Linked List: December 2021

The Talk Show: ‘Schrödinger’s Feature’ 

Apple’s 2021 year in review, with special guest Rene Ritchie.

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The Conditions at a Foxconn iPhone Plant in India: Hundreds Hospitalized With Food Poisoning, Rats in Kitchens, Dorms Without Running Water 

Sudarshan Varadhan and A. Ananthalakshmi, reporting for Reuters from Sriperumbudur, India:

Reuters spoke to six women who worked at the Foxconn plant near Chennai. All of them requested they not to be named because of fear of retaliation on the job or from police. Workers slept on the floor in rooms, which housed between six to 30 women, five of these workers said. Two workers said the hostel they lived in had toilets without running water. [...]

Following the protests, food safety inspectors visited the hostel where the bout of food poisoning occurred and closed the dorm’s kitchen after finding rats and poor drainage, Jegadish Chandra Bose, a senior food safety officer in the Thiruvallur district where the hostel is located, told Reuters. [...]

The food poisoning incident sent 159 women from one dorm to hospital on Dec 15, workers told Reuters. Some 100 more women needed medical attention but were not hospitalised, the Thiruvallur district administration said last week.

The response:

The facility has been placed “on probation” and Apple will ensure its strict standards are met before the plant reopens, an Apple spokesperson said.

“We found that some of the remote dormitory accommodations and dining rooms being used for employees do not meet our requirements and we are working with the supplier to ensure a comprehensive set of corrective actions are rapidly implemented.”

“Did not meet our requirements” indeed. Jiminy.

When HDMI 2.1 Isn’t HDMI 2.1  

Simon Baker, writing for TFT Central:

We covered above what we believe the common consumer expectation is in terms of capabilities and features when they see HDMI 2.1 advertised. If you delve in to the detail of HDMI 2.1 you will probably be surprised to hear that actually none of these things are required!

We contacted who are the “HDMI Licensing Administrator” to ask some questions about this new standard, seek clarification on several questions we had and discuss the Xiaomi display we mentioned above. Here is what we were told:

  1. HDMI 2.0 no longer exists, and devices should not claim compliance to v2.0 as it is not referenced any more
  2. The features of HDMI 2.0 are now a sub-set of 2.1
  3. All the new capabilities and features associated with HDMI 2.1 are optional (this includes FRL, the higher bandwidths, VRR, ALLM and everything else)
  4. If a device claims compliance to 2.1 then they need to also state which features the device supports so there is “no confusion” (hmmmm)

What a mess — maybe worse than the USB-C plug situation.

Update: It gets better (by which I mean worse): HDMI 2.1a is coming at CES next week, and it’s just as confusing.

NYT: ‘Are Apple AirTags Being Used to Track People and Steal Cars?’ 

This report for The New York Times from Ryan Mac and Kashmir Hill fails the Betteridge’s Law test. Their best answer is “Well, maybe”:

Mary Ford, a 17-year-old high school student from Cary, N.C., received a notification in late October that she was being tracked by an unknown AirTag after driving to an appointment. She panicked as she searched her car.

Ms. Ford only realized it wasn’t a threat when her mother revealed she had put the tracker in the vehicle about two weeks earlier to follow her daughter’s whereabouts.

“I was nervous about Mary being out and not being able to find her,” said her mother, Wendy Ford. She said she hadn’t intended to keep the knowledge of the AirTag from her daughter, “but if I knew she would have been notified, I probably would have told her.”

This makes no sense. She hid the AirTag in her daughter’s car and didn’t tell her about it, but the Times claims “she hadn’t intended to keep the knowledge of the AirTag from her daughter”? That’s exactly what she did.

Jahna Maramba rented a vehicle from the car-sharing service Turo last month in Los Angeles, then received a notification about an unknown AirTag near her on a Saturday night with her girlfriends.

She took the vehicle to her friend’s parking garage where she searched the outside of the car for an hour before its owner notified her that he had placed the device inside the vehicle. Ms. Maramba had been driving the car for two days.

To me these examples show that Apple’s notification system for unknown AirTags is working, but the report posits the whole platform as problematic.

See also: Apple’s Tracker Detect app for Android, which launched two weeks ago.

‘Law of Large Numbers’ Claim Chowder 

James B. Stewart, writing for The New York Times just under a decade ago:

Here is the rub: Apple is so big, it’s running up against the law of large numbers.

Also known as the golden theorem, with a proof attributed to the 17th-century Swiss mathematician Jacob Bernoulli, the law states that a variable will revert to a mean over a large sample of results. In the case of the largest companies, it suggests that high earnings growth and a rapid rise in share price will slow as those companies grow ever larger.

If Apple’s share price grew even 20 percent a year for the next decade, which is far below its current blistering pace, its $500 billion market capitalization would be more than $3 trillion by 2022. That is bigger than the 2011 gross domestic product of France or Brazil.

To be clear, Stewart never predicted that Apple couldn’t continue growing at that rate — he just posited it as somewhat improbable. But here we are.

(Let’s ignore that this whole thing has absolutely nothing to do with either the actual Law of Large Numbers or the Law of Truly Large Numbers.)

Apple’s market cap as I type this today: $2.94 trillion.

Boom — John Madden Dies at 85 

For my generation, he and Pat Summerall will forever be the voices of football. Madden made a complex game simple in his commentary, but his everyman demeanor belied the fact that he really understood the game. As a commentator he never lost sight of the fact that football is a game, and games are supposed to be fun.

Update: Nice 5-minute tribute video from the NFL. From that video, here were Madden’s only rules while coaching the Raiders in the 1970s:

  1. Be on time.
  2. Listen.
  3. Play like hell when I tell you to.

Pretty good set of rules — not just for a football team, but life.

Hands-On With Snap’s First AR Spectacles for Early Adopters 

The bad news: they overheat and they’re ugly.

The good news: they only get 30 minutes of battery life, so they probably won’t get a chance to burn you.

Reuters: Amazon Kowtowed to P.R.C. and Removed All Reviews of Xi Jinping’s Book in China 

Steve Stecklow and Jeffrey Dastin, reporting for Reuters: Inc was marketing a collection of President Xi Jinping’s speeches and writings on its Chinese website about two years ago, when Beijing delivered an edict, according to two people familiar with the incident. The American e-commerce giant must stop allowing any customer ratings and reviews in China.

A negative review of Xi’s book prompted the demand, one of the people said. “I think the issue was anything under five stars,” the highest rating in Amazon’s five-point system, said the other person.

Ratings and reviews are a crucial part of Amazon’s e-commerce business, a major way of engaging shoppers. But Amazon complied, the two people said. Currently, on its Chinese site, the government-published book has no customer reviews or any ratings. And the comments section is disabled.

I don’t know why the Chinese government is so sensitive about this. Even here in the U.S., where we’re free to leave whatever reviews we want on Amazon for Xi’s book, it’s rated 4.7/5 after nearly 2,000 reviews. Seriously, go look.

(That’s an affiliate link that will make me rich.)

Tumblr, the App Store, and Porn 

“Sreegs”, a former iOS engineer at Tumblr, on Tumblr’s recent problems trying to comply with the App Store’s ban on pornographic content:

Let me be clear about this from the get-go: I think Apple’s censorship policies are wrong and they have no grounds to be policing adult content within apps on the app store. Apple’s power to set content policy over apps is absolutely fueled first and foremost by internal policy that goes back to Steve Jobs. After that, they’re beholden to payment processors wanting to distance themselves from porn. Finally, there’s lawmakers and policy that influence them as well. I think these are the 3 things that shape their policy decisions, in order.

I get the “no grounds” thing from a free speech and consenting adults perspective. But right there in the same paragraph, he lists several grounds: payment processors are distancing themselves from porn, and lawmakers are threatening to regulate app stores.

But the obvious grounds for these policies is brand. Apple’s brand is firmly distant from porn. You might think that’s prudish or outdated, but it’s not your brand. Among major cruise lines, all but one have casinos on each ship. The exception: Disney. It’s perfectly legal; Disney just doesn’t want their brand associated with gambling. For similar reasons, Apple is going to err on the side of overzealousness with porn in the App Store. You can get all the porno you want on the web on iOS devices.

(Sreegs’s post is mostly about frustrations with the App Store review process in general, not Tumblr specifically, and is worth reading.)

Update: Workaround for iOS 15 Autocorrect Turning ‘20’ Into ‘2.0’ 

Update to yesterday’s piece on iOS 15’s autocorrect:

With the help of several readers, I think I know what’s causing this. If you have an app installed with the string “2.0” in its name, that will cause “20” to autocorrect to “2.0”. I in fact have such an app installed on my iPhone. At least one reader has seen the same thing with “1.0” for the same reason.

The best workaround is to create a do-nothing text replacement in Settings → General → Keyboard → Text Replacement, with the phrase “20” and shortcut “20”. I.e., set both fields to the digits of twenty. You don’t have to set “2.0” as the shortcut — if you do, you won’t be able to type “2.0”. Just set both fields to “20” and iOS autocorrect will prioritize this above the fact that you have an app installed with “2.0” in its name.

Alexa Tells 10-Year-Old Girl to Touch Live Plug With Penny 

BBC News:

Amazon has updated its Alexa voice assistant after it “challenged” a 10-year-old girl to touch a coin to the prongs of a half-inserted plug. The suggestion came after the girl asked Alexa for a “challenge to do”.

“Plug in a phone charger about halfway into a wall outlet, then touch a penny to the exposed prongs,” the smart speaker said.

Amazon said it fixed the error as soon as the company became aware of it.

Tell me again how far ahead of Siri Alexa is. These assistants are all deeply flawed.


This spot was in frequent rotation during yesterday’s NFL games. It’s perfect.

iOS 15 Autocorrect Continues to Irritate 

Short roundup of tweets collected by Michael Tsai, starting with this one from Steven Troughton-Smith:

Apple really needs to throw out its crowdsourced machine-learned autocorrect system entirely. Autocorrect used learn from everything I typed, now it interjects with typos & weirdisms from random internet users. It’s been a complete train wreck since they introduced this stuff.

I’m not 100 percent sure it started with iOS 15, but for a few months now, whenever I try to type “20” (twenty) on my iPhone, iOS replaces it with “2.0”. Every time.

Update: With the help of several readers, I think I know what’s causing this. If you have an app installed with the string “2.0” in its name, that will cause “20” to autocorrect to “2.0”. I in fact have such an app installed on my iPhone. At least one reader has seen the same thing with “1.0” for the same reason.

The best workaround is to create a do-nothing text replacement in Settings → General → Keyboard → Text Replacement, with the phrase “20” and shortcut “20”. I.e., set both fields to the digits of twenty. You don’t have to set “2.0” as the shortcut — if you do, you won’t be able to type “2.0”. Just set both fields to “20” and iOS autocorrect will prioritize this above the fact that you have an app installed with “2.0” in its name.

Inside the Failure of COVID Exposure Notifications in the U.S. 

Myoung Cha, former head of health strategic initiatives for Apple and currently chief strategy officer for Carbon Health, on Twitter:

With the omicron surge, I have had more friends send me screenshots of exposure notifications (EN) in the last week than I have in the last year. Here are some reflections based on the work I led at Apple working with Google and some thoughts on the road ahead. [...]

The biggest pushback we got was why we wouldn’t allow governments around the world to use the API to collect a ton of data about users who had opted in since traditional contact tracing provided more precise insights on who had been exposed to the index case.

Our reply of course was to protect user privacy since the identity and whereabouts of all of your friends could be sucked up by a bad government actor with a more centralized design — to build a social graph of all users with the pandemic as the justification.

“Trust us, we are the government” was often the pushback. But of course, this wasn’t a theoretical concern but something that actually happened in both Singapore and Australia with systems that did not adopt our privacy-preserving approach.

The U.S. needed — and still needs — a single federal exposure notification system. Doing it state-by-state seemed all along like something that wouldn’t work, and it hasn’t. Our state borders are, by design, completely porous. That said, I’ve got iOS exposure notifications enabled, and I encourage you to, too.

The State of External Retina Displays 

Casey Liss:

The above is the entire lineup. That’s it. Four options. Three of which existed 1,665 days ago.

This is why Apple needs to make its own prosumer-priced external display (or even better, displays) — it’s clear no one else is making them other than LG, and the LG displays aren’t great.

Update: Yoni Mazuz points out that LG’s UltraFine 4K — the smaller one — was replaced at some point after 2017 with a slightly larger panel with lower resolution, but with faster USB ports.

‘USBefuddled: Untangling the Rat’s Nest of USB-C Standards and Cables’ 

Glenn Fleishman, writing for TidBITS:

USB-C was supposed to be the last cable you would ever need. It hasn’t worked out that way.

The hardware side works terrifically: a USB-C plug fits into any USB-C jack. But perhaps the USB Implementers Forum (USB-IF), the group that manages the development of the USB standard, didn’t fully think through the complexity of what has to go over the USB wiring and how to communicate that effectively: power and video coupled with several different standards for data.

You know what doesn’t have any of these problems? Lightning.

From the DF Archive: ‘Merry’ 

Ten years ago today. Holds up.

Shaker & Spoon 

My thanks to Shaker & Spoon for sponsoring this week at DF. Still looking for a last minute Christmas gift? Give the gift of craft cocktails at home. Shaker & Spoon conveniently delivers unique, high-quality ingredients and bespoke, bar-worthy recipes.

Each box calls for a different spirit and showcases various styles of cocktail-making, arriving with 3 original recipes created by world-class bartenders and enough ingredients (syrups, bitters, aromatics, garnishes) for 12 cocktails — 4 from each recipe. Just add the alcohol, and your box will use up the whole bottle. It’s perfect for last-minute gifts for the friend or family member who has everything: all you need is their email, and they’ll redeem their cocktail experience at the time of their choosing.

I can vouch that their recipes and ingredients are terrific and highly recommendable.

The Talk Show: ‘The Post-Doom Era’ 

Emmy Award-winning Joanna Stern returns to the show. Topics include: Apple’s new iCloud “legacy contact” feature, the current state and future of VR headsets, Elon Musk, and more.

Sponsored by:

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‘A Normal Person Explains Cryptocurrency’ 

Chef’s kiss video by Avalon Penrose. Makes sense to me.

Philadelphia Gets the New 3D Apple Maps With Detailed Landmarks 

Jacob Krol, writing for CNN Underscored:

In order to unpack the latest Apple Maps improvements that you should know about, CNN Underscored got to chat exclusively with David Dorn, product lead, and Meg Frost, design lead, at Apple Maps. From 3D buildings in cities to clearer navigation instructions, here’s everything you need to know.

Good interview, and well-illustrated with examples.

I’ve explored the new 3D views in Apple Maps in other cities already, but it’s really something else to explore your own city. These new 3D maps for Philly are really good — beautiful, accurate, and useful. I love the illustration style for the landmarks — a friend commented that he’d buy a model of Apple’s rendition of our City Hall. It’s a very neat style.

After a few days, it occurred to me what this style reminds me of: the maps Disney provides for their theme parks. They don’t put everything in the park on their maps — just the important stuff. And they render the major attractions — the landmark attractions — with far more detail and at a larger scale. Not just so they pop visually, but because they help you navigate and orient yourself.

A Few About Boxes From Vintage Mac Applications 

Speaking of classic Mac OS, Riccardo Mori assembled a collection of screenshots of about boxes, many from really old apps. The MacPascal one has a build date from the day before the Macintosh was introduced in January 1984. No surprise, the ugliest one of the bunch is from Microsoft Word 3.0 in 1987. The early ResEdit about box asked for bug reports to be mailed — on paper — to an engineer at Apple’s headquarters.

Mori’s post is from 2015, but it was new to me. A lot of the later ones are quite elaborate and very distinctive. I miss cool about boxes — that’s where developers signed and got credit for their work.

(Via Dave Winer.)

‘Mac OS 9: OStalgia Edition’ 

Michael Feeney:

(mac)OStalgia is exploring my 2021 work-from-home routine from a nostalgic perspective. How would have the same workflow looked like with the tools of today and the limitations of yesterday. Unreliable internet, little disk storage, macOS 9 and much more.

This project is delightful: reimagining modern apps like Slack, Zoom, and Figma on Mac OS 9. There are numerous details I’d quibble with (multiple windows active at the same time, for example), but it brought me joy to explore these designs and watch his video of them in action. I miss this style of UI design very much — not the exact look, per se, but the spirit of emphasizing clarity above all else, where content fields are clearly content fields, input focus is clear, and buttons look like buttons.

The Incomparable Does ‘Get Back’ 

Here’s another good podcast about Peter Jackson’s 8-hour Beatles documentary Get Back — The Incomparable’s panel discussion, with Jason Snell, Steven Schapansky, Monty Ashley, Guy English, and Amy Gruber:

Toast, vests, London Bobbies sucking on their chin straps, Debbie the receptionist, Paul as “second boss”, Yoko’s knitting, George Harrison’s pinstripes, and most importantly, the amazing view of a bunch of musical geniuses having a very difficult time creating anything at all.

Project Zero: A Deep Dive Into an N.S.O. Zero-Click iMessage Exploit 

Ian Beer and Samuel Groß of Google Project Zero:

Based on our research and findings, we assess this to be one of the most technically sophisticated exploits we’ve ever seen, further demonstrating that the capabilities NSO provides rival those previously thought to be accessible to only a handful of nation states.

I won’t claim to understand all of this — pointer programming was never my forte — but the overall explanation here is very cogent, and easy to follow. Basically, NSO Group’s exploit involved sending an iMessage-using target a PDF file with a .gif file name extension. The PDF file contained an image in the semi-obscure JBIG2 format, a black-and-white format created for fax machines in the late 1990s. Apple’s image-processing code for JBIG2 streams had a buffer overflow bug. Then it gets a little eye-popping:

JBIG2 doesn’t have scripting capabilities, but when combined with a vulnerability, it does have the ability to emulate circuits of arbitrary logic gates operating on arbitrary memory. So why not just use that to build your own computer architecture and script that!? That’s exactly what this exploit does. Using over 70,000 segment commands defining logical bit operations, they define a small computer architecture with features such as registers and a full 64-bit adder and comparator which they use to search memory and perform arithmetic operations. It’s not as fast as Javascript, but it’s fundamentally computationally equivalent.

The bootstrapping operations for the sandbox escape exploit are written to run on this logic circuit and the whole thing runs in this weird, emulated environment created out of a single decompression pass through a JBIG2 stream. It’s pretty incredible, and at the same time, pretty terrifying.

‘The Secret Uganda Deal That Has Brought N.S.O. to the Brink of Collapse’ 

Mehul Srivastava, reporting for The Financial Times:

In February 2019, an Israeli woman sat across from the son of Uganda’s president and made an audacious pitch — would he want to secretly hack any phone in the world? [...]

A few months after the initial approach, NSO’s chief executive, Shalev Hulio, landed in Uganda to seal the deal, according to two people familiar with NSO’s East Africa business. Hulio, who flew the world with the permission of the Israeli government to sell Pegasus, liked to demonstrate in real time how it could hack a brand-new, boxed iPhone. [...]

After spending a decade in the favor of the Israeli government, NSO now finds itself as an irritant in relations between Israel and the US, using up vital foreign “policy bandwidth we need to talk about Iran,” said a foreign ministry official who asked for anonymity.

That is a reversal for NSO, which former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used as a diplomatic calling card with several countries, including the UAE, Morocco, Bahrain, and Saudi Arabia, which did not have official relations with Israel.

Using this system as a “diplomatic calling card” — with that list of countries — is outrageous. Downright dystopian.

Terrific reporting from the Financial Times here, including more circumstantial evidence that it was Apple who tipped off the State Department about these hacked phones in Uganda. Remarkably detailed for an operation that, quite obviously, was intended to be clandestine.

Notchmeister 1.0 

The Iconfactory:

This holiday season we have a special gift for Mac users everywhere, especially ones with a new MacBook Pro and notch. We’re proud to announce the immediate availability of Notchmeister.

So what does Notchmeister do?

Think of it as a fun way to spruce up your notch. Or as a screen saver for something you can’t see. Or, maybe, just a useless waste of time.

The Mac has a grand tradition of silly utilities — exquisitely well-crafted, but serving no purpose other than to be fun — and Notchmeister is a perfect example.


My thanks to Mux for once again sponsoring DF last week. Mux is the developer video platform. Use their Video API to build video streaming into your application and make it play beautifully at scale on any device. A Mux stream is just one GET request away from magical-feeling features like automatic thumbnails, animated GIFs, and data-driven encoding decisions. Looking to understand if your videos are gaining traction? They’ve got that covered with Mux Data: get info about views, viewers, and playing time. You can also see whether viewers are getting errors or rebuffering, and whether you should be using Mux (trick question — yes).

Apple Updates ‘Child Safety’ Webpage to Remove Mention of CSAM Fingerprint Matching, But Feature May Still Be Forthcoming 

Jon Porter, reporting for The Verge:

Two of the three safety features, which released earlier this week with iOS 15.2, are still present on the page, which is titled “Expanded Protections for Children.” However references to the more controversial CSAM detection, whose launch was delayed following backlash from privacy advocates, have been removed.

When reached for comment, Apple spokesperson Shane Bauer said that the company’s position hasn’t changed since September, when it first announced it would be delaying the launch of the CSAM detection. “Based on feedback from customers, advocacy groups, researchers, and others, we have decided to take additional time over the coming months to collect input and make improvements before releasing these critically important child safety features,” the company’s September statement read.

Crucially, Apple’s statement does not say the feature has been canceled entirely. Documents outlining how the functionality works are still live on Apple’s site.

I wouldn’t read too much into this. Now that some of the new child safety features are shipping with this week’s iOS 15.2 update (machine-learning-based nude/sexually-explicit image detection in Messages, and “Expanded guidance in Siri, Spotlight, and Safari Search”), Apple has updated the page to state which features are currently shipping.

I think the CSAM fingerprinting, in some form, is still forthcoming, because I suspect Apple wants to change iCloud Photos storage to use end-to-end encryption. Concede for the moment that CSAM identification needs to happen somewhere, for a large cloud service like iCloud. If that identification takes place server-side, then the service cannot use E2E encryption — it can’t identify what it can’t decrypt. If the sync service does use E2E encryption — which I’d love to see iCloud Photos do — then such matching has to take place on the device side. Doing that identification via fingerprinting against a database of known and vetted CSAM imagery is far more private than using machine learning.

I also continue not to agree, at all, with the “slippery slope” argument, which goes along the lines of “authoritarian regimes around the world will force Apple to add non-CSAM image fingerprints to the database”. Machine learning algorithms are far more ripe for that sort of abuse than fingerprint matching. Machine learning can be crazy smart; fingerprint matching, by design, is a bit simplistic. Apple’s Photos app already uses very clever machine learning to identify the content of photos in your library. Search in the Photos app for “dog” or “cocktail” or someone’s name and it’s going to find those photos. Trust in Apple is the only thing protecting iOS users from surreptitious abuse of machine learning in Photos now — which is no different from Android users’ trust in Google for the same sort of thing.

Put another way, if governments, authoritarian or otherwise, were able to force Apple (or Google, or Microsoft) to add secret snooping features — like say finding photos of Tank Man on Chinese users’ devices and reporting them to the CCP — to our operating systems, the game is over. They wouldn’t need this proposed device-side CSAM fingerprinting feature to abuse, they could just demand whatever they want. Access to your email, everything.

Apple Delays Employees’ Return to Office Again, New Date ‘Yet to Be Determined’ 

Benjamin Mayo, reporting for 9to5Mac:

Apple has once again delayed its official return to standard attendance at its corporate campuses in Cupertino. It was previously set at February 1st 2022, but now has been pushed back to an unspecified time as the spread of the Omicron Covid-19 variant takes hold around the world.

This is now the fourth time that Apple has had to revise its schedule for bringing employees back to the office.

Alongside the announcement about the indefinite delay on return to work, Bloomberg reports Apple is giving employees $1000 bonuses to spend on home office gear, and Apple will give a month heads-up when a new date is determined.

Google Employees to Lose Pay if They Don’t Comply With Vaccination Policy 

Jennifer Elias, reporting for CNBC:

A memo circulated by leadership said employees had until Dec. 3 to declare their vaccination status and upload documentation showing proof, or to apply for a medical or religious exemption. The company said after that date it would start contacting employees who hadn’t uploaded their status or were unvaccinated, as well as those whose exemption requests weren’t approved.

The document said employees who haven’t complied with the vaccination rules by the Jan. 18 deadline will be placed on “paid administrative leave” for 30 days. After that, the company will put them on “unpaid personal leave” for up to six months, followed by termination.

Another one for the “more like this, please” file.

Philadelphia to Require Proof of Vaccination to Eat at Restaurants Next Month 

James Garrow, writing for the City of Philadelphia:

Starting Monday January 3, Philadelphia establishments that sell food or drink for consumption onsite will require that everyone who enters has completed their COVID vaccinations. Completing vaccinations means that they have received two doses of either the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or a single dose of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

Employees and children aged 5 years and 3 months through 11 will be required to have one dose of COVID vaccine by January 3rd and to complete their vaccine series by February 3.

Philly is following the lead of cities like New York, San Francisco, and New Orleans, which have already instituted similar regulations. More like this, please.

Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals Denied the Coalition for App Fairness’s Motion to File an Amicus Brief 

Florian Mueller, with a detail I haven’t seen reported elsewhere:

U.S. courts — and especially appeals courts — normally have a permissive approach toward amicus briefs, above all in high-stakes high-profile cases like this one. It rarely happens that they tell stakeholders they are unwelcome to join a proceeding as “friends of the court” contributing potentially useful information. Here, however, a filing by the Coalition for App Fairness (whose three key members are Epic, Spotify, and Match Group, which is best known for Tinder) and four of its members (Match Group, Tile, Basecamp, and Knitrino) has been flatly rejected by the Ninth Circuit.

As a result, the CAF now faces a credibility issue in any other App Store cases around the globe in which it may try to support Epic or even another one of its large members. Even if other courts ultimately allowed the CAF to join other cases, Apple would point to the Ninth Circuit decision, which at a minimum would diminish the credibility of anything the CAF would say on Epic’s behalf. The CAF has now been stigmatized as part of an Epic anti-Apple initiative designed to raise issues regardless of whether those were “organic or manufactured” as the evidence shows.

Not quite sure what to make of this, but if nothing else, it’s a sign of how overwhelming Apple’s victory is in this case.

‘How Apple Is Organized for Innovation’ 

Speaking of Joel Podolny, I somehow neglected to link to this piece he co-authored with Morten T. Hansen a year ago for Harvard Business Review, describing — with remarkable openness — how Apple is organized:

Apple is not a company where general managers oversee managers; rather, it is a company where experts lead experts. The assumption is that it’s easier to train an expert to manage well than to train a manager to be an expert. At Apple, hardware experts manage hardware, software experts software, and so on. (Deviations from this principle are rare.) This approach cascades down all levels of the organization through areas of ever-increasing specialization. Apple’s leaders believe that world-class talent wants to work for and with other world-class talent in a specialty. It’s like joining a sports team where you get to learn from and play with the best.

Apple University Dean Joel Podolny Leaves for Startup 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Joel Podolny, the longtime dean of the Apple University in-house management training school, left the company earlier this year to join a startup, according to people with knowledge of the matter.

Podolny had run the program since early 2009, when he was hired by former Apple Inc. Chief Executive Officer Steve Jobs to create the program. He previously served as a dean of the Yale School of Management and a professor at Harvard University.

Podolny was a steward of Apple’s corporate culture as the company pushed into new markets and coped with the death of Jobs, its visionary co-founder. He had worked with Jobs to create Apple University as a way to teach executives about the company’s values — and what it had learned from decades of decision-making. Courses have included topics such as Apple’s relocation of manufacturing to China and the creation of retail stores in the early 2000s, according to the book “Inside Apple.”

It doesn’t get a lot of press, but I’ve long thought that Apple University is one of the most essential teams inside Apple. The company has had a remarkable run over the last 20–25 years. Is that sustainable? Few companies stay on top for more than a generation or so. Apple University is an attempt to change that, and one of the last major organizational initiatives spearheaded by Steve Jobs. Podolny was hired by Jobs to found Apple University.

An Exquisitely Well-Told Story of a Nightmarish Meal 

Geraldine DeRuiter, writing at The Everywhereist, on a 27-course “meal” at Bros, a Michelin-starred restaurant in Lecce, Italy:

The servers will not explain to you what the hell is going on.

They will not do this in Italian. They will not do this in English. They will not play Pictionary with you on the blank newspaper as a means of communicating what you are eating. On the rare occasion where they did offer an explanation for a dish, it did not help.

“These are made with rancid ricotta,” the server said, a tiny fried cheese ball in front of each of us.

“I’m ... I’m sorry, did you say rancid? You mean ... fermented? Aged?”

“No. Rancid.”

“Okay,” I said in Italian. “But I think that something might be lost in translation. Because it can’t be — ”

“Rancido,” he clarified.

Another course — a citrus foam — was served in a plaster cast of the chef’s mouth. Absent utensils, we were told to lick it out of the chef’s mouth in a scene that I’m pretty sure was stolen from an eastern European horror film.

No nonsense like this when I open my steakhouse.

Wallpaper Goes Behind the Scenes With Apple’s Design Team at Apple Park 

The cover feature of the latest issue of Wallpaper is truly extraordinary. The story by Jonathan Bell is good, but the photographs of the design team’s studio space are unprecedented. We’ve never seen this space. All sorts of details are revealed — including their model- and prototype-making.

There’s an overhead shot of a large table where a dozen members of the team are discussing Apple Watch. Out of 12 people at the table, all but one of them have their iPhones on the table, face-down (perhaps for privacy, aware they were being photographed). Of the 11 visible iPhones, 10 are iPhones 13 Pro, and one is an iPhone 13 (perhaps a Mini). Four iPhones are in a case; seven are un-cased. Seven of them have Apple’s MagSafe wallet attached. “Golden Brown” appears to be the most popular color for cases and wallets.

Seven people have paper notebooks in front of them, and three have iPads (including one Magic Keyboard). I just love gleaning details like this about how people work, and the tools they use.

Wifi Dabba 

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

Wifi Dabba is deploying 100,000 public wifi hotspots at neighborhood tea stalls across Bangalore city. They’re creating a low cost connectivity layer powered by lasers for a billion underserved Indians. A billion people!

2,000 Wifi Dabba hotspots are live across the city in homes, offices and retail stores. They form a public wi-fi mesh network that delivers super fast, super cheap internet to data hungry users. The average user on their network is 20 years old and consumes 3 GB of data each day.

They’ve tokenized their network to enable anyone, anywhere in the world to buy a hotspot for $100 and mint tokens when data is sold. Apply the code “DARINGFIREBALL” at checkout and get 2× the number of hotspots you pay for. This offer is exclusive for the DF audience.

The Talk Show: ‘John Was the Problem’ 

Merlin Mann returns to the show to discuss two brief topics (with a few asides): my dream of opening a steakhouse, and Peter Jackson’s Beatles documentary Get Back.

Sponsored by:

  • Mack Weldon: Radically-efficient wardrobing
  • LinkedIn Talent
  • Linode: Instantly deploy and manage an SSD server in the Linode Cloud. New accounts get a $100 credit.
The Verge: ‘The Vice President Should Not Be Using Bluetooth Headphones’ 

Corin Faife, writing for The Verge:

But in certain cases this can be skirted, as with one exploit that impersonates a trusted Bluetooth device already known to the user in order to connect to the phone, at which point the attacker can request or send data via Bluetooth. (The complexity of this attack makes it unlikely to affect regular people, but for a figure like the VP — who is undeniably a high-value target for foreign surveillance attempts — there’s a non-zero chance of falling victim. It also affects both Android and Apple devices, the latter of which Harris appears to use.) [...]

In total, the CVE Program, which tracks cybersecurity vulnerabilities, lists 459 current and historic vulnerabilities that mention Bluetooth, suggesting that Kamala Harris is right to be wary. There’s a simple way to mitigate all of these attacks — disabling Bluetooth, sticking to wired headphones — but doing so means swimming against the technological current, and maybe looking like you can’t afford AirPods.

Put another way, if Kamala Harris used wireless headphones, there is a chance — almost certainly a very small chance, but, we don’t know — that it could be taken advantage of by an adversary. If she uses wired headphones (and, presumably, disables Bluetooth on her iPhone), there’s no chance her phone can be exploited by a Bluetooth vulnerability.

Glenn Fleishman, on Twitter:

@gruber Your note on the Harris/Bluetooth thing: most zero-days are now held closely by government and criminals. So there may be Bluetooth zero-days that are used very sparingly and haven’t yet been discovered. Harris’s time on the Senate Intelligence Committee might be a clue!

What we don’t know, she might.

More on Apple’s Political Dance With China 

Nick Heer, writing at Pixel Envy:

Ma reports that Apple acquiesced to many government demands, like building research and development centres in the country — including one with the university where Cook was later named chairman of the advisory board — assigning an executive specifically to business in China, and even changing the scale of disputed territories in Apple Maps.

However, it also seems that this deal has helped Apple avoid more stringent regulation in other areas, in ways that are beneficial to users’ rights. Even though Chinese users’ iCloud data is stored on servers located within the country and operated by a local partner — as required by law — it has been allowed to retain control over its encryption keys. The government has allowed it to retain control over its source code, too. But Ma has previously reported that many of Apple’s exemptions are being revoked, and now writes that key businesses, including the App Store, are in a sort of legal limbo.

The whole situation is a fascinating study in diplomacy. As Heer observes, it’s wrong to look at it as a one-sided relationship — that China makes demands, and Apple acquiesces. Apple certainly gets a lot from China — they assemble the vast majority of their products there, and it’s their second biggest consumer market for selling those products. But China gets a lot from Apple. Apple is arguably the most prestigious corporation in the world, and inarguably one of the most prestigious. China benefits from that relationship on the world stage. As Ben Thompson wrote yesterday in a subscribers-only Stratechery update:

Apple remains the most visible and most impressive example of China’s manufacturing prowess. That is extremely valuable both in terms of China’s image and also its capabilities: Apple doesn’t just benefit from China’s capabilities, it also enhances them, in a virtuous cycle.

Apple bent quite a bit, to say the least, to keep iCloud available in China while complying with the recently-passed law requiring all cloud-based services for Chinese users to be hosted in data centers owned by Chinese companies, physically located in mainland China. But Apple still controls the encryption keys to the data on those servers.

The issue of source code is an even better example of Apple not acquiescing to every “request” from the CCP. Back in 2016, Reuters reported:

Apple Inc. has been asked by Chinese authorities within the last two years to hand over its source code but refused, the company’s top lawyer told lawmakers on Tuesday in response to U.S. law enforcement criticism of its stance on technology security. [...] “I want to be very clear on this,” Apple general counsel Bruce Sewell told Tuesday’s hearing under oath. “We have not provided source code to the Chinese government.”

Source code, I firmly believe, would be a dealbreaker for Apple. It’s humiliating that Apple Maps shows the disputed Diaoyu Islands larger than they actually are to users in China, but, well, sometimes you need to eat dirt. Same thing for removing the Taiwanese flag from the emoji keyboard for users in Hong Kong. That is a serious shit sandwich and everyone at Apple, from Tim Cook down to the programmer who had to special-case the emoji keyboard to remove it for Hong Kongers, knows it. A demand for iOS’s source code, though, that would be over the line. I don’t see how Apple could comply with it. The Chinese get that. It is a two-way relationship.

And in terms of ways that Apple has benefitted from this diplomacy, look no further than Huawei. Trade sanctions imposed by the Trump administration have effectively driven Huawei out of the high-end smartphone business. The way trade wars typically work is tit-for-tat. After the tit of the U.S. imposing harsh sanctions on Huawei — the premiere Chinese phone maker — the obvious tat would have been for China to crack down on Apple — the premiere U.S. phone maker. That never happened. (I took that from Ben Thompson’s column yesterday, too.)

Update to Yesterday’s Post on the Appeals Court Granting Apple a Stay on the App Store In-App Purchasing Injunction 

Here’s a paragraph I just added to yesterday’s piece:

There are a lot of people who really wanted this injunction to stick, under the premise that it would force Apple to open the App Store to third-party in-app purchasing for digital content without Apple taking any cut whatsoever, exactly as Apple has done all along for in-app purchasing of physical goods. That was never going to be the case, even if this injunction had gone into effect. What was the point of the injunction then? you might ask. Good question.

Kickstarter Plans to Move Its Crowdfunding Platform to the Blockchain 

Lucas Matney, reporting for TechCrunch:

Crowdfunding platform Kickstarter is making a big bet on the blockchain, announcing plans to create an open source protocol “that will essentially create a decentralized version of Kickstarter’s core functionality.” The company says the goal is for multiple platforms to embrace the protocol, including, eventually,

Welp, all that’s left after that is to sell the company to Twitter and shut it down.

The Information: ‘Inside Tim Cook’s Secret $275 Billion Deal with Chinese Authorities’ 

Wayne Ma, reporting for The Information (free article link for non-subscribers, which requires you to share your email address):

Apple’s iPhone recently became the top-selling smartphone in China, its second-biggest market after the U.S., for the first time in six years. But the company owes much of that success to CEO Tim Cook, who laid the foundation years ago by secretly signing an agreement, estimated to be worth more than $275 billion, with Chinese officials promising Apple would do its part to develop China’s economy and technological prowess through investments, business deals and worker training.

Cook forged the five-year agreement, which hasn’t been previously reported, during the first of a series of in-person visits he made to the country in 2016 to quash a sudden burst of regulatory actions against Apple’s business, according to internal Apple documents viewed by The Information. Before the meetings, Apple executives were scrambling to salvage the company’s relationship with Chinese officials, who believed the company wasn’t contributing enough to the local economy, the documents show. Amid the government crackdown and the bad publicity that accompanied it, iPhone sales plummeted.

This is a deeply-researched and seemingly amazingly well-sourced story. Extraordinary work by Ma — particularly the Apple internal documents he was able to obtain. The backstory on that must be something. Long story short, Apple’s relationship with China is every bit as complicated, and delicate, as you’d think. I was skeptical about the headline — both the staggering $275 billion figure and the word “secret” — but Ma’s reporting backs it up.

The Information is subscriber-only, and costs $400 a year. That’s a lot, no question, but you get what you pay for. Reporting like this makes it worthwhile to me. I try always to be respectful when linking to paywalled material, and not quote so much as to spoil the whole thing. But I feel compelled to share this nugget:

Sometime in 2014 or early 2015, China’s State Bureau of Surveying and Mapping told members of the Apple Maps team to make the Diaoyu Islands, the objects of a long-running territorial dispute between China and Japan, appear large even when users zoomed out from them. Chinese regulators also threatened to withhold approval of the first Apple Watch, scheduled for release in 2015, if Apple didn’t comply with the unusual request, according to internal documents.

Some members of the team back at Apple’s headquarters in Cupertino, Calif., initially balked at the demand. But the Maps app had become a priority for Apple, so eventually the company complied. The Diaoyu Islands, when viewed in Apple Maps in mainland China, continue to appear on a larger scale than surrounding territories.

I would venture to say that all members of Apple’s Maps team balked at this request. It’s absurd and offensive. Asking professional cartographers to misrepresent the size of islands for propaganda purposes — even if only to users in mainland China — is like asking writers to misspell words or misstate facts, or asking mathematicians to generate incorrect results. It’s contrary to the nature of the profession.

‘The Media Coverage of Kamala Harris and Bluetooth Is Ridiculous’ 

Charlotte Clymer:

Last night, the journalists behind Politico’s West Wing Playbook thought it wise to publish a story on the VP’s preference for wired headphones — because she’s concerned over the vulnerability of Bluetooth-enabled devices like AirPods — and then fleshed out the piece with an insinuation that she’s being paranoid.

On Twitter, reporter Alex Thompson, one of the folks on the byline, echoed this part from the piece: that some aides felt VP Harris was being “a bit paranoid” over security and attached it to an anecdote over Harris, then California Attorney General, instructing her staff not to leave visitors alone in her office.

The critical bit about her ordering staff to not leave visitors alone in her office — the Office of the Attorney General of California — seems especially absurd. It’s a legal office. It’s a government office. There are confidential documents. Someone left alone could plant a listening device. So many operational security concerns.

It doesn’t make sense.

I’m not aware of any actual exploits that iPhone/AirPods users should worry about, but it certainly isn’t silly or “paranoid” that the vice president of the United States doesn’t want to take unnecessary risks.

Clymer links to this solid piece from The Daily Beast summarizing infosec concerns around Bluetooth. By its very nature, Bluetooth is a location beacon, for example.

Twitter Acquires Quill; Will Shut Down Service at the End of the Week 

Quill, yesterday:

Together with Twitter, we will continue to pursue our original goal — to make online communication more thoughtful, and more effective, for everyone.

Quill will be shutting down, but its spirit and ideas will continue on. You’ll be able to export your team message history until 1pm PST, Saturday, December 11th 2021, when we will be turning off our servers and deleting all data. For all active teams, we’re issuing full refunds.

Most new endeavors don’t succeed. Trust me, I get it. The end is never pretty. But four days’ notice is almost bizarrely hostile — especially given that Quill was acquired, and didn’t simply run out of money. This is a service that they asked teams to trust. To say it’s disruptive to give people half a week to export their data and find a new collaboration platform is an understatement. What if someone is on vacation? What if it’s crunch week for a team facing a deadline?

Sebastiaan de With:

Quill was a great product. We rely on it at @luxdotcamera. I’m happy for the very talented team.

However, this is a total service shutdown with a 4 day notice. What an abysmal way to treat your users. Angry and disappointed. 👎

Twitter, where exciting new products go to be shut down.

Apple Music’s Year in Review vs. Spotify Wrapped 

Chaim Gartenberg, writing last week for The Verge:

Spotify has been eating Apple’s lunch for years now with Wrapped, which has practically become its own internet holiday each year. And yet, it took Apple four full years to even launch its bare-bones Replay feature, which debuted in 2019 and hasn’t been meaningfully updated since. (I’ve been using kludged together Smart Playlists on iTunes for years to try to poorly replicate the Spotify experience.)

2021 is no exception, with Spotify offering what feels like its most lavish recaps yet. My wife (who is a Spotify user) spent the morning showing off her bespoke playlist to me, which included (among other things) specially curated songs for specific moods, rankings of where she placed among global Doja Cat listeners, a color-changing “audio aura,” and an interactive quiz. All of it is designed to be shared and shown off on other social media platforms.

I’m a bit surprised Apple hasn’t upped its year-in-review game for Apple Music, for the simple reason Gartenberg cites: Spotify Wrapped gets a ton of authentic social media action each year. Me, personally, I still wouldn’t care a whit about it. My music taste is old and boring — I neither need to be reminded of what I liked this year, nor want to share it. But it’s quite obvious that many people — especially younger people, whose tastes actually do reflect popular trends in new music — absolutely love it.


My thanks to Atoms for sponsoring this week at DF. Atoms’s excellent Model 000 is a sneaker-style everyday shoe, available not just in half sizes but quarter sizes for a perfect fit. Atoms’ stretchy laces make it easy to slip the shoes on and off. Insoles made with copper thread neutralize odor. And lightweight materials make Atoms exceptionally comfortable and durable. My much-worn pair — size 12.25, quarter sizes for the win — is well over a year old and still look great.

For the holidays, Atoms has launched three new colorways, a limited edition art collaboration, and also brought back the popular Navy Blue and Neons. On top of that, Atoms is offering Daring Fireball readers $20 off one pair or $50 off two. A great deal for great shoes.

Ben Pearson: ‘Here’s Why Movie Dialogue Has Gotten More Difficult to Understand’ 

Ben Pearson, writing for Slashfilm:

I used to be able to understand 99% of the dialogue in Hollywood films. But over the past 10 years or so, I’ve noticed that percentage has dropped significantly — and it’s not due to hearing loss on my end. It’s gotten to the point where I find myself occasionally not being able to parse entire lines of dialogue when I see a movie in a theater, and when I watch things at home, I’ve defaulted to turning the subtitles on to make sure I don’t miss anything crucial to the plot.

Knowing I’m not alone in having these experiences, I reached out to several professional sound editors, designers, and mixers, many of whom have won Oscars for their work on some of Hollywood’s biggest films, to get to the bottom of what’s going on. One person refused to talk to me, saying it would be “professional suicide” to address this topic on the record. Another agreed to talk, but only under the condition that they remain anonymous. But several others spoke openly about the topic, and it quickly became apparent that this is a familiar subject among the folks in the sound community, since they’re the ones who often bear the brunt of complaints about dialogue intelligibility.

I think part of this is a trend that might have been inevitable, as the language of cinema inevitably became the lingua franca of the world. Most people can thoroughly enjoy movies recorded in a foreign language with subtitles. (Have I ever mentioned how fucking much I love Bong Joon Ho’s Parasite? My god, what a masterpiece.) So of course, you can, in theory, enjoy a movie recorded in your own language even if you can’t make out all or even a lot of the dialogue. Trend isn’t even the right word, though — it’s a fad, like grunge typography in the 1990s or the bizarre orange-teal color grading of movies during the 2000s.

But the other factor — which Pearson addresses directly — is the singular influence of Christopher Nolan. Nolan is to mumble-mouthed movie dialogue what David Carson was to illegible typography. Did I buy every issue of Ray Gun? Yes. Do I watch every movie Nolan makes? Yes. But, still, it’s a fad.

The correct answer here is Stanley Kubrick. In the same way the color grading of his films has never seemed dated, no matter the current fad, the audio tracks have not either. You can understand every fucking word every character says. Which makes Nolan’s recent films a bit frustrating, given how amazing a job he did supervising the 50th anniversary re-release of 2001: A Space Odyssey. My gut says Nolan is going to outgrow this.

Reuters: U.S. State Department Employees’ iPhones Were Hacked With NSO Group Spyware 

Christopher Bing and Joseph Menn, reporting for Reuters:

iPhones of at least nine U.S. State Department employees were hacked by an unknown assailant using sophisticated spyware developed by the Israel-based NSO Group, according to four people familiar with the matter. The hacks, which took place in the last several months, hit U.S. officials either based in Uganda or focused on matters concerning the East African country, two of the sources said. […]

Apple’s alert to affected users did not name the creator of the spyware used in this hack. The victims notified by Apple included American citizens and were easily identifiable as U.S. government employees because they associated email addresses ending in with their Apple IDs, two of the people said.

Fascinating to consider that the U.S. State Department is only aware of this hack because Apple notified the affected employees. That’s certainly how this report reads.

In a public response, NSO has said its technology helps stop terrorism and that they’ve installed controls to curb spying against innocent targets. For example, NSO says its intrusion system cannot work on phones with U.S. numbers beginning with the country code +1. But in the Uganda case, the targeted State Department employees were using iPhones registered with foreign telephone numbers, said two of the sources, without the U.S. country code.

Big-time ✊🍆 feel to this. Like hearing about PC malware that bypasses PCs with Russian keyboards attached.

Canadian Police Claim AirTags Are Being Used by Thieves to Track Cars They Intend to Steal 

York Regional Police:

Since September 2021, officers have investigated five incidents where suspects have placed small tracking devices on high-end vehicles so they can later locate and steal them. Brand name ‘air tags’ are placed in out-of-sight areas of the target vehicles when they are parked in public places like malls or parking lots. Thieves then track the targeted vehicles to the victim’s residence, where they are stolen from the driveway.

Thieves typically use tools like screwdrivers to enter the vehicles through the driver or passenger door, while ensuring not to set off alarms. Once inside, an electronic device, typically used by mechanics to reprogram the factory setting, is connected to the onboard diagnostics port below the dashboard and programs the vehicle to accept a key the thieves have brought with them. Once the new key is programmed, the vehicle will start and the thieves drive it away.

Over the past year, more than 2,000 vehicles have been stolen across the region.

Five incidents out of 2,000 is not exactly a trend, but the basic idea here is interesting. I’m interested in knowing how the police figured out that AirTags were used in this way. Let’s say a thief hides an AirTag on your car while it’s in a public parking lot. Then you park the car in your home’s driveway. The thief comes in the middle of the night and steals your car. You call the police and they come to your home to investigate. How would they know an AirTag had ever been involved?

My only guess is that in these five incidents, the victims were iPhone users who got the “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert. They tapped the “Play Sound” button, found the nefariously hidden AirTag, and (perhaps because they know their car is high-end) had the foresight to call the police. Or, maybe they disregarded the alert, thinking their iPhone had picked up on someone else’s AirTag by mistake. But then their car gets stolen a day or two later, and the unexpected “AirTag Found Moving With You” alert they had disregarded suddenly seems relevant, so they share that with the police.

If that’s the basic idea, then the use of AirTags in this way might be more prevalent than the five cases suggest, because if the car owner doesn’t use an iPhone (or uses an older iPhone still running an older version of iOS), neither the owner nor the police would have any way of knowing an AirTag had ever been involved in the theft.

(Via MacRumors.)

From the DF Archive: Taiwan Flag Emoji Disappears From iOS 13.1.2 Keyboard in Hong Kong 

Speaking of kowtowing to China, this one still irks me. And, at this point, likely will for the foreseeable future.

The Other Memory-Holed Episode of ‘The Simpsons’ – the One With Michael Jackson 

Small bit of follow-up regarding yesterday’s item about Disney+ blocking an episode of The Simpsons in Hong Kong because it contained a joke about Tiananmen Square. The article I linked to at The Wrap claimed “Disney+ users in the U.S. may be able to stream every episode of ‘The Simpsons’ ever made,” but that’s not true. Here’s Isaac Butler, writing for Slate two years ago:

One unexpected fallout from our cultural reckoning with the life and work of Michael Jackson is the erasure of a Simpsons episode. “Stark Raving Dad,” the premiere of the show’s third season, tells the story of Homer being committed to an insane asylum, where he meets a patient named Leon Kompowsky, who claims to be Michael Jackson. Homer, not knowing who Michael Jackson is, believes him. Antics ensue. The central joke is that Leon is actually voiced by Michael Jackson, a joke extended further by his use of a pseudonym in the end credits. Following the renewed allegations of child sexual abuse against Jackson, executive producer James L. Brooks announced last week that The Simpsons will no longer include the episode in syndication packages, streaming, or even future DVD releases of the show. It’s gone. But don’t call it a book burning, he cautions. “This is our book,” he told the Wall Street Journal, “and we’re allowed to take out a chapter.” [...]

“Stark Raving Dad” is not the golden age’s best episode, but it is the shot across the bow. In its absurd plotting and metatextual japery, its alchemical mixture of cynicism and heartwarming sentiment — to say nothing of the way it reckons with its guest celebrity’s public image — it establishes the formula that the show was to follow for years. The episode belongs in a museum — preserved forever, not swept into the memory hole.

There was also a years-long stretch after 9/11 where the season premiere of season 9 — “The City of New York vs. Homer Simpson” — was held from syndication because a segment takes place at the World Trade Center. It’s been back in syndication and streaming since 2006, though. They should do the same with “Stark Raving Dad”.

Ex-Google Employees Sue Company, Saying It Betrayed ‘Don’t Be Evil’ Motto 

Bobby Allyn, reporting for NPR:

Three former Google employees have sued the company, alleging that Google’s motto “Don’t be evil” amounts to a contractual obligation that the tech giant has violated. At the time the company hired the three software engineers, Rebecca Rivers, Sophie Waldman and Paul Duke, they signed conduct rules that included a “Don’t be evil” provision, according to the suit.

The trio say they thought they were behaving in accordance with that principle when they organized Google employees against controversial projects, such as work for U.S. Customs and Border Protection during the Trump administration. The workers circulated a petition calling on Google to publicly commit to not working with CBP.

This feels like a publicity stunt, not the grounds for a serious lawsuit.

Also, Steve Jobs in an Apple Town Hall meeting back in January 2010: “Don’t be evil is a load of crap.

‘How This All Happened’ 

Morgan Housel, writing at Collaborative Fund:

This is a short story about what happened to the U.S. economy since the end of World War II.

That’s a lot to unpack in 5,000 words, but the short story of what happened over the last 73 years is simple: Things were very uncertain, then they were very good, then pretty bad, then really good, then really bad, and now here we are. And there is, I think, a narrative that links all those events together. Not a detailed account. But a story of how the details fit together.

I enjoyed this essay tremendously. This line, in particular, has stuck with me for the last week: “Expectations always move slower than facts.”

Could COVID Lead to Progress? 

Steven Johnson, writing for The New York Times Magazine:

What about the more subtle psychological legacy of Covid? How will it change the way we perceive the world — and its risks — when the pandemic finally subsides? I have a memory from May of this year, taking my 17-year-old son to the Javits Center in Manhattan for his first vaccine, followed by a shopping trip to pick out a tie for his (masked, outdoor) senior prom. At some point waiting in line, I made a halfhearted joke about how we were embarking on the classic father-son ritual of heading out to the mass vaccination site to protect him from the plague. I meant it ironically, but the truth is that for my son’s generation, proms and plagues will be part of the rituals of growing up.

There’s no question in my mind that growing up, right now, is going to lead more kids to focus their careers on science and medicine. The worst thing that happened in early 2020 was a sort of worldwide collective denial. A sort of “OK, fine, there’s a bad virus going around Asia, we’ve heard this story before — it’s not going to be a major issue here” mindset. I certainly thought like that. It’s human nature. The fact that we hadn’t had a major worldwide pandemic in a century led us to believe — not so much through reason, but more through gut feeling — that we couldn’t have one. Not like this.

Today’s youth will never grow up feeling like that. For them, the next pandemic will always loom on the horizon.

Disney+ Scrubs ‘The Simpsons’ Episode With Tiananmen Square Joke From Hong Kong Service 

Andi Ortiz, writing for The Wrap:

Disney+ users in the U.S. may be able to stream every episode of “The Simpsons” ever made, but apparently, that’s not the case in China. With the platform’s launch in Hong Kong, users have discovered that one episode in particular has been scrubbed from the streamer — the one that mocks Tiananmen Square.

According to users, season 16 of the show offers episode 11 and then 13, but skips episode 12 altogether. The episode — first broadcast in 2005 and titled “Goo Goo Gai Pan” — follows the Simpson family on a trip to China, where they visit Tiananmen Square. While there, they spot a placard that reads: “On this site, in 1989, nothing happened.”

Profiles in courage.

Update: The other memory-holed episode of The Simpsons.

Square Changes Corporate Name to Block 


Square is renaming itself Block as it focuses on technologies like blockchain and expands beyond its original credit card reader business.

Jack Dorsey’s payments giant said in an announcement the new name, effective Dec. 10, “acknowledges the company’s growth” and “creates room for further growth.” Block will still trade under the ticker SQ on the New York Stock Exchange.

Square was a perfectly fine name, and “Block” feels overly trendy. But, whatever. I do like the logo animation on the new Block website — a dot-xyz domain, not a dot-com.

Sal Piacente, Casino Cheating Expert, Reviews Card Counting and Casino Scams From Movies 

Now I’ve got a list of movies to watch (or re-watch).

W.T.A. Suspends Tournaments in China Over Missing Tennis Star Peng Shuai 

Matthew Futterman, reporting for The New York Times:

“While we now know where Peng is, I have serious doubts that she is free, safe and not subject to censorship, coercion and intimidation,” Simon said in a statement released Wednesday afternoon.

“I very much regret it has come to this point. The tennis communities in China and Hong Kong are full of great people with whom we have worked for many years. They should be proud of their achievements, hospitality and success. However, unless China takes the steps we have asked for, we cannot put our players and staff at risk by holding events in China. China’s leaders have left the WTA with no choice.”

The WTA continues to impress.

Alexis Gay: ‘When You Love the Em-Dash’ 

One solid minute on the em-dash. Perfect.

The Talk Show: ‘Headline Goes Here’ 

Special guest Jim Dalrymple returns to the show to discuss the past and future of Apple-centric reporting.

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David Pogue: ‘Stephen Sondheim, the Teacher’ 

David Pogue, writing for CBS News:

Stephen Sondheim may have been best known as one of the greatest composer/lyricists the theater has ever known. But he often said that he would have loved to have been a teacher — and he was an extraordinarily generous one to generations of young composers.

I was one of them. I came to New York right after college, full of ambition to write Broadway musicals. Somehow I met Sondheim, and for many years, he’d give me feedback on my songs, and I gave him computer lessons.

First of all, he always said, content dictates form. In other words, the kind of music you’re writing should depend on the character and the dramatic situation.

Facebook Ordered to Sell Giphy by U.K. Regulator 

Jon Porter, reporting for The Verge:

The UK’s competition regulator has officially ruled that Facebook parent company Meta’s acquisition of Giphy should be unwound, a year and a half after the social media giant first said it was acquiring the popular GIF-making and sharing website. In a press release, the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) said that it had come to the decision after its investigation found an acquisition could harm competition between social media platforms, and that its concerns “can only be addressed by Facebook selling Giphy in its entirety to an approved buyer.”

The CMA said the acquisition could be used to deny or limit other platforms’ access to Giphy GIFs and drive more traffic to Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram. It also raised concerns that it could be used to require other platforms to provide more data to access the GIFs. Finally, the CMA also believes that Giphy’s advertising services could have competed with Meta’s, but that these were shuttered as a result of the merger.

Can you imagine Facebook trying to buy Instagram or WhatsApp now? I mean if even the Giphy acquisition is now considered problematic — Giphy! — imagine something bigger.