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Linked List: December 2019

Morning Brew 

My thanks to Morning Brew for once again sponsoring DF. There’s a reason over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense… make your mornings more enjoyable, for free.

I’ve been subscribed for over six months. It’s a great daily read — concise, fun, and a clean crisp design. You get one email each morning and that’s it. I recommend it.

For those of you who are already subscribed and enjoy it, the holidays are a great time to recommend Morning Brew to friends and family who you think would enjoy it to too.

The New York Times’s Hypocrisy on Ad Tracking and Privacy 

So yesterday I linked to last week’s big story from the NYT’s Privacy Project regarding the data they obtained from a 50-billion-entry database leaked from a whistleblower at a location collection company.

Here’s the thing. The NYT’s website is loaded with several dozen ad-trackers. I don’t know if any of them collect location data too, but you’d be a fool to bet against that. Here’s the footer they include at the bottom of each story warning about this (although it’s not written in the language of a warning):

Like other media companies, The Times collects data on its visitors when they read stories like this one. For more detail please see our privacy policy and our publisher’s description of The Times’s practices and continued steps to increase transparency and protections.

I realize it’s not the reporters from the Privacy Project who decided that the Times would get into bed with the ad-tracking industry. But it severely undercuts their credibility on the issue. Their message, as a whole, amounts to “This bad thing is going on — a profound invasion of privacy on an almost unimaginable mass scale by unregulated private companies — and we ourselves are up to our necks in supplying the data to such an extent that you, the reader, are supplying this sort of data right now just by reading this very article in which we’re telling you how pernicious this whole racket is.

The Times needs to come to grips with the fact that they are a player in this racket.

NYT: ‘One Nation, Tracked’ 

Truly extraordinary report from Stuart A. Thompson and Charlie Warzel for The New York Times:

The Times Privacy Project obtained one such file, by far the largest and most sensitive ever to be reviewed by journalists. It holds more than 50 billion location pings from the phones of more than 12 million Americans as they moved through several major cities, including Washington, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles.

Each piece of information in this file represents the precise location of a single smartphone over a period of several months in 2016 and 2017. The data was provided to Times Opinion by sources who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to share it and could face severe penalties for doing so. The sources of the information said they had grown alarmed about how it might be abused and urgently wanted to inform the public and lawmakers.

This is a truly eye-opening look at how we’re being tracked. The Times was able to use this data to identify individual people. My honest questions: What do we do about it?

Legislation? Make the collection of this sort of data highly-regulated? Is that even feasible with an internet that spans the globe?

Technical? Is there something Apple and Google can do? Should we all be using trusted VPNs all the time to obscure our location? Should Apple build its own VPN and include it with iCloud?

What apps are generating this data? Why don’t we have a list of apps to avoid if you don’t want your location tracked?

The Talk Show: ‘The Save Twitch’ 

For your holiday listening enjoyment, very special guest Rich Siegel joins the show to talk about BBEdit’s past, present, and future, the state of developing for the Mac, and more.

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AirPods Pro Bluetooth Latency 

Stephen Coyle:

Looking to the AirPods first, there’s a very encouraging trend occurring. They drop from 274ms to 178ms going from the first to second generation, and the AirPods Pro take it down even further, to 144ms. While a 130ms reduction may not seem like a lot, the perceptual difference from this makes the AirPods Pro tantalisingly close to seamless.

Impressive. I definitely notice the improvement with keyboard clicks turned on.

Why Prague Flies the Tibetan Flag Over Their City Hall 

Zdenek Hrib, mayor of Prague:

Yet this year, four of our best musical ensembles were in for an unpleasant surprise: China, which had invited them to visit the country, abruptly canceled their long-scheduled tours.

The reason for Beijing’s decision to rescind the invitations was clear. Since I was elected mayor of the Czech capital in 2018, I have worked to fulfill a promise to voters. I vowed during the campaign that I would return to our hallowed post-communist traditions of honoring democracy and human rights. By delivering on that promise, I and my government have prompted the ire of the Chinese Communist Party.

We have chosen to adorn our city hall with the Tibetan flag — which should not bother China at all, considering that its 1951 agreement with the Tibetan government grants the territory a broad degree of autonomy. Being a doctor, I have also publicly condemned the forced extraction of organs from members of the Muslim Uighur minority and other prisoners of the regime.

The Chinese are petty and petulant.

Hrib’s advice:

I am not advising against doing any business with China. Nor am I suggesting that we cut off all diplomatic ties; such an approach would be both extreme and counterproductive. I would, however, encourage our friends around the world to think twice and be cautious before getting into bed with such an unreliable and potentially risky counterpart.

More importantly, I encourage all of you not to surrender your values and personal integrity out of fear of blackmail and threats.

Jesper on the MacOS Podcasts App 

Jesper, writing at Waffle:

Podcasts should be the optimal poster child for Catalyst because it exists on many platforms, and I think it could be made to work so much better by being responsive to ways in which a Mac is not an iOS device. But what upsets me is not a lack of polish as such, it’s that this was deemed anywhere near good enough to ship. It’s not a good podcasting app, it’s not a good Catalyst example, it’s not a good macOS citizen and it’s not even a good reincarnation of the Podcasts app. It’s just a mess.

Yet it’s probably the best Catalyst app.

Robocall Fines Rise to $10,000 Per Call Under Newly Passed Law 

Makena Kelly, reporting for The Verge:

The Telephone Robocall Abuse Criminal Enforcement and Deterrence Act, or the TRACED Act, empowers the federal government with new abilities to go after illegal robocallers. Once TRACED is enacted, the Federal Communications Commission could fine robocallers up to $10,000 per call. It also would require major carriers like AT&T, Verizon, and T-Mobile to deploy a new technology called STIR/SHAKEN into their networks, which will make it easier for consumers to know if they’re receiving a call from a spoofed number.

The House voted overwhelmingly to approve the measure earlier this month, and Thursday’s unanimous Senate vote means the bill only requires President Trump’s signature to become law. Rep. Mike Doyle (D-PA) said that the bill should be signed into law within the “next week or so.”

There aren’t many issues with overwhelming bipartisan support these days. Fury at robocalls is one of them.

‘A Conversation With Rudy Giuliani Over Bloody Marys’ 

Olivia Nuzzi, writing for New York:

The hostess led us through a hallway to the dining room. As Giuliani walked down the carpeted ramp, he fell over to his right and hit the wall. He kept on walking as if it hadn’t happened. “My God, it’s Rudy Giuliani,” I heard someone say. He nodded and waved at people he knew seated across the restaurant. He stopped to shake hands with an older man and his wife.

“I’d like some sparkling water. And I know you have wonderful Bloody Marys,” Giuliani told the waiter. “Yes, sir,” the waiter said, “and I know you love them.” Giuliani laughed. “You’re a good man!,” he said.

Just such a great little slice of life piece. Nuzzi is one of my favorite writers in politics today. Her piece two months ago from inside the Joe Biden campaign is another must-read.

What Dan Frommer Has Learned in the First Year of Running a Subscription Newsletter Business 

Dan Frommer:

It’s been almost nine months since I started publishing The New Consumer.

Wrapping up my first calendar year, I wanted to share my experience so far of running a one-person, membership-funded publishing startup, and some thoughts about how this sort of thing fits into where the media business is going.

In short: This is working! And I’m excited about the future.

Glad to hear it’s working out, but I’m not surprised. Frommer is a good writer and a keenly insightful observer.

And readers love newsletters. Websites are getting harder and harder to read. Paywalls forget who you are on a seemingly weekly basis. Websites put interstitial popovers directly over the content you’re trying to read. Videos are set to autoplay. How many times are you supposed to tell the same goddamn website whether you’ll accept their fucking cookies? It’s like they’re purposefully making it hard to read. Newsletters have none of that. They’re just easy and fun to read. The web can and should be that way too, but all too often it’s not.

Atoms — Ideal Everyday Shoes 

My thanks to Atoms for sponsoring this week at DF.

Atoms is a whole different approach to shoes. Focused on comfort and simplicity, and built with innovative materials, Atoms are designed for how you live, work and play — everyday. They are unlike any shoes you have ever worn. They reconsidered every aspect of what a shoe can be. First-of-its-kind quarter sizing gives you the perfect fit. Insoles made with copper thread neutralize odor. And lightweight materials make Atoms exceptionally comfortable and durable.

I wear my Atoms frequently. One of my favorite aspects: lace them slightly loose and you can slip them on and off without tying and untying them each time you put them on. Part of this is the way the shoes are designed, and part of it is that the laces have a nice stretch to them.

Atoms is offering $20 off one pair, or $60 off two this holiday season. Experience them for yourself.

The Cocoa Text System 

Another bit of follow-up from yesterday’s piece on Catalyst apps and standard keyboard shortcuts. The Cocoa text editing system — which dates back to NeXTStep with a slew of standard shortcuts that date back to classic Mac OS (and Emacs!) — is incredibly rich and deep. UIKit follows much of it, but not all. (For example, on the Mac, Cocoa supports custom keybindings — a very powerful feature that lets you customize text editing shortcuts and have them work almost everywhere.)

This 2006 document by Jacob Rus remains an essential resource for anyone who wants to dig in. The good news about Catalyst: Catalyst apps just inherit these features and shortcuts automatically on the Mac. System-wide Services “just work” too, even though iOS doesn’t have them.

Page Up, Page Down, Home, and End in Catalyst Apps 

Douglas Hill, following up on my piece yesterday on scrolling with standard keyboard shortcuts in UIKit and Catalyst apps:

I wish this was the case, but unfortunately it is not. The standard UIKit scrolling class, UIScrollView, does not provide any keyboard-driven scrolling functionality. […]

What’s going on here is that Apple did not add support for Page Up and Page Down in UIKit: They added this in WebKit/Safari. Fortunately WebKit is open source so we can see how they did it. Developers need to use the undocumented input strings UIKeyInputPageUp and UIKeyInputPageDown and write their own code to scroll up or down by the correct amount in response to those input events. While WebKit doesn’t support Home and End it’s possible to do some guessing: The strings UIKeyInputHome and UIKeyInputEnd do in fact work.

Hill has an open source framework, KeyboardKit, to fill these gaps.

Apple’s Updated Platform Security Site 

Comprehensive human-readable guide to all things security- and privacy-related at Apple: hardware, software, and services. Well-written and well-organized.

Why Photographer David Burnett Shot 4×5 Film at Impeachment Hearing 

Holly Hughes, writing for PDN:

“Shooting large-format today was a reminder that even though I have many frames per second with my Sony a6500, I’m still shooting film one solitary, isolated frame at a time. In a world of 10 or 20 fps, two frames in 30 seconds is a big deal,” Burnett tells PDN. While his press colleagues were firing fast, Burnett says, “I shot 16 frames today.” […]

Burnett shot both the hearing and a Veterans Day parade earlier in the week using Ilford HP5 black-and-white film. “Unlike the all-digital shooters to my left and right,” he told PDN, “I won’t know for a few days if I have a picture — or two. It’s a fun wait. Builds character.”

Examples of Burnett’s work.

The Next Generation of Xbox Is Just Called Xbox 

Ryan Gilliam, writing for Polygon:

During The Game Awards 2019, Microsoft unveiled the next generation of Xbox: the Xbox Series X. Or that’s what we and everyone else thought it was called. However, Business Insider recently spoke to a Microsoft representative who confirmed the next generation’s name is simple. Xbox — Series X is the name of the model coming next year.

“The name we’re carrying forward to the next generation is simply Xbox,” said the Microsoft representative. “And at The Game Awards you saw that name come to life through the Xbox Series X.” In a separate quote, the representative told Business Insider: “Similar to what fans have seen with previous generations, the name ‘Xbox Series X’ allows room for additional consoles in the future.”

I would have gone with “Xbox X Xbox” — that way they’d go straight to five X’s in the name.

Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance to Develop Connectivity Standard 

Apple Newsroom:

Amazon, Apple, Google, and the Zigbee Alliance today announced a new working group that plans to develop and promote the adoption of a new, royalty-free connectivity standard to increase compatibility among smart home products, with security as a fundamental design tenet. Zigbee Alliance board member companies such as IKEA, Legrand, NXP Semiconductors, Resideo, Samsung SmartThings, Schneider Electric, Signify (formerly Philips Lighting), Silicon Labs, Somfy, and Wulian are also onboard to join the working group and contribute to the project.

The goal of the Connected Home over IP project is to simplify development for manufacturers and increase compatibility for consumers.

Connected Home over IP = CHIP. A good acronym is a good place to start. I’d love to see this succeed — it’d be so great if connected home devices worked across platforms as well as USB devices do. And let’s face it, right now Siri is on the short end of the stick on that front.

(Conspicuously absent: Microsoft?)

Mac Pro With Afterburner in Action 

Jonathan Morrison:

To test out the Mac Pro Afterburner acceleration, I initially created a 4K Multi-Cam project with 9 and even 15 streams of 4.5K Pro Res 4444 XQ video which didn’t even break a sweat on the Mac Pro. I figured let’s make an 8K timeline, nah. Let’s make a 16K timeline and the results blew me away.

Impressive results, and a good case that the base model Mac Pro with the Afterburner card could be a hell of a machine for video pros.

The New ML Super Resolution Feature in Pixelmator Pro 

The Pixelmator blog:

It’s no secret that we’re pretty big fans of machine learning and we love thinking of new and exciting ways to use it in Pixelmator Pro. Our latest ML-powered feature is called ML Super Resolution, released in today’s update, and it makes it possible to increase the resolution of images while keeping them stunningly sharp and detailed. Yes, zooming and enhancing images like they do in all those cheesy police dramas is now a reality!

First, these results are incredibly impressive. I’ve tried it on a few small images and their samples accurately reflect how good this is. There’s a film-like quality to the results that I find visually pleasing beyond the interpolated increase in resolution. Really hard to believe how good these results are.

Second, there is nothing cheesy about Blade Runner.

SGI Workstation Prices From 20 Years Ago 

CNet, back in July 1998:

The Octane line’s entry-level product, which comes with a 225-MHz R10000 MIPS processor, 128MB of memory, a 4GB hard drive, and a 20-inch monitor, will fall to $17,995 from $19,995. The pricing action comes two months after the company introduced it.

An Octane system featuring 250-MHz R10000 processor, meanwhile, will drop from $38,995 to $24,995. […]

SGI will further cut the price of its Onyx2 Reality supercomputer with two 250-MHz R10000 processors by 45 percent, to $75,000.

Historically speaking, the pricing for the new Mac Pro is not outlandish. The problem isn’t with the $30,000–50,000 models. The people who can make good use of those machines will do so. I think what’s bothersome to many traditional Mac Pro users is the lack of a Mac Pro in the, say, $2,500–5,000 range. There are a lot of pro users who want a desktop system that’s less expensive than these new Mac Pros but more performant and expandable than a Mac Mini. Something, I think, roughly like an iMac Pro without the built-in display.

I get why Apple kept the “Mac Pro” name. But in theory it would have been nice to have a new Mac Pro similar in scope — and pricing! — to the old pre-2013 Mac Pros, and to have these new Mac Pros occupy a new “hypercar” slot above the Mac Pro in the lineup. “Mac Workstation” is not a catchy name, I know, but something to that effect.

The Thermodynamics Behind the Mac Pro 

Alexander George, writing for Popular Mechanics:

Ligtenberg’s group built the Pro’s fan system — three axial fans in the front, with a blower in the back. Since most off-the-shelf fans would be too loud, Apple designs them internally.

“Years ago, we started redistributing the blades ,” he says. “They’re still dynamically balanced, but they’re actually randomized in terms of their BPF [blade pass frequency]. So you don’t get huge harmonics that tend to be super annoying.”

Noise is a major factor in the design of modern machinery. In this case: “That [solution is] borrowed almost entirely from automobile tires,” Ligtenberg says. “There’s a bit of math behind it, but you can create broadband noise instead of total noise with that technique.”

Obsessing over the fan noise — reducing it where possible, and making what noise there is as pleasing to the ears as possible — is Apple at its best.

iFixit’s Mac Pro 2019 Teardown 

iFixit:

The new Mac Pro is a Fixmas miracle: beautiful, amazingly well put together, and a masterclass in repairability.

We love that a good portion of the modules can be swapped without tools; we love the use of (mostly) standard screws and connectors; we love the step numbers and diagrams for certain repairs right on the device; and most of all, we love the free public repair manuals and videos.

Despite the many things to love, however, Apple still keeps the keys to certain repairs, like the proprietary SSD. And some of Apple’s repair manuals include (or entirely comprise) a disclaimer insisting that you contact an Apple Authorized Service Provider, when in reality the repair could easily be done at your desk.

9/10 overall, and I’m guessing it would have been 10/10 if not for the SSD tied to the T2. I get it that iFixit is going to be iFixit, and that they might value a just-plain-easily-replaced-SSD over the security of the T2 subsystem. But I think they conveniently avoid mentioning the security of the T2 subsystem. Merely calling it “proprietary” and leaving it at that is ignoring just how significant a system the T2 is.

It does occur to me that it would have been nice if Apple had figured out a way to provide Touch ID for the Mac Pro. I totally get that doing Touch ID wirelessly — where the sensor would be on the keyboard (or trackpad or mouse?) and the secure enclave inside the Mac Pro — is a devilishly tricky problem to solve securely.

Walt Mossberg on Apple’s Decade 

Walt Mossberg, writing for The Verge:

How do you replace a legend like Steve Jobs and, at the same time, adapt to the slow decline of your most important, most iconic product? Those were the twin challenges Apple faced in the 2010s. Under CEO Tim Cook, the company has found some answers and flourished financially, but it hasn’t been without a few wrong turns and big changes to the very nature of its business.

In the past decade, Apple has grown huge. Its fiscal 2019 revenues were six times the size of revenues in fiscal 2009. Its new headquarters building is larger than the Pentagon. Each of its five business segments would be a Fortune 500 company on its own.

But what about its products? Its culture?

A fair look back at Tim Cook’s first decade in charge of Apple. The biggest knock? Taking their eyes off the Mac ball in the middle of the decade — with a Mac Pro that wound up not being very pro and a MacBook Air that stagnated with a non-retina display.

The Purpose of a Political Party Is to Win and Exercise Power 

Jonathan Freedland, writing for The Guardian:

Well, guess what. Labour’s “radical” manifesto of 2019 achieved precisely nothing. Not one proposal in it will be implemented, not one pound in it will be spent. It is worthless. And if judged not by the academic standard of “expanding the discourse”, but by the hard, practical measure of improving actual people’s actual lives, those hate figures of Corbynism — Tony Blair and Gordon Brown — achieved more in four hours than Corbyn achieved in four years. Why? Because they did what it took to win power.

That’s what a political party is for. It’s not a hobby; it’s not a pressure group that exists to open the Overton window a little wider; it’s not an association for making friends or hosting stimulating conversations and seminars; it’s not “a 30-year project”. Its purpose is to win and exercise power in the here and now. It is either a plausible vehicle for government or it is nothing.

Bingo. Politics is first and foremost about winning elections. Labour clearly did not approach last week’s election with that in mind — but the Tories sure did. That this should serve as a warning to Democrats here in the U.S. goes without saying.

Amazon’s Alexa Skill Revenue 

Bret Kinsella, writing for Voicebot.ai:

The Information published (N.B. paywall) an article this morning saying that Amazon earned $1.4 million Alexa skill revenue through the first 10 months of 2019 which was well short of its $5.5 million target. This refers to the revenue that Amazon earns from in-skill purchases (ISP) where consumers pay for added features of Alexa skills from third-party developers. The article also says that 2018 revenue was “in the low hundreds of thousands of dollars” though the target was $5 million.

Amazon did not confirm these figures, but a spokesperson did respond by email today regarding The Information’s article saying that, “Alexa is a long-term bet for Amazon, and we’re as optimistic as ever about its future. We’ve just scratched the surface of what’s possible with Alexa.”

Alexa skill revenue referred to here is a similar approach to Apple’s fees for purchases through the iOS app store. Amazon takes a 30% fee and the developer gets the remaining 70%.

We have a few Alexa devices, and use them, but I didn’t even realize you could pay for additional skills like this. Never even occurred to me. I just don’t even think Amazon is trying on this front — they seem focused on the stuff you can do with Alexa out of the box and that’s it.

iPods Pro 

Horace Dediu:

For the AirPods to overtake the iPod highlights just what a phenomenal category Wearables has become. In combination with Home and other accessories the category is going to decidedly overtake the Mac, having already passed the iPad.

And so it goes, something dismissed as inconsequential — “does not move the needle” — ends up becoming a massive force of change. The iPod was that, the original Apple II, the Mac and yes, also the iPhone. It’s the asymmetry of humility that this happens over and over again.

The thing about AirPods is that you just have to walk down the street in a city to see how popular they are.

Nevermind 

Mehedi Hassan, writing for Paul Thurrott’s Supersite for Windows or whatever the hell he calls it nowadays:

This week, however, Samsung Electronic’s President Young Sohn claimed the company had sold 1 million foldable Galaxy Fold smartphones. Talking at TechCrunch Disrupt Berlin, Sohn said that “there’s a million people” that want to use the Galaxy Fold. He later claimed that Samsung had indeed sold 1 million units of the Galaxy Fold.

As it turns out, though, Samsung may not have actually sold 1 million Galaxy Fold units. A Samsung spokesperson told Yonhap News that Sohn had confused the 1 million figure with Samsung’s sales target. The spokesperson later confirmed that Samsung is yet to sell 1 million units of the Galaxy Fold.

Again, I think of Dr. Evil’s “One millllllion dollars” extortion scheme.

Doxie Mobile Scanners 

My thanks to Doxie for sponsoring this week at DF. Designed with all your paper in mind, Doxie quickly and reliably scans all your documents, receipts, and detailed photographs with ease.

Thanks to its small footprint, rechargeable battery, and expansive memory, Doxie consistently delivers high-resolution scans wherever you are — no computer required. The free MacOS and iOS apps let you save, share, and send your paper to the cloud.

A Doxie scanner is what you want if you refuse to compromise on quality and want a straightforward way to finally go (and stay) paperless.

This week only, Doxie is offering DF readers a secret 35% discount. Enter Amazon promotion code FIREBALL at checkout on any of Doxie’s three great models: Doxie Go SE, Doxie Go SE + Wi-Fi, or Doxie Q.

DF T-Shirts and Hoodies – Get Them While the Getting Is Good 

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo t-shirt.

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo t-shirt.

Look at these shirts. They’re gorgeous. One — or both! — of them could be yours. But if you want one you have to order by the end of the day Friday. That’s probably today when you’re reading this. I’m not trying to give you the hard sell, I’m just saying that if you don’t order now you’re going to miss out and you’re going to regret it.

We’ve got hoodies too.

Update: The store is now closed. Thanks to everyone who ordered.

The Talk Show: ‘A Perfect Wheel’ 

Special guest Jason Snell returns to the show to talk about the new Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR, which are both — dare I say — finally available for ordering. Also: Ming Chi Kuo’s intriguing rumors on the 2020 and 2021 iPhone lineups.

You don’t get cheated on the show notes this week, either.

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Time’s 2019 Person of the Year: Greta Thunberg 

Charlotte Alter, Suyin Haynes, and Justin Worland, writing for Time:

Greta Thunberg sits in silence in the cabin of the boat that will take her across the Atlantic Ocean. Inside, there’s a cow skull hanging on the wall, a faded globe, a child’s yellow raincoat. Outside, it’s a tempest: rain pelts the boat, ice coats the decks, and the sea batters the vessel that will take this slight girl, her father and a few companions from Virginia to Portugal. For a moment, it’s as if Thunberg were the eye of a hurricane, a pool of resolve at the center of swirling chaos. In here, she speaks quietly. Out there, the entire natural world seems to amplify her small voice, screaming along with her.

“We can’t just continue living as if there was no tomorrow, because there is a tomorrow,” she says, tugging on the sleeve of her blue sweatshirt. “That is all we are saying.”

Thunberg really riles up conservatives. “Why are we listening to a child?”, they ask, when they’re not frothing at their mouths over her celebrity and prominence. “Why are we doing nothing while global calamity grows ever more imminent?” is the response. They really seem to go after her in a viciously personal way — proof to me that she’s somehow really touched a nerve.

Superman is an inherently goofy premise even among the goofy premises of nearly all comic book superheroes. Most superheroes have limited powers and some sort of balanced weaknesses. Superman has nearly unlimited powers and just one very specific, very narrow weakness. And that weakness makes no sense whatsoever — how in the world would chunks of the planet Krypton make their way anywhere outside the Krypton solar system? And don’t get me started on the way no one notices Clark Kent looks like Superman because he’s wearing glasses. I mean come on.

But when I was a kid the thing I found most bothersome about the whole premise was the idea that if a scientist determined and had evidence to prove a severe global calamity was imminent, the public would simply ignore the warning. Here on real Earth, scientists are the ones who warn us of incoming hurricanes and who told us that vaccines could keep us from contracting terrible diseases, and we listened to them.

But here we are with climate change. The Krypton parable no longer seems funny. And with climate change it’s not just one scientist — it’s as close to expert consensus as science ever gets. I’m sure it never even occurred to Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster to have not just Jor-El but 99 percent of Krypton’s scientists arguing that the planet was doomed — and still having the leaders of the world respond with inaction. That Thunberg has been able to nudge the world in the direction of action — to move the needle even a little — is remarkable.

Merriam-Webster’s 2019 Word of the Year: ‘They’ 

Merriam-Webster:

Although our lookups are often driven by events in the news, the dictionary is also a primary resource for information about language itself, and the shifting use of they has been the subject of increasing study and commentary in recent years. Lookups for they increased by 313% in 2019 over the previous year.

English famously lacks a gender-neutral singular pronoun to correspond neatly with singular pronouns like everyone or someone, and as a consequence they has been used for this purpose for over 600 years.

More recently, though, they has also been used to refer to one person whose gender identity is nonbinary, a sense that is increasingly common in published, edited text, as well as social media and in daily personal interactions between English speakers. There’s no doubt that its use is established in the English language, which is why it was added to the Merriam-Webster.com dictionary this past September.

I’ve long been a staunch advocate of singular they, which I don’t find contrary to my generally conservative linguistic stance. As Merriam-Webster points out, singular they in English has a 600-year history. It’s the “they is always plural” pedants who are the upstarts, just like the Victorian know-nothings who wrongly insist one should never split an infinitive. Nonbinary they is a natural extension of that history.

Anil Dash:

We don’t even notice it anymore — “link in bio”. It’s a pithy phrase, usually found on Instagram, which directs an audience to be aware that a pertinent web link can be found on that user’s profile. Its presence is so subtle, and so pervasive, that we barely even noticed it was an attempt to kill the web.

Dash calls it a slow knife. I think “link in bio” is fucking bullshit.

Yours Truly on The Omni Show 

It was my distinct pleasure to chat with my old friend Brent Simmons on The Omni Show, mainly about one of my very favorite and most essential apps, OmniOutliner — but believe it or not there were several long digressions, replete with much nostalgia.

Apple Card Offering 6 Percent Daily Cash Back on Apple Product Purchases Until December 31 

This is an astoundingly good offer — over $400 cash back if you’re buying a Pro Display XDR and stand, for example.

Jason Del Rey on the Away Saga 

Jason Del Rey, reporting for Recode:

The company told the Wall Street Journal that the CEO search had been in progress since the spring, insinuating that the fallout from the article, published by The Verge, did not play a role in Korey’s resignation.

But multiple sources tell Recode that while new CEO Stuart Haselden had indeed planned to join Away before The Verge piece was published, he was not meant to immediately helm the CEO role; instead, he would join the company as Away’s chief operating officer, or COO, reporting to Korey, and would later move into the top spot if all went according to plan.

Under that original plan, Haselden would eventually replace Korey as CEO — perhaps as early as mid-2020 — after he got to know the business better. It was also meant to allow Korey time to get comfortable with the transition, according to a person familiar with the plan. (Haselden was already COO of Lululemon, a public company worth $29 billion, and wouldn’t have taken the COO role at a much smaller company without the understanding that he would eventually hold the top spot.)

But after the workplace culture story erupted late last week, some of Away’s investors pushed to rip the band aid off and accelerate the CEO swap.

Almost like they were ready to pounce.

(I happen to know a bunch of outlets were digging into this drama — kudos to Del Rey for getting the scoop.)

Daring Fireball T-Shirts and Hoodies 

Thumbnail of a Daring Fireball logo hoodie.

Just like we did last year, we’ll take orders on these through the end of the week, and start shipping them out at the beginning of next week. These hoodies proved very popular last year, and feedback on them was really great. They’re surprisingly warm for how thin and light they are. In the winter I become that guy who sits around the house wearing his own logo’d hoodie.

WSJ: ‘Elizabeth Warren Made About $2 Million for Legal Work Over Three Decades’ 

Am I reading this headline wrong? My take is that the emphasis is on “Elizabeth Warren Made $2 Million” — which to my ears implies an angle of “See, she’s made a lot of money too”. But $2 million really isn’t that much money. And in the world of corporate law, it seems only a pittance. Let’s round “three decades” to 30 years — that’s only $67,000 a year. If the WSJ ran a story on the 40-year career of, say, a public school teacher who averaged, say, $50,000 in salary over that span, I highly doubt they’d start with a headline like “Public School Teacher Earned $2 Million Over Four Decades”.

“Elizabeth Warren Averaged $67,000 Per Year in Legal Work Over Three Decades” gives the exact same story a very different slant.

Update: Holy hell The Washington Post is even worse than the Journal, running its story under the headline “Sen. Elizabeth Warren Earned Nearly $2 Million Consulting for Corporations and Financial Firms, Records Show” — with no timeline whatsoever for the period over which she earned the money, which clearly leads the reader to assume it was over a brief period of time before she became a senator. This framing is genuinely outrageous.

This whole thing where the news media is trying to gin up controversy over what is not a lot of money recalls Dr. Evil’s “One million dollars” blackmail threat. Except Dr. Evil was just a character in a silly comedy and Elizabeth Warren is a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination whom her opponents are trying to stick with the tag that she’s a hypocrite. 2016’s endless “but her emails” bullshit proves that when the straight news media plays along with these narratives, they stick, with disastrous results.

The Information: ‘Apple’s Ad-Targeting Crackdown Shakes Up Ad Market’ 

Tom Dotan, writing for the subscriber-only The Information:

Two years ago, Apple launched an aggressive battle against ads that track users across the web. Today executives in the online publishing and advertising industries say that effort has been stunningly effective — posing a problem for advertisers looking to reach affluent consumers.

Since Apple introduced what it calls its Intelligent Tracking Prevention feature in September 2017, and with subsequent updates last year, advertisers have largely lost the ability to target people on Safari based on their browsing habits with cookies, the most commonly used technology for tracking. One result: The cost of reaching Safari users has fallen over 60% in the past two years, according to data from ad tech firm Rubicon Project. Meanwhile ad prices on Google’s Chrome browser have risen slightly.

That reflects the fact that advertisers pay more money for ads that can be targeted at people with specific demographics and interests. “The allure of a Safari user in an auction has plummeted,” said Rubicon Project CEO Michael Barrett. “There’s no easy ability to ID a user.”

So: Intelligent Tracking Prevention is working.

The Grouch 

Indirectly, Caroll Spinney’s Oscar the Grouch played an obscure footnote role in Macintosh history, starring in Eric Shapiro’s unsanctioned, utterly-useless-yet-utterly-delightful The Grouch system extension for classic Mac OS. If anything, The Grouch was anti-productivity software, because it made emptying the Trash take longer, but we loved it nonetheless. Obviously, our affection for Spinney’s Oscar was at the heart of that. There was an entire genre of just-for-fun gag extensions for the old Mac OS, and to my mind, The Grouch was the king of them.

Caroll Spinney, Puppeteer Who Gave Life to Big Bird of ‘Sesame Street’, Dies at 85 

Emily Langer, writing for The Washington Post:

Caroll Spinney, the puppeteer who gave life to Big Bird, the towering yellow avian of TV’s “Sesame Street” who accompanied generations of youngsters in the arduous, yet wondrous, work of growing up, died Dec. 8 at his home in Connecticut. He was 85 and died hours before “Sesame Street” received Kennedy Center Honors for achievement in the arts. […]

Mr. Spinney, who said he had been teased in childhood for his fascination with what his tormentors mocked as “dolls,” met Henson at a puppetry convention and first donned Big Bird’s 4,000 canary-yellow feathers for the show’s opening season. In thousands of episodes over nearly a half-century, he gave voice and motion to Big Bird and to Oscar the Grouch, the shaggy green trash can-dweller who showed children that they needed not always be happy and that it was okay to like things others didn’t — trash, for instance. […]

Spinney’s characters were a huge part of my childhood — and my son’s. That’s an amazing testament to Sesame Street’s timelessness and durability.

Nike Swoosh to Appear on the Front of Every MLB Uniform in 2020 

Craig Calcaterra, writing for NBC Sports:

We knew as of last January that this was coming — and the new uniform designs teams like the Padres, Brewers and Rangers have released in the past few weeks have shown it — but today the images were all released: all 30 teams will wear jerseys with the Nike Swoosh prominently placed on the front starting in the 2020 season. […]

They aren’t all that bothersome on most uniform styles, particularly the newer and busier ones. But to my eyes the Swoosh is a desecration of the more classic, cleaner uniforms like the Yankees, Dodgers, and Tigers as shown above. Yeah, that’s some traditionalism on my part talking — OK, a LOT of traditionalism on my part talking — but it does, objectively, throw off the balance that some of the better uniform designs have long had.

I’m of course most partial to the Yankees, but I’d say the swoosh is even more objectionably prominent on the Dodger and Tiger jerseys, because they’re so utterly plain. The Yankee pinstripes disguise it to some degree.

On the good news front, the old-is-new uniforms for the Brewers and Padres are both excellent. The Brewers have too many alternates — the pinstriped home alternates feel off-brand, and the alternate cap is just dumb-looking — but both of these uniforms are spot-on for the teams, both of which had gone way off track in recent decades. Kudos to the Padres for sticking with just one cap.

Beijing Orders State Offices to Replace Foreign PCs and Software 

Yuan Yang and Nian Liu, reporting for The Financial Times from Beijing:

Beijing has ordered all government offices and public institutions to remove foreign computer equipment and software within three years, in a potential blow to the likes of HP, Dell and Microsoft.

The directive is the first publicly known instruction with specific targets given to Chinese buyers to switch to domestic technology vendors, and echoes efforts by the Trump administration to curb the use of Chinese technology in the US and its allies.

I can’t decide if this is part of the Trump-initiated US-China trade war, or if this is just China being China and part of an initiative that would’ve happened regardless of who the current U.S. president was.

Also, I doubt Chinese government offices buy many Macs, but what about iPhones? This could be a bit of a blow to Apple as well.

Mac Pro and Pro Display XDR Orders Start Tuesday 

No news on build-to-order pricing or when they’ll actually ship.

SignEasy 

My thanks to SignEasy for sponsoring this week at DF. With over 6 million downloads and users in 180 countries, SignEasy is the gold standard for signing and sending documents from your iPhone, iPad, or Mac. It is a simple and easy-to-use, yet powerful tool that will help you be more productive, save time and money, and run your business more efficiently.

The latest version of SignEasy was built specifically for iOS 13 and iPadOS, including many compatible features like Dark Mode, built-in document scanning, and multi-window support. SignEasy’s blend of simplicity and power caught the attention of Apple who recently named it one of its certified mobility partners.

Ultra Wideband Technology: Apple’s Explanation for Why Newer iPhones Appear to Collect Location Data, Even When Location Services Are Disabled 

Zack Whittaker, reporting for TechCrunch:

“Ultra wideband technology is an industry standard technology and is subject to international regulatory requirements that require it to be turned off in certain locations,” an Apple spokesperson told TechCrunch. “iOS uses Location Services to help determine if an iPhone is in these prohibited locations in order to disable ultra wideband and comply with regulations.”

“The management of ultra wideband compliance and its use of location data is done entirely on the device and Apple is not collecting user location data,” the spokesperson said.

That seems to back up what experts have discerned so far. Will Strafach, chief executive at Guardian Firewall and iOS security expert, said in a tweet that his analysis showed there was “no evidence” that any location data is sent to a remote server.

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

This makes complete sense to me and appears to be nothing more than a mistake in not providing a toggle specifically for UWB. It seems that a risk of marketing a company as uniquely privacy-friendly is that any slip-up is magnified a hundredfold and treated as evidence that every tech company is basically the same.

It is totally fair to hold Apple to a higher standard on privacy than other companies. But Heer is exactly right: when they do make a mistake, it’s going to be magnified. The mistake here wasn’t that location data was leaked — including to Apple’s own servers, apparently. The mistake was not making it clear in Settings that UWB requires location data for regulatory compliance. Most people don’t even know what UWB is at this point.

It reminds me of the controversy over battery throttling two years ago. iOS was trying to work in the user’s interest, to make a device with an older battery as useful as it could be. But it wasn’t explained or exposed as an option in Settings, and people jumped to the conclusion that it was a nefarious scheme to get people to buy new iPhones.

And let’s not forget that Settings is already a big app, even with Apple’s generally conservative approach to adding new preferences.

‘The Smartest Guys in the Clubhouse’ 

David Roth, writing at The New Republic:

It is not evidence of anything in particular, let alone anything sinister, that a World Series champion would hit better than a team that finished in third place. Players improve, and lineups change, and both of those things happened here. But it’s no more surprising to learn, given the dramatic shift in the numbers, that it later turned out that the Astros were cheating: videotaping the opposing catchers’ pitch signals and then using a trash can near the team dugout to pound out, semaphore-style, a message to the hitter about the pitch about to arrive. Given the combination of reverence and fear with which the rest of the sport regarded Luhnow and his McKinsey-fied team of weaponized quants — which was unforgivably dickish but undeniably ahead of the curve, already deftly working angles and analyzing data that other teams couldn’t even see yet — the overt oafishness of the Astros’ 2017 cheating scheme came as no small shock.

I haven’t written about the Astros’ cheating scheme — a story that was broken last month by Ken Rosenthal and Evan Drellich at The Athletic — but this piece by Roth is a good place to start. The striking thing is, as Roth so aptly phrases it, the “overt oafishness” of it. There’s a brazenness to it. You could hear their signals on the TV telecasts. We just don’t look for corruption right out in the open. We expect corruption and cheating to be concealed and hidden.

This Astros story is just sports. But it’s hard not to note the obvious parallels to the Trump administration’s corruption. The president literally asked Russia for help hacking his opponent’s email. Right on stage. We joke about having made Jimmy Carter sell his family peanut farm in Georgia but Trump owns a hotel right down the street from the White House.

‘A Letter From Larry and Sergey’ 

Larry Page and Sergey Brin:

With Alphabet now well-established, and Google and the Other Bets operating effectively as independent companies, it’s the natural time to simplify our management structure. We’ve never been ones to hold on to management roles when we think there’s a better way to run the company. And Alphabet and Google no longer need two CEOs and a President. Going forward, Sundar will be the CEO of both Google and Alphabet. He will be the executive responsible and accountable for leading Google, and managing Alphabet’s investment in our portfolio of Other Bets. We are deeply committed to Google and Alphabet for the long term, and will remain actively involved as Board members, shareholders and co-founders. In addition, we plan to continue talking with Sundar regularly, especially on topics we’re passionate about!

Nice friendly exclamation mark!

This whole “Alphabet” thing is a joke. I still don’t get what they’re even trying for with it. The company is Google and we all know it. The subsidiary owns the parent and everyone knows it. No one is fooled by this. Nothing has changed regarding the goofy super-class shares that Page and Brin hold that give them complete control of the company. Google is a privately-held company that trades as a publicly-held one.

Here’s the thing that’s always rubbed me the wrong way about Google. They’re insulting. Steve Jobs, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates — I completely believe they’re all geniuses. But they never seem(ed) condescending. Tim Cook and Satya Nadella aren’t founders but they’re both great examples of what a CEO should be: smart, honest, respectful.

Brin and Page are almost certainly smarter than you and me. But they’re not as much smarter as they think they are. Read this whole announcement through the filter of “they think we’re dumb” and it makes a lot more sense. And if they were as smart as they think they are, they’d therefore be smart enough to recognize how tone-deaf this plays.

‘Snowbrawl’ 

Kottke:

Snowbrawl is a fun short film of a children’s snowball fight shot as if it were a John Wick or Mission Impossible action sequence. David Leitch, the uncredited co-director of John Wick and director of Deadpool 2, shot the whole thing for Apple on an iPhone 11 Pro.

It’s worth taking a moment to appreciate just how amazing this is. Your cell phone camera can shoot video that meets the standards of an Apple commercial. It’s truly astonishing.

The New York City Subway Map as You’ve Never Seen It Before 

Good design is always about sweating the details. Loved this tidbit on the contribution of designer Nobuyuki Siraisi:

He rode the length of every train line with his eyes closed, feeling the curve of each track and then drawing the path he perceived in his drawings.

Basecamp, Before + After 

My thanks to Basecamp for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Interesting numbers from a survey of Basecamp customers, many of whom switched from platforms like Slack, Trello, Asana, and Jira:

9 out of 10 Basecamp customers report having a better handle on their business, 8 out of 10 say their teams are more self-sufficient, and 6 out of 10 have fewer weekly meetings. No more using multiple tools just to run one project. Less stress, fewer meetings, getting more done.

I’ve been a fan and paying customer of Basecamp for 15 years. Here’s a piece I wrote back in 2009 that remains just as apt today:

They didn’t start with what customers wanted, or with what existing project management software looked like, or by trying to guess what some group of faceless others would want. They designed and built what they themselves wanted, under the assumption that there were some number of other people who would want the same thing.

What drives some people nuts about [Basecamp] is that their products are not for everyone. But they’ll be the first ones to agree with that. Rather than trying to build things that work OK for everyone, they’re building things that work really well for some people. And how often does building something “for everyone” actually work out, anyway?

Check out Basecamp today and see what working better looks like.

Intel Says It Sold Its Modem Business to Apple at a ‘Multi-Billion Dollar Loss’ Because Qualcomm ‘Strangled Competition’ 

Stephen Nellis, reporting for Reuters:

Intel made the claims in a brief filed with the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, where Qualcomm is seeking to overturn a sweeping antitrust decision against it after losing a lawsuit by the U.S. Federal Trade Commission. Intel, whose executives testified at the trial, argued on Friday that the ruling should stand. Appeal proceedings are expected to begin in January.

One reason Apple might have been able to buy Intel’s cellular modem team at a discount: who else was even bidding?

The final paragraph of this report is a bit odd, though:

Qualcomm has denied the FTC’s accusations, and other parts of the U.S. government urged the appeals court to pause enforcement of the FTC ruling against it. In July, the Pentagon and the Department of Energy said Qualcomm was a “trusted” supplier of 5G technology and would be “impossible to replace” in the short term if put out of business.

The ludicrous implication here is that the Pentagon and DOE think if Koh’s ruling stands, Qualcomm will be forced out of the 5G business. That seems utterly nuts.