December 14, 2018

Macworld:

The value of a Costco membership just got significantly better. Today the popular wholesaler started selling units from the MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and iMac lines on its website with starting discounts ranging from $50 to $200. Impressively, you’ll sometimes get AppleCare+ included with the price.

The more and varied places you can buy Macs and get discounts, the better.

The Dalrymple Report: Apple Music Connect with Dave Mark

Dave and I talk about Apple’s recent decision to discontinue Apple Music Connect, as well as talking about if we could give up our iPhones for a year.

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CNN:

For years, the incredible discovery of the Titanic’s wreckage at the bottom of the ocean in 1985 was thought to have been a purely scientific effort.

But that was a ruse.

Speaking to CNN on Thursday about now-declassified events, Robert Ballard, who discovered the Titanic, said that the expedition was part of a secret US military mission to recover two sunken nuclear submarines on the bottom of the ocean.

“They did not want the world to know that, so I had to have a cover story,” Ballard said.

The true story of what happened now serves as a museum exhibit at The National Geographic Museum in Washington, which is open through the end of the year.

This story had been rumoured for years. Best part of the story is Ballard saying, “I cannot talk about my other Navy missions, no,” he said. “They have yet to be declassified.”

ProPublica:

From his basement in upstate New York, Herbert MacDonell launched modern bloodstain-pattern analysis, persuading judge after judge of its reliability. Then he trained hundreds of others.

But what if they’re getting it wrong?

In 2009, a watershed report commissioned by the National Academy of Sciences cast doubt on the whole discipline, finding that “the uncertainties associated with bloodstain pattern analysis are enormous,” and that experts’ opinions were generally “more subjective than scientific.”

It’s kind of terrifying to think this “science” made just be a load of bollocks. Even worse, how many innocent people were convicted? How many guilty people went free?

Making a skate video

Jeff Won Song and friends reveal the dirty secrets of how skate videos are REALLY made…

I had no idea skate videos were this “fake”. I can’t wait to show this to my 13-year-old skater boi.

AdWeek:

It’s that time. We’re looking back at the best ads of 2018, a year when marketing truly ran the full spectrum, from silly and sarcastic to weighty and wonderful.

With all the industry hand-wringing of late about whether creative agencies are a dying breed, one might have expected a drought of ambitious advertising in 2018. Instead, we saw that when bold marketers put their faith in provocative agencies, they can create work that doesn’t just reflect culture but also drives it forward.

Congratulations to Apple for getting three spots on this top 25 list.

Hah! Would you do it? And if not for $100K, what’s your number?

Zac Hall, 9to5Mac:

Apple Music Connect appears to slowly be going the way of iTunes Ping. Apple has started notifying Apple Music artists that it is removing the ability for artists to post content to Apple Music Connect, and previously posted Apple Music Connect content is being removed from the For You section and Artist Pages in Apple Music. Connect content will still be viewable through search results on Apple Music, but Apple is removing artist-submitted Connect posts from search in May

Building a social network of any kind is hard. Even if you get the design right, which is hard enough, there’s the difficulty of getting people to embrace that design, to build a critical mass of users.

Some might say that social is not in Apple’s DNA. But there is an exception. Messages. As much as I use Twitter, et al, I use Messages even more.

Want to build an instant chat room to discuss an idea for an app? Or an upcoming group trip? Or prep for a big presentation or test? Just start a message thread with everyone involved. Add people as needed, even mute the thread so you won’t be interrupted by replies to the group (you’ll still see the badge showing how many new replies since you last checked in).

Messages is not perfect, but it does the job well enough, and has achieved critical mass. I’ve always wondered what the Messages team could do if they were given the mandate to weave Apple Music intimately throughout the Messages client. Make it easy, and fun, to share music with others, make it easy to listen along with your friends, without the cumbersome overhead of copying and pasting links.

Ask the guy who built this. I think he’s got plenty of great ideas.

Radu Dutzan:

The Mac is a stable, mature operating system. It carries the baggage of having been in the market for 35 years, but also the freedom of precise and reliable input mechanisms. When Apple created the iPhone OS, they decided to break free from the Mac’s interface conventions and start from scratch. A menubar and windows would be absurd in a tiny 3.5″ screen, and the tiny mouse targets are very hard to hit with fingers. Makes perfect sense: they’re completely different devices.

Absolutely.

Fast forward to almost-2019: the iPad is now “Pro”, the screen goes up to 13″, it has an optional keyboard and pointing device, and bests over half the MacBook line in benchmarks. Yet it still runs the iPhone’s OS.

The Mac interface has kept to its roots, but has also been completely torn down and rebuilt from scratch. The core of the interface is windows, the menu bar, and the mouse. Windows still behave much the same as they did from the beginning (the controls have evolved, but the similarities from now to the original windows are recognizable). The mouse still works pretty much the same way. And the menu bar still carries command-key shortcuts and many of the same commands.

The underlying OS wiring, the “plumbing”, is completely different, but the user experience evolved slowly and remains recognizable.

Radu writes about his experience using Luna Display, which lets you use your iPad Pro as a front-end for your Mac, touch-screen and all. It is a compelling read.

It’s not perfect (even though it looks really good). Luna Display doesn’t have a software keyboard, so without the Keyboard Folio or some other keyboard, it’s useless, and even though you can scroll with two fingers on the screen, other trackpad gestures (like 3-finger swipes for Mission Control) just don’t work.

And:

Besides, things look just tiny—not because they’re being scaled (they’re not), but because everything on the Mac is just smaller. The Mac’s mouse pointer is precise down to 1 screen point, and because the cursor is responsive to changes in tracking speed, it’s easy to control it with precision, so there’s no need for the huge tap targets we find on iOS.

And that last is a key difference between a mouse driven and a touch driven device. My fingers are big and fat, hiding any pixels I want to tap. iOS takes this into account, building finger diameters into the equation when calculating touch targets. While Mac mouse targeting can be extremely precise, iOS knows your fingers just can’t be that precise. As Radu says, everything on the Mac is just smaller.

What does the future hold? Will we find some middle ground, where macOS and iOS meet each other, each compromising some aspect of their UI?

Or, perhaps, will iOS take a page from the macOS playbook, keeping the overall foundations, but doing a complete redo on the internals, building something designed for the incredible power of the A13X Bionic chip and all that built in neural net support, yet with flexibility for macOS complexities, such as a menu bar and a sophisticated windowing system.

Great read, Radu.

Reuters:

Apple Inc , facing a court ban in China on some of its iPhone models over alleged infringement of Qualcomm Inc patents, said on Friday it will push software updates to users in a bid to resolve potential issues.

And:

Earlier this week, Qualcomm said a Chinese court had ordered a ban on sales of some older Apple iPhone models for violating two of its patents, though intellectual property lawyers said the ban would still likely take time to enforce.

A ban would have cost Apple many millions of dollars, as well as damage to its brand in China. This story is still unfolding.

December 13, 2018

Shutterbug:

Now this is really beautiful if more than a bit heart-stopping. In the incredible video below shot from above by a drone off the coast of New Zealand, you can see a trio of curious orcas (aka killer whales) closely follow a lone swimmer near to shore.

The group of orcas (also known as a pod), seems to have fun trailing and nearly grazing the swimmer as she freestyle swims along the beach.

Yes, this video is beautiful but, if you knew anything about orcas (or even watched the video), you’d realize it’s not “terrifying” at all. There has never been a recorded instance of an orca (they aren’t called “killer whales” anymore) in the wild killing a human being. I’ve been scuba diving with them and it is an amazing experience.

I love this story. In a nutshell, Mark Bramhill, host of the wonderful podcast “Welcome to Macintosh,” imagined a “person meditating” emoji, then set about figuring out how to get that emoji through the approval process.

Joe Rossignol, MacRumors:

Samsung today introduced its latest smartphone, the Galaxy A8s. It is Samsung’s first smartphone with an Infinity-O display, which has a nearly edge-to-edge, uninterrupted design beyond a small hole for the front-facing camera.

And:

It is also Samsung’s first smartphone without a headphone jack, much to the amusement of iPhone users.

Double-dongle? Here’s that ad:

You knew this was coming.

Apple:

Cupertino, California and Austin, Texas — Apple today announced a major expansion of its operations in Austin, including an investment of $1 billion to build a new campus in North Austin. The company also announced plans to establish new sites in Seattle, San Diego and Culver City and expand in cities across the United States including Pittsburgh, New York and Boulder, Colorado over the next three years, with the potential for additional expansion elsewhere in the US over time.

Check out this map, showing Apple’s projected US employment by 2022:

And this map, showing Apple’s current US employment numbers/distribution:

The mind reels at this success story. Especially when you think back to that comment (please tweet at me if you can find a link for this) Michael Dell made about buying Apple for couch cushion money.

Got some great advice a long time ago. In a nutshell, avoid shoulda, coulda, woulda. As in, I shoulda bought Apple stock when it was $12 a share, pre-split.

But it is fun to imagine what a $10,000 investment back at the IPO would be worth now (by my math, about $4.3 bmillion).

Gotta love this Steve Jobs quote, courtesy of MacDailyNews:

I saw a lot of other people at Apple, especially after we went public, how it changed them. A lot of people thought they had to start being rich. A few people went out and they bought Rolls-Royces, they bought homes, and their wives got plastic surgery. I saw these people who were really nice, simple people turn into these bizarre people. I made a promise to myself: I said, ‘I’m not going to let this money ruin my life.

You know, my main reaction to this money thing is that it’s humorous, all the attention to it, because it’s hardly the most insightful or valuable thing that’s happened to me in the past 10 years.

I was worth about over $1 million when I was 23, and over $10 million when I was 24, and over $100 million when I was 25, and it wasn’t that important. I never did it for the money.

UPDATE: First things first, wow was my math off!!! Check the comments for the details, but $4.3 million, not $43 billion. But still.

Also, with thanks to @moeskido, here’s a link to an article about Michael Dell walking back that “shut down the company, return the money” comment.

CNET:

The percentage of US adults who use a smartwatch will cross the 10 percent milestone for the first time in 2019, predicts research firm eMarketer. About 28.7 million Americans 18 and older, or 11.1 percent of the adult US population, will use a smartwatch next year, eMarketer said.

And:

eMarketer cited new features in the Apple Watch Series 4, which incorporates new sensors that can detect falls, one of the major causes of death for the elderly. If there’s an accident, the watch can place an emergency call.

A new electrocardiogram feature on the Apple Watch allows wearers to have a heart-rate monitor on their wrist. It can be used to detect a serious heart condition called atrial fibrillation (AFib), a fast heart beat that can increase the risk of heart attack or stroke.

Seems to me, as much success as Apple already has, a bigger adoption wave is coming. Apple Watch is opening the door to more people entering the Apple ecosystem.

December 12, 2018

Open Culture:

Many holiday stories cynically trade on the fact that, for a great many people, the holidays are filled with pain and loss. But “Fairytale of New York” doesn’t play this for laughs, nor does it pull the old trick of cheap last-minute redemption.

Sung as a duet by Shane MacGowan and Kirsty MacColl to the boozy tune of an Irish folk ballad, the song “is loved because it feels more emotionally ‘real’ than the homesick sentimentality of ‘White Christmas.'”

I first posted this story two years ago but this is another video version.

How to create a crossword puzzle

New York Times crossword puzzle constructor (also known as a cruciverbalist), David Kwong, shows us how he makes a crossword puzzle.

While I rarely do them nowadays, I have a soft spot in my heart for crossword puzzles. My mom and I used to sit on the couch, solving them together, when I was a kid. This look into how some of them get created is fascinating.

After more than 8 years as a paid-for app, djay for iOS is changing. With the latest release, we are now offering a single universal app as a free download which offers everything you need to DJ, along with an affordable new monthly Pro subscription service with power user features, video mixing, music production tools, and most importantly, unlimited access to a large library of audio loops, samples, FX, and visuals.

Changing your business model is always tricky, no matter what your app does. The company posted an extensive explanation on its web site that should answer most questions from customers, including the differences between the free and subscription-based app. I’ve always loved djay and the people behind the app, so I’ll be interested to see how this transition goes for them.

Jason Kottke:

In “Bao,” an aging Chinese mom suffering from empty nest syndrome gets another chance at motherhood when one of her dumplings springs to life as a lively, giggly dumpling boy. Mom excitedly welcomes this new bundle of joy into her life, but Dumpling starts growing up fast, and Mom must come to the bittersweet revelation that nothing stays cute and small forever. This short film from Pixar Animation Studios and director Domee Shi explores the ups and downs of the parent-child relationship through the colorful, rich, and tasty lens of the Chinese immigrant community in Canada.

I’m obviously biased but I love that this is set in Canada. Sadly, it’s in Toronto.

Via Twitter, Adam Schoales sent me this link to an interview with director Domee Shi about her influences for the film.

The Outline:

At the time, no independent automaker has challenged GM and survived since Walter Chrysler in the 1920s. Just two years before DeLorean announces that he means to build a very safe high-performance car, a fast-talking ex-Subaru importer named Malcolm Bricklin is in the process of launching a very safe high-performance car which he names after himself.

While all this is happening, DeLorean is plotting his return to the car business and his revenge on General Motors.

The story of John DeLorean’s rise and fall is one of the most fascinating in American business.

Vox:

Consumer Reports has been subjecting everyday products to rigorous testing since 1936, but the past decade has seen a flurry of growth in the product review space, with the launch of publications like Wirecutter (2011), Best Products (2015), New York magazine’s the Strategist (2016), BuzzFeed Reviews (2018), and the Inventory (2018). Apart from the standalone sites, plenty of properties like The Verge (which, like Vox.com, is owned by Vox Media) have robust reviews programs. That’s not to mention the many, many individuals who review products on blogs and YouTube.

As ever more authorities enter the fray, the question is this: When everyone claims to have identified the “best” product in a category, who do you trust?

With all the fake/paid for reviews we are subjected to, it’s great to have a recommendation site you can trust.

I bought this book the second I heard about it. I think it was the cover that really drew me in.

Check it for yourself:

If the art style appeals to you, check out the book. It’s only $2.99, but it’s also only available on Amazon’s Kindle Store (you can read it in the Kindle app on your iOS device).

The story is oddly told and, in some places, almost incomprehensible, but it is also charming and made me laugh more than once. To me, this had the feel of a story translated from one language to another, with all the exaggerated elements of an often-told and well-loved legend.

If you’re cool with all that, I think it’s $2.99 well spent.

Tiny Apple Watch tip. TLDR is, try tapping the charging icon on your Apple Watch when it is in Nightstand mode (plugged in, on its side, showing the time in big letters). It’ll replace the lightning bolt with an exact charge percentage, similar to what shows in the charge complication.

Tiny tip, thought you might find this interesting.

John Gruber first points out that Safari always places new tabs on the rightmost side of its tab list. He then elegantly walks through the process of getting Safari to create new tabs just to the right of the current tab.

It’s not trivial, but definitely interesting and worth the read. Even if this particular tab issue is not a problem for you, knowing how to create a script and assign it a command-key shortcut that overrides what’s built-in has lots of value.

This story has been flying around the internet. From the original Reddit post:

Ok holy hell…. strap in.

If you have the Apple Watch 4 please please update to the new firmware released yesterday and take your ECG.

I did last night and tried it out. Weird. Abnormal heat rate notifications. Ran the ECG app and came back afib. Well…glitchy firmware. Let’s try again. Afib. Again and again and again. Piece of crap watch.

My wife wakes up and I put it on her. Normal. Normal. Me afib. Try the other wrist, try the underside of the wrist. Every time afib warning.

Ok. So go to Patient First. Parking lot full and I’m going to blow it off and head home. Look at the watch again, afib again.

Fine walk in and sign in. They ask what’s wrong and I’m embarrassed. ‘Ok so there is a new watch feature….hahaha….I’m silly but can we check this?”

I did not know that this comment was a quick queue pass for Patient First. I’m taken right back and hooked up. The technician looks at the screen and says “I’m going to get the doctor”

The waves from this story took Ed Dentel all the way to an interview on Good Morning America. Watch the interview below. The Apple Watch is amazing technology, and I feel like we’re just seeing the barest minimum of its potential.

Yesterday, we posted about Samsung’s awful deal with a Supreme brand copycat.

After a wave of terrible publicity, Samsung did an about face, saying:

Recently, Samsung Electronics announced at the Galaxy A8s conference that it will cooperate with Supreme Italia in the Chinese market. We are currently re-evaluating this cooperation, and we deeply regret the inconvenience caused.

Suggestion for you, Samsung: Do your homework before you sign the deal.

December 11, 2018

1Password:

Australia recently passed the so-called Assistance and Access Act. This law (correctly) has many digital security and privacy experts worried. We’d like to offer some preliminary remarks on how it may impact the privacy and security of 1Password customers and how it may affect the way we work.

One of the most disturbing things about the Assistance and Access Act is that it apparently authorizes the Australian government to compel someone subject to its laws to surreptitiously take actions that harm our customers’ privacy and security without revealing that to us. Would an Australian employee of 1Password be forced to lie to us and do something that we would definitely object to?

This new law may have a side effect of limiting employment for Australians in tech.

CNET:

The Google Lens AI smart search app is rolling out for iOS users, Google announced Monday. The feature was released for Android in March but was only accessible to iOS users through the Google Photos app.

Now, instead of having to take a picture and use Lens through the camera roll, iPhone and iPad users can tap the Google Lens icon in the Search bar.

Google Lens can recognize text in images, look up words, save email addresses or call people. Lens is also designed to help shopping searches.

Up until this year, I might have used this frequently. Now, I try to use Google products as little as possible.

New York Times:

The millions of dots on the map trace highways, side streets and bike trails — each one following the path of an anonymous cellphone user.

One path tracks someone from a home outside Newark to a nearby Planned Parenthood, remaining there for more than an hour. Another represents a person who travels with the mayor of New York during the day and returns to Long Island at night.

Yet another leaves a house in upstate New York at 7 a.m. and travels to a middle school 14 miles away, staying until late afternoon each school day. Only one person makes that trip: Lisa Magrin, a 46-year-old math teacher. Her smartphone goes with her.

An app on the device gathered her location information, which was then sold without her knowledge. It recorded her whereabouts as often as every two seconds, according to a database of more than a million phones in the New York area that was reviewed by The New York Times. While Ms. Magrin’s identity was not disclosed in those records, The Times was able to easily connect her to that dot.

And:

At least 75 companies receive anonymous, precise location data from apps whose users enable location services to get local news and weather or other information, The Times found.

And:

More than 1,000 popular apps contain location-sharing code from such companies, according to 2018 data from MightySignal, a mobile analysis firm. Google’s Android system was found to have about 1,200 apps with such code, compared with about 200 on Apple’s iOS.

This is a riveting read. And there’s an amazing embedded graphic that takes you on a virtual map travel, following Ms. Magrin’s travels. (Note that the NYTimes didn’t dox her, she allowed the Times access to her data.)

From this Reddit post:

Instead of allowing apps all-or-nothing access to your GPS location, Apple should allow for a granular spectrum of access that the user chooses. This could go deeper and also be on a time- and location-based factor too. So instead of just “Allow or Don’t Allow Access to Location,” after which you’d have to go into the settings to change, there should be the ability to choose between exact GPS location, zip code (or the country’s relevant postal code), county, state, and time zone.

Apple already beefed up its privacy protections by adding “Only while using the app” as an Location Services icon in an iOS update, but it’s time to go further. In addition to the different degrees of location specificity, there should also be an “Allow once” option for situations where the user wants to allow it now but not necessary have that become the Location Services setting for the app that then requires opening up Settings and digging into the app’s preferences to change it.

And from this Motherboard article from Jason Koebler:

It’s not just Facebook: Android and iOS’s App Stores have incentivized an app economy where free apps make money by selling your personal data and location history to advertisers.

And:

The apps on your smartphone are tracking you, and that for all the talk about “anonymization” and claims that the data is collected only in aggregate, our habits are so specific—and often unique—so that anonymized identifiers can often be reverse engineered and used to track individual people.

Some have made the suggestion that users should just turn off Location Services (Settings > Privacy > Location Services). But this is an overreach. Location Services has real value. It lets you find misplaced devices, find people who share their locations with you, lets useful services know when you are nearby.

It’s the misuse of this data, the exporting it as a source of revenue that, in my opinion, is the setting Apple should expose. To me, this is the missing setting:

Settings > Privacy > Location > Allow my data to be exported

And who would ever check that checkbox? Certainly not me.