‘Too Inconvenient’ 

Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson, and Daniel Lippman, reporting for Politico:

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

I don’t get it — surely it wouldn’t be inconvenient at all for Trump. It’s not like he’d be the one setting up the new phones.

Anyway, I’m sure everyone who was outraged by Hillary Clinton’s email practices will be just as outraged by this.

Teen Phone Monitoring App Leaked Thousands of User Passwords 

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet:

The mobile app, TeenSafe, bills itself as a “secure” monitoring app for iOS and Android, which lets parents view their child’s text messages and location, monitor who they’re calling and when, access their web browsing history, and find out which apps they have installed. […]

The database stores the parent’s email address associated with TeenSafe, as well as their corresponding child’s Apple ID email address. It also includes the child’s device name — which is often just their name — and their device’s unique identifier. The data contains the plaintext passwords for the child’s Apple ID. Because the app requires that two-factor authentication is turned off, a malicious actor viewing this data only needs to use the credentials to break into the child’s account to access their personal content data.

What a fiasco. Looks like TeenSafe pulls data from iCloud backups — that’s at least one of the reasons they require you to give them iCloud passwords.

60 Minutes on Google’s Search Monopoly 

Steve Kroft, reporting for 60 Minutes:

This past week the Federal Trade Commission was asked to investigate the data collected by Google on its Android operating system, which powers most of the world’s smartphones. It was a tiny blip in the news cycle but another sign of Washington’s and Europe’s growing concerns about the enormous, largely unchecked power accumulated by tech giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google over the last two decades. Of the three, Google, which is part of a holding company called Alphabet, is the most powerful, intriguing, and omnipresent in our lives. This is how it came to be.

Succinct, compelling case that Google is abusing its search monopoly to promote its own products. Yelp founder Jeremy Stopplelman:

Jeremy Stoppelman: If I were starting out today, I would have no shot of building Yelp. That opportunity has been closed off by Google and their approach.

Steve Kroft: In what way?

Jeremy Stoppelman: Because if you provide great content in one of these categories that is lucrative to Google, and seen as potentially threatening, they will snuff you out.

Steve Kroft: What do you mean snuff you out?

Jeremy Stoppelman: They will make you disappear. They will bury you.


My thanks to Kolide for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new Kolide Cloud “User Focused Security” concept. Last year, Netflix blogged about a great internal tool called Stethoscope which helped their security team communicate the key settings they expect their employees to manage instead of relying on intrusive enforcement. They termed this concept “User Focused Security”.

Kolide recently released Kolide Cloud, which enables you to roll out this User Focused Security strategy and effectively communicate your organization’s Mac security best-practices to your users.

Additionally, Kolide Cloud can detect and alert you about situational security concerns in your Mac fleet that often lead to serious compromises. Kolide looks for improperly stored 2FA backup codes, evidence of unencrypted backups, browser extensions that subvert the privacy of your users, and a litany of other issues that you will want to shut down immediately.

Kolide Cloud is free for your first 10 devices and you can sign up today.

Does Google’s Duplex Violate Two-Party Consent Laws? 

Devin Coldewey, writing for TechCrunch:

“It may be possible with careful design to extract the features you need without keeping the original, in a way where it’s mathematically impossible to recreate the recording,” Kortz said.

If that process is verifiable and there’s no possibility of eavesdropping — no chance any Google employee, law enforcement officer, or hacker could get into the system and intercept or collect that data — then potentially Duplex could be deemed benign, transitory recording in the eye of the law.

That assumes a lot, though. Frustratingly, Google could clear this up with a sentence or two. It’s suspicious that the company didn’t address this obvious question with even a single phrase, like Sundar Pichai adding during the presentation that “yes, we are compliant with recording consent laws.” Instead of people wondering if, they’d be wondering how.

This is one scenario I’m imagining for Google’s complete refusal to answer any questions related to the Duplex phone calls it has released — that they were actual Duplex calls to actual businesses (the one to Hong’s Gourmet almost certainly was, in my opinion), recorded without consent. Someone who works at the one restaurant we know Duplex called told Mashable they weren’t aware in advance.

This wouldn’t send anyone to prison, but it would be a bit of an embarrassment, and would reinforce the notion that Google has a cavalier stance on privacy (and adhering to privacy laws).

Rebecca Solnit: ‘The Coup Has Already Happened’ 

Rebecca Solnit, in a compelling essay for Literary Hub:

The current situation of the United States is obscene, insane, and incredible. If someone had pitched it for a thriller novel or film a few years ago, they would’ve been laughed out of whatever office their proposal made it to because fiction ought to be plausible. It isn’t plausible that a solipsistic buffoon and his retinue of petty crooks made it to the White House, but they did and there they are, wreaking more havoc than anyone would have imagined possible, from environmental laws to Iran nuclear deals. It is not plausible that the party in control of the federal government is for the most part a kleptomaniac criminal syndicate.

Washington Post: ‘Trump Administration Preparing to Hold Immigrant Children on Military Bases’ 

Nick Miroff and Paul Sonne, reporting for The Washington Post this week:

The Trump administration is making preparations to hold immigrant children on military bases, according to Defense Department communications, the latest sign the government is moving forward with plans to split up families who cross the border illegally.

According to an email notification sent to Pentagon staffers, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will make site visits at four military installations in Texas and Arkansas during the next two weeks to evaluate their suitability to shelter children.

The bases would be used for minors under 18 who arrive at the border without an adult relative or after the government has separated them from their parents. HHS is the government agency responsible for providing minors with foster care until another adult relative can assume custody.

Let’s not mince words. What they’re describing here are called concentration camps. For children, forcibly separated from their parents.

Samsung Compares Galaxy S9 to Very Slow iPhone 6 in New Ad 

Two thoughts on this Samsung ad trying to get iPhone 6 users to upgrade to a Galaxy S9:

  • I’m glad they’re making fun of the notch rather than copying it, like every other Android maker. Samsung should go all-in on anti-notch-ism. It’ll make them stand out not just compared to the iPhone, but to their Android competitors. I don’t think this weird haircut is the way to do it, though.

  • I’m curious about the legality of using the Apple logo on the shirts worn by the employees inside the fake Apple Store. I’m not sure I’ve seen that before. There’s a long history of second bananas mocking their market-leading competitor, by name, in ads. Pepsi mocking Coke, Burger King mocking McDonald’s. But can you imagine a Burger King commercial where someone goes into a McDonald’s, including employees wearing McDonald’s-logo’d uniforms, and gets a bad hamburger? Wendy’s iconic “Where’s the Beef?” spot took place in a generic competitor, not a McDonald’s (although the narrator mentions Big Mac and Whopper at the end).

    Rather than show and mention an actual iPhone 6 and Apple Store, if I were Samsung (and were going to demean myself by doing an ad like this) I would have created a thinly veiled caricature — say, from a brand called Pineapple or Banana — and then exaggerated every aspect of the experience for comic effect. Go for actual humor, “Where’s the Beef”-style.

    Update: Reader Jay Torres points to the most obvious point of reference for Samsung to follow: Apple’s own “Get a Mac” campaign from a decade ago. The success of that entire campaign hinged upon the fact that the ads were actually funny, and that John Hodgman’s PC character was actually likable.

Federal Judge Accused ICE of Making Up Evidence to Prove That Dreamer Was ‘Gang-Affiliated’ 

This is really an extraordinary report for Slate by Mark Joseph Stern:

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez shot down the federal government’s efforts to strip Daniel Ramirez Medina of his DACA status. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement had arrested and detained Ramirez last year, then falsely claimed that he was affiliated with a gang and attempted to deport him. He filed suit, alleging that ICE had violated his due process rights. Martinez agreed. His order barred the federal government from voiding Ramirez’s DACA status, safeguarding his ability to live and work in the United States legally for the foreseeable future. What may be most remarkable about Martinez’s decision, though, is its blunt repudiation of ICE’s main claim — that Ramirez is “gang-affiliated.” The judge did not simply rule against ICE. He accused the agency of lying to a court of law.

The facts of Ramirez’s case are extremely disturbing. In February 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump unleashed immigration agents to amp up arrests and deportations, ICE agents went to Ramirez’s father’s house in Seattle to arrest him. (The father is undocumented, and brought Ramirez to the U.S. illegally as a child.) While there, they encountered Ramirez and asked him whether he was “legally here.” He responded that he was — a truthful statement given his DACA status, which he had renewed the previous May. Yet ICE officers detained him anyway. They took him to a processing center, where, once again, he told them that he had a work permit.

“It doesn’t matter,” an agent responded, “because you weren’t born in this country.”

What’s unusual about Ramirez’s case isn’t that he was falsely accused of being a gang member. That seems to be a common tactic from ICE agents seeking to strip DACA recipients of their legal status so they can be deported. What’s unusual about Ramirez’s case is that he had the means to acquire good legal representation so he could fight back. I’ll repeat: ICE, under Trump, has turned into a terrorist organization. Keep in mind that thanks to the Republican-controlled Supreme Court, these ICE agents will likely face no legal repercussions for blatantly lying like this.

Keep this in mind regarding Trump and his supporters’ argument that he wasn’t referring to Latino immigrants, in general, as “animals”, but rather only to gang members. It’s just a linguistic charade to salve over the blatant racism. They’re not going after Latinos, they say, only gang members. But as this Ramirez case shows, they just declare anyone they want to deport to be a gang member, whether there’s any truth to it or not, and most people have no means to fight back.

‘No, of Course No.’ 

Jack Morse at Mashable, following up on DF reader Jay P’s deduction of the actual restaurant where Google claims two of its employees enjoyed a meal booked via Google Duplex:

And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.

That’s why I called Hongs Gourmet.

When I did, a woman answered the phone. After explaining I was a reporter with Mashable and that I was curious about Google employees eating there after using an AI to make a reservation, she told me she’d put me on the phone with Victor.

Victor got on the phone, and I explained the Google blog post and photo and asked him if the AI had made the reservation there. He replied in the affirmative.

I also asked him if Google had let him know about the planned Duplex test in advance, and he replied, “no, of course no.”

When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called Hongs Gourmet, he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone.

Regarding Google, this raises some questions. How many real-world businesses has Google Duplex been calling and not identifying itself as an AI, leaving people to think they’re actually speaking to another human? I’m not entirely sure that’s ethically wrong, but I lean toward yes, it is wrong, especially while the product is at an experimental stage. I’m not alone. And if “Victor” is correct that Hong’s Gourmet had no advance knowledge of the call, Google may have violated California law by recording the call.

Regarding Jack Morse and Mashable, what an embarrassing pile of taking credit where credit is not due and not even understanding what exactly it’s even about this whole article is.1

  1. Mashable’s headline reads, “We Think We Got to the Bottom of the Google Duplex Mystery”, and the first 16 paragraphs make it sound as though Morse — and presumably, some of his Mashable colleagues, given the “we” in the headline — identified Hong’s Gourmet as the unnamed restaurant in the photo Google published. Only in the 17th paragraph does Morse get around to admitting he picked the whole thing up from the thread I started on Twitter. He wasn’t even involved in the Twitter thread. (He identifies me only as “longtime Apple fan John Gruber”. I’ll call my accountant tomorrow and amend my tax return with that job title.)

    And he was in such a rush to publish his “scoop” that he got significant parts of it totally wrong:

    Still, questions remained. Axios rightly wondered if Google was holding anything back. Specifically, the publication wanted to know if the entire thing was partially staged — as in the restaurant knew about the call ahead of time.

    We called what we’re pretty sure is the restaurant in question and got an answer.

    That would be Hongs Gourmet in Saratoga, California, located an approximately 20 minute drive south from the Google campus (according to Google Maps).

    Putting aside crediting Axios’s Dan Primack as the first to question the validity of Google’s recorded Duplex demos, Hong’s Gourmet (they seemingly spell it both with and without the apostrophe) has nothing to do with any recording Google played on stage at I/O. Google played two recordings of purported actual Duplex calls at I/O: a woman’s appointment for a haircut, and an attempted restaurant reservation that resulted in no reservation at all because the woman at the restaurant said they wouldn’t need one for the specified day and time — they could just walk in.

    Hong’s Gourmet is only of interest because of the caption of the photo at the bottom of the Google AI Blog announcement of Duplex: “Yaniv Leviathan, Google Duplex lead, and Matan Kalman, engineering manager on the project, enjoying a meal booked through a call from Duplex.” Google has a recording of the phone call Duplex purportedly made to book this meal, and it was not played on stage at I/O, nor did Axios reporter Dan Primack mention it.

    Regarding what clinched the deal that Hong’s was indeed the restaurant, Morse writes:

    And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.

    That would be more than some kind of coincidence. It would be one hell of a coincidence. But Morse didn’t even mention the genuinely clinching evidence: Jay P’s discovery that a neighboring restaurant’s sign was legibly reflected in the glass of the picture frame over their heads.

    I have no problem with Morse (or anyone else) putting a story out regarding the Twitter thread I started. The whole point of doing it on Twitter is that it’s in public. And Morse did take it further, by calling Hong’s and getting that “No, of course no” quote from an employee on the record. But don’t try to take credit for others’ work and think you’re going to get away with it. It’s a bad look. ↩︎

The Restaurant Where Google Claims to Have Booked an Actual Meal Via Duplex

At the bottom of Google’s AI Blog announcement of Duplex (“An AI System for Accomplishing Real World Tasks Over the Phone”), they included a photo of two Duplex engineers eat a meal, with the following caption:

Yaniv Leviathan, Google Duplex lead, and Matan Kalman, engineering manager on the project, enjoying a meal booked through a call from Duplex.

As suspicions around this announcement deepen, I got to wondering if we could identify this restaurant. If we could identify the restaurant, we could ask them if they had been told in advance they would be speaking to Google Duplex, among other interesting questions.

The image is cropped somewhat tightly, but they’re clearly eating Chinese food, the bench style and wall color are distinctive, and there’s a large picture hanging over their heads. So, I did the laziest thing I could possibly do: I asked my Twitter followers if any of them recognized it.

22 minutes later, we had the answer from DF reader Jay P: Hong’s Gourmet, in Saratoga, CA. This image on Yelp shows the same bench, same wall, and same picture on the wall. Next door to Hong’s Gourmet is Masu Sushi, whose sign is legibly reflected in the glass of the picture behind the Google engineers.1

My thanks to Jay P and everyone else who contributed to the thread on Twitter. Jay deserves the credit for cracking this, by going backwards from the Masu Sushi sign in the reflection.2 All I did was ask. The fact that I had an answer to my question in just 22 minutes shows that having a large follower count on Twitter is a bit of a super power. I honestly can’t think of another way to answer this question without Google PR’s help. I suppose, without Twitter, I could have just posted the question on Daring Fireball, and I might have gotten the same answer. But the threaded, public, instant nature of Twitter allowed for multiple people to contribute — we went from “this might be the place” to “this is definitely the place” in just a handful of minutes. Remarkable, really. 

  1. One weird detail is that the image from Google of the engineers has been flipped horizontally, so the reflection of the neighboring restaurant’s sign isn’t mirrored. My only guess as to why Google flipped this image is that they wanted Leviathan, the project lead, to have his name listed first in the caption. ↩︎

  2. Solving this not from the decor of the restaurant but instead from the tiny reflection of the neighboring restaurant’s sign brings to mind one word: “Enhance.” ↩︎︎

Republican Lawmaker Says Rocks Falling Into Ocean to Blame for Rising Sea Levels 

Avery Anapol, reporting for The Hill:

A Republican lawmaker on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee said Thursday that rocks from the White Cliffs of Dover and the California coastline, as well as silt from rivers tumbling into the ocean, are contributing to high sea levels globally.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) made the comment during a hearing on technology and the changing climate, which largely turned into a Q&A on the basics of climate research.

I think some of those rocks fell out of his head. Remember, this isn’t just a congressman, he’s on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Update: Here’s some back-of-the-envelope math courtesy of Craig Hockenberry, to illustrate just how embarrassingly stupid this notion is: to account for half of the ocean level rise from 1993 to 2014, you’d need to dig a trench one mile wide and one mile deep (the depth of the Grand Canyon) all the way from Los Angeles to New York and dump it all in the ocean. And that only gets you halfway. Read Craig’s thread and he’ll show you the math.

Axios Looks Into Google’s Duplex Demo 

Dan Primack, reporting for Axios:

When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn’t happen when the Google assistant called these “real” businesses:

When the hair salon picks up, a woman says: “Hello, how can I help you?”

When the restaurant picks up, a woman says: “Hi, may I help you?”

Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants — including some in Google’s hometown of Mountain View — and every one immediately gave the business name.

The way the people answered the phone in these recordings was one of the first things that made me suspicious that these examples were either significantly edited or outright fakes. Plus, the salon only asks for a name (and only a first name at that). No phone number, no checking if the client has a request for a certain stylist.

For those defending Google along the lines that it’s acceptable for on-stage demos to be simulated, the problem is that Sundar Pichai said, “What you’re going to hear is the Google Assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment for you. Let’s listen.”

Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant, in order to verify both that the businesses exist and that the calls were not pre-planned. We also said that we’d guarantee, in writing, not to publicly identify either establishment (so as to prevent them from receiving unwanted attention).

A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

We also asked if either call was edited, even perhaps just cutting the second or two when the business identifies itself. And, if so, were there other edits? The spokeswoman declined comment, but said she’d check and get back to us. She didn’t.

Kudos to Primack for pressing Google on this.

Espresso Creator Jan Van Boghout Moves to Framer 

Longstanding Mac editor Espresso (mentioned here at DF numerous times over the years) is changing hands to the newly-founded Warewolf, and Espresso creator Jan Van Boghout is closing shop at MacRabbit to join the team at Framer. There are a lot of very talented people who’ve built many great apps over the years involved in this story. Congratulations and good wishes to all.

The End of Third-Party Twitter Clients?

“Apps of a Feather” — a joint statement from the developers of several top third-party Twitter clients:

After August 16th, 2018, “streaming services” at Twitter will be removed. This means two things for third-party apps:

  1. Push notifications will no longer arrive
  2. Timelines won’t refresh automatically

If you use an app like Talon, Tweetbot, Tweetings, or Twitterrific, there is no way for its developer to fix these issues.

We are incredibly eager to update our apps. However, despite many requests for clarification and guidance, Twitter has not provided a way for us to recreate the lost functionality. We’ve been waiting for more than a year and have had one reprieve.

This antipathy to third-party clients is especially confounding considering that Twitter recently dropped support for their own native Mac client. As far as I’m aware, once this comes to pass next month, there will be no way to receive notifications of Twitter DMs on a Mac. None. (Twitter’s website doesn’t even support Safari’s desktop notification feature.) That’s just wacky.

Twitter management obviously wants to steer people to their first-party mobile app and desktop website. I get that. But they already have that: the overwhelming number of Twitter users use exactly those products to access the service. What Twitter management seems to be missing is that many of its most influential users — including yours truly, yes — have been on the platform a long time and have a high tendency to be among those who not just use, but depend upon third-party clients.

To me this is like finding out you’re now required to access email entirely through a web browser. Sure, lots of people already do it that way and either prefer it or think it’s eh, just fine, who cares — but a lot of others hate it and find it completely disruptive to longstanding workflows.

Twitter isn’t explicitly saying that they’re shutting down third-party clients, but I don’t know that it’s feasible for them to exist if they don’t have access to these APIs. It’s like breaking up with someone by being a jerk to them rather than telling them you’re breaking up.

I urge Twitter to reconsider this decision. Third-party clients account for a relatively small part of the Twitter ecosystem, but it’s an important one. Twitter may not care about a native Mac client, but the users of these apps, and the developers who make them, certainly do. 

Simpsons Editor Taylor Allen Teaches Us How an Episode Comes Together 

I had no idea staffers at The Simpsons were such sharp dressers.


From developer Jeff Johnson:

StopTheMadness is a Safari extension for Mac that stops web sites from making Safari harder to use. Some web sites disable Mac user interface features in Safari that you normally expect to work. For example:

  • password autocomplete
  • ⌘-click to open a link in a new tab
  • ⌘-key keyboard shortcuts
  • selecting, copying, cutting, and pasting of text
  • drag and drop
  • opening contextual menus

StopTheMadness ensures that those features continue to work in Safari. With StopTheMadness enabled, the annoying web sites that deliberately make your life harder suddenly become easy to use again!

This extension works great and fixes so many little things that annoy me about websites. I just ran into a site today that somehow ate my keyboard shortcut for switching between tabs. I realized I hadn’t yet installed StopTheMadness on this Mac (I’ve been running it on my MacBook Pro for a few weeks). I installed it, restarted Safari, and boom — that website no longer eats my keyboard shortcut. This is also a great way to work around those banking sites that try to keep you from autocompleting passwords.

$5 and worth every penny.

Microsoft Previews Surface Hub 2 

Very impressive-looking successor to the current Surface Hub. I particularly like the way you can tile up to 4 of them next to each other. No pricing details yet, and it’s not shipping until sometime next year.

Facebook Closed 583 Million Fake Accounts in First Three Months of 2018 

Alex Hern and Olivia Solon, reporting for The Guardian:

In its first quarterly Community Standards Enforcement Report, Facebook said the overwhelming majority of moderation action was against spam posts and fake accounts: it took action on 837m pieces of spam, and shut down a further 583m fake accounts on the site in the three months. But Facebook also moderated 2.5m pieces of hate speech, 1.9m pieces of terrorist propaganda, 3.4m pieces of graphic violence and 21m pieces of content featuring adult nudity and sexual activity.

583 million fake accounts is a rather staggering figure. For context, Twitter’s entire active user base — which surely includes untold millions of fake accounts — is just 330 million. The population of the United States is around 325 million.

Google Lowers Prices on Storage 

Shannon Liao, writing for The Verge:

Google One will get a new $2.99 a month option that gets you 200GB of storage. The 2TB plan, which usually costs $19.99 per month, will now cost $9.99 a month. Finally, the 1TB plan that costs $9.99 a month is getting removed. The other plans for 10, 20, or 30TB won’t see any changes.

Google will also make the plan shareable within a family of up to five members, and give users access to live chat support even if you’re on the cheapest plan of $1.99 a month for 100GB. It’s the first time live support is coming to Google for users who may not have a G Suite business account.

If you want to use Google One without paying at all, the company will still offer Drive’s basic 15GB of free space option.

Apple’s monthly prices for iCloud storage (which has had family sharing since iOS 11):

  • Free: 5 GB
  • $1: 50 GB
  • $3: 200 GB
  • $10: 2 TB

So Google is now ahead on the free and $1/month tiers — but not by much — and is only matching Apple at the other tiers. I would think Google would want to kick Apple’s ass here.

How Soon Is ‘Soon’? 

I got a lot of email and Twitter feedback regarding my skepticism regarding Google’s Duplex over the weekend. Here’s a point: Google has a history of making product announcements that they claim are imminent but aren’t. One example: they announced this seemingly-magical photo-editing feature last year, convinced the press it was coming “soon” — that’s The Verge’s word, not mine — and here we are a year later and we haven’t heard a word about it since.

I maintain that Google is wrong for the way it presents in-the-works not-yet-ready features. I think like Microsoft of old (and Apple of ancient times), Google, institutionally, is only excited about things that are in the works, not the things it’s actually shipping. But unlike Microsoft of old, Google presents concept videos without labeling them as concept videos.

But I think the other problem is with the media, that, time after time, buys into Google’s demo claims unquestionably — and then never circles back to them when they don’t ship.

**Update: Turns out Welch did circle back to this last week: “The Amazing Feature Google Promised and Never Delivered”.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Regarding MacBook Keyboards 

Casey Johnston, writing at The Outline:

Late Friday night, Apple was hit with a class action lawsuit over the finicky butterfly-switch keyboards that have plagued its customers since they were released in 2015. The suit, filed in the Northern District Court of California, cites forum complaints going back to 2015, and substantially describes the difficulties of two named plaintiffs, one of whom experienced a failed keyboard after only one month.

The Outline was the first outlet to substantially cover the magnitude of the issue, writing that Apple Geniuses responsible for diagnosing and repairing these Apple computers would benevolently attribute dead keys and double-spacing spacebars to a “piece of dust” stuck under the keyboard.

Apple, like all large corporations, gets hit with class action lawsuits all the time. I almost always get emails about them but almost never link to them. But in this case I think it’s worth your attention, if not legally, then because of the publicity. People are latched onto this issue.

Donald Trump and Sean Hannity’s Late Night Calls 

Fantastic piece for New York Magazine by Olivia Nuzzi:

The call to the White House comes after ten o’clock most weeknights, when Hannity is over. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Sean Hannity broadcasts live at 9 p.m. on Fox News, usually from Studio J in midtown, where the network is headquartered, but sometimes from a remote studio on Long Island, where he was raised and now lives.

All White House phone numbers begin with the same six digits: 202-456. Hannity calls the White House switchboard, a number listed publicly, and reaches an operator. The operator refers to a list of cleared callers, a few dozen friends and family members outside the administration who may contact President Donald Trump through this official channel — among them his adult sons, Eric and Don Jr.; private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman; media billionaire Rupert Murdoch; real-estate billionaire Tom Barrack; Patriots owner and also-billionaire Robert Kraft; and Hannity.

The operator then dials the president, who leaves the Oval Office around 7 p.m. and who, by this point in the evening, is almost always by himself on the third floor of the executive residence (the First Lady reportedly sleeps in a separate bedroom). He tells the operator to put Hannity through.

John Carmack on His Interactions With Steve Jobs 

Some great anecdotes here, but it breaks my heart that he posted them on Facebook, of all places.

Update: Here’s a copy of the story posted to Hacker News.

Skillshare — The Best Way to Learn Online 

My thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring last 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 for this week only, Skillshare is offering the first 1,000 Daring Fireball readers two free months of Skillshare Premium. Whether you’re looking to gain technical skills, want to unlock your creative potential, or are just learning for learning’s sake, Skillshare’s got you covered. Click here to redeem.

Here’s 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.

Trump’s ZTE Zig-Zag 

Timothy B. Lee, reporting four short days ago for Ars Technica:

Last year, ZTE admitted to an elaborate multi-year scheme to sell US-made technology to Iran and North Korea in violation of US sanctions laws. ZTE paid $890 million in penalties and said it was in the process of disciplining dozens of senior company officials who had orchestrated a scheme to violate US sanctions laws.

But last month the Trump administration accused ZTE of continuing to lie to the US government even after last year’s guilty plea. The company told the US government that the guilty executives had received letters of reprimand and had had their 2016 bonuses reduced. But the US now says that was a lie — many of the employees received full bonuses, and they didn’t receive letters of reprimand until early 2018 — after the US government challenged ZTE on the issue.

In the April 15 order activating the export ban against ZTE, US Commerce Department official Richard Majauskas wrote that ZTE had demonstrated a “pattern of deception, false statements, and repeated violations.” A July 2017 letter to US officials was “brimming with false statements,” he said.

ZTE announced that it was shutting the whole company down because it can’t operate without US components (Android software from Google and chips from Qualcomm). U.S. intelligence officials have also warned that ZTE phones (and Huawei’s) pose a security risk to U.S. citizens.

President Trump, today:

President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!

America first.

A Little Duplex Skepticism 

I’ve been thinking about this Google Duplex thing — the AI assistant that can, according to Google, make phone calls on your behalf such as the one that the company played a video of on stage during Sundar Pichai’s I/O keynote.

Why not demo it live? Why only play recordings? When is it rolling out to actual customers? Was there a hands-on after the event where members of the media or conference attendees could talk to Duplex? It’s totally credible that Google would be the first to achieve something like Duplex, but the fact that all they did — as far as I’ve seen — was play a recording just seems off. It feels like a con.

If Duplex is real, if it can make phone calls and speak as intelligently as Google’s recordings make it seem, where are the people who’ve actually spoken with it? How is what they showed, and the way they showed it, distinguishable from a fraud? The more I think about it, the more strange this “demo” seems.

Jony Ive Talks Watches With Ben Clymer 

Jony Ive, in an interview with Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer:

I don’t look at watches for their relationship to popular culture, which I know is so much of the fun — but rather as somehow the distillation of craft, ingenuity, miniaturization, and of the art of making.

Update on Pocket Casts and Privacy 

Owen Grover, the new post-acquisition CEO of Pocket Casts:

We’re a private and separate company and our privacy policy remains unchanged. We can’t and won’t share any of your personal data with NPR, WNYC, WBEZ or This American Life. They didn’t buy Pocket Casts for that reason.

It’s also worth pointing out that we’ve spent 8 years caring about the kind of data we do and don’t store about you, it’s literally the minimum amount required to run our sync service. If you don’t sign in and leave push notifications off, we literally have no data about you. That’s less than any other podcast platform we know of. If you choose to sign in we have your email address, password and data to sync to other platforms. If you turn on push we store the unique ID Apple gives us so we can send you push notifications. We find it so easy to justify this because every piece of data we store is to provide you with services, not us with your data.

Good to hear.

Concern 4: Pocket Casts will start tracking users [sic] locations.

This one perplexes me, but hey we did say we’d address everything. We don’t need your location data. We don’t want your location data. We won’t be collecting or storing your location data. Where you go day to day is none of our business…I have no idea why people even think we’d do that.

Again, good to hear, but I find it hard to believe Grover is genuinely perplexed by this concern. The reason they’d start tracking location is to serve targeted local ads.

Google Assistant Sounds Like a Human on the Phone 

James Vincent, writing for The Verge:

It came as a total surprise: the most impressive demonstration at Google’s I/O conference yesterday was a phone call to book a haircut. Of course, this was a phone call with a difference. It wasn’t made by a human, but by the Google Assistant, which did an uncannily good job of asking the right questions, pausing in the right places, and even throwing in the odd “mmhmm” for realism.

The crowd was shocked, but the most impressive thing was that the person on the receiving end of the call didn’t seem to suspect they were talking to an AI. It’s a huge technological achievement for Google, but it also opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical and social challenges.

For example, does Google have an obligation to tell people they’re talking to a machine? Does technology that mimics humans erode our trust in what we see and hear?

It’s uncanny how realistic this sounds, but I genuinely wonder if it’s disingenuous to program an AI that hems and haws like a human. There’s a genuine humanity to this voice, but is that dishonest?

The Talk Show: ‘Slathered in Incompetence’ 

Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s quarterly results, the discontinuation of Apple’s AirPort product line, and more.

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My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new Kolide Cloud “User Focused Security” concept. Last year, Netflix blogged about a great internal tool called Stethoscope which helped their security team communicate the key settings they expect their employees to manage instead of relying on intrusive enforcement. They termed this concept “User Focused Security”.

Kolide recently released Kolide Cloud, which enables you to roll out this User Focused Security strategy and effectively communicate your organization’s Mac security best-practices to your users.

Additionally, Kolide Cloud can detect and alert you about situational security concerns in your Mac fleet that often lead to serious compromises. Kolide looks for improperly stored 2FA backup codes, evidence of unencrypted backups, browser extensions that subvert the privacy of your users, and a litany of other issues that you will want to shut down immediately.

Kolide Cloud is free for your first 10 devices and you can sign up today.

20th Anniversary of the Original iMac 

Jason Snell:

It’s hard to believe today that a Steve Jobs product presentation would be met with indifference, but there was a huge amount of skepticism about Apple’s product announcements back in early 1998. Though there were definitely signs that the company was turning it around, I also recall being summoned to Apple product events where nothing much at all was announced. Regardless, only the editor in chief of Macworld, Andy Gore, even bothered to go to the announcement at the Flint Center that day.

As soon as the event ended, I got a phone call — I was working at home that day — and was told to immediately get in to the office, for an all-hands-on-deck meeting, because Apple had announced a new computer that was going to change everything. I have to give Andy credit — the moment he saw the iMac he knew it was going to be huge. We tore up our magazine issue in the matter of about a day in order to get first word about the iMac out to people in the days before instant Apple news was a thing.

Until the iMac was unveiled, the only thing Apple had really shipped in the post-NeXT-reunification era was the Think Different ad campaign. That was a great campaign, but still, mere words, not action. The iMac was the first real product, and it set the stage for everything that has come since. Snell truly captures the significance of the original iMac — the surprise, the controversy, the excitement. This was the moment when Apple truly was back.

A few stats. Max RAM on the original iMac was 128 MB; on today’s iMac Pro it’s 128 GB. Graphics megaflops performance: 60 vs. 11,000,000. It’s almost ridiculous what a difference 20 years makes, but the spirit remains the same.


This is the final word on the IMHO matter as far as I’m concerned.

San Francisco Mayoral Candidate Jane Kim Eviscerates SF Chronicle Ahead of Attempted Hit Piece 

This exemplifies the power of blogging — Jane Kim was able to get ahead of an attempted hit piece seemingly based on opposition research from her leading opponent. Just read it.

(The Chronicle has responded with an editor’s note, acknowledging that the questions were flawed.)

HTC Tweets Teaser Photo Ostensibly Showing Components of Their Upcoming Phone, But the Parts Are From an iPhone 6 

You can’t make stuff like this up. HTC probably can’t show their own components because they’re a mess.

Overcast 4.2: The Privacy Update 

Speaking of popular podcast players and invasive user tracking, the latest update to Marco Arment’s Overcast has gone in the opposite direction:

In most podcast apps, podcasts are downloaded automatically in the background. The only data sent to a podcast’s publisher about you or your behavior is your IP address and the app’s name. The IP address lets them derive your approximate region, but not much else.

They don’t know exactly who you are, whether you listened, when you listened, how far you listened, or whether you skipped certain parts.

Some large podcast producers are trying very hard to change that.

I’m not.

Big data ruined the web, and I’m not going to help bring it to podcasts. Publishers already get enough from Apple to inform ad rates and make content decisions — they don’t need more data from my customers. Podcasting has thrived, grown, and made tons of money for tons of people under the current model for over a decade. We already have all the data we need.

Agreed completely. Podcasts are thriving not despite the fact that they’re largely anonymous and private, but because they’re anonymous and private.

Pocket Casts Acquired by NPR, Other Public Radio Stations, and This American Life 

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

Pocket Casts, widely considered to be one of the best mobile apps for podcast listening, has been acquired by a collective group that includes NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago, and This American Life. […]

Moving forward, Pocket Casts will operate as a joint venture between the new owners. Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic, who formed Shifty Jelly (Pocket Cast’s developer) in 2008, will have unspecified “leadership roles.” The existing staff and development team is staying put. Owen Grover, a veteran of iHeartRadio / Clear Channel, has been named as Pocket Cast’s CEO. NPR’s apps including NPR One will remain in development.

The acquisition price isn’t being disclosed. But the people behind Pocket Casts are insistent they chose this path not because of what the buyers paid, but because of who they are. “We have had acquisition offers in the past,” Ivanovic told The Verge by email. “We turned them down because the unique thing about this opportunity is the mission driven nature of these organizations. They want what’s best for the podcasting space, they want to build open systems that everyone can use.”

I hope this works out great, but I would wager money that this is about user-tracking (for user-profile-based dynamic ad insertion) and embedding crap like listener surveys right in the player. Many of the shows in this collective are already doing dynamic ad insertions based on their best guess of your location based on your IP address. I could be wrong, and hope I am, but I’ll bet Pocket Casts will soon ask for permission to access your location. A CEO from Clear Channel is not encouraging.

The big podcast companies have been clamoring for intrusive user tracking in podcast players for years now, and podcast player makers — led by Apple — have resisted. So I think the NPR group just went ahead and bought a podcast player — and a good, popular one at that.

CNet’s Story About an AR/VR Product From Apple Sounds Like an Early Proof of Concept Prototype, Not a Product 

Shara Tibken, reporting last week for CNet:

The company is working on a headset capable of running both AR and VR technology, according to a person familiar with Apple’s plans. Plans so far call for an 8K display for each eye — higher resolution than today’s best TVs — that would be untethered from a computer or smartphone, the person said.

The project, codenamed T288, is still in its early stages but is slated for release in 2020. Apple still could change or scrap its plans.

I do believe that good VR will require 8K displays. If you haven’t tried high-end VR yet, you might think that having the display(s) so close to your eyes would mean you don’t need so many pixels, but I can tell you that you do. The best VR headsets on the market today look very pixel-y.

But I don’t believe for a second that it’s feasible to have a consumer headset running dual 8K displays in 2020, let alone on battery.

Apple’s headset would connect to a dedicated box using a high-speed, short-range wireless technology, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans. The box, which would be powered by a custom Apple processor more powerful than anything currently available, would act as the brain for the AR/VR headset. In its current state, the box resembles a PC tower, but it won’t be an actual Mac computer.

VR and AR require the lowest possible latency and the highest possible refresh rates. These dual 8K displays are going to be driven wirelessly? In two years?

I know for a fact Apple is working on VR/AR headset projects, but this sounds like something that’s at the stage the iPhone was at when it looked like this — a research product / crude prototype that bore no resemblance to the ultimate product that shipped.


MG Siegler on Apple’s decision to discontinue its AirPort product line:

If Apple wants to get out of the wireless router business — a business they helped kickstart — fine. The problem is that they could have — and I’d argue, should have — been fundamentally changing this business for the better, in a way basically no other company can.

I’ve written in the past about what the Apple TV product should have been. To quickly recap: the entertainment box many of us know and like (but don’t love) mixed with gaming (true gaming, with dedicated controls, not the middling iOS ports with that awful remote) mixed with full Siri integration. In other words, they should have made the first “smart speaker” for the home, but actually better. Instead, we got a dumb Apple TV and a dumb HomePod. Two wrongs to make a wrong.

The writing has been on the wall for AirPort for years, but I largely agree with Siegler. I’m not saying Apple should continue to make mere Wi-Fi routers. I’m saying they had, and missed, an opportunity to make really smart, trustworthy home hubs like nothing else on the market. Something like an AirPort mesh network, Apple TV, HomePod, and Time Capsule rolled into one.

The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code 

Fantastic story in Businessweek by Kit Chellel:

Veteran gamblers know you can’t beat the horses. There are too many variables and too many possible outcomes. Front-runners break a leg. Jockeys fall. Champion thoroughbreds decide, for no apparent reason, that they’re simply not in the mood. The American sportswriter Roger Kahn once called the sport “animated roulette.” Play for long enough, and failure isn’t just likely but inevitable — so the wisdom goes. “If you bet on horses, you will lose,” says Warwick Bartlett, who runs Global Betting & Gaming Consultants and has spent years studying the industry.

What if that wasn’t true? What if there was one person who masterminded a system that guaranteed a profit? One person who’d made almost a billion dollars, and who’d never told his story — until now?

The 2017 Panic Report 

Thoroughly interesting and delightful, as usual.


Lobe just launched publicly today:

Lobe is an easy-to-use visual tool that lets you build custom deep learning models, quickly train them, and ship them directly in your app without writing any code. Start by dragging in a folder of training examples from your desktop. Lobe automatically builds you a custom deep learning model and begins training. When you’re done, you can export a trained model and ship it directly in your app.

It’s a completely visual tool from designer Mike Matas and his co-founders Markus Beissinger and Adam Menges. I am always interested in anything Matas does, and Lobe is no exception.

You build and edit Lobe models through a web interface, and there’s a cloud API developers can use for finished models in production. But Lobe also exports to CoreML (for Apple platforms) and TensorFlow. My analogy: writing CoreML by hand is like writing PostScript by hand — possible, but only by a small number of talented experts. Lobe is to CoreML what Illustrator was to PostScript — a profoundly powerful tool that exposes the underlying technology to non-experts through an intuitive visual interface. Lobe looks utterly Matas-ian.

If you have any interest whatsoever in machine learning, drop what you’re doing right now and watch their 13-minute introductory tour. And if you’re not interested in machine learning, watch the video anyway and you’ll become interested in machine learning. It looks that amazing.