November 25, 2015


With the teetering stack of virtual reality headsets coming to market over the next year, eyes in the tech sector are being consistently turned towards facial recognition software. While Facebook has made moves to develop facial mapping technology for the Oculus Rift, news has now emerged of an intriguing buy up by Apple.

The company has announced that it has acquired Faceshift, a Zurich-based startup responsible for developing technology capable of real-time facial-capture and avatar creation. The tech boasts plenty of high-profile use, having even been used in the upcoming Star Wars: The Force Awakens to give alien characters an extra semblance of reality.

Could Apple really be interested in any aspect of Virtual Reality? I think this buy is fascinating but I don’t think its use inside the company will be as obvious as many are assuming.


We — as indie developers of these 4 apps, have gathered together to deliver the most essential event for movie lovers in 2015. Each one of our apps is a blockbuster itself. Each of us has its own story, but we all share the same goal — enhance your movie viewing experience as much as possible, on any device.This Black Friday, for the first time ever — we unite together to bring you the best of experiences in a single Blockbuster Kit.

I use Waltr and Beamer all the time and love the apps. I don’t usually recommend this kind of deal because you often end up with filler apps but all four of these apps are really useful and, at a pre-order price of $25, it’s a really great deal in my opinion.


Wormholes, warp speed, space-time anomalies — science fiction wouldn’t be the same without Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity. And in the real world, we would probably also notice a few things missing from our lives.

The German-born physicist finished presenting his groundbreaking theory to the scientific world at the Prussian Academy of Sciences exactly 100 years ago today.

It was a simple, elegant set of equations that described space-time as a stretchy, flexible fabric, and gravity as deformations in space-time rather than a “force.”

I remember first learning about the general theory of relativity in school and being completely blown away by it. I have never fully understood it but the ideas, concepts and things it made possible opened my young mind to the power of the universe and the utter brilliance of Einstein.

November 24, 2015

California Sunday Magazine:

Over the years football coaches have found on the island a ready inventory of large, big-boned, and nimble Samoans, with the kind of solid base that football coaches love: massive from the waist down but still able to move their feet. Samoans’ facility with footwork is often attributed to tribal dances and the common practice of going barefoot. Their love of combat is derived from a fierce warrior culture that goes back hundreds of years.

With an upbringing that stresses hard work, discipline, and devotion to authority, both heavenly and earthbound, Polynesians have come to be considered the ultimate clay from which to mold a football player. It is as if a childhood of gentle obedience translates into a passion for ferocious violent contact, the kind of collisions that resonate through a stadium and electrify the crowd.

If you are a football fan, the men of Samoa are familiar to you. Even if you’re not a fan, it’s an interesting story and one common among Blacks in America regarding basketball and Dominicans regarding baseball. There’s often nothing else to do and it’s seen as the only way to a better life.

Daily Dot:

When a movie’s license expires or the work ceases to be owned by a corporation or a private individual, it’s essentially a public good and is freely distributable. Thus, while you can always briefly find studio classics like All About Eve, The Palm Beach Story, or Rebecca on the site, posters are often breaking copyright laws to do so, and the films are likely to be removed as quickly as they went up.

Luckily though, you don’t have to commit a crime to watch good movies for free—and maybe get a bit of a film history lesson in the process. All you need to know is what to watch and where to watch it.

There are some great movies on this list and they run the gamut from screwball comedy to film noir to scifi to horror.


The Godfather stands alongside classics like Citizen Kane in the ranks of the greatest American movies of all time. Director Francis Ford Coppola and author Mario Puzo adapted Puzo’s 1969 novel with an incredible degree of skill, patience, and emotional depth. It’s an old-fashioned gangster film that offers a probing look at the American dream. Marlon Brando invests the centerpiece role with the essence of his knowledge of what’s right. The movie contains so many great scenes and so much memorable dialogue–from its opening line, the heavily accented, “I believe in America,” to the final shot of a shutting door–that it’s impossible to name its finest moment. it was the high-grossing film of all time until Jaws, and it won three Oscars, including Best Picture.

You lucky US-based readers can grab the trilogy for only $10 on the iTunes Store. Don’t wait – no telling how long this deal will be available. If you’ve never seen these movies, I can’t recommend them highly enough, although the third is the weakest link in the chain.


Once upon a time in a land called Hollywood, casting a big star was an investment that paid for itself in box office returns. That financial fairy tale is now pure fiction: The biggest box office flops of 2015 include vehicles fronted by Bradley Cooper, George Clooney and Johnny Depp, among others.

Topping the turkey pile is Bill Murray’s Rock The Kasbah, an offbeat and off-color comedy in which a washed-up tour manager (Murray) finds himself in Kabul trying to turn a young Afghani woman into a TV singing competition winner. The fish out of water story was universally panned by critics and flailed like an asphyxiating goldfish, grossing just $2.9 million on an estimated $15 million production budget. With a dismal 19% return on production costs–and just an 8% favorable rating on Rotten Tomatoes–Rock The Kasbah leads our list of 2015′s biggest flops.

How many of these flops did you contribute to by not going to see them?

Adam Rogers, writing for Wired:

KATHLEEN KENNEDY HAS heard a lot of movie pitches. For decades she worked with Steven Spielberg, producing E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial, the Indiana Jones series, the Jurassic Park series. You get the picture. So it probably wasn’t a surprise—it was cool, even—when, right after Kennedy took over as head of Lucasfilm, the company George Lucas founded to make Star Wars, John Knoll walked into her office.

Knoll is not nothing, either. He’s the chief creative officer at Lucasfilm; he did the visual effects on the Star Wars “special editions” of the 1990s and a couple of Star Trek movies, among others. Along the way he cocreated Photoshop.

This was 2012, and even then, it was pretty clear Lucasfilm was going to make more Star Wars movies. “I just have this very simple idea,” Knoll said, “about the rebel spies in the opening crawl of A New Hope who steal the plans for the Death Star.”

Kennedy got Knoll’s reference, of course. It’s at the beginning of the movie, in the ribbon of text that sets the scene: “Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire’s ultimate weapon, the Death Star.” The plans are the MacGuffin, the thing everyone is chasing. The spies? No one mentions them again.

“That is a very good idea, John,” Kennedy said. So … green light. Apparently that’s how you get to make a Star Wars movie.

This is a long, long read. It is very, very interesting. Be sure to mouse over the artwork (by Ulises Farinas) at the top of the page.

The Telegraph:

EE, Britain’s biggest mobile operator, is considering introducing technology that will hand smartphone users the power to control the advertising they see online, in a clampdown that would cause major upheaval in the £2bn mobile advertising market.

Olaf Swantee, EE’s chief executive, has launched a strategic review that will decide whether the operator should help its 27 million customers to restrict the quantity and type of advertising that reaches their devices, amid concern over increasingly intrusive practices.

This is a major step beyond adding content blocker support to Safari. This would potentially give the user the opportunity to block ads at the carrier level. This would shift the power/leverage from Apple to the carrier. A huge difference.

Tim Bajarin, writing for PC Magazine:

Windows and Mac OS X have been my operating systems of choice for years, while iOS and Android have been supplemental OSes for smartphones and tablets. But I believe there is a changing of the “OS” guard happening as younger tech users move into the business world.

Some of this younger generation use PCs, even though most use Macs. However, much of their time is spent on phones and tablets for personal and productivity projects, particularly iPhones. I believe Apple understands this better than anyone, and the introduction of the iPad Pro is a nod to this generational trend. More importantly, I see Apple using this to drive millennials towards making iOS their OS of choice, even at work. In fact, within three to five years, I suspect Windows will be an afterthought.

Interesting analysis. Is the death of Windows imminent? Inevitable? Will iOS become the OS of choice? Will iOS replace OS X for millennials? All interesting questions.

Wall Street Journal [PAYWALL]:

Apple Inc. seeks by early February to launch its new Apple Pay electronic-payment service in China—a vibrant but fiercely competitive market for digital money—according to people familiar with its discussions.

The Cupertino, Calif., company has struck deals recently with China’s big four state-run banks, the people said, by which potential Apple Pay users could link the service with their local bank accounts.

Apple Pay could still face regulatory hurdles in China, where banking and e-commerce are overseen by a number of government agencies, the people said. Apple hopes to launch before Feb. 8, China’s Spring Festival holiday.


One Chinese developer who has seen the latest beta version of Apple’s mobile-operating system said logos for China’s UnionPay can be found within the package. China UnionPay Co. press officials didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Apple Pay is looking to enter a market where electronic payments are booming but entrenched rivals dominate. State-run UnionPay holds a monopoly on processing credit-card and debit-card payments, effectively locking out MasterCard Inc. and Visa Inc.

Amazing that Apple has been able to penetrate this market. The more ecosystem elements Apple can put in place in China, the higher their chances of long term success.

OS X Daily:

The latest versions of OS X include a new ability to immediately delete a file or folder from the Mac, bypassing the Trash can. Essentially how the “Delete Immediately” feature works is by circumventing the Trash and rather than waiting for user action to remove the files, it just deletes the file(s) instantaneously from the Mac, making the delete immediately function faster than the typical manner of removing a file in OS X.

On your Mac, go to the Finder, click to bring up the File menu. Note the Move to Trash menu item.

Now hold down the option key. Notice that Move to Trash changes to Delete Immediately….

Careful with this one. There’s no undo.

Pete Smith:

I’m very lucky to have a fantastic family and a some seriously good friends despite the fact that I have neglected our relationships at times. They are, without exception, highly emotionally intelligent and can empathise with my current situation.

The key thing that I am doing differently right now is talking to those around me. I am trying to maintain a constant dialogue about my progress so that I cannot simply slip off the radar and assume the bad habits I desperately want to avoid. But like I say, I’m not great at asking for help so even though I know how approachable my circle is, that’s no guarantee that I’ll vocalise it when I begin to slip.

With all of this in mind, the following seemed a great solution to me.

Smith has created an app that will help him and his friends and family be aware of his depression and reach out to them in times of trouble. It’s an interesting idea and he is looking for input. If you or someone you know struggles with depression, check out the story and tell Smith whether or not you’d be interested in a full blown app as he describes it.

Gus Mueller, writing on his blog:

This week I got the Apple Pencil (which is Apple speak for a stylus) and an iPad Pro. This new tablet from Apple has the hardware support needed to make a useful stylus. Hardware support that has been missing for five long, very long, agonizing years.

And It’s God Damn Amazing.

It feels absolutely right. Super low latency, palm rejection, and … it just works.

Is it the same as drawing in my sketchbook? No. Of course not. I’m rubbing a plastic tip across a glass screen.

It’s still God Damn Amazing though.

So, so good.

[Via Daring Fireball]

There’s a space race going on, a race to build a rocket that can go into space, perform a mission, then return to Earth, all using reusable parts. The more parts that can be reused, the lower the cost per mission.

Yesterday, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin team took a huge step toward that goal. They launched a rocket that reached a height of 100 kilometers (about 62 miles), a bit more than 11 times the height of Mount Everest. That’s not deep space, but it is the edge of space, certainly high enough for a proof of concept.

After powered launch, the capsule of the Shephard (named after the first American in space, Alan Shepard) separated, then landed via parachute, safely on the ground.

The critical part of the launch was the descent and powered landing of the rocket itself. Watch the video below. It’s just incredible.

Here’s a quote from Jeff Bezos:

“Now safely tucked away at our launch site in West Texas is the rarest of beasts—a used rocket,” said Jeff Bezos, founder of Blue Origin. “Blue Origin’s reusable New Shepard space vehicle flew a flawless mission—soaring to 329,839 feet and then returning through 119-mph high-altitude crosswinds to make a gentle, controlled landing just four and a half feet from the center of the pad. Full reuse is a game changer, and we can’t wait to fuel up and fly again.”

And a responding tweet from competitor Elon Musk:

It is, however, important to clear up the difference between “space” and “orbit”, as described well by

The XKCD post is fascinating and educational.

Congrats to the Blue Origin team. Fantastic work.

November 23, 2015

Christian Science Monitor:

Chinese billionaire Liu Yiqian, who doesn’t exactly struggle to afford a plane ticket, can now likely fly free, in first class, with his whole family, anywhere in the world, for the rest of his life.

All because he bought a painting.

Liu was the winning bidder for Amedeo Modigliani’s “Reclining Nude” at a Christie’s auction earlier this month— offering $170.4 million— and when the sale closes he’ll be putting it on his American Express card.

I saw an Amex Black Card once many years ago. Guy bought a package of cigarettes at a gas station. I wanted to punch him.

Glance is the first conference dedicated to the business of Apple Watch.

With more than seven million units sold in its first six months, the Apple Watch platform has already grown larger than the iPhone did in its first year. Given its rate of software updates and unique hardware extensibility, the Watch offers new dimensions for developers to consider.

I’ll be going to this.

What’s your plan when your Mac’s hard drive dies? Plan ahead and get back to work in minutes with a Carbon Copy Cloner bootable backup. CCC—the app that saves your bacon.

Jim’s Note: I’ve used this app for many years. I trust and love it.

From a Reddit thread:

TIL Select Mac computers from 1992-96 were sold with free, live technical support via a dedicated telephone number “for as long as you own your Apple product.” The company attempted to end the service, but it was ordered to keep it due to a class-action lawsuit. The number still works (1-800-SOS-APPL).

Here’s a link to the legacy FAQ still up on Apple’s site. Amazing that this is still a thing.

This falls more under the history category than news, but interesting nonetheless.

[Via 512 Pixels]

Thought this was interesting. Turns out there are things you can’t do with the Apple Pencil, things that actually require your finger.

You cannot access edge gestures like Notification Center or Control Center. Swiping with your Apple Pencil from the top or bottom of the screen does nothing. You’ll need to use your finger if you want to access these edge gestures.

There’s no technical reason for this, of course — it’s a deliberate design decision by Apple.


This is just delicious. So much tech in such a tiny package.

Myke Hurley, writing as a guest for Pen Addict, explores the design of the Apple Pencil in great detail.

A few highlights:

With the weights inside the Pencil, as soon as you set it down, it rolls a little and then stops itself. The weights appear to have been designed to balance it and take over. In most instances this works out great, but I have observed that if you place the Pencil down with any force, say if it is not gently put down on a desk, but maybe dropped from a few inches (I love my implements, but I use them too…), the Pencil will likely roll a couple of times in the process.

When this happens the weights actually seem to give it momentum, and will propel it forward further and faster than it would have otherwise. Each time as the Pencil turns, it acts against itself as it is moving to quickly to balance, and on it goes, off the table.


Because of a combination of Bluetooth and the fact that Apple designed the Pencil and the iPad Pro to work in conjunction with each other, the iPad Pro is able to accurately distinguish the difference between the Pencil tip and any touch input.

I have been astounded by just how well this works. I can have my arm, wrist, and other hand on the screen, and the iPad Pro can distinguish the movement of the Pencil over the movement of anything else. I am thoroughly impressed by this.

I’d love to read about the actual engineering behind palm rejection.

Fascinating review. Don’t miss the samples of Myke’s handwriting. Amazing how precisely the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil allow you to mirror your natural handwriting. I wonder if apps will emerge built around this capability.

Guinness World Records:

Taking place in Erfoud, Morocco, the blast had a total yield of 68.47 tonnes of TNT equivalent and was the result of detonating 8,418 litres of kerosene with 33 kg of powder explosives – and it lasted for over 7.5 seconds.

I saw and enjoyed this movie and, while watching this scene, I thought, “That seems like a very big, long explosion!” I didn’t realize it was a world record-setting stunt.


Nestled in west Brooklyn beside the charmingly putrid Gowanus Canal and the hip Royal Palms Shuffleboard Club is a massive, ramshackle warehouse. Stretching nearly halfway down the block, it announces its presence with a homemade sandwich board and a brightly painted exterior.

Officially, it’s called the Lower East Side Ecology Center Electronic Waste Recycling Warehouse. Casually, it’s known as the Gowanus E-Waste Warehouse, and it’s the place that thousands of pieces of discarded electronics — old and new, junky and shiny, big and small — call home.

Don’t lie – some of you are planning a trip to there right now, aren’t you?

This is magical. Ashley Esqueda uses the iPad Pro and Apple Pencil to paint along with the great Bob Ross. Ashley is not an artist, is learning as she goes, but does (in my opinion), a pretty credible job. Makes me want to give this a try.

[H/T Ally Kazmucha]

A message from Apple to developers:

Because of your incredible apps, the App Store crossed 100 billion cumulative downloads. Revenue from the App Store increased 25% year over year, and the number of transacting customers grew 18%, setting a new all-time record. We want to thank you for all your hard work and dedication to our platforms.

Incredible numbers.

Peter Cohen, writing for his blog:

Unfortunately, the days of big books that come with computers and accessories is waning. It’s wasteful, it adds a lot of weight and bulk to product packaging, and the fact is that few people use them.

The good news is that there are manuals available for most Apple products. If you already have a Mac, iPhone or iPad, you have everything you need to get started. The secret is Apple’s iBooks app.

Here’s a link to get you started.

[Via i Heart Apple 2]

November 22, 2015

CBS News:

The holidays bring out Americans’ philanthropic impulses. That may be an understatement for Carol Suchman.

Suchman told CBS MoneyWatch that she often buys birthday gifts for children in the foster system, and so always is on the lookout for toy stores. When she recently walked by a toy store in her West Village neighborhood in Manhattan that had closed down, she said she was inspired to take action.

“The toys in there looked so sad, and they were gathering dust,” she said. “It occurred to me we should bring those toys to where they should be going — to all the homeless kids in the city.”

As a kid, my mom had to use these social services on several occasions to make sure we had one or two toys under our Christmas tree. You might be surprised how important these kinds of gifts are to children in need at this time of year. Reading stories like this brings a tear to my eye and almost reaffirms my faith in humanity. Almost.

BBC News:

Plastic banknotes that can survive a spin in the washing machine are to be brought into circulation by the Bank of England in 2016.

The Bank argues that the polymer notes stay cleaner and are more secure than cotton paper notes, which have been used for more than 100 years.

The polymer notes are cheaper to make, and said to be more durable:

The Bank has said that these notes last for 2.5 times longer than paper banknotes. They will survive a spin in the washing machine, but will still melt under extreme heat such as an iron.

Presumably, they will hold up to the high heat of a clothes dryer.

The first example of the new currency will be a £5 note featuring Sir Winston Churchill. Next up, a £10 note featuring Jane Austen. The folks who make ATMs will have some retooling to do.

Related: An illustrated history of American money design.

November 21, 2015

M.G. Siegler, writing for 500ish Words:

The other day I read this great SI profile of Michael Phelps (thanks Jason, for pointing it my way). You should definitely read it for yourself. But the key takeaway is this: after years of swimming and winning at unprecedented levels, Phelps never quite “gave it his all.” But now, with the 2016 games approaching, Phelps is fully committed to being the best he can be.

At first read, this is inspirational. One of the greatest athletes this world has ever known is ready to give it one last go at the Olympics in 2016. And this time, he’s ready to give it all he’s got. Wow! What will we see this summer?

On second read, this is sort of sad, and actually annoying. Phelps, with an assist from genetics, was bestowed with an amazing talent, making him probably the most gifted natural swimmer ever. And, as a result, he became the most decorated athlete ever. And yet, you can’t help but be left with the feeling of “what might have been” after reading this article.

Read the whole thing. It’s terrific, especially when he brings in the conversation from “Good Will Hunting”.