Linked List: August 2017

The Email Larry Page Should Have Written to James Damore 

The Economist, writing from the point of view of Larry Page:

Your interpretation is wrong. Your memo was a great example of what’s called “motivated reasoning” — seeking out only the information that supports what you already believe. It was derogatory to women in our industry and elsewhere. Despite your stated support for diversity and fairness, it demonstrated profound prejudice. Your chain of reasoning had so many missing links that it hardly mattered what your argument was based on. We try to hire people who are willing to follow where the facts lead, whatever their preconceptions. In your case we clearly made a mistake.

Really strong piece that crystallizes my thoughts on this matter.

WSJ: ‘Apple Readies $1 Billion War Chest for Hollywood Programming’ 

Tripp Mickle, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (alternate link that should route around the Journal’s paywall):

Apple Inc. has set a budget of roughly $1 billion to procure and produce original content over the next year, according to people familiar with the matter, as the iPhone maker shows how serious it is about making a splash in Hollywood.

Combined with the company’s marketing clout and global reach, the step immediately makes Apple a considerable competitor in a crowded market where both new and traditional media players are vying to acquire original shows. Apple’s budget is about half what Time Warner Inc.’s HBO spent on content last year and on par with estimates of what Amazon.com Inc. spent in 2013, the year after it announced its move into original programming.

A friend of mine sent me this link, along with this quip: “Original content Apple is my least favorite Apple, but I can see why they are doing this.” I can’t put it better than that.

So far, Apple’s efforts at original content have been swings and misses. They really need to start making shows that are good. But would Apple ever make a show like Game of Thrones? That show is the current gold standard for original content, but I’m not sure Apple would want to put their brand on a show with so much graphic violence and sex. Disney has a squeaky-clean brand too, so it’s not like “family-friendly” and “high quality” are mutually exclusive.

If you ever watch baseball, sometimes the ceremonial first pitch is thrown by a talented athlete from another sport, but they’ve never played baseball, and the results are comically bad. That’s what it feels like watching Apple try to produce TV shows.

Spitball: I wonder if Apple should have bought Pixar?

Ming-Chi Kuo: ‘Apple Watch 3 to Come in LTE and Non-LTE Models, No Obvious Form Factor Change’ 

Zac Hall, writing for 9to5Mac:

Reliable analyst Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities has released a new forecast on the next generation Apple Watch. According to Kuo, the Apple Watch 3 will ship later this year with both LTE and non-LTE models offered. Kuo also expects the next Apple Watch will retain the same general design and not feature an obvious new form factor.

Kuo specifies that the Apple Watch will continue to ship in two size configurations: 38mm and 42mm cases.

KGI’s latest prediction comes 10 days after Bloomberg’s recent report which first mentioned the new Apple Watch with Intel modems for LTE connectivity. John Gruber at Daring Fireball later hinted that the new model would feature a new form factor, although he later backtracked on the timing of that claim.

I didn’t backtrack on the timing. I backtracked on the veracity of the source I heard this from. I wrote:

No mention in Businessweek’s report, though, of the all-new form factor that I’ve heard is coming for this year’s new watches. That tidbit came from an unconfirmed little birdie, though, so I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

If Apple Watch 3 doesn’t look obviously new, I would say my source was wrong and probably lied to me. My source was talking about this year’s new watches, not next year’s. But it really was an unconfirmed little birdie.

It could also be that both my birdie and Kuo are correct: the phrase “will not feature an obvious new form factor” leaves a lot of wiggle room with the word “obvious”.

Chris Lattner Joins Google Brain 

Darrell Etherington, reporting for TechCrunch:

Chris Lattner, one of the key creators behind the Apple programming language Swift, is on the move again. After a short six-month stay at Tesla, which he joined last year from Apple to act as VP of Autopilot Software, Lattner announced on Twitter today that his next stop is Google Brain. […]

Google Brain is the search giant’s team focused on deep learning and artificial intelligence. It focused on helping to use AI across a range of products, tackling both research and product integration, working together with teams across Alphabet, including at DeepMind. Its ultimate stated motivation is to advance the field with open source projects, academic collaboration and publication.

A team that emphasizes open source projects sounds like a good fit for Lattner.

Blanche Blackwell, Ian Fleming’s Mistress and the Inspiration for Pussy Galore, Dies at 104 

Matt Schudel, reporting for The Washington Post:

Blanche Blackwell’s romantic life inspired one of Noël Coward’s plays about an upper-crust love triangle, and swashbuckling Hollywood star Errol Flynn wanted to marry her. She was a member of one of Jamaica’s richest families but was best known as the mistress and muse of Ian Fleming, the rakish author who was the creator of James Bond.

Mrs. Blackwell died Aug. 8 in London at 104. Her death was confirmed by Andrew Lycett, Fleming’s biographer.

What a life.

Squarespace 

My thanks to Squarespace once again for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Create a website with Squarespace, and feel confident knowing your site is covered by the best. Think of Squarespace as your very own IT department, with free, unlimited hosting, top-of-the-line security, an enterprise-grade infrastructure, and around-the-clock support.

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Pinned Tabs Are No Solution to the Lack of Favicons in Regular Safari Tabs 

Re: yesterday’s piece arguing that Safari should display favicons in its browser tabs, I’ve gotten dozens of emails and tweets pointing out that Safari does show favicons, albeit in monochrome, for pinned tabs.

First, so what? That’s great for pinned tabs but it’s not a solution in any way, shape, or form for regular tabs.

Second, they’re not even really favicons. They’re SVG files, not PNGs like real favicons. Even though SVG is an open format and Safari introduced this feature in 2015, no other browser in the world supports these images, so many websites don’t even have these graphics. Almost every website has a real favicon.

Miami Marlins Reportedly Sold to Derek Jeter Group 

Jack Baer, reporting for MLB.com:

MLB Network insider Ken Rosenthal reported — as did the Miami Herald earlier — that the Sherman-Jeter group won the bidding, with Sherman holding the controlling interest and plans for Jeter to be the team’s CEO.

Serious question for Yankees fans: does this preclude Jeter from playing on Old Timer’s Day? And can you even imagine what another Yankees-Marlins World Series would be like?

Google CEO Sundar Pichai Canceled an All-Hands Meeting About Gender Controversy Due to Employee Worries of Online Harassment 

Kara Swisher, reporting for Recode:

Google CEO Sundar Pichai has canceled the company’s much-anticipated meeting to talk about gender issues today. The move came after some of its employees expressed concern over online harassment they had begun to receive after their questions and names have been published outside the company on a variety of largely alt-right sites.

“We had hoped to have a frank, open discussion today as we always do to bring us together and move forward. But our Dory questions appeared externally this afternoon, and on some websites Googlers are now being named personally,” wrote Pichai to employees. “Googlers are writing in, concerned about their safety and worried they may be ‘outed’ publicly for asking a question in the Town Hall.”

This controversy strikes me as the biggest challenge Google has faced under Pichai’s leadership. And the fact that the Page/Brin/Schmidt Alphabet triumvirate has remained silent makes me think Pichai truly is the leader of Google, not just in title but in terms of where the buck actually stops.

Medium’s Dickbar Gets the Clap 

Whether you think this feature is a good idea or not, why the fuck would they put this button on top of the text of the article you’re trying to read?

I’m starting to think Medium is just fucking with me at this point.

Original Post From Consumer Reports Revoking Recommendations for Microsoft Surface Laptops and Tablets 

Here’s the actual post from Consumer Reports regarding Surface hardware reliability:

A number of survey respondents said they experienced problems with their devices during startup. A few commented that their machines froze or shut down unexpectedly, and several others told CR that the touch screens weren’t responsive enough.

The new studies of laptop and tablet reliability leverage data on 90,741 tablets and laptops that subscribers bought new between 2014 and the beginning of 2017. Predicted reliability is a projection of how new models from each brand will fare, based on data from models already in users’ hands.

Worth noting that I’m deeply skeptical of anything computer- or tech-related that comes out of Consumer Reports’s lab testing. I think they shamelessly sensationalized the iPhone 4 antennagate story (which they later backtracked from), and I think they embarrassed themselves with last year’s bizarre (and rushed) report claiming wildly erratic battery life on the new TouchBar-equipped MacBook Pros. (See footnote 2 here for my results trying to replicate CR’s test. Quite possibly my favorite footnote in DF history.)

I’m certainly not saying we should take it as gospel, but I don’t see anything fishy about this laptop reliability report. It does not smell like clickbait.

Inside Facebook’s Institutional Policy of Copying Competitors 

Betsy Morris and Deepa Seetharaman, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

Facebook uses an internal database to track rivals, including young startups performing unusually well, people familiar with the system say. The database stems from Facebook’s 2013 acquisition of a Tel Aviv-based startup, Onavo, which had built an app that secures users’ privacy by routing their traffic through private servers. The app gives Facebook an unusually detailed look at what users collectively do on their phones, these people say.

The tool shaped Facebook’s decision to buy WhatsApp and informed its live-video strategy, they say. Facebook used Onavo to build its early-bird tool that tips it off to promising services and that helped Facebook home in on Houseparty.

So Facebook is using a VPN app that is supposed to protect users’ privacy to violate their privacy by analyzing which apps they use.

Also worth noting: in the iOS App Store, Onavo’s owner is still listed as “Onavo, Inc.”, not “Facebook”. I suspect a large number of Onavo users have no idea the app is owned by Facebook (I for one had never heard of it before this Journal story), and might think differently about entrusting their privacy to it if they knew.

Ulysses Is Switching to Subscription Pricing 

Max Seelemann, development lead for Ulysses:

Before getting into details, though, you should know that this switch was neither a quick decision, nor did we take it easily. We have been talking about it for over 2 years now. We’ve had uncountable discussions, and the topic came up at least once every month — yet we always postponed a decision. The sheer complexity and far reach of this change were too intimidating. I am not exaggerating in saying that this was the hardest decision in our whole time as professional software developers. After all, we have a system which currently works — after 14 years we are still around, Ulysses is still “a thing”, it’s even going better than ever before, and there are no immediate signs which hint at a change coming soon.

So why bother at all then? Well, we need a good way forward before we run into trouble. We want to make sure the app will be around for years and years to come. We want to heavily invest in its development, and this requires the right setting for our team, our families and our users. Writers want to rely on a professional tool that is constantly evolving, and we want to keep delivering just that.

This is a really thoughtful article, and I fully support their decision. I think subscription pricing is an excellent option for truly professional apps like Ulysses, particularly ones that are cross platform (Mac and iOS).

Consumer Reports: Microsoft Surface Is Dead Last for Reliability in Tablets and Laptops 

Paul Thurrott:

According to a Consumer Reports survey of over 90,000 tablet and laptop owners, an estimated 25 percent of those with Microsoft Surface devices will experience “problems by the end of the second year of ownership.” This failure rate is the worst in the industry by far among mainstream PC makers, the publication says, and as a result, it is pulling its “recommended” designation for all Surface products.

Apple led the industry by a long shot. But that’s as it should be. Apple products tend to cost significantly more because they’re made better. Or put another way, Apple benefits greatly in a survey like this because they don’t make any low-end laptops. I’d love to see the results of a similar survey that only looked at laptops that cost $1000 or more. I think Apple would still come out on top, but I would also bet that the reliability of PCs in that price range is way higher than these results that include all machines sold.

But that’s why these results look particularly bad for Microsoft: the Surface lineup is priced and specced more like Apple’s lineup: $800 starting price for the tablet, $999 for Surface Laptop, and $1499 for Surface Book. My first thought when I looked at these reliability numbers is that it didn’t seem fair for Consumer Reports to single out Microsoft when they were just 1 point behind Toshiba and 3 behind Dell, but Toshiba and Dell sell millions of astoundingly low-priced craptops. Dell’s lineup starts at just $179.

Thurrott:

Microsoft had benefited from a curiously skewed series of positive editorial stories in mainstream publications because of its perceived innovation with PCs compared to Apple. I dispute that view, actually, and have wondered aloud how any PC maker could be called an innovator when they just released their first laptop in 2017.

The Verge, last week: “The Best Laptop You Can Buy Right Now (2017)”. Bonus points for the sub-head: “Get a laptop that’ll last.”

Unobstruct: The Anti-Dickbar Content Blocker for Safari on iOS 

Troy Gaul:

As had happened in the past, I became annoyed by the bar and floating button at the bottom of the Medium page, which on such a small screen used up a not-insignificant amount of the vertical space. John Gruber had recently written about this in his post Medium and the Scourge of Persistent Sharing Dickbars on Daring Fireball.

However, this time, something occurred to me: this was a Safari view, so what if I had a Safari Content Blocker app that removed these bars the same way ad-blocking apps remove ads from web pages?

I went to my computer, started a new Xcode project, and a little while later, I had a way to remove these from Medium’s pages on my iPhone and iPad for good.

So good, so simple. This is the best dollar you’ll spend this month. Just $1 and poof, dozens and dozens of dickbars will just disappear from your reading experience.

The Yankees Will Have Names on the Back of Their Jerseys for the First Time, as Part of a Dumb-Ass MLB Stunt 

This is a goddamn disgrace.

The Boss would not have stood for this.

‘I’m a Google Manufacturing Robot and I Believe Humans Are Biologically Unfit to Have Jobs in Tech’ 

Ben Kronengold, writing for McSweeney’s:

I, a manufacturing robot at Google Factory C4.7, value diversity and inclusion. I also do not deny that machines are sometimes given preference to humans in the workplace. All I’m suggesting in this document is that humans’ underrepresentation in tech is not due to discrimination. Rather, it is a result of biological differences. Specifically, humans have a biology.

Geraldine DeRuiter Tried Soylent 

Geraldine DeRuiter:

Last week, I decided to try Soylent.

For those unfamiliar with this “food” product, Soylent is a high-protein drink designed to appeal to lifehackers, dieters, and doomsday cult members who are maybe a little shy and don’t want to come out of their bunker for communal meals. It has an incredibly long shelf-life, and provides you nutrition without all the pesky side-effects that food usually has, like chewing, tasting like something, and being an excuse for human interaction.

As a bonus, it also apparently gives you raging diarrhea, but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Yeah, no thanks.

On the Numero 

Jonathan Hoefler:

Nº was the number sign before # became a number sign, and it refreshingly serves this one and only purpose. Compare the #, which when preceding a number is read as “number” (“#1 in my class”), but when following a number means “pound” or “pounds”. If you’re curious what the # symbol has to do with the abbreviation lbs., here’s one possible missing link. (“70# uncoated paper”), leading to printshop pile-ups like “#10 envelope, 24# bond.” To programmers, a # can mean either “ignore what follows” (as in a Python comment) or “use what follows” (when referencing a page fragment, or a Unicode value in HTML.) To a proofreader, a # means “insert space,” so in the middle of a numbered list, the notation “line #” does not mean “line number,” but rather “add a line space.” Because of #’s resemblance to the musical symbol for “sharp” (♯), it’s a frequent stand-in for the word “sharp,” and often the correct way of rendering a trademarked term such as The C# Programming Language. The # is rapidly assuming musical duties as well, especially in online databases, leading to catalog collisions like “Prelude & Fugue #13 in F#.” How fortunate a designer would be to have a numero symbol, with which to write “Prelude & Fugue Nº 13 in F#,” or “Nº 10 Envelope, 24# bond.”

Jason Snell on Editorial 

Jason Snell:

When I mention that I write a lot on the iPad these days, I’m often asked what iOS apps I’m using to write. The truth is, the story keeps shifting — I’ve never really settled on a single app, because none of them give me everything that I want.

These days I’m using Editorial most of the time. It’s got full Markdown support and syncs with Dropbox, but those features have basically become table stakes for iOS text editors. What has put Editorial over the top for me, at least for the moment, is its powerful set of user-creatable and shareable workflows. These powerful features can be assigned to keyboard shortcuts, which is huge for me since I write articles on my iPad Pro while attached to an external keyboard.

Amazon and Tencent Back Andy Rubin’s Essential 

Rolfe Winkler, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Essential Products Inc., the smartphone maker founded by the creator of Google’s Android mobile software, confirmed it has a new $300 million war chest as it prepares for the seemingly insurmountable task of taking on Apple Inc. and Samsung Electronics Inc.

The startup on Wednesday unveiled the large roster of investors taking a chance on it, including Chinese internet company Tencent Holdings Ltd. and Amazon Inc.’s Alexa Fund. Essential also disclosed that Best Buy Co. stores and Amazon.com Inc. will be its retail launch partners in the U.S.

Curious if this explains the shipping delay on the first phone. Probably not.

I Don’t Think There’s Going to Be an ‘iPhone 7S’ 

Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:

We’ve received a couple of photos from Apple tipster Sonny Dickson this morning that depict a dummy model for the ‘iPhone 7s Plus’, one of three new phones Apple is said to be launching this year. Although marketing branding is unknown, the ‘7s’ devices are expected to iterate on the current iPhone 7 and iPhone 7 Plus chassis.

One distinction will be the introduction of glass backs (rather than aluminium), which this dummy model incorporates. It is believed that the phones will support inductive charging.

If these are legit, there’s no way Apple is going to call these devices “7S”. The S models have had minor cosmetic differences from the preceding year’s non-S iPhones, but these phones are sporting entire new designs.

I also think that the “7S” name would contribute to the notion that Apple’s “S” phones are only modest updates, when the truth is that the S phones tend to get the bigger technical improvements. I suspect Apple will use one of these sets of names:

  • iPhone 8, iPhone 8 Plus, iPhone 8 Pro; or
  • iPhone, iPhone Plus, iPhone Pro

Either of these naming schemes would make all three new iPhones sound new.

Daring Fireball Display Ads for August and September 

This summer I started selling my own display ads on Daring Fireball. If you’re reading this on the website, you can see one of them right now over on the left. For now I’m limiting them to five spots per month, and I’ve still got one open for the remainder of August.

September is wide open, and is generally the highest-traffic month of the year on DF, because that’s the month when new iPhones tend to be announced. If you’ve got a product or service you want to promote to DF’s smart and curious audience, get in touch.

Disney Is Pulling Its Movies From Netflix and Starting Its Own Streaming Service 

Michelle Castillo, reporting for CNBC:

CEO Bob Iger told CNBC’s Julia Boorstin Disney had a “good relationship” with Netflix, but decided to exercise an option to move its content off the platform. Movies to be removed include Disney as well as Pixar’s titles, according to Iger. Netflix said Disney movies will be available through the end of 2018 on its platform. Marvel TV shows will remain.

The new platform will be the home for all Disney movies going forward, starting with the 2019 theatrical slate which includes Toy Story 4, Frozen 2, and the upcoming live-action The Lion King. It will also be making a “significant investment” in exclusive movies and television series for the new platform.

Part of me says “I’m surprised it took them this long”, and the other part says “How many different streaming services am I going to wind up paying for every month?”

David Letterman to Host Netflix Interview Series 

Cynthia Littleton, reporting for Variety:

“I feel excited and lucky to be working on this project for Netflix,” Letterman said. “Here’s what I have learned, if you retire to spend more time with your family, check with your family first. Thanks for watching, drive safely.”

This is the best news I’ve seen all year.

The Talk Show: ‘Nancy Reagan Was Right’ 

Special guest Glenn Fleishman returns to the show. Topics include China forcing Apple to remove VPN apps from the Chinese App Store, Wi-Fi vs. LTE networking, the open workspaces in Apple Park, Glenn’s new letterpress project, the HomePod OS leak and iPhone D22, and more.

Sponsored by:

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  • Fracture: Your photos printed directly on glass.
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Vic Gundotra Is Now an iPhone Proponent 

Vic Gundotra (yes, that Vic Gundotra):

Bottom line: If you truly care about great photography, you own an iPhone. If you don’t mind being a few years behind, buy an Android.

The cognitive dissonance of the Android fans in the comments on this post is something to behold.

DuckDuckGo 

My thanks to DuckDuckGo for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. DuckDuckGo is the search engine that doesn’t track you. DuckDuckGo and Safari’s Intelligent Tracking Prevention together solve the top three private browsing misconceptions:

  • 41% of users believe private browsing prevents websites tracking them.
  • 39% of users believe private browsing prevents ads from tracking them.
  • 35% of users believe private browsing prevents a search engine from knowing their searches.

None of those things are true. I’ve been using DuckDuckGo as my primary web search engine since 2015, and I haven’t looked back.

Pilots Share Photos Between Planes via AirDrop at 35,000 Feet? 

If this is legit, this is amazing.

Update: Looks like it’s a hoax.

Bloomberg: Apple Plans to Release a Cellular-Capable Watch 

Mark Gurman, Scott Moritz, and Ian King, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is planning to release a version of its smartwatch later this year that can connect directly to cellular networks, a move designed to reduce the device’s reliance on the iPhone, people familiar with the matter said.

Currently, Apple requires its smartwatch to be connected wirelessly to an iPhone to stream music, download directions in maps, and send messages while on the go. Equipped with LTE chips, at least some new Apple Watch models, planned for release by the end of the year, will be able to conduct many tasks without an iPhone in range, the people said. For example, a user would be able to download new songs and use apps and leave their smartphone at home.

Intel Corp. will supply the LTE modems for the new Watch, according to another person familiar with the situation.

It’s hard to overstate just how big a deal this could be. No mention in Businessweek’s report, though, of the all-new form factor that I’ve heard is coming for this year’s new watches. That tidbit came from an unconfirmed little birdie, though, so I wouldn’t bet the house on it.

Thoughts on the Nintendo Switch User Interface 

Charlie Deets:

I’ve been using the Switch for a few months and I can’t stop thinking about its user interface. Nintendo’s newest console is in the golden era of its UI. The base features you would expect out of a game system are covered, but cruft has not yet been added to the experience. I’ve heard a lot of people say they long for more from the Switch’s UI, but I love the bare bones simplicity.

Nintendo was dealt a somewhat unique interface problem for a gaming console: design an interface for a single device that can be used mobile or at home with a large variety of input and output.

We got a Switch a few weeks ago, and I agree with just about everything Deets writes. It’s a great interface and experience, both in concept and in execution. And Nintendo solved some very hard problems to make it seem so easy and obvious.

The Nintendo Switch is a triumph.

Obama 3 

Today is Barack Obama’s birthday. Perhaps you’d like to celebrate by buying one of these sweet new t-shirts from my pal Brian Jaramillo. (Brian has handled the printing and shipping of all DF t-shirts for the last 10 years or so — he’s the best screen-printer I know.)

$5 for each T-shirt ordered will go to ProPublica, supporting great journalism in the public interest.

Marques Brownlee Goes Hands-On With Red Hydrogen Prototypes 

Marques Brownlee has a great video showing what Red intends their upcoming Hydrogen phone to look like. Some thoughts:

  • It’s big. That’s a 5.7-inch display, and side-by-side it dwarfs an iPhone 7 Plus.
  • It’s clearly designed not to be used in case. The Kevlar frame, with finger-sized ridges for gripping, looks like it is a protective case. Camera makers know how to make expensive gear that can take a beating in use.
  • Brownlee wasn’t allowed to show the “holographic” display mode, but he seems impressed by it.

Red is taking pre-orders for two models: aluminum for $1195, and titanium for $1595.

Apple Expands TestFlight Tester Limit to 10,000 Users 

Chance Miller, writing for 9to5Mac earlier this week:

Apple today has announced that it is expanding the tester limits in its TestFlight program. Whereas developers were previously limited to inviting 2,000 users to beta test an application, they can now invite up to 10,000 external testers.

This might be purely coincidental timing with regard to the controversy over VPN apps being removed from the App Store in China, but TestFlight is a path around the App Store.

The Loyal Engineers Steering NASA’s Voyager Probes Across the Universe 

Lovely profile of the engineering team still working to control Voyager I and II:

Fortunately, the malfunctioning backup receiver was still drawing current. They guessed that its oscillator, which allows it to accept a wide range of frequencies, had quit, essentially shrinking the target for transmissions from Earth. Assuming a much narrower bandwidth, and manually subtracting the Doppler effect, they recalibrated their signal. It worked — but to this day, the same calculation must precede every command. The original receiver remains useless: one engineer’s simple oversight nearly doomed humankind’s lone visit to Uranus and Neptune. ‘‘You like to think you have checks and balances,’’ Chris Jones, JPL’s chief engineer, who designed Voyager’s fault protection, told me. ‘‘In reality, we all worry about being that person.’’

Today the Voyagers are 10 billion and 13 billion miles away, the farthest man-made objects from Earth. The 40th anniversary of their launch will be celebrated next month.

I wasn’t aware of just how narrow the window of opportunity was that made it possible for these probes to visit all four of the outer planets:

One of the greatest obstacles to planetary science has always been the human life span: Typically, for instance, a direct flight to Neptune would take about 30 years. But in the spring of 1965, Gary Flandro, a doctoral student at Caltech, noticed that all four outer planets — Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus and Neptune — would align on the same side of the sun in the 1980s. If a spacecraft were launched in the mid- to late 1970s, it could use the gravity of the first body to slingshot to the second, and so on. Such a trajectory would add enough speed to shorten the total journey by almost two-thirds. What’s more, this orbital configuration would not appear again for 175 years.

The Right Way to Pop Your AirPods Out of the Case, One More Time 

Back in January I made a YouTube video showing how best to remove AirPods from their case:

As of a few weeks ago that video had over 100,000 views, and while I hadn’t posted any other videos since then, I had a bunch of subscribers to my channel.

Yesterday I spent a few hours tightening the security of my various Google accounts (adding two-step security). As part of this, I deleted an account using an @daringfireball.net address that (I thought) I only used for viewing shared Google Docs, and added that same address as an alternate sign-in address for an existing Google account. Turns out, that was the account I’d used to create my YouTube account back in January. There doesn’t seem to be any way to restore that deleted account because I had already reassigned the email address it used to another account. Oops.

I just created a new channel and re-uploaded the same video. That’s what you see embedded above. If you subscribed before, please do again — this is the sort of mistake you only make once.

I don’t really care about the lost views or subscribers. I don’t have plans to get deeply into YouTube, and if I do, I ought to reclaim those subscribers quickly. I hate breaking links though — I mean I really hate breaking links — and now I’ve inadvertently broken the link to my video for anyone who embedded it or tweeted it. Sorry about that.

Steven Levy: ‘How Apple Is Putting Voices in Users’ Heads – Literally’ 

Steven Levy:

My conversation with Mathias Bahnmueller started as pretty much all my phone interviews do. “Can you hear me?” he asked, and I replied affirmatively. Then I asked him the same question. His answer was yes — he could hear me very clearly. And this was a tiny miracle.

That’s because Bahnmueller suffers from hearing loss so severe that a year ago he underwent surgery to install a cochlear implant — an electronic device in the inner ear that replaces the usual hearing mechanism. Around a million patients have undergone this increasingly mainstream form of treatment, and that’s just a fraction of those who could benefit from it. (Of the 360 million people worldwide with hearing loss, about 10 percent would qualify for the surgery.) “For those who reach a point where hearing aids no longer help, this is the only solution,” says Allison Biever, an audiologist in Englewood, CO who works with implant patients. “It’s like restoring a signal in a radio station.”

With this new integration, the iPhone transmits directly to the cochlear implant. It’s like a bionic ear:

Merging medical technology like Apple’s is a clear benefit to those needing hearing help. But I’m intrigued by some observations that Dr. Biever, the audiologist who’s worked with hearing loss patients for two decades, shared with me. She says that with this system, patients have the ability to control their sound environment in a way that those with good hearing do not — so much so that she is sometimes envious. How cool would it be to listen to a song without anyone in the room hearing it? “When I’m in the noisiest of rooms and take a call on my iPhone, I can’t hold my phone to ear and do a call,” she says. “But my recipient can do this.”

I’m a sucker for a good accessibility story.

Support Steven Troughton-Smith’s Work 

Steven Troughton-Smith has been at the forefront of iOS spelunking for the last decade. He pokes and prods at iOS and has an uncanny ability to find and identify interesting stuff (including a bunch of things just this week in Apple’s prematurely released image of the HomePod version of iOS). We, outside Apple, know far more about how iOS works thanks to him. He’s both extraordinarily clever and extraordinarily generous about sharing what he learns with the world.

Steven has a Patreon campaign to generate recurring funds to allow him to spend more time on this stuff. And he doesn’t just take things apart — he makes cool things, like this Mac-style tiling window system demo project for iOS, which he provides to anyone who backs his work for just $10/month. I am happy to back his work, and I hope a lot of you are too. Even just $1/month could make a huge difference if enough of you join in.

iPhone D22’s Nickname May Have Been ‘Ferrari’ 

AppleInsider, back in December 2016:

Surfaced by a Sina Weibo user known for leaking information from Apple’s East Asian supply chain, the supposed documentation suggests Apple plans to market three iPhone models designated D20, D21 and D22 in 2017, reports Chinese blog cnBeta. Apple’s iPhone 7 and 7 Plus were codenamed D10 and — confusingly — D20 during development, the report said.

A three-model lineup jibes with rumors that Apple intends to launch two upgraded iPhone 7 models, likely branded “iPhone 7s” and “iPhone 7s Plus,” alongside a high-end version stuffed with exotic technology. This top-tier model, expected to boast a glass sandwich design, borderless OLED display, “invisible” home button, wireless charging and more, carries the internal codename “Ferrari,” according to today’s leaks.

This is the first reference to D22 that I’ve been able to find, and thanks to Apple’s premature release of an iOS 11.0.2 image, we now know D22 is the code name for the upcoming new high-end iPhone I’ve been referring to as “iPhone Pro”.

I’m nearly certain cnBeta was wrong about D20. Apple would never re-use a code name. It defeats the whole point of a code name. The iPhone 7 was D10 and iPhone 7 Plus was D11. You can find those code names in the shipping versions of iOS 10.

I’m pretty sure D20 is the new 4.7-inch iPhone, and D21 the Plus-sized 5.5-inch model. The obvious product names for these devices would be 7S and 7S Plus, respectively. D10/D11 last year, D20/D21 this year — with D22 as the new cherry on top. That’s how Apple code names products.

More interesting to me is the nickname “Ferrari”. Sounds like a good nickname for a sleek device that costs more, doesn’t it?

Botched Release of Beta HomePod OS Reveals Details of New 2017 iPhones and HomePod 

Jason Snell, collecting a story revealed in a series of tweets over the weekend:

Nobody digs into Apple software releases like Steve Troughton-Smith. And this is a big one. Apparently Apple released a firmware download for the HomePod (not due until the end of the year!) on its servers, and inside that firmware there’s information about future iPhone hardware and support for an infrared face unlock feature code-named Pearl ID.

Among the details revealed:

How in the world does something like this happen? My understanding is that Apple is (or at least was) on the cusp of a widespread deployment of prototype HomePods to employees. Someone prepared an over-the-air software update and because it was intended to be distributed only to Apple employees, the OS was compiled without all the usual flags set to omit code that pertains to unreleased hardware. (Kind of makes sense, insofar as HomePod itself is unreleased hardware.) Building the OS without those flags set may not have been a mistake. But distributing it via a world-readable server was.

Apple’s Third Quarter Results 

Apple:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2017 third quarter ended July 1, 2017. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $45.4 billion and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $1.67. These results compare to revenue of $42.4 billion and earnings per diluted share of $1.42 in the year-ago quarter. International sales accounted for 61 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

When you look at the data, the most striking number is that iPad sales were up 15 percent year-over-year. That’s the first time that’s happened in a few years. But iPad revenue was only up about 2 percent. That suggests to me, strongly, that this sales bump was driven strongly by the new 9.7-inch iPad that starts at $329.

See also: Jason Snell’s cornucopia of graphs visualizing Apple’s results.

Businessweek Profiles Stripe Co-Founders Patrick and John Collison 

Ashlee Vance, writing for Bloomberg Businessweek:

One way to justify the number: Stripe’s new partnership with Amazon.com Inc., the largest and most sought-after customer on the internet. Over the past couple of weeks, Stripe began handling a large, though undisclosed, portion of Amazon’s transactions. Neither company will address the scope of the deal — which was only revealed by Stripe’s addition of Amazon’s logo to its website — but it could help Stripe greatly increase its transaction volume. (Amazon had no comment.)

Seven years in, however, Stripe’s mission is less to send more books, vacuums, and grooming kits into the world than to “increase the GDP of the internet,” Patrick says. To do this, the company is beginning to move beyond payments by writing software that helps companies retool the way they incorporate, pay workers, and detect fraud. It’s part of an ambitious bid to revamp how online business has been conducted for 20 years and to give anyone with a bright idea a chance to compete. “We think giving two people in a garage the same infrastructure as a 100,000-person corporation — the aggregate effects of that will be really good,” Patrick says.

The key to Stripe’s success was their laser-like focus on developers. They made Stripe the easiest way to add payments to any system, and they have a great reputation for security and reliability.

Senator Jeff Flake: ‘My Party Is in Denial About Donald Trump’ 

Senator Jeff Flake, Republican from Arizona:

Michael Gerson, a conservative columnist and former senior adviser to President George W. Bush, wrote, four months into the new presidency, “The conservative mind, in some very visible cases, has become diseased,” and conservative institutions “with the blessings of a president … have abandoned the normal constraints of reason and compassion.”

For a conservative, that’s an awfully bitter pill to swallow. So as I layered in my defense mechanisms, I even found myself saying things like, “If I took the time to respond to every presidential tweet, there would be little time for anything else.” Given the volume and velocity of tweets from both the Trump campaign and then the White House, this was certainly true. But it was also a monumental dodge. It would be like Noah saying, “If I spent all my time obsessing about the coming flood, there would be little time for anything else.” At a certain point, if one is being honest, the flood becomes the thing that is most worthy of attention. At a certain point, it might be time to build an ark.

Under our Constitution, there simply are not that many people who are in a position to do something about an executive branch in chaos. As the first branch of government (Article I), the Congress was designed expressly to assert itself at just such moments.

Flake is a sitting senator in Trump’s own party.

XKCD: Wi-Fi vs. Cellular 

I hadn’t really given this any thought, but now that I’ve seen this comic, I realize this is very much true for me as well. The reliability of Wi-Fi dropped beneath that of cellular a few years ago.