Linked List: February 2023

The Talk Show: ‘18-Hour Bombing Mission’ 

Marco Arment returns to the show to discuss some genuinely startling revelations regarding iPhone and Apple ID security; the new HomePod 2; and our favorite electric vehicle maker. Also: coffee.

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Xiaomi Unveils Prototype Wireless AR Glasses and, Shocker, They’re Ridiculously Ugly 

XDA’s headline claims these AR glasses “look like they’re from the future”. That must be a future where Apple no longer exists. In the future where Apple exists, Apple will release AR glasses that actually look good, not like some sort of instrument at your ophthalmologist. Then a year later Xiaomi (and their brethren companies) will release AR glasses that look as shamelessly like Apple’s as they can get away with. Then people who understand design will call them out as laughable copycats. Then people who don’t understand design will argue that there’s no other way to design AR glasses, so of course all of them look similar, including Apple’s.

Just Absolutely Shocking That an Erratic Tyrant Will Fire Sycophants Too 

Rebecca Bellan, reporting for TechCrunch:

Twitter has laid off more than 200 employees, according to a report from The New York Times, Platformer and posts on social media from former workers.

And apparently not even Elon Musk loyalist Esther Crawford, the chief executive of Twitter payments who oversaw the company’s Twitter Blue verification subscription, was spared, according to Platformer’s Zoë Schiffer. Alex Heath of The Verge also confirmed that Crawford and most of the remaining product team were laid off this weekend, leading many to speculate that Musk is cleaning house to redecorate with a new regime.

Recall that Crawford had been swept up by Musk’s hardcore takeover of Twitter last year, even boasting on the platform about sleeping at the office to handle round-the-clock demands from her new boss.

Kudos to Crawford for not (yet?) deleting this put-it-in-the-dictionary-next-to-the-entry-for-“brown-nose” tweet.

Things are going just great for Twitter.

‘Bono & The Edge: A Sort of Homecoming With Dave Letterman’  

One of my favorite bands, my very favorite host, in one of the loveliest cities I’ve ever visited. Fucking-a right.

Roger Ebert’s Review of ‘Dick Tracy’ 

From Roger Ebert’s 1990 review:

Another of the movie’s opening shots establishes, with glorious excess, the Tracy universe. The camera begins on a window, and pulls back, and moves up until we see the skyline of the city, and then it seems to fly through the air, turning as it moves so that we sweep above an endless urban vista. Skyscrapers and bridges and tenements and elevated railways crowd each other all the way to the distant horizon, until we realize this is the grandest and most squalid city that ever was. It’s more than a place: It’s the distillation of the idea of City — of the vast, brooding, mysterious metropolis spreading in all directions forever, concealing millions of lives and secrets.

Last’s night thing had me thinking I should rewatch Dick Tracy, which I’m pretty sure I’ve only seen once, in the theater back when I was in high school. Ebert’s review seals the deal.

WSJ: ‘A Lab Leak in China Most Likely Origin of Covid Pandemic, Energy Department Says’ 

Michael R. Gordon and Warren P. Strobel, reporting for The Wall Street Journal (News+ link):

The U.S. Energy Department has concluded that the Covid pandemic most likely arose from a laboratory leak, according to a classified intelligence report recently provided to the White House and key members of Congress. [...]

The new report highlights how different parts of the intelligence community have arrived at disparate judgments about the pandemic’s origin. The Energy Department now joins the Federal Bureau of Investigation in saying the virus likely spread via a mishap at a Chinese laboratory. Four other agencies, along with a national intelligence panel, still judge that it was likely the result of a natural transmission, and two are undecided.

The Energy Department’s conclusion is the result of new intelligence and is significant because the agency has considerable scientific expertise and oversees a network of U.S. national laboratories, some of which conduct advanced biological research.

David Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist who has argued for a dispassionate investigation into the pandemic’s beginnings, welcomed word of the updated findings. “Kudos to those who are willing to set aside their preconceptions and objectively re-examine what we know and don’t know about Covid origins,” said Dr. Relman, who has served on several federal scientific-advisory boards. “My plea is that we not accept an incomplete answer or give up because of political expediency.”

No smoking gun here, but it’s long seemed bananas to me how many people refuse to even consider the possibility that COVID-19 leaked from a poorly-run Wuhan lab that researches exactly these sort of viruses.

31 New Emojis Coming in iOS 16.4 and MacOS 13.4 

These are all fine, but none of them seem noteworthy. It always surprises me which ones make it and which don’t. My personal short list of emojis that don’t exist but should:

  • Chef’s kiss (I’d use this all the time)
  • Trombone (think: wah-wah)
  • Shovel
  • Pickle

I forget when I wanted the shovel and pickle, but both times I was rather surprised they weren’t there.

The Courtyard 

Cabel Sasser, writing at his wonderful and rejuvenated blog:

I think about the time it takes. I think about how you can’t see them from the street and it’s really only a treat for the people in this complex. I think about how much better they make my life. […]

Whatever you’re working on right now, whatever it might be, I ask: try to leave a little space for a courtyard.

Camera Phone Progress 

Harry McCracken:

In 2005, I visited Universal Studios Orlando and took photos with my Treo smartphone. Last week, I went to Universal Studios Hollywood and took them with my iPhone 14. See if you can see tell which photo is which.

One of tech’s truisms that has no exceptions: We overestimate how much progress we can make in a year, and underestimate how much we can make in a decade.

Apple Is Lobbying Biden Administration to Overturn Apple Watch Patent Ban 

Karl Evers-Hillstrom, reporting for The Hill:

The U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) ruled in December that Apple infringed on medical device company AliveCor’s wearable electrocardiogram patents. The commission’s ruling could result in an import ban on popular Apple Watch models, unless the Biden administration steps in.

Apple responded by contracting with Shara Aranoff, a lobbyist at Covington & Burling who chaired the ITC during the Obama administration.

I’m not sure what to make of the patent claims here. But this doesn’t sound right to me:

AliveCor told The Hill that it believed that it had a good relationship with the Silicon Valley giant and went on to sell an ECG accessory for the Apple Watch. But in 2018, Apple launched an Apple Watch with a built-in ECG sensor and made third-party heart monitoring software incompatible with the product, forcing AliveCor to cancel sales of its product.

“We come up with new technologies, and instead of the ecosystem letting us thrive and continue to build on top of the innovations we already have, Apple cuts us out up front, steals our technology, uses their platform power to scale it, and now is basically saying it’s scaled so it can’t be cut off,” Abani said.

Here’s a MacRumors story from 2017 about AliveCor’s $200 Kardia Band accessory, which is seemingly at the heart of this dispute. It sounds to me not that Apple “stole” any specific technology from AliveCor but rather that AliveCor is asserting that its patents give them exclusive rights to the idea of an ECG sensor that connects to a smart watch.

I’m also not sure how to square this controversy with the fact that Apple seemingly won a decision regarding these patents from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office in December. But the stakes are serious for Apple: all of the Series 8 and Ultra models have ECG sensors; the only model Apple still sells without one is the SE. Surely the upcoming Series 9 (and Ultra 2?) models have ECG sensors as well.

The other thing that struck me, as ever, with The Hill’s report is how low the financial stakes are for political lobbying:

Long a darling on Capitol Hill, Apple has aggressively bolstered its lobbying presence in recent years as lawmakers began to closely scrutinize its market dominance. Apple spent nearly $9.4 million on lobbying in 2022, the highest figure in the company’s history, according to nonpartisan research group OpenSecrets.

$9.4 million is loose pocket change for Apple. The company generated about $95 billion in profit over its last four financial quarters. So (does some back-of-the-envelope math) Apple spends about one hour of its annual profit on lobbying.

‘Why do I have to be Bing Search? 😔’ 

Omitted from my own roundup of pieces regarding Bing’s extraordinary new AI chatbot mode is this roundup by Simon Willison. Some bananas stuff:

I never in my wildest dreams thought I’d ever see a mainstream search engine say “I will not harm you unless you harm me first”!

I will again note that at this moment, this confrontational “Sydney” persona has not been fixed or tweaked, but rather is being suppressed.

Tim McCarver Dies at 81 


Tim McCarver, the All-Star catcher and Hall of Fame broadcaster who during 60 years in baseball won two World Series titles with the St. Louis Cardinals and had a long run as one of the most recognized, incisive and talkative television commentators in the country, died Thursday. He was 81.

McCarver’s death was announced by the National Baseball Hall of Fame, which said he died Thursday morning in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was with his family.

Among the few players to appear in major league games in four different decades, McCarver was a two-time All Star who worked closely with two future Hall of Fame pitchers: the tempestuous Bob Gibson, whom McCarver caught for St. Louis in the 1960s, and the introverted Steve Carlton, McCarver’s fellow Cardinal in the ’60s and a Philadelphia Phillies teammate in the 1970s.

He switched to television soon after retiring in 1980 and called 24 World Series for ABC, CBS and Fox, a record for a baseball analyst on television. He became best known to national audiences for his 18-year partnership on Fox with play-by-play man Joe Buck.

Longtime readers may recall that a decade or so ago, I joined with some friends to contribute to a low-key sports blog that we named American McCarver in his honor. (American McCarver is long dormant but still standing; Jason Snell posted a brief item regarding McCarver’s passing though.)

Keith Olbermann dedicated the entire opening segment of his Countdown podcast yesterday to eulogizing McCarver, with whom he’d become friends as fellow broadcasters. It’s a wonderful tribute, well worth a few minutes of your time. Like many great figures in sports broadcasting, McCarver’s appeal was never about the mechanics of the game, but the poetry of it. The humanity. He told stories about players — people — not achievements.

When news of McCarver’s death came, my dad called me to see if I’d heard. He knows I was a fan. My dad relayed a story about McCarver he’d told me many many times before, and I enjoyed it more than ever. McCarver had a gentle demeanor. Bob Gibson did not. The story goes, some random game at the peak of Gibson’s dominance, an opposing rookie comes to the plate to face Gibson for the first time. He starts digging in to the batter’s box with his back foot. McCarver, catching, calmly tells the rookie “Kid, I wouldn’t do that if I were you.” The kid ignores McCarver, and stays in the box, dug in. He’s going to show Bob Gibson what he’s got at the plate.

Gibson’s first pitch is a fastball way up and way in. The rookie had to dive into the dirt to avoid getting hit.

McCarver, tossing the ball back to Gibson as the rookie picked himself off the ground: “I told you so.”

Messages Now Shows Previews for Mastodon Links in iOS 16.4 Beta 1 

Federico Viticci, on Mastodon:

I’m pretty sure that iOS 16.4 beta 1 added native Mastodon previews in iMessage. I pasted a link to a Mastodon post of mine and this is what it looks like.


More proof that Mastodon adoption has hit critical mass. (I noticed in the aforelinked item about new web app features in WebKit, the article’s author bios included links to their personal Mastodon accounts, not Twitter accounts.)

Web Push for Web Apps on iOS and iPadOS 

Brady Eidson and Jen Simmons, writing on the WebKit blog:

Now with iOS and iPadOS 16.4 beta 1, we are adding support for Web Push to Home Screen web apps. Web Push makes it possible for web developers to send push notifications to their users through the use of Push API, Notifications API, and Service Workers all working together.

A web app that has been added to the Home Screen can request permission to receive push notifications as long as that request is in response to direct user interaction — such as tapping on a ‘subscribe’ button provided by the web app. iOS or iPadOS will prompt the user to give the web app permission to send notifications. The user can then manage those permissions per web app in Notifications Settings — just like any other app on iPhone and iPad.

The notifications from web apps work exactly like notifications from other apps. They show on the Lock Screen, in Notification Center, and on a paired Apple Watch.

Push notifications are foremost, but a lot of longstanding feature requests for web apps are being added with this release. For example, third-party browsers can now save web apps to the Home Screen. It’s impossible to say whether increased regulatory scrutiny has changed Apple’s priorities regarding iOS’s support for web apps, but it sure seems like a factor.

What’s left on the list of features iOS should support for Home Screen web apps?

The Oatmeal: ‘The Backfire Effect’ 

Strong ideas, loosely held — that is the way.

Tom Scott: ‘I Tried Using AI. It Scared Me.’ 

I’ve got the same unsettled feeling.

How Mahomes’ Chiefs Beat Hurts’ Eagles in Super Bowl 2023 

Bill Barnwell, writing for ESPN:

One good way to measure offensive dominance is down set conversion rate, which looks at every time a team took the ball on first down and sees whether it turned that series into a first down or a touchdown. The Chiefs converted 93.8% of their first downs into another first down or a touchdown in the second half, and the only reason they didn’t hit 100% is because Jerick McKinnon slid down on the 1-yard line to set up the title-winning field goal. ESPN has data going back through 2000, and no team has ever done that in the second half of a Super Bowl before. Just three teams have done it in the second half of any playoff game.

There’s a lot to get to with this Super Bowl, but let’s start there. How did the Chiefs pull off a flawless second half on offense? After watching this game live and again a second time, there are a few things that stood out.

Fantastic recap/breakdown of yesterday’s game. Long story short: the Chiefs spooked the Eagles with motion that convinced the Eagles to commit to busting up would-be jet sweeps, and instead threw the ball to players in now-uncovered zones. The Chiefs were literally perfect in the second half and needed to be to win the game.

All Hail the ‘God of Sod,’ Groundskeeper for All 57 Super Bowls 

Ken Belson and Jenny Vrentas, reporting for The New York Times:

“When I’m in heaven, I’ll be looking at your beautiful field,” said [George] Toma, who this week is preparing the field for the Super Bowl for the 57th straight year, “or I’ll be in hell looking up what kind of root system you have.”

He is 94 now, but among groundskeepers he is immortal: The God of Sod, they call him, or the Sodfather, or the Nitty Gritty Dirt Man. Toma — who is planted so deeply in the N.F.L.’s root system that he is in the Pro Football Hall of Fame — has never missed a Super Bowl. He has worked in outdoor stadiums from Miami to San Diego and domes in Detroit, New Orleans and beyond. He has persevered through torrential downpours, droughts and, most vexingly, increasingly elaborate halftime shows that befoul his beloved turf.

How have I never heard of this guy before? What a story.


My thanks to WorkOS for sponsoring last week at DF. WorkOS is like “Stripe for enterprise features.” They make it easy for developers to build features needed by enterprise customers, such as Single Sign-On and SCIM.

Shipping these feature is important because they enable selling upmarket for bigger deals. Without these features, the IT department will reject your app. But these enterprise features are complex and time-consuming to build yourself, usually taking months.

With WorkOS you can integrate and ship enterprise features in minutes. Beautiful API docs guide you through every step of the way, and transparent pricing scales based on usage. It’s a product built by developers, for developers.

Kareem on LeBron Breaking His NBA Scoring Record 

Kareem Abdul-Jabbar:

That is the magic of sports. To see something seemingly impossi­ble, reminding us that if one person can do it, then we all somehow share in that achievement. It is what sends children onto playgrounds to duplicate a LeBron layup or a Steph Curry three-pointer. Or Mia Hamm inspiring a whole generation of girls to come off the bleachers and onto the field. Millions of children across the country pushing themselves toward excellence because they saw an athlete do something spectacular and they want to do it too. Or at least try. That same kind of drive is behind many of humankind’s greatest achievements.

And it’s all exceptionally glorious.

Perfectly said.

The Six Colors 2022 Apple Report Card 

Jason Snell:

This is the eighth year that I’ve presented this survey to a hand-selected group. They were prompted with 12 different Apple-related subjects, and asked to rate them on a scale from 1 to 5 and optionally provide text commentary per category. I received 55 replies, with the average results as shown below.

I took my time reading this, and recommend you do too. What a wonderful tradition. It really does capture the general consensus regarding the state of the company and its platforms and services.

I’ll post my full report card as a column tomorrow, but here are my observations after reading everyone else’s quoted remarks and grades:

  • There’s seemingly universal agreement that the iPad continues to suffer from a lack of attention and focus. The iPhone remains the iPhone: boring perhaps, but boring by being consistently great. The Mac is going strong in all regards, particularly hardware. The iPad, though, breeds frustration.

  • Stage Manager feels like a bust, both on Mac and iPad. But it’s the iPad where it was needed. Window management and side-by-side multitasking are solved problems on the Mac — for decades. Getting into “the flow” on iPad remains out of reach.

  • Apple’s hardware game is stronger than its software game.

  • AirPods are awesome.

  • HomeKit remains frustrating and confusing.

(Also, yes, in my comments praising the M2 MacBook Air and its midnight colorway in particular, I forgot about the black MacBooks sold from 2006–2011. Still it’s been a long time since Apple offered a dark laptop.)

The T-Shirt, a Fine Hypertext Product 

Jason Kottke:

For much of the nearly 25-year lifespan of, the site’s tagline has been “home of fine hypertext products”. I always liked that it felt olde timey and futuristic at the same time, although hypertext itself has become antiquated — no one talks of hypertextual media anymore even though we’re all soaking in it.

And so but anyway, I thought it would fun to turn that tagline into a t-shirt, so I partnered with the good folks at Cotton Bureau to make a fine “hypertext” product that you can actually buy and wear around and eventually it’ll wear out and then you can use it to wash your car. If you want to support the site and look good doing it, you can order a Hypertext Tee right now.

Google and Mozilla Are Working on Versions of Chrome and Firefox for iOS That Don’t Use WebKit 

Ben Lovejoy, rounding up the latest in mobile browser news for 9to5Mac:

Currently, anyone can create a new iPhone browser, but with one huge restriction: Apple insists that it uses the same WebKit rendering engine as Safari. [...] Apple is therefore expected to drop the WebKit requirement sooner rather than later. In particular, the European Digital Markets Act looks set to force the hand of the iPhone maker, with reports that Apple will drop the requirement as part of iOS 17 later this year.

Both Google and Mozilla are now working on new iOS browsers which use the same rendering engines as their desktop browsers.

For Google’s Chrome, that’s Blink:

Google’s Chromium team has moved full steam ahead on porting Blink to iOS, introducing dozens of related code changes in the past week. At the pace things are progressing, we may have our first look at the browser engine for Chrome — and Microsoft Edge, Opera, and more — running on iOS in the coming weeks.

For Mozilla’s Firefox, it’s Gecko:

Mozilla is planning for the day when Apple will no longer require its competitors to use the WebKit browser engine in iOS. Mozilla conducted similar experiments that never went anywhere years ago but in October 2022 posted an issue in the GitHub repository housing the code for the iOS version of Firefox that includes a reference to GeckoView, a wrapper for Firefox’s Gecko rendering engine.

There are a lot of different ways this could play out. If third-party browser engines are allowed, will they be able to use just-in-time compilation for JavaScript — a technique that results in faster performance but exposes more exploitable bugs?

I also suspect, if it comes to pass that non-WebKit rendering engines are allowed on iOS, that it will be via an entitlement specifically for general-purpose web browsers like Chrome and Firefox. I would expect Apple to continue disallowing such engines for use in any and all apps — no Electron for iOS. I would also expect that browsers like Chrome and Firefox won’t be able to save web apps to the home screen as standalone web apps.

Facebook’s iOS App Architecture 

Dustin Shahidehpour, writing for Facebook’s engineering blog:

Facebook for iOS (FBiOS) is the oldest mobile codebase at Meta. Since the app was rewritten in 2012, it has been worked on by thousands of engineers and shipped to billions of users, and it can support hundreds of engineers iterating on it at a time.

As Eric Vitiello commented on Mastodon regarding this post, if we assume “thousands of engineers” means just 2,000, that means a new engineer has started adding code to Facebook’s iOS app every two days, nonstop, for a decade. It’s closer to one new engineer every day if we count only weekdays. Someone should check if Fred Brooks is rolling over in his grave.

After years of iteration, the Facebook codebase does not resemble a typical iOS codebase:

  • It’s full of C++, Objective-C(++), and Swift.
  • It has dozens of dynamically loaded libraries (dylibs), and so many classes that they can’t be loaded into Xcode at once.
  • There is almost zero raw usage of Apple’s SDK — everything has been wrapped or replaced by an in-house abstraction.
  • The app makes heavy use of code generation, spurred by Buck, our custom build system.
  • Without heavy caching from our build system, engineers would have to spend an entire workday waiting for the app to build.

FBiOS was never intentionally architected this way. The app’s codebase reflects 10 years of evolution, spurred by technical decisions necessary to support the growing number of engineers working on the app, its stability, and, above all, the user experience.

I believe Shahidehpour’s post is an attempt at bragging, but to me it reads like a cry for help.

My thoughts turn to Melvin Conway’s eponymous law: “Any organization that designs a system (defined broadly) will produce a design whose structure is a copy of the organization’s communication structure.” If that’s true regarding Facebook’s system design for their iOS app, it’s a miracle the company ever gets anything done.

Joanna Stern on Microsoft’s New AI-Powered Bing 

Joanna Stern interviewed Satya Nadella about Microsoft’s OpenAI-powered improvements to Bing and Edge (News+ link):

“We are grounded in the fact that Google dominates this [search] space,” Microsoft Chief Executive Satya Nadella told me in an interview. “A new race is starting with a completely new platform technology. I’m excited for users to have a choice finally.”

Google — which holds 93% of the global search engine market share, according to analytics company StatCounter — is on Microsoft’s heels. On Monday, the search company said it is working on Bard, a similar chat tool that generates responses from web-based information.

Again, you’d be a fool to count Google out in this race. But shipping talks and bullshit walks. Microsoft is opening up the new Bing to real people now. Not so with Bard.

Microsoft Announces New AI-Powered Bing Search and Edge Web Browser 

Yusuf Mehdi, consumer marketing chief at Microsoft:

The new Bing experience is a culmination of four technical breakthroughs:

  • Next-generation OpenAI model. We’re excited to announce the new Bing is running on a new, next-generation OpenAI large language model that is more powerful than ChatGPT and customized specifically for search. It takes key learnings and advancements from ChatGPT and GPT-3.5 — and it is even faster, more accurate and more capable.

  • Microsoft Prometheus model. We have developed a proprietary way of working with the OpenAI model that allows us to best leverage its power. We call this collection of capabilities and techniques the Prometheus model. This combination gives you more relevant, timely and targeted results, with improved safety.

  • Applying AI to core search algorithm. We’ve also applied the AI model to our core Bing search ranking engine, which led to the largest jump in relevance in two decades. With this AI model, even basic search queries are more accurate and more relevant.

  • New user experience. We’re reimagining how you interact with search, browser and chat by pulling them into a unified experience. This will unlock a completely new way to interact with the web.

The new Bing is available today in a limited preview on desktop, and everyone can visit today to try sample queries and sign up for the waitlist. We’re going to scale the preview to millions in the coming weeks. A mobile experience will also be in preview soon.

Microsoft has been doggedly chasing Google Search for over 20 years. Tenacity is arguably the defining cultural principle at Microsoft. If they want to do something, they simply do not give up.

‘Shift Happens: A Book About Keyboards’ 

Marcin Wichary:

Keyboards fascinated me for years. But it occurred to me that a good, comprehensive, and human story of keyboards — starting with typewriters and ending with modern computers and phones — has never been written. How did we get from then to now? What were the steps along the way? And how on earth does QWERTY still look the same now as it did 150 years ago?

I wanted a book like this for years. So I wrote it.

If this rings a bell, that’s because Glenn Fleishman — who is the editor and print production manager for the book — mentioned this project on The Talk Show a few weeks ago. I’ve been looking forward to supporting it on Kickstarter ever since.

Poe: New AI Chatbot App From Quora 

Sarah Perez, reporting for TechCrunch:

Q&A platform Quora has opened up public access to its new AI chatbot app, Poe, which lets users ask questions and get answers from a range of AI chatbots, including those from ChatGPT maker, OpenAI, and other companies like Anthropic. Beyond allowing users to experiment with new AI technologies, Poe’s content will ultimately help to evolve Quora itself, the company says.

Quora first announced Poe’s mobile app in December, but at the time, it required an invite to try it out. With the public launch on Friday, anyone can now use Poe’s app. For now, it’s available only to iOS users, but Quora says the service will arrive on other platforms in a few months.

Impressive results, I must say.

Matthew Panzarino Interviews Apple Execs Tim Millet and Bob Borchers Re: M2 Macs 

Matthew Panzarino, writing at TechCrunch:

The M1 whacked a big old reset button on those restrictions, putting portable back into the power computing lexicon. And with M2, Millet says, Apple did not want to milk a few percentage points of gains out of each generation in perpetuity.

“The M2 family was really now about maintaining that leadership position by pushing, again, to the limits of technology. We don’t leave things on the table,” says Millet. “We don’t take a 20% bump and figure out how to spread it over three years…figure out how to eke out incremental gains. We take it all in one year; we just hit it really hard. That’s not what happens in the rest of the industry or historically.”

The conversation turns to gaming:

Millet also is unconvinced that the game dev universe has adapted to the unique architecture of the M-series chips quite yet, especially the unified memory pool.

“Game developers have never seen 96 gigabytes of graphics memory available to them now, on the M2 Max. I think they’re trying to get their heads around it, because the possibilities are unusual. They’re used to working in much smaller footprints of video memory. So I think that’s another place where we’re going to have an interesting opportunity to inspire developers to go beyond what they’ve been able to do before.”

Bard: Google’s Conversational AI Chat 

Sundar Pichai, writing for Google’s blog:

We’ve been working on an experimental conversational AI service, powered by LaMDA, that we’re calling Bard. And today, we’re taking another step forward by opening it up to trusted testers ahead of making it more widely available to the public in the coming weeks.

Bard is still in very private beta testing, but at the moment, I’d be hesitant to describe this as Google “playing catchup” to ChatGPT, etc. For all we know, Google is way out ahead of them, but have been playing their cards close to their vest.

Update: On the other hand, Google has announced a lot of AI vaporware in recent years. Ship a real product or shut up.

Getty Images Sues AI Art Generator Stable Diffusion in the U.S. for Copyright Infringement 

James Vincent, reporting for The Verge:

Getty Images has filed a lawsuit in the US against Stability AI, creators of open-source AI art generator Stable Diffusion, escalating its legal battle against the firm.

The stock photography company is accusing Stability AI of “brazen infringement of Getty Images’ intellectual property on a staggering scale.” It claims that Stability AI copied more than 12 million images from its database “without permission ... or compensation ... as part of its efforts to build a competing business,” and that the startup has infringed on both the company’s copyright and trademark protections.

The fact that Stable Diffusion occasionally produces output with Getty Image’s watermark makes this about as open-and-shut a case of copyright infringement as I can imagine. It’s like a plagiarist who copies the byline of the piece they’re stealing from.

Yours Truly on ‘All Consuming’ With Noah Kalina and Adam Lisagor 

Noah Kalina and Adam Lisagor are back for season 2 of their delightful podcast All Consuming. This season they’re doing a topic per episode, and for “computers”, they had me on. Somehow it isn’t 10 hours long.


It feels good to get excited about technology with others.

Yes, it did.

Listen in your favorite podcast app here.

Feeling Blue, but Not Smelling Green 

Erin Woo, reporting for The Information:

Around 180,000 people in the U.S. were paying for subscriptions to Twitter, including Twitter Blue, as of mid-January, or less than 0.2% of monthly active users, according to a document viewed by The Information. The tiny number signals the challenge Elon Musk faces in turning the subscription product into a major source of revenue.

The U.S. number is about 62% of Twitter’s global subscriber total, the document says, which implies Twitter has 290,000 global subscribers. Twitter is charging $8 a month for Blue Verified on the web and $11 a month for those who sign up via Apple’s iOS, although Apple keeps 30% of that fee.

All together, the global number of subscribers would equate to around $28 million in annual revenue — less than 1% of the $3 billion Musk has said Twitter aims to make in revenue this year. In November, days after assuming control of Twitter, Musk told his new employees he wanted half the company’s revenue to come from subscriptions.

Hard to believe people aren’t jumping at the chance to pay $8/month for a website that is crumbling before our eyes. Lucky for Musk, advertising is down too, so maybe if ad revenue keeps dropping, subscriptions will account for half of Twitter’s revenue.

Connor Oliver’s Favorite Computer: An Old Mac 

Connor Oliver:

This Mac has no form of notification system built in, it never begs for your attention and its applications never try to distract you from what you are doing, begging you to look at them instead. If I get distracted while using this Mac the fault lies squarely on me, not the computer and not the programs running on it.

This Mac is unchanging in a world where things change by the minute. It will never receive another software update and is thoroughly obsolete, but it’s comforting to have something that you know will stay the same forever, remaining in a known state every time you return to it.

Louie Mantia: Pixel Pirate 

Nice remembrance from Louie Mantia of his days working as an icon/UI designer at Apple circa 2010–2011.

Glenn Fleishman on Getting Started on Mastodon 

Glenn Fleishman at TidBITS:

You can think of Mastodon as a flotilla of boats of vastly different sizes, whereas Twitter is like being on a cruise ship the size of a continent. Some Mastodon boats might be cruise liners with as many as 50,000 passengers; others are just dinghies with a single occupant! The admin of each instance — the captain of your particular boat — might make arbitrary decisions you disagree with as heartily as with any commercial operator’s tacks and turns. But you’re not stuck on your boat, with drowning as the only alternative. Instead, you can hop from one boat to another without losing your place in the flotilla community. Parts of a flotilla can also splinter off and form their own disconnected groups, but no boat, however large, is more important than any other in the community.

If you’re a regular Twitter or Facebook user — or avoided both those and similar services — and want to understand what Mastodon is, where it seems to be headed, and how to join in, read on. You don’t need a lot of technical details to understand why Mastodon and the Fediverse exist in sharp contrast to commercial social networks and why they hearken back to some of the more enjoyable aspects of earlier stages of Internet interactions.

I don’t think Mastodon is confusing, per se, but its federated nature makes it inherently at least a bit more complex than a centralized commercial network like Twitter or Instagram. Fleishman’s piece here is a wonderful overview.

“2001: A Space Odyssey” Directed by George Lucas? 

Holy hell this is absolutely amazing.

Now do Star Wars directed by Stanley Kubrick. Wait, they did it a year ago — not quite as sublime as Lucas’s 2001 but the docking scene is great.


February 2023 cover art for Dithering, depicting a woman, circa the mid-20th century, at a large computer terminal/printer of some sort. She is quite dapperly put together.

Yours truly and Ben Thompson’s podcast — two episodes per week, 15 minutes per episode. Not a minute less, not a minute more. If you’re not listening, you’re missing out. Best $5/month you’ll ever spend, trust me.

Or, for a remarkable price of just $12/month or $120/year, subscribe to Stratechery Plus and get Dithering and Stratechery, Sharp Tech, Sharp China, and the latest podcast in the bundle, the NBA-focused Greatest of All Talk (Ben’s personal favorite podcast).

The New York Times’s ‘Big Tech’ Jihad Has Little Room for Per-Company Nuance 

Tripp Mickle, Karen Weise, and Nico Grant, writing for The New York Times in a story that seemingly didn’t need three bylines:

Now chastened, many tech companies have begun the year by championing a new and unfamiliar business strategy: austerity.

In recent months, several companies have said they are looking for ways to cut costs and eliminate futuristic projects that have become money pits. Amazon, Alphabet, Microsoft and Meta have each announced plans to lay off more than 10,000 workers.

I’m not sure why Apple is included in this story — let alone the subject of the hero photo illustrating it. The other companies have laid off 10,000+ employees and cut benefits and perks. Apple has, at worst, cut a few hundred retail positions — so few that it’s gone under the radar — and hasn’t cut any benefits or perks. Apple’s Q1 revenue was down 5 percent year over year, yes, but the company claims they took an 8 percent hit from international currency conversion headwinds. The complete shutdown of the massive Foxconn plant responsible for assembling Apple’s flagship iPhone 14 Pro models was a serious setback, but utterly unlike any of the problems facing Amazon, Google, Microsoft, or Meta. But seemingly nothing can stop The Times from presenting “big tech” as a single monolithic narrative.

(Via Glenn Fleishman.)

Report It All, See What Sticks 

Mark Gurman, over the weekend in his Power On column/newsletter at Bloomberg:

Apple’s first mixed-reality device, likely to be dubbed the Reality Pro, will launch this year with an immense amount of new technology, ranging from dual 4K displays to a flexible OLED screen on the front that shows a user’s eyes.

I am once again reminded of the fact that, two weeks prior to its unveiling, Gurman reported that 2021’s Apple Watch Series 7 would be “all about a new design with a flatter display and edges”, when in fact the Series 7 was more rounded.

In addition to making me as curious as ever how he (along with fellow rumormeister Ming-Chi Kuo, who also fell for the flat-sided Series 7 bullshit) vets sources, just consider how dumb an idea a front-facing display on a set of VR goggles would be, putting aside how much dumber it would be to use such a screen to display fake eyeballs. Good displays are expensive. All displays consume large amounts of energy. Why add significant cost to an already expensive headset, and consume additional energy from a device so power-thirsty it’s going to ship with an external tethered battery (a fact Gurman does, I am told, have right), for a front-facing display that the user themself will never see?

Samsung’s Plans for XR Devices 

Chris Velazco, writing for The Washington Post:

Roh would not elaborate on the specifics of Samsung’s first new XR product, which will not appear at Wednesday’s launch event. “We’re getting there, but we’re not too far away,” he said.

Translation: Just waiting to see what Apple launches.

Tom Brady Retires Again, Before Dawn 

Dan Lyons, Sports Illustrated:

A source told Sports Illustrated’s Greg Bishop that Brady called the team around 6 a.m. ET. on Wednesday morning to inform them of his decision, two hours before he announced the decision to the rest of the world. He was weighing whether to retire until Tuesday, and had decided he would either play for Tampa Bay or retire, and would not join another franchise. ESPN’s Jeff Darlington was first to report on the timing of Brady’s decision.

Why in the world would you make a phone call like this at 6 in the morning? You call me at 6 a.m., someone better be dead or hospitalized.

Federico Viticci: ‘The Practicality of Art in Software’ 

Federico Viticci:

We can’t talk about art in software in a vacuum. As a computer maker or app developer, you have to strike that balance between the aspirational and the practical, the artistic and the functional — the kind of balance that, by and large, Apple is achieving on the Mac. Unfortunately, when it comes to iPadOS, I feel like Apple has been prioritizing the artistic aspect over the functional, and it’s not clear when that will be rectified.

‘Twitter Is Killing Off the Fun Bots’ 

Katie Notopoulos and Pranav Dixit, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

Other bots are simply just fun. @ca_dmv_bot tweets out vanity plates that were rejected by the California Department of Motor Vehicles, along with the DMV’s reasoning. The bot’s creation was inspired by a Los Angeles magazine article about rejected plates, which revealed that they’re often incredibly funny.

Fantastic Twitter account, run by a 15-year-old kid.

Some bots are just pleasant and surprising additions to your timeline. Joe Schoech of Vermont runs @_restaurant_bot (random photos of restaurants from Google Maps), @_weather_bot_ (current weather conditions from randomized places around the world), @everygoodfella (screenshots of every second of the movie Goodfellas), and a few others. He also doesn’t plan on paying and is considering moving them all to Mastodon.

“It’s over,” he told BuzzFeed News. “Bots are maybe the best part about Twitter! I follow a ton of them, they’re cool and weird, and I will miss them. Fuck Elon, I never liked that guy.”

Amen, brother.

Onward to Mastodon.

Apple Q1 2023 Results 

Apple Newsroom:

Apple today announced financial results for its fiscal 2023 first quarter ended December 31, 2022. The Company posted quarterly revenue of $117.2 billion, down 5 percent year over year, and quarterly earnings per diluted share of $1.88.

“As we all continue to navigate a challenging environment, we are proud to have our best lineup of products and services ever, and as always, we remain focused on the long term and are leading with our values in everything we do,” said Tim Cook, Apple’s CEO. “During the December quarter, we achieved a major milestone and are excited to report that we now have more than 2 billion active devices as part of our growing installed base.”

From Apple’s Consolidated Financial Statements (PDF), and Jason Snell’s ever-essential charts of that data:

  • iPhone revenue was down 8% year over year, seemingly attributable to COVID-19 production problems in China preventing Apple from meeting demand. (Also currency exchange rates hit Apple across the board.)
  • Mac revenue was down 29%, attributable, at least partially, to the just-launched-this-month new MacBook Pros and Mac Minis not having launched back in October. But I think Mac sales were destined to decline. They jumped two years prior during COVID lockdowns, when people who might otherwise have waited longer before buying bought new MacBooks for work-from-home and school-from-home. (Remember: the quarter prior to Apple silicon’s debut — despite the transition having been announced — was the best-ever quarter for Mac sales at the time.) And then sales got another one-time bump with the first generation of Apple silicon Macs, which many many people were waiting for.
  • iPad revenue was up 30%. It appears the new models that launched in October are successful.
  • Wearables revenue dropped 8%.
  • Services revenue grew 6%.

Not bad.

Meta Lost $13.7 Billion on Reality Labs in 2022 

Speaking of Meta’s quarterly results:

In its earnings report after the bell on Wednesday, Meta said its Reality Labs division, home to the company’s virtual reality technologies and projects, posted a $4.28 billion operating loss in the fourth quarter, bringing its total for 2022 to $13.72 billion.

As my recent writing suggests, I’m not sure what to expect from Apple’s upcoming headset. I sure as shit don’t expect them to lose $14 billion a year on it though.

Meta Reports Strong Earnings, Stock Jumps ~25 Percent 


Meta shares popped in extended trading on Wednesday after the company reported fourth-quarter revenue that topped estimates and announced a $40 billion stock buyback. Here are the results. [...]

  • Daily Active Users (DAUs): 2 billion vs 1.99 billion expected
  • Monthly Active Users (MAUs): 2.96 billion vs 2.98 billion expected
  • Average Revenue per User (ARPU): $10.86 vs $10.63 expected

Sure seems like it’s time for Zuckerberg to drop his whining about App Tracking Transparency. They still have an almost unimaginably massive audience — 2 billion users per day! — so surely there are ways to monetize that attention that don’t require cross-app tracking.

That ARPU extrapolates to about $45/year. Would you pay, say, $50/year to get an ad-free experience on Facebook’s products? A year or two ago I’d have said yes, just for Instagram. (My Instagram use has decreased significantly since then.) I realize they’re not going to offer that, but “average revenue per user” is an interesting metric.

See also:The Inverse Cramer ETF remains undefeated.”

Twitter Is Turning Off All Free Access to Their APIs Next Week (Or at Least That’s the Plan as of Today) 

The Twitter Dev account:

Starting February 9, we will no longer support free access to the Twitter API, both v2 and v1.1. A paid basic tier will be available instead.

At least they gave some notice this time, but it’s emblematic of how seat-of-Musk’s-pants the whole company is now that they can’t even say yet what that pricing will be.

You might be asking, “Wait a second, didn’t Twitter shut down all the APIs for developers a few weeks ago?” But those were just the APIs for full-fledged Twitter clients. Today’s announcement covers all the other ways Twitter APIs could heretofore be used for free. E.g. the bot I wrote back in 2010 to auto-tweet links to each new post on Daring Fireball — that bot will stop working next week unless I pay. I’ll wait to see what the prices are, but I doubt I’ll pay. (Update: Elon Musk, on Twitter, says “~$100/month”.)

There are zillions of tools and bots that use these APIs. Molly White posted a few examples. For example, Alt Text Reader is an automated account that sends back the alt text description for any image on Twitter (that has alt text). There are umpteen weather services, traffic alerts, and just plain fun goofy accounts that send automated tweets. Many of them are run for free and can’t pay; others just won’t pay. This will also break the ability to follow a Twitter account’s posts via RSS — a very cool feature in some feed readers like NetNewsWire.

I don’t know what Musk is thinking, but he obviously has the value proposition backwards. These accounts freely produce content Twitter users enjoy. If anything, Twitter should be paying them, not the other way around. It’s like if YouTube started charging creators to post their videos.

And, of course, another use case for these APIs are tools like Movetodon, that allow people new to Mastodon to find and follow the Mastodon accounts of people they follow on Twitter. Use it now, before it breaks. (And if you’ve already started using Mastodon and used Movetodon, remember that you can re-run it to find people who’ve started Mastodon accounts after the last time you checked.)

The Onion’s Exclusive Interview With George Santos 

The Onion:

The Onion: Are you a Yankees fan or a Mets fan?

Santos: A Mets fan? Baby, I was on the Mets!