October 18, 2017

From Apple’s Machine Learning Journal:

The “Hey Siri” feature allows users to invoke Siri hands-free. A very small speech recognizer runs all the time and listens for just those two words. When it detects “Hey Siri”, the rest of Siri parses the following speech as a command or query. The “Hey Siri” detector uses a Deep Neural Network (DNN) to convert the acoustic pattern of your voice at each instant into a probability distribution over speech sounds. It then uses a temporal integration process to compute a confidence score that the phrase you uttered was “Hey Siri”. If the score is high enough, Siri wakes up. This article takes a look at the underlying technology.

We take speech commands like “Hey Siri” for granted these days, but what goes on in the background is absolutely amazing.

Today I Found Out:

Here’s the strange story of a family-owned business so dysfunctional that business schools teach it as a lesson in how not to run a company.

The fascinating story of an incredibly dysfunctional family. I knew Adidas was a German company but I had no idea Puma grew out of this feud.

CBC:

Gord Downie, the Tragically Hip frontman who united a diverse array of music lovers with his commanding stage presence and Canadiana-laced lyrics, has died.

He was 53.

Downie had an aggressive and incurable form of brain cancer called glioblastoma, which he discovered after a seizure in December 2015.

He died Tuesday night surrounded by his children and family, according to a statement on the band’s website.

A life well lived but not lived long enough.

Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

If you’re selling (or generously handing down) your MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, Apple recommends an extra step when erasing your data before parting ways with your machine. This step requires an obscure Terminal command that you wouldn’t assume and isn’t required on Macs without the Touch Bar.

Here’s the Apple Support document titled What to do before you sell or give away your Mac.

Check out step 6, “If you have a MacBook Pro with Touch Bar, clear its data”.

Begs the question, what is specifically stored in the Touch Bar that requires cleaning? Good to know that this step is necessary, but a bit of a mystery. Anyone know the specifics? Please do ping me.

Nice find, Zac.

UPDATE: And the answer is, this script removes your Touch ID data from your Mac, as proved by Stephen Hackett, written up on this 512 Pixels post.

Goodbye Uncanny Valley

This is an amazing look at the state of the art in computer graphics, movie CGI.

From the Vimeo page:

It’s 2017 and computer graphics have conquered the Uncanny Valley, that strange place where things are almost real… but not quite. After decades of innovation, we’re at the point where we can conjure just about anything with software. The battle for photoreal CGI has been won, so the question is… what happens now?

I found the whole thing riveting.

We are so very close to a world filled with conjured realities that are indistinguishable from real life. When that becomes our reality, what then?

[H/T Kottke]

Erin Griffith, Wired:

On Friday CEO Jack Dorsey announced plans to act more aggressively. Twitter will introduce new rules around unwanted sexual advances, non-consensual nudity, hate symbols, violent groups, and tweets that glorifies violence, he tweeted. To add a sense of urgency, the company is holding daily meetings on the issue.

And:

The new plans stop short of sweeping measures such as banning pornography or specific groups like Nazis. Rather, they offer expanded features such as allowing observers of unwanted sexual advances—as well as victims—to report them, and expanded definitions, such as including “creep shots” and hidden camera content under the definition of “non-consensual nudity.” The company also plans to hide hate symbols behind a “sensitive image” warning, though it has not yet defined what qualifies as a hate symbol. Twitter also says it will take unspecified enforcement actions against “organizations that use/have historically used violence as a means to advance their cause.”

Follow the link, read the email in full. I would love to see progress made here, but I’ve reluctantly filed this under “I’ll believe it when I see it”.

Zachary Crockett, Priceonomics:

Auto-Tune — one of modern history’s most reviled inventions — was an act of mathematical genius.

The pitch correction software, which automatically calibrates out-of-tune singing to perfection, has been used on nearly every chart-topping album for the past 20 years. Along the way, it has been pilloried as the poster child of modern music’s mechanization.

And:

For inventor Andy Hildebrand, Auto-Tune was an incredibly complex product — the result of years of rigorous study, statistical computation, and the creation of algorithms previously deemed to be impossible.

And:

“The sampling synthesizers sounded like shit: if you sustained a note, it would just repeat forever,” he harps. “And the problem was that the machines didn’t hold much data.”

Hildebrand, who’d “retired” just a few months earlier, decided to take matters into his own hands. First, he created a processing algorithm that greatly condensed the audio data, allowing for a smoother, more natural-sounding sustain and timbre. Then, he packaged this algorithm into a piece of software (called Infinity), and handed it out to composers.

And:

Infinity improved digitized orchestral sounds so dramatically that it uprooted Hollywood’s music production landscape: using the software, lone composers were able to accurately recreate film scores, and directors no longer had a need to hire entire orchestras.

“I bankrupted the Los Angeles Philharmonic,” Hildebrand chuckles. “They were out of the [sample recording] business for eight years.”

Great, great read. [H/T The Overspill]

Rene Ritchie, iMore:

I’ve owned almost every Nexus and the original Pixel, but problems with the Pixel 2 display may force me to look elsewhere for my yearly Android fix.

I bought most of Google’s Nexus phones, starting with the Nexus One. I bought the original Pixel. I pre-ordered the Pixel 2 XL right after the event. Now I’m thinking of canceling that order. The reason? It seems like Google chose to ship bad displays on their flagship phones.

Rene follows up with a host of quotes from other reviewers, almost all from traditional Android bloggers. This was really surprising to me. I expected a best-in-class display at this price point.

Read the post, and dig into the other quoted reviews. I’m not sensing Google-bashing here, more disappointment at the screen performance from people who want to love their new Google phone.

Todd Spangler, Variety:

Snap, Snapchat’s parent company, is teaming with NBCUniversal to bring scripted programming — like short-form comedies and dramas — to mobile screens. The companies have established a studio joint venture to produce programming exclusively for the social-messaging and media platform.

And:

The companies have recruited Lauren Anderson, who has served as NBC Entertainment’s senior VP of current programming, to be the JV’s chief content officer. “Lauren was a great get for us,” said Mills, who has worked with Anderson on the NBC shows created for Snapchat. “She has tremendous experience, and instantly got what we were going for.”

Yet another twist in the unfolding story of what we’ll be watching in the future and who will hold the puppet strings. This is an industry in the midst of disruption. At some point, the models will settle down and we’ll see who is making money, long term, determine who survives, prospers.

The more companies that jump into the soup, the more chaotic the model. Might be an advantage for Apple to wait before jumping in whole hog just to let the new model form more fully, to let the money find its path. I find this whole thing fascinating.

October 17, 2017

Dropbox Professional lets you store, share, and track progress on your work. Get powerful features like Smart Sync and Showcase as well as 1 TB (1,000 GB) of space.

The company unveiled the new plan earlier today.

TidBITS:

Don’t panic about the new Wi-Fi security problem that you’ve likely seen trumpeted on news sites. Yes, the KRACK exploits reveal a fundamental flaw in the process by which a Wi-Fi device — like a Mac, iPhone, Windows computer, point-of-sale terminal, or smart fridge — connects securely to a Wi-Fi access point. You shouldn’t underestimate how significant that is (it’s huge), but also don’t overestimate how likely it is to affect you (very unlikely).

Make no mistake – this is very bad. But it’s not as catastrophic as some make it out to be.

Aquaman’s costume evolution

This is a fun, well-done video detailing all the changes in costumes over the years for a character most of us know very little about.

Fast Company:

I couldn’t know it then, but the outcome of that battle would influence the purchase decisions of many thousands, if not millions, of people seeking a good night’s sleep. It would also reveal just how thoroughly the internet and the businesses that thrived there had blurred the lines between product reviews and advertisements. All I’d wanted was a mattress, but what I got was a look at a little-known and hugely lucrative annex of e-commerce, one where the relationships can often get a little too comfy—until they’re not.

What an insane story. We’ve all heard about these “online mattress” companies – they advertise on many podcasts – but you probably haven’t given them much thought beyond that. But its as cutthroat an industry as any other.

AppleInsider:

One of the advantages of Apple’s iMessage system is the ability to see and respond to iPhone texts across multiple Apple devices. AppleInsider shows you how to set up the feature and get messaging on your iPad, Mac and more.

I’ve always done this and found it very convenient to receive and respond to texts from whatever device/computer I have at hand.

Unsplash:

From space pics taken by NASA, to bewitching urban streetscapes, to astounding shots of nature taken by high-flying drones—find mesmerizing wallpaper for your Mac in seconds.

Two clicks. That’s it. No fidgeting around with the settings. We’ve made it dead simple.

After yesterday’s post about the Irvue app, Luke Chesser‏, one of the co-founders of Unsplash, tweeted to me about their very own app so I’m including it here.

Apparently, the Amazon Treasure Truck has been a thing Since February 2016. Amazon just announced that they were bringing this sort of ice cream truck for the Amazon crowd to a bunch of new cities.

This is a cool idea and some terrific marketing. This came to my attention when I was asking about SuperNES Classic Edition availability and someone pointed me to this tweet:

Check the official Amazon Treasure Truck page, see if your city has one. If so, sign up for text notifications, grab yourself some treasure.

Reuters:

Apple Inc’s older iPhone 7 models are outselling the recently launched iPhone 8 ahead of the early November debut of the premium iPhone X, broker KeyBanc Capital Markets said, citing carrier store surveys.

Traditionally, new editions of the iPhone have sold quickly as fans queue for the latest upgrade, but early surveys have added to chatter that the iPhone 8 is not proving as popular as its predecessors.

  1. Not clear if this is true. These are not Apple’s numbers.
  2. If true, not clear if the motivation is demand for the iPhone X dimming demand for the iPhone 8, or a statement about the relative perceived values of the iPhone 7 vs iPhone 8.

No matter, this is the first time Apple has created this type of choice for the iPhone consumer, pitching a next generation product at the same time (give or take a month) as a new product that extends an existing line.

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

If you own a 15-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display released in Mid 2012 or Early 2013, and your notebook qualifies for battery service, the repair should be free if you are willing to wait for around one month.

To check if your MacBook Pro battery needs service:

Click on the Apple logo in the menu bar. Then, click on About This Mac > System Report > Power. In the Health Information section, the condition should say “Service Battery.”

Good stuff. Pass this along.

Cliff Kuang, FastCoDesign:

I systematically unfollowed every single person and organization in my network except the actual news outlets. That promptly turned my sprawling social network of friends, frenemies, and strangers into a mere news reader plugged into just a half-dozen publications. Problem solved! No more updates about people’s lives.

And:

There’s a follow-on effect that I didn’t realize either: If you unfollow people on Facebook, you drop out of their Facebook feed as well. So now, whenever I have something I really want to share–a new job, or the final draft of the book I’ve been writing for years–I’m met with crickets. I’m stranded on the digital equivalent of a deserted island.

And:

There’s no obvious way to get off this island. I could manually re-follow everyone I unfollowed. But even if I do that, I have no idea if Facebook automatically makes them follow me. For all intents and purposes, my Facebook is ruined.

My understanding is that Facebook is a two way street. Not a follow and follow-back model but a binary friend or not-a-friend model. In other words, if someone accepts your friend request, they are your friend and you are “following” each other.

That aside, there’s this:

This is a problem that Facebook hasn’t acknowledged directly, and it’s even worse on Twitter, where following people eventually makes your feed into an unruly mess. This dilemma will only grow as other services increasingly lean on passive choices to shape the user experience. I call it dead-end UX.

I think there’s a fair point here. Services like Facebook and Twitter are designed to grow in complexity as your graph of relationships grows. The more connections you have, the more your feed grows, and that growth is exponential. This means, the more people you follow, the easier it is to miss any particular post.

Also:

Let’s roll the clock back to the very first “Like” you record on the platform. Using that little bit of data, along with whatever else is available, Facebook tries to extrapolate what else you might like. Its entire view of you is filtered through that single data point. But if you go on to Like dozens and then hundreds of other things that it throws in front of you, it starts generating a stronger and stronger hypothesis of what you’ll react to.

Cliff makes some solid and interesting points here. Worth reading the rest. But one thing that springs to mind for me. This is both lessons learned for social network builders, and an opportunity for the next generation, a chance to build a better social network, one that is more easily tunable and one that does a better job of filtering fake news.

UPDATE: Feedback is, this is just point-by-point wrong. We try never to delete posts, or I would delete this one, but at the very least, file this one under, here’s a source I’ll not post from again.

Motley Fool:

One of the sources said that Apple will need to significantly improve the performance of its mobile processor technology to support a digital pen. The source also added that Apple “had to compromise on some touch performance of the latest iPhone X largely due to the less advanced chipset.”

And:

With the latest iPad Pro tablets, according to the company, when a user writes on the screen using the Apple Pencil, the screen begins to scan for input at a rate of 240Hz, or cycles per second. This is twice the peak refresh rate of the display (which is 120Hz).

And:

Apple reportedly tested a high-refresh rate display on the iPhone X (Apple calls such displays ProMotion displays) but ultimately chose not to ship the device with such a display. Instead, the iPhone X shipped with a display that could only refresh its contents at 60Hz — half that of the current iPad Pros.

In effect, the article makes the case that the current lineup of iPhones has too slow a refresh rate to support the Apple Pencil.

October 16, 2017

Apple has already patched the KRACK attack WPA2 Wi-Fi vulnerability in the developer and public betas for iOS, watchOS, tvOS, and macOS.

Great news.

So when we ran out of buttons to hide our software’s UI behind, it really forced us to use our imagination. Instead of squeezing UI in where it didn’t fit, we built a new button to conceal it: it’s called the Camera Button.

I didn’t even think this was possible.

Some security-minded companies have already worked on fixes and are offering patches.

This is a list of companies that are offering a fix to the Wi-Fi issue we reported on this morning.

Privately owned Keyssa Inc, backed by iPod co-creator Tony Fadell is suing Essential Products Inc, a smartphone startup founded by Andy Rubin, the co-creator of the Android mobile phone operating system, accusing it of theft of trade secrets in a lawsuit filed on Monday in U.S. federal court in San Francisco.

Andy Rubin basically stole iOS to create Android, so is it out of the realm to think he stole this technology from Fadell? Absolutely not. Especially since Rubin was in talks with Fadell’s company for 10 months.

Mike Monteiro:

Twitter, which was conceived and built by a room of privileged white boys (some of them my friends!), never considered the possibility that they were building a bomb. To this day, Jack Dorsey doesn’t realize the size of the bomb he’s sitting on. Or if he does, he believes it’s metaphorical. It’s not. He is utterly unprepared for the burden he’s found himself responsible for.

Twitter would have you believe that it’s a beacon of free speech. Biz Stone would have you believe that inaction is principle. I would ask you to consider the voices that have been silenced. The voices that have disappeared from Twitter because of the hatred and the abuse. Those voices aren’t free. Those voices have been caged. Twitter has become an engine for further marginalizing the marginalized. A pretty hate machine.

Monteiro voices the frustration many of us have with Twitter and its seeming lack of direction and its inability to solved the problems that are so obvious.

The dismissals come at a crucial point for the company, which is pushing to increase vehicle production five-fold and reach a broader market with its new Model 3 sedan. The electric vehicle maker missed targets for producing the lower-cost sedan, manufacturing only 260 last quarter despite a wait list of more than 450,000 customers.

Twenty years ago, the spacecraft Cassini launched from Cape Canaveral on a journey to uncover the secrets of Saturn and its many moons. During its mission, Cassini recorded and sent nearly half a million pictures back to Earth, allowing scientists to reconstruct these distant worlds in unprecedented detail. Now you can visit these places—along with many other planets and moons—in Google Maps right from your computer. For extra fun, try zooming out from the Earth until you’re in space!

Very cool.

Consumerist:

Though many of the big box stores now open for Black Friday at some point on Thanksgiving, some retailers and mall owners have fought back against this trend. For the second year in a row, one of the nation’s largest mall operators has declared that its properties’ doors will remain shut this Thanksgiving.

CBL Properties is a real investment trust that operates more than 60 malls around the country. The company made this same decision last year and believes it was the right thing to do.

I think this is a great idea. We’ll all be madly shopping soon enough. Let Thanksgiving not be one of those days.

Irvue:

Don’t worry about where to find a new wallpaper for your Mac. There are tons of gorgeous high-resolution photos on Unsplash. Irvue brings them to your desktop.

I’m a big fan of Unsplash and this desktop app lets you tap into their collection of gorgeous images.

Watch a 200 foot truck make an impossibly tight turn to carry a huge turbine blade over a tiny bridge

File this under truck/turbine/bridge porn. Be sure to keep an eye on those rear wheels.

Amazing. Riveting.