Linked List: March 2018

36-Year-Old Accountant Who Has Never Played Pro Hockey Stars in Blackhawks Win 

Allyson Chiu, writing for The Washington Post:

“Among hockey’s great quirks,” as Hockey News explained, “is that it’s the only pro sport with the potential for someone not on the roster to come out of the stands and actually play in the game.” But, “it takes a very rare set of circumstances to open that door.”

This is a fabulous story, but one takeaway no one seems to be mentioning is that playing goalie in the NHL is not that difficult. I’m having trouble thinking of a another position in pro sports where this could happen. Maybe playing first base in baseball?

Update: This might be the most controversial post I’ve written. Take a look at my Twitter mentions. Hockey fans are arguing that goalie is an incredibly difficult position to play at an elite level. I’m sure it is. But I still don’t see any counter examples from any other sport where a 36-year-old with no experience at a higher level than college could come in and play. NBA? No way. NFL? Maybe a punter or placekicker, but no way at any other position. And with the possible exception of first base, no way in MLB — and even at first base, there’s no way a 36-year-old amateur could get a hit. At every other position in every other team sport, a non-elite player would be exposed.

Under Armour Says 150 Million MyFitnessPal Accounts Were Hacked 

Nick Turner, writing for Bloomberg:

Under Armour Inc., joining a growing list of corporate victims of hacker attacks, said about 150 million user accounts tied to its MyFitnessPal nutrition-tracking app were breached earlier this year.

An unauthorized party stole data from the accounts in late February, Under Armour said on Thursday. It became aware of the breach earlier this week and took steps to alert users about the incident, the company said.

It’s a little scary that this went undetected for a month. Makes me wonder how many of these data breaches are never noticed.

System Fonts in CSS 

Craig Hockenberry:

This whole process has been fascinating for me to watch. What started as a simple idea ended up being discussed and implemented by dozens of talented engineers. The result is a web that’s better and easier for a lot of folks.

Mozilla’s Facebook Container Extension 


This extension helps you control more of your web activity from Facebook by isolating your identity into a separate container. This makes it harder for Facebook to track your activity on other websites via third-party cookies.

Rather than stop using a service you find valuable and miss out on those adorable photos of your nephew, we think you should have tools to limit what data others can collect about you. That includes us: Mozilla does not collect data from your use of the Facebook Container extension. We only know the number of times the extension is installed or removed.

In other words, Firefox is now treating Facebook as malware that you need to be protected from.

Om Malik on Foxconn Buying Belkin 

Om Malik:

“I can’t put my finger on why, but this acquisition seems weird to me,” writes John Gruber, describing Foxconn’s decision to buy Belkin for $866 million. It is not that weird, especially when you take into account the competitive landscape.

TL: DR version: Foxconn needs to boost margins. Belkin has a great brand but faces an increasingly competitive landscape. It is weirdly about Taiwan vs. China.

I’ve always felt Belkin kit was kind of crappy — never more so than the comparison between their Qi charging pad and Mophie’s. Mophie’s is so much better — at the same price — it’s ridiculous. The big difference is that the Belkin charging pad has a very small sweet spot — you have to place your phone on it just so. And the Belkin one has an ugly bright green LED that turns on when you’re charging, and points up. Garish on a bedside table. The Mophie one has a subtle white light that points down, not up. I’ve also become a fan of Anker’s products (and have this Qi charger on my desk). I kind of feel like Foxconn bought a loser here.

Chris Pepper also made a keen observation about why this acquisition seems weird: “Because Foxconn manufactures a lot of Belkin’s competitors’ products.”

Are There Any Tetris Games for Mac? 

I’ve always enjoyed Tetris, even though I was never particularly good at it. After reading this story last week about the tragic life of Tetris co-creator Vladimir Pokhilko, I got the urge to play for the first time in years. I tried searching the Mac App Store for “Tetris”, expecting to find dozens of crummy knock-offs, but instead was surprised to find “Your search had no results”. Nothing. (There is an official iOS version from Electronic Arts, but come on, Tetris needs real buttons.)

I tried looking outside the Mac App Store, and as far as I can tell, there’s no official Tetris for Mac, nor are there any clones. Quinn was a decent clone I remember playing a decade ago, but as this Boing Boing report from 2006 says, the developer got a cease and desist from The Tetris Company and abandoned the game. (You can still play it on High Sierra, but it’s not retina, and worse, you can only download unsigned versions from sketchy download sites.)

So as far as I can tell, not only is there no official Tetris for Mac, there are no Tetris-like games either. Back in the 90s, there were several really good Tetris games for the Mac. Anyone remember Wesleyan Tetris? It was a goofy version in which the developer, Randall Cook, would rudely critique your gameplay.

If The Tetris Company wants to protect the name “Tetris”, fine, but I think it sucks that there’s no good way to play the game on a Mac today. Every computer should have a good version of Tetris.

Facebook Delays Home Speaker Dingus 

Sarah Frier, reporting for Bloomberg:

Facebook Inc. has decided not to unveil new home products at its major developer conference in May, in part because the public is currently so outraged about the social network’s data-privacy practices, according to people familiar with the matter.

The company’s new hardware products, connected speakers with digital-assistant and video-chat capabilities, are undergoing a deeper review to ensure that they make the right trade-offs regarding user data, the people said. While the hardware wasn’t expected to be available until the fall, the company had hoped to preview the devices at the largest annual gathering of Facebook developers, said the people, who asked not to be named discussing internal plans.

I think it’s arguable whether anyone should have any of these speakers in their homes or offices. But if you buy one from Facebook, I think it’s inarguable that you’re insane.

Tim Cook on Facebook 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

Cook made that point again today: “The truth is, we could make a ton of money, if we monetized our customer - if our customer was our product. We’ve elected not to do that.”

Swisher posed a question for Cook: What would he do if he were Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg” His answer: “I wouldn’t be in this situation.”

Brutal, but not unfair. I think Cook is right: he wouldn’t be in this situation.

John Paul Stevens: ‘Repeal the Second Amendment’ 

Former Justice John Paul Stevens:

For over 200 years after the adoption of the Second Amendment, it was uniformly understood as not placing any limit on either federal or state authority to enact gun control legislation. In 1939 the Supreme Court unanimously held that Congress could prohibit the possession of a sawed-off shotgun because that weapon had no reasonable relation to the preservation or efficiency of a “well regulated militia.”

During the years when Warren Burger was our chief justice, from 1969 to 1986, no judge, federal or state, as far as I am aware, expressed any doubt as to the limited coverage of that amendment. When organizations like the National Rifle Association disagreed with that position and began their campaign claiming that federal regulation of firearms curtailed Second Amendment rights, Chief Justice Burger publicly characterized the N.R.A. as perpetrating “one of the greatest pieces of fraud, I repeat the word fraud, on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime.”

Serious gun control is coming. It’s like gay marriage — stalled with no progress for decades, and then, boom, it’s the law of the land in 50 states. I don’t know when it will happen, but when it does, it’ll happen fast.

Mac Rumors: ‘Everything Apple Announced at Today’s Educational Event in Under Three Minutes’ 

Three minutes? I’ll bet they could’ve gotten this down to 30 seconds. I don’t mean that to be sarcastic — it was an interesting event, but there wasn’t a lot of news.

Foxconn Buys Belkin for $866 Million 

Devin Coldewey, reporting for TechCrunch:

Foxconn, best known for manufacturing practically everything in the world, has just announced the purchase of Belkin, the PC peripherals company, for $866 million in cash. That certainly makes it one of the larger consumer electronics acquisitions in recent memory.

You probably know Belkin for its various lines of accessories, peripherals, and assorted consumer electronics; Linksys, surely the most recognizable router brand, is a subsidiary. Wemo and Phyn might also ring a bell.

I can’t put my finger on why, but this acquisition seems weird to me.

Ultra Fractal 

My thanks to Ultra Fractal for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Ultra Fractal makes it easy to create your own visual fractal art. You might be familiar with fractals like the Mandelbrot Set that offer endless zooming possibilities. Ultra Fractal turns these fractals into art with gradients to add color, Photoshop-like layering, coloring algorithms that introduce intricate ornaments, and even extensive animation support. Start with the included tutorials and you will soon be creating your first fractals.

There’s a free trial version for MacOS and Windows. Through March 28, Daring Fireball readers get a 25 percent discount on all editions of Ultra Fractal 6 with coupon code ‘FIREBALL’.

The Talk Show: ‘Our Name Is Our Address’ 

Finally. Jason Kottke is on the show to talk about 20 years of writing his eponymous website.

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Not The Onion: Pennsylvania School to Arm Kids With Buckets of Rocks as Defense Against School Shooters 

Matt Coughlin, reporting for The Morning Call:

Officials in Schuylkill County are planning to teach students to throw rocks at school shooters.

The superintendent of Blue Mountain School District testified to a state committee in Harrisburg last week that each classroom in the school has been equipped with a five-gallon bucket of river stone, according to WNEP TV.

“If an armed intruder attempts to gain entrance to any of our classrooms, they will face a classroom full of students armed with rocks and they will be stoned,” Superintendent David Helsel said to the House Education Committee in Harrisburg.

This is not a fabricated story. This is real.

This, on the other hand, was The Simpsons.

U.S. Justice Department Revives Push to Mandate a Way to Unlock Phones 

Charlie Savage, reporting for The New York Times:

Craig Federighi, the senior vice president of software engineering at Apple, stressed the importance of strengthening — not weakening — security protections for products like the iPhone, saying threats to data security were increasing every day and arguing that it was a question of “security versus security” rather than security versus privacy.

“Proposals that involve giving the keys to customers’ device data to anyone but the customer inject new and dangerous weaknesses into product security,” he said in a statement. “Weakening security makes no sense when you consider that customers rely on our products to keep their personal information safe, run their businesses or even manage vital infrastructure like power grids and transportation systems.”

Hurrah. Nailed it.

But some computer security researchers believe the problem might be solvable with an acceptable level of new risks.

A National Academy of Sciences committee completed an 18-month study of the encryption debate, publishing a report last month. While it largely described challenges to solving the problem, one section cited presentations by several technologists who are developing potential approaches.

They included Ray Ozzie, a former chief software architect at Microsoft; Stefan Savage, a computer science professor at the University of California, San Diego; and Ernie Brickell, a former chief security officer at Intel.

Boo. Really disappointed to see Ray Ozzie’s name on this list.

‘Privacy Means People Know What They’re Signing Up For’ 

Interesting to watch in light of this week’s controversy over Facebook and Cambridge Analytica — Steve Jobs talking to Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher in 2010 regarding privacy:

Jobs: Are we going to be moving more into cloud-based things? Sure.

Mossberg: Doesn’t that inevitably…

Jobs: No! Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for. In plain English, and repeatedly. That’s what it means. I’m an optimist. I believe people are smart. And some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they’re tired of you asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data. That’s what we think.

Ricky Gervais Meets Garry Shandling 

Not sure how I never saw this before, but boom, there went an hour. Just a terrific, almost podcast-like, interview.

Behind the Scenes of Spike Jonze’s ‘Welcome Home’ HomePod Music Video 

Tim Nudd, writing for AdWeek:

Apple’s short film “Welcome Home,” directed by Spike Jonze and starring FKA twigs as a beleaguered city dweller whose drab apartment becomes a colorful, shape-shifting oasis thanks to her HomePod device, is easily one of 2018’s most captivating ads so far.

Now, we get a behind-the-scenes look at the film, which not only answers all of our questions about how it was made — it might just be the most engaging, comprehensive and flat-out best BTS video we’ve seen for an advertisement.

“It’s like a magic trick.”

China’s Face-Scanning Craze 

Rene Chun, writing for The Atlantic:

Dystopia starts with 23.6 inches of toilet paper. That’s how much the dispensers at the entrance of the public restrooms at Beijing’s Temple of Heaven dole out in a program involving facial-recognition scanners — part of the president’s “Toilet Revolution,” which seeks to modernize public toilets. Want more? Forget it. If you go back to the scanner before nine minutes are up, it will recognize you and issue this terse refusal: “Please try again later.”

This sounds like something out of Brazil.

Apple Redoubling Efforts on E-Books 

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg:

Apple is working on a redesigned version of its iBooks e-book reading application for iPhones and iPads and has hired an executive from Amazon to help.

The new app, due to be released in coming months, will include a simpler interface that better highlights books currently being read and a redesigned digital book store that looks more like the new App Store launched last year, according to people familiar with its development. The revamped app in testing includes a new section called Reading Now and a dedicated tab for audio books, the people said.

Sounds like something they might talk about Tuesday in Chicago. Apple’s last education-focused event, held at the Guggenheim in New York in January 2012, was mostly focused on iBooks and the then-new iBooks Author. (A major update to iBooks Author next week would be very welcome too.)

John Dowd Resigns as Trump’s Lead Lawyer in Special Counsel Inquiry 

Michael S. Schmidt and Maggie Haberman, reporting for The New York Times:

President Trump’s lead lawyer for the special counsel investigation, John Dowd, resigned on Thursday as his strategy for cooperating with the inquiry grew increasingly at odds with Mr. Trump’s desire for a more aggressive posture.

Mr. Dowd, who took over the president’s legal team last summer and considered leaving several times, ultimately concluded that Mr. Trump was ignoring his advice, a person briefed on the matter said.

This is the sort of thing that happens all the time in a well-run legal defense of an innocent client.

Instagram Takes a Step Back Towards Timeline Sanity 


We’ve heard it can feel unexpected when your feed refreshes and automatically bumps you to the top. So today we’re testing a “New Posts” button that lets you choose when you want to refresh, rather than it happening automatically. Tap the button and you’ll be taken to new posts at the top of feed — don’t tap, and you’ll stay where you are. We hope this makes browsing Instagram much more enjoyable.

Based on your feedback, we’re also making changes to ensure that newer posts are more likely to appear first in feed. With these changes, your feed will feel more fresh, and you won’t miss the moments you care about. So if your best friend shares a selfie from her vacation in Australia, it will be waiting for you when you wake up.

This isn’t a complete reversion to a chronological timeline (which I really wish Instagram would offer as a setting), but hopefully it’s better than the ever-more-disorienting algorithmic mush they’ve been serving in recent months.

Update: So much for my optimism about the algorithmic feed two years ago.

YouTube Bans Firearms Demo Videos 

Polly Mosendz and Mark Bergen, reporting for Bloomberg:

YouTube, a popular media site for firearms enthusiasts, this week quietly introduced tighter restrictions on videos involving weapons, becoming the latest battleground in the U.S. gun-control debate.

YouTube will ban videos that promote or link to websites selling firearms and accessories, including bump stocks, which allow a semi-automatic rifle to fire faster. Additionally, YouTube said it will prohibit videos with instructions on how to assemble firearms. The video site, owned by Alphabet Inc.’s Google, has faced intense criticism for hosting videos about guns, bombs and other deadly weapons.

Friendly reminder: this is in no way a violation of free speech. YouTube is a private platform, not a public one.

Sheryl Sandberg and Mark Zuckerberg Respond to Cambridge Analytics Scandal 

Neither response even acknowledges — let alone apologizes for — one of the key aspects of this scandal: that Facebook knew this was a problem in June 2016, and by November 2016 knew that the problem related to the election, and they neither did nor said a thing about it. And that Zuckerberg went as far as to say it was a “pretty crazy idea” that fake news influenced the 2016 election after he knew that it did.

Also: neither Sandberg’s nor Zuckerberg’s post contains the words sorry or apologize.

‘The Case Against Facebook’ 

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox:

Google, of course, poses similar threats to the journalism ecosystem through its own digital advertising industry. But Googlers can also make a strong case that Google makes valuable contributions to the information climate. I learn useful, real information via Google every day. And while web search is far from a perfect technology, Google really does usually surface accurate, reliable information on the topics you search for. Facebook’s imperative to maximize engagement, by contrast, lands it in an endless cycle of sensationalism and nonsense.

Netflix Sans — New Bespoke Typeface 

Jenny Brewer, writing for It’s Nice That:

Netflix has unveiled a new custom typeface to be used across the streaming platform’s brand identity, developed by the in-house design team in partnership with foundry Dalton Maag. According to Netflix brand design lead Noah Nathan, the move away from Gotham and to creating a bespoke font was driven by escalating costs and the ability to make the identity more “ownable”.

“With the global nature of Netflix’s business, font licensing can get quite expensive,” Noah says. “Developing this typeface not only created an ownable and unique element for the brand’s aesthetic…but saves the company millions of dollars a year as foundries move towards impression-based licensing for their typefaces in many digital advertising spaces.”

I don’t love it, but it does feel Netflix-y.

‘Facebook Has Lost the Plot’ 

MG Siegler:

And beyond the stupidity and potential danger, I find myself increasingly annoyed simply because it’s certainly not helping to paint our increasingly embattled industry in any better a light. Reading these headlines, you’d think Facebook, and by extension, the tech sector in the Bay Area is the worst place in the world, full of jokers and jerks.

Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of jokers and jerks. But there are also plenty of brilliant, hard-working people. We can quibble about whether there are more or less than in other industries and other places, but that’s not the point. The point is that I now believe Facebook doesn’t just have an image problem, as I’m sure many around the company would want you to believe — “the press is out to get us!” Facebook has a self-awareness problem.

To put it more bluntly: it seems like Facebook has lost the plot. And given their scale, this is more than a little terrifying.

I don’t think they ever had the plot. They got away with their utter disregard for the privacy of their users from the get-go — literally from the time when Facebook’s entire userbase consisted of 4,000 gullible students at Harvard. It’s just taken a long time for public opinion to recognize and react to their institutional sociopathy. Facebook thought no one cared, but what was really going on is that no one (well, very few) realized the extent of what was going on.

WhatsApp Co-Founder Brian Acton on Twitter: ‘It Is Time. #Deletefacebook’ 

Context: Facebook bought WhatsApp for $16 billion in 2014.

But let’s call a spade a spade. Acton’s outrage now is some of the most hypocritical bullshit I’ve ever heard. Facebook implemented the policy he’s objecting to in 2010, four years before he personally pocketed $6.5 billion of Facebook’s money. Acton knew exactly what kind of company Facebook was when he sold WhatsApp to them.

‘Ashamed’ Fox News Commentator Quits the ‘Propaganda Machine’ 

Retired United States Army lieutenant colonel Ralph Peters, announcing his resignation as a contributor to Fox News:

Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.

In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration. When prime-time hosts — who have never served our country in any capacity — dismiss facts and empirical reality to launch profoundly dishonest assaults on the FBI, the Justice Department, the courts, the intelligence community (in which I served) and, not least, a model public servant and genuine war hero such as Robert Mueller — all the while scaremongering with lurid warnings of “deep-state” machinations — I cannot be part of the same organization, even at a remove. To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit.

I love this kicker at the end, regarding Peters’s history as a commentator:

Peters was briefly suspended in 2015 for calling President Obama a “total pussy” while on the Fox Business Network.

Harper’s Index: April 2018 

From the latest edition of Harper’s Index:

  • Percentage of Americans who are concerned that Amazon is forcing brick-and-mortar stores out of business : 64
  • Who have a favorable impression of the company : 71
  • Amount by which Jeff Bezos’s net worth increased the day after the launch of Amazon Go, a cashierless store : $2,800,000,000
  • Rank of cashier among the most common US jobs : 2
IBM Watson Services for Core ML 

Interesting partnership. Would love to find out more about how useful this is in practice.

Zuckerberg and Sandberg AWOL From Facebook’s Data Leak Damage Control Session 

Spencer Ackerman, reporting for The Daily Beast:

Facebook employees on Tuesday got the opportunity for an internal briefing and question-and-answer session about Facebook’s role with the Trump-aligned data firm Cambridge Analytica. It was the first the company held to brief and reassure employees after, ahead of damaging news reports, Facebook abruptly suspended Cambridge Analytica. The Q&A session was first reported by The Verge.

But Zuckerberg himself wasn’t there, The Daily Beast has learned. Instead, the session was conducted by a Facebook attorney, Paul Grewal, according to a source familiar with the meeting. That was the same approach the company used on Capitol Hill this past fall, when it sent its top attorney, Colin Stretch, to brief Congress about the prevalence of Russian propaganda, to include paid ads and inauthentic accounts, on its platform.

Nor, The Daily Beast has learned, did chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg attend the internal town hall.

Not exactly profiles in courage. If I worked at Facebook I’d be pissed that both of them weren’t there, let alone neither of them.

Facebook Security Chief Said to Leave After Clashes Over Disinformation 

Nicole Perlroth, Sheera Frenkel, and Scott Shane:

Facebook’s chief information security officer, Alex Stamos, will leave the company after internal disagreements over how the social network should deal with its role in spreading disinformation, according to current and former employees briefed on the matter.

Mr. Stamos had been a strong advocate inside the company for investigating and disclosing Russian activity on Facebook, often to the consternation of other top executives, including Sheryl Sandberg, the social network’s chief operating officer, according to the current and former employees, who asked not to be identified discussing internal matters.

That Sandberg and (presumably) Zuckerberg resisted investigating and disclosing everything they could about how the Russians took advantage of them says everything you need to know about them.

See also: Stamos wrote a series of tweets over the weekend regarding the Cambridge Analytica scandal, but deleted them.

Update, Tuesday 20 March: The Times’s report was expanded significantly late yesterday. This part is new, and I think incredibly damning:

Mr. Stamos first put together a group of engineers to scour Facebook for Russian activity in June 2016, the month the Democratic National Committee announced it had been attacked by Russian hackers, the current and former employees said.

By November 2016, the team had uncovered evidence that Russian operatives had aggressively pushed DNC leaks and propaganda on Facebook. That same month, Mr. Zuckerberg publicly dismissed the notion that fake news influenced the 2016 election, calling it a “pretty crazy idea.”

So where by “pretty crazy idea” Zuckerberg meant “Yeah, we’ve determined that’s exactly what happened.”

Mr. Stamos pushed to disclose as much as possible, while others including Elliot Schrage, Facebook’s vice president of communications and policy, recommended not naming Russia without more ironclad evidence, said the current and former employees.

A detailed memorandum Mr. Stamos wrote in early 2017 describing Russian interference was scrubbed for mentions of Russia and winnowed into a blog post last April that outlined, in hypothetical terms, how Facebook could be manipulated by a foreign adversary, they said. Russia was only referenced in a vague footnote.

So Facebook is forcing out Stamos, the one executive with the moral backbone to do the right thing in response to what they’d allowed to happen.

Donald Trump and the Craven Firing of Andrew McCabe 

Jeffrey Toobin, writing for The New Yorker:

If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.

Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.

Facebook Stock Plunges 

CNN Money:

Facebook tumbled 7% on Monday, helping to pull the tech-heavy Nasdaq 1.8% lower and S&P 500 1.4%. It was the Nasdaq’s worst day since February 8.

The Dow fell as much as 493 points. The average closed down 336 points, or 1.4%, and is back in negative territory for the year. […]

Facebook is under pressure from lawmakers in both the United States and the UK after more than 50 million users’ data ended up in the hands of data firm Cambridge Analytica.

In the short run I always caution against reading anything into the market’s sense, but in this case I think investors are right. Facebook is in some serious trouble. This Cambridge Analytica scandal proves that Facebook ought to be heavily regulated, and that’s not good for Facebook’s bottom line.

I take issue, though, with the phrase “ended up in the hands of”. The implication with that phrasing is that Cambridge Analytica hoodwinked Facebook, or breached some sort of defenses. They didn’t. The information Cambridge Analytica obtained was exactly the information Facebook provides to advertisers by design. Cambridge Analytica just used that data in ways Facebook didn’t anticipate. Or perhaps better said, Facebook never anticipated that when people started to realize just what Facebook enables, there’d be outrage.

Apple’s public commitment to placing a high priority on privacy is looking better and better — both ethically and as a business decision.

1973 Employment Questionnaire Filled Out by Steve Jobs Sold for $174,757 at Auction 

I think whoever paid $175K for this is nuts, but I do love the Jobsian brevity:

Address: reed college
Phone: none

Gurman: Apple Is Producing MicroLED Displays at Facility in Santa Clara 

Very interesting scoop from Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Right now smartphones and other gadgets essentially use off-the-shelf display technology. The Apple Watch screen is made by LG Display. Ditto for Google’s larger Pixel phone. The iPhone X, Apple’s first OLED phone, uses Samsung technology. Phone manufacturers tweak screens to their specifications, and Apple has for years calibrated iPhone screens for color accuracy. But this marks the first time Apple is designing screens end-to-end itself.

I’m going to disagree vehemently with this paragraph. Apple products do not use “off-the-shelf” display components. The iPhone X OLED display is manufactured by Samsung, yes, but it’s an Apple design, years in the making. Apple’s problem isn’t that they’re stuck using off-the-shelf displays, their problem is that there’s only one company in the world that can produce iPhone X displays at scale, and that company is Samsung, their arch rival.

Imagine if Apple could do to display technology what they’ve done to CPU/system-on-a-chip design?

The secret initiative, code-named T159, is overseen by executive Lynn Youngs, an Apple veteran who helped develop touch screens for the original iPhone and iPad and now oversees iPhone and Apple Watch screen technology.

The 62,000-square-foot manufacturing facility, the first of its kind for Apple, is located on an otherwise unremarkable street in Santa Clara, California, a 15-minute drive from the Apple Park campus in Cupertino and near a few other unmarked Apple offices. There, about 300 engineers are designing and producing MicroLED screens for use in future products. The facility also has a special area for the intricate process of producing LEDs.

Gurman says that if the project is successful, it will first appear in future Apple Watches. That makes sense — the watch got OLED first, too. It’s easier to make smaller displays than larger ones, and the watch could really benefit from being thinner. Not long from now we’ll look back at these early generation Apple Watches and laugh at how chunky they are.

Car ‘Crashes’, Not ‘Accidents’ 

I’ve been meaning to link to this for a while: there’s a growing campaign to replace the phrase “car accident” with “car crash”:

Planes don’t have accidents. They crash. Cranes don’t have accidents. They collapse. And as a society, we expect answers and solutions.

Traffic crashes are fixable problems, caused by dangerous streets and unsafe drivers. They are not accidents. Let’s stop using the word “accident” today.

I’m a firm believer that language matters, and I think it’s true that calling them accidents helps paint car crashes as things that can’t be avoided. Crashes sounds like a problem that needs to be solved.

Uber Halts Testing Self-Driving Cars After Arizona Pedestrian Is Killed 

The Washington Post:

Uber has halted testing of its autonomous vehicles across North America, the company announced, after a woman was struck and killed by one of its self-driving cars in Tempe, Ariz. early Monday.

The moratorium on testing includes San Francisco, Phoenix, Pittsburgh and Toronto, Uber said.

Tragic, but we need to keep our collective wits about us and not rush to judgement. Even if this crash was the car’s fault, that doesn’t mean we should freak out. Cars are insanely dangerous. About 100 people are killed every day in the U.S. in human-driven car crashes. Autonomous cars are our way out of this mess.

Shaker & Spoon 

My thanks to Shaker & Spoon for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. Shaker & Spoon is a subscription box that solves the toughest challenges of a home bar with great ingredients and interesting recipes. Every box is built around a different spirit, and showcases various styles of cocktail-making. Each box arrives with 3 brand-new, original recipes created by world-class bartenders, and enough ingredients (syrups, bitters, mixers, garnishes) for 12 cocktails — 4 from each recipe. It’s perfect for get-togethers and special gifts. All you need to bring is the alcohol, and the box will use up the whole bottle for all 12 drinks.

I got their rye kit last month and the recipes were excellent. The instructions were clear, the ingredients were perfect, and all three cocktails were delicious and interesting. (I particularly liked their “Sugar and Spice”, an interesting twist on the Old Fashioned.)

If you love making (and drinking) cocktails and are looking to expand your repertoire, you should sign up for Shaker & Spoon.

How Trump Consultants Exploited the Facebook Data of Millions 

Matthew Rosenberg, Nicholas Confessore, and Carole Cadwalladr, reporting for The New York Times:

Details of Cambridge’s acquisition and use of Facebook data have surfaced in several accounts since the business began working on the 2016 campaign, setting off a furious debate about the merits of the firm’s so-called psychographic modeling techniques.

But the full scale of the data leak involving Americans has not been previously disclosed — and Facebook, until now, has not acknowledged it. Interviews with a half-dozen former employees and contractors, and a review of the firm’s emails and documents, have revealed that Cambridge not only relied on the private Facebook data but still possesses most or all of the trove.

Cambridge paid to acquire the personal information through an outside researcher who, Facebook says, claimed to be collecting it for academic purposes.

During a week of inquiries from The Times, Facebook downplayed the scope of the leak and questioned whether any of the data still remained out of its control. But on Friday, the company posted a statement expressing alarm and promising to take action.

This was not a security breach. This is simply what Facebook is: a massive surveillance machine.

Maciej Ceglowski, on Twitter:

The data that Facebook leaked to Cambridge Analytica is the same data Facebook retains on everyone and sells targeting services around. The problem is not shady Russian researchers; it’s Facebook’s core business model of collect, store, analyze, exploit.

YouTube Didn’t Tell Wikipedia About Its Plans for Wikipedia 

Megan Farokhmanesh, writing for The Verge last week:

At SXSW yesterday, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcicki announced that the platform would start adding information from Wikipedia to conspiracy-related videos within the next few weeks. “We will show a companion unit of information from Wikipedia showing that here is information about the event,” she said. The company is “using a list of well-known internet conspiracies from Wikipedia” to pull from. However, YouTube appears to have left one party in the dark: “We were not given advance notice of this announcement,” said the Wikimedia Foundation in a statement on Twitter.

According to Wikimedia, this partnership isn’t a formal one with either Wikimedia or Wikipedia. “We are always happy to see people, companies, and organizations recognize Wikipedia’s value as a repository of free knowledge,” the company said. YouTube doesn’t need to officially partner with Wikimedia to use information from Wikipedia, but it’s still a bemusing tactic to make such an announcement without any official word passed between the two.

It really was rather shitty of YouTube not to tell Wikipedia in advance. But what gets me about this whole story is this: if YouTube knows that these videos need these fact-check disclaimers, why are they serving these videos at all? The videos that are flagged by this algorithm shouldn’t be shown with fact-check disclaimers — they should be removed from YouTube.

The answer, of course, is money. YouTube’s executives know these videos are harmful but they want the money from the ads they show against them.

YouTube Suggested Conspiracy Videos to Children Using Its Kids App 

James Cook, writing for Business Insider:

YouTube’s app specifically for children is meant to filter out adult content and provide a “world of learning and fun,” but Business Insider found that YouTube Kids featured many conspiracy theory videos which make claims that the world is flat, that the moon landing was faked, and that the planet is ruled by reptile-human hybrids.


XOXO Returns 

Cool launch for the return of a wonderfully cool conference — watch live as artists collaborate on a mural.

‘Android Wear’ Is Now ‘Wear OS’ 

Dennis Troper, product director for Android Wear Wear OS:

As our technology and partnerships have evolved, so have our users. In 2017, one out of three new Android Wear watch owners also used an iPhone. So as the watch industry gears up for another Baselworld next week, we’re announcing a new name that better reflects our technology, vision, and most important of all — the people who wear our watches. We’re now Wear OS by Google, a wearables operating system for everyone.

Two quick thoughts:

  • If they really think anyone is going to call this “Wear OS by Google” and not just “Wear OS”, they’re nuts. But I get it — legally, device makers licensing the OS will have to use the full name, thus putting Google’s name on the box.
  • This is another sign of Google moving away from promoting “Android”. Back in January, when Google renamed “Android Pay” to “Google Pay”, I pointed out that the Pixel 2 web page only mentions “Android” once, and it’s in a small print footnote.
The Seven Biggest Lies Theranos Told 

Good summary of the SEC’s fraud charges by Stephanie M. Lee for BuzzFeed. If you’re wondering what exactly Theranos did wrong, and how immoral it was, read this.

Avie Tevanian Was on Theranos’s Board of Directors 

From MarketWatch’s bio of Avie Tevanian:

Dr. Avie Tevanian, Jr. PhD, is a Managing Director at Elevation Partners.

Prior to joining Elevation Partners in January 2010, Dr. Tevanian was previously employed as Chief Software Technology Officer & SVP by Apple, Inc. He also served on the board at Theranos, Inc and Tellme Networks, Inc.

Overcast’s New Smart Resume Feature 

Marco Arment, on Overcast 4.1:

Smart Resume is actually two features:

  • It jumps back by up to a few seconds after having been paused to help remind you of the conversation.

  • It slightly adjusts resumes and seeks to fall in the silences between spoken words when reasonably possible.

Both are subtle but noticeable benefits (my favorite kind), especially when you’re being interrupted a lot, such as while following turn-by-turn navigation directions.

My favorite type of feature is one that makes you think, “Why did no one think of this years ago?” This is that sort of feature.

Apple Watch Adoption 

David Smith, after looking at the analytics from his popular app Pedometer++:

So far the data is looking promising that this dream of mine might actually be possible. The Series 3 is being adopted incredibly quickly and just last week became the most popular Apple Watch overall amongst my users with 33% of the overall user-base. The Series 0 is steadily falling, currently at around 24%.

Two other interesting tidbits:

  • The 42mm : 38m split I’ve seen is around 60/40.
  • The LTE : Non-LTE split for Series 3 has been around 50/50 (slightly higher when first released but 50/50 since Christmas).
The Information on What Went Wrong With Siri 

Writing for The Information, Aaron Tilley and Kevin McLaughlin published a scathing look into the inner workings (and not-workings) of Siri’s development at Apple. Is it accurate? I don’t know. I have never had any sources directly familiar with Siri. But the actual results — the state of Siri today — sure do match up. The story is behind The Information’s paywall, alas. If you’re not a subscriber and want to read the full article — and I encourage you to, there’s a lot in it — you can do so with this shared link if you’re willing to give The Information your email address.

A few parts that caught my eye:

The Siri team still had Mr. Forstall, but his attention was divided by other major projects, including the upcoming launch of Apple Maps. Mr. Forstall installed Richard Williamson, one of his deputies on the Apple Maps project, to head up the Siri group and get things back on track.

Several former employees said Mr. Williamson made a number of decisions that the rest of the team disagreed with, including a plan to improve Siri’s capabilities only once a year. That was the approach Apple typically employed with iOS, and Williamson’s background was in making software run on phones that received updates from backend servers. Team members said they argued in vain that that model was wrong for Siri, which they believed needed to be an online service that continuously improved, not updated annually. While the server software received many updates relating to stability and performance, there were no architectural changes to Siri in the first year, say former employees.

Mr. Williamson, in an emailed response to an interview request, wrote that it’s “completely untrue” that he decided Siri shouldn’t be improved continuously. He said decisions concerning “technical leadership of the software and server infrastructure” were made by employees below his level, while he was responsible for getting the team on track.

Williamson can push back all he wants, but from the outside, I sure haven’t noticed steady incremental improvements to Siri — especially in the early years. Here’s where it gets really juicy though:

“After launch, Siri was a disaster,” Mr. Williamson wrote. “It was slow, when it worked at all. The software was riddled with serious bugs. Those problems lie entirely with the original Siri team, certainly not me.”

Dag Kittlaus, the CEO of Siri who negotiated its purchase by Apple with Steve Jobs, responded on Twitter and did not mince words:

@Jessicalessin This statement, wholly false, was made by the architect and head of the biggest launch disaster in Apple history, Apple Maps. In reality Siri worked great at launch but, like any new platform under unexpectedly massive load, required scaling adjustments and 24 hour workdays.

You just don’t see former Apple executives snipe at each other like this. I’m trying to think of the last time, and I’m coming up blank. And to be clear, it’s Williamson who broke the seal. Kittlaus wouldn’t have said a word if his team and their work hadn’t been besmirched. Steven Levy tweeted:

@Dagk @Jessicalessin That quote is kind of amazing. Even if true (and I believe Dag) brazenly pushing blame to someone else for a product you were responsible for is a very bad look.

The gist of The Information’s story is that Siri has existed for seven years without cohesive leadership or product vision, and the underlying technology is a mishmash of various systems that don’t work well together.

Toys R Us to Close All 800 of Its U.S. Stores 

Abha Bhattarai, reporting for The Washington Post:

Toy store chain Toys R Us is planning to sell or close all 800 of its U.S. stores, affecting as many as 33,000 jobs as the company winds down its operations after six decades, according to a source familiar with the matter.

Matt Haughey, on Twitter:

I distinctly remember the day when I was about 7 years old and I decided what I most looked forward to upon becoming an adult was being able to drive to Toys R Us anytime I wanted to so I could play with toys on the shelves.

Same feeling here.

Maybe This Makes Sense in the Original French 

Gregory Viscusi, Marie Mawad, and Helene Fouquet, reporting for Bloomberg:

Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said Wednesday France will take legal action against Google and Apple and fines could be in the “million of euros”. Fines are likely to be about 2 million euros ($2.5 million) per company, accused of taking advantage of local developers. This comes after a two-year investigation by the ministry’s fraud repression unit, according to an official in Le Maire’s office.

“I learned that when developers develop their applications, and sell to Google and Apple, their prices are imposed, Google and Apple take all their data, Google and Apple can unilaterally rewrite their contracts,” Le Maire said in an interview with RTL radio. “All that is unacceptable and it’s not the economy that we want. They can’t treat our startups and developers the way they do.”

What in the hell is he talking about? I guess the “imposed” prices could be something about the 30/70 percent split in the app stores, but it makes zero sense to argue that “Google and Apple take all their data”. Maybe this was mistranslated from French? But that seems highly unlikely given that at least one of the bylined reporters is fluent in the language.

And what’s the point of a $2 million fine? Last quarter Apple made $200 million in profit per day. It would take Apple about 15 minutes to generate $2 million in profit. This is some serious Dr. Evil math.

Theranos Chief Executive Elizabeth Holmes Charged With Massive Fraud 

Carolyn Y. Johnson, reporting for The Washington Post:

Elizabeth Holmes, founder and chief executive of the blood-testing company Theranos, has been charged by the Securities and Exchange Commission with an “elaborate, years-long fraud” in which she and former company president Ramesh “Sunny” Balwani allegedly “deceived investors into believing that its key product — a portable blood analyzer — could conduct comprehensive blood tests from finger drops of blood,” the SEC said.

Holmes agreed to a $500,000 penalty and a 10-year ban on serving as an officer or director of a public company to settle the charges, but she did not admit or deny the allegations.

The whole thing was just a fraud:

The company fell from grace in a snarl of regulatory problems and the revelation that its proprietary technology was not even being used in its blood tests, first reported by the Wall Street Journal.

The SEC alleges that Holmes, Balwani and Theranos raised more than $700 million from investors by misrepresenting the capabilities of the proprietary blood-testing technology that was at the core of its business — as well as by making misleading or exaggerated statements about the company’s financial status and relationships with commercial partners and the Department of Defense.

On that latter point, the saga involves the Trump kakistocracy because of course it does:

The SEC also alleges that Holmes claimed to investors that Theranos technology was being used by the Defense Department on the battlefield in Afghanistan and on medevac helicopters. Those statements “were important to potential investors because these relationships lent legitimacy to Theranos’ business and its proprietary analyzer,” the SEC alleges.

That technology was never deployed on the battlefield by the Defense Department, even though Marine Gen. Jim Mattis, who then led the U.S. Central Command, personally pushed for it. Regulatory officials in the military had flagged problems with Theranos’s approach. Mattis later joined Theranos’s board; he resigned to become defense secretary.

More on Mattis’s ties to Theranos here. Turns 20 

Jason Kottke:

I’ve been reading back through the early archives (which I wouldn’t recommend), and it feels like excavating down through layers of sediment, tracing the growth & evolution of the web, a media format, and most of all, a person. On March 14, 1998, I was 24 years old and dumb as a brick. Oh sure, I’d had lots of book learning and was quick with ideas, but I knew shockingly little about actual real life. I was a cynical and cocky know-it-all. Some of my older posts are genuinely cringeworthy to read now: poorly written, cluelessly privileged, and even mean spirited. I’m ashamed to have written some of them.

But had I not written all those posts, good and bad, I wouldn’t be who I am today, which, hopefully, is a somewhat wiser person vectoring towards a better version of himself.

20 years, period, would be a hell of a thing. But 20 years and running strong is even better. Congratulations, my friend, and thank you.

Ming-Chi Kuo: Samsung Galaxy Note 9 Unlikely to Feature Under-Display Fingerprint Recognition 

Mikey Campbell, writing for AppleInsider:

In a note to investors on Thursday, seen by AppleInsider, Kuo says Samsung will most likely put the anticipated feature on ice as both ultrasonic and optical solutions do not meet the company’s standards.

“According to our understanding of the technologies, under-display fingerprint solutions may currently have many technical issues (e.g. screen protectors and different environments affecting recognition rates and power-consumption),” Kuo writes.

Still, Kuo remains upbeat on the specialized biometric solution, saying the technology is integral for full-screen handset designs.

Contrary to Apple’s views, Kuo does not see facial recognition as a suitable replacement for fingerprint-based authentication methods. When Apple introduced Face ID with iPhone X, critics voiced similar concerns about security and potential spoofing.

Kuo is often right about what is going on in the Asian supply chain, but in my opinion he’s often wrong about why. Samsung is surely moving away from fingerprint sensors because Apple has already figured out that facial recognition is a better solution. I do not think there is a bright future for in-screen fingerprint sensors.

Update: Also, what’s this about facial recognition not being a suitable replacement for fingerprint identification? iPhone X has been out for half a year and all the evidence to date suggests it is every bit as secure as Apple claims it is. The shitty facial scanners from other companies may not be secure enough, but Apple’s seems to be.

Keir Dullea and Douglas Trumbull on the Making of ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’ 

Keir Dullea:

The first day of shooting ended up being delayed because Kubrick didn’t like my shoes. The wardrobe came up with the right pair real fast. I felt awed working with him and he picked up that I was tense — which is terrible for an actor. After a week, he took me aside and said: “Keir, you’re everything I’m looking for.”

The rotating living quarters of the Discovery spacecraft were built by Vickers. They were 70ft across and turned at 3mph. The camera tricks the crew used to simulate centrifugal force were ingenious. There’s a scene where I climb down a ladder and, at the other side of the screen, you see the other astronaut sitting at a table upside-down. It looks as if I walk round towards him, until I’m upside-down too, but they actually rotated the set, and him, round to me. He seems to be eating normally — but only because they’d glued his food to his fork.

WWDC 2018 Announced 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced it will host its 29th annual Worldwide Developers Conference in San Jose from June 4 through June 8. The McEnery Convention Center will be home to the world’s most creative developer community, who come together every year to share unique perspectives and learn about the future of Apple’s breakthrough products and services.

No surprise (to me at least) on the dates or location. It seemed pretty clear last year that the move from San Francisco to San Jose was not temporary.

Update: The WWDC 2018 website has a cool animated graphic. Make it big — it easily fills my 5K iMac display. Now, if we want to play Cupertino-ology, does the graphic offer any hints about planned announcements (like, say, a unified cross-platform set of UI frameworks for Mac and iOS) or is it just a cool graphic?

‘The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling’ 


When Garry Shandling passed away in 2016, he was widely remembered as a top stand-up comic and the star of two of the most innovative sitcoms in TV history. But to those who knew him, the “real” Garry Shandling was a far more complex person. Now, Judd Apatow has created a remarkable portrait of this iconic comedian in the four-and-a-half-hour documentary The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling.

Epic in scope and intimate in detail, The Zen Diaries of Garry Shandling features conversations with more than 40 of Shandling’s family and friends, including James L. Brooks, Jim Carrey, Sacha Baron Cohen, David Coulier, Jon Favreau, Jay Leno, Kevin Nealon, Conan O’Brien, Bob Saget, Jerry Seinfeld and Sarah Silverman, and four decades’ worth of TV appearances, along with personal journals, private letters and candid home audio and video footage that reveal his brilliant mind and restless soul.

This movie looks amazing. I cannot wait to see it.

Here’s a brief story by Ed Solomon about meeting Shandling when Solomon was a 19-year-old aspiring comic, and the role Shandling wound up playing in his life. Perhaps even better, here’s another thread from Solomon listing his favorite jokes written with or for Shandling.


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The Talk Show: ‘Podcast Amnesia’ 

Jason Snell returns to the show. Topics include Apple and China, the 10th anniversary of the iPhone SDK, the future of the MacBook Air, and more. No baseball talk, except a little.

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Dan Seifert: Galaxy S9 Is ‘Predictably Great, Predictably Flawed’ 

Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:

In an obvious attempt to replicate Apple’s Face ID system, Samsung has introduced a new combination face-scanning / iris-scanning feature that can be used to unlock the phone instead of the fingerprint scanner. It will use either the more-secure iris scanner or the quicker-but-less-secure face scanner, depending on the lighting conditions you’re in. However, it’s slow, blinks an annoying red light when it activates the iris scanner, and never feels as seamless as Face ID. Good thing the fingerprint scanner is easier to use now.

Seifert’s review echoes David Pierce’s: the hardware is very good — great display, great camera, great performance — but all of Samsung’s software additions to Android are shitty gimmicks.

David Pierce: ‘Samsung Galaxy S9 Is Impressive and Infuriating’ 

David Pierce, reviewing the Galaxy S9 for The Wall Street Journal:

Samsung paired this lovely hardware with half-baked software. I love Android and use it every day, but I don’t like any of what Samsung does to it. If Samsung would just get out of its own way, build hardware and let Google handle the software, the S9 might be the best phone on the market. Instead, I found myself longing for simpler, smoother features to better suit this good-looking phone.

ESPN Feature on Ichiro Suzuki 

Fantastic piece by Wright Thompson on 44-year-old Ichiro Suzuki:

The first time he went on the disabled list as a major leaguer was because of a bleeding stomach ulcer. That year, he’d led Japan to a victory in the 2009 World Baseball Classic, winning the final game with a base hit in extra innings. The stress ate a hole in his stomach. Weeks later, a Mariners team doctor told him he couldn’t play on Opening Day. Ichiro refused to listen, his teammate Sweeney says. Before the team ultimately forced him to sit, the doctor tried to explain that a bleeding ulcer was a serious condition that could actually kill him.

Ichiro listened, unmoved.

“I’ll take my chances,” he said.

The best hitter I’ve ever seen is Barry Bonds. But Ichiro is up there, and remains simply sublime. I’ve never seen anyone play baseball like Ichiro plays baseball.

Alexa Is Laughing at People, Unprompted 

Venessa Wong, reporting for BuzzFeed:

Owners of Amazon Echo devices with the voice-enabled assistant Alexa have been pretty much creeped out of their damn minds recently. People are reporting that the bot sometimes spontaneously starts laughing — which is basically a bloodcurdling nightmare.

Everyone who’s on the “No way am I putting one of these listening devices in my house” side of the fence is nodding their head with a smug look on their face right now.

10-Year Anniversary of the iPhone SDK 

Great piece by Craig Hockenberry commemorating the 10-year anniversary of the iPhone SDK announcement. But it’s really more about the largely forgotten pre-SDK era of native iPhone apps:

I was not alone. Thousands of other developers were finding that the inside of this new device was just as magical as the outside. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to hear that there was an explosion of iPhone app development.

One of the pivotal moments for the burgeoning community came at an independent developer conference called C4[1]. Held in August of 2007, many of the attendees had the new device and were discovering its capabilities. Most of us were also experienced Mac developers. We had just been to WWDC and heard Apple’s pitch for a “sweet solution”.

Just a few weeks after the original iPhone shipped and six months before Apple unveiled the official SDK, we were running some really fun native third-party apps at C4[1]. It was amazing, and so much fun.

Script Debugger 7.0 

Huge update to one of the longest-standing and best Mac apps ever made, Script Debugger. Script Debugger 7 now has a free Lite mode that is way, way better than Apple’s own Script Editor. Even if you only tinker with AppleScript occasionally, Script Debugger Lite should be your script editor. And if you’re even vaguely serious about AppleScript, you simply have to try the full version of Script Debugger. It has saved me hours of time in the many years I’ve been using it.

AppleScript has quietly picked up a bunch of powerful new features in recent years, particularly AppleScriptObjC — a way to develop AppleScript-based applications with a rich user interface in Xcode. Script Debugger 7 has a slew of AppleScriptObjC features, including code completion and a lot more.

‘Welcome Home’ by Spike Jonze 

Apple marketing at its best: they commissioned Spike Jonze to make a 4-minute music video for HomePod. So fun.

Jason Snell’s HomePod Review 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

That said, plenty of people enjoy listening to music but don’t care about playback quality. Growing up, most of the music in my house came via AM radio — a format so bad at reproducing music that it’s since been entirely abandoned to talk and news. Eventually I found rock FM radio stations and cassettes and CDs, but my first love of music came from an atrocious listening experience. The Amazon Echo reminds me of that, a little — though it provides a decidedly better audio experience — because for a whole lot of people it’s good enough. Even in my house, where we have access to far better speakers than the Echo, it’s ended up as the preferred player because of the ease of voice control.

The comparison to AM radio is a really good point. I wish I’d thought of that. Heck, even FM radio was often static-y back when tuners were analog and it was hard to get the frequency exactly right.

On the touch controls atop HomePod:

It’s the weak point in the HomePod’s design. Since the top is not visible unless the HomePod is lower than your vision, forget putting the HomePod high up. I placed the HomePod on the top of our upright piano and my wife complained that she couldn’t tell that Siri was activated — she couldn’t see the color blob. In contrast, the Amazon Echo’s colored activation ring goes around the edge of the device, so it’s visible even if you can’t see the top. You can’t feel for the volume controls, either, because there’s no tactile element to them at all. Even when I could see the top of the HomePod, I frequently tapped in the wrong place. I get why Apple doesn’t think physical buttons are cool, but the top of the HomePod isn’t a screen — and it would be better served with three buttons and an indicator light (that’s visible from the side as well as above).

In the weeks since I wrote my review, I’ve grown to dislike HomePod’s touch controls. Touching the middle of the touchpad to start playback sounds like a good idea, but in practice, it happens more often by accident. That might be because our kitchen HomePod is on a counter where we reach for things (including paper towels). But our Echo is at the same spot, and because it doesn’t have touch controls, we’ve never once accidentally started playing music with it. I also think the Echo’s spinning dial is a better volume controller than the HomePod’s plus/minus buttons. When you start music playing but are surprised that whoever used it last had the volume very high, you just want to make it quiet quickly.

Alexa Briefly Lost Its Voice on Friday 

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

A regional outage impacting Amazon’s servers led to Alexa becoming unresponsive on Echo products and other devices that support the assistant. I tried a simple weather inquiry on the Echo Dot in my living room, and the signature blue ring stayed lit up for about 15 seconds without any answer. A tone eventually sounded, and Alexa said it had lost connection. Subsequent attempts also failed, producing a red ring accompanied by Alexa asking me to try again later.

By mid-afternoon, Alexa had returned to normal and was responding to voice commands again. The issue was likely tied to troubles Friday with Amazon Web Services. Slack and other applications that depend on AWS as a backbone experienced downtime earlier in the day.

I ran into this problem. It didn’t last long, but at first I couldn’t tell whether the problem was with my particular Echo, Amazon’s online service, or something else. While I was trying to figure out what was going on, my Echo told me it was having a problem connecting to Wi-Fi, and that I should use the Alexa app on my phone to reconnect it. I wasted about 5 minutes doing that. I would have been a lot less annoyed if the Echo had simply told me that there was a problem on Amazon’s side.

A HomePod Intervention 

Stephen Hackett, writing at 512 Pixels:

All in all, I thought the move to the HomePod was going well right until my family staged an intervention. Their annoyance with Siri misunderstanding or misinterpreting has grown over the last few weeks, and the clumsiness with which Siri handles — or doesn’t handle — some requests has become bothersome.

I’ve overheard several interactions with the HomePod that entail a family member asking for a song or album that ends in getting upset with the device when it starts playing something else. The Echo — coupled with Amazon Music — had a much higher hit rate when it came to accurately playing what was desired.

In short, the increase in sound quality doesn’t make up for the frustration of using Siri. The HomePod is going to live in my studio; the Echo is back in its rightful place in the kitchen.

This suggests a rather simple summation: that Apple miscalculated that audio quality should be the top priority of a smart speaker. It’s the “smart” part that needs to be the top priority.

Christopher Steele, the Man Behind the Trump Dossier 

If you’ve paid any attention whatsoever to the whole Trump/Russia/election interference/corruption saga, I’m sure you have the same feeling I do: it’s hard to get a handle on the whole story because it’s so utterly sprawling, and there are massive gaps in the publicly-known allegations. Jane Mayer has written a magnificent piece for The New Yorker, putting everything known (and adding some heretofore unknown pieces of reporting, including the stunning allegation that Trump decided against nominating Mitt Romney as Secretary of State at the direction of the Kremlin) into a cohesive, even-handed, and I must say, convincing story.

It’s best to think of this not as an article but as a short book. It’s over 15,000 words; the audio version is 1 hour and 42 minutes long. Put aside an hour or so today and read it. It’s compelling reading, and a remarkable piece of journalism.

More Android Phones With Knock-Off Notches Are Coming 

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge:

I’ve been coming to Mobile World Congress for close to a decade now, and I’ve never seen the iPhone copied quite so blatantly and cynically as I witnessed during this year’s show. MWC 2018 will go down in history as the launch platform for a mass of iPhone X notch copycats, each of them more hastily and sloppily assembled than the next.

No effort is being made to emulate the complex Face ID system that resides inside Apple’s notch; companies like Noa and Ulefone are in such a hurry to get their iPhone lookalike on the market that they haven’t even customized their software to account for the new shape of the screen. More than one of these notched handsets at MWC had the clock occluded by the curved corner of the display.

These are just so embarrassingly bad and shameless.


My thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. With over 4 million members and more than 18,000 classes, Skillshare is basically Netflix for online learning. Interested in graphic design or web development? How about social media marketing or SEO? Mobile photography, hand lettering, creative writing — even coffee brewing? Skillshare has them all.

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ElevationLab: ‘Amazon Is Complicit With Counterfeiting’ 

Casey Hopkins, founder of Elevation Lab:

When someone goes to the lengths of making counterfeits of your products, it’s at least a sign you’re doing something right. And it deserves a minute of flattery.

But when Chinese counterfeiters tool up and make copies of your product, send that inventory to Amazon, then overtake the real product’s buy box by auto-lowering the price - it’s a real problem. Customers are unknowingly buying crap versions of the product, while both Amazon and the scammers are profiting, and the reputation you’ve built goes down the toilet.

Amazon could easily stop this but chooses not to.