Linked List: October 2019

iOS 13.2 Is Overzealously Killing Apps in the Background 

Marco Arment, on Twitter:

Major new bugs introduced in iOS 13.2:

  • background downloads often hang forever and never run

  • apps get killed in the background so aggressively that iOS effectively doesn’t offer multitasking anymore

… continuing the iOS 13 pattern of breaking long-held basic functionality. I’m sure Apple has good excuses about why their software quality is so shitty again. I hear the same thing over and over from people inside: they aren’t given enough time to fix bugs.

Your software quality is broken, Apple. Deeply, systemically broken. Get your shit together.

This bug where apps are getting killed soon after they’re backgrounded is driving me nuts. Start a YouTube video in Safari, switch to another app, go back to Safari — and the video loads from scratch and starts from the beginning.

If I could downgrade to 13.1.3 I probably would, even though it’d mean losing AirPods Pro support until 13.2.1 comes out — which perhaps erroneously presumes that this overzealous process reaping is a bug and not a “feature”.

Twitter to Stop Accepting Political Ads Globally 

Jack Dorsey, in a tweet thread:

For instance, it‘s not credible for us to say: “We’re working hard to stop people from gaming our systems to spread misleading info, buuut if someone pays us to target and force people to see their political ad… well… they can say whatever they want!” […]

This isn’t about free expression. This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle. It’s worth stepping back in order to address.

Political advertising is a drop in the bucket of Twitter’s overall revenue, but that’s true of Facebook too. “The money matters to us” would be a terrible justification for Facebook’s policy of allowing political ads to spread falsehoods, but the money doesn’t even matter to them. Facebook is allowing political ads to spread falsehoods because Facebook wants political ads to spread falsehoods. There’s no other explanation.

Transparency Is Audio AR 

Ryan Jones, on Twitter:

You can FEEL the pressure equalize when you put in AirPods Pro, wow.

You can really feel the difference between AirPods Pro and other ear-canal-sealing earbuds when you chew something with them on. Totally different experience.

But my favorite is Transparency Mode. It’s like a personal soundtrack to the world. Nothing changes, just an extra audio layered added. Holy hell.

This comment crystallized a thought that I couldn’t quite put my finger on while trying to describe transparency mode: it is audio AR. That’s it.

Ryan Block on AirPods Pro vs. Bose QuietComfort 35 Headphones 

Ryan Block, on Twitter:

AirPods Pro update: brought them to a relatively (but not ridiculously) noisy cafe, and compared them with my daily driver Bose QC 35 II (v4.5.2).

Thus far, the AirPods Pro are, for me, noticeably better at both noise cancelation and sound isolation. I’m pretty surprised!

I’ve swapped back to the Boses a few times over the last hour. Each time the cafe music and noise has been significantly worse with the Boses over the AirPods, and I’ve had to listen to music at much higher volumes to drown it out. I was not at all expecting this outcome, tbqh.

I have the same Bose headphones, and I agree. AirPods Pro noise cancellation isn’t just good for earbud-style headphones — it’s very good noise cancellation period.

Anyone want to buy my Bose headphones? They’ve got a nice case.

The Talk Show: ‘Just the Tips’ 

Special guest John Moltz returns to the show. Topics include the just-released AirPods Pro (and the pluralization thereof), the history of remote controls, the impending launch of Apple TV+, and the undisputed highlight of the 2019 World Series.

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The Answer: Like if an Apple Watch and an iPad Pro Had a Very Ugly Baby 

The question: What does Xiaomi’s first smartwatch look like?

Dieter Bohn’s Pixel 4 Review 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

The Pixel 4 and Pixel 4 XL are the best argument that specs don’t tell you everything you need to know about a phone — because the experience of using a Pixel 4 is better than any other Android phone.

There is a nuanced difference between saying “specs don’t tell you the whole story” and “specs don’t matter,” because they absolutely do — if only because the wrong ones can ruin the whole thing. There are a few places where Google could have done better, especially with battery life. But overall the Pixel 4 hits enough of the marks to pass, and it’s a few new features from Google that push the experience ahead of the pack.

I’ve always thought, and still think now, that the best description of the Pixel phones is that they’re for people who want to use a Google-centric version of Android on iPhone-like hardware. Even the argument that “specs don’t tell you the whole story” sounds like the lede of an Apple product review.

Joanna Stern’s Pixel 4 Review: ‘The Smartest Smartphone You Probably Won’t Buy’ 

The good:

Voice. Ah, my true love: the Recorder app. Hit record, and in real-time it instantly transcribes what’s being said. Unlike with many competing dictation apps that require connection to the cloud, this process happens entirely on the Pixel device. Even when you cut the Wi-Fi and cellular connections, it works — and works super well, as you can see in the video.

I recruited people with different voices, including one of the world’s fastest talkers. It struggled when transcribing Shakespeare, and stumbled on an Irish accent, but it held its own, especially on speed, against a court stenographer. None of the recordings or transcripts are shared with Google; no other apps have access to the recordings, unless you explicitly choose to share them.

Truly seems like an amazing feature — especially so that it’s entirely on-device. This puts iOS’s transcription to shame.

The bad:

The battery life is unforgivingly so-so. In my testing of the Pixel 4 XL, I was often in the red by 9 p.m. — substantially earlier than with the new iPhones. On the days I tested the Recorder app, I had to charge around 5 p.m. (Google warns that transcription and captioning can tax the battery.) The regular-size Pixel 4 has an even smaller battery, rated for even shorter battery life.

iOS 13.2 Emoji Changelog 

Keith Broni, writing for Emojipedia:

Today Apple has released iOS 13.2, introducing the likes of a white heart, yawning face and flamingo to the emoji keyboard. A more diverse keyboard adds options such as people holding hands with a mix of skin tones, people in wheelchairs, with a hearing aid or cane.

A lot of changes — including a bunch with gender-neutral defaults. I like the UI for choosing skin colors for both sides of the people-holding-hands emoji.

Software ETAs 

Brent Simmons:

The only reason anything ever ships is because people just keep working until it’s ready.

Read the Letter Facebook Employees Sent to Mark Zuckerberg About Political Ads 

From a letter signed by 250 employees, obtained by The New York Times:

We’re reaching out to you, the leaders of this company, because we’re worried we’re on track to undo the great strides our product teams have made in integrity over the last two years. We work here because we care, because we know that even our smallest choices impact communities at an astounding scale. We want to raise our concerns before it’s too late.

Free speech and paid speech are not the same thing.

Many are noting, correctly, that Facebook has 35,000 employees (which sounds like too many to me), so 250 signatures is a small percentage. But if this accurately reflects a large number of employees’ thoughts, it could be trouble for Facebook.

See also: Mike Isaac’s report for the NYT on the letter.

Facebook Allows Prominent Right-Wing Website to Break the Rules 

Judd Legum, writing for Popular Info:

The Daily Wire, the right-wing website founded by pundit Ben Shapiro, is a cesspool of misogyny, bigotry, and misinformation. Its toxic content is also fantastically successful on Facebook, with each story reaching more people than any other major media outlet. A Popular Information investigation reveals some of this success is attributable to a clandestine network of 14 large Facebook pages that purport to be independent but exclusively promote content from The Daily Wire in a coordinated fashion.

This kind of “inauthentic coordinated behavior” violates Facebook’s rules. Facebook has taken down smaller and less coordinated networks that promoted liberal content. But Facebook told Popular Information that it will continue to allow this network to operate and amplify The Daily Wire’s content.

As a complete sidenote to the main point of this — that Facebook is a right-wing company — notice how nice and clean and fast the Popular Info website is. The best websites these days aren’t from web publishers — they’re from mailing list publishers with websites.

This Rumor Didn’t Last Long 

MacRumors, two days ago:

“AirPods Pro” will come in as many as eight colors, including White, Black, and a new Midnight Green finish to match iPhone 11 Pro models, according to a Chinese-language report from the Economic Daily News.

Turns out you can get AirPods Pro in any color you want, so long as it’s white.

I’m genuinely curious why Apple doesn’t offer AirPods in more colors. Seems like something people would enjoy, especially black. My best guess is that Apple considers white earbuds to be iconic and part of the Apple brand.

AirPods Pro Feature ‘Ear Tip Fit Test’ 

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

As someone who hasn’t invested into AirPods because of concerns about fit, I’m most interested in the “Ear Tip Fit Test” that Apple says uses an algorithm to figure out whether the ear tip you’re using is the right fit for your ear, based on the sound level in your ear versus what the drivers are actually outputting.

I’ve had a few earbuds before that came with multiple tips, and I’ve never felt certain whether I chose the best ones for me. Some people might prefer a different size than the one recommended by this algorithm, but it’s a welcome feature for someone like me, who’s often paralyzed by a choice like this.

Apple’s AirPods Pro Web Page: Scrolljacking Hell 

The AirPods Pro “overview” web page is a strange beast. It pegs my 2015 MacBook Pro’s CPU — even when I’m not scrolling. I closed the tab a few minutes ago and my fan is still running. The animation is very jerky and scrolling feels so slow. There’s so much scrolljacking that you have to scroll or page down several times just to go to the next section of the page. The animation is at least smooth on my iPad and iPhone, but even there, it feels like a thousand swipes to get to the bottom of the page. It’s a design that makes it feel like they don’t want you to keep reading.

Disable JavaScript (easily toggled if you enable Safari’s Develop menu) and the page is easy to read and looks great. I can’t recall an example where scrolljacking makes a website so much worse.

Update: Nick Heer (of Pixel Envy fame) messaged me to point out that the iPad Pro product page gives the AirPods Pro page a run for its money for top spot in the Scrolljacking Hall of Shame. The iPad Pro page doesn’t peg my MacBook Pro’s CPU, but it scrolls the view horizontally while you scroll vertically.

Apple Reveals AirPods Pro, Available Wednesday for $250 

Apple Newsroom:

Transparency mode provides users with the option to simultaneously listen to music while still hearing the environment around them, whether that’s to hear traffic while out for a run or an important train announcement during the morning commute. Using the pressure-equalizing vent system and advanced software that leaves just the right amount of noise cancellation active, Transparency mode ensures that a user’s own voice sounds natural while audio continues to play perfectly.

Switching between Active Noise Cancellation and Transparency modes is simple and can be done directly on AirPods Pro using a new, innovative force sensor on the stem. The force sensor also makes it easy to play, pause or skip tracks, and answer or hang up phone calls. Users can also press on the volume slider in Control Center on iPhone and iPad to control settings, or on Apple Watch by tapping on the AirPlay icon while music is playing.

  • Transparency mode seems like a very cool feature.
  • The “force sensor” seems like a cool feature too. Not sure how many times Apple has to learn this, but one button is better than zero buttons.
  • The Pro earbuds have stems that are quite a bit smaller than regular AirPods, but the Pro case is about 15 percent larger by volume.
  • I wonder why Apple didn’t announce these last month at the iPhone event? I suppose the AirPower debacle has made them gun-shy about pre-announcing anything that isn’t ready to ship, but these were clearly very close to ready a month ago.

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The RCS Messaging Thing Is Working Out as Well as I Expected, Which Is to Say Terribly 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

All four major US carriers — AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint — have each issued the same joint press release announcing the formation of “a joint venture” called the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative” (CCMI). It’s designed to ensure that the carriers move forward together to replace SMS with a next-generation messaging standard — including a promise to launch a new texting app for Android phones that supports the standard by next year.

Yes, an Android-only app created by a consortium of the four U.S. carriers will surely be a good app, and will surely succeed worldwide.

Google was unable to immediately provide comment on the CCMI. That in and of itself is telling — as is the fact that the word “Google” appears precisely zero times in the carriers’ press release.

Bodes really well for the quality of that Android app.

If you’re not familiar with all the ins and outs of RCS, let’s quickly catch up. There are four critical problems with RCS:

  1. Not enough carriers have adopted it.
  2. Those that have adopted it sometimes did so without adhering to the international standard for interoperability called the “Universal Profile”.
  3. It is not end-to-end encrypted, so it’s easy for governments to demand the contents of text messages sent using it.
  4. Apple has had precisely zero to say about it, which everybody has interpreted as code for “lol we have iMessage good luck with that RCS thing bye!”

1 and 2 can be fixed by time and effort. 3 sucks but SMS isn’t encrypted either. Ideally an SMS successor would be E2E, but I don’t think it’s a deal-breaker that it isn’t. 4, though, is a deal-breaker. The role of SMS as the standard platform/carrier-independent mobile messaging system isn’t going to change if Apple doesn’t support RCS.

Congress Looking Into Anticompetitive Behavior in the Digital Library Market 

Something’s clearly wrong here: “Amazon” is mentioned 11 times and “Apple” not even once.

WeWork’s Adam Neumann Is the Most Talented Grifter of Our Time 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

By 2016, Neumann was telling friends that he was intent on becoming the first trillionaire. Perhaps, he said, somewhere along the way to eternity, he might become the “president of the world.”

With his ignominious departure from WeWork this week, Neumann’s Earth-emperor ambitions may have taken a blow. But he can find solace in suddenly becoming one of the richest people on the planet. On Tuesday, Softbank offered to pay him a king-size ransom in exchange for wresting control of the company. The Japanese conglomerate offered to buy up to $1 billion worth of Neumann’s WeWork shares in addition to giving him a short-term loan of $500 million to pay off a credit line from several banks. Finally, Neumann will receive $185 million over the next four years in exchange for his advice.

At $46 million a year, Neumann’s annual “consulting” fee alone is higher than the total compensation of all but nine public CEOs in the United States.

Like a legalized ponzi scheme. Meanwhile, the company is so cash-strapped that it delayed laying off thousands of employees because it doesn’t have the money to pay them severance.

United Airlines Suggests That Apple Is Helping Design Terminal Upgrades at SFO 

Juli Clover, writing for MacRumors:

The plan is for Apple to help United reconfigure areas in the airport, though what that specifically means is unclear. Linda Jojo, executive vice president of United Airlines Holdings, mentioned spots Apple employees specifically visited as a hint to what might see a redesign.

“The Apple team in San Francisco has been in our baggage hold areas, customer service and the lobbies,” she said. “I’m being deliberately vague,” she added.

Earlier this year, United Airlines accidentally revealed that Apple is its biggest customer in San Francisco, spending $150 million on airline tickets each year and purchasing an average of 50 business class seats on flights to Shanghai on a daily basis.

Reading between the lines, my guess is that Apple wants to redesign every bit of the experience from curbside to boarding for United passengers out of SFO. They might even be able to improve the security line — SFO uses a private security contractor, not TSA. Should be nice.

Tim Cook on the Five-Year Anniversary of His Coming Out as Gay 

From an interview with Armando Correa for People en Espanol:

Correa: I remember when I read your column, one of the sentences that most surprised me was: “I’m proud to be gay, and I consider being gay among the greatest gifts God has given me.”

Cook: Yes, I strongly believe that. I think there’s many meanings behind this. One is, it was his decision, not mine. Two, at least for me, I can only speak for myself, it gives me a level of empathy that I think is probably much higher than average because being gay or trans, you’re a minority. And I think when you’re a majority, even though intellectually you can understand what it means to be in a minority, it’s an intellectual thing. It’s not intellectual for me to be in a minority. I’m not saying that I understand the trials and tribulations of every minority group, because I don’t. But I do understand for one of the groups. And to the degree that it helps give you a lens on how other people may feel, I think that’s a gift in and of itself.

Christopher McQuarrie: ‘Focus Entirely on Execution and Not on Result’ 

Christopher McQuarrie:

After twenty five years in the craft, I’ve learned the secret to making movies is making movies — starting with little movies no one will ever see.

The secret to knowledge is doing and failing — often and painfully — and letting everyone see.

The secret to success is doing what you love, whether or not you’re being paid. The secret to a rewarding career in film (and many other fields) is focusing entirely on execution and not on result.

McQuarrie is writing from the field he knows best — movies — but I really do believe this advice is universal. You want to be a writer? Write. You want to make apps? Create apps.

There’s not much similar between football and filmmaking, but I recently heard Alabama head coach Nick Saban give the same advice to a younger coach: focus on execution, not results. The results you deserve will follow from the quality of your execution.

The Talk Show: ‘iPhone-Colored Glasses’ 

Special guest Rene Ritchie returns to the show. Topics include Google’s new Pixel 4 phones, Apple’s travails in Hong Kong and China, whether there will be another Apple event this year, and MacOS 10.15 Catalina.

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Zuckerberg Testified Before the House Financial Services Committee and It Did Not Go Well for Him 

Nice roundup of Zuckerberg’s testimony from Nick Heer at Pixel Envy.

‘Perfectly Cropped’ 

Tyler Hall, on his wife’s inability to save an image from Messages after upgrading to iOS 13:

At this point there were a few seconds of silence before she yells “Oh my god! This is just like the dumb new Music app. I didn’t even know I could scroll down!”

Why didn’t she know there were options further down the share sheet? Because she’s using an iPhone 8, which happens to be just the right height to perfectly crop the share sheet. Take a look again at the first screenshot she sent me.

The “Copy” action is perfectly spaced from the bottom of the screen to appear like it’s the only option. And since iOS (and in some places now macOS, too) doesn’t offer visual affordances like scroll indicators, she had no idea there was any content further below.

In the early era of GUI design, we celebrated affordances. Any view that was scrollable was very clearly scrollable. We, as an industry, got away from that as the basic concepts of using a GUI became part of daily life for everyone. In the post-iOS 7 era, though, Apple seems outright opposed to affordances. Hall’s wife’s assumption that she was looking at the entire share sheet — that it ended with the “Copy” button at the bottom, was perfectly reasonable. Just by looking at it, there’s no reason to think there’s more. But “just by looking at it” is the way user interfaces should be designed.

David Shayer on the Spotty Quality of iOS 13 and MacOS 10.15 

Terrific piece for TidBITS from David Shayer, who worked as a software engineer at Apple for 18 years:

Remember what I said about changes causing new bugs? If an engineer accidentally breaks a working feature, that’s called a regression. They’re expected to fix it.

But if you file a bug report, and the QA engineer determines that bug also exists in previous releases of the software, it’s marked “not a regression.” By definition, it’s not a new bug, it’s an old bug. Chances are, no one will ever be assigned to fix it.

Not all groups at Apple work this way, but many do. It drove me crazy. One group I knew at Apple even made “Not a Regression” T-shirts. If a bug isn’t a regression, they don’t have to fix it. That’s why the iCloud photo upload bug and the contact syncing bug I mentioned above may never be fixed.

Tim Cook Named Board Chairman of Tsinghua University’s School of Economics and Management 

Not the best timing for this, I think we can all agree.

Bipartisan Letter From Congress to Tim Cook on Hong Kong and China (PDF) 

Bipartisan letter from the U.S. Congress to Tim Cook:

In promoting values, as in most things, actions matter far more than words. Apple’s decisions last week to accommodate the Chinese government by taking down HKMaps is deeply concerning. We urge you in the strongest terms to reverse course, to demonstrate that Apple puts values above market access, and to stand with the brave men and women fighting for basic rights and dignity in Hong Kong.

It’s a strong letter, but unfortunately it conflates apps censored in mainland China with apps censored in Hong Kong — these are very different things. When China declares an app illegal in mainland China, Apple has no choice but to comply. The HKMaps decision was different — it was a political decision, not a legal one — and that difference is worth emphasizing. Apple could have chosen to fight for the HKMaps app.

Bloomberg on the Bidding for ‘South Park’ Streaming Rights 

Lucas Shaw, reporting for Bloomberg:*

One company that probably won’t be bidding is Apple Inc., the people said. The tech giant has eschewed controversial programming that could damage its brand, and it’s wary of offending China, where it sells a lot of iPhones. “South Park” was just banned in China after an episode mocked the country’s censorship of Western movies and TV.

It makes no sense to inject Apple into this story. Shaw is trying to paint Apple’s abstention from bidding for “South Park” as a combination of the company’s prudishness regarding adult content and obsequiousness toward China. He’s probably right about the branding implications of “South Park” — Apple wouldn’t get near “South Park” as an Apple-owned brand. But the China angle is a potshot. “South Park” could be Xi Jinping’s very favorite show in the world and Apple would not be bidding for the streaming rights to its back catalog, for the very obvious reason that Apple doesn’t offer a streaming service that includes the back catalogs of old shows. Apple isn’t bidding on shows like “Friends” or “Seinfeld” either. This has nothing to do with China. It’s simply the nature of Apple TV+ — it’s all original content.

And, Apple does offer “South Park” in the iTunes Store. If you want to buy episodes or entire seasons, it’s right there. And if you search for “South Park” in the TV app, it’ll helpfully point you to Hulu, which currently holds the streaming rights.

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.


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Screen Time on MacOS 10.15 Catalina Seems Useless 

Kirk McElhearn:

Screen Time was also added to macOS Catalina, with the same features. However, it doesn’t seem to work correctly. Rather than showing which apps are frontmost when you work, it shows how long apps are open. […]

I keep a number of apps open all the time: Mail, Messages, Fantastical, OmniFocus, Music, and a few others. So counting them as actual “screen time” makes no sense.

In the above example, all these apps were open all day — obviously, the Finder is always “open” — so the data is essentially useless. Is this a bug or a feature? I would think that Screen Time should only record that time when apps are frontmost.

I can’t see the point of this feature on the Mac other than as a parental control. It seems like Apple just copied the design of iOS’s Screen Time without considering any of the many ways that the Mac is different from iOS.

The good news: if you really want to measure how much time you’re spending using specific apps, there are excellent third-party utilities, like Timing and Time Sink.

Joe Girardi to CC Sabathia: ‘I Love You, Man’ 

Hard not to choke up watching Girardi talk about Sabathia.

Facebook’s Origin, Then and Now 

Sarah Frier:

Behold Mark Zuckerberg’s revised origin story for Facebook, as a way to give people voice during the Iraq war.

(And compare to the Harvard Crimson on Zuckerberg’s hot-or-not tool in 2003.)

“I understood that some parts were still a little sketchy” holds up as a description of Facebook, 16 years later.

16-Inch MacBook Pro Seemingly Pictured in MacOS 10.15.1 Beta 

Nice find by French site MacGeneration. Looks very similar to the current 15-inch MacBook Pro, but with smaller bezels around the display. As rumors have suggested, it even looks like it has a nice big physical Esc key.

(Via MacRumors.)

Oregon Judge Ordered Woman to Type in Her iPhone Passcode So Police Could Search It for Evidence Against Her 

Aimee Green, reporting for The Oregonian (via Dave Mark at The Loop):

Police wanted to search the contents of an iPhone they found in Catrice Pittman’s purse, but she never confirmed whether it was hers and wasn’t offering up a passcode. Her defense attorney argued forcing her to do so would violate her rights against self-incrimination under the Fifth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution and Article 1 Section 12 of the Oregon Constitution.

But a Marion County judge sided with police and prosecutors by ordering Pittman to enter her passcode. On Wednesday, the Oregon Court of Appeals agreed with that ruling — in a first-of-its-kind opinion for an appeals court in this state.

This is bullshit — being forced to produce a password is clearly a violation of the Fifth Amendment. If you’ve got the password written down on a sticky note and the police get a warrant to search your home and find it, that’s evidence. But being compelled to produce something in your mind is the definition of self-incrimination.

A password is different than biometric authentication. There are debates on whether law enforcement should be able to compel someone to provide their fingerprint or look at a facial recognition scanner to unlock a device. Are they allowed to just wave your phone in front of your face? (With a Pixel 4, closing your eyes won’t protect you.)

As a reminder, you can temporarily disable Touch ID and Face ID just by going to the power-down screen. On a X-class iPhone, that means pressing and hold the power button and either volume button for a second or two. Once your phone is at this screen, even if you tap “Cancel”, you must enter your passcode to unlock the phone. If you’re ever worried about anyone — law enforcement or otherwise — taking your phone from you and unlocking it with your face, just squeeze those two buttons. You don’t even need to take it out of your pocket or purse — you’ll feel haptic feedback once you’ve held the buttons long enough. And, if you keep holding the two buttons down for five seconds, your iPhone will call emergency services and contact your emergency contacts.

Quick Video Always Records With a 4:3 Aspect Ratio 

Joseph Keller, writing at iMore:

Something to keep in mind about quick video: it doesn’t record in 4K. No matter what resolution you’ve set for taking video on your iPhone, whether above or below 4K, quick videos on the iPhone 11 series of phones will always record at a resolution of 1920x1440.

“HD” video is usually 1920x1080, but Quick Video shoots 1920x1440 because it always records with a 4:3 aspect ratio. That’s not what I expected, but you don’t lose anything — the 1920x1080 image recorded by default in the “Video” mode is a 16:9 center crop of the 4:3 sensor. If you want a 16:9 aspect ratio from a clip shot using Quick Video, you can just crop it in post, right in the Camera or Photos app using the new video editing tools in iOS 13. (And not only can you crop to 16:9 in post, you can decide to raise or lower the centerline on the video when you do so.)

Jason Snell on Baseball Telecast Graphics 

Jason Snell, in a lovely piece at Six Colors that feels like it was written just for me:

And then there are the out dots.

This is one of the delightfully stupid controversies that comes up when you write about baseball graphics. In a nod to skeuomorphism and old ballpark scoreboards, many networks display the number of outs in an inning not as a numeral, but as dots. These dots generally appear as gray circles that are filled in with a bright color as the inning progresses.

The controversy is this: How many dots should there be? There are three outs in an inning, so you’d think the answer would be three. But some folks will point out that since getting the third out ends the inning, having a third dot would be superfluous. Once the third out is made, the inning is over and there are no outs at all.

I get the argument, but I firmly reject it. Outs come in threes, not twos. If you must represent it by a series of faux light bulbs, you should have three bulbs. Better, I think, to light up that third bulb momentarily, then turn it off and indicate the end of the inning. It improves the clarity of the graphic at the expense of a few pixels — and gives you the opportunity to make a fun animation at the end of the inning.

I strongly agree with Snell on this: if you’re going to use dots to represent outs, there should be three. When there are two outs, the batting team still has an out to give — the empty third dot represents that out. And when the third out is made, fill it in for the few seconds before the telecast cuts to the commercial break.

Another note: nearly all modern baseball telecasts show the strike zone live. This box, though, should be subtle. When you look at Snell’s screenshots, compare ESPN’s live strike zone (far too prominent) with Fox’s (perfectly subtle).

Here’s an example of the in-game graphics from YES, the Yankees’ regular season broadcaster. Good strike zone indicator (including the speed at the pitch location), good legibility, but boo hiss for the two-dot out display.

Jonathan Morrison Shot His Pixel 4 First Thoughts Video With Front-Facing iPhone 11 Camera 

Interesting take on the Pixel 4, but what really grabbed my attention was Rene Ritchie pointing out that Morrison shot this video using the front-facing iPhone 11 camera. It’s 4K 60 FPS and, like everything Morrison shoots, looks fantastic. Most high-end Android phones — including the Pixel 4 — can’t shoot 4K/60 with the rear camera.

There are nuanced arguments to be had regarding the competitive landscape in high-end phone camera still photography, but video is another area where Apple is indisputably years ahead of all competition.

Luna Display Introduces Mac-to-Mac Mode 

Luna Display:

We’re always looking for ways to give our users the freedom and flexibility that their workflow deserves. Luna Display’s launch in the fall of 2018 blasted us off into an arena that no company had successfully played in before — we’d created a device that could turn your iPad into a second display for Mac.

Since then, we’ve continued to ask ourselves, “Is there more that we could be doing with Luna Display?” The answer was sitting right under our noses in the form of all the idle Macs we had laying around our development space. What if we could turn people’s e-waste into extra screen space!

What a great idea — a fantastic use case for older 5K iMacs that would otherwise be put out to pasture. Here’s how Luna Display co-founder and CEO Matt Ronge introduced it on Twitter:

After Apple “sherlocked” @LunaDisplayHQ, we put our heads together on how we could make Luna even better

So I’m excited to announce today… Mac-to-Mac Mode for Luna Display! Turn any extra Mac into a second display. Apple zigs, we zag.

The “sherlocking”, of course, is the new Sidecar feature in iPadOS 13 and MacOS 10.15 Catalina that allows recent Macs to use iPads as external displays. Zigging when Apple zags is exactly the right attitude for third-party developers.

Trump Has Awarded Next Year’s G-7 Summit to His Doral Resort 

Toluse Olorunnipa, David A. Fahrenthold, and Jonathan O’Connell, reporting for The Washington Post:

President Trump has awarded the 2020 Group of Seven summit of world leaders to his private company, scheduling the summit for June at his Trump Doral golf resort in Miami, the White House announced Thursday.

That decision is without precedent in modern American history: The president used his public office to direct a massive contract to himself.

Trump’s Doral resort — set among office parks near the Miami airport — has been in sharp decline in recent years, according to the Trump Organization’s own records. Its net operating income fell 69 percent from 2015 to 2017; a Trump Organization representative testified last year that the reason was Trump’s damaged brand.

Now, the G-7 summit will draw hundreds of diplomats, journalists and security personnel to the resort during one of its slowest months of the year, when Miami is hot and the hotel is often less than 40 percent full. It will also provide a worldwide spotlight for the club.

We’ve now reached the point where Trump’s kleptocracy is just out in the open. Any true believer in democratic norms would agree that the same ethical standards — not to mention laws — apply equally to everyone, regardless of their party. Democrats still believe this; there’s no way Democrats would stand for a president from their own party who used the office to line their own pockets. Nor would they stand for a president who used foreign policy as a cudgel to persuade other countries to open investigations into the president’s political rivals here in the U.S. Republicans’ continuing support for Trump is a rejection of democracy and the rule of law. It really is that simple.

Serious question: Shouldn’t the other G-7 nations refuse to attend? Attending — and spending their nation’s money at a Trump resort — will make them complicit in Trump’s kleptocracy. This is as much a violation of ethical norms — and the Constitution’s emoluments clause — as it would be if the summit were held at a neutral location but the other world leaders were expected to hand Trump envelopes stuffed with cash. Even if Trump were willing to foot the bill for the entire summit out of his own pocket — which, let’s face it, is not his style — it would still be grossly inappropriate and illegal on the grounds of the event’s significant promotional value alone.

Not quite as serious question: What happens if Trump is impeached (which is very likely) and removed from office before June? Do they still hold the summit at Doral? What a delightful problem that would be to have.

Google Pixel 4 Face Unlock Works Even if Your Eyes Are Shut 

Chris Fox, writing for BBC News:

On Tuesday, BBC News tested the Face Unlock feature on the new Pixel 4. Using the default settings, the phone still unlocked if the user pretended to be asleep. The test was repeated on several people, with the same result.

It’s right there in Google’s own support document for the Pixel 4: “Your phone can also be unlocked by someone else if it’s held up to your face, even if your eyes are closed.”

Speaking before the launch, Pixel product manager Sherry Lin said: “They are actually only two face [authorisation] solutions that meet the bar for being super-secure. So, you know, for payments, that level — it’s ours and Apple’s.”

Sounds like it’s still only Apple’s, which is now in its third-generation of devices. Biometric authentication is an area where Apple has been, and remains, several years ahead of all its competitors.

Samsung Galaxy S10 Fingerprint Sensor Can Be Circumvented With $3 Screen Protector 

BBC News:

After buying a £2.70 gel screen protector on eBay, Lisa Neilson registered her right thumbprint and then found her left thumbprint, which was not registered, could also unlock the phone.

She then asked her husband to try and both his thumbs also unlocked it. And when the screen protector was added to another relative’s phone, the same thing happened. […]

Samsung said it was “aware of the case of S10’s malfunctioning fingerprint recognition and will soon issue a software patch”.

When the iPhone 5S debuted with Touch ID, we were inundated with news stories about “easy” ways to spoof it that were, in fact, not easy at all.

Now we learn that Samsung’s flagship phone’s fingerprint sensor can in fact be spoofed trivially — and… crickets.

What’s the Deal With Instagram and iPad? 

Joanna Stern, in her review of the Samsung Galaxy Fold:

The Fold’s hardware gets lots of attention, but its Android software tricks deserve some, too. Open an app on the small screen, unfold the phone, and the app automatically supersizes. (In some cases, I got a pop-up that the app needed to restart.) Samsung has also worked directly with Android app makers, including Instagram and Spotify, to refine the apps for the squarish tablet.

The sized-right-for-the-display version of Instagram caught my eye after watching Stern’s (outstanding) video review of the Fold. So Instagram is willing to update their Android app to adjust to the extraordinarily niche Galaxy Fold, but still hasn’t updated their iOS app to adjust to the extraordinarily popular and much-used iPad?

It makes no sense to me why Instagram doesn’t support the iPad natively. As far back as 2014 it seemed hard to believe that the best way to use Instagram on an iPad — an ideal device for scrolling through photos — was “still” the iPhone app in 2× mode. And yet here we are in 2019, with Instagram already supporting dark mode (nicely, too) but still without proper iPad support. At this point Instagram feels like the only reason iPadOS still lets you run iPhone-only apps. It boggles the mind.

What the hell is the deal with this?

My only plausible theories are (a) simple spite on Facebook’s part, a byproduct of their cold war with Apple; and/or (b) a belief that ads perform better on iPhone, where they can nearly fill the screen, and so withholding a proper iPad app is Facebook’s way of discouraging using Instagram anywhere but on your phone.

The Time Signature of ‘The Terminator’ Score 

Seth Stevenson, writing for Slate:

Fiedel was at heart an improviser. To create the Terminator theme, he first set up a rhythm loop on one of the primitive, early-’80s devices he was using. (In those days, Fiedel was firing up a Prophet-10 and an Oberheim.) He recorded samples of himself whacking a frying pan to create the clanking sounds. Then he played melodic riffs on a synthesizer over the looped beat. Amid the throes of creation, what he hadn’t quite noticed—or hadn’t bothered to notice—was that his finger had been a split-second off when it pressed the button to establish that rhythm loop. Being an old machine, there was no autocorrection. Which meant the loop was in a profoundly herky-jerky time signature. Fiedel just went with it. The beat seemed to be falling forward, and he liked its propulsiveness. He recorded the score that way and (not being classically trained) never wrote down any notation. The music he’d improvised went straight into the film. With its collaboration between fallible humanity and rigid machinedom, the score was especially well-suited to the material at hand.

A great little story about a great and memorable score.

Google’s Auto-Delete Data Tools Are Effectively Worthless 

Jared Newman, writing for Fast Company:

In reality, these auto-delete tools accomplish little for users, even as they generate positive PR for Google. Experts say that by the time three months rolls around, Google has already extracted nearly all the potential value from users’ data, and from an advertising standpoint, data becomes practically worthless when it’s more than a few months old.

“Anything up to one month is extremely valuable,” says David Dweck, the head of paid search at digital ad firm WPromote. “Anything beyond one month, we probably weren’t going to target you anyway.” […]

“I feel like them auto-scrubbing data every three months is really lip service,” Dweck says. “It’s not some massive change, because the reality is that no one was really buying that data.”

That was my take exactly. Wake me up when they offer options to delete your history every 12, 24, or 72 hours.

Bloomberg: ‘Apple’s 5G IPhone Delay Stings as Next-Gen Devices Hit Shelves’ 

What a facile, bullshit article from Bloomberg. Where is the proof that the lack of 5G is “stinging” Apple in any way? By all reports, iPhone 11 sales are up over last year, not down. 5G is a niche technology this year, and the only phones that support it are niche phones. What Bloomberg doesn’t even mention is that Apple does not make niche phones. If they went the Samsung route they’d sell an “iPhone 11 Pro 5G” for $1,600 in addition to all the existing iPhone 11 models, just to check the “We sell a 5G phone” box.

Apple doesn’t do that.

And even if Apple could have made all 2019 iPhone 11 models 5G, there’s no way carriers would have let them, because there’s no way nascent 5G networks are ready for that many phones. Consumer-wise, I don’t know anyone who thinks “LTE isn’t fast enough for me” is a top 10 problem to solve for any phone. 5G hype is from the carriers (looking to charge more), for the carriers. Yes, we’ll all be on 5G networks within a few years, but anyone who argues that Apple has a 5G problem today, with its current iPhone lineup, is either full of shit or doesn’t know what they’re talking about.

Wireless Pixel Buds: $180 and Not Coming Until Spring 2020 

Nilay Patel:

I just spent a few minutes with the new Google Pixel Buds hardware — the $179 truly wireless earbuds aren’t shipping until Spring 2020, and the units at Google’s fall hardware event aren’t actually turned on and working. So there’s no way to tell how they’ll actually sound, and how Google’s various software tricks work in practice.

Not shipping for six months is one thing; not even having usable prototypes now is another. They must have felt like they had to show them anyway — Apple, Microsoft, and Amazon are already in the game.

Apple isn’t usually first in a product category, but AirPods established a template all the other tech giants (other than Facebook, so far) are following.

The Verge’s First Look at Pixel 4 and 4 XL 

Dieter Bohn:

The other feature this local model enables is a new app: Recorder. It’s a voice recorder, but it also does real-time transcription right there as it records without needing to send anything to the internet. In a couple of tests, I found it to be much more accurate than the other real-time transcription app I’ve used, Otter. You can also do searches for anything in those transcripts later.

There’s a lot more that’s new, of course, but instant accurate transcripts in the voice recorder app is a killer feature. It’s all done on-device too.

‘How Safe Is Apple’s Safe Browsing?’ 

Matthew Green, writing at Cryptographic Engineering:

When Apple wants to advertise a major privacy feature, they’re damned good at it. As an example: this past summer the company announced the release of the privacy-preserving “Find My” feature at WWDC, to widespread acclaim. They’ve also been happy to claim credit for their work on encryption, including technology such as iCloud Keychain.

But lately there’s been a troubling silence out of Cupertino, mostly related to the company’s interactions with China. Two years ago, the company moved much of iCloud server infrastructure into mainland China, for default use by Chinese users. It seems that Apple had no choice in this, since the move was mandated by Chinese law. But their silence was deafening. Did the move involve transferring key servers for end-to-end encryption? Would non-Chinese users be affected? Reporters had to drag the answers out of the company, and we still don’t know many of them.

In the Safe Browsing change we have another example of Apple making significant modifications to its privacy infrastructure, largely without publicity or announcement. We have learn about this stuff from the fine print. This approach to privacy issues does users around the world a disservice.

If Apple needs to do things differently in China to comply with Chinese law, they need to explain exactly what they’re doing and why. Otherwise people are going to assume the worst. “Trust us” is not good enough. If they’re embarrassed to explain in detail what they’re doing to comply with Chinese law, then they shouldn’t be doing it.

Trust but Verify, ‘Safari Fraudulent Website Warning’ Edition 

Via Dino Dai Zovi, a user on Hacker News disassembled the code for Safari’s Fraudulent Website Warning feature and verified that it only uses Tencent (instead of Google) if the region code is set to mainland China.

Safari’s Fraudulent Website Warning Feature Only Uses Tencent in Mainland China 

Apple, in a statement to iMore:

Apple protects user privacy and safeguards your data with Safari Fraudulent Website Warning, a security feature that flags websites known to be malicious in nature. When the feature is enabled, Safari checks the website URL against lists of known websites and displays a warning if the URL the user is visiting is suspected of fraudulent conduct like phishing. To accomplish this task, Safari receives a list of websites known to be malicious from Google, and for devices with their region code set to mainland China, it receives a list from Tencent. The actual URL of a website you visit is never shared with a safe browsing provider and the feature can be turned off.

After quoting Apple’s statement, Rene Ritchie has more details on how the feature works, including the fact that the URLs you visit aren’t sent to Google (or Tencent) — hashed prefixes of the URLs are sent. This became a story over the weekend when a story by Tom Parker at Reclaim the Net ran under the alarming headline “Apple Safari Browser Sends Some User IP Addresses to Chinese Conglomerate Tencent by Default”.

My assumption was that Apple was only using Tencent in mainland China, where Google services are banned. Apple’s statement today makes it clear that that is true. But Apple brought this mini-controversy upon itself, because Apple’s own description of the feature doesn’t specify when the Fraudulent Website Warning feature uses Google and when it uses Tencent. Apple’s description simply says:

Before visiting a website, Safari may send information calculated from the website address to Google Safe Browsing and Tencent Safe Browsing to check if the website is fraudulent. These safe browsing providers may also log your IP address.

NYT: ‘Trump Followed His Gut on Syria. Calamity Came Fast.’ 

David Sanger, writing for The New York Times:

President Trump’s acquiescence to Turkey’s move to send troops deep inside Syrian territory has in only one week’s time turned into a bloody carnage, forced the abandonment of a successful five-year-long American project to keep the peace on a volatile border, and given an unanticipated victory to four American adversaries: Russia, Iran, the Syrian government and the Islamic State.

Rarely has a presidential decision resulted so immediately in what his own party leaders have described as disastrous consequences for American allies and interests. How this decision happened — springing from an “off-script moment” with President Recep Tayyip Erdogan of Turkey, in the generous description of a senior American diplomat — likely will be debated for years by historians, Middle East experts and conspiracy theorists.

But this much already is clear: Mr. Trump ignored months of warnings from his advisers about what calamities likely would ensue if he followed his instincts to pull back from Syria and abandon America’s longtime allies, the Kurds. He had no Plan B, other than to leave. The only surprise is how swiftly it all collapsed around the president and his depleted, inexperienced foreign policy team.

I’m starting to think this guy is a terrible president.


My thanks to Kolide for again sponsoring Daring Fireball. Kolide is a new Slack app that messages employees when their Mac, Windows, or Linux device is not compliant with security best-practices or policy. If your team uses Slack, you should look at Kolide.

With this app, Kolide will notify users or groups when a device is out of compliance along with clear instructions about what is wrong, and step by step instructions to remediate the issue themselves. They can even confirm in real-time that they resolved the problem with an interactive button inside the Slack message!

Unlike most endpoint security solutions, Kolide was designed with user privacy in mind. Your users will know what data is collected about their device, who can see that data, and can even view the full source code of the agent that is run on the device.

Kolide is already used by hundreds of fast growing companies who want to level-up their device security without locking down their devices. Try Kolide’s new product for free for 30 days for your entire fleet.

BuzzFeed: ‘Apple Told Some Apple TV+ Show Developers Not to Anger China’ 

Alex Kantrowitz and John Paczkowski, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

In early 2018 as development on Apple’s slate of exclusive Apple TV+ programming was underway, the company’s leadership gave guidance to the creators of some of those shows to avoid portraying China in a poor light, BuzzFeed News has learned. Sources in position to know said the instruction was communicated by Eddy Cue, Apple’s SVP of internet software and services, and Morgan Wandell, its head of international content development. It was part of Apple’s ongoing efforts to remain in China’s good graces after a 2016 incident in which Beijing shut down Apple’s iBooks Store and iTunes Movies six months after they debuted in the country.

Judd Apatow:

Hey and don’t mention that Turkey is bad. We sell a lot of watches there. And don’t mention Saudi Arabia murdering journalists — they love the iMac and don’t mention Russia — big iPad market.

Apple’s far from alone here. Making big-budget movies and TV shows China-friendly is de rigueur in Hollywood today, and Apple TV+ is now a player in Hollywood. But how is this not a victory for the stifling of free speech?

Apple Needs China 

Peter Kafka, writing at Recode:

Unlike tech companies that haven’t broken into the country or only do minor business in it, Apple is now so deep in China that leaving it could be catastrophic. Even if the company was willing to forgo the $44 billion a year in sales it makes in China, it can’t leave the deep network of suppliers and assemblers that build hundreds of millions of iPhones every year.

Earlier this year, in response to the escalating US-China trade war, Apple floated the idea that it could move some of its production outside of China to hedge its bets. But it was only willing to suggest that it would move a third of production.

So even if Apple decided to make the wrenching decision to get out of China today, it couldn’t. It is stuck there, for better and for worse.

What’s New in iOS 13.2 Beta 2: Siri Privacy and Video Settings in the Camera App 

Two features stand out to me (I’m already running the 13.2 betas on my daily use iPhone — feel like I have nothing to lose on this front given the de facto beta-y state of 13.1.2):

  • 13.2b2 introduces two important Siri privacy features. First, you can opt in and out of “Improve Siri & Dictation” in Settings → Privacy → Analytics & Improvements. Second, you can delete your Siri and dictation history in Settings → Siri & Search. In a briefing with Apple, I was told that even if you opt in to “Improve Siri & Dictation”, no one at Apple will ever review a Siri interaction until 24 hours have passed. So if you ever do say anything to Siri you don’t want reviewed, you have a full day to delete your history. Also, I was told that Siri interactions will henceforth only be reviewed by Apple employees — no more contractors. All told, these changes are a solid response to the Siri “grading” controversy.

  • The camera app now lets you change the frame rate (24/30/60 FPS) and resolution (720p, 1080p (HD), 4K) right in the viewfinder when you’re in video mode. Previously these could only be changed by going to Settings → Camera — a real pain in the ass when you’re ready to shoot a fleeting moment. But I find this interface a bit fiddly at the moment, because there’s no feedback on tap down. It’s hard to tell even that these are two separate buttons — one for the frame rate and one for the resolution. I’d rather have the whole thing be one button that opens a picker like the iPhone 11 zoom wheel.

Ming-Chi Kuo Expects Apple to Launch AR Glasses in Second Quarter of 2020 

We know for a fact, with ARKit, that Apple has a strong interest in augmented reality. We also know that phones and tablets are not ideal AR devices. They’re not bad, but they’re not ideal. So you don’t need a weatherman to tell you the wind is blowing toward Apple working on AR-dedicated hardware — glasses or goggles or something. Now we have Kuo saying it’s coming in the first half of 2020. That’s pretty close.

But if true, no one thus far seems to have any idea what exactly Apple has in mind. Are they glasses you’re supposed to wear all the time, like you do with Apple Watch? That doesn’t sound right to me. The glasshole problems all persist. If there’s a camera, it’s creepy and rude to wear them all the time. Do they make you look weird? Eyeglasses are a huge personal statement — far more so than a watch. If they all look like “Apple Glasses”, there’s going to be a huge resistance to wearing the same glasses as everyone else. And if it’s something else entirely — a product you don’t wear all day like a watch — when do you wear them and what are they meant for? Perhaps they’re more like AirPods, in terms of being situational. All unanswered questions.

BuzzFeed News: ‘Disgraced Google Exec Andy Rubin Quietly Left His Venture Firm Earlier This Year’ 

Ryan Mac, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Rubin’s departure from Playground was also accompanied by a payout, with a source familiar placing the amount at more than $9 million. Documents related to his exit, which were seen by some investors and the company’s leadership, but not all of Playground’s staff, were reviewed by BuzzFeed News.

“Effective May 31, 2019, Playground Global ended our business relationship with Andy Rubin,” read one internal document. “While Andy is still a good friend of Playground, he no longer has any economic interest in or any ongoing roles at Playground Global or the related funds.”

“Quietly” is overused, especially in headlines, but here’s a case where something really was done quietly. Rubin founded the firm and its own staff wasn’t aware he left?

Rubin, however, is still using Playground’s money to build Essential. The two are heavily linked, with Playground investing in both of Essential’s fundraising rounds that have raised a collective $330 million and the two companies sharing the same address, according to their websites.

That’s quite a racket Rubin has going here.

It’s not clear why Rubin, Playground’s founder and figurehead, departed the venture firm, but the nimbus of persistently negative publicity around him may have played a role.

Yeah, maybe that’s it.

MacOS Tip of the Year: Turn Off Spotlight Suggestions in Look Up 

Craig Mod:

Do you three-finger-tap to get definitions in macOS? Does it drive you bonkers that the lookup overlay tries to access Wikipedia and other random non-dictionary things?

Sysprefs → Spotlight → [uncheck] Allow Spotlight Suggestions in Look up

Enjoy blazing fast definitions.

What a fantastic tip, if, like me, you only ever use this feature to get Dictionary lookups. I didn’t realize how slow this feature sometimes gets until I turned this off. Now it’s always instantaneous, as it should be. Remember: fast software is the best software.

(Remember too that in addition to the three-finger tap, you can use the right-click contextual menu to look up the current text selection, and ⌃⌘D to look up whatever word is adjacent to the insertion point (while editing) or under the mouse pointer (while reading a web page or PDF). These shortcuts work system wide on MacOS.)

Crazy Apple Rumors Site: ‘Apple Revokes Panic Developer License’ 

John Moltz, at the rejuvenated Crazy Apple Rumors Site:

“Untitled Goose Game represents a clear and present threat to Chinese sovereignty,” said Yang Cheung, a spokesperson for the Chinese government.

Gesturing to a video of Untitled Goose Game gameplay, Cheung explained. “The goose is a lawless force of rampant anti-nationalism. It encourages violence against the state and disrespects authority.”

NYT: ‘China Blows Whistle on Nationalistic Protests Against the NBA’ 

Keith Bradsher and Javier C. Hernández, reporting for The New York Times from Beijing:

After three days of fanning nationalistic outrage, the Chinese government abruptly moved on Thursday to tamp down public anger at the N.B.A. as concerns spread in Beijing that the rhetoric was damaging China’s interests and image around the world.

You don’t say.

Now, the Chinese government appears to be reassessing its campaign against the N.B.A. and dialing down the clamor. The government is already in a bruising trade war with the United States, and a backlash against China could hurt its image in the sporting world ahead of the 2022 Winter Olympics near Beijing. The dispute with the N.B.A. was also quickly politicizing an audience of sports fans who would not normally focus on issues like the protests in Hong Kong.

Pretty sure there wouldn’t be as many “Free Hong Kong” signs at NBA games — or any at all — if the Chinese government had simply let this slide.

Hong Kong Legislator Charles Mok Writes Open Letter to Tim Cook 

Charles Mok:

As a long-time user of Apple products and services, I highly appreciate that Apple has been championing freedom of expression as one of the corporation’s tenets. I sincerely hope Apple will choose to support its users and stop banning simply out of political reason or succumbing to China’s influence like other American companies appear to be doing.

We Hongkongers will definitely look closely at whether Apple chooses to uphold its commitment to free expression and other basic human rights, or become an accomplice for Chinese censorship and oppression.

As quoted in Tim Cook’s own Twitter bio:

“Life’s most persistent and urgent question is, ‘What are you doing for others?’” —Martin Luther King Jr.

Tim Cook’s Company-Wide Memo on Doesn’t Add Up 

I’ve seen a copy of Cook’s company-wide memo, and the copy reproduced here is accurate. Maciej Ceglowski — who has been in Hong Kong for weeks — responds:

The first allegation is that “the app was being used maliciously to target individual officers for violence”. This makes no sense at all. The app does not show the locations of individual officers at all. It shows general concentrations of police units, with a significant lag.

As the developer and @charlesmok, a Hong Kong legislator, have pointed out, the app aggregates reports from Telegram, Facebook and other sources. It beggars belief that a campaign to target individual officers would use a world-readable crowdsourcing format like this.

Moreover, what are these incidents where protesters have targeted individual police for a premeditated attack? Can Mr. Cook point to a single example? Can anyone? […]

So not only is there no evidence for this claim, but it goes against the documentary record of 18 weeks of protests, and is not even possible given the technical constraints of the app (which tracks groups of police).

The second, related allegation is that the app helps “victimize individuals and property where no police are present”. Again, does Mr. Cook have any evidence for this claim? The app does not show an absence of police, it shows concentrations of police, tear gas, riot flags etc.

So, three questions, no answers:

  • When was “used maliciously to target individual officers for violence”?
  • When was it used to “victimize individuals and property where no police are present”?
  • What local laws in Hong Kong does it violate?

I can’t recall an Apple memo or statement that crumbles so quickly under scrutiny. For a company that usually measures umpteen times before cutting anything, it’s both sad and startling.

Hong Kong Officials on Why Should Be Removed From App Store: Ask Apple 

Transcript from journalist Tim McLaughlin:

Reporter: Two questions about the app. Which local laws the app violates and why should Apple remove when apps which allow users to track the location of police checkpoints remain in the app store? Thank you. […]

Chief Secretary for the Administration Matthew Cheung: I suppose the Police have already explained the reasons for it, okay? And, we have nothing further to add.

Secretary for Transport and Housing Frank Chan Fan: Indeed the taking down of the app from the Apple store is the decision made by the operating company — Apple. So, if you want to know the reason for them to take down the app, maybe you can approach Apple and the Apple store.

Complete non-answers to both questions.

(One sidenote I confirmed with Apple: While they pulled from the App Store, anyone who already has it installed still has the app. No more software updates, but copy of the app they have installed still works.)

Apple Removes From App Store 

Jack Nicas, reporting for The New York Times:

A day earlier, People’s Daily, the flagship newspaper of the Chinese Communist Party, published an editorial that accused Apple of aiding “rioters” in Hong Kong. “Letting poisonous software have its way is a betrayal of the Chinese people’s feelings,” said the article, which was written under a pseudonym, “Calming the Waves.”

“The app displays police locations and we have verified with the Hong Kong Cybersecurity and Technology Crime Bureau that the app has been used to target and ambush police, threaten public safety, and criminals have used it to victimize residents in areas where they know there is no law enforcement,” Apple said in a statement late Wednesday. “This app violates our guidelines and local laws.”

I still haven’t seen which local laws it violates, other than the unwritten law of pissing off Beijing.

Capitulation is a bad look for Apple.

HKmap remains available on the web, and on the Google Play Store.

Apple Removes Quartz News App in China Over Hong Kong Coverage 

Nick Statt, reporting for The Verge

News organization Quartz tells The Verge that Apple has removed its mobile app from the Chinese version of its App Store after complaints from the Chinese government. According to Quartz, this is due to the publication’s ongoing coverage of the Hong Kong protests, and the company says its entire website has also been blocked from being accessed in mainland China.

The publication says it received a notice from Apple that the app “includes content that is illegal in China.”

The law’s the law. You want to do business in China, you obey the law.

The question is: Why do business in China if this is the type of shit they pull? No one is alleging that anything Quartz has reported on the Hong Kong protests is false. It’s just unflattering to the Chinese regime.

‘The Making of Operator 41’ 

Looks like a very cool game for Apple Arcade — a sneak-around puzzle game with a Cold War era spy motif. Looks cool, great music.

Amazingly, developer Spruce Campbell is 14 years old.

Bloomberg: ‘Trump Urged Tillerson to Help Giuliani Client Facing DOJ Charges’ 

Nick Wadhams, Saleha Mohsin, Stephanie Baker, and Jennifer Jacobs, reporting for Bloomberg:*

President Donald Trump pressed then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help persuade the Justice Department to drop a criminal case against an Iranian-Turkish gold trader who was a client of Rudy Giuliani, according to three people familiar with the 2017 meeting in the Oval Office.

Tillerson refused, arguing it would constitute interference in an ongoing investigation of the trader, Reza Zarrab, according to the people. They said other participants in the Oval Office were shocked by the request.

Tillerson immediately repeated his objections to then-Chief of Staff John Kelly in a hallway conversation just outside the Oval Office, emphasizing that the request would be illegal. Neither episode has been previously reported, and all of the people spoke on condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity of the conversations.

Josh Marshall: “Expect a wave of time travel whistleblowers.”

* Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October 2018 — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true.

Blizzard Sets Off Backlash for Penalizing Hong Kong Gamer Who Expressed Support for Protesters 

Daniel Victor, reporting for The New York Times:

Activision Blizzard became the latest American company to find itself caught between its business interests in China and the values of its core customers after it suspended an e-sports player who voiced support for the Hong Kong protests during a live broadcast.

The decision to suspend Chung Ng Wai, a professional Hearthstone player in Hong Kong, for a year, while forcing him to forfeit a reported $10,000 in prize money, prompted a backlash in the United States similar to the public relations debacle the N.B.A. has faced this week. Gamers posted angrily on social media and in forums, while politicians saw it as another troubling sign of China’s chilling clampdown on speech worldwide.

“Recognize what’s happening here. People who don’t live in China must either self censor or face dismissal and suspensions,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, wrote on Twitter. “China using access to market as leverage to crush free speech globally.”

Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democrat, concurred, saying on Twitter that Activision Blizzard showed “it is willing to humiliate itself to please the Chinese Communist Party.”

No partisan divide on this issue.

Fox News Poll: 51 Percent of Voters Want Trump Impeached and Removed From Office 

Dana Blanton, reporting for Fox News:

A new high of 51 percent wants Trump impeached and removed from office, another 4 percent want him impeached but not removed, and 40 percent oppose impeachment altogether. In July, 42 percent favored impeachment and removal, while 5 percent said impeach but don’t remove him, and 45 percent opposed impeachment.

Now Fox News is getting in on the fake news racket. You really can’t trust anyone other than Breitbart these days.

On the Disposability of AirPods 

Geoffrey Fowler, writing for The Washington Post:

If your AirPods are out of warranty, Apple will replace them for $49 per stick — so in reality, $98 total. A replacement for the charging case, which doesn’t wear out as quickly, is also $49. The key phrase to say is “battery service.” (Apple is providing additional training to customer service representatives on that point, but if you still have trouble, show them this link — or this column.)

When you think about it, it is rather ridiculous that once the batteries in AirPods die, they’re disposable. Paul Kafasis and I talked about this back in March on my podcast.

But what’s the alternative? Fowler holds up Samsung’s Galaxy Buds:

Sealing up electronics with glue instead of screws and latches can help make devices lighter and more resistant to moisture and dust. But great ear buds — even ones tiny enough to sit in your ears — don’t have to be impenetrable. iFixit found a way to pop open Samsung’s $129 Galaxy Buds, so replacement batteries can slip in kind of like on a watch. Samsung doesn’t officially offer this repair option, but iFixit sells a pair of replacement batteries for $29.

They’ll sell you the batteries (although at this writing iFixit’s website claims to be sold out), but good luck installing them. iFixit does not have a repair guide for the Galaxy Buds, and the teardown video they do have is expressly labeled “not a repair guide”. There’s a reason why Samsung doesn’t offer a repair option. As for being “great ear buds” — reviewers disagree.

AirPods’s disposability is a problem, and it runs counter to Apple’s staunch pro-environmental messaging, but it’s a problem shared by every set of ear buds in the category. Keep in mind too, that a solution to this problem needs to account for weight, waterproofing, appearance, comfort, and cost. It’s a hard problem to solve, obviously. I’d be happy with next-generation AirPods that solve nothing but this problem.

Why the App Is Important to Hongkongers 

Maciej Ceglowski, tweeting from Hong Kong:

Tear gas in Hong Kong used to be unheard of. Now I’ve seen HK cops fire tear gas because they were taunted and someone got them good with a zinger. The use of this substance has become absolutely routine, and it can be deployed without warning in densely populated neighborhoods.

A point that needs reiterating is that the @hkmaplive app doesn’t contravene any Hong Kong law that I am aware of. This app helps answer questions like “Will I get shot with a bean bag round if I come out of this MTR station, because the police raised a colored flag I can’t see?”

‘ESPN Forbids Discussion of Chinese Politics When Discussing Daryl Morey’s Tweet About Chinese Politics’ 

One of those cases where the headline — from a piece by Laura Wagner for Deadspin — says it all.

ESPN, of course, is owned by Disney. Disney, of course, now owns most of Hollywood.

Apple Under Fire From Chinese State Media Over App 

Owen Churchill, writing for the English-language South China Morning Post:

Chinese state media on Tuesday accused Apple Inc of protecting “rioters” in Hong Kong and enabling illegal behaviour, after the US-based technology giant listed on its app store an application that tracks police activity in the city. […]

The app relies on crowdsourced information to track the location of police presence in the city, alerting users to police vehicles, armed officers and incidents in which people have been injured. The app — a website version is also active — displays hotspots on a map of the city that is continuously updated as users report incidents.

“By allowing its platform to clear the way for an app that incites illegal behaviour, [does Apple] not worry about damaging its reputation and hurting the feelings of consumers?” said a bellicose commentary published on the app of People’s Daily, the Chinese Communist Party mouthpiece. […]

Such delicate feelings.

The piece made no mention of the fact that the app is also available to Android users via the Google Play store.

For what it’s worth, Google’s services are blocked in China, but they do have business there. Nothing on the scale that Apple does, though.

Sixers Fans Ejected From Exhibition Game in Philadelphia After Supporting Hong Kong 

Avi Wolfman-Arent, reporting for WHYY:

Seeking to bring attention to the issue, Wachs and a companion purchased seats behind the bench of the Chinese team and wore face masks — which have been banned at ongoing protests in Hong Kong. They held up a pair of signs. One read, “Free Hong Kong” and the other, “Free HK.”

“We sat in our seats silently and just held up the signs,” he said. About five minutes into the game, Wachs said, security confiscated the “Free Hong Kong” sign and asked what the second sign meant.

“And I said HK stood for [former Phillies announcer] Harry Kalas,” Wachs said.

“He said, ‘Isn’t Harry Kalas dead?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, free Harry Kalas.’ And he said, ‘Why would you free Harry Kalas?’ And I said, ‘Hey, I just wanna free Harry Kalas.’ And he said, ‘OK.’”

About ten minutes later, Wachs recalled, security returned to take the “Free HK” poster.

This would be funny if it weren’t so utterly symbolic of the NBA’s capitulation to China. In the very city where the First Amendment was drafted and ratified — fans got ejected from a basketball game for the message “Free Hong Kong”, rooting for a team named for the year America declared its own freedom.

It’d be a real shame if NBA fans around the country — especially here in Philadelphia — brought more “Free Hong Kong” signs to NBA games.

‘The China Cultural Clash’ 

Speaking of Ben Thompson, his column this week at Stratechery is so good:

“It” refers to the current imbroglio surrounding Daryl Morey, the General Manager for the Houston Rockets of the National Basketball Association (NBA), and the latter’s dealings with China. The tweet, a reference to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong, “hurt the feelings of the Chinese people” (a rather frequent occurrence). The Global Times, a Chinese government-run English-language newspaper, stated in an editorial:

Daryl Morey, general manager of the NBA team the Houston Rockets, has obviously gotten himself into trouble. He tweeted a photo saying “fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong” on Saturday while accompanying his team in Tokyo. The tweet soon set the team’s Chinese fans ablaze. It can be imagined how Morey’s tweet made them disappointed and furious. Shortly afterward, CCTV sports channel and Tencent sports channel both announced they would suspend broadcasting Rockets’ games. Some of the team’s Chinese sponsors and business partners also started to suspend cooperation with the Rockets.

There’s one rather glaring hole in this story of immediate outrage from Chinese fans over Morey’s tweet: Twitter is banned in China.

(This whole NBA/China story broke over the weekend, after Ben and I had recorded the new episode of my podcast — otherwise we’d have spent an hour on it, I’m sure.)

The gist of it is that 25 years ago, when the West opened trade relations with China, we expected our foundational values like freedom of speech, personal liberty, and democracy to spread to China.

Instead, the opposite is happening. China maintains strict control over what its people see on the Internet — the Great Firewall works. They ban our social networks where free speech reigns, but we accept and use their social networks, like TikTok, where content contrary to the Chinese Community Party line is suppressed.

Worse, multinational mega corporations like Apple and Disney are put in a bind — they must choose between speaking up for values such as the right to privacy and freedom of speech, or making money in the Chinese market. The Chinese government portrays its citizenry as having such oh-so-delicate sensibilities, that they simply can’t bear to hear an opinion with which they disagree — expressed on a social network banned in China.

This, one can rightly argue, is what we should expect, if we’re looking for leadership from for-profit corporations on this front. But in the meantime, we’re stuck with a president who promised Xi Jinping he’d remain quiet on the Hong Kong protests in exchange for a trade deal, despite protestors’ pleas for our support.

Drexel to Pay Back $190,000 Former Professor Used for Strip Clubs, Other Purchases Over 10 Years 


A former Drexel University professor used almost $190,000 in federal grants at gentlemen’s clubs and toward other improper purchases, according to a news release Tuesday from the US Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.

Drexel, in Philadelphia, has agreed to pay the amount to resolve potential false claims liability, according to the US Attorney’s Office.

Chikaodinaka D. Nwankpa made improper charges for items such as “personal iTunes purchases and for ‘goods and services’ provided by Cheerleaders, Club Risque and Tacony Club.” The purchases totaling $189,062 were made between July 2007 and April 2017, prosecutors said.

Always good to see my alma mater in the news.

The Talk Show: ‘Thompson’s Razor’ 

Special guest Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include the latest Surface hardware announcements from Microsoft, the state of the iPhone, and bulk purchases of charcoal.

Somehow, we managed to avoid talking about any sports at all.

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Andy Rubin Teases Long, Skinny Form Factor for New Essential Phone 

The phone’s form factor and UI are certainly interesting.

Rubin, of course, left Google ignominiously but with a $90 million payout that prompted thousands of Google employees to walk out. Good to see Rubin hasn’t let that get him down.

Catalyst’s Glaring Shortcomings 

Speaking of James Thomson, he’s written a short piece on his experience porting his Dice by PCalc app from iOS to Mac using Catalyst:

Some user interface elements like the spinning carousel pickers felt especially out-of-place, and unintuitive — you can’t click and drag on them to change the value, you have to use a scroll wheel/gesture.

The nearest equivalent on the Mac would be something like a popup menu button. But there’s no popup menu button on iOS, so I have resorted to writing my own — and that is one of the classic blunders.

It’s the kind of thing that Apple should supply as standard, but I get the feeling they just ran out of time. The OS releases don’t seem to have gone very smoothly in general, from my outside perspective.

I don’t buy the “ran out of time” excuse. Catalyst has had this particular problem — touch-based spinners in place of pop-up menus — since 10.14 Mojave last year. It’s madness. Has there ever been a GUI toolkit for any mouse-pointer-based platform that didn’t offer pop-up menus as a standard control? Mac, Windows, Motif, Amiga, all the various toolkits for Unix X11 systems — they all had pop-up menus. Catalyst is the only GUI toolkit in history that doesn’t have them. Catalyst remains woefully incomplete and woefully under-documented. (No share sheets? I get it, it would be a lot of work on Apple’s part to bridge iOS’s robust share sheets with MacOS’s rather anemic ones — but that’s Apple’s job.)

The Mac version of Dice looks like a great Mac app for dice-rolling. But it’s absurd that Thomson had to write his own pop-up menu controls to do it.

DragThing Officially End-of-Lifed 

TLA Systems:

DragThing is written using the 32-bit Carbon APIs that Apple have now removed in macOS 10.15 Catalina. It will no longer run if you update to Catalina, and there are no plans to make a new version that will.

We are sorry to say, DragThing has launched its last app.

64-bit support would require completely rewriting the code from the ground up, a process which would take us at least a year to complete, with no guarantees we could re-implement all the existing functionality, or how much of a future it would have if we did.

James Thomson:

Updated the DragThing website with a very definitive final statement on Catalina. Goodbye, old friend.

Rich Siegel:

Pour one out for DragThing, which has had a great run.

DragThing’s heyday was back in the classic Mac OS era, but it was a very credible utility in the early days of Mac OS X as well. It was the Dock before Mac OS had a built-in dock. And TLA founder James Thomson actually worked for Apple and helped create the Dock — it’s a complicated story.

DragThing hasn’t been updated in years — it wasn’t even updated to support retina displays. It was felled not by the transition from classic Mac OS to OS X but by the gradual sunsetting of Carbon APIs. But it’s the sort of app that is going to make some users sad that MacOS 10.15 Catalina has dropped 32-bit app legacy support.

I haven’t used DragThing in many many years, but for a long time it was essential to my workflow, and I firmly believe it was a much better launcher than Apple’s own system Dock ever has been. DragThing had features — like the ability to create custom palettes that only appeared in a certain app — that I don’t know how one would replicate today.

BBEdit 13 

Another great update to my favorite app for the last 27 years. I still have the receipt for my student-discount purchase of BBEdit 2.5 — the first commercial release — in 1993.

Tentpole new features include Pattern Playgrounds (a great way to learn regular expressions — “grep patterns” in BBEdit parlance — and to craft complex ones), a Grep Cheatsheet, and some great improvements to Dark Mode support and text color schemes. The full release notes, as always, set the bar for completeness, clarity, and concision.

For the last few years, BBEdit has offered two modes: free and premium. The free mode is incredibly useful for many users, and completely obviates BBEdit’s retired sibling TextWrangler. If you’re still using TextWrangler, run, don’t walk, to upgrade to BBEdit 13 in free mode (and enjoy the 30-day free trial of the premium features).

See also:

Apple Delays iCloud Drive File Sharing Until ‘Next Spring’ 

Killian Bell, writing for Cult of Mac:

Apple’s All Features webpage for macOS, which lists everything that’s new in Catalina, stated earlier this week that iCloud Drive file sharing would launch before the end of this year.

The page has been updated following the public rollout of macOS Catalina on Monday, however. File sharing will now be available in spring of next year.

Disappointing to a lot of us who are looking to move away from Dropbox.

NBA Commissioner Defends Freedom of Speech as Chinese Companies Cut Ties 

Sopan Deb, reporting for The New York Times:

In its statement, the broadcaster, China Central Television, chided Adam Silver, the N.B.A. commissioner, for expressing support for the free speech rights of Daryl Morey. Morey, the Houston Rockets general manager, posted a supportive message about protests in Hong Kong on Friday night that drew an angry response from Chinese officials and set off debate about how corporations should balance their public images with their eagerness to do business in China.

“We voice our strong dissatisfaction and opposition to Adam Silver offering as an excuse the right to freedom of expression,” CCTV said in its statement announcing the cancellation of the N.B.A. broadcasts. “We believe that no comments challenging national sovereignty and social stability fall within the scope of freedom of expression.”

NBA commissioner Adam Silver’s response was heartening:

Silver issued a new written statement on Tuesday morning which said in part: “It is inevitable that people around the world — including from America and China — will have different viewpoints over different issues. It is not the role of the N.B.A. to adjudicate those differences.”

It continued, “However, the N.B.A. will not put itself in a position of regulating what players, employees and team owners say or will not say on these issues. We simply could not operate that way.”

Silver was more blunt during his news conference: “We will protect our employees’ freedom of speech.”

More of this, please.

MacOS 10.15 Catalina and the 32-Bit App Reckoning 

Jim Dalrymple, writing at The Loop:

For those that have been following along, 64-bit is not that new. Apple has been talking to developers about the 64-bit transition for several years. Chances are your apps have already been updated to take advantage of the architecture.

However, if your apps haven’t been updated, they won’t run on the new operating system. You should be aware of that before you upgrade.

In typical Apple fashion, the company has made it easy to find out if you’ll have a problem with your apps. In your current macOS, you can go to About this Mac > System Report > Applications and get a list of all applications and whether they are 64-bit or not.

If you decide not to do that and try to install macOS Catalina, the installer will post a warning that some of your apps are not compatible with the new operating system. It will also give you a list of these apps. You can decide to stop the install process and contact the developers about updates or continue, knowing those apps won’t work.

I don’t have any remaining apps of consequence that are 32-bit only, but it’s certainly worth checking before you upgrade.

Taiwan Flag Emoji Disappears From iOS 13.1.2 Keyboard 

Kris Cheng, reporting for the Hong Kong Free Press:

The Republic of China flag emoji has disappeared from Apple iPhone’s keyboard for Hong Kong and Macau users. The change happened for users who updated their phones to the latest operating system.

Updating iPhones to iOS 13.1.1 or above caused the flag emoji to disappear from the emoji keyboard. The flag, commonly used by users to denote Taiwan, can still be displayed by typing “Taiwan” in English, and choosing the flag in prediction candidates.

This is either a bug on Apple’s part, or kowtowing to China.

Update: Given that it’s the same in the first iOS 13.2 beta, it sure looks more like kowtowing than a bug.

‘The Samsung Galaxy Fold Is Great… If You Live in a Bubble’ 

Joanna Stern at her best.

Mac App Store Feature on Catalyst Apps 

Glad to see some of these charging real prices, or at least more than $1 — Carrot Weather is $15. No app from Twitter yet, even though Apple previewed it back at WWDC — despite the fact that Apple’s own first screenshot for Catalina in the App Store shows Twitter as a native app.

How to Install Google Apps on Huawei Phones: Give Control of Your Phone to a Random Chinese Company 

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica:

With all the traditional techniques out the window, the Internet’s brand-new method for getting Google apps onto the Mate 30 is through a website called You can see news articles promoting this site from just about all the major Android news sites. I Googled “mate 30 pro install play store,” and literally every result on the first page recommended It’s easy to see why Lzplay is ubiquitous: go to the website, install the app, mash “next” a few times, and boom, Google apps are on your Huawei device.

It seemingly installs six system apps in the blink of an eye with almost no user interaction. Even though the Google apps should not be able to get the system-level permissions they need to work, they somehow do, thanks to this app. It’s like magic.

Lzplay is fast, it’s easy, and as far as getting Google apps onto your Huawei device, it works. It’s also the biggest Android modding security nightmare I have ever seen. And no, that’s not hyperbole.

One Year After ‘The Big Hack’ 

I was going to write about the one-year anniversary of Bloomberg’s “The Big Hack” fiasco, but Nick Heer, writing at his excellent Pixel Envy, has done the job for me:

Unfortunately, a year later, we’re still no closer to understanding what happened with this story. Bloomberg still stands by it, but hasn’t published a follow-up story from its additional reporting. No other news organization has corroborated the original story in any capacity. After being annihilated after the story’s publication, Supermicro’s stock has bounced back.

Most upsetting is that we don’t know the truth here in any capacity. We don’t know how the story was sourced originally other than the vague descriptions given about their roles and knowledge. We don’t know what assumptions were made as Riley and Robertson almost never quoted their sources. We don’t know anything about the thirty additional companies — aside from Amazon and Apple — that were apparently affected, nor if any of the other nine hundred customers of Supermicro found malicious hardware. We don’t know what role, if any, Bloomberg’s financial services business played in the sourcing and publication of this story, since they were also users of Supermicro servers. We don’t know the truth of what is either the greatest information security scoop of the decade or the biggest reporting fuck-up of its type.

What does that say about Bloomberg’s integrity?

As Heer points out, a year ago, co-author Michael Riley himself tweeted, “That’s the unique thing about this attack. Although details have been very tightly held, there is physical evidence out there in the world. Now that details are out, it will be hard to keep more from emerging.”

With not one shred of evidence emerging in a year, it seems very clear that this was, in fact, “the biggest reporting fuck-up of its type”.

And yet Bloomberg stands by it.

NBA Kowtows to China Over Houston Rockets GM’s Tweet About Hong Kong 

Daniel Victor, writing for The New York Times:

The episode began Friday night, when Daryl Morey, the general manager of the Houston Rockets, posted an image on Twitter that included a slogan commonly chanted during Hong Kong’s pro-democracy protests: “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” He quickly deleted the tweet, but the damage was done.

Chinese fans, who see the Hong Kong protesters portrayed as violent rioters in the state-run news media and largely regard them as such, were furious. Sponsors paused their deals with the Rockets, and the country’s main broadcaster said it would remove the team’s games from its schedule.

The league issued an apology for Mr. Morey’s comments Sunday night. That inflamed fans back home, where the protesters are generally seen as pro-democracy fighters battling a repressive government. Democratic and Republican politicians found agreement in calling the league gutless, accusing it of prioritizing money over human rights.

Striking, but unsurprising, that high-profile Republicans are (correctly) willing to speak out in opposition to the NBA’s kowtowing to China, but just shrug their shoulders at the president of the United States’s public request for the Chinese to open a bogus investigation into his political opponent.

Brooklyn Nets owner Joe Tsai tries to justify the NBA’s kowtowing in this Facebook post:

The NBA is a fan-first league. When hundreds of millions of fans are furious over an issue, the league, and anyone associated with the NBA, will have to pay attention. As a Governor of one of the 30 NBA teams, and a Chinese having spent a good part of my professional life in China, I need to speak up.

What is the problem with people freely expressing their opinion? This freedom is an inherent American value and the NBA has been very progressive in allowing players and other constituents a platform to speak out on issues.

The problem is, there are certain topics that are third-rail issues in certain countries, societies and communities.

That the Chinese consider support for freedom in Hong Kong a “third-rail issue” should not deter Americans from speaking out on Hongkongers’ behalf. And it is deeply disingenuous of Tsai to portray the protests in Hong Kong as a “separatist movement” — that’s the Chinese state media line.

Apple Releases MacOS 10.15 ‘Catalina’ 

Among the headline new features: Sidecar (using your iPad as an external, Pencil-enabled display), Find My, and the new Music, Podcasts, and TV apps that were split out of the old iTunes app. We should start seeing the first batch of third-party Catalyst (UIKit on Mac) apps in the App Store today, too. Update: Here’s one from Post-It.

The Rich Really Do Pay Lower Taxes Than You 

David Leonhardt, writing for The New York Times:

The overall tax rate on the richest 400 households last year was only 23 percent, meaning that their combined tax payments equaled less than one quarter of their total income. This overall rate was 70 percent in 1950 and 47 percent in 1980.

For middle-class and poor families, the picture is different. Federal income taxes have also declined modestly for these families, but they haven’t benefited much if at all from the decline in the corporate tax or estate tax. And they now pay more in payroll taxes (which finance Medicare and Social Security) than in the past. Over all, their taxes have remained fairly flat.

An excellent animated graph accompanies his column, showing how the combined tax rates on the very richest of the rich in the U.S. — not the top 1 percent, but the top 400 households — has plummeted in the last few decades. Good conclusion too:

I already know what some critics will say about these arguments — that the rich will always figure out a way to avoid taxes. That’s simply not the case. True, they will always manage to avoid some taxes. But history shows that serious attempts to collect more taxes usually succeed.

Ask yourself this: If efforts to tax the super-rich were really doomed to fail, why would so many of the super-rich be fighting so hard to defeat those efforts?

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GOP Talking Points for President Trump’s Fifth Avenue Massacre 

Rajiv Moté, writing for McSweeney’s:

MYTH: “The President stood in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shot [somebody].”

FACT: It was East 57th Street, the President was on the sidewalk, and there were multiple targets.

Samsung Ends Mobile Phone Production in China 

Ju-min Park, reporting for Reuters:

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd has ended mobile telephone production in China, it said on Wednesday, hurt by intensifying competition from domestic rivals in the world’s biggest smartphone market.

The shutdown of Samsung’s last China phone factory comes after it cut production at the plant in the southern city of Huizhou in June and suspended another factory late last year, underscoring stiff competition in the country. […]

Samsung’s share of the Chinese market shrank to 1% in the first quarter from around 15% in mid-2013, as it lost out to fast-growing homegrown brands such as Huawei Technologies and Xiaomi Corp, according to market research firm Counterpoint.

“In China, people buy low-priced smartphones from domestic brands and high-end phones from Apple or Huawei. Samsung has little hope there to revive its share,” said Park Sung-soon, an analyst at Cape Investment & Securities.

A drop from 15 percent to nearly zero in just 6 years in the world’s most populous country is a precipitous collapse, but there’s a huge upside to Samsung in this: they’re completely out from under the thumb of an oppressive communist regime.

Apple’s dependence upon China for manufacturing nearly all its major products, along with its reliance upon the Chinese market as its second largest, puts the company at risk economically (subjecting them to the whims of a dictatorship in China and wannabe dictatorship domestically — the latter proving to be far more erratic) and ethically (best exemplified by China’s escalating crackdown on pro-democracy protestors in Hong Kong).

Facebook Changes Policy to Allow Trump to Lie in His Facebook Ads 

Judd Legum, writing for his excellent Popular Information newsletter:

Prior to last week, Facebook had a rule against running any ads with “false and misleading” content: “Ads, landing pages, and business practices must not contain deceptive, false, or misleading content, including deceptive claims, offers, or methods.”

But today, category 13 of prohibited content has been narrowed significantly. Now, Facebook only “prohibits ads that include claims debunked by third-party fact checkers or, in certain circumstances, claims debunked by organizations with particular expertise.”

The old rules prohibited all ads that contained “false” and “misleading” content and made no mention of the fact-checking program. The new rules are limited to claims that are “debunked by third-party fact checkers.”

Moreover, Facebook says “political figures” are exempt from even that narrow restriction.

And, just like that, I’m back on team “Fuck you, Facebook.” This company is a legitimate menace to liberal democracy.

Attorney General Bill Barr Will Ask Facebook to Halt Plans for End-to-End Encryption Across Facebook’s Apps 

BuzzFeed News has an advance copy of an open letter from U.S. Attorney General William Barr, along with officials from the United Kingdom and Australia, to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg:

We therefore call on Facebook and other companies to take the following steps:

· Embed the safety of the public in system designs, thereby enabling you to continue to act against illegal content effectively with no reduction to safety, and facilitating the prosecution of offenders and safeguarding of victims;

· Enable law enforcement to obtain lawful access to content in a readable and usable format;

· Engage in consultation with governments to facilitate this in a way that is substantive and genuinely influences your design decisions;

They don’t use the word “backdoor” but that’s what they’re asking for. End-to-end encryption doesn’t allow for backdoors. So what they’re really asking is for Facebook not to use end-to-end encryption. And the only truly secure, truly private encryption for personal communication is end-to-end encryption. So, when you boil it all down and ignore the emotional pleas that would have you believe this is all about protecting children, what they’re really asking is for Facebook not to safeguard the security and privacy of the messaging of billions of people around the world.

For once, count me on the side of Facebook.

Taboola and Outbrain, Dueling Slumlords of the ‘Content Recommendation’ Shitbox Advertising Cesspool, to Merge 

Is there anything more embarrassing than seeing an otherwise reputable site with Taboola or Outbrain links at the bottom?

Whistleblower: Boeing Rejected 737 Max Safety Upgrades Before Fatal Crashes 

Dominic Gates, Steve Miletich, and Lewis Kamb, reporting for The Seattle Times:

The ethics charge, filed by 33-year-old engineer Curtis Ewbank, whose job involved studying past crashes and using that information to make new planes safer, describes how around 2014 his group presented to managers and senior executives a proposal to add various safety upgrades to the MAX.

The complaint, a copy of which was reviewed by The Seattle Times, suggests that one of the proposed systems could have potentially prevented the crashes in Indonesia and Ethiopia that killed 346 people. Three of Ewbank’s former colleagues interviewed for this story concurred. […]

Managers twice rejected adding the new system on the basis of “cost and potential (pilot) training impact,” the complaint states. It was then raised a third time in a meeting with 737 MAX chief project engineer, Michael Teal, who cited the same objections as he killed the proposal.

Just devastating allegations — which ring very true.

This piece by Matt Stoller back in July documents the downfall of Boeing. Boeing was once one of the greatest companies in the world, with an engineering- and design-driven internal culture that served the company well financially. Make great airplanes and airlines will buy them. But then they acquired McDonnell-Douglas, primarily a military contractor, and McDonnell-Douglas executives wound up in charge of the combined company. They destroyed Boeing’s engineering-first culture, culminating in the literally disastrous 737 Max.

Surface Earbuds 

$250 and they look like Apple Watch chargers stuck in your ear. And people argued that AirPods were too expensive and looked funny.

Lauren Goode on Microsoft’s Surface Duo and Neo 

Lauren Goode, writing for Wired:

One gets the sense that the new Surface Neo tablet and Surface Duo, the un-phone, are now-or-never projects. These are throwbacks to the rumored Courier booklet and the more recent Andromeda fever dreams of Panos Panay come to life. But they’re also mini Surfaces designed to catapult Microsoft back into mobile. Even so, they’re not expected to ship until the holiday season of 2020. […]

In fact, the most recent version of the Duo doesn’t have a rear-facing camera. The way it’s currently designed, taking a picture would require the person using it to open the Duo, unlock the Duo, and flip its front-facing camera to the back of the device. I question this, more than once. Panay says it’s still early days, that the camera may change, that he’s nervous to reveal this so far in advance because it exposes the design to competitors.

“These are our efforts for the past two and a half years, so there’s a balance to the number of details I can give, even with regards to the camera,” he tells me. […]

Panay says he didn’t think about making a single-screened phone, and that this dual-screened phone is the antithesis of a single-screened phone in many ways, because of how much more productive you can be on it. It is so obvious that he loves this thing. That he’s been restraining himself from talking about it publicly for one, two, nearly three years now. That he feels more productive with it, though it remains to be seen whether there’s a market for dual-screened, cellular-equipped, Android devices running optimized Windows apps.

There’s certainly some original thinking here in both these devices. The various ways the hardware keyboard can attach to the larger one, the Neo, is pretty clever. But in very typical Microsoft fashion, the Neo and Duo are both just prototypes. They’re over a year from shipping according to the company, the software is so early days that the media weren’t allowed to play with them, there’s no word on pricing, and Panay admits they haven’t even decided fundamental aspects like how many cameras they’ll have.

And in the meantime, they’ve completely overshadowed the real products Microsoft actually announced yesterday.

Microsoft started yesterday’s event by banging the drum that they never have and never will compromise on the quality of their laptop keyboards — a clear and completely fair competitive dig at Apple. That’s the message they should have left the world with — that they, not Apple — now make the best laptop hardware in the world. Instead, they left everyone talking about two products that won’t be out for another year.

Three Months 

Eric Miraglia, Google’s director of privacy and data protection:

In May, we announced that you could automatically delete your Location History and Web & App Activity, which includes things you’ve searched and browsed. We promised to bring this to more products, and now we’re bringing Auto-delete to YouTube History. Set the time period to keep your data — 3 months, 18 months, or until you delete it, just like Location History and Web & App Activity — and we’ll take care of the rest.

That’s nice, but three months seems long for the shortest interval. Why not something measured in days? How much do you want to bet they don’t even use your history from over three months ago for ad targeting?

Halide 1.14’s Lens Switcher and Field-of-View Guides 

Speaking of Halide, version 1.14 is out and has some sweet UI ideas for the 3-camera system on iPhone 11 Pro. Ben Sandofsky:

At a glance, our lens switcher looks the same as before; we kept it in the same spot so it doesn’t interfere with your viewfinder and is within easy reach. Keeping the viewfinder clear of any obstructions is one of our highest priorities.

It works similarly, too, at first glance: just keep tapping to cycle between 1x, 2x, and 0.5x sizes.

Unfortunately, switching cameras has a bit of a delay. If you’re composing a shot and want to compare the 0.5x and 1x lenses, cycling past that 2x lens feels slow and clunky. No sweat. Haptic touch (or in common parlance, long press) the lens button to bring up our lens switcher.

This is a really clever bit of UI, very well-implemented. And part of that, as Sandofsky notes, is that it never obstructs the viewfinder.

Deep Fusion Coming to iPhones 11 in iOS 13.2 Beta 1 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

Apple is launching an early look at its new Deep Fusion feature on iOS today soon with a software update for beta users. Deep Fusion is a technique that blends multiple exposures together at the pixel level to give users a higher level of detail than is possible using standard HDR imaging — especially in images with very complicated textures like skin, clothing or foliage.

It requires the A13 chip, so it’s iPhones 11-only. I spoke with Apple this morning about it, and Panzarino’s description of how Deep Fusion works matches my notes exactly. Just read his write-up.

Here’s an interesting tidbit: Deep Fusion only works with the telephoto and regular wide lenses — it does not work with the ultra-wide lens. Because of that, Deep Fusion is not compatible with “Photos Capture Outside the Frame”, because the outside-the-frame content is usually captured with the ultra-wide lens. So I think we now have two reasons why “Photos Capture Outside the Frame” is not turned on by default:

  1. Apple believes that Deep Fusion will improve more photos for more users than Capture Outside the Frame will, so Capture Outside the Frame is off by default. Deep Fusion is not a mode or even an option like Night Mode is — it will simply apply automatically when the Camera app thinks it should. For the wide angle lens, that’s in mid-range indoor lighting conditions; for the telephoto, Deep Fusion will be applied in all but the brightest outdoor conditions. (So, if you want to compare the effect of Deep Fusion, one way to do it is to capture the same scene with and without “Photos Capture Outside the Frame” enabled — only when it’s disabled will Deep Fusion kick in.)

  2. Privacy. Someone framing a still photo might have something outside the frame they would not want captured — anything from a shirtless portrait where the ultra-wide image would reveal the subject is pantsless as well, to an object on your desk or countertop where the ultra-wide image might reveal an envelope with your home address.


Adam Lisagor:

We used to be Sandwich Video. In fact, we’ve been Sandwich Video since 2010, officially. But today, I’m so proud to announce our new name. A shorter name. Leaner, more agile. Why? Just feels right. […]

Eventually the ambiguity wore off and Sandwich Video had established itself as the upstart little production company for hot new tech companies to get great bespoke videos. We called them “videos” then because what else could they be? Demos? Promos? Probably not “commercials” and definitely not “content”. We made videos for clients, and our output had its own built-in subgenre: if you went to Sandwich Video, you ended up with a Sandwich video. And our style was distinct, so everybody knew it was a Sandwich video. Video video video.

I absolutely love the new Sandwich logo. It’s just perfect. It looks great, it fits the feel of the company to a T, and there’s a timelessness to it. Fun without being goofy or silly is a hard thing to pull off in a logo, but this mark does it. They could be using this logo decades from now and it’ll still look right. The new website is a model of good design and honest copywriting. (Don’t miss Agency Mode.)

See also: Armin Vit on the new logo at Brand New:

I don’t even know why I am over-rationalizing this… it made me smile, it made me happy, and it makes me want a sandwich.

Bloomberg Promotes Michael Riley, Co-Reporter of Last Year’s Bullshit ‘The Big Hack’ Story 

Erik Wemple, writing for The Washington Post:

Nearly a year ago, Bloomberg reported that China had penetrated the U.S. high-tech infrastructure via a hardware hack affecting some brand-name companies including Apple and Amazon Web Services, as well as prominent server-maker Supermicro. The “Big Hack,” however, sustained denials from the companies themselves, top government officials and cybersecurity experts. Apple chief executive Tim Cook called for a retraction. (Amazon founder Jeff Bezos is the owner of the Washington Post).

Responding to setback after setback, Bloomberg issued the same statement: “We stand by our story and are confident in our reporting and sources.”

Now we know that Bloomberg’s external show of confidence matches its internal thinking. In a memo to staff on Monday, Bloomberg News Editor in Chief John Micklethwait announced that Michael Riley — the second co-byline on “The Big Hack” along with Jordan Robertson — would be taking on the expanded role of cybersecurity czar at the news outlet.

Wemple is being generous, if not euphemistic, in describing Bloomberg’s “The Big Hack” story as “challenged”. It’s more than “challenged” — it is disputed by all parties involved and one year later, not one whit of evidence has been produced that a single word of it is true, nor has there been a single corroborating report from another publication. Security researchers and competing news publications have spent countless hours over the last year searching for any proof of these “grain of rice”-sized chips on motherboards that grant backdoor access to servers, and found nothing.

You can’t prove a negative, but by all appearances, “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Bloomberg reporters Jordan Robertson and Michael Riley were sold a bill of goods by government sources looking to make China look bad and ran with it, and Bloomberg, as a publication, has closed its eyes and stuck its collective fingers in its ears for the last year, refusing to do what they obviously need to do and fully retract the story.

And now they’ve promoted Riley to “cybersecurity czar” for the entire outlet. Jiminy.