Linked List: November 2021

Jack Dorsey Steps Down as Twitter CEO; Will Be Replaced by CTO Parag Agrawal 

Jessica Bursztynsky, reporting for CNBC:

Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey is stepping down as chief of the social media company, effective immediately. Parag Agrawal, the company’s chief technology officer, will take over the helm, the company said Monday.

Retool 

My thanks to Retool for sponsoring last week at DF. Retool is a new approach to programming for the modern web: they’ve unified the ease of visual programming with the power and flexibility of real code. Drag and drop a form together, and have it POST back to your API in minutes. Deploy instantly with access controls and audit logs. It’s akin to a HyperCard or Visual Basic for the modern web.

Allbirds uses Retool to measure billboard efficacy. Amazon uses Retool to handle GDPR requests. You, too, can use it to build business-critical applications fast.

Check out their demo video to see how easy it is to build something serious and useful — quickly and intuitively. It’s easy to explore on your own and they have good docs and guided videos. Start building for free today.

Vinegar — Safari Extension That Replaces YouTube Embeds With Simple HTML 5 Video Tags 

Zhenyi Tan:

YouTube5 was a Safari extension back when Flash was still a thing and hated by everyone. It replaced the YouTube player (written in Flash) with an HTML <video> tag.

And now the YouTube player situation has gotten bad enough that we need another extension to fix it. That’s where Vinegar comes in. Vinegar also replaces the YouTube player (written in who-knows-what) with a minimal HTML <video> tag.

I’ve been using Vinegar for over a week now, across all my devices — iPhone, iPad, Mac — and I’m already at the place where I don’t know what I’d do without it. Crackerjack good work. $2 on the App Store. Just buy it, trust me.

Jason Snell’s 2021 E-Reader Roundup: Kobo Sage, Kobo Libra 2, and Kindle Paperwhite 

I’ve got a Paperwhite that’s now a few years old. I really don’t use it much, because for whatever reason, I prefer paper books. But Jason Snell is a voracious reader of books on e-readers, and, of course, he has impeccable taste in hardware and software. If you’re looking to buy someone an e-reader this holiday season, or to ask someone to get one for you, I’d read Snell’s review of these three.

The Talk Show: The Scotland Board of Tourism 

For your holiday listening enjoyment: Special guest David Smith returns to the show to talk about Apple Watch Series 7 and the state of WatchOS, Apple suing NSO Group, and more.

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Wirecutter Union Is Striking 

Wirecutter Union:

During two years of bargaining, The New York Times company has slow-walked contract negotiations with unfair labor practices and insignificant wage offers that severely underpay our staff. We, members of the Wirecutter Union, are fed up. To win the fair contract we deserve, we’re prepared to walk out during the Black Friday shopping week.

Wirecutter continues to bring in record revenue for the Times, which is sitting on over $1 billion in cash. Yet our members have seen next to no financial benefit from their vital contributions to this success. Times management has offered paltry guaranteed wage increases of only 0.5%, despite soaring inflation and cash flows.

Choire Sicha, writing at New York Magazine, has the headline of the day, “Here’s the Best Strike for Most People”:

Many Wirecutter staff realized early on that their Times colleagues weren’t as excited about their arrival, even as the then-CEO extolled at sale time that Wirecutter “embodies the same standards and values that are the pillars of our own newsroom.” But Wirecutter was always treated as a second-class citizen, isolated in its own Slack, its own offices, and its own reporting structure under Perpich. It never joined the newsroom, and its work was openly sneered at by some longtime staffers. Many Times staffers don’t believe their work is journalism at all. The pay scale, as well, is substantially different from Times salaries. Even Times fellows, which are yearlong full-time jobs in the newsroom designed to train emerging journalists, receive a significantly higher salary than the starting rate for Wirecutter writers.

The Times will take the money Wirecutter generates — remember, they now charge a subscription fee, on top of their original (and successful) monetization strategy of earning revenue through affiliate links for recommended products — but they do not treat Wirecutter staff as peers.

Fuck ’em, I say. Stay away from Wirecutter this weekend, and tell everyone in your family tomorrow to do the same. There are a zillion other places to find links to Black Friday deals.

MacOS 12 Monterey’s Network Quality Tool 

Dan Petrov:

It seems that Apple has quietly added a new tool in macOS Monterey for measuring your device’s Internet connectivity quality. You can simply call the executable networkQuality, which executes the following tests:

  • Upload/download capacity (your Tx/Rx bandwidth essentially)
  • Upload/download flows, this seems to be the number of test packets used for the responsiveness tests
  • Upload/download responsiveness measured in Roundtrips Per Minute (RPM), which according to Apple, is the number of sequential round-trips, or transactions, a network can do in one minute under normal working conditions

The capacity is roughly the same metric you could expect from tools like Fast.com from Netflix, or OOkla’s Speedtest.

Neato. Just type networkQuality in Terminal.

E.U. Regulators Are at It Again 

Björn Finke, reporting for Süddeutsche Zeitung (original in German; I’m quoting here from Safari 15’s translation to English):

For example, these powerful companies must no longer prefer their own services in search results, as Google did in the 2.4 billion case. You may also not collect business data from independent merchants on the platform and use it for your own offers, as Amazon is accused of. And they must allow mobile phone users to install other app stores and thus get more choice in mobile phone programs. This will hurt Apple a lot. In the event of violations, the Commission can intervene directly in the future without having to prove market power and harmful consequences in long investigations.

Misguided, to say the least.

Parliament expanded the list of platforms to be viewed and includes, for example, Internet-enabled TVs or voice assistants such as Alexa. On the other hand, MEPs increased the thresholds for sales to eight billion euros and the market value to 80 billion euros. This means that only Booking.com should be able to fall under the law from Europe for the foreseeable future. MEP Schwab argues that it is better for the Commission to focus on the really large companies in the implementation and control of the legal act. Critics warn, however, that the US government could consider it an unfriendly act if the groundbreaking law hits almost only American companies.

European regulations that are targeted, almost exclusively, at U.S. companies. You think that might be perceived here as “unfriendly”? You don’t say.

Another important addition to the Commission draft is that Parliament wants to force gatekeepers to allow exchanges between rival messenger services and social media. Then, for example, a user could send a message from WhatsApp to the competitor Signal — this opening should also stimulate competition.

This nugget is under a sub-head that was translated to “Send a message from WhatsApp to Signal? No problem”. No problem at all. Probably will only take a few lines of code to get all the world’s messaging systems — including those using end-to-end encryption like Signal and WhatsApp (and iMessage) — talking to each other.

They should do another draft that mandates the invention of personal jet packs and flying cars, too.

600 Google Employees Sign Manifesto Opposing Company’s Vaccine Mandate 

Jeffifer Elias, reporting for CNBC:

The manifesto within Google, which has been signed by at least 600 Google employees, asks company leaders to retract the vaccine mandate and create a new one that is “inclusive of all Googlers,” arguing leadership’s decision will have outsize influence in corporate America. It also calls on employees to “oppose the mandate as a matter of principle” and tells employees to not let the policy alter their decision if they’ve already chosen not to get the Covid vaccine.

Casey Newton:

Wow, they made a list of the dumbest people at Google.

Don’t let the door hit you on the way out. And, to be clear, Google has somewhere north of 140,000 employees.

(I sure would like to read the actual “manifesto”, but I can’t find it.)

The Apple v. NSO Group Complaint (PDF) 

The opening paragraph:

Defendants are notorious hackers — amoral 21st century mercenaries who have created highly sophisticated cyber-surveillance machinery that invites routine and flagrant abuse. They design, develop, sell, deliver, deploy, operate, and maintain offensive and destructive malware and spyware products and services that have been used to target, attack, and harm Apple users, Apple products, and Apple. For their own commercial gain, they enable their customers to abuse those products and services to target individuals including government officials, journalists, businesspeople, activists, academics, and even U.S. citizens.

It gets more strident from there.

I genuinely wonder what Apple’s goals are with this suit. Is it just to bring NSO Group’s activities to light? If this goes to trial, the testimony should really be something to see. How much in damages will Apple seek at trial? Enough to bankrupt NSO Group? (Don’t forget Facebook has an ongoing lawsuit against NSO Group for having exploited a bug in WhatsApp to install malware on targets.)

Apple’s Own Announcement of Their Lawsuit Against NSO Group 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple’s legal complaint provides new information on NSO Group’s FORCEDENTRY, an exploit for a now-patched vulnerability previously used to break into a victim’s Apple device and install the latest version of NSO Group’s spyware product, Pegasus. The exploit was originally identified by the Citizen Lab, a research group at the University of Toronto. [...]

NSO Group and its clients devote the immense resources and capabilities of nation-states to conduct highly targeted cyberattacks, allowing them to access the microphone, camera, and other sensitive data on Apple and Android devices. To deliver FORCEDENTRY to Apple devices, attackers created Apple IDs to send malicious data to a victim’s device — allowing NSO Group or its clients to deliver and install Pegasus spyware without a victim’s knowledge. Though misused to deliver FORCEDENTRY, Apple servers were not hacked or compromised in the attacks.

A couple of things are interesting about this. First, Apple repeatedly refers to the “FORCEDENTRY” exploit by name. This is not PR bullshit — they’re talking about a very specific exploit. Second, they refer to Android as their compatriot, not their competitor. There’s a time and place for Apple to brag about iOS being more secure than Android, but this isn’t it. The message here: “This isn’t just about us, NSO Group is after everyone.”

Lastly, the phrase “the immense resources and capabilities of nation-states”. This is Apple hammering home the fact that deliberate backdoors would be exploited. They’re up against countries with, effectively, infinite money and resources to find and exploit accidental vulnerabilities. If there were deliberate backdoors, the game would be over before it started.

Apple commends groups like the Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech for their groundbreaking work to identify cybersurveillance abuses and help protect victims. To further strengthen efforts like these, Apple will be contributing $10 million, as well as any damages from the lawsuit, to organizations pursuing cybersurveillance research and advocacy.

The New York Times story on this mentioned that Apple would be donating any damages from the lawsuit, if they win. It’s a nice touch that they’re donating $10 million no matter what happens in court. Citizen Lab and Amnesty Tech did crackerjack work exposing this exploit.

Apple is notifying the small number of users that it discovered may have been targeted by FORCEDENTRY. Any time Apple discovers activity consistent with a state-sponsored spyware attack, Apple will notify the affected users in accordance with industry best practices.

Interesting!

Apple Sues NSO Group 

Nicole Perlroth, reporting for The New York Times:

Apple is also asking for unspecified damages for the time and cost to deal with what the company argues is NSO’s abuse of its products. Apple said it would donate the proceeds from those damages to organizations that expose spyware. [...]

The sample of Pegasus gave Apple a forensic understanding of how Pegasus worked. The company found that NSO’s engineers had created more than 100 fake Apple IDs to carry out their attacks. In the process of creating those accounts, NSO’s engineers would have had to agree to Apple’s iCloud Terms and Conditions, which expressly require that iCloud users’ engagement with Apple “be governed by the laws of the state of California.” The clause helped Apple bring its lawsuit against NSO in the Northern District of California.

Shades of nailing Al Capone for tax evasion.

Apple executives described the lawsuit as a warning shot to NSO and other spyware makers. “This is Apple saying: If you do this, if you weaponize our software against innocent users, researchers, dissidents, activists or journalists, Apple will give you no quarter,” Ivan Krstic, head of Apple security engineering and architecture, said in an interview on Monday.

That is not — at all — how leaders at Apple usually speak in the press. Apple is not a hard or tricky company to read. They are furious about NSO Group.

Fairphone 4: A ‘Sustainable, Repairable, and Ethical’ Android Phone 

Jerry Hildenbrand, writing for Android Central:

The phone comes with a full five-year warranty that covers anything that you didn’t cause. For those things that you did cause, let’s say you dropped it and broke the display, you can likely easily fix it yourself using inexpensive spare parts that Fairphone sells itself.

The same way Fairphone is attempting to shake up the phone industry, it’s also trying to change the way we think about having our phones repaired. What keeps your Samsung phone from being easy to fix is how it is built and the materials used to make it. Things like glued-in displays or sealed cases aren’t an issue with the Fairphone 4. You can pull out most internal assemblies and then replace them with new components using only a small Philips head screwdriver.

Another side effect of this is having a battery that can be swapped at any time by removing the 100% recycled plastic backplate. This used to be normal for Android phones, but I can’t think of a single mainstream device with a user-swappable battery in 2021. Of course, you can still charge the battery quickly using a USB C P.D. charger, but knowing that you can carry a spare “just in case” is great.

Sounds great, right? But, among other caveats (e.g. a somewhat crummy camera given the €579/~$650 price):

One last issue is that the Fairphone 4 is “only” IP54 rated. This means the Fairphone 4 is “protected against dust ingress sufficient to prevent the product from operating normally, but it’s not dust-tight. The product is fully protected against solid objects and splashing of water from any angle”.

You can use the Fairphone 4 in the rain, but you can’t take it into the pool. Once you realize that the back of the phone pops right off and the fact that gaskets and other waterproofing measures would add to the cost considerably, you understand why.

iPhones have been dust- and water-proof since the iPhone 7 in 2016. (The iPhone 7 was rated IP67 — the 6 means dust-tight (the highest IP rating for particles), and the 7 means waterproof for temporary immersion. More recent iPhones are rated IP68, where the 8 stands for “full immersion” (Apple says up to 6 meters depth for 30 minutes). Samsung’s S21 is rated IP68 (but only to a depth of 1.5 meters for 30 minutes), and Google’s Pixel 6 phones are rated IP68 as well, albeit with a disclaimer that reads, in part, “Water resistance isn’t a permanent condition, and diminishes or is lost over time due to normal wear and tear, device repair, disassembly or damage”).

Is it possible that Fairphone — or someone else manufacturing a phone with Fairphone’s ease-of-repairability ideals — will eventually achieve IP68 levels of ingress protection? Of course. It’s also certainly the case that some people, like Hildenbrand, value repairability and battery-swapping more than they value dust and water resistance.

But not most people.

Mux Video 

My thanks to Mux for once again sponsoring DF. 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 for more insight into your video performance? They’ve got that covered too with data: which viewers are seeing errors or re-buffering, which player or CDN is performing better, and whether or not you should use Mux (trick question, yes).

Steve Wozniak’s Startup Privateer Plans to Launch Hundreds of Satellites to Study Space Debris 

Mike Wall, writing for Space.com:

Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak’s startup Privateer aims to help humanity get the goods on space junk before it’s too late. The Hawaii-based company, whose existence Wozniak and co-founder Alex Fielding announced in September, wants to characterize the ever-expanding space debris population like never before. Privateer will do this by incorporating a variety of data, including crowdsourced information and observations made by its own sizable satellite fleet.

“I think we’re looking at several hundred satellites,” Privateer Chief Scientific Adviser Moriba Jah told Space.com. “We won’t launch all several hundred at once; we’ll just slowly build it up.”

Leave it to Woz to fund a startup to do something useful in space, rather than just shoot himself into low orbit for a few minutes. We need to put something like satellite Roombas up there to clean this debris up.

One Last Update on Apple’s New Self Service Repair Program (I Hope) 

From an update I just appended to yesterday’s follow-up:

I’m back to my original opinion, that the Self Service Repair Program is just what it says on the tin — a program for people who really do want to repair their own devices — and thus is irrelevant to all but a small sliver of actual users.

Twitter No Longer Sends Users to AMP Pages 

Henry Powderly, reporting for Search Engine Land:

With social media referrals to AMP pages cut down by the change, the reasons for supporting AMP are getting fewer.

For some of us, the reasons were obvious all along. It never made sense to me why any publishers supported AMP in the first place.

It took four years, but support for AMP is suddenly collapsing. Good riddance.

Dave Mark on the Repairability of Apple’s Devices 

Dave Mark, writing at The Loop:

Not sure how big the audience for right-to-repair is, but I do count myself in its number. And if it was easier to do, I suspect that number would be much larger. Imagine if repairing a cracked display was a simple, five minute operation. Wouldn’t you rather order the new display and make the swap yourself?

It used to be relatively easy to customize and repair your gear. As parts have given way to part assemblies (glued/soldered assemblies that become a single replaceable requirement, even if a single part fails) and the quest for smaller makes devices harder to open, harder to take apart, the ability to repair your own gear has become harder, almost impossible.

So those small numbers John points out are real. But should this be the way it is? Again, wouldn’t you love the ability to swap out a display as easily as you used to be able to swap out RAM on your old Macs?

Ideally, many people would still like to be able to swap out RAM on today’s Macs as easily as we could on old Macs. Same thing for SSD storage. Adding RAM and storage, years after purchase, was a great way to significantly extend the practical lifetime of Macs. A while back (15 years ago?) I replaced the spinning hard drive in a 15-inch PowerBook with an SSD, and it was like buying a brand-new much faster machine.

But: times change. Apple hasn’t moved away from user replaceable memory and storage components out of spite. Integrating memory and storage into the chips themselves is the reason why devices have gotten thinner and lighter and much, much faster. The incredible performance of Apple silicon — for both iOS devices and Macs — is part and parcel with integrating memory and storage directly onto the SoCs.

And in terms of replacing screens on iPhones, consider waterproofing and device aesthetics. To my knowledge, no company makes a mainstream smartphone with an easily-replaced display, because a smartphone with an easily replaced screen wouldn’t sell because of all the design trade-offs that would be involved.

Peng Shuai: U.N. Calls for Proof of Chinese Tennis Star’s Whereabouts; W.T.A. Chairman Willing to Pull Out of China 

CNN:

Peng, who is one of China’s most recognizable sports stars, has not been seen in public since she accused former Vice Premier Zhang Gaoli of coercing her into sex at his home, according to screenshots of a since-deleted social media post dated November 2.

“What we would say is that it would be important to have proof of her whereabouts and wellbeing, and we would urge that there be an investigation with full transparency into her allegations of sexual assault,” Liz Throssell, the spokesperson of the UN Human Rights office, told reporters in Geneva on Friday. [...]

The head of the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) Steve Simon has said he is willing to lose hundreds of millions of dollars worth of business in China if Peng is not fully accounted for and her allegations are not properly investigated.

“We’re definitely willing to pull our business and deal with all the complications that come with it,” Simon said in an interview Thursday with CNN. “Because this is certainly, this is bigger than the business,” added Simon.

Chinese state media released an email Wednesday, purportedly written by Peng and addressed to Simon, that reads as preposterously fake.

Bravo to Simon and the WTA for taking this no-bullshit fuck-the-money stance. The NBA cowardly prostrated itself to the CCP two years ago, when Daryl Morey — then GM of the Houston Rockets — tweeted “Fight for freedom, stand with Hong Kong.” (Morey is now president of my hometown 76ers.)

The International Olympics Committee will be tested next: the 2022 Winter Olympics are slated to be hosted in China, starting in February.

Apple Pushes Back Return to Office Plan to February 

Tim Cook, in a company-wide email (published by Zoe Schiffer, who has moved from The Verge to NBC News):

As of today, we are targeting February 1, 2022 to begin our hybrid work pilot in many global locations where teams have not yet returned to our corporate offices. We plan to start the pilot with a phased approach, welcoming people back to the office for one or two days a week for an initial period of four weeks. After this transitional period, we will begin the pilot in full, with eligible teams in the office three days a week, on Monday, Tuesday, and Thursday, and with flexibility to work remotely on Wednesday and Friday. You’ll receive more details about how the first four-week phase will roll out as we get closer to the return date.

As I noted when we announced our hybrid work pilot, we do have a number of teams whose work requires a greater need to work in-person, and they will come into the office four or five days a week based on the plans for these specific teams.

Read: folks who work on hardware.

At the same time, we are committed to giving you more flexibility as we move forward. In addition to the option of working remotely twice a week on Wednesday and Friday, we announced this summer that team members would be able to work remotely for up to two weeks per year with a manager’s approval. I’m pleased to share that we’re increasing the amount of time you can work remotely to a total of four weeks per year. This provides more opportunity to travel, be closer to your loved ones, or simply shake up your routines.

Sensible, measured, and adaptable to changing conditions. Apple’s years-long response to the pandemic regarding its workforce (including retail) has been utterly Cook-ian.

Xbox Chief Phil Spencer, in Leaked Memo, Says Microsoft ‘Evaluating All Aspects of Our Relationship’ With Activision 

Jason Schreier, reporting for Bloomberg:*

Microsoft Corp.’s head of Xbox said he’s “evaluating all aspects of our relationship with Activision Blizzard and making ongoing proactive adjustments,” in light of the recent revelations at the video game publisher.

In an email to staff seen by Bloomberg News, Phil Spencer said he and the gaming leadership team are “disturbed and deeply troubled by the horrific events and actions” at Activision Blizzard Inc. He referred to the Wall Street Journal story earlier this week that said Chief Executive Officer Bobby Kotick knew of sexual harassment at the company for years and that he mistreated women.

This is about as close as Microsoft could come at this point to calling for Kotick to resign. It’s like when a mafia don says something like “I’m not sure about that guy.” He can’t say what he really means but we all know what he means.

(Also, this was a company-wide memo that was meant to leak.)

* You know.

The Future of Work in the Metaverse 

This summarizes my take.

WSJ: ‘Activision CEO Bobby Kotick Knew for Years About Sexual-Misconduct Allegations at Videogame Giant’ 

Kirsten Grind, Ben Fritz, and Sarah E. Needleman, reporting yesterday for The Wall Street Journal (emphasis added):

Dan Bunting, co-head of Activision’s Treyarch studio, was accused by a female employee of sexually harassing her in 2017 after a night of drinking, according to people familiar with the incident. Activision’s human-resources department and other supervisors launched an internal investigation in 2019 and recommended that he be fired, but Mr. Kotick intervened to keep him, these people said. Mr. Bunting, who led Treyarch through the production of several successful Call of Duty games, was given counseling and allowed to remain at the company, these people said.

Mr. Bunting didn’t respond to requests for comment. The Activision spokeswoman said an outside investigation was conducted in 2020. “After considering potential actions in light of that investigation, the company elected not to terminate Mr. Bunting, but instead to impose other disciplinary measures,” she said. Mr. Bunting left the company after the Journal asked about the incident.

The article’s lede makes the situation at Activision sound pretty bad, but much of the next page or so is about stuff that was already known by Activision’s board. Then we get to the above quoted passage. HR recommended firing Bunting two years ago; when the Journal inquired about the incident now, Bunting quit the company. That he remained at the company between 2019 and now is all on Kotick. If it’s defensible, why quit now?

Chris Plante, editor-in-chief and co-founder of Polygon, today: “Bobby Kotick Must Resign”.

This is not the sort of thing Polygon normally does.

Cleveland Guardians Settle Lawsuit With Local Roller Derby Team Over Rights to Name 

The Associated Press:

Cleveland will have two teams called the Guardians. The Major League Baseball franchise and a local roller derby club have reached a resolution in a lawsuit filed over the use of the name Guardians, allowing both to continue using it.

The sides on Tuesday jointly announced an “amicable resolution,” an agreement that permits the Indians to continue their changeover to Guardians — a switch that was delayed due to the legal matter and isn’t completely finished.

Nice resolution to this item two weeks ago. The official change from Indians to Guardians will now happen Friday.

Qualcomm Announces Plans for ‘M-Series Competitive’ PC CPU’s in 2023 

Chaim Gartenberg, reporting for The Verge:

The new chip will be designed by the Nuvia team, which Qualcomm had bought earlier this year in a massive $1.4 billion acquisition. Nuvia, notably, was founded in 2019 by a trio of former Apple employees who had previously worked on the company’s A-series chips.

The company is making big promises, too: in addition to offering competition to Apple’s stellar M-series chips (which power its latest MacBook Pro and MacBook Air laptops and iMac and Mac Mini desktops), Qualcomm is aiming to lead the field for “sustained performance and battery life,” too. Additionally, Qualcomm promised that it would be scaling up its Adreno GPUs, too, with the goal of offering desktop-class gaming capabilities for its future PC products.

When they debuted, Apple-silicon-powered Macs were these crazy new machines that offered performance-per-watt far above the industry state-of-the-art. One year later, though, with pro-caliber laptops shipping, Apple silicon is the industry state-of-the-art, and everything else is behind. Qualcomm isn’t gunning for Intel or AMD; they’re gunning for Apple, because the M-series is the new benchmark.

Based on mobile chips, however, I have doubts about Qualcomm’s ability to catch up to Apple’s M-series — especially as entire SoCs, including GPUs — any time soon. If Qualcomm hasn’t caught up to Apple in SoCs for phones (ostensibly Qualcomm’s bread and butter) how will they catch up in SoCs for high-end PCs (an area where Qualcomm has never made a dent)? Maybe the answer is the Nuvia acquisition — perhaps Nuvia will be to Qualcomm what PA Semi was for Apple. Or maybe the answer is that it’ll play out like phone chips have, and Qualcomm will never catch up.

Hoax Email Blast Abused Poor Coding in FBI Website 

Brian Krebs:

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) confirmed today that its fbi.gov domain name and Internet address were used to blast out thousands of fake emails about a cybercrime investigation. According to an interview with the person who claimed responsibility for the hoax, the spam messages were sent by abusing insecure code in an FBI online portal designed to share information with state and local law enforcement authorities.

Remember when the FBI insisted they could be trusted with the keys to an encryption backdoor in iOS? Good times.

‘Can Nuclear Fusion Put the Brakes on Climate Change?’ 

Rivka Galchen, writing for The New Yorker:

Let’s say that you’ve devoted your entire adult life to developing a carbon-free way to power a household for a year on the fuel of a single glass of water, and that you’ve had moments, even years, when you were pretty sure you would succeed. Let’s say also that you’re not crazy. This is a reasonable description of many of the physicists working in the field of nuclear fusion. In order to reach this goal, they had to find a way to heat matter to temperatures hotter than the center of the sun, so hot that atoms essentially melt into a cloud of charged particles known as plasma; they did that. They had to conceive of and build containers that could hold those plasmas; they did that, too, by making “bottles” out of strong magnetic fields. When those magnetic bottles leaked — because, as one scientist explained, trying to contain plasma in a magnetic bottle is like trying to wrap a jelly in twine — they had to devise further ingenious solutions, and, again and again, they did. Over decades, in the pursuit of nuclear fusion, scientists and engineers built giant metal doughnuts and Gehryesque twisted coils, they “pinched” plasmas with lasers, and they constructed fusion devices in garages. For thirty-six years, they have been planning and building an experimental fusion device in Provence. And yet commercially viable nuclear-fusion energy has always remained just a bit farther on. As the White Queen, in “Through the Looking Glass,” said to Alice, it is never jam today, it is always jam tomorrow.

Fascinating and intriguing.

Fossil’s Gen 6 Smartwatch 

Dieter Bohn, writing for The Verge:

The kindest thing I can say about the new $299 Gen 6 iteration of Fossil’s long-running smartwatch series is this: it’s not entirely Fossil’s fault that it’s bad.

The company reportedly learned that Google and Samsung had teamed up to finally revitalize the Wear OS software Fossil’s been using at the same time we did: this past May at Google IO. And so Fossil’s 2021 smartwatch lineup is running software that hasn’t been meaningfully improved since at least 2019 and it won’t receive the latest software until late 2022. Samsung has smartwatches that run on Wear OS 3 and do so competently, Fossil is stuck on Wear OS 2.

Running old software is not inherently a bad thing — old software is often battle tested, reliable, and fast. Sadly, none of those adjectives apply here and Fossil compounded Wear OS 2’s issues by cramming in features it’s unable to support.

Maybe in the long run, hitting the reset button on Wear OS will prove to be a solid strategy. But in the meantime, it’s rather astonishing how Apple is just running away with the smartwatch market.

Rows 

My thanks to Rows for sponsoring this week at DF (along with this week’s episode of The Talk Show). Rows reinvented spreadsheets to let you build data-rich spreadsheets that look beautiful and modern. Rows uses the same logic as traditional spreadsheets like Google Sheets and Excel. It has row-and-column-based cells and all the functions you’re used to, like SUM, VLOOKUP, and INDEX.

On top of that, Rows added powerful integrations with business tools and public databases. Your spreadsheet can talk to Google Analytics, Twitter, Stripe, and Salesforce; it can send emails and Slack alerts, and even connect to your custom APIs. And you can fetch public data from databases like Crunchbase, Hunter, and LinkedIn.

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Devan Scott on the Use of Color in ‘Skyfall’ and ‘Spectre’ 

Speaking of Daniel Craig’s run as James Bond, Devan Scott put together a wonderful, richly illustrated thread on Twitter contrasting the use of color grading in Skyfall and Spectre. Both of those films were directed by Sam Mendes, but they had different cinematographers — Roger Deakins for Skyfall, and Hoyte van Hoytema for Spectre. Scott graciously and politely makes the case that Skyfall is more interesting and fully-realized because each new location gets a color palette of its own, whereas the entirety of Spectre is in a consistent color space.

(For an essay of this sort, with so many images that go along with a few sentences of prose at a time, a Twitter thread is an outstanding medium.)

See Also: Kat Clay: “Why Skyfall Is a Masterclass in Cinematography”.

Switched on Pop: ‘James Bond’s Spycraft Sound’ 

Nate Sloan and Charlie Harding:

The latest installment of the James Bond franchise, No Time To Die, closes the book on the Daniel Craig era of the international superspy. The film’s theme song, “No Time to Die,” by Billie Eilish, Finneas, and Hans Zimmer, also marks the conclusion of one of the great musical sagas in recent cinema. Monty Norman’s and John Barry’s now-iconic “James Bond Theme,” written for 1962’s Dr. No, has remained a constant across six decades of espionage and one-liners. But every new Bond theme has also developed subtle variations on the original that reflect the character’s changes over time. On this episode of Switched On Pop, we uncover what inspired the theme, how it’s changed, and why it almost never happened.

Absolutely delightful podcast, and really astute commentary on how music helped tie together the entirety of Daniel Craig’s five-movie saga in the role.

Joanna Stern Spends 24 Hours in Facebook’s Metaverse 

Speaking of the metaverse:

Everyone is blabbing about the metaverse. But what does this future digital world look like? WSJ’s Joanna Stern checked into a hotel and strapped on a VR headset for the day. She went to work meetings, hung out with new avatar friends and attended virtual shows.

So glad she made this video; so glad it wasn’t me.

The Talk Show: ‘The Warden’s Dilemma’ 

For your weekend listening enjoyment: Ben Thompson returns to the show to go deep on the concept of the metaverse. Is it the next frontier in tech? Is it bullshit? Somewhere in between?

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Playdate Delayed Until Early 2022 

Panic, in an update to those who’ve pre-ordered the Playdate:

And so, we shipped 5,000 finished Playdates back to Malaysia to be given new batteries. How did that feel? Not great!!!

The good news: we’ve already received the new batteries from the new supplier, and they’re looking really impressive — they’re exactly what we’re hoping for, if not even better than before. We’re extremely confident the new supplier can give Playdate the battery life we designed, and you deserve.

And there’s one huge silver lining: we’re extremely glad that we found this potential issue before shipping you a Playdate.

And:

With lots of pre-orders in place, we immediately placed an order at our factory for all the parts needed for 2022 units and beyond. The response was… sobering. Many of our parts have been delayed significantly. In fact, we can’t get any more of Playdate’s current CPU for — you’re not going to believe this — two years. Like, 730 days.

Maybe you’ve heard about the “global chip shortage” everyone’s talking about? We’re here to say it is very real. Covid-19 caused an ever-cascading set of worldwide supply chain failures that are leading to many, many electronic parts being simply… gone.

The good news on that front is that they’ve already designed a new logic board using a different, but equivalent, CPU that is available. More good news: the Playdate SDKs (there are two — the full SDK using C and Lua, and a web-based graphical you-don’t-even-have-to-be-a-programmer-to-make-a-game tool called Pulp) are close to shipping.

Basically, shipping any project is hard. Shipping hardware is really hard. And shipping hardware amidst this pandemic-induced global supply chain fiasco is just crazy hard. Valve’s Steam Deck — sort of the anti-Playdate — is delayed into early 2022 too, and both Sony and Nintendo have cut production estimates for the PlayStation 5 and Switch consoles.

‘The iOS App Icon Book’ by Michael Flarup 

Michel Flarup:

I simply love app icons — they continue to be everything that excites me about visual design. App icon design is a carefully balanced discipline with the goal of producing a memorable graphic that sits at the intersection of art and utility. At their best, app icons are design, distilled. This book is a celebration of the art and craft of app icon design and the golden age of icon design that has lived and evolved on our devices this past decade.

It’s a Kickstarter project, with books expected to ship in April. Take my money — I can’t wait to devour this book. It looks so good.

John Hanke: ‘AR Is Where the Real Metaverse Is Going to Happen’ 

Steven Levy, writing for Wired:

As the CEO and founder of Niantic Labs, Hanke launched Pokémon Go in 2016, and he remains obsessed with a vision of a physical world enhanced by digital objects, the concept now called augmented reality. He has been pursuing this vision since at least 2010, when he founded Niantic as an internal startup at Google, then spun it out and launched Go. The game, in which players wander the streets with phones held to their faces trying to capture Weedles, Squirtles, and Nidorinas, was both a cultural phenomenon and a financial success, reaping over a billion dollars in revenue. Like Wendy sewing Peter Pan’s shadow to his foot, Hanke has been gradually binding the ephemeral to the real, providing a substrate for the merger of pixels and atoms that he sees as the future. [...]

He’s read all the science fiction books and seen all the films that first imagined the metaverse — all great fun, and all wrong. He believes that his vision, unlike virtual reality, will make the real world better without encouraging people to totally check out of it.

Terrific interview.

YouTube Will Keep ‘Dislike’ Button, but Make Dislike Counts Private to the Creator 

YouTube:

As part of this experiment, viewers could still see and use the dislike button. But because the count was not visible to them, we found that they were less likely to target a video’s dislike button to drive up the count. In short, our experiment data showed a reduction in dislike attacking behavior. We also heard directly from smaller creators and those just getting started that they are unfairly targeted by this behavior — and our experiment confirmed that this does occur at a higher proportion on smaller channels.

Based on what we learned, we’re making the dislike counts private across YouTube, but the dislike button is not going away. This change will start gradually rolling out today.

This is an interesting middle ground. Sounds good to me. Marking something as disliked obviously can be useful, but hiding the dislike count apparently diminishes the pile-on mob mindset.

Twitter has been experimenting with a “dislike” button as well. Not sure where that stands, but if they go forward with it, they should keep the dislike counts private too.

Judge Denies Apple’s Motion to Stay App Store Antisteering Policy Changes in Epic Case 

Judge Yvonne Gonzalez Rogers, in a ruling earlier this week:

The Court is in receipt of Apple Inc.’s Motion to Stay part of the Court’s injunction pending resolution of all appeals, specifically that portion prohibiting developers from including “in their apps and their metabuttons, [sic] external links, or other calls to action that direct customers to purchasing mechanisms, in addition to In-App Purchasing [“IAP”].” (See Dkt. No. 821.)

Having considered all the filings, and oral argument, the Court finds Apple has failed to satisfy its burden, and the request as framed is DENIED. In short, Apple’s motion is based on a selective reading of this Court’s findings and ignores all of the findings which supported the injunction, namely incipient antitrust conduct including supercompetitive commission rates resulting in extraordinarily high operating margins and which have not been correlated to the value of its intellectual property. This incipient antitrust conduct is the result, in part, of the antisteering policies which Apple has enforced to harm competition. As a consequence, the motion is fundamentally flawed. Further, even if additional time was warranted to comply with the limited injunction, Apple did not request additional time other than ten days to appeal this ruling. Thus, the Court does not consider the option of additional time, other than the requested ten days.

“Metabuttons” is a typo — the original ruling used the (already technically ambiguous) term “metadata buttons” there.

It’s a near-certainty that Apple is going to appeal this. But if the appeal doesn’t work, December 9 is just four weeks away.

Concepts to Redesign the New York City Street 

Justin Davidson, writing for Curbed:

Our efforts yielded two big lessons. The first is that every improvement is a trade-off. Protecting bus lanes with concrete barriers, for example, would keep cars out, but it would also keep limited-stop buses from passing local ones. Our street incorporates a possible set of compromises. The second is that even simple tweaks imply a far-reaching organizational overhaul. Enclosed trash bins would push the Department of Sanitation to update some of its trucks and pickup procedures.

There are a lot of good ideas here. Drastically reducing curbside parking and using that space to widen sidewalks and increase outdoor eating areas is something that’s happened in a lot of cities during this pandemic. It’s been a huge win here in Philly.

But to nitpick one of the ideas: enclosed trash bins are terrible. Philly replaced its old-fashioned open-top trash bins with enclosed ones several years ago, and they’re just awful. They sound like a fine idea, but in practice they’re disgusting. You have to touch them to put anything in them, and, well, they’re covered with garbage. They’re really hard to use one-handed, like when you’re carrying, say, a grocery bag with your other hand. They tend to break, too. It’s been a huge step backwards here.

Jamf CEO Welcomes Apple Business Essentials 

Jonny Evans, writing for Computerworld’s Appleholic:

“When Apple innovates, Jamf celebrates,” Jamf CEO, Dean Hager said, on learning about Apple Business Essentials. “We believe this expected announcement is good news and presents Jamf with a terrific opportunity.” [...]

Jamf, which announced an impressive set of Q3 results Nov. 11, has always existed alongside Apple. Hager noted several times during the last decade when industry watchers thought Apple moves might damage his business: Once when Apple introduced MDM in 2010, again in 2011 with Profile Manager, later with Apple Configurator, and more recently with Apple Business Manager.

Brings to mind Apple’s famous “Welcome IBM. Seriously.” ad from 1981. I don’t mean that to be snarky. Apple was ready for the IBM PC in 1981, and it sounds like Jamf and similar companies have been ready for Apple to enter this market ever since they acquired Fleetsmith a year ago.

FastScripts 3 

Daniel Jalkut, writing at the Red Sweater blog:

This update is the culmination of years of work on various aspects of the app, many of which are not “headline” level changes. Little things, like the ability of the app to detect when you attempt to assign a shortcut that is already being used for another script, to improvements to the appearance of the app’s built in “display message” panels, to the long-awaited support for symbolic links in the script folder, will perpetually surprise and delight you!

All sorts of cool new stuff in this update, including new (and much improved) icons, parallel script execution, and more. One of my favorite small features in FastScripts is the above-mentioned “display message” command. It’s a nicer way to briefly show a message on screen than Notification Center. Anyone who uses scripting on their Mac should be using FastScripts. Hall of Fame Mac utility.

iOS 15.2 Beta Includes the ‘Communication Safety’ Messages Feature for Children 

Juli Clover, reporting for MacRumors:

Communication Safety is a Family Sharing feature that can be enabled by parents, and it is opt-in rather than activated by default. When turned on, the Messages app is able to detect nudity in images that are sent or received by children. If a child receives or attempts to send a photo with nudity, the image will be blurred and the child will be warned about the content, told it’s okay not to view the photo, and offered resources to contact someone they trust for help.

When Communication Safety was first announced, Apple said that parents of children under the age of 13 had the option to receive a notification if the child viewed a nude image in Messages, but after receiving feedback, Apple has removed this feature. Apple now says that no notifications are sent to parents.

Apple removed the notification option because it was suggested that parental notification could pose a risk for a child in a situation where there is parental violence or abuse. For all children, including those under the age of 13, Apple will instead offer guidance on getting help from a trusted adult in a situation where nude photos are involved.

This seems like a good middle ground to address the above-stated concerns.

America’s ‘Wokeness’ Divide Is Not About Level of Education 

Olga Khazan, writing for The Atlantic:

But according to a recent Atlantic/Leger survey, no gap exists between people with college degrees and those without them on some of the hot topics most commonly associated with “wokeness.” Instead, neither group endorses the supposedly “woke” positions particularly strongly. Though the term originated in the Black community, woke now lacks a standard definition, and is sometimes used as a catchall label for a group of only loosely related ideas. People often use the term to describe neologisms that are more popular among progressives, such as pregnant people, as well as policy choices advocated for by some on the left, such as defunding the police. In our poll, we also included reverse-coded statements, meant to capture whether someone was the opposite of “woke,” by asking about common right-wing shibboleths such as political correctness, “cancel culture,” and critical race theory.

For the poll, Leger surveyed a representative sample of 1,002 American adults from October 22 to October 24. We asked for respondents’ agreements with various statements, shown in the chart below, that are often invoked by conservatives and moderates as being associated with people who are “woke.” The results showed that there was no significant difference between people with college degrees and those without them on the question of whether America is becoming too politically correct (slight majorities of both groups agreed somewhat or strongly). The same was true for believing “cancel culture is a big problem in society” — 51 percent of degree holders agreed, as did 45 percent of those without degrees.

Long story short, it’s an age divide, not an education divide. But none of these “woke” positions are actually popular, even amongst the young.

Unity Is Buying Weta Digital for $1.6 Billion 

Marc Whitten, writing for the Unity blog:

Today, Unity announced that it has entered into a definitive agreement to acquire Weta Digital, specifically its artist tools, core pipeline, intellectual property, and award-winning engineering talent. The Academy Award-Winning VFX service teams of Weta Digital will continue as a standalone entity known as WetaFX and will become Unity’s largest customer in the Media and Entertainment space. By combining the industry leading VFX tools and technical talent from the incredible team at Weta, plus the deep development and real-time knowledge within Unity, we aim to deliver tools to unlock the full potential of the metaverse.

This is, to me, a wow it’s really happened moment. Even just a few years ago, if you told me Unity and Weta were merging, I’d have assumed Weta was the buyer and Unity the acquisition. But it’s the other way around — and that represents the fact that gaming is now a bigger industry than movies. (As a friend notes, gaming is bigger than movies + sports combined.)

I don’t think this is a big deal for the movie/TV VFX industry. WetaFX continues as it was. But it could be a huge deal for gaming, because Unity now has access to Weta’s apparently excellent toolchain for 3D world building and character creation and animation. Basically, I think Unity wanted to catch up to Unreal in terms of content production tools, and with this acquisition, maybe they do that and more.

There’s Actually an Apple Angle From the Kyle Rittenhouse Trial 

Put aside breaking down in tears on the witness stand — when your lawyer doesn’t understand the difference between algorithms and logarithms, you’re in bad shape.

Apple Business Essentials 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced Apple Business Essentials, an all-new service that brings together device management, 24/7 Apple Support, and iCloud storage into flexible subscription plans for small businesses with up to 500 employees. The company also unveiled a new Apple Business Essentials app that enables employees to install apps for work and request support. [...]

In addition to streamlined setup and onboarding, Apple Business Essentials provides a dedicated iCloud account for work, providing simple and secure storage, backup, and collaboration on files and documents. Business data in iCloud is automatically stored and backed up, making it easy to move between devices or upgrade to a new device.

Fascinating. Unless I’m misreading this, Apple is entering the same market as Jamf and Kandji (editor’s note: both are previous sponsors at DF) and the other MDM companies that specialize in Apple devices. I’m curious what they mean by “backup” here, because iCloud only does backup for iOS devices. Does this program somehow back up Macs to iCloud, or is Apple just pretending that’s not a problem?

Update: Nothing magic here. It’s just like consumer iCloud, where iPhones and iPads can be backed up, and for the Mac, it’s just iCloud Drive (which, of course, can include your Desktop and Documents folders).

WSJ: Apple Plans Car Crash Detection for iPhone and Watch 

Rolfe Winkler, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Beginning next year, iPhone users who are in a car accident could have their phone dial 911 automatically. Apple Inc. plans next year to roll out a product feature called “crash detection” for iPhones and Apple Watches, according to documents reviewed by The Wall Street Journal and people familiar with the feature.

Crash detection uses data from sensors built into Apple devices including the accelerometer to detect car accidents as they occur, for instance by measuring a sudden spike in gravity, or “g,” forces on impact.

Almost enough to make you think Apple sees health as a major new frontier.

Johnson & Johnson Honcho Alex Gorsky Joins Apple’s Board of Directors 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced Alex Gorsky, chairman and CEO of Johnson & Johnson, has been elected to Apple’s board of directors. Gorsky will bring decades of experience in corporate leadership and health technologies, and a long track record of leading innovative and diverse teams around the world.

Almost enough to make you think Apple sees health as a major new frontier.

Pixel 6 Fingerprint Scanner Is Not Good 

J. Fingas, writing for Engadget:

Ask Pixel 6 owners about their top gripe and they’ll likely point to the slow, finicky fingerprint sensor. There may be an explanation for that momentary anguish, though. Google is telling users that the Pixel 6’s fingerprint reader is using “enhanced security algorithms” that may either take longer to check your digits or require better sensor contact.

Google hasn’t elaborated on its statement. We’ve asked Google for comment.

That’s in reference to this tweet from the Made By Google account:

We’re sorry for the hassle. The Pixel 6 fingerprint sensor utilizes enhanced security algorithms. In some instances, these added protections can take longer to verify or require more direct contact with the sensor. Try troubleshooting steps: https://goo.gle/36GYhYB. Thanks.

That is some seriously weak sauce. I read a bunch of Pixel 6 reviews, and while the phones were received very well overall — particularly the cameras’ still photo capabilities, as usual — every single review mentioned that the fingerprint recognition was too slow.

Is this a dealbreaker? I don’t know. But fast, accurate biometric authentication — fingerprint or facial recognition — is table stakes for a phone today. The face unlock feature on my two-year-old Pixel 4 works perfectly. Seems weird that Google would ditch a good facial recognition scanner for a slow fingerprint scanner.

The Fox Sports NFL Crew on Aaron Rodgers 

In case you don’t follow sports, the big story last week is that Green Bay Packers star quarterback — a sure-thing Hall-of-Famer who is still playing terrific football — Aaron Rodgers tested positive for COVID-19 and was ineligible to play. (The Packers lost to the Chiefs 13-7.)

Rodgers was not vaccinated, but he had strongly suggested before the season that he was, talking about being “immunized”. But his version of “immunization” was just a bunch of homeopathic quackery.

I think it would be easy for the NFL commentators on TV to dance around this, given the subject’s (sadly utterly irrational) political volatility. Maybe especially so at Fox Sports. But Jimmy Johnson, Howie Long, Michael Strahan, and particularly Terry Bradshaw absolutely eviscerated Rodgers.

More like this, please.

Apple Hires Tesla Autopilot Software Director 

Mark Gurman and Dana Hull, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc., bolstering its car-development efforts, hired a former engineer from Tesla Inc. who drew controversy this year for remarks about that company’s Autopilot feature.

The iPhone maker tapped Christopher “CJ” Moore for its team working on a self-driving car, according to people with knowledge of the matter. Moore is working on the effort’s software, reporting to Stuart Bowers, another former Tesla executive who joined Apple at the end of last year. Bowers had led Tesla’s Autopilot team before departing in mid-2019. [...]

At Tesla, Moore implied that Chief Executive Officer Elon Musk had overstated the capabilities of the Autopilot software. Earlier this year, California Department of Motor Vehicles officials interviewed Moore as part of investigations into the self-driving software. The department asked Moore about Musk claiming that Teslas would be capable of fully autonomous driving this year. Moore signaled in response that Musk’s statements didn’t “match engineering reality,” according to a DMV memo summarizing the conversation.

Apple’s car efforts continue to mystify.

Sometimes the Claim Chowder Cooks Quickly 

Dylan Patel posted this piece on his SemiAnalysis site two months ago, just after Apple’s iPhone 13 event. The headline, to say the least, was eye-catching: “Apple CPU Gains Grind to a Halt and the Future Looks Dim as the Impact From the CPU Engineer Exodus to Nuvia and Rivos Starts to Bleed In”.

His post garnered a lot of attention, set a pessimistic first impression regarding the A15 Bionic SoC. But Patel’s speculation — based on Apple’s sparse performance information during the keynote — didn’t pan out when reviewers actually got the iPhones 13 into their hands. And it looks even worse now that the M1 Pro and Max are out. And we still haven’t seen Apple’s pro desktop silicon.

Is brain drain going to be a problem for Apple’s silicon efforts years down the road? Could be! But retention of talent across the entire company has long been Apple’s number one concern.

Austin Mann: ‘MacBook Pro M1 Max for Photographers’ 

Austin Mann has a great review of the new MacBook Pros from his perspective as a professional photographer. I enjoyed this item from his wishlist though:

I really wish there was a matte/non-glare screen option. Years ago, this was an option on Apple’s laptops, and with the recent Pro Display XDR “nano-etch” anti-glare option, I was crossing my fingers we might see something similar on the MacBook Pro.

Clive Thompson: ‘The Metaverse Is Already Here — It’s Minecraft 

Clive Thompson:

The truth is, a thriving metaverse already exists. It’s incredibly high-functioning, with millions of people immersed in it for hours a day. In this metaverse, people have built uncountable custom worlds, and generated god knows how many profitable businesses and six-figure careers. Yet this terrain looks absolutely nothing the like one Zuckerberg showed off.

It’s Minecraft, of course.

I think this is a compelling argument. But the big difference from Zuckerberg’s stated vision is that Minecraft isn’t even just one metaverse. Minecraft alone is like millions of metaverses. Zuckerberg is talking about One True Metaverse that connects the entire world. Something, obviously, akin to Facebook’s position among “social networks”.

Thompson:

This hackability is part of why the game has remained so vibrant: Players are constantly revitalizing Minecraft and inventing new things you can do inside it. Third-party folks build tools like skin editors to make it easier for players to be creative.

As a piece of software, Minecraft isn’t open-source, but it’s very friable and gas-permeable around the edges. Mojang was willing to give their players a lot of control, and it’s part of why people are devoted to the game.

I could be wrong, but I honestly can’t imagine many of the big tech metaverses allowing this sort of Xtreme tinkerability.

I would argue that Minecraft’s sensational and enduring popularity isn’t despite the fact that it is not open source, but because it is not open source. Open source is not a panacea — far from it. An open source Minecraft, would likely, in my opinion, devolve into something akin to Calvinball, where the only rule is that there are no permanent rules. A closed system that encourages and enables a rich amount of user-hackery within a set of reasonable constraints is almost certainly more fun and rewarding than an anything-goes free-for-all.

(Via Kottke.)

Ars Technica on Intel’s New Alder Lake CPUs 

Jim Salter, writing for Ars Technica:

If the AMD fans in the crowd are looking for something to crow about, this is it — both raw power draw and performance-per-watt for Intel are still much worse than on competing AMD designs. The higher core count in Alder Lake translates to a higher power draw as well — nearly back up to Intel 10th-generation levels, and well north of either the Ryzen 9 5900X or 5950X.

We saw more than a 300W system power draw at the wall for the i9-12900K — that’s over 100 watts higher than our Ryzen 9 5950X at full tilt. About 230W of that draw is accounted for by the i9-12900K’s CPU package itself, as reported by its own sensors to hwinfo64. Power efficiency is a somewhat different story: although the i9-12900K guzzles more power than the i9-11900K did, it offers stunningly higher performance — about a 50 percent net gain. (Though it’s still nearly as far behind the Ryzen 9 5950X as it is ahead of its own older sibling, unfortunately.)

The lack of overall efficiency here is somewhat surprising given Alder Lake’s hybrid big.little design, which we expected would give it an edge over AMD’s traditional all-performance-core setup. We suspect the culprit is Intel’s 10nm process — the company claims that it’s basically similar in density to the 7nm TSMC process Zen 3 enjoys, but something has to account for the discrepancy.

Intel is seemingly only capable of operating at the extremes: very fast “performance at all costs” chips that consume inordinate power, and power-efficient chips that run very slow. The sweet spot is clearly a proper balance in the middle.

Google Announces Plan for Compliance With South Korean ‘App Stores Must Offer Alternative In-App Payments’ Law, and It’s Something 

Wilson White, senior director of public policy, on Google’s Korean developer blog:

Service fees for distributing apps via Android and Google Play will continue to be based on digital sales on the platform. We recognize, however, that developers will incur costs to support their billing system, so when a user selects alternative billing, we will reduce the developer’s service fee by 4%. For example, for the vast majority of developers who pay 15% for transactions through Google Play’s billing system, their service fee for transactions through the alternate billing system would be 11%. As another example, certain categories of apps participating in our Media Experience Program, such as an eBooks provider, will pay a 10% service fee for transactions made via Google Play’s billing system, but only 6% for transactions on an alternative system.

If you just start reading from the beginning, it sounds like they are proposing what many of us thought Google (and Apple) might have to offer to comply with South Korea’s new law: the option for third-party apps to completely circumvent paying Google a fee on in-app transactions. But what they’re actually proposing is that if third party apps want to offer their own credit card processing, they can, but (a) only alongside Google Play, and (b) they still owe Google for most of the fees.

As Ben Thompson observed on today’s episode of Dithering, for small transactions — like the ones typically offered in games — credit card fees are likely in the 5-6 percent range. So if this flies, Google’s revenue per in-app transaction for apps from the Play Store isn’t going to effectively change at all.

Is it going to fly? Like I’ve said, stock up on popcorn.

PETA Calls on MLB to Drop ‘Bullpen’ in Favor of ‘Arm Barn’ 

Danny Prater, writing for PETA last week:

As the World Series turns into a pitching duel, PETA is pitching a proposal to the baseball world: Strike out the word “bullpen” — which refers to the holding area where terrified bulls are kept before slaughter — in favor of a more modern, animal-friendly term. PETA’s suggestion? The arm barn!

And people wonder why independent voters suspect that Democrats on the far left are ridiculous ninnies.

‘World Series Rings: Everyone Wants Them, No One Wears Them’ 

Fun story by Tyler Kepner for The New York Times:

Yet even George Steinbrenner, the longtime Yankees owner who loved lavish gestures, probably did not spring for 1,332 rings, the total that Crane distributed in 2017 to Astros players, staff, front office members, trainers, clubhouse attendants, broadcasters and so on.

The Braves were similarly generous in 1995, awarding rings to minor league staffers like Brian Snitker, who is now their manager. Snitker keeps it in a lockbox.

“The things are not real comfortable to wear, if you want to know the truth,” he said.

That Braves ring — engraved, perhaps prematurely, with the slogan “Team of the 90s” — is the last one without a team logo on top, though naturally there are dozens of diamonds. Even so, John Schuerholz, the architect of the 1995 champions, did not wear it in Atlanta during this World Series.

That “perhaps prematurely” is impeccable Times house style for delivering a zinger in a news piece. (Another team went on to win in 1996 (over the Braves), 1998, and 1999 (over the Braves, again).)

Glad to see the Atlanta Braves win this year, though, against the cheaters on the Houston Astros. Hell, I was even pulling for the Red Sox — the goddamn Red Sox — to beat the Astros in the ALCS.

‘The Booming Underground Market for Bots That Steal Your 2FA Codes’ 

Fascinating report from Joseph Cox for Motherboard:

The call came from PayPal’s fraud prevention system. Someone had tried to use my PayPal account to spend $58.82, according to the automated voice on the line. PayPal needed to verify my identity to block the transfer.

“In order to secure your account, please enter the code we have sent your mobile device now,” the voice said. PayPal sometimes texts users a code in order to protect their account. After entering a string of six digits, the voice said, “Thank you, your account has been secured and this request has been blocked.”

“Don’t worry if any payment has been charged to your account: we will refund it within 24 to 48 hours. Your reference ID is 1549926. You may now hang up,” the voice said.

But this call was actually from a hacker. The fraudster used a type of bot that drastically streamlines the process for hackers to trick victims into giving up their multi-factor authentication codes or one-time passwords (OTPs) for all sorts of services, letting them log in or authorize cash transfers.

Here’s the gist of how the bots work.

  1. The bot calls you, the victim, using a faked Caller ID. So the Caller ID the victim sees might say something like “PayPal Inc.” or “Bank of America”.

  2. The bots sound robotic and automated. There’s no uncanny valley here — the bots are clearly bots. But a lot of legitimate voice-driven phone systems sound like bots. We’ve normalized talking to robots on the phone, and these bots are taking advantage of that. That these bots sound obviously robotic is a feature, not a bug. Cox has a recording of one such bot in his report.

  3. The bot triggers an actual 2FA code to be sent to the victim. Let’s say the crooks know (or just guess) your email address and password for the service they’re targeting — quite possibly because the email/password combination appeared in one of the many major data leaks in recent years. When the call starts, the bot enters the target’s email address and password on the site, which results in the site sending a 2FA code via SMS to the victim.

  4. Now the bot, on the phone, says that to complete this “security verification” or whatever, just enter the code they just sent you via text. PayPal — or your bank, or Amazon, or whoever — actually did just text you a code. The call is fraudulent but the SMS message was legit. But if you give the legit code to the fraudulent bot, boom, now the bot has the 2FA code needed to actually go into your account and steal your money.

This is devilishly simple, and you can see how it’s effective. According to Cox, some of these bots also target authentication codes from apps like Google Authenticator or Authy. The bot just asks you to keypress the current code from your app.

The other thing that intrigues me about this whole scheme is that the interface to these bots — meaning, the interface a human criminal uses to interact with the bots — is entirely text-based, going through a service like Telegram or Discord. That makes sense, but it also feels decidedly old-school — like the sort of terminal-based interfaces for “games” my friends and I would write in BASIC decades ago. “Type Y for this or type N for that; enter victim’s bank name now” — that sort of thing. Again, Cox illustrates this copiously in his article, including with a video showing a bot’s interface in action. As is so often the case, the simplest possible thing often works the most reliably.

The Cleveland Guardians vs. The Cleveland Guardians 

Remember a few months back when the Cleveland Indians announced their new name for next season? Well, it turns out, there’s an existing Cleveland Guardians — a roller derby team — and they still haven’t worked out a deal. Here’s Kyle Jahner, reporting last week for Bloomberg Law:

The baseball team allegedly reached out to the roller derby team in June, more than a month before its announcement of the Guardians re-brand, according to the complaint. The derby team asked the team to make an offer, and the team offered “likely no more than fifteen minutes of annual team revenue,” according to the lawsuit.

The lawsuit estimated $290 million annual revenue for the Indians, implying an offer of about $8,300. The derby team alleged that it rejected that offer and countered, but the baseball team didn’t respond.

This, of course, follows upon Facebook’s potential legal problems with existing companies named “Meta”. Why cheap out with a lowball offer? It makes no sense. It’s certainly possible that the roller derby team’s lawyer is being hyperbolic regarding “likely no more than 15 minutes of annual team revenue”, but whatever the baseball team’s offer, they could have made both sides happy by now. And if the offer really was in the ballpark of $8,300 — sheesh. That’s just stupid.

Meta Company 

Nate Skulic, founder of MetaCompany (a name they’ve been using since at least 2014):

On October 20th, 2021, during a phone call with Facebook attorneys, we declined their low offer and maintained our requirements. At this point, we presumed it was Facebook and identified them on the call. The attorney representing Facebook declared they would respect our existing right and registration.

On October 28th, 2021, Facebook decided to commit trademark infringement and call themselves “Meta”.

They couldn’t buy us, so they tried to bury us by force of media. We shouldn’t be surprised by these actions — from a company that continually says one thing and does another. Facebook and its operating officers are deceitful and acting in bad faith, not only towards us, but to all of humanity.

Looks like they’re going to fight Facebook for their name. Good for them.

It’s a common word, so it would be surprising if there weren’t existing companies using “Meta”. There’s also Meta.inc, founded by Andrew Wilkinson: “A long-term home for the world’s best digital agencies.”

What is surprising to me is that Facebook didn’t use their “infinite money” cheat code and just buy these names. I think that’s basically what Apple did with the “iPhone” trademark that was held by Cisco back in 2007. (I had forgotten that the prototype iPhones on display at Macworld Expo didn’t have “iPhone” printed on them.) There’s an entitled petulance at play here on Facebook’s part.

Alex Heath, reporting for The Verge:

On Wednesday, Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook parent company Meta, announced that creators will soon be able to share custom web links directing their fans to pay them for subscriptions using Facebook’s native payments system. If a fan signs up through the link rather than Apple’s in-app subscription, the creator will keep all of the money minus taxes. Facebook subscription feature, which lets creators charge on a reoccurring basis for access to exclusive content, is available in 27 countries and accessible to creators who meet certain eligibility requirements.

Facebook is operating in a gray zone under Apple’s rules for the App Store, though a spokesperson said the social network believes its approach has always been allowed on iOS. The App Store currently forbids iOS apps from offering alternative payment options for purchasing digital goods, but in this case, it’s the creator, not Facebook, the app developer, that will be sending people to pay for a subscription on the web. The spokesperson for Facebook confirmed the social network isn’t removing the ability for users to sign up for a creator subscription using Apple’s native payments system.

Think: Substack or Patreon, but through Facebook.

Is this payment scheme going to fly with Apple? A year ago, I think Apple would have nipped the idea in the bud. It’s been a long year, though. Optically, Apple is pinned down here. Facebook is making a legit case that it’s scrappy independent creators who’d be paying these fees to Apple, not mega-profitable Facebook. And in spirit, this is a workaround Apple should have (and could have) allowed years ago: that in-app means “in the actual app”, and if you want to steer users out of the app to the web, fine. If in-app purchasing is so good as to justify Apple’s fees, let it compete with out-of-app purchasing flows on the web.

Facebook isn’t a “reader app”, but to me, allowing this would be aligned with the spirit of Apple’s settlement two months ago with the Japan Fair Trade Commission. It is about content creation and consumption.

As ever, stock up on the popcorn.

Instagram Brings Back Twitter Card Preview Support 

Aisha Malik, reporting for TechCrunch:

Instagram is bringing back support for Twitter Card previews starting today. Now when users share an Instagram link on Twitter, a preview of the post will be shown in the tweet. Prior to this change, when users posted an Instagram link on Twitter, the tweet would only display the URL of the Instagram link.

The social media platform made the controversial decision to remove Twitter Card support back in 2012. At the time, Instagram founder Kevin Systrom said the reason was that Instagram wanted to take control of its content and that the company wanted images to be viewed on Instagram, as opposed to Twitter.

Instagram even announced the change on ... Twitter.

Alan Dye and Stan Ng Talk About the Design of Apple Watch Series 7 

David Phelan scored an interview about Apple Watch with Apple execs Alan Dye (VP of interface design) and Stan Ng (VP of product marketing for Watch):

When asked just how they decide how small a font or other element can go, Dye said: “I think everyone felt like we could go a bit larger in terms of the hardware, but we never wanted to compromise what is a foundation principle of the Watch which is the interchangeable strap system. It was quite a huge process to get those two goals to work in concert. Typography is something we obsess over. I’m lucky enough to have an amazing typography design team built into my team and we really started that with Apple Watch because we understood the huge challenge of getting as much content as possible on a small display. I think we had pretty good instincts on the team but we do work with others throughout the company, to get a feel for just how small we can go with the typefaces. You’d be surprised, some people really appreciate very small text. So, we kind of pushed the boundaries.”

Headlining this interview “Design Secrets of Apple Watch Series 7 Revealed” was a bit of a stretch, even by today’s clickbait-y standards for breathless headlines — but there are some interesting insights. Basically, the goal for Apple Watch Series 7 was exactly what we thought: to fit noticeably bigger displays into not-so-noticeably bigger watches.

Facebook to Drop Face Recognition 

Jerome Pesenti, VP of artificial intelligence at Facebook Meta:

In the coming weeks, Meta will shut down the Face Recognition system on Facebook as part of a company-wide move to limit the use of facial recognition in our products. As part of this change, people who have opted in to our Face Recognition setting will no longer be automatically recognized in photos and videos, and we will delete the facial recognition template used to identify them.

This change will represent one of the largest shifts in facial recognition usage in the technology’s history. More than a third of Facebook’s daily active users have opted in to our Face Recognition setting and are able to be recognized, and its removal will result in the deletion of more than a billion people’s individual facial recognition templates.

Interesting, to say the least. A billion people is lot of data.

US Puts Israeli Spyware Firm NSO Group on Trade Blacklist 

Aime Williams and Mehul Srivastava, reporting for The Financial Times:

The US has added NSO Group, the Israeli military spyware company that created software that has been traced to the phones of journalists and human rights activists, to a trade blacklist in a bid to tackle the growing surveillance threat posed by technology companies.

NSO and a smaller Tel Aviv-based company, Candiru, were among four companies added by the US commerce department on Wednesday to its so-called entity list, which would restrict exports of US technology to the companies.

I don’t know what the practical effect of this will be, but it feels justified.

The Talk Show: ‘Giddy With Mac-Ness’ 

Special guest Daniel Jalkut returns to the show to talk about the new MacBook Pros.

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Microsoft’s Foray Into ARM Processors With Windows 

Dieter Bohn, back in June 2020:

Speaking of things Apple wouldn’t want: ARM-based Windows computers are slower. Unless you’re able to stay within those Chromebook-esque constraints, things get real chuggy real fast. We’ve all been assuming that Apple’s much-vaunted prowess at making fast ARM chips for iPads will translate well to Macs, but there’s no guarantee that’s true until we get to test them ourselves.

Another thing I’ve learned is that using a Windows computer with an ARM processor actually requires a higher level of technical expertise, because you need to know what won’t work and why going in.

As with my previous item linking back to Rik Myslewski’s 2008 take on Apple’s acquisition of P.A. Semi, I am not trying to dunk on Dieter Bohn here. 18 months ago, these were all perfectly reasonable concerns.

The gist of my M1 MacBook review a year ago was that, until then, computers could run cool and slow, or, hot and fast. My thinking about Apple moving to its own ARM-based silicon was that their chips would run cool and “fast enough”. The idea that Apple’s chips would be both way faster and way cooler seemed too good to be true. Like, not just having your cake and eating it too, but having your cake and eating it twice.

But, here we are. It turns out that Microsoft’s foray into ARM-based Windows machines was just an entirely different ballgame.

Looking Back on Apple’s Acquisition of P.A. Semi 

Rik Myslewski, writing for Macworld back in 2008:

Apple’s purchase of a microprocessor design firm has triggered a wave of speculation over what the computer maker plans to do with its newly acquired assets. Perhaps, the thinking goes, the purchase means a new chip to power future iPhone models. Or maybe it will push Apple into new areas of portable computing. It might even mean a return of sorts to the company’s PowerPC days.

But after a closer look at the deal, the answer could be — and probably is — none of the above.

I’ll admit that sometimes I post old articles to make hay out of someone’s shortsightedness. Here, though, I remember agreeing with Myslewski. I thought the P.A. Semi acquisition was about talent, not specific silicon I.P. — and I could not have been more wrong. The idea — in 2008 — that this acquisition would take Apple to where it is today was just unimaginable. If Myslewski had written back then that he expected Apple to — in just over a decade — design chips that were both faster and far more power-efficient than Intel’s, we’d have thought he was nuts.

Shortcut (Formerly Clubhouse.io) 

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