xi Jinping of China:

He said they hit it off during their first discussion. Mr. Trump said he told his Chinese counterpart he believed Beijing could easily take care of the North Korea threat. Mr. Xi then explained the history of China and Korea, Mr. Trump said.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Mr. Trump recounted. “I felt pretty strongly that they had a tremendous power” over North Korea,” he said. “But it’s not what you would think.”

What’s striking about this isn’t that Trump was completely ignorant about China’s relationship with North Korea. That’s not surprising at all. What’s striking is that Trump is so — to borrow Josh Marshall’s phrase — militantly ignorant that he’s not embarrassed to admit this. He’s a laughingstock around the world.

The Talk Show: ‘Good News, My House Burned Down’ 

Special guest Matthew Panzarino returns to the show for an in-depth discussion of last week’s “future of the Mac Pro” round table discussion between a handful of Apple executives and journalists who cover the company. We talk about what went wrong with the 2013 Mac Pro design, speculate on the timeline of when Apple made this decision, why touchscreen Macs are almost certainly a bad idea even though a lot of people think they want one, and more.

Brought to you by these fine sponsors:

  • Circle With Disney: Disney’s new way for families to manage content and time across devices. Use code THETALKSHOW to get free shipping and $10 off.
  • Backblaze: Online backup for $5/month. Native. Unlimited. Unthrottled. Uncomplicated.
  • Hullo Pillow: Sleep better with a new buckwheat pillow. It’ll be your favorite pillow, guaranteed.
Star Ratings Are Garbage, and Hurt Uber and Lyft Drivers 

Caroline O’Donovan, writing for BuzzFeed, goes deep on the problems with 5-star rating systems:

The other problem is that not everyone can agree on what the star ratings mean — not even the companies themselves. Lyft says that five stars means “awesome,” four means “OK, could be better,” and three means “below average.” But for Uber, five stars is “excellent,” four is “good,” and three is “OK.”

Individuals have different interpretations, too. “For some people, three could mean this is good, while four is great and five is perfect. Some people might say, nowhere is going to be perfect, so I’m going to say five stars is really good, and four is good,” Celis said. “The way you can interpret those stars is infinite, and most people don’t have the exact same system.”

Read through to the end for an anecdote from yours truly. Thumbs-up/thumbs-down is the way to go — everyone agrees what those mean.

Burger King Launches Commercial That Triggers ‘OK Google’ 

Sapna Maheshwari, reporting for The New York Times:

A video from a Burger King marketing agency showed the plan in action: “You’re watching a 15-second Burger King ad, which is unfortunately not enough time to explain all the fresh ingredients in the Whopper sandwich,” the actor in the commercial said. “But I got an idea. O.K. Google, what is the Whopper burger?”

Prompted by the phrase “O.K. Google,” the Google Home device beside the TV in the video lit up, searched the phrase on Wikipedia and stated the ingredients.

But within hours of the ad’s release — and humorous edits to the Whopper Wikipedia page by mischievous users — tests from The Verge and BuzzFeed showed that the commercial had stopped activating the device.

Sort of a jackass move on Burger King’s part, but it was harmless, and it certainly got them a lot of publicity. I’m sure they expected Google to shut them down — what they wanted were all these news stories about the prank.

My question: If the commercial had used “Hey Siri” or “Alexa” instead of “OK Google”, how long would it have taken for Apple or Amazon to cut it off? And why didn’t they address Siri or Alexa?

Columbia Journalism Review: Walt Mossberg on the Future of the Tech Beat 

Walt Mossberg on the origins of his Personal Tech column for The Wall Street Journal back in 1991:

There were a bunch of computer columns in a lot of other newspapers, and certainly there were computer magazines, but these were all written by geeks for geeks. My pitch to The Journal was that I wanted to write a column that didn’t use a lot of jargon, that treated people with respect for their intelligence and that did two things. One, it helped people figure out how to make this journey into technology by telling them what was good and what was bad on the market, explaining when some new development happened what it meant, what it was, who it might be for. That was one of my goals. The other one was to the use the power of the platform and the voice that I would have in this column, because it was an opinion column in a way, was to push the industry to stop ignoring normal people and stop treating them like they were stupid. That was it. That was my idea, and it worked.

So true.

Don Rickles on The Tonight Show 

Speaking of late night talk show personalities passing away, I haven’t yet written anything about Don Rickles, who died last week. I just don’t know what to say. I fucking loved Don Rickles, and I loved the era of talk shows he embodied. I feel like he was the last person standing from the Carson era.

I blew most of the weekend digging into YouTube clips of Rickles on The Tonight Show. It’s a goldmine. Hours and hours of great bits. Seriously, if you liked Rickles and the old Tonight Show, just dig in. You’ll get lost quickly, and you’ll bust a gut.

A few of my very favorites:

Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s Mother, Dead at 95 

Daniel Kreps, writing for Rolling Stone:

Dorothy Mengering, David Letterman’s mother, or “Dave’s Mom” as she was known to Late Show audiences, “died peacefully” Tuesday at her home in Carmel, Indiana. She was 95.

Awful Announcing has some links to footage of her coverage of the Winter Olympics for The Late Show in 1994 through 2002. Classic stuff.

Amazon Continues to Grow Lead Over Google as Starting Point for Online Shoppers 

What’s interesting here aren’t the most recent numbers, but the stark trendline over the past three years. Amazon is eating Google’s lunch.

A personal anecdote:

Over the weekend I impulse purchased a clip-on booklight from Moleskine. It was like $19. It looked OK, and I liked the idea of having one that’s rechargeable over USB. Got it home, charged it, and it was busted — the light only worked when it was actually plugged into a USB port. Unplugged, it simply didn’t work. I looked on Amazon, and lo, this product gets terrible reviews, many of them from people seeing problems exactly like mine. The consensus is that Moleskine’s booklight is a piece of garbage. I thought, “This is why I shop for stuff like this at Amazon.”

The thought of searching through Google never entered my mind.

Samsung’s Bixby Assistant Won’t Support Voice Commands When Galaxy S8 Launches 

Nick Statt, reporting for The Verge:

However, in a statement given to The Verge this afternoon, Samsung admits that Bixby’s headline feature — voice control — won’t be ready in time for when the device ships to US consumers on April 21st. Instead, owners of the S8 will have to wait for a software update to be released later this spring.

“Key features of Bixby, including Vision, Home, and Reminder, will be available with the global launch of the Samsung Galaxy S8 on April 21. Bixby Voice will be available in the US on the Galaxy S8 later this spring,” Samsung’s statement reads.

This voice assistant stuff is hard.

Netflix vs. Amazon Spending on Video Content 

Felix Richter, writing for Statista:

If you think that Amazon isn’t serious about Prime Video, the company’s video streaming service included with every Prime membership, think again. According to analysts at JPMorgan, the Seattle-based e-commerce giant is set to spend $4.5 billion on video content this year. While that is still $1.5 billion shy of the $6 billion that market leader Netflix is planning to shell out this year, it is still a pretty clear statement of intent on Amazon’s part.

Looks like Amazon is about one year two years behind Netflix in spending.

Technical Analysis of the Facebook App Bundle for iOS 

Alexandre Colucci:

The version 66.0 was a 165 MB app on an iPad Air 2 (64-bit). It was a monolithic app with its main binary being more than 100 MB.

The version 87.0 is now available: 253 MB on the same iPad Air 2 with only 64-bit code. In just 6 months, the Facebook.app size grew by 88 MB!

It’s the most popular third-party app in the world, and it’s structured like a pile of garbage. At least 40 MB of resources are duplicated. Imagine how much collective bandwidth and storage Facebook is wasting here.

About the Linked List

The Daring Fireball Linked List is a daily list of interesting links and brief commentary, updated frequently but not frenetically. Call it a “link log”, or “linkblog”, or just “a good way to dick around on the Internet for a few minutes a day”.

Linked List Archive