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PRC State Newspaper China Daily: ‘Proposed TikTok Deal Is a Dirty and Underhanded Trick’ 

China Daily, an English-language arm of Chinese state media:

What the United States has done to TikTok is almost the same as a gangster forcing an unreasonable and unfair business deal on a legitimate company. […]

China has no reason to give the green light to such a deal, which is dirty and unfair and based on bullying and extortion. If the US gets its way, it will continue to do the same with other foreign companies. Giving in to the unreasonable demands of the US would mean the doom of the Chinese company ByteDance.

Effectively, it sounds like they’re telling Trump to go pound sand.

How ‘Naked Ballots’ Could Become Pennsylvania’s ‘Hanging Chads’ 

Jonathan Lai, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state that’s seen as increasingly likely to determine who wins the White House, last week ordered officials to throw out “naked ballots” — mail ballots that arrive without inner “secrecy envelopes.” Pennsylvania uses a two-envelope mail ballot system: A completed ballot goes into a “secrecy envelope” that has no identifying information, and then into a larger mailing envelope that the voter signs.

It’s unclear how many naked ballots there will be, because this is the first year any Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail, and most counties counted them in the June primary without tracking how many there were.

“Naked ballots” sound like fun in general, but in this case, they sound like a hold-your-breath potential nightmare in the making. This is seen as a potential problem for Democrats because, thanks to you-know-whose drumbeat of anti-mail-voting nonsense, there’s a huge partisan split in Pennsylvania regarding who plans to vote by mail. I voted by mail in the primary in June, and the instructions are pretty clear about putting your ballot in the unmarked secret envelope, which in turns goes into the outer envelope that you sign and return. But it would be a lot simpler and inherently more error proof if there were just one envelope — or if ballots were counted regardless if they were placed in the “secrecy envelope”.

Anyway, spread the word about these “secrecy envelopes” to anyone you know in Pennsylvania. Mail voting is new here, so it’s best to make people widely aware of this rule. The other election-related rulings from our state supreme court were good news for the franchise, though:

The decision ordering them thrown out was part of a trio of rulings Thursday that, among other things, extended the deadline for voters to send mail ballots back, permitted the use of drop boxes for voters to return them, and removed the Green Party’s presidential ticket from the ballot.

Adventures in Solo Loop Sizing

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors, “New Apple Watch Owners Have to Return Entire Device for Ill-Fitting Solo Loop or Braided Solo Loop”:

Because these bands are not adjustable, Apple sells each one in nine different sizes to make sure each person gets a snug fit. To get the right sizing, Apple offers a printable tool [PDF] and also measurement comparisons so you can estimate size, but as it turns out, that sizing isn’t always accurate and Apple’s returns for ill-fitting bands ordered with one of the new Apple Watches are a hassle.

Customers who chose a Solo Loop or a Braided Solo Loop along with an Apple Watch Series 6 or SE and have a poor fit can’t just return the band for a new size — the entire Apple Watch has to be returned since it’s considered a set.

Unfortunately, there are limited supplies of the new Apple Watch Series 6 models and the new bands, so customers forced to make a return are now having to wait from late October to late November for a new Apple Watch, depending on the model chosen.

This sucks, but you can see how it happened. I think this is the first situation where Apple has been not just hindered, but outright bitten by COVID-era restrictions. First, it’s obvious these bands are better sized in person than using a paper ruler. But second, exchanges are better facilitated in person too.

Starting a few years ago, when you buy a new Apple Watch, the watch + band bundle is treated as a single SKU, but the watch and band are in separate boxes inside an outer cardboard wrapper. The band in its own box seems like something you ought to be able to exchange independently of the watch, but it isn’t sold that way. This has worked fine to date, because none of Apple’s bands prior to the Solo Loops are sized precisely. All their other bands are adjustable, and to cover a wide range of wrist sizes, some come in two sizes. Apple’s Sport Band, for example, comes in “S/M” and “M/L” sizes, but Apple just includes both sizes when you buy one.

There’s a reason why no watch bands from any watch brand I’m aware of are sized as precisely as Apple’s new Solo Loops. It’s a huge logistical problem compared to adjustable watch bands, and the whole thing is premised on people knowing their correct size — which is a function both of their actual wrist size and their preference for how loose or tight they prefer it to feel.

Based on what I see on Twitter and in various public forums, it seems like most people with ill-fitting Solo Loops are winding up with ones that are too loose, not too tight. Justine Ezarik measured her wrist as a 5, but Apple sent her size 3’s and 2’s as review units, and the 2’s fit her perfectly. (Again, Apple PR’s size guessers are freakishly good.) This makes me suspect that many are using Apple’s measuring tool inaccurately, or printing it out at the wrong scale, or both, and perhaps Apple should clarify the printed instructions. The current instructions simply read:

Cut and wrap the tool around your wrist, snug but not too tight.

What those instructions don’t make clear, but perhaps should, is that I think you’re supposed to use the tool to precisely measure the circumference of your wrist, not to simulate the circumference of what you think would be a comfortable watch band. Think about how a tailor measures your chest or waist — you’re not cinching a tourniquet, but you don’t want any slack at all. Here’s me measuring my wrist.

But I’ve also seen reports from folks who used Apple’s tool and wound up with Solo Loops that are too tight, and I’ve also seen reports from people who prefer the rubber Solo Loop in one size but the Braided Solo Loop in a different — usually smaller — size. So again, like buying shoes, there’s no substitute for trying them on in person. Which, alas, is not an option for a lot of us at the moment. 

Xbox X Series One X Secret X Edition 

Jay Peters, writing for The Verge:

Today, Microsoft launched pre-orders for its upcoming next generation console, the Xbox One X. Sorry, I meant the Xbox Series X. Can you blame me? There’s only one word of difference between the two names, and it’s the one in the middle. There are also three X’s.

I might not be the only one who gets them confused, though. (Microsoft itself has, but I digress.) Despite today being pre-order day for the Series X (reminder: the new one), the One X (the old one) had a banner day on Amazon as well, at one point up 747 percent on Amazon’s “Movers & Shakers” sales charts.

Xlear as mux.

RBG on Learning From Nabokov 

From a 2011 interview by Bryan A. Garner for The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing:

Scribes: How did you originally cultivate your skills as a writer?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I attribute my caring about writing to two teachers I had, not in law school but as an undergraduate at Cornell. One was a teacher of European literature. His name was Vladimir Nabokov. He was a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order. He changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence. And I had a kind and caring professor, Robert E. Cushman, for constitutional law. I worked for him as a research assistant. In his gentle way, he suggested that my writing was a bit elaborate. I learned to cut out unnecessary adjectives and to make my compositions as spare as I could. To this day, I can hear some of the things Nabokov said. Bleak House was one of the books we read in his course. He read aloud the opening pages at our first lecture on the book — describing the location of the chancery court surrounded by pervasive fog. Those pages paint a picture in words.

Scribes: Did Nabokov live to see you become a judge?

RBG: No.

Scribes: Did you stay in touch with him after you left Cornell?

RBG: Not after he wrote Lolita, a huge success, and went off to Switzerland to catch butterflies.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in 2016:

Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Better Know a Ballot: How to Vote in Election 2020 

Speaking of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, they’ve put together a how-to-vote website with information and links for all 50 states, and an ongoing series of state-specific videos hosted by Colbert. Funny and useful — and thus perfect for sharing.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Hosts a Focus Group With Real Trump Supporters 

Speaking of hidden camera pranks on dumbasses:

A Late Show sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to do a focus group with actual Trump supporters to find out what they think about some fake Trump campaign ads.

Four years ago I wrote “I will say it flatly: Trump voters are ignoramuses, bigots, and/or fools.” These folks hit the trifecta.

Quibi Is Looking to Sell Itself, the Least Surprising News of the Day 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

Quibi was supposed to be revolutionary: A video service that was supposed to fill the gap between YouTube and HBO by bringing short, “premium” clips starring celebrities like Liam Hemsworth and Chrissy Teigen to your phone, for a price.

But that was in the spring. Now, Quibi might be headed to a fire sale: Just six months after launching — and after raising $1.8 billion — Quibi has started looking for a buyer. It’s a stunning admission that the high-profile service hasn’t found enough traction to continue on its own.

Quibi was a bad idea poorly executed. Launching phone-only was idiotic. “It’s sort of like Netflix or HBO, but you can only watch it on your phone.” What the hell kind of pitch was that? The Quibi concept sounds less like a real pitch and more like a hidden camera prank for dumbass would-be investors.

Quibi could fix the stupidity of its phone-only launch premise, and I think they already have. But the execution problem is that the same clueless taste that led them to launch with a phone-only app spearheaded all of their content decisions. Quibi’s shows and movies stink. All of them. Has anyone told you “Hey you gotta watch this show on Quibi”? No — because there’s nothing good on Quibi.

Bad shows on a poorly-conceived platform with a stupid name. $2 billion right down the toilet.

Microsoft Remains ‘Committed’ to Bringing Xbox Game Pass to iOS  

Mike Peterson, writing for AppleInsider:

“We’re committed to bringing Game Pass to all mobile phones out there, including Apple phones,” Spencer said. “We’ll continue the conversations and I’m sure we’ll be able to get to some resolution.”

When asked about why Microsoft has spoken out against Apple’s policies, Spencer said that it wasn’t a financial issue related to Apple’s 30% of in-app purchases. Instead, the Xbox chief said it was because Game Pass — and cloud gaming services as a whole — aren’t allowed on Apple’s mobile devices in their current form.

I said from the start that this wasn’t about the money. Most observers assumed it was about the money, and I think Microsoft itself assumed it would be about the money, which is why they seemed surprised Apple wouldn’t approve Game Pass in its platform-on-a-platform form. But it was really about control — Apple doesn’t want to allow meta platforms on iOS.

Apple’s updated App Store Guidelines show the way forward: break each game into a standalone iOS app, and submit them to the App Store. It sounds like Microsoft is going to try to play ball with those new rules.

Microsoft to Acquire ZeniMax Media and Its Game Publisher Bethesda Softworks, Makers of Fallout, Doom, Quake, and More 

The biggest under-the-radar political coup of the year is the fact that Microsoft somehow escaped being called to testify at the big House antitrust hearing two months ago. I’m not saying this acquisition is legally problematic, I’m just saying it’s exactly the sort of thing the committee claimed — rightfully — to be looking at.

ExtremeTech: ‘Apple Books TSMC’s Entire 5 nm Production Capability’ 

Joel Hruska, reporting for ExtremeTech:

TSMC won’t have to worry about finding additional customers for its 5nm line any time soon. If reports are true, Apple bought the entire production capacity for the iPhone, iPad, and other refreshed devices it has recently launched or will launch in the coming weeks. Apple hasn’t refreshed the iPhone yet this year, but it’s expected to do so in October, and the company has had a lock on TSMC’s 5nm production for months.

TSMC will build 5nm chips for the iPhone 12, iPad Air, 5G iPad Pro, and any future MacBook or iMac systems Apple launches with its own custom ARM silicon.

Not just MacBooks and iMacs. All Macs. They’re going to be busy.


My thanks to Hey for sponsoring last week at DF. You’ve probably heard about Hey, but here’s how they describe it (and capitalize it):

Email. It feels like a chore. It’s overwhelming, it’s messy, it’s relentless. It’s necessary, but hopelessly broken.

That’s why we fixed it.

Introducing HEY. HEY’s fresh approach transforms email into something you want to use, not something you’re forced to deal with.

HEY puts you back in control. You decide who can — and can’t — email you. HEY is packed with workflows, not workarounds, that help you cut back on the emails you get, and focus on the ones you want.

There’s nothing else out there like it. Give it a shot — it’ll change your relationship with email for the better.

I have a lot to say about Hey, and I plan to write a lot more about it soon. Briefly though, I’ll just say this: when I hear that someone “reinvented” something like email, I roll my eyes and take it with a very large grain of salt. But Hey truly is like nothing else I’ve ever seen for email. It feels a lot more like email was back in the ’90s, when it felt fun. I switched my public address for DF reader email to Hey when it debuted back in June, and I haven’t looked back. It makes me want to check for new mail rather than dread it — a feeling I haven’t had about my public email since the very early days of DF. Hey is that transformative.

‘Dissents Speak to a Future Age’ 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view.

Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, a 5-4 decision in 2012 in which the Court’s conservative majority invalidated key portions of the Voting Rights Act, is one for the ages. This line is perfect:

Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.

‘While You’re at It, Make It Sing’ 

David Post, who twice served as a law clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Most of what I know about writing I learned from her. The rules are actually pretty simple: Every word matters. Don’t make the simple complicated, make the complicated as simple as it can be (but not simpler!). You’re not finished when you can’t think of anything more to add to your document; you’re finished when you can’t think of anything more that you can remove from it. She enforced these principles with a combination of a ferocious — almost a terrifying — editorial pen, and enough judicious praise sprinkled about to let you know that she was appreciating your efforts, if not always your end-product. And one more rule: While you’re at it, make it sing. At least a little; legal prose is not epic poetry or the stuff of operatic librettos, but a well-crafted paragraph can help carry the reader along, and is always a thing of real beauty.

She had the kind of fierce integrity that I think we all would want to see in a judge; she was always determined to get it right, to do right by the litigants and to do right by the law. She had her biases and her blind spots; we all do. But I have often said that if my life were on the line, I’d be happy if she were on the bench, because she would be as fair-minded when weighing the evidence as one could ever ask for.

‘Rejected as a Clerk, Chosen as a Justice’ 

From Neil A. Lewis’s front-page story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

In 1960, a dean at the Harvard Law School, Albert Sachs, proposed one of his star students to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court as a law clerk. Justice Frankfurter told Professor Sachs that while the candidate was impressive, he just wasn’t ready to hire a woman and so couldn’t offer a job to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Judge Ginsburg, who now sits on the Federal appeals court and was chosen today by President Clinton for the Supreme Court, recently told that story to her own law clerks to explain how she became interested in the role of women in the eyes of the law.

From 1973 to 1976 she argued six women’s rights cases before the Court and won five of them, profoundly changing the law as it affects women.

“She is the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law,” said Janet Benshoof, the president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, an abortion-rights advocacy group, repeating a common description of Judge Ginsburg. Like Justice Marshall, who shaped the legal strategy of the civil rights movement for the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund before he joined the Court, Ruth Ginsburg organized the cases, found the plaintiffs and delivered the oral arguments.

Think about that. When Ginsburg was in law school, gender inequality was so profoundly unjust in the United States that she wasn’t even considered for a clerkship on the Supreme Court, simply because she was a woman. By the time she died, she was not merely a justice on the Court, but one of the most iconic, essential, and influential ones in history. That wasn’t because she was born at the right time and surfed an inevitable wave — she helped create the wave. By force of her intellect, will, and keen sense of justice, she helped bend the arc of the moral universe.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies at 87 

Nina Totenberg, for NPR:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the demure firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon, died Friday. The Supreme Court announced her death, saying the cause was complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.

The court, in a statement, said Ginsburg died at her home in Washington surrounded by family.

So it goes.

‘The Reluctant Debut of the A14 Processor’ 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

But all of those figures compare the A14 in the iPad Air to the A12 processor in the previous model, not the A13 processor found in the iPhone 11 series. Now, Apple would likely claim that it’s only fair to make a comparison across devices with similar screen sizes and thermal characteristics. But in scrupulously adhering to the comparisons to the A12, Apple is not telling us how much faster the base A14 processor — likely the foundation of the next generation of iPad Pro models and possibly even the first round of Macs running Apple Silicon — is compared to its immediate predecessor.

I don’t think Apple’s doing this because it’s not proud of the A14. (On the contrary, Apple seems very aware of how important this chip is, including the fact that it’s Apple’s first to be manufactured using Taiwan Semiconductor’s new 5-nanometer process.) No, this is about leaving some space for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone launch event to boast a bit more about the A14. Which makes sense. The iPhone is Apple’s most important product. It deserves to be boasted about a bit.

It was really conspicuous that Apple would only offer performance comparisons to the A12, ostensibly because that’s the SoC in the previous generation iPad Air, and so they felt it fair to compare iPad to iPad. But we know, from 10 years of experience, that the performance characteristics of an A-whatever in an iPad are very similar to the performance characteristics of the same A-whatever in iPhones. The X and Z suffix chips — like the A12X and A12Z — are different, and to date, have only appeared in iPad Pros in recent years, and prior to that, only in high-end iPads before there were “iPad Pros”. But the no-suffix A14 in the new iPad Air is almost certainly effectively identical to the A14 we’ll see next month in this year’s new iPhones. I truly wonder if that’s the only reason Apple isn’t shipping new iPad Airs yet — to keep A14 performance under wraps for the iPhone event.

Apple Is Already Seeding Developer Betas of iOS 14.2 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple today seeded the first betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to developers, just one day after releasing the iOS 14 update and a few hours after hinting at the iOS 14.2 beta in an Xcode beta update.

So where’s 14.1? I think Michael Simmons has the simple explanation:

My guess is that iOS 14.1 was skipped for iPhone 12 next month, and they’re already in production with 14.1 preinstalled. We’ll find out soon enough…

They may not be in production yet (or at least not at the stage where they install the OS), but yes, I think iOS 14.1 is the version for the new iPhones coming next month, and it’s effectively frozen at this point, so all ongoing development at Apple has already moved to 14.2.

Trump Administration to Ban Downloads of TikTok and Block Access to WeChat on Sunday 

Steve Kovach, reporting for CNBC:

The Commerce Department announced it will ban U.S. business transactions with China-owned social apps WeChat and TikTok on Sunday.

The announcement sets up two different time frames for WeChat and TikTok, with a full ban on WeChat going into effect Sunday along with a ban on updates and maintenance to the TikTok app. TikTok has a Nov. 12 deadline before companies are banned from providing cloud and internet services for the app, which could give Oracle more time to hammer out its offer for TikTok to satisfy President Trump.

Be careful of headlines along the lines of “U.S. bans TikTok” — right now it’s just new downloads that will be banned, not use of the app if already downloaded. Predictably, TikTok has shot to the top of the download charts.

WeChat is in a different boat — it’s set to be fully banned. The politics of this distinction couldn’t be more clear. Peter Kafka:

WeChat: Enormously popular with Chinese-Americans. Owned by Chinese company. Will be crippled in US Sunday night.

TikTok: Enormously popular with Americans including some Trump voters. Owned by Chinese company, trying to do deal w/ Trump supporters. Will be OK through election.

Larry Ellison is a big Trump supporter, just in case you weren’t aware of how flamboyantly transparent the cronyism is with the Oracle-TikTok deal.

Apple Watch Series 6: Graphite Is the New Black

One of the numerous lamentable aspects of product introductions in the coronavirus era is the lack of any sort of post-keynote hands-on access to the products. Apple’s product photography is nonpareil, but there are some things you need to see in person. Color is one. And for how things feel, well, you obviously need to have whatever it is in hand — or in this case, on wrist.

With this week’s new products, the ones I was most interested in seeing, feeling, and trying in person were: the Graphite stainless steel Series 6 Apple Watch (how dark is it? how polished?), the new Solo Loop and Braided Solo Loop bands (how stretchy are they? how comfortable? better than the regular Sport Bands or just different?), and the new Leather Link strap (how’s it compare to the Leather Loop?).

Apple sent me the following products for review, which arrived early Wednesday morning — without having asked me if I had any specific requests:

  • Graphite stainless steel Series 6 (44mm)
  • Graphite Milanese Loop
  • Solo Loop (black)
  • Braided Solo Loop (black)

The advantage, perhaps, of having boring but very consistent taste is that I’m very easy to predict. While what Apple sent wasn’t an exact match for my personal “what I’m most interested in” list, it was remarkably close, and sending the Milanese Loop instead of the Leather Loop is better for the single biggest question on my mind — evaluating the Graphite stainless steel finish.

But that’s not all. Part of the thing with the Solo Loops is that they’re rather precisely sized — they stretch to take on and off, but they’re meant to fit your wrist in their unstretched state. Going by Apple’s print-and-cut-out DIY sizing PDF, the difference between each size is less than 6.6 mm. According to Apple’s paper tool, I should take a size 7, but I’m closer to an 8 than a 6.

They sent me each of the Solo Loops in two sizes: 7 and 8.

And, indeed, the size 7 fits me perfectly. The size 8 straps fit OK, but they’re loose — not little-kid-wearing-their-dad’s-watch loose, more like someone-who-prefers-a-slightly-wiggly-fit loose.

Whoever on the Apple’s Watch team decided which sizes to send me absolutely nailed it. It’s uncanny. I checked with a few of my fellow hacks and Apple sent them the exact right sizes too. Nobody was asked to measure their wrists, nobody was asked which hole they use in the regular Sport Bands. I can’t get over this. I feel like I just lost $5 to a carnival barker who correctly guessed my age to the exact year, and I want to get back in line to bet another $5 to see if he can guess my weight.

Graphite Stainless Steel

In addition to the wrist-size guessers, I would like to nominate the color-naming team at Apple for a nice bonus this year. They do good work.1

Graphite is an excellent name for this stainless steel finish. It is darker, but it is not nearly black. Describing where Graphite lies on the spectrum compared to the other dark metallic finishes in Apple’s product line really does require words, not photographs. I mean, compare Apple’s product photography for the Space Black Series 6 in stainless steel (only available in Hermès models this year) with Graphite Series 6 in stainless steel. Apple’s photos make them look indistinguishable. For posterity, I’ve saved copies of Apple’s product shots of the Series 6 in Graphite, Space Black Hermès, and Space Black Titanium (which I very much like, but which really ought to be called Space Gray, because it’s definitely not black).

In real life, the difference is very clear. Apple’s photography captures Graphite very accurately, but makes Space Black look much lighter than it actually is, to accentuate its polished surface in comparison to Space Gray aluminum and Space Black titanium. (I don’t have access to a new Series 6 in Space Black, but I do own Space Black Series 3 and Series 0 watches, and Apple’s Space Black is the same across Apple Watches old and new.) Apple’s Space Black DLC finish for stainless steel is truly jet black — it’s the polished glossy black of Darth Vader’s helmet. Graphite is more like a darker shade of silver — it is definitely darker than regular “silver” stainless steel, but just as definitely not black.

Another good comparison is to last year’s Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro, which is also stainless steel, dark gray, and highly polished. My Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro is definitely darker than the new Graphite Apple Watch. To my eyes, Apple’s Space Gray steel (as seen on iPhones) plays as black or near-black, unless you put it against something truly black. Graphite never looks black.

Apple’s dark gray stainless steel finishes, on a spectrum:

  • Space Black Apple Watch (darkest)
  • Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro
  • Graphite Apple Watch (lightest)

Outdoors in daylight, my Space Gray iPhone 11 Pro looks closer to Graphite than to Space Black; indoors at night, it looks closer to Space Black than to Graphite.

I think this is a good change for Apple’s “dark” stainless steel watches. Space Black made more sense with the original Series 0–3 form factor, where the displays were sharp-cornered rectangles and had larger bezels. The Space Black finish effectively blurred the seam between the display sapphire and the steel case, and helped disguise the fact that the displays had awkwardly large bezels. The watch as a whole looked like a shiny black monolithic capsule. With the Series 4 redesign that carries through to this year’s Series 6, that sort of disguise isn’t necessary, because the displays are larger and have round corners. Also, Graphite looks more obviously like polished steel than Space Black — they might well be equally polished and glossy, but because Graphite is lighter-colored it has a mirror-like effect that Space Black doesn’t. It’s more glanceably premium-looking. It’s shiny.

That shininess carries through to the Graphite Milanese Loop, which definitely looks darker than the regular Silver stainless steel Milanese Loop, but just as definitely is not black. Again, Apple’s product photography for Graphite is very true to life to my eyes.

My Space Black Link Bracelet — from my original Apple Watch back in 2015, still in pristine condition thanks to the near-imperviousness of the DLC finish — looks fine with the Graphite Series 6 watch. It’s definitely not an exact color match, but on the wrist, it plays. The mirror-like finish of Graphite stainless steel helps it pick up the color of whatever band you pair it with. (Apple still sells the Link Bracelets, in Silver and Space Black stainless steel, and the Space Black one still costs $100 extra — $450 vs. $350.)

Why do the dark Hermès models still use Space Black instead of Graphite? I think that’s to precisely color-match the existing Space Black hardware of Hermès watch bands. But who knows? It really does seem a bit curious that Apple’s dark stainless steel Series 6 models are only available in Graphite, and Hermès’s dark ones are only available in Space Black. [Update: Here’s the Series 6 in Space Black at Hermès’s website. These are slightly different photos, and maybe make the Space Black look more black than the photos on Apple’s site? The hardware elements of the strap certainly do.]

Solo Loops

I know not every Apple Watch owner has a Sport Band, but I assume a general familiarity with it as the canonical, iconic Apple Watch band. Visually, the new Solo Loop looks like the Sport Band on the wrist. But it feels quite different.

For one thing, the Solo Loops are half the weight of the Sport Bands. My regular Sport Bands (42/44mm width, S/M length) all weigh about 25 grams according to my kitchen scale.2 The new rubber Solo Loop weighs only 13 grams and the Braided Solo Loop just 11 grams. (Apple’s velcro Sport Loop bands remain the lightweight kings, at just 9 grams. Personally I’m just not a velcro guy, but I see tons of people wearing these straps.)

In addition to the weight difference, they also feel quite different because they’re more supple. If you hold a Sport Band by the connector and stick it out horizontally, it only droops a little, like a diving board in need of repair. If you hold one of the new Solo Loops by the connector, it droops straight down. It seems axiomatic that stretchiness and suppleness go hand-in-hand, but on the wrist you can really feel it, especially comparing the rubber Solo Loop to a regular fluoroelastomer Sport Band. It’s like baby’s-butt-cheek soft and supple.

In terms of getting them on and off the wrist, I’d say they’re both clearly in “just right” range on the Goldilocks scale. If they were stretchier, they might be a bit easier to get on and off, but I think they’d then be too loosey-goosey on the wrist. Once on your wrist, the Solo Loop bands are very secure. And though Apple has a footnote on its Solo Loop web page stating “Band may increase in length over time”, I suspect they’re a little less stretchy than they could be to make them more durable.

Here’s how Apple describes the Braided Solo Loop fabric:

Made from 100 percent recycled materials, the 16,000 polyester yarn filaments in each band are interwoven with thin silicone threads using advanced braiding machinery then laser cut to an exact length. The 300D construction offers a soft, textured feel and is both sweat-resistant and water-resistant.

(“300D” is the type of polyester — thinner and lighter than 600D.) I can’t do better than Apple’s own description: it does feel soft and textured, and it does seem water-resistant for a fabric band. I soaked mine under a faucet, and it’s not magic — it does get wet. But if you’ve ever worn a NATO-style watch strap, or one of Apple’s old Nylon Woven Bands, or one of my personal favorites for mechanical watches, an Erika’s Original MN strap, you know that these sort of nylon/polyester straps dry fairly quickly even after swimming.

I really like both of these straps, and will probably wind up wearing one or the other with my Apple Watch for the foreseeable future. I hope both prove popular enough to become perennial mainstays in Apple’s band lineup. 

  1. Have you seen how many named colors there are when you customize watch faces in WatchOS nowadays? It’s arguably too many choices from a user interface perspective, but the names for these colors are just chef’s kiss spot-on. ↩︎

  2. Intriguingly, that includes the Nike Sport Bands — you might think that all those holes would make them at least a few grams lighter than their non-perforated brethren, but you’d be wrong. ↩︎︎

Tencent’s Ownership of Gaming Companies Draws U.S. National Security Scrutiny 

Owen S. Good, reporting for Polygon:

The Trump administration wants to know more about U.S. video game companies’ involvement with China’s Tencent Holdings, whose relationships with American firms includes full ownership of Riot Games, a significant minority stake in Epic Games, and publishing deals with Activision Blizzard.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) sent letters to Epic, Riot, and others to ask about their protocols for securely handling Americans’ personal information.

Tencent is the world’s largest video game vendor, but its U.S. holdings are not limited to just that marketplace. It also has stakes in Reddit, Discord, and Snapchat maker Snap Inc.

Epic Games, Activision, Reddit, Discord, Snap — that’s quite a portfolio of companies that, collectively, consume a lot of attention of younger Americans.

The TikTok ‘Acquisition’ Soap Opera Continues 

The New York Times:

The exact ownership structure of TikTok under the proposed deal is unclear.

That simple sentence really says it all when it comes to how bananas this whole saga is. This is supposedly a deal that just needs to be signed, not a preliminary discussion, but the “exact ownership structure” remains unclear?

While rushing to secure a deal, TikTok is also hunting for a permanent chief executive to replace Kevin Mayer, who resigned in late August, citing the changing political pressures of the role. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok in North America, took over in the interim.

Among those whom TikTok has talked to about the job is Kevin Systrom, a founder and former chief executive of Instagram, people briefed on the matter said. Talks are preliminary, and no final decisions have been made, they said.

Systrom didn’t like working for Mark Zuckerberg, but might agree to work for Larry Ellison. Sure. That doesn’t sound completely made up just to float a plausible name.

Ex-Pence Aide Olivia Troye Says She Will Vote for Biden After Trump’s Handling of Coronavirus 

Josh Dawsey, reporting for The Washington Post:

Olivia Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, said that the administration’s response cost lives and that she will vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this fall because of her experience in the Trump White House.

“The president’s rhetoric and his own attacks against people in his administration trying to do the work, as well as the promulgation of false narratives and incorrect information of the virus have made this ongoing response a failure,” she said in an interview.

Trump just can’t catch a break from the zealots in the reality-based community. (It’s worth watching — and sharing — the video, to hear Troye make her case in her own words. Far more damning than reading a summary.)

Yours Truly Talking iOS 14 With Rene Ritchie 

Rene Ritchie:

I wanted to do something different with this iOS 14 review. I’ve already posted in-depth explainers and a technical preview. So, this time, I wanted to focus on opinion. Mine, and my special guest’s — John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show fame.

We covered a lot of ground here, but somehow we neglected to talk about the new Back Tap feature in Accessibility — perhaps my favorite new little feature in iOS. (I have it set to simulate “Shake”, which means I can use a double-tap on the back of the iPhone to trigger Undo.)

The Talk Show: ‘Signing Up to Take Some Vitamins’ 

Peter Kafka returns to the show to discuss the news from Apple’s “Time Flies” event  —  new Apple Watches, new non-Pro iPads, and particularly the Apple One services bundle.

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PlayStation 5: $400, Preorders Start This Week, Disc Drive Version Costs $100 Extra 

Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:

Sony has announced that the PlayStation 5 will cost $499.99 when it launches on November 12th, alongside the $399.99 Digital Edition. Preorders will begin on September 17th at “select retailers.”

The pricing puts Sony squarely up against Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, with the company set to release its entry-level Xbox Series S at $299 and its flagship Xbox Series X for $499 on November 10th.

I got an earful from readers last week when I wrote, regarding the new Xboxes, “it seems crazy to me that folks still want to buy and manage spinning discs”. I know all the reasons why some people prefer discs to downloads. With spinning discs you can sell games you no longer play, buy used discs for less than the price of new, trade discs with friends, etc. Trust me, I get it. When I was in college I had my entire liquid net worth tied up in an extensive CD collection. Also, some people don’t have great bandwidth for today’s massive console games.

So, I apologize, it’s not crazy. But it does seem antiquated. Spinning discs for media is like one step removed from “be kind, rewind” stickers on VHS rental boxes.

Anyway, as for PS5 vs. Xbox Series Whatever, I like Sony’s model where the two versions are separated only by the spinning disc drive. The Xbox Series S gets to come in $100 cheaper than the no-disc PS5, but it feels weird and anti-game-console-ish to me that it’s got a notably weaker GPU than than the Series X. I think I see what Microsoft is going for — they’re trying to make Xbox more of a continuation of PC gaming, where developers target a range of GPUs rather than one very specific performance profile, but I prefer the clarity of the PS5 lineup. You want spinning discs? You pay a $100 penalty (and get a clunkier console to boot). That’s it.

Brief Thoughts and Observations on Today’s ‘Time Flies’ Apple Event

Apple Watch Series 6 and SE

There’s nothing spectacular or game-changing about Apple Watch Series 6, but it’s a perfect example of Apple’s incremental product update strategy. What’s new in Series 6 compared to Series 5?

Technology-wise: the blood oxygen sensor and the S6 chip. The S6 chip’s improved power efficiency, in turn, allows Apple to brighten the always-on display — up to 2.5 times brighter than the S5. The always-on display of Series 5, you will recall, is my favorite Apple Watch new feature ever. (Or, the flip side of the same coin: I despised the not-always-on display of previous Apple Watches.) The thing about rolling out incremental updates every single year is they add up — and people don’t buy new watches every year. Anyone who bought, say, a then-new Series 3 Apple Watch in 2017 would get a really nice upgrade with a new Series 6 now.

Style-wise: The aluminum models have new navy blue and Product Red colors. In the stainless steel line, space black has been replaced by “graphite” — it’s hard to tell how dark graphite is going by Apple’s product photography because their images emphasize its polished surface. I’m going to miss space black stainless steel, which was about as black as black can get — it was clearly the model Darth Vader would wear. But I can see why they went with graphite as the new “dark” stainless steel color: it seems more like a glossy sibling to the matte space black titanium Edition option, which is more like a very dark gray than black. And if that’s not confusing enough, there are a few Space Black stainless steel models in the Hermès Series 6 lineup. The only Series 6 Edition models are in titanium — no ceramic models this year.

The new bands are interesting, as ever. I’m curious to play with the stretchy Solo Loops. (Worth noting: The regular rubbery Solo Loops cost $50; the fabric-y Braided Solo Loops are $100. Getting a new watch with the Braided Solo Loop as the included band thus carries a $50 surcharge.) The Solo Loop bands come in nine sizes for each watch size (sizes 1-9 for 40 mm watches, sizes 4-12 for 44 mm). That sort of precision fit seems like it’s begging for a hands-on retail experience, like trying on shoes, but hands-on retail experiences are not really a thing here in the U.S. at the moment. So, Apple has a PDF sizing guide you can print, cut out, and wrap around your wrist. Looks like I’m a size 7.

The Apple Watch SE is best thought of as a cut-down Series 5 watch. Apple has an excellent comparison page, and it’s pretty clear from that page that the difference between a Series 6 and SE comes down to three things the SE lacks: no always-on display, no ECG sensor, no blood oxygen sensor. Also, adding cellular connectivity to an aluminum Series 6 is a $100 upsell; on the SE adding cellular costs only $50. (The stainless steel and titanium Series 6 models all have cellular included.)

It seems all but certain that next year — if civilization still exists — the Apple Watch SE will move down to the $199 spot in the lineup that remains occupied by the now-kinda-old-looking Series 3 model. Series 3 remaining in the lineup is a bummer for developers, who will need to keep designing WatchOS apps and complications for an entirely different pair of displays for a few years to come. I get why the Series 3 is still there — it’s $80 cheaper than the SE, which is significant percentage-wise. A new Series 3 Apple Watch is “about $200”; a new SE is “about $300”. But it’s really not a fun product at all: the only style choices are silver with a white Sports Band and space gray with a black Sports Band.

New iPad and iPad Air

The new just-plain “iPad” could almost be called the “iPad SE”. In the same way the new iPhone SE is (I think) the last of the home-button iPhones, this new iPad is (I think) the last of the home-button iPads. It’s nothing exciting technology-wise, but it’s a great device for a starting price of $329.

One obvious question: why does the new iPad still use the old Apple Pencil? Well, because even though it’s a new iPad, it’s an old design. The old Apple Pencil was designed for the home-button iPads, and the new Apple Pencil was designed for the no-home-button “all display” iPads. The new “all display” iPads have flat sides where the new Pencil can magnetically snap into place and pair; the old iPad design has round sides. That, too, is one reason why the new just-plain iPad has a Lightning port, not USB-C — otherwise it couldn’t pair with the old Pencil.

I enjoy that the new iPad Air comes in new colors: blue, green, and pink (in addition to silver and space gray). But what’s most remarkable about the new iPad Air are two technical firsts: it’s the first device with an A14-series SoC and the first Apple device with a Touch ID sensor in the power button.

Surely Apple’s original plan, pre-COVID, was for the iPhones 12 to be introduced at this September event. But they weren’t, so the A14 debuted not in an iPhone but in the iPad Air. It seemed to me Apple didn’t talk much about A14 performance today — perhaps to save some bragging for next month’s iPhone 12 introduction. But that raises the question of when, “next month”, the iPad Air will actually ship. Will it ship before the new iPhones are introduced, spoiling their performance? Or will it ship alongside the first iPhone 12 models, despite being introduced weeks beforehand? Mum’s the word from Apple. My guess: the new iPad Air will begin shipping immediately after next month’s iPhone event, a week or so before the new iPhones will begin shipping. That way the A14 performance details will remain under wraps for the iPhone event, but the iPad Air and iPhone 12 won’t ship at the same time.

Touch ID in the iPad Air’s power button raises the question of whether that might be true for the iPhone 12 as well — not as a replacement for Face ID but as a face-mask-friendly supplement to it. I’m going to guess no. I think this pandemic struck far too late for ubiquitous face-mask-wearing to factor into Apple’s design for the iPhone 12. But it’s interesting to think that the mid-range iPad now has a feature millions of people would rather see in high-end iPhones.

The Apple One Services Bundle

A month ago I speculated thus:

My back-of-the-envelope proposal is that Apple One should cost $15/month for an individual and $20/month for family sharing, and include: Music, TV+, Arcade, and the top tier of iCloud storage. Make News+ a $5/add-on.

Basically: start with Apple Music as the linchpin service in the bundle, charge $5 more than they currently are for Music alone, and include everything Apple owns the entirety of: TV+, Arcade, and iCloud storage. I think they have to charge extra for News+ to pay the participating providers — News+ is more like a bundle unto itself.

That was pretty good speculation if I do say so myself. The actual deal announced today:

  • Individual: $15/month for Music, TV+, Arcade, and 50 GB of iCloud storage
  • Family: $20/month, with storage bumped to 200 GB
  • Premier: $30/month to add News+ and Fitness+, with storage bumped to 2 TB

Apple is still, in my opinion, nickel-and-diming on iCloud Storage, but the basic pricing is exactly what I hoped for: start with Apple Music’s pricing, add $5/month, and include TV+ and Arcade. It’s a good deal.

If you’re currently an Apple services whale, Apple One will save you significant money compared to the previous a la carte pricing. That sounds rather un-Apple-like — since when does Apple sell things at a lower price than you were previously paying? But Apple’s goal with a services bundle isn’t to get the most money it can from you, individually, but to get the most money it can from all of us, collectively. My ballpark estimate is that only about 20 percent of iPhone owners pay Apple for any subscription services at all. The fact that some of those 20 percent will now save money with the Apple One bundle should be more than offset by getting more people to pay for any monthly services at all. If you’re in the Apple ecosystem and want Apple Music, it’s a no-brainer to pay $5 more to get the Apple One bundle instead.

It’s a simple proposition at a compelling price — exactly what a bundled offering should be.

Worth noting: According to the short FAQ at the bottom of Apple’s web page for Apple One, “You can purchase additional iCloud storage separately to supplement what’s included with your Apple One plan”. This includes, I am reliably informed, being able to purchase an additional 2 TB if the included 2 TB in the Premier tier isn’t enough for your family. (4K video clips add up.)

The Event Itself

The show looked and felt a lot like the WWDC keynote: fun, cheerful, with impeccable production values. And with an hour’s worth of material, it ran just about one hour on the button. Also like the WWDC keynote, it was so well-received that a bunch of people are already speculating that this might be how Apple does events henceforth, even after in-person events are possible again. I disagree. There’s a lot of nuance that is missing without a live stage show — but I do think these virtual keynotes might fundamentally change how Apple does smaller product introduction events going forward. Make them a little more suited to a streaming audience, and a little less theatrical. It’s also interesting how much the new Apple Park campus is effectively a character in these virtual keynotes — a role the architecturally bland Infinite Loop campus could not have played, had this pandemic hit a few years ago. 

Sony Calls Bullshit on Bloomberg Report That They Cut Production of PS5 

James Batchelor, reporting for GamesIndustry:

Sony has reached out to GamesIndustry.biz with the following statement denying the Bloomberg report:

“While we do not release details related to manufacturing, the information provided by Bloomberg is false,” the statement reads. “We have not changed the production number for PlayStation 5 since the start of mass production.”

This, in response to a report by Takashi Mochizuki and Debby Wu at Bloomberg, claiming:

Sony Corp. has cut its estimated PlayStation 5 production for this fiscal year by 4 million units, down to around 11 million, following production issues with its custom-designed system-on-chip for the new console, according to people familiar with the matter.

Here’s a case where Bloomberg’s status as a known publisher of fabricated bullshit that they refuse to retract hurts them. It’s like when the National Enquirer would run a story every few months, for years, saying Liz Taylor was on her deathbed. Nobody should believe Bloomberg on this — they have zero credibility. Retract “The Big Hack” and we can start having some faith that what they report is true even when disputed by the companies involved in a story. Until then: nope.

I have no idea why Bloomberg reporters haven’t revolted on this issue. Takashi Mochizuki and Debby Wu had nothing to do with “The Big Hack” but now their own work gets treated as fish wrap by dint of institutional association.

Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden 

Scientific American:

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment.

Joanna Stern’s Microsoft Surface Duo Review 

Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

It isn’t always clear when something is ready.

Take my grilling. Sometimes I remove steak well before or after I should’ve. You might say it’s a “tough” call. But there’s nothing tough about stating this: The new two-screen Surface Duo is undercooked.

Microsoft’s new $1,400 book-like phone-tablet thingy is not ready for me and not ready for you.

Unless, of course, you want an Android device that repeatedly ignores your taps on its screens, randomly slows down, struggles to figure out its own up, down and sideways positioning, and abruptly rearranges parts of its own interface. If that is your dream, well, then it is ready.

This is exactly what I thought when they let the first round of YouTuber reviews come out under the condition that they not turn the devices on. The hardware really is well-designed and the concept is both fascinating and original. But if the experience were actually good, you wouldn’t do a round of reviews that forbade talking about the actual experience.

Stern’s video, as usual, is extremely good, too — and she gives a very fair shake to the Duo for what is good and clever about it. But the bugginess of the software really makes clear why it’s better (necessary?) to control the OS when you want to invent a new form factor.

The fact that the camera is subpar is to me a dealbreaker for a $1,400 phone. I can’t shake the feeling that despite the fact that the Surface Duo is itself a phone — not just a folding tablet that can use a SIM card for cellular data — that Microsoft sees this as something one might carry in addition to a dedicated phone (with a better camera).

Also, I saw a couple of TV ads for the Surface Duo yesterday while watching football — Microsoft is marketing this.

Apple Leadership Bubblegum Cards

Mark Gurman put together a nice rundown of Apple’s executive leadership for Bloomberg last week. I feel like it’s better thought of (and would have been better presented) as a directory, not as a story. A who’s-who guide to Apple’s executive leadership. But Bloomberg demands a story,1 so we get one:

As Cook begins his 10th year at the helm, his management group is filled mostly with senior vice presidents who have worked at Apple for more than two decades, made tens of millions of dollars and are at or near the ages of 55 to 60 when many previous executives have stepped aside. […]

The CEO has given no indication he’s ready to retire, but if the 59-year-old Cook moved on tomorrow, look no further than Chief Operating Officer Jeff Williams, 57, to take over.

There’s no question that Williams is second-in-command. Now that Jony Ive is gone, Williams is the only other executive with a C-level title, and his portfolio has grown post-Ive. But because he’s effectively the same age as Cook, I don’t think we should see him as Cook’s heir apparent. If Cook plans to retire at a younger age than Williams,2 or if something unexpected happened to Cook, then yes, Williams may well be Cook’s successor, but those seem like unlikely “ifs” to me.

Most of the names in Gurman’s list could be gleaned just by observing who has gotten significant stage time — and for which products — in recent keynotes. John Ternus for hardware engineering, Kaiann Drance for iPhone product marketing, and Sebastien Marineau-Mes for software engineering, for example. But other people in Gurman’s report have been largely under the radar.

My biggest question and deepest concern regarding Apple’s leadership, especially now that Ive is gone and Phil Schiller has moved on to a fellowship with only the App Store and events on his plate,3 is whose taste is driving product development? We know the actors, we know the writers, we know the cinematographers, but who is directing? Who is saying “This isn’t good enough” — or in the words of Apple’s former director, “This is shit”? When a product decision comes down to this or that, who is making that call?

You can’t direct good movies by committee. You can’t direct good products by committee, either. 

  1. Even when the story is a complete and utter fabrication↩︎︎

  2. I am reminded of the fact that Roger Moore was in fact a few years older than Sean Connery, yet went on to play James Bond more times than anyone else to date. ↩︎

  3. Also curious: Apple’s PR chief Steve Dowling announced he was leaving the company one year ago. In his exit memo, Dowling wrote “Phil will be managing the team on an interim basis starting today.” Apple still hasn’t named a replacement for Dowling, and my understanding is that Schiller is still in charge of PR. Not sure what’s going on there — a year seems like a long time to fill any position — but, this is the same company where Steve Jobs served as “interim” CEO from 1997-2000. At this point I suspect Apple might not name a new head of PR, and that team might permanently report to Greg Joswiak as SVP of marketing. ↩︎︎

‘A Screaming, Spreading Wake-Up Call’ 

Jim VandeHei, writing for Axios:

Every year, China grows bigger and more powerful, most recently seizing control of Hong Kong and trying to buy allies at U.S. expense.

Xi Jinping said this week that China’s progress in fighting the virus, including reopening schools, has “fully demonstrated the clear superiority of Communist Party leadership and our socialist system.” (N.Y. Times)

This is the message Beijing is spreading to other world leaders and their own people, as China seeks to displace America as the great global power.

Vote. Make sure everyone you know is registered and ready to vote.

Trump Administration Official Michael Caputo Has Lost His Mind, Is Spouting Unhinged, Dangerous, Crazy Nonsense, and Yet Remains in Charge of C.D.C. Public Health Updates Amidst an Ongoing Pandemic 

Sharon LaFraniere, reporting for The New York Times:

“You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist installed by the White House in April, told followers in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page. […]

Mr. Caputo on Sunday complained on Facebook that he was under siege by the media and said that his physical health was in question and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” he said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He then ran through a series of conspiracy theories, culminating in a prediction that Mr. Trump will win re-election but his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., will refuse to concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” He added: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

It’s plainly clear, not just to us, but to himself, that his mind has snapped. He sounds about half a click short of locking himself into his bedroom with a plan to subsist by drinking his own urine. And yet at this moment he remains a key official in our government response to the pandemic.

ODA — Modular Everyday Bags 

My thanks to ODA for sponsor DF last week to promote their lineup of slim, modular, and long-lasting bags that adapt to your needs, wherever you go — from weekday to weekend, from work to play, from daily essentials to carrying tech gear. ODA bags are constructed from durable, technical waterproof fabrics and zippers. The design is very clean, very modern. They even have a patent-pending magnetic system that lets you customize your setup.

I bought their backpack (black, of course, but the olive one looks good too). I love it. For years I used a backpack with a one-shoulder sling design, which is great — except when you really want a two-shoulder backpack design. The ODA straps let you easily choose which way to wear it, and when you have it set up as a one-strap sling, the other strap tucks away neatly. Clever and elegant. The internal compartments are very thoughtfully arranged too, and the zippers are all perfect. The laptop compartment fits a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if you put a smaller MacBook in there, it doesn’t feel lost in a too-big pouch. It’s just a great backpack.

ODA has a special deal just for DF readers: save 15 percent off any order with the code “df15”.

Microsoft’s Statement on the TikTok Acquisition Fiasco 

Microsoft’s entire statement:

ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft. We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests. To do this, we would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement. We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas.

Translation: “We’re embarrassed that we had anything to do with this circus.

Microsoft should’ve known better as soon as Trump started talking about “key money” payola to the U.S. Treasury, but they went into this acquisition bid treating it like serious business. But it’s not serious business — the whole thing has been banana republic nonsense from the beginning and the banana-y-ness has escalated each step of the way.

Now you’ve got China saying that a U.S. company can buy “TikTok” but can’t buy their suggestion algorithm. That algorithm is TikTok — and it seems clear that’s why Microsoft is washing its hands of the whole thing.

From the South China Morning Post:

ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company of TikTok, will not sell or transfer the algorithm behind the popular video-sharing app in any sale or divestment deal, according to a source briefed on the Chinese company’s boardroom discussions.

With a looming US deadline for ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations, the source said: “The car can be sold, but not the engine.”

It’s not merely buying a car without its engine — it’s buying an engine-less car whose most interesting attribute was the engine. Who the hell would buy that car? Larry Ellison, I guess.

WSJ: SoftBank Nears $40 Billion Deal to Sell Arm Holdings to Nvidia 

Cara Lombardo and Maureen Farrell, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

SoftBank Group Corp. is nearing a deal to sell British chip designer Arm Holdings to Nvidia Corp. for more than $40 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest in a series of big asset sales by the Japanese technology conglomerate. […]

A sale to Nvidia could prompt scrutiny from antitrust regulators and potentially pushback from Arm’s customers, which include major chip makers and electronics manufacturers such as Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc.

I’m not saying Apple wouldn’t object — I don’t know — but Apple isn’t a customer of Arm in the way this suggests. Apple’s chips do use the ARM64 instruction set, but I believe Apple already has a perpetual license for that. Apple does not license chips or chip designs from Arm — Apple’s chips are its own designs, which is why they offer performance unlike those of any other Arm licensee. This too is why Apple wasn’t interested in itself acquiring Arm Holdings: Arm’s business is about licensing technology to other companies; Apple’s business is about keeping its technology for itself.

Never Forget 

Then-future president of the United States, Donald Trump, commemorating 9/11 back in 2013:

I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.

That’s really one for the books.

Diana Rigg Dies at 82 

Anita Gates, writing for The New York Times:

But again it was for something of an action role that she received the greatest attention, when she played a crime boss’s daughter in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the only James Bond film to star George Lazenby. Her character had the distinction among Agent 007’s movie love interests of actually marrying Bond, but she was killed off in the final scene, for the sake of future plot lines.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, I think almost inarguably, the most polarizing of Bond films. Personally, I despise it — I think it’s poorly written, terribly directed, and that Lazenby was wrong for the role — the only actor ever truly miscast as Bond. But: some Bond fans love it. I know several who consider it their favorite, or, at least, their favorite of that era.

One reason for that — perhaps the reason — was Rigg. Her presence in the film is simply electric.

Dickhead of the Week: Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri 

Megan Graham, writing for CNBC:

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said the company will make a case against the planned change to Apple’s iPhone operating system that would impact how it and other mobile advertisers track users. But, he said, “I don’t think we have much influence over Apple,” and pointed to the power Apple has as the sole gatekeeper for apps across about 1 billion of its devices in use today.

This is true — Apple is the sole gatekeeper for apps on iOS, and Apple does claim there are a billion iOS devices in use. But Facebook has 2.5 billion users and Instagram 1 billion — and they’re the sole gatekeepers of their own massive platforms. They’re not getting bullied by a larger company.

On CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Friday morning, Mosseri said Instagram’s advertising business requires certain data to show users relevant ads and to provide value for its advertisers, the majority of which are small and medium-sized businesses.

“If the ecosystem changes in a way that advertisers can’t really measure their return on investment, that’s really going to be, yes, somewhat problematic for our business, but it’s going to be problematic for all the big ad platforms roughly equally, so I’m not that worried about it over the long run,” he said. “It’s going to be much much more problematic for all the small businesses. There are millions of them out there that rely on us to target customers and to reach those customers. Particularly during a pandemic when they’re hurting.”

This is Facebook’s political/PR strategy on this issue: (1) to ask everyone to ignore the plain truth that Apple’s changes to IDFA tracking are for exactly the reason Apple states: to give users control over their own privacy; and (2) to claim that Apple’s actions aren’t hurting Facebook but instead are hurting “small businesses”. Small businesses are taking advantage of privacy invasive user-tracking ad placement, but if their ads are less effective without privacy invasive user-tracking, then so be it, they’re less effective. The idea that we don’t dare do anything good for privacy that might reduce the efficacy of user-tracking ads because “pity the poor small businesses” is sophistry.

And give me a fucking break with bringing the pandemic into this. It’s especially infuriating coming from Facebook, of all companies. Maybe if they weren’t the main vector for the disinformation and anti-science nonsense that has prolonged the pandemic by turning it into a needless culture war, their “concern” would ring more true.

He argued that Instagram wants its users to have control over their data and understand what data it has.

“We believe that there’s a way to be really responsible and give people control over their data and transparency into their data but without cutting off our understanding and therefore operating blind,” he said.

That’s exactly what Apple is doing — giving users awareness over what is going on, and control over it. What Mosseri is really asking for here is the opposite — for Apple to allow the user-tracking ad industry to continue operating in the dark. Like I wrote last week, the entitlement of every single bastard in this industry is just off the charts. They really believe they have a right to track everything we do, and that Apple is taking something that belongs to them away.

Auto White Balance vs. Fiery Skies 

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic:

But as people tried to capture the scene, and the confusion and horror that accompanied it, many noticed a strange phenomenon: Certain photographs and videos of the surreal, orange sky seemed to wash it out, as if to erase the danger. “I didn’t filter these,” tweeted the journalist Sarah Frier, posting photos she took of San Francisco’s haunting morning sky. “In fact the iPhone color corrected the sky to make it look less scary. Imagine more orange.” The photos looked vaguely marigold in hue, but not too different from a misty sunrise in a city prone to fog. In some cases, the scene seemed to revert to a neutral gray, as if the smartphones that captured the pictures were engaged in a conspiracy to silence this latest cataclysm.

The reality is both less and more unnerving. The un-oranged images were caused by one of the most basic features of digital cameras, their ability to infer what color is in an image based on the lighting conditions in which it is taken. Like the people looking up at it, the software never expected the sky to be bathed in orange. It’s a reminder that even as cameras have become a way to document every aspect of our lives, they aren’t windows on the world, but simply machines that turn views of that world into images.

This is not a bug, but a side effect of the built-in Camera app on iOS (and likewise on most Android phones) being decidedly consumer-focused. Setting a manual white balance point is a feature in any “pro” camera app worth its salt. My favorite for iPhone is Halide — a recommendation shared by many others. From Halide’s Twitter:

We saw a lot of attention yesterday as people used Halide to take photos of the eerie orange skies in places hit by wildfires.

We got significantly higher downloads.

It feels wrong to benefit from this, so we are donating yesterday’s sales to our local Wildfire Relief Fund.

What a move.

Poolside FM for Cellular 

Easter eggs. Remember Easter eggs? These guys sure do.

‘The Repeated and Prolonged Failure of Mainstream News Outlets to Include Basic Climate Science Facts in Extreme Weather Coverage Is an Abdication of Their Core Responsibility’ 

Emily Atkin, writing for Heated:

This long weekend was literal hell for millions in the American West. California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington are suffering from dangerous heat, wildfire and smoke unlike anything they’ve ever seen. […]

Every American should be aware of these basic scientific facts when reading about the devastation of this weekend’s record-breaking extreme weather. But most of the major newspaper stories about the Labor Day Weekend from Hell don’t contain any climate-related information. Why? […]

The repeated and prolonged failure of mainstream news outlets to include basic climate science facts in extreme weather coverage is an abdication of their core responsibility: to give citizens the information they need to make informed decisions about how to solve society’s biggest problems.

The U.S. response to COVID-19 has been a year-long microcosm of the decades-long U.S. response to climate change: our political system is crippled by a faction that refuses to acknowledge scientific evidence or respect expertise. They don’t believe inconvenient truths they can’t see with their own eyes. (Many of them refuse to believe inconvenient truths, no matter what.)

With these red-skied hellscapes across the West, it’s here for everyone to see, making it more important than ever to hammer home the point that this is climate change and it’s devastating.

The Apocalyptic Red Western Skies Caused by Climate Change-Fueled Wildfires 

Jason Kottke:

All day yesterday, my social media feeds were full of photos taken of the skies on the west coast, bloodied red and orange from the wildfires raging in California, Oregon, and other western states. Each fresh photo I saw shocked me anew. Friends told me: as weird as the photos look, they don’t do justice to what this actually looks like and feels like in real life. Automatic cameras (as on smartphones) had a tough time capturing the skies because the onboard software kept correcting the red and orange colors out — the phones know, even if climate change denying politicians and voters don’t, that our skies aren’t supposed to be that color.

So many startling photos, but man, the one Kottke leads with, the one with the UPS truck — that looks like the poster for a terrifying movie.