Procreate 

My thanks to Procreate for sponsoring Daring Fireball this week. Procreate is a beautiful, fast, and powerful painting app made for creative professionals. It gives you all the tools you need to create quick sketches, inspiring paintings, and detailed illustrations, no matter where you are.

Along with the huge range of pro features like fully customizable brushes and high resolution, multi-layered canvases, you can now experience the brand new QuickShape. This groundbreaking tool helps you create perfect geometry, just like magic.

I’ve been writing a lot lately about how the iPad needs more apps with depth — truly professional power, but exposed through an interface designed for iOS and touch. That’s Procreate. (They even open-sourced their code for enabling tap-with-two-fingers for Undo, and encourage other drawing apps to use it.)

For just $9.99 it’s yours forever, with regular feature-rich updates, and most importantly, no subscriptions. If you have any interest at all in a drawing app for iPad, you should check out Procreate.

Rene Ritchie’s Review of the New Smart Battery Cases 

I got mine this morning. First impressions:

It’s thick and heavy, but for a practical reason. It packs a big battery. I’m writing this at 10 pm and my iPhone is still at 100 percent. The case is on the cusp of depletion, but I had only gotten it up to 75 percent before unplugging it. It’s a much more clever design than the previous one. Texture- and button-wise, it feels exactly like Apple’s regular silicone cases.

One note: mine arrived with 0 percent charge. From what I’ve seen, so is everyone else’s. Apple products usually arrive with some usable amount of battery charge, but I think something is different about standalone batteries, as opposed to batteries built into devices. Apple.com’s ordering page even states that standalone lithium-based batteries can only ship by ground, not air. At 0 percent, it wouldn’t charge when placed on a Qi charger. I had to charge it via Lightning for a bit first, then it worked on the Qi charger as expected.

If you want a battery case, I feel certain Apple’s is the one to get. But if you only need a portable charger occasionally, I think an external battery pack is still the way to go — if only because it’ll charge any device.

Sorry, Even a ‘Record-Setting’ Fine Isn’t Going to Cut It 

Tony Romm and Elizabeth Dwoskin, reporting for The Washington Post:

U.S. regulators have met to discuss imposing a record-setting fine against Facebook for violating a legally binding agreement with the government to protect the privacy of its users’ personal data, according to three people familiar with the deliberations but not authorized to speak on the record.

The fine under consideration at the Federal Trade Commission, a privacy and security watchdog that began probing Facebook last year, would mark the first major punishment levied against Facebook in the United States since reports emerged in March that Cambridge Analytica, a political consultancy, accessed personal information on about 87 million Facebook users without their knowledge.

The penalty is expected to be much larger than the $22.5 million fine the agency imposed on Google in 2012. That fine set a record for the greatest penalty for violating an agreement with the FTC to improve its privacy practices.

It could be 10 times the $22 million fine levied against Google and it wouldn’t make Facebook bat an eyelash or regret anything. The company needs to be broken up.


The R-Word

Bloomberg1 ran an eye-catching article by Mark Gurman yesterday. It currently has the headline “Apple Plans to Cut Back on Hiring Due to iPhone Sales Struggles”. The title of the web page (what you see in a browser tab, for example) is “Apple Cuts Back on Some Hiring After Selling Fewer iPhones”. And the URL slug for the article — usually a sign as to what the original headline was — is “apple-is-said-to-plan-some-hiring-reductions-amid-iphone-woes”.

These three headlines paint very different summaries of the story. Are they cutting back on hiring, or planning to? “Due to iPhone sales struggles” is a lot punchier than “after selling fewer iPhones” — it attributes cause rather than merely implying it. And “iPhone sales struggles” paints a grimmer picture than “selling fewer iPhones”.

Did Bloomberg tweak the headline to arrive at “Apple Plans to Cut Back on Hiring Due to iPhone Sales Struggles” because that’s the most accurate summary of the story, or because it’s the most sensational?

And what the heck is actually going on at Apple? Keep in mind that even with their earnings warning, Apple’s holiday quarter is going to be the second best quarter (both by revenue and profit) for any company in history, second only to Apple’s holiday quarter a year ago. The basic narrative of Gurman’s piece, especially when you start from the impression left by the headline, is that iPhone sales are so problematic that the company is going to hire fewer people this year than it had expected to. Like they’re in financial straits.

Here’s the bulk of Gurman’s report:

Apple Inc. will cut back on hiring for some divisions after selling fewer iPhones than expected and missing its revenue forecast for the holiday quarter, according to people familiar with the matter.

Tim Cook, Apple’s chief executive officer, made the disclosure to employees earlier this month in a meeting the day after he penned a letter to investors about the company’s recent struggles, particularly in China. During the meeting, Cook was asked if the company would impose a hiring freeze in response. He said he didn’t believe that was the solution. Instead, Cook said some divisions would reduce hiring, according to the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private matters.

Cook said he is yet to fully determine which divisions would cut back on hiring, but said that key groups such as Apple’s artificial intelligence team would continue to add new employees at a strong pace. He also emphasized that a division’s importance to Apple’s future isn’t measured by hiring rates.

On the surface, this narrative doesn’t really make any sense. A $7 billion earnings miss is a big deal, yes, but we’re talking about $84 billion in revenue instead of $91 billion. Whatever hiring plans Apple had in place, it’s not like they needed that money to make the hires. There aren’t enough potential Apple employees alive on the planet for it to make sense that Apple had hiring plans that required Apple to hit its revenue guidance for last quarter.

Let’s take it as a given that Gurman is correct that Tim Cook has told employees that Apple is making plans to slow hiring in some divisions. Not that they are slowing hiring, but that they are drawing contingency plans to do so. But why? What’s the contingency? Bloomberg would have us believe it’s in response to one disappointing quarter. Or perhaps rather than just one bad quarter, a better description of the contingency in Bloomberg’s narrative is the fear that last quarter was only the start, and iPhone sales will continue decelerating precipitously.

That would strike me as a panicked overreaction. Tim Cook is not a panicky overreactor. And Apple went through a similar sales cycle with the iPhone 6S in 2015-16 — where the iPhone was still wildly popular but sales dropped a click or two from the previous model year. There was no talk of hiring slowdowns then.

Making plans for reduced hiring would indicate that Tim Cook is spooked, though. I think it makes a lot more sense that what he’s spooked by is not the drop in iPhone sales in China. Every company that sells anything in China is prepping Wall Street for bad quarterly numbers.

I think what has Cook spooked is not the drop in iPhone sales, but the fact that the iPhone sales drop in China might be a symptom of a bigger problem. An effect, not the cause. Apple has gotten crazily good at predicting everything about their financials. It’s almost freaky how accurate they’ve been for years. But they got something very wrong last quarter. Again, it was a slight year-over-year decline, but it was the second-best quarter in history. iPhone sales were disappointing compared to expectations, but weren’t bad in the abstract. What was bad was Apple’s guidance. A $7 billion miss is bad, but Apple not foreseeing a $7 billion miss is a red flag. I think they’re evaluating deeper plans just in case it was more than just one thing in one quarter. No one wants to say the word, but I think it’s what has Cook spooked.

Recession.

You can’t trust the numbers from China’s government, so it’s all a bit anecdotal. But it’s not just Apple, and not just one industry warning about a bad quarter in China. I’ve heard from a few people who travel to China regularly, and several have told me that inside China, everyone agrees the country is in a recession. The only question is how bad — is this a brief cold, or a bad case of the flu?

Cook doesn’t seem like a head-in-the-sand, I’m-sure-everything-will-be-fine optimist. It would be better if the problem were just something to do with the appeal of 2018’s iPhone lineup. That would be entirely within Apple’s control to fix — albeit over the course of years, given the two-year (or longer) lead time for new iPhones. A recession — whether limited to China, or worse, starting in China but spreading worldwide — is out of Apple’s control. And it’s not like the U.S. economy is currently looking rock solid or under steady-handed leadership.

If Tim Cook suspects that a recession is a credible possibility, he’d want plans in place to turn the company on a dime to adjust. 


  1. Bloomberg, of course, is the publication that published “The Big Hack” in October — a sensational story alleging that data centers of Apple, Amazon, and dozens of other companies were compromised by China’s intelligence services. The story presented no confirmable evidence at all, was vehemently denied by all companies involved, has not been confirmed by a single other publication (despite much effort to do so), and has been largely discredited by one of Bloomberg’s own sources. By all appearances “The Big Hack” was complete bullshit. Yet Bloomberg has issued no correction or retraction, and seemingly hopes we’ll all just forget about it. I say we do not just forget about it. Bloomberg’s institutional credibility is severely damaged, and everything they publish should be treated with skepticism until they retract the story or provide evidence that it was true. ↩︎


Google to Pay $40 Million for Fossil’s Smartwatch Tech 

Paul Lamkin, writing for Wareable:

The Fossil Group and Google have exclusively revealed to Wareable that Google will pay Fossil $40 million to buy intellectual property related to a smartwatch technology currently under development.

The deal, which will see some of Fossil’s R&D team joining Google, will result in the launch of a “new product innovation that’s not yet hit the market”. That’s according to Greg McKelvey, EVP and chief strategy and digital officer of the Fossil Group, who also stated to us that he sees the deal as transaction, rather than an acquisition.

Apple Watch isn’t mentioned once in the article, but this deal is all about Apple Watch’s success. Pixel Watch, anyone?

Lawsuit Reveals Facebook’s Internal Documents About How It Made Money Off Children 

Nathan Halverson, reporting for Reveal:

“In nearly all cases the parents knew their child was playing Angry Birds, but didn’t think the child would be allowed to buy anything without their password or authorization first,” according to an internal Facebook memo. The memo noted that on other platforms, such as Apple’s iPhone, people were required to reauthorize additional purchases, such as by re-entering a password.

A Facebook employee noted that children were likely to be confused by the in-game purchases because it “doesn’t necessarily look like real money to a minor.” Yet the company continued to deny refunds to children, profiting from their confusion.

In one of the unsealed documents, two Facebook employees deny a refund request from a child whom they refer to as a “whale” — a term coined by the casino industry to describe profligate spenders. The child had entered a credit card number to play a game, and in about two weeks racked up thousands of dollars in charges, according to an excerpt of messages between two employees at the social media giant.

The transcript Reveal obtained is jaw-dropping. A 15-year-old ran up $6,500 in in-game charges and Facebook refused the request for a refund.

Facebook is a criminal enterprise.

Tim Cook: ‘It’s Time for Action on Data Privacy’ 

Tim Cook, in an op-ed for Time:

Last year, before a global body of privacy regulators, I laid out four principles that I believe should guide legislation:

First, the right to have personal data minimized. Companies should challenge themselves to strip identifying information from customer data or avoid collecting it in the first place. Second, the right to knowledge — to know what data is being collected and why. Third, the right to access. Companies should make it easy for you to access, correct and delete your personal data. And fourth, the right to data security, without which trust is impossible.

Steve Jobs in 2010: “Privacy means people know what they’re signing up for — in plain English, and repeatedly.”

AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint to Stop Selling Location Data to Third Parties After Motherboard Investigation 

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard:

Last week, Motherboard revealed that AT&T, T-Mobile, and Sprint had been selling their customers’ real-time location data that ultimately ended up in the hands of bounty hunters and people unauthorized to handle it. Motherboard found this by purchasing the capability to geolocate a phone for $300 on the black market. In response, AT&T and T-Mobile said they were stopping all sales of location data to third parties.

Nearly a week later Sprint has committed to doing the same, in a statement to Motherboard.

“As a result of recent events, we have decided to end our arrangements with data aggregators,” a Sprint spokesperson told Motherboard in an email.

It’s an outrage that this happened in the first place, and should be investigated by authorities. But the fact that the carriers quickly moved to stop the practice shows the power of investigative journalism. Kudos to Motherboard.

Signal v Noise Exits Medium 

David Heinemeier Hansson:

Beyond that, though, we’ve grown ever more aware of the problems with centralizing the internet. Traditional blogs might have swung out of favor, as we all discovered the benefits of social media and aggregating platforms, but we think they’re about to swing back in style, as we all discover the real costs and problems brought by such centralization.

Hear hear. New design for SvN looks great, too.

Garrett Graff: ‘Trump Must Be a Russian Agent; the Alternative Is Too Awful’ 

Garrett Graff, writing for Wired:

In short, we’ve reached a point in the Mueller probe where there are only two scenarios left: Either the president is compromised by the Russian government and has been working covertly to cooperate with Vladimir Putin after Russia helped win him the 2016 election — or Trump will go down in history as the world’s most famous “useful idiot,” as communists used to call those who could be co-opted to the cause without realizing it.

At least the former scenario — that the president of the United States is actively working to advance the interests of our country’s foremost, long-standing, traditional foreign adversary — would make him seem smarter and wilier. The latter scenario is simply a tragic farce for everyone involved.

My guess is it’s a little bit of column A and a little bit of column B — that Russia has something on Trump and he’s a useful idiot. Graff makes a good point, though — we’re still far from knowing the whole story, but we already know enough that it’s not possible for Trump to come out of this clean.

Pew Study on Facebook Users Shows Majority Don’t Know That Facebook Tracks Their Interests for Targeting Ads 

Paul Hitlin and Lee Rainie, Pew Research Center:

Facebook makes it relatively easy for users to find out how the site’s algorithm has categorized their interests via a “Your ad preferences” page. Overall, however, 74% of Facebook users say they did not know that this list of their traits and interests existed until they were directed to their page as part of this study.

When directed to the “ad preferences” page, the large majority of Facebook users (88%) found that the site had generated some material for them. A majority of users (59%) say these categories reflect their real-life interests, while 27% say they are not very or not at all accurate in describing them. And once shown how the platform classifies their interests, roughly half of Facebook users (51%) say they are not comfortable that the company created such a list.

Facebook issued this statement to The Verge regarding Pew’s research:

We want people to understand how our ad settings and controls work. That means better ads for people. While we and the rest of the online ad industry need to do more to educate people on how interest-based advertising works and how we protect people’s information, we welcome conversations about transparency and control.

Allow me to translate from outright lies to the obvious truth:

We do not want people to understand how our ad settings and controls work. If more people understood what we track about them and how to control it, more people would block it, and we’d make less money.

Skim the comments on The Verge story and most of them are along the lines of the first one: “You’d have to be pretty dense…” — i.e. that the majority of Facebook users who don’t understand what Facebook is doing to track them are stupid. This reminds me of arguments about user interfaces. When regular people are confused by or don’t understand something, there’s a segment of the tech savvy world that sees the problem as the people being too stupid. The real problem is that the products are too hard to understand. The problem with users not understanding what Facebook tracks about them is not that the people are stupid, it’s that Facebook purposefully obfuscates what they do to keep regular people in the dark.

Facebook Employees Wrote 5-Star Amazon Reviews for the Portal Camera 

Kevin Roose, on Twitter:

Speaking of coordinated inauthentic behavior, what are the odds that all these 5-star Facebook Portal reviewers on Amazon just happen to have the same names as Facebook employees?

Facebook confirmed the three reviews were written by employees, but claimed it wasn’t a coordinated campaign. Chaim Gartenberg, at The Verge:

Facebook is a huge company with thousands of employees, and even with internal communications, it’s easy to see how a few employees just weren’t aware of a request to not post reviews. But it’s incredible how blatantly deceptive the practice can be: Chappell’s review, which claims rather disingenuously that he has “historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user,” but also “took a chance and got 4 Portals and 1 Portal plus for the family,” isn’t a great look for the company. There’s a reason why Amazon bans the policy in the first place.

Three reviews does not make for a coordinated campaign. But it shows what type of people choose to work for Facebook when one of the reviews starts with “I have historically not been a big Facebook or other social media user.”

Update: The good news is, from what I’ve heard, Portal is selling about as well as Facebook Phone did. (Remember that thing? Can you even imagine what Facebook would’ve done with data collection if Facebook Phone had actually gained traction?)

NHL Develops iPad App to Give Coaches Live Stats During Games 

Greg Wyshynski, reporting for ESPN:

“There are two stat types across the board that every coaching staff said that, without question, helped them make in-game moment decisions: Time on ice and faceoffs,” Foster said. “With time on ice, you want to manage your top players to make sure they have gas in the tank at the end of the game, or if they’re coming back from an injury.”

For both ice time and faceoffs, the app offers something that the coaches uniformly requested from the NHL: easy-to-read displays. Faceoff success or failure is depicted as a series of green circles with check marks or red circles with X’s, and faceoff percentages can be broken down by where they were held and against whom.

This app with live stats replaces paper printouts, which team staffers would scamper to get into coaches’ hands as quickly as possible.

Interesting contrast, too, to Major League Baseball, which has had iPads in the dugout since 2016, but which expressly forbids those iPads from being online. Whatever stats are on those iPads at the start of the game are the only stats available during the game. This NHL system is all completely live.

Steven Sinofsky’s CES 2019 Show Report 

Steven Sinofsky:

CES 2019 is a kind of year that sort of screams “we’re ready for the products that really work.” In that spirit, CES 2019 is a year where products are close, but seem a product manager iteration away from being a product that can reach a tipping point of customer satisfaction and utility. Products work in a “thread the needle” sort of way, but a lot of details and real life quickly cause things to become frustrating.

This feeling for me is part of the cycle of CES. I like to think of it as the universal remote problem — everything starts to work but to really work you long for that one simplified control point. The challenge is making that while all the other pieces are still moving. That’s the nature of Consumer Electronics (tech in general) which is that there are many parts moving at different velocities and in slightly different vectors — it means sometimes we go through phases where we seem really close.

I’ve still never attended CES, but if I ever do, my goal would be to do what Sinofksy does in these annual reports — to try to see the forest for the trees, to gauge the gestalt of the tech world at this moment. Figure out what is nonsense (e.g. 3D TV mania a few years ago) and what is a legit trend (voice driven interfaces today).

Sinofsky does this really, really well. It’s a long read but CES is a big show.

Qualcomm’s Dirty PR Tactics Against Apple 

Jack Nicas, reporting for The New York Times back in November:

When Tim Miller, a longtime Republican political operative, moved to the Bay Area last year to set up a public relations shop, he brought with him tradecraft more typical of Washington than Silicon Valley. […]

Definers quickly found plenty of business, from start-ups like Lyft, Lime and Juul to giants like Facebook and Qualcomm, the influential chip company that was in a nasty legal fight with Apple over royalties, according to five people with direct knowledge of Mr. Miller’s work who declined to be named because of confidentiality agreements.

While working for Qualcomm, Definers pushed the idea that Apple’s chief executive, Timothy D. Cook, was a viable presidential candidate in 2020, according to a former Definers employee and digital records. Presumably, it was an attempt to chill the cordial relations that Mr. Cook had cultivated with the Trump administration.

I understand that Qualcomm’s underhanded PR tactics came up at the all-hands meeting this month, and that Tim Cook did not mince words regarding Qualcomm’s ethics.

Facebook’s ‘10 Year Challenge’ — Harmless Meme, or Training for Age-Progressive Facial Recognition? 

Kate O’Neill, writing for Wired:

But let’s play out this idea.

Imagine that you wanted to train a facial recognition algorithm on age-related characteristics and, more specifically, on age progression (e.g., how people are likely to look as they get older). Ideally, you’d want a broad and rigorous dataset with lots of people’s pictures. It would help if you knew they were taken a fixed number of years apart — say, 10 years.

Sure, you could mine Facebook for profile pictures and look at posting dates or EXIF data. But that whole set of profile pictures could end up generating a lot of useless noise. People don’t reliably upload pictures in chronological order, and it’s not uncommon for users to post pictures of something other than themselves as a profile picture. A quick glance through my Facebook friends’ profile pictures shows a friend’s dog who just died, several cartoons, word images, abstract patterns, and more.

In other words, it would help if you had a clean, simple, helpfully labeled set of then-and-now photos.

I think it’s very fair to say we should all assume the worst with Facebook all the time now. That’s why I posted my 10-year challenge to Twitter instead of Instagram.


Pentagram’s ‘Range of Possibilities’ for Slack

Coincident with the announcement of Slack’s new branding, Pentagram posted some of the work they did for Slack. For example, this image showing seven takes on a new identity (alongside the old one). What they’re showing is shockingly bad work. I can’t believe Pentagram would present some of this to a client, and it’s even harder to believe they would show it publicly.

Exhibit A:

Proposed Slack logo based on Apple's hand-wave emoji

Slack uses colons like that for entering text shortcuts for Slack’s emoji-like “reaction” stickers. E.g., type :wave: and it’ll be replaced by a hand-waving sticker. No one who doesn’t use Slack would know that; many people who do use Slack don’t know that, because they have visual ways for choosing stickers; and even for people who do know what those colons represent, why in the world would anyone think they belong in the logo? And the actual waving hand in Pentagram’s proposal isn’t Slack’s artwork, it’s Apple’s emoji. And why would a hand-waving emoji represent Slack as a logo? It makes no sense and looks like someone spent 30 seconds making it in TextEdit. It looks more like a tweet than a logo.

Exhibit B:

Proposed Slack logo with a green @ symbol.

Where to even start with this gem? Why green? Why a monospaced font? (The lowercase L in this font looks a lot like the digit 1, which makes the whole thing look like a bad password — “s1@ck”. Why an “@” symbol? Slack already was strongly identified with a standard punctuation character — the “#” hash mark. If anything, the “@” in the middle of “Sl@ck” is reminiscent of an email address — but Slack’s entire raison d’être is to serve as a superior alternative to email for group and team collaboration. Slack is not at all like email but can be a replacement for email. Whoever crapped this logo out clearly didn’t even know what Slack is.

Then there’s this collection of monochrome marks, with the caption “Logo explorations for the octothorpe”:

A 7×4 grid of proposed “octothorp” marks.

Only one of these 28 marks resembles an octothorp/pound sign/hash mark/whatever you want to call “#” (row 4, column 2). Maybe two or three if you squint. None of them are good marks. Most of them are terrible. This one looks like a man bouncing a ball behind a barber chair:

A monochrome “octothorp” mark.

Pentagram proposed an ad using the new identity conceptually based on chat bubbles — and perhaps that’s what those squirts in the corners of the new logo are supposed to represent. (To me they look more like this.) But Slack doesn’t use chat bubbles. I suppose this new identity might presage a UI overhaul in which Slack will display chat bubbles, but if not, it again suggests Pentagram doesn’t even use Slack.

If I were on Slack’s marketing team and Pentagram showed me these proposals, I’d look around the room for hidden cameras, presuming that I was being pranked. If I weren’t being pranked, I’d be furious, because this is the oldest trick in the designer’s book — making one real proposal and then a bunch of throwaway garbage proposals to create the illusion of multiple directions for the client to choose from, and assuming the rube client will happily accept the real one and consider themselves smart for knowing which one was the best.1

Louie Mantia spent 10 minutes doodling and came up with a mark that:

It’s not finished work but it’s a better start than anything Pentagram proposed. What Pentagram has revealed indicates a total disregard for what Slack is and was — a brand which users have genuine affection for — and their new mark is nothing more than an unmemorable, unpleasant shape. 


  1. I’d be furious as well if I were being pranked. ↩︎


Slack Gets a Bland New Identity From Pentagram 

Slack’s old identity had at least three good things going for it: they owned the letter “S” (much like how Netflix owns “N” — something Netflix has doubled-down on as their identity has evolved), they owned the “#” hash mark, and unique among technology companies, they owned plaid. When you saw plaid with those primary colors on a white background, you thought Slack. And plaid isn’t part of any sort of design trend right now. Slack simply owned plaid, to such a degree that Slack company socks — which simply used colors and plaid, no “Slack”, no “S” were necessary to make it instantly obvious these were Slack socks — became coveted swag.

I guessed before this blog post even revealed it that their new identity was done by Pentagram. What Slack needed was a refinement of their existing design. Identify what was good, fix what was bad. What Pentagram seems to do these days, though, is throw babies out with the branding bath water. They only build new identities; they don’t tweak existing ones. There is nothing that says Slack to me about this new identity — no hash mark, no “S”, no plaid. And what they’ve replaced it with is painfully generic. There’s nothing wrong with it per se, but there’s nothing quirky or charming or distinctive about it either. Scratch that — given that it’s not distinctive, there is something wrong with it. Just another sorta-Futura-ish geometric sans serif and a mark that doesn’t look like anything and makes for an utterly forgettable app icon. (This new mark is supposed to evoke a hash mark but it doesn’t — what the hell are those squirts?. The Nike swoosh this busy little blob is not.)

Was there anything about Slack’s previous identity worth building upon? I say yes, quite a bit actually. Pentagram said no. Slack lost something very valuable today.

The Titanic Hypocrisy of the Republican Party 

Tom Nichols — longtime conservative Republican — in USA Today, regarding last weekend’s news regarding Trump’s meetings with Vladimir Putin:

This is not normal, in any way. As things stand, more people in the Kremlin than in Washington know what Trump said to Putin. It is almost certain that there are readouts and analyses of Trump’s discussions with Putin — but that for now, they are in Russian.

Finally, it is exhausting but nonetheless necessary to point out again the titanic hypocrisy of the Republican Party and of Trump’s apologists in the conservative media. If President Barack Obama had shredded his notes of a meeting with the Iranian president, or if Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager were sitting in jail for lying about meeting a Chinese business associate — and alleged intelligence officer — to share polling data, that alone would have been enough for the GOP to impeach everyone from the president to the White House chef.

And Democrats would not have accepted Obama confiscating his interpreter’s notes or Clinton’s campaign conspiring with the Chinese. Democrats are partisan, of course, but their partisanship has very clear limits. The Republicans, and only the Republicans, have crossed the line where they put party above country. History will not look kindly upon them — or those who voted for them.

T-Mobile Execs, Seeking Approval for Sprint Merger, Repeatedly Stayed at Trump’s Hotel 

Jonathan O’Connell and David A. Fahrenthold, reporting for The Washington Post:

Last April, telecom giant T-Mobile announced a megadeal: a $26 billion merger with rival Sprint, which would more than double T-Mobile’s value and give it a huge new chunk of the cellphone market.

But for T-Mobile, one hurdle remained: Its deal needed approval from the Trump administration.

The next day, in Washington, staffers at the Trump International Hotel were handed a list of incoming “VIP Arrivals.” That day’s list included nine of T-Mobile’s top executives — including its chief operating officer, chief technology officer, chief strategy officer, chief financial officer and its outspoken celebrity chief executive, John Legere. […]

By mid-June, seven weeks after the announcement of the merger, hotel records indicated that one T-Mobile executive was making his 10th visit to the hotel. Legere appears to have made at least four visits to the Trump hotel, walking the lobby in his T-Mobile gear.

This is such outrageous bullshit — so blatantly, patently unethical — that it’s hard to believe Republicans just accept this. The hypocrisy could not be thicker. Of course there’s always been and always will be a partisan slant to Congressional oversight of the president. But this isn’t shades of gray. This is acceptance of “anything goes”.

The core outrage here is the president profiting from his office, and the Republicans in Congress who accept it. But shame on Legere and his fellow T-Mobile executives for playing along with it.

The president of the United States should not own hotels. (They made Jimmy Carter sell his goddamn peanut farm before taking office.) If the president owns hotels (which he shouldn’t), he shouldn’t own one right down the street from the White House. If the president owns hotels, and owns one in Washington (which he shouldn’t), at the very least nobody with business before the administration should spend a nickel at that hotel.

When posed with such a blatant conflict of interest, a situation that is clearly a form of de facto bribery, no one should be asking, “Well, is this president a Democrat or a Republican?”

Turning Type Sideways 

Jonathan Hoefler:

This month, researchers made official something that typeface designers have long known: that horizontal lines appear thicker than vertical ones. At left, a square made from equally thick strokes; at right, the one that feels equally weighted, its vertical strokes nearly 7% thicker than the horizontals. This phenomenon, central to typeface design, has implications for the design of logos, interfaces, diagrams, and wayfinding systems, indeed anywhere a reader is likely to encounter a box, an arrow, or a line.

Published in the journal Vision, this peer-reviewed paper confirms that most people overestimate the thickness of horizontal lines. This is the very optical illusion for which type designers compensate by lightening the crossbar of a sans serif H, an adjustment that’s easily revealed by looking at a letter sideways.

Good advice:

Design not for what we expect to see, but for what we actually believe we’re seeing.

Helen Rosner: ‘The Pure American Banality of Donald Trump’s White House Fast-Food Buffet’ 

This photograph should go down as the definitive image of the Trump administration.

(Also worth noting: Rosner’s note on pluralizing “Filet-o-Fish”.)

Apple Launches $129 Smart Battery Cases for iPhone XS, XS Max, and XR 

Lory Gil, writing for iMore:

For anyone that’s been waiting for Apple’s Smart Battery Case for the latest and greatest X series of iPhone, your wait is over. Apple just launched a new version for all three in the current model iPhone X line, that the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR.

This year’s model also supports Qi wireless charging. So, you can set it and forget it and your case and iPhone will charge at the same time.

The Smart Battery Case can be charged with and USB-PD compatible chargers (not included in the box), which will improve charging time significantly.

I didn’t hate the humpback design of the old Smart Battery Case the way some people do, but this clearly looks more elegant. What isn’t obvious from Apple’s photos is how the Lightning ports align. I think what’s going on is that because the cases are much thicker at the bottom, the case’s Lightning female port is behind its internal male jack. The old Smart Battery Case needed a chin because the Lightning connectors were on top of each other. I also don’t see any holes for audio from the speakers to pass through. Update: I am reliably informed that there are, of course, perfectly aligned holes for sound to pass through from the speakers — you just can’t see them in the product photos.

Interesting too that the whole thing works with Qi — keep your phone in the case and put it on a charging pad and both will charge. That has to be pretty complicated engineering-wise. I presume the case charges via Qi and the iPhone charges via Lightning from the case.

Instagram Caught Selling Ads to Follower-Buying Services It Banned 

Scathing investigative report by Josh Constine for TechCrunch:

Instagram has been earning money from businesses flooding its social network with spam notifications. Instagram hypocritically continues to sell ad space to services that charge clients for fake followers or that automatically follow/unfollow other people to get them to follow the client back. This is despite Instagram reiterating a ban on these businesses in November and threatening the accounts of people who employ them.

A TechCrunch investigation initially found 17 services selling fake followers or automated notification spam for luring in followers that were openly advertising on Instagram despite blatantly violating the network’s policies.

At the time Facebook acquired Instagram, Instagram was by far the nicest social media experience I’d seen. It is now quickly descending into a cesspool of crap — bad design, bad experience, way too many ads, and a haven for scammers. I fully expected Facebook to Facebook-ify Instagram, but it’s sad watching it happen. It seems to be accelerating in the wake of the departure of co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger — again, surprising no one.

This bit from Constine’s report is funny:

This led me to start cataloging these spam company ads, and I was startled by how many different ones I saw. Soon, Instagram’s ad targeting and retargeting algorithms were backfiring, purposefully feeding me ads for similar companies that also violated Instagram’s policies.

Their targeting algorithms helped Constine in his investigation.

The Talk Show: ‘Drastically Shakier’ 

Special guest Ben Thompson returns to the show. Topics include Apple’s horrible no good very bad earnings warning, the Chinese market, Apple’s push toward services for revenue growth, antitrust issues regarding the App Store, and more.

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DuckDuckGo Is Now Using Apple Maps 

DuckDuckGo:

We’re excited to announce that map and address-related searches on DuckDuckGo for mobile and desktop are now powered by Apple’s MapKit JS framework, giving you a valuable combination of mapping and privacy. As one of the first global companies using Apple MapKit JS, we can now offer users improved address searches, additional visual features, enhanced satellite imagery, and continually updated maps already in use on billions of Apple devices worldwide.

With this updated integration, Apple Maps are now available both embedded within our private search results for relevant queries, as well as available from the “Maps” tab on any search result page.

I have more to say about this, but I wanted to link to the announcement as soon as it was up. This is huge news (particularly for DuckDuckGo) and really interesting for Apple strategically.

United Really Wants to Keep Apple’s Business 

A letter to pilots from the United rep who manages their account with Apple, obtained by One Mile at a Time:

As we enter into another 3-year contract renewal negotiation this coming January with Apple, your partnership is key in demonstrating to Apple how United differentiates itself from the competition. Overall, Apple continues to grow revenue on United more than 20 percent annually and keeping them happy while traveling on United is critical to the success of many of our SFO routes. Thanks again for going above and beyond, your efforts make a positive impact to the strong and growing partnership between Apple and United.

If you spent $150 million a year on United, you’d probably get nicer treatment, too. And the letter shows that United’s real competition for Apple’s business are the foreign carriers:

Your professionalism and dedication to enhancing the customer service experience for Apple Global Services customers by hand delivering personalized ‘thank you’ cards helps us compete and win against the foreign flag carriers especially in the very competitive US-Asia market.

50 seats a day between SFO and Shanghai is just a jaw-dropping number. That’s 25 Apple employees flying home and another 25 heading over every single day.

Update: It’s possible that Apple just has a standing order for those seats, and some days they go unused by Apple employees. But I’ve heard from a few birdies who frequent the SFO-PVG route that “50 seats a day” undercounts the number of Apple employees making this trip, because it’s only counting United. They fly other airlines when those 50 seats are already full, and that’s not uncommon. They also apparently fly a ton on Cathay Pacific because it’s a nicer experience than United.

German Court Throws Out Qualcomm’s Latest Patent Case Against Apple 

Reuters:

A patent lawsuit filed by Qualcomm Inc against Apple Inc was thrown out by a German court on Tuesday, in a reversal for the U.S. chipmaker after it won a recent court ban on the sale of some iPhones in the country.

The regional court in the city of Mannheim dismissed the Qualcomm suit as groundless in an initial verbal decision, saying the patent in question was not violated by the installation of its chips in Apple’s smartphones.

“We are happy with the decision and thank the court for their time and diligence,” Apple said in a statement. “We regret Qualcomm’s use of the court to divert attention from their illegal behavior that is the subject of multiple lawsuits and proceedings around the world.”

These court cases are so tedious to follow, but the effects are real. Until this ruling Apple was forced to remove the iPhone 7 and 8 from sale in Germany — very popular products in a very big market. And Qualcomm had to put up $1.5 billion last week just to have the ban enforced. Serious money even for companies like Apple and Qualcomm.

On Apple’s $29 iPhone Battery Replacement Program and Its Role in Their Earnings Miss 

Jean-Louis Gassée, on Apple’s earnings warning:

I have a hard time believing that the $29 limited time offer had a significant impact on Apple’s numbers. Did Apple replace hundreds of thousands of batteries? I doubt it. At 100 replacements per Apple Store times 500 stores, that’s 50K happy customers and only $50M in missed new iPhone revenues. I’d have to be off by a factor of 10 — half a million iPhone battery upgrades, one thousand repairs per Apple Store — to approach a mere $500M in missed revenue.

[Update: My battery upgrade discussion above is wrong in two ways.

  1. As readers pointed out, my numbers estimate might be too low.

  2. And… the error might not matter. Apple had full knowledge of battery replacement numbers when issuing its Nov 1st guidance.]

I’m pretty sure Gassée’s back-of-the-envelope estimate of the number of batteries replaced was way too low. During Apple’s all-hands meeting January 3, Tim Cook said Apple replaced 11 million batteries under the $29 replacement program, and they’d have only anticipated about 1-2 million battery replacements normally. (The fact that Cook held this all-hands meeting was reported by Mark Gurman at Bloomberg, but the contents of the meeting haven’t leaked. Well, except for this nugget I’m sharing here.)

But Gassée’s second point still stands: the battery replacement program ran all year long, so even if it was more popular than Apple originally expected, why wasn’t it accounted for in guidance issued on November 1 — 10 months after the program started? My guess: the effect of the battery replacement program on new iPhone sales wasn’t apparent until after the iPhone XR and XS models were available. A few million extra iPhone users happy with the performance of their old iPhones with new batteries — who would have otherwise upgraded to a new iPhone this year — put a ding in the bottom line.

The Vitamin D Myth 

Rowan Jacobsen, writing for Outside:

In November, one of the largest and most rigorous trials of the vitamin ever conducted — in which 25,871 participants received high doses for five years — found no impact on cancer, heart disease, or stroke.

How did we get it so wrong? How could people with low vitamin D levels clearly suffer higher rates of so many diseases and yet not be helped by supplementation?

As it turns out, a rogue band of researchers has had an explanation all along. And if they’re right, it means that once again we have been epically misled.

These rebels argue that what made the people with high vitamin D levels so healthy was not the vitamin itself. That was just a marker. Their vitamin D levels were high because they were getting plenty of exposure to the thing that was really responsible for their good health — that big orange ball shining down from above.

The oldest mistake in the book: conflating cause and effect (or, if you prefer, correlation with causation). In addition to vitamin D supplements being useless, the flip side of this argument is that sunscreen is generally doing us more harm than good — that the benefits of exposure to sunlight far outweigh the increased risk of skin cancer.

(Via Charles Arthur.)

Apple Revealed as United Airlines’ Largest Corporate Spender 

Benjamin Mayo, writing for 9to5Mac:

United Airlines has released a statement following the circulation of a tweet that showed Apple as its largest account, spending $150 million on flights every single year.

In a statement to Kif Lewswing, United Airlines said that the information was displayed as part of a (intended to be) private project that has since been discontinued. […]

Big companies don’t like details like this being public knowledge, even if there isn’t anything too sensational about a big corporation buying a lot of flights for its employees.

“Don’t like details like this being public knowledge” — I’ll go out on a limb and guess that’s an understatement for Apple.

It’s no surprise that a lot of Apple employees fly back and forth to Shanghai, but 50 seats every day is a lot.

HyperDrive USB-C Hub for iPad Pro 

My thanks to Hyper for sponsoring this week at DF to promote HyperDrive, their upcoming new USB-C hub designed specifically for the 2018 iPad Pro. HyperDrive features a unique grip and adds 6 ports: HDMI, 3.5mm audio jack, SD, MicroSD, USB-A 3.0, and USB-C Data with power delivery for high-speed charging.

One hub, no dongles. You can save up to 50 percent on HyperDrive on Kickstarter today. You need to act fast though — the KickStarter project is already funded (10 times over, in fact), but it closes in a few days. Buy now to help push it over $1 million in funding.

Bloomberg: ‘Qualcomm Casting Intel as Hypocrite Backfires in Antitrust Trial’ 

Ian King and Kartikay Mehrotra, reporting for Bloomberg:

After an interrogation of Intel’s chief strategy officer largely backfired this week, a Qualcomm attorney on Friday declined a judge’s invitation to bring Aicha Evans back to the witness stand as a non-jury trial brought by the Federal Trade Commission moved into its fourth day of testimony.

“Not from us, your honor,” Qualcomm lawyer Antony Ryan told U.S. District Judge Lucy Koh, prompting a cheer from Evans, which provoked widespread laughter in the San Jose, California, courtroom after one of the liveliest showdowns so far in the case. It also ended something of an ordeal for him. […]

Ryan frequently sought to corner Evans by citing piecemeal excerpts from her emails and pretrial testimony, a common tactic in trials to save time. Evans had none of it, asserting her right to read documents aloud in their entirety while insisting context was crucial. When Ryan tried to interrupt her, she ignored him and read on.

You know you’re in trouble when the courtroom laughs at you.

Apple and the Next Big Thing 

John D. Stoll, in a column for The Wall Street Journal, under the headline “Polaroid. Walkman. Palm Pilot. iPhone?” and sub-head “As demand for Apple’s signature product starts to wane, now is the time for CEO Tim Cook to find the next act”:

Apple, for the better part of the 2000s, was the master of the next big thing: the iPod, the MacBook Air, the iPad, the iPhone. Apple wasn’t always first, but its products were easier to use, thinner, cooler.

It’s a sleight of hand trick slipping “MacBook Air” into that list, to make Apple’s 2000s seem more innovative than its 2010s. The original MacBook Air was a landmark Mac, to be sure, but one of many since 1984.

With the success of the iPhone since it arrived on the scene, the next big thing has been harder to find. Apple has had no breakthrough on TV, a modest success with its watch, a stumble in music and a lot of speculation concerning its intentions for autonomous cars or creating original programming. Now, as in a comic-book movie, we’re all left to wonder whether Apple’s greatest strength could be its biggest weakness?

So the iPod was the next big thing but Apple Watch is “a modest success”? Stoll should follow Horace Dediu. If he did, he’d know that Apple Watch is now a decidedly bigger business than the iPod ever was. And the Apple Watch is still growing, and may not yet be close to its peak.

“A stumble in music”? Apple Music had 56 million subscribers in November, up from 50 million last summer, and has overtaken Spotify in the U.S., Canada, and Japan. $500 million a month in recurring revenue is a stumble I’d like to take.

I’ll close with advice from Steven Sinofsky, who ended a Twitter thread last week with this:

The idea that Apple is on some countdown clock to “next big thing” is completely the opposite of what to worry about. That is the mistake analysts are making. Just as with Adobe, nothing is bigger than Photoshop (or MS/Office) … yet, but so what?

Focus on execution.

Bingo. There will be major new products from Apple, someday, when they’re ready. There is no rush for them. If you’re worried about Apple’s near-future success, the key is their execution on their existing products. The Mac, iPhone, iPad, and Watch are all businesses that any company would kill for. Apple has all of them, and none of them are going anywhere. Apple needs to keep them insanely great where they already are, and raise them to insanely great where they aren’t.

WSJ: ‘Apple Plans Three New iPhones This Year, Plays Catch-Up on Cameras’ 

Yoko Kubota and Takashi Mochizuki, reporting for The Wall Street Journal:

Apple Inc. is planning to release three new iPhone models again this fall, including a successor to the struggling XR, the lower priced 2018 device with a liquid-crystal display that has fallen short of Apple’s sales expectations, people familiar with the matter said.

Apple plans to introduce some new camera features, including a triple rear camera for the highest-end model and a double rear camera for the two other models, the people said. […]

Apple is planning to do some catching up to rivals on rear cameras. It is considering introducing a triple-rear-camera system to its 2019 flagship model, which would succeed the iPhone XS Max, the people said. That would be an upgrade from the iPhone XS Max’s dual-rear-camera system.

No word on whether the two higher-end models will look like the XS and XS Max design-wise, but I think it’s a fair bet that they will, in the same way the 7 and 7 Plus were clearly derived from the 6/6S.

Adding a third camera only to the Max though would be a major change from the XS and XS Max, which are differentiated only by size. If true, this is a big scoop for the Journal — and a real pisser for those like me who greatly value the camera but don’t want to carry a Max-sized iPhone.

Meanwhile the LCD model is likely to be upgraded to a dual-camera system from the single camera on the rear of the XR, they said.

The Journal’s report makes clear that now — January — is pretty late in the game for major changes to this year’s phones. I would think the decision between a single-lens and dual-lens camera system for the XR successor (XRS?) is too late to change at this point.

But Apple lags behind its rivals in the number of rear cameras. Last year, Samsung released the Galaxy A9 with four rear cameras. Huawei’s Mate 20 Pro and P20 Pro, launched last year, carry three rear cameras.

This is such a bad take. Just counting the lenses on the back is no way to measure the quality of the phone as a camera. The current iPhones aren’t catching up to anyone in terms of hardware — the only arguments to be had are in software, with features like the Pixel’s Night Sight feature.

Update: It’s also worth pointing out that the only phone anyone is seriously arguing is better than the iPhone XS for photography is Google’s Pixel 3 — which only has one rear-facing lens.


On Getting Started With Regular Expressions

Dr. Drang, regarding Jason Snell’s tale of using BBEdit and Excel to create a working RSS feed for an old podcast, “Don’t Fear the Regex”:

Although I do often write short programs for text munging, I typically resort to that only if the problem requires more than just large-scale text editing or if I expect to be repeating the process several times. And even then, I usually start out by playing around in BBEdit to see what searches, replacements, and rearrangements need to be done. It’s a convenient environment for getting immediate feedback on each transformation step.

(And if you expect to do a series of text transformations often and really don’t want to get into writing scripts in Perl or Python or Ruby or whatever, BBEdit’s Text Factories allow you to string together any number of individual munging steps.)

After I linked to Snell’s piece, a reader emailed to ask why I didn’t think this would’ve been better solved by writing a script in Perl/Python/Ruby or any other language with good regex support. Why use Excel for date transformations when scripting languages all have extensive date libraries?

What Drang describes above is my process too. If the task at hand is something I only need to do once or twice, right now, it’s simply easier to just do it in BBEdit. I’m only going to make a proper script if it’s something I know or suspect I’ll reuse. But even when I do write a script to automate some sort of text munging, it inevitably starts with me working out the regex transformations step-by-step in BBEdit. Instant visual feedback with undo support — I’ve worked with text this way since 1992.

Drang:

Even worse, people who are thinking they should start using regular expressions often hear about this great book on the topic and have a natural reaction when they see it: A 500+ page book to learn how to search for text? No thanks.

This is too bad, because while Friedl’s book is great, it’s called Mastering Regular Expressions for a reason, and that reason is not because it’s a tutorial. My recommendation for a tutorial is the one I learned from over 20 years ago: the “Searching with Grep” chapter in the BBEdit User Manual. I believe it was largely written by a young guy named John Gruber.

As for the Grep chapter in BBEdit’s user manual — I did write a significant part of it, but I can’t take and shouldn’t get credit for all of it. Long story short, until BBEdit 6.5, BBEdit used a rather basic regex engine. If I recall correctly, it was a highly customized version of Henry Spencer’s classic library, which supported only the classic features of regular expression syntax. I pushed for BBEdit to switch to Philip Hazel’s excellent PCRE (Perl Compatible Regular Expressions) library, which supports just about every advanced bit of regex syntax anyone could want — and it’s fast, supports Unicode, written in good clean cross-platform C, and more.

The Grep chapter in BBEdit’s user manual was already very good when I started working at Bare Bones — the entire manual, cover-to-cover, has always been and remains genuinely excellent. In fact, like Drang, I learned regular expressions by reading BBEdit’s Grep chapter. I went from “this stuff looks like gibberish” to “Oh, I get it, I see how this could be super useful” just by reading that chapter. If you’re regex-curious, I highly recommend that you start by reading that chapter — even if you’re not a BBEdit user. The regex syntax it describes will work in just about every current programming language or text editor. (The manual is available in BBEdit’s Help menu.)

What I contributed to the Grep chapter was all the stuff in PCRE that BBEdit’s old regex engine didn’t support, which, admittedly, is a lot of stuff. Prompted by Drang’s kind words, I just re-read the chapter for the first time in a few years, and it holds up. And I’m pretty sure the line about how many licks it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop was mine.1 


  1. Although to be honest, even as a kid I never liked Tootsie Rolls, and so when I had a Tootsie Pop, I’d throw them out when I got to the center. Blow Pops were more my thing — some good hard bubble gum was a genuine treat to look forward to. ↩︎


2012: ‘iOS 6 Adjusts Metallic Button Reflections as You Tilt Your Phone’ 

This effect was based on the phone’s accelerometer, not real-world environmental lighting, but it’s certainly along the same lines. I miss details like this — I just love that some folks at Apple put time into making a single button look extra cool.

And I just learned a new word: anisotropic.

Update: Apple Pay has some anisotropic effects on iOS 12. If you have an Apple Pay Cash card in the Wallet app, the “card” shimmers like a holographic material as you move the phone around. And when you send cash in iMessage, the dollar amount has a similar effect. These effects are anisotropic, like the button in the iOS 6 Music app, not based on real world lighting. But it’s similar thinking — and shows that this sort of whimsy isn’t entirely extinguished at Apple. My gut feeling is that iOS 13 will bring some of this back, bring back more depth and texture to the UI.

An Environmentally-Lit User Interface 

Speaking of drop shadows, here’s a demo from Bob Burrough of what he aptly describes as an “environmentally-lit UI”. He’s using the camera on the iPhone to detect the real-world lighting environment, and using that to shade, color, and reflect the elements of the on-screen user interface in real time. This is not a new idea — I think everyone who has ever designed UIs with shaded textures and drop shadows has thought about this — but I’ve never seen it implemented, and Burrough seems to have implemented it very well.

Burrough has another demo video, and an article making the case for why this is a good idea. I find this very exciting — can’t wait to see where it goes.


Codea’s iOS Menu Bar

Simeon, co-creator of the amazing iPad coding app Codea:

Codea is our iPad app for creative coding. I’ve been developing a universal version for some time.

It’s hard to take a complicated, eight-year-old iPad coding environment and bring it to iPhone. There’s so many damn features that need to work in so many damn configurations.

Autolayout takes care of many of these issues (thanks, SnapKit). But it doesn’t take care of the most important: design. I’ve been stuck on the design for a universal version of Codea’s code editor for over a year. It might even be two.

I realised six months ago as I was using my Mac, using the menus, that I need these things — menus — in Codea. I was trying to solve a problem that has been solved for decades.

So I set out to make the best menus I could make for iOS.

Do not miss their follow-up post, which has several videos showing their menus in action. Fantastic attention to detail in how they look and feel.

Here’s something I wrote at the end of my piece on Undo in iOS last month:

What it comes down to, I think, is that the menu bar has become a vastly underestimated foundation of desktop computing. Once heralded, the menu bar is now seen as a vestige. I’m not arguing that iOS should have a Mac-style menu bar. I’m simply pointing out that without one, iOS is an 11-year-old platform that is still floundering to establish consistent conventions for some basic features, let alone complex ones, that are simple and obvious on the Mac.

What they’re doing here with Codea isn’t just putting the Mac menu bar on iOS. They’ve designed and built a very iOS-looking take on a menu bar, deeply informed by the aspects of the Mac menu bar that do work on a touch screen. Something like this is desperately needed as a standard interface element on iPad, and I think could work on iPhone too.

(As an aside, looking at the nice drop shadows behind Codea’s menus reminds me how much I hate the almost-no-shadow flatness of standard iOS popovers on iPad. Ever since iOS 7 I’ve thought iPad popovers look like a rendering bug or an early prototype. Putting aside a debate regarding the overall flatness of iOS 7–12, iPad popovers just look wrong to me. They should look a lot more like what Codea is doing with their menus.) 


Procreate’s Undo Gesture Is Open Source 

Procreate:

The two-finger tap to Undo was first released in Procreate 3 for iPad back in 2015, but we actually first developed it for Procreate Pocket. Undoing an action is one of the most critical input methods we use today, and we needed a method that wouldn’t clutter the interface or disrupt the core experience. We went through dozens of designs until we realised we should treat the entire screen as the Undo button - resulting in a simple gesture that could be invoked any time, anywhere.

Two-finger tap to Undo has become one of Procreate’s most instinctive and essential gestures.

It’s also one of our most-stolen features (over a dozen apps and counting), and we’re fine with that. In fact, we’re giving it away. Seriously. We’ve put together a sample project covered by the Simplified BSD License, which means you can add to or modify it as you wish.

Whether you’re one of our competitors, or in an entirely different field, please feel free to grab the project below. Take it, use it, and give your users the most instinctive Undo and Redo method available.

I love this attitude.

Just a few days before they posted this, I wrote about how iOS still hasn’t gotten Undo right. Two-finger tap is really great for drawing apps. I’m not sure it’s great in other contexts, like text editing, though. But it’s certainly better than shaking the damn device.

1958 TV Episode Featured a Grifter Named Trump Who Cons a Town Into Building a Wall 

This clip is so on the nose it’s hard to believe it isn’t a hoax, but it’s legit. It’s probably not some sort of amazing coincidence though — the actor playing “Trump” is a dead ringer for Fred Trump, Donald Trump’s racist slumlord father.

(Via Moisés Chiullán.)

‘Rather Than Dipping a Drinking Glass Into the Ocean, They Say, Astronomers Have Dunked a Bathtub’ 

The Economist on a new paper addressing Fermi’s Paradox:

Dr Wright’s argument echoes that made by another astronomer, Jill Tarter, in 2010. Dr Tarter reckoned that decades of searching had amounted to the equivalent of dipping a drinking glass into Earth’s oceans at random to see if it contained a fish. Dr Wright and his colleagues built on Dr Tarter’s work to come up with a model that tries to estimate the amount of searching that alien-hunters have managed so far. They considered nine variables, including how distant any putative aliens are likely to be, the sensitivity of telescopes, how big a portion of the electromagnetic spectrum they are able to scan and the time spent doing so. Once the numbers had been crunched, the researchers reckoned humanity has done slightly better than Dr Tarter suggested. Rather than dipping a drinking glass into the ocean, they say, astronomers have dunked a bathtub. The upshot is that it is too early to assume no aliens exist. Fermi’s question is, for now at least, not a true paradox.

Update: The original paper: “How Much SETI Has Been Done? Finding Needles in the n-Dimensional Cosmic Haystack”.

U.S. Carriers Are Selling Customers’ Real-Time Location Data 

Joseph Cox, writing for Motherboard:

Nervously, I gave a bounty hunter a phone number. He had offered to geolocate a phone for me, using a shady, overlooked service intended not for the cops, but for private individuals and businesses. Armed with just the number and a few hundred dollars, he said he could find the current location of most phones in the United States.

The bounty hunter sent the number to his own contact, who would track the phone. The contact responded with a screenshot of Google Maps, containing a blue circle indicating the phone’s current location, approximate to a few hundred metres.

Queens, New York. More specifically, the screenshot showed a location in a particular neighborhood — just a couple of blocks from where the target was. The hunter had found the phone (the target gave their consent to Motherboard to be tracked via their T-Mobile phone.)

The bounty hunter did this all without deploying a hacking tool or having any previous knowledge of the phone’s whereabouts. Instead, the tracking tool relies on real-time location data sold to bounty hunters that ultimately originated from the telcos themselves, including T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint, a Motherboard investigation has found. These surveillance capabilities are sometimes sold through word-of-mouth networks.

It doesn’t seem like Verizon is off the hook on this scandal either:

Microbilt’s product documentation suggests the phone location service works on all mobile networks, however the middleman was unable or unwilling to conduct a search for a Verizon device. Verizon did not respond to a request for comment.

To say this is an outrageous privacy violation is an understatement. It’s downright dangerous. The carriers’ defense is basically that they only intended to sell this data to the “right” people, and the fact that these middlemen are reselling it to the “wrong” people is against their “terms”. Fuck that. This data should not be sold to anyone, period. This is no better than if the carriers let people pay to listen to your phone calls. Honestly, for me and my family, our location data is more private than the content of our calls.

Brief Thoughts on the State of Windows 

Speaking of a fresh pair of eyes looking at a long-standing desktop OS, my son got a PC for gaming over the holidays. I haven’t really used Windows since the XP era. Windows 10 is — really something.

This tweet from Meowski Catovitch shows what I’m talking about. Windows 10 does have a new, simpler UI for (in this case) power settings. But the Windows 7 UI is still there (click “Additional power settings”) and the ancient XP settings are still there as well (click “Change advanced power settings”). It’s not a better UI — it’s the facade of a better UI built on top of the same old crap, which was in turn a facade on top of older crap. In the same way pre-NT Windows was just a brittle coating on top of creaky old DOS, Windows 10 is just a veneer on top of Windows XP. I’d much rather just have the old XP interface.

I’d rather retire from using computers than use Windows 10. What a mess.