April 23, 2018

A genius HomePod hack

Ouch. Pretty, pretty good. [H/T MacKungFu]

Bloomberg:

The world lacks a great all-around red. Always has. We’ve made do with alternatives that could be toxic or plain gross. The gladiators smeared their faces with mercury-based vermilion. Titian painted with an arsenic-based mineral called realgar. The British army’s red coats were infused with crushed cochineal beetles. For decades, red Lego bricks contained cadmium, a carcinogen.

Yikes!

More than 200 natural and synthetic red pigments exist today, but each has issues with safety, stability, chromaticity, and/or opacity. Red 254, aka Ferrari red, for example, is safe and popular, but it’s also carbon-based, leaving it susceptible to fading in the rain or the heat.

And:

Subramanian, more scientist than chief executive, is now hunting for a similarly safe, inorganic red derivative of YInMn—something that could put Ferrari red, which is worth an estimated $300 million annually, well in its rearview mirror.

Fantastic article. Had no idea this market was so huge.

Under the topic “My account is sending spam emails”, this from a giant, ever-growing thread in Google’s Gmail product forum:

My email account has sent out 3 spam emails in the past hour to a list of about 10 addresses that I don’t recongnize. I changed my password immediately after the first one, but then it happened again 2 more times. The subject of the emails is weight loss and growth supplements for men advertisements. I have reported them as spam. Please help, what else can I do to ensure my account isn’t compromised??

This is followed by a wave of people with similar experiences. Making my way through the thread, it appears that this is a weakness in a specific DNS implementation, a hole in the system that makes spoofing via Canadian national telecommunications company Telus open to anyone.

This from Telus’ official Twitter account:

And see this Hacker News post for more of a deep dive.

Another example of how delicate our tech infrastructure can be.

The Guardian:

Google has unveiled a new messaging system, Chat, an attempt to replace SMS, unify Android’s various messaging services and beat Apple’s iMessage and Facebook’s WhatsApp with the help of mobile phone operators.

Unlike traditional texting, or SMS, most modern messaging services – such as Signal, WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger or Apple’s iMessage – are so-called over-the-top (OTT) services, which circumvent the mobile phone operator by sending messages over the internet.

Chat is a successor to SMS:

Instead of using OTT, it is based on rich communication services (RCS), a successor to SMS (short message standard), which has been used by people all over the world since 1992 and is still the fallback for most.

And:

With Chat, Google is unifying all the disparate versions of RCS under one interoperable standard that will work across networks, smartphones and operating systems. In doing so it hopes to take the surefire nature of SMS – anyone can send anyone else with a phone a message without them requiring a specific account or app – and bring it up-to-date with all the features modern chat demands.

On the potential for Chat killing iMessage, I defer to this excellent comment from The Overspill:

if Google even looks as though it is positioning this as a way to “kill iMessage”, Apple will never support it, and if Apple doesn’t support it then operators are going to wonder why they’re letting Google screw up their golden goose, and they won’t support it after all. Google can preload it on Android phones, but that’s not “killing iMessage”; it’s “providing an alternative to iMessage”, which WhatsApp and latterly Facebook Messenger have done for years without “killing” iMessage.

And John Gruber’s take on the same topic, different article:

It is unconscionable for Google to back a new protocol that isn’t end-to-end encrypted. End-to-end encryption is table stakes for any new communication platform today. Apple should ignore this — if it’s not secure it should be a non-starter.

I agree with all of the above. I don’t see any danger to iMessage. But I do see this meshing with Google/Android’s place in the market. Chat’s penetration will likely be at the base of the pyramid, the larger, lower priced, smaller margin part of the market. Apple’s sweet spot has always been about halfway up the pyramid: smaller, but higher priced, with larger margins.

Note also that here’s another place where Amazon has no seat at the table. With no mobile phone of their own, Alexa can send a text via the Internet, but has to ride on iOS or Android infrastructure when out and about.

In a nutshell, the survey’s top 3:

  • Amazon, 20%
  • Google, 15%
  • Apple, 11%

The survey was implemented by SurveyMonkey.

What I’d really love to see is some detail on people’s thinking on this. What is the positive impact from Amazon? Is it about getting goods so quickly and reliably? Amazon Echo and Alexa? Something else?

And is Google’s positive mostly about search?

I also wonder if Apple would have won this survey hands down 8 years ago, when the iPhone was still exploding but Android hadn’t quite taken off yet. Interesting.

April 20, 2018

USAToday:

Flickr has been snapped up by Silicon Valley photo-sharing and storage company SmugMug, USA TODAY has learned.

SmugMug CEO Don MacAskill told USA TODAY he’s committed to breathing new life into the faded social networking pioneer, which hosted photos and lively interactions long before it became trendy.

SmugMug, an independent, family-run company, will maintain Flickr as a standalone community of amateur and professional photographers and give the long neglected service the focus and resources it deserves, MacAskill said in an exclusive interview.

This news will be met with mixed feelings from a lot of photographers but there is no doubt that Yahoo has let the service languish for many years.

Open Culture:

Recently, one dedicated fan went through the first season and identified every song played on the shows, and produced this spreadsheet first mentioned on BoingBoing. That then led to somebody wishing for a Spotify playlist and of course the Internet has provided. Find the playlist and stream all 202 tracks.

WKRP is one of those TV shows I loved but will never watch again. I’m afraid it won’t be as good as I remember it. It has happened to me before – I rewatched some old “Get Smart” shows I loved as a kid and thought, as an adult, it was awful. But I’ll listen to this playlist all day long.

This whole thing started with this tweet from The Economist’s Hal Hodson:

Twitter, a mystery: I’ve been walking around New York a lot the past few days, AirPods in, tunes going, great vibes. Almost every time I cross a street, though, they cut out. Why? Crossing roads is the only time the cut. Can not figure it out

This appears to happen consistently, and to a lot of people. Here’s mystery solved, via a sequence of tweets from The Verge’s Dan Seifert.

First:

I know the exact spot when crossing 5th Ave in front of the library where every pair of Bluetooth headphones will cut out. to the step.

Experience the same in the middle of Grand Central Terminal. to the step.

And then, the answer:

I’ve asked headphones makers why this happens in past and here’s best explanation I’ve received:

BT needs surfaces to bounce off to work efficiently (walls, ceilings, etc). very different from WiFi. in the middle of the street is farthest from large flat surfaces.

Which begs the question, how come my AirPods work in the middle of a field?

You may wonder why this doesn’t happen in an open field?

Bluetooth doesn’t have any other signals to compete with out there, doesn’t need to be at peak efficiency.

Any Bluetooth experts out there want to weigh in here? This is fascinating to me.

Have some large files you’d like to send? Too big for email and don’t want to have to sign-up for a service like DropBox? Check out Plover.

Here’s how it works:

  • Go to the website, plover.io
  • When the page loads, note that you’ll be an animal in a location

For example, I just loaded the page and found that I am a panther in blue-foreign-spring. All I need to do is grab a link to this page and text it to a friend. When they follow the link, they’ll appear on the same page as a different animal.

To construct the link to the current page:

  • Append the location to plover.io

In my case, the link to my page would be plover.io/blue-foreign-spring. There’s also a link to the room on the page you can control-click and copy. Either works.

Once you see your friend’s animal appear on the page, drag and drop a file on their animal, or click their animal and browse/choose a file.

Easy peasy. Try it yourself. You can open a second browser tab, head to plover.io, and you’ll get a second animal in the same location. Drag a file to send it from yourself to yourself. Not particularly useful, but it’ll show you how this works.

Big fan. Nicely done, Plover. Podcasters with big audio files, give this a try, let me know if this works for you.

Nice writeup by Andrew Orr for The Mac Observer. This is one of those posts that worth scanning now, while you are feet up with a cup of coffee, rather than in a state of panicked response to your phone gone missing.

One note: Ignore the link to “How to Set Your iOS Device Data to Auto-Destruct” on that page. As pointed out in the comments, it’s outdated and no longer accurate.

UPDATE: Outdated link was deleted from the Mac Observer article.

Mitchel Broussard, MacRumors:

eBay today announced a new update for its iOS and Android apps, aimed at further simplifying the item listing process. The headlining feature of the update is a new barcode scanner, allowing sellers to quickly scan the box of an item (if they still have it), select a condition, and click “list your item.”

The barcode scanner will automatically populate the listing with all of the requisite details (images, description, suggested starting price), and the process can be finished “within seconds,” according to eBay. If you don’t have the item barcode you can still search for it by typing in a description, which should populate the listing at around the same rate as the barcode scanner.

Great idea.

9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy just finished reading James Comey’s new book, A Higher Loyalty. Politics aside, a section of the book deals with the FBI’s battle with Apple to access an iPhone used by a San Bernardino gunmen, detailed on this Wikipedia page.

Ben briefly excerpts Comey’s book, interleaving his own take with relevant passages. Short and worth the read.

April 19, 2018

The New Yorker:

Kare, who is sixty-four, will be honored for her work on April 20th, by her fellow designers, with the prestigious AIGA medal. In 1982, she was a sculptor and sometime curator when her high-school friend Andy Hertzfeld asked her to create graphics for a new computer that he was working on in California. Kare brought a Grid notebook to her job interview at Apple Computer. On its pages, she had sketched, in pink marker, a series of icons to represent the commands that Hertzfeld’s software would execute. Each square represented a pixel. A pointing finger meant “Paste.” A paintbrush symbolized “MacPaint.” Scissors said “Cut.”

Kare told me about this origin moment: “As soon as I started work, Andy Hertzfeld wrote an icon editor and font editor so I could design images and letterforms using the Mac, not paper,” she said. “But I loved the puzzle-like nature of working in sixteen-by-sixteen and thirty-two-by-thirty-twopixel icon grids, and the marriage of craft and metaphor.”

All Mac users owe Kare a debt of gratitude for her work.

IBM:

Gain insight into how and why people think, act, and feel the way they do. This service applies linguistic analytics and personality theory to infer attributes from a person’s unstructured text.

Based on my Twitter feed, Watson tells me I am “a bit critical and excitable. You are philosophical: you are open to and intrigued by new ideas and love to explore them. You are solemn: you are generally serious and do not joke much. And you are authority-challenging: you prefer to challenge authority and traditional values to help bring about positive changes” and that I “care more about making your own path than following what others have done.”

Mostly accurate. Thanks to Jason Kottke for the link.

Apple introduces Daisy, a new robot that disassembles iPhone to recover valuable materials

Apple’s newest disassembly robot, Daisy, is the most efficient way to reclaim more of the valuable materials stored in iPhone. Created through years of R&D, Daisy incorporates revolutionary technology based on Apple’s learnings from Liam, its first disassembly robot launched in 2016. Daisy is made from some of Liam’s parts and is capable of disassembling nine versions of iPhone and sorting their high-quality components for recycling.

I’m always fascinated by assembly lines and this “disassembly line” is just as interesting.

Tim Cook:

“We don’t believe in sort of watering down one for the other. Both [The Mac and iPad] are incredible. One of the reasons that both of them are incredible is because we pushed them to do what they do well. And if you begin to merge the two … you begin to make trade offs and compromises.

“So maybe the company would be more efficient at the end of the day. But that’s not what it’s about. You know it’s about giving people things that they can then use to help them change the world or express their passion or express their creativity. So this merger thing that some folks are fixated on, I don’t think that’s what users want.”

I have never been a fan of merging these two devices. There are always going to be compromises when you look at merging them that aren’t necessary. I’ll gladly take two devices, and two operating system over a merged device.

If a new European law restricting what companies can do with people’s online data went into effect tomorrow, almost 1.9 billion Facebook Inc users around the world would be protected by it. The online social network is making changes that ensure the number will be much smaller.

Facebook members outside the United States and Canada, whether they know it or not, are currently governed by terms of service agreed with the company’s international headquarters in Ireland.

Next month, Facebook is planning to make that the case for only European users, meaning 1.5 billion members in Africa, Asia, Australia and Latin America will not fall under the European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), which takes effect on May 25.

It’s all a game.

Some wisdom from Glenn Fleishman.

Long story short, take a minute to familiarize yourself with the details on this Apple Support article on two-factor account recovery.

If you have a Mac or PC, open your browser and head over to a Wikipedia page, like this one on the Mona Lisa.

Hover over a link and you should see a brand new behavior. Instead of a tool tip (a tiny snippet of text), you should see a fairly substantial preview of the linked page. This is a huge improvement.

From Wikimedia:

This seemingly cosmetic change may seem far from revolutionary, but has been built through careful and vigorous A/B testing; scaling APIs to Wikipedia levels of traffic and a change to how we build our code (blog post to follow). Our testing shows that the feature makes it easier and more efficient for Wikipedia readers to interact with our content and get more context about a topic on Wikipedia.

And:

The goal of page previews was to decrease the cost of exploration for each blue link you come across, allowing readers to satisfy their curiosity or clarify a confusing or unknown topic without the burden of opening a new page and navigating back to the original.

More reading on this change: How we designed page previews for Wikipedia — and what could be done with them in the future.

A few stats from that last article:

  • Nearly ~28 percent of Wikipedia’s traffic comes from clicking on internal blue links. a.k.a going down the rabbit hole
  • Blue links account for ~230 million page views per month
  • ~2 million links get hovered per minute across all Wikipedias

I love Wikipedia, I think this is a wonderful move. Note that if you don’t see the previews, check to see if you are logged in. If so, head over to Preferences > Appearance and click Enable in the Page Previews section.

Slate, from a few years ago:

The fade-out—the technique of ending a song with a slow decrease in volume over its last few seconds—became common in the 1950s and ruled for three decades. Among the year-end top 10 songs for 1985, there’s not one cold ending.

Fadeouts are gone from popular music.

Advances in technology played a big part in the rise of the fade-out. Electrical recording emerged in the 1920s, allowing studio engineers to increase or decrease amplification. And achieving the effect became even easier when magnetic tape recording became widely available in the ’40s and ’50s. Many early fade-outs were added simply because engineers were short on time: To meet the demands of radio, or the limited runtime of one side of a vinyl single, they had to make the record fade out early.

And:

Done right, the fade-out is a song’s parting gift to the attentive listener. “Thanks for staying ’til the end,” it says. “Here’s a little somethin’ for ya.”

But what caused the fade-out to, well, fade out?

Let’s shift our accusatory fingers, then, to the iPod. That’s where our itchy thumbs have been stationed since Apple introduced the device in 2001. With a mere depression of the fast-forward button to get to the next tune, why wait out those last dwindling seconds?

This is a fascinating read. Especially the examples where little easter eggs are hidden in the lower volumes of the fade.

[H/T Brother Stu]

Daniel Eran Dilger, AppleInsider:

Apple now has a customer base of more than 250 million paid subscriptions across its Services offerings of Apple Music, iCloud and App Store continuing payments. Viewed against Amazon’s recent announcement of 100 million Prime members, that figure is substantial. But Apple is also adding around 30 million new subscriptions every quarter.

Fascinating perspective comparing Apple and Amazon subscription numbers. As I’ve said many times, it’s all about the ecosystem. HomePod brings Apple Music subscribers, enough to justify the development cost. iOS devices bring iCloud subscriptions. There’s a steady contribution of subscription money flowing in from HBO, Hulu, Netflix, etc. It all contributes to the services bottom line.

Amazon press release:

Amazon and Best Buy today announced a collaboration to bring the next generation of Fire TV Edition smart TVs to customers in the United States and Canada. As a first step in the partnership, Best Buy will launch more than ten 4K and HD Fire TV Edition models from Insignia and Toshiba, beginning this summer.

And:

The newly designed smart TVs come with the Fire TV experience built-in, uniquely bringing together live over-the-air TV and all your streaming content into one easy-to-view location. Connect any HD antenna and instantly use Alexa to search for and watch broadcast TV, or choose from a vast catalog of streaming TV episodes and movies from Netflix, Prime Video, HBO, PlayStation Vue, Hulu, and many more. Fire TV Edition includes a Voice Remote with Alexa, making it easy to launch apps, search for TV shows, play music, switch inputs, control smart home devices, and more. It can also be paired with any Echo device allowing you to easily use your voice to control your TV experience hands-free with Alexa.

I see this as a real challenge to Apple and Siri, as well as to Google. But I also worry about privacy and security implications. So much to unpack here.

There’s also the concept of buying two different technologies that are evolving at different rates, bundled together into one expensive, inseparable package. How often do you replace your TV? And how often do you replace your TV box (think Apple TV or ChromeCast)? If they are one and the same, seems to me it’d be problematic to change one without changing the other.

Wonder what Apple has planned on this front.

April 18, 2018

CNBC:

In the letter, Bezos stressed the importance of having high standards in running a business. By setting high standards, companies are able to live up to “ever-rising customer expectations,” he said.

Bezos also disclosed for the first time that Prime now exceeds 100 million members worldwide. In 2017 alone, Amazon shipped over five billion items through its Prime service worldwide.

Interesting that after all these years, Amazon has finally released these numbers. I wonder if they’ll ever announce Kindle and Echo sales figures?

Om Malik:

Douglas Weber is an American industrial designer based in Fukuoka, Japan. He formerly worked for Apple in Cupertino and is a fellow coffee nerd. He is currently working on what he deems the perfect coffee grinder at his new company Lyn Weber, which he founded with VFX designer Craig Lyn. We recently talked about the new wave of coffee and cafes and how and why design is becoming such an integral part of coffee culture.

Wow!

Facebook Inc said on Tuesday it would continue requiring people to accept targeted ads as a condition of using its service, a stance that may help keep its business model largely intact despite a new European Union privacy law.

And

Facebook Deputy Chief Privacy Officer Rob Sherman said the social network would begin seeking Europeans’ permission this week for a variety of ways Facebook uses their data, but he said that opting out of targeted marketing altogether would not be possible.

Whether you like targeted ads or not, it makes sense that Facebook is still going to require users to accept them—it’s their entire business model. The choice is simple—accept the ads or delete the app.

The Atlantic:

Without glass, the world would be unrecognizable. It’s in the eyeglasses on your face, the lightbulbs in your room, and the windows that let you see outside. But despite its ubiquity, there’s still some debate within the research community about how to define “glass.” Some tend to emphasize its solid qualities, others its liquidity.

Unanswered questions abound, like what makes one type of glass stronger than another, or why certain mixtures produce their unique optical or structural properties. Add to this the nearly infinite varieties of glass—one database lists over 350,000 types of currently known glass, though in principle the number of mixtures is limitless—and you get a surprisingly large and active field of research that regularly produces astounding new products.

Glass has shaped the world more than any other substance, and in many sneaky ways, it’s the defining material of the human era.

I had no idea glass was so complex.

How to make tomato paste in Sicily

Tomato paste is one of those things I use all the time but have never given its production any thought. I had no idea it was made like this.

New iPad and Apple Pencil in hand. Now what?

I just got a new iPad and Apple Pencil.

First things first, the new 9.7″ iPad (AKA, the education iPad, or the sixth-generation iPad) is terrific. If you are moving from a previous 9.7″ iPad, there’s nothing but plusses here. A brilliant screen, faster processor and, best of all, Apple Pencil support.

As you might expect, the first thing I wanted to do was make some pretty pictures, put the Apple Pencil through its paces. I played a bit with Apple’s built-in apps, and was able to use the Apple Pencil as a pointer in all the ones I tried, and for simple drawing (freehand line drawing using Markup) in some. But nothing really scratched that artistic itch, though Notes came the closest.

So I turned to Serenity Caldwell, iMore’s artist-in-residence. If you are not already familiar with Serenity’s work, take a look at her brilliant iPad review, paying particular attention to the video embedded in the review. Awesome work. Serenity really knows her way around the iPad, Apple Pencil, and drawing.

If you have an iPad and Apple Pencil, take a look at these posts Serenity pulled together. I found them incredibly helpful.

  • How to use Apple Pencil: The Ultimate Guide: This one is a soup to nuts, everything you need to wrap your head around the Apple Pencil, showing you how to pair/unpair your Apple Pencil, check the battery level, charge it, and troubleshoot if you run into trouble. An easy read, and perfect for Apple Pencil newbies.

  • Linked inside the above-linked article is Serenity’s guide to Best Apple Pencil Accessories. Take a few minutes to scan through the post, just to get a sense of the options that are available, see if any of them fill a need for you.

  • Next up is Best drawing apps for iPad and Apple Pencil. This is a rich list of apps that will really help you get the most out of your Apple Pencil. The first app on the list, Linea, was an instant buy for me.

  • And, finally, there’s the gold mine of How to learn to draw with iPad and Apple Pencil. Incredibly useful, especially for wannabe artists like me.

Thanks, Serenity. You really are a treasure.

UPDATE: Serenity just sent me two more links, Best handwriting/notetaking apps and PDF markup and annotation apps, both worth a look.

Hakai Magazine:

Signs and symbols on the sides of ships tell stories about an industry few outsiders understand.

Those who work in ports or on the water have a good view of the proceedings; tugs may have the best view of all. These photos get you closer to ships than most people will ever be.

“The sides of ships have their own sort of beauty,” says photographer David Webster Smith, who is also a San Francisco tugboat engineer. “As soon as I can, I get my camera out.”

I’ve lived in port cities most of my life and, while I’ve seen many of these markings on container ships, I never really paid much attention or knew what they represented. Turns out, they are pretty interesting.

Animoji as characters in short film

I found this interesting. A short film, with animoji used to deliver the dialog. Wondering if this approach will find its way into a feature film or TV show. Seems to me a logical path for some show on Apple’s content schedule.

[H/T The Film Student Podcast]