Linked List: December 2013

The Political Polarization of Evolution 

Another interesting survey from Pew Research:

According to a new Pew Research Center analysis, six-in-ten Americans (60%) say that “humans and other living things have evolved over time,” while a third (33%) reject the idea of evolution, saying that “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time.” […]

There also are sizable differences by party affiliation in beliefs about evolution, and the gap between Republicans and Democrats has grown. In 2009, 54% of Republicans and 64% of Democrats said humans have evolved over time, a difference of 10 percentage points. Today, 43% of Republicans and 67% of Democrats say humans have evolved, a 24-point gap.

Not a new topic, but four years is a short time for change like this. And think about the consequences of this — we have a two-party system in which the majority of one party believes “humans and other living things have existed in their present form since the beginning of time”.

Correction: It’s not quite a majority of Republicans — 48 percent — who believe that. But only 43 percent believe in evolution, so it is a plurality, outside the margin of error for the poll. And the trend is clear — just four years ago, 54 percent of Republicans believed in evolution and only 39 percent believed this “existed in their present form since the beginning of time” nonsense.

Why Charlie Stross Wants Bitcoin to Die in a Fire 

Charlie Stross:

To editorialize briefly, BitCoin looks like it was designed as a weapon intended to damage central banking and money issuing banks, with a Libertarian political agenda in mind — to damage states ability to collect tax and monitor their citizens financial transactions. Which is fine if you’re a Libertarian, but I tend to take the stance that Libertarianism is like Leninism: a fascinating, internally consistent political theory with some good underlying points that, regrettably, makes prescriptions about how to run human society that can only work if we replace real messy human beings with frictionless spherical humanoids of uniform density (because it relies on simplifying assumptions about human behaviour which are unfortunately wrong).

HP Reported to Be Working on Big-Ass Android Phones 

Matt Swanner, writing for Android Community:

If the prospect of an HP smartphone excites you, there might be good news. Sources tell The Information that HP is indeed working on two larger devices — 6-inch and 7-inch offerings. Unlike their other forays into Android, these are alleged to be actual smartphones, replete with cellular radios and all the fun stuff that makes mobile devices mobile.

Pairs well with the previous item, about LG bringing WebOS back to life.

WSJ: LG to Unveil WebOS-Powered TV 

Min-Jeong Lee, reporting for the WSJ:

LG now plans to showcase an Internet-connected television model powered by webOS in January at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas, a person familiar with the matter told The Wall Street Journal.

He didn’t elaborate on the features of the operating system, but said it would retain the “cards” system, or a stack of pop-ups that allows users to navigate multiple applications, originally used in the webOS mobile devices launched by H-P.

The person didn’t comment on the company’s plans to market the webOS-powered TVs but said the operating system may be developed and later adopted for LG’s other consumer electronics, including smartphones.

Totally rooting for this to work. WebOS was so nice.

Paul Graham: ‘What I Didn’t Say’ 

Thoughtful response from Paul Graham to last week’s hysterical brouhaha:

“We” doesn’t refer to society; it refers to Y Combinator. And the women I’m talking about are not women in general, but would-be founders who are not hackers.

I didn’t say women can’t be taught to be hackers. I said YC can’t do it in 3 months.

I didn’t say women haven’t been programming for 10 years. I said women who aren’t programmers haven’t been programming for 10 years.

I didn’t say people can’t learn to be hackers later in life. I said people cannot at any age learn to be hackers simultaneously with starting a startup whose thesis derives from insights they have as hackers.

I’m sure this will get just as much attention as Valleywag’s misguided hatchet job that started the whole thing, and that everyone on Twitter who excoriated Graham will apologize.

The Information doesn’t come out of this looking good, either. For one thing, the missing “these” in his quote severely changes the meaning of his sentence. For another, Graham says he was providing background information for a profile of his wife and business partner Jessica Livingston, and was not aware The Information would be running his remarks as a standalone interview.

Pew Survey on Social Media Usage 

Pew Research Center:

Some 73% of online adults now use a social networking site of some kind. Facebook is the dominant social networking platform in the number of users, but a striking number of users are now diversifying onto other platforms. Some 42% of online adults now use multiple social networking sites. In addition, Instagram users are nearly as likely as Facebook users to check in to the site on a daily basis.

Facebook’s acquisition of Instagram is looking smarter and smarter.

Daring Fireball RSS Feed Sponsorship Openings for Q1 

A last-minute scheduling change has opened up this week’s DF RSS feed sponsorship, and the rest of the quarter is mostly open. If you have a product or service that you’d like to promote to Daring Fireball’s audience of smart, good-looking readers, please do get in touch.

Update: This week’s spot has been sold, but next week’s remains open.

Why MacPaint’s Original Canvas Was 416 Pixels Wide 

Great bit of historical analysis by Bill Scott. Hardware limits driving software design.

Chrome OS Web Traffic Share According to StatCounter 

I was wrong yesterday — StatCounter does break out Chrome OS separately. The trick is, you have to download CSV files to see it — its share is so low that it gets filed under “Other” in the results they show on the website.

Chrome OS’s web traffic numbers remain really, really low, but — according to StatCounter — they did seem to see a spike in December, going from around 0.04 to 0.1 percent worldwide, and from 0.14 to 0.34 in the United States. Here are a few tweets I collected from others examining these numbers.

I don’t think we can draw any conclusions from this data other than that Chromebooks are not yet in widespread use. It’s possible that Chrome OS is now on pace to eventually be a major platform, but that it will take a few more quarters of strong sales for it to make a dent. It’s also possible that Chrome OS will remain in no-man’s land, measured in mere tenths of a single percent.

Picturelife 

My thanks to Picturelife for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Picturelife backs up your photos to the cloud storage service and smartly organizes them. They have native app clients for Mac, iOS, Windows, and Android — and importers for Flickr and Instagram — and make it really easy to upload all your existing photos, along with new ones as you take them.

In short: all your photos, available from any place, on any device. They have advanced features like powerful search, de-duplication, iPhone and Aperture integration, and simple private sharing.

Plans start at just $5 a month. I’ve been looking for a replacement for Everpix, and Picturelife is it.

Chromebook Sales vs. Web Traffic Share 

Gregg Keizer, reporting for Computerworld:

Chromebooks’ holiday success at Amazon was duplicated elsewhere during the year, according to the NPD Group, which tracked U.S. PC sales to commercial buyers such as businesses, schools, government and other organizations.

By NPD’s tallies, Chromebooks accounted for 21% of all U.S. commercial notebook sales in 2013 through November, and 10% of all computers and tablets. Both shares were up massively from 2012; last year, Chromebooks accounted for an almost-invisible two-tenths of one percent of all computer and tablet sales.

If these reports are right, we should soon see a corresponding surge in web traffic share for ChromeOS. But I’m having trouble finding a web traffic source that even counts Chrome OS as an entity. Wikimedia’s stats should be representative of the web at large, but they don’t count Chrome OS. (They also count Android as a Linux distribution, which humorously inflates the share for “Linux”.) NetMarketShare doesn’t count Chrome OS separately (perhaps they count it under “Linux”, which they peg at 1.56 percent), and neither does StatCounter. Chitika hasn’t reported on Chrome OS since March. If anyone can find a good source for Chrome OS web share, let me know.

(Daring Fireball’s stats are clearly not representative of the general public, and surely vastly under-represent Chrome OS, but for what it’s worth, Google Analytics puts Chrome OS at 0.08 percent of visits in the last 30 days. Also worth noting: iOS nipped past Mac OS X for the first time that I’ve noticed, 41.62 to 41.10 percent.)

Update: StatCounter does have data for Chrome OS.

‘A Christmas Present or Two or Ten’ 

Fascinating bit from the Conan O’Brien show. Makes me wonder just how prevalent these canned segments are.

Om Malik on Christopher Mims’s ‘Lost Year’ 

Om Malik:

But to label 2013 a lost year for technology is hyperbolic, to put it generously. What’s more distressing to me is that other smart folks are simply echoing the headline. I look at the world around me, and I find a technology landscape that is blooming. How can you not be excited about the idea of sensors, apps and data turning our phones into a doctor’s virtual proxy. (I live with a disease and my phone is as much a part of it, as my meds.) Helium-filled disk drives that can store more and more data? Breakthrough or boring. Depends on how you look at the world — as someone who loves technology or someone who loves the shiny interpretation of technology.

Great piece, from one of my favorite writers who cover tech.

Dave Winer’s Blogger of the Year: Nick Bilton 

Dave Winer:

Nick Bilton decided that it was time to ask a question that the FAA didn’t want to deal with, or had no way to deal with, or couldn’t deal with for some reason. Political organizations often get stuck. The individuals inside may know it’s time to act, but they can’t pull it together.

Bilton asked a simple question that all of us who fly have asked. Would the plane crash if I kept reading a book on my iPad while the plane takes off? If not, why do I have to turn it off?

HTC Posts Flowchart Explaining Its Software Updates Process 

This giant convoluted clusterfuck is their excuse for the fact that most HTC One devices — the ones people buy from carriers — still don’t have access to Android 4.4.

How The Omni Group Wound Up Porting ‘Doom’ to NeXTstep 

Great story from Wil Shipley. Proves the adage: It can’t hurt to ask.

Digital Trends Best Mobile Product of 2013: Google Glass 

Jeffrey Van Camp, mobile editor for Digital Trends:

Though it’s still $1,500 and only available as a developer unit, Google Glass is the only product that makes sense to pick as product of the year. Because, frankly, we can’t stop talking about it. Google announced Glass in 2012, but 2013 was the year when everyone started using them and things began to get crazy.

Terrific satire of the technology press’s narcissistic detachment from the real world.

Wait, what?

The Internet: A Mob Without Consequence 

Good piece by Nick Bilton:

The immediacy and fast pace of the Internet can be magical. But when someone makes a comment that the masses disagree with, a mob with 140-character pitchforks can develop in seconds and the Internet can become terrifyingly bellicose.

Headline of the Week 

Speaking of patents, this piece for GigaOm by Jeff John Roberts raised an eyebrow. Headline: “Google Sues to Protect Android Device Makers From Apple-Backed Patent Hell”.

First, it’s Rockstar whom Google is fighting — a consortium backed by Apple, Microsoft, BlackBerry, and others. But given that Apple apparently put up $2.6 billion of the $4.5 billion for the Nortel patents that Rockstar now owns, “Apple-backed” is arguably fair. But “patent hell”? This is simply the U.S. patent system at work. There’s nothing egregious or extraordinary about Rockstar’s lawsuits against Google and Android OEMs.

Then, here’s the opening:

Google has filed a new lawsuit to challenge an Apple-backed consortium known as Rockstar that is using dubious patents to threaten its partners and customers in the mobile device industry.

Nothing in Roberts’s piece even attempts to justify the word “dubious” here. And he fails to address the elephant in the room: Google itself bid over $3 billion for these same patents — $3.14159 billion, to be exact, because Google’s executives and lawyers are such a fun-loving, clever bunch — which suggests that Google doesn’t actually consider these patents the least bit “dubious”.

’Twas(n’t) the Software Patent Before Christmas 

I was going to write about this brouhaha surrounding the new IA Writer Pro’s “patent pending” feature that highlights parts of speech — based on technology built into Cocoa by Apple — but this poem by Stu Maschwitz does a better job than any prose I could offer.

Quotes Uncovered: How Lies Travel 

C.H. Spurgeon, back in 1859: “A lie will go round the world while truth is pulling its boots on.”

This line is often credited to Mark Twain and Winston Churchill (I credited Churchill the other day), but it looks like Spurgeon put the notion into this form first. And what an ironic quote for which to have to post a correction.

App Santa 

Speaking of holiday app discounts, the App Santa promotion has a few days left, featuring a lineup of terrific apps (including App Store Best of 2013 winner Vesper, available for just $2.99). Get more bang for the buck from the iTunes gift cards you scored yesterday — buy these apps while they’re on sale.

WinterFest 2013: Artisanal Software for Writers 

Great way to save money on a bunch of great Mac apps for writers: DEVONthink Pro, Nisus Writer Pro, Scrivener, Scapple, and Tinderbox are all available at a 25 percent discount with coupon code “WINTERFEST2013”.

The Talk Show 2013 Holiday Spectacular 

Year-end double-length episode of my podcast, featuring Guy English and a cavalcade of surprise guests joining me for conversation, singing, dancing, and holiday cheer.

Unprofessionalism 

Allen Pike:

The behaviours that make us human are not professional. Honesty, frankness, humour, emotionality, embracing the moment, speaking up for what you believe, affection, sincerity. Quoting extremely offensive trolls. These are all things that will make some people love you and others hate you. When you get more attention, these aspects of your personality fuel the inevitable backlash. As your audience grows, the chance of any given action triggering criticism asymptotically approaches 100%.

‘Today, the Process Is Faster. It’s Your Brain, a Button, Then Millions of Reactions.’ 

Steve Martin, after a misquotation of a joke he tweeted was spread by Salon:

Then, Salon.com reported on the story and changed the wording of the tweet. They wrote: “It depends if you are in an African American restaurant or an Italian restaurant.” Clearly, this misquote implies that an African American restaurant can’t spell “lasagna” on the menu. And my name was attached to the misquoted tweet. Other websites, including TMZ.com picked up this incorrect version and for the next four days, and more, it continued to spread and I couldn’t get out of hell.

Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.” It’s a lot faster now.

Update: Credit for Churchill’s line goes to C.H. Spurgeon, back in 1859.

Ken Segall on Apple’s ‘Misunderstood’ Ad 

Ken Segall:

Of course, we’re talking about Apple here — so there’s no shortage of critics eager to tell us why the commercial fails. Take your pick: it says little about the product, any smartphone can make a movie, or the spot is a depressing statement about human values.

Good grief.

Most of these people mistake their personal opinion, instinct, values and/or taste for actual marketing talent. There are tens of millions of people who will stop in their tracks at this commercial and wipe a tear from their eye. As a result, they will feel slightly more attached to Apple, which is the marketing purpose of this spot.

Almost unbelievable contrast to those aforelinked spots from Samsung and Nokia. Those ads are so bad; this one from Apple is so good. And Apple is putting it out there — I saw the full 90-second spot at least twice while watching NFL football yesterday.

‘Are You Geared Up?’ 

Bizarre, creepy new ad from Samsung.

And here’s one from Nokia. No idea what is going on in that one.

Pixate Freestyle 

My thanks to Pixate for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Pixate Framework is a free library that makes it possible to style native iOS apps using CSS. It’s really native, too — no webviews required — and works with all native iOS controls.

This week they launched a new open source project called Freestyle. Freestyle is a companion CSS framework designed to help Pixate users work faster and keep their style sheets centralized and organized. They describe it as “Bootstrap for native mobile apps”.

Download Pixate Freestyle at pixate.com.

Reuters: RSA Security Took $10M From NSA to Push Weaker Encryption 

Joseph Menn, reporting for Reuters:

As a key part of a campaign to embed encryption software that it could crack into widely used computer products, the U.S. National Security Agency arranged a secret $10 million contract with RSA, one of the most influential firms in the computer security industry, Reuters has learned. […]

Undisclosed until now was that RSA received $10 million in a deal that set the NSA formula as the preferred, or default, method for number generation in the BSafe software, according to two sources familiar with the contract. Although that sum might seem paltry, it represented more than a third of the revenue that the relevant division at RSA had taken in during the entire previous year, securities filings show.

If this is true, RSA might as well just shut their doors and turn out the lights, because no one will ever trust them again.

The Only Thing Weirder Than a Telemarketing Robot 

I think Alexis Madrigal has solved the mystery of the amazing telemarketing robot that called a Time reporter last week.

Update: Madrigal has written a feature-length follow-up, “Almost Human: The Surreal, Cyborg Future of Telemarketing”, and it’s a gripping read. It’s amazing to me how a system that could have only existed in science fiction a decade ago can come to life, yet seem so extraordinarily mundane.

QSKit: Q Branch Standard Kit 

One last Vesper-related link to complete the trifecta. Brent Simmons:

We just posted Q Branch Standard Kit — QSKit, for short — to GitHub.

It’s a bunch of categories and utilities that we find useful in multiple apps (both Mac and iOS). Nothing earth-shaking or high-tech — just solid stuff. With tests.

Consider it an early Christmas present from us to the community that’s given us so much.

App Store Best of 2013 

Speaking of Vesper, it was a real thrill to see it included in the App Store’s Best of 2013. I’m proud of what we did in 2013, but 2014 is going to be even better.

(For the curious: work on sync continues unabated.)

App Santa: Award-Winning Apps, Discounted for the Holidays 

A slew of great indie apps at great prices — including Vesper, on sale for just $2.99.

BlackBerry Posts Huge Loss 

Ian Austen, reporting for the NYT:

BlackBerry reported a $4.4 billion loss and a 56 percent drop in revenue for its fiscal third quarter on Friday and said it would step back from its once-core handset business through a partnership with the Asian contract manufacturer Foxconn. […] The third-quarter loss included a $2.7 billion write-down mainly related to BlackBerry 10 phones. Of the 4.3 million BlackBerrys purchased by consumers and businesses during the quarter, 3.2 million were models that use the obsolete BlackBerry 7 operating system.

Last one to leave, please turn out the lights.

‘We’re Going to Have to Start Over.’ 

Another tidbit from today’s excerpt from Fred Vogelstein’s Dogfight:

Chris DeSalvo’s reaction to the iPhone was immediate and visceral. “As a consumer I was blown away. I wanted one immediately. But as a Google engineer, I thought ‘We’re going to have to start over.’”

Remember a few years ago, at the height of the “Android is a ripoff of the iPhone” controversy, when Android supporters claimed that the similarities were just some sort of amazing coincidence, like Newton and Leibniz discovering calculus concurrently, because Android had started life a few years before the iPhone was introduced? Good times.

R.I.P. The Blog, 1997-2013 

Jason Kottke:

Sometime in the past few years, the blog died. In 2014, people will finally notice. Sure, blogs still exist, many of them are excellent, and they will go on existing and being excellent for many years to come. But the function of the blog, the nebulous informational task we all agreed the blog was fulfilling for the past decade, is increasingly being handled by a growing number of disparate media forms that are blog-like but also decidedly not blogs.

‘The Day Google Had to “Start Over” on Android’ 

The Atlantic has an excerpt from Dogfight, Fred Vogelstein’s book on the mobile platform battle between Apple and Google (same book from which this great piece on the iPhone introduction was adapted):

For most of Silicon Valley — including most of Google — the iPhone’s unveiling on January 9, 2007 was something to celebrate. Jobs had once again done the impossible. Four years before he’d talked an intransigent music industry into letting him put their catalog on iTunes for ninety-nine cents a song. Now he had convinced a wireless carrier to let him build a revolutionary smartphone. But for the Google Android team, the iPhone was a kick in the stomach.

“What we had suddenly looked just so… nineties,” DeSalvo said. “It’s just one of those things that are obvious when you see it.”

I’ve read the book, and it is, on the whole, very good. I highly recommend it. Vogelstein’s reporting is excellent and remarkable; he documents much that has heretofore gone undocumented. His analysis, though, I consider flawed in many ways — Vogelstein’s take on the competitive dynamics between iOS and Android is, more or less, the thinking man’s defense of the Church of Market Share.

Another quibble, from today’s excerpt:

A lot was wrong with the first iPhone too. Rubin and the Android team — along with many others — did not think users would take to typing on a screen without the tactile feedback of a physical keyboard. That is why the first Android phone — the T-Mobile G1 from HTC, nearly two years later — had a slide-out keyboard.

That first sentence is fine — the original iPhone left much room for improvement. But Vogelstein’s supporting example — the on-screen keyboard — is an example of something the original iPhone got right, and which took the rest of the industry, including Andy Rubin and the entire Android team at Google, years to come to terms with and accept. What percentage of smartphones sold today have a hardware keyboard? I’m guessing it’s in the single digits and dropping.

Introducing Fist Eggplant 

You know that feeling when you read a piece on Medium, and the only way to express your feelings regarding said piece on Medium is to make the jag-off motion with your hand?

Nick Bilton’s ‘Hatching Twitter’ to Be Developed as TV Series 

Ryan Tate, reporting for Wired:

On Wednesday, film and TV house Lionsgate announced that Nick Bilton’s bestselling book on the creation of Twitter will become a TV series, in one form or another.

Bilton, a New York Times columnist, will write the teleplay and serve as producer. Allison Shearmur, one of four executive producers behind the hit movie Hunger Games, will act as executive producer.

Let’s play casting agent. Kevin Connolly as Jack Dorsey.

Walt Mossberg’s Final Column for the WSJ 

Walt Mossberg:

This is my last column for The Wall Street Journal, after 22 years of reviewing consumer technology products here.

So I thought I’d talk about the dozen personal-technology products I reviewed that were most influential over the past two decades. Obviously, narrowing so many products in the most dynamic of modern industries down to 12 is a subjective exercise and others will disagree.

Pretty good picks, I’d say.

In Online Shopping, Touch Appears to Beat Click 

Megan Woolhouse, reporting for The Boston Globe:

When consumers participating in the study reached out and touched an image on a touchscreen, the experience nearly rivaled their feelings of touching merchandise in a brick-and-mortar store, according to the measure of satisfaction used in the study.

“It’s kind of surprising how strong the effect is,” said S. Adam Brasel, a Boston College business professor and lead author of the study. “And we’re not necessarily aware it’s taking place.”

This seems like a big deal.

$400 for The Information Is About What’s Missing, Not What’s There 

Hunter Walk, on The Information:

For me the value in The Information is not solely in what they’re providing but what they’re leaving out. The ~two articles a day are both interesting. Because they’re not playing a page views game, they don’t need to overload me with 25+ posts every 24 hrs. The site is spartan because they don’t need to worry about IAB units. A small number of writers building their beats give me the chance to see each journalist’s style distinctly, not settle into some random byline slot machine of varying quality.

Some folks are raising an eyebrow on the price tag. “What are you getting that’s worth it?” Strangely my reply is as much about the 80% I’m not getting as the 20% they’re delivering. And I think that’s what Jessica is going for.

Agreed. The Information is an example of what you can do when you’re not chasing pageviews.

LG Launching Its First 4K Monitor in January With 31-Inch Ultra-Widescreen Panel 

Interesting super-wide form factor — seems like an interesting alternative to side-by-side dual displays.

New Mac Pros Available Starting Tomorrow 

It’s a Christmas miracle.

And no surprise 4K Cinema Display announcement, which means that if you want a new 4K display (or three) to go with your new Mac Pro, dude you’re getting a Dell. All joking aside, I’m disappointed and a little baffled that Apple doesn’t yet have a 4K display. It’s un-Apple-like to leave money on the table.

Michael Mace: ‘Has Microsoft Gone Nuts?’ 

Michael Mace, on the rumor that Microsoft might license Windows Phone to handset makers free of charge:

Nice idea, Microsoft, but you’re closing the barn door not only after the horses left, but after the barn burned down.

Lots of People Are Saving Money Thanks to Obamacare 

True story: I’m self-employed, so for several years we’ve been paying out of pocket for a family health insurance plan (me, my wife, my son) from Independence Blue Cross here in Pennsylvania. We have no group to join, no company plan; we effectively buy health insurance at retail cost. Our rates have steadily increased every year, to the point where as of today, we’ve been paying $1500 a month to cover the three of us, for a plan with good coverage (by U.S. standards) and a $500 deductible.

A few months ago, we got one of those controversial notices that our current plan was being cancelled because it wasn’t compliant with the Affordable Care Act, so we’d have to find a new plan before January. My wife went online, to Healthcare.gov, found a new plan from our same insurer with as good or better coverage — equivalent prescription coverage, same network of doctors and hospitals, same $500 deductible — and our new bill, starting next month, will be $1050 per month. No subsidies or anything like that. We’re just saving over $5000 per year, thanks to Obamacare.

Bee Portraits 

Fascinating macro photography from biologist Sam Droege at Flickr.

Target Will Not Sell Beyoncé’s New Album Because It Debuted as an iTunes Exclusive 

But they will sell an MP3 single of the world’s tiniest violin playing the world’s saddest song.

‘Misunderstood’ 

Clever new ad from Apple. Might be their best spot all year.

Update: Two things. First, I’ve asked around and a little birdie tells me that the footage for the kid’s video was actually shot using an iPhone 5S. I thought so, but impressive nonetheless. Second, as several observant readers have noted (I love that DF attracts such pedants), yes, there’s a mismatch in orientation — our protagonist is always shown holding the iPhone in portrait, but his video is comprised entirely of footage shot in landscape. I say forgive this slight cheat, let’s not niggle — it helps sell the twist, and it’s a damn good twist.

Update 2: “Teddy told me that in Greek, nostalgia literally means ‘the pain from an old wound’. It’s a twinge in your heart, far more powerful than memory alone. This device isn’t a space ship — it’s a time machine.”

Update 3: Apple has posted the entire two-minute “A Harris Family Holiday” film from the ad, “shot entirely on iPhone 5s”.

Shameless Carriers 

Jean-Louis Gassée, on the latest round of carrier executives bemoaning the prices they have to pay to Apple for iPhones:

I don’t know if Stephenson is speaking out of cultural deafness or cynicism, but he’s obscuring the point: There is no subsidy. Carriers extend a loan that users pay back as part of the monthly service payment. Like any loan shark, the carrier likes its subscriber to stay indefinitely in debt, to always come back for more, for a new phone and its ever-revolving payments stream.

When carrier executives complain about iPhone subsidies, what they are really complaining about are customers who see the iPhone as being worth a premium. If you (the carrier) don’t carry the iPhone, you will bleed customers until you do. In this scenario it should be no surprise that Apple is able to negotiate favorable terms. What the carriers pine for are the old days when nearly all customers would just come in and buy whatever phone the carrier’s own salespeople recommended.

Who Buys the iPhone 5C? 

Ben Evans, looking at device usage data from Facebook:

There are two obvious things in this chart: the 5S is selling better than the 5C (which we pretty much knew), but the 5C has far from flopped, and women like the 5C much more than men.

What About Removing App Ratings Entirely? 

Jim Biancolo:

The nag screens sure are obnoxious, but good ratings are pretty important in bringing your app to the surface in a very crowded App Store. Rather than enter the debate, I wonder why users have to explicitly rate apps at all, when they are implicitly rating them all the time?

Will Hains suggests something similar here.

Usage is hard to measure. You wouldn’t want to just measure how much time users spend in a certain app, because some apps are intended, by design, to be used occasionally and/or briefly.

What Apple needs is something akin to Google’s PageRank. Imagine a world where Google ranked web pages based on user reviews for those sites. It would not matter if the scale were 1-5 stars or thumbs-up/thumbs-down — such a system would break down almost immediately because it would be gamed and abused. That’s where we are with App Store discoverability and search rankings.

‘Apple Kicked Everybody in the Balls With This.’ 

Our old friend Dan Lyons:

In public, Apple’s rivals in the smartphone market have tried to downplay the technological advances Apple introduced in the iPhone 5s. But it turns out that one breakthrough — Apple’s speedy, 64-bit A7 microprocessor — has set off a panic inside its competitors. At chipmaker Qualcomm, which provides microprocessors for many of the Android phones that compete against the iPhone, executives have been trying to put on a brave face to the world, but internally people are freaking out, according to an insider at the company.

“The 64-bit Apple chip hit us in the gut,” says the Qualcomm employee. “Not just us, but everyone, really. We were slack-jawed, and stunned, and unprepared.”

Mugshots From the 1920s 

Gorgeous portraits.

The NSA: An Inside View 

Loren Sands-Ramshaw, who worked for the NSA for two years:

Many are concerned about the NSA listening to their phone calls and reading their email messages. I believe that most should not be very concerned because most are not sending email to intelligence targets. Email that isn’t related to intelligence is rarely viewed, and it’s even less often viewed if it’s from a US citizen. Every Agency employee goes through orientation, in which we are taught about the federal laws that govern NSA/US Cyber Command: Title 10 and Title 50. We all know that it’s illegal to look at a US citizen’s data without a court order. I use the term “look” deliberately: the Agency makes the distinction that looking at data is surveillance, while gathering it from locations outside the US is not. We gathered everything, and only looked at a tiny percentage of it. I am okay with this distinction both because I don’t mind if my emails are copied to an Agency database and likely never read and because from a technical standpoint it would seriously impair our ability to spy if we couldn’t gather everything. The Agency is an intelligence organization, not a law enforcement agency.

His is an interesting and reasonable perspective.

‘A Genius Among Geniuses’ 

Andy Greenberg, writing for Forbes:

But an NSA staffer who contacted me last month and asked not to be identified–and whose claims we checked with Snowden himself via his ACLU lawyer Ben Wizner — offered me a very different, firsthand portrait of how Snowden was seen by his colleagues in the agency’s Hawaii office: A principled and ultra-competent, if somewhat eccentric employee, and one who earned the access used to pull off his leak by impressing superiors with sheer talent.

The anonymous NSA staffer’s priority in contacting me, in fact, was to refute stories that have surfaced as the NSA and the media attempt to explain how a contractor was able to obtain and leak the tens of thousands of highly classified documents that have become the biggest public disclosure of NSA secrets in history. According to the source, Snowden didn’t dupe coworkers into handing over their passwords, as one report has claimed. Nor did Snowden fabricate SSH keys to gain unauthorized access, he or she says.

Instead, there’s little mystery as to how Snowden gained his access: It was given to him.

NSA Goes on 60 Minutes: The Facts Behind CBS’s Flawed Report 

Bizarrely one-sided report. It’s no longer surprising, but depressing nonetheless, how far 60 Minutes has fallen in recent years.

On App Ratings: Put Them In-App, and Make Them Thumbs Up/Down 

Thomas Verschoren:

The solution I propose is the following: Apple should create an official rating API and simplify the rating system. Imagine Apple changing the App Store’s rating system in a simple thumb- up, thumbs-down system. You vote the app up when you like it, down when you don’t. So far it’s pretty similar to Gruber’s suggestion in The Talk Show.

Apple could implement this as an iOS API combined with a review sheet, similar to the tweet sheet. So somewhere in the app is a rate this app button. It brings up the sheet with an up-or-down button, and a field to write your short review. You never leave the app, it’s fast and it’s controlled by Apple. Developers get their reviews, but in a controlled fashion.

Federal Judge Rules Against N.S.A. Phone Data Program 

Charlie Savage, reporting for the NYT:

In a 68-page ruling, Judge Richard J. Leon of the District of Columbia called the program’s technology “almost Orwellian” and suggested that James Madison, the author of the Constitution, would be “aghast” to learn that the government was encroaching on liberty in such a way.

“I cannot imagine a more ‘indiscriminate’ and ‘arbitrary’ invasion than this systematic and high-tech collection and retention of personal data on virtually every single citizen for purposes of querying and analyzing it without prior judicial approval,” Judge Leon wrote. “Surely, such a program infringes on ‘that degree of privacy’ that the founders enshrined in the Fourth Amendment.”

Includes this statement from Edward Snowden:

“I acted on my belief that the N.S.A.’s mass surveillance programs would not withstand a constitutional challenge, and that the American public deserved a chance to see these issues determined by open courts. Today, a secret program authorized by a secret court was, when exposed to the light of day, found to violate Americans’ rights. It is the first of many.”

It is getting harder and harder to see Snowden as anything other than a hero who, at great personal risk and cost, has done a great service for our country and the world.

Degradation or Aspiration 

David Smith:

I want to believe that the App Store is a special place. I want for it to be the singularly best venue for customers to come and find innovative, well designed, quality software. Software that pushes the boundaries of what is possible and continually amazes and delights its customers. I want for there to be an aspirational pull upwards on my own development. I want to feel like I need to work extra hard to make sure my apps meet the high standards my customers have been trained to expect.

For that admittedly idealistic ambition to be a reality requires work. The natural tendency of things is to grow more and more degraded overtime, for entropy to slowly creep in and undermine even the best of intentions. It requires obvious, intentional leadership to stem the tide of mediocracy. Even more subtly, once you see this decline as inevitable you all but guarantee that reality.

It’s not just the App Store that we want to feel like a special place — it’s iOS itself. Using iOS, on both the iPhone and iPad, dozens of times every day, for stretches long and short, should feel like a platform in pursuit of perfection. Having a de facto standard practice where apps badger you at seemingly random moments with pop-up ads prompting you to rate them is in contradiction to this ideal.

Smith is right; Apple needs to do more, much more, to improve the App Store discovery and shopping experience. But flaws in the App Store do not excuse a practice that has become a blight on the everyday experience of using the platform.

The Download Hits Middle Age 

So though far from dead, digital music sales may have peaked. (Via Doug Adams.)

New iTunes-Exclusive Beyoncé Album Sells Over 800,000 Copies in First Three Days 

Selling music albums, not dead yet.

Earth Wind Map 

“A visualization of global weather conditions, forecast by supercomputers, updated every three hours.”

‘One Star’ 

On this week’s episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, I’m joined by special guest Daniel Jalkut. Topics include podcast transcripts, and the “Rate This App” controversy.

Brought to you by:

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The Selling of Attention Deficit Disorder 

Eye-opening investigative report by Alan Schwarz for the NYT:

After more than 50 years leading the fight to legitimize attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Keith Conners could be celebrating.

Severely hyperactive and impulsive children, once shunned as bad seeds, are now recognized as having a real neurological problem. Doctors and parents have largely accepted drugs like Adderall and Concerta to temper the traits of classic A.D.H.D., helping youngsters succeed in school and beyond.

But Dr. Conners did not feel triumphant this fall as he addressed a group of fellow A.D.H.D. specialists in Washington. He noted that recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the diagnosis had been made in 15 percent of high school-age children, and that the number of children on medication for the disorder had soared to 3.5 million from 600,000 in 1990. He questioned the rising rates of diagnosis and called them “a national disaster of dangerous proportions.”

“The numbers make it look like an epidemic. Well, it’s not. It’s preposterous,” Dr. Conners, a psychologist and professor emeritus at Duke University, said in a subsequent interview. “This is a concoction to justify the giving out of medication at unprecedented and unjustifiable levels.”

Apple Can’t Ban ‘Rate This App’ Dialogs 

Marco Arment:

A rule banning “Rate This App” dialogs would have the same problem: since the dialog is unlikely to appear during app review (and could be easily coded to guarantee that it wouldn’t), they’ll almost never reject anything for it. Once an app is in the wild, there’s no good way for Apple to be reliably notified of violations, and even if they added one, the line between permissible and prohibited would be vague and easy to skirt.

We could all rate these apps lower as a form of protest, but it’s unlikely to have a meaningful impact. The App Store is a big place.

I agree that Apple, practically speaking, couldn’t ban this practice. But I’m not so sure that a groundswell campaign to rate these apps poorly wouldn’t work. The App Store is indeed a big place, but there aren’t that many reviews for most apps, even popular ones.

Last Call on These New DF T-Shirts 

An athletic gray Daring Fireball t-shirt, hand-lettered design.

We were going to stop taking orders on these a few days ago, but we managed to get some more time before we hit the printer. So you’ve got one last chance, if you order tonight, Saturday 14 December.

Thanks again to Jon Contino for the terrific new designs.

Update: That’s all, folks. Thanks to everyone who placed an order; we’ll get them printed and shipped as fast as we can.

MacUpdate’s Winter Bundle 

My thanks to MacUpdate for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their Winter Bundle of great Mac apps and services. It’s a limited time collection that is available for just $39.99 — a 90 percent discount.

The bundle includes: 6-months of Anonymizer’s private VPN service ($49.99) for covering your tracks online; 6 months of Backblaze ($30.00), the best cloud backup solution for Mac users; ExpanDrive ($39.99) and Paragon’s NTFS-for-Mac ($29.90); iStopMotion ($49.99), an amazing stop-animation movie making tool; and several other great titles. The whole bundle pays for itself for just one of these great apps.

Google Buys Robotics Maker 

John Markoff, reporting for the NYT:

Google confirmed on Friday that it had completed the acquisition of Boston Dynamics, an engineering company that has designed mobile research robots for the Pentagon. The company, based in Waltham, Mass., has gained an international reputation for machines that walk with an uncanny sense of balance and even — cheetahlike — run faster than the fastest humans.

This, from the company whose chairman is spooked by Amazon’s drone-delivery proposal.

How to Take Good Photos for Under $1,000 

Stu Maschwitz:

Christmas is coming. Here’s how to take some good photos.

In a nut: buy a low-end DSLR body and a $100 fast 50mm prime lens. That’s been good advice for anyone with an interest in photography for decades (minus the D in DSLR).

Everything Is a Remix Case Study: The iPhone 

Nice work, as usual, by Kirby Ferguson. Like a time capsule for the changes wrought by the iPhone — iOS went from revolutionary to kind of stale-looking in a remarkably short period of time.

On the Design of Conference Badges 

Michael Lopp:

I can write this because over the years, I’ve developed a strong opinion regarding badges.

Anil Dash: ‘What Medium Is’ 

Anil Dash, back in August:

So what does Medium resemble more, with its organization-by-collection, diminished prominence of the creator’s identity, and easy flow between related pieces of content? It’s simple: YouTube. Though some subset of YouTube users subscribe to channels, most of us just graze through the site when someone sends us a funny video, only barely aware of who even posted a video. Medium is evolving to be the same; We get sent an article that someone wants us to read (or in the case of the recent spoiled-startup-boy essays mentioned in Madrigal’s piece, we get sent an article someone wants us to hate), and then hopefully we click around to check out a few more things.

Medium doesn’t (yet?) support the embedding of its content into other sites, which was essential to YouTube’s wide adoption, but in the core experience by which content is created and discovered, Medium is much closer to “YouTube for Longform” than it is “Blogger Revisited”.

This is the first explanation of what Medium is that actually makes sense to me.

The EFF: ‘Google Removes Vital Privacy Feature From Android, Claiming Its Release Was Accidental’ 

Peter Eckersley, writing for the EFF:

Yesterday, we published a blog post lauding an extremely important app privacy feature that was added in Android 4.3. That feature allows users to install apps while preventing the app from collecting sensitive data like the user’s location or address book.

After we published the post, several people contacted us to say that the feature had actually been removed in Android 4.4.2, which was released earlier this week. Today, we installed that update to our test device, and can confirm that the App Ops privacy feature that we were excited about yesterday is in fact now gone.

When asked for comment, Google told us that the feature had only ever been released by accident — that it was experimental, and that it could break some of the apps policed by it. We are suspicious of this explanation, and do not think that it in any way justifies removing the feature rather than improving it.

Shocker.

Video of Kevin Systrom Introducing Instagram Direct Yesterday 

Two things:

  1. I was there for this event, and I thought it was nicely done. I continue to be impressed by the thoughtfulness and care put into Instagram, and the same care was put into the staging of the event itself.

  2. At the 12:35 mark, right in the middle of demonstrating the workflow of sending direct messages in Instagram, Systrom had to dismiss the “Rate Instagram” alert. Right in the middle of a public demonstration.

App Store Review Skimming 

Derek Zumsteg:

Part of the frustration is much deeper than that, and goes to a deeply scummy tactic Apple’s let proliferate. I’m going to call this skimming reviews: you pop up a request for a dialogue, but in a way that encourages only people who are going to leave good ones to do it. OkCupid’s app is the clearest example of this.

App Store Review Prompts 

Chris Gonzales’s advice to developers on “Rate This App” prompts:

  • Let us opt out. If you simply must have an App Store review prompt in your app, be sure to give users the chance to say “no thanks”. Don’t pull the kind of bullshit where the only options are “yes” and “remind me later”. That’s scummy and you know it.

  • Respect the users’ wishes. If a customer chooses to opt out of leaving a review, your app had better not continue prompting them about it afterward. I can live with a one-time popup, but there are some apps that ignore opt-out requests and that is definitely not okay with me. It might even be a good idea to respect opt-outs across app updates, if possible. If I didn’t want to review your app two updates ago, I’m no more likely to do so today.

I’ve been researching this topic, and from what I see, a lot of apps are using the Nick Lockwood iRate open source project, which I think is more than half the problem. iRate might be well-meaning, but it’s a hamfisted approach with poor (that is to say, annoying) default settings. The default alert has three buttons: agree to write a review, “Remind Me Later”, and “No, Thanks”.

That last one, “No, Thanks”, does not mean what you think it means. It really means, “No, but go ahead and ask me again every single time there is an update to the app”.

There is no option to never be prompted again. And even if you agree to leave a review, you’ll get prompted again the next time the app updates.

Choices and Consequences 

Daniel Jalkut, on my proposed backlash against “Rate This App” alerts:

It’s smart to take it as given that something should be done to encourage users to leave positive ratings and reviews. That’s good business sense. But also take it as given that the farther you tread in the direction of badgering and disrespecting users, the more you chip away at the meaningful non-monetary benefits listed above.

On Medium 

Noah Nelson:

Sometimes, however, it doesn’t pay to view the world through a macro lens. The forest can be missed for the kerning on the font that spells out t-r-e-e-s. This is what I believe is happening here with those who look at Medium and go “Huh?”

Update: I read this piece twice and thought about it overnight, and I still don’t get it.

Browsing the Web on a 27-Year-Old Mac Plus 

Jeff Keacher:

Reviving an old computer is like restoring a classic car: There’s a thrill from bringing the ancient into the modern world. So it was with my first “real” computer, my Mac Plus, when I decided to bring it forward three decades and introduce it to the modern Web.

So great. Worth it just to remember binhex files.

(Thanks to Faruk Ateş.)

Instagram Direct 

What an amazing coincidence that Twitter started allowing images in direct messages two days ago.

Where’s iTunes Extras for the Apple TV? 

How crazy is it that you still can’t watch iTunes Extras on Apple TV or on iOS devices? Pretty crazy if you ask me.

Half an Operating System: The Triumph and Tragedy of OS/2 

I’m still catching up on reading from over Thanksgiving. This feature for Ars Technica by Jeremy Reimer is simply fantastic. I was in high school and college when this stuff went down. Exciting times — we were getting new operating systems every few years. Kids today, they don’t know fragmentation.

You Should Buy a New Daring Fireball T-Shirt 

Daring Fireball ‘Hardball’ t-shirt, hand-lettered design.

In case you missed it, brand-new Daring Fireball t-shirts are now available. We’re only taking orders until tomorrow, so if you’re interested, act now.

Hey Reuters, JK Keller Fixed Your ‘Glass Ceiling’ Graph 

Scale matters.

Weather Line 1.1 

Not one but two weather app recommendations today. And this one, Weather Line, has become my primary weather app. I find the temperature graph (hourly, daily, monthly) to be an incredibly useful visualization. How warmly do I need to dress today? What should I pack for this trip? And it has built-in precipitation forecasts powered by Dark Sky. $2.99, cheap.

Update: Here’s an interview from Rene Ritchie at iMore with Weather Line director Ryan Jones.

Perfect Weather 1.1 

Before podcast listening apps became the new Twitter clients, weather apps were the new Twitter clients. I remain a sucker for good ones. Perfect Weather is a good one; my favorite feature is the integration with NOAA animated weather apps. $2.99, cheap.

Castro 1.0 

New podcast listening app for iPhone, with an elegant, simple iOS 7 interface. I don’t recall ever seeing a playback/scrubbing interface quite like Castro’s, and it’s really good. $2.99, cheap.

Here’s John Moltz on Castro:

So far Castro has been great about downloading episodes in the background and having them waiting for me when it’s time to walk the dog (which is not a euphemism I actually have a dog that I walk). The only downside to Castro I can think of is that it’s iPhone-only, so there’s no syncing, of course. Not that Apple’s syncing has worked that well for me anyway.

‘If a Story Is Viral, Truth May Be Taking a Beating’ 

Ravi Somaiya and Leslie Kaufman, reporting for the NYT on a string of “viral” stories that garnered millions of page views, all which stories turned out to be false:

“The faster metabolism puts people who fact-check at a disadvantage,” said Ryan Grim, the Washington bureau chief for The Huffington Post, which reposted the fictional airplane tweets, the letter to Santa and the poverty essay. “If you throw something up without fact-checking it, and you’re the first one to put it up, and you get millions and millions of views, and later it’s proved false, you still got those views. That’s a problem. The incentives are all wrong.”

Think about that. The guy who allowed all three stories to run says it’s a problem and the incentives are all wrong. I’ve been saying for years that page view-based advertising is a corrupting force. This is where it leads.

Scott Forstall ‘News’ 

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors yesterday: “Former iOS Chief Scott Forstall Surfaces After Quiet Year of Traveling and Philanthropy”. Where by “surfaces”, they mean “is mentioned”. The source for this breaking news is this report by Amir Efrati for The Information. The relevant bit from that report:

What he’s doing now: Laying low after some travel to places including Italy and South Africa, with occasional appearances at Silicon Valley networking events. He advises some companies and has become more active in philanthropy in areas such as education, poverty and human rights.

What’s next: Venture capital firms including Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers and Andreessen Horowitz have maintained ties with him, but Apple insiders bet he’ll want to build something.

No news at all, other than that Forstall traveled to Italy and South Africa at some point in the last 13 months.

At Business Insider, Jay Yarow writes:

One of the biggest mysteries in technology is what has happened to Scott Forstall.

What I’ve heard is that when Tim Cook fired him, Forstall was offered (and accepted) a big truck full of money as part of a severance package. The terms of the severance agreement included a period of time during which Forstall can not (could not?) work for any other company, nor make any public statements. A garden leave, if you will — and pretty standard stuff in a tempestuous senior executive shake-up like this. The only question I’m curious about is how long the quiet / non-compete period is. I thought perhaps it was one year, which would mean he’s now free to talk and work elsewhere, which in turn was why I was at first excited to read The Information’s report yesterday. I thought perhaps they’d landed Forstall’s first post-Apple interview. (And I was jealous.)

For all we know, Forstall is free to talk and is simply choosing to remain quiet until he actually has something to announce. Shocking, right?

‘Decembond’ 

Sean Dove:

For the next month I thought it would be a fun little project to rewatch every James Bond film and create a little illustration for each one and maybe a little review.

Great work so far.

Matthew Bischoff on Software Criticism and the NYT’s ‘Today’s Paper’ 

Matthew Bischoff:

By my count there are at least 13 ways to read the Times: Paper, iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, Kindle, BlackBerry, Windows Phone, Web, Mobile Web, Replica, Times Skimmer, Time Wire, and now Today’s Paper. We don’t need more ways to read the same content that better imitate the past. We need the existing applications and websites to be much much better and focused on the future of news consumption.

The platform-specific apps aren’t a problem, but the fact that The Times has so many different ways to read the exact same content on the web is damning. Why not work on making the standard web view less cluttered and more elegant instead of creating an entirely separate view?

Square’s New Card Reader 

Kyle Vanhemert, writing for Wired:

Jesse Dorogusker is used to working tiny. Before becoming Square’s VP of Hardware, he spent eight years leading the accessories division at Apple, heading the development of the works-both-ways Lightning connector. With the new Reader, he had the chance to take a crack at a flagship product. Sitting in a booth in Square’s immaculate new offices, huddled over a piece of paper with a dozen half-assembled Readers taped to it like bugs pinned to a science museum display, he detailed the challenge for Wired. […]

The even greater undertaking with the new Reader, however, was the development of a custom chip, built from the ground up. “It’s not typical for a startup to do that,” Dorogusker says. “It’s a little bit of upfront cost to build this from scratch.” But the benefits were huge. After all, this tiny fleck is the brains of the operation. And by building their own chip, Square was able to improve several aspects of the product–its performance, its size, and its overall reliability–in one stroke.

Custom chips are the new competitive edge.

See also: retention of talent is perhaps the biggest problem Apple faces.

Layoffs at Stealth Payment Startup Clinkle 

Pretty sure the problem here starts with the name “Clinkle”.

‘Would You Pay a Quarter for That?’ 

This week’s episode of my podcast, The Talk Show, featuring special guest Glenn Fleishman. Topics include “Diane in 7A” and reality TV, the future of long-form journalism, Apple’s plan for Newsstand, and The Magazine’s Kickstarter campaign.

Brought to you by three great sponsors:

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Microsoft CEO Search: Stalemate 

Jean-Louis Gassée:

Consider it a litmus test: Any candidate willing to accept this road to failure is automatically disqualified as being too weak. A worthy contender makes it clear that he or she needs an unfettered mandate with no Office Of The Second Guessing in the back of the boardroom. Bill and Steve would have to go — but the Old Duo doesn’t want to leave.

Photos of the Microsoft and Apple Stores on a Sunday at Noon in Peak Holiday Shopping Season 

Ouch.

New Daring Fireball T-Shirts 

An athletic gray Daring Fireball t-shirt, hand-lettered design.

Artwork for both of the new shirt designs by the inimitable Jon Contino, who is both amazingly talented and a delight to work with.

We’ll take orders for a few days this week, start printing at the end of the week, and get them in the mail starting next week.

iOS 7 ‘UX Critique’ 

Only 11 entries total, but I agree with every single criticism on this anonymous Tumblr pointing out iOS 7 design flaws. The first entry says it well:

In this iOS 7 screen “Edit” is a button. But “New List” is a label, and tapping it does not cause a new list to be created.

When content and chrome are rendered the same the program becomes hard to use. What is a button? What is just a label and is therefore not meaningful to press?

Padded Spaces 

My thanks to Padded Spaces for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their clever device accessories.

Prop ’n Go is a comfortable stand for iPads and MacBooks with 14 easily adjustable angles. Wrapped in cozy memory foam, Prop ’n Go is perfect for keeping gadgets at just the right angle while lounging on the couch or laying in bed. Check out iBedside, too — an elegant bedside pouch for storing and charging your iPad and iPhone overnight.

Hint, hint: these things make for great gifts.

Disney Takes Over Rights to ‘Indiana Jones’ Franchise 

Justin Kroll, reporting for Variety:

Under the arrangement, Disney gains distribution and marketing rights to future films, in addition to retaining its current ownership rights which it secured when it acquired Lucasfilm.

Paramount will continue to be responsible for distribution of the first four films in the franchise and will receive a financial participation on any future films that are produced and released.

Though Disney now owns the rights they have not officially announced that a fifth films is in the works.

Do they keep going with Harrison Ford as an older Indy, or reboot with a young actor, James Bond-style? (Casting off the top of my head: Ryan Gosling. My pal Dave Wiskus says Bradley Cooper.)

Claim Chowder: Windows Phone Edition 

BGR, back in May 2011:

Pyramid’s Senior Analyst Stela Bokun explains that Windows Phone is poised to overtake Android’s massive market share much earlier than that — as soon as 2013, in fact. Beginning this year, Bokun sees Windows Phone popularity exploding even faster than Android adoption has since its introduction in 2008.

Anything could happen in the next three weeks, I suppose.

‘Everyone Laughed’ 

Vincent Washington, senior business development manager at RIM from 2001-2011, in Businessweek’s “The Rise and Fall of BlackBerry: An Oral History”:

One thing we missed out on was that Justin Bieber wanted to rep BlackBerry. He said, “Give me $200,000 and 20 devices, and I’m your brand ambassador,” basically. And we pitched that to marketing: Here’s a Canadian kid, he grew up here, all the teeny-boppers will love that. They basically threw us out of the room. They said, “This kid is a fad. He’s not going to last.” I said at the meeting: “This kid might outlive RIM.” Everyone laughed.

The Information 

Jessica Lessin (whose reporting I’ve linked to numerous times) left the Wall Street Journal earlier this year to start a new publication. It launched this week, with a staff of eight:

The Information, launching today, is our first step towards building a publication that operates differently. We’re a team of reporters and editors who have learned from the best in the business, and we want to challenge ourselves to write better articles that break new ground. Period.

To do that, we are focusing on writing for readers we think are underserved: professionals in technology and in industries being upended by it. These readers find plenty to read every day but they don’t consistently find news that is relevant to them and their business challenges. They don’t often find news that takes a stand supported by facts. We aim to do both.

So, instead of chasing the highest number of eyeballs, we will chase and deliver the most valuable news. We’ve set the bar high. To succeed, we need to write articles that deliver value worth paying for. That’s why we’re a subscription publication.

Subscriptions cost $399/year or $39/month. All articles are behind the paywall. That’s an intriguing business model. I think it will work. 2,500 subscribers gets them to $1M in annual revenue; 5,000 gets them to $2M. If you’re going to charge for subscriptions, charge a lot.

Update: A few readers have asked whether I subscribed. Good question. I did, for one month.

Twitter to Be Available on Mobile Phones Without Internet 

Sruthi Ramakrishnan, reporting for Reuters:

Twitter Inc. is tying up with a Singapore-based startup to make its 140-character messaging service available to users in emerging markets who have entry-level mobile phones which cannot access the Internet.

U2opia Mobile, which has a similar tie-up with Facebook Inc, will launch its Twitter service in the first quarter of next year, Chief Executive and Co-founder Sumesh Menon told Reuters.

Seems like forever ago, but Twitter was originally conceived as an SMS service.

‘Apple’s Star Chamber’ 

Scathing WSJ editorial (warning: WSJ editorial) regarding Judge Denise Cotes and Michael Bromwich, the monitor she appointed to oversee Apple’s compliance in the e-book price-fixing case.

Eric Schmidt Says Drones Should Be Banned From Private Use 

Self-driving cars, though, those are OK.

Brightest Flashlight 

Alice Truong, writing for Fast Company:

The Android app Brightest Flashlight has been installed between 50 million and 100 million times, averaging a 4.8 rating from more than 1 million reviews. Yet its customers might not be so happy to learn the app has been secretly recording and sharing their location and device ID information.

Shocker.

Eff Your Review 

And another one:

If I wanted to leave a review of our app I would have.

I’ve long considered a public campaign against this particular practice, wherein I’d encourage Daring Fireball readers, whenever they encounter these “Please rate this app” prompts, to go ahead and take the time to do it — but to rate the app with just one star and to leave a review along the lines of, “One star for annoying me with a prompt to review the app.”

(Via Jim Younkin.)

Apple’s App Store Usage Numbers Suggest iOS 7 Adoption at 74 Percent 

Remember those people who thought iOS 7 adoption would be slower than iOS 6’s last year because people would reject the new UI design? Didn’t happen.

Crapshaming 

Another Tumblr site dedicated to documenting questionable web design practices.

‘This Is What Happens When Analytics Make Decisions for You.’ 

Andy Beaumont, regarding his Tab Closed; Didn’t Read website:

What we’re witnessing here is the first wave of the second world pop-up war. Those of us who lived through the first one can only describe the horrors to our disbelieving children. This time though, the pop-ups are winning because we don’t yet have the tools to fight back. The web has seemingly evolved into something that actively antagonises people — why would anyone in their right mind hide the content that visitors are there to see?

In short, maybe they’re not in their right mind. This is what happens when analytics make decisions for you.

Whole piece is simply brilliant.

Tab Closed; Didn’t Read 

A weblog by Andy Beaumont devoted to one of the worst practices on the web today:

If you’re going to insist on obscuring your content with some stupid social shit, a promo for your shitty app or a full-page newsletter signup form, then I’m not going to read your content. Or click on your ads. Or help you generate revenue in any way.

Also, reminds me of this old tweet of mine from 2009.

Chasing A-Rod 

Well-reported, well-written piece by Steve Fishman for New York Magazine. No matter what you think of Alex Rodriguez, this is a fascinating story. I’m an avid Yankees fan, but I never understood exactly what was going on with this A-Rod/PED story until reading this. It’s a complicated saga full of secrets, and Fishman has done an extraordinary job untangling many of the threads.

Andy Rubin’s New Role at Google: Leading Robotics Team 

John Markoff piece in yesterday’s NYT:

If Amazon can imagine delivering books by drones, is it too much to think that Google might be planning to one day have one of the robots hop off an automated Google Car and race to your doorstep to deliver a package?

Google executives acknowledge that robotic vision is a “moonshot.” But it appears to be more realistic than Amazon’s proposed drone delivery service, which Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s chief executive, revealed in a television interview the evening before one of the biggest online shopping days of the year.

What justifies the phrase “appears to be more realistic than Amazon’s proposed drone delivery service”? Amazon claims their Prime Air service is ready to go, and only awaits regulatory approval. Maybe neither of these things will come to fruition any time soon — always beware of anything pre-announced — but I’ll put my money on Amazon’s drones making a real delivery before the above scenario of a Google robot “hopping off” a robot-driven car.

The New York Times: Today’s Paper 

A much nicer way to read the Times in a web browser. Utterly uncluttered.

My only complaint so far: when you page down (space bar, or Page Down key), the top line of text is positioned under the persistent nav bar at the top of the window.

The Latest in the Carl Icahn / Apple Romance 

Writing for Fortune, Adam Lashinsky says “Icahn blinked”:

So what is the new level? CNBC, citing a source, says Icahn wants $50 billion now, and that he’d like it by the end of the current fiscal year, which is 10 months away. Icahn didn’t tell Time that figure, and he hasn’t yet tweeted it. We’re relying on CNBC’s source for it.

But assuming the figure is correct, Icahn has gone from $150 billion right now to $50 billion when Apple can get around to it. For the most part, the commentary has been of the variety that Icahn remains on Apple’s case, riding it hard for the cash hoarder it is. Forbes.com wrote that Icahn “wasn’t joking” about the $150 billion buyback. Except it appears he was.

This, in response to Time Magazine’s cover profile of Icahn, which included this:

Apple confirms that Icahn has filed a precatory proposal and, in response to TIME’s query about it, Apple spokesman Steve Dowling said: “Earlier this year we more than doubled our capital return program to $100 billion, including the largest share repurchase authorization in history. As part of our regular review process, we are once again actively seeking our shareholders’ input on our program, and as we said in October, the management team and our board are engaged in an ongoing discussion about it which is thoughtful and deliberate. We will announce any changes to our current program in the first part of calendar 2014.”

How often does Apple respond to press inquiries? Rarely. Very rarely. I don’t think this standoff with Icahn is contentious (certainly not by Icahn standards), but the fact that Apple responded at all shows that they’re taking him seriously.

The Siege of Sinatra 

Great Frank Sinatra story I’d never heard before:

It was hardly the right moment for Sinatra to get up on stage at Melbourne’s Festival Hall and describe Australia’s female journalists as “buck-and-a-half hookers”.

A furious Australian press howled for blood. Sinatra refused to apologise and sparked an extraordinary chain of events that resulted in the cancellation of Sinatra’s second Melbourne concert, a black ban of his private jet by airport refuellers and a three-day siege at Sydney’s Boulevard Hotel. […]

Sinatra even suggested calling the admiral on board the American aircraft carrier in Tokyo Bay and asking him to sail into Sydney Harbour and send a helicopter to land on the roof of the Boulevard.

The New Adjustable Glif 

Clever new adjustable design. Mine just arrived, and it’s very nice. I’ve kept a Glif in my bag and on my desk ever since the first one shipped in 2010.

Goddamn adorable Adam Lisagor-narrated video, too.

Medium Hits 1.0 With New Full-Width Images 

I still don’t get what Medium is. These new features certainly look pretty, but they make me more confused than ever regarding what Medium, as a whole, is.

Touch ID Accuracy Over Time 

Dr. Drang:

I’ve been using Touch ID since I got an iPhone 5s in mid-October. Generally speaking, I like it, and I find it faster than the old swipe-and-passcode method, but I’ve felt compelled to reteach it my fingerprints twice already. I know this sounds impossible, but its recognition of my prints seems to decay with time.

I rescanned my fingers this weekend, and Touch ID has been amazingly fast and accurate since then. Just as it was when I first got the 5s, and just as it was a few weeks later when I rescanned my fingers for the first time. Just before each rescan, though, I was so frustrated with Touch ID I felt like throwing the phone across the room.

Drang is not alone — I’ve had a handful of readers ask me about this recently. Makes me think there’s something to it. Me, personally, though, I haven’t noticed any drop-off in accuracy.

‘Don’t Start a Company, Kid’ 

Aaron Hillegass:

Thus, as you look at your future, the question should not be, “How can I become a billionaire?” You should ask, “Where can I get Enough?”

Lot 379: Han Solo’s DL-44 Blaster From ‘The Empire Strikes Back’ 

And so completes my holiday wish list.

(Via Coudal.)

Airbnb’s New Office Has a Replica of the Dr. Strangelove War Room 

Gentlemen, you can’t fight in here!

Amazon Drones and Pre-Lobbying 

Kevin Roose, writing at NY Magazine’s Daily Intelligencer:

So far, people seem to think that Amazon’s incipient drone-delivery program, which was announced to great fanfare on 60 Minutes last night, is either a short-term publicity stunt designed to draw attention to Amazon on Cyber Monday, or a long-term publicity stunt meant to convince us of “Amazon’s indomitable spirit of innovation,” while not actually requiring Amazon to do anything yet. (Since, by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos’s own admission, there’s no way the FAA will allow unmanned aircraft to deliver Amazon packages before 2015.)

Instead, I think Bezos is up to something much more practical. By unveiling a huge drone program in progress, he’s sending a message to the FAA regulators and Senate committees who are currently considering how unmanned aircraft can be used commercially. And that message is: Don’t even think about getting in our way.

I think it’s all those things. Of course it’s a stunt. Of course it remains vaporware. But I really do think Bezos wants to build and deploy these things.

Apple and Court-Appointed E-Books Monitor Off to a Good Start 

Roger Parloff, reporting for Fortune:

Apple accused the monitor, Michael Bromwich, a partner at the law firm of Goodwin Procter, of charging excessive fees, behaving in an “unfettered and inappropriate manner,” relying on “secret communications with the court,” evincing “incredibly disruptive” mission creep, and acting in ways that threatened to turn him into an “quasi-inquisitional” offshoot of the federal judge who appointed him in violation of the constitutional principle of separation of powers. […]

The more eye-catching of Apple’s claims were its accusations that Bromwich was already insisting on meeting every member of Apple’s executive team and board, including former U.S. Vice President Al Gore, Jr., and the company’s legendary product designer, Sir Jonathan Ive — neither of whom had anything to do with antitrust compliance issues, according to Apple. In addition, the papers noted, Bromwich was demanding that Apple pay a 15% “administrative fee” to his consulting firm on top of his $1,100 hourly rate and the $1,025 hourly fee of antitrust lawyer Bernard Nigro, who was appointed to assist him because of Bromwich’s lack of antitrust experience.

But legal fees are clearly not the crux of this dispute. […] It was, rather, Apple’s last claim — accusing Bromwich of simultaneously playing a quasi-prosecutorial role and yet answering directly to the judge — which may be the most significant. It signals that Apple is taking aim not just at Bromwich, but also at U.S. District Judge Denise Cote herself.

Get your popcorn ready.

Oracle and Oregon’s Online Health Care Exchange 

Steve Henn, reporting for NPR:

Oregon has spent more than $40 million to build its own online health care exchange. It gave that money to a Silicon Valley titan, Oracle, but the result has been a disaster of missed deadlines, a nonworking website and a state forced to process thousands of insurance applications on paper. […]

Initially, Oracle promised it could get the job done. But by mid-May, the head of Cover Oregon, Rocky King, had written the company, pleading for “a simple calendar schedule … to ascertain whether or not we will be able to deliver” a working exchange by Oct. 1.

Five months later, when Oregon’s exchange was supposed to go live, the site still didn’t work. And as recently as two weeks ago, the state had not yet managed to sign up a single person for private health insurance under the federal Affordable Care Act.

Twitter’s Weeks-Long Ban on Sending URLs in Direct Messages 

Twitter support message:

We’re restructuring back-end elements of our direct message system. As a result, users may be unable to send some URLs in direct messages. We apologize for the inconvenience.

Matthew Panzarino reported on this back on October 17:

The inconsistencies that we noticed with regards to the sending and receiving of URLs is due to the fact that Verified users and advertisers are exempted from the ban on sending links in DMs. This would impede, of course, the efforts of marketers using Twitter’s legitimate advertising platform to send DMs, something that is part of the flow of a few of Twitter’s ad products. Alcohol advertisers, for instance, use the DMs to verify ages and more. There are also some whitelisted URLs, as noted by the ReadWrite report. Facebook, Instagram and Twitter links appear to work, and there are likely others on the list.

If the problem was widespread, maybe they had to do what they had to do. But it’s certainly a “throw the baby out with the bathwater” approach to spam. And since you can only receive DMs from people whom you follow, how widespread could this be? How many people follow hacked accounts?

Update: There is a mystery element, too. Some people (non-verified accounts) can still send URLs in DMs, but some (most?) cannot. No idea what’s going on.

Small Things Add Up 

Chris Poole (a.k.a. Moot):

So we recently switched our static domains over from 4chan.org to 4cdn.org, resulting in one large improvement, and one small one.

It pays to sweat the details.

Apple Buys Twitter Analytics Startup Topsy Labs for Reported $200 Million 

The WSJ:

It’s unclear how Apple plans to use Topsy.

That’s for sure. Strikes me as a very curious acquisition for Apple.

ThinkUp Insights Interview With Yours Truly 

First time I’ve been interviewed alongside Steve Martin. (I really liked Martin’s response to the question of what he wishes the people he follows did more or less of.)

Morgan Freeman Painting by Kyle Lambert 

Remember when “iPads are for consumption, not creation” was a thing?

New Kindle Fire Commercial Takes iPad Air Head-On 

Interesting spot. Does a good job playing up the Kindle Fire HDX’s strengths — its display quality, weight, and price. But in some ways an ad like this is good for Apple, because the whole spot is predicated on the notion that the iPad is the tablet to beat. Almost any time you mention the competition by name, you’re playing for second place. Pepsi will mock Coke, Burger King will mock McDonald’s, but never the other way around.

It’s also interesting that Amazon chose a British narrator for the iPad Air — seemingly mocking Jony Ive. But how many companies in the world have an employee famous enough to be mocked in a competitor’s advertisement?

60 Minutes Profiles Jeff Bezos and Amazon 

Charlie Rose:

Tonight, for the first time, you will be introduced to perhaps Amazon’s boldest venture ever.

Over the last month, 60 Minutes was granted unprecedented access inside Amazon’s operations. If you have ever wondered what happens after you’ve clicked and placed an order on Amazon, take a look. If there is such a thing as Santa’s workshop, this would be it.

A 1.2 million square foot distribution center, the size of more than 20 football fields, gearing up for the holiday shopping season.

Amazon Prime Air 

Amazon:

The goal of this new delivery system is to get packages into customers’ hands in 30 minutes or less using unmanned aerial vehicles.

Putting Prime Air into commercial use will take some number of years as we advance the technology and wait for the necessary FAA rules and regulations.

Simply amazing; Amazon at its best.

See also: Hiten Shah, on why Amazon pre-announced this.

OmniGraffle 6 

My thanks to The Omni Group for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote OmniGraffle 6. OmniGraffle is a remarkable diagramming and design app, with a set of features that suit everyone from beginners to professionals. The interface improvements in the brand new version 6 update make it easier than ever to mock up a website or app UI, put together an org chart, or do space planning for a new office or home.

OmniGraffle 6 is a great update packed with a lot of new features and improvements. You can download a free trial of OmniGraffle 6 at omnigroup.com.

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