The Talk Show: ‘It’s a Deep Notch’ 

Dan Frommer returns to the show. Topics include Apple Watch Series 4 and the notion of third-party watch faces, Google’s Pixel 3 phones and Pixel Slate two-in-one tablet/notebook, and Bloomberg’s disputed “The Big Hack” story.

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Google Will Start Charging Android Device Makers a Fee for Using Its Apps in Europe 

Jacob Kastrenakes and Nilay Patel, writing for The Verge:

There is one other key change happening here. In the past, Google required that companies building phones or tablets that included the Play Store only build phones and tablets that included the Play Store — they couldn’t make some other Android device that dropped the Play Store in favor of something else. Now, that’ll be allowed. So if Samsung wanted to ship a Galaxy phone that only included the Galaxy Apps store, it could now do that in Europe.

This seems like the real news here, not the licensing fees.

Every Article About Huawei Phones Should Mention Their Egregious Design Rip-Offs 

Three cameras, a big screen, blah blah blah. What I don’t get is why every single article about Huawei phones doesn’t mention their egregious design rip-offs. Right on their default home screen, they flat out copied the icons for Music and Health from Apple. Their “live photo” icon in their camera app is ripped-off from Apple, and on and on.

This cavalier attitude toward design rip-offs might fly in China, but it shouldn’t fly here in the West, and Huawei should be called out for it in every single article until they stop doing it.

A Google Pixel 3 Review in the Age of Incremental Updates and Unrelenting Trauma 

I just loved Mat Honan’s Pixel 3 review — it’s half review of this particular phone, and half condemnation of the outsized role phones play in our lives today.

Facebook Will Use Data Collected From Its Portal in-Home Video Device to Target You With Ads 

Kurt Wagner, writing for Recode:

Last Monday, we wrote: “No data collected through Portal — even call log data or app usage data, like the fact that you listened to Spotify — will be used to target users with ads on Facebook.”

We wrote that because that’s what we were told by Facebook executives.

But Facebook has since reached out to change its answer: Portal doesn’t have ads, but data about who you call and data about which apps you use on Portal can be used to target you with ads on other Facebook-owned properties.

If you trust Facebook with a camera and microphone in your house, I’d love to have you at my table in a poker game.

Apple Fixes Bagel Emoji 

The original really is a crummy-looking bagel. I’m an everything bagel man, myself, but I can accept this plain one for the emoji.

The Magic Leap Con 

Brian Merchant, reporting from Magic Leap’s developer conference for Gizmodo:

You know that weird sensation when it feels like everyone around you is participating in some mild mass hallucination, and you missed the dosing? The old ‘what am I possibly missing here’ phenomenon? That’s how I felt at LEAP a lot of the time, amidst crowds of people dropping buzzwords and acronym soup at light speed, and then again while I was reading reviews of the device afterwards — somehow, despite years of failing to deliver anything of substance, lots of the press is still in Leap’s thrall. […]

“This is more like the Apple Newton than the Apple iPhone,” one venture capitalist told me. It’s something that I thought about a lot as I moved from demo to demo, listened to keynotes, and sat in on developer meetings. Magic Leap has spent over half a decade and quite actually billions of dollars, and has not yet come up with something particularly compelling to do with its allegedly world-transforming computing system, besides shoot robots in the face.

I’d say this is unfair to the Newton. The Newton was a complete system. It worked, and it was good. Its experience was a cohesive whole. Its problem was that it was ahead of its time — we now know mobile devices need ubiquitous wireless networking, and when the Newton debuted, we didn’t even have Wi-Fi, let alone cellular data. Magic Leap isn’t even a cohesive whole.

Anyway, great piece by Merchant.

Paul Allen, Microsoft Co-Founder and Seahawks Owner, Dies at 65 

Rachel Lerman, reporting for The Seattle Times:

Paul Allen, the co-founder of Microsoft and a prominent leader of both business and philanthropy in the Seattle area, has died at age 65 from complications of non-Hodgkin lymphoma.

Allen died Monday afternoon, according to his multifaceted holding company Vulcan Inc., just two weeks after announcing he had restarted treatment for the cancer that he was first treated for in 2009.

Allen co-founded Redmond tech giant Microsoft with childhood friend Bill Gates. After leaving the company, he turned his focus to a wide range of other business and scientific pursuits, which including founding the Allen Institute for Brain Science, and the real estate arm of Vulcan, which went on to build much of Amazon’s campus.

See also: Statement from Vulcan on behalf of the company and Allen’s family.

Morgan Knutson on Working as a Designer on the Google Plus Team 

Morgan Knutson on Twitter:

Now that Google+ has been shuttered, I should air my dirty laundry on how awful the project and exec team was.

I’m still pissed about the bait and switch they pulled by telling me I’d be working on Chrome, then putting me on this god forsaken piece of shit on day one.

Air some dirty laundry indeed. This whole thread is kind of nuts — you just don’t see former employees expose dysfunctional workplaces like this very often. Here’s a real eye-opener — teams across Google were effectively bribed to integrate Google Plus, regardless if such integration made sense for their products:

If your team, say on Gmail or Android, was to integrate Google+’s features then your team would be awarded a 1.5-3x multiplier on top of your yearly bonus. Your bonus was already something like 15% of your salary.

You read that correctly. A fuck ton of money to ruin the product you were building with bloated garbage that no one wanted. No one really liked this. People drank the kool-aid though, but mostly because it was green and made of paper.

Adobe Previews Photoshop for iPad 

Dami Lee, writing for the The Verge:

Adobe really wants you to know that the upcoming Photoshop CC for the iPad, which was announced today and is set to be released sometime in 2019, is “real Photoshop.”

The phrase “real Photoshop” came up several times during my week-long preview of an early version of the software giant’s long-awaited app. The underlying code is the same as desktop Photoshop, and although the interface has been rethought for the iPad, the same core tools line the edges of the screen.

The “touch modifier” button is a great idea. It’s a button in the corner that you can press and hold to toggle the current tool. E.g. if you’re using a paintbrush, you can press the touch modifier button to turn it into the eraser. Let go of the button and your tool is back to the paintbrush.

The video here is more interesting than the article — a bunch of artists from The Verge give their thoughts on using this for their work.

The New Palm Is a Tiny Phone to Keep You Away From Your Phone 

Dieter Bohn, writing at The Verge:

That’s the idea behind the new Palm phone. It’s a sidecar for your phone. You should almost think of it more as a thing to get instead of a connected smartwatch than as a second phone. In fact, thinking of it as a smartwatch is a good move since that’s precisely how Verizon (and only Verizon) is selling it: as an add-on for existing plans. You can’t just go buy the thing on its own or unlocked as your primary phone.

It’s cute, and I’m glad to see someone working on smaller phones, but a secondary phone seems like something no one wants. I wish they would have tried making a phone this small that could be your primary phone.

If you want to put your phone away at night and on weekends but still stay connected, get an Apple Watch.

HyperJuice 

My thanks to Hyper for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week to promote HyperJuice, their airline-safe 27,000 mAh battery pack with dual USB-C ports (100W and 60W) and one 18W USB-A port. All three ports can be used at once, so you can charge a 15-inch MacBook Pro, a smaller MacBook or iPad Pro, and an iPhone all once, all at high speeds.

Using the 100W USB-C input, you can recharge HyperJuice from empty to full in about one hour using a MacBook Pro’s charger. HyperJuice weighs only 550 grams and can fit in the palm of your hand. It’s a lot of power in a small package.

It’s a Kickstarter project that has already been funded (many times over). The campaign ends on Monday so act quickly — right now you can order HyperJuice for up to 50 percent off the expected retail price. Over 5,700 backers have already pledged over $1 million to get HyperJuice at these discounted prices.


Sometimes It’s Better to Just Start Over With iCloud Photo Library Syncing

Early this week I noticed that I wasn’t able to use the Instant Hotspot feature with my iPhone XS. That’s the feature where you can leave the cellular hotspot turned off in Settings, but enable it on-the-fly from a Mac when you connect via the Wi-Fi menu. These “Personal Hotspots” show up at the top of the list of available Wi-Fi networks, in their own special section of the menu. My Wi-Fi menu no longer listed my iPhone, only my iPad. If I went into the iPhone’s Settings app and enabled the Personal Hotspot manually — i.e. turned it on and left it on — my iPhone’s hotspot was listed as a regular Wi-Fi network on my Mac, and when I connected, it worked just fine. So the hotspot worked, but the magic Instant Hotspot feature wasn’t working.

I tried rebooting the Mac and iPhone, of course. No dice. I reset network settings on the phone. No dice. I then noticed that my iPhone’s name (Settings → General → About → Name) had been changed to “iPhone”. Not even “John’s iPhone”, which is the default when you set up a new iPhone. Just plain “iPhone”. I changed it back to my custom name. Rebooted the phone again. Still no Instant Hotspot. And then eventually the device name was changed back to “iPhone” again. Weird, right? This was all on the release version of iOS 12.0.1, by the way.

I had a trip to New York coming up, and wanted to fix this. I did some searching on the web and eventually stumbled on a thread that suggested signing out of iCloud and then signing back in. This makes some sense, because all of these Continuity features go through iCloud. So I did that on the iPhone, and, long story short, that seemed to fix the issue. After one more reboot of the phone, Instant Hotspot was working perfectly.

A side effect of signing out of and back into iCloud is that it seemed to reset my iPhone’s photo library sync state. It didn’t delete my photos, but once I was signed back in to iCloud, the Photos app was trying to re-upload my entire library (over 28,000 photos and 1,100 videos) back to iCloud. I don’t think it was actually uploading them — I think that’s just the word Photos uses to indicate what it’s doing — but rather checking each of the photos on the phone against each of the photos in my iCloud library.

It got through most of them fairly quickly, but the last 4,500 or so were effectively stuck. This process was proceeding really slowly. Profoundly slowly. I kept the phone plugged in last night and checked every hour, and it was only processing about 15 or 16 items per hour. I let it run overnight and it only moved from 4,183 remaining items to just over 4,000.

Effectively, I think what happens is that when you turn off iCloud Photo Library, it leaves all the photos and videos on your phone in your local library. When you turn iCloud Photo Library back on, it has no idea which of the items in your local iPhone library are duplicates of items in your iCloud library, and so it has to check them one by one. Whatever algorithm it’s using for this is slow as molasses.

Adam Engst wrote about a similar problem on the Mac earlier this year:

I was seeing some strange problems on my 27-inch iMac running macOS 10.13.3 High Sierra. Messages wasn’t getting or sending messages, Wi-Fi calling wasn’t working, and after upgrading to 10.13.3, I was unable to enable auto-unlock with my Apple Watch. To solve these problems, I turned iCloud off and back on. Despite the iCloud preference pane throwing an ominous error, the problems did indeed disappear.

However, there’s a nasty side effect of turning iCloud off and back on: iCloud Photo Library needs to re-upload all your photos. It does this in order to compare the library’s contents to the synchronization “truth” at iCloud. Fair enough, except that this process can take days, depending on the size of your Photos library and the speed of your Internet connection. Bad Apple! We don’t see that sort of poor performance with Dropbox or Google Drive, and this behavior is both unnecessary and driving people away from iCloud Photo Library.

That’s pretty much exactly what I was seeing on my iPhone.

What surprised me about this isn’t just that it’s so dreadfully slow, but that iCloud Photo Library has gotten amazingly good in the last few years. It’s not just very reliable, but very fast. I took a lot of photos using three different iPhones (my old iPhone X, and my review unit iPhones XS and XS Max) while writing my XS review last month. And I worked on the review on two different Macs. Every photo and video I took on every iPhone synced to all the other devices in a matter of seconds every single time. iCloud Photo Library made the whole process ridiculously easy.

Wiping and restoring my entire iPhone seemed like overkill when the only issue I was having was photo syncing. So my next idea was to delete all the photos from my phone and start over from scratch with iCloud Photo Library.

So here’s what I did, and it seems to have worked. First, I eyeballed all the recent photos and videos I’d shot using my iPhone and double-checked that they had all already been synced to iCloud. They were — I could see all my recent shots on my other devices.

Next, I disabled iCloud Photo Library on my iPhone again. You do that by going into the Apple ID section of Settings (where your name is shown at the very top of the root level) → iCloud → Photos and turned off everything. When it asked if I wanted to download a copy of the photos and videos from my iCloud library I declined.

Next, I wanted to delete every single photo and video from my iPhone. To my knowledge there is no easy way to do this on the iPhone itself. (There are a lot of tasks like this that are easy on the Mac thanks to Edit → Select All that are painfully tedious on iOS. Update: Here’s a clever way to use iOS 12’s Shortcuts app to delete all photos and videos from your Library.) I connected the iPhone to my Mac with a Lightning cable and used Image Capture to delete all photos and videos from my phone. Image Capture just treats the iPhone like a regular camera. Image Capture crashed three times during this process (I’m still running MacOS High Sierra 10.13.6, for what it’s worth), but after the fourth run the iPhone had no photos or videos left.

Then I re-enabled iCloud Photo Library on the phone, and about 20 minutes later, everything was back to normal. My iPhone reported exactly the same number of photos and videos in my library as on all my other devices. Most of those items are still just placeholders, even as I write this, but they’re filling in steadily — which is exactly how iCloud Photo Library works when you start syncing a large library to a new device.

So if you temporarily turn off iCloud Photo Library and turn it back on, it might be easier to just delete all your photos from your iPhone first, and let them all sync back from iCloud. 


Latest Revision to ARM Instruction Set Includes Optimizations Just for JavaScript 

Greg Parker:

More precisely: ARMv8.3 adds a new float-to-int instruction with errors and out-of-range values handled the way that JavaScript wants. The previous [instructions] to get JavaScript’s semantics were much slower. JavaScript’s numbers are double by default so it needs this conversion a lot.

Back when the iPhone XS first shipped, people noticed that it performed seemingly impossibly well on JavaScript benchmarks. E.g., David Heinemeier Hansson:

The iPhone XS is faster than an iMac Pro on the Speedometer 2.0 JavaScript benchmark. It’s the fastest device I’ve ever tested. Insane 45% jump over the iPhone 8/X chip. How does Apple do it?!

Apple touts the new A12 as “only” 15 percent faster than the A11 at CPU tasks, and JavaScript is mostly (entirely?) CPU-bound. These new instructions make that big a difference. The iMac Pro is a professional desktop and it’s getting beaten by a phone. [Update: Turns out JavaScriptCore (Safari’s JavaScript engine) doesn’t use this new instruction yet — it should make things even faster once it does but the A12 chip is getting these benchmark scores without this new instruction’s help.]

Everyone can enjoy the fact that ARMv8.3 makes JavaScript faster. Comp sci nerds can further enjoy the fact that we now have CPUs being optimized for a specific weird programming language and not the other way around.

The Pixel 3: Everything You Need to Know About Google’s New Phone 

I watched the Made by Google keynote video, and was in New York yesterday for some hands-on time with their new products. Nicole Nguyen’s summary of the Pixel 3 is the best I’ve seen — really does capture just about everything you should know about it. She’s got a video of the new Call Screening feature in action — man oh man, do I want that feature on iOS. (I got to see a live demo as well.)

DuckDuckGo Search Growth 

DuckDuckGo, on Twitter:

DuckDuckGo fun fact: it took us seven years to reach 10 million private searches in one day, then another two years to hit 20 million, and now less than a year later we’re at 30 million!

What a great little upstart DuckDuckGo is. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my primary web search engine for years now, and it keeps getting better.

Twitter Makes Moments Creation a Desktop Exclusive 

Chance Miller, writing for 9to5Google:

Twitter has announced today that it is removing the ability to create Twitter Moments from its iOS and Android applications. The company says that making Moments will still be possible from the desktop web version of Twitter, while you’ll also still be able to view Moments from iOS and Android.

In a series of tweets this afternoon, Twitter explained that when features aren’t used very often, it removes them in an effort to focus on building other features. In this instance, support for creating Twitter Moments through the iOS and Android applications has been around since 2016, so it’s certainly noticeable to see Twitter pulling the plug on the capability.

If Moments isn’t getting enough use, sure, kill the feature. But kill it everywhere. It makes no sense to keep it but make it desktop-only. Mobile is where people use Twitter most.

Wi-Fi Switches From Obscure Protocol Names to Simple Generation Numbers 

Glenn Fleishman — who knows more about Wi-Fi than anyone I know — explains the whole “Wi-Fi 6” thing:

The Wi-Fi Alliance’s new numbering system focuses on generations of speed improvements but looks back only to 802.11n, which is a decade old. Given that 802.11a and 802.11b were approved at the same time, implicitly calling them Wi-Fi 1 and Wi-Fi 2, and extending Wi-Fi 3 to 802.11g, isn’t quite right. But we anticipate people will do it anyway.

Simplifying device compatibility through better naming seems like a clever idea that’s long overdue, and one that should help people who have no interest in technical standards arcana. The next time someone asks me what Wi-Fi router they should buy, I look forward to saying, “Wi-Fi 6. Look for it on the box.”

Not Voting Doubles the Value of Someone Else’s Vote 

David Foster Wallace, back in 2000:

If you are bored and disgusted by politics and don’t bother to vote, you are in effect voting for the entrenched Establishments of the two major parties, who please rest assured are not dumb, and who are keenly aware that it is in their interests to keep you disgusted and bored and cynical and to give you every possible psychological reason to stay at home doing one-hitters and watching MTV on primary day. By all means stay home if you want, but don’t bullshit yourself that you’re not voting. In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some Diehard’s vote.

Jason Kottke:

Please check your registration status and register to vote… it takes two minutes. Voter registration deadlines are fast approaching in many US states — there are deadlines tomorrow in Arizona, Arkansas, Florida, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, and Texas.

Kottke wrote that yesterday, so those registration deadlines are today. I don’t care who you want to vote for, I implore you to register and vote. And if you think you are registered, double-check. It really does just take a minute.

Named Source in ‘The Big Hack’ Has Doubts About the Story 

Hardware security researcher Joe Fitzpatrick was one of the very few named sources in Bloomberg’s blockbuster “The Big Hack” story. He provided only background information on the potential of hardware exploits in general — he claimed no knowledge of this specific case. On Patrick Gray’s Risky Business (great name) podcast, he expresses serious unease with the story Bloomberg published. The whole episode is worth a listen, but here’s partial transcript:

Fitzpatrick: But what really struck me is that like all the details that were even remotely technical, seemed like they had been lifted from from the conversations I had about theoretically how hardware implants work and how the devices I was making to show off at Black Hat two years ago worked.

Gray: So I guess what you are saying here is, the report, I mean all of the technical details of the report, you’d covered that ground with that reporter.

Fitzpatrick: Yeah, I had conversations about all the technical details and various contexts. But there are a lot of filters that happen, you know? When I explain hardware things even to software people, I don’t expect people to get it the first time and I don’t expect people to be able to describe it accurately all the time. So there is definitely a lot of telephone exchange happening

Gray: OK but why did that make you feel uneasy? Could it be the case that you know that the technical things you told him lined up perfectly with the technical things that some of these 17 of the anonymous sources told him?

Fitzpatrick: You know, I’m just Joe. I do this stuff solo. I am building hardware implants for phones to show off at conferences. I’m not a pro at building hardware implants. I don’t work for any nation or any state building and shipping these as products. I feel like I have a good grasp at what’s possible and what’s available and how to do it just from my practice. But it was surprising to me that in a scenario where I would describe these things and then he would go and confirm these and 100 percent of what I described was confirmed by sources.

Gray: And that’s what he was telling you through this process?

Fitzpatrick: That’s what I read in the article.

Gray: OK, right. You find that a bit strange? That every single thing you seem to tell him, or a large proportion of what you told him, was then confirmed by his other sources.

Fitzpatrick: Yeah, basically. Either I have excellent foresight or something else is going on.

I’m going to go with “something else is going on”.

‘Facebook Unveils the Portal, a Video Chat Camera for the People Who Still Trust Facebook’ 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

The Portal is a sleek new video camera and screen that makes chats with family and friends look great.

It has just one problem: It was made by Mark Zuckerberg.

On Monday, Facebook unveiled the $200 Portal, the first-ever consumer hardware from the world’s largest social network. The toaster-size gadget, along with a larger $350 version called Portal+, is a cross between a smart speaker, video camera and digital photo frame. But at a time when CEO Zuckerberg’s privacy and security decisions are a matter of congressional inquiry, how many people will trust one in their living room?

Say what you want about putting any of these always-on listening devices in your home, anyone who buys one of these — which doesn’t just listen but has a camera too — is nuts. Is there any company you’d trust less than Facebook with this?

Rich Mogull on How the Apple Watch Series 4 Will and Won’t Save Lives 

Rich Mogull — a trained paramedic, in addition to being a terrific information security expert — writing at TidBITS:

Even if the Apple Watch Series 4’s health-monitoring features are imperfect, even if they detect only a subset of issues and incidents, wearing one will allow some people to live longer and healthier lives.

Now that Apple has put its stake in the ground, I expect a few advancements moving forward.

It sounds corny to say that a new digital watch is going to save lives, but I think it’s undeniably true here. Dozens, hundreds, thousands? I don’t know the number. But some number of people are going to get help for heart problems who otherwise would not have, and another number of people are going to get EMS help after a bad fall who otherwise would not have.

After thinking about it for a few weeks, though, my thoughts turn to the long run, not the near future. This is clearly just a first step. 80 years ago, a family in the U.S. likely had one audio system — a big cabinet-sized AM radio in their living room. How many “audio” devices does a typical family own today? Dozens, and they’re with us all day every day in the form of phones and headphones. In a few decades, we’re all going to be monitored by connected devices all day every day. I think it’s likely such devices will be able to identify things like heart attacks and strokes before they happen. Apple Watch is the first serious step in that direction.

Apple Tells Congress It Found No Signs of Hacking Attack 

Reuters:

Apple Vice President for Information Security George Stathakopoulos wrote in a letter to the Senate and House commerce committees that the company had repeatedly investigated and found no evidence for the main points in a Bloomberg Businessweek article published on Thursday, including that chips inside servers sold to Apple by Super Micro Computer Inc (SMCI.PK) allowed for backdoor transmissions to China.

“Apple’s proprietary security tools are continuously scanning for precisely this kind of outbound traffic, as it indicates the existence of malware or other malicious activity. Nothing was ever found,” he wrote in the letter provided to Reuters.

Update: Here’s the entire letter.

Statement From DHS Press Secretary on Recent Media Reports of Potential Supply Chain Compromise 

Official statement from DHS:

The Department of Homeland Security is aware of the media reports of a technology supply chain compromise. Like our partners in the UK, the National Cyber Security Centre, at this time we have no reason to doubt the statements from the companies named in the story. Information and communications technology supply chain security is core to DHS’s cybersecurity mission and we are committed to the security and integrity of the technology on which Americans and others around the world increasingly rely. Just this month — National Cybersecurity Awareness Month — we launched several government-industry initiatives to develop near- and long-term solutions to manage risk posed by the complex challenges of increasingly global supply chains. These initiatives will build on existing partnerships with a wide range of technology companies to strengthen our nation’s collective cybersecurity and risk management efforts.

For me, having the current U.S. government weighing in publicly on this issue does not fill me with any sense of confidence or reassurance on either side of this story.

But, still: Bloomberg’s Big Hack story should eventually be fully-corroborated, if true. According to their report, there are thousands of compromised servers out there. If there are, security experts will eventually identify these rogue chips and document them.

And whatever you think of a statement from DHS, from what I’ve heard, this is only beginning. Apple is not letting this go.

Skillshare 

My thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. With over 4 million members and more than 20,000 classes, Skillshare is basically Netflix for online learning. Interested in web development or data science? How about UX design or SEO? Mobile photography, filmmaking, creative writing, even coffee brewing? Skillshare truly has it all.

And it’s all professionally produced — well-shot, well-edited, high-quality audio. The production quality is just so much better than what you expect from online video. I’ll repeat a personal recommendation: “Logo Design With Aaron Draplin”. Yeah, that Aaron Draplin — cofounder of Field Notes and designer/raconteur extraordinaire. He’s one of my favorite designers in the world, a generous teacher, and fantastically compelling on camera. Get the free demo and watch Draplin’s course. (Draplin has a bunch of great courses on Skillshare already.)

And for this week only, Skillshare is offering the first 1,000 Daring Fireball readers two free months of Skillshare Premium.

Banksy Painting Self-Destructs After Fetching $1.4 Million at Sotheby’s 

Simply brilliant.

Buzzfeed: ‘Apple Insiders Say Nobody Internally Knows What’s Going on With Bloomberg’s China Hack Story’ 

John Paczkowski and Charlie Warzel, reporting for BuzzFeed:

“We tried to figure out if there was anything, anything, that transpired that’s even remotely close to this,” a senior Apple security executive told BuzzFeed News. “We found nothing.”

A senior security engineer directly involved in Apple’s internal investigation described it as “endoscopic”, noting they had never seen a chip like the one described in the story, let alone found one. “I don’t know if something like this even exists”, this person said, noting that Apple was not provided with a malicious chip or motherboard to examine. “We were given nothing. No hardware. No chips. No emails.”

Equally puzzling to Apple execs is the assertion that it was party to an FBI investigation — Bloomberg wrote that Apple “reported the incident to the FBI.” A senior Apple legal official told BuzzFeed News the company had not contacted the FBI, nor had it been contacted by the FBI, the CIA, the NSA or any government agency in regards to the incidents described in the Bloomberg report. This person’s purview and responsibilities are of such a high level that it’s unlikely they would not have been aware of government outreach.

This is an extraordinary stalemate. There’s no equivocation in Apple’s response, but Bloomberg stands by their story. Keep in mind, Bloomberg isn’t some fringe publication — they’re a very well-respected news organization with a lot at stake here. They’ve published some dubious stuff about Apple in the past — this piece last year claiming Apple “let suppliers reduce accuracy of the phone’s Face ID system to speed up production” comes to mind — but that’s just gossip. This “Big Hack” story isn’t gossip; it’s as serious as it gets. But Apple, officially, and now from multiple unnamed senior executives and engineers in this BuzzFeed story, are saying flat out that at least as pertains to them, it did not happen. (Keep in mind too that every single source in Bloomberg’s story was unnamed.)

Customizing the Infograph Face on Apple Watch Series 4 

Zac Hall, writing at 9to5Mac:

Infograph can show up to eight complications, but that doesn’t mean it must — even if the default version is fully loaded. For me, stripping Infograph down to just the clock is a great starting place.

This requires a lot of Digital Crown scrolling on the Apple Watch to set each complication slot to empty and may be faster on the Watch app for iPhone. The end result is a simple and attractive clock without all of the noise of complications recommended for you.

I love this advice — strip it down to nothing and start adding complications. Hall has some great tips on third-party corner complications for Infograph. (You wouldn’t think I’d need to worry about humidity in Philadelphia in October, but it’s been muggy as hell all this week.)

Apple Newsroom: ‘What Businessweek Got Wrong About Apple’ 

Apple Newsroom has just published an even stronger denial of Bloomberg Businessweek’s “The Big Hack” story:

Apple has always believed in being transparent about the ways we handle and protect data. If there were ever such an event as Bloomberg News has claimed, we would be forthcoming about it and we would work closely with law enforcement. Apple engineers conduct regular and rigorous security screenings to ensure that our systems are safe. We know that security is an endless race and that’s why we constantly fortify our systems against increasingly sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals who want to steal our data. […]

Finally, in response to questions we have received from other news organizations since Businessweek published its story, we are not under any kind of gag order or other confidentiality obligations.

They’re defending both the security of their data center servers and the integrity of their public statements.

In my earlier piece on this story, I forgot to mention one particularly odd tidbit in Bloomberg’s reporting. Bloomberg wrote (italics added):

Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons. […] Apple made its discovery of suspicious chips inside Supermicro servers around May 2015, after detecting odd network activity and firmware problems, according to a person familiar with the timeline. Two of the senior Apple insiders say the company reported the incident to the FBI but kept details about what it had detected tightly held, even internally.

What sense does it make that Apple discovered a profound security problem in Super Micro motherboards in May 2015, so serious that the company reported it to the FBI, but then didn’t sever ties with Supermicro until at least eight months later? That timeline makes no sense.

Also, what exactly is a “senior insider”? I’ve never seen that phrase before. An odd attribution. This Google search only finds four hits in Bloomberg’s archive — once in 1996, once in 1998, once in January 2018, and this story today. (And Google finds no hits at all for the phrase in their archive of businessweek.com.)


Bloomberg’s ‘The Big Hack’

Bloomberg Businessweek today published an absolutely incredible story alleging that Chinese intelligence compromised thousands of data center servers by infiltrating the supply chain to insert hard-to-detect rogue chips on motherboards from a company named Supermicro. The entire report, by Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley, is worth reading in full.

Bloomberg alleges that Apple and Amazon were both among the companies that installed the compromised hardware. Apple and Amazon both vehemently deny the report. Someone is either wrong or lying. This cannot all be true.

From Bloomberg’s report, regarding Amazon:

Nested on the servers’ motherboards, the testers found a tiny microchip, not much bigger than a grain of rice, that wasn’t part of the boards’ original design. Amazon reported the discovery to U.S. authorities, sending a shudder through the intelligence community. Elemental’s servers could be found in Department of Defense data centers, the CIA’s drone operations, and the onboard networks of Navy warships. And Elemental was just one of hundreds of Supermicro customers.

Regarding Apple:

Apple was an important Supermicro customer and had planned to order more than 30,000 of its servers in two years for a new global network of data centers. Three senior insiders at Apple say that in the summer of 2015, it, too, found malicious chips on Supermicro motherboards. Apple severed ties with Supermicro the following year, for what it described as unrelated reasons.

And regarding both companies’ denials:

The companies’ denials are countered by six current and former senior national security officials, who — in conversations that began during the Obama administration and continued under the Trump administration — detailed the discovery of the chips and the government’s investigation. One of those officials and two people inside AWS provided extensive information on how the attack played out at Elemental and Amazon; the official and one of the insiders also described Amazon’s cooperation with the government investigation. In addition to the three Apple insiders, four of the six U.S. officials confirmed that Apple was a victim.

The companies’ denials are seemingly unequivocal, however. Apple’s statement to Bloomberg:

Over the course of the past year, Bloomberg has contacted us multiple times with claims, sometimes vague and sometimes elaborate, of an alleged security incident at Apple. Each time, we have conducted rigorous internal investigations based on their inquiries and each time we have found absolutely no evidence to support any of them. We have repeatedly and consistently offered factual responses, on the record, refuting virtually every aspect of Bloomberg’s story relating to Apple.

On this we can be very clear: Apple has never found malicious chips, “hardware manipulations” or vulnerabilities purposely planted in any server. Apple never had any contact with the FBI or any other agency about such an incident. We are not aware of any investigation by the FBI, nor are our contacts in law enforcement.

That statement is credited only to “Apple”, so presumably it was written by Apple PR. Amazon issued a similar statement to Bloomberg, but later published a full response, signed by Steve Schmidt, the company’s chief information security officer. Schmidt is adamant and clear:

There are so many inaccuracies in this article as it relates to Amazon that they’re hard to count. We will name only a few of them here. First, when Amazon was considering acquiring Elemental, we did a lot of due diligence with our own security team, and also commissioned a single external security company to do a security assessment for us as well. That report did not identify any issues with modified chips or hardware. As is typical with most of these audits, it offered some recommended areas to remediate, and we fixed all critical issues before the acquisition closed. This was the sole external security report commissioned. Bloomberg has admittedly never seen our commissioned security report nor any other (and refused to share any details of any purported other report with us).

The article also claims that after learning of hardware modifications and malicious chips in Elemental servers, we conducted a network-wide audit of SuperMicro motherboards and discovered the malicious chips in a Beijing data center. This claim is similarly untrue. The first and most obvious reason is that we never found modified hardware or malicious chips in Elemental servers. Aside from that, we never found modified hardware or malicious chips in servers in any of our data centers.

I see no way around it: either Bloomberg’s report is significantly wrong, at least as pertains to Amazon and Apple, or Apple and Amazon have issued blatantly false denials. You can, perhaps, chalk up Apple’s denial to it being written by Apple PR. I don’t think this would happen, but hypothetically this issue could be deemed so sensitive — either within the company or as a national security issue — that the people at Apple with knowledge of the situation lied to Apple PR. But in my experience, Apple PR does not lie. Do they spin the truth in ways that favor the company? Of course. That’s their job. But they don’t lie, because they understand that one of Apple’s key assets is its credibility. They’d say nothing before they’d lie.

Schmidt signing his name to Amazon’s response is more telling. Presumably no one at Amazon would be more familiar with the details of such a breach than Schmidt.

One way or the other, there is more to come on this story, and the credibility of either Bloomberg, or Apple and Amazon, is going to take a significant hit. Currently those are the two most valuable publicly-traded companies in the world.

A few other notable tidbits. From Bloomberg’s report:

One government official says China’s goal was long-term access to high-value corporate secrets and sensitive government networks. No consumer data is known to have been stolen.

And then this from Amazon’s response:

Because Elemental appliances are not designed to be exposed to the public internet, our customers are protected against the vulnerability by default.

I do not understand how, if these servers are not exposed to the public internet, they could “phone home” to Chinese servers outside the data centers.

Technical details aside, the whole central thesis of the story rings true — China cannot be trusted as a state actor, but the entire technology industry is dependent upon the Chinese supply chain. It is completely credible that the managers of Chinese factories are susceptible to bribes and threats of “inspections” that would shut down their plants. From the Bloomberg report:

Over the decades, the security of the supply chain became an article of faith despite repeated warnings by Western officials. A belief formed that China was unlikely to jeopardize its position as workshop to the world by letting its spies meddle in its factories. That left the decision about where to build commercial systems resting largely on where capacity was greatest and cheapest. “You end up with a classic Satan’s bargain”, one former U.S. official says. “You can have less supply than you want and guarantee it’s secure, or you can have the supply you need, but there will be risk. Every organization has accepted the second proposition.”

Lastly, whatever the veracity of the report, Bloomberg deserves kudos for this sentence:

Two of Elemental’s biggest early clients were the Mormon church, which used the technology to beam sermons to congregations around the world, and the adult film industry, which did not.

Update: Apple has issued a stronger denial of Bloomberg’s report


LG’s New Watch Has Mechanical Hands That Cover the Display 

You can push a button to make the hands go horizontal. It looks like a swimmer doing the butterfly stroke. You have to see the video to believe it. Good lord. Of all the days for me to post about small issues with Apple Watch face design.

Jason Snell: ‘Why Are Apple Watch Faces Such a Mess?’ 

Jason Snell, writing at Macworld:

It takes time to get a new operating system up and running. With watchOS 5, it feels like Apple has finally addressed most of the rough edges. Apps are more powerful; devices are more capable of acting on their own without the aid of an iPhone. I can understand why other features trumped the prioritization of watch faces, but it’s time. Apple needs to really revisit how it approaches watch faces.

Since the day the Apple Watch was announced, developers have clamored for the opportunity to design custom watch faces. That may never happen — there are plenty of reasons for Apple to consider the face designs sacred and something the company must control itself. But if Apple insists on having a monopoly on face design, it’s incumbent on the company to be a better steward of those faces.

I’ve been splitting my Apple Watch time the last week or so between my Series 4 review unit and my personal Series 3, upgraded to WatchOS 5. I’m more convinced than ever that what I wrote in my Series 4 review is true: the new Series 4 faces only look exactly right on the Series 4 watch, and the old watch faces only look exactly right on the older watches. And nothing brings these issues to light better than the complication situation.

I won’t say any of the faces look bad on any of the watches. Just that they don’t look exactly right — the difference between an expertly tailored jacket and one that comes off the rack. When it comes to watch faces, “good” isn’t good enough. Every element on a watch face ought to be perfect.

Lego Scale Model of Apple Park 

Insanely detailed model by Spencer Rezkalla.

Wi-Fi Now Has Version Numbers, and Wi-Fi 6 Comes Out Next Year 

Jacob Kastrenakes, writing for The Verge:

In the past, Wi-Fi versions were identified by a letter or a pair of letters that referred to a wireless standard. The current version is 802.11ac, but before that, we had 802.11n, 802.11g, 802.11a, and 802.11b. It was not comprehensible, so the Wi-Fi Alliance — the group that stewards the implementation of Wi-Fi — is changing it.

All of those convoluted codenames are being changed. So instead of the current Wi-Fi being called 802.11ac, it’ll be called Wi-Fi 5 (because it’s the fifth version). It’ll probably make more sense this way, starting with the first version of Wi-Fi, 802.11b:

  • Wi-Fi 1: 802.11b (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 2: 802.11a (1999)
  • Wi-Fi 3: 802.11g (2003)
  • Wi-Fi 4: 802.11n (2009)
  • Wi-Fi 5: 802.11ac (2014)

What a great change — I love it. Not only were those letters inscrutable, they didn’t even go in alphabetical order.

Nooses, Rotting Teeth, and Neglect: Inspectors Find Dismal Conditions at For-Profit California Immigration Jail 

Nick Miroff, reporting for The Washington Post:

Homeland Security inspectors who made an unannounced visit to a private, for-profit immigration jail in California in May found major violations of federal detention standards, including cells with nooses dangling from air vents, detainees losing teeth from lack of dental care and one disabled inmate left alone in a wheelchair for nine days. […]

One dentist told inspectors that there was no time for cleanings or fillings, and that it was up to inmates to take care of their own oral hygiene despite a lack of supplies. “The dentist dismissed the necessity of fillings if patients commit to brushing and flossing,” the report said. “Floss is only available through detainee commissary accounts, but the dentist suggested detainees could use string from their socks to floss if they were dedicated to dental hygiene.”

DHS inspectors reviewed all requests for dental fillings since 2014 and found that although the jail’s two dentists identified cavities and placed detainees on a waiting list for fillings, no detainees received them. “One detainee we interviewed reported having multiple teeth fall out while waiting more than 2 years for cavities to be filled,” the report said.

ICE didn’t even exist until after 9/11. They were founded in response to terrorist attacks. Letting these people suffer in jail has nothing to do with fighting terrorism. These conditions would be deplorable anywhere in the world, but to have this going on in the United States of America is just astounding.

‘Vice’ — New Film From Adam McKay 

Kottke:

I loved McKay’s The Big Short, so despite never wanting to think about any of those horrible men ever again, I am looking forward to watching this.

Hell yeah to this. Christian Bale looks and sounds more like Dick Cheney than Dick Cheney does. And The Big Short wasn’t just good, it was highly inventive. Recommended.

Adding Device Frames to iPhone XS and XS Max Screenshots With Shortcuts 

Very cool scripts for the iOS 12 Shortcuts app from Federico Viticci.

Apple Watch Series 4 Fall Detection Tested by a Hollywood Stunt Double 

Of course Joanna Stern would hire a professional stuntwoman. Spoiler: the fall detection seems to work very well.

iPhone XS: Why It’s a Whole New Camera 

Sebastiaan de With — co-creator of the excellent Halide camera app — has a deep dive on changes to the iPhone XS camera system. One fascinating development: RAW images are way noisier than they are on an iPhone X. Halide has a pretty good solution they’re calling “Smart RAW”.

If you’ve seen people wondering whether the iPhone XS is applying a tacky “beauty filter” to skin tones, send them to this article. It explains what is really going on.

Microsoft Surface Event 2018: The 5 Biggest Announcements 

Tablets, laptops, Bluetooth headphones. A new black color option. They all look nice.

Jason Snell on Apple Watch Series 4 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

The result is that I like lots of aspects of the watch faces on the Series 4, but after more than a week of fiddling with complications and faces, I’ve yet to settle on one that I am comfortable with. I find myself wanting to mix and match, which isn’t actually allowed. Perhaps as more apps add support for the new complication sizes, I will find that their utility balances out my preference for the aesthetics of the older faces. Right now I’m using Infograph with a handful of complications around the edges, but I don’t love it. There’s still something missing.

The circle of the Utility and Infograph watch faces are exactly the same size. There’s no reason that Utility shouldn’t use modern complications. I understand that Apple may have had bigger fish to fry in watchOS 5, but it feels like it’s time for a upgrade and rethink of all the Apple Watch faces.

Agreed completely.

Amazon to Raise Minimum Wage to $15 for All U.S. Workers 

Karen Weise, reporting for The New York Times:

Even Amazon can get squeezed by political pressure and a tight labor market. The online giant on Tuesday said it would raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour for all of its United States workers.

It said the pay increase would include part-time workers and those hired through temporary agencies. The company said it would also lobby Washington to raise the federal minimum wage.

Amazon said the new wages would apply to more than 250,000 Amazon employees, including those at the grocery chain Whole Foods, as well as the more than 100,000 seasonal employees it will hire for the holiday season. They go into effect on Nov. 1.

Check out the exuberant reaction from employees at a California fulfillment center when this was announced this morning.


The Great DF Random Slowdown Should Be Over

This week, DF has seemed incredibly slow for some people, sometimes. Here’s a Twitter search for tweets to me with the word “slow” this week. This was killing me, because I pride myself on Daring Fireball being a fast-loading website, and because this was a pretty big week content-wise.

It was not my server, and had nothing to do with higher levels of traffic from my iPhone XS and Series 4 Apple Watch reviews. When DF itself is slow — which happens rarely but does happen — you almost always see DF’s trademark #4a525a slate gray background first, then the elements of the page slowly fill in. If you experienced slowness this week, you probably just saw a white background in your browser tab, and then all of a sudden the whole thing filled in. This sometimes took 30-60 seconds. Long story short, it was taking that long for the initial request to even get to my server; once it did, everything after that was as fast as usual. I’m still not sure what exactly was causing this, but I’ve worked around it by having Cloudflare act as an HTTP/S proxy for daringfireball.net. If any of you continue to see slow page loads, let me know.

Second, there was an issue where requests using the “www” prefix over HTTPS were triggering an SSL certificate warning from Safari that the site might not be legitimate. Only when using the “www” prefix, and only over HTTPS, not HTTP, because it was an SSL problem. I hadn’t changed anything on my end, but the latest version of Safari has tightened its SSL security. (Which is good.) I’ve never made use of a “www” prefix at Daring Fireball — I hate that prefix. But you have to support it, because so many people type it out of habit. So I’ve always redirected requests for “www.daringfireball.net” to “daringfireball.net”. The problem is, because I don’t actually use the “www” domain, I never properly supported it in my SSL certificate. Until a few weeks ago, Safari would just let you get redirected; now it doesn’t.

I solved this problem using Cloudflare too. In fact both problems were fixed the same way — by clicking one button in Cloudflare’s list of my DNS entries to allow Cloudflare to proxy HTTP/S requests. I switched to Cloudflare a year or so ago for managing my DNS, and I couldn’t be happier. It’s like magic. DNS can seem like voodoo (at least to me) but Cloudflare makes it easy. I don’t even pay them — I’m just using their free basic account level. This is not a sponsorship or ad — I just had to thank them for their wonderful service.

Anyway, I want to apologize to any of you affected by either of these issues.