Linked List: May 2021

Berkshire Hathaway’s Stock Price vs. 32-Bit Integers 

Alexander Osipovich, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

Berkshire Hathaway Inc. is trading at more than $421,000 per Class A share, and the market is optimistic. That’s a problem. […] On Tuesday, Nasdaq Inc. temporarily suspended broadcasting prices for Class A shares of Berkshire over several popular data feeds. Such feeds provide real-time price updates for a number of online brokerages and finance websites.

Nasdaq’s computers can only count so high because of the compact digital format they use for communicating prices. The biggest number they can handle is $429,496.7295. Nasdaq is rushing to finish an upgrade later this month that would fix the problem.

That number will look familiar to the programmers among you: it’s the limit of an unsigned 32-bit integer. Using 32-bit integers for share prices, with four digits reserved for decimals, isn’t that crazy, though, given that no other stock in the U.S. has a share price that’s even close to the limit:

The U.S. stock with the second-highest share price, home builder NVR Inc., is trading just above $5,100 a share. Using compact formats that take up less memory can make software more efficient, a high priority in the world of electronic stock trading.

At the root of the problem is Mr. Buffett’s decadeslong refusal to execute a stock split of Berkshire’s Class A shares. The 90-year-old billionaire has signed birthday cards to friends with the message, “May you live until Berkshire splits,” according to Fortune magazine.

Nuzzel Is Shutting Down After Acquisition by Twitter 

Tony Haile, writing yesterday at the Nuzzel blog:

Simply cloning a service conceived in 2012 doesn’t make a ton of sense. Instead we’re going to spend a little time working out how the best of Nuzzel should be expressed in 2021. There may be elements of Nuzzel that also belong in the Twitter app or that can take advantage of new internal APIs.

In the meantime, Nuzzel’s app, site and email service will go dark. To those of you who love Nuzzel and are disappointed that we can’t maintain Nuzzel as-is in the interim, I’m as disappointed as you. We explored any number of Hail Marys to make that happen and just couldn’t get there. Looking to the future, Nuzzel’s functionality has always felt like it should be a part of Twitter and I’m excited to help make it so. If you want to help, let us know.

Nuzzel is probably the best Twitter service that most of you have never heard of. The basic idea behind Nuzzel is (was?) that you signed in with your Twitter account, and rather than show you tweets from the people you follow, like a Twitter client would, it showed you links that were posted by the people you follow, sorted by how many people had shared the same article. It’s a remarkably effective way to find good articles. If I had to guess, I’d say I’ve posted thousands of linked list items here on Daring Fireball that discovered via Nuzzel over the years. There’s nothing else quite like it, so here’s hoping Twitter can surface something very similar post-acquisition. (I’m not holding my breath.)

Glenn Fleishman:

Nuzzel has been since it launched nearly the only app I’ve ever let put notifications on my lock screen, and something I consult 20 to 50 times a day. I don’t blame Twitter, though: the model didn’t pan out (though I would have paid $25–$50 a year as a service!).

Andy Baio:

Add me to the list of people bummed that Nuzzel is shutting down on Thursday after Twitter acquired Scroll, its parent company. It was really good at surfacing popular links and articles from your network.

Mike Masnick:

I, of course, found out about this story via Nuzzel, an app I use multiple times a day. This is going to upset my entire news finding process.

Twitter Will Start Prompting Users to Reconsider Tweets Flagged as Angry or Offensive 

Anita Butler and Alberto Parrella, writing on Twitter’s product blog:

People come to Twitter to talk about what’s happening, and sometimes conversations about things we care about can get intense and people say things in the moment they might regret later. That’s why in 2020, we tested prompts that encouraged people to pause and reconsider a potentially harmful or offensive reply before they hit send.

Based on feedback and learnings from those tests, we’ve made improvements to the systems that decide when and how these reminders are sent. Starting today, we’re rolling these improved prompts out across iOS and Android, starting with accounts that have enabled English-language settings.

Somewhere in this, there’s a parody of Mean Streets called Mean Tweets waiting to happen.

Rolling Stone: The 100 Best TV Sitcoms of All Time 

No one is going to agree completely with any such list, but man, this one comes really close to being hard to argue with. I think they got the top 3 exactly right, and the top 10 is pretty close. (I’ll quibble most with The Larry Sanders Show at #10 — I’d have rated it in the top 5, no question — but my profoundly deep affection for that show probably biases me.)

‘These Little Packets of Condiments Become Like Caviar’ 

Fantastic piece from The Ringer: an oral history of “Pine Barrens”, arguably the best episode of The Sopranos.

Trump Suspension From Facebook Upheld by Oversight Board 

Mike Isaac, reporting for The New York Times:

Facebook’s Oversight Board, which acts as a quasi-court to deliberate the company’s content decisions, said the social network was right to bar Mr. Trump after he used the site to foment an insurrection in Washington in January. The panel said the ongoing risk of violence “justified” the suspension. But the board also said that Facebook’s penalty of an indefinite suspension was “not appropriate,” and that the company should apply a “defined penalty.” The board gave Facebook six months to make its final decision on Mr. Trump’s account status. […]

But while Mr. Trump’s Facebook account remains suspended for now, it does not mean that he will not be able to return to the social network at all once the company reviews its action. On Tuesday, Mr. Trump had unveiled a new site, “From the desk of Donald J. Trump,” to communicate with his supporters. It looked much like a Twitter feed, complete with posts written by Mr. Trump that could be shared on Facebook, Twitter and YouTube.

The word is blog. He doesn’t have a “new communications platform” — he has a blog. Which is good! He should have had a blog like this all along. This is exactly why being kicked off Twitter and suspended from Facebook doesn’t silence or censor Trump, in the same way that being banned from a restaurant doesn’t starve someone.

BYU Study Suggests Night Shift Doesn’t Help People Sleep 

Cami Buckley, writing for BYU News:

Until recently, claims of better sleep due to Night Shift have been theoretical. However, a new study from BYU published in Sleep Health challenges the premise made by phone manufacturers and found that the Night Shift functionality does not actually improve sleep.

To test the theory, BYU psychology professor Chad Jensen and researchers from the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center compared the sleep outcomes of individuals in three categories: those who used their phone at night with the Night Shift function turned on, those who used their phone at night without Night Shift and those who did not use a smartphone before bed at all.

“In the whole sample, there were no differences across the three groups,” Jensen said. “Night Shift is not superior to using your phone without Night Shift or even using no phone at all.”

My theory all along has been that Night Shift just makes your screen look hideously mis-colored.

Facebook and Instagram Apps Ask iOS 14 Users to Permit Surveillance Tracking to ‘Help Keep Facebook Free of Charge’ 

That’d be just adorable if Facebook and Instagram started charging users because of mean old Apple. I’m sure that’s really on the table and this isn’t utterly shameless.

Never Perfect, Indeed 

Alfred Ng and Corin Faife, reporting for The Markup:

Facebook says it will remove ads from several companies that violated its anti-discrimination policy after The Markup discovered companies targeting financial services to specific age groups on the platform. Facebook policy prohibits advertisers from discriminating by age when running ads for things like credit cards and loans.

The Markup’s report was published on April 29. Facebook didn’t respond to multiple requests for comment but reached out to The Markup a day after publication to say that it has since taken action.

“We’re reviewing and removing ads from these businesses that ran in violation of this policy,” Tom Channick, a Facebook communications manager, said in an email sent on Friday afternoon to another Markup reporter, who hadn’t worked on the article. “Our enforcement is never perfect since machines and human reviewers make mistakes, but we’re always working to improve.”

Exactly the sort of thing Mark Hurst was referring to regarding Facebook’s quick takedown of ads from Signal that simply revealed how much they know about you. Discriminatory financial services ads? Give Facebook a week to look into it. Ads that reveal just how creepy surveillance tracking is? They closed Signal’s advertising account.

Signal Ran Instagram Ads That Reveal What They Know About You and Facebook Quickly Banned Them 

Jun Harada, writing on the Signal blog:

We created a multi-variant targeted ad designed to show you the personal data that Facebook collects about you and sells access to. The ad would simply display some of the information collected about the viewer which the advertising platform uses. Facebook was not into that idea.

Facebook is more than willing to sell visibility into people’s lives, unless it’s to tell people about how their data is being used. Being transparent about how ads use people’s data is apparently enough to get banned; in Facebook’s world, the only acceptable usage is to hide what you’re doing from your audience.

So, here are some examples of the targeted ads that you’ll never see on Instagram. Yours would have been so you.

Good point from Mark Hurst:

Facebook breaks the law and says “our enforcement is never perfect.” Sure, because it’s impossible to control their vast platforms.

But @Signal posted FB ads showing surveillance in action, and Facebook disabled them immediately.

Update: It occurred to me after sleeping on this that I’d like to know more about how Signal pulled this off. I’m not saying I need to see source code, but at least some sort of explanation of how the stunt worked. The implication is that while Signal’s ads were running, people were seeing ads individually tailored to their interests. I’d love to know more about how that worked. Were they dynamically generated? I don’t see how that would be fast enough. Were the ads all generated in advance? If so, how many did they make? Did they make, say, 100 oddly-specific ads and then use Instagram’s targeting features to serve each of those ads to the best fit for those oddly specific demographics? Signal has earned our collective trust, but there’s a whiff of “too good to be true” about this stunt — it’s heavy on the schadenfreude but light on details.

Verizon Sells AOL and Yahoo to Private Equity Group for $5 Billion 

Edmund Lee and Lauren Hirsch, reporting for The New York Times:

Yahoo and AOL, kings of the early internet, saw their fortunes decline as Silicon Valley raced ahead to create new digital platforms. Google replaced Yahoo. AOL was supplanted by cable giants. Now they will become the property of private equity. Verizon, their current owner, agreed to sell them to Apollo Global Management in a deal worth $5 billion, the companies announced Monday.

In 2002, Yahoo had the chance to buy Google for $1 billion; they hesitated and walked away when the price went to $3 billion. (Same story says they nearly bought Facebook for $1 billion in 2006 and could’ve had it for $1.1 billion.)

In January 2000, AOL acquired Time-Warner for $182 billion to form a mega media company then valued at $350 billion.

Fortunes change.

Scorecard 

New iOS app from the keen minds at Lickability: a deceptively simple utility for keeping score of tabletop games. Lots to love: AirPlay support (so you can show the score on a TV), $5 pay-once-and-you’re-done pricing, a “no data collected” privacy nutrition label, and the app weighs only 5.5 MB.

What Are No-Vaxxers Thinking? 

Derek Thompson, writing for The Atlantic:

What are they thinking, these vaccine-hesitant, vaccine-resistant, and COVID-apathetic? I wanted to know. So I posted an invitation on Twitter for anybody who wasn’t planning to get vaccinated to email me and explain why. In the past few days, I spoke or corresponded with more than a dozen such people. I told them that I was staunchly pro-vaccine, but this wouldn’t be a takedown piece. I wanted to produce an ethnography of a position I didn’t really understand. […]

This is the no-vaxxer deep story in a nutshell: I trust my own cells more than I trust pharmaceutical goop; I trust my own mind more than I trust liberal elites.

This reminds me a lot of Isaac Asimov’s “cult of ignorance”:

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that “my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge”.

The problem is deeply exacerbated by right-wing news media, particularly Fox News, and particularly Tucker Carlson’s top-rated nightly show. Has Anthony Fauci been wrong about some things during the COVID crisis? Yes. Has he been far more right than wrong? Definitely yes. But the Fox News take on Fauci (and the CDC writ large, but it’s very much personal about Fauci) is that he’s an egghead careerist bureaucrat who has been wrong more than right about COVID. That’s just not the case.

MacOS Big Sur 11.3.1 Released, Fixes WebKit Vulnerabilities 

Apple’s release notes for the MacOS 11.3.1 update:

Impact: Processing maliciously crafted web content may lead to arbitrary code execution. Apple is aware of a report that this issue may have been actively exploited.

Update: There are now updates for iOS (14.5.1 and 12.5.3) and WatchOS (7.4.1) that fix the same WebKit vulnerabilities.

Point Card 

My thanks to Point Card for sponsoring this week at DF. Everyone loves rewards and benefits on credit cards. But there’s one thing none of us like — interest rates that pile up into debt. Now you can have the best of both worlds with all the points and none of the risk. Point Card gives you unlimited cash back on every purchase and special access to bonus point offers on some of the best brands out there. The whole experience is elevated with Point App which offers concierge-level service in a clean, obsessively-designed, and easy-to-use interface. Everyday spending has never been better.

I mean just take a look at their ad over there in the sidebar: even the cards are obsessively designed.

The Internal Combustion Engine 

Well-written and staggeringly well-illustrated and animated guide explaining how internal combustion engines work, by Bartosz Ciechanowski. Would love to know how he made these animated models.

Update: Ciechanowski: “I did the 3D models in [@Shapr3D] with small post processing in Blender, animations are just done by hand.”

Protocol Previews Next Week’s Epic Games v. Apple Court Case 

Protocol:

Epic v. Apple starts Monday and is estimated to last about three weeks. In total, each side will have 45 hours to present its case. Gonzalez Rogers has been overseeing the case since the beginning and will preside over the trial as well.

The trial will be held largely in person, but with only six people per side allowed in the courtroom at a time. (A few witnesses will testify over Zoom.) Masks have been a contentious issue, with the court ruling that attorneys will be required to wear masks, but witnesses will be given transparent masks for when they’re testifying.

Each witness will wait in a sort of green room before they’re called to the stand. Beyond that, each company also gets a “designated representative” who can be in the courtroom the entire time. That’ll be Tim Sweeney for Epic and Phil Schiller for Apple.

Just in case there was any doubt whether Schiller, in his new role as Apple Fellow, was truly still in charge of the App Store — he is.

Apple Outlines iMac Retail Availability 

As noted by Stephen Hackett, only the green, blue, pink, and silver iMacs will be stocked in Apple retail stores. Yellow, orange, and purple are online-order only. But I wonder if they’ll have display models of the yellow/orange/purples ones, so folks can see them in person before ordering?

Techdirt: ‘Disney Got Itself an “If You Own a Themepark…” Carveout From Florida’s Blatantly Unconstitutional Social Media Moderation Bill’ 

Mike Masnick, writing for Techdirt:

But, it gets worse. Seeing as this is Florida, which (obviously) is a place where Disney has some clout — and Disney has famously powerful lobbyists all over the damn place — it appears that Disney made sure the Florida legislature gave them a carveout. Florida Senator Ray Rodriques introduced an amendment to the bill, which got included in the final vote. The original bill said that this would apply to any website with 100 million monthly individual users globally. The Rodriques amendment includes this exemption:

The term does not include any information service, system, Internet search engine, or access software provider operated by a company that owns and operates a theme park or entertainment complex as defined in 509.013, F.S.

In other words, Disney (which owns a ton of companies with large internet presences) will be entirely exempt. Ditto for Comcast (Universal studios) and a few others.

Reminds me of another story I recently read. Florida, along with other Republican-led states, recently passed a law that prohibits companies from banning guns in their parking lots. The Florida version of the law has a unique provision: an exception for companies that store “explosives”, including fireworks.