Wednesday, 26 July 2017
In Markdown, you can create unordered lists using any of three characters as the “bullets”: asterisk (
*), hyphen (
-), or plus (
+). Why all three? More or less: why not? Better to let people choose the character that feels most natural to them. I know a lot of Markdown users choose different characters for different levels of hierarchical lists, and that went into the original thinking as well.
I’ve always been curious which list markers people actually use, so I did a poll on Twitter. The results:
- 42% Asterisk (
- 54% Hyphen (
- 04% Plus (
You can only respond to Twitter polls using Twitter’s official clients, and because a lot of my followers have the good taste to use third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific, I wound up getting a lot of “responses” by way of replies to my tweet. They don’t show up in the results above, but eyeballing them, they’re right in line: lots of fans of asterisks and hyphens, crickets chirping for plus.
I’m most surprised by how unpopular plus is. I use it a lot myself. The funny thing is, I’m not even sure how I’d answer the poll personally — I use all three, depending on my mood. Part of the reason Markdown supports all three characters is that I couldn’t decide on just one back in 2003, and I still can’t.
The glaring omission in supported characters, of course, is an actual bullet (
•). If Markdown had only been something I’d meant to use myself, or among friends, I would have made use of punctuation characters outside the 7-bit ASCII range, and literal bullets would have been first on the list. But at the time, character-encoding mismatches were still a daily problem. Today, UTF-8 is sufficiently universal that using such characters in an update to Markdown would probably work out fine. ★
Trump Says Tim Cook Has Promised to Build Three Manufacturing Plants in U.S. ★
Tripp Mickle and Peter Nicholas, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:
Mr. Trump, in a 45-minute interview with The Wall Street Journal,
said Mr. Cook promised him Apple would build “three big plants,
beautiful plants.” Mr. Trump didn’t elaborate on where those
plants would be located or when they would be built.
“I spoke to [Mr. Cook], he’s promised me three big plants — big,
big, big,” Mr. Trump said as part of a discussion about
business-tax reform and business investment. “I said you know,
Tim, unless you start building your plants in this country, I
won’t consider my administration an economic success. He called
me, and he said they are going forward.”
Apple declined to comment.
This is odd in so many ways. If it’s true, this is a massive strategic shift for Apple, and it makes me wonder why Cook would share this news with Trump prior to Apple announcing it on their own terms. And if it’s not true, boy did Trump just send Cook a huge shit sandwich.
Apple’s most recent foray into U.S. assembly is a facility in Texas for the Mac Pro. There was quite a bit of publicity about that, but until now it doesn’t seem to have led to anything else. And Apple doesn’t even own that plant — they partnered with a company named Flex. According to Vindu Goel, Apple only owns one factory in the world — in Ireland.
Adobe Announces End-of-Life for Flash ★
Today, most browser vendors are integrating capabilities once
provided by plugins directly into browsers and deprecating
Given this progress, and in collaboration with several of our
technology partners — including Apple, Facebook, Google,
Microsoft and Mozilla — Adobe is planning to end-of-life Flash.
Specifically, we will stop updating and distributing the Flash
Player at the end of 2020 and encourage content creators to
migrate any existing Flash content to these new open formats.
Apple’s key decision was never supporting Flash on iOS, and sticking with that decision even when they were under significant marketing pressure to do so. Steve Jobs’s famous “Thoughts on Flash” was not the cause of Flash’s demise — it was an explanation for why Flash was doomed.
iOS never supporting Flash, combined with the size and appealing demographics of iOS users, hastened the demise of Flash by several years. Web publishers switched to HTML5 technologies for video and interactive content sooner than they would have otherwise. But I think Flash was doomed regardless. The world was going mobile whether Apple led the way or not, and Flash was never a good fit for mobile computing.
This official “end of life” statement is an important step, but Adobe saw the writing on the wall six years ago when they officially stopped developing Flash Player for Android. Strategically, that was the death of Flash.
David Remnick Interviews Maggie Haberman ★
The New Yorker’s David Remnick has a terrific interview with New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman. Much of what we know of the inner workings of the Trump White House, we know from Haberman.
D.R.: What do you make out to be the ideology of Donald Trump? Or
is it purely situational? We saw him running as a new kind of
populist. At moments, he seems very right-wing; at other times he
undermines that kind of conservative ideology.
M.H.: I think he has no clear ideology. I think he has a couple of
base impulses he’s held onto since the nineteen-eighties, when he
was taking out those newspaper ads about how Japan is “ripping us
off.” A lot of the language that he used then is the same as what
he uses now, but it’s more of a feeling than an ideology. It’s a
sense that the United States is being taken advantage of. Can he
name by whom, accurately? Not necessarily. He ran as a Republican,
and he really appealed to this hard-right base that believes in
less government. But, in reality, this is a man who grew up in Ed
Koch’s New York City, and I think he has a very specific view of
the role that government is supposed to play in people’s lives.
The Verge: Bragi Dash Pro Wireless Earbuds ★
Sean O’Kane, writing for The Verge:
Bragi hasn’t completely solved this problem with the Dash Pro, and
I still think its other, cheaper, wireless earbuds are a better
buy. But the company’s gotten much closer this time around. You
can put your phone in basically any pocket, or in a bag, and the
connection only hiccups about 10 percent of the time, maybe even
less depending on your height.
I’m not saying my AirPods never suffer Bluetooth hiccups, but it happens very rarely. Apple is so far ahead of its competition on this front.
Neuropathologist Examined the Brains of 111 NFL Players; 110 of Them Showed Signs of C.T.E. ★
The New York Times:
Dr. Ann McKee, a neuropathologist, has examined the brains of 202
deceased football players. A broad survey of her findings was
published on Tuesday in The Journal of the American Medical
Of the 202 players, 111 of them played in the N.F.L. — and 110 of
those were found to have chronic traumatic encephalopathy, or
C.T.E., the degenerative disease believed to be caused by repeated
blows to the head. […]
The set of players posthumously tested by Dr. McKee is far from
a random sample of N.F.L. retirees. “There’s a tremendous
selection bias,” she has cautioned, noting that many families
have donated brains specifically because the former player
showed symptoms of C.T.E.
But 110 positives remain significant scientific evidence of an
N.F.L. player’s risk of developing C.T.E., which can be diagnosed
only after death. About 1,300 former players have died since the
B.U. group began examining brains. So even if every one of the
other 1,200 players had tested negative — which even the
heartiest skeptics would agree could not possibly be the case —
the minimum C.T.E. prevalence would be close to 9 percent, vastly
higher than in the general population.
I keep thinking change will come inevitably from the ground up — fewer and fewer parents are allowing their kids to play football each year. But at the high school level, participation only dropped by 2.5 percent from 2008 through 2015.
Wednesday, 19 July 2017
The single biggest misconception about iOS is that it’s good digital hygiene to force quit apps that you aren’t using. The idea is that apps in the background are locking up unnecessary RAM and consuming unnecessary CPU cycles, thus hurting performance and wasting battery life.
That’s not how iOS works. The iOS system is designed so that none of the above justifications for force quitting are true. Apps in the background are effectively “frozen”, severely limiting what they can do in the background and freeing up the RAM they were using. iOS is really, really good at this. It is so good at this that unfreezing a frozen app takes up way less CPU (and energy) than relaunching an app that had been force quit. Not only does force quitting your apps not help, it actually hurts. Your battery life will be worse and it will take much longer to switch apps if you force quit apps in the background.
Here’s a short and sweet answer from Craig Federighi, in response to an email from a customer asking if he force quits apps and whether doing so preserves battery life: “No and no.”
Here, from the official support document on forcing applications to close, is Apple’s own advice on when to use this feature:
When you double-click the Home button, your recently used apps
appear. The apps aren’t open, but they’re in standby mode to help
you navigate and multitask. You should force an app to close only
when it’s unresponsive.
Update: MacDailyNews quotes a 2010 email from Steve Jobs:
Just use [iOS multitasking] as designed, and you’ll be happy. No
need to ever quit apps.
Just in case you don’t believe Apple’s senior vice president for software, Apple’s own official support documentation, or Steve Jobs, here are some other articles pointing out how this habit is actually detrimental to iPhone battery life:
This thing about force quitting apps in the background is such a pernicious myth that I’ve heard numerous stories from DF readers about Apple Store Genius Bar staff recommending it to customers. Those “geniuses” are anything but geniuses.
It occurs to me that some of the best examples proving that this notion is wrong (at least in terms of performance) are YouTube “speed test” benchmarks. There’s an entire genre of YouTube videos devoted to benchmarking new phones by running them through a series of apps and CPU-intensive tasks repeatedly, going through the loop twice. Once from a cold boot and the second time immediately after the first loop. Here’s a perfect example, pitting a Samsung Galaxy S8 against an iPhone 7 Plus. Note that no apps are manually force quit on either device. The iPhone easily wins on the first loop, but where the iPhone really shines is on the second loop. The S8 has to relaunch all (or at least almost all) of the apps, because Android has forced them to quit while in the background to reclaim the RAM they were using. On the iPhone, all (or nearly all) of the apps re-animate almost instantly.
In fact, apps frozen in the background on iOS unfreeze so quickly that I think it actually helps perpetuate the myth that you should force quit them: if you’re worried that background apps are draining your battery and you see how quickly they load from the background, it’s a reasonable assumption to believe that they never stopped running. But they did. They really do get frozen, the RAM they were using really does get reclaimed by the system, and they really do unfreeze and come back to life that quickly.1
An awful lot of very hard work went into making iOS work like this. It’s a huge technical advantage that iOS holds over Android. And every iPhone user in the world who habitually force quits background apps manually is wasting all of the effort that went into this while simultaneously wasting their own device’s battery life and making everything slower for themselves.
This pernicious myth is longstanding and seemingly will not die. I wrote about it at length back in 2012:
Like with any voodoo, there are die-hard believers. I’m quite
certain that I am going to receive email from people who will
swear up-and-down that emptying this list of used applications
every hour or so keeps their iPhone running better than it would
As Fraser mentions, yes, there are exceptional situations where an
app with background privileges can get stuck, and you need to kill
that app. The argument here is not that you should never have to
kill any app using the multitasking switcher — the argument is
that you don’t need to do it on a regular basis, and you’re not
making anything “better” by clearing the list. Shame on the
“geniuses” who are peddling this advice.
And don’t even get me started on people who completely power down their iPhones while putting them back into their pockets or purses. ★
Tuesday, 18 July 2017
Rene Ritchie, “iPhones of Future Past: Understanding iPhone 8”:
iPhone 8 will simply let Apple impress in a different way — by
including technologies that don’t yet reach iPhone scale. In other
words, by bringing tomorrow’s iPhone to market today.
In terms of the business, it’s really no different than getting an
iPhone onto Verizon, onto China Mobile, with bigger and bigger
displays, or with smaller displays again — it’s about annexing
adjacent markets and maximizing the revenue potential for iPhone.
As it becomes harder to sell more iPhones — the population of
earth is now a limiting factor — selling more of an iPhone
becomes beneficial. It’s the same benefit Apple gets from selling
services revenue on top of iPhone, but in atoms, not bits.
Ritchie is using the name “iPhone 8” to refer to what I’ve called the “iPhone Pro” — the high-end OLED-display model that I think might start at over $1000. Name aside, I think he’s got exactly the right idea on how Apple can position this: a future iPhone today.
Honda used to sell a car in the U.S. called the Prelude. Edmunds’s description:
Honda established itself in America with the Civic and Accord —
both good, solid but basic cars. But big profits in the automotive
world don’t come from basic cars that sell for commodity prices.
Those profits come from cars that get consumers so excited that
they’ll pay a premium price just to have one. The Prelude was
Honda’s first attempt at an exciting car.
The Prelude was Honda’s technological leading edge. Features that
are now expected from Honda, like the double-wishbone suspension
under the Accord, fuel injection, and VTEC electronic variable
valve timing system showed up first on the Prelude before
migrating across the Honda line (though VTEC first showed up on
the 1990 Acura NSX). The Prelude was also a test bed for some
technologies that went nowhere, like four-wheel steering.
In a broad sense, that’s my idea for the iPhone Pro — a premium-priced product that offers us early access to technologies and components that will be (or even just might be) in all iPhones in another year or two. ★
Apple’s Risky Balancing Act With the Next iPhone ★
Jason Snell, in a terrific column for Macworld:
This is one of those areas where Apple may be the victim of its
own success. The iPhone is so popular a product that Apple can’t
include any technology or source any part if it can’t be made more
than 200 million times a year. If the supplier of a cutting-edge
part Apple wants can only provide the company with 50 million per
year, it simply can’t be used in the iPhone. Apple sells too many,
Contrast that to Apple’s competition. On the smaller end, former
Android chief Andy Rubin announced the Essential phone, but even
Rubin admitted that he’d only be able to sell in thousands, not
millions. Same for the RED Hydrogen One — groundbreaking phone,
hardly likely to sell in any volume. The Google Pixel looks like
it’s in the one million range. Apple’s biggest competitor,
Samsung, has to deal with a scale more similar to Apple’s — but
it’s still only expected to sell 50 or 60 million units of the
flagship Galaxy S8.
As one DF reader (thanks, SH) put it in an email a few weeks ago:
People commonly think that scale is an unambiguously good thing in
production, but the tremendous scale at which Apple operates shows
this not to be the case. Annual iPhone production is so large that
Apple is likely experiencing diseconomies of scale, a phenomenon
one doesn’t often hear about. What significant, break-through
technology can a company practically introduce to 300 million new
devices in a year? I’m not even sure it would be physically
possible to manufacture 300 million OLED screens in a single year,
for instance. Much less any more dramatic change, like new
materials or manufacturing processes.
It’s not just this year that Apple has to pull off a risky balancing act regarding the features and components of the new flagship iPhone. It’s every year. I don’t think that balance is attainable without a change in strategy to add a new higher-priced lower-volume tier.
Jeet Heer: ‘We Are Living in the Coen Brothers’ Darkest Comedy’ ★
Jeet Heer, writing for The New Republic:
Imagine a group of dunderheaded Americans who think they would benefit from a covert alliance with the Russian government. They make overtures to that country’s ambassador, blithely ignorant that they’ll be monitored by U.S. intelligence. A series of cascading mistakes ultimately brings disaster crashing down on their heads.
That might sound like a summary of the latest news about the White House, but it is also the plot of Burn After Reading, the 2008 film that stands as singularly prophetic of the Trump era. The Coen Brothers’ black comedy echoes this unique period in history not only because of the Trump campaign’s collusion with Russian operatives, but the wider culture of deceit that made Donald Trump’s rise possible. More than just a satire on espionage, the movie is a scathing critique of modern America as a superficial, post-political society where cheating of all sorts comes all too easily.
Benedict Evans: ‘Creation and Consumption’ ★
It seems to me that when people talk about what you ‘can’t’ do on a device, there are actually two different meanings of ‘can’t’ in computing. There is ‘can’t’ as meaning the feature doesn’t exist, and there is ‘can’t’ as meaning you don’t know how to do it. If you don’t know how to do it, the feature might as well not be there. So, there is what an expert can’t do on a smartphone or tablet that they could do on a PC. But then there are all of the things that a normal person (the other 90% or 95%) can’t do on a PC but can do on a smartphone, because the step change in user interface abstraction and simplicity means that they know how to do it on a phone and didn’t know how to do it on a PC. That is, the step change in user interface models that comes with the shift from Windows and Mac to iOS and Android is really a shift in the accessibility of capability. A small proportion of people might temporarily go from can to can’t, but vastly more go from can’t to can.
Chaim Gartenberg: ‘The Future of the Smartwatch Should Be Smart Watch Bands’ ★
Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:
Despite the best efforts from Apple (with the Apple Watch), Google (with Android Wear), Samsung (with the Galaxy Gear), Pebble (with the, uh, Pebble), and dozens of other companies, the dream of the smartwatch hasn’t really taken off. Turns out that turning a smartphone into a wrist device isn’t really that appealing. Even if you can somehow get the right balance of battery life, device size, and developer support, people just aren’t really interested in getting anything more than notifications and fitness tracking from the devices they wear on their wrists.
I disagree completely. I’m on my way home from a family vacation at Disney World. I saw Apple Watches everywhere. (I would estimate that over 95 percent of them were the aluminum models.) Apple Watch is a hit product.
I think notifications and fitness tracking simply are what people want from their smart watches.
I think smart bands for non-smart watches are a non-starter — and I say that as someone who packed two mechanical watches and no Apple Watch for this trip. The analog nature of mechanical watches is central to their appeal.
Apple Previews New Emoji ★
In celebration of World Emoji Day, Apple is sharing some of the new emoji coming to iOS, macOS and watchOS later this year.
It’s crazy to me that there hasn’t been a sandwich emoji until now.
Thom Holwerda: ‘Android Is a Dead End’ ★
Thom Holwerda, writing for OSNews:
Android in its current form suffers from several key architectural
problems - it’s not nearly as resource-efficient as, say, iOS, has
consistent update problems, and despite hefty hardware, still
suffers from the occasional performance problems, among other
things - that Google clearly hasn’t been able to solve. It feels
like Android is in limbo, waiting for something, as if Google is
working on something else that will eventually succeed Android.
Is that something Fuchsia? Is Project Treble part of the
plan, to make it easier for Google to eventually replace Android’s
Linux base with something else? If Android as it exists today was
salvageable, why are some of the world’s greatest operating
systems engineers employed by Google not working on Android, but
on Fuchsia? If Fuchsia is just a research operating system,
why did its developers recently add actual wallpapers to the
repository? Why does every design choice for Fuchsia seem
specifically designed for and targeted at solving Android’s core
Android Killed Windows Phone ★
Dieter Bohn, The Verge:
So while Microsoft didn’t do itself any favors, I’d argue strongly
that all these machinations and flailings weren’t a response (or
weren’t only a response) to the iPhone. The real enemy was the
company that had set its sights on Microsoft’s phone ambitions
since before the iPhone was released.
That company was Google, of course, and it only tangentially
wanted to take on the iPhone. Google’s real target was always
Microsoft, and it hit the bullseye.
This is so obvious to me I’m surprised Bohn even thought to write it, but judging by the response, it seems a lot of people haven’t really thought about this. Conceptually, the iPhone changed the industry by raising the bar for just how a modern phone should work. Android and Windows Phone were designed in the iPhone’s wake.
But business-wise, the iPhone is exactly like the Mac. It’s not something Apple licenses to other companies. So all other companies that want to make phones but can’t create their own OS need something to license. On the PC, that OS is Windows. For mobile, it’s Android. It’s hard to imagine how different the world would be today if Microsoft had created the Android of mobile.