Apple Is Currently Sold Out of AirPods Until January 

This is a shame, because they really are fantastic products, and they’re such an obvious gift idea.

Microsoft App Center 

My thanks to Microsoft for sponsoring last week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new App Center — a continuous integration, delivery, and feedback service for iOS and MacOS developers. App Center lets you automate your development release cycle in minutes by connecting to your GitHub or Bitbucket repository. After pushing new code, you can automatically build your app on App Center’s Mac cloud machines, run automated UI tests on thousands of real iOS devices in their hosted device lab, distribute your builds to testers or to the App Store, and monitor your app with advanced crash reporting and analytics.

App Center is the next generation of HockeyApp and Xamarin Test Cloud. The basic HockeyApp and Xamarin Test Cloud features like beta distribution, crash reporting, and UI testing got a revamped user interface, and Microsoft added new features for build, analytics, and push notifications.

You can use these features together, or integrate just the features of App Center you need using open-sourced SDKs and APIs. Spend less time on drudgery, and more time on your app. Sign up now.

Trump Administration Gives CDC a List of Forbidden Words 

Lena H. Sun and Juliet Eilperin, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Trump administration is prohibiting officials at the nation’s top public health agency from using a list of seven words or phrases — including “fetus” and “transgender” — in any official documents being prepared for next year’s budget.

Policy analysts at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta were told of the list of forbidden words at a meeting Thursday with senior CDC officials who oversee the budget, according to an analyst who took part in the 90-minute briefing. The forbidden words are “vulnerable,” “entitlement,” “diversity,” “transgender,” “fetus,” “evidence-based” and “science-based.”

In some instances, the analysts were given alternative phrases. Instead of “science-based” or “evidence-based,” the suggested phrase is “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes,” the person said. In other cases, no replacement words were immediately offered.

That evidence and science are dirty words to these shitheads tells you everything you need to know about them. This is pre-Enlightenment bullshit. 300 years later and it’s still a fight to argue that reason, science, and tolerance should guide us. I said it a year ago and it stands today: Trump voters are ignoramuses, bigots, and/or fools.

From the ‘Let’s Figure Out a Way to Make This Ostensibly About Apple’ Department 

Headline for a Bloomberg report by Mark Gurman, Yuan Gao, Scott Moritz, and Selina Wang, “China’s Top Phone Makers Poised to Challenge Apple on Home Turf”:

China’s top smartphone makers are ready to challenge Apple Inc. on its home turf after trouncing the iPhone maker in their own market.

Huawei Technologies Co. and Xiaomi Corp. are in talks with U.S. wireless operators about selling flagship smartphones to American consumers as soon as next year, according to people familiar with the matter. The handset makers are negotiating with carriers including AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., said the people, asking not to be identified because the matter is private. Talks are still fluid and it’s possible no agreements will materialize, they said.

Apple only competes in the high end of the market in the U.S. This entire article compares these companies only by “market share”, which is never a good way to evaluate Apple’s success. The idea that phones sold in the U.S. from Huawei and Xiaomi are going to be targeted at Apple is highly questionable.

It seems more likely that if Huawei and/or Xiaomi were to achieve any sort of success here in the U.S., it would come at the expense of Samsung, which has phones that run the gamut from high-end to low-end. And though Apple’s sales in China have indeed waned in the last few years, the iPhone X seems poised to turn that around — not by market share, of course, but by capturing a larger share of the premium market. The company that is truly getting “trounced” — to use Bloomberg’s terms — in China is Samsung, which is a non-player in China.

Apple has a lot at stake in the U.S., where it is the leading smartphone maker. In years past, it’s been insulated from competition by strong support from carriers, which used to subsidize its expensive iPhones and lowered the upfront price for customers. These subsidies or discounts have gone away, as carriers moved to phone financing that spreads costs over two years.

The idea that Apple was “insulated from competition” in the U.S. has got to be a joke. It’s not like carrier subsidies only applied to iPhones. They applied to all phones, from all handset makers. Verizon and AT&T spent untold millions trying to prop up BlackBerry and Motorola as alternatives to the iPhone.

Yours Truly on Vector With Daniel Jalkut and Rene Ritchie 

Vector episode 37:

Rene speaks with MarsEdit developer, Daniel Jalkut, and John Gruber of Daring Fireball about the history and release of MarsEdit 4, blogging tools, the Mac App Store, and more.

Much fun talking about one of my most-used and most-loved apps.

Last Chance for This Round of DF T-Shirts 

Thumbnail of an Daring Fireball 'helmet' shirt.

Just a few hours left before I shut down the ordering page so we can start printing. We’ll start shipping them out on Monday.


First Impressions of the New iMac Pro

Apple held a small briefing yesterday in New York City to officially unveil the new iMac Pros, which went on sale today.

It is decidedly more expensive than its non-pro iMac siblings — the iMac Pro starts at $4999, but most configurations will cost significantly more. But make no mistake — if you buy one of these, you’re getting true professional performance for your money. You’re not just getting (admittedly gorgeous) space gray anodized aluminum.

The entire lineup of iMac Pros is based on Intel’s new Xeon W CPUs, and they are exclusively SSD-based. There are no configurations with spinning hard drives or Fusion drives — according to Apple, the system architecture is designed only to work with SSDs for internal storage. These components are all high-end: the RAM is 2666 MHz DDR 4 ECC; the SSD storage has write speeds of 3.3 GB/sec and read speeds of 2.8 GB/sec. They have more Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports than the regular iMacs (including support for attaching up to two 5K external displays), 10-gigabit Ethernet (regular iMacs have plain old gigabit Ethernet), and the iMac Pro even has better-sounding speakers.

Here’s how quickly the price can escalate though: the base model $4999 iMac Pro has an 8-core CPU, 32 GB of RAM, a 1 TB SSD, a Radeon Pro Vega 56 graphics card, and the exclusive space gray Magic Mouse. If you upgrade to 64 GB of RAM, 2 TB SSD, the Vega 64 graphics card, and the space gray Magic Trackpad (instead of, not in addition to, the Magic Mouse), the price goes to $7,249. A 10-core iMac Pro with maxed out RAM (128 GB) and SSD storage (4 TB) and the Vega 64 graphics card is $11,599.

Apple is not fucking around with these machines, and neither are the people who will be buying them.

Apple invited a nice array of third-party developers to demo their software on the iMac Pro. My notes:

  • Adobe Dimension CC: Dimension is a relatively new app from Adobe. It lets designers create photo-realistic 3D renderings from 2D designs — for example, consumer packaging labels. Dimension’s rendering performance scales linearly with the number of CPU cores, which means it renders 2-5 times faster on iMac Pro compared to a regular iMac or MacBook Pro.

  • Gravity Sketch: VR-based 3D sketching. Very cool. I got to try it out, and in a nut, it’s almost more like sculpting than drawing. The iMac Pro is the only Mac capable of supporting Gravity Sketch.

  • Twinmotion: A real-time 3D visualization app. Architects can use Twinmotion to create 3D models from CAD drawings, and turn them into something akin to a 3D video game where you can, effectively, walk around and see what it would look like to be there. It includes features like setting the time of day, and even simulating various weather conditions and seasons of the year, all of which affect the lighting. And it’s all rendered in real time.

  • Electronauts: A VR music production app from a company called Survios, heretofore known for creating VR games. Electronauts was only officially announced today. It’s primarily a DJ app — creating, recording, and performing live electronic music, but it’s mixed with a game-like atmosphere akin to something like Guitar Hero. The interface is entirely VR-based — there is no non-VR UI, and the iMac Pro (a) runs Electronauts wonderfully — perfectly smooth at a high frame rate, and (b) is the only Mac capable of running it at all.

  • Logic Pro X and Final Cut Pro X: Logic now allows massively multi-tracked projects to play in real-time. On any other Mac, sufficently complex projects would require either pre-rendering or real-time playback with compressed fidelity. Today’s new release of Final Cut Pro X adds editing features for VR experiences. Again, only on iMac Pro.

The bottom line is that for some tasks, the iMac Pros now handle full-fidelity playback in real-time that on any other Mac — MacBook Pro or Mac Pro — would require rendering or lower-fidelity playback. For other tasks, notably VR, the iMac Pro supports software that simply cannot run on any other Mac today.1

Apple has been effectively out of the professional desktop hardware game for a few years. The “trash can” Mac Pro design of 2013 languished, unchanged technically, in Apple’s product line for reasons unexplained until last April, when Apple took the unprecedented step of holding a small media summit to announce (a) that they were working on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, and (b) had a pro-targeted iMac in the works that would ship by the end of 2017.

The new iMac Pros that started shipping today deliver on half of that promise. These are serious, undeniably professional machines. The Mac has gone from being a non-player in the burgeoning world of VR to a credible contender in one fell swoop. Two questions remain in my mind:

First, when is the “completely rethought” Mac Pro going to ship, and what is it going to offer above and beyond the iMac Pro besides separating the computer hardware from the display? Apple had nothing to say regarding the new Mac Pro other than that it is still forthcoming. If I needed the performance of modern professional desktop hardware, I would order an iMac Pro today. I wouldn’t wait.

Second, and to me far more importantly: how committed is Apple to keeping the iMac Pro up to date? It’s an impressive piece of engineering — do not let the appearance fool you into thinking that the iMac Pro is just an iMac with a dark finish and speed-bumped processors. Internally, it’s a completely different architecture. But the 2013 Mac Pro was an impressive piece of engineering and design that Apple put a lot of effort into, too.

My hope is that the iMac Pro has been designed with the future in mind. VR is moving fast. Even on today’s leading hardware, the best VR experience is still insufficient — resolution is low (individual pixels are visible, clearly) and latency is still a huge problem. The end game for VR is an experience equivalent to our real-world vision. Every year’s worth of CPU and GPU improvements will be needed to get from here to there, so the iMac Pro will need to be updated on a roughly annual basis to remain relevant.


Some excellent reports from other writers who attended yesterday’s briefing:


  1. All of the VR demos at Apple’s briefing yesterday used the HTC Vive VR headset and controllers. None of them used the Oculus Rift. ↩︎


Daring Fireball 24-Hour T-Shirt Spectacular 

Thumbnail of an asphalt gray long sleeve Daring Fireball shirt.

This week only: classic logo DF t-shirts — including, for the first time ever, long sleeve shirts. Get them while the getting is good. Seriously: this week only.

Phil Schiller Interview With Dan Grabham 

Phil Schiller on the development of the iPhone X, in a wide-ranging interview with Dan Grabham for T3:

At the time, at the beginning, it seemed almost impossible. Not just almost. It seemed impossible. And to pull off what feels impossible and make it possible — and not only that, but just something we love using — is just a great achievement.

“Clearly there was a point in the process where we had to commit to the fact that it would be a full top-to-bottom screen on the front with no home button, which means you’re counting on Face ID working as we’d hope, and being as good.

That’s an exciting moment, when you have to sort of… the old saying: ‘Burn the boats. Leave the past behind, and commit.’ Knowing that the team was willing to make that gamble was a key point early enough in the process.

Cabel Sasser’s First Look at the iMac Pro 

Speaking of Twitter threads, here’s a short one from Cabel Sasser, after a few days with the iMac Pro:

Games. Fired up the ol’ Firewatch, to test the iMac Pro (Radeon Pro Vega 64) vs. my current Retina 5K iMac (Radeon R9 M295X). At 2560 × 1440, the iMac topped out at 25 FPS, the iMac Pro at 62 FPS (!).

You have to love the black Lightning cable.

How to Design for iPhone X (Without an iPhone X) 

Sebastiaan de With on how he (and developer partner Ben Sandofsky) designed the iPhone X version of Halide before they had an iPhone X. Halide is truly one of the very nicest apps I’ve ever seen. And I just love de With’s “world map of the iPhone X for your fingers” — and it’s fascinating to see how this “map” affected the layout of controls when Halide is running on the iPhone X.

Twitter Adds Support for Threads 

Sasank Reddy, product manager at Twitter:

Now, hundreds of thousands of threads are Tweeted every day! But this method of Tweeting, while effective and popular, can be tricky for some to create and it’s often tough to read or discover all the Tweets in a thread. That’s why we’re thrilled to share that we’re making it simpler to thread Tweets together, and to find threads, so it’s easier to express yourself on Twitter and stay informed.

We’ve made it easy to create a thread by adding a plus button in the composer, so you can connect your thoughts and publish your threaded Tweets all at the same time. You can continue adding more Tweets to your published thread at any time with the new “Add another Tweet” button. Additionally, it’s now simpler to spot a thread — we’ve added an obvious “Show this thread” label.

This is a good idea. People are creating threads without official support, so true support can only make it better. This sounds like it’ll be easier to create threads, and — importantly — it will be easier to ignore threads you’re not interested in.

I think this is a much better idea than increasing the character limit per tweet to 280, but one month into 280 Twitter, I have to say I don’t mind it much.

Marques Brownlee on the iMac Pro 

Marques Brownlee’s “one week with the iMac Pro” video. Really does seem like everything we were hoping for, including the fact that it runs quietly.

The most interesting thing I learned from this is that the iMac Pro is not upgradeable. There’s no hatch on the back for upgrading the RAM. Whatever you order from the factory is what you get. I’m OK with that — I think that fits with the iMac form factor — but it’s going to rankle those who think “Pro” should be synonymous with “upgradeable”.

Craig Hunter on the iMac Pro 

Craig Hunter:

When you get into an intense development or debug cycle that involves a lot of compiles, saving fractions of seconds here and there adds up and can give you extra hours in a day. This is one area where the 10-core iMac Pro shines when combined with Xcode’s ability to automatically take advantage of multiple cores to compile multiple source files simultaneously.

Most of my apps have around 20,000-30,000 lines of code spread out over 80-120 source files (mostly Obj-C and C with a teeny amount of Swift mixed in). There are so many variables that go into compile performance that it’s hard to come up with a benchmark that is universally relevant, so I’ll simply note that I saw reductions in compile time of between 30-60% while working on apps when I compared the iMac Pro to my 2016 MacBook Pro and 2013 iMac. If you’re developing for iOS you’ll still be subject to the bottleneck of installing and launching an app on the simulator or a device, but when developing for the Mac this makes a pretty noticeable improvement in repetitive code-compile-test cycles.

Hunter also has some impressive benchmarks from his work in aerospace engineering.

Vincent Laforet on the iMac Pro 

Photographer/filmmaker Vincent Laforet, after a week with the upcoming iMac Pro:

Last week I received a pelican case from Apple with a very special Mac inside of it… It was an iMac Pro configured as a 10 Core 3GHZ Intel Xeon W, 2TB SSD, 128 GB RAM, Vega 64 Radeon.

After unpacking the (to be expected) beautiful Space Grey hardware, keyboard, mouse and trackpad, it was time to get down to the brass tacks, I had ONE question that I needed to answer: how fast is this thing, and how much time will it save me in my everyday imaging tasks?

I found a very consistent set of results: a 2X to 3X boost in speed (relative to my current iMac and MacBook Pro 15”) a noticeable leap from most generational jumps that are generally ten times smaller.

Whether you’re editing 8K RED video, H.264 4K Drone footage, 6K 3D VR content or 50 Megapixel RAW stills — you can expect a 200-300% increase in performance in almost every industry leading software with the iMac Pro.

I’ve seldom seen a jump this dramatic before on any new generation of Macs — 20%-30% speed increases are the norm … NOT 200%-300% increases. That’s SIGNIFICANT.

Seems particularly impressive for imaging pros.

Apple Opens App Pre-Orders to All Developers 

John Vorhees, writing for MacStories:

You may recall that when Super Mario Run was announced in 2016, customers could request notification of its release, which was a first at the time on the App Store. Now, all developers can do something similar by offering their apps for pre-order.

Nice touch: it’s available for all platforms, not just iOS.

Former Facebook Executive Says Social Media Is Ripping Apart Society 

James Vincent, writing for The Verge:

Another former Facebook executive has spoken out about the harm the social network is doing to civil society around the world. Chamath Palihapitiya, who joined Facebook in 2007 and became its vice president for user growth, said he feels “tremendous guilt” about the company he helped make. “I think we have created tools that are ripping apart the social fabric of how society works,” he told an audience at Stanford Graduate School of Business, before recommending people take a “hard break” from social media. […]

He went on to describe an incident in India where hoax messages about kidnappings shared on WhatsApp led to the lynching of seven innocent people. “That’s what we’re dealing with,” said Palihapitiya. “And imagine taking that to the extreme, where bad actors can now manipulate large swathes of people to do anything you want. It’s just a really, really bad state of affairs.” He says he tries to use Facebook as little as possible, and that his children “aren’t allowed to use that shit.” He later adds, though, that he believes the company “overwhelmingly does good in the world.”

These former Facebook executives coming out against Facebook remind me of former NFL players who won’t allow their own kids to play football.

Google Home Max Smart Speaker Now Shipping 

Chris Chan and James Howarth, product managers for Google Home Max:

Google Home Max sounds pretty amazing right out of the box because it’s our first speaker with Smart Sound. Powered by Google’s artificial intelligence (AI), Smart Sound means Max can automatically adapt itself based on where it’s placed in the room. There’s no extra setup or testing required. Even if you move Max from one spot to another, it’ll continuously tune itself to the room, so your music will sound one step closer to the studio.

$399. Pretty much the same basic idea as Apple’s HomePod, but Google Home Max is shipping.

(Also, check out the domain name Google is using for their company blog now. Apple has a similar top-level domain, but I don’t think they’re using it yet.)

Doxie: Scan Anywhere 

My thanks to Doxie for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Doxie’s mobile scanners produce reliable and high-quality scans of all your paper. Whether you’re trying to go (or stay) paperless, Doxie connects your physical paper to your digital world.

Going paperless is a lot easier than you might think. With Doxie’s included memory and rechargeable battery, Doxie lets you scan anywhere — no computer required — and then save, share, and send your paper to the cloud with Doxie’s intuitive Mac and iOS apps. It’s great hardware and great software, and it doesn’t tie you in to any sort of proprietary platform. You can do whatever you want with your scans.

This week only, Doxie is giving all Daring Fireball readers a super secret 30% discount off any new Doxie on Amazon. Enter promo code “FIREBALL” at checkout.

Jony Ive Returns to Day-to-Day Management of Design Team 

Mark Gurman and Alex Webb, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s Jony Ive, a key executive credited with the look of many of the company’s most popular products, has re-taken direct management of product design teams.

Ive, 50, was named Apple’s chief design officer in 2015 and subsequently handed off some day-to-day management responsibility while the iPhone maker was building its new Apple Park headquarters in Cupertino, California. “With the completion of Apple Park, Apple’s design leaders and teams are again reporting directly to Jony Ive, who remains focused purely on design,” Amy Bessette, a company spokeswoman, said Friday in a statement.

I can’t decide if this is actually news. It was public knowledge that Ive was spending a lot (most?) of his time on Apple Park and other architectural projects (retail), but that obviously wasn’t going to last forever. I suppose it’s news, though, insofar as there was some speculation that he had one foot out the door. This should put an end to that.

TechCrunch: Apple Is Acquiring Music Recognition App Shazam 

Ingrid Lunden, reporting for TechCrunch:

As Spotify continues to inch towards a public listing, Apple is making a move of its own to step up its game in music services. Sources tell us that the company is close to acquiring Shazam, the popular app that lets people identify any song, TV show, film or advert in seconds, by listening to an audio clip or (in the case of, say, an ad) a visual fragment, and then takes you to content relevant to that search.

We have heard that the deal is being signed this week, and will be announced on Monday, although that could always change.

One source describes the deal as in the nine figures; another puts it at around £300 million ($401 million). We are still asking around. Notably, though, both of the numbers we’ve heard are lower than the $1.02 billion (according to PitchBook) post-money valuation the company had in its last funding round, in 2015.

I wonder if they’ll keep it as a standalone app (and will they keep the Android version?), or if they’ll just roll it into Siri (which, I know, has had pretty good integration with Shazam since iOS 8).

Trump Administration Scraps Obama-Era Proposal Requiring Airlines to Disclose Bag Fees 

Melanie Zanona, reporting for The Hill:

The Trump administration has scrapped an Obama-era proposal requiring airlines and ticket agencies to disclose baggage fees as soon as passengers start the process of buying a ticket.

The Department of Transportation (DOT) posted a notice on the Federal Register this week that it is withdrawing the proposed rule, along with another plan to force air carriers to disclose how much revenue they make from charging other ancillary fees.

What is wrong with these people? Who, other than airline beancounters, thinks scrapping this regulation is a good idea?

Zero-Day iOS HomeKit Vulnerability Allowed Remote Access to Smart Accessories Including Locks 

Zac Hall, reporting for 9to5Mac:

A HomeKit vulnerability in the current version of iOS 11.2 has been demonstrated to 9to5Mac that allows unauthorized control of accessories including smart locks and garage door openers. Our understanding is Apple has rolled out a server-side fix that now prevent unauthorized access from occurring while limiting some functionality, and an update to iOS 11.2 coming next week will restore that full functionality.

The vulnerability, which we won’t describe in detail and was difficult to reproduce, allowed unauthorized control of HomeKit-connected accessories including smart lights, thermostats, and plugs.

The most serious ramification of this vulnerability prior to the fix is unauthorized remote control of smart locks and connected garage door openers, the former of which was demonstrated to 9to5Mac.

Fast response from Apple, but this kind of story spooks me from installing smart locks. I realize that’s not entirely rational — good old fashioned dumb locks are susceptible to lock-picking — but something about hooking up the locks to my house to the internet just doesn’t feel right.

iPhone Models Dominate Flickr’s List of Most Popular Cameras in 2017 

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

This year, iPhone has scored the majority (54%) of usage on Flickr’s site, up from 47 percent of the top 100 in 2016, and 42 percent the year prior. The iPhone also passed Nikon to score the spot as the second-most popular camera back in 2014.

Nikon was the third most popular brand with 18 percent in 2017, and Canon was number two, responsible for 23 percent of the top 100 devices.

The iPhone is so popular as a camera that its share on Flickr now exceeds all Canon and Nikon cameras combined.

Amazon Prime Video Arrives on Apple TV 

Apple Newsroom:

Starting today, customers around the world can access the Amazon Prime Video app on Apple TV to stream award-winning and critically acclaimed titles including Prime Original Series and Movies. Also starting this week, the Apple TV app — a unified place for iPhone, iPad and Apple TV users to discover and start watching the best shows and movies — supports live sports, giving fans in the US a simple and seamless way to keep track of their favorite teams and games in real time. Participating sports apps in the Apple TV app include ESPN and the NBA, developed in partnership between the NBA and Turner Sports, with more to be added soon. Starting tomorrow, Prime members in the US can enjoy Thursday Night Football on the Apple TV app for iPhone, iPad and Apple TV.

I’ve heard there is indeed a good story behind this delay. I don’t know the story, or even what the story is about (although my guess would be revenue-sharing politics, not software) — I’ve just heard that there’s a good story.

Update: Now that I’ve had a chance to install and try the app on my Apple TV 4K, I’m seriously wondering if the holdup was technical, not political. (Or technical in addition to political.) Justin Williams:

I’m half convinced that Apple granted Amazon an entitlement to access a tvOS web view to get Prime Video on the Apple TV. It looks and behaves nearly identical to the HTML5 / Smart TV app that is deployed everywhere.

I have zero evidence of this. Just my dumb conspiracy theory.

I don’t know if it’s a webview, but if it is, that would have required a special entitlement from Apple because the tvOS SDK does not have a webview. Netflix, HBO, and Hulu all have Apple TV UIs that seem a bit alien, eschewing tvOS standard UI elements for custom branded UI elements. But this Prime Video app takes it to a new level. The UI doesn’t even play sound as you move the selection around — I’ve never seen that in an Apple TV app. The Prime Video app for Apple TV doesn’t just look alien, it feels and sounds alien too. I think it’s a web app. And if it’s not, Amazon’s engineers went to extraordinary lengths to make UIKit on tvOS look and feel like a web app.

Update 2: Steven Troughton-Smith poked around the IPA:

TL;DR it’s no wonder Amazon took so long in porting their app to tvOS; it’s a giant, [presumably] in-house web-based multi-headed hydra designed for a hundred different devices and consoles that probably needed a new UI glue layer for tvOS (but probably doesn’t use webviews).

I find it hard to believe that getting this custom cross-platform monstrosity running atop tvOS was less work (and would be easier to maintain) than just writing a goddamn native tvOS app. I can see why Amazon doesn’t want to create a new app from scratch for every single “smart TV” platform, but Apple TV is a big market.

Prime Video is, without question, the worst Apple TV app I have on my Apple TV (taking the crown from Hulu).

Google’s AlphaZero Destroys Previously Top-Ranked Chess Computer in 100-Game Match 

Mike Klein, reporting for Chess.com:

A little more than a year after AlphaGo sensationally won against the top Go player, the artificial-intelligence program AlphaZero has obliterated the highest-rated chess engine.

Stockfish, which for most top players is their go-to preparation tool, and which won the 2016 TCEC Championship and the 2017 Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, didn’t stand a chance. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.

Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.

That’s right — the programmers of AlphaZero, housed within the DeepMind division of Google, had it use a type of “machine learning,” specifically reinforcement learning. Put more plainly, AlphaZero was not “taught” the game in the traditional sense. That means no opening book, no endgame tables, and apparently no complicated algorithms dissecting minute differences between center pawns and side pawns.

Forecast: Podcast MP3 Chapter Encoder 

Marco Arment has released a public beta of Forecast, a Mac app for podcast producers. Among a slew of other great features, Forecast is hands-down the best MP3 chapter editor I’ve seen. If you’ve noticed the chapter support in The Talk Show that started earlier this year, that’s thanks to Forecast. Forecast is free of charge, too.

See also: Jason Snell’s review of Forecast at Six Colors:

There’s also a perceptual trick that Forecast uses to make encoding seem quick: When you add a file to be encoded, encoding begins immediately in the background. By the time you edit your file’s metadata, the encode may have already completed in the background. The first time I used Forecast, I thought something had gone wrong — because when I typed Command-S to save the file, it just saved. There was no wait. The file had already encoded — it was waiting for me, the slow human, to finish typing in episode titles and show descriptions.

Jason Snell on iOS Laptops 

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

Which is why, when someone tells me that it’s stupid for there to be an iOS laptop because it wouldn’t run Xcode and couldn’t be used by professional developers or pro video editors or power users who have spent a decade building up productivity-boosting workflows based on macOS, I don’t have much of a response for them. The iBook wouldn’t be for those people. It would be for people who don’t need all of the features and flexibility that macOS brings. It would be one in an array of products Apple makes — iPhones, iPads, desktop Macs, laptop Macs — that appeal to different users with different needs.

There are simply some use cases where a laptop is the best form factor. An iPad with a keyboard cover is laptop-ish, but not a laptop. If you prefer to use iOS in a scenario that calls for a laptop, you’re stuck between making a go of it with an iPad with a keyboard, or using a proper laptop and another OS.

You could throw this right back at me — and my firmly held belief that MacOS should not support touchscreens — and point out that there are other scenarios where a tablet is the best form factor, and if you prefer MacOS, there therefore ought to be a Mac tablet. I don’t think that argument holds, though. The difference is that I think iOS could work in a laptop form factor (especially if Apple added support for a trackpad, in ways like Snell suggests, but even if they don’t), whereas the Mac interface as it stands would not work well with touch, and changing the Mac interface to work well with touch would (I say) ruin it for use with a mouse pointer.

HP and Asus Announce First Windows 10 ARM PCs, Due in Spring 2018 

Peter Bright, writing for Ars Technica:

This ability to upgrade is particularly important because the new Always Connected PCs are different from Microsoft’s previous Windows-on-ARM attempt, Windows RT. Windows RT was a version of Windows 8 for ARM processors, and it too could only run applications from what was then called the Windows Store. But Windows RT had two constraints not found on these new systems: there was no facility to unlock it, and run non-Store apps, and there was no facility to run existing x86 programs. On Windows RT, not only did software have to come from the Store, it also had to be compiled specifically for ARM processors.

That’s not so with Always Connected PCs. They contain an x86 emulator that will enable most 32-bit x86 applications to run unmodified. This includes x86 applications in the Store and, when upgraded to the full Windows 10 Pro, arbitrary desktop applications. Full details of the x86 emulator haven’t been disclosed yet, with the performance in particular currently unknown, but we do know some broad elements of its design.

The emulator runs in a just-in-time basis, converting blocks of x86 code to equivalent blocks of ARM code. This conversion is cached both in memory (so each given part of a program only has to be translated once per run) and on disk (so subsequent uses of the program should be faster, as they can skip the translation). Moreover, system libraries — the various DLLs that applications load to make use of operating system features — are all native ARM code, including the libraries loaded by x86 programs. Calling them “Compiled Hybrid Portable Executables” (or “chippie” for short), these libraries are ARM native code, compiled in such a way as to let them respond to x86 function calls.

A few years ago I would have wagered a small sum on Apple shipping ARM-based Macs before ARM-based Windows PCs arrived. (It could still happen, I suppose, given that these PCs aren’t set to arrive until spring.) What’s interesting to me is that these ARM CPUs are fast enough to emulate x86 software. If that’s true for a Snapdragon CPU, then Apple’s even-faster ARM chips are certainly more than capable of doing the same.

Oath and Mozilla Are in a Legal Battle Over a Yahoo Search Deal 

Kara Swisher:

As I reported at the time, under terms of a contract, whoever acquired Yahoo was required to pay Mozilla annual payments of $375 million through 2019, even if it does not think the buyer was one it wanted to work with and walked away. It was Mayer who struck the deal in late 2014 to become the default search engine on the well-known Firefox browser in the U.S.

Mozilla switched to Yahoo from Google after Mayer offered a much more lucrative deal that included an unprecedented term to protect Mozilla in a change-of-control scenario. It was a scenario that Mayer never thought would happen, which is why she apparently pushed through the problematic deal point.

According to the change-of-control term, 9.1 in the agreement, Mozilla had the right to leave the partnership if — under its sole discretion and in a certain time period — it did not deem the new partner acceptable. And if it did that, even if it struck another search deal, Yahoo was still obligated to pay out annual revenue guarantees of $375 million.

That was… not a good deal for Yahoo.

Painting With Microsoft Excel 

Great find from Tina Roth Eisenberg:

For over 15 years, Japanese artist Tatsuo Horiuchi has rendered the subtle details of mountains, cherry blossoms, and dense forests with the most unlikely tool: Microsoft Excel.

Modern-Day Payola 

Jon Christian, reporting for The Outline:

People involved with the payoffs are extremely reluctant to discuss them, but four contributing writers to prominent publications including Mashable, Inc, Business Insider, and Entrepreneur told me they have personally accepted payments in exchange for weaving promotional references to brands into their work on those sites. Two of the writers acknowledged they have taken part in the scheme for years, on behalf of many brands. Mario Ruiz, a spokesperson for Business Insider, said in an email that “Business Insider has a strict policy that prohibits any of our writers, whether full-time staffers or contributors, from accepting payment of any kind in exchange for coverage.”

One of them, a contributor to Fast Company and other outlets who asked not to be identified by name, described how he had inserted references to a well-known startup that offers email marketing software into multiple online articles, in Fast Company and elsewhere, on behalf of a marketing agency he declined to name. To make the references seem natural, he said, he often links to case studies and how-to guides published by the startup on its own site. Other times, he’ll just praise a certain aspect of the company’s business to support a point in an otherwise unrelated story. […]

The Fast Company writer also defended the practice by arguing that it’s enabled by editors who are hungry for cheap or unpaid blog content. Many high-volume sites, including the Huffington Post, Entrepreneur, and Forbes, maintain networks of unpaid contributors who publish large amounts of material.

That’s a pathetic defense. Everyone is guilty in this racket — the “sponsors” who pay for this bullshit, the writers who accept the payola, and publications that blindly run these stories. There’s a complete and shameless lack of integrity from all three sides.

Google to Pull YouTube From Fire TV Over Spat With Amazon 

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Variety:

In an unusually frank statement, a Google spokesperson squarely blamed Amazon’s unwillingness to strike a business deal with Google for the step:

​“We’ve been trying to reach agreement with Amazon to give consumers access to each other’s products and services. But Amazon doesn’t carry Google products like Chromecast and Google Home, doesn’t make Prime Video available for Google Cast users, and last month stopped selling some of Nest’s latest products. Given this lack of reciprocity, we are no longer supporting YouTube on Echo Show and FireTV. We hope we can reach an agreement to resolve these issues soon.”

Amazon shot back Tuesday afternoon, sending Variety the following statement:

“Echo Show and Fire TV now display a standard web view of YouTube.com and point customers directly to YouTube’s existing website. Google is setting a disappointing precedent by selectively blocking customer access to an open website. We hope to resolve this with Google as soon as possible.”

So Amazon Prime is (supposedly) coming to Apple TV any day now, just as Amazon’s spat with Google is escalating. Google seems to be in a strong position here — it seems hard to me to sell a TV box that doesn’t support YouTube. Is a web view of youtube.com really a good experience on a TV? But this also goes to show how powerful Amazon’s retail store is — Google obviously cares that Amazon isn’t selling these Google hardware products.

iOS 11 Adoption Now at 59 Percent 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

iOS 11 is now installed on 59 percent of iOS devices, according to new statistics Apple shared this week on its App Store support page for developers. That’s up from 52 percent on November 6, indicating iOS 11 adoption has grown just 7 percentage points over the course of the last month.

iOS 11 adoption has been slower than iOS 10 adoption. Based on Apple’s official App Store numbers, for example, iOS 10 was installed on 54 percent of devices in October, a month after the operating system had been released. Comparatively, iOS 11 was only at 52 percent in November, a month and a half after launch.

I don’t think a difference between 54 and 52 percent is meaningful, especially this year, when many people were waiting for the iPhone X. The iPhone X alone could account for that 2 percent. I think it’s fair to say iOS 11’s adoption rate is about the same as iOS 10’s last year.

iPhone X Charging Speeds Compared 

Comprehensive testing from Juli Clover for MacRumors. Looks like the 7.5-watt contact charging (enabled by iOS 11.2) using the Belkin and Mophie charging pads is a nice improvement over 5-watt charging.

Safari Tab Search on the Mac 

Gabe Weatherhead, writing at Macdrifter:

Here’s a little Safari trick that is just gold. Hit Shift-⌘-\ to enter the Safari “Show all tabs” mode. From there it’s just a simple ⌘-F to search the open tabs.

Notice that the search also covers tabs open on other devices too?

Whoa, this is cool. Had no idea you could search in this mode.

But there’s a huge shortcoming: it only searches the tabs in the current window. It seems crazy to me that you can use this to find tabs open on other devices, but not tabs open in other windows on the Mac you’re currently using.

Update: Turns out you don’t need to type Command-F. Just type Command-Shift-\ and start typing, and whatever you type will go into the search field.

Russia Banned From Winter Olympics by I.O.C. 

Rebecca R. Ruiz and Tariq Panja, reporting for The New York Times:

Russia’s Olympic team has been barred from the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. The country’s government officials are forbidden to attend, its flag will not be displayed at the opening ceremony and its anthem will not sound.

Any athletes from Russia who receive special dispensation to compete will do so as individuals wearing a neutral uniform, and the official record books will forever show that Russia won zero medals.

That was the punishment issued Tuesday to the proud sports juggernaut that has long used the Olympics as a show of global force but was exposed for systematic doping in previously unfathomable ways. The International Olympic Committee, after completing its own prolonged investigations that reiterated what had been known for more than a year, handed Russia penalties for doping so severe they were without precedent in Olympics history.

I’m curious if Old Happy Thumbs will fire up his iPhone to comment on this one.

Wes Meltzer’s Review of MarsEdit 1.0 for ATPM 

Wes Meltzer, in his MarsEdit 1.0 review back in January 2005:

A brief historical diversion, if you will: going all the way back to LiveJournal clients, weblog editing clients have tended to be non-document-based, until quite recently. I used the original Windows LiveJournal client, which was modal way back when, and there weren’t a lot of alternatives. Sure, if you had a Radio blog, you had a document-based application — but the huge proliferation of blogs, as Maciej Ceglowski demonstrated in the NITLE Weblog Census, means that most people use Movable Type (about 44,000) or the big hosted services, BlogSpot and LiveJournal (707,690), all of which now support some form of remote posting. Between Ecto and MarsEdit, though, the future is clearly in document-based weblog editing.

Movable Type, Blogspot, and LiveJournal are all still around, but today they’re dwarfed in usage by WordPress and Tumblr. It’s a testimony to the strength of MarsEdit’s engine-neutral design that it remains relevant today, despite a nearly complete change in the publishing systems people use to blog.

MarsEdit 4 and Try-Before-You-Buy on the Mac App Store 

Daniel Jalkut:

MarsEdit 4 also brings a new sales approach that aims to unify the trial, purchase, and upgrade experience between the Mac App Store and direct-licensed versions of the app. The app is free to download and can be used full-featured for a 14 day trial period.

After the trial expires, all features of the app continue to work except for actions that update published content on the web. This ensures that all of MarsEdit’s powerful offline features, including download/archiving of posts, can be used in perpetuity for free.

MarsEdit 4.0 

Major update to one of my very favorite and most-used apps. I’ve been using MarsEdit ever since it was first spun off from the built-in blog editor in NetNewsWire back in 2004. MarsEdit 4 is a terrific update — it both works and looks better than ever. The basic premise — a native Mac blog editor that follows the basic layout and structure of an email client — remains as sound today as it did 13 years ago. MarsEdit is great for both its integration with various blogging platforms and its integration with MacOS as a native app.

I’ve said for years that almost everything I write for Daring Fireball goes through MarsEdit. The only posts that don’t are the ones I write on my iPhone (or, very rarely, iPad). But now that I think about it, it’s not just that almost everything I post now goes through MarsEdit — given that I’ve been using it since mid-2004, almost everything I have ever posted to Daring Fireball has gone through MarsEdit.

Nick Heer on the Deregulation of ISPs 

Nick Heer wrote a terrific response to Ben Thompson on the FCC’s move to overturn Obama era net neutrality regulations:

Even if you believe that the American broadband market is sufficiently competitive — it isn’t — that ISPs can be trusted to not discriminate against some forms of traffic once given the freedom to — doubtful — and that existing regulatory structures will allow any problems to be fixed on a case-by-case basis, it still seems far more efficient to prevent it in the first place. There’s an opportunity to treat internet service as a fundamental utility; let’s keep it that way, whether that’s through Title II classification or an equivalent replacement.


High Sierra Root Login Bug Was Mentioned on Apple’s Support Forums Two Weeks Ago

It’s natural to speculate how a bug as egregious as the now-fixed High Sierra root login bug could escape notice for so long. It seems to have been there ever since High Sierra 10.13.0 shipped on September 25, and may have existed in the betas through the summer. One explanation is that logging in with the username “root” and a blank password is so bizarre that it’s the sort of thing no one would think to try. Like the classic “1-2-3-4-5” scene in Spaceballs, but with the ultimate weak password — none at all.

More insidious though, is the notion that it might not have escaped notice prior to its widespread publicization yesterday — but that the people who had heretofore discovered it kept it to themselves.

This exploit was in fact posted to Apple’s own support forums on November 13. It’s a bizarre thread. The thread started back on June 8 when a user ran into a problem after installing the WWDC developer beta of High Sierra:

I am hoping someone might know how to fix this - after updating to High Sierra, the two admin accounts on this machine are all of a sudden standard accounts. There is no admin account at all, which means I can’t seemingly fix this problem because there is no admin I can log into. Any changes to the system or software installs I try to do that require admin approval, I have no way to grant it. And no way to create a new admin user without an existing.

A user posted a solution involving Single-User mode, and the thread mostly died down. But on November 13, a user under the handle “chethan177” posted the following:

Note: This solution might be specific to High Sierra

Try this:

Solution 1:

  • On startup, click on “Other”
  • Enter username: root and leave the password empty. Press enter. (Try twice)
  • If you’re able to log in (hurray, you’re the admin now), then head over to System Preferences → Users & Groups and create a new Admin account.
  • Now restart and login to the new Admin Account (you may need a new Apple Id). Once you’re logged into this new Admin Id, you can again proceed to your System Preferences → Users & Groups. Open the Lock Icon with your new Admin ID/Password. Assign “Allow user to administer this computer” to your original Apple ID. Restart. […]

Solution 2:

  • If you’re unable to login at startup using username: root and empty password, then login with your existing account (standard user).
  • Again, head over to System Preferences → Users & Groups. Click on the Lock Icon. When prompted for username and password, type username: root and leave the password empty. Press enter. This might throw an error, but try again immediately with the same username: root and empty password. This should unlock the Lock Icon. If it does, try Solution 1 next.

P.S. Solution 2 worked for me. No idea how or why. Hope this helps.

That’s yesterday’s bug. And in fact, this forum post is where
Lemi Orhan Ergin — who publicized the vulnerability on Twitter — saw it as well:

A week ago the infrastructure staff at the company I work for stumbled on the issue while trying to help one of my colleagues recover access to his local admin account. The staff noticed the issue and used the flaw to recover my colleague’s account. On Nov 23, the staff members informed Apple about it. They also searched online and saw the issue mentioned in a few places already, even in Apple Developer Forum from Nov 13. It seemed like the issue had been revealed, but Apple had not noticed yet.

Yesterday, after the issue exploded, “chethan177” was asked in the thread how he discovered the exploit. His response:

Hey guys,

Didn’t realise this was a full blown security issue. I’d messed my login credentials trying to change my apple id and voila I was no longer an admin. Then began my extensive search on all Apple related forums for a solution. Tried everything, didn’t work.

As to how I stumbled on this, the answer is simple. Pure frustration. I’d read on one of the forums where in a user suggested we try using “root” for username and leaving the password field empty. I did, it failed. Out of sheer frustration, I tried again, and voila the **** thing unlocked my admin account much to my relief.

Then I posted it here assuming someone stuck just like me might find it useful. It was purely accidental.

Which forum was that, where he found this suggestion? Alas:

Unfortunately, I don’t remember. I looked up several forums trying to look for a solution. Trying the “root” username entry method without a password was definitely mentioned somewhere. I just happened to try it twice.

So the exploit was floating around, under the radar, for weeks at least, but it seems as though no widespread harm came of it. 


Twitter’s 280-Character Own Goal

J.K. Rowling, on Twitter raising the per-tweet character limit to 280:

Twitter’s destroyed its USP. The whole point, for me, was how inventive people could be within that concise framework.

USP is “unique selling proposition”. By doubling the character limit, Twitter has eliminated what made them unique. Yes, there were many trade-offs with the 140-character limit, both pros and cons. But one of the pros is it made Twitter unique. Twitter timelines now look more like Facebook — but Facebook is already there for Facebook-like timelines. Twitter trying to be more like Facebook is like basketball trying to be more like football — a bad idea that won’t work.

Stephen King was more succinct:

280 characters? Fuck that.

Andy Ihnatko:

I like the word-Tetris of making a complete thought fit in a 140-character box.

John Dingell, 91-year-old retired Congressman from Michigan (who is truly excellent at Twitter):

99% of you people don’t even deserve 140 characters.

It’s no surprise that writers, in particular, object to this change. I agree with Ihnatko — the 140-character limit made it a challenge. Fitting certain complex thoughts into a mere 140 characters sometimes felt like solving a small challenge, like one of The New York Times’s tiny little 5 × 5 crossword puzzles.

But perhaps the best commentary comes from William Shakespeare:

Brevity is the soul of wit.

Given 280 characters, people are going to use them, even to express thoughts that could have fit in 140. Given unlimited characters, such as in email, people ramble aimlessly.

That’s why email feels like a dreary chore, and Twitter feels like fun. The fewer tweets that fit in a single screen at a time, the less fun Twitter feels. I’m sure Twitter considered this change carefully, but I’m convinced they’ve made a terrible mistake.