February 10, 2016

The ENCRYPT Act, sponsored by Democratic Representative Ted Lieu and Republican Blake Farenthold, would prevent any state or locality from mandating that a “manufacturer, developer, seller, or provider” design or alter the security of a product so it can be decrypted or surveilled by authorities, according to bill text viewed by Reuters.

Very smart, I hope this passes. Governments have to understand that any weakness will be exploited—there is no backdoor just for law enforcement.

I am suspicious of any for-profit company arguing its good intentions and its free gifts. Nothing — and I do mean nothing — in this life is free. You always pay a price.

Om Malik makes some valid points here.

Macstories:

I just returned from a two week vacation in which I used my iPhone 6s to take hundreds of photos and videos, find places to eat, and get public transit directions to and from various places in unfamiliar cities. It was also the first time I had no concerns about my iPhone battery running out of juice before I returned to my accommodation at night, and it is all thanks to Low Power Mode.

I use LPM whenever I’m out riding my motorcycle. I don’t want to take a chance of running out of juice but also don’t want to carry around a backup battery. I really like the tip of how to quickly turn LPM on and off.

Observer:

Think about it: Every driver makes hundreds of daily driving decisions that, strictly speaking, break driving laws (for example, crossing the yellow line to pull around a double-parked vehicle). It all works out fine because of something called “human judgment.” But what company is going to program its driverless cars to break the law? And what regulators will approve that product, knowing that it has been programmed to break the law?

Will insurance policies for driverless cars cover the car itself? Or will they cover the owner of the vehicle? Or perhaps the technology company that controls the car’s routes? Who will be responsible if there is an accident? The individual owner or the vehicle manufacturer? Or the company that designed the navigation system? To cut through this conundrum, some have proposed the creation of the legal fiction of “virtual drivers” who will purchase “virtual insurance.” But this gobbledygook is just vaporware for the fact that nobody knows how to move through this morass.

I disagree that driverless cars won’t happen but the writer brings forward several points that are glossed over by driverless car advocates. The legal, ethical and even employment related issues are massive and aren’t being discussed nearly enough.

Macworld:

Unless you’ve been living under the proverbial rock, there’s a good chance that you have, by now, become aware of how tragically easy it can be for your online credentials to be stolen. From picking weak combinations of characters that can be easily guessed—it’s somewhat sad that, in 2016, “password” is still the most common passphrase—to reusing the same password across multiple websites, it doesn’t take much to make a mistake that could very well turn out to be fatal.

While there is no bulletproof solution to this problem, the easiest way to alleviate it is to engage the services of a password manager—an app designed to provide an encrypted digital vault in which all your different logins are stored. This way, you can use completely different (and highly secure) credentials for each website while only having to remember the one “master password” that unlocks your vault.

AgileBits’ 1Password is perhaps one of the most venerable members of this family of programs, and one that, with its newest version 6.0 release, aims to retain its position as the leader of the pack.

I don’t need or use the new enterprise features but I can’t recommend 1Password enough. It (and apps like it) are invaluable in keeping my passwords long, complicated and secure.

Fast Company:

Twitter is rolling out a revised version of the timeline that indeed shuffles around some tweets into an order that isn’t purely reverse-chronological—but it doesn’t blow away the old format in the manner that had some users writing obituaries for the service.

I spoke with Michelle Haq, a Twitter product manager in charge of the timeline, about what’s new. Without further ado, some questions and answers.

Reading this, you can understand better how and why Twitter is making this relatively minor change. The good news is that is opt-in – if you’re like me and don’t want Twitter to “curate” your tweets, you won’t see any difference.

My next truck

This Russian truck is simply incredible. Jump to about 37 seconds in to get a sense of the turning radius. Crazy.

And then go to about 1:24 and watch the truck go for a swim.

Jim, can we get a review unit in here?

[Via Kottke.org]

Dan Goodin, writing for Ars Technica:

Camtasia, uTorrent, and a large number of other Mac apps are susceptible to man-in-the-middle attacks that install malicious code, thanks to a vulnerability in Sparkle, the third-party software framework the apps use to receive updates.

The vulnerability is the result of apps that use a vulnerable version of Sparkle along with an unencrypted HTTP channel to receive data from update servers. It involves the way Sparkle interacts with functions built into the WebKit rendering engine to allow JavaScript execution. As a result, attackers with the ability to manipulate the traffic passing between the end user and the server—say, an adversary on the same Wi-Fi network—can inject malicious code into the communication. A security engineer who goes by the name Radek said that the attack is viable on both the current El Capitan Mac platform and its predecessor Yosemite.

Note that Camtasia is in the official Mac App Store. This isn’t simply a problem confined to apps sold in the wild. I struggle to wrap my head around the specifics, but the articles I’ve read give the sense that this is an issue with using HTTP, that the problem would be solved if HTTPS was required.

As to Sparkle, it sounds like they’ve fixed the problem on their end, but developers need to rebuild, resubmit their apps to get that fix in the App Store. And there doesn’t appear to be an easy way to tell if the apps on your machine are vulnerable. Hopefully, Apple will address this quickly.

If you’ve got a Sonos smart speaker system in your house, starting today your system has Apple Music compatibility.

If that’s you, you’ll want to take a few minutes to read through Federico Viticci’s Sonos/Apple Music review. Not all love and roses, but it’s a first release.

Reuters:

U.S. vehicle safety regulators have said the artificial intelligence system piloting a self-driving Google car could be considered the driver under federal law, a major step toward ultimately winning approval for autonomous vehicles on the roads.

And:

“NHTSA will interpret ‘driver’ in the context of Google’s described motor vehicle design as referring to the (self-driving system), and not to any of the vehicle occupants,” NHTSA’s letter said.

“We agree with Google its (self-driving car) will not have a ‘driver’ in the traditional sense that vehicles have had drivers during the last more than one hundred years.”

And:

Karl Brauer, senior analyst for the Kelley Blue Book automotive research firm, said there were still significant legal questions surrounding autonomous vehicles.

But if “NHTSA is prepared to name artificial intelligence as a viable alternative to human-controlled vehicles, it could substantially streamline the process of putting autonomous vehicles on the road,” he said.

Just another domino falling. Our robotic overlord drivers are coming.

Cyrus Farivar, writing for Ars Technica:

On Wednesday, Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Rep. Blake Farenthold (R-Tex.) introduced a new bill in Congress that attempts to halt state-level efforts that would weaken encryption.

The federal bill comes just weeks after two nearly identical state bills in New York state and California proposed to ban the sale of modern smartphones equipped with strong crypto that cannot be unlocked by the manufacturer. If the state bills are signed into law, current iPhone and Android phones would need to be substantially redesigned for those two states.

From Congressman Lieu’s Wikipedia page:

Lieu graduated from Stanford University in 1991 with a B.S. in Computer Science and an A.B. in Political Science and graduated magna cum laude with a J.D. from Georgetown University Law Center in 1994, where he was Editor in Chief of the Georgetown Law Journal and received four American Jurisprudence awards.

That’s a Computer Science degree from Stanford and a Law degree from Georgetown. Nice to see this sort of expertise involved in this issue at such a high level.

Joe Rossignol, writing for MacRumors:

Norwegian police will force a 27-year-old man accused of drug possession to unlock his iPhone with Touch ID, according to local website Bergensavisen [Google Translate]. The police believe the confiscated smartphone may contain evidence about where he obtained the illegal substance.

And:

It remains unclear if Norwegian police are aware that Touch ID requires a passcode as supplemental verification after 48 hours of disuse, a restart, or three failed fingerprint entry attempts. The accused was arrested on January 25, so it may be impossible for authorities to unlock his iPhone with Touch ID without taking additional measures.

In the U.S., a Virginia court ruled that fingerprints, unlike passwords and passcodes, are not protected by the Fifth Amendment. In his ruling, Judge Steven C. Frucci opined that “giving police a fingerprint is akin to providing a DNA or handwriting sample or an actual key,” which is permitted under federal law.

Interesting all the way around. Even if the Norwegian courts were too slow to be effective in this case, they’ve now established a precedent.

More interesting is the issue of police in the US being able to force you to use your finger to unlock your phone.

[H/T David Sobsey]

Downloaded Firewatch yesterday, the new game from Campo Santo and Panic. I’ve long been a fan of Panic, thought I’d check it out, just take a quick look.

Lost a day. Played it straight through to the end, pretty much non-stop. I don’t usually do that. This is a game that draws you in, immersing you in a steadily evolving storyline, with game mechanics that quickly become second nature. And the game somehow manages to grab you emotionally, too. You care about these characters. They seem very real.

This is not a first person shooter. In fact, there is no shooting at all. There’s cursing, but no more than you’d find at my house when I’m trying to fix something. Instead, this is like a gentle puzzler, with a heavy dose of map reading. It’s really all about the storyline, even more about the relationship between the two main characters.

If you are interested in the story behind the development of the game, learning how Panic and Campo Santo got together, here’s the Panic perspective, and the Campo Santo perspective. Both are interesting reads.

Note that Firewatch is available for the Mac, via Steam, and as a PlayStation 4 download. Worth every penny, in my opinion.

February 9, 2016

Ken Segall:

In honor of the Super Bowl I’m setting the time machine back to 1985, when Apple ran its notoriously awful Lemmings commercial on that year’s Super Bowl.

Just twelve months earlier, Apple had stunned the technology and advertising worlds with its famous 1984 commercial, and Lemmings was meant to carry on the blockbuster tradition.

Instead, it was a dud of extraordinary proportions.

But what exactly is the origin of Lemmings? It’s a story that’s never been told publicly, and it’s definitely not what you think. Join me now on this journey down memory lane…

Segall is one of those guys who was deeply involved with Apple (he came up with the name “iMac”) and I love his stories of the behind the scenes goings on at Apple during his time working with the company.

Engadget:

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory has a knack for space-themed travel posters. A little over a year ago, its “Exoplanet Travel Bureau” series made its debut with an homage to the iconic WPA prints of the 1930s. This year, the JPL commissioned Seattle-based design firm Invisible Creature to be part of a project/gift for staff. Invisible Creature designed three “travel posters” to be included in the “Visions Of The Future” 2016 calendar. Among the collection are visuals for a multi-planet tour, a stop at Mars and exploring Enceladus, Saturn’s icy moon.

For those of you wanting to remain on Earth, the JPL will make the artwork available as downloadable posters soon, but for now, you can purchase high-quality prints from the source.

The look and feel of these posters is spectacular. Very art deco.

The Verge:

Well you did it, mean-spirited internet humans. Tim Cook has deleted the Super Bowl picture that sent Twitter into a tizzy on Sunday night. As the Denver Broncos celebrated their Super Bowl 50 victory, Apple’s CEO made his way onto the field and took a photo of all the excitement (and confetti). He uploaded it to Twitter with a message congratulating the Super Bowl champs.

Now, either Cook didn’t take much time to review his shot or he just didn’t care, but it was a very blurry snapshot of what must’ve been a thrilling moment. Although he took a second, far better shot minutes later, the damage was already done — and the mockery and ridicule came flying. There were too many “Shot with iPhone” jokes to count.

There are several lessons here: Always check your photos before posting. The internet never forgets. Anyone can take good shots with the iPhone but anyone can take bad shots with it as well. And, if you’re the CEO of a company that makes cameras, make sure your shots are really good before you post them.

Apple Watch, Weight Loss, and Me

Since first writing about Apple Watch, and the follow-up on my weight loss using the device, I’ve been answering questions from readers about my progress. I thought I’d take a minute and give you an update.

I wasn’t sure what would happen after I reached the crazy weight loss goal that I had set a year earlier, but I’m happy to report that I’m still using the Apple Watch and HealthKit everyday.

I’ve never been a fitness nut, and I’m still not a completely healthy person, but I’m getting there one day at a time. That slow, steady progress is how I lost 50 pounds, so I’m sticking with it.

I thought about why I find it so easy to keep using the Apple Watch. I mean, it wasn’t the first device on the market to help with fitness goals, so why does this work so well for me.

I realized that part of it is about how subtle Apple Watch is in alerting me to how things are going each day. It’s not screaming at me to exercise or eat properly, it’s simply giving me information that I can use to make the best decisions possible.

To be clear, I don’t always make the best decisions. However, with the information I have, I understand that each decision I make has consequences.

I still go out with friends, have a few beer, a burger, fries and really enjoy myself. By now, everyone is aware of my weight loss, and my philosophy of losing weight, so I don’t worry about having to explain myself.

My philosophy hasn’t really changed. If I have the information from the watch and HealthKit, I can make the decisions I need to make. If I have a busy day and can’t do my walk, I’m okay with that. I’ll try again tomorrow.

Having that information is so important. Knowing how each decision will affect your goals gives you everything you need to make the right decision. You won’t always make the best decision, but that’s okay—as long as you understand the consequences when you make that decision.

I am conscious about what I eat. I try to buy the right types of food and not sneak too many unhealthy snacks in during the day.

I know I am never going to be the perfectly toned person you see in commercials, but I’m okay with that. I’m much healthier than I was a year ago—and much thinner.

I still try to walk a couple of miles a day, and I still do some weightlifting a few times a week. It’s help strengthen my upper body, which I’m really happy about.

I gain a few pounds, I lose a few pounds. I tend to go with the flow and do the best I can. That’s where I am.

The amount of people that have written or come up to me in the street to say thank you for those original weight loss articles has been amazing. I never thought I would be an inspiration for so many people to lose weight, but I, like Apple, misjudged how many people like me there are in the world. We’re not all perfect specimens of health and fitness, but we can all benefit from what Apple Watch and HealthKit have to offer.

I said back in June that Apple Watch changed my life, and it has. It continues to be a tremendous value and something I can’t imagine doing without. Are you ready for Apple Watch to change your life? I bet you are.

This is a fascinating story. Academics do the research for free, but they have to buy back their papers through expensive subscriptions from publishers. Enter the dark web.

I love this bag. It’s quality from top to bottom and the leather artisan even signs it.

It’s no surprise that lawyers are considering suing Apple, but this is an interesting case.

People who have iPhones running iOS 9 sometimes see “Error 53” when trying to restore the phone through Apple’s iTunes software after being prompted to connect the device to a computer. The error, which prevents the user from using the device, seems to occur on the iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6S, and iPhone 6S Plus after their Touch ID sensors are repaired by unapproved retailers.

I can understand Apple’s reasoning, but perhaps they should have been more proactive in letting people know before they updated.

Ginny Marvin , writing for Search Engine Land:

According to Google, 82 percent of TV ad-driven searches during the Super Bowl happened on smartphones. That’s a 12-point jump from last year, when 70 percent of Super Bowl ad-related searches across Google and YouTube derived from phones.

During this year’s game, just 11 percent of searches related to ads aired during the big game happened on desktop/laptop, and seven percent occurred on tablets.

Not surprising that this number is increasing. I wonder if most of the desktop/laptop searches are from folks actually watching the game on those devices.

Macworld:

One of the joys of macro photography is that for most of our lives most of us just don’t look at the world in that much detail. Whether you’re shooting or just looking at close-up shots, there’s something a bit magical about taking the time to examine things around us in minute detail. What they reveal is the “analogness” of those apparently crisp, perfect objects, their imperfections, and the artifacts of their manufacture.

So join me. Come near. Nearer! Let’s quite literally take a close look at some of the vintage Apple hardware in my collection.

As awful as the slideshow mechanism is, it’s a great example of macro (close up) photography and the beauty and attention to detail of some of Apple’s hardware.

Before you ask yourself why, click through and look at the picture. If that doesn’t awaken the maker in you, this just might not be of interest.

I just love this sort of thing. Now if only my old ADB mouse could fit into the picture somehow.

Meet Kathleen Kennedy, read the Vanity Fair interview.

In 2012, after more than three decades producing hits such as E.T., Jurassic Park, and Schindler’s List, Kathleen Kennedy was handpicked by George Lucas to head Lucasfilm. Now, with the smash success of The Force Awakens behind her, Kennedy sits down with Sarah Ellison to talk about her mentors, her sense of equality, and her vision for the Star Wars franchise.

And:

Now, with the release of The Force Awakens, which is already one of the most lucrative films in history, Kennedy has become the high priestess of the relaunched Star Wars enterprise. The new movie’s position as the first feminist Star Wars film—with Rey, the breakout female protagonist—only adds to the impression that Kennedy is, as the Star Wars screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan put it, a “secret superhero in training.”

Great read.

Jacob Weisberg, writing for The New York Review of Books:

Americans spend an average of five and a half hours a day with digital media, more than half of that time on mobile devices, according to the research firm eMarketer. Among some groups, the numbers range much higher. In one recent survey, female students at Baylor University reported using their cell phones an average of ten hours a day. Three quarters of eighteen-to-twenty-four-year-olds say that they reach for their phones immediately upon waking up in the morning.

Most importantly:

Once out of bed, we check our phones 221 times a day—an average of every 4.3 minutes—according to a UK study. This number actually may be too low, since people tend to underestimate their own mobile usage. In a 2015 Gallup survey, 61 percent of people said they checked their phones less frequently than others they knew.

And:

Our transformation into device people has happened with unprecedented suddenness. The first touchscreen-operated iPhones went on sale in June 2007, followed by the first Android-powered phones the following year. Smartphones went from 10 percent to 40 percent market penetration faster than any other consumer technology in history. In the United States, adoption hit 50 percent only three years ago. Yet today, not carrying a smartphone indicates eccentricity, social marginalization, or old age.

This all rings true. It’s who we’ve become.

I kind of like it, though. I like the access to information, the ability to read and learn, to sip from the cup of knowledge as much as I can hold.

Zac Hall, from 9to5Mac, talks through lots of cool new stuff coming with the next release of tvOS.

From previous betas, you can merge apps together to form a folder. For example, you might move all your on demand channels into one folder and your games into another folder.

With this new beta, you can now use dictation (you have to enable it first) to speak your text, anywhere there’s a search text field. Not clear if this will work in third party apps but, hopefully, this will just work automagically. Here’s a demo video Benjamin Mayo put together showing the dictation at work.

Can’t wait for this all to hit the release version.

Christian Zibreg, writing for iDownloadBlog, lays out a metric ton of iPhone/iPad storage saving tips.

Like this one:

Restarting your iPhone or iPad once a day not only ensures smoother than usual performance, it also gives iOS a chance to clear caches that are clogging up the ‘Other’ storage section, visible upon connecting an iOS device to iTunes. Cached files are created when streaming or viewing content like music, videos and photos.

You cannot delete these system caches manually as iOS automatically removes them when it needs more space. Restarting a device may prompt iOS to clear at least some cached content. To restart your device, hold down the power button until a “Slide to power off” message appears, then slide to restart.

And:

Force-restarting your device forces iOS to wipe clean its temporary files and purge caches. To perform a force restart, press and hold the Sleep/Wake and Home buttons simultaneously until an Apple logo appears. In addition to clearing caches, this method may help your device run a little faster for some time.

Never thought about force-restarting. I generally only do that when I do an iOS update. Any down side to this approach?

This chart from Wristly (click the chart to embiggen) shows the relative importance of Apple Watch versus other products, things like your iPhone, iPad, sunglasses, jewelry, etc.

AWvsOthers

As an example, the Apple Watch is more important to 47% of polled users than their sunglasses. Their sunglasses are more important to 22% of those polled. Presumably, 31% of them valued both equally.

February 8, 2016

Ars Technica:

The Expanse series takes place two centuries from now in the Belt, a ring of asteroids that orbit the Sun between Mars and Jupiter. People who have migrated to the Belt come from all over Earth speaking dozens of languages, and they’re often isolated for years at a time on remote mining stations. To communicate, they evolve a creole called Belter, which becomes the lingua franca for what is essentially the solar system’s new proletariat. The problem? In the book, Belter could be referenced. But now that The Expanse was coming to television, people would actually have to speak the damn thing. SyFy suddenly needed a linguist who could build a language out of dozens of parts. Luckily, Franck knew a guy. He soon recommended Farmer, who delivered a lot more than they bargained for.

I’m really enjoying this show. It started off a little slow but hit its stride about four episodes in.

That’s certainly original.