May 27, 2016

Rob Zombie: We’re An American Band

Zombie did a great job with this classic song.

Jawbone has three major fitness trackers: The UP2, UP3, and UP4. The company has struggled to sell the devices and was forced to offload them at a discount to a reseller in order to get the revenue it needed to keep the business going, according to the source.

The report also notes that Jawbone is trying to sell its speaker business, as well.

I really like cuckoo clocks and grandfather clocks. Always have.

Now 200 million of you are using Google Photos each month. We’ve delivered more than 1.6 billion animations, collages and movies, among other things. You’ve collectively freed up 13.7 petabytes of storage on your devices—it would take 424 years to swipe through that many photos! We’ve also applied 2 trillion labels, and 24 million of those have been for … selfies.

Google put together some of their favorite tips for using the service.

“I was trying to buy an AirPort Extreme today from the Beverly Hills Apple Store and an employee told me that Apple had asked for all of them back from all the stores,” wrote one anonymous tipster.

To verify the tipster’s claim, we contacted an Apple support representative who confirmed that Apple has pulled AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule stock from all U.S. stores. The base stations remain available to order online, while it appears the smaller AirPort Express can still be purchased both online and in stores at present time.

As noted in the story, it could be new FCC guidelines.

Talk about a blatant ripoff of the iPhone. I really do hate Samsung.

A dark, dark vision of the augmented future reality

Warning: this is pretty dark. Has a Blade Runner sort of feel to it. Imagine a future where everywhere you look, there’s data analysis and advertising. All reality is seen through an augmented translation.

Keiichi Matsuda has put together a striking vision. For best effect, view in full screen and imagine this as what you are actually seeing.

Eric Cheng, writing on his blog:

I arrived at the security area, flagged down a TSA agent, and told her that I must have left my computer there, but that I didn’t remember seeing it on the belt. She left to look around; I waited for about 5 minutes and never saw her again. I flagged down a second agent, who started looking again. Someone brought over a computer in a bag, but it was a Windows machine in a black case—not mine. Mine was nowhere to be found.

We moved over to the camera footage station, and a nice agent began to review archived camera footage. After a few minutes, he found me coming through the security line, and sure enough, my computer was not with my bags when I retrieved my belongings. Moving further back in time, we watched as a TSA agent pulled my computer off of the belt as soon as it came out of the machine—there is an area where agents can remove things from the belt before passengers have access to belongings. He moved my computer to a holding area immediately behind the x-ray machine. And then, we watched as the computer was inspected, after which it was handed back… to a random woman. The woman took my computer and left the security area. Someone remembered that the woman had been with the other woman who had been making the scene, and that they had both been rushing to the 4:15pm flight, but I couldn’t remember whether this was the case or not.

Shudder. This is a story to which I can definitely relate. That moment when you are forced to surrender your phone, your wallet, your computer, then hope that all your goods are there when you go to retrieve them after the security scan.

From the PayPal blog:

For Windows Phone users, we will sunset the current version of the PayPal app on June 30. However, Windows Phone users can still access PayPal through our mobile web experience on Internet Explorer and Microsoft Edge browsers. Outlook.com users can also use the PayPal add-in to send money directly from their inbox.

If you are an Amazon Fire or Blackberry user, we will be discontinuing the PayPal app on June 30, after which you will no longer be able to use the app. However, customers on these devices can still log into PayPal on these phones via our mobile web experience. Blackberry users can also continue to use the BBM app to send peer-to-peer payments via PayPal.

That leaves iOS and Android. Not a death blow to Windows Phone, Amazon Fire, or BlackBerry, but a recognition of reality, that the revenue from those platforms no longer justify the cost of supporting them.

Lucinda Shen, writing for Fortune:

In the weeks following its earnings report in April, Apple looked like it was in a tough spot. Shares of the tech giant fell 13.4% between late April and May 12, after Apple reported that sales had dropped for the first time in 13 years. Shares rebounded slightly, before Warren Buffett, the Oracle of Omaha, disclosed his company’s $1.2 billion stake in the company on May 16.

Since then, shares of Apple have soared 9%—finally breaching the $100 mark, its highest point in a month.

Could be Buffett revealing his investment had an effect on the stock price, could be he knew the exact time to strike. Or both. Either way, looks like he just made his own shareholders some good money:

$1.2 billion x 9% = $108 million

Not bad for a couple of days work.

Mikey Campbell, writing for Apple Insider:

Apple’s patent application for “Point-to-point ad hoc voice communication” describes a mode of communication much more intimate — and less ambitious in function — than the company’s iPhone product line.

Specifically, the invention outlines a headset capable of connecting with other devices of the same type via wireless ad hoc networks, also known as peer-to-peer or point-to-point links. Packed with a typical assortment of audio hardware including a microphone and speaker, Apple’s proposed headset also features a communications module that allows it to interface with other units in close proximity.

I think this is a pretty cool idea, partly, I’m sure, a romantic tug at memories of real walkie-talkies from when I was a kid. But there’s a practical aspect, too, when you are in a remote (or cellularly challenged) area and don’t have cell signal. Interesting.

Seth Clifford:

Apple: ResearchKit and CareKit. Centered around individuals, reporting personal data. Assembling tons of it, and allowing for better personal follow through on long-term treatment, and more individualized reporting for research purposes. Gathering of this data is done through traditional channels, but by allowing users to have agency in these processes, Apple affords people the ability to contribute to a large data set, but safely remain an identifiable component variable.

And:

Google: machine learning to aggregate data against the treatment of extremely difficult ailments (diabetic retinopathy was the example presented in the keynote). Very few doctors can detect it accurately, and it’s very hard to do right/well. And this small number of doctors can’t be everywhere at once. But put enough data into a machine and it can pattern match the very intricate details–perhaps better than people, and everywhere at once (since people can only be in one place at a time). Throw incomprehensible amounts of information at an enormous amount of computing power and basically brute-force a treatment protocol that functions better than humans ever could.

Apple, focused on the individual, protecting their privacy. Google, focused on a problem and its associated data. Both approaches valuable and complementary.

Interesting post. [Via MacStories]

Jason Snell, writing for Macworld:

Microsoft released new versions of Microsoft Office for the Mac, all based on the Windows code base. The familiar Mac versions of Microsoft’s apps vanished, replaced by programs that didn’t behave like Mac apps at all. They were very clearly members of the Office for Windows suite, ported over to the Mac.

This was a well-known phenomenon, other looks creeping onto the Mac, making an application’s interface feel like it just doesn’t belong.

Jason continues:

Open Google Docs for iOS and you’re whisked into a Material Design world. To create a new document, you must tap a large red circle at the bottom right corner of the screen. The options icon is three vertical dots, rather than the three horizontal dots favored by Apple. Menus display in Material Design style, white cards on a gray background.

And:

A common response to this complaint is that Google is after “consistency.” Material Design allows Google to offer the same interface everywhere, across the Web, Android, and iOS. You know who else defended their choices with that old saw? Yep: Microsoft. It was more important to Microsoft for people to get the same experience with Office when moving from Windows to Mac than it was for Mac users to move to Word from some other Mac app. It was a bad rationale then, and it’s still bad today.

I think Google’s mistake (and Microsoft’s before them) is in designing for themselves, rather then the community they are entering. Either that, or this is a genius move, a shrewd play at making it easier for folks to make the move from iOS to Android.

But if not the latter, design for the community, don’t make it jarring to move from one app to another. You’ll stick out like a sore thumb.

May 26, 2016

Two top Twitter executives — Jana Messerschmidt, the head of business development, and Nathan Hubbard, head of media and commerce — are planning to leave the company, according to multiple sources familiar with their plans.

Life as a Twitter exec seems short.

A company that persuaded a Texas jury to award $625 million against Apple for patent infringement is asking for more. It asked a judge on Wednesday to order Apple to shut down its popular FaceTime and iMessage features while the case goes to appeal.

I hate patent trolls. Something has to be done with these organizations.

The jury unanimously upheld claims by Google that its use of Oracle’s Java development platform was protected under the fair-use provision of copyright law, bringing trial to a close without Oracle winning any of the $9 billion in damages it requested.

I really wasn’t sure how this would go.

iTunes and services chief Eddy Cue proposed the idea of Apple bidding on media conglomerate Time Warner at the end of last year, according to the FT.

I’m not really surprised by this. Apple is looking for ways to enter a tight market, perhaps a purchase would be the right way to go. By the sound of the story, it was only a suggestion–Apple looks a lot of proposals, but they don’t pull the trigger on all of them.

The report also said:

The report adds that Apple plans to ramp up spending on original content to “several hundred million dollars a year” in order to better compete with rivals like Amazon and Netflix, both of which offer a growing number of exclusive TV series.

This also makes sense to me.

Messaging app Snapchat has raised $1.81 billion in funding, the company reported in a U.S. regulatory filing on Thursday, a sign that investor interest is strong despite concerns among some venture capitalists that the platform is struggling to attract advertisers.

Damn!

Good:

Nothing can ruin a relaxing weekend or holiday like an email from the office. Even if there’s no need to take action until Monday, the unwanted intrusion of professional life can really suck the joy out of a Sunday afternoon bar-b-que. That’s why the country that’s famous for giving its employees 30 days off a year and 16 weeks of full-paid family leave, just made itself even cooler with its new “right to disconnect” law.

Now, in France, if you’re a company of 50 employees or more, you cannot email an employee after typical work hours. The amendment has come about because studies show that in the digital age it’s become increasingly difficult for people to distance themselves from the workplace during their off hours. This new law allows people to get the full advantage of their time off.

Interesting attitude. If I had a real job, I think I would appreciate this policy.

Paralysed dad walks daughter down aisle on wedding day in Derby

Lying in a hospital bed having found out he was paralysed Chris Palmer thought about how he never would be able to walk his daughter down the aisle on her wedding day. But on Saturday, almost four years later, Mr Palmer has done just that. With the help of a £90,000 robotic device, the 55-year-old father walked down the aisle, alongside his daughter Heather.

Someone please hand me a tissue. I think there’s something in my eye.

Popular Mechanics:

Passengers push buttons to call an elevator, and the elevators respond to these requests. But here it starts to get tricky. At any moment there could be any number of pickup and drop off requests from different parts of the building. With so many options for where to go next, what’s an elevator to do?

Try to picture the perfect elevator system. What makes that system so great? Does it serve the person who’s been waiting the longest? Or always go to the closest call? Where does it make the compromise between speedy service and keeping energy usage down?

Elevator engineers grapple with all these questions, and none of them are as simple as they seem.

For some reason, elevators have always fascinated me. On the surface, they are just a box going up and down but there is so much science, engineering, technology, and sociology that goes on with that box.

Andrew Kurjata:

Aside from their musical skills, which I’ll place up there with any all-time-greatest rock group, the Tragically Hip helped teach me the difference between being from Canada and being Canadian.

The Tragically Hip make no secret about being Canadian but it comes out naturally, not by yelling about toques and poutine. They tell Canadian stories and make Canadian references because it works in their songs, not because it will get them media coverage from journalists writing about the Canadian angle.

The Hip are one of the greatest Canadian bands ever and the news that their lead singer, the charismatic Gord Downie, has terminal cancer, is a huge blow to Canadian music. I hope to be able to see The Hip on their last tour and show my appreciation for all the joy they’ve given me over the years.

There are a lot of Jazz albums that I really like—I’m a big Chet Baker fan, but I’m not a fan of the crazy, all over the place Jazz. This morning I got this new album of classic Rock songs done in Jazz–it’s amazing! Tony Miceli, Paul Jost, Kevin MacConnell, and Charlie Patierno do an incredible job with these songs.

John Marstall:

The approach involved creating the icon twice: once as a textured 3D model, and again as a stack of Photoshop shape layers. This seemed nuts — doing twice the work for the same result. Yet there are benefits. The freedom to scale up an icon indefinitely without rerendering is among them. But, more importantly, the Russian “double-drawn” method affords a much higher degree of control.

Pixelmator updated its image editor on Thursday with a smart Quick Selection tool, a Magnetic Selection tool, and a full set of retouching tools, among other things. There are also a host of improvements and bug fixes in the new version. Pixelmator also put together some new resources for users including: Pixelmator Retouch Extension Page, Magnetic Selection Video, and a New Pixelmator Tutorial Page.

This is one of my favorite apps.

The US Government Accountability Office (GAO) just released this report on aging technology still in mainstream use. The report is filled with horrifying examples of ancient tech driving US infrastructure.

This one is about the Department of Defense and the Strategic Automated Command and Control System:

Coordinates the operational functions of the United States’ nuclear forces, such as intercontinental ballistic missiles, nuclear bombers, and tanker support aircrafts. This system runs on an IBM Series/1 Computer—a 1970s computing system— and uses 8-inch floppy disks.

And this one on the beleaguered Department of Veteran Affairs:

Automates time and attendance for employees, timekeepers, payroll, and supervisors. It is written in Common Business Oriented Language (COBOL)—a programming language developed in the 1950s and 1960s—and runs on IBM mainframes.

Astonishing.

Apple Car, Tesla, and the charging station problem

According to this Reuters article, Apple is talking with charging station companies:

Apple is now asking charging station companies about their underlying technology, one person with knowledge of the matter said. The talks, which have not been reported, do not concern charging for electric cars of Apple employees, a service the company already provides. They indicate that Apple is focused on a car, the person added.

If Apple is building a car, of course they’re going to be involved in the rollout of charging stations.

It is unclear whether Apple would want its own proprietary technology, such as Tesla Motors’ (TSLA.O) Supercharger network, or would design a system compatible with offerings from other market players.

This is where it gets interesting to me. Will Apple create a car-charging version of the lightning cable? Will it be more than a proprietary plug? Will the specific battery makeup require a custom charger, one that will only charge an Apple battery?

Elon Musk once said:

Musk responded that he specifically wants to avoid the walled garden effect with Supercharger technology, and that the main barrier to universal adoption by other EVs is whether or not other vehicles can accept the power level that a Supercharger delivers. Musk also noted that other manufacturers that want to use the Supercharger network would have to adopt the same cost structure. Currently, Supercharger users don’t pay for a fill-up; Musk has stated that each adoptee would need to contribute capital costs “proportional to their fleet’s usage of the network.”

Not all cars are compatible with Tesla’s charging solution. For example, the Chevy Volt is not plug compatible and, more importantly, not electrically compatible with the Tesla Supercharger network.

As Google and Apple (presumably) enter the fray, the national and, eventually, international charging network will see explosive growth. It will be interesting to see if the walled garden emerges, where an Apple car can only use an Apple charger, purely due to competitive business instincts.

It would be in the public’s best interest to develop a small set of standard plugs (think the standardization of USB phone charging bricks), the absolute minimum required for each voltage/amp setup, then have all manufacturers agree to support this standard, along with a system so a user can pay for a charge-up.

Tesla paid for the first wave of charging stations, true, but if they insist on maintaining ownership and sharing their stations only if other manufacturers play by their rules, they are contributing to the walled garden, not offering a way out.

Tim Culpan, writing for Bloomberg, homes in on India’s desire that Apple build all devices sold in India in India:

A different Indian government policy, separate from the retail regulations, is pushing Apple to manufacture iPhones locally. The company isn’t keen, and the prospects in the near term are unlikely. To do so would require suppliers such as Taiwan’s Foxconn to hire tens of thousands of workers in single locations. Foxconn executives have stated their desire to avoid having China-style mega-factories in India.

If Finance Minister Arun Jaitley decides to uphold the ban, Apple has one final option. By signing a franchise agreement with a local Indian retailer, the company could get its shop fronts without the foreign investment. The business model would look a lot like McDonald’s, with Apple providing training and support while dictating layout, procurement and sales procedures.

An interesting idea. A strong precedent, giving up control of their brand in a way that Apple historically has fought against. Is that loss of control worth the money they could make in India?

Ben Thompson, Stratechery, first quotes this New York Times article:

A billionaire Silicon Valley entrepreneur was outed as being gay by a media organization. His friends suffered at the hands of the same gossip site. Nearly a decade later, the entrepreneur secretly financed a lawsuit to try to put the media company out of business.

That is the back story to a legal case that had already grabbed headlines: The wrestler Hulk Hogan sued Gawker Media for invasion of privacy after it published a sex tape, and a Florida jury recently awarded the wrestler, whose real name is Terry Gene Bollea, $140 million. What the jury — and the public — did not know was that Mr. Bollea had a secret benefactor paying about $10 million for the lawsuit: Peter Thiel, a co-founder of PayPal and one of the earliest investors in Facebook.

Ben then follows with some thoughts of his own:

If ever there were a case with no one to cheer for, this is it: Gawker does do good work, but they do really terrible things as well, and their outing of Thiel despite his explicit request not to is indefensible. It disgusts me, and my disgust is only deepened by the moralizing and righteousness of the post in question, as if Gawker has the right to make the most personal of decisions for anyone.

It is also legal and protected speech.

And:

Thiel, meanwhile, is being a bully of the first order. He is attempting to run Gawker out of business — this lawsuit he is funding is one of many, and he has lawyers looking for more — in part because he can, and in part because he has styled himself as a twisted version of Batman: a vigilante who is not so much above the law (what he is doing is also perfectly legal), but rather one that uses the law to first and foremost avenge himself even as he spins a story about his defense of the vulnerable.

Bullying a bully, two wrongs making a mess. A hero? Read Thompson’s post.

Where Google lags Apple badly

Google has long lagged behind Apple in user adoption of the latest version of its OS. Apple controls their software and hardware and, more importantly, the mechanism used to push out updates to its users. Google controls their software, but their manufacturers control the hardware and the push of updates. While Apple takes great pains to support older models, easing them out of compatibility over time, Android phones tend to get abandoned by manufacturers, sometimes simply because those manufacturers change business models or cease operations altogether.

According to this Bloomberg article:

A Dutch consumer group sued Samsung Electronics Co., the largest Android phone maker, in January for neglecting to update many devices. In the U.S., the Federal Communications Commission sent a letter to carriers, manufacturers, Apple and Google asking how they can ensure faster updates.

From this FCC press release:

There have recently been a growing number of vulnerabilities associated with mobile operating systems that threaten the security and integrity of a user’s device, including “Stagefright” in the Android operating system, which may affect almost 1 billion Android devices globally.

Consumers may be left unprotected, for long periods of time or even indefinitely, by any delays in patching vulnerabilities once they are discovered. To date, operating system providers, original equipment manufacturers, and mobile service providers have responded to address vulnerabilities as they arise. There are, however, significant delays in delivering patches to actual devices—and that older devices may never be patched.

To get a sense of the true extent of this “Android update lag” problem, check out this chart, which shows the current state of Google and iOS adoption rates.

  • Google’s latest, Marshmallow: 7.5%
  • iOS 9: 84%

Those are remarkable numbers. And a true stumbling block for Google.