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Linked List: September 2020

The Talk Show: ‘Subscribed to a Hamburger’ 

Special guest “Underscore” David Smith joins the show to talk about iOS 14 widgets, WatchOS complications, sleep tracking, and his App Store chart-topping hit Widgetsmith.

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Relay FM for St. Jude 

Today is the last day of September, and thus the last day of Relay FM’s annual fundraising drive for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital. St. Jude is simply an amazing institution: they both provide world-class treatment for kids with cancer free of charge and perform research to make those treatments better and more effective. They’ve blown past their campaign goal for 2020, but every dollar donated to St. Jude is a dollar donated to a truly great cause. Let’s give them the old DF boost and push their campaign way over the top.

Today 

We’ve only gotten to mid-afternoon and here are today’s stories:

  • “It’s the kind of language you might expect from a dictator”: Trump’s remarks on election integrity and poll-watching alarm experts.

  • The Commission on Presidential Debates said on Wednesday that it would make changes to the format of this year’s remaining match-ups in the wake of Tuesday night’s melee in Cleveland, where frequent interruptions from President Trump led to a chaotic and often incoherent event, though it did not elaborate on what those changes would entail.

  • Trump wouldn’t categorically denounce white supremacists. Members of the far-right Proud Boys are celebrating.

  • The debate suggests the most direct threat to the electoral process now comes from the president of the United States himself.

That’s just today, mid-afternoon. If you don’t see this man as the threat to U.S. democracy itself that he obviously and proudly proclaims himself to be, you’re an idiot. If you see it and don’t care, you’re garbage.

Everyone else: don’t despair. Organize, donate, spread the word, and vote.

Epic Games Is an Unreliable Narrator 

Epic Games, in a support document published back on September 9:

Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Epic Games accounts using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020. If you have previously used “Sign In with Apple”, please update your Epic Games account email address and password immediately so that you can still login after September 11, 2020.

And on Twitter, from their Fortnite Status account:

Apple will no longer allow users to sign into Fortnite using “Sign In with Apple” as soon as September 11, 2020. If you used “Sign In with Apple”, please make sure your email and password are up to date. https://fn.gg/SIwA

(And a nearly identical tweet from the Unreal Engine account.)

This smelled funny to me from the start, as it made no sense from Apple’s perspective. Shutting Epic off from Sign In With Apple wouldn’t penalize or punish Epic — it would only punish players who used (and trusted) Sign In With Apple (SIWA herewith) to create their accounts. It would punish only Fortnite players, and cause reputational harm among developers as to the dependability of SIWA. (“Piss Apple off and they might spitefully shut off your SIWA users.”)

Worth noting: Apple publicly stated that it was not doing anything to stop SIWA from working for Epic. Epic wound up changing their help document to the following:

Apple previously stated they would terminate “Sign In With Apple” support for Epic Games accounts after September 11, 2020, but today provided an indefinite extension.

I haven’t written about this until now, but I was reminded of it by Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers’s disparagement of Epic Games’s honesty during yesterday’s hearing. I spent a few hours back on September 9 digging into this SIWA story, and multiple sources at Apple told me Epic’s claims were simply false. There was never a September 11 deadline for their SIWA support to stop working, and in fact, Apple’s SIWA team performed work to make sure SIWA continued working for Fortnite users despite the fact that Epic Games’s developer account had been revoked. There was no “extension” because Apple was never going to revoke Epic’s SIWA access.

At this point, Epic has passed the “Fool me once, shame on you …” point of the proverb.

Judge Excoriates Epic’s Dishonesty in Hearing Regarding Lawsuit Against Apple 

Brian Fung, reporting for CNN on yesterday’s three-hour hearing over Zoom:

Judge Gonzalez Rogers looked skeptically at many of Epic’s claims, explicitly telling the company several times in the hearing she was not persuaded by its arguments or its strategy. Epic knew that it was breaching its contract with Apple when it published the update, but did it anyway, she said, accusing the company of dishonesty.

Apple has justified its app store policies partly as a way to protect consumers from security risks and malicious software. Epic has countered that it is a credible business that has been on the iOS App Store for years and poses no security threat. But Gonzalez Rogers said that is not the issue.

“You did something, you lied about it by omission, by not being forthcoming. That’s the security issue. That’s the security issue!” Gonzalez Rogers told Epic. “There are a lot of people in the public who consider you guys heroes for what you guys did, but it’s still not honest.”

This was a long hearing — I enjoyed Fung’s notes on Twitter, as well as Financial Times reporter Patrick McGee’s. Some highlights from McGee’s Twitter thread:

Judge YGR says it’s complicated, “we are in a new world — they don’t call this The Wild West for nothing.” Says: walled gardens have existed for 4 decades. Nintendo, Microsoft and Sony all had/have them. “What Apple is doing is not much different … they created a platform.”

[Epic lawyer] Bornstein says the economics of consoles are different: “Consoles are sold at a loss, so their 30% is very different from (Apple’s) 30%.”

Judge YGR: “Well plaintiffs always want me to define relevant markets as narrowly as possible. It helps their case. And defendants always want me to define markets as broad as possible, because it helps their case.” […]

YGR: “The 30% of what you complain seems to be the industry rate, right? Steam charges 30%. Microsoft: 30% … If you go to consoles: PlayStation, Xbox Nintendo all charged 30%. Physical stores: GameStop, Amazon, Best Buy, Walmart all charge 30%. Apple and Google charged 30%. It’s all 30%, and you just want to gloss over it. You don’t want to address it,” Judge YGR says. […]

Epic’s Bornstein says alternatives to the smartphone have their own constraints. “For example you can’t play an Xbox when you are, you know, on a bus.”

YGR: “You can’t play, but you can play on a Switch.”

Basically, Epic’s lawyers seem to think Judge Gonzalez Rogers is a dummy, but she most certainly is not a dummy. She seems to take the angle I’ve taken all along: Apple runs iOS as an app console, and it doesn’t hold water for Epic to argue that the Xbox, PlayStation, and Switch game platforms are fine, but Apple’s app platform is not.

China Is Again Banning Feed Reader Apps 

iOS feed readers Fiery Feeds and Reeder today tweeted that Apple notified them they were being removed from the Chinese App Store to comply with Chinese law. Both link to a 2017 tweet from Inoreader saying the same. (An earlier version of this post didn’t make clear that Inoreader’s tweet was three years old.)

It’s completely unclear what explains the three year gap here, and the entire policy makes no sense. Why ban feed readers but not web browsers? At a technical level, feed readers are just web browsers for RSS feeds. China’s Great Firewall should block feeds (and centralized feed aggregating sources) just as easily as it blocks websites. I suppose there’s not much point looking for sense in this decision — China is going to China.

Amazon One: New Hand-Scanning Payment System Set to Debut in Amazon’s Own Stores 

Jason Del Rey, reporting for Recode:

Amazon on Tuesday is unveiling a new biometric technology called Amazon One that allows shoppers to pay at stores by placing their palm over a scanning device when they walk in the door or when they check out. The first time they register to use this tech, a customer will scan their palm and insert their payment card at a terminal; after that, they can simply pay with their hand. The hand-scanning tech isn’t just for Amazon’s own stores — the company hopes to sell it to other retailers, including competitors, too.

I’m happy to hear more details, but on the surface this sounds insane. Why in the world would anyone voluntarily send their palm print to any company to store in the cloud? With something like Face ID and Touch ID, your biometric info is not only stored solely on your own device, it’s stored on the secure enclave on your own device. Even the apps running on your own device can’t access it.

And with Apple Pay, if you ever need or simply want to create a new card number, you can do so. (Settings → Wallet & Apple Pay → Name of Card → Card Information → Request New Card Number.) You can’t request a new palm print.

This is a terrible idea and the only reason I can think of why Amazon created it is that they wanted their own payment system and felt they had to use some kind of biometrics for identification, privacy implications be damned, because they don’t have any sort of mobile device platform they could use instead. Why they don’t just stick to offering a scannable code from their app is beyond me.

Coalition for App Fairness 

Spearheaded by Epic Games, Spotify, and Tinder parent Match Group, the Coalition for App Fairness is an advocacy group pushing for legal and regulatory changes to “app stores” — but quite specifically Apple’s in particular. Some of their aims are unobjectionable, but the main ones would effectively do away with the App Store as we know it:

1. No developer should be required to use an app store exclusively, or to use ancillary services of the app store owner, including payment systems, or to accept other supplementary obligations in order to have access to the app store. […]

9. No app store owner should prohibit third parties from offering competing app stores on the app store owner’s platform, or discourage developers or consumers from using them.

Basically they’re demanding that platforms like iOS and Android be run like PC platforms like MacOS and Windows. But as I’ve been emphasizing all summer long, such a view would require game consoles to surrender the same control. iOS is an app console — a platform where the platform maker controls all software for the platform.

3. Every developer should have timely access to the same interoperability interfaces and technical information as the app store owner makes available to its own developers.

Good luck with that one.

4. Every developer should always have access to app stores as long as its app meets fair, objective and nondiscriminatory standards for security, privacy, quality, content, and digital safety.

Who gets to make these determinations if not the platform owner? To name just one high profile developer and just one of those categories, Facebook has very different standards for privacy than Apple. What the Coalition for App Fairness is arguing is that Apple shouldn’t get to decide the standards for privacy (or security, quality, content, and whatever “digital safety” is) for its own platform — some other unnamed arbiter (perhaps the Coalition for App Fairness itself) would make such determinations.

Apple Marina Bay Sands 

Apple Newsroom, three weeks ago:

Apple today previewed Apple Marina Bay Sands, the first Apple Store to sit directly on the water. Appearing as a sphere floating on the iridescent Marina Bay, the store introduces a new and captivating retail experience at one of the most iconic locations in Singapore.

Entirely surrounded by water, Apple Marina Bay Sands offers uninterrupted 360-degree panoramic views of the city and its spectacular skyline. The sphere is a first-of-its-kind, all-glass dome structure that is fully self-supported, comprised of 114 pieces of glass with only 10 narrow vertical mullions for structural connection. As Apple’s third retail location in Singapore, the new store creates an unforgettable space for customers.

Whenever complaints about Apple pop up — like, say, this weekend’s story about a rip-off app topping the charts in the App Store — some number of people will respond along the lines of, “Well, what do you expect from a company run by a penny-pinching beancounter like Tim Cook?” I.e. that Apple, under Cook’s leadership, has gotten cheap, and the reason for Problem X is that Apple refuses to spend money to fix it.

This is nonsense. Apple is not cheap. A miserly penny-wise/pound-foolish company does not design and build architectural marvels like this new store in Singapore. Apple spends lavishly on what they care about and consider important.

Google ‘Clarifies’ Play Store Policies, Ending Spotify, Netflix, and Apple Music’s Use of Their Own In-App Billing Systems 

Sameer Samat, vice president of product management at Google, on Google’s Android Developer Blog:

We want to be sure our policies are clear and up to date so they can be applied consistently and fairly to all developers, and so we have clarified the language in our Payments Policy to be more explicit that all developers selling digital goods in their apps are required to use Google Play’s billing system.

Again, this isn’t new. This has always been the intention of this long standing policy and this clarification will not affect the vast majority of developers with apps on Google Play. Less than 3% of developers with apps on Play sold digital goods over the last 12 months, and of this 3%, the vast majority (nearly 97%) already use Google Play’s billing. But for those who already have an app on Google Play that requires technical work to integrate our billing system, we do not want to unduly disrupt their roadmaps and are giving a year (until September 30, 2021) to complete any needed updates. And of course we will require Google’s apps that do not already use Google Play’s billing system to make the necessary updates as well.

This whole blog post is rather opaque. Basically they’re saying two things. First, big whales like Spotify and Netflix that have been using their own credit card processing in their Android apps need to switch to Google’s system for the apps they distribute via the Play Store by next year. Most reports are mentioning Spotify and Netflix here, but unless I’m missing something this policy change (or as Google claims, “clarification”) will also apply to Apple Music — the Android version of which charges users who sign up in the app directly, not via Google Play. The fact that Apple forces all subscription streaming services to use Apple’s in-app payments on iOS but doesn’t use Google’s on Android for Apple Music has been a source of much heckling.

Second, in a masterful jujitsu move turning Epic’s own language about “fairness” to its own advantage, Google is making a vague promise about making it easier to use third-party app stores on Android:

In response to that feedback, we will be making changes in Android 12 (next year’s Android release) to make it even easier for people to use other app stores on their devices while being careful not to compromise the safety measures Android has in place. We are designing all this now and look forward to sharing more in the future!

There are no additional details, just that. But they’re presenting it as the main thrust of today’s announcement, not the move to require Spotify/Netflix/et al to use Google’s payment system for apps in the Play Store.

Kandji 

My thanks to Kandji for sponsoring last week at DF. Kandji is an Apple device management (MDM) solution built exclusively for IT teams at businesses that run on Apple platforms.

It provides granular control over your Apple fleet, keeping your Mac, iPhone, iPad, and even Apple TV devices secure and efficient. Kandji announced iOS 14 support on release day last week, and they look forward to supporting new MDM features for MacOS 11 Big Sur as well. Features include:

  • 150+ pre-built automations powered by Kandji’s MacOS agent that automatically remediate, even if your devices are offline.
  • Zero-touch deployment.
  • Automated app patching.
  • One-click compliance templates.

See a product tour or request access to see a demo and get access to an optional 14-day trial.

The New York Times Has 20 Years of Trump’s Tax Returns 

Russ Buettner, Susanne Craig, and Mike McIntire, reporting for The New York Times:

Donald J. Trump paid $750 in federal income taxes the year he won the presidency. In his first year in the White House, he paid another $750.

He had paid no income taxes at all in 10 of the previous 15 years — largely because he reported losing much more money than he made.

We got him this time for sure.

The Talk Show: ‘Cameras Every Single Where’ 

Special guest Michael Simmons joins the show. Topics include the release of iOS 14, widgets and home screen customization, pricing models for indie apps in the App Store era, and, of course, flying robot cameras.

The show notes offer a cornucopia of retro Mac custom UI theming utilities.

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Luna, Amazon’s Upcoming Cloud Gaming Service, Will Run on iOS Via the Web 

Michael McWhertor, writing for Polygon:

Amazon is throwing its hat into the cloud gaming ring with Luna, a new game streaming technology that’s coming to PCs, mobile devices, and Amazon’s own Fire TV hardware. Starting today, customers in the U.S. can request an invitation for early access to Luna, Amazon announced at its devices event on Thursday.

Luna will be playable on Fire TV, Mac, and Windows PC, and on Android and iOS mobile devices. Amazon specifies that iOS platforms will access Luna “through web apps,” seemingly the company’s solution to Apple’s prohibitive rules for cloud-based game streaming via the App Store.

It’ll be interesting to see how well that works. Maybe that’s Microsoft’s plan for Xbox Game Pass, too? If it works well it really solves a bunch of problems for everyone. But it sort of sounds too good to be true?

The Verge Lists the 13 Biggest Announcements From Amazon’s Fall Hardware Event 

Great rundown of a lot of new products.

New Ring Security Camera Drone, Announced for Next Year, Will Fly Around Inside Your Home 

Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:

Ring’s latest home security camera is taking flight — literally. The new Always Home Cam is an autonomous drone that can fly around inside your home to give you a perspective of any room you want when you’re not home. Once it’s done flying, the Always Home Cam returns to its dock to charge its battery. It is expected to cost $249.99 when it starts shipping next year. […]

The charging dock blocks the camera’s view, and the camera only records when it is in flight. Ring says the drone makes an audible noise when flying so it is obvious when footage is being recorded.

I can’t remember the last time when a product announcement filled me with such simultaneous “I need that” glee (flying robots for $250!) and “no way is that going in my home” dread. It’s fascinating to me that it was designed in such a way that the camera is physically covered when docked, and that’s promoted as a feature. I’m not surprised — I see that as a feature too.

Needless to say, there are a lot of questions about this still unanswered. It’s a big-time pre-announcement.

Apple Now Allowing Band-Only Returns for Ill-Fitting Solo Loops 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

Following customer complaints and the attention the issue received, MacRumors can confirm that Apple has changed its policy and is now allowing bands to be swapped out online without the need to return the entire watch.

Apple clearly just got caught flatfooted on this. Good on them for changing the policy quickly. (From what I hear, the Solo Loop bands are incredibly popular too — which is making it more difficult to keep replacement bands in stock.)

California Moves to End Sales of New Gas-Powered Vehicles by 2035 

Adam Beam, reporting for the AP:

California will outlaw sales of new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks by 2035, Gov. Gavin Newsom announced Wednesday, a move he says will cut greenhouse gas emissions by 35% in the nation’s most populous state.

His plan would not ban people from owning gas-powered cars or selling them on the used car market. But it would end the sales of all new gasoline-powered passenger cars and trucks in the state of nearly 40 million people.

“Pull away from the gas pumps,” Newsom said in announcing his executive order to state regulators to draw up guidelines. “Let us no longer be victims of geopolitical dictators that manipulate global supply chains and global markets.”

White House spokesman Judd Deere said Newsom’s order will hurt the economy and is “yet another example of how extreme the left has become. They want the government to dictate every aspect of every American’s life.”

One of the above takes is really, really dumb.

WatchOS 7 Lets You Change Your Exercise and Stand Hour Goals 

Kirk McElhearn:

Since the earliest Apple Watch, you have been able to change your move goal (the red ring), but there was no way to change the exercise goal (the green ring) or the stand goal (the blue ring). Now, in watchOS 7, this is possible. […]

It’s about time that Apple allows people to make these changes. There are many people who simply can’t do 30 minutes of exercise a day, and others who are frustrated that the watch only counts 30 minutes. So set your own goals, and close your rings more easily.

I wonder if part of Apple’s motivation for adding this customization this year is sleep tracking — if you wear your Apple Watch to sleep, you’ve got to find a good two hours or so per day to charge it while you’re awake. For me, that charging time is typically right after I get up, when I’m drinking coffee and catching up on news and messages. It doesn’t affect my ability to hit my move and exercise goals, but I get robbed of at least one stand hour every single day, and sometimes two or three.

And there are some jobs — say professional drivers — where you can’t take hourly breaks to stand. It never seemed right to assume that 12 stand hours was reasonable for everyone, even though it’s a very fair default.

Untitled Geese Game 

Speaking of Panic, they publish the indie sensation Untitled Goose Game, which got a nifty update this week:

Hello, I’m Nico Disseldorp. I’m part of House House, the videogame company who made that Untitled Goose Game. If you haven’t heard of it before, it’s a game where you play as a horrible goose who causes a big commotion in a small village.

Tomorrow, the game is getting a free update so that two players can play through the game together as a pair of horrible geese.

When it came to adding a new goose to the game, there were a few big things we had to do, and lots and lots of small things.

This post is on Sony’s PlayStation blog, but the new two-player mode for Untitled Goose Game is available everywhere — Mac + PC, Switch, PlayStation, and Xbox. The post is a great bit of insight into the thinking and work behind turning a solo game into a two-player game.

I don’t play a lot of video games but man, I just love Untitled Goose Game. It’s weird and fun and a very clever game. In a way I can’t really explain, it makes me think of Ted Lasso. Something about being fun and unexpected and original in a way that isn’t cynical or ironic.

Nova 

Speaking of powerful professional Mac-assed Mac apps, Panic’s Nova text editor shipped, and it is glorious:

If we’re being honest, Mac apps are a bit of a lost art. There are great reasons to make cross-platform apps — to start, they’re cross-platform — but it’s just not who we are. Founded as a Mac software company in 1997, our joy at Panic comes from building things that feel truly, well, Mac-like.

Long ago, we created Coda, an all-in-one Mac web editor that broke new ground. But when we started work on Nova, we looked at where the web was today, and where we needed to be. It was time for a fresh start.

Customizable both visually and functionally, fast, gorgeous, and fun. Nova exemplifies everything great about making Mac apps. And like any great professional tool, Panic put as much work into the documentation as they did the software itself. They even made this delightful intro video.

Fascinating and very clever pricing model too. Nova costs $99 (or $79 to upgrade from Coda, Nova’s predecessor). If you want, that can be a one-time purchase that includes up to a year of updates, and after that, the version of Nova you have is yours to keep. Or, you can subscribe for $49/year after your initial post-purchase year is up, and you’ll keep getting updates in perpetuity. If you elect not to pay the annual fee, you can get back on the upgrade train subsequently just by paying the $49 fee when you’re ready. It’s very similar in spirit to Sketch’s pricing. The big difference between Nova and Sketch’s ongoing renewal pricing and pure subscriptions is that if you choose to stop paying, the version of the app you already have will keep working until it becomes technically obsolete. (Also noteworthy: this user-friendly, developer-sustaining pricing is not possible on the Mac App Store, and thus neither Nova nor Sketch are on the Mac App Store.)

Pixelmator Pro Gets AppleScript Support 

From the Pixelmator blog:

AppleScript is the Apple-created scripting language that lets you directly control apps using instructions written in intuitive, English-like terms. And almost every part of Pixelmator Pro is now scriptable, so for pretty much anything you can do with the app, you can now script those same tasks. Say you have tens or even hundreds of images. You might need to export and optimize them, or change the color of certain objects in them, or maybe even add annotations, taking the text from a Numbers spreadsheet and automatically placing it in Pixelmator Pro. Thanks to AppleScript support, you can now do all that, plus a whole lot more.

In our quest to make AppleScript support as great and full-featured as possible, we collaborated with Sal Soghoian, the legendary user automation guru, who served at Apple for 20 years as the Product Manager of Automation Technologies, including AppleScript, Services, the Terminal, Apple Configurator and Automator, among others.

Fabulous news for Mac power users. When’s the last time a major pro app added serious AppleScript support? Pixelmator even commissioned Soghoian to create a great tutorial that serves as both an introduction to AppleScript generally and scripting Pixelmator Pro specifically.

You can say “But AppleScript is so old and it’s such a weird frustrating language” — and you’d be right. AppleScript is really old. It’s palpably the product of a bygone era. It’s one of the last classic Mac OS era technologies that’s still kicking and relevant. But it’s what we’ve got. Clearly, Apple doesn’t care enough about professional tool automation to create an altogether new scripting system, but they care enough to keep AppleScript going. AppleScript’s continuing survival is quite unusual when you think about it.

Chatology Bites the Dust With Big Sur 

Speaking of Flexibits, some sad news:

After more than 7 years, Chatology is being discontinued due to major changes with Messages in the upcoming release of macOS Big Sur.

Chatology is no longer available for purchase but should continue to work on macOS Catalina and earlier.

The “major changes” are the rewrite of Apple’s Messages app in Catalyst. From the Mac’s perspective, it really is an all-new version of Messages. Messages has been through a lot of changes over the years — longtime Mac users will recall that it started life as iChat all the way back in August 2002* — a most excellent client for AIM and other instant messaging platforms. One thing iChat was never good at, though, was search, and that’s the gap Chatology filled — and in fact continues to fill for anyone not yet using Big Sur.

Search still isn’t great in Messages, but it’s a lot better than it used to be, and for me at least works pretty reliably with Messages in the Cloud. My big problem with search in Messages isn’t about finding a needle in the haystack that is one’s Messages history, it’s about the UI of the search results when it finds a lot of needles and I’m looking for one in particular. As a dedicated search tool, Chatology excelled at that sort of winnowing of results — of search within search, if you will. Messages’s built-in search doesn’t even try to be good at it.

* A good month for debuts.

Fantastical’s iOS 14 Widgets 

Speaking of MacStories, here’s Ryan Christoffel on the latest update to Fantastical:

As you can see, there’s an option here for everyone. Additionally, all widgets can be configured to show the exact data you want, in many cases taking advantage of Fantastical 3’s calendar set feature, by which the app lets you group together sets of calendars and/or task management accounts. Widgets containing events or tasks can be tied to your preferred calendar set, and you can optionally have them show or hide events, tasks, and the weather. Widgets containing a month view can have a heat map activated to show at a glance which days on the calendar are busier or more free; this heat map is additionally tied to a specific calendar set. Finally, even the simple Icon and Date widgets can be configured to show or hide the month and today’s weather.

It’s a lot of style, size, and content options, but when you go configure them, it’s all very sensible. Fantastical’s debut widget support feels like a nice set of calendaring-oriented Lego bricks. At their best, iOS 14 widgets are at the intersection of usefulness and tinkering fun. The widgets for Apple’s own built-in apps are like pre-built toys, but the good third-party widgets let you customize your own out of sensible pre-built pieces, and Fantastical’s exemplify that mindset.

See also: Flexibits’s own deep dive blog post.

Latest AirPods Pro Firmware Includes Support for Spatial Audio 

John Voorhees, writing last week for MacStories:

AirPods Pro firmware version 3A283 is currently rolling out to users with two new features: spatial audio and automatic device switching. […]

I tested the feature with my iPhone 11 Pro Max and 12.9-inch iPad Pro, and it worked with both, even though Apple only mentions iPhone models on its iOS 14 preview page. In my tests, I played the latest episode of Ted Lasso, a TV+ show that supports multi-channel audio. I also tried HBO’s Game of Thrones. It’s going to require more testing, but the feature seems to support any multi-channel audio source, regardless of the video streaming provider.

As Ted Lasso played, I turned in my chair and got up, and walked around my office. With spatial audio turned on, which you can do by long-pressing the volume slider in Control Center in the iOS or iPadOS 14 betas, the source of the sound seemed to come directly from my iPad that was sitting on my desk. Next, I switched to watching on my iPhone and moved it as I walked around my office. The entire time the sound seemed to be coming directly from the iPhone.

Very cool, very fun, and in my testing — also against an episode of Ted Lasso, which, if you haven’t watched it yet, is one of the best new TV shows in years — it feels very natural, not gimmicky or distracting. The spatiality just feels right.

Also, is it just the placebo effect, or did Apple greatly improve Transparency mode in this latest firmware? I typically wear my AirPods Pro while I’m out walking around town, and I prefer Transparency mode to Noise Cancellation while I’m perambulating so I can hear what’s going on around me. It could be my imagination, but it seems to me that with this latest firmware Transparency mode is magically better — a lot less white noise from wind. There used to be a baseline background whooshiness that is now just gone. When I pause my podcast or music, it’s like I don’t even have earbuds in at all. I just … hear.

If anyone knows whether this is actually new and improved, let me know.

Rogue Ads From Google Prompt You to Download a Spurious Text File 

Ben Lovejoy, writing for 9to5Mac:

An increasing number of people are finding a wide range of websites — including ours — are asking permission to allow downloads to your Mac from googlesyndication.com …

The problem is a rogue ad that has made it through to the Google ad network, which is used by a great many websites. If you do allow the download, it’s just a harmless text file, but it’s annoying to have to keep hitting Cancel to block it.

This should not just never happen, it should not be possible to happen. If your ad network can foist a “harmless text file” download, it can foist any sort of file download.

PRC State Newspaper China Daily: ‘Proposed TikTok Deal Is a Dirty and Underhanded Trick’ 

China Daily, an English-language arm of Chinese state media:

What the United States has done to TikTok is almost the same as a gangster forcing an unreasonable and unfair business deal on a legitimate company. […]

China has no reason to give the green light to such a deal, which is dirty and unfair and based on bullying and extortion. If the US gets its way, it will continue to do the same with other foreign companies. Giving in to the unreasonable demands of the US would mean the doom of the Chinese company ByteDance.

Effectively, it sounds like they’re telling Trump to go pound sand.

How ‘Naked Ballots’ Could Become Pennsylvania’s ‘Hanging Chads’ 

Jonathan Lai, reporting for The Philadelphia Inquirer:

The state Supreme Court in Pennsylvania, a critical battleground state that’s seen as increasingly likely to determine who wins the White House, last week ordered officials to throw out “naked ballots” — mail ballots that arrive without inner “secrecy envelopes.” Pennsylvania uses a two-envelope mail ballot system: A completed ballot goes into a “secrecy envelope” that has no identifying information, and then into a larger mailing envelope that the voter signs.

It’s unclear how many naked ballots there will be, because this is the first year any Pennsylvania voter can vote by mail, and most counties counted them in the June primary without tracking how many there were.

“Naked ballots” sound like fun in general, but in this case, they sound like a hold-your-breath potential nightmare in the making. This is seen as a potential problem for Democrats because, thanks to you-know-whose drumbeat of anti-mail-voting nonsense, there’s a huge partisan split in Pennsylvania regarding who plans to vote by mail. I voted by mail in the primary in June, and the instructions are pretty clear about putting your ballot in the unmarked secret envelope, which in turn goes into the outer envelope that you sign and return. But it would be a lot simpler and inherently more error proof if there were just one envelope — or if ballots were counted regardless of whether they were placed in the “secrecy envelope”. It’s really a privacy envelope for the voter, so the fact that they voted can be verified by someone who doesn’t get to see who they voted for, not a measure of election integrity.

Anyway, spread the word about these “secrecy envelopes” to anyone you know in Pennsylvania. Mail voting is new here, so it’s best to make people widely aware of this rule. The other election-related rulings from our state supreme court were good news for the franchise, though:

The decision ordering them thrown out was part of a trio of rulings Thursday that, among other things, extended the deadline for voters to send mail ballots back, permitted the use of drop boxes for voters to return them, and removed the Green Party’s presidential ticket from the ballot.

Xbox X Series One X Secret X Edition 

Jay Peters, writing for The Verge:

Today, Microsoft launched pre-orders for its upcoming next generation console, the Xbox One X. Sorry, I meant the Xbox Series X. Can you blame me? There’s only one word of difference between the two names, and it’s the one in the middle. There are also three X’s.

I might not be the only one who gets them confused, though. (Microsoft itself has, but I digress.) Despite today being pre-order day for the Series X (reminder: the new one), the One X (the old one) had a banner day on Amazon as well, at one point up 747 percent on Amazon’s “Movers & Shakers” sales charts.

Xlear as mux.

RBG on Learning From Nabokov 

From a 2011 interview by Bryan A. Garner for The Scribes Journal of Legal Writing:

Scribes: How did you originally cultivate your skills as a writer?

Ruth Bader Ginsburg: I attribute my caring about writing to two teachers I had, not in law school but as an undergraduate at Cornell. One was a teacher of European literature. His name was Vladimir Nabokov. He was a man in love with the sound of words. He taught me the importance of choosing the right word and presenting it in the right word order. He changed the way I read, the way I write. He was an enormous influence. And I had a kind and caring professor, Robert E. Cushman, for constitutional law. I worked for him as a research assistant. In his gentle way, he suggested that my writing was a bit elaborate. I learned to cut out unnecessary adjectives and to make my compositions as spare as I could. To this day, I can hear some of the things Nabokov said. Bleak House was one of the books we read in his course. He read aloud the opening pages at our first lecture on the book — describing the location of the chancery court surrounded by pervasive fog. Those pages paint a picture in words.

Scribes: Did Nabokov live to see you become a judge?

RBG: No.

Scribes: Did you stay in touch with him after you left Cornell?

RBG: Not after he wrote Lolita, a huge success, and went off to Switzerland to catch butterflies.

Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s Advice for Living 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing in 2016:

Another often-asked question when I speak in public: “Do you have some good advice you might share with us?” Yes, I do. It comes from my savvy mother-in-law, advice she gave me on my wedding day. “In every good marriage,” she counseled, “it helps sometimes to be a little deaf.” I have followed that advice assiduously, and not only at home through 56 years of a marital partnership nonpareil. I have employed it as well in every workplace, including the Supreme Court. When a thoughtless or unkind word is spoken, best tune out. Reacting in anger or annoyance will not advance one’s ability to persuade.

Better Know a Ballot: How to Vote in Election 2020 

Speaking of The Late Show With Stephen Colbert, they’ve put together a how-to-vote website with information and links for all 50 states, and an ongoing series of state-specific videos hosted by Colbert. Funny and useful — and thus perfect for sharing.

Triumph the Insult Comic Dog Hosts a Focus Group With Real Trump Supporters 

Speaking of hidden camera pranks on dumbasses:

A Late Show sent Triumph the Insult Comic Dog to do a focus group with actual Trump supporters to find out what they think about some fake Trump campaign ads.

Four years ago I wrote “I will say it flatly: Trump voters are ignoramuses, bigots, and/or fools.” These folks hit the trifecta.

Quibi Is Looking to Sell Itself, the Least Surprising News of the Day 

Peter Kafka, writing for Recode:

Quibi was supposed to be revolutionary: A video service that was supposed to fill the gap between YouTube and HBO by bringing short, “premium” clips starring celebrities like Liam Hemsworth and Chrissy Teigen to your phone, for a price.

But that was in the spring. Now, Quibi might be headed to a fire sale: Just six months after launching — and after raising $1.8 billion — Quibi has started looking for a buyer. It’s a stunning admission that the high-profile service hasn’t found enough traction to continue on its own.

Quibi was a bad idea poorly executed. Launching phone-only was idiotic. “It’s sort of like Netflix or HBO, but you can only watch it on your phone.” What the hell kind of pitch was that? The Quibi concept sounds less like a real pitch and more like a hidden camera prank for dumbass would-be investors.

Quibi could fix the stupidity of its phone-only launch premise, and I think they already have. But the execution problem is that the same clueless taste that led them to launch with a phone-only app spearheaded all of their content decisions. Quibi’s shows and movies stink. All of them. Has anyone told you “Hey you gotta watch this show on Quibi”? No — because there’s nothing good on Quibi.

Bad shows on a poorly-conceived platform with a stupid name. $2 billion right down the toilet.

Microsoft Remains ‘Committed’ to Bringing Xbox Game Pass to iOS  

Mike Peterson, writing for AppleInsider:

“We’re committed to bringing Game Pass to all mobile phones out there, including Apple phones,” Spencer said. “We’ll continue the conversations and I’m sure we’ll be able to get to some resolution.”

When asked about why Microsoft has spoken out against Apple’s policies, Spencer said that it wasn’t a financial issue related to Apple’s 30% of in-app purchases. Instead, the Xbox chief said it was because Game Pass — and cloud gaming services as a whole — aren’t allowed on Apple’s mobile devices in their current form.

I said from the start that this wasn’t about the money. Most observers assumed it was about the money, and I think Microsoft itself assumed it would be about the money, which is why they seemed surprised Apple wouldn’t approve Game Pass in its platform-on-a-platform form. But it was really about control — Apple doesn’t want to allow meta platforms on iOS.

Apple’s updated App Store Guidelines show the way forward: break each game into a standalone iOS app, and submit them to the App Store. It sounds like Microsoft is going to try to play ball with those new rules.

Microsoft to Acquire ZeniMax Media and Its Game Publisher Bethesda Softworks, Makers of Fallout, Doom, Quake, and More 

The biggest under-the-radar political coup of the year is the fact that Microsoft somehow escaped being called to testify at the big House antitrust hearing two months ago. I’m not saying this acquisition is legally problematic, I’m just saying it’s exactly the sort of thing the committee claimed — rightfully — to be looking at.

ExtremeTech: ‘Apple Books TSMC’s Entire 5 nm Production Capability’ 

Joel Hruska, reporting for ExtremeTech:

TSMC won’t have to worry about finding additional customers for its 5nm line any time soon. If reports are true, Apple bought the entire production capacity for the iPhone, iPad, and other refreshed devices it has recently launched or will launch in the coming weeks. Apple hasn’t refreshed the iPhone yet this year, but it’s expected to do so in October, and the company has had a lock on TSMC’s 5nm production for months.

TSMC will build 5nm chips for the iPhone 12, iPad Air, 5G iPad Pro, and any future MacBook or iMac systems Apple launches with its own custom ARM silicon.

Not just MacBooks and iMacs. All Macs. They’re going to be busy.

Hey 

My thanks to Hey for sponsoring last week at DF. You’ve probably heard about Hey, but here’s how they describe it (and capitalize it):

Email. It feels like a chore. It’s overwhelming, it’s messy, it’s relentless. It’s necessary, but hopelessly broken.

That’s why we fixed it.

Introducing HEY. HEY’s fresh approach transforms email into something you want to use, not something you’re forced to deal with.

HEY puts you back in control. You decide who can — and can’t — email you. HEY is packed with workflows, not workarounds, that help you cut back on the emails you get, and focus on the ones you want.

There’s nothing else out there like it. Give it a shot — it’ll change your relationship with email for the better.

I have a lot to say about Hey, and I plan to write a lot more about it soon. Briefly though, I’ll just say this: when I hear that someone “reinvented” something like email, I roll my eyes and take it with a very large grain of salt. But Hey truly is like nothing else I’ve ever seen for email. It feels a lot more like email was back in the ’90s, when it felt fun. I switched my public address for DF reader email to Hey when it debuted back in June, and I haven’t looked back. It makes me want to check for new mail rather than dread it — a feeling I haven’t had about my public email since the very early days of DF. Hey is that transformative.

‘Dissents Speak to a Future Age’ 

Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Dissents speak to a future age. It’s not simply to say, ‘My colleagues are wrong and I would do it this way.’ But the greatest dissents do become court opinions and gradually over time their views become the dominant view.

Ginsburg’s dissent in Shelby County v. Holder, a 5-4 decision in 2012 in which the Court’s conservative majority invalidated key portions of the Voting Rights Act, is one for the ages. This line is perfect:

Throwing out preclearance when it has worked and is continuing to work to stop discriminatory changes is like throwing away your umbrella in a rainstorm because you are not getting wet.

‘While You’re at It, Make It Sing’ 

David Post, who twice served as a law clerk for Ruth Bader Ginsburg:

Most of what I know about writing I learned from her. The rules are actually pretty simple: Every word matters. Don’t make the simple complicated, make the complicated as simple as it can be (but not simpler!). You’re not finished when you can’t think of anything more to add to your document; you’re finished when you can’t think of anything more that you can remove from it. She enforced these principles with a combination of a ferocious — almost a terrifying — editorial pen, and enough judicious praise sprinkled about to let you know that she was appreciating your efforts, if not always your end-product. And one more rule: While you’re at it, make it sing. At least a little; legal prose is not epic poetry or the stuff of operatic librettos, but a well-crafted paragraph can help carry the reader along, and is always a thing of real beauty.

She had the kind of fierce integrity that I think we all would want to see in a judge; she was always determined to get it right, to do right by the litigants and to do right by the law. She had her biases and her blind spots; we all do. But I have often said that if my life were on the line, I’d be happy if she were on the bench, because she would be as fair-minded when weighing the evidence as one could ever ask for.

‘Rejected as a Clerk, Chosen as a Justice’ 

From Neil A. Lewis’s front-page story of Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s nomination to the Supreme Court:

In 1960, a dean at the Harvard Law School, Albert Sachs, proposed one of his star students to Justice Felix Frankfurter of the Supreme Court as a law clerk. Justice Frankfurter told Professor Sachs that while the candidate was impressive, he just wasn’t ready to hire a woman and so couldn’t offer a job to Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Judge Ginsburg, who now sits on the Federal appeals court and was chosen today by President Clinton for the Supreme Court, recently told that story to her own law clerks to explain how she became interested in the role of women in the eyes of the law.

From 1973 to 1976 she argued six women’s rights cases before the Court and won five of them, profoundly changing the law as it affects women.

“She is the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law,” said Janet Benshoof, the president of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, an abortion-rights advocacy group, repeating a common description of Judge Ginsburg. Like Justice Marshall, who shaped the legal strategy of the civil rights movement for the NAACP Legal and Educational Defense Fund before he joined the Court, Ruth Ginsburg organized the cases, found the plaintiffs and delivered the oral arguments.

Think about that. When Ginsburg was in law school, gender inequality was so profoundly unjust in the United States that she wasn’t even considered for a clerkship on the Supreme Court, simply because she was a woman. By the time she died, she was not merely a justice on the Court, but one of the most iconic, essential, and influential ones in history. That wasn’t because she was born at the right time and surfed an inevitable wave — she helped create the wave. By force of her intellect, will, and keen sense of justice, she helped bend the arc of the moral universe.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Dies at 87 

Nina Totenberg, for NPR:

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the demure firebrand who in her 80s became a legal, cultural and feminist icon, died Friday. The Supreme Court announced her death, saying the cause was complications from metastatic cancer of the pancreas.

The court, in a statement, said Ginsburg died at her home in Washington surrounded by family.

So it goes.

‘The Reluctant Debut of the A14 Processor’ 

Jason Snell, writing at Six Colors:

But all of those figures compare the A14 in the iPad Air to the A12 processor in the previous model, not the A13 processor found in the iPhone 11 series. Now, Apple would likely claim that it’s only fair to make a comparison across devices with similar screen sizes and thermal characteristics. But in scrupulously adhering to the comparisons to the A12, Apple is not telling us how much faster the base A14 processor — likely the foundation of the next generation of iPad Pro models and possibly even the first round of Macs running Apple Silicon — is compared to its immediate predecessor.

I don’t think Apple’s doing this because it’s not proud of the A14. (On the contrary, Apple seems very aware of how important this chip is, including the fact that it’s Apple’s first to be manufactured using Taiwan Semiconductor’s new 5-nanometer process.) No, this is about leaving some space for Apple’s forthcoming iPhone launch event to boast a bit more about the A14. Which makes sense. The iPhone is Apple’s most important product. It deserves to be boasted about a bit.

It was really conspicuous that Apple would only offer performance comparisons to the A12, ostensibly because that’s the SoC in the previous generation iPad Air, and so they felt it fair to compare iPad to iPad. But we know, from 10 years of experience, that the performance characteristics of an A-whatever in an iPad are very similar to the performance characteristics of the same A-whatever in iPhones. The X and Z suffix chips — like the A12X and A12Z — are different, and to date, have only appeared in iPad Pros in recent years, and prior to that, only in high-end iPads before there were “iPad Pros”. But the no-suffix A14 in the new iPad Air is almost certainly effectively identical to the A14 we’ll see next month in this year’s new iPhones. I truly wonder if that’s the only reason Apple isn’t shipping new iPad Airs yet — to keep A14 performance under wraps for the iPhone event.

Apple Is Already Seeding Developer Betas of iOS 14.2 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

Apple today seeded the first betas of upcoming iOS 14.2 and iPadOS 14.2 updates to developers, just one day after releasing the iOS 14 update and a few hours after hinting at the iOS 14.2 beta in an Xcode beta update.

So where’s 14.1? I think Michael Simmons has the simple explanation:

My guess is that iOS 14.1 was skipped for iPhone 12 next month, and they’re already in production with 14.1 preinstalled. We’ll find out soon enough…

They may not be in production yet (or at least not at the stage where they install the OS), but yes, I think iOS 14.1 is the version for the new iPhones coming next month, and it’s effectively frozen at this point, so all ongoing development at Apple has already moved to 14.2.

Trump Administration to Ban Downloads of TikTok and Block Access to WeChat on Sunday 

Steve Kovach, reporting for CNBC:

The Commerce Department announced it will ban U.S. business transactions with China-owned social apps WeChat and TikTok on Sunday.

The announcement sets up two different time frames for WeChat and TikTok, with a full ban on WeChat going into effect Sunday along with a ban on updates and maintenance to the TikTok app. TikTok has a Nov. 12 deadline before companies are banned from providing cloud and internet services for the app, which could give Oracle more time to hammer out its offer for TikTok to satisfy President Trump.

Be careful of headlines along the lines of “U.S. bans TikTok” — right now it’s just new downloads that will be banned, not use of the app if already downloaded. Predictably, TikTok has shot to the top of the download charts.

WeChat is in a different boat — it’s set to be fully banned. The politics of this distinction couldn’t be more clear. Peter Kafka:

WeChat: Enormously popular with Chinese-Americans. Owned by Chinese company. Will be crippled in US Sunday night.

TikTok: Enormously popular with Americans including some Trump voters. Owned by Chinese company, trying to do deal w/ Trump supporters. Will be OK through election.

Larry Ellison is a big Trump supporter, just in case you weren’t aware of how flamboyantly transparent the cronyism is with the Oracle-TikTok deal.

Tencent’s Ownership of Gaming Companies Draws U.S. National Security Scrutiny 

Owen S. Good, reporting for Polygon:

The Trump administration wants to know more about U.S. video game companies’ involvement with China’s Tencent Holdings, whose relationships with American firms includes full ownership of Riot Games, a significant minority stake in Epic Games, and publishing deals with Activision Blizzard.

Bloomberg reported on Thursday that the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS) sent letters to Epic, Riot, and others to ask about their protocols for securely handling Americans’ personal information.

Tencent is the world’s largest video game vendor, but its U.S. holdings are not limited to just that marketplace. It also has stakes in Reddit, Discord, and Snapchat maker Snap Inc.

Epic Games, Activision, Reddit, Discord, Snap — that’s quite a portfolio of companies that, collectively, consume a lot of attention of younger Americans.

The TikTok ‘Acquisition’ Soap Opera Continues 

The New York Times:

The exact ownership structure of TikTok under the proposed deal is unclear.

That simple sentence really says it all when it comes to how bananas this whole saga is. This is supposedly a deal that just needs to be signed, not a preliminary discussion, but the “exact ownership structure” remains unclear?

While rushing to secure a deal, TikTok is also hunting for a permanent chief executive to replace Kevin Mayer, who resigned in late August, citing the changing political pressures of the role. Vanessa Pappas, the general manager of TikTok in North America, took over in the interim.

Among those whom TikTok has talked to about the job is Kevin Systrom, a founder and former chief executive of Instagram, people briefed on the matter said. Talks are preliminary, and no final decisions have been made, they said.

Systrom didn’t like working for Mark Zuckerberg, but might agree to work for Larry Ellison. Sure. That doesn’t sound completely made up just to float a plausible name.

Ex-Pence Aide Olivia Troye Says She Will Vote for Biden After Trump’s Handling of Coronavirus 

Josh Dawsey, reporting for The Washington Post:

Olivia Troye, who worked as homeland security, counterterrorism and coronavirus adviser to Vice President Pence for two years, said that the administration’s response cost lives and that she will vote for Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden this fall because of her experience in the Trump White House.

“The president’s rhetoric and his own attacks against people in his administration trying to do the work, as well as the promulgation of false narratives and incorrect information of the virus have made this ongoing response a failure,” she said in an interview.

Trump just can’t catch a break from the zealots in the reality-based community. (It’s worth watching — and sharing — the video, to hear Troye make her case in her own words. Far more damning than reading a summary.)

Yours Truly Talking iOS 14 With Rene Ritchie 

Rene Ritchie:

I wanted to do something different with this iOS 14 review. I’ve already posted in-depth explainers and a technical preview. So, this time, I wanted to focus on opinion. Mine, and my special guest’s — John Gruber of Daring Fireball and The Talk Show fame.

We covered a lot of ground here, but somehow we neglected to talk about the new Back Tap feature in Accessibility — perhaps my favorite new little feature in iOS. (I have it set to simulate “Shake”, which means I can use a double-tap on the back of the iPhone to trigger Undo.)

The Talk Show: ‘Signing Up to Take Some Vitamins’ 

Peter Kafka returns to the show to discuss the news from Apple’s “Time Flies” event  —  new Apple Watches, new non-Pro iPads, and particularly the Apple One services bundle.

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PlayStation 5: $400, Preorders Start This Week, Disc Drive Version Costs $100 Extra 

Chaim Gartenberg, writing for The Verge:

Sony has announced that the PlayStation 5 will cost $499.99 when it launches on November 12th, alongside the $399.99 Digital Edition. Preorders will begin on September 17th at “select retailers.”

The pricing puts Sony squarely up against Microsoft’s next-gen consoles, with the company set to release its entry-level Xbox Series S at $299 and its flagship Xbox Series X for $499 on November 10th.

I got an earful from readers last week when I wrote, regarding the new Xboxes, “it seems crazy to me that folks still want to buy and manage spinning discs”. I know all the reasons why some people prefer discs to downloads. With spinning discs you can sell games you no longer play, buy used discs for less than the price of new, trade discs with friends, etc. Trust me, I get it. When I was in college I had my entire liquid net worth tied up in an extensive CD collection. Also, some people don’t have great bandwidth for today’s massive console games.

So, I apologize, it’s not crazy. But it does seem antiquated. Spinning discs for media is like one step removed from “be kind, rewind” stickers on VHS rental boxes.

Anyway, as for PS5 vs. Xbox Series Whatever, I like Sony’s model where the two versions are separated only by the spinning disc drive. The Xbox Series S gets to come in $100 cheaper than the no-disc PS5, but it feels weird and anti-game-console-ish to me that it’s got a notably weaker GPU than than the Series X. I think I see what Microsoft is going for — they’re trying to make Xbox more of a continuation of PC gaming, where developers target a range of GPUs rather than one very specific performance profile, but I prefer the clarity of the PS5 lineup. You want spinning discs? You pay a $100 penalty (and get a clunkier console to boot). That’s it.

Sony Calls Bullshit on Bloomberg Report That They Cut Production of PS5 

James Batchelor, reporting for GamesIndustry:

Sony has reached out to GamesIndustry.biz with the following statement denying the Bloomberg report:

“While we do not release details related to manufacturing, the information provided by Bloomberg is false,” the statement reads. “We have not changed the production number for PlayStation 5 since the start of mass production.”

This, in response to a report by Takashi Mochizuki and Debby Wu at Bloomberg, claiming:

Sony Corp. has cut its estimated PlayStation 5 production for this fiscal year by 4 million units, down to around 11 million, following production issues with its custom-designed system-on-chip for the new console, according to people familiar with the matter.

Here’s a case where Bloomberg’s status as a known publisher of fabricated bullshit that they refuse to retract hurts them. It’s like when the National Enquirer would run a story every few months, for years, saying Liz Taylor was on her deathbed. Nobody should believe Bloomberg on this — they have zero credibility. Retract “The Big Hack” and we can start having some faith that what they report is true even when disputed by the companies involved in a story. Until then: nope.

I have no idea why Bloomberg reporters haven’t revolted on this issue. Takashi Mochizuki and Debby Wu had nothing to do with “The Big Hack” but now their own work gets treated as fish wrap by dint of institutional association.

Scientific American Endorses Joe Biden 

Scientific American:

Scientific American has never endorsed a presidential candidate in its 175-year history. This year we are compelled to do so. We do not do this lightly.

The evidence and the science show that Donald Trump has badly damaged the U.S. and its people — because he rejects evidence and science. The most devastating example is his dishonest and inept response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which cost more than 190,000 Americans their lives by the middle of September. He has also attacked environmental protections, medical care, and the researchers and public science agencies that help this country prepare for its greatest challenges. That is why we urge you to vote for Joe Biden, who is offering fact-based plans to protect our health, our economy and the environment.

Joanna Stern’s Microsoft Surface Duo Review 

Joanna Stern, writing for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

It isn’t always clear when something is ready.

Take my grilling. Sometimes I remove steak well before or after I should’ve. You might say it’s a “tough” call. But there’s nothing tough about stating this: The new two-screen Surface Duo is undercooked.

Microsoft’s new $1,400 book-like phone-tablet thingy is not ready for me and not ready for you.

Unless, of course, you want an Android device that repeatedly ignores your taps on its screens, randomly slows down, struggles to figure out its own up, down and sideways positioning, and abruptly rearranges parts of its own interface. If that is your dream, well, then it is ready.

This is exactly what I thought when they let the first round of YouTuber reviews come out under the condition that they not turn the devices on. The hardware really is well-designed and the concept is both fascinating and original. But if the experience were actually good, you wouldn’t do a round of reviews that forbade talking about the actual experience.

Stern’s video, as usual, is extremely good, too — and she gives a very fair shake to the Duo for what is good and clever about it. But the bugginess of the software really makes clear why it’s better (necessary?) to control the OS when you want to invent a new form factor.

The fact that the camera is subpar is to me a dealbreaker for a $1,400 phone. I can’t shake the feeling that despite the fact that the Surface Duo is itself a phone — not just a folding tablet that can use a SIM card for cellular data — that Microsoft sees this as something one might carry in addition to a dedicated phone (with a better camera).

Also, I saw a couple of TV ads for the Surface Duo yesterday while watching football — Microsoft is marketing this.

‘A Screaming, Spreading Wake-Up Call’ 

Jim VandeHei, writing for Axios:

Every year, China grows bigger and more powerful, most recently seizing control of Hong Kong and trying to buy allies at U.S. expense.

Xi Jinping said this week that China’s progress in fighting the virus, including reopening schools, has “fully demonstrated the clear superiority of Communist Party leadership and our socialist system.” (N.Y. Times)

This is the message Beijing is spreading to other world leaders and their own people, as China seeks to displace America as the great global power.

Vote. Make sure everyone you know is registered and ready to vote.

Trump Administration Official Michael Caputo Has Lost His Mind, Is Spouting Unhinged, Dangerous, Crazy Nonsense, and Yet Remains in Charge of C.D.C. Public Health Updates Amidst an Ongoing Pandemic 

Sharon LaFraniere, reporting for The New York Times:

“You understand that they’re going to have to kill me, and unfortunately, I think that’s where this is going,” Mr. Caputo, a Trump loyalist installed by the White House in April, told followers in a video he hosted live on his personal Facebook page. […]

Mr. Caputo on Sunday complained on Facebook that he was under siege by the media and said that his physical health was in question and his “mental health has definitely failed.”

“I don’t like being alone in Washington,” he said, describing “shadows on the ceiling in my apartment, there alone, shadows are so long.” He then ran through a series of conspiracy theories, culminating in a prediction that Mr. Trump will win re-election but his Democratic opponent, Joseph R. Biden Jr., will refuse to concede. “And when Donald Trump refuses to stand down at the inauguration, the shooting will begin,” he said. “The drills that you’ve seen are nothing.” He added: “If you carry guns, buy ammunition, ladies and gentlemen, because it’s going to be hard to get.”

It’s plainly clear, not just to us, but to himself, that his mind has snapped. He sounds about half a click short of locking himself into his bedroom with a plan to subsist by drinking his own urine. And yet at this moment he remains a key official in our government response to the pandemic.

ODA — Modular Everyday Bags 

My thanks to ODA for sponsor DF last week to promote their lineup of slim, modular, and long-lasting bags that adapt to your needs, wherever you go — from weekday to weekend, from work to play, from daily essentials to carrying tech gear. ODA bags are constructed from durable, technical waterproof fabrics and zippers. The design is very clean, very modern. They even have a patent-pending magnetic system that lets you customize your setup.

I bought their backpack (black, of course, but the olive one looks good too). I love it. For years I used a backpack with a one-shoulder sling design, which is great — except when you really want a two-shoulder backpack design. The ODA straps let you easily choose which way to wear it, and when you have it set up as a one-strap sling, the other strap tucks away neatly. Clever and elegant. The internal compartments are very thoughtfully arranged too, and the zippers are all perfect. The laptop compartment fits a 16-inch MacBook Pro, but if you put a smaller MacBook in there, it doesn’t feel lost in a too-big pouch. It’s just a great backpack.

ODA has a special deal just for DF readers: save 15 percent off any order with the code “df15”.

Microsoft’s Statement on the TikTok Acquisition Fiasco 

Microsoft’s entire statement:

ByteDance let us know today they would not be selling TikTok’s US operations to Microsoft. We are confident our proposal would have been good for TikTok’s users, while protecting national security interests. To do this, we would have made significant changes to ensure the service met the highest standards for security, privacy, online safety, and combatting disinformation, and we made these principles clear in our August statement. We look forward to seeing how the service evolves in these important areas.

Translation: “We’re embarrassed that we had anything to do with this circus.

Microsoft should’ve known better as soon as Trump started talking about “key money” payola to the U.S. Treasury, but they went into this acquisition bid treating it like serious business. But it’s not serious business — the whole thing has been banana republic nonsense from the beginning and the banana-y-ness has escalated each step of the way.

Now you’ve got China saying that a U.S. company can buy “TikTok” but can’t buy their suggestion algorithm. That algorithm is TikTok — and it seems clear that’s why Microsoft is washing its hands of the whole thing.

From the South China Morning Post:

ByteDance, the Beijing-based parent company of TikTok, will not sell or transfer the algorithm behind the popular video-sharing app in any sale or divestment deal, according to a source briefed on the Chinese company’s boardroom discussions.

With a looming US deadline for ByteDance to sell TikTok’s US operations, the source said: “The car can be sold, but not the engine.”

It’s not merely buying a car without its engine — it’s buying an engine-less car whose most interesting attribute was the engine. Who the hell would buy that car? Larry Ellison, I guess.

WSJ: SoftBank Nears $40 Billion Deal to Sell Arm Holdings to Nvidia 

Cara Lombardo and Maureen Farrell, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+):

SoftBank Group Corp. is nearing a deal to sell British chip designer Arm Holdings to Nvidia Corp. for more than $40 billion, according to people familiar with the matter, the latest in a series of big asset sales by the Japanese technology conglomerate. […]

A sale to Nvidia could prompt scrutiny from antitrust regulators and potentially pushback from Arm’s customers, which include major chip makers and electronics manufacturers such as Intel Corp., Samsung Electronics Co. and Apple Inc.

I’m not saying Apple wouldn’t object — I don’t know — but Apple isn’t a customer of Arm in the way this suggests. Apple’s chips do use the ARM64 instruction set, but I believe Apple already has a perpetual license for that. Apple does not license chips or chip designs from Arm — Apple’s chips are its own designs, which is why they offer performance unlike those of any other Arm licensee. This too is why Apple wasn’t interested in itself acquiring Arm Holdings: Arm’s business is about licensing technology to other companies; Apple’s business is about keeping its technology for itself.

Never Forget 

Then-future president of the United States, Donald Trump, commemorating 9/11 back in 2013:

I would like to extend my best wishes to all, even the haters and losers, on this special date, September 11th.

That’s really one for the books.

Diana Rigg Dies at 82 

Anita Gates, writing for The New York Times:

But again it was for something of an action role that she received the greatest attention, when she played a crime boss’s daughter in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (1969), the only James Bond film to star George Lazenby. Her character had the distinction among Agent 007’s movie love interests of actually marrying Bond, but she was killed off in the final scene, for the sake of future plot lines.

On Her Majesty’s Secret Service is, I think almost inarguably, the most polarizing of Bond films. Personally, I despise it — I think it’s poorly written, terribly directed, and that Lazenby was wrong for the role — the only actor ever truly miscast as Bond. But: some Bond fans love it. I know several who consider it their favorite, or, at least, their favorite of that era.

One reason for that — perhaps the reason — was Rigg. Her presence in the film is simply electric.

Dickhead of the Week: Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri 

Megan Graham, writing for CNBC:

Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri said the company will make a case against the planned change to Apple’s iPhone operating system that would impact how it and other mobile advertisers track users. But, he said, “I don’t think we have much influence over Apple,” and pointed to the power Apple has as the sole gatekeeper for apps across about 1 billion of its devices in use today.

This is true — Apple is the sole gatekeeper for apps on iOS, and Apple does claim there are a billion iOS devices in use. But Facebook has 2.5 billion users and Instagram 1 billion — and they’re the sole gatekeepers of their own massive platforms. They’re not getting bullied by a larger company.

On CNBC’s “Squawk Box” Friday morning, Mosseri said Instagram’s advertising business requires certain data to show users relevant ads and to provide value for its advertisers, the majority of which are small and medium-sized businesses.

“If the ecosystem changes in a way that advertisers can’t really measure their return on investment, that’s really going to be, yes, somewhat problematic for our business, but it’s going to be problematic for all the big ad platforms roughly equally, so I’m not that worried about it over the long run,” he said. “It’s going to be much much more problematic for all the small businesses. There are millions of them out there that rely on us to target customers and to reach those customers. Particularly during a pandemic when they’re hurting.”

This is Facebook’s political/PR strategy on this issue: (1) to ask everyone to ignore the plain truth that Apple’s changes to IDFA tracking are for exactly the reason Apple states: to give users control over their own privacy; and (2) to claim that Apple’s actions aren’t hurting Facebook but instead are hurting “small businesses”. Small businesses are taking advantage of privacy invasive user-tracking ad placement, but if their ads are less effective without privacy invasive user-tracking, then so be it, they’re less effective. The idea that we don’t dare do anything good for privacy that might reduce the efficacy of user-tracking ads because “pity the poor small businesses” is sophistry.

And give me a fucking break with bringing the pandemic into this. It’s especially infuriating coming from Facebook, of all companies. Maybe if they weren’t the main vector for the disinformation and anti-science nonsense that has prolonged the pandemic by turning it into a needless culture war, their “concern” would ring more true.

He argued that Instagram wants its users to have control over their data and understand what data it has.

“We believe that there’s a way to be really responsible and give people control over their data and transparency into their data but without cutting off our understanding and therefore operating blind,” he said.

That’s exactly what Apple is doing — giving users awareness over what is going on, and control over it. What Mosseri is really asking for here is the opposite — for Apple to allow the user-tracking ad industry to continue operating in the dark. Like I wrote last week, the entitlement of every single bastard in this industry is just off the charts. They really believe they have a right to track everything we do, and that Apple is taking something that belongs to them away.

Auto White Balance vs. Fiery Skies 

Ian Bogost, writing for The Atlantic:

But as people tried to capture the scene, and the confusion and horror that accompanied it, many noticed a strange phenomenon: Certain photographs and videos of the surreal, orange sky seemed to wash it out, as if to erase the danger. “I didn’t filter these,” tweeted the journalist Sarah Frier, posting photos she took of San Francisco’s haunting morning sky. “In fact the iPhone color corrected the sky to make it look less scary. Imagine more orange.” The photos looked vaguely marigold in hue, but not too different from a misty sunrise in a city prone to fog. In some cases, the scene seemed to revert to a neutral gray, as if the smartphones that captured the pictures were engaged in a conspiracy to silence this latest cataclysm.

The reality is both less and more unnerving. The un-oranged images were caused by one of the most basic features of digital cameras, their ability to infer what color is in an image based on the lighting conditions in which it is taken. Like the people looking up at it, the software never expected the sky to be bathed in orange. It’s a reminder that even as cameras have become a way to document every aspect of our lives, they aren’t windows on the world, but simply machines that turn views of that world into images.

This is not a bug, but a side effect of the built-in Camera app on iOS (and likewise on most Android phones) being decidedly consumer-focused. Setting a manual white balance point is a feature in any “pro” camera app worth its salt. My favorite for iPhone is Halide — a recommendation shared by many others. From Halide’s Twitter:

We saw a lot of attention yesterday as people used Halide to take photos of the eerie orange skies in places hit by wildfires.

We got significantly higher downloads.

It feels wrong to benefit from this, so we are donating yesterday’s sales to our local Wildfire Relief Fund.

What a move.

Poolside FM for Cellular 

Easter eggs. Remember Easter eggs? These guys sure do.

‘The Repeated and Prolonged Failure of Mainstream News Outlets to Include Basic Climate Science Facts in Extreme Weather Coverage Is an Abdication of Their Core Responsibility’ 

Emily Atkin, writing for Heated:

This long weekend was literal hell for millions in the American West. California, Nevada, Arizona, Oregon, and Washington are suffering from dangerous heat, wildfire and smoke unlike anything they’ve ever seen. […]

Every American should be aware of these basic scientific facts when reading about the devastation of this weekend’s record-breaking extreme weather. But most of the major newspaper stories about the Labor Day Weekend from Hell don’t contain any climate-related information. Why? […]

The repeated and prolonged failure of mainstream news outlets to include basic climate science facts in extreme weather coverage is an abdication of their core responsibility: to give citizens the information they need to make informed decisions about how to solve society’s biggest problems.

The U.S. response to COVID-19 has been a year-long microcosm of the decades-long U.S. response to climate change: our political system is crippled by a faction that refuses to acknowledge scientific evidence or respect expertise. They don’t believe inconvenient truths they can’t see with their own eyes. (Many of them refuse to believe inconvenient truths, no matter what.)

With these red-skied hellscapes across the West, it’s here for everyone to see, making it more important than ever to hammer home the point that this is climate change and it’s devastating.

The Apocalyptic Red Western Skies Caused by Climate Change-Fueled Wildfires 

Jason Kottke:

All day yesterday, my social media feeds were full of photos taken of the skies on the west coast, bloodied red and orange from the wildfires raging in California, Oregon, and other western states. Each fresh photo I saw shocked me anew. Friends told me: as weird as the photos look, they don’t do justice to what this actually looks like and feels like in real life. Automatic cameras (as on smartphones) had a tough time capturing the skies because the onboard software kept correcting the red and orange colors out — the phones know, even if climate change denying politicians and voters don’t, that our skies aren’t supposed to be that color.

So many startling photos, but man, the one Kottke leads with, the one with the UPS truck — that looks like the poster for a terrifying movie.

From the Department of Just Send Pictures Next Time 

Tom Warren, writing for The Verge (emphasis mine):

The new Xbox Series S is surprisingly small, both in terms of its $299 price and its dimensions. I’ve been playing around with a nonfunctional Xbox Series S this week, and I’m genuinely surprised Microsoft has managed to fit the same Xbox Series X CPU and lots of other next-gen technology into something that uses space and wealth so economically.

First the Surface Duo “don’t turn it on” reviews, now this. What a weird trend.

‘Why Are Conservatives Obsessed With Pedophilia Right Now?’ 

David M. Schell:

But a lot of the stories I’ve seen about child sex trafficking haven’t included any kind of call to action. No “share this number,” no “put a sign in your yard” or “don’t be a pedophile,” “seven steps to protect your kids from getting trafficked,” or even “donate to this fund to fight pedophilia.” It’s just “here’s another story about pedophiles engaging in sex trafficking. Isn’t it awful?!”

So when I saw the 30,000-pedophiles article, which to my memory came without any call to action, just a “can you believe this!” kind of comment (I don’t remember the actual comment), I just thought … what’s up with this? […]

To understand it, you have to first understand the difference between conservatives and progressives.

This piece is so keenly observed, so thoughtful, and so obviously true. And Schell’s insight was sparked by a line of dialogue from Footloose.

Update: Fireballed! This hasn’t happened in a while, but Google has it cached.

New Version of Apple Music for Android Reveals ‘Apple One’ Bundle Name 

It surprises me how often Apple own-goals itself with metadata like this. Remember when all the new iPhone names were revealed in the XML of apple.com’s sitemap file two years ago?

The Apple Watch Sport Band Design Is Now Commonly Copied 

I got a press release about this Safe Spacer product today. It’s a wrist device meant to help keep employees at a business from getting too close to each other under coronavirus safety measures. What caught my eye is the design of the band — it’s exactly like an Apple Watch sport band. Just look at it.

Here’s what I wrote about this design two years ago, in my review of the Series 4 watches:

Every other aspect of Apple Watch other than the case is, in fact, world-class nice. The default watch strap, the Sport Band, is absolutely wonderful. Jony Ive’s close friend Marc Newson is renowned in the watch world. Ive brought Newson to Apple to make an even better version of his 1996 Ikepod strap. You know what’s not nice about most watch straps? The extra bit of strap that sticks out after you buckle it. Newson’s insight, that it could be neatly tucked under the other side of the strap, is simply genius. Tens of millions of Apple Watch owners now enjoy this design. And that’s just the default strap — Apple Watch’s well-liquor straps are far better-designed than the top-shelf-liquor straps from many luxury watchmakers.

This design is so clever and, once seen and experienced, so seemingly obvious. And yet it wasn’t obvious, until Marc Newson designed it and Apple popularized it. Makes me wonder how many other obvious good designs remain undiscovered.

‘Blade Runner: San Francisco’ 

Terry Tsai:

SF drone footage during the #BayAreaFires on 9/9/20, set to Blade Runner 2049 music.

Not to mix up my classic sci-fi franchises, but if you can’t believe this, that is why we’ve failed.

That Didn’t Take Long 

Todd Spangler, reporting for Variety:

Tim Connolly, formerly a senior executive at Quibi and Hulu in charge of partnerships at each of those companies, has joined Apple’s video group.

Connolly’s hire by the tech giant was first reported by the Telegraph, which cited an update to his LinkedIn profile that says he recently joined the Apple “video business” based in L.A.

“Formerly a senior executive at Quibi”? Quibi only launched on April 6. That could be a good sign — perhaps Connolly saw the shitshow coming and got out as soon as he could.

In Excerpts From Bob Woodward’s New Book ‘Rage’, Trump Admits to Concealing True Threat of Coronavirus 

The basic story behind this book is so beautiful, so perfectly Trumpian:

Woodward writes his first Trump book and never gets to speak to Trump. Book comes out and makes Trump look bad. Trump is furious that his staff didn’t hook him up with Woodward because he thinks if Woodward had interviewed him, he’d have charmed Woodward and looked better in the book. So, next book, Trump’s staff listens to the boss and Woodward gets 18 interviews with Trump. 18! Woodward, famously, records all of his interviews for all of his books. Trump, of course, said all sorts of damning stuff to Woodward because he’s an idiot.

PCMag’s 2020 Speed Test of U.S. Mobile Networks 

Sascha Segan, writing for PCMag:

We admit it, we bought into the 5G hype. Carriers, phone makers, and chip makers alike have all been selling 5G as faster and more powerful than 4G, with lower latency. So I was shocked to see that our AT&T 5G results, especially, were slower than 4G results on the same network.

This is a crisis for marketing, not for performance. All three US carriers showed significantly higher download speeds and better broadband reliability than they did in our 2019 tests. It’s just that these gains, particularly on AT&T, are largely because of improvements in 4G, not 5G networks.

The “funny” thing about this for AT&T is that their bullshit “5G-E” network, which isn’t actually 5G, is faster than their actual 5G network.

I have no idea why anyone is excited about 5G. None of my complaints about cellular networking in recent years have been about how fast it is when I have a strong signal.

David Frum: ‘I Crossed Back Into a State of Denial’ 

Also from David Frum — what it’s like crossing back into the U.S. after spending July and August in Canada:

It was an apt introduction to the transition between the United States and Canada. On one side of the border, almost everybody took the virus seriously — and few people had it. On the other, the reverse.

‘Everyone Knows It’s True’ 

David Frum, writing for The Atlantic:

One of the most striking things about Trump is how seldom, if ever, anybody tells a story of kindness and compassion about him. Not even his own children have much to say. […] Few former employees of the Trump administration praise him as a boss. Few business partners speak of his honesty. Few tenants of Trump buildings have anything good to say about the homes he supposedly built. Few officials of any city have been willing to celebrate any contribution to urban life. Few beneficiaries of any Trump philanthropy.

Imagine a man who has lived in the public eye for half a century, supposedly one of the country’s leading business figures, and when in trouble he struggles to summon credible or trustworthy witnesses from outside the Fox Cinematic Universe. There’s just a gaping zero where goodness should be.

One of the bottom lines about Trump is that he’s not a good person. He’s not trustworthy, he’s not honest, he’s not compassionate. 40 percent of the electorate still look at him and say “He’s my guy”, but to do so, they have to grapple with the fact that he’s a turd of a human being.

Local Note: The King of Prussia Mall Now Has a COVID-19 Store 

They should use the slogan “Come on in and get it.”

Xbox Series X and Smaller, Cheaper Sibling Xbox Series S 

Jez Corden and Zac Bowden, reporting for Windows Central:

We can confirm via our sources that the entry-level Xbox Series S will cost $299 at retail, with a $25 per month Xbox All Access financing option, which Microsoft is planning to push hard via various retailers and a large global rollout. The more powerful Xbox Series X will cost $499, with a $35 per month Xbox All Access financing option.

Both consoles will launch on November 10, 2020.

The Series S looks cool, and offers an “all-digital gaming experience”, which is their way of pitching “no spinning disc drive” as a feature. (As it should be — it seems crazy to me that folks still want to buy and manage spinning discs.) I think the Series X looks good too — both of them look very true to the Xbox brand — but the Series S looks downright Dieter Rams-ian.

For comparison, Apple TV 4K currently sells for $179/$199 for 32/64 GB configurations. Apple ought to have something up their sleeve here — either major new Apple TV hardware or a price cut for existing models (or both) — or they’re about to get pantsed in the market for high-end home entertainment boxes.

Update: A friend kindly suggests that Apple TV 4K already has been pantsed by Microsoft, with the $249 Xbox One S that was discontinued last month — it offered 4K streaming video and HD Xbox games.

Android 11 Arrives to the Sound of Crickets Chirping 

Seems like a nice update that almost no one is talking about because almost no phones are getting it.

Update: Here’s Google’s own official announcement and rundown of feature highlights. Just me or is their UI for smart home stuff a shameless ripoff of Apple’s Home app? What’s crazy to me about that is that Apple’s Home app isn’t even a great UI to steal.

Bryan Irace on Instagram’s Continuing Descent Into a Facebook-Like Algorithm-Driven Garbage Experience 

Bryan Irace, on Twitter:

This recent @instagram change — replacing photos that you’ve already seen from those that you follow with misc. algorithmic trash — is so user-hostile that numerous family members who never think twice about software UX have independently asked me what happened to their apps.

One didn’t even notice the “View Older Posts” button, despite it being front and center. Just that photos of e.g. his grandkids were overnight replaced with nonsense.

There’s an apt slogan for the service Instagram has devolved into under Facebook’s steady hand: “Photos of your friends and loved ones, replaced with nonsense. Welcome to Instagram.”

‘Trump Emerges as Inspiration for Germany’s Far Right’ 

Not the sort of headline you want to see.

Vote.

‘Gross Domestic Misery Is Rising’ 

Paul Krugman:

But the stock market isn’t the economy: more than half of all stocks are owned by only 1 percent of Americans, while the bottom half of the population owns only 0.7 percent of the market.

Jobs and G.D.P., by contrast, sort of are the economy. But they aren’t the economy’s point. What some economists and many politicians often forget is that economics isn’t fundamentally about data, it’s about people. I like data as much as, or probably more than, the next guy. But an economy’s success should be judged not by impersonal statistics, but by whether people’s lives are getting better.

And the simple fact is that over the past few weeks the lives of many Americans have gotten much worse.

Vote.

‘A Tough Way to Make a Living’ 

Two weeks ago, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee released Volume 5 of its report on Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election. Page 274 describes a night on the town in Las Vegas in 2013:

The dinner that night ultimately included members of the Agalarov family, Trump Organization, Miss Universe Organization, and a number of Emin Agalarov’s friends. Michael Cohen attended with Trump and [Keith] Schiller. During the meal, Goldstone recalled being approached by Schiller, who asked Goldstone if the Agalarov group had plans after the meal. Goldstone recalled telling Schiller that one of Emin Agalarov’s associates, Murtaza Akbar, was an investor in a club called The Act and that the group planned to go. According to Goldstone, Schiller responded by telling Goldstone that “Mr. Trump wants to come.”

Following dinner, the group, which included the Agalarovs, their associates, and the Trump Organization group, went to The Act. Goldstone described The Act as, “a bit Cirque du Soleil and a bit burlesquey thrown into one.” Cohen recalled that the club was “more than a burlesque club” and was a “wild place.”1823

Footnote 1823 contains this testimony from Cohen to the committee, further describing the club:

“It’s a club that puts on shows, and you never really know what the show is going to be. In this specific case they brought out a young man who was in a leotard body suit, who, to me, I would diagnose him as a thalidomide baby. And he was blind as well, but he sang like Pavarotti. And while he was singing — I forget the song, it was like a ‘God Bless America’-type song — there was a woman who was in a thong bikini, who was large, performing sex acts on him while he was singing. Interesting, because I was with Mr. Trump at the time. It was not really a place I expected to be with him at. He looked over to me when he was finished, and I’ll never forget this, he looked me right in the face. He goes, ‘That’s a tough way to make a living.’”

Twitter Stopped Letting New Users Pick Their Usernames During Sign-Up Years Ago 

Darius Kazemi:

There’s a common belief that Twitter accounts with usernames like @jsmith12345678 must be bots, or trolls, or otherwise nefarious actors.

The thing is, since at least as far back as December 2017, the Twitter signup process has not allowed you to choose your own username! It instead gives you a name based on your first and last name, plus eight numbers on the end. You aren’t prompted to pick a more distinctive username after that, and you can change it but you need to figure out how to do it yourself. (The December 2017 date was confirmed to me privately by someone who works at Twitter Design.)

This means that when you see a reply from someone with a username with a bunch of numbers in it, it’s actually pretty likely that the user is simply someone who joined Twitter after December 2017 and either doesn’t care to change their username, or doesn’t know that they can change it, or doesn’t know how to change it. In other words, it’s probably a user who isn’t very technically savvy.

I learned this a few months ago when I created the @ditheringfm Twitter account. You can still pick your own (available) username on Twitter, but you have to change it in your account settings after starting with a dumb-looking handle you never chose.

BuzzFeed News: QAnon Is a ‘Collective Delusion’, Not a ‘Conspiracy Theory’ 

Drusilla Moorhouse and Emerson Malone, writing for BuzzFeed News:

The editors at BuzzFeed News have become uneasy about using conspiracy theory to describe QAnon, which has grown to encompass a whole alternative world of beliefs and signals. The copydesk has to stay on top of language and note when terms become stale and reductive; QAnon has shifted, and so should how we write about it.

QAnon is a collective delusion, and that’s what BuzzFeed News will be calling it from now on.

I’m not sure how much traction this term will get, but I like it. “Conspiracy theory” gets an unfair rap in that most people use it to describe wacko beliefs that are not true. But there are actual conspiracies, and there are possible conspiracies which could be true. QAnon is up there with believing the Earth is flat or the moon landings were faked — batshit crazy nonsense.

What Happens as Country-by-Country App Store Legislation Increases? 

Nadezhda Tsydenova, reporting for Reuters from Moscow:

The bill, submitted to Russia’s lower house of parliament by lawmaker Fedot Tumusov, stipulates that commissions on the sale of applications be capped at 20%. Apple currently collects a 30% commission on sales in its App Store.

The bill, if adopted, would also oblige app sellers to pay a third of their commissions to a special training fund for IT specialists on a quarterly basis.

There’s no sign that this proposal will become law, but what if it did? What happens if — or more likely, when — countries start passing laws that mandate third-party app stores? For a small country, Apple might just walk away — like Facebook and Google are with news in Australia. But what does Apple do if China mandates third-party app stores?

One of the big downsides of Apple’s complete control over the iOS platform is that it creates an obvious target for legislation.

Japanese FTC to Increase Scrutiny of App Store Regarding Complaints From Game Developers 

Takashi Mochizuki, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Japan’s antitrust regulator said it will step up attention to the iPhone maker’s practices in the wake of the high-stakes legal clash. And in rare cases, prominent executives are beginning to speak out after staying silent out of fear of reprisal.

“I want from the bottom of my heart Epic to win,” Hironao Kunimitsu, founder and chairman of Tokyo-based mobile game maker Gumi Inc., wrote on his Facebook page. […]

Epic, though, is in it for the money. These Japanese developers aren’t upset about the 70/30 split — they just want good developer relations support from Apple, and for the App Store rules to be predictable and consistent:

The Japanese games industry is familiar with the 30% revenue share, since it originated with Nintendo Co. console cartridges back in the 1980s. Most developers don’t mind it, but they want to see better service, especially from Apple.

Developers complain that titles waiting for App Store review sometimes take weeks to be cleared. One local games studio said it gave up hosting seasonal in-game events, which can be a big revenue accelerator, because Apple didn’t respond to their update review request for more than a month.

“While Apple will never admit it, I think there are times when they simply forget an item’s in the review queue or they intentionally keep it untouched as a sanction to a developer giving them the wrong attitude,” said Shoji. […]

Japanese firms also say the company flip flops at times on its interpretation of appropriate content and changes policies without advanced notice. Several game studios reported having characters that were approved on the interpretation they were dressed in swimsuits, then later rejected on the judgment that they were in underwear and thus sexualized. One developer who had implemented an in-game system that Apple approved, later saw the same code rejected by the App Store operator in a subsequent game.

It’s not even about putting the 70/30 split aside — the issues are related. For a 30 percent cut of all revenue passing through the App Store, and mandatory use of Apple’s payment processing, none of these complaints should exist. It’s perfectly reasonable to demand better service from a platform that charges high fees.

What I read here is that these Japanese developers expect to feel respected by Apple, and they don’t.

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

PUBG Removed From App Store and Google Play Store in India Following Ban 

Stephen Warwick, writing for iMore:

PUBG Mobile is the biggest mobile game in India with more than 50 million monthly active players, but has fallen foul of government bans on primarily Chinese apps, PUBG Mobile is made by Tencent Games.

A new report from 91mobiles says that following the ban on Wednesday, Apple and Google have both removed both PUBG Mobile and PUBG Mobile Lite from their respective app stores in the country.

PUBG remains available in the rest of the world, of course, but there’s some irony here in that Apple spent last week heavily promoting PUBG as an alternative to Fortnite, which, of course, is now available nowhere in the world on the App Store.

MacStadium’s Half Off Forever (HOF) Promotion 

My thanks to MacStadium for sponsoring DF this week to promote their Half Off Forever promotion. Are you ready to try a Mac server? Choose a Mac Mini hosted in Atlanta, Las Vegas, or Dublin and pay half price forever. There is no catch — just a great deal.

Why now? Change is in the air for all of Apple’s platform, both hardware and software. A reliable Mac Mini hosted in a world class data center gives you a familiar, steady path heading into the future for all of your Mac infrastructure needs. Folks who are going iPad-first for their personal computing — but still need a Mac for some things — can easily jump between the two. With this year’s addition of first-class mouse pointer support in iPadOS, it’s like having all of MacOS available as an app on your iPad.

Half Off Forever is a great deal for the best Mac-centric server hosting in the industry.

Poolside FM 

What kind of sick twisted people, who obviously know and love the classic Mac look-and-feel, would mix it with parts of the old Windows look-and-feel? And somehow make it work? I’ve consulted with experts and we’ve determined that the Poolside vibe is 3 measures classic Mac OS, 1 measure Windows, 1 measure original, and the resulting cocktail is just what the good doctor ordered.

Put it in full screen and click around. They’ve even got an Instagram “app”. The UI aesthetic here has more heart than just about anything I’ve seen in a decade. This is our reminder that UI design is supposed to be fun. How cool, too, that they made a nice Mac app — before doing iPhone?

To team Poolside: 🍸

Facebook Didn’t Remove Kenosha Guard Gang Event Page 

Ryan Mac and Craig Silverman, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Despite Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s previous statements that the company had removed a militia event where people discussed gathering in Kenosha, Wisconsin, to shoot and kill protesters, the company never took any such action, BuzzFeed News has learned. The event was taken down by the militia group itself after two people were killed. […]

“I fully plan to kill looters and rioters tonight,” one person wrote on the event page, according to screenshots seen by BuzzFeed News. “I have my suppressor on my AR [rifle], these fools won’t even know what hit them.” “When the shooting starts, make sure that somebody is sending a live feed of the mother fuckers going down,” said another. […]

After the shootings, chatter on the Kenosha Guard event page took on a celebratory tone. “Tried to attack business owners, got their azzes shot off. MORE please… this needs to happen a LOT MORE,” wrote one man. “1 protester dead got shot in the head… then they tried to attack the guy and a couple more got shot. Gotta love it,” wrote a man who was labeled by Facebook’s automated system as a “Top Fan” in the group due to his frequent posting.

Top fan indeed.

Anyone who insists on describing these groups as militia instead of gangs needs to explain what the difference is between a militia and a gang. Pretty sure no news organization can do so, because it’s obvious that the difference is simply whether the members are “conservative” white men.

Ellen Pao on Facebook’s Election Policy Changes: ‘Superficial’ 

Ellen Pao, on Twitter:

Facebook is making superficial changes instead of addressing the core problem: an engagement engine that amplifies misinformation and hate for profit.

They should remove all political ads. Why just in late October? They should add a way to report misinformation about candidates and Black Lives Matter protests, not just Covid. And they should ban everyone who violates their rules instead of granting exceptions.

See also: Zeynep Tufekci:

There are the details. And there is this: Mark Zuckerberg, alone, gets to set key rules — with significant consequences — for one of the most important elections in recent history. That should not be lost in the dust of who these changes will hurt or benefit.

Mark Zuckerberg Tweaks Facebook Policies Regarding Election 

Mark Zuckerberg, on Facebook:

• We’re going to block new political and issue ads during the final week of the campaign. It’s important that campaigns can run get out the vote campaigns, and I generally believe the best antidote to bad speech is more speech, but in the final days of an election there may not be enough time to contest new claims. So in the week before the election, we won’t accept new political or issue ads. Advertisers will be able to continue running ads they started running before the final week and adjust the targeting for those ads, but those ads will already be published transparently in our Ads Library so anyone, including fact-checkers and journalists, can scrutinize them.

This is a good change. But why does Facebook even accept political ads in the first place? Just get rid of them.

This could be a very heated period, so we’re preparing the following policies to help in the days and weeks after voting ends:

• We’ll use the Voting Information Center to prepare people for the possibility that it may take a while to get official results. This information will help people understand that there is nothing illegitimate about not having a result on election night.

• We’re partnering with Reuters and the National Election Pool to provide authoritative information about election results. We’ll show this in the Voting Information Center so it’s easily accessible, and we’ll notify people proactively as results become available. Importantly, if any candidate or campaign tries to declare victory before the results are in, we’ll add a label to their post educating that official results are not yet in and directing people to the official results.

“Any candidate or campaign” — there’s only one candidate, one campaign, who this is about. And we all know it’s Donald Trump.

Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit 

What a fantastic idea. Reminds me a little of those Anki race cars except this looks like it’s actually fun to play with. (Says me, a guy who wasted money on those Anki things.)

Mets Legend Tom Seaver Dies at 75 

Bruce Weber, writing for The New York Times:

Tom Seaver, one of baseball’s greatest right-handed power pitchers, a Hall of Famer who won 311 games for four major league teams, most notably the Mets, whom he led from last place to a surprise world championship in his first three seasons, died on Monday. He was 75.

The cause was complications of Lewy body dementia and Covid-19, according to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

The greatest Met who ever played. You read what teammates and opponents say about him, and they don’t know what to emphasize more: how great a pitcher he was, or how good a person. That’s a life.

Trump Encourages North Carolina Residents to Vote Twice to ‘Test’ Mail-in System 

Lauren Egan and Pete Williams, reporting for NBC News:

President Donald Trump suggested that people in North Carolina should vote twice in the November election, once by mail and once in person, escalating his attempts to cast confusion and doubt on the validity of the results.

“So let them send it in and let them go vote, and if their system’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote,” Trump said when asked whether he has confidence in the mail-in system in North Carolina, a battleground state.

“If it’s as good as they say it is, then obviously they won’t be able to vote. If it isn’t tabulated, they’ll be able to vote. So that’s the way it is. And that’s what they should do,” he said.

It is illegal to vote more than once in an election.

Of course it’s illegal. It’s also illegal to tell people to do it. But what’s disgraceful about it isn’t what the letter of the law says, but the utter contempt Trump and the entire Republican party have for the basic concept of democracy. It doesn’t matter if he’s “serious” or “joking” — either way it’s a goddamn disgrace.

A Lesson for UI Designers: Think Like a User 

Cabel Sasser:

So, @JuliaMinamata is making an amazing EGA graphic adventure, drawing each pixel by hand.

But, one Photoshop setting — understandably! — eluded her for a lifetime.

I’ve been here! I feel this so much! This video should be required viewing for every UI designer on the planet!

I know that feeling. Also, the game Minamata is making, The Crimson Diamond, looks amazing.

You Should Follow Daring Fireball on Twitter 

Longtime readers are probably aware that there’s an @daringfireball Twitter account, which auto-posts links to articles shortly after they’re published. You should consider following if you’re not already. It’s also a good place to publicly comment on posts — I generally read all the mentions there (and for my personal account), and am always more up to date reading Twitter mentions than I am email. Twitter beats email for reading comments from readers because of its enforced brevity and the fact that I don’t have to open them, I can just scroll and read. (I really do try to keep up with reader email too, and switching to Hey for my public address has truly helped in that regard.) With Twitter’s app, you can even get notifications of new posts — go to the @daringfireball account profile and tap the little bell icon.

What prompted this periodic reminder about the DF Twitter account was a strange bug in my auto-poster. I don’t use a third-party service for posting these tweets; I wrote my own script to do it, so that auto-posted tweets would be formatted just right, like, say, in the rare case when a headline is too long to fit in a tweet. I wrote about the Tootbot back in February, when I (finally) updated it after moving Daring Fireball to a new server in November.

Anyway, last night, something went wrong, and the @daringfireball account tweeted out a handful of weeks-old posts. Turns out they were tweets from my old instance of the Tootbot, running on another server. It had stopped working last year when Twitter tightened the SSL encryption requirements for its API, and I never turned the thing off. So the poor little guy had been running for the last year, trying to post tweets every minute, nonstop, and failing. And for some reason, last night, Twitter started accepting those requests and posting them — but only occasionally — which is why only four duplicate tweets were posted, and they were posted hours apart. What a weird bug.

The old Tootbot is now resting in retirement.

Ridley Scott on Epic’s ‘1984’ Spoof 

Ridley Scott:

“I think the animation was terrific, the idea was terrific, the message was ‘ehh’.”

(Via Dave Mark.)