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Linked List: December 2020

‘Kasparov Does Not Need the Comments of the Kibitzers’ 

Lovely bit of correspondence between Stanley Kubrick and John le Carré (who wanted Kubrick to direct the adaptation of one of his novels). Kubrick:

Unhappily, the problem is still pretty much as I fumbled and bumbled it out to you on the phone yesterday. Essentially: how do you tell a story it took the author 165,000 (my guess) good and necessary words to tell, with 12,000 words (about the number of words you get to say in a two hour movie, based on 150wpm speaking rate, less 30% silence and action) without flattening everybody into gingerbread men?

I am reminded of the fact that Alfred Hitchcock argued that short stories make for better source material for movies than novels. (Stephen King’s oeuvre seems to prove that rule.) But today’s world of prestige TV opens new door to long, deep, mature adaptations.

Le Carré’s The Night Manager, the novel Kubrick so obviously enjoyed but argued couldn’t be made into a good two-hour film, was in fact adapted for the screen in an excellent 2015 series — 6 one-hour episodes — directed by Susanne Bier, written by David Farr, starring Hugh Laurie, Tom Hiddleston, Elizabeth Debicki, and Olivia Colman. It’s available for streaming on Amazon Prime in the U.S., and you can get it on iTunes. It’s really good — and le Carré himself makes a cameo in episode 4.

Anyway, Kubrick’s Napoleon as a 10-hour drama. My god. What could have been.

‘I Wasn’t on the Conga Line’ 

David Brand, reporting for The Queens Daily Eagle:

James Trent, chair of the affiliated Queens Village Republican Club, was admitted to North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset where he is recovering from COVID-19, he said from his hospital room Wednesday morning.

Trent said he first began experiencing COVID symptoms two days after attending the Dec. 9 party, which featured a conga line of maskless patrons dancing to the Bee Gees in a widely viewed video first reported by the Eagle.

Trent said he was surprised that he got COVID after attending the party because he “wasn’t doing anything risky.”

“I wasn’t on the conga line. I ate by myself,” he said. “I don’t know how I got this.”

Yeah, it’s a real fucking mystery.

After the event attracted national news coverage, the Whitestone Republican Club issued a defiant statement on Facebook.

“Adults have the absolute right to make their own decisions, and clearly many chose to interact like normal humans and not paranoid zombies in hazmat suits,” the club wrote. “This is for some reason controversial to the people who believe it’s their job to tell us all what to do.”

Just delightful. Certainly not a death cult.

41-Year-Old Newly-Elected Republican Congressman Dies From COVID-19 

Ikran Dahir, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Rep.-elect Luke Letlow died on Tuesday evening at a Louisiana hospital from complications due to the coronavirus after being hospitalized for 11 days. He was 41. Letlow was days away from being sworn in as US representative for Louisiana’s 5th Congressional District as the state’s youngest member of Congress. […] On Dec. 18, Letlow announced via Twitter that he had tested positive for the virus and that he would be isolating. His condition appeared to have deteriorated quickly as he was admitted into the hospital the next day. […]

During his campaign, he frequently shared photos of himself at small outdoor gatherings, sometimes wearing a mask and sometimes not.

From NOLA.com:

“We’re all in disbelief,” said Louis Gurvich, the Republican party chair. “The world was his oyster.”

Disbelief is the problem.

Vybe Together – ‘Secret Party App’ – Pulled From App Store by Apple 

Eric Bangeman, writing for Ars Technica:

A spokesperson explained that the app was really meant for small get-togethers. “Vybe Together was [a minimum viable product] designed to help other people organize small get-togethers in parks or apartments during COVID,” the spokesperson told The Verge. “We never hosted any large parties, and we made one over-the-top marketing video that left a wrong impression about our intentions, which has since been taken down. We do not condone large unsafe parties during a pandemic.”

They only condone having small, unsafe parties.

Fucking idiots.

Christopher Wade’s Lucky Day 

Christopher Wade is the co-founder of Corellium, the company that today won a legal battle against Apple.

Also today: Wade received a pardon from President Trump, who has tended to reserve his pardons for crooked Republican congresspeople, convicted felons who worked on his campaign, family members (crooks, of course), and child-killing war criminals.

Good day for Wade to buy a lottery ticket.

Apple Loses Copyright Claims in Lawsuit Against Corellium, Security Firm Offering Virtual iOS Instances 

Jonathan Stempel, reporting for Reuters:

U.S. District Judge Rodney Smith ruled in favor of Corellium LLC, saying its software emulating the iOS operating system that runs on the iPhone and iPad amounted to “fair use” because it was “transformative” and helped developers find security flaws. […]

The judge also rejected Apple’s argument that the Delray Beach startup acted in bad faith by selling its product indiscriminately, including potentially to hackers, and by not requiring users to report bugs to Apple. He said that argument appeared “puzzling, if not disingenuous,” saying Cupertino, California-based Apple did not impose a reporting requirement under its own Bug Bounty Program.

I can see why Apple fought this, but it also seems right that they lost. But imagine if someone took this ruling to mean they could just host virtualized iOS instances for other uses, too.

Reed Albergotti, at The Washington Post:

Apple initially attempted to acquire Corellium in 2018, according to court records. When the acquisition talks stalled, Apple sued Corellium last year, claiming its virtual iPhones, which contain only the bare-bones functions necessary for security research, constitute a violation of copyright law. Apple also alleged Corellium circumvented Apple’s security measures to create the software, thereby violating the Digital Millennium Copyright Act. That claim has not been thrown out.

20 Macs for 2020: #1 – iMac G3 

Jason Snell:

You can divide Mac history in a bunch of different ways. But perhaps the clearest line of demarcation is the mid-1998 release of the original iMac.

Great piece on a great Mac. Snell patterned his 20 Macs for 2020 project on Joe Posnanski’s Baseball 100. Like Posnanski’s list, there was a lot of room for a lot of debate most of the way down the list. But when it got to the end, not so much. There are a lot of Macs that could have made the list; there are only three or four that could credibly hold the top spot. The original iMac is one.

One thing that’s interesting about the original iMac is that its design didn’t have much staying power. CRTs were on the way out already in 1998, and the whole translucent plastic thing was a fad. But it was a great fad. And the spirit of the original iMac’s design, if not its specifics, set the tone for all of Apple’s successes to follow: computers should be fun and useful, beautiful and elegant, and eschew unnecessary complexity.

Daring Fireball Weekly Sponsorships in Q1 2021 

DF sponsorships are sold out through the end of January, but February and March are open. One sponsor per week, with a sponsor-written entry in the RSS feed to start the week, a thank-you post right on the homepage from me at the end of the week, and the one and only graphic ad on every page of the site all week long. No tracking or other privacy-invasive bullshit. Just plain honest ads. My best argument that they work: the number of repeat companies in the sponsor archive list.

Last week’s sponsor, Wifi Dabba, is now one of those repeat sponsors. They first sponsored back in August, and wrote this rather glowing testimonial about their experience and results in November. There was an interesting thread on Hacker News, too.

It sounds corny, I know, but the system works. Win-win-win: Sponsors reach a good audience for a fair price; readers get to read DF free of charge, with high-quality ads that respect their attention and their privacy (and bandwidth); and I get to run a business and sleep well at night.

If you’ve got a product or service you’d like to promote to DF’s discerning audience, I’d love to have you as a sponsor.

Waterfield’s AirPods Max Shield Case 

That didn’t take long: $100 protective case from Waterfield. I’ve been using various bags from Waterfield for a long time: really well-made, thoughtfully-designed stuff.

Their AirPods Max Shield Case is designed to please two groups: those who want to use it instead of the widely-panned “Smart Case” included with AirPods Max, and those who want to use them both together. I find that curious — why would I want to put my headphones in an unprotective case before I put them in a protective case? But because Apple’s own Smart Case pouch is so minimal (which is partly why it’s been so panned) it doesn’t really add much bulk to Waterfield’s case for it to support both styles of transport. (Notably, Waterfield’s case has magnets to put your AirPods Max into lower-power mode, so one doesn’t need the case-within-a-case for that.)

Wifi Dabba 

My thanks to Wifi Dabba for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball. Wifi Dabba remains unique in the annals of DF sponsors — they’re looking for investors in the DF audience, not customers.

India is a huge battleground — maybe the battleground — for the soul of the open internet. Remember Facebook Basics from a few years ago, where Facebook tried to effectively own “the internet” in India with an offering that pretty much just offered Facebook’s own services? It didn’t work, but they’re back, having recently purchased a nearly $6 billion stake in India’s largest telco. The root problem is the extreme expense required to deploy broadband. High costs naturally favor nation-states and existing telecom monopolies.

Wifi Dabba is attempting to solve India’s broadband problem from the bottom up. They’ve launched a partner program for 100 individuals to own a region of their network. They offer a fully-managed service and a 30 percent revenue share along with minimum guaranteed returns. 70 regions have already been sold in the three months since the launch of the partnership program, so there are 30 regions left. Wifi Dabba is funded by YCombinator and other leading venture capital investors — and you can join them.

Austin Mann on ProRAW (and the iPhone 12 Pro Cameras) 

Austin Mann:

Honestly, I never thought we’d see a RAW format from Apple on iPhone, because I understood how important the computational aspects of iPhone photography are and I didn’t imagine a world where we could utilize that computational power AND still get the control we’ve wanted and needed.

Good news: the team at Apple is much smarter than me and figured out how to do both! With ProRAW, the iPhone camera only leverages the computations that are absolutely necessary for accurate imaging, but gives us complete control over preference parameters like white balance, noise reduction, sharpening, and more. […]

You’ll see the most significant impact in extreme scenarios — ones where the general algorithms can’t do all the work. Shooting scenarios like indoor mixed lighting (cool and warm), extremely low light (like shots of stars), super high dynamic range images (like shadowy foreground with sun-lit red rock in the background).

Just a few examples but they really show off where ProRAW can make a dramatic difference.

Also worth noting: Mann’s extensively-illustrated and inspiring reviews of the iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max from a photography perspective.

Understanding ProRAW 

Ben Sandofsky, writing at the Halide blog:

Apple is now a company that designs its own silicon, and it’s very good at it. Cameras are a huge driving factor in phone purchases. It seems inevitable for Apple to innovate in the realm of sensors. Taking over the demosaic step would smooth such a transition. Hypothetically speaking, they could swap out their current bayer sensors with an “Apple C1,” and so long as it saves in ProRAW, it would work from day one in every pro photography process and app like Lightroom without having to wait for Adobe to write a new demosaic algorithm.

Really great explanation of what RAW photography really means, broadly, but this specific point above is clearly why Apple worked with Adobe to create ProRAW rather than just make regular straight-off-the-sensor RAW a thing on iPhones. (ProRAW debuted in iOS 14.3 for iPhone 12 Pro and 12 Pro Max.)

The Talk Show: ‘2020 Year in Review’ 

A look back at one hell of a year, with special guest Rene Ritchie.

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Senator Ron Wyden on the SolarWinds Hack 

Shawna Chen, reporting for Axios:

Hackers who infiltrated government networks in the SolarWinds cyberattack compromised “dozens of email accounts” in the Treasury, Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Monday.

“Finally, after years of government officials advocating for encryption backdoors, and ignoring warnings from cybersecurity experts who said that that encryption keys become irresistible targets for hackers, the USG has now suffered a breach that seems to involve skilled hackers stealing encryption keys from USG servers,” Wyden said.

This hack should be Exhibit A in the response to every future dummy in the government who advocates for mandatory encryption backdoors on the grounds that you can trust the government with the keys.

First Dinosaur Tail Found Preserved in Amber 

Kristen Romey, writing for National Geographic:

The tail of a 99-million-year-old dinosaur, including bones, soft tissue, and even feathers, has been found preserved in amber, according to a report published today in the journal Current Biology.

Update: This is four-year-old news that was news to me. Whoops. (I mistakenly assume old or even just old-ish news is new news about as frequently as I bite my lip. And in both cases, when it happens, I think, “I can’t believe I did that. That’s the last time.” And then I pay attention to the date on each item I link to or each bite I chew for about six months or so, before I lose that attentive focus.)

SolarWinds, the Security Consulting Company That Maybe Wasn’t Very Good at Security 

Reuters, last week:

On Monday, SolarWinds confirmed that Orion - its flagship network management software - had served as the unwitting conduit for a sprawling international cyberespionage operation. The hackers inserted malicious code into Orion software updates pushed out to nearly 18,000 customers. And while the number of affected organizations is thought to be much more modest, the hackers have already parlayed their access into consequential breaches at the U.S. Treasury and Department of Commerce. […]

In one previously unreported issue, multiple criminals have offered to sell access to SolarWinds’ computers through underground forums, according to two researchers who separately had access to those forums. […] Security researcher Vinoth Kumar told Reuters that, last year, he alerted the company that anyone could access SolarWinds’ update server by using the password “solarwinds123”

“This could have been done by any attacker, easily,” Kumar said.

Mistakes happen. That simple axiom is sometimes at the heart of seemingly stupid security breaches. But setting an important password to “companyname123” isn’t a mistake, it’s just malpractice. Like a doctor deciding to perform surgery using kitchen shears. And being warned about it and ignoring it? It’s hard to comprehend. So one thing I’ve been thinking about this SolarWinds company is that maybe they’re no good at security at all. That what they’re good at is just selling themselves to big corporate and government clients as being good at security. There are a lot of successful consulting companies — security-related or otherwise — who are no good at all on the actual consulting part, but are very good at the selling their services part, to clients who don’t know the difference between bullshit and expertise.

Here’s a report today from Ryan Gallagher at Bloomberg*, suggesting exactly that:

Thornton-Trump, as well as a former SolarWinds software engineer who talked to Bloomberg News, said that given the cybersecurity risks at the company, they viewed a major breach as inevitable. Their concerns about SolarWinds are shared by several cybersecurity researchers, who discovered what they described as glaring security lapses at the company, whose software was used in a suspected Russian hacking campaign.

“My belief is that from a security perspective, SolarWinds was an incredibly easy target to hack,” said Thornton-Trump, now the chief information security officer at threat intelligence firm Cyjax Ltd.

I’m not suggesting that SolarWinds might be a fraud in the way that buying an expensive “super secure” smartphone and getting a box containing a heavy rock inside instead of a phone is a fraud. More like buying a purportedly “super secure” smartphone and getting a crappy phone with confusing “security” software installed on it that really doesn’t do anything useful and may in fact be less secure.

* Don’t make me say it.

Reuters: ‘Apple Targets Car Production by 2024’ 

Stephen Nellis, Norihiko Shirouzu, and Paul Lienert, reporting for Reuters:

Apple Inc. is moving forward with self-driving car technology and is targeting 2024 to produce a passenger vehicle that could include its own breakthrough battery technology, people familiar with the matter told Reuters. […]

As for the car’s battery, Apple plans to use a unique “monocell” design that bulks up the individual cells in the battery and frees up space inside the battery pack by eliminating pouches and modules that hold battery materials, one of the people said.

Apple’s design means that more active material can be packed inside the battery, giving the car a potentially longer range. Apple is also examining a chemistry for the battery called LFP, or lithium iron phosphate, the person said, which is inherently less likely to overheat and is thus safer than other types of lithium-ion batteries.

”It’s next level,” the person said of Apple’s battery technology. “Like the first time you saw the iPhone.”

My favorite story about the Apple car project — from before the reset heralded by the return of Doug Field — is that they actually had a concept for an Apple-designed and branded car. And they added it all up and it turned out to be so embarrassingly expensive that they had to seriously hit the reset button. That’s the way it goes, no shame in that.

I’m quite certain that Apple has a very talented team, a division even, working their asses off on this, and might well come up with the iPhone of cars. But I’ll take all Project Titan related news with a grain of salt until we see something real.

How Offshore Oddsmakers Made a Killing Off Gullible Trump Supporters 

Alex Kirshner, in a delicious story for Slate:

The odds-shifting bonanza on election night, with all that money on the line, was not a sign that the oddsmakers knew something the mainstream media did not. Instead, the Trump spike was the peak of a phenomenon that had been unfolding all year. Many Trump supporters were certain he could not lose, and they plowed so much money into betting on him that they distorted markets in his (and ultimately, the sportsbooks’) favor.

“It’s the most irrational market I ever saw,” says Collin Sherwin, a Tampa, Florida–based gambling writer who covers the industry for Vox Media’s DraftKings Nation.

The MAGA types were still wagering real money on Trump after the election had been called for Biden. It was like taking candy from babies who deserved to have their candy stolen.

The EFF: ‘Facebook’s Laughable Campaign Against Apple Is Really Against Users and Small Businesses’ 

Andrés Arrieta, writing for The EFF:

Overall, AppTrackingTransparency is a great step forward for Apple. When a company does the right thing for its users, EFF will stand with it, just as we will come down hard on companies that do the wrong thing. Here, Apple is right and Facebook is wrong. Next step: Android should follow with the same protections. Your move, Google.

Don’t hold your breath.

The Official Cyber Monday Mac Bundle, Featuring Parallels Pro and Luminar 4 

My thanks to Stack Social for sponsoring this week at DF to promote their Cyber Monday Mac Bundle — 12 great Mac apps at one low price. The bundle is headlined by Parallels Desktop Pro (a $100 value) and Luminar 4 (an $80 value), but the whole bundle costs just $69.99. You save money even if you’re just interested in Parallels or Luminar, and you get everything else in the bundle along with them, including lifetime subscriptions to Goose VPN (a $499 value) and uTalk Languages (an $84 value). The entire 12-app bundle is valued at over $1,200.

Here’s where it goes from a good deal to a great deal: DF readers can take an extra 40 percent off using the promo code FIRE40. The only catch is that this bundle is a limited time offer — check it out to see everything that’s included.

2020’s ‘The Dog Ate My Homework’ Universal Scapegoat: ‘The Algorithm’ 

Lenny Bernstein, Lateshia Beachum, and Hannah Knowles, reporting for The Washington Post:

Stanford Health Care apologized Friday for a plan that left nearly all of its young front-line doctors out of the first round of coronavirus vaccinations. […] The “residents” — medical school graduates who staff the hospital for several years as they learn specialties such as emergency medicine, internal medicine and family medicine — were furious when it became clear that just seven of the more than 1,300 at the medical center were in the first round for vaccinations. Also affected were “fellows,” who work in the hospital as they train further in sub-specialties, nurses and other staff.

Residents across specialties had just been asked to volunteer for extra intensive care unit work in preparation for a surge in covid-19 patients.

An email to pediatrics residents and fellows obtained by The Washington Post said that “the Stanford vaccine algorithm failed to prioritize house staff,” as the early year doctors are known collectively.

Blaming this on “the algorithm” is such ridiculous bullshit. What is an algorithm? It’s a set of rules and heuristics, created and decided by people. Blaming this on “the algorithm” is a shameless attempt to insinuate that they just put everyone into a system and the mean old computer decided to put front-line residents at the end of the list, when in fact, what they mean is, the people at Stanford who created the rules decided to put them at the end of the list. That’s their algorithm.

(Via Jim Ray, who’s angrier about this than I am.)

Twitter Updates Election Misinformation Labels 

A nice change (if weeks overdue). Now, when the president tweets kooky bullshit about the election, the tweets have a label attached that reads, “Election officials have certified Joe Biden as the winner of the U.S. Presidential election.” Trump’s helping to spread the word.

Time: ‘Facebook Shopping Scams Have Skyrocketed During the Pandemic’ 

Andrew R. Chow, reporting for Time:

Further reassured by photos that showed the trees with their creator Kristi Pimentel in her Florida home studio, Hopper ordered three. But there was one problem: Pimentel wasn’t involved at all. Someone was swiping photos from her Etsy and putting them on websites and social media ad campaigns. People would see those pictures and order her trees, and then only receive dollar store flotsam. Edmonson says he got dinky plastic cones, while Hopper says she received a wooden gnome that was “the ugliest thing I’ve ever seen.” Pimentel, meanwhile, was deluged with dozens of confused or angry customers every day demanding their money back, despite the fact she hadn’t processed any of their orders. […]

These stories aren’t isolated incidents. An almost-identical scene is unfolding over and over in homes across the country and world. Facebook or Instagram users see an ad on their feed for a discounted product. They purchase the item through PayPal, and then a knick-knack of no value arrives.

Facebook, champion of the small business owner.

Steve Jobs on Privacy 

Steve Jobs on stage at the D8 conference in June 2010, interviewed by Walt Mossberg and Kara Swisher:

Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for, in plain English, and repeatedly. That’s what it means. I’m an optimist, I believe people are smart. And some people want to share more data than other people do. Ask them. Ask them every time. Make them tell you to stop asking them if they get tired of your asking them. Let them know precisely what you’re going to do with their data.

That’s what we think.

In the audience: Mark Zuckerberg. Maybe he should have listened.

Apple’s stance on privacy hasn’t changed an iota. Neither has Facebook’s.

Kara Swisher: ‘Facebook’s Tone-Deaf Attack on Apple’ 

Kara Swisher, in her column for The New York Times:

Facebook declared in the newspaper ads that it was “standing up to Apple” and warned that such a change will be the ruin of small businesses. More like the ruin of Facebook. The company is terrified that giving users single-click power to control their own information will force people to realize just how loud is the data-sucking sound coming from Facebook’s app.

Let’s be clear: Apple is no saint. While looking and acting like a defender of user privacy has long been a core tenet of the company, its bottom line does not depend on advertising, and ridding the world of intrusive marketing by kneecapping Facebook is good for its business.

In fact, Apple has its own sins to answer for. Many people claim it has too much control over the third-party developers that are dependent on Apple’s mobile app ecosystem, an issue that has gained a lot of regulatory and legal attention of late. Apple takes a 30 percent cut of many of the transactions that take place in the App Store, and many companies say that fee is unreasonably high; some say it is predatory.

It’s a good column overall, and I think Swisher hits on a major point at the end — that Facebook more than ever rues not having succeeded, and perhaps regrets having giving up on, owning its own phone platform.

But the above quoted bit is way too “both sides”. It’s pure whataboutism. The “Apple is no saint” angle, regarding greed over the App Store commission, plays into Facebook’s hands. Facebook’s whole argument is that Apple isn’t really interested in user privacy, they’re just being jerks to spite Facebook because Facebook’s targeted advertising is a boon to small businesses, and Apple is against small businesses because, uh … and here is where Facebook hopes you lose interest in the argument and just buy the basic premise that Apple isn’t really interested in privacy for privacy’s sake. It’s cynical — an appeal to the belief that no company believes in anything if it isn’t profiting from the belief, so Apple’s privacy stance must be benefitting it in some sneaky way.

It’s entirely possible, and I say it’s true, that Apple’s bottom line does not depend on privacy invasion not by happenstance but because the company well and truly believes in privacy as a human right to its core.

Whatever you think of Apple’s 15 to 30 percent commission on App Store commerce, it really has nothing to do with the company’s privacy policies.

Justice Department Charges Zoom With Suppressing U.S. Calls About Tiananmen Square, at Behest of China 

Drew Harwell and Ellen Nakashima, reporting for The Washington Post:

A security executive with the video-tech giant Zoom worked with the Chinese government to terminate Americans’ accounts and disrupt video calls about the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Justice Department prosecutors said Friday. […]

Prosecutors said the China-based executive, Xinjiang Jin, worked as Zoom’s primary liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, sharing user information and terminating video calls at the Chinese government’s request.

Jin monitored Zoom’s video system for discussions of political and religious topics deemed unacceptable by China’s ruling Communist Party, the complaint states, and he gave government officials the names, email addresses and other sensitive information of users, even those outside China.

Outrageous in so many ways. How in the world can Zoom ever claim that calls are private and encrypted when they’ve clearly demonstrated the ability to monitor them, and abused that in patently offensive ways? Best to assume that every call made with Zoom is monitored by the Chinese government. Remember too that Zoom employs 700 people in China on its engineering staff. I’d be surprised if Zoom’s source code and server infrastructure was not riddled with backdoors and eavesdropping features.

Allowing a Chinese-controlled company like Zoom to operate in the U.S. — and this goes for TikTok too — is to some degree in contravention of Karl Popper’s paradox of tolerance. We, as a tolerant society, should not disallow communication services from other societies. But we must make an exception for services from intolerant societies, and there’s simply no question China is intolerant.

Australia Sues Facebook Over Onavo VPN It Used as Spyware 

Natasha Lomas, reporting for TechCrunch:

Yet more trouble brewing for Facebook: Australia’s Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) is suing the tech giant over its use, in 2016 and 2017, of the Onavo VPN app to spy on users for commercial purposes.

The ACCC’s case accuses Facebook of false, misleading or deceptive conduct toward thousands of Australian consumers, after it had promoted the Onavo Protect app — saying it would keep users personal activity data private, protected and secret and not use it for any other purpose, when it was being used to gather data to help Facebook’s business.

“Through Onavo Protect, Facebook was collecting and using the very detailed and valuable personal activity data of thousands of Australian consumers for its own commercial purposes, which we believe is completely contrary to the promise of protection, secrecy and privacy that was central to Facebook’s promotion of this app,” said ACCC chair Rod Sims in a statement.

Not sure why Australia is the only country suing Facebook over this one, because they did it worldwide. Previous coverage here at Daring Fireball:

When I say that Facebook is aligned with Epic in wanting to see Apple forced by government antitrust regulators to allow third parties to circumvent the App Store and install whatever software they want on iPhones and iPads (but especially iPhones), we already know the sort of stuff Facebook wants to do but is blocked by Apple. Spyware. Just outright spyware that tracks everything you do on your phone. They already did it, and used the information they gleaned from it to decide to buy WhatsApp for $20 billion.

Facebook’s frustrations with Apple’s user-centric privacy concerns and control over iOS run a lot deeper than the new mandatory privacy nutrition labels and upcoming ad-tracking opt-in controls launching in a few weeks.

Facebook Wades Into Epic’s Dispute With Apple 

Sarah E. Needleman and Jeff Horwitz, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

As part of a pledge to assist challenges to what it called Apple’s anticompetitive behavior, Facebook plans to provide supporting materials and documents to Epic Games Inc. The “Fortnite” parent sued Apple this year, claiming the tech giant’s App Store operates like a monopoly. Facebook said it isn’t joining the lawsuit but helping with discovery as the case heads to trial next year.

A spokeswoman for Epic declined to comment.

Like I wrote earlier this week, for Facebook to get what it wants on iOS, they’re going all-in on the argument that Apple’s control over its own platform is abuse of a monopoly. But Facebook and Epic are particularly well-aligned here, in that what they both want is to ship their own apps for iOS without going through the App Store. Epic, so they don’t have to pay anything to Apple, and Facebook so they don’t have to follow Apple’s privacy rules.

Woz’s Schematics for Prototype Apple II Sell for $630,000 

Steve Wozniak, in a letter accompanying the diagrams:

These documents, circa 1975, are my original Apple II prototype schematics and programming instructions. They are precious. On these work-in-progress diagrams, you can even see my breadboarding technique, where I’d go over drawn connections in red as I soldered the wires in. At the time, I favored using a purple felt tip pen for writing, so it’s interesting to see these notes decades on. The prototype was hand-wired while I was still an engineer at Hewlett-Packard’s Advanced Product Division, where I was involved in the design of hand-held calculators.

Indiana Jones voice: These belong in a museum.

I’m not joking. I don’t want to get all sappy here, but if Woz doesn’t design the Apple II, there’s no Apple. There’s no Mac in 1984, there’s no iPhone in 2007. There’s no NeXT in between, and a NeXTStep box is where the web was created. None of it happens like it did without these genius designs for that amazing computer.

Apple Support Document Explains AirPods Max Low-Power States 

Apple Support:

If you set your AirPods Max down and leave them stationary for 5 minutes, they go into a low power mode to preserve battery charge. After 72 stationary hours out of the Smart Case, your AirPods Max go into a lower power mode that turns off Bluetooth and Find My to preserve battery charge further.

If you put your AirPods Max in the Smart Case when you’re not using them, they go into a low power mode immediately to preserve battery charge. After 18 hours in the Smart Case, your AirPods Max go into an ultralow power mode that turns off Bluetooth and Find My and maximizes battery life.

This jibes with what I’ve experienced, but it’s great to have these time frames documented. (I just asked for this a day ago.)

Also, you can check the battery status on the AirPods Max themselves:

If you press the noise control button when your AirPods Max are connected to power, the status light will turn green if the charge has more than 95 percent remaining, or amber if the charge has less than or equal to 95 percent remaining.

If you press the noise control button when your AirPods Max aren’t connected to power, the status light will turn green if the charge has more than 15 percent remaining, or amber if the charge has less than or equal to 15 percent remaining.

Google Faces Third Antitrust Lawsuit Brought by Bipartisan Coalition of States 

Diane Bartz, reporting for Reuters:

Alphabet Inc’s Google, already facing lawsuits by the U.S. Justice Department and attorneys general led by Texas, is expected to be sued for anticompetitive behavior on Thursday by another group of attorneys general, according to two people familiar with the matter.

Like the Justice Department complaint brought in October, this group of at least 36 state and territory attorneys general, which is bipartisan, will accuse Google of violating antitrust law to maintain its dominance of online search, one of the sources said.

The new lawsuit will allege that Google favored its own products rather than presenting a neutral search result, disadvantaging rivals to such Google subsidiaries as YouTube, the sources said.

It’s an early Christmas for the anti-Google crowd.

Texas Accuses Google and Facebook of an Illegal Conspiracy 

Gilad Edelman, writing for Wired:

A lawsuit filed today by a coalition of state attorneys general, led by Texas’ Ken Paxton, accuses Google of making an “unlawful agreement” that gave Facebook special privileges in exchange for promising not to support a competing ad system. […]

As described in the complaint, the scheme between Google and Facebook has its roots in 2017, when Facebook announced it would start supporting something called “header bidding.” The details are too wonky to get into here. Basically, Google, which runs the biggest online ad exchange, likes to make publishers give it first dibs on bidding to place an ad. (“Publisher” just means any website or app that runs ads.) Header bidding was a technical hack that allowed publishers to earn higher prices by soliciting bids from multiple exchanges at once. Google hated this, because it created more competition. When Facebook declared that it would work with publishers that used header bidding, it was seen as a provocation. The millions of businesses that advertise with Facebook don’t just advertise on Facebook; through the Facebook Audience Network, the company also places ads across the web, making it one of the biggest ad buyers on the internet. If it began supporting header bidding, that could cause Google’s ad platform to lose a lot of business.

Drawing on internal documents uncovered during its investigation, however, the Texas attorney general claims that Facebook’s leaders didn’t actually want to compete with Google; they wanted Google to buy them off. This seems to have worked. In September 2018, the companies cut a deal.

Good write-up that cuts to the chase.

MKBHD’s Full AirPods Max Review 

Marques Brownlee:

These headphones check a set of boxes that no other set of headphones that I’ve ever tested can claim to check. It’s a really odd combination of pieces here.

Solid review that boils down to this: “These are fun to listen to.” His main dings against them are the same as mine: the cheapjack pouch and their weight. But their weight is really only noticeable when you (or just your head) are in motion. When you’re sitting still or just walking, they’re comfortable. And you can’t beat their build quality.

Brownlee suggests that the battery drains when the AirPods Max are not in use but outside their pouch (err, “case”) at about the same rate as when they’re in use. I haven’t found that to be close to true. They do drain when unused but idle outside the case, but slowly. Maybe like at a rate of about 10 percent in 24 hours? They go into different levels of low-power the longer they’re off your ears but out of the case, but Apple ought to document it exactly.

Facebook Takes Out Full-Page Newspaper Ads to Attack Apple’s Changes Strengthening iOS Privacy 

Hartley Charlton, writing for MacRumors:

The ads are running in the New York Times, Wall Street Journal, and Washington Post, feature the headline “We’re standing up to Apple for small businesses everywhere.”

Earlier this year, Apple introduced a number of privacy changes that curb the ability of companies like Facebook to gather data on users and target adverts. In iOS 14, Apple has made the “Identifier for Advertisers,” used by Facebook and its advertising partners for ad targeting, an opt-in feature, providing more transparency for users who would prefer not to be tracked in apps and on websites. The update simply asks users if they want to agree to ad tracking or prevent cross-app and cross-site tracking to provide targeted ads.

iOS 14 also has a prominent “Tracking” section in the Privacy portion of the Settings app, where users can disable the option for apps to track them altogether. Even if this feature is toggled off, apps must still ask permission to track users across apps and websites owned by other companies, which is a blow to the silent ad-related tracking that has been going on behind the scenes.

And people say Facebook has hurt the newspaper advertising industry. They’re helping!

A full-page newspaper print ad for issue messaging has always had a weird target audience. Most full-page newspaper ads are trying to reach most of the people who read the paper. Full-page issue messaging ads are about reaching very specific demographics in a conspicuous way. But in today’s world, it’s kind of transparent whom Facebook is targeting here: old white politicians.

I think it’s pretty clear what Facebook wants: they want mobile app privacy to go back to the Wild West days of a decade ago, when apps could get away with whatever was technically possible, with all data hoovering invisible to users. They can get that on iOS only two ways: (a) if Apple changes its mind, or (b) if governments around the world force Apple’s hand, by declaring that Apple’s actions in the name of privacy are in fact the abuse of some made-up monopoly. Option (a) is not going to happen, so Facebook is going all-in on (b).

Here’s the thing. Apple isn’t blocking the ability for Facebook to personalize ads, in any way. Apple is just providing users with control over their own privacy. Users can easily choose to keep providing Facebook (and anyone else) with all the information they want. Or they can choose not to.

Facebook sees Apple providing users with awareness of and control over their online privacy as Apple taking away from Facebook access to something that they believe they rightfully should have free and unfettered access to. This is no different than telemarketers feeling like you’re doing them wrong when you add your phone number to a do-not-call list.

I’ll repeat what I wrote in September:

Just because there is now a multi-billion-dollar industry based on the abject betrayal of our privacy doesn’t mean the sociopaths who built it have any right whatsoever to continue getting away with it. They talk in circles but their argument boils down to entitlement: they think our privacy is theirs for the taking because they’ve been getting away with taking it without our knowledge, and it is valuable. No action Apple can take against the tracking industry is too strong.

Also worth pointing out: the apostrophe in the Facebook newspaper ad’s headline is wrong. A big old dumb quote mark.

App Privacy Details on the App Store 

Apple’s “Privacy Nutrition Labels” launched this week on the App Store. Apple’s own developer information about these disclosures is plainly written and explains what information they’re requiring from developers, and why. It’s worth going right to the source to know what Apple is requiring here, because the companies who are coming out of this looking bad are attempting to misdirect attention.

To see them in action, just go to any app’s listing and scroll down a bit, and you can’t miss them. View the details for apps that respect your privacy and you’ll see a concise listing. View the details for apps that don’t — like, say, Instagram or Facebook — and you’ll get screen after screen showing just how much information about you they collect. Instagram and Facebook’s app privacy listings look like those crazy-long receipts from CVS. Seriously, that’s not an exaggeration — a single screenshot can’t capture it, you need to make a movie to see how long you have to scroll to see it all.

Most apps I’ve checked have already provided the necessary information. But some haven’t — they’ll be required to upon next submitting an app update, though. Among the apps with no information yet provided: the “Official Trump 2020 App” — an app that was exposed earlier this year as so privacy invasive that MIT Technology Review described it as “a voter surveillance tool of extraordinary power”.

Also with no information yet provided: any of Google’s apps. Not a good look.

‘COVID-19 and the Failure of Swedish Exceptionalism’ 

John Gustavsson, writing for The Dispatch:

While Sweden’s death numbers compare favorably to the U.S., they stand in stark negative contrast to our Scandinavian neighbors who introduced lockdown measures: Per capita, we have nearly five times as many deaths as Denmark, nine times as many as Finland, and more than ten times as many as Norway. In total, as of this writing, 7,514 Swedes have lost their lives to Covid-19, which works out to a death rate of 742 per 1 million citizens. The equivalent numbers for the other Scandinavian countries are 164 per million (Denmark), 83 per million (Finland) and 72 per million (Norway). There is, in other words, no doubt that Sweden’s approach has led to excessive deaths.

Why did Sweden adopt this approach, and why was it not rapidly abandoned in April when it was clear that our neighbors were doing far better than we were?

While there are many reasons, I believe a significant part of the answer lies in Swedish exceptionalism. Whereas American exceptionalism is about America’s unique place in the world, Swedish exceptionalism is about being immune to any disasters that may happen in the rest of the world.

‘We Want Them Infected’: Leaked Emails Reveal Trump Appointee Demanded ‘Herd Immunity’ Strategy 

Dan Diamond, reporting for Politico:

A top Trump appointee repeatedly urged top health officials to adopt a “herd immunity” approach to Covid-19 and allow millions of Americans to be infected by the virus, according to internal emails obtained by a House watchdog and shared with POLITICO.

“There is no other way, we need to establish herd, and it only comes about allowing the non-high risk groups expose themselves to the virus. PERIOD,” then-science adviser Paul Alexander wrote on July 4 to his boss, Health and Human Services assistant secretary for public affairs Michael Caputo, and six other senior officials. “Infants, kids, teens, young people, young adults, middle aged with no conditions etc. have zero to little risk….so we use them to develop herd…we want them infected…” Alexander added.

“[I]t may be that it will be best if we open up and flood the zone and let the kids and young folk get infected” in order to get “natural immunity… natural exposure,” Alexander wrote on July 24 to Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Stephen Hahn, Caputo and eight other senior officials.

They put in writing what seemed obvious — yet unbelievable — all along. There was no plan. Just let everyone get sick and watch hundreds of thousands die needlessly.

MSNBC host Chris Hayes took heat in July for his flat statement that “Trump is objectively pro-virus” because it was a terrible thing to say about the President of the United States. But it was the plain truth.

Trump Appointees Describe the Crushing of the C.D.C. 

Noah Weiland, reporting for The New York Times:

“Everyone wants to describe the day that the light switch flipped and the C.D.C. was sidelined. It didn’t happen that way,” Mr. McGowan said. “It was more of like a hand grasping something, and it slowly closes, closes, closes, closes until you realize that, middle of the summer, it has a complete grasp on everything at the C.D.C.”

Last week, the editor in chief of the C.D.C.’s flagship weekly disease outbreak reports — once considered untouchable — told House Democrats investigating political interference in the agency’s work that she was ordered to destroy an email showing Trump appointees attempting to meddle with their publication. […]

Often, Mr. McGowan and Ms. Campbell mediated between Dr. Redfield and agency scientists when the White House’s guidance requests and dictates would arrive: edits from Mr. Vought and Kellyanne Conway, the former White House adviser, on choirs and communion in faith communities, or suggestions from Ivanka Trump, the president’s daughter and aide, on schools.

“Every time that the science clashed with the messaging, messaging won,” Mr. McGowan said.

Edits on CDC guidance from Kellyanne Conway and Ivanka Trump. Truly, a kakistocracy, in power for the outbreak of the worst crisis our nation has faced in generations.

Comparing COVID Surges, the U.S. Stands Alone 

David Leonhardt, writing for The New York Times:

The U.S. was not alone in suffering a resurgence this fall. Much of the world did. But many other countries responded to that surge with targeted new restrictions and, in a few cases, with an increase in rapid-result testing. Those measures seem to be working. Worldwide, the number of new cases has fallen over the past week.

In some countries, the declines are large: more than 50 percent over the past month in Belgium, France, Italy, Kenya and Saudi Arabia; more than 40 percent in Argentina and Morocco; more than 30 percent in India and Norway.

And in the U.S.? The number of new cases has risen 51 percent over the past month.

On the one side, Americans who insist the threat is not real. On the other, the rest of us, who find the other side’s obstinate, belligerent ignorance unreal.

Biden’s Branding 

Hunter Schwarz, writing for AIGA’s Eye on Design:

The campaign also updated its typefaces in time for Vice President-elect Kamala Harris to join as Biden’s running mate, after Biden senior creative advisor Robyn Kanner reached out to type designer and Hoefler&Co. founder Jonathan Hoefler. “The first message I sent to Jonathan was, ‘talk me out of Gotham,’” Kanner said. “He called me, and we had a three-hour conversation about it and we went through the weeds of type.”

Kanner ultimately chose Decimal, a sans serif inspired by vintage watch lettering that was released last year and featured in the Netflix series “Abstract,” as the primary typeface, with the serif Mercury as a secondary typeface. Kanner, who talks about design in musical terms, likened the two typefaces to major and minor chords that could be used to arrange text in a graphic like notes of a song. They were both chosen in part for their connections to truth, Kanner said. Decimal was “true as time,” while Mercury held the “truth of the written word” because it had been used by publications like The Atlantic.

A neat trick they’ve pulled is that for the post-election transition, they’ve switched the two typefaces, with Mercury doing primary work and Decimal doing secondary accents. They work together both ways, but they work differently. With Decimal singing lead vocals, the work felt like advertising — which it was. A campaign is selling voters on a candidate. With Mercury in the lead, it feels more like the voice of serious people getting to work. They’re not selling anything now — we bought it — and this is the brand they’re using as they begin to deliver. Just flipping the roles of Decimal and Mercury shows the magic of deft typography — it’s the same brand with a different tone.

Siri Can Now Play Animal Sounds 

Mitchell Clark, writing for The Verge:

With yesterday’s release of iOS 14.3, Siri got a new trick: the ability to play real-world sound samples on command. Ask “Hey Siri, what does _____ sound like?” and it will start playing the sound for you. If you ask on an iPhone or iPad, it will show you a picture as well. Google Assistant has been able to do this for a few years now, but now it’s available for the iPhone, iPad, and HomePod.

Apple hasn’t announced how many sounds it’s added, but it’s been able to handle most of the animals I asked about (except for some obscure ones that I’m not sure have a real distinctive noise, like an anteater).

I tried “What does a krayt dragon sound like?” and Siri was no help, so a HomePod isn’t going to help you scare off marauding Tusken Raiders.

Touchscreen Macs: Now or Never? 

Yours truly and Rene Ritchie arguing — politely! remember friendly arguments? — about whether Macs should and/or will have touchscreens. That should they? and will they? are two different arguments is part of what makes this debate so interesting.

My main link here is to the video on Rene’s YouTube channel, but he’s got the full double-length interview up on Nebula, which, while subscriber-based, will let you watch this one free. I say go long.

Nikkei Report: iPhone 12 Sales Strong Lineup-Wide, but 12 Mini ‘a Bit Sluggish’ 

Lauly Li and Cheng Ting-Fang, reporting for Nikkei from Taipei:

Apple plans to produce up to 96 million iPhones for the first half of 2021, a nearly 30% year-on-year increase, after demand for its first-ever 5G handsets surged amid the pandemic, Nikkei Asia learned. […]

“The planned production for the next quarter and the following quarter have been decided and the outlook is quite bright,” an executive at a key Apple supplier told Nikkei. “The iPhone 12 Pro, and iPhone 12 Pro Max are especially stronger than we estimated, while the demand for iPhone 12 is in line with the forecast, but iPhone 12 mini is a bit sluggish,” the person added.

If true this is a bit disappointing to those of us who adore the iPhone 12 Mini. Hopefully, even if true, a bit is really just a bit, and not a euphemism for “dropped from the lineup next year” bad.

Some analyst reports and numbers from mobile ad network snoops Flurry Analytics back this, though — pegging 12 Mini sales out of the gate as lower than the other iPhone 12 models.

Raymond Wong Reviews Fitness+ 

Raymond Wong, writing for Input:

I’ll never make the cover of Muscle & Fitness magazine, but my once skinny frame is more defined and toned than it was pre-COVID-19. Let me be clear: I don’t enjoy working out at home. I do it because it’s a daily routine that boosts endorphins to keep me sane. Looking good is secondary to feeling good, which I’d argue is more important during the pandemic than before.

With my mindset, I was not expecting much from Fitness+, Apple’s new fitness subscription service ($9.99/month, $79.99/year, or bundled with Apple One Premier for $29.95/month) that pairs an Apple Watch with video workouts delivered on an iOS device or Apple TV. “Great, Apple is trying to reinvent the Jane Fonda workout tapes my mom used to watch in front of the CRT,” is what I thought at first.

Many Apple Fitness+ workouts later, I am hooked. It’s not just that Apple’s hired a bunch of attractive and fit trainers draped in immaculate Nike activewear to coach you through various workouts (there’s no shortage of those on YouTube), but that the fitness routines and the coaching are actually fun.

Apple’s messaging makes clear that Fitness+ was designed to be welcoming, fun, and scalable from newcomers to fitness experts. The reviews strongly suggest they nailed it. It reminds me of Apple’s computing platforms — the way the iPhone and Mac are intended to be great for experts and non-experts alike, and that non-experts can get into it and grow to become experts.

Todd Haselton Reviews Apple Fitness+ 

Todd Haselton, writing for CNBC:

Fitness+ is excellent. Should you pick it over Peloton? Tough call.

This is the part of a review is where I’d normally say if you should buy something or not, but both Fitness+ and the Peloton app come with free one-month trials. And anyone who bought a new Apple Watch this year gets a three-month trial. So, really, you should try both and see which one you like better. I’m pretty torn right now.

If the biggest downside is that Fitness+ requires you to own an Apple Watch — a sentiment echoed by Nicole Nguyen in her Fitness+ review for the WSJ (News+ link) — it’s not really much of a downside at all. I don’t think it’s a streaming fitness service that’s forcing you to buy a $200-300 watch; I think it’s more like a $10/month fitness service for Apple Watch owners. Apple is very up-front about the “requires an Apple Watch” aspect of Fitness+. It’s like saying the downside of Apple Arcade is that you need an iPhone or iPad to play the games.

One interesting technical note: on Apple TV, the Fitness app will look for Apple Watch wearers in the same room, making it seamless for multiple members of the same family to work out using a shared TV (albeit one at a time). This integration between the Apple TV hardware and Apple Watch even works on anyone’s Apple TV, so if you’re at a friend or family member’s house, or at a public facility with Apple TV, you can work out with Fitness+ as you, with your activity history and settings, without taking over as the signed-in iCloud/iTunes account system-wide on the Apple TV. That’s pretty cool.

‘Listen Up, Georgia’ 

Fun but important video from my friends at Sandwich. Georgians to Georgians, with a simple message: vote. (Early voting in the Senate runoffs started today.)

Yours Truly Talking About Apple Silicon on CNBC’s Squawk Alley With Jon Fortt This Morning 

What I like about these short appearances on CNBC is that they get it — Jon Fortt especially. When they were coming out of the commercial break before my spot, they played clips from Steve Jobs announcing the PowerPC-to-Intel Mac transition back in 2005, with an emphasis on Jobs’s remarks on performance-per-watt, and Apple not being able to build the then-future Macs they were imagining with the chips on the PowerPC roadmap. It’s the exact same story today. But there’s a big fundamental difference this time: now the superior platform is proprietary to Apple.

Wesley Hilliard, writing for AppleInsider:

Ecosia is a search engine that promotes privacy first and plants trees around the world, and with Mondays updates, it is now available as a default search engine setting on iOS, iPadOS, and macOS.

Ecosia uses their income from search ads to fund planting trees around the world in harsh environments. The search engine doesn’t track users, encrypts searches, and anonymizes data within a week of it being created. The ad revenue generated from Apple users alone have planted over seven million trees in 2020, and now you can do more by making it the default search engine. The website shows over 115 million trees have been planted as a result of search revenue so far.

I’ve lost track of how many years ago I switched my default search engine to DuckDuckGo. I suspect a lot of you have never even tried switching away from Google for default search, just out of inertia, and perhaps a general sense that whatever Google’s faults, any other web search probably just plain sucks.

I wouldn’t hesitate to switch back to Google for default search if using DuckDuckGo sucked. Your mileage, of course, may vary, but the key is that however profound it may sound to change your default search engine, it’s actually one of the very easiest technical changes you can make in your computing life. It takes 30 seconds to switch and 30 seconds to switch back if you decide you don’t like it.

I actually hadn’t heard of Ecosia before, but their story is interesting enough that I’m giving them a shot. It’s so easy to switch.

The Knuckleheads’ Club 

The Knuckleheads’ Club:

In the fall of 2018, we noticed that there was something that set Google apart from other big tech companies. Everybody was talking about how to regulate these tech companies, and everybody had pretty good plans for how to do it — for every company besides Google. In our opinion, it was because nobody really seemed to understand what Google does, or how they do it. So, for the past two years, we’ve been researching and analyzing Google. Through this work, we’ve found some really compelling evidence about what powers Google’s monopoly, so much so that Congress referenced this work as part of their recently released Big Tech Antitrust Report. The big ideas that we have is that that crawling the web is a natural monopoly, that Google has control of that monopoly, and that once you understand why this is true and what it means it becomes pretty clear about what sorts of regulations should be taken to reign in Google’s power over the internet.

From their About page:

The reason why it is called the Knuckleheads’ Club is because only a bunch of knuckleheads would try and take on Google.

Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The New York Times:

Google and Microsoft are the only search engines that spend hundreds of millions of dollars annually to maintain a real-time map of the English-language internet. That’s in addition to the billions they’ve spent over the years to build out their indexes, according to a report this summer from Britain’s Competition and Markets Authority.

Google holds a significant leg up on Microsoft in more than market share. British competition authorities said Google’s index included about 500 billion to 600 billion web pages, compared with 100 billion to 200 billion for Microsoft.

The size of the index is valuable, of course, but I’d argue that it’s not the best comparison point. It’s an easy comparison, because you can just compare numbers and say 500–600 billion is bigger and better than 100–200 billion. But I’ll bet the overwhelming number of searches are completely satisfied by the contents of pages indexed by Bing. It’s the quality of results that matters most. A 500 billion-page index is useless if it doesn’t surface the correct results.

What’s more interesting to me is that while there are a number of small search engines, Google and Bing are the only two comprehensive indexes. DuckDuckGo, for example, syndicates the contents of its index from Microsoft. Google has a monopoly on web search no matter how you look at the market, but there’s even less competition for indexing the web than there is for user-facing search engines. In fact, I think semantically it sort of breaks the engine in “search engine” — the term presupposes that the service showing you the results is the same service that is crawling the web to index them. That’s just not true today.

When Mr. Maril started researching how sites treated Google’s crawler, he downloaded 17 million so-called robots.txt files — essentially rules of the road posted by nearly every website laying out where crawlers can go — and found many examples where Google had greater access than competitors.

ScienceDirect, a site for peer-reviewed papers, permits only Google’s crawler to have access to links containing PDF documents. Only Google’s computers get access to listings on PBS Kids. On Alibaba.com, the U.S. site of the Chinese e-commerce giant Alibaba, only Google’s crawler is given access to pages that list products.

I don’t think any of this exclusivity is the result of nefarious deals between the websites and Google — these sites have just determined, on their own, that it makes financial sense to only permit Google to index their content.

Honest Security 

My thanks to Kolide for sponsoring DF last week to promote its guide for Honest Security.

If your IT/security team finds itself constantly reassuring your company’s employees that they’re not spying on them, it’s time to recognize that the relationship between them might be sick.

Kolide’s guide for Honest Security is the antidote. It was written for IT teams looking to implement endpoint security and device management based on values like transparency, trust, and personal responsibility. Honest Security is an expansion of the user-focused principles Kolide uses for its own products. Their hope is that others will be inspired to implement and even build on top of their vision.

Also, they’ve put the guide at one of the coolest domain names I’ve ever seen.

Craig Federighi’s Keynote at the 10th Annual European Data Protection & Privacy Conference 

It says a lot about Federighi’s stature at Apple that he’s the executive delivering a talk not about engineering, but about the company’s culture and values. This YouTube clip is the entire morning session from the opening day of the conference, but my link should jump you to the start of Federighi’s keynote at the 49:00 mark.

Jonny Evans has published a transcript of the talk, but again, I suggest listening to Federighi. It’s worth it.

Tim Cook on the Outside Podcast 

Outside:

In this extended conversation with Outside Podcast host Michael Roberts, Cook talks about both the incredible promise of technology to enhance our well-being and Apple’s duty to help us use our devices more wisely.

There’s a transcript, but I strongly suggest listening to the podcast — it’s excellent. Off the top of my head, this is the most open and relaxed I’ve ever heard Tim Cook in an interview, and his inflection brings weight to his words. His personality comes through, and he offers some genuine insight into his priorities — both in his own life and in how he’s leading Apple. Most interesting to me is how often the conversation turned to privacy. Roberts does a great job with the interview, and the soundscape is interesting too — they conducted the interview while strolling through Apple Park.

Highly recommended.

‘Let’s Skim! The Slack/Salesforce Press Release’ 

Paul Ford annotates the announcement of Salesforce’s acquisition of Slack:

The events of this year have greatly accelerated the move by companies and governments to an all-digital world, where work happens wherever people are — whether they’re in the office, at home or somewhere in between. They need to deliver connected experiences for their customers across every touchpoint and enable their employees to work seamlessly wherever they are.

Man, this says absolutely nothing specific about anything. The raw hot synergy coming off this paragraph could merge lead into gold. Let’s keep going.

I do love me an annotated press release. There’s well-warranted snark about some of the language, but also some astute analysis of why this deal makes sense for both companies:

Maybe this is a bet on a kind of post-GUI future where everything is a stream of conversation and “work” flows in and out of the channels, as opposed to a document-centric view of the world. And then you move like a freight train, or a Benioff-faced Thomas the Tank Engine, into more and more of ERP, eating away at SAP and Oracle, roping in more of the big consulting firms to your very own vision, and it’s playful, and a little dude in a bear costume keeps dancing and dancing, forever.

The Talk Show: ‘Half of the Bikini Emoji’ 

Matthew Panzarino joins the show to talk about Apple’s new AirPods Max headphones and the future of the Mac on Apple Silicon.

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‘An Indelible Stain’: How the G.O.P. Tried to Topple a Pillar of Democracy 

Jim Rutenberg and Nick Corasaniti, reporting for The New York Times:

The Supreme Court repudiation of President Trump’s desperate bid for a second term not only shredded his effort to overturn the will of voters: It also was a blunt rebuke to Republican leaders in Congress and the states who were willing to damage American democracy by embracing a partisan power grab over a free and fair election.

The court’s decision on Friday night, an inflection point after weeks of legal flailing by Mr. Trump and ahead of the Electoral College vote for President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. on Monday, leaves the president’s party in an extraordinary position. Through their explicit endorsements or complicity of silence, much of the G.O.P. leadership now shares responsibility for the quixotic attempt to ignore the nation’s founding principles and engineer a different verdict from the one voters cast in November. […]

And it meant that Republican leaders now stand for a new notion: that the final decisions of voters can be challenged without a basis in fact if the results are not to the liking of the losing side, running counter to decades of work by the United States to convince developing nations that peaceful transfers of power are key to any freely elected government’s credibility.

It takes your breath away.

Josh Marshall: “Accepting the results of free and fair elections is now prima facie evidence of not being a Republican or lacking the willingness to fight which is required of Republicans. […] This isn’t a disagreement about voter fraud. It’s a general retreat from democracy by an entire political party.”

Orlando Sentinel Editorial Board Apologizes for Supporting Michael Waltz 

The Orlando Sentinel editorial board:

During our endorsement interview with the incumbent congressman, we didn’t think to ask, “Would you support an effort to throw out the votes of tens of millions of Americans in four states in order to overturn a presidential election and hand it to the person who lost, Donald Trump?”

Our bad.

Trust us, some variation of that question will be asked of anyone running for Congress in the future, particularly Republican candidates whose party is attempting to upend the way we choose a president.

Apple’s New Map, Expansion #10: Canada 

The level of detail Justin O’Beirne documents in these comparisons between old and new maps is just extraordinary.

Supreme Court Rejects Texas Lawsuit Challenging Biden’s Victory 

The New York Times:

In a series of briefs filed Thursday, the four states that Texas sought to sue condemned the effort. “The court should not abide this seditious abuse of the judicial process, and should send a clear and unmistakable signal that such abuse must never be replicated,” a brief for Pennsylvania said.

On Friday morning, Texas’ attorney general, Ken Paxton, responded with his own brief. “Whatever Pennsylvania’s definition of sedition,” he wrote, “moving this court to cure grave threats to Texas’ right of suffrage in the Senate and its citizens’ rights of suffrage in presidential elections upholds the Constitution, which is the very opposite of sedition.”

If it’s not according-to-Hoyle sedition, it sure as shit is close enough to smell like it, you deliciously stupid but frighteningly anti-democratic traitor tots. The whole thing is utterly shameful, and would be nothing but comical if it weren’t making a hash of our nation’s most sacred tenet.

Somebody Tell This Guy He Can Just Buy a Cup to Keep Upstairs 

From the NYT, “How John Foley, Peloton Co-Founder, Spends His Sundays”:

Twenty years ago a colleague told me the key to your day is to hydrate at much as you can, so the first thing I do is drink 40 sips of water from my hand at the upstairs bathroom sink. It’s efficient. I drink until I feel like I’m going to throw up water. Every day.

Cydia Sues Apple on Antitrust Grounds 

Reed Albergotti, reporting for The Washington Post:

A new lawsuit brought by one of Apple’s oldest foes seeks to force the iPhone maker to allow alternatives to the App Store, the latest in a growing number of cases that aim to curb the tech giant’s power.

The lawsuit was filed on Thursday by the maker of Cydia, a once-popular app store for the iPhone that launched in 2007, before Apple created its own version. The lawsuit alleges that Apple used anti-competitive means to nearly destroy Cydia, clearing the way for the App Store, which Cydia’s attorneys say has a monopoly over software distribution on iOS, Apple’s mobile operating system.

What a hacky way to describe Cydia. The whole opening presents Cydia as straight up legit, as though being an “app store” on iPhone in 2007 had any means of working other than exploiting security vulnerabilities. And describing Cydia as “one of Apple’s oldest foes” is a deep shade of purple prose to say the least. Regarding “oldest”, it’s not like Apple was a new company in 2007. Regarding describing Cydia as Apple’s “foe”, well, I’m reminded of that scene in Mad Men. You know the one.

‘This Case Is Weird’ 

Marques Brownlee’s unboxing and first impressions of AirPods Max. Pretty solid consensus among those of us with review units that the headphones are really good — both build and audio quality — and the “Smart Case” pouch is bafflingly inadequate.

Like Matthew Panzarino, Nilay Patel draws a comparison between cheap feel of the AirPods Max case and the $130 MagSafe Duo charger (which requires a $20 20W adapter).

iJustine makes the point that for $550, Apple should include a color-matched USB-C to Lightning cable.

Matthew Panzarino’s ‘Not a Review’ First Look at AirPods Max 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

The lack of real folding options on these, the material in the netting and the pretty definitive “one way” these are meant to articulate means that I do not see these being a regular travel companion for me, on initial pass. Oh, and the case is just as ridiculous as it looks. Sorry. The construction here is just as dodgy as the MagSafe Duo. It feels cheap, and like it will dirty easily, not exactly what you want from a “travel case”. And it looks like a butt.

The sound is impressive. Don’t worry about this being in the Beats region of a bass-heavy crowd pleaser. Though there is plenty of low end, this is a more nuanced affair, with crisp delivery across the spectrum.

I can’t tell if the case looks more like a butt or a bikini top. But it really does seem like material that will stain easily, especially the colors other than Space Gray.

The Beats comparison brings up a point I’ve been meaning to mention — the Beats hardware teams still seems to operate as an independent subsidiary within Apple. It’s not just a name Apple puts on certain Apple-designed headphones. It’s a company that still makes Beats-designed headphones. And I get the distinct impression that Apple’s own audio engineering team doesn’t think much of the Beats products.

Facebook Accused of Breaking Antitrust Laws by Federal and State Regulators 

Cecilia Kang and Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:

Federal and state regulators of both parties, who have investigated the company for over 18 months, said in separate lawsuits that Facebook’s purchases, especially Instagram for $1 billion in 2012 and WhatsApp for $19 billion two years later, eliminated competition that could have one day challenged the company’s dominance. […]

Facebook, the prosecutors said Wednesday, should break off Instagram and WhatsApp, and they said new restrictions should apply to the company on future deals. Those are some of the most severe penalties regulators can demand. Facebook said it planned to vigorously defend itself against the accusations. […]

“The most important fact in this case, which the commission does not mention in its 53-page complaint, is that it cleared these acquisitions years ago,” Jennifer Newstead, Facebook’s general counsel, said in a statement. “The government now wants a do-over, sending a chilling warning to American business that no sale is ever final.”

Facebook has a point here, but I think they need a much better defense than “Once a merger is approved, anything goes.

The company’s stock fell 2 percent, to $277.70 a share, after the lawsuits were announced.

Investors clearly don’t think they’re actually going to bust up Facebook, but investors are often totally wrong. The thing I’d be really worried about, if I were Zuckerberg, is the broad bipartisan nature of the regulators behind this. It’s hard to believe you could get 48 attorneys general behind any major initiative today.

With 46 states (along with Guam and the District of Columbia) joining the complaint, you have to wonder what the deal is with the states who didn’t (Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, and South Dakota).

See also: Techmeme’s roundup of coverage and commentary.

Honey, I Shrunk the AirPods Max Touch Pads 

Also speaking of Mark Gurman, here’s his and Debby Wu’s report for Bloomberg on Apple’s AirPods from 6 weeks ago:

Apple is still planning to announce high-end, noise-canceling over-ear headphones. The device has faced several development challenges over the past two years and has been delayed multiple times. The headphones were due to go into production weeks ago, but that was pushed back due to problems with the headband, a person familiar with the matter said. That part was deemed too tight in some testing.

The company initially wanted to include large touch pads on the sides of the headphones, but reduced the size of those panels.

Reduced them down to nothing, apparently.

Gurman on Apple’s 2021 M-Series Chip Plans 

Speaking of Gurman, I feel like Bloomberg buried the lede on his report this week on Apple’s plans for the next M-series chips, for higher-end MacBooks and Mac desktops. This was the last paragraph in his report, but to me the most interesting:

For later in 2021 or potentially 2022, Apple is working on pricier graphics upgrades with 64 and 128 dedicated cores aimed at its highest-end machines, the people said. Those graphics chips would be several times faster than the current graphics modules Apple uses from Nvidia and AMD in its Intel-powered hardware.

The other stuff was obvious. Of course they’ll just add more high-performance cores to the M-series chips for faster higher-end Macs. They don’t need to make the high-performance cores faster — the M1 Macs already have world-class workstation performance for single core tasks. They just need more of them for multi-core performance.

But the big unanswered question is what Apple has in store for graphics. My hunch has been that they’re getting ready to tell AMD to take a hike. (I’m not sure what Bloomberg is referencing regarding “current graphics modules Apple uses from Nvidia and AMD” — the last desktop Mac to ship with Nvidia graphics was the late 2013 iMac, and the last MacBook with Nvidia graphics was the mid-2014 15-inch MBP. Apple and Nvidia divorced five years ago.)

With CPUs, we’ve long been looking at the performance of Apple’s A-series iOS device chips and saying, “Hey, these look better than Intel’s x86 CPUs used in PCs.” Apple has shown, for years, that they can make not just great mobile CPUs, but great CPUs period. World-class PC graphics chips, though, would require muscles Apple hasn’t come close to flexing in public yet. 64- and 128-core GPUs would probably do it.

AI Chief John Giannandrea Takes Leadership of Project Titan 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Apple Inc. has moved its self-driving car unit under the leadership of top artificial intelligence executive John Giannandrea, who will oversee the company’s continued work on an autonomous system that could eventually be used in its own car.

The project, known as Titan, is run day-to-day by Doug Field. His team of hundreds of engineers have moved to Giannandrea’s artificial intelligence and machine-learning group, according to people familiar with the change. An Apple spokesman declined to comment.

Previously, Field reported to Bob Mansfield, Apple’s former senior vice president of hardware engineering. Mansfield has now fully retired from Apple, leading to Giannandrea taking over.

Mansfield is the Michael Corleone of Apple executives — they kept pulling him back in. What a run Mansfield had. The man is a legend inside Apple — well-liked and well-respected, with a remarkable string of accomplishments.

It seems clear, too, that the biggest hurdles in front of Titan are AI problems. Not sensors or hardware or OS/framework problems. Just pure AI. I’m not saying any of the other hardware or software stuff is easy or solved, just that I get the impression Apple knows they can do it. The AI stuff, though, those are unsolved hard problems.

But how can the division behind Siri — a product that gets confused about what you mean by “What time is it in London?” — make a car that safely drives around a parking lot, let alone roads? “This car is as smart as Siri” sounds like a threat, not a selling point.

* 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. Over two years ago and they’re still pretending they didn’t completely shit the bed on this story.

Apple Announces AirPods Max 

Announced today, shipping in a week:

  • $550. Helps make full-size HomePods seem not so expensive.
  • Space gray, silver, sky blue, green, and pink color options. Makes me wonder why regular AirPods and especially AirPods Pro only come in white.
  • Apple Watch-style digital crown for volume and playback control.
  • If you want to use them wired, you’ll need a Lightning to 3.5 mm headphone jack cable. Apple’s 1.2 meter cable costs $35 (but does come in both white and black); Amazon, unsurprisingly, sells a bunch of cheaper ones.
  • Update: Those cheaper cables probably won’t work. Even the Belkin Audio Cable With Lightning Connector that Apple itself sells now has a warning: “Note: This cable is not compatible with AirPods Max or Beats Solo Pro.” You need a bi-directional Lightning to 3.5 mm cable that can be used for both audio-in and audio-out — I’m not sure if any cable other than Apple’s does that.
  • Evans Hankey, VP of industrial design, narrates the product video — her first stint as narrator, unless I missed one.

Updates: System requirements:

AirPods Max require Apple devices running iOS 14.3 or later, iPadOS 14.3 or later, macOS Big Sur 11.1 or later, watchOS 7.2 or later, or tvOS 14.3 or later.

Seems like a good guess that these OS updates will all roll out by next week.

Estimated ship dates are tight, to say the least, if you’re thinking about buying these for someone as a holiday gift. The color ones — green, blue, and pink — aren’t shipping until February or March. As I type this, you can order silver for arrival next week (“December 15–17”) but if you get them engraved, that gets pushed back to December 31. Space gray — engraved or not — are pushed back to December 29–31 already. For a while earlier today, you could order engraved space gray ones with an arrival date sooner than un-engraved.

Notes from Jason Snell:

  • Replacement cushions are $69 […]
  • No claims about water resistance so maybe don’t exercise in these
  • 5 minutes charge nets 90 mins of use

Notes from Matthew Panzarino:

  • They do work with Find My
  • They do NOT support USB audio (only 3.5mm via optional cable)
  • They do not function without a charge passively.
LG Tired of Losing Money on Phones 

Reuters:

LG Electronics said on Monday it had reorganised its mobile phone division to increase outsourcing of its low to mid-end smartphones, which analysts said represented an attempt to cut costs and compete with Chinese rivals.

LG’s mobile communications business, which has reported an operating loss for 22 consecutive quarters, has created a new management title for original design manufacture (ODM), a spokeswoman for the South Korean company said.

22 consecutive quarters means every single quarter for five and a half years. When LG last turned a profit selling phones in a quarter, the current iPhone was the iPhone 6.

CNBC: ‘AT&T Dismantles Time Warner to Battle Netflix: The Inside Story’ 

Fantastic, deeply reported piece for CNBC by Alex Sherman. Details of a meeting between AT&T CEO John Stankey and longtime HBO CEO Richard Plepler that took place in December 2018:

According to five people familiar with the meeting, Plepler laid out a simple path forward:

First, give HBO more money to spend on content.

Second, augment the Cinemax premium TV channel with more family-friendly original, library, and licensed children’s programming.

Third, sell HBO and Cinemax together for a couple dollars more than HBO — around $17 per month.

Fourth, hammer out a deal with Comcast, the largest U.S. cable company, allowing the broadband distributor to sell HBO Go directly to broadband-only customers.

Finally, and most importantly, don’t blow HBO up.

Plepler’s team estimated this plan would guarantee $7.5 billion in annual revenue plus future upside depending on the success of the new content.

Stankey heard them out. Then, he ignored their advice. Stankey had bigger ambitions for streaming video. Less than three months later, Plepler announced he was leaving WarnerMedia.

Where’s Plepler now? Producing content for Apple TV+.

NYT: ‘Trump Officials Passed When Pfizer Offered to Sell More Vaccine Doses in Late Summer’ 

The New York Times:

Trump administration officials passed when Pfizer offered in late summer to sell the U.S. government additional doses of its Covid-19 vaccine, according to people familiar with the matter. Now Pfizer may not be able provide more of its vaccine to the United States until next June because of its commitments to other countries, they said.

The vaccine being produced by Pfizer and its German partner, BioNTech, is a two-dose treatment, meaning that 100 million doses is enough to vaccinate only 50 million Americans. The vaccine is expected to receive authorization for emergency use in the U.S. as soon as this weekend, with another vaccine, developed by Moderna, also likely to be approved for emergency use soon.

It’s going to be years until we get to the bottom of just how badly these spiteful corrupt bumbling dimwits fucked us all.

Halide Mark II 

My thanks to Lux for sponsoring last week at Daring Fireball to promote Halide Mark II, the new version of their outstanding camera app for iPhone. Halide does one thing, and one thing only: still photography.

The huge Mark II update adds the best tools for pros, while remaining true to its elegant and approachable design that makes it perfect for new photographers.

I can’t say enough good things about Halide. Even the shutter button — the button you press in the app to take a picture — is one of the nicest buttons you’ll ever see.

Here’s Halide co-creator Sebastiaan de With’s deep dive, illustrated out the wazoo with example images, on the iPhone 12 Pro Max camera system. What’s so great about a bigger 1× sensor? Read this and find out — you’ll both see the differences and understand them. Then realize that every single aspect of Halide is crafted with the same degree of care and diligence as this report on the capabilities of the camera on one specific iPhone.

Halide is an app with no tracking, no ads, and no bullshit. Your choice between a subscription with a 7-day free trial, or a one-time purchase option. Everyone who cares about iPhone photography should have Halide.

Give the Gift of Dithering 

December 2020 cover art for Dithering, featuring a woman cheerfully trimming a Christmas tree.

Dithering, of course, is the new podcast featuring Ben Thompson (CEO) and yours truly (President). Three episodes per week, 15 minutes per episode. Not a minute less, not a minute more. $5/month or $50/year — and a great gift idea this holiday season.

‘Apple’s “EDR” Brings High Dynamic Range to Non-HDR Displays’ 

Stu Maschwitz:

Apple caused quite a stir with the announcement of their Pro Display XDR, a High Dynamic Range display that occupies a convoluted space in the market. It seeks to be both a Very Nice Computer Display, and a reference HDR video monitor — but by most measures it’s far too expensive to be the former, and not quite up to the rarified specs of the latter. Confusingly, it also outperforms some HDR displays costing considerably more, by some metrics. It’s currently the only display-only device Apple makes, and it’s simultaneously ludicrously expensive and a too-good-to-be-true deal. Suffice it to say that while there may be very few people for whom the Pro Display XDR is the unquestionably right choice, they know who they are, and they don’t need the internet’s advice about it.

The above is just a preamble to the article, which is about how Apple is displaying HDR content on lesser displays, but that’s the best description of the Pro Display XDR I’ve ever seen. I just had to quote it. Anyway, Maschwitz’s main point:

So Apple has a method of showing HDR and SDR content together on the same screen. It works on every display Apple bills as “HDR,” even though the phones are performing the stunt using a different underlying technology than the 32” Mac display. The XDR uses “local dimming” to light up an array of LEDs brighter behind the HDR pixels, as needed. The OLED displays drive each pixel to the desired brightness individually.

Apple groups all this under one umbrella they call EDR, or Extended Dynamic Range. And even as they tout EDR as a selling point of their professional display and flagship iPhones, Apple has also quietly extended it to older Macs that were never advertised as being HDR-capable.

I had noticed this, but never really noted it.

More on the Ties Between HP, Apple, and Silicon Valley 

“When I was 13, I think, I called up — Hewlett and Packard were my idols — and I called up Bill Hewlett, because he lived in Palo Alto and there were no unlisted numbers in the phone book. Which gives you a clue to my age… And he picked up the phone and I talked to him and I asked if he’d give me some spare parts for something I was building called a frequency counter. And he did, but in addition to that, he gave me something way more important: he gave me a job that summer. A summer job at Hewlett Packard.”

‘Tony Hsieh’s American Tragedy: The Self-Destructive Last Months of the Zappos Visionary’ 

Angel Au-Yeung and David Jeans, writing for Forbes:

Instead, these old friends say, Hsieh retreated to Park City, where he surrounded himself with yes-men, paying dearly for the privilege. With a net worth that Forbes recently estimated, conservatively, at $700 million, Hsieh’s offer was simple: He would double the amount of their highest-ever salary. All they had to do was move to Park City with him and “be happy,” according to two sources with personal knowledge of Hsieh’s months in Utah. “In the end, the king had no clothes, and the sycophants wouldn’t say a fucking word,” said a close friend who tried to stage one of the interventions, with the help of Hsieh’s family. “People took that deal from somebody who was obviously sick,” encouraging his drug use, either tacitly or actively.

“He fostered so much human connection and happiness, yet there was this void,” the close friend continued. “It was difficult for him to be alone.”

Ultimately, that may have been a fatal trait. “When you look around and realize that every single person around you is on your payroll, then you are in trouble,” Jewel wrote in that August letter (a representative for Jewel declined to comment). “You are in trouble, Tony.”

Heartbreaking.

Apple Silicon Games for Mac 

Nifty new site by Thomas Schranz — a directory of Mac games showing whether they work (and if so, how well, and through what mechanism) on M1 Macs.

How Oisín Moran Made a Self-Quoting Tweet 

I love a well-explained programming exercise.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise Relocating Headquarters From Silicon Valley to Texas 

CNBC:

Hewlett Packard Enterprise is the latest tech company to shift its focus away from Silicon Valley, announcing Tuesday that it will relocate its headquarters from San Jose, California, to Houston, Texas.

The real HP has been gone for a long while, but still, moving their headquarters out of Silicon Valley is a sad postscript. HP was Silicon Valley just a few decades ago. I mean that’s where Woz worked as an engineer because of course Woz worked at HP because all the best engineers worked at HP and Woz was the best engineer.

You know how Vincent D’Onofrio’s character in Men In Black was an alien bug who killed a farmer and then wore the guy’s skin as a creepy disguise? That’s what Hewlett Packard Enterprise is to the real Hewlett Packard.

Time slips away and leaves you with nothing, mister.

Warner Bros. to Stream Entire 2021 Slate of Feature Films on HBO Max, Simultaneously With Theatrical Releases 

Rebecca Rubin and Matt Donnelly, reporting for Variety:

When Warner Bros. announced that “Wonder Woman 1984” would land on the streaming service HBO Max on Christmas, the same time it debuts in theaters, many expected it to be an isolated experiment in response to an unprecedented pandemic.

Instead, the studio will deploy a similar release strategy for the next 12 months. In a surprising break from industry standards, Warner Bros.’ entire 2021 slate — a list of films that includes “The Matrix 4,” Denis Villeneuve’s “Dune” remake, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical adaptation of “In the Heights,” the “Sopranos” prequel “The Many Saints of Newark” and “The Suicide Squad” — will debut both on HBO Max and in theaters on their respective release dates. The shocking move to release movies day-and-date underscores the crisis facing movie theaters and the rising importance of streaming services in the wake of a global health crisis that’s decimated the film exhibition community.

Compare and contrast with Disney, which debuted Mulan on Disney+ but made you pay $30 — on top of your monthly subscription — to see it when debuted. This sure makes HBO Max seem like a must-have.

Updated for MacOS 11 and Apple Silicon: Fantastical 

Joe Rossignol, a few weeks ago at MacRumors:

Flexibits today announced the release of version 3.3 of its popular calendar app Fantastical for Mac, with key new features including full compatibility with macOS Big Sur, native support for Apple Silicon, and a new design.

Fantastical version 3.3 also supports macOS Big Sur’s revamped Notification Center widgets with customizable themes and sizes, displays sunrise and sunset times in the weather forecast, provides severe weather alerts, adds support for adding Microsoft Teams meetings to events on Office 365, and more.

Truly a Mac-assed Mac app, and a well-deserving winner of the App Store’s Mac app of the year.

Update: Nice post on the new Flexibits blog, including photos of the new award.

App Store’s Best Apps and Games of 2020 

Among the winners: Zoom for best iPad app. I’ve given Zoom a fair amount of grief for their sketchy Mac app and its installer, but credit where credit belongs, their iPad app is pretty good. When people ask me what I do when I need to use Zoom — and like everyone in 2020, I need to use Zoom — I tell them I use it on my iPad. (I get a better camera there than on my Mac, too.)

Boo-hiss, though, for awarding Genshin Impact iPhone game of the year. It does look like a beautiful Breath of the Wild-esque game — but it’s a free-to-play gacha game financially. It’s a gambling mechanic, and I wish Apple wouldn’t hold one up as their iPhone game of the year. Estimates peg Genshin Impact’s revenue at $400 million and counting after just two months. Their App Store top in-app purchases currently list (1) a $5 “Blessings Bundle”, (2) a $5 pack of 300 “Genesis Crystals”, and (3) a $100 pack of 6,480 of those crystals, presumably intended for those who like to buy in bulk, not for those who have a gambling problem.

Qualcomm Exec Feels ‘Validated’ by Having His Pants Stolen 

Sascha Segan, writing for PCMag:

Qualcomm executives brushed off a question about Apple’s new M1-based Macs during a question-and-answer session at the company’s Snapdragon Summit today, where Qualcomm announced a new flagship smartphone chipset but no upgrades to its year-old chips for PCs.

“We invested early in Windows on Snapdragon, and we’ve been on a journey to build this ecosystem together with Microsoft,” Qualcomm President Cristiano Amon said. “What we have seen in the past month is a broader validation that was the right bet.”

This is like the CEO of an electric motor company whose best model powers a golf cart saying he feels validated by the performance of cars from Tesla.

Windows 10 Virtualized on M1 Macs Is Almost Twice as Fast as It Is Running Natively on Surface Pro X 

Michael Potuck, writing for 9to5Mac:

Alexander Graf was the first to successfully run an ARM Windows virtualization on an M1 Mac. He used the QEMU open source machine emulator and an Insider Preview of Windows. Now, based on the work by Graf, there’s a new build of the open source ACVM launcher (by Khaos Tian and 3 others) that works with QEMU to run ARM Windows on ARM Macs.

YouTuber Martin Nobel shared a useful video of the process to run an ARM Windows virtualization on Apple Silicon as well as a real-world look at the overall impressive performance considering it’s an unofficial workaround.

Impressively, the Martin’s M1 Mac mini benchmarked much higher than Microsoft’s Surface Pro X … almost doubling the single-core score, and coming in almost 2,000 higher in the multi-core score.

The M1 reveals every other Mac or PC to be outdated. All Windows ARM laptops are way too slow. All Intel/AMD x86 machines run too hot.

Salesforce Buys Slack For $27.7 Billion 

Ron Miller and Alex Wilhelm, reporting for TechCrunch:

Salesforce co-founder and CEO Marc Benioff didn’t mince words on his latest purchase. “This is a match made in heaven. Together, Salesforce and Slack will shape the future of enterprise software and transform the way everyone works in the all-digital, work-from-anywhere world,” Benioff said in a statement.

Slack CEO Stewart Butterfield was no less effusive than his future boss. “As software plays a more and more critical role in the performance of every organization, we share a vision of reduced complexity, increased power and flexibility, and ultimately a greater degree of alignment and organizational agility. Personally, I believe this is the most strategic combination in the history of software, and I can’t wait to get going,” Butterfield said in a statement.

I cracked wise about Salesforce offering user experience and design expertise to Slack when rumors of this deal first leaked, but let me now take the devil’s advocate position, and argue for why this could be a great outcome for Slack.

First, my take presupposes that the point of Slack is to be a genuinely good service and experience. That Slack is to Microsoft Teams what the Mac is to Windows, or iOS is to Android. To succeed by appealing to people who care about quality. Slack, as a public company, has been under immense pressure to do whatever it takes to make its stock price go up in the face of competition from Microsoft’s Teams, which Microsoft is just giving away to its customers paying for 365 Office or whatever they call the thing companies want to pay Microsoft for.

Apple, 20 years ago, successfully forged a way to align its shareholder interests with its customer interests. Make great computers, great software, great new products and services like the iPod and iTunes Store. Slack, it seems to me, has been pulled apart. What they ought to be entirely focused on is making Slack great in Slack-like ways. Perhaps Salesforce sees that Slack gives them an offering competitive to Teams, and if they just let Slack be Slack, their offering will be better — be designed for users, better integrated for developers. And there’s some history for that: Salesforce acquired Heroku almost 10 years ago — and seemingly has let Heroku be Heroku since.

Do that with Slack and I could see this working out great for Slack users.

The Talk Show: ‘Camera Beer Belly’ 

Nilay Patel returns to the show and we have nothing to talk about. You know, other than the M1 Macs and entire iPhone 12 lineup.

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Reuters: ‘Samsung May Discontinue Galaxy Note Smartphones’ 

Joyce Lee and Heekyong Yang, reporting for Reuters:

Samsung Electronics Co Ltd may discontinue its premium Galaxy Note phone next year, sources with knowledge of the matter said, a move that would reflect the sharp drop in demand for high-end smartphones due to the coronavirus pandemic. […]

At present, the South Korean tech giant does not have plans to develop a new version of the Galaxy Note for 2021, three sources said, declining to be identified as the plans were not public. Instead, the Galaxy S series’ top model, the S21, will have a stylus and the next version of Samsung’s foldable phone will be compatible with a stylus, which will be sold separately, one of the sources said.

This sounds like it has nothing to do with demand for high-end phones in general, and everything to do with the Note’s raison d’être — integrated stylus support — being rolled out across Samsung’s entire high-end lineup. Samsung sells high-end regular phones and high-end gimmick phones. The gimmick used to be the stylus, now it’s folding.

Amazon EC2 Now Offers Mac Mini Cloud Computing 

AWS:

Built on Apple Mac mini computers, EC2 Mac instances enable customers to run on-demand macOS workloads in the AWS cloud for the first time […]

EC2 Mac instances are powered by a combination of Mac mini computers — featuring Intel’s 8th generation 3.2 GHz (4.6 GHz turbo) Core i7 processors, 6 physical/12 logical cores, and 32 GiB of memory — and the AWS Nitro System, providing up to 10 Gbps of VPC network bandwidth and 8 Gbps of EBS storage bandwidth through high-speed Thunderbolt 3 connections. […] EC2 Mac instances are available in bare metal instance size (mac1.metal), and support macOS Mojave 10.14 and macOS Catalina 10.15, with support for macOS Big Sur 11.0 coming soon. Customers can connect to Mac instances via both SSH for Command Line Interface and active remote screen sharing using a VNC client for a graphical interface.

Intel-only for now, but support for Apple Silicon Macs is surely just a matter of time — “planned for 2021” according to an AWS post targeted to iOS and Mac developers.

At $1/hour, it’s expensive if you want to leave it running all the time.