Linked List: April 2020

The Talk Show: ‘Some Kind of Sandwich’ 

Dieter Bohn joins the show to talk about the iPad Magic Keyboard, the new iPhone SE, and the state of Android flagship phones.

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Francisco Tolmasky on the iPad Getting Graded on a Curve 

Francisco Tolmasky, in a tweet thread:

The frustrating thing about the iPad is that I constantly feel that I need to be buying into a philosophy. There’s rarely a good reason for why I can’t do something other than me “not getting what the iPad is about”. This never happens with the Mac or the iPhone.

The limitations of the iPhone feel earned due to the nature of the device. You can get away with a lot because it feels amazing that I can get this much done in this form factor to begin with. But the iPad form factor is basically the same as a laptop, so it deserves no slack.

This thread resonated deeply with me, and gets to some of the UI design issues with iPadOS I’ve been trying to express recently. I think he makes one mistake — he mixes in complaints about the Magic Keyboard accessory with complaints about iPadOS conceptually. (He’s frustrated that you can’t fold the Magic Keyboard open like a book, like you can with the Smart Keyboard.) Without putting words in Tolmasky’s mouth, I think he lumped in a critique of the Magic Keyboard on the grounds that the ways the it makes you more productive on an iPad ought not require a heavy, expensive, inflexible keyboard stand to achieve. But to me it waters down the basic argument.

Two things I’ve noted with irritation this week, while trying to do more daily work on iPad:

  • The Command-Tab switcher only shows the 8 most recent apps. Why? It’s surprising how often I bump into this limit, trying to switch to an app that has bounced off the end of this short list. (On my MacBook Pro, where I’m typing this, I currently have 33 apps in the Command-Tab switcher. Is that excessive? Sure. But MacOS just shrugs its shoulders.)

  • On the Mac, just about anywhere you want to be able to search for text, you can search for text. ⌘F invokes a search field in almost every app that displays or edits text. On iPad, it’s rare. Notably, Mail. Why in the world can you not search for a string of text within the current message in Mail? Mail on iPad is phone-class email, not desktop-class email. But it’s not like Mail is some unusual exception to this — on iPad the exceptions are the places where ⌘F does work. To borrow Tomalsky’s phrasing, iPad deserves no slack on this.

  • Bonus third gripe, related to the second: What you can search for in Mail on iPad — searching not within the current message but across all messages — stinks. “Your next computer is not a computer” is catchy; “Your next computer can’t search for email messages” not so much.

Update: More from Tolmasky, following up on my post here.

Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera – 12 MP Sensor and Interchangeable Lenses 

Les Pounder, writing for Tom’s Hardware:

The Raspberry Pi Camera Module is one of those add ons that we love to play with. Creating images and videos using a $35 Raspberry Pi in real time is still mind blowing for most. You can even use your Raspberry Pi as a PC webcam. But the two previous first-party camera modules have suffered with a fixed focus, albeit good quality, lens and fragile construction.

Enter the Raspberry Pi High Quality Camera, a new module that ups the image quality with a new 12-MP sensor and supports interchangeable lenses and tripod-mounting. The module is larger and, at $50 without any of the required lenses, quite a bit more expensive than prior models, but the increased resolution and flexibility make it a great choice for photography-intensive projects.

With so much of the computer industry moving away from hobbyist tinkering, Raspberry Pi is a delightful exception. I don’t know what I’d do with this but I want to do something.

Apple Q2 2020 Results: $58B Revenue, but No Guidance for Next Quarter 

Jason Snell:

Apple on Thursday announced that it generated $58B in revenue during its second fiscal quarter. Services revenue was up again, wearables revenue was up again, and iPhone, Mac, and iPad were down. The company declined to give guidance on what it thought would happen during the current quarter, given how uncertain the world economy and pandemic situation are.

Charts! We’ve got many of them below.

Two quick notes that jumped out at me:

  • Services (23%) now account for quite a bit more of Apple’s revenue than Mac and iPad combined (9% and 7%).

  • The iPhone fell at exactly 50% of revenue. Services will soon be half as big a business as iPhone. Part of this is that iPhone revenue was down 7% year-over-year, and Services revenue isn’t cyclical and simply continues to grow. It was never true from a functional standpoint, but even from a financial standpoint, Apple should no longer be seen as The iPhone Company.

Regarding the Washington Post’s Poll on Americans’ Willingness to Use Smartphone Apps for Exposure Notification 

Craig Timberg, Drew Harwell, and Alauna Safarpour, reporting for The Washington Post:

Among the 82 percent of Americans who do have smartphones, willingness to use an infection-tracing app is split evenly, with 50 percent saying they definitely or probably would use such an app and an equal percentage saying they probably or definitely would not. Willingness runs highest among Democrats and people reporting they are worried about a covid-19 infection making them seriously ill. Resistance is higher among Republicans and people reporting a lower level of personal worry about getting the virus.

Imagine how this number might change if Apple and Google offered, say, $5 in credit for the iTunes and Play stores for anyone who enabled the system setting and installed an exposure notification app from their local government. Or if Google and Apple jointly create some TV commercials to promote this effort while simultaneously explaining how private it is.

A major source of skepticism about the infection-tracing apps is distrust of Google, Apple and tech companies generally, with a majority expressing doubts about whether they would protect the privacy of health data. A 57 percent majority of smartphone users report having a “great deal” or a “good amount” of trust in public health agencies, and 56 percent trust universities. That compares with 47 percent who trust health insurance companies and 43 percent who trust tech companies like Google and Apple.

The results of this poll are getting a lot of press, but this paragraph shows just how fundamentally flawed the questions were. The pollsters who wrote the questions and these reporters from the Post clearly have no idea what Apple and Google are actually doing. Apple and Google are not making an “app”. They’re creating system-level APIs so that official government health agencies around the world can create apps. So if people trust public health agencies more than they trust Apple and Google, that actually means they are already more likely to trust such apps, when they become available, because the apps will bear the imprimatur of their respective local health agencies.

This shit is important, let’s get it right.

How the Apple-Google Exposure Notification Project Came Together 

Christina Farr, reporting for CNBC:

In mid-March, with Covid-19 spreading to almost every country in the world, a small team at Apple started brainstorming how they could help. They knew that smartphones would be key to the global coronavirus response, particularly as countries started relaxing their shelter-in-place orders. To prepare for that, governments and private companies were building so-called “contact tracing” apps to monitor citizens’ movements and determine whether they might have come into contact with someone infected with the virus.

Within a few weeks, the Apple project — code-named “Bubble” — had dozens of employees working on it with executive-level support from two sponsors: Craig Federighi, a senior vice president of software engineering, and Jeff Williams, the company’s chief operating officer and de-facto head of healthcare. By the end of the month, Google had officially come on board, and about a week later, the companies’ two CEOs Tim Cook and Sundar Pichai met virtually to give their final vote of approval to the project.

Not a ton of internal details, but fascinating nonetheless. I don’t see why anyone is expressing surprise over Apple and Google collaborating on this, though. Of course they are. There are dozens of reasons for informed people to be cynical about both Apple and Google. But there’s really no reason at all to be cynical about this effort. Both companies are showing their work. We can verify from their published specs not only that these new exposure notification APIs are not intended for any sort of nefarious purposes, but that they can’t be.

Sometimes the simple explanation is the truth: Apple and Google are trying to do the best they can to help. That means working fast, working together, and designing a system that protects users’ privacy and engenders trust.

Another iOS 13.5 Beta Tweak: An Option to Disable ‘Automatic Prominence’ for the Current Speaker’s Tile in Group FaceTime 

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

Secondly, Apple is adding a toggle in iOS 13.5 allowing you to disable the “enlarge the face of the speaker” feature in Group FaceTime calls, which comes as a great relief to anybody who has used, and potentially become nauseated by, this feature. However, it’s not disabled by default (boo), so you’re still going to have to walk all your less tech-savvy relatives through how to turn this off.

This feature sounds clever and makes for a fun demo, but methinks a lot of folks at Apple (executives included) are using group FaceTime chats more than ever before lately, and have realized that in practice, especially in larger groups, it’s not a good experience.

New iOS 13.5 Beta Speeds Up Unlocking With Passcode When Wearing a Mask 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

In the iOS 13.5 beta, released this morning, Apple has streamlined the speed with which the passcode pops up when a person wearing a mask is detected, making it easier to get into an iPhone with a passcode when Face ID fails.

Speedier access to the passcode interface is noticeable when you swipe upwards on the Home screen when unlocking the iPhone, as this action now immediately brings up the passcode interface if your face is covered by a mask. Previously, the iPhone would attempt to initiate Face ID first, creating a few seconds of delay before the passcode interface was shown. The new, speedier passcode entry method makes it quicker to get into an iPhone.

I think it is still trying Face ID first, but if it looks like you’re wearing a face mask, it gives up and goes straight to the passphrase screen. The difference is that until now, it would keep trying Face ID for a few extra seconds.

Update: iOS 13.5 is clearly going to make this better by just skipping right to the passphrase screen, but it turns out you can jump to that screen immediately in the current version of iOS just by tapping the “Face ID” text label in the center of the screen. I had no idea this text acted like a button, and never would have guessed that it did. If only there were some way that on-screen elements that act like buttons could be made to look like buttons…

David Letterman on Mike Pence Not Wearing Mask at Mayo Clinic 

The Hollywood Reporter:

Letterman, who noted the wife of his former musical director Paul Shaffer was hospitalized with COVID-19, lambasted Pence for the move.

“Now if you go to the Mayo Clinic because you have COVID-19, you really have it,” Letterman said. “[Pence] takes time off from his gig as a mannequin, and he’s walking around without a mask taunting these poor people who are bedridden and wearing a mask. To me, that is just taunting people who are ill, to see that guy walking around in his $40 suit walking around in the Mayo Clinic without a mask.”

Letterman joked that he had intel that Trump would not wear a mask because his aides couldn’t figure out how to attach it to his hair.

Man, if only Letterman still had a show. He was doing episodes of his late night talk show from unusual locations long before now, when all the late night talk shows have to be shot from unusual locations.

Joanna Stern Reviews the New iPhone SE 

“Note: Actual iPhone SE does not talk or have a face” — without question, the funniest video review of the iPhone SE last week. Her column for the WSJ is spot-on too (+), emphasizing that, low price aside, design-wise it is exactly the iPhone a lot of potential buyers are looking for.

Rene Ritchie: iPhone SE vs. iPhone 8 

Great idea for a video: just compare the new SE to its near-lookalike predecessor, the iPhone 8. Even if price is your biggest concern, no deal on a new iPhone 8 remaining in channel inventory is a better value than $400 for a new SE in my opinion. For the price-conscious, the fact that the SE has an extra two years of legroom on software updates is a huge factor.

Marques Brownlee Reviews the New iPhone SE 

Fun, insightful, well-illustrated review, as usual. His review unit was red, naturally.

WSJ: ‘Bill Comes Due for Overextended Airbnb Hosts’ 

Tripp Mickle and Preetika Rana, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

For years, Cheryl Dopp considered the ding on her phone from a new Airbnb Inc. booking to be the sound of what she called “magical money.” A property she rented out in Jersey City, N.J., on Airbnb could gross more than $8,000 a month, she said, double what long-term tenants would pay.

Now, Ms. Dopp associates the dings with cancellations and financial misery. The 54-year-old information-technology contractor said she had about $10,000 in bookings evaporate overnight in March. She has $22,000 in monthly expenses for a largely Airbnb portfolio, she said, that included another Jersey City home and a house in Miami.

Good apartments have always been hard to find — harder in some cities than others, of course — but Airbnb has consumed many rental markets. $8,000 in Airbnb rentals for a $4,000 apartment is great if you own the apartment, but devastating for local residents looking for, you know, a place to live. In a handful of years, Airbnb went from a service that let you make money from renting out a spare bedroom to a market dominated by speculators.

I don’t blame the speculators for getting while the getting was good. But now that the short-term rental market has completely vanished, I have absolutely zero sympathy for them, either.

(Apple News link for News+ subscribers.)

iPhone SE’s Haptic Touch Doesn’t Work in Notification Center, Apparently by Design 

A lot of complaints about this, and rightly so, from folks upgrading to the new SE from older iPhones that supported 3D Touch. I didn’t take note of this while reviewing the SE, because I didn’t realize (or remember really) that older phones in the 6/7/8 form factor used 3D Touch for acting on notifications. You can get to the same actions by swiping right to left on a notification and tapping the View button, but still. If the SE supports Haptic Touch at all — and it does — I don’t understand why it wouldn’t support Haptic Touch events for notifications.

There are a lot of small differences between the pre-iPhone-X user interface and post-iPhone-X user interface in iOS. When I first heard about this issue with notifications on the SE, I thought it was something that wasn’t supported in the pre-X interface. But it is — but only on phones with 3D Touch. But the whole thing with 3D Touch and Haptic Touch is so confusing, and has been handled so poorly by Apple in terms of how 3D Touch was used in iOS and which devices had it and which did not (no iPad ever had 3D Touch, for example), that you can’t possibly expect regular iPhone buyers to understand that the reason the new SE doesn’t support long-pressing notifications to act on them is that (a) it has the pre-X Touch ID user interface, and (b) doesn’t have 3D Touch. I’m not even entirely sure that that’s the full explanation for why this is, and it’s my job to stay on top of stuff like this. All I know is that there is only one iPhone in Apple’s current lineup that doesn’t support long-pressing notifications and that phone is the SE, the very newest model, and that doesn’t make sense.

Jason Snell Reviews the 12.9-Inch iPad Magic Keyboard 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

This is basically my iPad dream, fulfilled. But dreams are amorphous things, and they fall apart if you begin to interrogate them logically. The Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro isn’t a dream, it’s a real product, one that’s sitting in my lap right now. It’s one thing for Apple to decide that it’s time to offer a full laptop experience on the iPad — and an altogether different thing to execute that vision.

As I scrutinize the Magic Keyboard, it doesn’t fall apart as if it were a dream — it holds together, solidly. This is a product that isn’t for everyone, to be sure… but it’s exactly what I’ve been looking for.

I really enjoyed Snell’s review, and found it comforting that we came to extremely similar conclusions despite coming from quite different starting points. We’re both longtime — very longtime —  Mac aficionados, but he’s been on Team Do Work Using an iPad for years now. Long story short, I have not. But for all the same reasons that he finds the iPad Magic Keyboard and newfound pointer support in iPadOS make working on iPad even better, I find they make it possible.

I think that’s the key to all this: Apple has made iPad better in new ways without making it worse in any existing way.

Dan Moren Reviews the Logitech Combo Touch iPad Keyboard Cover/Case 

Dan Moren, writing at Six Colors:

The biggest argument in favor of the Combo Touch is that it was developed in concert with Apple. That means that, unlike other third-party keyboards with trackpads, there’s a reasonable expectation that the pointer support will work pretty well — and it does! Logitech also has a history of making solid keyboards, and the Combo Touch delivers on that as well.

Where it’s less good is when you want to do other stuff with it.

iPads other than the 2018 and 2020 iPad Pro just weren’t designed hand-in-hand with a modular system of peripherals in mind. The dealbreaker for me with the Combo Touch is that you can’t just connect/disconnect the iPad — you have to put the iPad in a case. I don’t know how much of this is a design concession, and how much is a feature for education buyers, who for obvious reasons prefer their iPads in protective cases.

If there’s one addition I’d like to see on this and other iPad keyboards, it’s the return of something deeply ingrained into my muscle memory: the Function key. On Mac keyboards, it’s in the bottom left corner of the keyboard, and not only allows you to access secondary functions of those F-keys, but also other useful features. For example, holding Function and using the up- and down-arrow keys allows you to page up and page down; I haven’t discovered any other keyboard shortcuts for that, though command-up-arrow and command-down-arrow do, as they long have on the Mac, double for Home and End.

It seems slightly odd to me that you can’t remap a modifier to Function in Settings → Keyboard → Hardware Keyboard. I suppose Apple’s thinking might be that Function is primarily for modifying F-keys, and Apple’s own Smart and Magic keyboards for iPad don’t have F-keys — but most third-party keyboards do, as does Apple’s own Bluetooth Magic Keyboard (which pairs nicely with an iPad with Studio Neat’s Canopy).

Option-↑ and Option-↓ do map to Page Up and Page Down, but only when you are in a read-only scrolling view. When you are editing text, Option-↑ and Option-↓ move the insertion point to the beginning/end of the current paragraph. Likewise, Command-↑ and Command-↓ only map to Home and End in read-only views; when editing text, they move the insertion point to the beginning/end of the document. That has the side effect of scrolling to the beginning/end of the document, too, but the actual Home/End keys (and Fn-↑/Fn-↓ shortcuts) only scroll the view — they don’t move the insertion point. That’s handy when you want to look at something at the beginning/end of the document but then just start typing again right where you left off.

Ben Sandofsky on the New iPhone SE’s Monocular Depth Estimation 

Ben Sandofsky, writing at the Halide blog:

“Doesn’t the iPhone XR do that? It also only has a single camera!”, you might say. As we covered previously, while the iPhone XR has a single camera, it still obtained depth information through hardware. Its sensor features focus pixels, which you can think of as tiny pairs of “eyes” designed to help with focus. The XR uses the very slight differences seen out of each eye to generate a very rough depth map.

The new iPhone SE doesn’t have focus pixels, or any other starting point for depth. It generates depth entirely through machine learning. It’s easy to test this yourself: take a picture of another picture.

The fact that the new SE apparently has the exact same sensor as the iPhone 8, but is noticeably more capable, exemplifies the potential of computational photography. Remember too, that everything Apple does for the SE can also be applied to iPhones (and iPads) that do have multiple cameras and focus pixels on their sensors. A rising tide lifts all boats.

A Message From Dr. Anthony Fauci 

“‘Relatively soon’ is an interesting phrase.”

Visualizing Apple’s COVID Mobility Data 

Kieran Healy:

Apple recently released a batch of mobility data in connection with the COVID-19 pandemic. The data is aggregated from requests for directions in Apple Maps and is provided at the level of whole countries and also for a selection of large cities around the world. I folded the dataset into the covdata package for R that I’ve been updating, as I plan to use it this Fall in a course I’ll be teaching. Here I’ll take a quick look at some of the data. Along the way — as it turns out — I end up reminding myself of a lesson I’ve learned before about making sure you understand your measure before you think you understand what it is showing.

Healy recently published Data Visualization: A Practical Introduction, one of my favorite books from last year.

When Should You Wear a Mask in Public? 

Katie Notopoulos, writing BuzzFeed’s How To Plague advice column:

A good way to gauge the amount of distance where it’s OK to dangle your mask around your neck or off one ear is to imagine your mouth is your asshole. If you were completely alone, it would be fine to let your nude tushy hang out, but you’d want to pull on your pants as soon as you saw anyone coming, even from 100 feet away. Basically, if someone can see you, mask up.

Privacy Tweaks in Version 1.1 of Apple and Google COVID-19 Exposure Notification Spec 

Joe Rossignol, reporting for MacRumors:

Apple and Google are now referring to “contact tracing” as “exposure notification,” which the companies believe better describes the functionality of their upcoming API. The system is intended to notify a person of potential exposure, augmenting broader contact tracing efforts that public health authorities are undertaking.

A name is just a name, but names matter, and I think “exposure notification” is clearly a more accurate name for what this joint effort is enabling. This system can be a tool for governments conducting contact tracing, but it is not contact tracing in and of itself.

Reuters: ‘Germany Flips to Apple-Google Approach on Smartphone Contact Tracing’ 

Douglas Busvine and Andreas Rinke, reporting for Reuters:

Germany changed course on Sunday over which type of smartphone technology it wanted to use to trace coronavirus infections, backing an approach supported by Apple and Google along with a growing number of other European countries. […]

Chancellery Minister Helge Braun and Health Minister Jens Spahn said in a joint statement that Berlin would adopt a “decentralised” approach to digital contact tracing, thus abandoning a home-grown alternative that would have given health authorities central control over tracing data.

Microsoft Word Now Flags Two Spaces After a Period as an Error 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge:

Microsoft has settled the great space debate, and sided with everyone who believes one space after a period is correct, not two. The software giant has started to update Microsoft Word to highlight two spaces after a period (a full stop for you Brits) as an error, and to offer a correction to one space. Microsoft recently started testing this change with the desktop version of Word, offering suggestions through the Editor capabilities of the app.

Wake me up when Word starts flagging the use of Arial with “Did you mean to use Helvetica?” if you want to give Microsoft any credit at all for doing right by good typography.

The two-spaces thing has been a “debate” only in the way that wondering if the earth is round, or if man landed on the moon, or if you should smash up a couple of cherries and orange wedges while mixing an Old Fashioned, have ever been debates. One side has all the experts in agreement; the other side is wrong. Go look at a few professionally-typeset books — every single sentence on every page in every book has one space after the period.

If you have the double-space habit as a typist, you shouldn’t worry about it. Just go ahead and double-space and trust your software to do the right thing — either replacing your double spaces with a single space as you type or when you publish. Web browsers, for example, will all do the right thing. Most die-hard double-spacers don’t seem to know this, but from the get-go, HTML has specified collapsing runs of multiple spaces into a single space. You can type three or four spaces after each sentence if you want, but web browsers are going to render them as a single space. When you do see two spaces after a period on a webpage, the space-space sequence has been transmogrified into a non-breaking space ( ) followed by a normal space — a sure sign of typographically ignorant software somewhere in the publishing chain.

John Legere Resigns From T-Mobile Board of Directors ‘To Pursue Other Options’ 

Chris Welch, The Verge:

After steering T-Mobile through a dramatic turnaround that culminated in its successful merger with former rival Sprint, Legere stepped down and Mike Sievert was appointed T-Mobile’s new chief executive earlier this month. At that time, Legere had said he would remain on T-Mobile’s board of directors until June 4th. But that’s not the case anymore. In an 8K filing with the SEC today, T-Mobile revealed that Legere is leaving the board “effective immediately to pursue other options.”

“Mr. Legere noted that he was not resigning because of any disagreement with management or the board on any matter,” T-Mobile said in its note.

He’s going to need some new clothes.

Dieter Bohn on the iPad Magic Keyboard 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

In the first of several “finallys” for the iPad, the keys are also backlit. They adjust automatically based on the ambient lighting conditions, and they were exactly the right brightness most of the time. However, if you just want to turn them off if you’re watching a movie in the dark or something, then you’re in for a hassle.

To fix that, you have to go to the iPad’s Settings app, then dig into General, then Hardware Keyboard, and only then will you be able to adjust the brightness using a slider. […] Both of these hassles could have been immediately and instantly solved if Apple had simply put a function row of keys above the number row. There are plenty of system-wide buttons that would be useful there! Music controls, volume, screen and keyboard brightness, home, multitasking, search: all things for which it would be convenient to have dedicated buttons.

I’m OK with omitting F-keys, both in principle and in practice. In principle, F-keys are fiddly holdovers from decades ago; I don’t think using Control Center to manage audio, display brightness, music playback, etc. is a hassle. That’s obviously my subjective opinion though — I seldom use those keys even when I have them. But practically, as I mentioned in my review, there just isn’t room for them on the Magic Keyboard — when the connected iPad is at its widest angle, it already overhangs the row of number keys. A row of F-keys would be completely under the “floating” iPad.

The problem with controlling keyboard backlighting isn’t the lack of dedicated hardware F-keys. The problem is that going deep into Settings is the only way to control it. Clearly it ought to be a slider in Control Center, and backlighting ought to be controllable via Siri. (If you ask Siri to control the keyboard backlight brightness, it just shows you the slider for display brightness.)

Any app that doesn’t use Apple’s standard APIs for creating buttons or text views feels off-kilter with the trackpad. Stuff you can swipe with your finger can’t be swiped with the trackpad, text selection can be a fiasco, and the cursor doesn’t always do its neat shape-shifting tricks. Google’s apps are particularly guilty here, but they’re far from the only ones.

Google’s apps are awful iOS citizens in general — Chrome being a notable exception — so this is unsurprising. Trackpad issues aside (and Docs is just atrocious with a trackpad — it doesn’t even switch to the I-beam pointer for text editing, which I’ve never seen on any other app), where Google’s iPad apps fall completely apart is keyboard support. The ones I’ve looked at don’t have any keyboard shortcuts at all. No ⌘R for replying in Gmail, no ⌘N for creating new items in Gmail, Tasks, or Keep. Nothing. At least trackpad support in iPadOS is a new thing. Hardware keyboards have been supported for years. It’s ridiculous. (Again, Chrome is a bit of an exception — it has a bunch of good keyboard shortcuts. The Chrome app for iOS feels like it was made by an entirely different company than the rest of Google’s apps — a company that is at least notionally aware of how iOS apps should behave. But even in Chrome you can’t use the trackpad pointer to drag tabs, etc.) Lesson: native apps that follow the idioms of the underlying platform are good, film at 11. [Update: Turns out the Gmail app for iPad does support some keyboard shortcuts, but (a) they’re based on the Gmail web app, not the standards for native iOS apps, and (b) they’re hidden behind a setting that for some bizarre reason is off by default.]

Bohn argues toward the end of his review that he prefers several aspects of Microsoft’s keyboard/trackpad cover for the Surface Pro X. (This segment is best illustrated in his video.) I just don’t see how the Surface keyboard design could work without a built-in kickstand on the tablet, and I, for one, say no thanks to a kickstand built into iPads. And the Surface keyboard design is a no-go for use as a laptop on your actual lap or on an airplane seat-back tray. But it’s definitely interesting to get the perspective of someone who owns and likes a Surface Pro.

Panzarino on the iPad Magic Keyboard 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

Over the past two years, I’ve typed nearly every word I’ve written while traveling on the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard Folio. […] For the purposes of this look at the new Magic Keyboard, though, you should probably just know two things about the old Keyboard Folio:

  1. It was reliable, incredibly durable and never once failed me.

  2. It kind of stunk in every other way.

Really good review from the perspective of someone who — unlike me — was a heavy user of Apple’s Smart Keyboard cover.

A little quirk: when it’s tilted super far back to the full stop I sometimes nick the bottom edge of the iPad with my fingers when hitting numbers — could be my typing form or bigger hands but I thought it was worth mentioning.

I’ve noticed this too — and even more so with the 11-inch model, which arrived two days ago and I’ve been using since. It’s not even a problem, per se, it’s just … weird. In close to 40 years of computering I’ve never before used a keyboard where my fingers nick an overhang while reaching for the Delete key.

‘Why We Can’t Build’ 

Ezra Klein, writing at Vox, on Marc Andreessen’s “It’s Time to Build” call to arms:

Which goes to a problem that afflicts governance at all levels of America: If you live in a vetocracy and one of your two political parties actively wants the government to work poorly, the government will work poorly. And so it does. […]

I don’t think that’ll be enough. So let me end with my answer to Andreessen’s question: What should we build? We should build institutions biased toward action and ambition, rather than inaction and incrementalism. […] At the federal level, I’d get rid of the filibuster, simplify the committee system, democratize elections, and make sure majorities could implement their agendas once elected. As I’ve argued for years, we should prefer the problems of a system where elected majorities can fulfill the promises that got them elected to one where elected majorities cannot deliver on the promises that the American people voted for. The latter system, which is the one Americans live in now, drives frustration and dysfunction.

Strong endorsement for this basic notion from me — knowing full well that political tides ebb and flow. Let the party in power try new things. If they turn out to be unpopular, the tide will change and so too will the laws and policies. Conduct politics more like we do science: try new ideas and see what happens. The Senate has been slowly moving away from the filibuster in favor of simple majority rule anyway — e.g. Brett Kavanaugh’s nomination to the Supreme Court.

‘How Tech Can Build’ 

Ben Thompson, following up on Marc Andreessen’s “It’s Time to Build”:

What it means to ask more of one another, at least in tech, is right there in the overlap between preferences and vision.

First, tech should embrace and accelerate distributed work. It makes tech more accessible to more people. It seeds more parts of the country with potential entrepreneurs. It dramatically decreases the cost of living for employees. It creates the conditions for more stable companies that can take on less risky yet still necessary opportunities that may throw off a nice dividend instead of an IPO. And, critically, it gives tech companies a weapon to wield against overbearing regulation, because companies can always pick-up-and-leave.

Second, invest in real-world companies that differentiate investment in hardware with software. This hardware could be machines for factories, or factories themselves; it could be new types of transportation, or defense systems. The possibilties, at least once you let go of the requirement for 90% gross margins, are endless.

Third — and related to both of the above — figure out an investing model that is suited to outcomes that have a higher likelihood of success along with a lower upside. This is truly the most important piece — and where Andreessen, given his position, can make the most impact. Andreessen Horowitz has thought more about how to change venture capital than anyone else, but the fundamental constraint has remained the assumption of high costs, high risk, and grand slam outcomes. We should keep that model, but surely there is room for another?

Software gives investors the biggest potential upsides, but software alone won’t get us to the future we need — not even close. To paraphrase Peter Thiel, we’ve focused too much on bits, not enough on atoms.

‘It’s Time to Build’ 

Marc Andreessen, on the opportunity this crisis presents:

And we need to separate the imperative to build these things from ideology and politics. Both sides need to contribute to building.

The right starts out in a more natural, albeit compromised, place. The right is generally pro production, but is too often corrupted by forces that hold back market-based competition and the building of things. The right must fight hard against crony capitalism, regulatory capture, ossified oligopolies, risk-inducing offshoring, and investor-friendly buybacks in lieu of customer-friendly (and, over a longer period of time, even more investor-friendly) innovation.

It’s time for full-throated, unapologetic, uncompromised political support from the right for aggressive investment in new products, in new industries, in new factories, in new science, in big leaps forward.

The left starts out with a stronger bias toward the public sector in many of these areas. To which I say, prove the superior model! Demonstrate that the public sector can build better hospitals, better schools, better transportation, better cities, better housing. Stop trying to protect the old, the entrenched, the irrelevant; commit the public sector fully to the future. Milton Friedman once said the great public sector mistake is to judge policies and programs by their intentions rather than their results. Instead of taking that as an insult, take it as a challenge — build new things and show the results!

I find this essay inspiring, and I’m baffled — but unsurprised — that anyone considers it controversial. (Even better are the folks asking who this Andreessen guy is to be telling anyone to build anything. What does some rich VC know about building new things, right?)

Huawei’s Annual Tradition of Getting Caught Trying to Pass Off Photos Shot With Professional Cameras as Having Been Shot With One of Their Phones 

Matt Birchler:

Look, Huawai has responded every time saying that they technically never said that the photos were taken on their phones, but the context these photos were displayed heavily implied that was the case. Huawai phones can take some great photos, so I really can’t fathom why the company’s marketing does this year after year after year.

That’s easy: because they’re dishonest. Huawei’s company culture is one of lying and cheating. Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. Get caught lying, cheating, and stealing repeatedly for years on end, you’re obviously a bunch of crooks and grifters. When you hear “Huawei”, put your hand on your wallet.

France and Germany Toss Privacy Concerns Out the Window When It Comes to Contact Tracing 

Mathieu Rosemain and Douglas Busvine, reporting for Reuters:

In Europe, most countries have chosen short-range Bluetooth “handshakes” between devices as the best approach, dismissing the alternative of using location data pursued by some countries in Asia as intrusive. But a rift has opened up between countries led by France and Germany that want to hold personal data on a central server, and others that back a decentralized approach in which Bluetooth logs are stored on individual devices.

Apple and Alphabet’s Google, whose operating systems run 99% of smartphones, have promised tweaks in May that would accommodate the decentralized approach. A trial version is due out next week.

I don’t know where Reuters came up with the word “tweaks” here. What Apple and Google are working on is a full-fledged joint project to support privacy-protecting contact tracing. It’s not a tweak to something existing, it’s a new initiative.

That has added a political dimension to the standards-setting debate, with a senior French official saying it was time for Europe to stop caving in to pressure from the United States. “The European states are being completely held hostage by Google and Apple,” said the official, who is involved in coordinating efforts to develop a French contact-tracing app called StopCovid.

They’re not being “held hostage”. If these governments want to make contact tracing apps that store location data on centralized servers (an approach with obvious privacy implications), and which require users to run their apps in the foreground all day long (an approach with obvious battery life implications), they can go ahead and build them. They can’t expect Apple and Google to build support for these techniques into their operating systems, though.

Extraordinary times call for extraordinary measures, I get it. But I haven’t seen a good argument against Apple and Google’s project in terms of balancing the benefits of widespread contact tracing with privacy concerns. The European government officials clamoring for Apple and Google to help them build whatever they want, privacy concerns be damned, aren’t making technical arguments.

And the whole thing is a bit rich coming from countries in the EU, which have, until now, held themselves up as the stewards of privacy in the face of the U.S. tech titans.

Cuomo to McConnell: ‘Who’s Getting Bailed Out Here?’ 

New York governor Andrew Cuomo, responding to Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s accusation that federal pandemic relief amounts to “blue state bailouts”:

At the end of the year, we put into that federal pot $116 billion more than we take out. OK? His state, the state of Kentucky, takes out $148 billion more than they put in. […] Senator McConnell, who’s getting bailed out here? It’s your state that’s living on the money that we generate. Your state is getting bailed out, not my state.

Worth mentioning that this discrepancy between payments between states and the federal government is year-in, year-out, and unrelated to the pandemic.

This inconvenient truth brings to mind the classic delightfully-profane anonymously-bylined “Fuck the South” rant, originally published the day after George W. Bush’s reelection in 2004. The original domain has, alas, lapsed, but The Internet Archive has it.

‘Star Wars’ Backgrounds for Video Calls 

If you’re stuck doing video calls every day, you might as well do it in style.

‘The Real Reason to Wear a Mask’ 

Zeynep Tufekci, Jeremy Howard, and Trisha Greenhalgh, writing for The Atlantic:

If you feel confused about whether people should wear masks and why and what kind, you’re not alone. COVID-19 is a novel disease and we’re learning new things about it every day. However, much of the confusion around masks stems from the conflation of two very different functions of masks.

Masks can be worn to protect the wearer from getting infected or masks can be worn to protect others from being infected by the wearer. Protecting the wearer is difficult: It requires medical-grade respirator masks, a proper fit, and careful putting on and taking off. But masks can also be worn to prevent transmission to others, and this is their most important use for society. If we lower the likelihood of one person’s infecting another, the impact is exponential, so even a small reduction in those odds results in a huge decrease in deaths. Luckily, blocking transmission outward at the source is much easier. It can be accomplished with something as simple as a cloth mask.

There’s a very high chance that you, dear reader, are now wearing a face mask whenever you leave home. I’ve linked to a few good pieces on the subject in recent weeks. If you need help convincing anyone else, however, this piece at The Atlantic is a good one. It reviews the previous confusion regarding the reasons for mask-wearing, clears it up, and does so cogently.

It’s also worth noting that Zeynep Tufekci, co-author of this piece, deserves tremendous credit for her March 17 column in The New York Times, “Why Telling People They Don’t Need Masks Backfired”. It seems crazy that she wrote that column only a little over one month ago, but at the time she wrote it, Tufekci was calling out the CDC and WHO for giving bad advice — her take was very controversial — and she was right. Her courage and clarity moved the needle and helped change public policy and our social norms. It sounds hyperbolic but I think it’s clearly true: Tufekci wrote an op-ed column so compelling it will wind up saving untold lives. We in the U.S. would have gotten to universal mask-wearing during this pandemic sooner or later, but thanks to Tufekci we got there sooner.

Sounds ‘Interesting’ to Me, Too 

Aaron Rupar, reporting for Vox:

At the briefing, William Bryan, under secretary for Science and Technology at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), discussed preliminary government research indicating that “heat and humidity suppress COVID-19” and “commonly available disinfectants work to kill the virus.”

After Bryan’s presentation, Trump took to the podium and made a deeply bizarre inference.

“Supposing we hit the body with a tremendous, whether it’s ultraviolet or just very powerful light … and then I said supposing you brought the light inside the body, which you can do either through the skin or in some other way. And I think you said you’re gonna test that,” Trump said, addressing Bryan. “And then I see disinfectant, where it knocks it [coronavirus] out in a minute — one minute — and is there a way we can do something like that by injection inside, or almost a cleaning. Because you see it gets in the lungs and it does a tremendous number on the lungs, so it’d be interesting to check that. So, that you’re going to have to use medical doctors with, but it sounds interesting to me.”

Craig Mazin:

One of the hallmarks of the dangerously stupid is the consistent belief they’ve found great solutions that experts somehow missed.

Bloomberg Reports ARM Macs Coming Next Year 

Mark Gurman, Debby Wu, and Ian King, reporting for Bloomberg:*

The Cupertino, California-based technology giant is working on three of its own Mac processors, known as systems-on-a-chip, based on the A14 processor in the next iPhone. The first of these will be much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad, the people said.

There’s not much new information in this report, but what is new is interesting, and I want to focus on that. Saying that the first ARM Mac processor will be based on the A14 is news. Saying that the first ARM Mac processor will be “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad” would be spectacular news, because the A13 in the iPhones 11 and new SE already offers faster single-core performance than a top-of-the-line MacBook Pro, and iPad Pros have better multi-core performance than MacBook Airs.

If what Bloomberg is reporting is true — see footnote below, of course — they’re burying the lede. An ARM chip in a Mac that’s “much faster than the processors in the iPhone and iPad” would be much faster than anything Intel offers for use in portables.

Apple is preparing to release at least one Mac with its own chip next year, according to the people. But the initiative to develop multiple chips, codenamed Kalamata, suggests the company will transition more of its Mac lineup away from current supplier Intel Corp.

Of course they’re going to transition more than one Mac.

The latest iPad Pro has four cores for performance-intensive workloads and another four to handle low-power tasks to preserve battery life. The first Mac processors will have eight high-performance cores, codenamed Firestorm, and at least four energy-efficient cores, known internally as Icestorm. Apple is exploring Mac processors with more than 12 cores for further in the future, the people said. In some Macs, Apple’s designs will double or quadruple the number of cores that Intel provides. The current entry-level MacBook Air has two cores, for example.

News!

Despite a unified chip design, Macs will still run the macOS operating system, rather than the iOS software of the iPhone and iPad.

Duh. Unsaid in the article but widely known to be true is that Apple has had MacOS compiling for ARM for years, just like how they had MacOS compiling for Intel years before they announced the switch from PowerPC — what Steve Jobs described as a “secret double life”.

Apple is exploring tools that will ensure apps developed for older Intel-based Macs still work on the new machines.

Yeah but what tools? They already have cross-compilation tools in Xcode. The $64,000 question is whether they’re going to have an emulator for running x86 code on ARM Macs. When Apple transitioned from Motorola’s 680x0 family of processors to PowerPC, and when they transitioned from PowerPC to Intel x86, they built emulators into the OS so that old binaries still executed. If they don’t offer an emulator, all existing Mac software will need to be recompiled.

The company also has technology called Catalyst that lets software developers build an iPad app and run it on Mac computers.

Catalyst isn’t really relevant to the x86-ARM transition. Catalyst is already here, today. Whatever problems developers (and users) have with Catalyst, they’re not related to ARM vs. x86 — iOS apps have always been able to be cross-compiled to x86 because that’s what the Xcode iOS Simulator is — a version of iOS that runs on Intel.

If Apple plans to start this transition with new hardware in 2021, I expect the initiative to be announced at WWDC in mid-or-late June this year.

* 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.

WSJ: ‘Amazon Scooped Up Data From Its Own Sellers to Launch Competing Products’ 

Dana Mattioli, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

The online retailing giant has long asserted, including to Congress, that when it makes and sells its own products, it doesn’t use information it collects from the site’s individual third-party sellers — data those sellers view as proprietary.

Yet interviews with more than 20 former employees of Amazon’s private-label business and documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal reveal that employees did just that.

Read between the lines and the Journal is saying Amazon executives lied in testimony to Congress. Which is illegal.

Amazon has said it has restrictions in place to keep its private-label executives from accessing data on specific sellers in its Marketplace, where millions of businesses from around the globe offer their goods. In interviews, former employees and a current one said those rules weren’t uniformly enforced. Employees found ways around them, according to some former employees, who said using such data was a common practice that was discussed openly in meetings they attended.

“We knew we shouldn’t,” said one former employee who accessed the data and described a pattern of using it to launch and benefit Amazon products. “But at the same time, we are making Amazon branded products, and we want them to sell.”

I’m fine with Amazon having its own house-branded products. All major stores do, and of course all store brands use the data from product sales to decide what to make. The difference with Amazon is that Marketplace isn’t really Amazon’s store — it’s a way for companies to set up their own store on Amazon’s online platform. Amazon should just clean this up and do right by Marketplace sellers — Amazon will continue to thrive by operating entirely above board. Amazon isn’t hurting for revenue (especially now), but they are hurting for trust.

(Apple News link, for News+ subscribers who don’t have a standalone WSJ subscription.)

Epic Games Begrudgingly Launches Fortnite on the Google Play Store 

Lucas Matney, writing for TechCrunch:

“Google puts software downloadable outside of Google Play at a disadvantage, through technical and business measures such as scary, repetitive security pop-ups for downloaded and updated software, restrictive manufacturer and carrier agreements and dealings, Google public relations characterizing third party software sources as malware, and new efforts such as Google Play Protect to outright block software obtained outside the Google Play store,” an Epic Games spokesperson said in a statement. “Because of this, we’ve launched Fortnite for Android on the Google Play Store.” […]

“We hope that Google will revise its policies and business dealings in the near future, so that all developers are free to reach and engage in commerce with customers on Android and in the Play Store through open services, including payment services, that can compete on a level playing field,” Epic Game’s statement further read.

Andy Rubin should re-up his 10-year-old tweet on openness, a mantra we don’t hear as much about as we used to from Google. “Open always beats closed”, etc.

Apple’s Standalone Kit to Add Wheels to Mac Pro Costs $700 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors last Wednesday:

Apple today introduced a Mac Pro Wheels kit designed for the Mac Pro, which adds wheels to the machine after purchase. The kit is priced at $699.

When adding wheels to the Mac Pro when making an initial purchase, Apple charges $400, but the standalone kit to be used after purchase is $300 more because the pre-purchase price includes the price of removing the $300 feet.

I don’t know if they’re over-engineered or overpriced, but until this week, I was under the impression that they cost $400 on their own, not $400 after subtracting $300 for the feet. I joked about it at my show at WWDC, when the price still hadn’t been announced, but no matter how great they are, $700 sure seems like a lot of money for four wheels to put on a computer. Even with the niche stature of the Mac Pro, this has to a be a good third-party opportunity.

Federico Viticci on the iPad Magic Keyboard 

Federico Viticci, writing for MacStories:

The Magic Keyboard turns an iPad Pro into a laptop, but it does so in a way that isn’t definitive — the transformation can always be reversed by the simple act of pulling the “computing core” away from it. This is also where the Magic Keyboard differs from competing accessories such as the Brydge keyboard: aside from Brydge’s poor trackpad implementation, I always found their design discouraged a constant alternation of roles — from laptop to tablet, and vice versa. It could be done, but carefully putting the iPad inside the Brydge’s keyboard clips and pulling it out was a chore. As a result, I found myself leaving the iPad Pro inside the Brydge keyboard at all times and never using it as a tablet. The Magic Keyboard feels like it was designed with the opposite principle in mind: it enables a laptop mode for the iPad, but you can always undo it and return to the iPad’s pure tablet form in two seconds. And when you’re done using the iPad as a tablet, you can just as easily re-align it with the Magic Keyboard (thanks to magnets in the case) and go back to using the physical keyboard and trackpad.

I’ve never owned a Brydge product, but Jason Snell let me use his for a quick kick-the-tires test drive at a keynote event a while back. You can see just by looking at one that they’re (a) pretty clever for Bluetooth iPad-as-laptop accessories, but (b) not as clever as Apple’s Magic Keyboard. Part of that is the Magic Keyboard’s reliance on Apple’s proprietary Smart Connector instead of Bluetooth. I’ve been using desktop Bluetooth keyboards with my iPads for years, and it adds a slight inconvenience whenever you walk away from the keyboard with the iPad in tow, but remain within Bluetooth range of the keyboard — you need to toggle Bluetooth off/on to get the iPad to switch to its on-screen keyboard. Not a huge deal, for sure. But however minor a chore, it’s still a chore — every single time you take the iPad away from the keyboard.

The other difference is Brydge’s use of clip connectors compared to the Magic Keyboard’s reliance solely upon magnets. You might think, Well, of course Apple has pulled off an accessory that makes better use of the magnets in the iPad Pro — they designed the iPad Pro. Apple’s peripherals can be designed while the products they pair with are being designed. But the 2018 iPad Pros have the exact same magnets. As I reported in my review, the 2018 iPad Pros connect to the Magic Keyboard every bit as securely as the new 2020 models. Third-party accessory makers have had one and a half years to make an iPad Pro keyboard case that magnetically snaps into place like the Magic Keyboard. I know that the Smart Connector requires a licensing deal with Apple, but there has been nothing in the way to stop a Bluetooth iPad-as-laptop keyboard accessory from being as magnetically and structurally clever as the Magic Keyboard.

Apple has a first-party advantage, for sure, but they’re also really good at designing accessories.

What Is the Market for Smaller Than 4.7-Inch Phones? 

Samuel Axon, writing at Ars Technica:

All that is to say that while some smartphone buyers might say they want a small smartphone, a big chunk of those who say that might change their tune when told that means worse battery life and poorer-quality photos.

It doesn’t necessarily mean that, though. The way Apple’s iPhone lineup has shaken out over the years, device size has correlated to camera quality to some degree. Maybe better said as camera capabilities, rather than quality — recall that in the 6/6S/7/8 era, the Plus-sized models had additional lenses and image stabilization features the non-Plus models lacked. And battery life — I think that argument is off base. Yes, bigger phones have bigger batteries, but they also have bigger displays and the display is the biggest consumer of energy. On the iPhone side of the fence at least, smaller phones have not had worse battery life.

Companies like Apple do market research and adapt their product lineups accordingly. This isn’t something former CEO Steve Jobs was known for, but Apple’s current lineup seems to suggest Tim Cook is not so averse to that approach to product development. And market research is probably telling smartphone makers that the great majority of consumers want big phones — either because they want big screens, or because other desires like longer battery life are easier to deliver in larger devices.

There is surely still a niche audience for small phones, though, and it’s not being served very well. Part of that may be because supply lines can only produce so many components in a given time frame, and it may make sense in many cases for Apple and its partners to focus those supply lines on products that have the widest possible appeal.

This is a profound misunderstanding of Jobs-era Apple decision making, or at the very least a conflation of market research (what people are buying) and focus group research (asking people what they think they want to buy). Jobs was famously averse to focus group testing, but I don’t think that’s changed. Focus groups would not have told Apple to remove the home button and Touch ID. Focus groups would have thrown chairs at the two-way glass if asked about removing headphone jacks.

But Apple has always done fanatically detailed market research. They don’t talk about it because by any company’s standards for trade secrecy, market research is a trade secret, and Apple is, we all know, more secretive than most companies. I think what makes truly small phones — let’s say iPhone 5S-sized phones — hard to gauge the demand for is that no one has even tried making a good one since the original iPhone SE 4 years ago.

COVID-19 Pandemic Euphemism of the Day: ‘An Unapproved Manner’ 

The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The horror of the coronavirus pandemic took an especially macabre turn on Sunday afternoon when a Ford pickup truck pulled up behind the Philadelphia Medical Examiner’s Office with five or six bagged bodies stacked in its open cargo bed.

The driver got out, spoke briefly to a medical examiner’s employee who seemed unnerved by the delivery, and then climbed onto the cargo bed, walking on bodies that initially had been covered by mats, according to an Inquirer photographer who was working near the site in University City. He pulled the bodies by their feet to the edge of the truck bed. The remains were offloaded one at a time onto gurneys and wheeled up a ramp into a refrigerated trailer. The unidentified driver wore torn jeans, a blue jacket, and a dark blue cap.

The Medical Examiner’s Office confirmed that a transfer of human remains from a local hospital had arrived in “an unapproved manner.”

This is one where the pictures tell more than a thousand words. Horrific. These aren’t bad people. No one wants to see dead bodies piled in the back of a pickup like bags of sand. This is the result of a system that is overwhelmed by the pandemic’s death toll.

Jamf Now 

My thanks to Jamf for sponsoring last week at DF. Jamf Now is a simple device management solution designed to help anyone set up, manage, and protect Apple devices — from anywhere. Jamf Now lets you easily configure email and Wi-Fi networks, distribute apps to your team, and protect sensitive company data while keeping everyone productive.

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

Together at Home: The Rolling Stones’ ‘You Can’t Always Get What You Want’ 

Splendid version of the perfect song for the moment.

We’re Woefully Short of COVID-19 Tests and Using the Few We Have to Test the Wrong People 

Ezekiel J. Emanuel (oncologist, bioethicist, and vice provost of the University of Pennsylvania) and Paul M. Romer (professor of economics at New York University), in a must-read piece for The Atlantic:

Current guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention give priority first to hospitalized patients and symptomatic health-care workers, then to high-risk patients, specifically those over 65 and those suffering from other serious health conditions, with COVID-19 symptoms. Under this system, asymptomatic individuals are not tested, even if they had contact with people who tested positive.

This is an enormous mistake. If we want to control the spread of COVID-19, the United States must adopt a new testing policy that prioritizes people who, although asymptomatic, may have the virus and infect many others.

We should target four groups. First, all health-care workers and other first responders who directly interact with many people. Second, workers who maintain our supply chains and crucial infrastructure, including grocery-store workers, police officers, public-transit workers, and sanitation personnel. The next group would be potential “super-spreaders” — asymptomatic individuals who could come into contact with many people. This third group would include people in large families and those who must interact with many vulnerable people, such as employees of long-term-care facilities. The fourth group would include all those who are planning to return to the workplace. These are precisely the individuals without symptoms whom the CDC recommends against testing.

We need to vastly increase our testing capacity and invert our who-should-be-tested priorities. This is easily understood, eminently fixable, and should be uncontroversial.

Rt.live — New Website From Instagram Co-Founders Tracking the Rate of COVID-19 Transmission by State 

Rt.live:

These are up-to-date values for Rt, a key measure of how fast the virus is growing. It’s the average number of people who become infected by an infectious person. If Rt is above 1.0, the virus will spread quickly. When Rt is below 1.0, the virus will stop spreading.

The “Last Week” and “2 Weeks Ago” buttons clearly illustrate the effectiveness of our collective stay-at-home / stay-apart measures.

See also: This post at TechCrunch by Josh Constine, with backstory on the creation of and thinking behind the site.

Legendary Pitt Eatery ‘The O’ Closes 

Alan Saunders, reporting for Pittsburgh Sports Now:

The Original Hot Dog Shop has closed its doors after nearly 60 years of selling hot dogs, french fries, pizza and more from its location on Forbes Avenue adjacent to Pitt’s campus.

Better known as The O, the hot dog shop was founded by Syd and Moe Simon in June 1960, and over the years became Oakland’s most legendary eatery.

Over the years it had been honored by the likes of Gourmet Magazine, The New York Times and Food Network, and was featured on WQED’s A Hot Dog Program with host Rick Sebak.

Its colorful menu boards, neon signage, low prices and sometimes absurd portions made The O a throwback classic. Open until 2 a.m., The O was a frequent destination for Pitt students after a long night of partying.

“Sometimes absurd portions” is putting it lightly. A “small” order of fries was mountainous; a large to-go order barely fit in an entire brown paper bag. And they were some of the best damn French fries I’ve ever had — fresh cut and fried on the spot. Not just good but “Holy shit these fries are amazing” good. The O had everything a college student could want, including a decent-enough pizza — a whole pizza — for just a handful of bucks. And the service was delightfully curt. God help you if you got to the front of the line and weren’t ready to order.

The O was the canonical ideal of the greasy college spoon, the sort of institution that you can’t imagine not having always been there or ever going away. Devastating news — and I was only ever a few-times-a-year visitor from across the state.

‘Capitalists or Cronyists?’ 

Scott Galloway:

However, no more. Modern-day “capitalism” in America is to flatten the risk curve for people who already have money, by borrowing from future generations with debt-fueled bailouts for companies. We have consciously decided to reduce the downside for the wealthy, thereby limiting the upside for future generations.

CNBC guest: Equity holders deserve to get wiped out.

CNBC host: Why does anybody deserve to get wiped out in a crisis like this? This is a natural disaster, why does anybody deserve to get wiped out? Wouldn’t that be immoral in and of itself?

“Immoral,” here we go. Morality for CNBC, and the current administration, is not capitalism but the worst type of socialism, cronyism. Rugged individualism and capitalism on the way up, privatizing the gains — and then socialism/cronyism on the way down as we socialize the losses with bailouts.

The analogy has been used enough to border on cliché, but it really is a “heads they win, tails we lose” system. It’s a scam, when you honestly examine it, but as Galloway pointedly observes, it’s become a foundational belief in the Wall Street class.

Take the cruise line industry. They’re getting crushed by this pandemic for obvious reasons, and they very much want to be bailed out by the U.S. government. But why do they deserve it? For tax and regulatory reasons, they don’t even register their ships in the U.S. — Carnival Cruise Lines is incorporated in Panama, Norwegian in Bermuda, and Royal Caribbean in Liberia. Bermuda is not part of Norway and, last I checked, Liberia is not in the Caribbean. Not only do these companies want U.S. funded bailouts, they don’t even want to pay U.S. taxes or comply with U.S. laws during normal times.

The thing to remember is that if allowed to fail, the cruise ships won’t sink to the bottom of the ocean. The jobs won’t disappear. The companies will go into bankruptcy, existing shareholder equity will get wiped out, and new ownership will take over. A bailout won’t rescue the industry or the jobs — it will rescue the shareholders.

Right-Wing Nuts Turn Against Bill Gates and Anti-Vaxxers Dig In 

Daisuke Wakabayashi, Davey Alba and Marc Tracy, reporting for The New York Times:

In a 2015 speech, Bill Gates warned that the greatest risk to humanity was not nuclear war but an infectious virus that could threaten the lives of millions of people.

That speech has resurfaced in recent weeks with 25 million new views on YouTube — but not in the way that Mr. Gates probably intended. Anti-vaccinators, members of the conspiracy group QAnon and right-wing pundits have instead seized on the video as evidence that one of the world’s richest men planned to use a pandemic to wrest control of the global health system.

Mr. Gates, 64, the Microsoft co-founder turned philanthropist, has now become the star of an explosion of conspiracy theories about the coronavirus outbreak. In posts on YouTube, Facebook and Twitter, he is being falsely portrayed as the creator of Covid-19, as a profiteer from a virus vaccine, and as part of a dastardly plot to use the illness to cull or surveil the global population.

Those of us on the sane side of the aisle have been angrily frustrated for years by the anti-vaccination nutters and the soap boxes they’ve carved out online and even on TV. It was bad enough when their unfounded anti-science nonsense brought back small outbreaks of measles. There have been real consequences from the anti-vaccine movement to date, but they’ve largely been abstract. Now it’s real — there’s an out-of-control pandemic and we’re desperately in need of a vaccine for it.

It seems inevitable that anti-vaxxer bullshit is going to depress the number of people who will get an eventual COVID-19 vaccination, and that is both incredibly frustrating and terrifying.

These are the same type of lunatics who, pre-internet, would yank out their own dental fillings and wrap their heads in aluminum foil to “block“ mind-control radio transmissions sent by The Trilateral Commission. Now they think Bill Gates wants to put population-control “microchips” in vaccines. And they’re going to hurt us all. Social media platforms should treat anti-vaccination rhetoric as a hate crime and ban it. It’s every bit as dangerous as an incitement to violence. You can’t reason with anti-vaxxers any more than you can reason with Nazis. What works is shame — shame them.

Fun With Charts: Today’s iPhone Price Spread 

Jason Snell:

Apple’s got a pretty solid spread of prices slots, but that gap between the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro really sticks out. Apple’s prices mean you can make no mistake about which portion of the product line is the cutting-edge, premium, spared-no-expense part.

That is quite a gap, and it jibes with what I’ve been saying ever since the iPhone X launched — it’s not that Apple raised the price of high-end iPhones, it’s that Apple added a new premium tier. There’s a continuum in price points among all regular iPhones, from the 64 GB SE to the 256 GB 11. The one and only gap is the $150 that separates the top-of-the-regular-tier 256 GB iPhone 11 ($850) and the bottom-of-the-premium-tier 64 GB iPhone 11 Pro ($1000).

Details on the 2020 iPad Pro Camera and Lidar System 

Sebastiaan de With has a great write-up on the new iPad Pro camera system for the Halide blog. One interesting note: the wide-angle camera (the main rear-facing lens) is most comparable to the iPhone 8’s, not the iPhone XR’s. Even in the Pro models, iPad cameras remain a few years behind the state of the art for iPhones.

De With links to this neat video from iFixit, which uses footage from an infrared camera to illustrate how sparse the iPad Pro lidar sensor’s projected dot grid is compared to the front-facing Face ID sensor on iPhones.

The Guardian: ‘NHS in Standoff With Apple and Google Over Coronavirus Tracing’ 

Alex Hern, writing for The Guardian:

Apple and Google are encouraging health services worldwide to build contact-tracing apps that operate in a decentralised way, allowing individuals to know when they’ve been in contact with an infected person but preventing governments from using that data to build a picture of population movements in aggregate. But the policies, unveiled last week, apply only to apps that don’t result in the creation of a centralised database of contacts. That means that if the NHS goes ahead with its original plans, its app would face severe limitations on its operation.

The app would not work if the phone’s screen was turned off or if an app other than the contact tracer was being used at the same time. It would require the screen to be active all the time, rapidly running down battery life, and would leave users’ personal data at risk if their phone was lost or stolen while the app was in use.

It’s early days on this — Apple and Google only announced their joint project a week ago. But what Hern describes above is unfeasible. Any idea that requires an app to be frontmost, with the screen on, is completely and utterly preposterous. That’s so obvious that I don’t even understand how this got printed. Anything that might actually prove effective for using phones for contact tracing must run in the background as an operating system service, and that means Apple and Google are in charge.

Whether that’s the way it should be — ethically, democratically, scientifically — is up for debate. But that’s the way it is, so it’s pointless to act otherwise.

Apple Changes Default MacBook Charging Behavior to Improve Battery Health 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

The way MacBook batteries charge is about to change. Apple has released a new developer preview of macOS Catalina 10.15.5, and as these releases often do, it contains a new feature: Battery Health Management. […]

The feature works by analyzing the temperature of the battery over time, as well as the charging pattern the laptop has experienced — in other words, does the laptop frequently get drained most of the way and then recharged fully, or is it mostly kept full and plugged in? In the latter case, Battery Health Management is more likely to stop a bit short of full capacity in order to extend the battery’s long-term lifespan. (All charging data is kept private on the MacBook unless the Mac has been opted in to share anonymous analytics data with Apple.)

This sounds like a nice little feature, and very simple from a user’s perspective. It’s just one checkbox, on by default. And I think Snell is right that Apple is getting out in front of this, having learned from the controversy over iPhone battery throttling. To be clear, this is not the same feature at all — there’s no performance throttling involved here, and it’s not about dealing with a battery that is no longer in peak condition. It’s about tweaking the charge pattern to keep the battery in peak condition longer. But if Apple had sprung this feature unannounced, it might have engendered a similar controversy.

But, on the other hand, there’s no conspiracy theory floating about that Apple is purposely undercharging MacBooks to trick people into buying new ones; whereas there has long been a widely-held but misbegotten theory that Apple purposely “slows down” old iPhones to trick people into buying new ones. Apple’s iPhone battery throttling, though well-intentioned — the point was to slow down iPhones with old batteries to keep them running at all — was like tossing gas on a fire.

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro Now Orderable, Delivering ‘April 24–May 1’ 

Big morning: in addition to the new iPhone SE, Apple is now taking orders for the iPad Pro Magic Keyboard. Delivery dates (as I type) are in late April, well ahead of Apple’s originally-promised “May” date.

Drone Footage of Philadelphia During The Quarantine 

Some serious 12 Monkeys vibes here.

The Talk Show: ‘Everybody Is an Expert’ 

Joanna Stern returns to the show to talk about working from home, the utter suckitude of laptop webcams, the new MacBook Air, and Face ID in our new world of face-mask-wearing.

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The Stockdale Paradox 

Jim Collins, quoting a conversation with Admiral Jim Stockdale, who spent seven years in a North Vietnamese prison:

He said, “Well, you have to understand, it was never depressing. Because despite all those circumstances, I never ever wavered in my absolute faith that not only would I prevail — get out of this — but I would also prevail by turning it into the defining event of my life that would make me a stronger and better person. Not only that, Jim, you realize I’m the lucky one.”

I said, “No, I don’t.”

He said, “Yes, because I know the answer to how I would do, and you never will.”

A little later in the conversation, after I’d absorbed that and said nothing for about five minutes because I was just stunned, I asked him who didn’t make it out of those systemic circumstances as well as he had.

He said, “Oh, it’s easy. I can tell you who didn’t make it out. It was the optimists.”

A lesson for our current moment.

Treasury Will Delay Stimulus Checks to Print Angry Yam’s Name on Them 

Lisa Rein, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Treasury Department has ordered President Trump’s name be printed on stimulus checks the Internal Revenue Service is rushing to send to tens of millions of Americans, a process that is expected to slow their delivery by several days, senior agency officials said. The unprecedented decision, finalized late Monday, means that when recipients open the $1,200 paper checks the IRS is scheduled to begin sending to 70 million Americans in coming days, “President Donald J. Trump” will appear on the left side of the payment.

It will be the first time a president’s signature appears on an IRS disbursement, whether a routine refund or one of the handful of checks the government has issued to taxpayers in recent decades either to stimulate a down economy or share the dividends of a strong one. […]

Trump had privately suggested to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who oversees the IRS, to allow the president to formally sign the checks, according to three administration officials who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly. But the president is not an authorized signer for legal disbursements by the U.S. Treasury. It is standard practice for a civil servant to sign checks issued by the Treasury Department to ensure that government payments are nonpartisan.

Let’s hurry up and get Trump’s portrait on the $20 bill while we’re at it.

Hank Steinbrenner, Co-Chairperson of the Yankees, Dies at 63 

The New York Yankees:

The New York Yankees mourn the passing of General Partner and Co-Chairperson Henry G. “Hank” Steinbrenner, who passed away earlier today at his home in Clearwater, Fla., from a longstanding health issue. Mr. Steinbrenner was 63.

“Hank was a genuine and gentle spirit who treasured the deep relationships he formed with those closest to him,” said the Steinbrenner family. “He was introduced to the Yankees organization at a very young age, and his love for sports and competition continued to burn brightly throughout his life. Hank could be direct and outspoken, but in the very same conversation show great tenderness and light-heartedness. More than anything, he set an example for all of us in how comfortably he lived enjoying his personal passions and pursuits. We are profoundly saddened to have lost him and will carry his memory with us always.”

His brother and co-chairman Hal has been the de facto boss of the organization, but man, Hank is the one who really looked like the old man.

Cards Against Humanity’s Product Videos for Target 

“Eggs not included.”

Democrats Score Upset Victory in Wisconsin Despite Voter Suppression Efforts 

Reid J. Epstein, reporting for The New York Times:

Democrats scored an enormous political and moral victory in Wisconsin on Monday night when a liberal challenger upset a Trump-backed incumbent to win a State Supreme Court seat, a down-ballot race that took on unusual significance by demonstrating strong turnout and vote-by-mail efforts in a major presidential battleground state.

The victory, by upward of 90,000 votes as of Monday night, came as a shock to Republicans and Democrats alike in Wisconsin, where contests for president, governor and the state’s high court in the last four years have all been decided by about 30,000 votes or less. It followed weeks of Democratic anger over Republicans’ insistence on holding elections amid the coronavirus pandemic.

No one is going to count any unhatched chickens this election, that’s for sure, but to say this augurs well for Democrats this fall is an understatement. These Republican bastards forced hundreds of thousands of Wisconsinites to risk exposure to the coronavirus (and in Milwaukee and other urban areas, face the certainty of preposterously long lines) to vote, in the cynical hope that suppressing the vote would help them, and they still got wiped out.

The World’s Most Charismatic Mathematician 

Siobhan Roberts, profiling John Conway for The Guardian in 2015:

This lust for the seemingly trivial has consumed a remarkable amount of Conway’s time and energy. In addition to all the gaming, he’s also been infatuated with factoring large numbers in his head; with reciting pi from memory to 1,111+ digits; with calculating, nearly instantaneously, the day of the week for any given date using what he calls his “Doomsday” algorithm. He’s invented many peculiar algorithms — for counting stairs while you climb without actually counting, and for how best to read through a stack of double-sided loose-leaf pages. And he’s been known to carry on his person decks of cards, dice, ropes, pennies, coat hangers, sometimes a Slinky, maybe a miniature toy bicycle, all props he deploys both for explaining ideas and for his own amusement.

While there may seem little method to this madness, curiosity-driven research is attracting renewed attention and support as a strategy for success in the sciences, both pure and applied, and economically for society as a whole. At the first National Mathematics Festival in Washington in April, the Italian economist Mario Draghi, president of the European Central Bank and one of the keynote speakers, noted that to believe and invest in fundamental research is to believe and invest in the future — that with increasing constraints on demographic and natural resources, and the impending “secular stagnation” as some call it, the countries that make fundamental research in maths and science a high priority will be the countries that prosper economically. Although Conway himself regards money with an indifference verging on contempt, he is a crusading ambassador for simple curiosity, which he considers the universal force driving discovery.

John Conway Dies From Coronavirus 

Sue Gee, writing at I Programmer:

John Conway, the mathematician who will be forever known to many programmers as the man who invented The Game of Life, died on April 11, 2020 at the age of 82, a victim of COVID-19. […]

According to Princeton University Conway’s proudest achievement was the invention of new system of numbers, the surreal numbers — a continuum of numbers that include not only real numbers but also the infinitesimal and the infinite numbers, noting:

When he discovered them in 1970, the surreals had John wandering around in a white-hot daydream for weeks.

His surreal numbers inspired a mathematical novel by Donald Knuth, which includes the line:

“Conway said to the numbers, ‘Be fruitful and multiply.’”

The Wikipedia entry on Conway’s Game of Life is excellent. Google has a good Easter egg for the query “Conway’s Game of Life”.

The Debate Over a U.S. Postal Service Bailout 

Matthew Yglesias, writing for Vox:

In general, there are a lot of complexities to the long-term postal policy picture in the United States, but the immediate crisis is actually pretty simple: Mail volumes are plunging, taking USPS revenue down with them. And unless something is done relatively quickly to make up for those lost revenues, it’s hard to see how significant layoffs and service reductions can be avoided.

Magic Lasso Adblock 

My thanks to Magic Lasso Adblock for sponsoring last week at DF. Magic Lasso Adblock is an efficient and high performance ad and tracking blocker for the iPhone, iPad, and Mac. It’s a native Safari content blocking extension that allows you to experience a cleaner, faster web — without intrusive ads and trackers.

Magic Lasso Adblock provides a 2.0x speed increase on common websites, improves your privacy and security by removing ad trackers, and works with Safari across all Apple devices. It works and feels as if Apple themselves had designed an ad blocker.

And unlike some other ad blockers, Magic Lasso Adblock respects your privacy, doesn’t accept payment from advertisers, and is 100% supported by its community of over 150,000 users. And it respects privacy-respecting ads like those on DF itself. (DF ads set no cookies, don’t execute any JavaScript, and are served from DF’s own server.) I’ve been running Magic Lasso as my only Safari content blocker for weeks now, and it’s been great.

Download for free today via the Magic Lasso website, the iOS App Store, and Mac App Store.

COVID-19 and the Loss of Smell 

Scott Sayare, writing for Harper’s:

Coronavirus patients around the world have reported the complete disappearance of their ability to smell, a condition called anosmia. Large surveys from Iran and the United Kingdom suggest that 50–60 percent of people infected with the virus have experienced anosmia. Smaller studies from Germany and Italy have found similar proportions. Anecdotal evidence of a link between the coronavirus and anosmia has been reported in nearly every country where the virus is known to be circulating. The experience of flavor is almost entirely attributable to the sense of smell, and many COVID-19 anosmics also report that they can no longer taste their food. […]

We tend to give little thought to smell, or else to dismiss it as a trifle. Various studies have found that a majority of young people would sooner give up their sense of smell than their smartphone or computer. But those who have the misfortune to lose it quickly change their minds.

How the Rolling Stones Made Tequila a Hit With the Tequila Sunrise 

Ted Genoways, writing for The Daily Beast:

Jagger took a sip — and instantly loved it. He ordered a round for the rest of the band. “They started sucking them up,” Lozoff remembered. One round became another and then another and another. The anxiety about returning to the Bay Area seemed to melt away as the band partied until the actual sunrise. Before leaving, Jagger had the Stones’ tour manager collect the recipe for the drink and add a requirement to the band’s official rider: two bottles of José Cuervo, a gallon of orange juice and a bottle of grenadine, all delivered to the dressing room before each show. By the time the band reached San Diego, a letter sent to promoters warned, “It would be very strange to see Keith Richards in top form without the company of a good tequila.”

Matthew Panzarino on Google and Apple’s Joint COVID-19 Contact Tracing Project 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

The project was started two weeks ago by engineers from both companies. One of the reasons the companies got involved is that there is poor interoperability between systems on various manufacturer’s devices. With contact tracing, every time you fragment a system like this between multiple apps, you limit its effectiveness greatly. You need a massive amount of adoption in one system for contact tracing to work well.

At the same time, you run into technical problems like Bluetooth power suck, privacy concerns about centralized data collection and the sheer effort it takes to get enough people to install the apps to be effective.

Great overview of how the project will work, and how it preserves privacy.

Draft Technical Documentation for Apple and Google’s Privacy-Preserving Contact Tracing 

Bluetooth, cryptography, and framework API documentation.

Apple and Google Partner on COVID-19 Contact Tracing Technology 

Joint announcement from Google and Apple:

Since COVID-19 can be transmitted through close proximity to affected individuals, public health organizations have identified contact tracing as a valuable tool to help contain its spread. A number of leading public health authorities, universities, and NGOs around the world have been doing important work to develop opt-in contact tracing technology. To further this cause, Apple and Google will be launching a comprehensive solution that includes application programming interfaces (APIs) and operating system-level technology to assist in enabling contact tracing. Given the urgent need, the plan is to implement this solution in two steps while maintaining strong protections around user privacy.

First, in May, both companies will release APIs that enable interoperability between Android and iOS devices using apps from public health authorities. These official apps will be available for users to download via their respective app stores.

Second, in the coming months, Apple and Google will work to enable a broader Bluetooth-based contact tracing platform by building this functionality into the underlying platforms. This is a more robust solution than an API and would allow more individuals to participate, if they choose to opt in, as well as enable interaction with a broader ecosystem of apps and government health authorities. Privacy, transparency, and consent are of utmost importance in this effort, and we look forward to building this functionality in consultation with interested stakeholders. We will openly publish information about our work for others to analyze.

Strange times make for strange bedfellows, but this is clearly a problem both companies are fully aligned to help solve.

‘How the U.S. Ended Up With Nurses Wearing Garbage Bags’ 

Susan B. Glasser, reporting for The New Yorker:

What they did not foresee was that the federal government might never come to the rescue. They did not realize this was a government failure by design — not a problem to be fixed but a policy choice by President Trump that either would not or could not be undone. “No one can believe it. That’s the No. 1 problem with the whole situation: the facts are known, but they are inconceivable,” Ries told me. “So we are just in denial.”

Independent reporting has corroborated what Ries and other volunteers saw for themselves: “a fragmented procurement system now descending into chaos,” as the Associated Press put it. The news agency found that not a single shipment of medical-grade N95 masks arrived at U.S. ports during the month of March. The federal government was not only disorganized; it was absent. Federal agencies waited until mid-March to begin placing bulk orders for the urgently needed supplies, the A.P. found. The first large U.S. government order to the big U.S. producer 3M, for a hundred and seventy-three million dollars’ worth of N95 masks, was not placed until March 21st — the same day that Ries got his first phone call about the Kushner effort. The order, according to the A.P., did not even require the supplies to be delivered until the end of April, far too late to help with the thousands of cases already overwhelming hospitals.

Pixelmator Photo 1.2 

Pixelmator blog:

The latest major update — months in the making — brings Magic Keyboard, trackpad, and mouse support, Split View support, the machine-learning powered ML Match Colors, and more. Let’s take a closer look.

The machine-learning-based color matching is fascinating. More here, on their What’s New page. Pixelmator Photo exemplifies what a great iPad app should be.

There Is No Plan to Return to Normalcy in 2020 

Ezra Klein, writing at Vox:

Over the past few days, I’ve been reading the major plans for what comes after social distancing. You can read them, too. There’s one from the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, the left-leaning Center for American Progress, Harvard University’s Safra Center for Ethics, and Nobel Prize-winning economist Paul Romer.

I thought, perhaps naively, that reading them would be a comfort — at least then I’d be able to imagine the path back to normal. But it wasn’t. In different ways, all these plans say the same thing: Even if you can imagine the herculean political, social, and economic changes necessary to manage our way through this crisis effectively, there is no normal for the foreseeable future. Until there’s a vaccine, the US either needs economically ruinous levels of social distancing, a digital surveillance state of shocking size and scope, or a mass testing apparatus of even more shocking size and intrusiveness.

Brutal, but we need to look this square in the eye. A lot of this just seems politically unviable in the U.S. Especially so with a president who — despite spending over an hour on TV every single evening — has not spoken in even vague terms about any actionable plan whatsoever.

Any feasible plan starts with massive testing, completely subsidized by the government. And yet just yesterday the president claimed we don’t need mass testing. The one thing that everyone who knows what they’re talking about agrees on is that we need mass testing — and the president is arguing we don’t need it.

One More Stellar Front Page Data Visualization From The New York Times 

Another shocking design for a shocking graphic.

Mort Drucker, Master of the ‘Mad’ Caricature, Dies at 91 

J. Hoberman, The New York Times:

From the early 1960s on, nearly every issue of Mad included a movie parody, and before Mr. Drucker retired he had illustrated 238, more than half of them. The last one, “The Chronic-Ills of Yawnia: Prince Thespian,” appeared in 2008.

Mr. Drucker compared his method to creating a movie storyboard: “I become the ‘camera,’” he once said, “and look for angles, lighting, close-ups, wide angles, long shots — just as a director does to tell the story in the most visually interesting way he can.”

I simply adored Drucker’s parodies in Mad. I could never decide what was better — when Mad poked holes in a good movie, or when they skewered a bad one.

Loved this bit:

But not everyone was so pleased. According to Mr. Hendrix, Mad’s 1981 parody of “The Empire Strikes Back,” “The Empire Strikes Out,” prompted the Lucasfilm legal department to send a cease-and-desist letter demanding that the issue be recalled. “Mad replied by sending a copy of another letter they had received the previous month — from George Lucas, offering to buy the original artwork for the ‘Empire’ parody and comparing Mort Drucker to Leonardo da Vinci.”

9to5Mac: Early iOS 14 Build Contains ‘Clips’ Feature for Interactive App Views Without Having the App Installed 

Filipe Espósito, 9to5Mac:

As 9to5Mac has analyzed this new API, we can say that it allows developers to offer interactive and dynamic content from their apps even if you haven’t installed them. The Clips API is directly related to the QR Code reader in the build we have access to, so the user can scan a code linked to an app and then interact with it directly from a card that will appear on the screen.

Let’s say you get a QR Code with a link to a video from YouTube but you don’t have the official app installed on your iPhone. With iOS 14 and the Clips API, you’ll be able to scan that code and the video will be reproduced on a floating card that shows a native user interface instead of a web page.

Three thoughts:

  • Some interesting security and parental control implications to this, if true. Also, what about the case where — like me — you don’t have Google’s YouTube app installed because you want all YouTube links to open in Safari?

  • I’m truly fascinated by this iOS 14 build that 9to5Mac has its hands on. It’s obvious why they can’t talk about it now, but I hope someday we hear the backstory on this.

  • Keep in mind that it was Filipe Espósito’s byline on the 9to5Mac report that stated as fact that the new 2020 iPad Pros have a U1 ultra-wideband chip, which by all appearances is wrong.

Dolly Broadway 

Stephanie Farr, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

If Danny DeVito was an Italian grandma from South Philly who made red gravy three times a week, he’d be Dolores Paolino.

Blunt as a pickax handle with a fierce fervor for White Claw hard seltzers, the 4-foot-5 Paolino earned the nickname “Dolly Broadway” growing up in South Philly, where she spent every night out on the town. “I was a party animal,” Paolino said. “It’s a shame kids don’t know that kind of fun today.”

Now 86, Paolino — under her nickname — has once again earned a reputation for partying, but this time it’s on social media, where she’s got more than 1.2 million followers on TikTok and more than 5,000 on Instagram.

She’s the most Philly Philadelphian I’ve ever seen.

How Jigsaw Puzzles Are Made 

Amie Tsang, writing for The New York Times:

The rush to get hold of a jigsaw puzzle — and even stockpiling by regular enthusiasts — has transformed this quiet hobby and put companies under pressure as demand surges past Christmas levels. […]

Each puzzle piece must be uniquely shaped, to avoid one accidentally fitting into the wrong place. That means 1,000 different shapes for a 1,000-piece puzzle, each drawn by hand by workers. Before a puzzle is cut for the first time, each piece is sketched on a sheet of paper draped over the finished image.

Pieces of metal are then shaped to form an elaborate cookie cutter made just for that jigsaw puzzle; it takes about four weeks to build one. The cutter can be used only a limited number of times before its edges are dulled. It can be resharpened once and must then be discarded. At busy times of the year, the company will go through several cutters a day.

I would not have guessed each puzzle is so labor intensive. I simply assumed each puzzle of the same size was cut with the same pattern. Even having read this I’m not sure why they don’t do it that way. But the machines sure look cool. I’m also curious how they ensure they don’t package up the puzzle with a piece or two missing, which is surely a recipe for driving someone mad.

(I’ve long been curious how Lego does that too — I’ve put together untold dozens of Lego models in my life, and never once had a missing piece in a kit. Sometimes a few extras, but never something missing.)

Jason Snell on the Brydge Pro+ iPad Keyboard With Trackpad 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Still, I figured that the Brydge Pro+ would find an ecological niche to fill. It’s going to be $100 or $120 cheaper than the Magic Keyboard, and will probably offer a more traditional laptop feel than Apple’s cantilevered design.

Unfortunately, none of that matters if Brydge doesn’t get the trackpad right on the Pro+, and I’m sorry to report that it hasn’t. The trackpad on the Pro+ isn’t remotely close to Apple’s trackpads in class. Sometimes I move my finger across the trackpad and the cursor appears, but doesn’t move. Other times it moves, hesitates, and then moves some more. Two-finger scrolling is similarly unpleasant. The result is an imprecise, jerky experience. It’s no good. And there’s no support for navigating between apps via three-finger gestures, either.

I’ve been using the Brydge Pro+ to write this article, and I find myself actively avoiding using the trackpad, because every time I try it, I just end up frustrated.

Federico Viticci:

Unfortunately, have to agree with Jason. I was sent a final production unit a couple weeks ago, and I had all the cursor issues Jason mentions too. Also: no three-finger gestures. I’ll be waiting for the Magic Keyboard.

Aaron Vegh:

I guess Brydge is finding out what most PC trackpad vendors have known for ages: trackpads are hard.

More on Apple’s IS&T Group 

“IST-Throwaway”, on Hacker News:

Although my experience is several years old, everything in this article rings true. The contracting companies they had us working for were taking a huge cut, the quality of the code they produced was dismal, (as soon as we were no longer allowed to re-write their code major things began breaking almost immediately) and people getting transferred around constantly and having no time to understand any one project was common. (rkho’s comment about their hiring process seeming like it was simply a beard for a nepotistic contractor conversion was something we definitely saw a number of times.)

All in all it was an extremely eye-opening experience. Considering how “do it the Apple way” every other department we interacted with was, being in the IS&T buildings was like landing on an alien planet.

Via Michael Tsai’s updated post, which has a few more links and comments from readers.

A note from a long-time but now former Apple engineer (and long-time DF reader):

Inside Apple, IS&T is pronounced isn’t. As in, the network isn’t up right now.

Assembly Instructions for Apple’s PPE Face Shields 

Replete with Apple’s typically high-quality illustrations and animations.

Bernie Sanders Drops Out 

Sydney Embers, reporting for The New York Times:

Mr. Sanders, 78, leaves the campaign having almost single-handedly moved the Democratic Party to the left. He inspired the modern progressive movement with his expansive policy agenda and his impassioned message that “health care is a human right,” and electrified a legion of loyal supporters who wholeheartedly embraced his promise to lift up those who need it most. He also transformed the way Democratic campaigns raised money, eschewing big fund-raisers and instead relying on an army of small-dollar donors.

All true. By exiting now, Sanders leaves this race with his head high. Next up: pull his supporters behind Biden.

Faucimania 

Jelisa Castrodale, writing for Vice:

Then there’s that “Sexiest Man Alive” petition, which someone at People magazine actually had to respond to. “He has helped bring back ‘must-see TV’ to the masses, who are hungry for wisdom about how to best care for their family’s health and safety in this time of uncertainty,” Dan Wakeford, People’s editor-in-chief told Women’s Wear Daily. “Smart is sexy, no doubt.”

And, because each passing day presents the opportunity for me to type sentences that have never existed before, the National Bobblehead Hall of Fame and Museum is currently taking pre-orders for a Dr. Fauci bobblehead.

Alex Kantrowitz on Apple’s Dysfunctional Information Systems and Technology Group 

An excerpt from Alex Kantrowitz’s Always Day One, published at BuzzFeed News:

A group inside Apple called Information Systems & Technology, or IS&T, builds much of the company’s internal technology tools — from servers and data infrastructure to retail and corporate sales software — and operates in a state of tumult.

IS&T is made up largely of contractors hired by rival consulting companies, and its dysfunction has led to a rolling state of war. “It’s a huge contractor org that handles a crazy amount of infrastructure for the company,” one ex-employee who worked closely with IS&T told me. “That whole organization is a Game of Thrones nightmare.” […]

When IS&T’s projects are finally completed, they can cause even more headaches for Apple employees, who are left with a mess to clean up. Multiple people told me their Apple colleagues were forced to rewrite code after IS&T-built products showed up broken.

Michael Tsai:

From what I’ve heard, this is a longtime problem, and it’s a mystery to me why this group has been immune to the Cook Doctrine. Apple buys forests to manage the paper used in its packaging and designs the desks its employees use and even the pizza boxes for its cafeteria. But when it comes to building the software that runs the company, that’s not considered a core competency.

I have to raise an eyebrow at Kantrowitz’s closing:

For Apple, fixing its broken IS&T division would not only be the right thing to do from a moral standpoint — it would help the company’s business as well. If Apple is going to become inventive again, it will need to give its employees more time to develop new ideas.

If Apple is no longer inventive, what is Apple Watch? What are AirPods? If it wasn’t inventiveness, what was it when Apple completely redesigned the fundamental interaction design of the iPhone with the iPhone X? When was Apple “inventive”? Once in 1984, and once more in 2007?

‘This Is What Happens When a Narcissist Runs a Crisis’ 

Jennifer Senior, writing for The New York Times:

And most relevant, as far as history is concerned: Narcissistic personalities are weak.

What that means, during this pandemic: Trump is genuinely afraid to lead. He can’t bring himself to make robust use of the Defense Production Act, because the buck would stop with him. (To this day, he insists states should be acquiring their own ventilators.) When asked about delays in testing, he said, “I don’t take responsibility at all.” During Friday’s news conference, he added the tests “we inherited were “broken, were obsolete,” when this form of coronavirus didn’t even exist under his predecessor.

This sounds an awful lot like one of the three sentences that Homer Simpson swears will get you through life: “It was like that when I got here.

Cut through the nightly bluster at the podium and it’s simply strikingly clear: Trump is afraid to actually do anything in this crisis.

Sony Unveils DualSense, the New Wireless Game Controller for PlayStation 5 

Looks beautiful, and very Sony. My son’s observation is that it looks “off-brand” to get away from color-coding the triangle/circle/X/square buttons. But this looks better.

Let’s All Wear a Mask 

Maciej Ceglowski:

The medical evidence for the practice is overwhelming. The post-SARS countries in East Asia have known this for a long time, and America and Europe are finally coming around. I’ve put a bunch of resources about the medical benefits of mask wearing in a further reading section at the bottom of this post.

But in this essay, I want to persuade you not just to wear a mask, but to go beyond the new CDC guidelines and help make mask wearing a social norm. That means always wearing a mask when you go out in public, and becoming a pest and nuisance to the people in your life until they do the same.

It’s encouraging how many people wearing masks I now see on the sidewalk here in Philly, but the number needs to go much higher. If you have family or friends who are resisting getting on board Team Face Mask, send them this link. Ceglowski makes the case.

Last Week Tonight With John Oliver on One America News 

Last Week Tonight:

One America News, or OAN, is a far-right news network being embraced by President Trump at his coronavirus press briefings. John Oliver takes a look at who they are, how they report, and why they could be a big problem during the pandemic.

If you think Fox News is in the bag for Trump and the Republican Party, well, meet OAN. Just jaw-dropping.

Larry David, Master of His Quarantine 

I’m trying to end each day here at DF on an upbeat note. This interview with Larry David by Maureen Dowd for The New York Times fits the bill nicely:

When I ask if he is hoarding anything, he is outraged. “Not a hoarder,” he said. “In fact, in a few months, if I walk into someone’s house and stumble onto 50 rolls of toilet paper in a closet somewhere, I will end the friendship. It’s tantamount to being a horse thief in the Old West.”

“I never could have lived in the Old West,” he added parenthetically. “I would have been completely paranoid about someone stealing my horse. No locks. You tie them to a post! How could you go into a saloon and enjoy yourself knowing your horse could get taken any moment? I would be so distracted. Constantly checking to see if he was still there.”

2020 iPad Pros Do Not Have U1 Ultra Wideband Chips 

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors, “2020 iPad Pro May Not Have a U1 Ultra Wideband Chip After All”:

As a reminder, Apple’s tech specs for the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro list an Ultra Wideband chip for spatial awareness, but the chip is not mentioned in Apple’s tech specs for the new iPad Pro. Apple also did not mention the new iPad Pro featuring the U1 chip in its press release or in any other marketing materials for the device.

Beyond that, the directional AirDrop feature that the U1 chip enables on iPhone 11 models is not present on the new iPad Pro running iPadOS 13.4, nor is the Ultra Wideband toggle switch that Apple added to iPhones in iOS 13.3.1.

So the tech specs don’t mention it, Apple never mentioned it, and the U1-enabled features in iPhone 11 models aren’t there. And iFixit’s teardown found no hidden U1 chip.

There’s no reason to think the iPad Pros have a secret U1 chip other than this March 18 post at 9to5Mac that stated it does, “based on code from the latest iOS 13.4 build”. “Based on code” is a pretty dumb way to source this as true.

I confirmed with a little birdie who would certainly know the answer: there is no U1 chip in the new iPad Pro, and if there were one, Apple would have told us so.

Jake Tapper to Trump: ‘Mr. President, What’s the Plan?’ 

Jake Tapper, closing his State of the Union show on CNN yesterday:

Mr. President, I know you, like millions of Americans, are eager to have the nation go back to some semblance of normal. One of the questions the American people need answered for that to happen responsibly: What’s the plan?

Queen Elizabeth: ‘We Will Be With Our Friends Again. We Will Be With Our Families Again. We Will Meet Again.’ 

Remarkable address from Queen Elizabeth — well-written, well-delivered. Honest and truthful, yet hopeful. All the more powerful that it’s only her fourth formal address in 68 years.

Joanna Stern: ‘A MacBook Air Review at the Worst Possible Time’ 

Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal:

It’s hard to know if the satisfyingly bouncy yet quiet keys are fabulous by themselves, or just a welcome relief after years of the flat, loud yet delicate butterfly keys. You know what? I’m going to go with “fabulous.”

Since those butterfly keys began to show issues after a few months of use, I’d hesitated to declare everything fixed. I’m happy to report, however, that six months into using the 16-inch MacBook Pro, I’ve had no issues with the new keyboard. In fact, it now feels even more broken-in — versus, you know, just broken.

She makes a great point about laptop web cameras sucking — and how their suckiness has been brought to the forefront during our collective stay-at-home saga. Her video comparing webcam footage from a bunch of laptops — including a 2010 MacBook Pro, whose camera at times outperforms the new MacBook Air’s — is excellent. But I think the problem here is technically difficult — laptop lids are way thinner than phones and tablets, and that thinness severely limits camera sensor size. Everyone wants a better MacBook camera, but I suspect few would accept the tradeoff of a MacBook with a lid as thick as an iPad.

(Apple News link, for News+ subscribers who don’t have a standalone WSJ subscription.)

Ryne Hager, Writing at Android Police: ‘Do Yourself a Favor and Buy an iPad During Lockdown’ 

Not the usual fare at Android Police. (I have never understood the name “Android Police”. What is that all about?) Feels like the inconvenient truth, though. There are flagship Android phones from several companies that are, undeniably, competitive with the iPhone. Tablets, not so much (other than at the low end of the market, with devices like Amazon’s Fire tablets). But what I’m most interested in isn’t what Hager likes about iPads, but what he doesn’t:

By far, the biggest advantage of having an iPad comes down to apps. iOS has more of them. It also has more exclusives, it usually gets apps for new services or games first, and apps for iPads often make better use of big-screen layouts than Android apps do. Even if you hate iOS and its weird dated home screen layout, awkwardly monolithic Settings app, arbitrary and draconian default app restrictions, and the lack of deep Google services integration, the apps kind of make up for it.

That’s a pretty interesting list. First, not one of them is hardware related. (He does mention subsequently that Samsung has tablets with AMOLED displays, but that’s tech spec gibberish — no one can argue that iPad displays aren’t best of breed at each price point). iPad hardware is undeniably great. Second, his software complaints don’t even include the multitasking UI complaints I’ve been preoccupied with. Instead his list is:

  • Weird dated home screen layout”. Near universal agreement on this one. I don’t think Android shows the way forward here, at all, but the iOS home screen really is dated and limited. And it’s not even simple — it’s downright tricky and error prone to move apps around to rearrange them.

  • Awkwardly monolithic Settings app”. This I don’t get. Yes, the iOS Settings app contains a lot of stuff. But it’s organized pretty well for the most part, and search helps quite a bit when looking for something deep. Ideally every single setting in Settings would be indexed for search, but I find the iOS Settings app easier to navigate logically than the Android Settings app on my Pixel. Regarding monolithism, I assume he’s referring to the fact that Apple’s built-in apps keep their settings in Settings, rather than in each app. At the outset of the App Store, Apple’s guidelines prescribed that all apps put their settings in the Settings app — an idea that was clear on day one wouldn’t scale.

  • Arbitrary and draconian default app restrictions”. Nothing arbitrary about it, but yeah, that’s been a complaint ever since the App Store opened. According to Mark Gurman, though, Apple is considering changing this in iOS 14.

  • Lack of deep Google services integrations”. From this side of the fence, that’s a feature, not a bug. Makes about as much sense to complain about this as it would to complain about the lack of iCloud integration on an Android phone, except for the fact that Google actually does offer a slew of iOS apps, whereas Apple’s offerings for Android are, uh, Apple Music. (Why no Apple TV? If they’re making Apple TV apps for TVs running Android why not make an Apple TV app for Android phones?)

(And, of course, the comments section on this post is a goldmine of hot takes.)

Hobby Lobby vs. Coronavirus, a Tale in Three Acts 

Act 1: March 19. Hobby Lobby owner’s wife receives a message from god telling her their stores should remain open.

Act 2: April 1. Hobby Lobby re-opens dozens of stores in states with strict shelter-in-place orders.

Act 3: April 3. Hobby Lobby to furlough most of its employees, close most operations nationwide.

Bonus Post-Credit-Sequence Flashback: Hobby Lobby founder Steve Green spent millions of dollars on “Dead Sea Scrolls” that turned out to be fakes made from used shoe leather.

Free Epix Via Apple TV App Through May 2 

Good roundup of free trials and special offers for streaming video from Chance Miller at 9to5Mac:

A handful of streaming services are offering extended trials through the Apple TV app during the COVID-19 pandemic. Currently, you can get extended one-month trials of Showtime and other services, as well as completely free access to Epix. […]

Epix is unique because it’s not offering an extended free trial right now, but rather completely free access for the next month. That means you can access all Epix content in the Apple TV app for free, without signing up for anything, until May 2.

Among Epix’s offerings: the entire library of James Bond films. Goldfinger awaits.

(Pretty cool offer from Epix, where you don’t even need to sign up. They’re simply looking to raise brand awareness and simultaneously do something good in the midst of this stay-at-home saga.)

Honor Blackman, Pussy Galore in ‘Goldfinger’, Dies at 94 

Simon Murphy and Andrew Pulver, writing for The Guardian:

Honor Blackman, the actor best-known for playing Bond girl Pussy Galore, has died aged 94.

The actor, who became a household name in the 1960s as Cathy Gale in The Avengers and enjoyed a career spanning eight decades, died of natural causes unrelated to coronavirus.

One of the greats. Feels like a good time to rewatch Goldfinger.

California King 

They’re back.

SoundSource 

My thanks to Rogue Amoeba for sponsoring this week at DF to promote SoundSource, their powerful Mac menu bar app that provides quick access to audio devices, per-app volume control, and much more.

One year ago — to the day! — I wrote about SoundSource 4:

[I]f you’re not familiar with SoundSource, their description is spot-on: “Sound control so good, it ought to be built in”.

Basically, SoundSource is a menu bar app that gives you quick access to input and output devices, and level settings, and lets you apply equalizer effects — both system-wide and on a per-app basis. All with a thoughtful, intuitive interface […] a great example of a distinctive, branded UI that still looks and feels in every way like a standard Mac app.

If you’re doing more with audio on your Mac now — remote meetings, Skype calls, recording podcasts, whatever — and wish you had more control over your audio input and output devices, you’re going to love SoundSource. It encapsulates a lot of features in a very easy to understand interface. (If you’re into decluttering your menu bar icons, SoundSource can fully replace the system’s built-in Volume menu item — take a look in SoundSource’s preferences for the alternate menu bar icon that shows your current volume. Update: And Sound Source’s “Super Volume Keys” feature lets you use your keyboard volume keys to control the volume of any speakers connected to your Mac.)

Try it out: download the free trial, and use coupon code DF2020 to save 20% when you purchase by April 10.

Facebook Wanted NSO Spyware to Monitor iOS Users 

Joseph Cox, who has been absolutely killing it in his reporting for Motherboard:

According to a declaration from NSO CEO Shalev Hulio, two Facebook representatives approached NSO in October 2017 and asked to purchase the right to use certain capabilities of Pegasus.

At the time, Facebook was in the early stages of deploying a VPN product called Onavo Protect, which, unbeknownst to some users, analyzed the web traffic of users who downloaded it to see what other apps they were using. According to the court documents, it seems the Facebook representatives were not interested in buying parts of Pegasus as a hacking tool to remotely break into phones, but more as a way to more effectively monitor phones of users who had already installed Onavo.

“The Facebook representatives stated that Facebook was concerned that its method for gathering user data through Onavo Protect was less effective on Apple devices than on Android devices,” the court filing reads. “The Facebook representatives also stated that Facebook wanted to use purported capabilities of Pegasus to monitor users on Apple devices and were willing to pay for the ability to monitor Onavo Protect users.”

This was just a little over two years ago. The NSO software that Facebook was attempting to license is — according to NSO — intended for legitimate counterintelligence and law enforcement agencies to use in the pursuit of criminals and enemies of the state. There’s certainly a debate to be had regarding the NSO Group and its services, but Facebook’s stated intention for this software was to use it for mass surveillance of its own honest users. That is profoundly fucked up — sociopathic.

Let me repeat what I’ve stated before: Facebook is a criminal enterprise.

‘Thank God for the Internet’ 

Josh Topolsky, writing at Input:

But thank god for the internet. What the hell would we do right now without the internet? How would so many of us work, stay connected, stay informed, stay entertained? For all of its failings and flops, all of its breaches and blunders, the internet has become the digital town square that we always believed it could and should be. At a time when politicians and many corporations have exhibited the worst instincts, we’re seeing some of the best of what humanity has to offer — and we’re seeing it because the internet exists.

Now, I’m not letting Mark Zuckerberg or Jeff Bezos off the hook, but we also can’t deny that there is still good, still utility, still humanity present here — and it’s saving us in huge ways and little ones, too. In the shadow of the coronavirus, the sum of the “good” internet has dwarfed its bad parts. The din of a connected humanity that needs the internet has all but drowned out its worst parts. Oh, they’re still there, but it’s clear they aren’t what the internet is; they’re merely the runoff, the waste product.

So true. Feeling isolated? Cooped up? Me too. But imagine what this would’ve been like 30 years ago. This sort of crisis is what the internet was designed for, and it’s working.

Bruce Schneier on Zoom 

Bruce Schneier:

I’m okay with AES-128, but using ECB (electronic codebook) mode indicates that there is no one at the company who knows anything about cryptography. […]

In the meantime, you should either lock Zoom down as best you can, or — better yet — abandon the platform altogether.

If Bruce Schneier recommends you don’t use Zoom, you probably shouldn’t use Zoom — at least for anything you wouldn’t be willing to conduct over an unencrypted channel.

TechCrunch: ‘Zoom Admits Some Calls Were Routed Through China by Mistake’ 

Sometimes a headline says it all. This is really one hell of a “mistake”. It’s China. Considering everything we know about China — human rights violations, untrustworthy track record, unaccountable totalitarian leadership, vast resources, and their technical expertise to act, at scale, on access to potentially sensitive poorly-encrypted video calls — China is quite literally and obviously the last country on the face of the earth where you’d want video calls routed.

But I suppose Zoom is probably right, it must have been a mistake — despite the fact that Zoom has over 700 employees in China, including a large portion of its engineering staff; despite the fact that Zoom’s purported end-to-end encryption is no such thing, which means Chinese snoops already have access to the keys used to weakly-encrypt Zoom chats — because Zoom CEO Eric Yuan assured us that Zoom was designed with the security and privacy needs of the enterprise in mind. What a relief.

NASA, with some much-needed good news:

Enter a cleaner, sleeker design born of the Federal Design Improvement Program and officially introduced in 1975. It featured a simple, red unique type style of the word NASA. The world knew it as “the worm.” Created by the firm of Danne & Blackburn, the logo was honored in 1984 by President Reagan for its simplistic, yet innovative design.

NASA was able to thrive with multiple graphic designs. There was a place for both the meatball and the worm. However, in 1992, the 1970s brand was retired - except on clothing and other souvenir items - in favor of the original late 1950s graphic.

Until today.

This should be the only logo NASA uses. 45 years old and it still feels like the future.

Security Researchers: Zoom’s Encryption Is ‘Not Suited for Secrets’; Key Servers and 700 Employees Are in China 

Security researchers Bill Marczak and John Scott-Railton, in a cogent, eye-opening report for the University of Toronto’s Citizen Lab:

Key Findings:

  • Zoom documentation claims that the app uses “AES-256” encryption for meetings where possible. However, we find that in each Zoom meeting, a single AES-128 key is used in ECB mode by all participants to encrypt and decrypt audio and video. The use of ECB mode is not recommended because patterns present in the plaintext are preserved during encryption.

  • The AES-128 keys, which we verified are sufficient to decrypt Zoom packets intercepted in Internet traffic, appear to be generated by Zoom servers, and in some cases, are delivered to participants in a Zoom meeting through servers in China, even when all meeting participants, and the Zoom subscriber’s company, are outside of China.

  • Zoom, a Silicon Valley-based company, appears to own three companies in China through which at least 700 employees are paid to develop Zoom’s software. This arrangement is ostensibly an effort at labor arbitrage: Zoom can avoid paying US wages while selling to US customers, thus increasing their profit margin. However, this arrangement may make Zoom responsive to pressure from Chinese authorities.

Apparently these security researchers aren’t aware that Zoom was designed with the security and privacy needs of the enterprise in mind.

Thousands of Zoom Videos Exposed Online Because File Names Are Guessable 

Drew Harwell, reporting for The Washington Post:

Videos viewed by The Washington Post included one-on-one therapy sessions; a training orientation for workers doing telehealth calls that included people’s names and phone numbers; small-business meetings that included private company financial statements; and elementary school classes, in which children’s faces, voices and personal details were exposed.

Many of the videos include personally identifiable information and deeply intimate conversations, recorded in people’s homes. Other videos include nudity, such as one in which an aesthetician teaches students how to give a Brazilian wax. […]

But because Zoom names every video recording in an identical way, a simple online search can reveal a long stream of videos elsewhere that anyone can download and watch. The Washington Post is not revealing the naming convention that Zoom uses, and Zoom was alerted to the issue before this story was published.

But Zoom was designed for the enterprise. I don’t get how this could happen.

Every Zoom Security and Privacy Flaw So Far, and What You Can Do to Protect Yourself 

Because it’s by Glenn Fleishman, this piece is both a great read and comprehensive. Because it’s comprehensive — and about Zoom — it’s remarkably long.

Quick Turnaround From Zoom on Mac Issues, But Their Story Remains Bullshit 

Zoom founder and CEO Eric S. Yuan:

Over the next 90 days, we are committed to dedicating the resources needed to better identify, address, and fix issues proactively. We are also committed to being transparent throughout this process. We want to do what it takes to maintain your trust. This includes:

  • Enacting a feature freeze, effectively immediately, and shifting all our engineering resources to focus on our biggest trust, safety, and privacy issues.

Good for Zoom. I mean that. And no one can complain that Zoom acts slowly: on Wednesday they released a new version of their Mac app that fixed their installer issues and the security vulnerabilities discovered by Patrick Wardle just one day prior. They fixed at least one major Windows problem this week too.

But this blog post from Yuan contains a lot of bullshit:

First, some background: our platform was built primarily for enterprise customers — large institutions with full IT support. These range from the world’s largest financial services companies to leading telecommunications providers, government agencies, universities, healthcare organizations, and telemedicine practices. Thousands of enterprises around the world have done exhaustive security reviews of our user, network, and data center layers and confidently selected Zoom for complete deployment.

However, we did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived.

These new, mostly consumer use cases have helped us uncover unforeseen issues with our platform.

It makes no sense on the surface that a product purportedly designed for the enterprise would have lousy security and privacy. Most of the known problems with Zoom are specifically about all the corners they cut to ease onboarding for consumer users. The truth is Zoom has had a bifurcated strategy: one for enterprise and one for consumers. The consumer thing did not just sneak up on them in the last few weeks.

For chrissake just think about that secretly-installed hidden web server issue from last summer. That wasn’t a feature for the enterprise. Zoom has been playing very loose with consumer security and privacy not by accident, but as part of a strategy that emphasized ease of use above all else.

‘The Case for Universal Cloth Mask Adoption & Policies to Increase the Supply of Medical Masks for Health Workers’ 

White paper jointly authored by seven professors at Yale, including economists, statisticians, and MDs:

We estimate that the benefits of each additional cloth mask worn by the public are conservatively in the $3,000-$6,000 range due to their impact in slowing the spread of the virus. The benefits of each medical mask for healthcare personnel may be hundreds of times larger, and there is an ethical imperative to safeguard frontline healthcare workers. We must both encourage universal mask adoption and deal with the urgent policy priority that front-line healthcare workers face shortages of personal protective equipment, such as N95 respirators and surgical masks.

Twitter thread from lead author Jason Abaluck:

We have very good evidence that universal adoption of cloth masks will combat the spread of the virus. Specifically, we know that 1) asymptomatic people spread the virus, 2) mask wearing by infected people prevents them from transmitting the virus (the report provides citations).

How large are the benefits? Even if masks reduce transmission probabilities by only 10% (and as you’ll see, that is likely very conservative), the value of each cloth mask is between $3,000 and $6,000. Our best estimate is that their protective value is closer to 40-50%.

These estimates are of course sensitive to the assumptions made in the underlying epidemiological models. But even if those models overstate mortality risk by a factor of TEN, each cloth mask conservatively generates $300 in value!

Basically: even if cloth masks only reduce the rate of transmission a little (say 10%), every single one worn is incredibly valuable. And the current best estimates are that cloth masks in fact reduce transmission by 40-50%.

Both the paper and Abaluck’s tweet thread are worth reading in full. But the takeaways are: make cloth masks and wear them if and when you must venture out; reserve all medical-grade masks for health workers.

And I’ll add this: it’s humiliating that the richest nation in the history of civilization has no supply of paper fucking surgical masks. We should be handing them out like candy but we can’t.

CDC Recommends Face Masks for All Americans, Trump Undermines Message While Announcing It 

Addy Baird and Miriam Elder, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention called for all Americans to wear face coverings in public to help stop the spread of the coronavirus Friday, pushing for people to wear cloth coverings like a bandana or a scarf.

Announcing the move at his daily briefing, President Trump undermined the recommendation of his experts by emphasizing that it was voluntary and he would not be wearing one.

“So it’s voluntary, you don’t have to do it,” he said. “They suggest it for a period of time. This is voluntary, I don’t think I’m gonna be doing it.”

This fucking guy.

In the recommendation published online Friday, the CDC said that because the virus can “spread between people interacting in close proximity,” they would recommend “wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies) especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.”

I implore all of you, get on board with Team Face Mask. Stay at home, wash your hands, use hand sanitizer, keep your distance from others when out, and, when out, wear a face mask. Every thing we can do helps, and wearing a mask helps.

‘Dilettantism Raised to the Level of Sociopathy’ 

Michelle Goldberg, in her column for The New York Times:

Kushner has succeeded at exactly three things in his life. He was born to the right parents, married well and learned how to influence his father-in-law. Most of his other endeavors — his biggest real estate deal, his foray into newspaper ownership, his attempt to broker a peace deal between the Israelis and the Palestinians — have been failures.

Undeterred, he has now arrogated to himself a major role in fighting the epochal health crisis that’s brought America to its knees. “Behind the scenes, Kushner takes charge of coronavirus response,” said a Politico headline on Wednesday. This is dilettantism raised to the level of sociopathy.

The Times seems unsure how to headline this column. Right now on the web it’s running as “Putting Jared Kushner In Charge Is Utter Madness”. The <title> element in the page’s HTML (which, as I’ve noted several times in the past, often don’t change in many CMSes) is the rather anodyne “Jared Kushner Will Not Save Us From the Coronavirus”.

But when it first hit Twitter earlier today, the headline read “Jared Kushner Is Going to Get Us All Killed”.

The French Pronunciation of Letter ‘U’ 

In my piece yesterday on the Amazon/Apple deal with Prime Video and Apple TV, I snuck in this sidenote regarding the French video service Canal+:

(So the “+” is pronounced plooce, not pluss.)

I heard from a bunch of French readers that the French hard U doesn’t sound anything like oo in English. Alas, looking into it, the French hard U doesn’t sound like anything in English. Maybe I should’ve spelled my phonetic approximation pleuse (like deuce), but given my hopelessly U.S.-English-centric ears, I should probably just give up.

2020 iPad Models Now Feature Hardware Microphone Disconnect 

From Apple’s updated Platform Security Guide:

All Mac portables with the Apple T2 Security Chip feature a hardware disconnect that ensures the microphone is disabled whenever the lid is closed. On the 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air computers with the T2 chip, and on the 15-inch MacBook Pro portables from 2019 or later, this disconnect is implemented in hardware alone. The disconnect prevents any software — even with root or kernel privileges in macOS, and even the software on the T2 chip — from engaging the microphone when the lid is closed. (The camera is not disconnected in hardware, because its field of view is completely obstructed with the lid closed.)

iPad models beginning in 2020 also feature the hardware microphone disconnect. When an MFI compliant case (including those sold by Apple) is attached to the iPad and closed, the microphone is disconnected in hardware, preventing microphone audio data being made available to any software — even with root or kernel privileges in iPadOS or in case the firmware is compromised.

That first paragraph above is not new; the second paragraph obviously is. This is what it looks like when a company is focused on security as an utmost priority. (Via DJ Capelis.)

U.S. Weekly Jobless Claims Double to 6.6 Million 

CNBC:

The torrent of Americans filing for unemployment insurance skyrocketed last week as more than 6.6 million new claims were filed, the Labor Department reported Thursday. That brings to 10 million the total Americans who filed over the past two weeks.

Economists surveyed by Dow Jones had expected 3.1 million for last week, one week after 3.3 million filings in the first wave of what has been a record-shattering swelling of the jobless ranks.

This is only week two.

Ragmask: ‘Ultra-Simple, Fast-to-Make, Great-Fitting Masks’ 

From our old friend Loren Brichter: detailed instructions for do-it-yourself masks made from whatever materials you have available.

‘Unmasking Twitter’ 

Ben Thompson, Stratechery:

This is where masks come in. Much of the discussion of their efficacy has been focused on whether they keep you safe from the virus, and the evidence suggests that the answer is probably. SlateStarCodex has a comprehensive overview of the evidence here.

Everyone agrees, though, that those who are sick should wear masks; as the Taiwan CDC puts it, “Masks are mainly used for preventing the spread of disease and protecting people around you.” This, though, highlights the shortcomings of the “Don’t wear masks if you’re not sick” recommendations:

  • First, people are terrible in general at estimating if they are sick, particularly if their symptoms are mild.

  • Second, as Zeynep Tufekci argued in the New York Times, saying that only sick people should wear them stigmatizes the sick and makes them less likely to wear them.

  • Third, and most importantly, asymptomatic transmission means you don’t even know if you are sick in the first place.

Best estimates at this point suggest that up to 1 in 4 people infected with COVID-19 are asymptomatic — a staggering number.

Trust me, I was fully on board with the WHO/CDC recommendation not to wear a mask unless you’re feeling sick. I’m sure most of you reading this in the U.S. are still on board with that. It’s time to admit the WHO and CDC led us grossly astray on this.

Given what we now know about transmission — that it primarily spreads through large droplets — even homemade masks are more effective than no mask at all. I firmly believe we should all wear masks to help keep ourselves from contracting the virus. But even if after reading all of this you still think masks should only be worn by those who are sick, the fact that up to 25 percent of those infected are asymptomatic (but still contagious) means that without widespread testing we should all wear masks.

Japan to Give Cloth Face Masks to 50 Million Households to Fight Coronavirus 

Kyodo News:

Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said Wednesday the government will distribute cloth face masks to roughly 50 million households in Japan as stocks of disposable masks have run out at drugstores and other shops amid the coronavirus outbreak.

The distribution, which will start later this month, is part of the economic package that the government will compile next week. Each household with a registered postal address will receive two washable cloth masks, Abe told a meeting of a government task force.

Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s mask story is… crickets chirping.

The Verge: ‘The Best Alternatives to Zoom for Videoconferencing’ 

Barbara Krasnoff, writing for The Verge:

We recently ran a roundup of some of the free videoconferencing apps available, including Zoom. Since so many questions have come up about Zoom’s security, we’ve decided to run the roundup again, this time excluding Zoom and adding other apps that you can use instead.

As before, it’s worth noting that while all of these have free versions, some are offering temporary access to additional features for those who are currently working from home or who want to check up on friends and relatives online.

There are a number of apps we have not included, such as Facebook, WhatsApp, and FaceTime, that allow you to do video chats; they either require that all participants be members (Facebook, WhatsApp) or that you use a specific type of device (FaceTime, which is Apple-only). The following list includes more generalized applications that allow you to participate without having to actually register for the app (unless you’re the host).

Great resource for anyone looking for Zoom alternatives, which at this point should be everyone who’s using Zoom.

Makes you wonder about the alternate universe where Apple had followed through on Steve Jobs’s impetuous claim that Apple would make FaceTime an open standard.

The Talk Show: ‘A Kryptonian Baby’ 

Rene Ritchie returns to the show to talk about going independent after 11 years at iMore. Topics include the new MacBook Air and iPad Pros, and we answer questions sent by listeners.

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Quarantine Book Club 

Great idea from my pals at Mule Design: group video chats, every weekday, with a wide variety of talented writers. The next two: Cory Doctorow (later today) and Om Malik (tomorrow).

My iPad Stand: Anker’s $15 Multi-Angle Stand 

After I published a photo of my iPad writing setup in my iPad Pro review last week, a few people asked what stand I use to prop up the iPad. I use an Anker “Multi-Angle Stand” I bought back in 2018. I love it: it’s lightweight, small, sturdy, supports multiple angles, and folds flat when not in use. I haven’t even looked for another stand since getting this one. Order through this link and I’ll get an affiliate bounty from Amazon.

Anker still lists this item on their own website, and from that page links to the same product page at Amazon, and the product page at Amazon still says it’s “By Anker” — but, oddly, the photos are now branded “XINKSD”. Not sure what the deal is with that, but this looks exactly like the stand I own.

Files Installed by Zoom on MacOS 

A bunch of DF readers have asked about how to uninstall Zoom on MacOS. Alastair Houghton examined Zoom’s shoddy installer script and it appears that on modern systems (running 10.10 or later) Zoom only installs two items:

  • /Applications/zoom.us.app
  • ~/Library/Internet Plug-Ins/ZoomUsPlugIn.plugin

Trash these two items and you should be done with Zoom. If there’s anything else Zoom installs, let me know.

Update: Houghton has updated his post with a few other items Zoom leaves behind, in ~/Library/Application Support/ and ~/Library/Preferences/.

‘The “S” in Zoom Stands for Security’ 

Security researcher Patrick Wardle uncovered two security flaws in the Mac version of Zoom today:

Though the new issues we’ll discuss today remain unpatched, they both are local security issues.

As such, to be successfully exploited they required that malware or an attacker already have a foothold on a macOS system.

In other words, these vulnerabilities aren’t catastrophic — they can’t be exploited remotely to give an attacker a foothold on your Mac. But software that’s already running on your Mac can exploit these vulnerabilities to gain root access (via Zoom’s egregiously sloppy installer) or to gain access to your webcam and microphone without prompting a permission alert from the system (presuming, quite reasonably, that the user has already granted camera and microphone access to Zoom itself).

(Zoom’s installer is so sloppy that when it prompts for administrator authentication, the dialog is written in broken English, and claims — falsely — to be the “System”: “System need your privilege to change.” That’s exactly what their installer’s authentication prompt says.

Even their helper tool’s name is misspelled: “zoomAutenticationTool”. Zoom has all the hallmarks of malware and scamware.)

We Should All Be Wearing Masks 

This story ran a few days ago in The New York Times under the headline “More Americans Should Probably Wear Masks for Protection”, but when you read halfway down the article, there’s no probably about it:

When researchers conducted systematic review of a variety of interventions used during the SARS outbreak in 2003, they found that washing hands more than 10 times daily was 55 percent effective in stopping virus transmission, while wearing a mask was actually more effective — at about 68 percent.

The masks in that study were N95 medical-grade masks, but the evidence seems clear that wearing a mask of any sort helps prevent transmission.

There is a lot of blame to go around regarding this entire pandemic — both globally and here in the U.S. — but the way that both the WHO and CDC have drummed into our heads the notion that we should not wear masks unless we’re sick is outrageously negligent. It’s not just wrong, it’s a lie. It’s nonsense to argue about the fact that wearing a mask — even a homemade one — is less than 100 percent effective. Nothing is 100 percent effective, and all evidence suggests that masks are, at the very least, quite effective.

We in the U.S. and Europe need to follow the longstanding norm in Asian countries and get past our stigmatizing of mask-wearing in public.

Bill Gates: ‘Here’s How to Make Up for Lost Time on COVID-19’ 

Bill Gates, in an op-ed for The Washington Post:

There’s no question the United States missed the opportunity to get ahead of the novel coronavirus. But the window for making important decisions hasn’t closed. The choices we and our leaders make now will have an enormous impact on how soon case numbers start to go down, how long the economy remains shut down and how many Americans will have to bury a loved one because of Covid-19.

Through my work with the Gates Foundation, I’ve spoken with experts and leaders in Washington and across the country. It’s become clear to me that we must take three steps.

Cogent, clear, and actionable advice.

‘I Basically Want to Address the Idiots Out There — You Know Who You Are, You’re Going Out’ 

Larry David:

“The problem is you’re passing up a fantastic opportunity — a once in a lifetime opportunity — to stay in the house, sit on the couch, and watch TV! I don’t know how you’re passing that up.”

Hobby Lobby Reopened Stores in States With Coronavirus Lockdowns 

Bethany Biron, reporting for Business Insider:

On Monday, the company resumed business in several states where it had been forced to temporarily close. A March 28 memo obtained by Business Insider equipped managers with talking points for “how to respond and communicate if visited by a local authority that asks why we are open.”

In a separate leaked note sent last week, executives wrote that the company “is going to make every effort to continue working the employees.”

The reopenings include stores in Ohio and Wisconsin — which both enacted strict shelter-in-place orders on March 24 — where nearly all Hobby Lobby locations have been reopened after shuttering for only one week. During calls Business Insider made to each location, employees confirmed that all 19 Hobby Lobby locations in Ohio were open as of Monday afternoon, as were 17 out of 20 stores in Wisconsin that were still listed as “temporarily closed” on Google.

Of the three stores closed in Wisconsin, at least one was forcibly shuttered by police officers after briefly opening on Monday, according to the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. An employee at that store told Business Insider on Monday it was closed but that employees were there “working on projects.” A similar incident was reported in Jeffersonville, Indiana, where local authorities forced a store to close after it was open for one hour on Monday morning, the CBS-affiliated news outlet WLKY reported.

“Working the employees”. What a phrase. This defiance of state orders is outrageous, but unsurprising from a company owned by rightwing nutbags. The police should shutter every one of these stores.

Mossberg on Chrome on Mac 

Walt Mossberg, on Twitter:

If you use a Mac, and you insist on using Chrome, stop complaining about speed, fan noise, or battery life. It’s well known that Chrome is a resource and battery hog, especially on Macs. Safari is fully capable, quite fast and very privacy & security focused. Just use Safari.

If you’re a Firefox fan, that’s good too. My point is just that Chrome, which years ago worked great on Macs, is now a big problem, and that Chrome users with degraded Mac performance or weaker battery life should look to their browser choice, and not blame the hardware.

There’s no question that this is a tradeoff — Chrome is, in terms of web technologies, more featureful than Safari. There are web apps that work in Chrome that don’t work in Safari, or work better in Chrome than they do in Safari. But the tradeoff in resource consumption is significant.

It’s funny reading the replies to Mossberg’s tweet. A bunch of people suggest using Brave or Edge or Opera — all of which use Chrome’s Chromium HTML/JavaScript engine. In terms of resource consumption, none of these browsers are any better than Chrome. The difference is in the browser interface — an important difference, but irrelevant to what Mossberg is addressing.

It’s also funny how angry some Chrome fans are about this, particularly web developers. They argue that the problem is that Safari is slow to adopt Chrome-first web technologies without acknowledging that the reason Safari has better performance and stronger privacy goes hand-in-hand with the fact that these technologies Safari hasn’t adopted are resource-heavy and potentially privacy-invasive.

Personally, I use Chrome solely for logging into Google services. Otherwise I avoid it for privacy reasons. (No reason to worry about Google and privacy while I’m logged in, using a Google service.) For anything non-Google that doesn’t work in Safari, I flit between Firefox, Brave, and Edge.

Wimbledon Canceled for First Time Since WWII 

Simon Cambers, ESPN:

The Wimbledon Championships have been canceled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the All England Club confirmed in a statement Wednesday. It is the first time Wimbledon has been canceled since World War II in 1945. It is also the first time since the tournament began in 1877 that the event will not be played during peacetime.

July.