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Linked List: May 2020

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar: ‘People Pushed to the Edge’ 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, writing at the LA Times:

Yes, protests often are used as an excuse for some to take advantage, just as when fans celebrating a hometown sports team championship burn cars and destroy storefronts. I don’t want to see stores looted or even buildings burn. But African Americans have been living in a burning building for many years, choking on the smoke as the flames burn closer and closer. Racism in America is like dust in the air. It seems invisible — even if you’re choking on it — until you let the sun in. Then you see it’s everywhere. As long as we keep shining that light, we have a chance of cleaning it wherever it lands. But we have to stay vigilant, because it’s always still in the air.

The Verge: ‘Caught on Camera, Police Explode in Rage and Violence Across the U.S.’ 

T.C. Sottek, The Verge:

Over the past 72 hours, people across the US have captured what may be the most comprehensive live picture of police brutality ever. Any one of the videos we’ve seen could have sparked a national discussion, with people picking apart their elements, searching for context to argue about, and digging through the pasts of everyone involved. But it’s not just one act of violence. It’s everywhere.

Here is just a short list of scenes from the past few days.

Responding to protests of police brutality with police brutality.

SpaceX Successfully Launched Its Crew Dragon Mission To Orbit 

Loren Grush, The Verge:

After nearly two decades of effort, Elon Musk’s aerospace company, SpaceX, successfully launched its first two people into orbit, ushering in a new age of human spaceflight in the United States. The flight marked the first time astronauts have launched into orbit from American soil in nearly a decade, and SpaceX is now the first company to send passengers to orbit on a privately made vehicle.

The two astronauts — veteran NASA fliers Bob Behnken and Doug Hurley — rode into space inside SpaceX’s new automated spacecraft called the Crew Dragon, a capsule designed to take people to and from the International Space Station. Strapped inside the sleek, gumdrop-shaped capsule, the duo lifted off on top of SpaceX’s Falcon 9 rocket from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida at 3:22PM ET on Saturday. The rocket dropped the Crew Dragon off in orbit about 12 minutes later. Now, the pair will spend roughly the next day in orbit before attempting to dock with the International Space Station on Sunday morning.

Successful space launches are always fun, but it feels particularly good to see a triumph for science right now.

A Gentle Reminder That You Should Subscribe to Dithering 

Today’s episode of Dithering — my and Ben Thompson’s new thrice-weekly 15-minutes-per-episode podcast — is probably my favorite yet. We talk about Trump-vs.-Twitter but it kicks off with the Tarantino-esque demise of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. That’s Dithering.

$5 per month — cheap! — and it’s really easy to sign up for and subscribe to in your favorite podcast player. And if you don’t like it, it’s really easy to cancel. But you’ll like it, trust me — it’s good and it’s fun.

Zuckerberg Sticks With Trump 

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

Twitter’s face-off escalated Friday morning, when the company attached an addendum to one of Mr. Trump’s tweets. The company said the tweet had the potential to incite violence amid protests in Minneapolis. Facebook didn’t do anything when the same post was added to its service.

Jack Dorsey, chief executive of Twitter, took to his site not long after to say Twitter would not back down, presenting a stark contrast to Mr. Zuckerberg, who, in an interview a day earlier with Fox News, said Facebook wasn’t going to judge Mr. Trump’s posts.

“We’ve been pretty clear on our policy that we think that it wouldn’t be right for us to do fact checks for politicians,” Mr. Zuckerberg said. “I think in general, private companies probably shouldn’t be — or especially these platform companies — shouldn’t be in the position of doing that.”

Zuckerberg, testifying before Congress back in October, said otherwise when answering a question from Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez:

“If anyone, including a politician, is saying things that can cause, that is calling for violence or could risk imminent physical harm — or voter or census suppression, when we roll out the census suppression policy — we will take that content down.”

When it was in the abstract, he said Facebook would do the right thing. When the rubber hit the road and Trump started posting voter suppression propaganda (re: mail-in balloting) and a clear incitement to violence, Facebook got in line behind Trump.

Even if you think Zuckerberg’s doing the right thing by not touching Trump’s posts — which I see the argument for — you’re admitting that he lied while answering Ocasio-Cortez’s question.

Trump Declared Twitter Should Be Shut Down 

“If it were legal, if it were able to be legally shut down, I would do it.”

That’s the president of the United States yesterday, describing, I think honestly, what he’d like to do to an American company that no one — no one — is alleging to have broken a single law. Their transgression is that they simply displease him. It’s worth watching him say it on video, just to absorb how casual he is about something so profound.

It has been the historical norm for all presidents, Republican and Democrat alike, to speak of the U.S. Constitution with reverence, as a set of righteous ideals that guide our nation, a codification of our collective sense of what is right and just — not as a set of constraints that shackle the president from doing what he’d really like to do.

Minnesota Police Arrest CNN Reporter Omar Jimenez Live on the Air 

CNN:

CNN’s Josh Campbell, who also was in the area but not standing with the on-air crew, said he, too, was approached by police, but was allowed to remain.

“I identified myself … they said, ‘OK, you’re permitted to be in the area,’” recounted Campbell, who is white. “I was treated much differently than (Jimenez) was.”

Jimenez is black and Latino. Kirkos is white, and Mendez is Hispanic.

I know there’s a lot going on today. I’m overwhelmed too. But the footage of Jimenez’s arrest is one of the most extraordinary things I’ve ever seen.

New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik:

The incident, which unfolded over several tense minutes, was brazen and appalling. But at least it served a clarifying purpose. After days of hot air expended insisting on a politician’s “right” to use a private platform without correction, America got to see what an actual offense against the First Amendment looks like.

It’s Hard to Believe But Maybe Trump Neither Understands the Law Nor Has Thought This Twitter Thing Through, Not Even Sort of a Little 

Peter Baker and Daisuke Wakabayashi, reporting for The New York Times:

But the logic of Mr. Trump’s order is intriguing because it attacks the very legal provision that has allowed him such latitude to publish with impunity a whole host of inflammatory, harassing and factually distorted messages that a media provider might feel compelled to take down if it were forced into the role of a publisher that faced the risk of legal liability rather than a distributor that does not.

“Intriguing” is doing a lot of work in that sentence.

‘The Unicorns Fell Into a Ditch’ 

Matt Levine, in his excellent Money Stuff column for Bloomberg:

If restaurants and drivers complained about DoorDash but DoorDash was raking in juicy profits, you could be like “what do you want, innovate or die, the market has spoken.” But in fact restaurants and drivers complain about DoorDash, and it lost $450 million in 2019 on about $1 billion of revenue. Arguably the market has spoken and said “stop it, come on, this is dumb.”

In the old economy of price signals, you tried to build a product that people would want, and the way you knew it worked is that people would pay you more than it cost. You were adding value to the world, and you could tell because you made money. In the new economy of user growth, you don’t have to worry about making a product that people want because you can just pay them to use it, so you might end up with companies losing money to give people things that they don’t want and driving out the things they do want.

That sounds like a joke but it’s not even an exaggeration.

Bonus burn on counterfeit capitalism poster child MoviePass:

Meanwhile MoviePass itself is up for auction in its Chapter 7 bankruptcy, with bids due next month. Naively I would think that a pandemic would be good for MoviePass: If your business is buying movie tickets for $14 and selling them for $10 a month, months when all the movie theaters are shut down should be relatively profitable.

DoorDash and Pizza Arbitrage 

This piece by Ranjan Roy for his Margins newsletter is such a perfect example of counterfeit capitalism. Roy has a friend who owns a few pizzerias. They were getting complaints from customers whose deliveries were cold. What made that really odd is that his pizzerias weren’t offering delivery service. What happened is that DoorDash, with no permission, registered a phone number with Google under his restaurant’s name. The fun part of the story:

DoorDash was causing him real problems. The most common was, DoorDash delivery drivers didn’t have the proper bags for pizza so it inevitably would arrive cold. It led to his employees wasting time responding to complaints and even some bad Yelp reviews.

But he brought up another problem - the prices were off. He was frustrated that customers were seeing incorrectly low prices. A pizza that he charged $24 for was listed as $16 by DoorDash.

My first thought: I wondered if DoorDash is artificially lowering prices for customer acquisition purposes.

My second thought: I knew DoorDash scraped restaurant websites. After we discussed it more, it was clear that the way his menu was set up on his website, DoorDash had mistakenly taken the price for a plain cheese pizza and applied it to a ‘specialty’ pizza with a bunch of toppings.

My third thought: Cue the Wall Street trader in me… ARBITRAGE!

The arbitrage is good fun, but ultimately the whole thing shows how predatory these VC-backed delivery services are:

You have insanely large pools of capital creating an incredibly inefficient money-losing business model. It’s used to subsidize an untenable customer expectation. You leverage a broken workforce to minimize your genuine labor expenses. The companies unload their capital cannons on customer acquisition, while this week’s Uber-Grubhub news reminds us, the only viable endgame is a promise of monopoly concentration and increased prices. But is that even viable?

More News From Earlier This Month, Lost in the Quarantine Shuffle: ‘Uber Cuts 3,000 More Jobs, Shuts 45 Offices in Coronavirus Crunch’ 

Preetika Rana, reporting for The Wall Street Journal back on May 19 (Apple News+):

Uber Technologies Inc. is cutting several thousand additional jobs, closing more than three dozen offices and re-evaluating big bets in areas ranging from freight to self-driving technology as Chief Executive Dara Khosrowshahi attempts to steer the ride-hailing giant through the coronavirus pandemic.

Mr. Khosrowshahi announced the plans in an email to staff Monday, less than two weeks after the company said it would eliminate about 3,700 jobs and planned to save more than $1 billion in fixed costs. Monday’s decision to close 45 offices and lay off some 3,000 more people means Uber is shedding roughly a quarter of its workforce in under a month’s time. Drivers aren’t classified as employees, so they aren’t included.

Why does Uber even have 45 offices to close, and so many employees to lay off? What exactly were the ~7,000 people they’ve laid off so far doing? Last I heard, Uber had 400 iOS engineers. Just iOS. I get it that some of that work isn’t visible just by looking at the Uber app on your iPhone, because there’s a lot of unseen work that goes into making an app like Uber work worldwide. I don’t know what the right number of iOS engineers at Uber is, but I do know that 400 is bananas. Too many cooks spoil the stew; 400 cooks don’t even fit in a kitchen.

It’s like trying to build a better engineering team by buying 1,000 copies of Fred Brooks’s The Mythical Man-Month and never once reading it.

The basic idea behind Uber is both sound and genius: smartphones made possible a revolution in ride hailing. But ride hailing is inherently a low-margin business. Companies like Uber and Lyft can make ride hailing better for everyone — drivers and passengers alike — but there’s nothing they can do to change the fact that it’s by definition a low-margin business and always will be.

The best treatise I’ve read on this whole aspect of our society is Matt Stoller’s “counterfeit capitalism”, which I linked to back in September.* Just read that, or read it again. It succinctly captures something very important.

* Yes, the same Matt Stoller with whom I disagreed vociferously regarding his argument that Apple and Google are “exercising sovereign power” with their refusal to allow local health agencies to automatically collect privacy-invasive data from our phones. Stoller is a great writer and thinker, and it’s the sign of an adult mind that you can civilly disagree with someone whom you usually agree with. (And vice versa: a rational adult can agree with someone they usually disagree with.)

Coffee Shops in the Social Distancing Era 

Michael Klein, writing for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

Coffee shops and cafes, largely shut down for walk-in business since mid-March, are beginning to reopen as restrictions on takeout food ease.

La Colombe, the Philadelphia-based coffee giant, is taking pages out of the airport and pharmacy handbooks in retrofitting 30 of its cafes in six cities for safety. The first location to reopen this week is at 130 S. 19th St., just north of Rittenhouse Square, where the company began 26 years ago. Others will follow in coming weeks, including the flagship store in Fishtown. The four airport locations will have to wait.

A bunch of photos and a time-lapse video showing the perspective of a customer going through the queue. La Colombe is my favorite coffee shop in Philly — great coffee and a wonderful staff — so I’m glad to see it reopen at all. But this is not normal. (La Colombe was featured quite a bit last year at WWDC in Apple Pay presentations.)

Space Invaders 

Splendid retrospective from Game Maker’s Toolkit on Taito’s 1978 coin-op classic. What a great game.

The Pac-Man video in the same series is also excellent, and fully explains the AI behind the ghosts in a way I’ve never seen before. Four simple heuristics for the ghosts which, when combined, create the compelling illusion of intelligent coordination.

It’s also fascinating to me that, though only two years apart, Space Invaders and Pac-Man feel like they’re from two different eras of arcade games. Space Invaders is monochrome (the machines faked color with a translucent overlay at the bottom of the screen) and (generally) slow; Pac-Man is fantastically colorful and frantically fast.

‘Will President Trump Stand With Hong Kong?’ 

The New York Times:

The resistance has compelled China and its handpicked administrators in Hong Kong, led by the embattled Carrie Lam, to make tactical retreats at times, but never for long. At her weekly news conference, Ms. Lam dutifully argued that the proposed legislation would not curtail the rights of Hong Kongers, which under the 1997 agreement with Britain were to be unchanged for 50 years, but rather was a “responsible” move to protect the law-abiding majority.

Nobody believes that. Least of all, evidently, those behind the new measures. A Chinese representative in Hong Kong declared that freedom of the press would not be limited, and then warned against using that freedom as a “pretext” to undermine security. Ms. Lam [was] equally Orwellian: “We are a very free society, so for the time being, people have the freedom to say whatever they want to say.”

Strong editorial, but I can’t see why they posed the headline as a question.

What a historical debacle that 50-year agreement was. We’re only 23 years in and Hong Kong freedom is already teetering. The assumption in 1997 was that if we opened trade relations, China would inevitably bend to the ways of the West, and that 50 years was plenty of time. It turns out the way of the West is capitalism, China is a huge market, and we’re bending to China, not the other way around.

Hong Kong iPhones still don’t have the Taiwanese flag emoji, right? But Apple Stores do make good spots to round up dozens of pro-democracy protestors for arrest.

Apple Engineer Jordyn Castor on ‘Mission Unstoppable’ 

Speaking of Apple and its generally outstanding accessibility, check out this five-minute feature on Apple engineer Jordyn Castor. Castor is blind since birth, and she’s working on Swift Playgrounds to help visually impaired students learn to program. Just so cool.

Head-to-Head Comparison of iPhone vs. Pixel in Voice to Text Transcription 

James Cham:

I don’t think that people appreciate how different the voice to text experience on a Pixel is from an iPhone. So here is a little head to head example. The Pixel is so responsive it feels like it is reading my mind!

Siri being far slower and far less accurate is a winning combination.

What really sticks out about this is that in so many regards, Apple’s accessibility features are both awesome and far ahead of everyone else. Yet voice-to-text transcription is an obvious accessibility feature, and on this front Apple is and long has been woefully behind. If Apple’s voice-to-text transcription were good, it wouldn’t just improve the ways we use (or try to use) it now — truly good voice-to-text would enable all sorts of new Star Trek-level interactions while editing text. Quick fixes in Messages, Mail, or wherever you happen to be typing.

Trump Administration Organizes Harassment of a Single Twitter Employee 

Nick Stratt, reporting for The Verge:

The White House has set its sights on a single Twitter employee after the company attached a fact-checking link to two of the president’s tweets containing lies and misinformation related to voter fraud. The charge was led on Fox News Wednesday morning, with Trump advisor Kellyanne Conway targeting Twitter’s head of site integrity, Yoel Roth, after digging up some tweets that were critical of Trump, Conway, and the administration.

Conway called the employee “horrible” and directed listeners to go after him. “Somebody in San Francisco go wake him up and tell him he’s about to get a lot more followers,” she said on air. Immediately, the call was picked up by right-wing personalities and Trump supporters, who began sharing screenshots of the employee’s tweets. Roth is already facing a torrent of abuse and harassment, including multiple death threats, reports Protocol.

Emily Birnbaum, from the aforelinked report at Protocol:

Roth has received more than 3,000 new followers over the past day, according to an analysis of his Twitter account. He hasn’t tweeted since Monday, but harassing messages are appearing every minute under his latest posts, and right-wing accounts with millions of followers, including the president’s son and the Trump campaign’s official account, have been tweeting out his name and personal information every hour since mid-Tuesday.

A Twitter spokesperson told Protocol the company is standing behind Roth and does not have any plans to fire or suspend him.

“No one person at Twitter is responsible for our policies or enforcement actions,” a Twitter spokesperson said, “and it’s unfortunate to see individual employees targeted for company decisions.”

A person familiar with the matter said Roth has faced an explosion of death threats.

They are simultaneously hamfisted, vindictive, and cruel. If there’s a method to this, they’re doing it to send a message. Push back on Trump’s blatant disregard for Twitter’s rules and the White House will single out Twitter employees for retribution.

Nine Local TV Stations Pushed the Same Amazon-Scripted Segment 

Tim Burke, reporting for Courier:

While most TV news professionals have scoffed at the idea of running Amazon-provided content as news, at least 9 stations across the country ran some form of the package on their news broadcasts. The package — you can view the script Amazon provided to news stations here — was produced by Amazon spokesperson Todd Walker. Only one station, Toledo ABC affiliate WTVG, acknowledged that Walker was an Amazon employee, not a news reporter, and noted that Amazon had supplied the video. […]

In response to a request for comment on why the station ran the package, Wes Armstead, news director of the Bluefield NBC affiliate WVVA, told Courier, “I was not aware the package was provided by Amazon.” Armstead said, “We’ll make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Strong words, indeed.

(What’s the deal with the strange diction of local TV news personalities in the U.S.? It’s evolving into an ever-more-distinct accent that defies regional boundaries and doesn’t really exist in any other context. TV personalities on national TV don’t talk like this, only on local TV.)

The Washington Examiner: ‘Trump’s Slanderous Attack on Joe Scarborough Is Incompatible With Leadership’ 

The Washington Examiner:

But it is far, far more unfortunate that the latest person to trumpet and repeat this vile slander is the president supposedly leading this nation through a time of crisis.

Whatever his issues with Scarborough, President Trump’s crazed Twitter rant on this subject was vile and unworthy of his office. Some will undoubtedly shrug it off as Trump being Trump, but one could hardly be blamed for reading it and doubting his fitness to lead.

To say Trump owes Scarborough an apology is to put it mildly. But in the end, Scarborough won’t be the one hurt by this. Against a weak opponent, Trump somehow managed in 2016 to win despite carrying on with sad, deluded conspiracy theories about Sen. Ted Cruz’s father being involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Against a less reviled opponent, he may not be so lucky in 2020.

What makes this editorial noteworthy is not the sentiment but the source.

Sean Hannity Splits With Trump on Mask Wearing 

Cristina Cabrera, reporting for TPM:

“If you can’t social distance, please wear the mask,” Hannity pleaded. “Do it for your mom, your dad, your grandma, your grandpa.”

The right-wing host asserted that “we need to use some common sense. You need to be cautious. Take precautions because we don’t want it to spread to vulnerable people,” Hannity said. “We’ve seen what happens when we do.”

During a press briefing earlier on Tuesday, Trump swiped at a reporter for wearing a mask. “You want to be politically correct,” he said.

What makes this noteworthy is not the sentiment but the source.

WSJ: ‘Facebook Executives Shut Down Efforts to Make the Site Less Divisive’ 

Jeff Horwitz and Deepa Seetharaman, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (Apple News+ link):

“Our algorithms exploit the human brain’s attraction to divisiveness,” read a slide from a 2018 presentation. “If left unchecked,” it warned, Facebook would feed users “more and more divisive content in an effort to gain user attention & increase time on the platform.” […]

But in the end, Facebook’s interest was fleeting. Mr. Zuckerberg and other senior executives largely shelved the basic research, according to previously unreported internal documents and people familiar with the effort, and weakened or blocked efforts to apply its conclusions to Facebook products.

Polarizing divisive content is to Facebook as nicotine is to cigarette makers: a component of their product which their own internal research shows is harmful, but which they choose to increase, rather than decrease, because its addictiveness is so profitable.

A 2016 presentation that names as author a Facebook researcher and sociologist, Monica Lee, found extremist content thriving in more than one-third of large German political groups on the platform. Swamped with racist, conspiracy-minded and pro-Russian content, the groups were disproportionately influenced by a subset of hyperactive users, the presentation notes. Most of them were private or secret.

The high number of extremist groups was concerning, the presentation says. Worse was Facebook’s realization that its algorithms were responsible for their growth. The 2016 presentation states that “64% of all extremist group joins are due to our recommendation tools” and that most of the activity came from the platform’s “Groups You Should Join” and “Discover” algorithms: “Our recommendation systems grow the problem.”

Those recommendation algorithms are the heart of the matter. In the old days, on, say, Usenet, there were plenty of groups for extremists. There were private email lists for extremists. But there was no recommendation algorithm promoting those groups.

The engineers and data scientists on Facebook’s Integrity Teams — chief among them, scientists who worked on newsfeed, the stream of posts and photos that greet users when they visit Facebook — arrived at the polarization problem indirectly, according to people familiar with the teams. Asked to combat fake news, spam, clickbait and inauthentic users, the employees looked for ways to diminish the reach of such ills. One early discovery: Bad behavior came disproportionately from a small pool of hyperpartisan users.

A second finding in the U.S. saw a larger infrastructure of accounts and publishers on the far right than on the far left. Outside observers were documenting the same phenomenon. The gap meant even seemingly apolitical actions such as reducing the spread of clickbait headlines — along the lines of “You Won’t Believe What Happened Next” — affected conservative speech more than liberal content in aggregate.

That was a tough sell to Mr. Kaplan, said people who heard him discuss Common Ground and Integrity proposals. […] Every significant new integrity-ranking initiative had to seek the approval of not just engineering managers but also representatives of the public policy, legal, marketing and public-relations departments.

So Facebook’s “Integrity Teams” can’t enforce integrity if it upsets the side of the U.S. political fence that is, quite obviously, more lacking in integrity.

Twitter Won’t Accept False Statements About Voting by Mail, but Falsely Accusing Someone of Murder Is OK 

Kara Swisher, in her column for the NYT today, written before Twitter flagged Trump’s two tweets regarding the legality and legitimacy of voting by mail:

Again, top company executives hope that this placement of truth against lies will serve to cleanse the stain. I think this is both naïve and will be ineffective — most people’s experience tracks with that old axiom: A lie can travel halfway around the world while truth is still getting its shoes on.

In the digital age, that would be to the moon and back 347 times, of course, which is why I am supportive of the suggestion Mr. Klausutis makes in his letter to simply remove the offending tweets.

While the always thoughtful Mr. Dorsey has said previously that he has to hew to Twitter’s principles and rules, and that the company cannot spend all of its time reacting, its approach up until now results only in Twitter’s governance getting gamed by players like Mr. Trump, in ways that are both shameless and totally expected.

So why not be unexpected with those who continue to abuse the system? Taking really valuable one-off actions can be laudable since they make an example of someone’s horrid behavior as a warning to others. While it is impossible to stop the endless distribution of a screenshot of the tweets, taking the original ones down would send a strong message that this behavior is not tolerated.

And, conversely, if they don’t take down these tweets, they’re sending a strong message that this behavior is tolerated.

Timothy Klausutis’s Full Letter to Jack Dorsey, and Twitter’s Response 

Lori Kaye Klausutis is the woman who died 19 years ago in a tragic accident, and who the president of the United States is now repeatedly baselessly insinuating was murdered by her boss, Joe Scarborough. Her widower wrote a now-much-publicized letter to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey. His letter is worth reading in full. His request is simple, and puts Twitter is a seemingly untenable position:

My request is simple: Please delete these tweets.

I’m a research engineer and not a lawyer, but I’ve reviewed all of Twitter’s rules and terms of service. The President’s tweet that suggests that Lori was murdered — without evidence (and contrary to the official autopsy) — is a violation of Twitter’s community rules and terms of service. An ordinary user like me would be banished from the platform for such a tweet but I am only asking that these tweets be removed.

This is not just “Trump being Trump”. It’s not just “Trump versus Scarborough, and Scarborough can take it, he hosts a TV show he can fight back from”. There are completely innocent bystanders who get pulled to the forefront of something like this.

Klausutis:

I’m asking you to intervene in this instance because the President of the United States has taken something that does not belong to him — the memory of my dead wife — and perverted it for perceived political gain.

Twitter’s response:

We are deeply sorry about the pain these statements, and the attention they are drawing, are causing the family. We’ve been working to expand existing product features and policies so we can more effectively address things like this going forward, and we hope to have those changes in place shortly.

A “Get the facts about Lori Klausutis’s death” link at the bottom of Trump’s tweets isn’t going to do anything. Deleting the tweets is the least Twitter could do to actually do anything at all about Donald Trump using their platform to inflict profound emotional pain on Klausutis’s family and friends.

As it stands, no matter how sorry Twitter is about the pain these tweets are causing, they’re implicitly OK with them.

The President of the United States Is Falsely Accusing a Critic of Murder 

Peter Baker and Maggie Astor, reporting for The New York Times:

President Trump smeared a prominent television host on Tuesday from the lectern in the Rose Garden with an unfounded allegation of murder, taking the politics of rage and conspiracy theory to a new level even as much of the political world barely took notice.

Maybe part of the reason “the political world barely took notice” is that the straight news media, exemplified by The Times, has been normalizing Trump’s escalating madness every step of the way. The New York Times front page has been that “This is fine” dog sipping coffee in a burning house. And now we’re at panel 5 in the comic, and The Times’s crackerjack bothsidesism-afflicted political reporters are maybe sort of kind of thinking it’s getting a little worrisomely warm. Maybe?

It’s like yeah, no shit, the rest of us have been pointing out every step of the way that this man is unhinged from reality.

In an attack that once would have been unthinkable for a sitting president, Mr. Trump all but accused Joe Scarborough, a former Republican congressman who now hosts the MSNBC show “Morning Joe,” of killing a staff member in 2001 even though he was 800 miles away at the time and the police ruled her death an accident.

The president’s charge amplified a series of Twitter messages in recent days that have drawn almost no rebukes from fellow Republicans eager to look the other way but have anguished the family of Lori Klausutis, who died when she suffered a heart condition that caused her to fall and hit her head on a desk. Mr. Trump doubled down on the false accusation even after Timothy Klausutis pleaded unsuccessfully with Twitter to take down the posts about his late wife because they were causing her family such deep pain.

“A lot of people suggest that and hopefully someday people are going to find out,” the president said when asked by reporters about his tweets suggesting that Mr. Scarborough had committed murder perhaps because of an affair with Ms. Klausutis. “It’s certainly a very suspicious situation. Very sad, very sad and very suspicious.”

Attention New York Times: just because he’s gone and done it doesn’t mean it still isn’t “unthinkable”.

Twitter Flags Two False Trump Tweets as False, Trump Blows Gasket 

Elizabeth Dwoskin, reporting for The Washington Post:

Twitter on Tuesday slapped a fact-check label on President Trump’s tweets for the first time, a response to long-standing criticism that the company is too hands-off when it comes to policing misinformation and falsehoods from world leaders.

It sounds like a little thing, but I would argue strenuously against the verb slapped in that context. This makes it sound like Twitter acted impetuously or unfairly. It’s a slightly loaded word and the loaded connotation does not fit with Twitter’s very sober action here.

The move, which escalates tensions between Washington and Silicon Valley in an election year, was made in response to two Trump tweets over the past 24 hours. The tweets falsely claimed that mail-in ballots are fraudulent. Twitter’s label says, “Get the facts about mail-in ballots,” and redirects users to news articles about Trump’s unsubstantiated claim.

Trump’s two tweets in question, and the information page Twitter’s label links to. Twitter’s information page is extremely factual.

Trump’s response (all dots and capitalization verbatim):

[email protected] is now interfering in the 2020 Presidential Election. They are saying my statement on Mail-In Ballots, which will lead to massive corruption and fraud, is incorrect, based on fact-checking by Fake News CNN and the Amazon Washington Post....

....Twitter is completely stifling FREE SPEECH, and I, as President, will not allow it to happen!

New ‘Unc0ver’ Jailbreak Works on All iPhones Running iOS 11 to 13.5 

Joseph Cox, reporting for Motherboard:

On Saturday, hackers and developers released the first public jailbreak for Apple’s iOS operating system that they say works at launch on all iOS devices. A hacker who worked on the jailbreak says it works by taking advantage of a vulnerability in iOS that Apple is not aware of, or a so-called zero day.

The news signals the first time a jailbreak has been released that works on all devices on launch day since iOS 10, according to iOS security researcher Pwn20wnd, who discovered the underlying vulnerability powering the new jailbreak.

“iPhones are getting more secure every year because Apple is learning their mistakes from public jailbreaks or attacks they find in the wild,” Pwn20wnd told Motherboard in an online chat.

Compare and contrast with Lily Hay Newman’s lede on the same story for Wired:

Over the years, Apple has made it prohibitively difficult to install unapproved software on its locked-down devices. But on Saturday, a hacker group called Unc0ver released a tool that will “jailbreak” all versions of iOS from 11 to 13.5. It’s been years since a jailbreak has been available for a current version of iOS for more than a few days — making this yet another knock on Apple’s faltering security image.

Neither of those linked articles supports the idea that Apple’s “security image” is faltering, and the second one dates to December 2017.

Apple Is Reopening Over 100 US Retail Stores This Week, Most With Curbside or Storefront Service Only 

Michael Steeber, reporting for 9to5Mac:

While individual US state guidance varies, you can generally expect to be required to wear a mask and pass a temperature check to enter an Apple Store for the foreseeable future. The ability to browse is limited, with Apple emphasizing online sales and in-store support.

We recently analyzed the COVID-19 response of more than two dozen top retailers in comparison to Apple’s procedures. The new safety guidelines Apple has enforced for the protection of employees and customers are among the most stringent in the industry and have proven successful at reopenings around the world.

Josh Centers, writing at The Prepared last month, proposed The Apple Store Index as an indication of where it’s actually safe to reopen retail establishments, and to what degree.

And Apple is choosing to burn millions, possibly billions of dollars in cash to keep people safe. Because as much as closing its stores is costing the company, a pile of dead employees and customers will cost even more. And Apple, being a wildly successful business even in the worst economic conditions, can withstand a lot more pressure to re-open than any politician. While many governors are having their arms figuratively twisted by President Trump and angry protestors, no one will be calling for Tim Cook’s head until at least Apple’s Q2 earnings report, due on April 30, 2020. Even then, years of strong performance under Cook and his prior experience in dealing with shareholder uprisings will insulate him for a long time.

So for that reason, no matter what my governor says, I won’t consider stepping into a crowd until Apple gives the all-clear.

It’s worth noting that Apple’s retail reopenings in China have, by all accounts, gone well.

Marc Levoy, Head of Pixel’s Camera Team, Left Google 

Nick Bastone, reporting for The Information May 13:

The mastermind behind Google’s Pixel camera, Marc Levoy, who last year showed off his team’s photography advances during a Google event in New York City, left the company in March. The exit, which hasn’t been previously reported, follows the departure of Pixel general manager Mario Queiroz, the second top executive to leave the Pixel orbit in less than a year. Both declined a request for comment.

The Pixel 4 seems like the least-acclaimed Google phone since they started calling them Pixels. Hindsight is 20-20, but I remember thinking when I watched Levoy talk about the Pixel 4 camera system on stage that he seemed … annoyed? He was stuck defending the Pixel 4 adding a telephoto lens when all of its competitors in the flagship camera phone space had added ultra-wide lenses, and his heart didn’t seem in it.

The Pixel camera hardware has never been extraordinary; what’s worth noting has always been its software. So it’ll be interesting to see where Levoy winds up.

‘Joe Rogan Got Ripped Off’ 

Andrew Wilkinson, writing on the Supercast blog:

In that post, I also speculated that Joe Rogan—the largest podcaster in the world—was likely a billionaire. Even though he probably didn’t realize it. Apparently, Joe Rogan didn’t read my post. But someone else definitely did: Daniel Ek, the CEO of Spotify, who just closed an exclusive deal with Rogan to move his show (audio and video) to the Spotify platform.

If the numbers are to be believed, it’s a steal of a deal for Spotify: for $100-$200mm they secured the largest podcast audience in the world.

I’m not exaggerating. Spotify’s market cap jumped by $3 billion in the 24h after the news of this deal broke.

The market saw what Rogan missed: Spotify took his oil.

A lot of Wilkinson’s napkin-math numbers are speculative (conversion rates, ad CPM) to some degree, but there’s no arguing with how Wall Street saw Rogan’s deal: as a coup for Spotify. If he’s really only making $100M per year, he sold way low.

Supercast is a service built for podcasters who want to monetize via subscriptions, so you can argue that Wilkinson has a vested interest in the “stay indie” argument. But he’s not arguing that Rogan should have gone with Supercast — he’s arguing only that Rogan should have kept direct control over his relationship with his listeners. And he makes an interesting point regarding Howard Stern:

For context, Howard Stern — who just before his Sirius deal was one of the most widely listened to radio personalities in the world — now has an audience of less than 1 million per episode. When I tell most people my age (early 30’s) that I love Howard Stern, I get a blank stare.

Nobody knows who he is. Stern has lost his impact on culture in exchange for a big upfront payment.

Stern has undeniably made a fortune from his 15 years at Sirius, but he’s also just as undeniably lost a huge majority of his potential listenership. The goal for someone who has poured their life into their show isn’t just to maximize the money they make — it’s to achieve a good balance between maximizing revenue, maximizing the audience size, and maximizing creative control over their work.

Even if you put money aside, Rogan’s deal with Spotify will almost certainly shrink his audience to some degree, and it gives Spotify complete control over Rogan’s relationship with his audience. I don’t think Rogan is a fool — quite the opposite. But I still think he’s underestimating the value of his show.

See also: Bari Weiss’s interview with Rogan for her column at The New York Times: “Joe Rogan Is the New Mainstream Media”.

The Project Behind a Front Page Full of Names 

Times Insider on today’s stunning front page, all text running under the headline “U.S. Deaths Near 100,000, an Incalculable Loss”:

For the front page of the paper, two ideas stood out: either a grid of hundreds of pictures of those who had lost their lives to Covid-19, or an “all type” concept, Mr. Bodkin said. Whichever approach was chosen, he said, “we wanted to take over the entire page.”

The all-type concept came to the fore. Such a treatment “would be hugely dramatic,” he said.

Luminary Raises Another $30 Million to Flush Down the Toilet 

Speaking of the business of podcasting, here’s Lucas Shaw and Priya Anand, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Luminary Media, the money-losing podcasting startup, has raised more than $30 million in a new round and is seeking more funding as it tries to ride out the global pandemic, according to people familiar with the matter.

The funds were raised at a level below last year’s $200 million valuation, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the process is private. The company, which is also cutting costs after struggling to attract subscribers, plans to use the money to fund operations and future programming.

This current round of investment would bring Luminary’s total fundraising to more than $160 million, comparable to the value of the entire company.

I called this a year ago, when I said Luminary’s initial funding of $100 million was being flushed down the toilet:

It might be a great idea to start a company to produce podcasts with celebrity hosts like Lena Dunham, Russell Brand, Trevor Noah, and whomever else Luminary has signed. Those shows, if done well, could be hugely popular and make tons of money — from ads. But a company bringing that talent together does not need $100 million in funding and will never be worth 1/100th of Netflix.

Part of the nature of podcasting is that the cost overhead is remarkably low. You can produce a truly professional show with a few hundred dollars worth of equipment and software. That’s fundamentally different from the cost structure of streaming video. Now Luminary is trying to recover the money they’ve already flushed down the toilet by flushing some more. This isn’t a good idea that just needs more time — it’s a terrible idea predicated on a complete misunderstanding of how both the podcasting and streaming video industries work. Trying to build “the Netflix of podcasting” is like trying to build the “the PlayStation of sudokus”.

When’s the last time you even heard about Luminary? Whoever is funding this round is the proverbial fool soon parted from their money.

* Again: you know.

The Square Small Business Hackathon 

My thanks to Square for sponsoring DF this week to promote their Small Business Hackathon.

You can help small businesses adapt, recover, and innovate in these challenging times by participating in the Square Small Business Hackathon, running now through June 22. Categories include Retail, Food & Beverage, Healthcare, and Services & Other. You may build for web or mobile using one of Square’s APIs and/or SDKs, in whatever programming language you prefer.

First place category winners get: $3,000 for themselves, $3,000 to donate to a small business of their choice, a Google Home, Square swag, and promotion on Square’s Twitter and YouTube channel. You can get started today.

Hertz Files for Bankruptcy, Somehow Accumulated $17 Billion in Debt 

Niraj Chokshi, reporting for The New York Times:

Though it had piled up $17 billion in debt, Hertz, which also owns the Dollar and Thrifty brands, was reporting healthy sales at the start 2020. The company’s revenue rose 6 percent in January and February.

How in the world does it make sense for a company in a low-margin, long-established business with financials like this to rack up $17 billion in debt? When times were good this amount of debt would consume decades of Hertz’s profits. This is bananas.

Carnegie Mellon Researchers: Half of Twitter Accounts Discussing COVID-19 Are Disinformation Bots 

Karen Hao, writing for MIT Technology Review:

Kathleen M. Carley and her team at Carnegie Mellon University’s Center for Informed Democracy & Social Cybersecurity have been tracking bots and influence campaigns for a long time. Across US and foreign elections, natural disasters, and other politicized events, the level of bot involvement is normally between 10 and 20%, she says.

But in a new study, the researchers have found that bots may account for between 45 and 60% of Twitter accounts discussing covid-19. […] Through the analysis, they identified more than 100 types of inaccurate covid-19 stories and found that not only were bots gaining traction and accumulating followers, but they accounted for 82% of the top 50 and 62% of the top 1,000 influential retweeters. […]

Unfortunately, there are no easy solutions to this problem. Banning or removing accounts won’t work, as more can be spun up for every one that is deleted. Banning accounts that spread inaccurate facts also won’t solve anything.

I don’t understand this conclusion at all. If a team at Carnegie Mellon can do this research, so too could a team at Twitter itself. Or Twitter could just use outside teams like the one at Carnegie Mellon.

What we know is that bots are harmful — they spread misinformation with disastrous real-world effect. And we know that both bot accounts and disinformation in the content of posts can be identified at scale, algorithmically. On a social network, anti-disinformation software wouldn’t have to eradicate all disinformation to be radically effective — it only needs to start with the posts that are reaching the most people and work down the popularity graph from there.

The argument that Twitter and Facebook can’t beat disinformation by banning it is like arguing that email providers can’t beat spam. Spam hasn’t been eradicated but it has been effectively diminished. There’s absolutely no reason Twitter and Facebook can’t defeat social media disinformation to the same degree we’ve defeated spam email. They haven’t done so because they don’t want to, presumably because they consider the “engagement” generated by these bots worth the social destruction they cause.

Update: Maybe it’s not “engagement” but “active users”. Or both. What matters is that so long as looking the other way at bot activity increases the metrics used to value Twitter and Facebook, Twitter and Facebook have perverse incentives not to combat bot activity to the extent that they could. The email spam analogy holds — conversely, email providers have zero incentive to allow spam into your mailbox because no one values the worth of an email provider by the number of messages in its user’s inboxes. (Also, you don’t find anyone yelling about spam filtering being a suppression of “free speech”.)

The Talk Show: ‘Fahrenheit Truthers’ 

Ben Thompson returns to the show and there’s no sports talk because there’s no sports. Instead: temperature scales, Joe Rogan and Spotify, and Dithering.

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Bloomberg: ‘Amazon’s Audible Goes Beyond Books to Chase Spotify in Podcasts’ 

Lucas Shaw, reporting for Bloomberg:*

In recent months, Audible, the audiobook service owned by Amazon.com Inc., has been meeting with talent agencies and producers to discuss acquiring potential new podcast projects — or, in the terminology that Audible prefers, “Audible Originals.”

I salute Audible for continuing not to call them “podcasts” — if you can’t listen to them in whatever app you want, they’re just shows, not podcasts.

Audible is offering anywhere from a few hundred thousand dollars to a few million dollars per show, according to people familiar with the matter, more than every competitor except Spotify Technology SA. So far, Audible has already purchased shows from documentary producer John Battsek, as well as from comedians Kevin Hart and Tiffany Haddish. The acquisitions by the dominant audiobook service in the U.S. are part of a new, multimillion-dollar shopping spree, designed to establish Audible as a more enticing destination for podcast fans and to fend off growing audio-storytelling competition, particularly from Spotify.

This week’s news on Joe Rogan signing a multi-year exclusive deal with Spotify got me thinking about this. With TV shows and movies, there are a slew of deep-pocketed streaming services competing with huge offers for top talent. We saw that just a few days ago with Apple buying up the rights to Tom Hanks’s Greyhound for $70 million. But, where are the competitors to Spotify? Well, here’s Audible.

But where’s Apple in this? There was a report a year ago — also from Lucas Shaw at Bloomberg — that Apple was pursuing exclusives, but so far, nada. But if Apple does start buying exclusive audio shows, where will they go? My guess is that you’d get the content through an Apple Music subscription, but the shows would appear in the Apple Podcasts app. I don’t think it would make sense for Apple to offer yet another subscription just for audio shows, and it wouldn’t make sense for podcast-style shows to appear in the Music app rather than the Podcast app.

Audible has been funding original series for years now, but after starting with programs from well-known authors, the company is now prioritizing celebrity hosts and shows that can help broaden its audience beyond the avid audiobook listener.

Not sure if it was foresight or just good luck, but the name “Audible” is perfect for any and all audio content, not just books. It reminds me of how Amazon was “the online bookstore” for years before they expanded to other stuff, and if anything, the A→Z gimmick works better as the name of an everything store than it does a mere bookstore.

Audible is also considering changes to its business model. Under the current system, each month subscribers pay $14.95 and receive credits for one book and two original shows. Now the company is debating selling original shows individually so that customers don’t need to be subscribers to listen, said the people, who asked not to be identified while discussing terms of private business deals. Audible has also explored the possibility of rolling out a lower-priced plan that would offer access to originals but not books.

A lower-priced subscription that doesn’t include books makes the most sense to me.

Audible’s big push into the booming audio genre has confused some producers and podcast networks because it is happening at the same time that Amazon Music, a separate division of the e-commerce giant, is also ramping up its investment in podcasts. Amazon Music will add podcasts to its app in the coming months, according to people familiar with the matter. Amazon has been talking with producers and networks about hosting their shows within its app, though they have yet to finalize many deals.

Intrigue! So is there a cohesive Amazon-wide strategy here, or is it a left-hand doesn’t know what the right-hand is doing situation? Podcast-style shows are a natural fit for both Audible and Amazon Music. Like Apple, Amazon has a tightlipped culture, so it’s not surprising to me that the content producers they’re negotiating with are in the dark. It would be kind of wild, though, if a company as smart as Amazon found itself with two of its divisions competing against each other for content deals.

* You know.

Yahoo News/YouGov Poll Shows Coronavirus Conspiracy Theories Spreading on the Right May Hamper Vaccine Efforts 

Andrew Romano, reporting for Yahoo News:

According to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll, 44 percent of Republicans believe that Bill Gates is plotting to use a mass COVID-19 vaccination campaign as a pretext to implant microchips in billions of people and monitor their movements — a widely debunked conspiracy theory with no basis in fact.

The survey, which was conducted May 20 and 21, found that only 26 percent of Republicans correctly identify the story as false. In contrast, just 19 percent of Democrats believe the same spurious narrative about the Microsoft founder and public-health philanthropist. A majority of Democrats recognize that it’s not true.

It’s slightly worse among Fox News viewers:

Take the Gates example. Half of all Americans (50 percent) who name Fox News as their primary television news source believe the disproven conspiracy theory, and 44 percent of voters who cast ballots for Trump in 2016 do as well — even though neither Fox nor Trump has promoted it. At the same time, just 15 percent of MSNBC viewers and 12 percent of Clinton voters say the story is true.

Depressing, to say the least. Social networks need to treat anti-vaccination disinformation the way they treat hate speech. This dangerous nonsense doesn’t need to be refuted, it needs to be shunned. It is as shameful to allow these theories to propagate on social networks as it is to allow KKK propaganda. Relegate these lunacies back to forwarded email chains. Keep in mind too that the people who refuse to be vaccinated aren’t just hurting themselves. They hurt their children, who don’t have a choice, and they suppress the herd immunity that protects those with immune disorders for whom vaccines are dangerous.

The CDC and Several States Are Misreporting COVID-19 Test Data 

Alexis Madrigal and Robinson Meyer, reporting for The Atlantic:

The upshot is that the government’s disease-fighting agency is overstating the country’s ability to test people who are sick with COVID-19. The agency confirmed to The Atlantic on Wednesday that it is mixing the results of viral and antibody tests, even though the two tests reveal different information and are used for different reasons.

This is not merely a technical error. States have set quantitative guidelines for reopening their economies based on these flawed data points.

Several states — including Pennsylvania, the site of one of the country’s largest outbreaks, as well as Texas, Georgia, and Vermont — are blending the data in the same way. Virginia likewise mixed viral and antibody test results until last week, but it reversed course and the governor apologized for the practice after it was covered by the Richmond Times-Dispatch and The Atlantic. Maine similarly separated its data on Wednesday; Vermont authorities claimed they didn’t even know they were doing this. The widespread use of the practice means that it remains difficult to know exactly how much the country’s ability to test people who are actively sick with COVID-19 has improved.

“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ashish Jha, the K. T. Li Professor of Global Health at Harvard and the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, told us when we described what the CDC was doing. “How could the CDC make that mistake? This is a mess.”

Jiminy.

Android Action Blocks 

Seems like a very cool accessibility feature primarily designed for people with cognitive disabilities. “Blocks” are Google Assistant recipes saved to the home screen as one-tap actions. Loosely, it’s sort of the Android equivalent of Siri Shortcuts, but their integration with the home screen is quite different.

Hamster Research Shows Masks Effective in Preventing COVID-19 Transmission 

The University of Hong Kong:

The study, released on Sunday, shed light on an ongoing heated debate on whether wearing masks would help prevent the transmission of the deadly coronavirus.

In each set of the experiment, hamsters were separated in two groups and placed in two cages, with one of the groups infected with Covid-19. In the first experiment, no surgical masks were placed between the two cages. In the second one, a surgical mask was placed closer to the healthy hamsters. In the third experiment, the mask was placed closer to the infected, as if the healthy ones or the infected were wearing masks.

With no partition in between the cages, two-thirds of the healthy hamsters were infected a week later. In the following two experiments with masks in between, the infection rates were lowered to one-third and one-sixth respectively.

Wear it for others, wear it for yourself. The more we learn, the more important mask wearing appears to be. We should be universally celebrating that something so simple, so cheap, with no side effects worse than fogged-up glasses, is measurably effective at stopping the spread of COVID-19.

AT&T Will Stick With ‘5G E’ Status Bar Icon Even After Being Called Out as Bullshit by Industry Ad Board 

Mike Dano, reporting for Light Reading:

A panel of the National Advertising Review Board (NARB) recommended that AT&T discontinue its “5G Evolution” advertising claims.

And AT&T said it will.

“AT&T respectfully disagrees with the reasoning and result reached by the panel majority,” the operator said in a statement to Light Reading. “AT&T’s customers nationwide continue to benefit from dramatically superior speeds and performance that its current network provides. As a supporter of the self-regulatory process, however, AT&T will comply with the NARB’s decision.”

But AT&T said the NARB’s recommendation only applies to its advertising and therefore will not affect the one element that really matters: Its service icon. AT&T said it will continue to display its “5GE” icon on its customers’ LTE phones.

What a pile of horseshit.

‘The Miracle Sudoku’ 

Ben Orlin on Twitter:

You’re about to spend the next 25 minutes watching a guy solve a Sudoku.

Not only that, but it’s going to be the highlight of your day.

I didn’t believe that either, but it’s true. Truly compelling. (Via Kottke.)

‘Hide UI’ – New Grayshift Feature Plants Hidden Passcode Monitoring Software on iPhones 

Olivia Solon, reporting for NBC News:

Software called Hide UI, created by Grayshift, a company that makes iPhone-cracking devices for law enforcement, can track a suspect’s passcode when it’s entered into a phone, according to two people in law enforcement, who asked not to be named out of fear of violating non-disclosure agreements. […]

The GrayKey device, first revealed by Forbes and detailed by security blog Malwarebytes, is a small box with two iPhone lightning cables sticking out of it that was launched in March 2018. Law enforcement officials can plug any recent model of iPhone into the cables to install an “agent” (a piece of software) on the device. The agent then attempts to crack the passcode, offering an estimate for how much time it might take.

In order for this feature to work, law enforcement officials must install the covert software and then set up a scenario to put a seized device back into the hands of the suspect, said the people familiar with the system. […] For example, a law enforcement official could tell the suspect they can call their lawyer or take some phone numbers off the device. Once the suspect has done this, even if they lock their phone again, Hide UI will have stored the passcode in a text file that can be extracted the next time the phone is plugged into the GrayKey device. Law enforcement can then use the passcode to unlock the phone and extract all the data stored on it.

Anyone who trusts their device after they know it’s been in the hands of law enforcement is a fool. You’d have to be pretty stupid to fall for this, but there are a lot of stupid people out there.

Grayshift, you will recall, was cofounded by Braden Thomas, who spent six years at Apple as a security engineer, and who is, to say the least, not popular with his former colleagues. “What a fucking piece of shit,” one former Apple engineer told me of Thomas back in January.

Tom Hanks WWII Movie ‘Greyhound’ Moves From Theatrical Release to Apple TV+ 

Mike Fleming Jr., reporting for Deadline:

In a real shocker, the WWII naval drama Greyhound that Tom Hanks wrote and stars in has abruptly changed course and will berth at Apple. Originally on the Sony Pictures theatrical calendar for Father’s Day weekend, the film instead will become the biggest feature film commitment made by Apple to premiere on Apple TV+. It is the latest in a growing indication that Apple is making its move, and becoming as aggressive as any streamer or studio in auctions for the acquisition of films and TV projects. […]

It was going to be a major theatrical release for Sony — first slotted for May 8 but then moved into Father’s Day weekend June 19, until the pandemic washed out every studio’s plans and shuttered movie theaters around the world. That’s when the decision was made to alter course. The picture quietly was shopped in stealthy fashion, and it became a bidding battle between the big streamers. I’m told a deal closed in the $70 million range, with the auction brokered by CAA Media Finance and FilmNation.

It’s good to have a bankroll. I get the feeling that the COVID quarantine is accelerating Apple’s aggressiveness in streaming, but when opportunity knocks, you answer the door.

How the FBI Cracked Pensacola Shooter’s iPhone: An Automated Passcode Guesser 

Kevin Collier and Cyrus Farivar, reporting for NBC News:

The FBI was able to eventually access Alshamrani’s phone not by an unprecedented technical feat, but rather by “an automated passcode guesser,” according to a person familiar with the situation who spoke on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly on the matter.

Each attempt at unlocking an iPhone through this sort of brute force technique takes about 80 ms to process; this cannot be sped up externally because the guesses can only be computed on the device’s secure enclave — a limit of about 12.5 guesses per second.

You may recall from earlier this year that these guessers are thus very effective against short numeric passcodes. On average, a 4-digit passcode would take 7 minutes to guess (14 minutes at the maximum, if the last possible combination were the last to be guessed). A 6-digit passcode — the current default — would take on average 11 hours to crack, 22 hours tops.

A 6-character alphanumeric passphrase — A-Z, a-z, 0-9 — would take on average 72 years to guess. That’s just 6 characters. And that’s if it only contains letters and numbers, no punctuation characters or spaces — and if the person programming the automated guesser somehow knows or guesses that the passphrase contains only letters and numbers, and that it’s exactly 6 characters in length. (When your iOS device is locked by a numeric code, the unlock screen shows you how many digits the passcode contains; when your device is locked by a passphrase, the length is not revealed.)

So you can see why the FBI and DOJ are still pressuring Apple to build backdoors into devices — if the Pensacola shooter had used a decent alphanumeric passphrase it’s very unlikely they’d have been able to get into his iPhone.

On the other hand, law enforcement benefits greatly from the fact that the default iOS passcode remains only 6 numeric digits. I suspect Apple is doing this more as a concession to user convenience than as favor to law enforcement, but one shouldn’t look a gift horse in the mouth.

’Howard Stern Is Getting Ripped Off‘ 

Andrew Wilkinson, back in September:

In 2005, Howard Stern shocked the world by leaving terrestrial radio and accepting a $500 million dollar deal to move his show to Sirius satellite radio. In 2015, he renewed with a 5-year deal for $90 million per year.

People were blown away by the numbers. He was making out like a bandit! Had he been a CEO receiving the same pay, he would have qualified as the third highest paid CEO in America in 2014.

As of today, Howard is getting seriously ripped off.

Stern’s deal with Sirius XM expires at the end of the year.

And, presciently, regarding Joe Rogan:

Take a look at Joe Rogan, who currently has the most popular talk show podcast with over 200 million downloads per month. This number comes from Joe himself, but let’s assume he was exaggerating and it’s only 100 million downloads per month.

Assuming he sells ads at a low $18 CPM (cost per thousand listeners) and sells out his ad spots, he’s making approximately $64mm in annual revenue. If he’s on the higher end, at $50 CPM, he could be making as much as $240mm per year. The only factor that would change this is how many free ads Joe gives to companies that he has a personal equity stake in (like Onnit, the supplement brand he co-owns).

That means that Joe makes somewhere between $64-$240 million per year in revenue from his podcast advertising alone — and that’s handicapping his audience by half what he claims to have. That number also doesn’t include any additional revenue generated from his wildly popular YouTube channel, which has over 6 million subscribers.

$20 CPM is a fair ballpark estimate, and while we can’t verify his listener numbers, we know that his show ranks second at iTunes’s podcast directory. We don’t know yet what Spotify is paying him for exclusivity, but his show should have been generating $50+ million per year on its own. It seems likely that Joe Rogan is now the highest paid broadcaster in the world. Depending on the length of the deal, it really could be a billion dollar deal. Spotify’s stock jumped over 8 percent today on the news, which is over $2 billion at their current market cap.

However much Howard Stern was getting underpaid by Sirius six months ago, it’s even more so now.

‘Joe Rogan Experience’ Podcast Will Be Exclusive to Spotify 

Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:

“The Joe Rogan Experience,” one of podcasting’s longest-running and most popular shows, will be launching on Spotify exclusively this year. The Rogan-hosted comedy talk-show series will debut on Spotify on Sept. 1, 2020, on a nonexclusive basis — before becoming exclusive to the platform later in 2020 under the multiyear licensing deal. With Rogan, Spotify has landed one of the podcasting biz’s whales. It currently ranks as the No. 2 most popular show on Apple Podcasts (after Barstool Sports’ “Call Her Daddy”), per Podcast Insights.

Exclusive means that come January, you’ll only be able to listen to his show in Spotify. That’s a bit of a gamble, insofar as up until now, his show hasn’t been available at all on Spotify — Spotify’s terms are such that it makes no sense for any show to allow Spotify to play it unless Spotify is paying the show. But if Howard Stern’s fans followed him to Sirius satellite radio — which at the time he made the move required not just a subscription to the service, but dedicated hardware to receive the satellite transmission and an extra subscription specifically for Stern’s show — it seems like a sure bet that most of Rogan’s fans will follow him to Spotify, where all they really need to do is download an app that a lot of them probably already have installed anyway.

(Personally, my second favorite podcast is The Bill Simmons Podcast, and during the NFL season it’s probably my very favorite. But if it went Spotify exclusive (Spotify bought Simmons’s The Ringer website and podcast network a few months ago), I’d probably stop listening. But I’m an outlier.)

A source familiar with the deal said Rogan became sold on Spotify’s ability to build his audience worldwide, after initially resisting distributing the podcast on the platform because he saw it as primarily a music service.

More power to Rogan for what’s surely a massive deal, but does anyone believe that what sold Rogan on Spotify was anything other than money?

“The podcast is moving to @spotify!” he wrote on Instagram. “It will remain FREE, and it will be the exact same show. It’s just a licensing deal, so Spotify won’t have any creative control over the show. They want me to just continue doing it the way I’m doing it right now.”

It’s interesting to me, as someone with (to put it mildly) rather strong feelings on the advantages of publishing on the open internet, that Rogan sees moving to one exclusive app, with invasive tracking, as not exerting any sort of “creative control over the show”. I’m not trying to be coy, I know what he means — the content of the show will remain as-is, with no influence from Spotify. (So they say.) But I’m a big believer in Marshall McLuhan’s axiom: “The medium is the message.” Open podcasts and Spotify podcasts are similar, for sure, but they are not the same medium.

Inadvertently Prescient 

Yours truly, back on 28 February, regarding China banning a pandemic simulation game:

Real shocker that a country without a free press is having trouble containing the outbreak. Coronavirus is not a PR problem, it’s a medical problem, and accurate up-to-date information reported to the public is essential in containing it. Any country that treats it as a PR problem is in trouble.

So it turns out that China was able to contain the outbreak. But I was right that a country treating it as a PR problem is in trouble.

Thinking Through the Manifold Ramifications of Collecting Smartphone Data for Contact Tracing  

Kieran Healy, on Twitter, regarding my piece Friday on the Washington Post’s atrociously one-sided and shortsighted report on Apple and Google’s joint exposure notification project:

I think half the academics and health people quoted in this story @gruber rightly drubs are so annoyed at being denied some extremely nice data that they forget the thing they want would be immediately repurposed by bad actors and put to ends they’d abhor.

It’s an unpleasant truth that personalized, fine-grained tracking data at scale is attractive to scientists for much the same reasons that it’s attractive to government snoops. The fact that the ends differ isn’t a sufficient differentiator.

This is exactly where many health officials around the world have gone awry. Their intentions are admirable: they want maximal data so they can do maximal analysis. But the sources for the Post’s story seemingly have no awareness whatsoever of the privacy ramifications of the data they claim to want Apple and Google to collect — and in some cases report automatically to the government.

Nor have they seemingly paused to consider the fact that Apple and Google have extensive experience in this regard.

Healy quotes the following from a piece he wrote back in 2006, on the NSA’s massive database of domestic phone calls:

Scientists and spies are not so different. The intelligence community’s drive to find the truth, to uncover the real structure of things, is similar to what motivates natural or social scientists. For that reason, I can easily understand why the people at the NSA would have been drawn to build a database like the one they have assembled. The little megalomaniac that lives inside any data-collecting scientist (“More detail! More variables! More coverage!”) thrills at the thought of what you could do with a database like that. Think of the possibilities! What’s frightening is that the NSA is much less constrained than the rest of us by money, or resources, or — it seems — the law. To them, Borges’ map must seem less like a daydream and more like a design challenge. In Kossinets and Watts’ study, the population of just one university generated more than 14 million emails. That gives you a sense of how enormous the NSA’s database of call records must be. In the social sciences, Institutional Review Boards set rules about what you can do to people when you’re researching them. Social scientists often grumble about IRBs and their stupid regulations, but they exist for a good reason. To be blunt, scientists are happy to do just about anything in the pursuit of better knowledge, unless there are rules that say otherwise. The same is true of the government, and the people it employs to spy on our behalf. They only want to find things out, too. But just as in science, that’s not the only value that matters.

In short, the privacy implications of using phones for contact tracing are very complicated. The limited scope of Apple and Google’s joint project is the best effort to date to balance those trade-offs.

The Pernicious Persistence of Bullshit Once It’s Been Reported by a Major, Ostensibly Trustworthy Outlet 

From a piece today at The Washington Post by Rachel Lerman and Jay Greene, on “tech giants” being in no rush to return employees to office work:

Even the big five tech firms haven’t been able to keep all their workers at home. Amazon has continued to require warehouse staff during the pandemic, and faced backlash over accusations of dangerous working conditions. Facebook is offering financial incentives to lure content moderators back to the office, because many of the jobs can’t be done remotely.

One big exception to the extended work-from-home timeline among tech giants appears to be Apple, a company that has already been hard hit by the pandemic and was forced to temporarily slow manufacturing in China and shutter its retail stores in the U.S. — though both are reopening now. Apple declined to comment on its plans to bring workers back to the office. Bloomberg News reported that the company plans to start bringing workers back in phases starting this month.

That’s the entirety of this Post story’s reporting on Apple. Apple “appears” to be a “big exception to the extended work-from-home timeline” because of Mark Gurman’s report at Bloomberg last week, which I called bullshit on.

And they put this “exception” right after a paragraph about employees at other companies who can’t work remotely. There’s nothing exceptional about Apple’s stance on employees returning to campus. No one at Apple is returning to the office except for tasks that can only be done at the office. Even for those employees, they’re not being forced to do so — only those employees who are comfortable doing so are returning to the workplace in any capacity. Many (most?) of the employees in Apple’s “phase one” haven’t been back to the office once yet, and don’t know when they will be. Being in the first phase simply means their key cards grant them access if they need it.

If anything, it sounds like Amazon (with warehouses) and Facebook (with moderators) are the exceptions, pushing employees back to workplaces. But the Post flags Apple, because of Bloomberg.

Again, a careful reading of Bloomberg’s report does not claim anything to contradict the fact that all Apple employees who can work from home will remain at home until further notice, and those who must go to the office are doing so as little as possible, and are coordinating with their teammates to remain isolated. But it’s all painted with the slant that some Apple employees who could entirely work from home are being pushed back to work. They are not. That is not happening.

You may have noted that as juicy as the Bloomberg slant on this story is, there has yet to be a single corroborating report, let alone one with quotes from anyone at Apple who objects to how Apple is dealing with this. But now that Bloomberg has reported it, outlets like the Washington Post accept the slant at face value.

How Signal Integrates With Giphy While Preserving Privacy 

Joshua Lund, writing for the Signal blog back in 2017:

In order to hide your search term from GIPHY, the Signal service acts as a privacy-preserving proxy. When querying GIPHY:

  1. The Signal app opens a TCP connection to the Signal service.

  2. The Signal service opens a TCP connection to the GIPHY HTTPS API endpoint and relays bytes between the app and GIPHY.

  3. The Signal app negotiates TLS through the proxied TCP connection all the way to the GIPHY HTTPS API endpoint.

Since communication is done via TLS all the way to GIPHY, the Signal service never sees the plaintext contents of what is transmitted or received. Since the TCP connection is proxied through the Signal service, GIPHY doesn’t know who issued the request.

The Signal service essentially acts as a VPN for GIPHY traffic: the Signal service knows who you are, but not what you’re searching for or selecting. The GIPHY API service sees the search term, but not who you are.

I believe this is basically how Apple’s Giphy search in Messages on iOS (through the built-in “#images” app) works. But if anyone knows for sure, let me know.

Stanley Black & Decker’s Consolidation of the Power Tools Market 

I can’t say I follow the power tools market closely, so it was complete news to me that Stanley Black & Decker now owns all of the power tool brands I’ve ever heard of. Scroll down on this post at ToolGuyd to see a chart of their brands: Irwin, Porter Cable, Bostitch, Craftsman (!), Lenox, DeWalt, and more. All owned by the same company. I’ll be honest, I’m so out of touch with this market I didn’t realize Stanley and Black & Decker had merged. (Via Nilay Patel.)

Update: More here on the consolidation of brands in the tool industry: “Power Tool Manufacturers and Who Really Owns Them”.

Edison Mail Bug Allowed Access to Email Accounts of Other Users 

Chance Miller, reporting for 9to5Mac:

Edison Mail is one of the more popular third-party email applications for iPhone, iPad, and Mac, but an apparent bug in the service is raising major privacy concerns. Edison Mail users report that after enabling a new account syncing feature in the app, they have full access to email accounts of other Edison Mail users.

Zach Knox was one of the first Edison Mail users to acknowledge the problem on Twitter this morning:

I just updated @Edisonapps Mail &, after enabling a new sync feature, an email account THAT IS NOT MINE showed up in the app, that I could seemingly access completely. This is a SIGNIFICANT security issue. Accessing another’s email w/o credentials! Never trusting this app again.

There are bugs, and there are really bad bugs. For an email client this is about the worst bug possible, right up there with losing messages.

Edison Mail, in a statement to 9to5Mac, said, “At this time this appears to be a bug and not a security breach.” I think what they’re trying to argue is that the bug was their own fault, not the result of an outside attack, so it’s not a “security breach”. But regardless how the bug happened, it’s obviously a security breach. Your customers having their email read by complete strangers is pretty much the definition of a security breach.

Here’s a full statement from Edison Mail.

Morning Brew 

My thanks once again to Morning Brew for sponsoring this week at DF. Over 1 million people start their day with Morning Brew — the daily email that delivers the latest news from Wall Street to Silicon Valley. Business news doesn’t have to be dry and dense. Morning Brew is simply well-written — and it’s absolutely free to subscribe.

I’ve been subscribed for over a year, and no joke, Morning Brew is one of the very first things I read most mornings. It even looks good. They’ve been a great repeat sponsor here at DF, and that’s because a lot of you have already subscribed. If you haven’t tried it yet, I wholeheartedly recommended it.

Fred Willard Dies at 86 

If you don’t love Fred Willard, you’re not hooked up right. Among his many memorable roles, a favorite of mine was Shelby Forthright, the CEO of Buy-N-Large in WALL-E.

There was just something about Willard where you could just tell that in real life he was a great person. It was just palpable.

The Financial Times: ‘Inside Trump’s Coronavirus Meltdown’ 

Edward Luce, writing for those radical left-wing firebrands at The Financial Times:

What the headlines missed was a boast that posterity will take more seriously than Trump’s self-estimated IQ, or the exaggerated test numbers (the true number of CDC kits by March was 75,000). Trump proclaimed that America was leading the world. South Korea had its first infection on January 20, the same day as America’s first case, and was, he said, calling America for help. “They have a lot of people that are infected; we don’t.” “All I say is, ‘Be calm,’” said the president. “Everyone is relying on us. The world is relying on us.”

He could just as well have said baseball is popular or foreigners love New York. American leadership in any disaster, whether a tsunami or an Ebola outbreak, has been a truism for decades. The US is renowned for helping others in an emergency.

In hindsight, Trump’s claim to global leadership leaps out. History will mark Covid-19 as the first time that ceased to be true. US airlifts have been missing in action. America cannot even supply itself.

South Korea, which has a population density nearly 15 times greater and is next door to China, has lost a total of 259 lives to the disease. There have been days when America has lost 10 times that number. The US death toll is now approaching 90,000.

I didn’t realize yesterday that the Financial Times had pushed this remarkable story in front of its paywall. It’s a must-read, must-share, deeply researched report. It reads like contemporaneous history of the absurd.

‘Wut?!’ Indeed 

Six years ago Slack added built-in Giphy support. So post-acquisition, Facebook will now have tracking info for all the Slack channels where this has been used. That’s cool.

Update: This seems to have gotten some folks’ attention. Via email, I received the following response to my post from Brian Elliott, VP and general manager at Slack, quoted in entirety:

We’re excited for the Giphy team on the news of their acquisition.

Slack users love using Giphy, as well as tools like emoji reactions and apps like Donut and Hallway. They all bring teams closer together, especially when they’re working remotely. Allowing teams to share their personality through GIFs and enable camaraderie at work adds to the social glue teams are looking for when there’s no physical water cooler, and will continue to be an important part of the Slack experience.

As always, Slack is committed to protecting user and company data. Giphy doesn’t receive any information about users or even companies using the Giphy for Slack integration, and only sees Slack usage of the Giphy API in aggregate.

I also heard from a little birdie and trusted source who works at Slack, who told me:

Slack built and still owns the Giphy integration. We call their API, and don’t send them identifying info about channels. (This is pretty much the opposite of how most Slack integrations work, so your initial assumptions were reasonable.)

Above Avalon Turns Five 

Neil Cybart:

Above Avalon membership was launched five years ago this week. I am happy to report Above Avalon continues to thrive with a sustainable business model based solely on paid memberships.

Congratulations to Cybart. Not surprising though — in-depth research and consistent analysis is a good combination. Count me as a longtime happy subscriber.

One debate that continues to be waged online is over people’s changing reading habits and the trend of people writing shorter pieces. For example, it has been said that blog posts are replacing books while tweets are replacing blog posts. My honest opinion of this is that it’s hogwash.

People will pay for quality. Not everyone, of course. But the people who will pay for anything are most likely to pay for quality. That includes paying with their attention, not just their wallets.

Financial Times Reports the Obvious: Trump Resisted Testing ‘Too Many People’ Lest the Results Spook the Stock Market 

The Daily Beast, summarizing a paywalled report from The Financial Times:

President Trump was wary of making preparations for the coronavirus pandemic because he was concerned doing so would sent the stock market into a panic, the Financial Times reports. In a quote attributed to an unnamed Trump confidant who is said to speak to the president frequently, it’s claimed: “Jared [Kushner] had been arguing that testing too many people, or ordering too many ventilators, would spook the markets and so we just shouldn’t do it… That advice worked far more powerfully on [Trump] than what the scientists were saying. He thinks they always exaggerate.” Elsewhere in the FT investigation into Trump’s handling of the coronavirus pandemic, an unnamed administration official is reported to have told the paper that trying to advise the president is like “bringing fruits to the volcano… You’re trying to appease a great force that’s impervious to reason.”

People can’t get their head wrapped around this because it’s so grotesque, but it doesn’t require believing in a hidden conspiracy. Trump has told us, again and again, that he’s against testing because he doesn’t want “the numbers” to go up. In Trump’s view testing for COVID-19 is a bad idea because it’s going to reveal something he doesn’t want to be true.

Here he is again, just yesterday: “If we didn’t do any testing we would have very few cases.” He’s trying to argue that we have more cases than South Korea because we’ve done more tests — whereas the truth is that South Korea instituted widespread testing early and has the virus under control. The problem isn’t testing, the problem is sick people, and testing is a way to get a handle on the problem. Trump’s stance is like telling your girlfriend not to take a pregnancy test as birth control.

Also: Sarah Cooper is a national treasure.

Facebook to Buy Giphy for $400 Million 

Dan Primack, Kia Kokalitcheva, and Sara Fischer, reporting for Axios:

Facebook has agreed to buy Giphy, the popular platform of sharable animated images, Axios has learned from multiple sources. The total deal value is around $400 million. […] Giphy is expected to retain its own branding, with its primary integration to come via Facebook’s Instagram platform.

Matthew Panzarino:

There are two reasons Facebook buys a consumer company. Eyeballs or data.

Of course Giphy is going to retain its own brand. If they renamed it to “Facebook Tracking Pixels”, usage might drop off. Think about all the messaging apps that don’t offer Facebook integration for security/privacy reasons (not to mention not wanting to have their apps crash on launch when Facebook pushes a buggy update), where Giphy images appear. You know, like Apple’s Messages. Well, now Facebook has tracking pixels in them.

Chrome to Start Blocking ‘Resource-Heavy’ Ads 

Marshall Vale, product manager for Google Chrome:

We have recently discovered that a fraction of a percent of ads consume a disproportionate share of device resources, such as battery and network data, without the user knowing about it. These ads (such as those that mine cryptocurrency, are poorly programmed, or are unoptimized for network usage) can drain battery life, saturate already strained networks, and cost money.

In order to save our users’ batteries and data plans, and provide them with a good experience on the web, Chrome will limit the resources a display ad can use before the user interacts with the ad. When an ad reaches its limit, the ad’s frame will navigate to an error page, informing the user that the ad has used too many resources. Here is an example of an ad that has been unloaded.

This is a great idea, and everyone other than scammers and bad programmers should support it wholeheartedly. I hurt myself, however, when I rolled my eyes at the “we have recently discovered” bit. It beggars belief that the Chrome development team hasn’t been fully aware of the gross resource consumption of web ads. They didn’t recently discover this — they recently decided to finally take action.

Your move, WebKit.

‘“I Wish I Could Do Something for You,” My Doctor Said’ 

Mara Gay, writing for The New York Times:

The second day I was sick, I woke up to what felt like hot tar buried deep in my chest. I could not get a deep breath unless I was on all fours. I’m healthy. I’m a runner. I’m 33 years old. […]

I am one of the lucky ones. I never needed a ventilator. I survived. But 27 days later, I still have lingering pneumonia. I use two inhalers, twice a day. I can’t walk more than a few blocks without stopping.

I want Americans to understand that this virus is making otherwise young, healthy people very, very sick. I want them to know, this is no flu.

You don’t want to get this.

Mumbai, Engulfed by Coronavirus 

Jeffrey Gettleman, writing for The New York Times:

As the coronavirus gnaws its way across India, Mumbai has suffered the worst. This city of 20 million is now responsible for 20 percent of India’s coronavirus infections and nearly 25 percent of the deaths.

Hospitals are overflowing with the sick. Police officers are exhausted enforcing a stay-at-home curfew. Doctors say the biggest enemy is Mumbai’s density. Particularly in the city’s vast slum districts, social distancing is impossible. People live eight to a room across miles and miles of informal settlements made of concrete blocks and topped with sheets of rusted iron. As the temperatures climb toward 100 degrees Fahrenheit, many can’t stand to be cooped up anymore and spill into the streets.

For the past eight weeks, Atul Loke, a second-generation newspaper photographer, has been tracking the spread of the coronavirus across his city. Here is what he has seen.

Arresting photography.

Becky Hansmeyer’s WWDC 2020 Wishlist 

Good list from Becky Hansmeyer. Two of her wishlist items:

A complete redesign of Mail. There is no perfect e-mail client, but like, maybe Apple could try or something?

That’s a huge bite to chew. I don’t think a wholesale redesign is what’s called for, personally, but Mail could certainly use a lot of attention. I mean, just look at Mail on iPad. There’s no way to create a smart mailbox. How are we supposed to take iPad seriously as a computer when its built-in email client doesn’t even support smart mailboxes? Compare and contrast with Safari, which I think does an absolutely brilliant job of balancing features across iOS and MacOS. (Web inspector for iPad would be cool though.)

More home screen customization. Let us have an empty row at the top if we want. Give us some widgets. Allow for some chaos. Set us freeeeee.

Fiddling with the home screen on iOS is just awful. Whenever I sit down and try to clean it up — deleting apps I don’t use, moving apps into some semblance of order — it drives me insane. The 1984 Finder was awesome for rearranging icons, right on day one. Yet we’re 13 years into iOS and rearranging apps is still terrible, because the whole thing is based on a home screen design where there’s just one screen and no third-party apps. The concept worked fine when all you could do was rearrange 12 built-in apps on a single screen. It feels like a prank trying to use it today.

Update: Gus Mueller has a single important addition.

Social Distancing Restrictions and Face Mask Wearing Are Broadly Supported 

Greg Sargent:

By 78 percent to 22 percent, Americans believe it is “necessary” for people in their communities to stay at home as much as possible.

The spread is very similar among those of incomes below $50,000 (82-18), those of incomes of $50,000 to $100,000 (77-23), and those of incomes over $100,000 (71-29).

It’s also much the same among rural voters (77-23) and non-college-educated whites (75-25), both demographics that tilt heavily towards supporting President Trump, and are supposed to thrill to the “populist” narratives that Hayes was criticizing.

Paul Krugman on the GOP’s Incoherent COVID-19 Response 

Paul Krugman, in a short tweet thread:

In other words, the GOP has in effect decided to ignore the science at the clear risk of being held accountable in the near future both for killing thousands and for wrecking the economy, because that’s what a premature opening would do.

Why take that risk? Partly they may be high on their own supply, no longer able to conceive that there is an objective reality that might be politically inconvenient. Partly I think it’s because they know in their hearts that they can’t actually do the job of governing.

“No longer able to conceive that there is an objective reality that might be politically inconvenient” — man, that’s it. It’s been taken to an absurd, and tragically dangerous extreme, under Trump, but it’s not new as the Republican governing philosophy. Recall Ron Suskind’s interview with a Bush administration official back in 2004:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community”, which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” […] “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors … and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

Trump has proven that if you’re good enough at bullshit, you can bullshit your way through a lot of things. But they can’t bullshit their way out of this crisis.

Scunthorpe Sans, a Profanity-Obscuring Font 

VOLE.wtf:

A s••• font that f•••ing censors bad language automatically

It’s able to detect the words f•••, s•••, p•••, t•••, w•••, c••• and dozens more, but with a special exemption for “Scunthorpe”; that town has suffered enough.

Pretty clever for a ligature trick.

The Elevator Scene From ‘The Shining’ in Miniature 

Exquisite model work and photography from Aleia Murawski and Samuel Copeland. Don’t miss the behind-the-scenes follow-up.

Howard Stern on Trump 

Howard Stern:

The oddity in all of this is the people Trump despises most, love him the most. The people who are voting for Trump for the most part… he wouldn’t even let them in a fucking hotel. He’d be disgusted by them. Go to Mar-a-Lago, see if there’s any people who look like you.

Trump’s Totally Sane and Not at All Lunatic Thoughts on Mother’s Day 

Trump called in to “Fox and Friends” on Friday morning. You really have to see it — I’m linking here to Late Night With Seth Meyer’s segment on it. He spent the entire 20 minutes railing against his perceived enemies. Really. I mean, whether you like or dislike him — and it’s fair to say the “Fox and Friends” audience is his audience — who wanted to hear this? Nobody is thinking about anything but the pandemic. We don’t agree what to do about it, but it’s quite obvious to everyone that there is no other subject worth the president’s time right now. And yet this is what’s on the man’s mind.

And then his call-in ends with the softball of softball questions — what message does he have for all the moms in America, and what are his plans with his wife for Mother’s Day? That was the question — watch. His answer, I swear, was about fighter jets and the U.S. military budget.

He could walk around wearing a sandwich board reading “I’m a lunatic” and it would be less clear that he’s unraveling.

The Tweets of a Mad King 

Toluse Olorunnipa, reporting for The Washington Post:

On a day when coronavirus deaths passed 80,000 and top government scientists warned of the perils of loosening public health restrictions too soon, President Trump used his massive public platform to suggest a talk-show host he has clashed with committed murder.

His baseless charge capped a 48-hour stretch in which he accused scores of perceived opponents of criminal acts ranging from illegal espionage to election rigging.

Since writing “HAPPY MOTHER’S DAY” at 8:10 a.m. on Sunday, Trump has used his Twitter account to make or elevate allegations of criminal conduct against no less than 20 individuals and organizations. Since Sunday, he has tweeted more often about alleged crimes by his perceived opponents than he has about the pandemic ravaging the country with mass death and unemployment.

Dan Froomkin:

This WaPo article by @ToluseO reads like a dam broke in the newsroom and all the things reporters have been wanting to write about Trump spilled out.

IT’S FABULOUS.

It’s full of truths, no bothesidesism, nothing mealy-mouthed about it.

‘Bothsidesism Stalks The New York Times’ 

Josh Marshall, writing at Talking Points Memo:

Let’s start with the title: “Dropping of Flynn Case Heightens Fears of Justice Dept. Politicization”.

We are well past “fears of politicization”. When the President’s loyalist Attorney General intervenes on the President’s behalf in a case in which a defendant/loyalist has already pled guilty in order to short-circuit a prosecution about which no disinterested party has raised any substantial question … well, that is the definition of politicization. It also comes after numerous similar actions by the Barr Justice Department.

One good way to judge these questions is to imagine how the Times would cover a similar set of facts in another country. To suggest that this would be framed as leading to “fears of politicization” would be absurd.

When someone chops someone’s head off that does not lead to fears of people being killed. That is people being killed.

The perverse truth is that despite the right’s decades-long demonization of “mainstream media” as being unfairly biased against conservatives — and Trump’s turning that dial to 11, with his railing against “fake news” and repeatedly calling the news media “the enemy of the people” — the truth is that news analysis at premier outlets like The Times is biased toward the right in the way that they bend their coverage to appear “objective” to both sides, no matter how preposterous one of those sides has become.

Views Still Differ on Shape of Planet” is no joke.

My Theory Is That Quibi Is a Dumb Idea 

Nicole Sperling, reporting for The New York Times:

Jeffrey Katzenberg hasn’t left his Beverly Hills home in nearly 50 days. Deprived of a frenetic schedule that, before the coronavirus pandemic, typically meant three breakfast meetings, three lunch meetings and a working dinner, the veteran executive has filled his days with what he calls “Zoom-a-roo” videoconferences as he tries to rejigger Quibi, the streaming app he started with Meg Whitman a little more than a month ago.

That daily schedule sounds like hell on earth.

Downloads have been anemic, despite a lineup that includes producers and stars like Jennifer Lopez, LeBron James, Idris Elba, Steven Spielberg and Chrissy Teigen.

The service, which offers entertainment and news programs in five- to 10-minute chunks, was designed to be watched on the go by people who are too busy to sit down and stream TV shows or movies. It came out when millions of people were not going anywhere because of stay-at-home orders across the country.

“I attribute everything that has gone wrong to coronavirus,” Mr. Katzenberg said in a video interview. “Everything. But we own it.”

My gut feeling is that it has nothing to do with the quarantine and everything to do with the fact that the entire concept behind Quibi is fundamentally flawed. A service where every show is broken up into 5- to 10-minute chunks for “people who are too busy to sit down and stream TV shows or movies” sounds suspiciously like a service designed for someone whose typical day is so preposterously over-scheduled that it involves, say, three meetings at breakfast, three more at lunch, and a “working dinner”. Which is like no one.

It’s stupid to design an entire streaming service for a specific device type. Make sure your streaming service works well on phones? Smart. Design it so that it only works on phones? Idiotic.

The Undo Sniff Test 

Brent Simmons, on trying two unnamed Mac apps:

I picked an action that would be 1) super-common and 2) something that every user should expect to be undo-able.

In one app, I did the thing and then chose Undo. It didn’t do anything that I could see — the Undo command was available, but had no visible effect. I did Undo again. No visible change. God knows what was happening.

In the other app, Undo just wasn’t available. This is actually better than a faulty Undo — but, still, it’s not good.

I poked around a little more, enough to find some additional bugs, and then I trashed both apps. I deleted the account I had had to create for the one app.

Window resizing (Brent’s other test for these two apps) and Undo support are good sniff tests. Undo especially, though — there’s nothing cosmetic about Undo support. It’s a red flag. You open a container of food and it smells foul, you throw it out. You try a new app and it doesn’t support Undo, you throw it out. And you empty the trash immediately in both cases. Get it out of the house.

Dave Grohl: ‘The Irreplaceable Thrill of the Rock Show’ 

Dave Grohl, writing at The Atlantic:

In today’s world of fear and unease and social distancing, it’s hard to imagine sharing experiences like these ever again. I don’t know when it will be safe to return to singing arm in arm at the top of our lungs, hearts racing, bodies moving, souls bursting with life. But I do know that we will do it again, because we have to. It’s not a choice. We’re human. We need moments that reassure us that we are not alone. That we are understood. That we are imperfect. And, most important, that we need each other. I have shared my music, my words, my life with the people who come to our shows. And they have shared their voices with me. Without that audience — that screaming, sweating audience — my songs would only be sound. But together, we are instruments in a sonic cathedral, one that we build together night after night. And one that we will surely build again.

Someday.

Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer Is the Target of Dozens of Threats on Private Facebook Groups Ahead of Armed Rally at State Capital This Week 

Steve Neavling, reporting for The Detroit Metro Times:

Metro Times gained access to four private Facebook groups that can only be seen by approved members. The pages, which have a combined 400,000 members, are filled with paranoid, sexist, and grammar-challenged rants, with members encouraging violence and flouting the governor’s social-distancing orders. […] Assassinating Whitmer is a common theme among members of the groups. Dozens of people have called for her to be hanged.

“We need a good old fashioned lynch mob to storm the Capitol, drag her tyrannical ass out onto the street and string her up as our forefathers would have,” John Campbell Sr. wrote in a group called “People of Michigan vs. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer,” which had nearly 9,000 members as of Monday morning.

Steve Doxsie had the same idea: “Drag that tyrant governor out to the front lawn. Fit her for a noose.”

“Either President Trump sends in the troops or there is going to be a midnight lynching in Lansing soon,” Michael Smith chimed in.

Others suggested she be shot, beaten, or beheaded.

If a newspaper without inside access to Facebook can find these private groups, imagine how easily Facebook could find them on their own. Facebook allows these groups to fester.

Say Yeah 

My thanks to Say Yeah for sponsoring this week at DF. Say Yeah has spent the last decade as a digital design consultancy, and over the past month, they’ve been asking themselves, “What can we do to support organizations today in a way that sets them up for success when the economy starts growing again?

What they’ve come up with is a website auditing service they can provide for all businesses, of any size, anywhere. Say Yeah’s auditing service will help make your website as effective as possible by analyzing performance, code, design, and content to improve usability, accessibility, and inclusivity.

Say Yeah’s own website exemplifies those very principles — it looks great, reads great, and loads fast. They even have a special offer for Daring Fireball readers: get started today with 10% off an audit with code DARINGFIREBALL.

The Talk Show: ‘30 Years of TidBITS’ 

Special guest Adam Engst joins the show to celebrate 30 years of TidBITS — the only publication going strong today that started as a weekly HyperCard stack.

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John Moltz Reviews the New iPhone SE 

John Moltz, writing at his Very Nice Website:

Who else would you turn to for a review of the 2020 iPhone SE than the person who has not bought a new phone for four years?

What do you mean “Literally everyone else.”?

Hiawatha Bray on the Original iMac: ‘Too Odd to Succeed’ 

A little more vintage claim chowder — this serving from Hiawatha Bray, then the technology columnist for the Boston Globe, in May 1998:

Even though Apple will never be the great company it could have been, you can’t watch its recent revitalization without a sense of bittersweet fascination.

Never.

The iMac doesn’t include a floppy disk drive for doing file backups or sharing of data. It’s an astonishing lapse from Jobs, who should have learned better.

Astonishing.

Vintage 2007 Claim Chowder: Josh Quittner Returned His iPhone 

Don’t know about you, but I’ve got a hankering for some vintage claim chowder today. I sometimes forget how big a deal Apple’s refusal to support Flash Player on iPhone was for a few years.

‘Two Laptops, One Keyboard’ — Jason Snell Reviews the New 13-Inch MacBook Pro 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

Since 2016, there have really been two different laptops living under the name “13-inch MacBook Pro.” There’s a lower-end model with two Thunderbolt 3 ports (on the left side), and a higher-end model with four ports (two on either side). Originally the lower-end model didn’t have a Touch Bar, but Apple added it to the low-end model last year.

There’s a big difference between the two models, one that’s been heightened with this set of updates. The low-end laptops start at $1299 and are powered by 8th-generation Intel processors. The high-end models start at $1799 and have received a boost to 10th-generation “Ice Lake” Intel processors. The low-end models are closer in base price to the $999 MacBook Air than to the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro. […]

In any event, if you’re shopping for a new Apple laptop and you’re wary of the $1799 starting price of the high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro, you should consider the MacBook Air as well as the low-end Pro. They’re more alike than you might imagine, the Air is lighter and cheaper, and if you have no use for the Touch Bar, all the better.

Great review, and helps fill in the missing context that Apple’s “two laptops with one name” marketing inherently leaves out. Apple can’t really emphasize the differences between the two 13-inch MacBook Pros without making the low-end variant look bad. The high-end 13-inch MacBook Pro is the professional model. Faster and more modern processors, double the ports, up to 32 GB of RAM (and the RAM is faster too). The low-end models are something else altogether. They’re not bad MacBooks in any sense — but I genuinely wonder who they’re for. Most people who want a 13-inch MacBook should definitely get the new Air; those who want or need more performance should get the high-end MacBook Pro. I’m not sure who the people in the middle are, other than those who feel they should buy a MacBook with “Pro” in the name because that sounds better.

Fire up Apple’s excellent comparison page with all three 13-inch MacBooks: the Air, the 2-port Pro, and the 4-port Pro. Yes, the 2-port Pro has faster CPUs than the Air, but not by much. Otherwise, it really just looks like a thicker, heavier laptop that gets ~10 percent less battery life.

The 4-port 13-inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, looks like the machine I’ve been waiting for for years.

Apple to Aid COPAN Diagnostics in Production of COVID-19 Testing Kits 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced it is awarding $10 million from its Advanced Manufacturing Fund to COPAN Diagnostics, a market leader in sample collection kits that play a critical role in COVID-19 testing. This funding will allow COPAN Diagnostics to rapidly accelerate their supply of sample collection kits for hospitals across the United States, expanding production from several thousand today to more than one million kits per week by early July. As part of this effort, Apple will support COPAN Diagnostics’ expansion to a new, larger facility in Southern California, with advanced equipment that Apple is helping design. […]

Norman Sharples, CEO of COPAN Diagnostics:

“Collection and transport kits are a critical component in the fight against COVID-19. At COPAN, we’re excited and grateful for this partnership with Apple as our strong beliefs of innovation, quality, and excellence in manufacturing and design are perfectly aligned. Apple’s operational expertise will help us increase delivery of important pre-analytical tools for medical professionals across the country at this critical time.”

The headlines — including Apple’s own — are about the $10 million. But anyone can give $10 million. What intrigues me here and might be unique to Apple is the operational assistance — help designing machines, help with production, help with procurement. Apple’s operational excellence is indisputably the best in the consumer electronics industry. If they can apply even a fraction of that expertise to a company like COPAN, it could make a significant difference in U.S. testing capacity.

‘Game Changer’ — New Banksy Piece Unveiled at Hospital to Thank Nurses and Doctors 

The AP:

The piece has been placed on display in a corridor at Southampton General Hospital in southern > The artist left a note for hospital workers, saying: “Thanks for all you’re doing. I hope this brightens the place up a bit, even if only black and white.”

Health officials said it was a “massive boost to morale” for everyone at the hospital, which has seen at least two members of staff die after contracting the new coronavirus.

Pitch perfect. I love the dithered close up texture of the details. Without question, in my mind, Banksy is the most important painter of our time.

‘Do. The. Work.’ 

Rick LePage:

It is, quite honestly, hard to fight it all. There is a reason that Monday seems like Tuesday, which seems like last Thursday, or Sunday. I can’t — and don’t care to — remember what happened then.

One recent night, during a bout of insomnia, I was hit with a stark thought. Actually, it was really more of a command:

“Get your mind working again.”

‘Unseen Is What Fuels the Imagination’ 

Om Malik:

The mysterious is what makes a great image for me. And perhaps that is why I end up making images, which leave a lot of room for others to imagine. It is why I like fog — because it creates room for all of us to get lost, in our own self, and go someplace, without leaving this place we call home.

Go full screen with these.

Facebook Server Update Causes iOS Apps That Use Their SDK to Crash on Launch 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

There are multiple complaints about apps crashing continually on iOS devices on the MacRumors forums, and a wide range of apps appear to be impacted. Google’s Waze app, for example, won’t launch, and there have been complaints about apps that include Pinterest, Spotify, Adobe Spark, Quora, TikTok, and others.

Multiple developers on GitHub have attributed the problem to a Facebook software development kit used by the apps for sign-in purposes. Apps are failing to open even when users do not use the Facebook login options included.

No sympathy from me for any of the companies whose apps have been rendered useless by this bug. Facebook’s longstanding motto (and rare instance of corporate honesty from them) put it right on the tin: “Move fast and break things.”

Facebook themselves are no dummies. None of their iOS apps ever break because of a bug from Google or Adobe, because they’re not foolish enough to bake in a dependency they don’t control.

Matthew Panzarino: ‘How Apple Reinvented the Cursor for iPad’ 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

Even though Apple did not invent the mouse pointer, history has cemented its place in dragging it out of obscurity and into mainstream use. Its everyday utility, pioneered at Xerox Parc and later combined with a bit of iconic* work from Susan Kare at Apple, has made the pointer our avatar in digital space for nearly 40 years.

What a great lede. The best way to understand the breakthrough that was the 1984 Mac interface is that the on-screen pointer was the user’s avatar. That’s you. And you use the mouse to navigate around what you see on the screen.

Then, a few weeks ago, Apple dropped a new kind of pointer — a hybrid between these two worlds of pixels and pushes. The iPad’s cursor, I think, deserves closer examination. It’s a seminal bit of remixing from one of the most closely watched idea factories on the planet.

In order to dive a bit deeper on the brand new cursor and its interaction models, I spoke to Apple SVP Craig Federighi about its development and some of the choices by the teams at Apple that made it. First, let’s talk about some of the things that make the cursor so different from what came before … and yet strangely familiar.

I suspect what Apple has done with the mouse pointer on iPadOS is going to get ripped off far and wide. It’s too natural, too obviously correct.

Tim Bray Quit Amazon Over Firing of Whistleblowers 

Tim Bray:

May 1st was my last day as a VP and Distinguished Engineer at Amazon Web Services, after five years and five months of rewarding fun. I quit in dismay at Amazon firing whistleblowers who were making noise about warehouse employees frightened of Covid-19. […]

Management could have objected to the event, or demanded that outsiders be excluded, or that leadership be represented, or any number of other things; there was plenty of time. Instead, they just fired the activists.

At that point I snapped. VPs shouldn’t go publicly rogue, so I escalated through the proper channels and by the book. I’m not at liberty to disclose those discussions, but I made many of the arguments appearing in this essay. I think I made them to the appropriate people.

That done, remaining an Amazon VP would have meant, in effect, signing off on actions I despised. So I resigned.

Bracing, cogent read. Hats off to Bray.

‘The Plan Is to Have No Plan’ 

Jay Rosen, writing at PressThink:

“The plan is to have no plan” is not a strategy, really. Nor would I call it a policy. It has a kind of logic to it, but this is different from saying it has a design — or a designer. Meaning: I do not want to be too conspiratorial about this. To wing it without a plan is merely the best this government can do, given who heads the table. The manufacture of confusion is just the ruins of Trump’s personality meeting the powers of the presidency. There is no genius there, only a damaged human being playing havoc with our lives.

Exactly. There is no there there. Our seemingly inexplicable nationwide dearth of testing capability is in fact explicable: more tests = more confirmed cases, and Trump has told us, straight up, in one of his daily instances of saying aloud what anyone with any shame would never utter in private, let alone in front of the world, that his concern isn’t with the welfare of Americans, but rather with the welfare of “the numbers”. He wanted to leave sick Americans on an infected cruise ship not because it was deemed the best course of action epidemiologically, but because “I don’t need to have the numbers double because of one ship that wasn’t our fault.” That’s why we don’t have tests. That’s not conspiratorial, that’s just listening to what Trump has told us.

Rosen’s piece is so extraordinarily brief — plans are hard to describe, no-plans not so much — that it’s hard not to quote the whole thing. But his opening is worth considering too:

The plan is to have no plan, to let daily deaths between one and three thousand become a normal thing, and then to create massive confusion about who is responsible […]

How could anyone expect or hope that thousands of deaths a day, every day, could ever become normal? you might ask, because you are a caring person with a capacity for empathy. But we allow all sorts of unthinkable things to become normal.

They Might as Well Have Gone the Whole Nine Yards and Put a Red MAGA Hat on Lincoln 

Katie Rogers, reporting for The New York Times:

There was just one catch: While Mr. Trump and many other presidents have hosted inauguration concerts and gatherings on the memorial’s steps, any event meant to draw an audience inside the interior near Daniel Chester French’s sculpture of a seated Lincoln is prohibited. The area beginning with the marble staircase where the columns start constitutes a boundary protected by federal law.

So on Sunday, when the president sat down with two Fox News anchors at Lincoln’s marbled feet during a coronavirus-focused virtual “town hall,” it was because a directive issued by David Bernhardt, the secretary of the interior, had allowed them to do so.

Mr. Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist whose Senate nomination was contested by Democrats who pointed to multiple accusations of conflicts of interest and ethical violations, ordered the memorial temporarily closed for the event, citing the coronavirus.

“Given the extraordinary crisis that the American people have endured, and the need for the president to exercise a core governmental function to address the nation about an ongoing public-health crisis,” Mr. Bernhardt wrote in an order issued Friday, “I am exercising my authority to facilitate the opportunity for the president to conduct this address within the Lincoln Memorial.”

This was a campaign event, no more, no less. We could argue about it if there had been reporters from even a single legitimate non-state media outlet, but even then we should be opposed — and there were in fact no real reporters. The mere idea of holding this event inside the Lincoln Memorial is disgraceful, let alone that it went through. Our national memorials are sacred ground — not in any religious sense, but in a civic sense. Their symbolism is meaningful.

Washington Post Poll: ‘Americans Widely Oppose Reopening Most Businesses, Despite Easing of Restrictions in Some States’ 

Dan Balz and Emily Guskin, reporting for The Washington Post:

The Post-U. Md. poll asked about the following types of businesses: gun stores, dine-in restaurants, nail salons, barbershops and hair salons, retail establishments such as clothing stores, along with gyms, golf courses and movie theaters.

The most significant opposition is to reopening movie theaters, with 82 percent of Americans saying they should not be allowed to open up in their state. There is also broad opposition to reopening gyms (78 percent opposed), dine-in restaurants and nail salons (both with 74 percent opposed).

Gun stores are next, with 70 percent saying they should not be reopened, followed by barbershops and hair salons (69 percent opposed) and retail shops such as clothing stores (66 percent opposed) and golf courses (59 percent opposed).

These are far larger majorities than we typically see in polls regarding ostensibly controversial issues here in the U.S. These mandates to keep nonessential businesses closed are in fact broadly popular. The nation is not divided on this.

It’s never wise to gauge public opinion solely by looking at protests, but in this particular case it could not possibly be more misleading. By definition, only the people who think these restrictions are nonsense/unnecessary/too broad/whatever are even willing to congregate in large groups. You can’t hold a public rally in support of stay-at-home orders.

Angry incoherent mobs make for good TV, alas. A massive majority of Americans — patiently staying at home, listening to the advice of experts — does not.

Tot and Accessibility 

Craig Hockenberry, writing at The Iconfactory blog:

Luckily we have a tool that let me approximate what Jason was seeing. xScope’s vision defect simulator confirmed that Tot’s colored circles had serious issues. We had a new kind of accessibility problem and one that went to the heart of the app’s visual design. […]

This began an exploration on how Tot’s colorful rings could change, while keeping the existing “dot” metaphor, a strong visual navigation element.

Such a great example of how first-class accessibility and exuberant custom UI design don’t have to be at odds, but in fact can go hand-in-hand.

WWDC 2020 Swift Student Challenge 

New contest for student developers as part of WWDC 2020:

Create an interactive scene in a Swift playground that can be experienced within three minutes. Be creative. If you need inspiration, use the templates in Swift Playgrounds or Xcode for a head start on more advanced creations. Make them your own by adding graphics, audio, and more.

WWDC 2020 Kickoff: June 22 

The memoji developer theme is fun — it emphasizes the unique virtual nature of this year’s WWDC, and each time you reload the page you get a different set of developers.

From the Apple Newsroom announcement:

Developers are encouraged to download the Apple Developer app where additional WWDC20 program information — including keynote and Platforms State of the Union details, session and lab schedules, and more — will be shared in June. Information will also be made available on the Apple Developer website and by email.

No surprise that they’re holding the session schedule close to their vest. I’m still deeply curious how labs will work in an open “everyone is invited” format. WWDC labs get crowded with 5,000 physical attendees; I have no idea how anything similar could work with untold tens of thousands of virtual attendees.

Apple’s official Developer app is available for iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV — still no app for Mac, despite the fact that every single developer working on Apple platforms uses Xcode, which only works on Mac (well, at the moment, before WWDC). I could have sworn Apple announced some sort of framework that made it super-easy to turn an iPad app into a great Mac app at some point.

Unboxing the Mac Pro Wheels 

Nice take from Lew Hilsenteger.

New 13-Inch MacBook Pros 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today updated the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the new Magic Keyboard for the best typing experience ever on a Mac notebook and doubled the storage across all standard configurations, delivering even more value to the most popular MacBook Pro. The new lineup also offers 10th-generation processors for up to 80 percent faster graphics performance and makes 16GB of faster 3733MHz memory standard on select configurations.

Dan Moren, Six Colors:

Aside from the doubling of storage and new keyboard, the $1299 and $1499 models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro remain largely untouched. They feature the same 8th-generation Core i5 processor running at 1.4 GHz as their predecessors. They can be configured with an 8th-generation 1.7GHz Core i7 processor, 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of SSD storage.

The $1799 and $1999 models, on the other hand, now feature the 10th-generation Core i5 processor at 2.0GHz. Additional options include a bump to a 10th-generation Core i7 processor at 2.3GHz, 32 GB of RAM, and up to 4TB of SSD storage — the latter two options are available on this model for the first time. This model can also drive an external display at up to 6K resolution; the lower-end models are limited to one external 5K display or two external 4K displays.

All models feature the same wide stereo sound and Dolby Atmos support as their 16-inch counterpart, though the 13-inch models lack the six-speaker array. They also feature the beamforming three-mic setup.

So ends the saga of the butterfly-switch keyboards, and so much for the pervasive rumors that the smaller MacBook Pro would shift from 13-inch to 14-inch displays, the way the 15 went to 16.

68 Bits of Unsolicited Advice From Kevin Kelly 

Kevin Kelly:

It’s my birthday. I’m 68. I feel like pulling up a rocking chair and dispensing advice to the young ’uns. Here are 68 pithy bits of unsolicited advice which I offer as my birthday present to all of you.

Wisdom, concentrated. And what makes it a delightful read is the recurring themes aren’t grouped together.

‘The Cancer in the Camera Lens’ 

David Roth, writing for The New Republic:

In close up, on television, at a glance, with the volume down, Donald Trump can from time to time look like a president. That effect becomes less convincing the more you pay attention, though. Even under professional lighting, Trump reliably looks like a photographic negative of himself; on his worse and wetter days, he has the tone and texture of those lacquered roast ducks that hang from hooks in Chinatown restaurant windows. The passing presidentiality of the man dissipates utterly in longer shots, where Trump can be seen standing tipped oddly forward like a jowly ski jumper in midair, or mincing forward to bum-rush an expert’s inconvenient answer with an incoherent one of his own, or just making faces intended to signal that he is listening very strongly to what someone else is saying. (These slapdash performances of executive seriousness tend to have the effect, as the comedian Stewart Lee once said of James Corden, of making Trump look like “a dog listening to classical music.”) Seen from this long-shot vantage, the man at the podium is unmistakably Donald Trump — uncanny, unknowing, upset about various things that he can’t quite understand or express.

Merlin Mann:

We’re going to remember David Roth as the writer who most nailed this era. The one who best heard the tonal clams that were repeatedly hit and was uniquely gifted at describing how it all felt as it was happening.

Only 2 Percent of Steam Users Own VR Headsets 

Zack Zwiezen, Kotaku:

Still, even after one of the largest spikes in VR usage in Steam history, less than 2% of Steam users are using HMDs. VR is expensive, not viable for everyone, and relies on powerful PC hardware. Thinking about these factors and looking at these numbers, it makes sense why folks are trying to mod Half-Life: Alyx to make it playable without a VR headset.

Puts some context into Valve’s decision to drop Mac support from SteamVR.

‘Psychic Paper’, an Extraordinarily Powerful But Easily Understood iOS Exploit 

“Siguza”:

Yesterday Apple released iOS 13.5 beta 3 (seemingly renaming iOS 13.4.5 to 13.5 there), and that killed one of my bugs. It wasn’t just any bug though, it was the first 0day I had ever found. And it was probably also the best one. Not necessarily for how much it gives you, but certainly for how much I’ve used it for, and also for how ridiculously simple it is. So simple, in fact, that the [proof-of-concept] I tweeted out looks like an absolute joke. But it’s 100% real.

I dubbed it “psychic paper” because, just like the item by that name that Doctor Who likes to carry, it allows you get past security checks and make others believe you have a wide range of credentials that you shouldn’t have.

In contrast to virtually any other bug and any other exploit I’ve had to do with, this one should be understandable without any background knowledge in iOS and/or exploitation. In that spirit, I’ll also try and write this post in a manner that assumes no iOS- or exploitation-specific knowledge. I do expect you however to loosely know what XML, public key encryption and hashes are, and understanding C code is certainly a big advantage.

So strap in for the story of what I’ll boldly claim to be the most elegant exploit for the most powerful sandbox escape on iOS yet.

What a crazy bug, and Siguza’s explanation is very cogent. Basically, it comes down to this:

  1. XML is terrible.
  2. iOS uses XML for Plists, and Plists are used everywhere in iOS (and MacOS).
  3. iOS’s sandboxing system depends upon three different XML parsers, which interpret slightly invalid XML input in slightly different ways.

So Siguza’s exploit — which granted an app full access to the entire file system, and more — uses malformed XML comments constructed in a way that one of iOS’s XML parsers sees its declaration of entitlements one way, and another XML parser sees it another way. The XML parser used to check whether an application should be allowed to launch doesn’t see the fishy entitlements because it thinks they’re inside a comment. The XML parser used to determine whether an already running application has permission to do things that require entitlements sees the fishy entitlements and grants permission.

(On a personal note, it pleases me greatly how nicely readable Siguza’s Markdown source is for this report.)

Automatic, Makers of Diagnostic Car Dingus, to Shut Down 

Automatic:

Just like many other companies in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted our business. With fewer consumers purchasing and leasing vehicles and drivers on the road, we unfortunately do not see a path forward for our business. These are unprecedented times, and with so much uncertainty ahead, we have made the difficult decision to discontinue the Automatic connected car product, service and platform. We will be shutting down all operations at 11:59 pm, PT, on May 28, 2020 and, as a result, your service will end on that time.

A shame. Automatic was, a few years back, a regular sponsor of The Talk Show, and their diagnostic dingus, app, and service were all excellent. (Their last episode as a sponsor was the November 2016 post-election “Holiday Party” with Merlin Mann.)

Update: I either missed or forgot this, but in 2017 Automatic was acquired by SiriusXM for “a little north of $100 million”. Poof.

Seems Pretty Clear That if Anything Is ‘Too High’ It’s Elon Musk 

Tim Higgins, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (+):

The latest episode on Twitter began Friday, at 8:10 a.m. California time where Tesla is based, Mr. Musk wrote on his verified Twitter account: “I am selling almost all physical possessions. Will own no house.” A minute later, he added: “Tesla stock price is too high imo” — an abbreviation for “in my opinion.”

Tesla shares, which had closed Thursday at $781.88, an 82% gain for the year, were down more than 9% in midday trading Friday after the Twitter messages. […]

Because of his history on Twitter, he is required by a court settlement to vet any message that might be material to Tesla, though the definition of what exactly must be reviewed has been a subject of dispute. Asked whether he was joking or if he’d had his tweet vetted before posting it, Mr. Musk told The Wall Street Journal in an email simply: “No.”

Pretty sure these should have been “reviewed”.

Steam Drops MacOS From VR Support 

Steam:

SteamVR has ended OSX support so our team can focus on Windows and Linux.

You can see how relevant Steam has considered the Mac to VR gaming by the fact that they call it “OSX” — a name they misspelled and which Apple changed four years ago.

Update: The page now reads:

SteamVR has ended macOS support so our team can focus on Windows and Linux.

Nice to see that Steam cares.

Also, to be clear, I don’t blame Steam one bit. If anything, it’s surprising Steam “supported” the Mac for VR up until now. No Macs ship with a video card that supports VR gaming, and MacOS doesn’t support the Vulkan or OpenXR APIs that popular VR games are built on. It doesn’t help (to put it mildly) that Nvidia and Apple remain at odds. Apple is doing its own thing with Metal and ARKit — which are both excellent, but not part of the VR gaming world. Lots of good commentary here in this thread.

The Newman Design Process Squiggle 

Damien Newman:

Years ago I dropped a simple illustration into a proposal to convey the design process to a client. It was meant to illustrate the characteristics of the process we were to embark on, making it clear to them that it might be uncertain in the beginning, but in the end we’d focus on a single point of clarity. It seemed to work. And from then on, I’ve used it since. Many many times.

My father told me that the design process started with the abstract, moved to the concept and then finally the design. So I used to use these three words, back in the day, to convey the process of design to my unsuspecting clients. It wasn’t as effective — even if I knew what it meant. So I found myself saying, “Here — it looks like this…” and drawing the squiggle.

I don’t know how I’ve gone so long without ever seeing this before, but it’s brilliant in its clarity and obvious truth. When I make something new, I don’t expect to jump right to the design, but I do feel like I should be able to start with the concept. I’m repulsed by the uncertainty and messiness of that first stage, but this diagram is a wonderful reminder that it is unavoidable. Might as well just dive in. Embrace the unavoidable.

I really could have used this a few weeks ago for a new thing I’m working on now.

Update: Newman has a dedicated website for the illustration, which he’s made available under a Creative Commons license.