Linked List: April 2021

The Talk Show: ‘The Sour Grapes Commission’ 

Glenn Fleishman returns to the show to talk about last week’s “Spring Loaded” product announcements from Apple: subscription podcasts, AirTags, AppleTV, colorful Apple Silicon iMacs, and the M1 iPad Pros.

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Hello Weather 

Longtime readers know I have a thing for good iPhone weather apps. I find weather apps to be an evergreen playground for design ideas — and that’s more true than ever now with iOS 14 widgets. One of my very favorites in recent years is Hello Weather. It’s attractive, original, and highly useful. (Good iPad support too.) Free to download and use, but they’ve got a Pro tier that unlocks even more, like Apple Watch complications and additional data sources. No ads, and their privacy nutrition label simply states: “Data Not Collected”. Highly recommended.

Roku-YouTube Dispute Escalates 

Janko Roettgers, reporting for Protocol:

Roku is alleging that Google is using the YouTube TV negotiations to push it to enforce hardware requirements for future Roku products that could make Roku devices more expensive. This allegation bears some extra weight because of Google’s own Chromecast TV streaming device, which is currently selling for $20 more than the cheapest Roku streamer. [...]

Roku also alleges that Google aims to dictate how the streaming device maker treats voice search results. According to those allegations, Google wants to force Roku to only show YouTube results when someone launches a voice search from within the YouTube app. If, for instance, someone browses YouTube and then decides to listen to music, a voice query like “Play ‘Uptown Funk’” would open the song on YouTube, even if the consumer had set Pandora as their default music app.

Roku has removed the YouTube TV app from their store, but it still works for users who already have it installed.

Google, in its response on the official YouTube blog, doesn’t deny the requirements for the new AV1 codec, but flatly denies the rest of Roku’s allegations:

Our agreements with partners have technical requirements to ensure a high quality experience on YouTube. Roku requested exceptions that would break the YouTube experience and limit our ability to update YouTube in order to fix issues or add new features. For example, by not supporting open-source video codecs, you wouldn’t be able to watch YouTube in 4K HDR or 8K even if you bought a Roku device that supports that resolution.

We can’t give Roku special treatment at the expense of users. To be clear, we have never, as they have alleged, made any requests to access user data or interfere with search results. This claim is baseless and false.

This is remarkably contentious. I don’t see any way to square this up without concluding that one of the companies is flat-out lying.

Flu Has Disappeared Worldwide During the COVID Pandemic 

Katie Peek, reporting for Scientific American:

Since the novel coronavirus began its global spread, influenza cases reported to the World Health Organization have dropped to minuscule levels. The reason, epidemiologists think, is that the public health measures taken to keep the coronavirus from spreading also stop the flu. Influenza viruses are transmitted in much the same way as SARS-CoV-2, but they are less effective at jumping from host to host.

As Scientific American reported last fall, the drop-off in flu numbers was both swift and universal. Since then, cases have stayed remarkably low. “There’s just no flu circulating,” says Greg Poland, who has studied the disease at the Mayo Clinic for decades. The U.S. saw about 600 deaths from influenza during the 2020-2021 flu season. In comparison, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated there were roughly 22,000 deaths in the prior season and 34,000 two seasons ago.

These numbers are just ridiculous. It goes to show how much more contagious COVID is than influenza — COVID continued to wreak havoc in the face of precaution that practically eliminated spread of the flu. And it also shows how in the early days of the pandemic — like in New York City here in the U.S. — having no precautions in place allowed COVID to spread like wildfire.

Questions: Will masking during flu season remain a thing here in the U.S.? We know now that COVID spreads primarily through aerosols, but how much of this reduction in influenza is thanks to increased handwashing and sanitizing? I love the idea of making hand sanitizer dispensers at store entrances standard.

Eagerness to Receive Johnson & Johnson Vaccine 

The Washington Post:

There is no government data yet on whether health authorities’ 10-day halt in administration of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine soured people on the product, and the company declined to discuss the matter. But in spot checks across the country, people seeking vaccines and officials dispensing them appear eager to resume using the vaccine, which is also easier to store and transport.

On Tuesday, for example, 1,355 people at the racetrack chose Johnson & Johnson at the clinic run by Indiana University Health, while 407 took the Pfizer vaccine, according to spokesman Jonathon Hosea. At a homeless program in San Francisco, drugstores in Maine and universities across the country, the same sentiment is largely true.

Great news, if it’s more than just anecdotal — I would love to be proven wrong about this.

ElevationLab’s TagVault 

Sealed, waterproof, durable AirTag case from the fine folks at ElevationLab. $13, cheap!

SolarWinds Renames Itself ‘N-Able’ 

I take it “AirTran” was unavailable.

New 12.9-Inch iPad Pros Are, in Fact, Compatible With Existing Magic Keyboards 

Apple support document:

The first generation of the Magic Keyboard (A1998) is functionally compatible with the new iPad Pro 12.9-inch (5th generation) with Liquid Retina XDR display. Due to the slightly thicker dimensions of this new iPad Pro, it’s possible that the Magic Keyboard may not precisely fit when closed, especially when screen protectors are applied.

I had been wondering about this all week — whether it might work but just not quite close perfectly. Turns out it does.

Apple Q2 2021 Quarterly Results 

Record-breaking all around, but I’ll point to one number: Mac sales went from $5.4B to a record $9.1B year-over-year. Not bad for a 37-year-old platform.

How Pfizer Makes Its COVID-19 Vaccine 

The New York Times:

It’s the start of a complex manufacturing and testing process that takes 60 days and involves Pfizer facilities in three states. The result will be millions of doses of the vaccine, frozen and ready to ship.

The scale of this operation is awe-inspiring.

Project Kiwi: Disney’s Free-Walking Robot Project 

Speaking of Panzarino, he had another killer feature last week — a behind-the-scenes look at a robotic baby Groot from Disney Imagineering:

And even though the expressive eyes are already impressive — the team is not done. Up next on the agenda is a sensory package that allows Kiwi to more fully understand the world around it and to identify people and their faces. This becomes important because eye contact is such an emotive and powerful tool to use in transporting a participant.

Even without the sensing software, I can tell you that the experience of this 2.5ft Groot locking eyes with me, smiling and waving was just incredibly transportive. Multiple times throughout my interaction I completely forgot that it was a robot at all.

Incredible stuff.

Matthew Panzarino Interviews Greg Joswiak and John Ternus About the New iPad Pro 

Matthew Panzarino, writing for TechCrunch:

“We’ve always tried to have the best display,” says Ternus. “We’re going from the best display on any device like this and making it even better, because that’s what we do and that’s why we, we love coming to work every day is to take that next big step.

One thing I noticed watching the event last week is that Apple never describes iPads as “tablets”. They compare performance to “other devices” or, in Ternus’s words above, “any device like this”. I get why Apple is reluctant to call iPads “tablets”, but it’s hard to dance around it.

Panzarino mentions this reluctance to use the T-word in this bit, about how Apple sees the dynamic between Macs and iPads:

If you follow along, you’ll know that Apple studiously refuses to enter into the iPad vs. Mac debate — and in fact likes to place the iPad in a special place in the market that exists unchallenged. Joswiak often says that he doesn’t even like to say the word tablet.

“There’s iPads and tablets, and tablets aren’t very good. iPads are great,” Joswiak says. “We’re always pushing the boundaries with iPad Pro, and that’s what you want leaders to do. Leaders are the ones that push the boundaries leaders are the ones that take this further than has ever been taken before and the XDR display is a great example of that. Who else would you expect to do that other than us. And then once you see it, and once you use it, you won’t wonder, you’ll be glad we did.”

Joanna Stern Interviews Craig Federighi About Privacy and Ad Tracking 

Sharp, smart interview.

The Twitter Hate Machine 

“Maple Cocaine”, in a now famous tweet over two years ago:

Each day on twitter there is one main character. The goal is to never be it.

Twitter is a machine for directing self-righteous anger, and it fires all day, every day, whether the targets are deserving or not.

‘Imagine There’s a Car Alarm That’s Been Going Off for a Long Time and Suddenly It’s Quiet’ 

Alex Roarty and Adam Wollner, reporting for McClatchy on Joe Biden’s popularity:

Sarah Longwell, a former GOP operative and founder of the anti-Trump Republican Accountability Project, said her studies of voters who supported Trump in 2016 and Biden in 2020 show they are “the most optimistic group in the history of focus groups I’ve done.”

She said that has been due to the perceived chaos of the Trump administration coming to a close and a sense that the coronavirus pandemic situation is finally improving.

“Now there’s a sense of relief,” Longwell said. “Imagine there’s a car alarm that’s been going off for a long time and suddenly it’s quiet.”

(Via Political Wire.)

Ride Out the Storm 

From chapter 87 of Basecamp’s book Getting Real:

When you rock the boat, there will be waves. After you introduce a new feature, change a policy, or remove something, knee-jerk reactions, often negative, will pour in.

Resist the urge to panic or rapidly change things in response. Passions flare in the beginning. But if you ride out this initial 24-48 hour period, things will usually settle down. Most people respond before they’ve really dug in and used whatever you’ve added (or gotten along with what you’ve removed). So sit back, take it all in, and don’t make a move until some time has passed. Then you’ll be able to offer a more reasoned response.

Good advice.

‘Buying a PC With Dell: My Journey Into Hell’ 

Long Twitter thread from YouTuber Eyepatch Wolf that is simultaneously heartbreaking and hilarious. I don’t want to spoil a word of it.

Renowned Internet Security Researcher Daniel Kaminsky Dies at 42 

Lovely obituary by Nicole Perlroth in the Times for Daniel Kaminsky, a security researcher who was both deservedly much-respected and well-liked. He died far too young from a complication of diabetes. Here’s a delightful story from his youth:

His childhood paralleled the 1983 movie “War Games,” in which a teenager, played by Matthew Broderick, unwittingly accesses a U.S. military supercomputer. When Mr. Kaminsky was 11, his mother said, she received an angry phone call from someone who identified himself as a network administrator for the Western United States. The administrator said someone at her residence was “monkeying around in territories where he shouldn’t be monkeying around.”

Without her knowledge, Mr. Kaminsky had been examining military websites. The administrator vowed to “punish” him by cutting off the family’s internet access. Mrs. Maurer warned the administrator that if he made good on his threat, she would take out an advertisement in The San Francisco Chronicle denouncing the Pentagon’s security.

“I will take out an ad that says, ‘Your security is so crappy, even an 11-year-old can break it,’” Mrs. Maurer recalled telling the administrator, in an interview on Monday.

They settled on a compromise punishment: three days without internet.

Now that’s a good mom.

Roku Says It May Lose YouTube TV App After Google Made Anti-Competitive Demands 

Sara Fischer, reporting for Axios:

Roku says Google is threatening the removal of YouTube TV to force Roku to grant preferential access to its consumer data moving forward.

  • It says Google has asked Roku to do things that it does not see replicated on other streaming competitors’ platforms, like creating a dedicated search results row for YouTube within the Roku smart TV interface and giving YouTube search results more prominent placement.

  • Roku says Google has also required it to block search results from other streaming content providers while users are using the YouTube app on Roku’s system.

  • Roku alleges Google has asked it to favor YouTube music results from voice commands made on the Roku remote while the YouTube app is open, even if the user’s music preference is set to default to another music app, like Pandora.

Maybe Roku shouldn’t have made all those remote controls with dedicated YouTube buttons.

How Safe Are You From COVID-19 When You Fly? 

This piece from The New York Times last week is both good news — air travel has proven to be surprisingly safe, COVID-wise — and good design. It’s a fascinating animated illustration showing how air circulates on a modern passenger jet.

Updated CDC Guidelines Relax Outdoor Mask Recommendations 

For the vaccinated, the CDC is only recommending face masks outdoors for crowded situations like concerts or sporting events. And even for the not-yet-vaccinated, they’re relaxing outdoor masking guidelines.

We’re not going to have a snap-our-fingers moment when things suddenly “go back to normal”. It’s been a traumatic, dramatic year — and our path back to normalcy (even if it’s a new normal) will be incremental, one step at a time. Relaxing these requirements for outdoor masking is a great next step.

President Biden:

Because of the extraordinary progress we’ve made in the fight against COVID-19, the CDC made a big announcement today: If you are fully vaccinated — and if you are outdoors and not in a large crowd — you no longer need to wear a mask.

That’s keeping it simple: vaccinated, outdoors, not in a large crowd? No need for a mask.

See also: The New York Times on today’s updated CDC guidelines.

Unvaccinated Americans Now Fear the J&J Vaccine 

Amy Goldstein and Scott Clement, reporting for The Washington Post:

Fewer than 1 in 4 Americans not yet immunized against the coronavirus say they would be willing to get the vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson, according to a Washington Post-ABC News poll that finds broad mistrust of the shot’s safety after federal health officials paused its use.

The nationwide survey shows that slightly fewer than half of U.S. adults overall say they consider the Johnson & Johnson vaccine very or somewhat safe after its use was halted this month following reports of rare, severe blood clots.

This is exactly why I’ve been so critical of the way the CDC and FDA handled this. They’ve trashed the reputation of an excellent vaccine over an extremely rare complication.

Did the Costs of Pausing the J&J Vaccine Outweigh the Benefits? 

James Surowiecki:

This was described at the time as the panel choosing to make no decision about whether the vaccine was safe. But as Dr. Nirav Shah, Maine’s CDC director, said at that first meeting, making no decision was a decision. While the U.S. has plentiful supplies of the Pfizer and Moderna mRNA vaccines, the J&J vaccine — which only requires one shot — has been very valuable in vaccinating people who might have a hard time returning to the same location three or four weeks later to get a shot, including homeless people, people who live in remote locations, and transient workers, as well as college students who may soon be going home from school. So you can’t just substitute Pfizer and Moderna shots for all J&J shots. What this means is that the decision to keep the vaccine pause in place amounted to a decision not to vaccinate lots of people who otherwise would have gotten vaccinated. Some of those people who did not get vaccinated have been or will be infected with Covid, and some of them will be hospitalized, and some will die. That was a concrete and undeniable consequence of the decision to extend the pause.

Ballpark numbers:

At Friday’s meeting, the CDC’s Sara Oliver said that over the next 6 months, the J&J vaccine would be expected to result in 800–3500 fewer ICU admissions, and 600–1400 fewer deaths, while causing 26–45 cases of clotting. If you extrapolate from those numbers, they suggest that if the pause had ended 10 days earlier, somewhere between 33 and 75 lives would have been saved, at the cost of 1–2 cases of clotting.

And those cases of clotting likely would not have been fatal.

No More Writing About Face Masks Without Emphasizing Vaccinations 

Tara Parker-Pope, writing last week for The New York Times:

“I think the guidelines should be based on science and practicality,” said Dr. Marr. “People only have so much bandwidth to think about precautions. I think we should focus on the areas that have highest risk of transmission, and give people a break when the risk is extremely low.”

Dr. Marr uses a simple two-out-of-three rule for deciding when to wear a mask in public spaces or when she doesn’t know everyone’s vaccination status. In these situations, she makes sure she’s meeting two out of three conditions: outdoors, distanced and masked. “If you’re outdoors, you either need to be distanced or masked,” she said. “If you’re not outdoors, you need to be distanced and masked. This is how I’ve been living for the past year. It all comes down to my two-out-of-three rule.”

This is fine advice — for the unvaccinated. But those of us who are vaccinated have no need to wear a mask outdoors or indoors, other than for social compliance. This article should have been published months ago, not last week. Articles published now should emphasize that getting vaccinated is our way out of this “face masks everywhere you go” morass.

Inside the Right-Wing Nonsense Machine, Red Meat Edition 

Daniel Dale, reporting for CNN:

The paper, by scholars at the University of Michigan and Tulane University, estimates how greenhouse gas emissions would be affected if Americans hypothetically decided to change their diets in various ways, such as cutting their consumption of beef to four pounds per year. The paper does not suggest a mandatory four-pound beef limit — and, more importantly for the purposes of this fact check, the paper is just not related to Biden’s plans.

The paper was published before Biden had won the Democratic presidential nomination. The paper does not even mention Biden’s name. And Biden has never publicly mentioned the paper. So... frankly, you can stop reading here if you just wanted to know if it’s true that Biden is trying to take away your sacred right to a rib eye. That claim is complete nonsense.

But if you’re interested in how right-wing media figures and elected officials turned a little-known academic analysis into a scary presidential plot to limit Americans’ hard-earned cookout freedoms, read on.

Tom Bihn 

My thanks to Tom Bihn for once again sponsoring DF last week. Thirteen of their most popular bags, including the popular Synik 30 backpack and Monster Truck tote, were just restocked this week. What does that mean? It’s simple. At any given time, some Tom Bihn bags are sold out or in production, and here’s why: a control-freak level of quality, cut and sewn in Seattle in small batches, and, as a Certified B Corporation, the company is dedicated to measured, sustainable growth. In 2020, Tom Bihn pivoted to making non-medical face masks and eventually donated over 200,000 masks — now they’re back to making bags and restocking on a regular basis.

I’ve had a few Tom Bihn bags over the years, and the reason it’s just a few is that they last and last and last. I mentioned this a few weeks ago, when last they sponsored DF, and a slew of reader wrote in with tales of their long-lasting and much-used bags from Tom Bihn. (And it’s simply serendipitous that a bag I purchased over a decade ago for my then-new 11-inch MacBook Air remains the perfect size for an 11-inch iPad Pro.)

I cannot say enough good things about Tom Bihn’s products and quality of service. Check out their website not just for information on their bags, but for insight into their design philosophy.

‘Apple’s M1 Positioning Mocks the Entire x86 Business Model’ 

Joel Hruska, writing for ExtremeTech:

If that doesn’t seem like a fusillade across x86’s metaphorical bow, consider the issue from a different perspective: According to Apple, the M1 is the right CPU for a $699 computer, and a $999 computer, and a $1,699 computer. It’s the right chip if you want maximum battery life and the right CPU for optimal performance. Want the amazing performance of an M1 iMac, but can’t afford (or have no need) for the expensive display? Buy a $699 Mac mini, with exactly the same CPU. Apple’s M1 positioning, evaluated in its totality, claims the CPU is cheap and unremarkable enough to be sold at $699, powerful and capable enough to sell at $1699, and power-efficient enough to power both a tablet and a pair of laptops priced in-between. [...]

Apple’s willingness to position the M1 across so many markets challenges the narrative that such a vast array of x86 products is helpful or necessary. It puts Intel and AMD in the position of justifying why, exactly, x86 customers are required to make so many tradeoffs between high performance and low power consumption. Selling the M1 in both $699 and $1,699 machines challenges the idea that a computer’s price ought to principally reflect the CPU inside of it.


The Kindle Lock Screen Can Now Display Book Covers 

Callum Booth, writing for The Next Web:

Mmm, I love a bit of news that seems tailor made just for me. So here it is: the Kindle lock screen can now display book covers. If you’re lucky.

The setting to turn this on only showed up for me after rebooting my Kindle. Amazing that it took them this long to add such an obvious feature.

On Raising Capital Gains Tax Rates 

Matthew Yglesias:

Iconic American companies like Apple and Microsoft would never have been founded under the kind of punitive, 1970s-style capital gains tax rates that Biden wants to bring back.

The best part is that Joe Nocera fell for it.

New 12.9-Inch iPad Pro Isn’t Compatible With Last Year’s Magic Keyboard 

The new 12.9-inch iPad Pro is 0.5mm thicker than the previous A12-based versions, which means it doesn’t fit in last year’s Magic Keyboard. The new 11-inch iPad Pro has the exact same dimensions as the A12-based versions, so the 11-inch Magic Keyboard isn’t changed. Sucks if you’re a big-time iPad user upgrading from one recent 12.9-inch model to the new one, but I don’t know what else Apple could have done.

Dieter Bohn on AirTags 

One more AirTags first-look, from Dieter Bohn at The Verge:

From a design perspective, an AirTag is classic Apple. It’s a white and shiny silver little button, and you can have custom emoji or letters printed on the plastic. They are as cute as the buttons they resemble.

However, you’ll soon find the plastic is scuffed and the chrome on the back is scratched. Sincerely, do not expect these to stay looking pristine for long — not since the weird early days of the iPod nano has an Apple product gotten scuffed this easily.

I noticed this too — very gentle handling but the one on my keychain is already scratched. That’s fine by me — maybe not so fine by the folks spending $300-450 on the Hermès accoutrements.

Speaking of Rene Ritchie and AirTags 

Good interview with Apple’s Kaiann Drance (VP product marketing) and Ron Huang (senior director of sensing and connectivity).

See also: Drance and Huang also spoke with Michael Grothaus for a story at Fast Company.

One Day With AirTags 

One more from Matthew Panzarino:

With you, by the way, means in relative proximity to a device signed in to the iCloud account that the AirTags are registered to. Bluetooth range is typically in the ~40 foot range depending on local conditions and signal bounce.

In my very limited testing so far, AirTag location range fits in with that basic Bluetooth expectation. Which means that it can be foiled by a lot of obstructions or walls or an unflattering signal bounce. It often took 30 seconds or more to get an initial location from an AirTag in another room, for instance. Once the location was received, however, the instructions to locate the device seemed to update quickly and were extremely accurate down to a few inches.

Same experience here. Takes a little longer than I’d wish to get the initial signal — sometimes — but once it has the signal, it’s accurate to within inches.

My quickie review: AirTags are a nice size. Bigger than a quarter, smaller than a Snapple bottle cap. They’re lighter than I expected. I still don’t know where I will use them, as someone who almost never misplaces his keys and prefers to carry just two keys on a very small ring. Apple’s AirTag keychain is bigger and weighs more than my two lone keys. I guess I’ll put one in my laptop bag, but I had a Tile tracker in there for years and never once used it. I figure putting an AirTag in my bag is a good way to guarantee an anti-Murphy’s Law result, and never lose it.

Here’s the other weird thing. Apple sent reviewers five AirTags: a standalone unit, and a 4-pack of custom-engraved ones. In the 4-pack, one of them was blank. My other three were: a 👍 emoji, “JG”, and “RJT”. The emoji and “JG” I understood. “RJT” I did not. I asked a bunch of friends, checked for slang I might be too old to have heard, and no one could figure this out. I asked a few fellow-reviewer friends, and none of them got one with their initials. I broke down and asked Apple, and they claimed it was random. I just lucked into a kit with “JG” as one of the engravings.

That seems hard to believe, but Rene Ritchie got his kit today (blame Canadian customs), and his 4-pack was identical to mine: blank, 👍, “JG”, and “RJT”. Other reviewers got different combinations, but apparently a bunch got the same ones I did. I’m just lucky enough to have the right initials.

The Purple iPhone 12 

Matthew Panzarino:

This is a great color.

Apple sent me one yesterday, along with the new purple silicon case, and I agree: very nice colors. (In previous years, Apple has used the spring mid-cycle update to introduce the Product Red iPhone, but Product Red was in the initial fall batch of colors.)

We Found the Guy Who Is Opposed to the Color iMacs 

David Goldman, writing for CNN Business:

The only problem is you have to look at your new iMac when you’re using it.

Ugh, those colors. It comes in Easter egg blue, green, yellow, pink, orange, purple and (thankfully) silver. If the colors weren’t bold enough, Apple added sorta faded complementary colors to the stand, which is an ... interesting design choice.

I feel like this argument is from 1999 — except in 1999, there were only brightly-colored iMacs. There’s a neutral silver this time, which makes Goldman’s argument rather baffling unless he just wants to be known as Mr. No Fun.

How Europe’s Super League Fell Apart 

“The inside story of how a billion-dollar European soccer superleague was born, and then collapsed, in less than a week.”

India’s Descent Into Covid Hell 

Hannah Ellis-Petersen, reporting for The Guardian from Delhi:

Dr Amit Thadhani, director of Niramaya hospital in Mumbai, which is only treating Covid patients, said he had given warnings about a virulent second wave back in February but they had gone ignored. He said now his hospital was “completely full and if a patient gets discharged, the bed is filled within minutes”. Ten days ago, the hospital ran out of oxygen, but alternative supplies were found just in time. [...]

Thadhani said this time round the virus was “much more aggressive and much more infectious” and was now predominately affecting young people. “Now it is people in their 20s and 30s who are coming in with very severe symptoms and there is a lot of mortality among young people,” he said.

The haunting blare of ambulance sirens continued to ring out across the capital almost non-stop. Inside Lok Nayak government hospital in Delhi, the largest Covid facility in the capital, overburdened facilities and a shortage of oxygen cylinders meant there was two to a bed, while outside patients waiting for beds gasped for air on stretchers and in ambulances, while sobbing relatives stood by their sides. Some sat with oxygen cylinders they had bought themselves out of desperation. Others died waiting in the hospital car park.

More here from The New York Times. It’s breathtaking how quickly COVID can erupt — India had just 11,000 cases a day in early February. Yesterday they set a record with over 310,000 cases.

Menuwhere 1.0 

Many Tricks:

Say hello to Menuwhere, Many Tricks’ newest app. This handy $3 utility puts the frontmost app’s menu bar into a pop-up menu at your mouse’s location — say goodbye to those long trips to the menu bar; the main menu is now just a hot key away.

Very cool idea, and just $3.

Update: Already up to version 2.0!

The Harrowing Tale of Chuck Geschke’s 1992 Kidnapping 

The obituaries for Adobe cofounder Chuck Geschke all mention his 1992 kidnapping, but they make it seem like it wasn’t all that serious. It was, in fact, crazy serious. This 4-part 2009 series for The Los Altos Town Crier, by Anne Chappell Belden, has the details:

“Do you work here?” the man asked.

“Yes, can I help you?” Chuck asked and instinctively moved toward him. The man pulled his map aside and revealed a gun. “You’re coming with me,” the man said. By then Chuck was within arms reach so he did not protest when the man grabbed his arm and directed him into the car. He would later replay this moment dozens of times, questioning his decision to obey.

With the gun jammed against Chuck’s ribs, the man said, “You’re being kidnapped. I want you to keep your eyes down.” He took two duct tape cut-outs and placed them over Chuck’s eyes. He covered those with a pair of sunglasses, so no one could see from outside that Chuck was blindfolded. As the car pulled away, his abductor told Chuck, “If you attempt to do anything, like get away from us, we’ll kill you. We know where your family is. We’ll kill them, too.”

Links to parts two, three, and four.

Signal Strikes Back 

Delightful post from Signal founder Moxie Marlinspike, regarding Signal’s reverse-engineering of a Cellebrite device for hacking into locked iPhones (they recently claimed to be able to read local files stored by Signal):

For example, by including a specially formatted but otherwise innocuous file in an app on a device that is then scanned by Cellebrite, it’s possible to execute code that modifies not just the Cellebrite report being created in that scan, but also all previous and future generated Cellebrite reports from all previously scanned devices and all future scanned devices in any arbitrary way (inserting or removing text, email, photos, contacts, files, or any other data), with no detectable timestamp changes or checksum failures. This could even be done at random, and would seriously call the data integrity of Cellebrite’s reports into question.

Any app could contain such a file, and until Cellebrite is able to accurately repair all vulnerabilities in its software with extremely high confidence, the only remedy a Cellebrite user has is to not scan devices. Cellebrite could reduce the risk to their users by updating their software to stop scanning apps it considers high risk for these types of data integrity problems, but even that is no guarantee.

We are of course willing to responsibly disclose the specific vulnerabilities we know about to Cellebrite if they do the same for all the vulnerabilities they use in their physical extraction and other services to their respective vendors, now and in the future.

Lots more than this — including the fact that Cellebrite is embedding DLLs from Apple in their software.

Ransomware Gang Tries to Extort Apple and MacBook Manufacturer Quanta Computer 

Catalin Cimpanu, reporting for The Record:

The operators of the REvil ransomware are demanding that Apple pay a ransom demand to avoid having confidential information leaked on the dark web.

The REvil crew claims it came into possession of Apple product data after breaching Quanta Computer, a Taiwanese company that is the biggest laptop manufacturer in the world and which is also one of the companies that assemble official Apple products based on pre-supplied product designs and schematics.

In a message posted on a dark web portal where the ransomware gang usually threatens victims and leaks their data, the REvil gang said that Quanta refused to pay to get its stolen data back and, as a result, the REvil operators have now decided to go after the company’s primary customer instead.

9to5Mac has already gleaned confirmation about the ports on upcoming MacBook Pros from the schematics the REvil crew has already leaked.

Details on Apple’s New Subscription Podcasts 

Nathan Gathright:

I read through the “Apple Podcasters Program Agreement” and related documentation so you don’t have to. Here’s a thread of 11 things that caught my eye that I hadn’t seen mentioned anywhere else. [...]

10. 💸 Just like the App Store, Apple owns the customer relationship and can choose to offer a refund if they decide you haven’t fulfilled the benefits offered in your subscription. You have to reimburse the money, but Apple retains their cut, natch.

It’s pretty much exactly like the App Store: 70/30 for the first year of a subscription, 85/15 after that, and the customer relationship is between the user and Apple, not the user and the podcaster.

‘The Fine Print: What Apple Didn’t Talk About’ 

Dan Moren has a good rundown of some details from today’s announcements:

An AirTag that has been separated from its owner for a long period of time will make an audible noise when it’s moved, as part of a privacy feature to let you know there’s a tag present. You can reset an AirTag by tapping with an iPhone or “NFC-capable device” — strange wording that implies maybe other non-Apple devices?

I talked to folks from Apple today about some of this. The timeout period for when an AirTag will play a sound if separated from its owner is currently three days — but that’s not baked into the AirTags themselves. It’s a server-side setting in the Find My network, so Apple can adjust it if real-world use suggests that three days is too long or too short.

The “NFC-capable device” thing means Android phones.

Hacking McDonald’s Notoriously Finicky Ice Cream Machines 

Andy Greenberg, writing for Wired:

Of all the mysteries and injustices of the McDonald’s ice cream machine, the one that Jeremy O’Sullivan insists you understand first is its secret passcode.

Much crazier story than you’d think.

(Here’s a cached version that gets you around Wired’s odious paywall and super-annoying animated ads.)

‘A Very Good Weird’: Israel Drops Outdoor COVID Mask Order 

Dan Williams, reporting for Reuters:

Israelis went about barefaced on Sunday after the order to wear masks outdoors was rescinded in another step towards relative normality thanks to the country’s mass-vaccination against COVID-19. With about 81% of citizens or residents over 16 - the age group eligible for the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in Israel - having received both doses, contagions and hospitalisations are down sharply. [...]

“Being without a mask for the first time in a long time feels weird. But it’s a very good weird,” Amitai Hallgarten, 19, said while sunning himself at a park. “If I need to be masked indoors to finish with this - I’ll do everything I can.”

A good weird, indeed.

More on Eliminating Outdoor Mask Mandates 

Dr. Paul E. Sax, writing for the New England Journal of Medicine’s Journal Watch:

But what about the community solidarity engendered by wearing a mask outside in public? Isn’t this worth something? A way of showing that I’m 100% part of Team Mask? Maybe — certainly there’s a strong component of this messaging among the highly adherent mask wearers here in Boston. But this performative aspect of outdoor mask-wearing has a downside, too.

You might think you need to wear a mask while walking me in the morning to set a good example for others, said Louie the other day. But really you might be misleading people about how the virus is transmitted. [...]

Here’s a bold proposal — let’s make public policy based on our best understanding of the science of SARS-CoV-2 transmission:

  • Dangerous — crowded indoor spaces with poor ventilation, in particular with unmasked individuals talking, shouting, singing. Wear a well-fitted mask until case numbers are down and more people are vaccinated.

  • Safe — outdoors, especially while distanced. Masks only needed for lengthy interactions with others at close distance.

Apple TV+ Original Content Quality 

José Adorno, writing for 9to5Mac:

A new study reveals that Apple TV+ has the highest-quality content when compared to Netflix, HBO Max, Prime Video, Disney+, and Hulu. The analysis from Self Financial uses IMDb scores with US customer data.

The study found that although Apple TV+ had the highest average IMDb score for its titles (7.24), it has fewer than 70 titles to choose from. In terms of their libraries of content, Apple TV+ has the highest percentage of “good” and “excellent” at almost 86%. But, again, it has the smallest offering at just 65 titles.

This fits with my theory (which I stole from M.G. Siegler) that Apple TV+ is the new HBO: the streaming service with an emphasis on quality not quantity.

Speaking of which — I very much liked season 1 of For All Mankind, but season 2 is even better. Last week’s episode — my god, that ending. Just a terrific show.

Irrational COVID Fears 

Good column by David Leonhardt for The New York Times today:

“We’re not going to get to a place of zero risk,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins epidemiologist, told me during a virtual Times event last week. “I don’t think that’s the right metric for feeling like things are normal.”

After Nuzzo made that point, Dr. Ashish Jha of Brown University told us about his own struggle to return to normal. He has been fully vaccinated for almost two months, he said, and only recently decided to meet a vaccinated friend for a drink, unmasked. “It was hard — psychologically hard — for me,” Jha said.

“There are going to be some challenges to re-acclimating and re-entering,” he added. “But we’ve got to do it.”

And how did it feel in the end, I asked, to get together with his friend?

“It was awesome,” Jha said.

Get vaccinated and get back to normal life. It’s that simple.

Apple Is Allowing Parler Back on the App Store 

Brian Fung, reporting for CNN:

The letter — addressed to Sen. Mike Lee and Rep. Ken Buck and obtained by CNN — explained that since the app was removed from Apple’s platform in January for violations of its policies, Parler “has proposed updates to its app and the app’s content moderation practices.”

On April 14, Apple’s app review team told Parler that its proposed changes were sufficient, the letter continued. Now, all Parler needs to do is to flip the switch. “Apple anticipates that the updated Parler app will become available immediately upon Parler releasing it,” Apple’s letter said.

Derek Thompson on Wearing Face Masks Outdoors 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

But as more and more of the population is vaccinated, governments need to give Americans an off-ramp to the post-pandemic world. Ending outdoor mask mandates — or at the very least telling people when they can expect outdoor mask mandates to lift — is a good place to start, for a few reasons.

Requiring that people always wear masks when they leave home, and especially in places with low levels of viral transmission, is overkill. As mentioned, the coronavirus disperses outside, posing little risk to people who are walking alone or even swiftly passing by strangers. In fact, almost all of the documented cases of outdoor transmission have involved long conversations, or face-to-face yelling. The risk calculation changes if you’re standing in a crowd: Some uneven evidence suggests that the Black Lives Matter protests last summer increased local infections. But that’s an easy carve-out. States can end blanket mandates and still recommend outdoor masking by anyone experiencing symptoms, or in crowds. (Extended conversations pose their own risk, but when people are vaccinated, the odds of viral transmission are probably somewhere between microscopic and nonexistent.)

His closing:

We can reduce unnecessary private anxiety and unhelpful public shame by thinking for a few seconds about how the coronavirus actually works and how to finally end the pandemic. Let’s tell people the truth and trust that they can take it. Let’s plan for the end of outdoor mask mandates.

Fauci: GOP’s Refusal to Get Vaccinated Hurts Efforts to Lift Restrictions 

Jackie Salo, reporting for The New York Post:

Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday said Republicans who want to lift COVID-19 restrictions but don’t want to get vaccinated don’t “make any sense.”

“It’s almost paradoxical that on the one hand, they want to be relieved of the restrictions, but on the other hand, they don’t want to get vaccinated. It just almost doesn’t make any sense,” Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

It’s almost as though the Republican Party is chockablock with ignoramuses.

Adults in All U.S. States Are Now Eligible for Vaccination; Half Have Had at Least One Dose 

The New York Times:

All adults in every U.S. state, Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico are now eligible for a Covid-19 vaccine, meeting the April 19 deadline that President Biden set two weeks ago.

“For months I’ve been telling Americans to get vaccinated when it’s your turn. Well, it’s your turn, now,” Mr. Biden said Sunday on a program called “Roll Up Your Sleeves” on NBC. “It’s free. It’s convenient and it’s the most important thing you can do to protect yourself from Covid-19.”

Just over 50 percent of U.S. adults have at least one dose: a great milestone.

Protecting Reputations 

Nick Heer, quoting from and commenting upon a line from the aforelinked Washington Post story on how the FBI cracked the San Bernardino iPhone in 2016:

Apple has a tense relationship with security research firms. Wilder said the company believes researchers should disclose all vulnerabilities to Apple so that the company can more quickly fix them. Doing so would help preserve its reputation as having secure devices.

What a bizarre turn of phrase. It would help it “preserve its reputation as having secure devices” because it really would help improve the security of its devices for all users, in much the same way that telling a fire department that there is a fire nearby would help a building’s reputation as a fire-free zone.

It’s a little thing, but this hyper-cynical slant is pervasive in a lot of recent mainstream coverage of the big tech companies. It’s hard to find a Reed Albergotti-bylined story in the Post without it.

How the FBI Cracked the San Bernardino Shooter’s iPhone 5C in 2016 

Ellen Nakashima and Reed Albergotti, reporting last week for The Washington Post:

Azimuth specialized in finding significant vulnerabilities. Dowd, a former IBM X-Force researcher whom one peer called “the Mozart of exploit design,” had found one in open-source code from Mozilla that Apple used to permit accessories to be plugged into an iPhone’s lightning port, according to the person. […]

Using the flaw Dowd found, Wang, based in Portland, Ore., created an exploit that enabled initial access to the phone — a foot in the door. Then he hitched it to another exploit that permitted greater maneuverability, according to the people. And then he linked that to a final exploit that another Azimuth researcher had already created for iPhones, giving him full control over the phone’s core processor the brains of the device. From there, he wrote software that rapidly tried all combinations of the passcode, bypassing other features, such as the one that erased data after 10 incorrect tries. [...]

From the “Where Are They Now?” department:

Apple sought to recruit Wang to work on security research, according to the people. Instead, in 2017 he co-founded Corellium, a company based in South Florida whose tools help security researchers. The tools allow researchers to run tests on Apple’s mobile operating system using “virtual” iPhones. The virtual phones run on a server and display on a desktop computer.

In 2019, Apple sued Corellium for copyright violation. As part of the lawsuit, Apple pressed Corellium and Wang to divulge information about hacking techniques that may have aided governments and agencies such as the FBI.


My thanks to Raycast for sponsoring last week at DF. Raycast is a new “Spotlight on steroids” utility for the Mac. I’ve been using it all week and it’s great — very fast, looks cool, and richly extensible through custom script commands.

Raycast can fully replace Spotlight, and it really stands apart with its integrations of third party services. Without leaving the application, you can create an issue in Jira, review pull requests in GitHub, or join a Zoom call. You can personalize your workflows further with the aforementioned scripting interface and an upcoming API. Raycast is a beautiful true Mac app that brings clarity back to your daily work. Download it for free to get started.

Adobe Co-Founder Chuck Geschke Dies at 81 

Kim Lyons, reporting for The Verge:

Charles “Chuck” Geschke, a co-founder of Adobe who helped develop the PDF, has died at age 81, the company said in a statement. [...]

Geschke earned a doctorate from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and then took a job at Xerox Palo Alto Research Center where he met Warnock. The pair left Xerox in 1982 and founded Adobe. Their first product was Adobe PostScript, the programming language that helped boost the desktop publishing industry.

Geschke was chief operating officer of Adobe from December 1986 to July 1994 and president from April 1989 until his retirement in April 2000. He served as chairman of the board with Warnock from September 1997 to January 2017 and was a member of the board until April 2020, when he became emeritus board member.

“I could never have imagined having a better, more likable, or more capable business partner,” Warnock said in a statement. “Not having Chuck in our lives will leave a huge hole and those who knew him will all agree.”

Impossible to overstate how important PostScript was (and remains). What made PostScript so good, so useful, so lasting, is that it’s a full-fledged programming language.

I forgot about this story:

In addition to his contributions to the technology industry, Geschke was also known for surviving a 1992 kidnapping attempt. Two men snatched him as he arrived at work one morning and held him for four days, demanding ransom. He was eventually rescued by the FBI.

‘Do We Really Still Need to Wear Masks Outside?’ 

Shannon Palus, writing for Slate:

In other words, as the pandemic has progressed, so has our understanding of what safety measures are truly most useful, and which aren’t worth the alcohol wipes. And I would like to calmly suggest that now is the time we should consider no longer wearing masks when we walk around outside.

I am not suggesting this simply because I am very sick of wearing a mask at all times outside my home. When it comes to coronavirus spread, evidence shows that being outdoors is very, very safe. [...]

While it’s important to mask in outdoor crowds or if you’re hanging out close to someone in a park, Chagla explains, the main message should be that the outdoors is a safe place to be. He gave me a rough sense of how unlikely outdoor transmission is in the scenario where you’re walking unmasked on the sidewalk and briefly pass someone. First, you or the person you’re passing would have to happen to have an asymptomatic infection, he explained, and then everyone would have to be exhaling and inhaling at just the right moment, and also, exchanging enough particles to actually seed another infection: “You’re talking about a probability of getting hit by a car, and being struck by lightning.”

Is this too soon? I think scientifically, eschewing masks outdoors except for close conversations is perfectly safe. The evidence is overwhelming that COVID spreads almost entirely indoors, through the air. But socially, I’m not sure. Until overall infection rates start dropping as more people are vaccinated, there are social benefits to the “mask up” mantra.

Behind the Scenes in Private Facebook Groups for America Special Forces Vets 

Carol E. Lee, reporting for NBC News:

They’re the most elite, lethally trained members of the U.S. military, widely considered the best of the best. And yet in secret Facebook groups exclusively for special operations forces that were accessed by NBC News, they share misinformation about a “stolen” 2020 election, disparaging and racist comments about America’s political leadership and even QAnon conspiracy theories.

Among the hundreds of Facebook posts NBC News reviewed from forums for current and former Rangers, Green Berets and other elite warriors: a member of a special forces group lamenting that several aides to former Vice President Mike Pence were part of a “Concerted effort by the thieves and pedophiles walking the hallowed halls of the peoples government” to undermine former President Donald Trump.

“In a just world, they would have already been taken out behind the court house and shot,” another member commented.

Without Facebook these views would still exist, but Facebook is the accelerant that gives these groups critical mass.

Update: Tess Owen, reporting for Vice last June: “The U.S. Military Has a Boogaloo Problem” — all about private Facebook groups. Facebook knows about these groups, and have for years.

‘Extending the Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Pause for a Week Was a Deadly Mistake’ 

Govind Persad and William F. Parker, in an op-ed for The Washington Post:

Looking at ACIP’s roster helps diagnose its mistake. Its voting members are almost all doctors far more familiar with rare vaccine side effects than with marshaling scarce public health capacity to respond to a surge of infections. The committee lacks comparative effectiveness experts or health economists familiar with weighing inevitable tradeoffs at a population-wide scale. [...]

What ACIP must provide, but likely never will, is an estimate of how many of the hundreds of thousands of Americans infected with covid-19 in the coming days could have been protected if J&J vaccines were available. The resulting hospitalizations and deaths, likely concentrated in disadvantaged communities, will happen weeks from now and will probably be ignored by the media. News stories will highlight blood clots following vaccination but not consider whether a one-dose vaccine could have protected a homeless person who arrived at the emergency room deathly ill from covid-19 or prevented an outbreak at her encampment. Without a comparison of the pause’s harms to the vaccine’s side effects, we have every reason to fear that ACIP loudly fiddled while Rome quietly burned.

The authors both have expertise in bioethics, which is the issue at hand.

‘That’s What Makes Bill Very, Very Dangerous’ 

From Softwar, Matthew Symonds’s 2004 biography of Larry Ellison:

One telephone conversation with Gates in 1993 sticks in Ellison’s mind. “It was the most interesting conversation I’ve ever had with Bill, and the most revealing. It was around eleven o’clock in the morning, and we were on the phone discussing some technical issue, I don’t remember what it was. Anyway, I didn’t agree with him on some point, and I explained my reasoning. Bill says, ‘I’ll have to think about that, I’ll call you back.’ Then I get this call at four in the afternoon and it’s Bill continuing the conversation with ‘Yeah, I think you’re right about that, but what about A and B and C?’ I said, ‘Bill, have you been thinking about this for the last five hours?’ He said, yes, he had, it was an important issue and he wanted to get it right. Now Bill wanted to continue the discussion and analyze the implications of it all. I was just stunned. He had taken the time and effort to think it all through and had decided I was right and he was wrong. Now, most people hate to admit they’re wrong, but it didn’t bother Bill one bit. All he cared about was what was right, not who was right. That’s what makes Bill very, very dangerous.”

I miss Bill Gates at Microsoft.

(Via Zack Kanter.)

Jeff Bezos’s Final Letter to Shareholders as Amazon CEO 

Jeff Bezos:

If you want to be successful in business (in life, actually), you have to create more than you consume. Your goal should be to create value for everyone you interact with. Any business that doesn’t create value for those it touches, even if it appears successful on the surface, isn’t long for this world. It’s on the way out.

Least Vaccinated U.S. Counties Have Something in Common: Trump Voters 

The New York Times:

About 31 percent of adults in the United States have now been fully vaccinated. Scientists have estimated that 70 to 90 percent of the total population must acquire resistance to the virus to reach herd immunity. But in hundreds of counties around the country, vaccination rates are low, with some even languishing in the teens.

The disparity in vaccination rates has so far mainly broken down along political lines. The New York Times examined survey and vaccine administration data for nearly every U.S. county and found that both willingness to receive a vaccine and actual vaccination rates to date were lower, on average, in counties where a majority of residents voted to re-elect former President Donald J. Trump in 2020. The phenomenon has left some places with a shortage of supply and others with a glut.

I don’t find this surprising as a basic trend, but when I look at the graphs, I am a little surprised at how strong the correlation is. Blue states are more vaccinated, red states less, and the bluer or redder a state is, the more profound the correlation. Purple states (where the election results were very close, like my own state of Pennsylvania) are mostly right in the middle.

Think about how many lives Donald Trump could save if he barnstormed the states where he’s most popular to encourage everyone to get vaccinated. He could do it Trump style, taking personal credit for the existence of the vaccines, and I’d gladly thank him for it. He could save tens of thousands of lives and keep millions, perhaps, from getting sick.

Delivery Man Gets COVID-19 Vaccine While Dropping Off Hoagies 

You’ll never guess what city this happened in.

EFF’s ‘Am I FLoCed?’ Page for Chrome Users 

Helpful page for Chrome users from the EFF:

Google is running a Chrome “origin trial” to test out an experimental new tracking feature called Federated Learning of Cohorts (aka “FLoC”). According to Google, the trial currently affects 0.5% of users in selected regions, including Australia, Brazil, Canada, India, Indonesia, Japan, Mexico, New Zealand, the Philippines, and the United States. This page will try to detect whether you’ve been made a guinea pig in Google’s ad-tech experiment.

If you don’t have the choice to just stop using Chrome, this is a good way to see if Google is using FLoC against you. Also, DuckDuckGo has a new Chrome extension to block FLoC.

Every Other Browser Maker to Google: Go FLoC Yourself 

Dieter Bohn, also doing some real work at The Verge today:

Google is going it alone with its proposed advertising technology to replace third-party cookies. Every major browser that uses the open source Chromium project has declined to use it, and it’s unclear what that will mean for the future of advertising on the web. [...]

One note I’ll drop here is that I am relieved that nobody else is implementing FLoC right away, because the way FLoC is constructed puts a very big responsibility on a browser maker. If implemented badly, FLoC could leak out sensitive information. It’s a complicated technology that does appear to keep you semi-anonymous, but there are enough details to hide dozens of devils.

Anyway, here’s Brave: “The worst aspect of FLoC is that it materially harms user privacy, under the guise of being privacy-friendly.” And here’s Vivaldi: “We will not support the FLoC API and plan to disable it, no matter how it is implemented. It does not protect privacy and it certainly is not beneficial to users, to unwittingly give away their privacy for the financial gain of Google.”

FLoC is a terrible idea. Google’s goal with FLoC, clearly, is to maintain its surveillance advertising hegemony while further obfuscating the privacy ramifications from today’s status quo. The rest of the industry, led by Apple, is moving toward giving users control over surveillance advertising; FLoC is an attempt to circumvent such control.

Six Months Later, There Still Isn’t a MagSafe Car Charger 

Nilay Patel, doing some actual work at The Verge for once:

Unfortunately it has been six months since the iPhone 12 was announced, and there is a pitiful shortage of MagSafe car chargers. In fact, there are no officially-sanctioned MagSafe car chargers. Instead, there is this Belkin Car Vent Mount PRO with MagSafe, which, as the name suggests, allows you to mount a phone to your vents with MagSafe, in, um, a professional way. However, it does not charge your phone.

Add car chargers to the list with portable battery packs.

Crazed Gun Owner Kills 8 at FedEx Warehouse in Indianapolis 

The New York Times:

The authorities were searching for a motive on Friday after a gunman stormed a FedEx facility in Indianapolis late Thursday, fatally shooting eight people and injuring at least seven others in a fast-moving, chaotic scene that emerged as the latest mass shooting to rock the nation in a matter of weeks.

Officials said at a news conference Friday morning that they had not yet identified the victims, in part because the coroner’s office had not been able to go onto the scene. By early afternoon, bodies began to be removed from the facility.

So seven people get blood clots after getting the J&J vaccine and we pull it, but eight people get killed by a crazed gun owner and it’s just another Friday in America. Makes sense.

Mac Chimes of Death 

Stephen Hackett:

We’re all familiar with the Mac’s startup chime. While it has changed over the years, it has greeted users with its friendly tone for decades. What you may not know is that for years, the Mac also came with a death sound, that would play when the machine was unable to properly boot.

And they are glorious.

I knew about these, but I don’t think I ever heard one in the wild. I used the hell out of my own Mac LC from 1991 through 1997 and it never once “died”.

Hands-On With Anker’s Portable Magnetic Inductive Charging Battery Pack 

I don’t see the appeal of this dingus at all. It’s magnetic, and it works with MagSafe iPhones, but the charger itself doesn’t support MagSafe. It’s just a lousy 5W Qi charger that has a circle of magnets to help it stay in place — charging is going to be very slow compared to actual MagSafe, and even slower compared to using a Lightning cable charger. When I use a portable charger to top off my phone, I want it to work fast. It also seems very inefficient — why would a 5,000 mAh charger only be able to charge an iPhone 12 Mini once? (I also don’t know why MacRumors is promoting this as “MagSafe”. Yes, in the review, they do mention that it’s not MagSafe, but the headline says “MagSafe” and the promotional graphic for the review just say “$40 MagSafe”.)

Let’s hope Apple is nearing completion on the portable MagSafe charger that Gurman said they were working on.

Jackie Robinson on Where to Buy Gasoline 

Today is Jackie Robinson Day in MLB. To celebrate, here’s the great Buck O’Neil sharing a Jackie Robinson story with David Letterman. Quite a few lessons here that are as apt today as they were then.

Ming-Chi Kuo Says No iPhone Mini in 2022 

GSMArena on a new report from Ming-Chi Kuo:

Starting with next year’s iPhone 14 lineup — it will consist of two 6.1-inch iPhones and two 6.7-inch iPhones. That means that Apple will stop making the 5.4-inch iPhone mini starting from next year — there will still be an iPhone 13 mini in 2021, but it’s expected to be made in lower quantities.

Say it ain’t so — I love the Mini.

Update: Here are some not-so-good usage numbers from David Smith. But I’ll offer one reason to hold out hope. I think you need to see and feel the iPhone 12 Mini to truly grok just how much smaller and lighter it is, while still having the same A14 chip and same camera system as the regular iPhone 12. Yet almost no one has been able or willing to go to stores to play with phones since it’s been out because of the pandemic. You tell people it’s 5.4 inches diagonal instead of 6.1 and sure, that sounds smaller. But you pick it up and hold it and use it and it’s like, Holy shit, this is so nice and small.

University of Oxford: Risk of Rare Blood Clotting Higher for COVID-19 Than for Vaccines 

The University of Oxford:

COVID-19 leads to a several-times higher risk of cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) blood clots than current COVID-19 vaccines.

Researchers at the University of Oxford have today reported that the risk of the rare blood clotting known as cerebral venous thrombosis (CVT) following COVID-19 infection is around 100 times greater than normal, several times higher than it is post-vaccination or following influenza.

The FDA and CDC better put an emergency pause on people getting infected with COVID.

You’ll Never Guess the Source of the Top Facebook Post About the J&J Vaccine (Narrator: You’ll Guess It) 

Miles Parks, reporting for NPR:

CNN. ABC News. The New York Times. Fox News.

Those are the publishers of four of the five most popular Facebook posts of articles about the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine this week. They’re ranked 2 to 5 in total interactions, according to data from the tracking tool CrowdTangle. The No. 1 posting, however, isn’t from a news organization. Or a government official. Or a public health expert.

The most popular link on Facebook about the Johnson & Johnson news was shared by a conspiracy theorist and self-described “news analyst & hip-hop artist” named An0maly who thinks the pandemic is a cover for government control.

It’s a stark example of what experts warn could be a coming deluge of false or misleading information related to the one-shot vaccine.

The problem isn’t that the FDA and CDC want to look into this possible blood clotting issue. The problem is the way they announced it. What these ass-covering bureaucrats don’t get is that the messaging — marketing, really — around these vaccines is just as important as the science. And the way they messaged this “pause” — that a one-in-a-million side effect is worth immediately hitting the panic button over — is right out of the Anti-Vax 101 textbook.

Also: fuck Facebook.

Decision to ‘Pause’ Johnson & Johnson Vaccine Causes Public Confidence in Vaccine to Sink 


Fieldwork for the latest Economist/YouGov poll on vaccine safety perceptions was in the midst of being conducted when the Centers for Disease Control made the decision to suspend the use of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The CDC has recommended a pause on administering doses of the vaccine while it completes an investigation of the six cases of blood clots discovered in women who had been vaccinated with it.

Comparing the results from those who took the survey before the announcement with those who took the survey afterward shows the huge impact the CDC’s decision has had on the perceived safety of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Among those who started the survey before the announcement about the Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause, about half (52%) considered the shot “very safe” or “somewhat safe” - twice the number who believed it “very unsafe” or “somewhat unsafe.” After the announcement was made, these figures had converged — just 37% called the vaccine safe, and 39% feeling it unsafe.

Good job maligning an excellent vaccine — the only one approved in the U.S. that requires only one dose and does not require extreme refrigeration.

Kosta Eleftheriou’s App Store Scam of the Day: ‘Jungle Runner 2k21’ 

Kosta Eleftheriou on Twitter:

This @AppStore app pretends to be a silly platformer game for children 4+, but if I set my VPN to Turkey and relaunch it becomes an online casino that doesn’t even use Apple’s IAP.

In other countries, the same app shows different local casinos — Kazakhstan and Italy, for example. The developer isn’t running the online casinos. He’s just showing the casino websites in a web view, and collecting new user bonuses when people sign up through his embedded affiliate code.

Countdown until this app is removed from the App Store in 3... 2... 1... [Update: One day later and poof, it’s gone.]

(Pedantic note, but no real-money casino could ever use Apple’s in-app purchases. App Store developers get paid by Apple monthly (a whole nother issue — Stripe can pay out weekly or even daily). Real-money online casinos only accept instant irrevocable transfers.)

‘Apple vs. Facebook: Why iOS 14.5 Started a Big Tech Fight’ 

Fun, fair, and informative video from Joanna Stern at the Wall Street Journal on the showdown between Apple and Facebook (and war of words between Tim Cook and Mark Zuckerberg) over iOS 14.5’s imminent crackdown on surveillance advertising. Or as Nicole Nguyen summarizes the video: “featuring abs and ads”. (I’d buy one of those Tim Cook dolls action figures. The Zuck figure isn’t as good a likeness, but it’s hard to make a doll from a person who already looks like a mannequin.)

MKBHD on the OnePlus 9 Pro 

Great review from Marques Brownlee — as ever — of one of the most interesting Android phones on the market.

But what struck me was OnePlus’s custom interface for zooming the camera. You can see it in action starting around the 14:27 mark of the video. Instead of pinching-to-zoom in the viewfinder, like every other touchscreen phone, you can instead tap-and-hold on the zoom factor button and you get a flywheel interface you can rotate to choose a precise level of zoom. OnePlus’s clever UI designers were even thoughtful enough to make sure the flywheel’s diameter is exactly the right size so that the circle intersects precisely at the corners of the UI. Chef’s kiss.

They must be very proud over there at OnePlus for their ingenuity in designing this interface.

Reuters Is Putting Its Website Behind a Paywall and Its Head Up Its Ass 

Katie Robertson, reporting for The New York Times:

The company, one of the largest news organizations in the world, announced the new paywall on Thursday, as well as a redesigned website aimed at a “professional” audience wanting business, financial and general news.

After registration and a free preview period, a subscription to will cost $34.99 a month, the same as Bloomberg’s digital subscription. The Wall Street Journal’s digital subscription costs $38.99 a month, while The New York Times costs $18.42 monthly.

Reuters is to news as a few slices of Velveeta on Wonder Bread is to sandwiches: the blandest of the bland. This seems nutty to me, bang-for-the-buck-wise.

Republicans, Dark Money, and Corporate America’s Role in Politics 

Congratulations to everyone who ran Al Franken — clearly the best and most engaging communicator the Democrats have had since Bill Clinton — out of the Senate over a bunch of bullshit that everyone now regrets. But, on the other hand, if he were still in the Senate, we probably wouldn’t get to hear his hilarious Mitch McConnell impression.

Deep Dive on Twin Pines/Lone Pine Mall 

Todd Vaziri:

Twin Pines Mall became Lone Pine Mall after Marty changed the future in “Back to the Future” (1985). Is that an Easter Egg or a Thing in the Movie? Let’s find out!

Great Scott is this well-done.

Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile Kill RCS Plans 

Remember RCS — the cross-platform successor to SMS that (supposedly) had the support of all the U.S. carriers and Google? A supposedly modern messaging protocol that wasn’t going to support end-to-end encryption — and something that Apple never said a word about supporting.

Ron Amadeo, writing for Ars Technica:

The Rich Communication Services (RCS) rollout continues to be a hopeless disaster. A year and a half ago, the cellular carriers created the “Cross-Carrier Messaging Initiative (CCMI),” a joint venture between AT&T, Sprint, T-Mobile, and Verizon that would roll out enhanced messaging to the masses in 2020. Now, Light Reading is reporting that initiative is dead, meaning that the carriers have accomplished basically nothing on the RCS front in the past 18 months.

Get me to the fainting couch.

Android’s New ‘Fast Pair’ User Interface for Wireless Headphones 

Looks familiar, can’t quite put my finger on where I’ve seen something like this before...

Yamauchi No. 10 Family Office 

Welp, there goes my idea for a modern DF redesign. Back to the drawing board.

(Via Craig Mod.)

Roku’s New Remotes Have an Apple TV+ Button 

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge:

In a sign of how far Apple is willing to go to continue raising the profile of Apple TV Plus, the company has worked out a deal with Roku that will give the streaming video service its own shortcut button. This is the first time a branded Apple TV Plus button has appeared on any remote control.

You’ll find it on the new Roku Voice Remote Pro, announced today, which features a rechargeable battery, headphone jack for private listening, and two programmable shortcut buttons. The usual branded buttons include Netflix, Disney Plus, Hulu, and now Apple TV Plus.

There’s only room for four of these buttons on this remote. This is not a small deal.

Amazingly, you can even tell which end is which by feel on this remote.

‘Embrace the Grind’ 

Jacob Kaplan-Moss:

I often have people newer to the tech industry ask me for secrets to success. There aren’t many, really, but this secret — being willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to be magic — works in tech too.

We’re an industry obsessed with automation, with streamlining, with efficiency. One of the foundational texts of our engineering culture, Larry Wall’s virtues of the programmer, includes laziness:

Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it.

I don’t disagree: being able to offload repetitive tasks to a program is one of the best things about knowing how to code. However, sometimes problems can’t be solved by automation. If you’re willing to embrace the grind you’ll look like a magician.

I greatly enjoyed this piece on its own, but I think it ties in particularly well with the aforelinked item about Ben Thompson’s column on Taylor Swift’s re-recording of an entire hit album just to have a version she owned the rights to. Who would do that? Painstakingly re-create an entire work of art? Someone willing to embrace the grind.

‘Non-Fungible Taylor Swift’ 

Long story rendered very short, Taylor Swift does not own the rights to her first six albums, and isn’t happy about that. She faithfully re-recorded the entirety of her second album, Fearless, and just released the new version as Fearless: Taylor’s Version. Without breaking any contract or copyright, she effectively rendered the original studio version nearly worthless, because her fans know the deal.

Ben Thompson has a great column on the whole saga, and deftly connects it with Dave Chappelle’s similar direct-to-fans appeal to retake control over the rights to his seminal Chappelle’s Show. Thompson:

This explains what Swift got right in 2014:

A friend of mine, who is an actress, told me that when the casting for her recent movie came down to two actresses, the casting director chose the actress with more Twitter followers. I see this becoming a trend in the music industry. For me, this dates back to 2005 when I walked into my first record-label meetings, explaining to them that I had been communicating directly with my fans on this new site called Myspace. In the future, artists will get record deals because they have fans — not the other way around.

This is the inverse of Swift leveraging her fans to acquire her masters: future artists will wield that power from the beginning (like sovereign writers). It’s not that “art is important and rare”, and thus valuable, but rather that the artists themselves are important and rare, and impute value on whatever they wish.

To put it another way, while we used to pay for plastic discs and thought we were paying for songs (or newspapers/writing or cable/TV stars), empowering distribution over creators, today we pay with both money and attention according to the direction of creators, giving them power over everyone.

Alex Berenson: The Pandemic’s Wrongest Man 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

To be honest, I initially had serious doubts about publishing this piece. The trap of exposing conspiracy theories is obvious: To demonstrate why a theory is wrong, you have to explain it and, in doing so, incur the risk that some people will be convinced by the very theory you’re trying to debunk. But that horse has left the barn. More than half of Republicans under the age of 50 say they simply won’t get a vaccine. Their hesitancy is being fanned by right-wing hacks, Fox News showboats, and vaccine skeptics like Alex Berenson. The case for the vaccines is built upon a firm foundation of scientific discoveryclinical-trial data, and real-world evidence. The case against the vaccines wobbles because it is built upon a steaming pile of bullshit.

An evisceration for the ages. Keep this bookmarked in case anyone sends you links to Berenson’s anti-J&J vaccine nonsense today.

Programming as Meditation 

Craig Mod, writing for Wired:

A little over a year ago, as the Covid-19 lockdowns were beginning to fan out across the globe, most folks grasped for toilet paper and canned food. The thing I reached for: a search function.

The purpose of the search function was somewhat irrelevant. I simply needed to code. Code soothes because it can provide control in moments when the world seems to spiral. Reductively, programming consists of little puzzles to be solved. Not just inert jigsaws on living room tables, but puzzles that breathe with an uncanny life force. Puzzles that make things happen, that get things done, that automate tedium or allow for the publishing of words across the world.

I’ve been hacking on personal side projects a lot more over the last year, and the above really explains how it makes me feel. “Puzzles that breathe with an uncanny life force” — that’s it. That’s how programming has felt for me ever since I got my first BASIC program working back when I was a kid. Even when it was just me going up to the Commodore 64 display model at Kmart in the 1980s and typing:

20 GOTO 10

and then scurrying away with uncontrollable giggles — which I did, religiously, every single time we went to Kmart — I got that thrill.

‘Spring Loaded’ Apple Event Next Tuesday, Just as Siri Predicted 

Always happy to see homage to the one true Apple logo. As for any meaning to the name or design, my take is that it means nothing and thus means something: that the things getting announced are all mostly unrelated to each other.

Some Perspective on Blood Clot Risk 

Rebecca Wind, on Twitter:

The risk of blood clots from birth control pills is 1 in 1,000 and is considered a low-risk side effect. The risk from the J&J vaccine is 1 in 1,000,000. #GetVaccinated

That’s arguably understating the long-term risk for women on birth control pills.

You know what’s even worse for causing dangerous blood clots? Getting infected with COVID-19:

“We began to notice a really unusual manifestation of venous and arterial thromboembolism in patients with COVID-19,” said Malas. “In addition to higher instances of blood clots, the mortality for patients hospitalized for COVID-19 and with thromboembolism was much higher, compared to patients without clots. It’s unusual because we have never seen anything like this with other respiratory infections.”

Overall, 20 percent of the COVID-19 patients were found to have blood clots in the veins, and among patients in the intensive care unit, that statistic increased to 31 percent.

Tufekci, Gertz, and Silver on the FDA’s Pause on the J&J Vaccine 

Zeynep Tufekci, on Twitter:

FDA says the pause is due to “abundance of caution.” I am very much for abundance of caution against tail risk, and a full investigation into rare events. I respect these are difficult decisions. But “caution” isn’t the term for dramatic, forward-leaning and irreversible acts.

I appreciate the people saying “we should feel more confident because they’re investigating”, which is true — it works on me! — but the word “should” is doing a lot of work there. Meanwhile, let’s check in on how this affects dynamics of human cognition, media and social media.

Matt Gertz:

I am extremely skeptical of the ability of public messaging to disaggregate “the J&J vaccine is under review as a precaution” from “the J&J vaccine is not safe and the others may not be either” in the minds of normal people. An incredibly crucial, high-stakes test for the press.

Nate Silver, responding to Gertz:

It’s also a high-stakes test for the FDA, and they failed it, because of course lots of people are going to take away the latter message.

There’s also data on this based on decreased public confidence in the AstraZeneca vaccine in Europe following similar pauses there. So the FDA can’t even use the excuse of flying blind.


Also Silver:

If out of the blue one morning Gov. Newsom was like “Shark attacks are extremely rare, but out of an abundance of caution, we’re closing every beach in California until we investigate more”, that’s not likely to get more people to go out to the beach, even once beaches reopen.

‘Do Less Harm’ 

Paul Kafasis:

The result of this decision is sure to be a lower number of people vaccinated, over a longer period of time. We know that will cause more COVID deaths. By contrast, just one death is currently associated with this vaccine. It’s unpleasant to measure one set of deaths against another, but that’s precisely what must be done in a public health crisis. If we were able to vaccinate all of the US with the J&J vaccine, we would currently expect to see about 330 issues with blood clots. Meanwhile, more than 560,000 Americans have lost their lives to COVID already, with 330 more being killed by COVID every few hours.

The worst part about this is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is almost certainly our best vaccine. The efficacy numbers aren’t what matters — the J&J vaccine is way more than effective enough. What matters is that it’s single-dose. The single-dose J&J vaccine is the clearest path to pushing our overall nationwide (and worldwide) vaccinated numbers into herd immunity territory, wiping COVID-19 from the face of the earth. It would be a catastrophic mistake to panic over one-in-a-million blood clots for any of the approved vaccines, but it’s a worst-case scenario to unjustly malign our only highly-effective single-dose vaccine.

U.S. Calls for Pause on Johnson & Johnson Vaccine After One-in-a-Million Blood Clotting Cases 

Noah Weiland, Sharon LaFraniere, and Carl Zimmer, reporting for The New York Times:

Federal health agencies on Tuesday called for an immediate pause in use of Johnson & Johnson’s single-dose coronavirus vaccine after six recipients in the United States developed a rare disorder involving blood clots within about two weeks of vaccination.

All six recipients were women between the ages of 18 and 48. One woman died and a second woman in Nebraska has been hospitalized in critical condition.

Nearly seven million people in the United States have received Johnson & Johnson shots so far, and roughly nine million more doses have been shipped out to the states, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

After a run of remarkably good news on the COVID vaccination front here in the U.S., this is an utter gut punch, and a horrendously wrong decision. This terrible decision is going to kill tens of thousands of Americans. Six blood clots after 7 million administered Johnson & Johnson vaccines, versus a disease that has a mortality rate of 18,000 per million cases in the U.S., and has killed over 1,700 of every million people.

One death after 7 million J&J vaccinations for these blood clots (which they don’t even know are attributable to the vaccine), versus over 50,000 dead per 7 million cases of COVID in Americans. That’s a ratio of 1 : 50,000. You can fairly argue those mortality numbers are skewed by the fact that COVID has already ripped through our nursing homes, killing a lot of our most vulnerable people, but still, the risk numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark. And mortality numbers don’t include the millions of Americans who suffered or are suffering from severe cases that require hospitalization.

This is criminal innumeracy.

Siri Claims Apple Event Planned for Next Tuesday 

Sami Fathi, writing for MacRumors:

Upon being asked “When is the next Apple Event,” ‌Siri‌ is currently responding with, “The special event is on Tuesday, April 20, at Apple Park in Cupertino, CA. You can get all the details on”

Works for me on my HomePods, but not when I ask my iPhone or iPad. Others are getting the April 20 answer on their Macs and iPhones — why it varies so much by device, who knows? Tuesday 20 April is exactly the date I was thinking about when I wrote about Apple not wanting to send a top executive to Washington to testify before the Senate antitrust committee next week.

ThinkPad X1 Nano: Lenovo’s 2-Pound Laptop 

Monica Chin, writing for The Verge:

If you’ve used a ThinkPad before, you probably know 90 percent of what to expect from the ThinkPad X1 Nano. All of the staples are here. It’s got the black carbon fiber chassis, the discrete buttons on top of the touchpad, the mechanical privacy shutter, the ThinkPad logo on the palm rest, and (of course) the red pointer nub in the middle of the keyboard.

But one thing is unique about the X1 Nano: it’s the lightest ThinkPad Lenovo has ever made. Starting at just 1.99 pounds, the Nano isn’t technically the lightest laptop on the market. But it’s still one of the best combinations of portability, build quality, and performance that you can buy.

Now here’s a PC laptop that truly catches my eye. If I had to use a PC laptop, I’d use a ThinkPad. But that 2 pound weight* — that’s something Apple currently does not compete with. An M1 MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds (and an M1 MacBook Pro weighs just 0.2 pounds more — the Air is only ever-so-slightly lighter than the 13-inch Pro).

How about this? My 11-inch iPad Pro attached to Apple’s Magic Keyboard: 2.36 pounds. Lenovo’s X1 Nano even has that beat on weight, and the ThinkPad has a 13-inch display and full-size keyboard.

Apple did sell a 2-pound laptop once: the 12-inch no-adjective MacBook that was available from 2015–2019. That 12-inch MacBook was beloved by some people I know, specifically because it was so damn light. But even folks who loved it admit it was severely compromised performance-wise.

Surely, Apple is going to come out with an Apple Silicon MacBook that runs really fast, lasts long on battery, and weighs 2 pounds (or less). It’ll make today’s M1 MacBook Air feel like a brick. It just can’t stand for long that Apple is so far behind the PC state-of-the-art in lightweight laptops.

* Worth noting that Lenovo sells the X1 Nano with two different screens, one a touchscreen, and one not. The touchscreen model weighs 2.14 pounds.

The Framework Laptop 

Upgradeable, modular 13-inch Windows laptop set to ship this summer. I’m sure it will succeed similarly to Google’s Project Ara, the modular device that reinvented the smartphone in 2014.

‘Surviving the Crackdown in Xinjiang’ 

Extraordinary piece for The New Yorker by Raffi Khatchadourian, profiling Anar Sabit, a young ethnic Kazakh woman who was living in Vancouver but returned to her family in Xinjiang, China in 2017 when her father died:

That summer, Sabit and her mother returned to Kuytun, to settle her father’s affairs. Friends had warned her not to go: rumors had been circulating of an escalating crackdown on the indigenous peoples of Xinjiang — of Kazakh traders being disappeared at the border. But Sabit had made an uneventful trip there less than a month earlier, and she wanted to be by her mother’s side. For two weeks, they met with family and visited ancestors’ graves. The trip, she later recalled, “was full of tears and sadness.”

On July 15th, Sabit and her mother drove to Ürümqi Diwopu International Airport, for a flight back to Kazakhstan. They arrived in the middle of the night, and the building was nearly empty. At customs, an officer inspected her mother’s passport and cleared her to go. But when Sabit handed over her documents he stopped, looked at her, and then took her passport into a back office.

“Don’t worry,” Sabit assured her mother, explaining that the delay was most likely another bureaucratic annoyance. Minutes later, the officer returned with an Uyghur official, who told Sabit to sit on a bench. “You cannot leave,” he said. “You can discuss between yourselves whether your mother will go or stay.”

In an emotional torrent, Sabit’s mother pleaded for an explanation. The officer replied, “We need to ask her a few questions.”

She wasn’t released until early 2019. Brutal, heartbreaking, angering story, and the scope is unimaginable:

Reporters with Radio Free Asia called up local Chinese officials, who, accustomed to speaking with Party propagandists, were strikingly candid. When one camp director was asked the name of his facility, he confessed that he didn’t know, because it had been changed so often, but gamely ran outside to read the latest version off a sign. A police officer admitted that his department was instructed to detain forty per cent of the people in its jurisdiction. In January, 2018, an official in Kashgar told the news service that a hundred and twenty thousand Uyghurs had been detained in his prefecture alone.

The growing camp infrastructure attracted notice, too. Shawn Zhang, a student in Canada, began using satellite data to map the facilities. By the summer, it appeared that roughly ten per cent of Xinjiang’s Uyghur population was under confinement. Adrian Zenz, an independent academic who has unearthed troves of government documents on Chen’s crackdown, estimated that there were as many as a million people in the camps — a statistic echoed by the United Nations and others. Not since the Holocaust had a country’s minority population been so systematically detained.

As the crackdown evolved, hastily assembled facilities, like Sabit’s in Kuytun, gave way to titanic new compounds in remote locations. When forced to acknowledge them publicly, the government described them as benign or indispensable — noting, “Xinjiang has been salvaged from the verge of massive turmoil.”

These are long block quotes, but they offer only a taste of the whole story. You’ve surely heard Joseph Stalin’s line that “One death is a tragedy, a million deaths are a statistic.” This is the first-hand story of one internment in China’s Xinjiang ethnic cleansing camps, and it is tragic.

U.S. Secretary of State Says China Let Coronavirus Get ‘Out of Hand’ 

U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, in an interview on Meet the Press:

“I think China knows that in the early stages of Covid, it didn’t do what it needed to do, which was to, in real time, give access to international experts, in real time to share information, in real time to provide real transparency.

“One result of that failure is that the virus got out of hand faster and with, I think, much more egregious results than it might otherwise.”

In other China-COVID news, their vaccines are apparently — by their own admission — not highly effective, yet are being distributed around the world in huge quantities. The Washington Post:

The head of the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention conceded that the efficacy of Chinese coronavirus vaccines is “not high” and that they may require improvements, marking a rare admission from a government that has staked its international credibility on its doses.

The comments on Saturday from George Gao come after the government has already distributed hundreds of millions of doses to other countries, even though the rollout has been dogged by questions over why Chinese pharmaceutical firms have not released detailed clinical trial data about the vaccines’ efficacy.

China has struck deals to supply many of its allies and economic partners in the developing world and boasted that world leaders — including in Indonesia, Pakistan and the United Arab Emirates — have taken the shots.


My thanks to Ordoro for sponsoring last week at DF. Ordoro is an all-in-one order management platform for the omnichannel e-commerce merchant. With a feature-rich app and flex pricing, Ordoro offers everything a growing retailer needs to scale with confidence. Select batches of orders, create shipping labels, and keep your inventory in sync all at once. With automation rules and presets, Ordoro does the heavy lifting to reduce human error.

Ordoro launched in 2010 and is a small team of people who are passionate about creating the best product possible. They’ve grown primarily through word of mouth, and last year helped ship over 12,000,000 e-commerce orders worldwide.

If you could use better shipping software, check them out.

Apple Did Not Refuse to Testify Before the U.S. Senate 

Business Insider (among others) is reporting that “Apple is reportedly refusing to testify at an upcoming congressional antitrust hearing” because of a testy letter from Senators Amy Klobuchar (D) and Mike Lee (R) that reads:

We write regarding Apple Inc.’s refusal to provide a witness to testify in a timely manner before the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on Competition Policy, Antitrust, and Consumer Rights at a hearing to examine the competition issues raised by app stores. [...] We strongly urge Apple to reconsider its position and to provide a witness to testify before the Subcommittee in a timely manner.

Apple’s response, via Mark Gurman at Bloomberg:

We have deep respect for your role and process on these matters and, as we told your staff, we are willing to participate in a hearing in the subcommittee. We simply sought alternative dates in light of upcoming matters that have been scheduled for some time and that touch on similar issues.

Apple is sending Kyle Andeer, the company’s chief compliance officer, to speak at the Senate antitrust hearing on April 21.

Spitball: That week isn’t good for Apple because they’re planning to hold an event. But if the event is pre-filmed, would that preclude Tim Cook from being in Washington? Yes, I think. Even with these quarantine virtual announcement events, it’s still all hands on deck in Cupertino — just in case. And what if they’re filming it next week — a week he’d need to spend preparing for Senate testimony if he were testifying April 21? Cook needs to be ready, for example, to re-film his opening to address any sort of breaking news — something like a natural (or unnatural) disaster. Even though they’re filmed in advance, these virtual events are meant to feel live.

Update: Spitball 2: There’s also Epic-v.-Apple, which goes to trial May 3. That would certainly qualify as “upcoming matters that have been scheduled for some time and that touch on similar issues.”

The Talk Show: ‘Not to Get Zealotrous’ 

Craig Mod joins the show to talk about writing, designing, filmmaking, what makes for good software, and building a successful membership program to support independent art. And: pizza toast.

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Acorn 7.0 

Beautiful update to my favorite image editor. Big new features include:

  • A unified document window, where the tools (which used to be in floating palettes) are built right into the document window itself. (There’s also a preference setting if you still want them as palettes.)
  • Native Apple Silicon code.
  • A new “Command Bar”, that is sort of like Spotlight but just for Acorn. You pop up the Command Bar with Shift-Command-O and type what you’re looking for — you get instant results for Acorn commands and Acorn’s excellent Help documentation. (BBEdit and Nova both have features similar to this; it’s a great way to expose a deep professional app’s many commands to the keyboard without asking the user to memorize dozens of distinct shortcuts.)

See also: Acorn author Gus Mueller’s write-up on his blog, and the copiously-detailed Acorn release notes.

Acorn is usually $40, but is currently on sale for just $20 — a veritable steal for a pro tool like this — at Flying Meat’s website and on the Mac App Store. 14-day free trial, too.

Samsung’s ‘iTest’ Lets You Try a Simulated Galaxy Device on Your iPhone 

Juli Clover, MacRumors:

The iTest website is being advertised in New Zealand, according to a MacRumors reader who came across the feature. Visiting the iTest website on an iPhone prompts users to install a web app to the Home screen.

From there, tapping the app launches into a simulated Galaxy smartphone home screen complete with a range of apps and settings options. You can open the Galaxy Store, apply Themes, and even access the messages and phone apps.

This is a fun idea, and it’s pretty well done. Seems like the sort of thing that has to be done as a web app, though — seems doubtful Apple would approve a real app for the App Store that does this.

Google’s Project Zero Exposed Zero-Day Bugs Being Exploited by Western Counterterrorism Agencies 

Patrick Howell O’Neill, writing for MIT Technology Review:

Google found the hacking group exploiting 11 zero-day vulnerabilities in just nine months, a high number of exploits over a short period. Software that was attacked included the Safari browser on iPhones but also many Google products, including the Chrome browser on Android phones and Windows computers. [...]

Instead of focusing on who was behind and targeted by a specific operation, Google decided to take broader action for everyone. The justification was that even if a Western government was the one exploiting those vulnerabilities today, it will eventually be used by others, and so the right choice is always to fix the flaw today.

I don’t think this was an easy decision, but I think it was the right call. Project Zero’s purpose is to find vulnerabilities and report them to get them fixed, period.

Amazon Workers Defeat Union Effort in Alabama 

Karen Weise and Michael Corkery, reporting for The New York Times:

Amazon appeared to beat back the most significant labor drive in its history on Friday, when an initial tally showed that workers at its giant warehouse in Alabama had voted decisively against forming a union.

Workers cast 1,798 votes against a union, giving Amazon enough to emphatically defeat the effort. Ballots in favor of a union trailed at 738, less than 30 percent of the votes tallied, according to a preliminary count. The results will still need to be certified by federal officials.

The lopsided outcome at the 6,000-person warehouse in Bessemer, Ala., dealt a crushing blow to labor organizers, Democrats and their allies at a time when conditions have been ripe for unions to make advances.

I’m not surprised this unionization drive failed, but I’m a little surprised the vote was so lopsided.

Samsung Announces SmartTag+ Tile Tracker With Ultra Wideband 


Samsung Electronics Co., Ltd. today announced the official launch of Galaxy SmartTag+, available starting on April 16. Galaxy SmartTag+ is equipped with both Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) and ultra-wideband (UWB) technology so that it can pinpoint the location with greater accuracy. It also uses augmented reality (AR) technology to visually guide you towards where your missing item is located using your smartphone’s camera.

Ultra wideband for precise location, augmented reality for showing you where to go. Have I mentioned recently that Apple’s AirTags product — which, admittedly, the company has never mentioned — feels late?

I still don’t get how this is more than a big $40 keychain. I’m not saying I never misplace my keys, but it doesn’t happen often enough that I’d want a big tag like this on my keyring all the time. And if I did have something this big on my keys, I’d be less likely to lose them even if the device wasn’t “smart”. All the other small things I lose track of — Apple Watch, my iPhone, my AirPods — have built-in location tracking.

Nikkei Asia Report: ‘MacBook and iPad Production Delayed as Supply Crunch Hits Apple’ 

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

Production of some MacBooks and iPads has been postponed due to the global component shortage, Nikkei Asia has learned, in a sign that even Apple, with its massive procurement power, is not immune from the unprecedented supply crunch.

Chip shortages have caused delays in a key step in MacBook production — the mounting of components on printed circuit boards before final assembly — sources briefed on the matter told Nikkei Asia. Some iPad assembly, meanwhile, was postponed because of a shortage of displays and display components, sources said.

As a result of the delay, Apple has pushed back a portion of component orders for the two devices from the first half of this year to the second half, the people said. Industry sources and experts say the delays are a sign that the chip shortage is growing more serious and could impact smaller tech players even more heavily.

No word on which MacBook or iPad models, and Nikkei claims iPhone production hasn’t been affected yet. But, it seems possible that this might explain the fact that Apple hasn’t announced a spring special event yet — all-new iPad Pros are widely anticipated to be coming soon.

Frenzic: Overtime 

Speaking of Apple Arcade and classic iPhone games, The Iconfactory has made a sequel to Frenzic:

All of us here at the Iconfactory have dreamt of creating a sequel to the original Frenzic, which first debuted on the App Store thirteen years ago. Thanks to Apple Arcade, that dream is about to become a reality. We’ve taken the original game and propelled it not just to the next level, but far beyond. We can’t wait to tell you more about what went into its creation.

13 years! I’ve been beta-testing the new Frenzic for a while now, and it’s everything you’d expect: it looks, sounds, and feels fun.

Apple Arcade Expands Its Catalog to More Than 180 Games 

Another bit of news from Apple at the end of last week:

Apple today announced it is introducing two entirely new game categories and adding more than 30 incredible titles to Apple Arcade, its popular gaming subscription service for players of all ages. Apple Arcade offers breakthrough, unique benefits players love: no ads, no in-app purchases, support for Apple’s high user privacy standards, and one all-inclusive subscription offer with access for up to six family members. In addition to new exclusive Arcade Originals, including “NBA 2K21 Arcade Edition,” “Star Trek: Legends,” and “The Oregon Trail,” the service is introducing two new game categories, Timeless Classics and App Store Greats. Arcade Originals are playable across iPhone, iPad, Mac, and Apple TV. Timeless Classics and App Store Greats are available on iPhone and iPad.

Timeless Classics includes universally loved, quintessential genres with titles like “Good Sudoku by Zach Gage,” “Chess - Play & Learn,” and “Backgammon,” while App Store Greats brings some of the best award-winning games from the App Store to Apple Arcade, including “Threes!,” “Mini Metro,” and “Fruit Ninja Classic,” all ad-free and fully unlocked.

This sort of expansion might have been planned all along, but it feels like a bit of a strategic change. Previously, every Apple Arcade title was an exclusive original. This expansion to include a bunch of existing games feels like the Arcade equivalent of securing the rights to a catalog of existing movies and TV shows. Apple Arcade is starting to feel a lot more like Netflix for games. These “Timeless Classics” and “App Store Greats” are (mostly?) still in the App Store as non-Arcade titles too — there are two copies of these games now, the standalone versions and the Arcade versions.

$5 a month, a wide variety of great titles, no ads, no in-app purchases. That’s a really compelling price for what you get.

Apple Announces Third-Party Products That Work With ‘Find My’ Network 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today introduced the updated Find My app, allowing third-party products to use the private and secure finding capabilities of Apple’s Find My network, which comprises hundreds of millions of Apple devices. The Find My network accessory program opens up the vast and global Find My network to third-party device manufacturers to build products utilizing the service, so their customers can use the Find My app to locate and keep track of the important items in their lives. [...]

VanMoof’s latest S3 and X3 e-bikes, Belkin’s SOUNDFORM Freedom True Wireless Earbuds, and the Chipolo ONE Spot item finder make up the first group of innovative third-party accessories that work with Find My. These products will allow users to locate where they left their ride, their earbuds at the gym, their backpack, and so much more. Additional third-party device manufacturers will offer Find My-enabled products and accessories soon.

A somewhat unusual announcement. We’re all expecting Apple to announce its own “AirTags” tracking beacons imminently, but here’s Apple promoting third-party products, including a tag-like product from Chipolo that seems directly competitive with what we expect AirTags to be, and wireless earbuds from Belkin that obviously compete against AirPods. (According to Belkin’s website, these new earbuds cost $100 but aren’t shipping until June.) But it makes sense: Apple wants third-party products to use the Find My network. And if Apple really is on the cusp of announcing AirTags (and perhaps updated AirPods too), this is how they do it. Promote their partners’ products this week, ahead of their own announcements.

Conspicuously absent from the list, of course, is Tile. Given their membership in Epic’s Coalition for App Fairness, I wouldn’t hold my breath waiting for Apple to promote Tile’s products. And it’s unclear to me whether Tile even wants to be in the Find My app — their spat with Apple is more about their own app competing with Find My, and their accusations that Apple unfairly advantages Find My by not holding it to the same rules as third-party apps that ask for always-on location access. Apple’s solution is this third-party accessory program; Tile’s preferred solution would be Apple allowing Tile’s own app to do everything Find My can do.

Kara Swisher With Tim Cook 

Just an astoundingly good interview.

Tom Bihn’s Synik 22 

My thanks to Tom Bihn for sponsoring last week at DF to promote their new Synik 22 backpack. It has everything: suspended laptop compartment that fits most 13-inch laptops, rolling luggage pass-through, ultra-comfortable edgeless shoulder straps, and full clamshell opening. Tom Bihn bags are all cut and sewn in Seattle, and come with a lifetime guarantee.

I love Tom Bihn’s bags. I bought one over a decade ago for my beloved 11-inch MacBook Air, traveled on dozens of flights with it, and now it’s still a perfect-sized bag for going places with an 11-inch iPad. And the bag looks brand-new. Tom Bihn’s bags are just the best stuff.

CJR: ‘An Insider-Trading Indictment Shows Ties to Bloomberg News Scoops’ 

Bill Grueskin, reporting for Columbia Journalism Review:

For more than six months, federal prosecutors say, a New York man used inside information to make illegal profits in the stock market — and a core element of his alleged scheme was his interaction with Bloomberg News, which published several stories shortly after the trader arranged to make significant purchases of the companies’ shares.

Last month, a federal grand jury indicted Jason Peltz on multiple counts of securities fraud, money laundering, tax evasion and lying to the FBI. Peltz, 38, is accused of working with over a half-dozen unnamed and unindicted co-conspirators to learn about impending takeovers and other market-moving news, and to move money between accounts as a way to hide his role and profits.

The indictment notes that Peltz’s moves were timed closely to stories that ran at “a financial news organization.” While the newsroom isn’t named, federal officials cite five stories and their timestamps — all of which match precisely to pieces that ran on Bloomberg News’ website. Each of those stories had shared bylines, but only one reporter is identified as an author for all of the articles: Ed Hammond, who worked at the Financial Times before coming to Bloomberg more than six years ago to cover mergers and acquisitions. In 2017, Hammond was named Bloomberg’s senior deals reporter in New York — a highly prestigious post in that newsroom.

Well this is just shocking.

MLB Moves 2021 All-Star Game From Atlanta, in Protest of Georgia Law Passed by Republicans to Restrict Voting Access 

Anthony Castrovince, reporting for

Major League Baseball announced on Friday that it will relocate the 2021 All-Star Game and MLB Draft, originally scheduled to take place in Atlanta, to a to-be-determined location. The decision comes a little more than a week after the passage of S.B. 202, a Georgia law that President Joe Biden criticized earlier this week, saying that it will restrict voting access for residents of the state.

Commissioner Rob Manfred said in a statement that the decision to move the All-Star Game was “the best way to demonstrate our values as a sport” and was made after consultation with teams, former and current players, the MLB Players Association and The Players Alliance, among others.

“Major League Baseball fundamentally supports voting rights for all Americans and opposes restrictions to the ballot box,” Manfred said. “In 2020, MLB became the first professional sports league to join the non-partisan Civic Alliance to help build a future in which everyone participates in shaping the United States. We proudly used our platform to encourage baseball fans and communities throughout our country to perform their civic duty and actively participate in the voting process. Fair access to voting continues to have our game’s unwavering support.”

No fucking around on MLB’s part. Good for them. Here’s the deal: enact shameful laws, and the rest of society is going to react accordingly. Shame is powerful, and MLB is shaming the state of Georgia appropriately.

The Republican line is that this law is entirely about election integrity, and not about restricting voting access in Democratic-leaning areas. Bullshit. Here’s a NYT analysis of exactly what’s in the new law. Among other things, it restricts access to mail-in ballots, reduces the number of drop boxes in urban areas (the Atlanta metro area would go from 94 drop boxes in the last election to, at most, 23 in the next election). Most odious of all are restrictions on providing food and water to those waiting in line to vote. The fact that voters in some predominantly black precincts still have to wait upwards of two hours to cast their ballots is itself indefensible, but disallowing volunteers from offering them food and water while waiting in lines that should not exist in the first place is shameful.

Fight Night in Philly 

Marc Raimondi, reporting for ESPN:

MMA fighter Khetag Pliev had to have a finger surgically reattached after it was severed during the second round of a fight Thursday night in Philadelphia. The fight, which was part of an event put on by Cage Fury Fighting Championship and aired on UFC Fight Pass, was stopped when the referee noticed Pliev was missing his left ring finger.

For several minutes, those in the venue were searching for the stray digit. Event promoter Rob Haydak said officials looked all around the cage, and there was even an announcement over the PA system asking people to look for it inside 2300 Arena.

Haydak said it was ultimately discovered that the finger had come off and was lodged inside Pliev’s glove all along.

We’re used to giving the finger in Philly, not finding it.

Your Product Sucks: Apple Music on MacOS Review 

“It is like a little kid wrote this... while being on drugs.”

“What about such advanced features as drag-and-drop? Nope.”

Music on Mac is just an utter embarrassment for Apple. Truly an ignominious fate for iTunes, which started 20 years ago as an exemplar of a great Mac app.