The Daring Fireball Linked List

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.


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.

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.

BlackBerry Drops to 0.0 Percent Worldwide Market Share, Windows Phone at 0.3, According to Gartner 

We’re down to two mobile OSes: Android (82 percent) and iOS (18 percent).

SoundSource 3 

Rogue Amoeba:

From SoundSource’s menu bar icon, you can instantly configure the audio devices your Mac uses for Input, Output and Sound Effects. In seconds, you can adjust the volume for each of your audio devices or switch between connected devices. SoundSource can also enable the soft play-thru of audio from input devices. Use the Play-Thru window to monitor any connected input, such as a microphone, right through your headphones or other output.

SoundSource is a superior sound control in a tremendously convenient package. It tucks out of your way in the menu bar until you need it, then provides easy access to swap audio devices, adjust volumes, and more. It’s the sound control that should be built into MacOS, now available from Rogue Amoeba.

$10 (cheap!) but even better: if you have a current license to any other Rogue Amoeba product, you get a license for SoundSource free of charge.

Peter Kafka’s Interview With Eddy Cue at Code Media Conference, Previewing ‘Planet of the Apps’ 

Nothing groundbreaking, but a nice preview of Apple Music’s two upcoming original shows: Planet of the Apps and Carpool Karaoke.

I see a lot of griping on Twitter that Planet of the Apps looks corny / phony / cheesy / whatever. Of course it does. This is mainstream reality TV. This is not a documentary about what it’s actually like to create a new app or app-based service. It’s reality TV.

Matthew Panzarino:

For developers cringing at this — this is just how it feels to have your industry boiled down to a digestible TV nugget. Welcome!

Rene Ritchie:

Planet of the Apps: Not intended for “us” but for the mainstream. Or, now “we” know how cooks have felt about Hell’s Kitchen for a decade.

It need bear no more relation to actual app development than The Bachelor bears to actual dating.

The Macalope: ‘No, Apple Is Actually Pretty Good at Design’ 

The Macalope, responding to Ian Bogost’s “The Myth of Apple’s Great Design”:

The Macalope has made this point before but it’s one Bogost seems not to get: Apple products are never perfect, because we do not live in a world of perfect celestial spheres. What Apple usually manages to do, though, is make products that are so great during most usage that they make you forget the imperfections. So, if you believed Apple’s products were perfect then, yes, Bogost is right. That was a myth. But the Macalope has used products from Apple competitors and, in most cases, speaking personally, they’re worse.

The Macalope nails it. Bogost’s argument wasn’t that Apple is actually bad at design. His argument was simply that Apple’s products aren’t perfect. It’s a nonsense argument.

“Fuck-You Money” 

Alistair Barr and Mark Bergen, reporting for Bloomberg:

For the past year, Google’s car project has been a talent sieve, thanks to leadership changes, strategy doubts, new startup dreams and rivals luring self-driving technology experts. Another force pushing people out? Money. A lot of it.

Early staffers had an unusual compensation system that awarded supersized payouts based on the project’s value. By late 2015, the numbers were so big that several veteran members didn’t need the job security anymore, making them more open to other opportunities, according to people familiar with the situation. Two people called it “F-you money.”

Talent retention is one of the hardest problems in the whole industry. Pay employees too little and they’ll leave. Pay them too much and they’ll leave. And if they get bored, they’ll leave.

Piezo Generates More Money After Leaving the Mac App Store 

Paul Kafasis, Rogue Amoeba:

Our charmingly simple audio recording app Piezo was originally distributed in both the Mac App Store and via direct sales, but it has since left the App Store.

After seeing Kapeli’s chart, I was curious about the App Store’s impact on Piezo’s sales. The restrictions and limitations of the Mac App Store ultimately led us to remove Piezo on February 12th, 2016. We’ve now been selling it exclusively via our site for a year. This has provided about as perfect a real-world test case as one could hope for. Piezo’s removal came with minimal publicity, the price has remained constant at $19, and we’ve had no big updates or other major publicity for it in either 2015 or 2016.

This is a really interesting case study. They saw a small decrease in unit sales, but an increase in revenue because they were no longer paying Apple’s 30 percent App Store tax on any of the remaining sales. As Kafasis concludes:

I certainly won’t state that every developer will have this same success if they remove a product from the Mac App Store and distribute it exclusively through their own site. Your mileage will undoubtedly vary. In our case, however, it’s clear that we were serving Apple, rather than Apple serving us.

Jamf Now 

My thanks to Jamf Now for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Jamf Now is a simple, cloud-based solution designed to help anyone set up, manage, and protect Apple devices at work. Jamf Now allows you to treat IT as a task, not a career. Easily configure company email and Wi-Fi networks, distribute apps to your team, and protect sensitive data without locking down devices.

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The Talk Show: ‘Corporate Stiffy’ 

For your weekend audio enjoyment, a new episode of America’s favorite three-star podcast. Special guest John Moltz returns to the show. Topics include: 🐩💭, iPad vs. Mac for productivity (and why the iPad isn’t a self-sufficient platform), nostalgia for System 7, speculation on this year’s upcoming new iPhones, and more.

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Republicans Are Moving to Scrap Rules That Limit Overdraft Fees 

Matthew Zeitlin, reporting for BuzzFeed:

Last week, Georgia Republican Sen. David Perdue introduced a resolution in Congress, alongside other Republicans including his fellow Georgian Johnny Isakson, to throw out a new package of rules for the prepaid debit card industry.

The rules, finalized by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau in October, include limitations on overdraft fees, which have become a significant source of consumer complaints about the financial industry — and an important revenue stream for Georgia-based financial firm Total System Services, whose NetSpend unit is the country’s largest manager of prepaid cards, according to a 2015 financial filing.

The vast majority of prepaid debit cards don’t come with overdraft fees, but NetSpend’s do, and the fees accounted for 10-12% of its overall revenue in 2016, or $80-85 million, the company told investors in October. Its parent has spent big on lobbying and political donations in a bid to kill the rules: in the last three months of 2016 alone, it spent some $270,000 lobbying Congress.

Again, this should be absolutely bipartisan. The people who are hit by these usurious overcharge fees are Republicans and Democrats alike. There’s no liberal/conservative angle to this. It’s just wrong.

And look at the deal Total Shitbag Services gets out of this: they spend $270 thousand lobbying Congress in order to preserve nearly 100 million in fees.


It’s Not Foreigners Who Are Plotting Here: What the Data Really Show 

Nora Ellingsen, who spent five years working as a counter-terrorism analyst for the FBI, looked at the numbers for federal terrorism cases to see if there’s anything to support Trump’s immigration ban for its stated purpose:

For those who don’t want to do this deep dive, here’s a quick two-sentence summary: Conway’s position is empirically indefensible. Absolutely nothing in the large body of data we have about real terrorist plots in the United States remotely supports either a focus on barring refugees or a focus on these particular seven countries.


But she did find this (emphasis added):

Since January 2015, the FBI has also arrested more anti-immigrant American citizens plotting violent attacks on Muslims within the U.S. than it has refugees, or former refugees, from any banned country. As we wrote about here, here and here, in October 2016, three white men from Kansas were charged with conspiring to use a weapon of mass destruction. According to the graphic complaint, the anti-Muslim and anti-immigrant men planned to attack a mosque in the area. The men progressed quickly with their plot, amassing firearms and explosives. The targets were people from Somalia, who ironically, would now be covered by Trump’s order.

Ajit Pai, Trump’s FCC Pick, Quickly Targets Consumer Protection Rules 

Cecilia Kang, reporting for The New York Times:

In his first days as President Trump’s pick to lead the Federal Communications Commission, Ajit Pai has aggressively moved to roll back consumer protection regulations created during the Obama presidency.

Mr. Pai took a first swipe at net neutrality rules designed to ensure equal access to content on the internet. He stopped nine companies from providing discounted high-speed internet service to low-income individuals. He withdrew an effort to keep prison phone rates down, and he scrapped a proposal to break open the cable box market. […]

“With these strong-arm tactics, Chairman Pai is showing his true stripes,” said Matt Wood, the policy director at the consumer group Free Press.

“The public wants an F.C.C. that helps people,” he added. “Instead, it got one that does favors for the powerful corporations that its chairman used to work for.”

High-speed internet for low-income people, lowering usurious phone rates, breaking open the cable box market — who could be against these things? These aren’t liberal/conservative issues. This is just doing the bidding of major corporations.

Remember that word kakistocracy? Yeah, that’s what we have.

Samsung Factory Fire Triggered by Discarded Batteries 

The rare case when a figurative garbage fire turns into a literal garbage fire.

Oculus VR Best Buy Pop-Ups Are a Bust 

Alex Heath, writing for Business Insider:

Facebook is closing around 200 of its 500 Oculus virtual reality demo stations at Best Buy locations across the US, Business Insider has learned.

The scaling back of Facebook’s first big retail push for VR comes after workers from multiple Best Buy pop-ups told BI that it was common for them to go days without giving a single demonstration. An internal memo seen by BI and sent to affected employees by a third-party contractor said the closings were because of “store performance.”

Oculus spokeswoman Andrea Schubert confirmed the closings and said they were due to “seasonal changes.”

Actual headline from Business Insider, one year ago: “Apple Is Completely Missing VR”.

‘A Conservative Climate Solution’: Republican Group Calls for Carbon Tax 

John Schwartz, reporting for The New York Times:

A group of Republican elder statesmen is calling for a tax on carbon emissions to fight climate change.

The group, led by former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, with former Secretary of State George P. Shultz and Henry M. Paulson Jr., a former secretary of the Treasury, says that taxing carbon pollution produced by burning fossil fuels is “a conservative climate solution” based on free-market principles. […]

In an interview, Mr. Baker said that the plan followed classic conservative principles of free-market solutions and small government. He suggested that even former President Ronald Reagan would have blessed the plan: “I’m not at all sure the Gipper wouldn’t have been very happy with this.” He said he had no idea how the proposal would be received by the current White House or Congress.

For those of you who erroneously claim I never link to stories about Republicans with approval, here you go: I love this. I hope they succeed. These are Republicans whose eyes are wide open to reality. (Maybe not the reality of today’s Republican party, but the reality of climate change.)

Apple Poaches Amazon’s Fire TV Head to Run Apple TV Product Marketing 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has hired Timothy D. Twerdahl, the former head of Inc.’s Fire TV unit, as a vice president in charge of Apple TV product marketing and shifted the executive who previously held the job to a spot negotiating media content deals.

The moves suggest a renewed focus on the Apple TV and on providing more content for the device, an effort that has been stalled in the past by failed negotiations.

Twerdahl joined Apple this month, a spokesman for the iPhone maker said. He had been general manager and director of Amazon’s Fire TV business since 2013, according to his LinkedIn profile. At Apple, Twerdahl reports to Greg Joswiak, a vice president in charge of marketing for the iPhone, according to a person familiar with the matter.

It seems pretty clear that Joz is in charge of more than just the iPhone if the head of Apple TV reports to him. Sometimes Gurman’s stuff makes no sense to me.

Republican Senate Leadership Stops Elizabeth Warren From Reading a Letter From Coretta Scott King 

Jason Kottke:

Last night, during the Senate confirmation hearing of Senator Jefferson Beauregard “Jeff” Sessions III for Attorney General, Senator Elizabeth Warren attempted to read a letter that Coretta Scott King had written to the Senate Judiciary Committee in 1986 opposing Sessions’ nomination for a federal judgeship (which he did not get).

Watch the video — it’s jarring.

I can’t help but feel this is backfiring on the Republicans. I’m seeing far more coverage of their preventing Warren from reading this letter — a letter from Martin Luther King Jr.’s widow! — than we would have seen if they’d simply allowed her to read it.

Every other Democratic senator should attempt to read King’s letter on Sessions. Make the Republicans own this.

See also: This collection of tweets by James Grimmelmann documenting the pro-slavery origins of Rule 19.

Which Is It? 

From an October 2016 story for Bloomberg by Mark Gurman:

The new building features open floor plans and few traditional offices. While some of Apple’s senior vice presidents are expected to see their offices move over to the new campus — less than a five minute drive from the current headquarters — management must be at a vice president level or above to get a formal office, one of the people said. Previous plans included office space for senior directors, who report to vice presidents. Another person said that some employees below vice president will be eligible for offices.

The new campus will include bench seating, long work tables, and open cubicle spaces, potentially irking employees used to quiet office environments, two people briefed on the new campus’s plans said. Apple’s presentations to the city of Cupertino have indicated that the open floor plan designs are conducive to collaboration between teams.

From yesterday’s (aforelinked) story for Reuters by Julia Love:

The campus is something of an exception to the trend of radically open offices aimed at fostering collaboration, said Louise Mozingo, a professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at U.C. Berkeley.

So which is it? I can’t believe Apple would attempt to stick their employees at benches and long work tables, but if they did, that would certainly be a “radically open office”. I suspect Gurman blew this one.

Update: Listening to some little birdies chirp, it sounds like there’s some truth to all of the above.

Daniel Steinberg Wishes Apple Loved Books 

Daniel Steinberg lamenting the lack of recent progress on iBooks Author:

iBooks Author could have been a trojan horse into the personal publishing business. It would have been classic Apple. Instead of small authors going to Amazon’s platform, they would have started with iBooks Author. Apple should have made it easy for them to push to Amazon as well. Why? Because these people wanted to publish on Amazon but they weren’t considering publishing with Apple. Thousands of authors would have come to Apple to create content and stayed with Apple after publishing content there.

iBooks Author is a perfect example of how the iPad is not self-sufficient. I wrote yesterday about how you can’t develop iPad apps on the iPad itself. But Xcode is very complex, and also has longstanding roots that tie it, as currently imagined, to MacOS. iBooks Author was announced in January 2012, when the iPad was two years old. The iPad itself, seemingly, would be a fine device for creating books with iBooks Author. But iBooks Author remains Mac-only.


New $10 sketchpad iPad app from The Iconfactory. I love this app. Conceptually it’s simple: at the root level you have projects, and each project can contain multiple sketches.

When sketching, colors are on the left; layers, grids, and pens are on the right. That’s it — and the controls stay out of your way. The Iconfactory describes it as aiming for the simplicity of a paper sketchbook, and I think they’ve nailed it.

Reuters: ‘Channeling Steve Jobs, Apple Seeks Design Perfection at New “Spaceship” Campus’ 

Julia Love, writing for Reuters on Apple’s new campus, now nearing completion:

Signage required a delicate balancing act: Apple wanted all signs to reflect its sleek, minimalist aesthetic, but the fire department needed to ensure the building could be swiftly navigated in an emergency.

Dirk Mattern, a retired deputy fire chief who is representing the Santa Clara County Fire Department on the project, estimated he attended 15 meetings that touched on the topic.

“I’ve never spent so much time on signage,” he said.

The stuff about navigation and collaboration, I don’t get:

For all the time and money sunk into the project, some in the architecture community question whether Apple has focused on the right ends. The campus is something of an exception to the trend of radically open offices aimed at fostering collaboration, said Louise Mozingo, a professor and chair of the Department of Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning at U.C. Berkeley.

I don’t know anyone who works at Apple who’d want to work at a desk in a room with a “radically open” floorplan. And I know several who would likely quit if forced to. People at Apple have work to do, work requires concentration, and concentration is easier to achieve when you have your own office.

Its central office building — a massive ring of glass frequently likened to a spaceship — could be a challenge just to navigate, she noted.

“It’s not about maximizing the productivity of the office space, it’s about creating a symbolic center for this global company,” she said. “They are creating an icon.”

Critics from the “architecture community” — starting all the way back in 2011, when the new campus was just a plan — seem to have no understanding of how Apple actually functions. Remember too, that Steve Jobs spearheaded the design of Pixar’s unique headquarters, about which I’ve heard nothing but praise from Pixar employees. (Pixar’s headquarters is different from Apple’s in many ways, but Pixar and Apple are, well, different in many ways.)

I think there’s a good chance that Apple knows what it’s doing here.

Analysts: Apple Took 92 Percent of Smartphone Industry Profits in Q4 

Patrick Seitz, Investors Business Daily:

Among six major vendors surveyed, four were profitable in smartphone sales in Q4, Canaccord analyst Michael Walkley said in the report. They were Apple, BlackBerry, Samsung and Sony.

Samsung accounted for 9 percent of smartphone industry profits in Q4, while Sony took 1 percent and BlackBerry less than 1 percent.

Interesting that Samsung did as well as they did given the Galaxy Note 7 fiasco. And how bad is it for all the other phone makers in the world that they finished in the red, but even BlackBerry eked out a small profit?

(It’s because everyone else lost money that the numbers for profit share add up to more than 100.)

Google Makes It Ever So Slightly Easier to See and Share Publishers’ Real URLs From AMP Pages 

Danny Sullivan:

As promised, Google is making a change to how it displays Accelerated Mobile Pages, so that users can easily view and share links that lead directly to publishers’ sites rather than to Google’s copy of the content.

A little easier, but I would argue that they shouldn’t be doing this in the first place, and the new UI they’ve exposed is deliberately obfuscated.

Now, the URL field of a browser will continue to show a Google URL. However, the AMP header area will display a link or chain icon, what it calls the “anchor” button. Clicking on this will make the publisher’s direct URL appear, so that it can be easily copied and pasted.

This new “anchor” icon is cryptic, and I think deliberately so. It looks like nothing I’ve ever seen before. I wouldn’t have guessed that it was a button to show the real URL, and I am a designer who studies iconography and a critic of AMP’s silo. I’ve wanted this feature to exist ever since AMP debuted but I wouldn’t have guessed that this was it. Lord only knows how many regular people will figure it out. (And, bizarrely, the icon isn’t even retina resolution. It looks like a blurry smudge on the screen.)

For those who hold down on the anchor button, Google says it will trigger the native share feature of the browser being used. With Safari, that means easy access to things like Twitter or Facebook. With Chrome, it lacks native share, so nothing should happen.

That’s not how it works for me. When I hold down on the anchor button, I get an alert that says “JavaScript” with buttons for Open and Cancel. To get to the iOS sharing sheet, I have to tap the anchor button, then press and hold on the URL that is revealed in a popover, then choose “Share…” from Safari’s contextual menu. A tap, a long press, and then another tap. Three steps — just to get to the system sharing sheet.

This is what you call a begrudging UI. Google wants you to pass around the AMP URL, not the publisher’s original URL. If they wanted to make it easier to share the original URL, the anchor button would be a direct link to the original URL. No need for a JavaScript popover. You could then just press the anchor button to go to the original, and press and hold for Safari’s contextual menu. And they could just use the word “Link” or “URL” instead of a cryptic icon.

Better than nothing (which is what we had before), but weak sauce nonetheless.

Apple’s WebKit Team Proposes W3C Community Group: GPU on the Web 

Dean Jackson, from Apple’s WebKit team:

Instead we need to evaluate and design a new web standard that provides a core set of required features, an API that can be implemented on a mix of platforms with different system graphics technologies, and the security and safety required to be exposed to the Web.

We also need to consider how GPUs can be used outside of the context of graphics and how the new standard can work in concert with other web technologies. The standard should expose the general-purpose computational functionality of modern GPUs. Its design should fit with established patterns of the Web, to make it easy for developers to adopt the technology. It needs to be able to work well with other critical emerging web standards like WebAssembly and WebVR. And most importantly, the standard should be developed in the open, allowing both industry experts and the broader web community to participate.

Exposing “the general-purpose computational functionality of modern GPUs” would be great for the web, because that’s where the Moore’s Law action is at these days. GPU performance is improving much faster than CPU performance.

Merriam-Webster Adds Over 1,000 New Words 

Speaking of Merriam-Webster, they’ve announced the addition of over 1,000 new words:

Just as the English language constantly grows, so does the dictionary. More than one thousand new words have been added, including terms from recent advances in science, borrowings from foreign languages, and words from tech, medicine, pop culture, sports, and everything in between. This is a significant addition to our online dictionary, reflecting the breadth of English vocabulary and the speed with which we seek information. These new entries also highlight the old-fashioned skill of crafting useful and readable definitions that require the expertise and experience of our unique staff.


Familiar words combine to give us metaphors or imagery like train wreck, side-eye, and weak sauce. As for verbs, we can ride shotgun, walk back an opinion, throw shade, face-palm, and geek out with new dictionary entries.

Their definition for throwing shade could just point to their aforelinked Twitter account. (Aforelinked, alas, has not yet made it into the dictionary, despite my best efforts.)

Merriam-Webster’s Deft Social Media Strategy in the Age of Trump 

David Mack, writing for BuzzFeed:

“A fact is a piece of information presented as having objective reality,” read a tweet from the staff at Merriam-Webster, linking to a dictionary article showing searches for the word “fact” had spiked after Conway’s interview. Simple yet full of shade, neutral yet undeniably pointed, it was the right tweet from the right account at just the right moment of public chaos.

“@KellyannePolls,” read one person’s reply that tagged Conway’s account, “when the dictionary is trolling you, you might want to reconsider everything in your life.”

That the tweet went viral was no coincidence. Its tone and timing were the product of more than a year of work by the Merriam-Webster staff in reimagining and overhauling their entire social media strategy — and, in doing so, their place in this new world of alternative facts.

Great example tweet from earlier today, replying to a question as to whether they ever take words out of the dictionary:

Yes — like snollygoster, “a shrewd and unprincipled person, especially an unprincipled politician.” Just added it back.

Worth noting: Merriam-Webster’s website has improved a thousandfold in recent years. It used to be a disaster, the sort of website put up by a dictionary that felt like they had to publish their dictionary on the web but didn’t want to. Now, it looks like a first-class peer to their print edition.


New “superfamily” of typefaces from Hoefler & Co.:

Twenty years ago, our Knockout collection was designed to celebrate the beauty and diversity of nineteenth century sans serif wood types, one of America’s great contributions to type history. Picking up where this project left off is Ringside, a sans serif shaped by new challenges, new influences, and new ideas.

Where Knockout was designed for headlines, Ringside is made for text. Its proportions, fit, and details are designed to thrive at the smallest sizes, and each of its weights and widths includes that most essential quality of a dependable text face: a companion italic.

Feels like a sequel two decades in the making.

A Crack in an Antarctic Ice Shelf Grew 17 Miles in the Last Two Months 

Jugal K. Patel, reporting for The New York Times:

A rapidly advancing crack in Antarctica’s fourth-largest ice shelf has scientists concerned that it is getting close to a full break. The rift has accelerated this year in an area already vulnerable to warming temperatures. Since December, the crack has grown by the length of about five football fields each day.

“The iceberg is likely to break free within the next few months,” said Adrian J. Luckman of Swansea University in Wales, who is a lead researcher for Project Midas. “The rift tip has moved from one region of likely softer ice to another, which explains its step-wise progress.”

Terrifically well illustrated.

Vizio Settles FTC Lawsuit Over Tracking TV Viewing 

The Federal Trade Commission:

Vizio, Inc., one of the world’s largest manufacturers and sellers of internet-connected “smart” televisions, has agreed to pay $2.2 million to settle charges by the Federal Trade Commission and the Office of the New Jersey Attorney General that it installed software on its TVs to collect viewing data on 11 million consumer TVs without consumers’ knowledge or consent. […]

According to the agencies’ complaint, starting in February 2014, Vizio, Inc. and an affiliated company have manufactured Vizio smart TVs that capture second-by-second information about video displayed on the smart TV, including video from consumer cable, broadband, set-top box, DVD, over-the-air broadcasts, and streaming devices.

The lack of respect for consumer privacy in this case is just appalling.

Over 100 Companies File Opposition to Trump’s Immigration Ban 

Kate Conger, reporting for TechCrunch:

Notably absent from the list of 97 companies are several who met with Trump prior to his inauguration: Amazon, Oracle, IBM, SpaceX and Tesla. Oracle CEO Safra Catz is serving as an advisor to the Trump transition team, while SpaceX and Tesla CEO Elon Musk has defended his decision to remain on an advisory council for Trump.

I’m not surprised by Oracle, IBM, or Elon Musk’s companies, but I am surprised by Amazon.

Update: Tesla and SpaceX have joined the brief, along with Adobe. Good for them.

Update: Looks like Amazon is officially opposed, but didn’t join this brief for legal reasons:

Amazon was one major company that didn’t join with the brief, which supported a case brought by Minnesota and the state of Washington opposing the ban on refugees and temporary ban on immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries.

That’s because Seattle-based Amazon had already filed a declaration in the same case explaining how the ban negatively affects the e-commerce giant. Washington’s attorney general advised Amazon not to join the amicus brief since it’s a witness in the original lawsuit, according to a source familiar with the matter.

It turns out that Microsoft, also absent from the amicus brief, filed a declaration in the original case brought by Washington, as well.

Lina M. Khan in Yale Law Journal: ‘Amazon’s Antitrust Paradox’ 

An almost book-length (seriously, over 25,000 words) analysis of Amazon’s end-run around antitrust regulation. It’s quite readable though. My summary would be that U.S. antitrust enforcement in recent decades is focused almost exclusively on consumer prices. If a monopoly isn’t price gouging customers, it’s not a problem. Khan makes a strong case that that mindset might make sense in the brick and mortar world, but it doesn’t make sense if the world of competitive online platforms.

And yes, the e-book price-fixing case against Apple is a perfect example. Khan writes:

In 2012, the DOJ sued the publishers and Apple for colluding to raise e-book prices. In response to claims that the DOJ was going after the wrong actor — given that it was Amazon’s predatory tactics that drove the publishers and Apple to join forces — the DOJ investigated Amazon’s pricing strategies and found “persuasive evidence lacking” to show that the company had engaged in predatory practices. According to the government, “from the time of its launch, Amazon’s e-book distribution business has been consistently profitable, even when substantially discounting some newly released and bestselling titles.”

Judge Cote, who presided over the district court trial, refrained from affirming the government’s conclusion. Still, the government’s argument illustrates the dominant framework that courts and enforcers use to analyze predation — and how it falls short. Specifically, the government erred by analyzing the profitability of Amazon’s e-book business in the aggregate and by characterizing the conduct as “loss leading” rather than potentially predatory pricing. These missteps suggest a failure to appreciate two critical aspects of Amazon’s practices: (1) how steep discounting by a firm on a platform-based product creates a higher risk that the firm will generate monopoly power than discounting on non-platform goods and (2) the multiple ways Amazon could recoup losses in ways other than raising the price of the same e-books that it discounted.

On the first point, the government argued that Amazon was not engaging in predation because in the aggregate,Amazon’s e-books business was profitable. This perspective overlooks how heavy losses on particular lines of e-books (bestsellers, for example, or new releases) may have thwarted competition, even if the e-books business as a whole was profitable.

(Via Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who has his own summary of Khan’s thesis.)

The Atlanta Falcons Had a 99.7 Percent Chance to Win Super Bowl 51 at One Point 

I’ve been watching pro football for as long as I can remember, and I’ve never seen anything like that comeback.

Uber Hires Veteran NASA Engineer to Develop Flying Vehicles 

Brad Stone, reporting for Bloomberg:

In 2010, an advanced aircraft engineer at NASA’s Langley Research Center named Mark Moore published a white paper outlining the feasibility of electric aircrafts that could take off and land like helicopters but were smaller and quieter. The vehicles would be capable of providing a speedy alternative to the dreary morning commute.

Moore’s research (PDF) into so-called VTOL — short for vertical takeoff and landing, or more colloquially, flying cars — inspired at least one billionaire technologist. After reading the white paper, Google co-founder Larry Page secretly started and financed two Silicon Valley startups, Zee Aero and Kitty Hawk, to develop the technology, Bloomberg Businessweek reported last summer.

Now Moore is leaving the confines of the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, where he has spent the last 30 years, to join one of Google’s rivals: Uber Technologies Inc.

I don’t think it’s right to call these things “flying cars”, but man, whatever we wind up calling them, what an audacious plan.


I want to thank MacPaw for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote Setapp.

Setapp is an ambitious new subscription service for indie Mac software. It’s not a store, but more like Netflix for apps. You pay $9.99 per month, and you get access to over 60 high-quality Mac apps. There are no ads. There are no in-app purchases. There is no catch. You pay $9.99 per month, and you get access to the latest versions (including updates) for all these apps. And they just launched last month, so the number of apps may grow significantly over time.

Take a look at the list of apps — it’s a great lineup.

To top it all off, you can try Setapp for an entire month free of charge. Go ahead and sign up today.

The Making of Apple’s HAL Commercial for the Super Bowl 

A long, detailed, fascinating story involving Stanley Kubrick, Steve Jobs, 2001: A Space Odyssey, and the Super Bowl? Yeah, pretty good odds I’d link to this.

An Extra Week 

Interesting post from Jeff Johnson:

Apple stated that Q1 FY2017 was an all-time record for quarterly revenue. The media dutifully and mostly uncritically spread this “great” news for Apple. But the headlines were fake news. Technically the claim is true, the revenue was an all-time record. True but misleading. Although Apple didn’t lie as such, you might say there was a sin of omission, and a definite spin of the facts. Most Apple fiscal quarters are 13 weeks long. Once in a while, however, they need a 14 week quarter. You might call it a “leap quarter”. There was a good explanation of this financial practice a few years ago in Slate. Apple’s Q1 2017 was a 14 week quarter, for the first time since Q1 2013.

Adjusted for the extra week, Apple actually had another down quarter. I’m surprised I didn’t hear more about this when results came out. I don’t think it’s quite right to ding the quarter by a full 8 percent — the entire last week started with Christmas day — but surely some sort of correction is necessary for year-over-year comparisons.

Update: Jason Snell on the “leap” week:

But, for better or for worse, the window we get into Apple’s finances is based on its financial statements — and that means the quarters as Apple defines it. This was a record quarter for Apple. But it’s also fair to point out that Apple’s definition gives it a one-time windfall, an extra week of sales that it won’t get again for another few years. And it’s a windfall that next year’s year-over-year holiday-quarter comparison will have to overcome in one fewer week.

Gordon Mah Ung Goes Deep Testing the Battery Life of the New MacBook Pros 

Simply exceptional deep dive into the battery life of the new MacBook Pros. Must-read piece. Very fair, and very thorough.

Should iOS 10.3’s App Store Rating Prompts Be Notifications Instead of Alerts? 

Supertop’s Oisin Prendiville has an interesting proposal:

I believe that the notification pattern could improve the effectiveness of the rating feature.

  • An app requests that the user be prompted.
  • iOS decides based on policy whether it is appropriate to show a request.
  • If iOS decides to show the request, the interface slides down from the top of the screen like a notification.

I’m on the fence about his idea. There’s no question that the current design in the 10.3 betas (the modal alert) is more intrusive. But developers get to decide when it appears. That means, if they’re hoping for positive reviews, it’s in their own interest to show it after the user has done something, not while they are doing it. I’d bet that Apple considered something pretty much exactly like what Prendiville is suggesting.

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