Linked List: February 2018

Online Publisher Dependent Upon Facebook Shuts Down, Blaming Algorithm Change 

Mike Shields, reporting for Business Insider:

The media industry’s worst fears about Facebook’s huge algorithm tweak are coming true. The women-focused publisher LittleThings is shutting its doors, in large part because of Facebook’s recent move, the company’s CEO, Joe Speiser, told Business Insider. […]

Since launching in 2014, LittleThings had amassed over 12 million Facebook followers, and its videos regularly generated thousands, if not millions, of views.

But Speiser said the recent algorithm shift, which Facebook has said was designed to tamp down content that is consumed passively — and would instead emphasize posts from people’s friends and family — took out roughly 75% of LittleThings’ organic traffic while hammering its profit margins.

Here’s how utterly clueless Speiser was about getting into bed with Facebook. In June 2016, he told The Wall Street Journal there was no reason for publishers to be nervous about Facebook:

Media companies are increasingly nervous about Facebook. While many now rely heavily on the social network to drive traffic to their content and to help generate revenue from their audiences, some media executives still question Facebook’s long-term commitment to helping their businesses.

But according to Joe Speiser, chief executive of “feel-good” content publisher LittleThings, those concerns are unfounded. Facebook wants to control the experience users have on its platform, he said, but Facebook needs publishers just as much as publishers need Facebook.

“I think we need each other. We need them for the traffic; they need us for the content,” Mr. Speiser said on this week’s WSJ Media Mix podcast. “I think [Facebook] cares very much. I think without the content all these media companies are providing there’d be that much less reason to go on to the news feed.”

18 months later exactly the thing Speiser said he wasn’t concerned about — Facebook fucking him over — forced him to shut down his company. The only platform publishers can count on is the open web. Facebook is the biggest threat there has ever been to the open web. Any publisher that is dependent on Facebook, or that trusts Facebook, is out of their goddamn mind.

Marco Arment: ‘WatchKit Is a Sweet Solution That Will Only Ever Give Us Baby Apps’ 

Marco Arment:

Developing Apple Watch apps is extremely frustrating and limited for one big reason: unlike on iOS, Apple doesn’t give app developers access to the same watchOS frameworks that they use on Apple Watch.

Instead, we’re only allowed to use WatchKit, a baby UI framework that would’ve seemed rudimentary to developers even in the 1990s. But unlike the iPhone’s web apps, WatchKit doesn’t appear to be a stopgap — it seems to be Apple’s long-term solution to third-party app development on the Apple Watch.

I long ago gave up on using any third-party apps on my Apple Watch, and I am so much happier for it. A year or two ago I would have been “Hell yeah”-ing this piece by Arment, but at this point I half feel like Apple should just get rid of third-party WatchOS apps and be done with it.

The one type of app I think most people want is the one type of app Apple is never going to allow: custom watch faces. After that, the only good thing on Apple Watch is receiving (and responding to) notifications and fitness tracking.

I do think Arment is exactly right though that WatchKit will never be “good” until it’s more or less the same set of APIs that Apple uses for their own apps. Apple needs to eat its own cooking.

Apple Launching Medical Clinics for Employees 

Christina Farr, reporting for CNBC:

Apple is launching a group of health clinics called AC Wellness for its employees and their families this spring, according to several sources familiar with the company’s plans.

The company quietly published a website, acwellness.com, with more details about its initiative and a careers page listing jobs including primary care doctor, exercise coach and care navigator, as well as a phlebotomist to administer lab tests on-site.

Seems like a great perk, but would you really want to have your primary care physician tied to your employment? What happens if you love your doctor but leave Apple?

If You Were Wondering Which Android Handset Maker Would Be the First to Shamelessly Copy the iPhone X’s Notch, We Have a Winner 

Ian Cutress, reporting for AnandTech:

Today Asus is launching a smartphone that is designed, according to the speaker at our pre-briefing, to make it look like the user is holding an iPhone X. The new Asus ZenFone 5, part of the ZenFone 5 family, comes with a notch. Apparently this is what the company says that its customers want: the ability to look as if you have an iPhone X, but have something else.

They didn’t even get the shape of the notch right. And it still has a chin. It’s less like a rip-off of an iPhone X than it is like a parody of a rip-off.

Amazon to Acquire Ring for ‘More Than $1 Billion’ 

GeekWire:

Amazon has reached an agreement to acquire Ring, the Santa Monica, Calif.-based maker of video cameras, doorbells and other smart home technologies, GeekWire has learned. The companies are expected to announce the acquisition this afternoon.

The surprise acquisition marks the latest move by the Seattle-based tech giant into the smart home technology market. Financial terms were not disclosed, but Reuters puts the deal at more than $1 billion. Amazon is expected to treat the Ring deal similar to past acquisitions such as Zappos, Twitch and Audible, pursuing product and feature integrations where appropriate but maintaining the Ring brand and largely allowing the company to continue operating as it has in the past.

I’m not surprised in the least that Amazon would want to sell video monitoring doorbells, but I’m a little surprised they acquired Ring rather than just creating their own hardware. Maybe Ring already has more brand recognition than I realize?

I’ve been thinking about getting a Ring doorbell. I’m not sure if this deal makes me more likely or less likely to do so. I’m skeptical about the actual utility of a lot of “smart home” products, but a doorbell camera you can monitor from anywhere really does seem compelling.

Apple Park Visitor Center’s Accessibility 

Interesting thread on Twitter examining the accessibility of Apple Park Visitor Center. With architecture as with software, what’s good design for those with accessibility needs is almost always good design for everyone else, too.

‘You’re Probably Underestimating What You Can Do With Your iPhone Home Screen’ 

Michael Lopp:

I wrote this short piece on the current state of apps on my iPhone. People started sharing their home screens and I was blown away. The full list can be seen here. Here are a few that I ❤️.

As inflexible as the iOS home screen is, it’s kind of amazing how creative people can be with it. If you’re curious, here’s my incredibly uncreative home screen, snapped a moment ago.

Timers, Reminders, and Alarms on Apple Devices 

Dr. Drang:

I decided to dig into the many ways you can set timed alerts on your Apple devices and how the alert systems vary from device to device. It is, you will not be surprised to learn, a mess.

Putting Your Phone in Grayscale Mode to Reduce the Urge to Use It 

Nellie Bowles, writing for The New York Times last month:

I’ve gone gray, and it’s great.

In an effort to break my smartphone addiction, I’ve joined a small group of people turning their phone screens to grayscale — cutting out the colors and going with a range of shades from white to black. First popularized by the tech ethicist Tristan Harris, the goal of sticking to shades of gray is to make the glittering screen a little less stimulating.

I’ve been gray for a couple days, and it’s remarkable how well it has eased my twitchy phone checking, suggesting that one way to break phone attachment may be to, essentially, make my phone a little worse. We’re simple animals, excited by bright colors, it turns out.

On the iPhone, you can manage this in the Display Accommodations section with General → Accessibility in Settings. The easiest way to use it is to enable “Color Filters” as the Triple-Click accessibility shortcut, all the way down at the very bottom of the Accessibility section. Then you can just triple-click the side button to toggle it.

I tried this while hanging out with some friends over Super Bowl weekend. They liked it more than I did. I can definitely see how this reduces the urge to turn to your phone the moment you’re bored, but to me it’s so unpalatable that I find it hard to use the phone. Your mileage may vary.

Berkshire Hathaway’s 2017 Annual Report (PDF) 

As usual, a cogent, clear-cut, plain-language read. I find Berkshire Hathaway to be such a fascinating company. Their principles are so simple, but because they require patience, no other company has followed them.

Here’s Warren Buffet on how they treat shareholders:

While I’m on the subject of our owners’ gaining knowledge, let me remind you that Charlie and I believe all shareholders should simultaneously have access to new information that Berkshire releases and, if possible, should also have adequate time to digest and analyze that information before any trading takes place. That’s why we try to issue financial data late on Fridays or early on Saturdays and why our annual meeting is always held on a Saturday (a day that also eases traffic and parking problems).

We do not follow the common practice of talking one-on-one with large institutional investors or analysts, treating them instead as we do all other shareholders. There is no one more important to us than the shareholder of limited means who trusts us with a substantial portion of his or her savings. As I run the company day-to-day — and as I write this letter — that is the shareholder whose image is in my mind.

Jamf Now 

My thanks to Jamf for once again sponsoring the DF RSS feed. For many people, IT is a task and not a career. Now you can support your users without help from IT.

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Daring Fireball readers can create an account and manage three devices for free. Forever. Each additional device is just $2 per month. Two bucks.

Drexel Sets Men’s Division 1 Record for Comeback Win by Overcoming 34-Point Deficit to Beat Delaware 

Nicely done, Dragons.

Frank Bruni: ‘Am I Going Blind?’ 

Frank Bruni:

They say that death comes like a thief in the night. Lesser vandals have the same M.O. The affliction that stole my vision, or at least a big chunk of it, did so as I slept. I went to bed seeing the world one way. I woke up seeing it another.

This was about four months ago, though it feels like an eternity. So much has happened since. I don’t mean all the tests and procedures: the vials upon vials of blood; the mapping of major arteries in my neck; the imaging of tiny vessels in my brain; the first injection of an experimental treatment (or, maybe, a placebo) into my right, dominant eye, where the damage occurred; then the second injection; and then, last week, the third.

I mean the rest of it. I went to bed believing that I was more or less in control — that the unfinished business, unrealized dreams and other disappointments in my life were essentially failures of industry and imagination, and could probably be redeemed with a fierce enough effort. I woke up to the realization of how ludicrous that was.

Bruni’s issues are far worse than what I’ve been through, but this really hit home for me.

Why Can Everyone Spot Fake News but the Tech Companies? 

Charlie Warzel, writing for BuzzFeed:

The companies ask that we take them at their word: We’re trying, but this is hard — we can’t fix this overnight. OK, we get it. But if the tech giants aren’t finding the same misinformation that observers armed with nothing more sophisticated than access to a search bar are in the aftermath of these events, there’s really only one explanation for it: If they can’t see it, they aren’t truly looking.

How hard would it be, for example, to have a team in place reserved exclusively for large-scale breaking news events to do what outside observers have been doing: scan and monitor for clearly misleading conspiratorial content inside its top searches and trending modules?

It’s not a foolproof solution. But it’s something.

It’s the same reason why Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube are overrun with state-backed troll accounts from Russia. Engagement leads to growth, growth is all that matters, and if the trolls and fake news are engaging, better not to look for them. The oft-quoted Upton Sinclair quote fits perfectly: “It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends upon his not understanding it.”

Aura 

Alastair Houghton on the story behind Aura, a new utility he’s just released that allows any Mac to output 5.1 surround sound. Long story short, he spent a year working on it but was on the cusp of shelving it, unreleased, due to licensing problems. It was saved only through serendipity. I don’t want to say any more — it’s a great story.

The Children Who Mine Cobalt 

Alex Crawford, reporting for Sky News:

At one cobalt mine, children toiled in the drenching rain carrying huge sacks of the mineral.

Dorsen, eight, had no shoes and told us he hadn’t made enough money to eat for the past two days - despite working for about 12 hours a day. His friend Richard, 11, talked about how his whole body ached every day from the tough physical work. […]

The mine tunnels are dug by hand by miners who have no protective equipment. The tunnels have no supports and are prone to collapse, especially in the rain.

There are thousands of unofficial, unregulated, unmonitored mines where men, women and children work in what can only be described as slave conditions. In one group, we found a circle of children with a four-year-old girl picking out cobalt stones.

Perhaps Apple’s rumored decision to begin buying cobalt directly is less about operational strategy and more about humanitarian concerns.

‘Unsane’ – New Steven Soderbergh Film Shot Entirely on iPhone 

Reuters:

Soderbergh said the overall experience of making a film on an iPhone was good, although there were some drawbacks such as the phone being very sensitive to vibrations.

“I have to say the positives for me really were significant and it’s going to be tricky to go back to a more conventional way of shooting,” he said.

Not having to make a hole in a wall or secure a camera to the ceiling are big advantages, as is being able to go straight from watching a rehearsal to shooting, Soderbergh said.

Putting this in a bit of context: the original iPhone didn’t even shoot video.

Why Facebook Won’t Ever Change 

Om Malik:

Google’s core DNA is search and engineering, though some would say engineering that is driven by the economics of search, which makes it hard for the company to see the world through any other lens. Apple’s lens is that of product, design, and experience. This allows it to make great phones and to put emphasis on privacy, but makes it hard for them to build data-informed services.

Facebook’s DNA is that of a social platform addicted to growth and engagement. At its very core, every policy, every decision, every strategy is based on growth (at any cost) and engagement (at any cost). More growth and more engagement means more data — which means the company can make more advertising dollars, which gives it a nosebleed valuation on the stock market, which in turn allows it to remain competitive and stay ahead of its rivals.

‘Gun Rights, “Positive Good”, and the Evolution of Mutually Assured Massacre’ 

Must-read column by Josh Marshall on how the false notion that more guns make us safer — which has now come to the absurd point where the president of the United States is endorsing the notion of arming schoolteachers — came to be.

Things’s New Custom URL Scheme for Automation 

Cultured Code:

Things now supports a special kind of link (or URL) that starts with “things:”. These links are just like the ones you use every day on the web, except they allow you to send a variety of commands to Things.

Here’s an example: <things:///show?id=today>. Tapping this link will open Things and tell it to show your Today list. Try it now if you already have Things 3.4 installed.

This is pretty neat, and they’ve gone out of their way to make these URLs easy to create and understand, with a nifty helper tool and ample documentation.

And this is in addition to solid AppleScript support on the Mac, which I think Things has had for years. But there is no AppleScript on iOS, so for cross-platform automation, these URLs are an interesting alternative.

The Omni Group has gone even further, creating their own JavaScript-based automation system that works on both Mac and iOS.

The AR-15 Is Different 

Radiologist Heather Sher, writing for The Atlantic:

In a typical handgun injury that I diagnose almost daily, a bullet leaves a laceration through an organ like the liver. To a radiologist, it appears as a linear, thin, grey bullet track through the organ. There may be bleeding and some bullet fragments.

I was looking at a CT scan of one of the victims of the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, who had been brought to the trauma center during my call shift. The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, with extensive bleeding. How could a gunshot wound have caused this much damage?

The reaction in the emergency room was the same. One of the trauma surgeons opened a young victim in the operating room, and found only shreds of the organ that had been hit by a bullet from an AR-15, a semi-automatic rifle which delivers a devastatingly lethal, high-velocity bullet to the victim. There was nothing left to repair, and utterly, devastatingly, nothing that could be done to fix the problem. The injury was fatal.

Update: Asha Rangappa:

This is a must-read. It illustrates why the NRA is so reluctant to allow the CDC to research gun violence as a public health issue: The facts would be devastating.

In the same way that it is lunacy that the U.S. doesn’t allow the ATF’s gun-tracing division to use computers for searching gun records, it is sheer lunacy that the Center for Disease Control is forbidden to research gun violence. Lunacy.

Picking the Latter 

Alexandra Petri, in an op-ed for The Washington Post:

There are certain sorts of people whom we once thought we should give respect and space to. Gold Star mothers. Gold Star fathers. The victims of unthinkable tragedies, in the few days after those tragedies. But that was when they had the grace to be silent and let us determine, for ourselves, the moral of what they had lived through. That was when they did not demand that we take responsibility.

Now, if you don’t want to hear from any more high schoolers traumatized by gun violence, then you either decide to try to create a world where high schoolers are not traumatized by gun violence, or decide to create a world where you do not have to listen to the high schoolers. It looks like we’re picking the latter!

The Life and Death of Twitter for Mac 

Rene Ritchie had me and a few special guests on his show to talk about the late great Twitter for Mac. Forget about the fact that I’m on it — I’m really intrigued by what Rene is doing with this show and the video format.

Bloomberg: ‘Apple in Talks to Buy Cobalt Directly From Miners’ 

Jack Farchy and Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. is in talks to buy long-term supplies of cobalt directly from miners for the first time, according to people familiar with the matter, seeking to ensure it will have enough of the key battery ingredient amid industry fears of a shortage driven by the electric vehicle boom.

The iPhone maker is one of the world’s largest end users of cobalt for the batteries in its gadgets, but until now it has left the business of buying the metal to the companies that make its batteries.

I am assuming this just means Apple is buying out/taking over an existing cobalt brokerage or two, just to have total control over the whole process, as opposed to sending Jeff Williams out to the mines with suitcases full of cash.

But this idea feels very Apple-y: one of the keys of the Cook/Williams operational success has been staying a few years ahead of the curve for in-demand resources, like the deal they made to secure an ample supply of flash storage back in 2005, which they announced just weeks after Apple unveiled the first iPod that used flash storage instead of a hard drive.

Inside the Federal Bureau of Way Too Many Guns 

Jeanne Marie Laskas, writing for GQ in 2016:

“It’s a shoestring budget,” says Charlie, who runs the center. “It’s not 10,000 agents and a big sophisticated place. It’s a bunch of friggin’ boxes. All half-ass records. We have about 50 ATF employees. And all the rest are basically the ladies. The ladies that live in West Virginia — and they got a job. There’s a huge amount of labor being put into looking through microfilm.”

I want to ask about the microfilm — microfilm? — but it’s hard to get a word in. He’s already gone three rounds on the whiteboard, scribbling, erasing, illustrating some of the finer points of gun tracing, of which there are many, in large part due to the limitations imposed upon this place. For example, no computer. The National Tracing Center is not allowed to have centralized computer data.

“That’s the big no-no,” says Charlie.

That’s been a federal law, thanks to the NRA, since 1986: No searchable database of America’s gun owners. So people here have to use paper, sort through enormous stacks of forms and record books that gun stores are required to keep and to eventually turn over to the feds when requested. It’s kind of like a library in the old days — but without the card catalog. They can use pictures of paper, like microfilm (they recently got the go-ahead to convert the microfilm to PDFs), as long as the pictures of paper are not searchable. You have to flip through and read. No searching by gun owner. No searching by name.

The legislation that keeps the ATF from computerizing these records is lunacy, based entirely on the fever dream that such a database would lead to mass confiscation.

See also: Guns Found Here, a bracing, compelling 10-minute short from MEL Films that really hammers home how insane the constraints on the ATF National Trace Center are. All they’re trying to do is help law enforcement solve gun crimes and they’re forced to do it in the most inefficient way possible.

Why the Second Amendment Does Not Stymie Gun Control 

The Economist:

It is impossible to say whether erasing the Second Amendment would bring down gun deaths in America. But this is an academic query: changes to the constitution require the unlikely assent of two-thirds majorities in the House and Senate and three-quarters of the states. The better question is whether repealing the amendment is a must for pursuing gun control. It is not. The Heller majority opinion did not, in the words of its author, the late Justice Antonin Scalia, secure an “unlimited” right to buy or carry weapons. The Second Amendment would not, for example, scuttle bans on concealed weapons or machine guns. And Justice Scalia emphasised that nothing in Heller “should be taken to cast doubt on longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill, or laws forbidding the carrying of firearms in sensitive places such as schools and government buildings”. Nearly every gun regulation under discussion today — from expanded background checks to bans on military-style weapons — would seem to pass constitutional muster.

It’s remarkable how effective the NRA has been at convincing people that the 2nd Amendment means something that it does not. We almost certainly cannot repeal the 2nd Amendment in the foreseeable future, but we absolutely can pass meaningful new gun regulations with the 2nd Amendment in place.

‘I’ve only had good years.’ 

Robert Safian, interviewing Tim Cook for Fast Company after the magazine named Apple the world’s most innovative company:

Fast Company: What makes a good year for Apple? Is it the new hit products? The stock price?

Tim Cook: Stock price is a result, not an achievement by itself. For me, it’s about products and people. Did we make the best product, and did we enrich people’s lives? If you’re doing both of those things — and obviously those things are incredibly connected because one leads to the other — then you have a good year.

FC: Do you look back at some years and say, Oh, that was a good year, that year wasn’t as good?

TC: I’ve only had good years. No, seriously. Even when we were idling from a revenue point of view — it was like $6 billion every year — those were some incredibly good years because you could begin to feel the pipeline getting better, and you could see it internally. Externally, people couldn’t see that.

Apple Maps vs. Google Maps vs. Waze (in the Bay Area) 

Artur Grabowski (no relation, presumably, to Steve):

In early 2017, a conversation with yet another Waze fanboy finally nudged me to start a navigation app experiment. I was skeptical that the Alphabet owned company could meaningfully best its parent’s home grown Google Maps. I was also curious whether Apple Maps had discovered competence since its iOS 6 release.

I thus set out to answer three questions:

  1. Which navigation app estimates the shortest travel time?
  2. How does each app over/underestimate travel times?
  3. Which navigation app actually gets you to your destination most quickly?

This whole comparison was interesting, but particularly interesting to me was that Apple Maps was the only one of the three to under-promise and over-deliver on estimated time.

Switzerland Considers the Lobster 

Jason Kottke:

Come March 1, it will be illegal to throw a lobster into a pot of boiling water. Chefs and home cooks alike will need to quickly kill the lobster first and then cook it. […]

But really, this is just an excuse to revisit a sublime piece of journalism that David Foster Wallace wrote in 2004 for Gourmet magazine called Consider the Lobster (later collected in a book of the same name). In it, Wallace travels to the Maine Lobster Festival and comes away asking similar questions that the Swiss had in formulating their law.

The Hill: ‘Newt Gingrich Says Arming Teachers Only Long-Term Solution to School Shootings’ 

This is fucking insane:

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (R-Ga.) on Tuesday argued that the only long-term solution to school shootings is to train teachers and administrators in the use of guns.

Gingrich offered the remarks in an interview on “Fox & Friends.”

“I think the only long-term solution, depending on the size of the school, is a minimum of six to eight teachers and administrators who are trained in the use of firearms and have conceal carry permits and are prepared to defend the kids,” said Gingrich, a Fox News contributor and former CNN “Crossfire” co-host.

It’s funny when an Onion story on five-blade razor cartridges becomes a real product just a few years later. It’s fucking insane when an Onion story on arming schoolteachers becomes a Republican talking point just a few years later.

Microsoft’s Azure Services in China Are Contracted to a Chinese Company, Too 

Microsoft:

Microsoft Azure operated by 21Vianet (Azure China 21Vianet) is a physically separated instance of cloud services located in mainland China, independently operated and transacted by Shanghai Blue Cloud Technology Co., Ltd. (“21Vianet”), a wholly owned subsidiary of Beijing 21Vianet Broadband Data Center Co., Ltd.

The services are based on the same Azure, Microsoft Office 365, and Microsoft Power BI technologies that make up the Microsoft global cloud service with comparable service levels. Agreements and contracts for Microsoft Azure in China, where applicable, are signed between customers and 21Vianet.

Nikkei Asian Review’s Irresistible Verb 

Philip Elmer‑DeWitt:

But I know a dog whistle when I hear it, and in the Nikkei stories below the verb “to slash” — to cut with a violent sweeping motion — is code for Apple is doomed.

  • Jan. 29: Apple will slash its production target for the iPhone X
  • Feb. 16: OLED panel glut looms as Apple slashes iPhone X production
  • Feb. 20: Samsung to slash OLED panel output as iPhone X slumps

Here’s the thing about a verb like that: It’s almost irresistible. Here are a few reporters who couldn’t resist.

As Elmer-DeWitt points out, kudos to Jack Purcher at Patently Apple for pushing back on this.

Apple’s Upcoming Handover of Chinese iCloud Data to a State-Owned Company 

Lo Shih-hung, writing for The Hong Kong Free Press:

The US-based global tech giant Apple Inc. is set to hand over the operation of its iCloud data center in mainland China to a local corporation called Guizhou-Cloud Big Data (GCBD) by February 28, 2018. When this transition happens, the local company will become responsible for handling the legal and financial relationship between Apple and China’s iCloud users. After the transition takes place, the role of Apple will restricted to an investment of US one billion dollars, for the construction of a data center in Guiyang, and for providing technical support to the center, in the interest of preserving data security. […]

Apple Inc. has not explained the real issue, which is that a state-owned big data company controlled by the Chinese government will have access to all the data of its iCloud service users in China. This will allow the capricious state apparatus to jump into the cloud and look into the data of Apple’s Chinese users.

I wish that Apple would provide a definitive list of all types of data that goes through iCloud, showing what is end-to-end encrypted (iMessage and FaceTime?) and what is not. This whole situation reeks to high hell, but I don’t know what Apple could do other than pull out of the Chinese market entirely.

Update: This Apple support document comes pretty close to what I’m asking for.

Meh.com: ‘Selling Shit You Don’t Want for So Cheap That You Buy It Anyway’ 

My thanks to Meh for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Here’s what they had to say in their promoted RSS feed entry earlier this week:

People ask what kinds of things we sell, and it’s hard to categorize — headphones, knives, pearl necklaces, pliers (just from the last few weeks) — but you know what it’s got in common? It’s dirt cheap. Cheaper than anywhere else, cheaper than it’s ever been, possibly cheaper than it’ll ever be. We hate hype and we hate marketing pitches, but that’s just literally the easiest way to explain what we sell.

I can’t say it any better than that.

The Talk Show: ‘The “Press Real Hard” Era’ 

Special guest Marco Arment returns to the show for a brief discussion. Topics include Apple’s OS development strategy, HomePod and Siri, the sad state of Apple TV apps, where to get a good cheesesteak, and more.

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Twitter Abolishes Native Mac Client 

Twitter:

We’re focusing our efforts on a great Twitter experience that’s consistent across platforms. So, starting today the Twitter for Mac app will no longer be available for download, and in 30 days will no longer be supported.

For the full Twitter experience on Mac, visit Twitter on web.

It’s hard to overstate just how great a native Mac experience Twitter owned when they acqui-hired Tweetie and Loren Brichter. It was pure Twitter and pure forward-thinking Mac UI. Now, Mac users get the same first-party experience that everyone gets on any other platform.

Twitter dumped Tweetie’s codebase years ago, of course, and their Mac app has been garbage ever since they did. It’s all fine, really, so long as they continue to allow third-party clients like Tweetbot and Twitterrific to exist. But this “Mac users should just use the website” attitude is exactly what I was talking about here as an existential threat to the future of the Mac.

People choose the Mac because they want the best experience — not the same experience they can get on a $200 Chromebook.

DFW: ‘Roger Federer as Religious Experience’ 

Worth a re-link. David Foster Wallace in 2006 on then-25-year-old Roger Federer:

The Moments are more intense if you’ve played enough tennis to understand the impossibility of what you just saw him do. We’ve all got our examples. Here is one. It’s the finals of the 2005 U.S. Open, Federer serving to Andre Agassi early in the fourth set. There’s a medium-long exchange of groundstrokes, one with the distinctive butterfly shape of today’s power-baseline game, Federer and Agassi yanking each other from side to side, each trying to set up the baseline winner…until suddenly Agassi hits a hard heavy cross-court backhand that pulls Federer way out wide to his ad (=left) side, and Federer gets to it but slices the stretch backhand short, a couple feet past the service line, which of course is the sort of thing Agassi dines out on, and as Federer’s scrambling to reverse and get back to center, Agassi’s moving in to take the short ball on the rise, and he smacks it hard right back into the same ad corner, trying to wrong-foot Federer, which in fact he does — Federer’s still near the corner but running toward the centerline, and the ball’s heading to a point behind him now, where he just was, and there’s no time to turn his body around, and Agassi’s following the shot in to the net at an angle from the backhand side…and what Federer now does is somehow instantly reverse thrust and sort of skip backward three or four steps, impossibly fast, to hit a forehand out of his backhand corner, all his weight moving backward, and the forehand is a topspin screamer down the line past Agassi at net, who lunges for it but the ball’s past him, and it flies straight down the sideline and lands exactly in the deuce corner of Agassi’s side, a winner — Federer’s still dancing backward as it lands. And there’s that familiar little second of shocked silence from the New York crowd before it erupts, and John McEnroe with his color man’s headset on TV says (mostly to himself, it sounds like), “How do you hit a winner from that position?” And he’s right: given Agassi’s position and world-class quickness, Federer had to send that ball down a two-inch pipe of space in order to pass him, which he did, moving backwards, with no setup time and none of his weight behind the shot. It was impossible. It was like something out of “The Matrix.” I don’t know what-all sounds were involved, but my spouse says she hurried in and there was popcorn all over the couch and I was down on one knee and my eyeballs looked like novelty-shop eyeballs.

Anyway, that’s one example of a Federer Moment, and that was merely on TV — and the truth is that TV tennis is to live tennis pretty much as video porn is to the felt reality of human love.

Oh how I wish Wallace were still alive to see Federer reclaim the world’s number one ranking at the heretofore unheard of age of 36.

Lauren Goode vs. Lauren Goode: iPhone X vs. Pixel 2 

Such a gimmicky gimmick, yes, but Lauren Goode does this so fucking well. I just love it. Technically it’s pretty darn good, but substantially it’s downright amazing: she makes wonderfully accurate cases for both phones.

How the NRA Rewrote the Second Amendment 

Michael Waldman, writing for Politico in 2014:

From 1888, when law review articles first were indexed, through 1959, every single one on the Second Amendment concluded it did not guarantee an individual right to a gun. The first to argue otherwise, written by a William and Mary law student named Stuart R. Hays, appeared in 1960. He began by citing an article in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine and argued that the amendment enforced a “right of revolution,” of which the Southern states availed themselves during what the author called “The War Between the States.”

At first, only a few articles echoed that view. Then, starting in the late 1970s, a squad of attorneys and professors began to churn out law review submissions, dozens of them, at a prodigious rate. Funds — much of them from the NRA — flowed freely. An essay contest, grants to write book reviews, the creation of “Academics for the Second Amendment,” all followed. In 2003, the NRA Foundation provided $1 million to endow the Patrick Henry professorship in constitutional law and the Second Amendment at George Mason University Law School.

This fusillade of scholarship and pseudo-scholarship insisted that the traditional view — shared by courts and historians — was wrong. There had been a colossal constitutional mistake. Two centuries of legal consensus, they argued, must be overturned.

We don’t need to repeal the 2nd Amendment — although I think we should, insofar as it is inexplicably ambiguously written and punctuated — we just need to flip the Supreme Court to interpret it as it had been from 1789 through 2008.

‘Paul Ryan: No “Knee Jerk” Reactions on Guns. Ever.’ 

These mass shootings in the U.S. are like a perverse version of Groundhog Day. Republicans say the exact same things in response, every time, as though it’s the first time.

Democrats need to stop playing nice and start pounding home over and over that the Republicans are a party that is committed to accepting regular school shootings in the name of gun rights.

Every Member of Congress Who Took Money From the NRA and Tweeted ‘Thoughts and Prayers’ to Parkland 

103 Republicans, 1 Democrat.

It’s not “Congress” as a whole that refuses to take action.

(Also, it’s not a complete list. My own Senator Pat Toomey (R-PA) has taken boatloads of money from pro-gun groups and tweeted this in response to yesterday’s massacre, which I think clearly counts as a “thoughts and prayers” tweet.)

Et Tu, Sonos? 

Mike Prospero, writing for Tom’s Guide:

When I got home, I saw a large white ring, a telltale indication that the HomePod’s silicone base had messed up the finish. But, as I was inspecting the damage, I noticed a series of smaller white marks near where the HomePod was sitting.

A closer inspection revealed that the Sonos One speaker, which also has small silicone feet, had made these marks on my cabinet. Looking around the top of the cabinet, I noticed a bunch of little white marks, all left from the Sonos Ones as I moved them around. So, they will damage your wood furniture, too.

Strategy Analytics Claims Apple Took Over Half of Worldwide Phone Revenue Last Quarter 

Evan Niu, The Motley Fool:

Strategy Analytics executive director Neil Mawston points out that “Apple now accounts for more revenue than the rest of the entire global smartphone industry combined.” iPhone ASP is flirting with $800, while the broader industry’s ASP is approximately $300. This latter metric was up 18% year over year, as both Apple and Samsung saw success with their respective premium flagships. Samsung’s Note 8 and Galaxy S8 remain popular, but Samsung is also a large player in terms of unit volumes at the lower ends of the market. However, the South Korean conglomerate has seen its position in low-cost smartphones slip in large markets like China, leading to its ASP jumping 21% to $254.

Their numbers put iPhone revenue at 51 percent of the market, Samsung’s at 16, and Huawei’s at 7. You don’t hear much these days from the folks who thought the higher price of the iPhone X was a bad idea.

We’ve Reached the Point Where People Are Giving Up on Schools 

Actual headline in an op-ed from the Miami Herald today: “In the Wake of the Douglas High Massacre, Is Home Schooling a Better Option?” That’s how ridiculous our situation has become. People are starting to question whether the problem is with sending kids to school, not with pervasive access to military weapons.

‘No Way to Prevent This’, Says Only Nation Where This Regularly Happens 

The Onion posts the same headline after every mass shooting in the U.S., and every time they do it, it’s more apt than ever.

That’s the shot. Here’s the chaser: “Gorilla Sales Skyrocket After Latest Gorilla Attack”.

‘The Gun Is Our Moloch’ 

Garry Wills, writing for The New York Review five years ago, after the Sandy Hook grade school massacre:

The gun is not a mere tool, a bit of technology, a political issue, a point of debate. It is an object of reverence. Devotion to it precludes interruption with the sacrifices it entails. Like most gods, it does what it will, and cannot be questioned. Its acolytes think it is capable only of good things. It guarantees life and safety and freedom. It even guarantees law. Law grows from it. Then how can law question it?

Its power to do good is matched by its incapacity to do anything wrong. It cannot kill. Thwarting the god is what kills. If it seems to kill, that is only because the god’s bottomless appetite for death has not been adequately fed. The answer to problems caused by guns is more guns, millions of guns, guns everywhere, carried openly, carried secretly, in bars, in churches, in offices, in government buildings. Only the lack of guns can be a curse, not their beneficent omnipresence.

Our gun laws are insane. We, collectively, have agreed that regular mass shootings, often at schools — schools! — are a reasonable price to pay as a nation for unfettered access to military-grade killing machines for anyone and everyone who wants one.

It’s sick. Everyone outside the U.S. knows this. A majority of Americans knows this and supports stricter gun control.

There are new gun laws being drafted. But you know what most of them are for? For making guns even easier to purchase legally, without background checks.

Facebook Now Spamming Users With Texts if They’ve Enabled Two-Factor Security 

Kate Conger, writing for Gizmodo:

I’ve been getting these text-spam messages since last summer, when I set up a new Facebook account and turned on two-factor authentication. I created the new profile with somewhat vague intentions of using it for professional purposes — I didn’t like the idea of messaging sources from my primary Facebook account, where they could flip through pictures of my high school prom or my young nephews. But I didn’t end up using the profile often, and I let it sit mostly abandoned for months at a time.

At first, I only got one or two texts from Facebook per month. But as my profile stagnated, I got more and more messages. In January, Facebook texted me six times — mostly with updates about what my ex was posting. This month, I’ve already gotten four texts from Facebook. One is about a post from a former intern; I don’t recognize the name of one of the other “friends” Facebook messaged me about.

This is nuts — how scummy does Facebook have to be to punish people who do the right thing by setting up two-factor security?

Nick Heer: ‘Reports of Google’s Newfound Design Prowess Have Been Greatly Exaggerated’ 

Nick Heer on the new YouTube app for Apple TV:

None of these elements behaves as you might expect, primarily because the YouTube app doesn’t interpret swipes and scrolls like any other app. There’s no audible blip whenever you select something, and swiping around manages to be both sluggish and jerky.

The frustratingly slow scrolling is especially pronounced on the aforementioned horizontal navigation element because swiping just a little too far to the left will open the modal main menu panel that covers a third of the screen.

The slow scrolling is also apparent in the main menu panel. The scrolling “friction”, for lack of a better term, is such that swiping down just a little is unlikely to have any effect, and swiping down just a little bit more will move the selector down two menu items. It can be very difficult to get it to move one menu item at a time.

It’s a terrible, terrible Apple TV app. Much like Amazon’s new Prime Video app, it looks and feels like it was designed and implemented by people who’ve never even used an Apple TV.

Facebook Is Pushing Its Data-Tracking Onavo VPN Within Its Main Mobile App 

Sarah Perez, writing for TechCrunch:

Onavo Protect, the VPN client from the data-security app maker acquired by Facebook back in 2013, has now popped up in the Facebook iOS app itself, under the banner “Protect” in the navigation menu. Clicking through on “Protect” will redirect Facebook users to the “Onavo Protect — VPN Security” app’s listing on the App Store.

This is spyware. If you use Onavo, Facebook can and will track you everywhere you go on the Internet.

Kottke on the State of Blogging 

Jason Kottke, in a fascinating interview with Laura Hazard Owen for the Nieman Journalism Lab:

Melancholy, I think, is the exact right word. Personally, I think I felt a lot worse about it maybe three, four years ago. I was like, crap, what am I going to do here? I can see where this is going, I can see that more and more people are going to go to Facebook, and to mobile, and to all of these social apps and stuff like that, and there’s going to be less and less of a space in there for blogs like mine. I can’t churn out 60 things a day and play that social game where you use the shotgun approach to spit stuff out there and see what sticks. I’ve got to do four, five, six things that are good, really good. Since then, though, I’ve sort of come to terms with that. I’m like: Okay, if I can just keep going it, just keep doing it, it will work itself out somehow. I don’t know why I think that, but I kind of do.

The membership thing was actually really helpful in that regard, because within a pretty short amount of time, there was a lot of signal that people really appreciate what it is I do, enough that they’re willing to pay for it. It was kind of like, holy shit, we’re all in this together. I knew before that there were people who really into the site and who really like it, and that’s always been great to know and to get that feedback in the inbox and via Twitter and stuff like that. But to actually have those people pony up some dough changed my whole mindset about how I feel about the site.

I have many thoughts on the rise and decline of blogging — many of them stirred up recently, with Dean Allen’s death. Dean’s passing felt like the punctuation mark ending an era. There are a lot of great blogs still going, but as old ones drop off, there aren’t many new ones taking their places. It ain’t like it used to be.

David Pogue Conducts Blind Test of HomePod Against Competitors 

David Pogue:

Of course, I knew what the results would be. I’d heard them myself in the Apple demo; I’d read the other reviews; and I’d done the dress rehearsal the night before. Every time, the HomePod won the match easily.

At the end of my own listening test, then, I handed out signs that said “A,” “B,” “C,” and “D,” and asked the panelists to hold up their winners’ signs on the count of three. I knew what they would say: “B,” “B,” “B,” “B,” and “B” (that was the HomePod’s letter).

That’s not what happened.

Interesting results. I wonder about Pogue’s claim that the curtain he hid the speakers behind didn’t affect the sound, though.

HomePod Can Damage Wood Furniture 

Jon Chase, in Wirecutter’s review of HomePod:

An unhappy discovery after we placed a HomePod on an oiled butcher-block countertop and later on a wooden side table was that it left a defined white ring in the surface. Other reviewers and owners (such as Pocket-lint, and folks on Twitter) have reported the same issue, which an Apple representative has confirmed. Apple says “the marks can improve over several days after the speaker is removed from the wood surface,” and if they don’t fade on their own, you can basically just go refinish the furniture — the exact advice Apple gave in an email to Wirecutter was to “try cleaning the surface with the manufacturer’s suggested oiling method.” This really undermines the design aspect of the HomePod — especially if you were thinking of displaying it on some prized piece of furniture — and it will surely be a sore point for many potential buyers. In other testing, we have seen no visible damage when using it on glass, granite countertop, nice MDF, polyurethane-sealed wood, and cheap IKEA bookcases. We also tested the HomePod in the same place a Sonos One regularly lives — and the Sonos hasn’t caused damage in months of use.

I haven’t seen anything like this, but I haven’t placed a HomePod on stained wood, either. Anyone who runs into this should be outraged. I honestly don’t see how this could happen. Apple has been making products that go on shelves and tables for years — AirPort base stations, Apple TV, various docks — and I’ve never seen a report of damage to a surface. I guess the difference with HomePod is that the base factors into the acoustics, but still, this seems like an issue that should have been caught during the period where HomePod was being widely tested at home by many Apple employees.

Update: Federico Viticci:

Like many recent Apple PR debacles, this HomePod ring problem could have been easily avoided by simply… telling people beforehand.

Explain how things work. Even the obvious ones. Be proactive. Don’t wait until people discover issues to spin the narrative back in your control.

There Are No Competitive Smartwatch Chips From Qualcomm 

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica:

Ars Technica would like to wish a very special second birthday to the Qualcomm Snapdragon Wear 2100 SoC. While most flagship SoCs have a life cycle of about one year on the top of the market, over the weekend the Wear 2100 will celebrate two years as the least awful smartwatch SoC you can use in an Android Wear device. It’s positively ancient at this point.

Seriously though, Qualcomm has seemingly abandoned the smartwatch market. The Wear 2100 SoC was announced in February 2016, Qualcomm skipped out on an upgrade for February 2017, and it doesn’t seem like we’re getting a new smartwatch chip any time soon.

At this point, Apple and Samsung are the only two names in the game. And you don’t hear any stories about Samsung watches selling well, so I’m not sure how much in the game they are, either.

Claim Chowder on Yours Truly Regarding a June Claim Chowder Regarding Whether the HomePod Has a ‘Touchscreen’ 

Yours truly in June, after first seeing HomePod:

HomePod has a touchscreen on top.

Clearly, we now know that’s wrong. Paul Kafasis called me out on this during the most recent episode of The Talk Show, and it’s clear that I was wrong. It certainly is a touch panel, and it does light up and animate, but whatever you want call the part that lights up and animates, it’s not a screen in the sense of being a display that can render arbitrary pixels. The “+” and “-” buttons are hardware touch buttons, and the Siri animation is the only thing that can be shown in the middle.

Steven Sinofsky on Apple’s Software Problem 

Terrific Twitter thread by Steven Sinofsky:

What is lost in all of this recent discussion is the nuance between features, schedule, and quality. It is like having a discussion with a financial advisor over income, risk, and growth. You don’t just show up and say you want all three and get a “sure”.

And:

What happens to a growing project over time is that processes and approaches need to re-thought. It just means that how things once scaled — tools like deciding features, priorities, est. schedules, integration test, etc — are no longer scaling as well. That happens. […]

What I think it happening at Apple now is not more dramatic than that. What they had been doing got to a point where it needs an adjustment. Reality is that for many at Apple it feels dramatic b/c it might be first time they have gone through a substantial “systems” change.

Inside Apple’s HomePod Audio Lab 

Jim Dalrymple:

The noise and vibration lab was set up years ago to work on unwanted noise from Macs. At the time, this lab was very focused on fan and hard drive noise, but over the years it has expanded into electronic noise as well.

“Reducing fan and hard drive noise” is such a fun origin story for a lab that is more relevant to the company (and seemingly better-funded — see below for the insane specs for their newer anechoic chambers, which Apple claims were designed and built just for HomePod) today than ever. This is the same lab that tests and helps design the ever-improving speakers in iPhones and iPads — neither of which product has ever had a fan or hard drive.

The last chamber I saw was designed to listen specifically for electronic noise. For example, you don’t want HomePod to make any kind of noise when it’s plugged in, but not in use. If it was sitting on your night table, you wouldn’t want a hum or buzz coming from it.

Geaves said that the extent you have to isolate this chamber is even more important because you are listening for really small sounds.

The chamber itself sits on 28 tons of concrete. The panels are one foot thick which is another 27 tons of material, and there are 80 isolating mounts between the actual chamber and the concrete slab it sits on.

The chamber is designed to be -2 dBA, which is lower than the threshold of human hearing. This basically provides complete silence.

I was on the same tour of this lab that Dalrymple was, and at this moment Geaves had us remain silent for 10 seconds or so, just to appreciate what true silence sounds like. It was… unnerving.

Designing Farrago 

Neale Van Fleet on designing Rogue Amoeba’s new soundboard app Farrago:

Despite a key element of the app being up in the air, work was progressing in many other areas. Eventually, I knew we needed to figure out a way to solve the problem of how tiles would look. To break out of my rut, I decided to bring in outside viewpoints.

I reached out to my social network here in Montreal, and sought out the sort of people who might use a soundboard app — podcasters, radio folks, theatre techs, and more. I bribed several of them with free lunches, during which I showed them mockups and got their responses.

The feedback I got was immediate and consistent: Prospective users didn’t want to rely on a mouse or trackpad to play clips at all! They wanted to use their Mac’s physical keyboard to play sounds. Though I’d been focused on providing access to many controls right on the tile face, it turned out that mouse-based controls should be secondary.

I love looking at an app progress from a pencil sketch all the way through to the end result.

An Audiophile’s Review of HomePod 

Reddit user “WinterCharm”:

TL;DR: I am speechless. The HomePod actually sounds better than the KEF X300A. If you’re new to the Audiophile world, KEF is a very well respected and much loved speaker company. I actually deleted my very first measurements and re-checked everything because they were so good, I thought I’d made an error. Apple has managed to extract peak performance from a pint sized speaker, a feat that deserves a standing ovation. The HomePod is 100% an audiophile grade speaker.

IDC: Apple Watch Outsold the Entire Swiss Watch Industry in Holiday Quarter 

Kif Leswing, writing for Business Insider:

The company best known for making iPhones outsold Rolex, Omega, and even Swatch last quarter — combined.

That’s according to Apple Watch sales estimates from industry researcher Canalys and IDC, and publicly released shipment statistics from the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Canalys estimates that Apple sold 8 million Apple Watches in the last quarter of 2017.

This doesn’t really prove anything other than that Apple Watch is selling pretty well, but you can see that with your own eyes just by looking for them on people’s wrists out in the world. I see Apple Watches every day, worn by people from all walks of life. These stats from 2016 claim the average price of a Swiss watch was $739. Last fall Horace Dediu pegged the average selling price of an Apple Watch at $330, which sounds about right to my ears — most people buy the base aluminum models, and if they “upgrade”, it’s by buying an extra band or two.

Leswing:

Apple doesn’t reveal official sales figures for the Apple Watch, making comparisons like this one difficult.

Instead, it bundles Apple Watch sales into an “other products” category — which led some people, including yours truly, to brand the device a “flop,” as it seemed like Apple was glossing over lackluster sales.

And for awhile, especially in 2016, it did look like sales growth stalled. But based on data points provided by Apple officials on earnings call earlier this month, it’s possible for analysts to calculate a strong estimate of units and revenue.

I can get being bearish on Apple Watch sales back in 2015, when you just didn’t see many of them in the wild, and when Apple’s “Other” category didn’t seem to have a large bump. But the fact that Apple has reported Apple Watch sales in the “Other” category is something Tim Cook announced in September 2014, more than six months before the product went on sale, and he was very clear that the reason was the competitive value of the information. Apple could have sold 10 times more watches than expected and they still would have reported them under “Other”.

Mark Gurman on Apple’s OS Development Strategy 

Mark Gurman, in a solo-bylined piece for Bloomberg:

These features were delayed after Apple Inc. concluded it needed its own major upgrade in the way the company develops and introduces new products. Instead of keeping engineers on a relentless annual schedule and cramming features into a single update, Apple will start focusing on the next two years of updates for its iPhone and iPad operating system, according to people familiar with the change. The company will continue to update its software annually, but internally engineers will have more discretion to push back features that aren’t as polished to the following year.

This is the best story from Gurman in a while (see below), but I’m not so sure the above is a new strategy so much as a tacit admission of what’s actually been going on the last few years. Take iMessage in the Cloud — it was supposed to ship with iOS 11 (and I think MacOS 10.13) in the fall, but still hasn’t shipped. It’s in the iOS 11.3 beta, but even if 11.3 ships this month, it’ll be nearly 6 months late. It sounds to me like Apple is just being realistic, acknowledging that some projects can’t be finished in a year. I don’t expect any fewer new features than usual in the iOS 12 demo at WWDC — but perhaps more of them will actually ship in the fall, rather than being delayed until point updates (like iMessages in the Cloud, Apple Pay Cash, and AirPlay 2 last year — two of which still haven’t shipped).

[Update: What I mean by the above is that Apple always has more features in a new version of iOS or MacOS than they have time to demo on stage. They always have those slides with all the new stuff they didn’t have time to mention. I think they’ll still have 8-10 tentpole new features for iOS and MacOS to announce and demo at WWDC this year. From the outside, I don’t think it’ll seem like anything has changed from the last few years. But some of the features that in previous years might have been squeezed in with an aggressive schedule for inclusion this year are being postponed until next year.]

The other takeaway from Gurman’s report is that it sounds like Apple senior management is aware that they’ve taken a hit on public perception of Apple software quality in recent years.

But the feature-packed upgrades place huge demands on Apple’s beleaguered engineers.

It’s good to see beleaguered back in the Apple news story vernacular.

Some actual scoops about what is forthcoming:

Also in the works for this year: a redesigned version of Apple’s stock-tracking app and updated version of Do Not Disturb that will give users more options to automatically reject phone calls or silence notifications. Apple is also working to more deeply integrate Siri into the iPhone’s search view, redesign the interface used to import photos into an iPad on the go and make it possible for several people at once to play augmented reality games.

Oxford Comma Dispute Is Settled as Maine Drivers Get $5 Million 

Let this be a lesson to everyone who omits the serial comma.

Why Paper Jams Persist 

This feature by Joshua Rothman for The New Yorker is custom-made for the Daring Fireball audience:

Unsurprisingly, the engineers who specialize in paper jams see them differently. Engineers tend to work in narrow subspecialties, but solving a jam requires knowledge of physics, chemistry, mechanical engineering, computer programming, and interface design. “It’s the ultimate challenge,” Ruiz said.

“I wouldn’t characterize it as annoying,” Vicki Warner, who leads a team of printer engineers at Xerox, said of discovering a new kind of paper jam. “I would characterize it as almost exciting.” When she graduated from the Rochester Institute of Technology, in 2006, her friends took jobs in trendy fields, such as automotive design. During her interview at Xerox, however, another engineer showed her the inside of a printing press. All Xerox printers look basically the same: a million-dollar printing press is like an office copier, but twenty-four feet long and eight feet high. Warner watched as the heavy, pale-gray double doors swung open to reveal a steampunk wonderland of gears, wheels, conveyor belts, and circuit boards. As in an office copier, green plastic handles offer access to the “paper path” — the winding route, from “feeder” to “stacker,” along which sheets of paper are shocked and soaked, curled and decurled, vacuumed and superheated. “Printers are essentially paper torture chambers,” Warner said, smiling behind her glasses. “I thought, This is the coolest thing I’ve ever seen.”

The Talk Show: ‘Only Wireless. Less Smart Than an Echo. Lame.’ 

Special guest Paul Kafasis returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s new HomePod, Farrago (Rogue Amoeba’s new soundboard app for the Mac), the Philadelphia Eagles’ triumph over the “New England” Patriots in Super Bowl 52, and we stir up a controversy regarding a 10-year-old cocktail devised by the boys at You Look Nice Today.

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Apple Support: ‘How “Hey Siri” Works With Multiple Devices’ 

Apple Support:

When you say “Hey Siri” near multiple devices that support “Hey Siri,” the devices quickly communicate to each other using Bluetooth to determine which one should respond to the request. The device that heard you best or was recently raised will respond.

HomePod responds to most Siri requests, even if there are other devices that support “Hey Siri” nearby. If you want to use Siri on a specific device, raise to wake that device or press the button to use Siri, then make your request.

Works pretty well (and very quickly) in my experience.

NFL Team Logos, Drawn From Memory 

Branded in Memory:

Considering how important the NFL and its teams are to millions of people, we asked over 150 people to draw 12 of the most popular team logos from memory. With nothing to go off of but their own recollection, we wanted to know just how well these sports icons stand out in the mind of NFL fans and non-fans alike. Here’s what they showed us.

I love stuff like this. Via Paul Kafasis at One Foot Tsunami, who astutely points out a well-rendered, clearly knowledgeable, but totally wrong logo for the Dallas Cowboys.

Jason Kelce’s Speech From Today’s Philadelphia Eagles Super Bowl Victory Parade 

I’ve never seen a speech quite like it. (That’s a Mummers costume he’s wearing.)

‘Philly Special’ 

Peter King, writing for Sports Illustrated:

The Eagles are NFL champions for the first time in the Super Bowl era, for the first time since three weeks before the inauguration of John F. Kennedy. And it never would have happened without the head coach whom USA Today ranked seventh of seven new NFL coaching hires in January 2016.

“He’s got a big set of stones,” offensive coordinator Frank Reich said, trying to find the words just before the clock struck 12 Sunday night.

The inside story of the play that defined last night’s game.

Instabug 

My thanks to Instabug for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their comprehensive bug reporting SDK for mobile apps. Instabug allows mobile developers and product managers to receive detailed bug reports and feedback from their testers and users.

With each report, Instabug attaches screenshots, screen recordings, device details and repro-steps in one organized dashboard. Also, Instabug integrates with tools like Slack, Jira, and GitHub to help your team focus on developing not debugging.

They have a cool sample app in the App Store that you can try for free, to experience their reporting interface first hand. Then, you can log into their demo dashboard and see what the reports look like from the developers’ end. I tried it out and it looks and works great, on both sides.

Tens of thousands of companies like Lyft, eBay, and T-Mobile rely on Instabug to iterate faster and enhance their app quality.

Try Instabug now for free. Even better, they’re offering a special 25 percent discount on all paid plans to Daring Fireball readers with promo code “DARING18”.

Google Releases YouTube TV App for Apple TV (and Roku) 

A lot of people are looking at HomePod’s exclusive first-class support for Apple Music and see selfish intent. Apple isn’t working with Spotify or other services because they want everyone to use Apple’s media ecosystem for everything, is the thinking. Maybe! But maybe HomePod only works with Apple Music for now. I don’t know, and Apple isn’t going to tell anyone.

But look at Apple TV. There’s still no “skinny bundle” from Apple itself but now you use Apple TV to watch YouTube’s TV package, Playstation’s, and I’m sure others. There’s certainly no lock-in to the Apple media ecosystem on Apple TV. I think a lot of this is just a big complicated mess behind the scenes.

(To be clear, because I see a lot of misinformation on this front: You can play Spotify or anything else on HomePod, but only over AirPlay, not just by talking to the device like you can with Apple Music and iTunes Store music.)

Why Alexa Won’t Light Up During Amazon’s Super Bowl Ad 

Brad Stone, writing for Bloomberg:

The patent broadly describes two techniques. The first calls for transmitting a snippet of a commercial to Echo devices before it airs. Then the Echo can compare live commands to the acoustic fingerprint of the snippet to determine whether the commands are authentic. The second tactic describes how a commercial itself could transmit an inaudible acoustic signal to tell Alexa to ignore its wake word.

About a year ago, a Reddit user calling himself Asphyhackr did a little more legwork and concluded that Amazon was creatively employing this second technique.

Will be amusing — insofar as silly patent fights are ever truly amusing — if Amazon tries to keep Apple and Google from doing the same thing in commercials.

Actual Headline From NBC News: ‘Can Self-Taught Rocket Scientist Mike Hughes Prove Earth Is Flat?’ 

We all know questions in headlines are generally bullshit. But this one really takes the cake. For shame, NBC.

Walt Mossberg on the iPad 

Walt Mossberg:

A footnote on @apple and tablets: the iPad alone brought in nearly $6 billion in the holiday quarter, and unit sales were up very slightly at over 13 million. Most companies would kill for a single product with those kinds of numbers, even if they’re well down from the peak.

Steven Sinofsky, in the same thread:

@waltmossberg @Apple Also, worldwide 2017 there were perhaps 100 million consumer laptops sold. iPads selling at ~half that puts the number in context, especially considering the price, durability, and lifespan of an iPad compared to PC laptop.

In short, iPad sales are way down from their peak, but amount to a unit sales market half the size of the entire consumer PC laptop market. And iPads tend to last longer.

Is It a Problem That HomePod Only Works With Apple Products? 

Michael Simon, writing at Macworld:

And in many ways, it is. If anyone rushed to Apple.com to buy a HomePod after seeing one of the Grammy ads, they might be in for a surprise after it arrives on February 9, especially if they missed the disclaimer at the end of the commercial: Requires compatible Apple device. More than any other Apple product on the market today, HomePod is indelibly tied to Apple’s iEcosystem, so if you have an Android phone, you’re out of luck, even if you happen to subscribe to Apple Music.

It all reminds me of the early days of the iPod: a high-priced device that only works with Apple products. But while the strategy might have worked back in 2001, it’s going to be a much harder sell now.

This was the knock on the Apple Watch as well — which didn’t just require “a compatible Apple device”. It required one specific (expensive) Apple product: the iPhone. I think it has done OK.

The Verge: ‘Surface Pro 4 Owners Are Putting Their Tablets in Freezers to Fix Screen Flickering Issues’ 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Some owners have even started freezing their tablets to stop the screen flickering temporarily. “I get about half an hour’s use out of it after ten minutes in the freezer,” says one owner. Another user posted a video showing how the flickering stops as soon as the Surface Pro 4 is placed in a freezer. The Verge understands that the screen flickering problem is a hardware issue that Microsoft won’t be able to fix with a software update. It’s currently affecting less than 1 percent of all Surface Pro 4 devices.

  1. This is not a “fix”.
  2. This sounds like a bad idea even as a temporary salve. Condensation is a thing.
Rodney Dangerfield in Stanley Kubrick’s ‘The Killing’ 

This is amazing. (Thanks to DF reader François Kahn for the tip.)

Apple Reports 2017 Holiday Quarter Results 

Apple:

“We’re thrilled to report the biggest quarter in Apple’s history, with broad-based growth that included the highest revenue ever from a new iPhone lineup. iPhone X surpassed our expectations and has been our top-selling iPhone every week since it shipped in November,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO.

So that whole narrative about iPhone X being less popular than expected? Never mind.

Jason Snell has done his usual sorcery to get Apple’s numbers into charts. On the iPhone, unit sales were down about 1 percent year-over-year, but revenue was up about 6 percent. And this year’s holiday quarter was one week shorter than last years — and the much-anticipated iPhone X didn’t get into customers’ hands until November 3, over a month into the quarter. The average selling price for all iPhones went up $102 year-over-year. Seems like proof that the iPhone X strategy is working.

Wired: ‘Podcast Listeners Really Are the Holy Grail Advertisers Hoped They’d Be’ 

Miranda Katz, reporting for Wired:

Apple’s Podcast Analytics feature finally became available last month, and Euceph — along with podcasters everywhere — breathed a sigh of relief. Though it’s still early days, the numbers podcasters are seeing are highly encouraging. Forget those worries that the podcast bubble would burst the minute anyone actually got a closer look: It seems like podcast listeners really are the hyper-engaged, super-supportive audiences that everyone hoped. […]

Across the podcast ecosystem, the results are similarly uplifting. At Panoply, home to podcasts like Slate’s Political Gabfest and Malcolm Gladwell’s Revisionist History, CTO Jason Cox says that listeners are typically getting through 80-90 percent of content; the same is true at Headgum, the podcast network started by Jake Hurwitz and Amir Blumenfeld. Those numbers tend to be steady regardless of the length of the show — and according to Panoply, the few listeners who do skip ads continue to remain engaged with the episode, rather than dropping off at the first sign of an interruption. “I think people are overall very relieved to see that people are actually listening the way that we hoped,” says Headgum CTO Andrew Pile. “There are really audiences out there who listen to every word that comes out of [a host’s] mouth.”

Marco Arment:

The podcast business didn’t really need precise listener behavioral data. Who knew?

I don’t obsess over these iTunes Podcast analytics, but I’ve taken a look now that Apple is offering them, and the results for my show jibe with what’s being reported in this story: most people stick around to the end, and most people don’t skip the ads.

Lindy West: ‘I Quit Twitter and It Feels Great’ 

Lindy West, writing for The New York Times:

I’m frequently approached by colleagues, usually women, who ask me about quitting Twitter with hushed titillation, as if I’ve escaped a cult or broken a particularly seductive taboo. Well, here’s what my new life is like: I don’t wake up with a pit in my stomach every day, dreading what horrors accrued in my phone overnight. I don’t get dragged into protracted, bad-faith arguments with teenage boys about whether poor people deserve medical care, or whether putting nice guys in the friend zone is a hate crime. I don’t spend hours every week blocking and reporting trolls and screen-grabbing abuse in case it someday escalates into a credible threat. I no longer feel like my brain is trapped in a centrifuge filled with swastikas and Alex Jones’s spittle. Time is finite, and now I have more of it.

At the same time, I know this conversation is more complicated than that. I’ve lost a large platform to self-promote and make professional connections, which isn’t something many writers can afford to give up (less established writers and marginalized writers most of all — in a horrid irony, the same writers disproportionately abused on Twitter). I get my news on a slight delay. I seethe at the perception that I ceded any ground to trolls trying to push me out. I will probably never persuade RuPaul to be my friend. Also, I loved Twitter. Twitter is funny and smart and validating and cathartic. It feels, when you are embroiled in it, like the place where everything is happening. (Scoff if you like, but the president of the United States makes major policy announcements there. This is the world now.)

I really hope Jack Dorsey reads West’s piece and takes it to heart. She’s the last sort of person Twitter should want to leave the platform.

Instagram Is Turning Into Facebook 

Katherine Bindley, writing for the WSJ:

I understand why Instagram is adopting Facebook features: They work. But for years I logged into Instagram and enjoyed it more than Facebook. I fear a day when I wake up, open my phone and can no longer tell the difference between the two.

Regarding ads:

I can now make it through three new posts on Instagram before seeing an ad. After that, I get one every six to eight posts.

Instagram’s spokeswoman confirmed ad load is up: “We’ve been able to do this by improving the quality and the relevance of the ads.”

I really do enjoy using Instagram less these days, and it’s precisely for the same reasons I never signed up for Facebook. My biggest complaint is the algorithmic timeline — I truly miss the old timeline where I just saw photos from the people I follow in the order in which they were posted. I’m sure Instagram has detailed metrics showing that the new timeline increases “engagement”, but I’m equally certain that it’s led me to check the app less frequently.

But I still don’t see ads in my Instagram feed. Literally none. This might be because I don’t have a Facebook account, or might be because my Instagram account is flagged in some sort of hidden way because of my prominence from here at Daring Fireball, or might be a bug. This has been a years-long mystery to me (that I probably shouldn’t complain about).

The Publisher of Newsweek and the International Business Times Has Been Buying Traffic and Engaging in Ad Fraud 

Speaking of good reporting from BuzzFeed, here’s a report from Craig Silverman on publications that are pretty much doing the opposite:

The publisher of Newsweek and the International Business Times has been engaging in fraudulent online traffic practices that helped it secure a major ad buy from a US government agency, according to a new report released today by independent ad fraud researchers.

IBTimes.com, the publisher’s US business site, last year won a significant portion of a large video and display advertising campaign for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, a federal agency. Social Puncher, a consulting firm that investigates online ad fraud, alleges in its report that the ads were displayed to an audience on IBTimes.com that includes a significant amount of “cheap junk traffic with a share of bots.”

BuzzFeed News in Talks for Investment From Laurene Powell Jobs’s Company 

Matthew Garrahan and Shannon Bond, reporting for The Financial Times (paywall, alas, which you can sometimes poke through via Google News):

The editor of BuzzFeed has had discussions with the company started by Laurene Powell Jobs, the widow of the late Steve Jobs, about investing in the digital media company’s news division, according to two people with knowledge of the talks.

Discussions between Ms Powell Jobs’ company, the Emerson Collective, which last year took a majority stake in The Atlantic magazine, and Buzzfeed’s editor, Ben Smith, are at a preliminary stage and people close to the talks cautioned that a deal may not materialise.

BuzzFeed is doing great work, so I’m not surprised Powell Jobs would be interested.

Apple in 2017: The Six Colors Report Card 

Jason Snell:

It’s time for our annual look back on Apple’s performance during the past year, as seen through the eyes of writers, editors, developers, podcasters, and other people who spend an awful lot of time thinking about Apple.

This is the third year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 11 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5, as well as optionally provide text commentary on their vote. I received 50 replies, with the average results as shown below.

If you’re curious why there aren’t any quotes from me, that’s because, dummy that I am, I forgot to fill out the form. But with 50 well-chosen panelists, it wouldn’t have made much difference to the consensus.

The biggest year-over-year changes were iPad (up 0.7 on a scale of 1-5) and software quality (down 0.7). The highest rated product is the iPhone, at 4.4. Those numbers all sound about right.

Apple Confirms That HomePod Works With iCloud Music Library 

Apple updated the specs page for HomePod, with the full list of supported audio sources:

  • Apple Music
  • iTunes Music Purchases
  • iCloud Music Library with an Apple Music or iTunes Match subscription
  • Beats 1 Live Radio
  • Podcasts
  • AirPlay other content to HomePod from iPhone, iPad, iPod touch, Apple TV, and Mac

iCloud Music Library support was the one that left a lot of us scratching our heads last week. Good to know it’s officially supported. This means any music in your personal library is available through HomePod, even if they are tracks that aren’t available in Apple Music or the iTunes Store.