Linked List: May 2018

The Talk Show: ‘Pseudorandom Gibberish’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show. Topics include MacBook keyboard failures, iOS passcode security, Google’s odd Duplex “demo”, Steam Link’s curious rejection from the App Store, AirPlay 2, and, of course, conjecture about next week’s WWDC.

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Things 3.6 for iPad 

Speaking of task management apps for iOS, Things 3.6 addresses something I complain about every month or so: the way that most iPad apps, including Apple’s own, treat a hardware keyboard as a second-class citizen. There’s a lot of stuff going on in this video and they never once touched the screen. Very cool.

OmniFocus 3 Review 

Ryan Christoffel, writing for MacStories:

OmniFocus 3, released today for iOS (and later coming to the Mac), adds even more power and options to the app’s existing toolset, yet rather than growing more complex in the process, it’s surprisingly become more approachable. This improved user friendliness is achieved thanks to a new level of flexibility that can, upon tweaking your ideal setup, obscure the app’s complexity in everyday use. In more ways than ever before, OmniFocus provides the tools to make the app your own.

I’ve never been an OmniFocus user, but version 3’s addition of tagging (replacing OmniFocus’s previous “contexts” feature) could get me to try it. As usual for MacStories, Christoffel’s review is comprehensive and insightful.

Update: David Sparks’s review is good too.

Retrobatch 1.0 

New app from Flying Meat (makers of Acorn, my go-to image editor): a node-based batch image processor. I’ve been using it in beta for months, and I’ve only scratched the surface of what Retrobatch can do. It’s just a delightfully well-done Mac app.

Apple: ‘iOS 11.4 Brings Stereo Pairs and Multi-Room Audio With AirPlay 2’ 

Software updates are supposed to drop at 1p ET. I think, with this, Apple has caught up to everything announced at WWDC 2017.

The Quip Electric Toothbrush 

My thanks to Quip for sponsoring last week’s DF RSS feed to promote their electric toothbrush. Created by dentists and designers, Quip guides good habits that help improve oral health. To help you brush longer, Quip has a nifty 2-minute timer. And to help you freshen old, worn out bristles, Quip delivers new brush heads every 3 months (as dentists recommend). Not only does this make Quip incredibly simple, it’s also effective with a Seal of Acceptance from the American Dental Association.

Refresh your routine with the quip electric toothbrush, starting at just $25.

Tracking Scripts Make The Verge 6 Times Slower 

Marcel Freinbichler, from the same thread on Twitter:

The Verge shows a tracking-consent message when visiting the site from the EU. Most people will click “I Accept” to make it go away, but if you don’t and hide the message via CSS, you won’t be tracked and the site is way faster:

32 vs 5 secs load time

61 vs 2 JS files

2 vs 1 MB

Brutal.

USA Today Serves Different Site to EU Visitors That Is Way Faster Than Regular Site 

Marcel Freinbichler:

Because of #GDPR, USA Today decided to run a separate version of their website for EU users, which has all the tracking scripts and ads removed. The site seemed very fast, so I did a performance audit. How fast the internet could be without all the junk! 5.2MB → 500KB

They went from a load time of more than 45 seconds to 3 seconds, from 124 (!) JavaScript files to 0, and from a total of more than 500 requests to 34.

The privacy implications of all the JavaScript that gets loaded for user-tracking is alarming enough, but practically speaking the bigger problem is that it makes the web slow. Web developers, generally speaking, are terrible at their craft. 124 JavaScript files and over 500 HTTP requests for a single goddamn web page is just shameful.

Again I say: the web would be better off if browsers had never added support for scripting.

Apple Promotes Free Month of Upgraded iCloud Storage to Non-Paying Users 

AppleInsider:

As seen in the image above, provided by AppleInsider reader Vin, Apple is advertising free one month trials of its premium iCloud storage plans to Apple device owners not currently paying for a subscription and who have reached their 5GB limit.

When these users attempt to perform an iOS device backup, a pop-up message appears promoting the step-up 50GB plan. A similar notification without mention of the free trial has long been part of iOS.

“You do not have enough space in iCloud to back up your iPhone. A 50 GB plan gives you plenty of space to continue backing up your iPhone. Your first month is free and it’s just $0.99 each month after.”

Great idea. My fingers are still crossed that they’ll increase the storage capacity of the free tier at WWDC, though.

Kyle Orland, writing for Ars Technica:

“On Monday, May 7, Apple approved the Steam Link app for release,” Valve said in a statement sent to Ars. “On Wednesday, May 9, Valve released news of the app. The following morning, Apple revoked its approval citing business conflicts with app guidelines that had allegedly not been realized by the original review team.”

Valve says it appealed that decision on the basis that “the Steam Link app simply functions as a LAN-based remote desktop similar to numerous remote desktop applications already available on the App Store.” That includes an official Windows Remote Desktop app from Microsoft, third-party apps from LogMeIn and GoToMyPC, and many more. There are even streaming apps for iOS which use Nvidia’s GameStream technology to remotely play titles running on a PC, just like the Steam Link app.

There are two parts to this story, both of which make Apple look bad. First, Steam Link is more or less equivalent to a VNC client. It doesn’t stream games from Valve’s servers — it streams them from a Mac or PC on your local network. As Ars points out, there are plenty of other VNC/remote desktop apps in the App Store.

The second part is the yanking of the carpet out from under Valve’s feet, by first accepting Steam Link, leading Valve to announce it officially, before rescinding the acceptance.

Apple hasn’t explained its decision (yet?), but it seems pretty obvious they’re objecting to it on the grounds that it’s a competitor to the App Store for buying games, cutting out Apple’s 30 percent cut of purchases. I think that would be true if Steam Link were a way to stream games from Valve’s servers, but I don’t think it is for a LAN-based app.

Steve Kerr on the NFL’s New Stance on the National Anthem 

Couldn’t say it better myself; agree with every word of this.

ACLU Report: Detained Immigrant Children Subjected to Widespread Abuse by Officials 

Richard Gonzales, reporting for NPR on a new report from the ACLU:

Among the allegations, U.S. officials are said to have:

  • Denied a pregnant minor medical attention when she reported pain, which preceded a stillbirth.
  • Subjected a 16-year-old girl to a search in which they “forcefully spread her legs and touched her private parts so hard that she screamed.”
  • Left a 4-lb. premature baby and her minor mother in an overcrowded and dirty cell filled with sick people, against medical advice.
  • Threw out a child’s birth certificate and threatened him with sexual abuse by an adult male detainee.
  • Ran over a 17-year-old with a patrol vehicle and then punched him repeatedly.

Customs and Border Protection said the ACLU report “equates allegations with fact” and ignores reforms that have been made recently.

Widespread abuse of children.

Amazon’s Explanation for the Alexa Eavesdropping Scandal 

Jason Del Ray, reporting for Recode:

Asked for more details, Amazon provided Recode with the following explanation:

Echo woke up due to a word in background conversation sounding like “Alexa.” Then, the subsequent conversation was heard as a “send message” request. At which point, Alexa said out loud “To whom?” At which point, the background conversation was interpreted as a name in the customers contact list. Alexa then asked out loud, “[contact name], right?” Alexa then interpreted background conversation as “right”. As unlikely as this string of events is, we are evaluating options to make this case even less likely.”

I mean, that all does sound pretty unlikely. But the fact that Alexa can interpret background conversation as a confirmation is a big problem.

Unlikely though it sounds, this does seem like the most likely scenario.

I do have a few Echo devices, but I never granted them access to my contacts and never enabled “Calling and Messaging”. If you did, and now wish to disable it, you need to call Amazon on the phone. Not joking.

Illustration in the App Store 

Khoi Vinh, writing at Subtraction:

Apple’s dramatically redesigned App Store got a decent amount of attention when it debuted last year with iOS 11, but its unique success as a hybrid of product design and editorial design has gone little noticed since. That’s a shame, because it’s a huge breakthrough.

I myself paid it scant attention until one day this past winter when I realized that the company was commissioning original illustration to accompany its new format. If you check the App Store front page a few times a week, you’ll see a quietly remarkable display of unique art alongside unique stories about apps, games and “content” (movies, TV shows, comics, etc.). To be clear: this isn’t work lifted from the marketing materials created by app publishers. It’s drawings, paintings, photographs, collages and/or animations that have been created expressly for the App Store.

We don’t see this particular flavor of artistic ambition from many companies today, especially tech companies.

The new iOS 11 App Store really is run like an editorial-driven publication. They write articles and features, and as Vinh rightly celebrates here, commission great custom artwork. One of the things I’m most looking forward to next month at WWDC is seeing this sort of treatment on the Mac App Store, too.

Google Didn’t Pay for Stock Footage Used in Video 

Vlad Savov, writing for The Verge:

The Selfish Ledger is a troubling, near-future concept video produced within Google in late 2016, which we revealed on this website a week ago. It uses plenty of stock footage to illustrate its premise, which the BBC now reports wasn’t properly licensed by Google. British filmmaker Philip Bloom expressed his dismay to the BBC at seeing his footage used in The Selfish Ledger without any license or authorization from him. He reports that Google lifted 73 seconds from seven of his videos, and when he got in touch with the company he was offered no compensation. Google, in response, indicates that the video was only for internal use, which Bloom counters by noting that many other companies have previously licensed his work for internal use only.

It’s bad enough Google didn’t pay for the footage up front, as they should have. But to refuse to pay now is outrageous. Who runs PR for Google? A generous payment to Bloom after he contacted them and this never even would have been a story.

Bloomberg: ‘Andy Rubin Puts Essential Up for Sale, Cancels Next Phone’ 

Mark Gurman and Alex Barinka, reporting for Bloomberg:

Essential Products Inc., a startup co-founded by Android creator Andy Rubin that launched last year to great fanfare, is considering selling itself and has canceled development of a new smartphone, according to people familiar with the matter.

Shocker.

The original phone immediately struggled as buyers complained about poor camera capabilities, issues with the touchscreen and problems making phone calls. It also didn’t sell well. The phone’s initial price was $699, the same as an iPhone viewed as a competitor. At that price, the company sold as few as 20,000 units across its website and third-party distribution partners, one of the people said. Last October, Essential lowered the price by $200, which boosted sales. The company has sold at least 150,000 to date, according to the person familiar with the company.

To put that in context against Essential’s closest competitor, IDC estimates Google sold around 3.9 million Pixel and Pixel 2 phones in 2017.

‘Weird, Odd, a Dumpster Fire’: Trump’s North Korea Summit Coin Ridiculed 

Benjamin Haas, reporting for The Guardian from Seoul:

Stony faced, Donald Trump stares down a smiling Kim Jong-un in a high-stakes scene, unfolding entirely on the surface of a coin.

The commemorative piece was minted by the White House Military Office, which typically designs coins for Trump’s trips abroad, before an expected summit between the two leaders in Singapore on 12 June. The coin describes the meeting as “peace talks”, in English and Korean.

Not only was this coin premature, not only does it get Kim’s title wrong, not only does it bestow upon Kim legitimacy he’s long sought but does not deserve, but worse than all that, the outer rim of text is set in Arial.

Woman Says Her Amazon Device Recorded Private Conversation, Sent It Out to Random Contact 

Gary Horcher, reporting for KIRO 7 News in Seattle:

But Danielle said two weeks ago their love for Alexa changed with an alarming phone call. “The person on the other line said, ‘unplug your Alexa devices right now,’” she said. “‘You’re being hacked.’”

That person was one of her husband’s employees, calling from Seattle.

“We unplugged all of them and he proceeded to tell us that he had received audio files of recordings from inside our house,” she said. “At first, my husband was, like, ‘No you didn’t!’ And the (recipient of the message) said ‘You sat there talking about hardwood floors.’ And we said, ‘Oh gosh, you really did hear us.’”

Danielle listened to the conversation when it was sent back to her, and she couldn’t believe someone 176 miles away heard it too.

It’s a bit maddening that they don’t say how this was sent. As an attachment in an email? Who was the email from? We don’t get to hear the recording, either.

Danielle says she unplugged all the devices, and she repeatedly called Amazon. She says an Alexa engineer investigated.

“They said ‘Our engineers went through your logs, and they saw exactly what you told us, they saw exactly what you said happened, and we’re sorry.’ He apologized like 15 times in a matter of 30 minutes and he said we really appreciate you bringing this to our attention, this is something we need to fix!”

But Danielle says the engineer did not provide specifics about why it happened, or if it’s a widespread issue.

This seems like a very strange bug path. Why would the Echo record anything, and why is there even the capability of sending a recording to a contact? You can’t make a recording and send it to a contact even if you want to with Alexa (as far as I know), so why is it even possible for it to happen inadvertently.

This confirms the worst fears of those skeptical about the privacy implications of these voice assistants.

Update: So it turns out Alexa can send a voice recording to a known contact. This must be the feature that went haywire in this incident.

Today Mac OS X Is as Old as the Classic Mac OS 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Here’s a bit of numerology for you. Today marks 17 years, one month, and 29 days since Mac OS X 10.0 was released on March 24, 2001. That’s a strangely odd number — 6269 days — but it also happens to be the exact length of time between January 24, 1984 (the launch of the original Macintosh) and March 24, 2001.

As Jason notes, it’s a bit mushy, given that Mac OS X had been out for a while in beta form prior to 10.0 being released, and perhaps more importantly, a majority of Mac users were relying on Mac OS 9 for several years after Mac OS X was released — including yours truly. But, still, a notable milestone. Classic Mac OS being anything other than a very fond memory feels like a long time ago.

‘Tank’ 

If you’ve got a soft spot for vintage ’80s vector-graphic video games like Star Wars and Battlezone, you’re going to love this new short film by Stu Maschwitz. So great. Also, a fantastic 20-minute video on how it was made.

FBI Repeatedly Overstated Encryption Threat Figures to Congress, Public 

Devlin Barrett, reporting for The Washington Post:

The FBI has repeatedly provided grossly inflated statistics to Congress and the public about the extent of problems posed by encrypted cellphones, claiming investigators were locked out of nearly 7,800 devices connected to crimes last year when the correct number was much smaller, probably between 1,000 and 2,000, The Washington Post has learned.

Over a period of seven months, FBI Director Christopher A. Wray cited the inflated figure as the most compelling evidence for the need to address what the FBI calls “Going Dark” — the spread of encrypted software that can block investigators’ access to digital data even with a court order.

The FBI first became aware of the miscount about a month ago and still does not have an accurate count of how many encrypted phones they received as part of criminal investigations last year, officials said. Last week, one internal estimate put the correct number of locked phones at 1,200, though officials expect that number to change as they launch a new audit, which could take weeks to complete, according to people familiar with the work.

Even if the accurate number really was 7,800, it wouldn’t change the fact that adding backdoors to phones would be a disaster for security and privacy. The number really doesn’t matter. But the fact that they overstated it by a factor of 6 makes the FBI look really bad. I’m not saying they lied, but I think it’s unlikely they would have undercounted the number of phones by a factor of 6.

Computer History Museum Releases Eudora’s Source Code 

Len Shustek, writing for The Computer History Museum:

Eventually many email clients were written for personal computers, but few became as successful as Eudora. Available both for the IBM PC and the Apple Macintosh, in its heyday Eudora had tens of millions of happy users. Eudora was elegant, fast, feature-rich, and could cope with mail repositories containing hundreds of thousands of messages. In my opinion it was the finest email client ever written, and it has yet to be surpassed.

I still use it today, but, alas, the last version of Eudora was released in 2006. It may not be long for this world. With thanks to Qualcomm, we are pleased to release the Eudora source code for its historical interest, and with the faint hope that it might be resuscitated. I will muse more about that later.

I still miss classic Eudora in a lot of ways.

Here are some telling statistics:

The Windows version of Eudora is written in C++. The source tree consists of 8,651 files in 565 folders, taking up 458 MB. There are both production (“Eudora71”) and test (“Sandbox”) versions of the code.

The Macintosh version of Eudora is an entirely different code base and is written in C. The source tree consists of 1,433 files in 47 folders, taking up 69.9 MB.

Amazon Teams Up With Law Enforcement to Deploy New Face Recognition Technology 

Matt Cagle, writing for the ACLU:

The company has developed a powerful and dangerous new facial recognition system and is actively helping governments deploy it. Amazon calls the service “Rekognition.”

Marketing materials and documents obtained by ACLU affiliates in three states reveal a product that can be readily used to violate civil liberties and civil rights. Powered by artificial intelligence, Rekognition can identify, track, and analyze people in real time and recognize up to 100 people in a single image. It can quickly scan information it collects against databases featuring tens of millions of faces, according to Amazon.

Amazon is marketing Rekognition for government surveillance.

This strikes me as a bad idea in general, but an especially bad idea for a company that sells consumer devices with built-in cameras.

Two Americans Were Detained by a Border Patrol Agent After He Heard Them Speaking Spanish 

Amy B. Wang, reporting for The Washington Post:

“We were just talking, and then I was going to pay,” Suda told The Washington Post. “I looked up [and saw the agent], and then after that, he just requested my ID. I looked at him like, ‘Are you serious?’ He’s like, ‘Yeah, very serious.’ ”

Suda said she felt uncomfortable and began recording the encounter with her cellphone after they had moved into the parking lot. In the video Suda recorded, she asks the agent why he is detaining them, and he says it is specifically because he heard them speaking Spanish.

“Ma’am, the reason I asked you for your ID is because I came in here, and I saw that you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” the agent can be heard saying in the video.

They were detained for nearly an hour for speaking Spanish. This guy should lose his job over this; I worry he’ll get a promotion.

Bitcoin Estimated to Use Half a Percent of the World’s Electric Energy by End of 2018 

EurekAlert:

In the first rigorously peer-reviewed article quantifying Bitcoin’s energy requirements, a Commentary appearing May 16 in the journal Joule, financial economist and blockchain specialist Alex de Vries uses a new methodology to pinpoint where Bitcoin’s electric energy consumption is headed and how soon it might get there. […]

His estimates, based in economics, put the minimum current usage of the Bitcoin network at 2.55 gigawatts, which means it uses almost as much electricity as Ireland. A single transaction uses as much electricity as an average household in the Netherlands uses in a month. By the end of this year, he predicts the network could be using as much as 7.7 gigawatts — as much as Austria and half of a percent of the world’s total consumption.

This is not going to end well.

EPA Bars AP, CNN From Summit on Contaminants 

The Associated Press:

The Environmental Protection Agency is barring The Associated Press, CNN and the environmental-focused news organization E&E from a national summit on harmful water contaminants. The EPA blocked the news organizations from attending Tuesday’s Washington meeting, convened by EPA chief Scott Pruitt. […]

Guards barred an AP reporter from passing through a security checkpoint inside the building. When the reporter asked to speak to an EPA public-affairs person, the security guards grabbed the reporter by the shoulders and shoved her forcibly out of the EPA building.

Early stage autocracy.

Update: After the ensuing outcry, the EPA relented and allowed all news media to attend the second half of the summit.

Is Facebook a Platform or a Publisher? 

From a profile of Irish attorney Paul Tweed for The New York Times, by David Kirkpatrick:

In a February debate over revenge porn televised on the Irish national broadcaster, Mr. Tweed squared off against Niamh Sweeney, Facebook’s policy chief for Ireland. Ms. Sweeney said that one way Facebook was trying to address the issue was by inviting individuals to preemptively submit naked or other embarrassing pictures of themselves so the company’s software could block efforts to post the images. (A pilot program is underway in Australia.)

What could possibly go wrong with this scheme?

Quartz: ‘The Apple Watch Has Found a Surprisingly Useful Home With Everyone That Works on Their Feet’ 

Mike Murphy, writing for Quartz:

Quartz spoke with airline attendants, bartenders, waiters, baristas, shop owners, and (very politely) TSA employees who all said the same thing: The Apple Watch keeps them in touch when they can’t be on their phones at work. Apple has increasingly been pushing the watch as a health device, and seems to have moved away from marketing it as one that offers more basic utility, as Apple continues do with the iPhone. But given that roughly 23% of the US labor force works in wholesale or retail operations, perhaps it’s a market Apple should reconsider.

Interesting, but I don’t think it should be considered surprising. Apple has focused more on fitness features in its advertising this year, but this sort of convenient unobtrusive use of Apple Watch for communicating and receiving notifications was one of the core features right from the start.

The Last Days of Time Inc. 

Sridhar Pappu and Jay Stowe, writing for The New York Times:

An oral history of how the pre-eminent media organization of the 20th century ended up on the scrap heap.

It was once an empire. Now it is being sold for parts.

Walter Isaacson on the heyday:

There were gentlemen writers and editors and women researchers who stayed up late and often had affairs. People just stayed in the office and would make drinks, or people would go out to long dinners. You felt like you were in some movie version of an elegant magazine.

It’s really hard to believe how far Time Inc. and its flagship magazines have fallen. Up until just 10-15 years ago it’s hard to overstate how influential Time and Sports Illustrated were, or how staggeringly profitable People was. What an ignominious end to a once-great company.

‘Too Inconvenient’ 

Eliana Johnson, Emily Stephenson, and Daniel Lippman, reporting for Politico:

The president uses at least two iPhones, according to one of the officials. The phones — one capable only of making calls, the other equipped only with the Twitter app and preloaded with a handful of news sites — are issued by White House Information Technology and the White House Communications Agency, an office staffed by military personnel that oversees White House telecommunications.

While aides have urged the president to swap out the Twitter phone on a monthly basis, Trump has resisted their entreaties, telling them it was “too inconvenient,” the same administration official said.

I don’t get it — surely it wouldn’t be inconvenient at all for Trump. It’s not like he’d be the one setting up the new phones.

Anyway, I’m sure everyone who was outraged by Hillary Clinton’s email practices will be just as outraged by this.

Teen Phone Monitoring App Leaked Thousands of User Passwords 

Zack Whittaker, reporting for ZDNet:

The mobile app, TeenSafe, bills itself as a “secure” monitoring app for iOS and Android, which lets parents view their child’s text messages and location, monitor who they’re calling and when, access their web browsing history, and find out which apps they have installed. […]

The database stores the parent’s email address associated with TeenSafe, as well as their corresponding child’s Apple ID email address. It also includes the child’s device name — which is often just their name — and their device’s unique identifier. The data contains the plaintext passwords for the child’s Apple ID. Because the app requires that two-factor authentication is turned off, a malicious actor viewing this data only needs to use the credentials to break into the child’s account to access their personal content data.

What a fiasco. Looks like TeenSafe pulls data from iCloud backups — that’s at least one of the reasons they require you to give them iCloud passwords.

60 Minutes on Google’s Search Monopoly 

Steve Kroft, reporting for 60 Minutes:

This past week the Federal Trade Commission was asked to investigate the data collected by Google on its Android operating system, which powers most of the world’s smartphones. It was a tiny blip in the news cycle but another sign of Washington’s and Europe’s growing concerns about the enormous, largely unchecked power accumulated by tech giants like Facebook, Amazon and Google over the last two decades. Of the three, Google, which is part of a holding company called Alphabet, is the most powerful, intriguing, and omnipresent in our lives. This is how it came to be.

Succinct, compelling case that Google is abusing its search monopoly to promote its own products. Yelp founder Jeremy Stopplelman:

Jeremy Stoppelman: If I were starting out today, I would have no shot of building Yelp. That opportunity has been closed off by Google and their approach.

Steve Kroft: In what way?

Jeremy Stoppelman: Because if you provide great content in one of these categories that is lucrative to Google, and seen as potentially threatening, they will snuff you out.

Steve Kroft: What do you mean snuff you out?

Jeremy Stoppelman: They will make you disappear. They will bury you.

Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for once again sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new Kolide Cloud “User Focused Security” concept. Last year, Netflix blogged about a great internal tool called Stethoscope which helped their security team communicate the key settings they expect their employees to manage instead of relying on intrusive enforcement. They termed this concept “User Focused Security”.

Kolide recently released Kolide Cloud, which enables you to roll out this User Focused Security strategy and effectively communicate your organization’s Mac security best-practices to your users.

Additionally, Kolide Cloud can detect and alert you about situational security concerns in your Mac fleet that often lead to serious compromises. Kolide looks for improperly stored 2FA backup codes, evidence of unencrypted backups, browser extensions that subvert the privacy of your users, and a litany of other issues that you will want to shut down immediately.

Kolide Cloud is free for your first 10 devices and you can sign up today.

Devin Coldewey, writing for TechCrunch:

“It may be possible with careful design to extract the features you need without keeping the original, in a way where it’s mathematically impossible to recreate the recording,” Kortz said.

If that process is verifiable and there’s no possibility of eavesdropping — no chance any Google employee, law enforcement officer, or hacker could get into the system and intercept or collect that data — then potentially Duplex could be deemed benign, transitory recording in the eye of the law.

That assumes a lot, though. Frustratingly, Google could clear this up with a sentence or two. It’s suspicious that the company didn’t address this obvious question with even a single phrase, like Sundar Pichai adding during the presentation that “yes, we are compliant with recording consent laws.” Instead of people wondering if, they’d be wondering how.

This is one scenario I’m imagining for Google’s complete refusal to answer any questions related to the Duplex phone calls it has released — that they were actual Duplex calls to actual businesses (the one to Hong’s Gourmet almost certainly was, in my opinion), recorded without consent. Someone who works at the one restaurant we know Duplex called told Mashable they weren’t aware in advance.

This wouldn’t send anyone to prison, but it would be a bit of an embarrassment, and would reinforce the notion that Google has a cavalier stance on privacy (and adhering to privacy laws).

Rebecca Solnit: ‘The Coup Has Already Happened’ 

Rebecca Solnit, in a compelling essay for Literary Hub:

The current situation of the United States is obscene, insane, and incredible. If someone had pitched it for a thriller novel or film a few years ago, they would’ve been laughed out of whatever office their proposal made it to because fiction ought to be plausible. It isn’t plausible that a solipsistic buffoon and his retinue of petty crooks made it to the White House, but they did and there they are, wreaking more havoc than anyone would have imagined possible, from environmental laws to Iran nuclear deals. It is not plausible that the party in control of the federal government is for the most part a kleptomaniac criminal syndicate.

Washington Post: ‘Trump Administration Preparing to Hold Immigrant Children on Military Bases’ 

Nick Miroff and Paul Sonne, reporting for The Washington Post this week:

The Trump administration is making preparations to hold immigrant children on military bases, according to Defense Department communications, the latest sign the government is moving forward with plans to split up families who cross the border illegally.

According to an email notification sent to Pentagon staffers, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) will make site visits at four military installations in Texas and Arkansas during the next two weeks to evaluate their suitability to shelter children.

The bases would be used for minors under 18 who arrive at the border without an adult relative or after the government has separated them from their parents. HHS is the government agency responsible for providing minors with foster care until another adult relative can assume custody.

Let’s not mince words. What they’re describing here are called concentration camps. For children, forcibly separated from their parents.

Samsung Compares Galaxy S9 to Very Slow iPhone 6 in New Ad 

Two thoughts on this Samsung ad trying to get iPhone 6 users to upgrade to a Galaxy S9:

  • I’m glad they’re making fun of the notch rather than copying it, like every other Android maker. Samsung should go all-in on anti-notch-ism. It’ll make them stand out not just compared to the iPhone, but to their Android competitors. I don’t think this weird haircut is the way to do it, though.

  • I’m curious about the legality of using the Apple logo on the shirts worn by the employees inside the fake Apple Store. I’m not sure I’ve seen that before. There’s a long history of second bananas mocking their market-leading competitor, by name, in ads. Pepsi mocking Coke, Burger King mocking McDonald’s. But can you imagine a Burger King commercial where someone goes into a McDonald’s, including employees wearing McDonald’s-logo’d uniforms, and gets a bad hamburger? Wendy’s iconic “Where’s the Beef?” spot took place in a generic competitor, not a McDonald’s (although the narrator mentions Big Mac and Whopper at the end).

    Rather than show and mention an actual iPhone 6 and Apple Store, if I were Samsung (and were going to demean myself by doing an ad like this) I would have created a thinly veiled caricature — say, from a brand called Pineapple or Banana — and then exaggerated every aspect of the experience for comic effect. Go for actual humor, “Where’s the Beef”-style.

    Update: Reader Jay Torres points to the most obvious point of reference for Samsung to follow: Apple’s own “Get a Mac” campaign from a decade ago. The success of that entire campaign hinged upon the fact that the ads were actually funny, and that John Hodgman’s PC character was actually likable.

Federal Judge Accused ICE of Making Up Evidence to Prove That Dreamer Was ‘Gang-Affiliated’ 

This is really an extraordinary report for Slate by Mark Joseph Stern:

On Tuesday, U.S. District Judge Ricardo S. Martinez shot down the federal government’s efforts to strip Daniel Ramirez Medina of his DACA status. Immigrations and Customs Enforcement had arrested and detained Ramirez last year, then falsely claimed that he was affiliated with a gang and attempted to deport him. He filed suit, alleging that ICE had violated his due process rights. Martinez agreed. His order barred the federal government from voiding Ramirez’s DACA status, safeguarding his ability to live and work in the United States legally for the foreseeable future. What may be most remarkable about Martinez’s decision, though, is its blunt repudiation of ICE’s main claim — that Ramirez is “gang-affiliated.” The judge did not simply rule against ICE. He accused the agency of lying to a court of law.

The facts of Ramirez’s case are extremely disturbing. In February 2017, shortly after President Donald Trump unleashed immigration agents to amp up arrests and deportations, ICE agents went to Ramirez’s father’s house in Seattle to arrest him. (The father is undocumented, and brought Ramirez to the U.S. illegally as a child.) While there, they encountered Ramirez and asked him whether he was “legally here.” He responded that he was — a truthful statement given his DACA status, which he had renewed the previous May. Yet ICE officers detained him anyway. They took him to a processing center, where, once again, he told them that he had a work permit.

“It doesn’t matter,” an agent responded, “because you weren’t born in this country.”

What’s unusual about Ramirez’s case isn’t that he was falsely accused of being a gang member. That seems to be a common tactic from ICE agents seeking to strip DACA recipients of their legal status so they can be deported. What’s unusual about Ramirez’s case is that he had the means to acquire good legal representation so he could fight back. I’ll repeat: ICE, under Trump, has turned into a terrorist organization. Keep in mind that thanks to the Republican-controlled Supreme Court, these ICE agents will likely face no legal repercussions for blatantly lying like this.

Keep this in mind regarding Trump and his supporters’ argument that he wasn’t referring to Latino immigrants, in general, as “animals”, but rather only to gang members. It’s just a linguistic charade to salve over the blatant racism. They’re not going after Latinos, they say, only gang members. But as this Ramirez case shows, they just declare anyone they want to deport to be a gang member, whether there’s any truth to it or not, and most people have no means to fight back.

‘No, of Course No.’ 

Jack Morse at Mashable, following up on DF reader Jay P’s deduction of the actual restaurant where Google claims two of its employees enjoyed a meal booked via Google Duplex:

And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.

That’s why I called Hongs Gourmet.

When I did, a woman answered the phone. After explaining I was a reporter with Mashable and that I was curious about Google employees eating there after using an AI to make a reservation, she told me she’d put me on the phone with Victor.

Victor got on the phone, and I explained the Google blog post and photo and asked him if the AI had made the reservation there. He replied in the affirmative.

I also asked him if Google had let him know about the planned Duplex test in advance, and he replied, “no, of course no.”

When I asked him to confirm one more time that Duplex had called Hongs Gourmet, he appeared to get nervous and immediately said he needed to go. He then hung up the phone.

Regarding Google, this raises some questions. How many real-world businesses has Google Duplex been calling and not identifying itself as an AI, leaving people to think they’re actually speaking to another human? I’m not entirely sure that’s ethically wrong, but I lean toward yes, it is wrong, especially while the product is at an experimental stage. I’m not alone. And if “Victor” is correct that Hong’s Gourmet had no advance knowledge of the call, Google may have violated California law by recording the call.

Regarding Jack Morse and Mashable, what an embarrassing pile of taking credit where credit is not due and not even understanding what exactly it’s even about this whole article is.1


  1. Mashable’s headline reads, “We Think We Got to the Bottom of the Google Duplex Mystery”, and the first 16 paragraphs make it sound as though Morse — and presumably, some of his Mashable colleagues, given the “we” in the headline — identified Hong’s Gourmet as the unnamed restaurant in the photo Google published. Only in the 17th paragraph does Morse get around to admitting he picked the whole thing up from the thread I started on Twitter. He wasn’t even involved in the Twitter thread. (He identifies me only as “longtime Apple fan John Gruber”. I’ll call my accountant tomorrow and amend my tax return with that job title.)

    And he was in such a rush to publish his “scoop” that he got significant parts of it totally wrong:

    Still, questions remained. Axios rightly wondered if Google was holding anything back. Specifically, the publication wanted to know if the entire thing was partially staged — as in the restaurant knew about the call ahead of time.

    We called what we’re pretty sure is the restaurant in question and got an answer.

    That would be Hongs Gourmet in Saratoga, California, located an approximately 20 minute drive south from the Google campus (according to Google Maps).

    Putting aside crediting Axios’s Dan Primack as the first to question the validity of Google’s recorded Duplex demos, Hong’s Gourmet (they seemingly spell it both with and without the apostrophe) has nothing to do with any recording Google played on stage at I/O. Google played two recordings of purported actual Duplex calls at I/O: a woman’s appointment for a haircut, and an attempted restaurant reservation that resulted in no reservation at all because the woman at the restaurant said they wouldn’t need one for the specified day and time — they could just walk in.

    Hong’s Gourmet is only of interest because of the caption of the photo at the bottom of the Google AI Blog announcement of Duplex: “Yaniv Leviathan, Google Duplex lead, and Matan Kalman, engineering manager on the project, enjoying a meal booked through a call from Duplex.” Google has a recording of the phone call Duplex purportedly made to book this meal, and it was not played on stage at I/O, nor did Axios reporter Dan Primack mention it.

    Regarding what clinched the deal that Hong’s was indeed the restaurant, Morse writes:

    And sure, this could be some kind of coincidence. There could be two noodle places, both within a short drive of the Googleplex, that both have booths, salmon colored walls, and that same painting and frame.

    That would be more than some kind of coincidence. It would be one hell of a coincidence. But Morse didn’t even mention the genuinely clinching evidence: Jay P’s discovery that a neighboring restaurant’s sign was legibly reflected in the glass of the picture frame over their heads.

    I have no problem with Morse (or anyone else) putting a story out regarding the Twitter thread I started. The whole point of doing it on Twitter is that it’s in public. And Morse did take it further, by calling Hong’s and getting that “No, of course no” quote from an employee on the record. But don’t try to take credit for others’ work and think you’re going to get away with it. It’s a bad look. ↩︎

Republican Lawmaker Says Rocks Falling Into Ocean to Blame for Rising Sea Levels 

Avery Anapol, reporting for The Hill:

A Republican lawmaker on the House Science, Space and Technology Committee said Thursday that rocks from the White Cliffs of Dover and the California coastline, as well as silt from rivers tumbling into the ocean, are contributing to high sea levels globally.

Rep. Mo Brooks (R-Ala.) made the comment during a hearing on technology and the changing climate, which largely turned into a Q&A on the basics of climate research.

I think some of those rocks fell out of his head. Remember, this isn’t just a congressman, he’s on the House Science, Space, and Technology Committee.

Update: Here’s some back-of-the-envelope math courtesy of Craig Hockenberry, to illustrate just how embarrassingly stupid this notion is: to account for half of the ocean level rise from 1993 to 2014, you’d need to dig a trench one mile wide and one mile deep (the depth of the Grand Canyon) all the way from Los Angeles to New York and dump it all in the ocean. And that only gets you halfway. Read Craig’s thread and he’ll show you the math.

Axios Looks Into Google’s Duplex Demo 

Dan Primack, reporting for Axios:

When you call a business, the person picking up the phone almost always identifies the business itself (and sometimes gives their own name as well). But that didn’t happen when the Google assistant called these “real” businesses:

When the hair salon picks up, a woman says: “Hello, how can I help you?”

When the restaurant picks up, a woman says: “Hi, may I help you?”

Axios called over two dozen hair salons and restaurants — including some in Google’s hometown of Mountain View — and every one immediately gave the business name.

The way the people answered the phone in these recordings was one of the first things that made me suspicious that these examples were either significantly edited or outright fakes. Plus, the salon only asks for a name (and only a first name at that). No phone number, no checking if the client has a request for a certain stylist.

For those defending Google along the lines that it’s acceptable for on-stage demos to be simulated, the problem is that Sundar Pichai said, “What you’re going to hear is the Google Assistant actually calling a real salon to schedule an appointment for you. Let’s listen.”

Axios asked Google for the name of the hair salon or restaurant, in order to verify both that the businesses exist and that the calls were not pre-planned. We also said that we’d guarantee, in writing, not to publicly identify either establishment (so as to prevent them from receiving unwanted attention).

A longtime Google spokeswoman declined to provide either name.

We also asked if either call was edited, even perhaps just cutting the second or two when the business identifies itself. And, if so, were there other edits? The spokeswoman declined comment, but said she’d check and get back to us. She didn’t.

Kudos to Primack for pressing Google on this.

Espresso Creator Jan Van Boghout Moves to Framer 

Longstanding Mac editor Espresso (mentioned here at DF numerous times over the years) is changing hands to the newly-founded Warewolf, and Espresso creator Jan Van Boghout is closing shop at MacRabbit to join the team at Framer. There are a lot of very talented people who’ve built many great apps over the years involved in this story. Congratulations and good wishes to all.

Simpsons Editor Taylor Allen Teaches Us How an Episode Comes Together 

I had no idea staffers at The Simpsons were such sharp dressers.

StopTheMadness 

From developer Jeff Johnson:

StopTheMadness is a Safari extension for Mac that stops web sites from making Safari harder to use. Some web sites disable Mac user interface features in Safari that you normally expect to work. For example:

  • password autocomplete
  • ⌘-click to open a link in a new tab
  • ⌘-key keyboard shortcuts
  • selecting, copying, cutting, and pasting of text
  • drag and drop
  • opening contextual menus

StopTheMadness ensures that those features continue to work in Safari. With StopTheMadness enabled, the annoying web sites that deliberately make your life harder suddenly become easy to use again!

This extension works great and fixes so many little things that annoy me about websites. I just ran into a site today that somehow ate my keyboard shortcut for switching between tabs. I realized I hadn’t yet installed StopTheMadness on this Mac (I’ve been running it on my MacBook Pro for a few weeks). I installed it, restarted Safari, and boom — that website no longer eats my keyboard shortcut. This is also a great way to work around those banking sites that try to keep you from autocompleting passwords.

$5 and worth every penny.

Microsoft Previews Surface Hub 2 

Very impressive-looking successor to the current Surface Hub. I particularly like the way you can tile up to 4 of them next to each other. No pricing details yet, and it’s not shipping until sometime next year.

Facebook Closed 583 Million Fake Accounts in First Three Months of 2018 

Alex Hern and Olivia Solon, reporting for The Guardian:

In its first quarterly Community Standards Enforcement Report, Facebook said the overwhelming majority of moderation action was against spam posts and fake accounts: it took action on 837m pieces of spam, and shut down a further 583m fake accounts on the site in the three months. But Facebook also moderated 2.5m pieces of hate speech, 1.9m pieces of terrorist propaganda, 3.4m pieces of graphic violence and 21m pieces of content featuring adult nudity and sexual activity.

583 million fake accounts is a rather staggering figure. For context, Twitter’s entire active user base — which surely includes untold millions of fake accounts — is just 330 million. The population of the United States is around 325 million.

Google Lowers Prices on Storage 

Shannon Liao, writing for The Verge:

Google One will get a new $2.99 a month option that gets you 200GB of storage. The 2TB plan, which usually costs $19.99 per month, will now cost $9.99 a month. Finally, the 1TB plan that costs $9.99 a month is getting removed. The other plans for 10, 20, or 30TB won’t see any changes.

Google will also make the plan shareable within a family of up to five members, and give users access to live chat support even if you’re on the cheapest plan of $1.99 a month for 100GB. It’s the first time live support is coming to Google for users who may not have a G Suite business account.

If you want to use Google One without paying at all, the company will still offer Drive’s basic 15GB of free space option.

Apple’s monthly prices for iCloud storage (which has had family sharing since iOS 11):

  • Free: 5 GB
  • $1: 50 GB
  • $3: 200 GB
  • $10: 2 TB

So Google is now ahead on the free and $1/month tiers — but not by much — and is only matching Apple at the other tiers. I would think Google would want to kick Apple’s ass here.

How Soon Is ‘Soon’? 

I got a lot of email and Twitter feedback regarding my skepticism regarding Google’s Duplex over the weekend. Here’s a point: Google has a history of making product announcements that they claim are imminent but aren’t. One example: they announced this seemingly-magical photo-editing feature last year, convinced the press it was coming “soon” — that’s The Verge’s word, not mine — and here we are a year later and we haven’t heard a word about it since.

I maintain that Google is wrong for the way it presents in-the-works not-yet-ready features. I think like Microsoft of old (and Apple of ancient times), Google, institutionally, is only excited about things that are in the works, not the things it’s actually shipping. But unlike Microsoft of old, Google presents concept videos without labeling them as concept videos.

But I think the other problem is with the media, that, time after time, buys into Google’s demo claims unquestionably — and then never circles back to them when they don’t ship.

**Update: Turns out Welch did circle back to this last week: “The Amazing Feature Google Promised and Never Delivered”.

Class Action Lawsuit Filed Regarding MacBook Keyboards 

Casey Johnston, writing at The Outline:

Late Friday night, Apple was hit with a class action lawsuit over the finicky butterfly-switch keyboards that have plagued its customers since they were released in 2015. The suit, filed in the Northern District Court of California, cites forum complaints going back to 2015, and substantially describes the difficulties of two named plaintiffs, one of whom experienced a failed keyboard after only one month.

The Outline was the first outlet to substantially cover the magnitude of the issue, writing that Apple Geniuses responsible for diagnosing and repairing these Apple computers would benevolently attribute dead keys and double-spacing spacebars to a “piece of dust” stuck under the keyboard.

Apple, like all large corporations, gets hit with class action lawsuits all the time. I almost always get emails about them but almost never link to them. But in this case I think it’s worth your attention, if not legally, then because of the publicity. People are latched onto this issue.

Donald Trump and Sean Hannity’s Late Night Calls 

Fantastic piece for New York Magazine by Olivia Nuzzi:

The call to the White House comes after ten o’clock most weeknights, when Hannity is over. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday, Sean Hannity broadcasts live at 9 p.m. on Fox News, usually from Studio J in midtown, where the network is headquartered, but sometimes from a remote studio on Long Island, where he was raised and now lives.

All White House phone numbers begin with the same six digits: 202-456. Hannity calls the White House switchboard, a number listed publicly, and reaches an operator. The operator refers to a list of cleared callers, a few dozen friends and family members outside the administration who may contact President Donald Trump through this official channel — among them his adult sons, Eric and Don Jr.; private-equity billionaire Stephen Schwarzman; media billionaire Rupert Murdoch; real-estate billionaire Tom Barrack; Patriots owner and also-billionaire Robert Kraft; and Hannity.

The operator then dials the president, who leaves the Oval Office around 7 p.m. and who, by this point in the evening, is almost always by himself on the third floor of the executive residence (the First Lady reportedly sleeps in a separate bedroom). He tells the operator to put Hannity through.

John Carmack on His Interactions With Steve Jobs 

Some great anecdotes here, but it breaks my heart that he posted them on Facebook, of all places.

Update: Here’s a copy of the story posted to Hacker News.

Skillshare – The Best Way to Learn Online 

My thanks to Skillshare for sponsoring last week’s DF RSS feed. With over 4 million members and more than 20,000 classes, Skillshare is basically Netflix for online learning. Interested in web development or data science? How about UX design or SEO? Mobile photography, filmmaking, creative writing, even coffee brewing? Skillshare truly has it all.

And for this week only, Skillshare is offering the first 1,000 Daring Fireball readers two free months of Skillshare Premium. Whether you’re looking to gain technical skills, want to unlock your creative potential, or are just learning for learning’s sake, Skillshare’s got you covered. Click here to redeem.

Here’s a personal recommendation: “Logo Design With Aaron Draplin”. Yeah, that Aaron Draplin — cofounder of Field Notes and designer/raconteur extraordinaire. He’s one of my favorite designers in the world, a generous teacher, and fantastically compelling on camera. Get the free demo and watch Draplin’s course.

Trump’s ZTE Zig-Zag 

Timothy B. Lee, reporting four short days ago for Ars Technica:

Last year, ZTE admitted to an elaborate multi-year scheme to sell US-made technology to Iran and North Korea in violation of US sanctions laws. ZTE paid $890 million in penalties and said it was in the process of disciplining dozens of senior company officials who had orchestrated a scheme to violate US sanctions laws.

But last month the Trump administration accused ZTE of continuing to lie to the US government even after last year’s guilty plea. The company told the US government that the guilty executives had received letters of reprimand and had had their 2016 bonuses reduced. But the US now says that was a lie — many of the employees received full bonuses, and they didn’t receive letters of reprimand until early 2018 — after the US government challenged ZTE on the issue.

In the April 15 order activating the export ban against ZTE, US Commerce Department official Richard Majauskas wrote that ZTE had demonstrated a “pattern of deception, false statements, and repeated violations.” A July 2017 letter to US officials was “brimming with false statements,” he said.

ZTE announced that it was shutting the whole company down because it can’t operate without US components (Android software from Google and chips from Qualcomm). U.S. intelligence officials have also warned that ZTE phones (and Huawei’s) pose a security risk to U.S. citizens.

President Trump, today:

President Xi of China, and I, are working together to give massive Chinese phone company, ZTE, a way to get back into business, fast. Too many jobs in China lost. Commerce Department has been instructed to get it done!

America first.

A Little Duplex Skepticism 

I’ve been thinking about this Google Duplex thing — the AI assistant that can, according to Google, make phone calls on your behalf such as the one that the company played a video of on stage during Sundar Pichai’s I/O keynote.

Why not demo it live? Why only play recordings? When is it rolling out to actual customers? Was there a hands-on after the event where members of the media or conference attendees could talk to Duplex? It’s totally credible that Google would be the first to achieve something like Duplex, but the fact that all they did — as far as I’ve seen — was play a recording just seems off. It feels like a con.

If Duplex is real, if it can make phone calls and speak as intelligently as Google’s recordings make it seem, where are the people who’ve actually spoken with it? How is what they showed, and the way they showed it, distinguishable from a fraud? The more I think about it, the more strange this “demo” seems.

Jony Ive Talks Watches With Ben Clymer 

Jony Ive, in an interview with Hodinkee’s Ben Clymer:

I don’t look at watches for their relationship to popular culture, which I know is so much of the fun — but rather as somehow the distillation of craft, ingenuity, miniaturization, and of the art of making.

Update on Pocket Casts and Privacy 

Owen Grover, the new post-acquisition CEO of Pocket Casts:

We’re a private and separate company and our privacy policy remains unchanged. We can’t and won’t share any of your personal data with NPR, WNYC, WBEZ or This American Life. They didn’t buy Pocket Casts for that reason.

It’s also worth pointing out that we’ve spent 8 years caring about the kind of data we do and don’t store about you, it’s literally the minimum amount required to run our sync service. If you don’t sign in and leave push notifications off, we literally have no data about you. That’s less than any other podcast platform we know of. If you choose to sign in we have your email address, password and data to sync to other platforms. If you turn on push we store the unique ID Apple gives us so we can send you push notifications. We find it so easy to justify this because every piece of data we store is to provide you with services, not us with your data.

Good to hear.

Concern 4: Pocket Casts will start tracking users [sic] locations.

This one perplexes me, but hey we did say we’d address everything. We don’t need your location data. We don’t want your location data. We won’t be collecting or storing your location data. Where you go day to day is none of our business…I have no idea why people even think we’d do that.

Again, good to hear, but I find it hard to believe Grover is genuinely perplexed by this concern. The reason they’d start tracking location is to serve targeted local ads.

Google Assistant Sounds Like a Human on the Phone 

James Vincent, writing for The Verge:

It came as a total surprise: the most impressive demonstration at Google’s I/O conference yesterday was a phone call to book a haircut. Of course, this was a phone call with a difference. It wasn’t made by a human, but by the Google Assistant, which did an uncannily good job of asking the right questions, pausing in the right places, and even throwing in the odd “mmhmm” for realism.

The crowd was shocked, but the most impressive thing was that the person on the receiving end of the call didn’t seem to suspect they were talking to an AI. It’s a huge technological achievement for Google, but it also opens up a Pandora’s box of ethical and social challenges.

For example, does Google have an obligation to tell people they’re talking to a machine? Does technology that mimics humans erode our trust in what we see and hear?

It’s uncanny how realistic this sounds, but I genuinely wonder if it’s disingenuous to program an AI that hems and haws like a human. There’s a genuine humanity to this voice, but is that dishonest?

The Talk Show: ‘Slathered in Incompetence’ 

Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s quarterly results, the discontinuation of Apple’s AirPort product line, and more.

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Kolide 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new Kolide Cloud “User Focused Security” concept. Last year, Netflix blogged about a great internal tool called Stethoscope which helped their security team communicate the key settings they expect their employees to manage instead of relying on intrusive enforcement. They termed this concept “User Focused Security”.

Kolide recently released Kolide Cloud, which enables you to roll out this User Focused Security strategy and effectively communicate your organization’s Mac security best-practices to your users.

Additionally, Kolide Cloud can detect and alert you about situational security concerns in your Mac fleet that often lead to serious compromises. Kolide looks for improperly stored 2FA backup codes, evidence of unencrypted backups, browser extensions that subvert the privacy of your users, and a litany of other issues that you will want to shut down immediately.

Kolide Cloud is free for your first 10 devices and you can sign up today.

20th Anniversary of the Original iMac 

Jason Snell:

It’s hard to believe today that a Steve Jobs product presentation would be met with indifference, but there was a huge amount of skepticism about Apple’s product announcements back in early 1998. Though there were definitely signs that the company was turning it around, I also recall being summoned to Apple product events where nothing much at all was announced. Regardless, only the editor in chief of Macworld, Andy Gore, even bothered to go to the announcement at the Flint Center that day.

As soon as the event ended, I got a phone call — I was working at home that day — and was told to immediately get in to the office, for an all-hands-on-deck meeting, because Apple had announced a new computer that was going to change everything. I have to give Andy credit — the moment he saw the iMac he knew it was going to be huge. We tore up our magazine issue in the matter of about a day in order to get first word about the iMac out to people in the days before instant Apple news was a thing.

Until the iMac was unveiled, the only thing Apple had really shipped in the post-NeXT-reunification era was the Think Different ad campaign. That was a great campaign, but still, mere words, not action. The iMac was the first real product, and it set the stage for everything that has come since. Snell truly captures the significance of the original iMac — the surprise, the controversy, the excitement. This was the moment when Apple truly was back.

A few stats. Max RAM on the original iMac was 128 MB; on today’s iMac Pro it’s 128 GB. Graphics megaflops performance: 60 vs. 11,000,000. It’s almost ridiculous what a difference 20 years makes, but the spirit remains the same.

XKCD on IMHO 

This is the final word on the IMHO matter as far as I’m concerned.

San Francisco Mayoral Candidate Jane Kim Eviscerates SF Chronicle Ahead of Attempted Hit Piece 

This exemplifies the power of blogging — Jane Kim was able to get ahead of an attempted hit piece seemingly based on opposition research from her leading opponent. Just read it.

(The Chronicle has responded with an editor’s note, acknowledging that the questions were flawed.)

HTC Tweets Teaser Photo Ostensibly Showing Components of Their Upcoming Phone, But the Parts Are From an iPhone 6 

You can’t make stuff like this up. HTC probably can’t show their own components because they’re a mess.

Overcast 4.2: The Privacy Update 

Speaking of popular podcast players and invasive user tracking, the latest update to Marco Arment’s Overcast has gone in the opposite direction:

In most podcast apps, podcasts are downloaded automatically in the background. The only data sent to a podcast’s publisher about you or your behavior is your IP address and the app’s name. The IP address lets them derive your approximate region, but not much else.

They don’t know exactly who you are, whether you listened, when you listened, how far you listened, or whether you skipped certain parts.

Some large podcast producers are trying very hard to change that.

I’m not.

Big data ruined the web, and I’m not going to help bring it to podcasts. Publishers already get enough from Apple to inform ad rates and make content decisions — they don’t need more data from my customers. Podcasting has thrived, grown, and made tons of money for tons of people under the current model for over a decade. We already have all the data we need.

Agreed completely. Podcasts are thriving not despite the fact that they’re largely anonymous and private, but because they’re anonymous and private.

Pocket Casts Acquired by NPR, Other Public Radio Stations, and This American Life 

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

Pocket Casts, widely considered to be one of the best mobile apps for podcast listening, has been acquired by a collective group that includes NPR, WNYC Studios, WBEZ Chicago, and This American Life. […]

Moving forward, Pocket Casts will operate as a joint venture between the new owners. Philip Simpson and Russell Ivanovic, who formed Shifty Jelly (Pocket Cast’s developer) in 2008, will have unspecified “leadership roles.” The existing staff and development team is staying put. Owen Grover, a veteran of iHeartRadio / Clear Channel, has been named as Pocket Cast’s CEO. NPR’s apps including NPR One will remain in development.

The acquisition price isn’t being disclosed. But the people behind Pocket Casts are insistent they chose this path not because of what the buyers paid, but because of who they are. “We have had acquisition offers in the past,” Ivanovic told The Verge by email. “We turned them down because the unique thing about this opportunity is the mission driven nature of these organizations. They want what’s best for the podcasting space, they want to build open systems that everyone can use.”

I hope this works out great, but I would wager money that this is about user-tracking (for user-profile-based dynamic ad insertion) and embedding crap like listener surveys right in the player. Many of the shows in this collective are already doing dynamic ad insertions based on their best guess of your location based on your IP address. I could be wrong, and hope I am, but I’ll bet Pocket Casts will soon ask for permission to access your location. A CEO from Clear Channel is not encouraging.

The big podcast companies have been clamoring for intrusive user tracking in podcast players for years now, and podcast player makers — led by Apple — have resisted. So I think the NPR group just went ahead and bought a podcast player — and a good, popular one at that.

CNet’s Story About an AR/VR Product From Apple Sounds Like an Early Proof of Concept Prototype, Not a Product 

Shara Tibken, reporting last week for CNet:

The company is working on a headset capable of running both AR and VR technology, according to a person familiar with Apple’s plans. Plans so far call for an 8K display for each eye — higher resolution than today’s best TVs — that would be untethered from a computer or smartphone, the person said.

The project, codenamed T288, is still in its early stages but is slated for release in 2020. Apple still could change or scrap its plans.

I do believe that good VR will require 8K displays. If you haven’t tried high-end VR yet, you might think that having the display(s) so close to your eyes would mean you don’t need so many pixels, but I can tell you that you do. The best VR headsets on the market today look very pixel-y.

But I don’t believe for a second that it’s feasible to have a consumer headset running dual 8K displays in 2020, let alone on battery.

Apple’s headset would connect to a dedicated box using a high-speed, short-range wireless technology, according to a person familiar with the company’s plans. The box, which would be powered by a custom Apple processor more powerful than anything currently available, would act as the brain for the AR/VR headset. In its current state, the box resembles a PC tower, but it won’t be an actual Mac computer.

VR and AR require the lowest possible latency and the highest possible refresh rates. These dual 8K displays are going to be driven wirelessly? In two years?

I know for a fact Apple is working on VR/AR headset projects, but this sounds like something that’s at the stage the iPhone was at when it looked like this — a research product / crude prototype that bore no resemblance to the ultimate product that shipped.

‘ErrorPort’ 

MG Siegler on Apple’s decision to discontinue its AirPort product line:

If Apple wants to get out of the wireless router business — a business they helped kickstart — fine. The problem is that they could have — and I’d argue, should have — been fundamentally changing this business for the better, in a way basically no other company can.

I’ve written in the past about what the Apple TV product should have been. To quickly recap: the entertainment box many of us know and like (but don’t love) mixed with gaming (true gaming, with dedicated controls, not the middling iOS ports with that awful remote) mixed with full Siri integration. In other words, they should have made the first “smart speaker” for the home, but actually better. Instead, we got a dumb Apple TV and a dumb HomePod. Two wrongs to make a wrong.

The writing has been on the wall for AirPort for years, but I largely agree with Siegler. I’m not saying Apple should continue to make mere Wi-Fi routers. I’m saying they had, and missed, an opportunity to make really smart, trustworthy home hubs like nothing else on the market. Something like an AirPort mesh network, Apple TV, HomePod, and Time Capsule rolled into one.

The Gambler Who Cracked the Horse-Racing Code 

Fantastic story in Businessweek by Kit Chellel:

Veteran gamblers know you can’t beat the horses. There are too many variables and too many possible outcomes. Front-runners break a leg. Jockeys fall. Champion thoroughbreds decide, for no apparent reason, that they’re simply not in the mood. The American sportswriter Roger Kahn once called the sport “animated roulette.” Play for long enough, and failure isn’t just likely but inevitable — so the wisdom goes. “If you bet on horses, you will lose,” says Warwick Bartlett, who runs Global Betting & Gaming Consultants and has spent years studying the industry.

What if that wasn’t true? What if there was one person who masterminded a system that guaranteed a profit? One person who’d made almost a billion dollars, and who’d never told his story — until now?

The 2017 Panic Report 

Thoroughly interesting and delightful, as usual.

Juiced Headline of the Week 

I point this out from time to time, but the way most websites’ CMSes work is that an article’s URL slug — like the “juiced_headline_of_the_week” segment in this very post’s URL — are derived from the article’s original headline. But when a headline changes, the URL shouldn’t change unless you have a way to redirect traffic going to the old URL to the new one. Most websites don’t do that. So when they change a headline, you can still tell what the original headline was by looking at the URL slug. For some reason, with a lot of news websites, they don’t bother updating the headline in the HTML <title> element either, so you can read the original headline in your browser tab.

Sometimes these headline changes are interesting. This piece at Quartz by Dave Gershgorn published a week ago is one such case. The original headline, still visible in the <title> and the URL slug, was “Apple’s Second Quarter 2018: Analyst Expect Poor iPhone X Sales” [sic]. The new headline, as seen on the page: “Almost Nobody Wants the iPhone X” (with the punny sub-head “Missed X-Pectations”).

As I pointed out in this thread on Twitter with Rene Ritchie and Gershgorn, the original headline was accurate but staid — the analyst(s) were wrong, but the headline was correct that they were predicting poor iPhone X sales. The new headline was not only juiced up with clickbait, it turned out to be flat-out ridiculously false.

(I, of course, write my URL slugs by hand for each post. The vast majority of the time they either match or mostly match the words in the headline, but every once in a while I like to slip something in like this.)

Daniel Eran Dilger Nailed Bloomberg on the iPhone X/Samsung OLED Story 

Daniel Eran Dilger, last week at AppleInsider:

Samsung didn’t say that its Display Panel segment turned in weaker results due to iPhone X. What the company actually reported in its earnings statement for the March quarter was that its DP “OLED Earnings declined due to weak demand and rising competition between Rigid OLED and LTPS LCD.”

It also stated that its DP segment “LCD Earnings stayed flat QoQ thanks to cost reduction efforts and product-mix improvements amid a decline in sales and ASPs caused by weak seasonality.”

So rather than Bloomberg’s contrived messaging portraying that Samsung’s OLED profits were declining because iPhone X was tanking, the reality is that Samsung reported that its entire DP unit was hammered in profitability during the quarter due to intense competition (from other suppliers and from other, cheaper screen technologies) and from weak demand and a decline in sales in general, across both OLED and LCD panels.

I usually call claim chowder on statements that prove false, but here’s one where I must tip my cap for being spot-on.

Former Verizon CEO Claims Bob Iger Had a Prototype iPhone in July 2006 

Ivan Seidenberg, CEO of Verizon from 2000 to 2011, has a new book. FierceWireless has an excerpt, ostensibly explaining why AT&T launched the original iPhone and Verizon didn’t. Spoiler: Apple was committed to GSM, and Verizon’s network was CDMA. Not that interesting a story, really. What is very interesting to me is this anecdote:

Seidenberg was attending the annual media conference sponsored by the investment banking firm Allen & Co. in July 2006 when he saw Walt Disney Chief Executive Bob Iger. He was looking intently at what appeared to be an oddly shaped cellphone in his hand. Seidenberg asked him about it as Iger put away the device as discreetly as possible. “This is going to change the world,” Iger said cryptically.

That was Verizon’s first, albeit partial, view of the Apple iPhone that would indeed change the world of telecommunications. Seidenberg checked in with the Verizon Wireless leadership when he returned from the conference. “We’ve been hearing about this. We don’t know,” was the response. They knew that Apple CEO Steve Jobs was on Disney’s board of directors. They assumed that meant Iger was looking at an Apple device. Tapping industry and Apple sources led them to the conclusion that Apple was readying a next-generation cellphone that clearly was intended to leapfrog the competition.

I find this extremely hard to believe. The iPhone wasn’t unveiled until January 2007, and even then, many of its apps were just placeholder screenshots. It didn’t launch until the end of June 2007. So what Seidenberg is saying is that he thinks Bob Iger was carrying and using a prototype iPhone six months before it was announced — and remember, when it was announced, everything about it dropped as a complete surprise — and a full year before it shipped?

Yes, Jobs was on the Disney board. But Iger wasn’t on the Apple board. Why in the world would Steve Jobs trust Bob Iger with one? It is possible — I’ve asked around and July 2006 was about as early as this could have possibly happened — but it strikes me as very implausible.

Update: The more I think about it, the more convinced I am that this story is bullshit. As Glenn Fleishman points out, the iPhone prototypes that select press got to see post-keynote in January, six months after this story ostensibly took place, could barely do anything useful. It’s probably true that those press demo units weren’t an indication of where Apple’s internal prototype software was at the time, but just consider this question. My answer: no way.

And furthermore, Disney’s ESPN phone — remember this great Steve Jobs story? — had just launched on 30 June 2006. Why would Jobs have even shown the iPhone, let alone given a prototype to carry around, to someone he should have seen as a competitor?

Update 2: More reason to call bullshit on this: last year in an on-stage interview with John Markoff, Scott Forstall claimed that for months after they were midway through development, the only two people in the world carrying an iPhone outside Apple’s campus were him and Steve Jobs.

‘Fanned’ 

Mark Gurman, writing for Bloomberg after Apple’s earnings announcement:

Concern about the iPhone business was fanned by suppliers that recently reported weak demand for high-end handsets, another sign the smartphone boom that made Apple the most-valuable company is ebbing. It has also been under pressure in China, where some consumers are shunning pricey iPhones and local rivals like Oppo and Vivo are grabbing market share. Tuesday’s report eased these fears, with China revenue rising 21 percent year-over-year.

Concern about the iPhone business wasn’t fanned by suppliers — it was fanned by publications like Bloomberg that drew gloomy conclusions about iPhone sales from those suppliers and the jackass analysts hyping them. Watch this 2-minute video from Gurman yesterday, or this slightly different video from this morning, and tell me who was “fanning the concern”.

Year over year, iPhone sales were up 3 percent on unit sales, but 14 percent on revenue. Unit sales are close to flat, but Apple grew revenue by double digits. There’s no other way to explain it than that iPhone X is a hit.

Sounds Like It’s Samsung’s Flexible OLED Phones Whose Sales Are Weak 

Last week Bloomberg reported:

Samsung Electronics Co. is the latest Apple Inc. supplier to offer a sign of weaker iPhone X sales, saying that it’s seeing slow demand for the screens used in the flagship product.

The South Korean electronics manufacturer said in an earnings report today that profits for its display business “were affected by slow demand for flexible OLED panels.” The division’s sales rose 3.4 percent in the latest quarter, compared with 20 percent for Samsung as a whole.

Flexible OLED panels are the screens used inside the iPhone X, and those are supplied exclusively by Samsung. Other component makers for Apple, which reports quarterly earnings results next week, have also issued gloomy outlooks pointing to lackluster demand for the top-end phone.

Regarding this report, I wrote:

Starting to sound like iPhone X sales really are falling short of expectations. You often can’t judge iPhone sales from the perspective of a component maker, because Apple could have switched to another company for the same component. But these flexible OLED displays only come from Samsung. Apple reports earnings for the first calendar quarter on Tuesday.

Since we now know iPhone X sales remained strong in the March quarter — outselling every other iPhone model every week of the quarter, according to Tim Cook — and that Apple hit its revenue forecast square on the nose, it must mean Samsung’s “slow demand for flexible OLED panels” wasn’t due to the iPhone X. Which probably means it was Samsung’s own high-end phones.

Not sure what I was thinking when I gave so much credence to Bloomberg’s take on Samsung’s remarks. Poor iPhone X sales would’ve only been a firm conclusion from the above statement if the iPhone X were the only phone using Samsung’s flexible OLED panels.

Apple Reports Q2 2018 Results; iPhone X Remains Most Popular Model 

Apple:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2018 second quarter ended March 31, 2018. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $61.1 billion, an increase of 16 percent from the year-ago quarter, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $2.73, up 30 percent. International sales accounted for 65 percent of the quarter’s revenue.

“We’re thrilled to report our best March quarter ever, with strong revenue growth in iPhone, Services and Wearables,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “Customers chose iPhone X more than any other iPhone each week in the March quarter, just as they did following its launch in the December quarter. We also grew revenue in all of our geographic segments, with over 20% growth in Greater China and Japan.”

So much for all that horseshit about iPhone X sales being disappointing — average sales price for iPhones is way up year-over-year.

Any Company Using Facebook for User ID Is Foolish 

Nick Statt, reporting for The Verge:

Facebook is adding a dating layer to its main mobile app, CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced today during the company’s F8 developers conference keynote in San Jose, California. The features are a long time coming for the 14-year-old social network, which has allowed users to broadcast whether they’re single or in a relationship since it first went live in February 2004.

The move will likely transform Facebook, with its more than 2.2 billion monthly active users, into a major competitor of Match Group, which owns and operates mobile dating app Tinder and popular dating platform OkCupid. Match Group’s stock plummeted by more than 17 percent as soon as the news was announced.

John Kneeland on Twitter:

Step 1: get dating apps to build themselves on your platform’s data
Step 2: cut them off from your platform’s data with no warning
Step 3: build a competitor to dating apps with the data you are now keeping to yourself

Seems kinda antitrust-ish…

It should be illegal, given Facebook’s monopoly status. But every company that has ever trusted Facebook like this should have known better all along. There was never any reason for Tinder to trust Facebook not to do this, and a bunch of reasons to suspect they would. Yet even today, when you go to sign up for Tinder, they heavily steer you toward signing up via Facebook; the option to sign up using your phone number is so faint it’s hard to read and looks disabled. It practically screams, “Don’t use this, sign in with Facebook using the bright cheery easy-to-read button above.” (And who wants to share their phone number? Why not email?)

Facebook looks like the rapacious Gates-era “I think I’ll have all the mashed potatoes” Microsoft. Tinder looks like fools.