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.

The Verge (via DF):

Samsung is getting criticized by hypebeasts everywhere after it claimed to be collaborating with Supreme; in reality, it partnered with a Supreme rip-off. Samsung is actually partnering with a fake legal brand, a rival company based in Barletta, Italy, that beat Supreme NYC in a court case this summer regarding who can use the brand name in Italy.

Supreme is a well known fashion brand, established in New York City. To get a sense of the brand, take a look at the jacket on this page, as well as their iconic logo.

A copycat Supreme brand sprung up in Italy. SupremeNYC sued them, the Italian court ruled for the copycat, with the words:

For an action to be a crime it is not sufficient the confusion between the two brands, nor the actual external similarity of the product.

So Samsung announced a deal with Supreme, but were actually partnering with the copycat. Oh, Samsung.

Variety:

Today (Dec. 10), the original song and official video for “Bohemian Rhapsody,” taken from the group’s 1975 album “A Night at the Opera,” surpassed 1.6 billion streams globally across all major streaming services.

And:

Brian May, Queen’s guitarist and founding member said, “So the River of Rock Music has metamorphosed into streams! Very happy that our music is still flowing to the max!”

And:

-“Bohemian Rhapsody” is the only song in history ever to have topped the U.K. charts twice at Christmas.

Whoever pulled together the marketing campaign for the Bohemian Rhapsody movie did a masterful job.

Epic Games:

The three Infinity Blade games are no longer available for purchase as of today, 12/10/18. This groundbreaking trilogy took mobile gaming to new heights and pushed Epic Games in new, innovative directions. Along with the three Infinity Blade games, all in-app purchase options have been removed. Current owners will continue to be able to play these games, and download* them to their devices from an account that owns them, for the foreseeable future.

The Infinity Blade games really showed off the iPhone’s graphics engine. But the franchise is getting a bit long in the tooth. Infinity Blade III was released in 2013.

I think this says more about the massive success of Fortnite. Epic knows where their bread is buttered.

Reuters:

Computer hardware maker Super Micro Computer Inc told customers on Tuesday that an outside investigations firm had found no evidence of any malicious hardware in its current or older-model motherboards.

That outside firm was Nardello & Co. From the Nordello web site:

Nardello & Co. is a global investigations firm with experienced professionals handling a broad range of issues including the FCPA/UK Bribery Act and other corruption-related investigations, civil and white collar criminal litigation support, asset tracing, strategic intelligence and political risk assessment, computer forensics and reputational due diligence.

Digging a bit more, this seems to fall into their Digital Investigations & Cyber Defense Division, headed by Mark Ray. From Mark Ray’s page:

Mark was a Director in PricewaterhouseCoopers’s Incident Response practice and led the firm’s US Cyber Threat Intelligence Center. Prior to joining PwC, Mark had a distinguished career as a Special Agent with the FBI’s Cyber Division, where he led several of the FBI’s most preeminent criminal and national security cyber investigations.

Impressive CV. Wondering where this goes from here. Bloomberg sticking to their guns?

As a reminder, here’s a link to the original Bloomberg article that started this all.

December 10, 2018

The Cut:

A Southern California Catholic school recently discovered that two of its nuns were low-key bon vivants who embezzled approximately $500,000 to go gambling and take vacations — a clear violation of that whole vow of poverty thing.

Although church leaders were shocked to discover the sisters had been embezzling from tuition and other school funds, BuzzFeed News reports that past and current families connected to the school have been writing social-media posts about how they’re not all that surprised to learn of the nuns’ behavior, as their beloved pastimes of traveling and gambling — both of which require a decent amount of money! — weren’t exactly secret.

“Forgive me, Father, for I have sinned…” indeed. You just know there’s a Hollywood screenwriter working on turning this into a movie as we speak.

NASA:

For the second time in history, a human-made object has reached the space between the stars. NASA’s Voyager 2 probe now has exited the heliosphere – the protective bubble of particles and magnetic fields created by the Sun.

Comparing data from different instruments aboard the trailblazing spacecraft, mission scientists determined the probe crossed the outer edge of the heliosphere on Nov. 5. This boundary, called the heliopause, is where the tenuous, hot solar wind meets the cold, dense interstellar medium. Its twin, Voyager 1, crossed this boundary in 2012, but Voyager 2 carries a working instrument that will provide first-of-its-kind observations of the nature of this gateway into interstellar space.

This is truly an amazing feat. The fact that both Voyagers are still sending back data is a testament to the men and women who worked and continue to work on and with these incredible spacecraft.

DJ Riko:

For the 17th year in a row, it’s Merry Mixmas time! This year’s mix has lots of songs you’ve never heard before, and lots of songs with exclamation points in the title! Festive satisfaction is guaranteed or your money back. You can download it by clicking the image above or through this direct link. And of course you can find each and every one of the Merry Mixmas entries at the Christmas page. Get Jolly!

I’m a traditionalist when it comes to Christmas music but I gotta admit, I enjoyed this way more than I expected to.

Ars Technica:

Two months after disclosing an error that exposed the private profile data of almost 500,000 Google+ users, Google on Monday revealed a new leak that affects more than 52 million people. The programming interface bug allowed developers to access names, ages, email addresses, occupations, and a wealth of other personal details even when they were set to be nonpublic.

On Monday, Google said it planned to expedite the closure from August 2019 to April. Google said it still planned to give users the opportunity to transition off of consumer Google+ and would provide them with information on ways to safely and securely download their data and move it to other services, if wanted.

While Google said it had no evidence either data leak was actively exploited, it has no way of assuring users that developers haven’t accessed the profile data that was supposed to be non-public. That means users should assume all profile data of this type is now in the public domain, regardless of how they had set up their permissions.

On the Google blog announcement of this, Google said in the second paragraph, “…We’ve recently determined that some users were impacted by a software update…”

“Some users” is defined by Google as “…approximately 52.5 million…”

Today, the For You tab is making its way over to Google Maps in over 40 countries on iOS and 130+ new countries on Android—helping you stay up to date on fun, new places so you’ll know exactly where to take the fam this winter. The For You tab is designed to be a constant source of inspiration tailored to your tastes and preferences. Simply follow neighborhoods or places you’re interested in to get updates and recommendations—everything from recent news about an opening or pop up, a new menu item, and even restaurant suggestions based on what you’re likely to enjoy. If you’re making a trip this holiday season, the For You can help you get a jump start on travel planning even before you take off.

I mostly use Apple Maps, but I’ll give this a try just to see how it does picking places for me to visit.

Pudding:

This is a story about how to perceive the population of cities.

From my perspective (albeit a US-centric one), it was eye-opening to see how the world’s population is so unevenly distributed.

What stands out is each city’s form, a unique mountain that might be like the steep peaks of lower Manhattan or the sprawling hills of suburban Atlanta. When I first saw a city in 3D, I had a feel for its population size that I had never experienced before.

This is a mind blowing way of visualizing population and density. Thanks to Tim Harford for the link.

Reuters:

Chip supplier Qualcomm Inc on Monday said it had won a preliminary order from a Chinese court banning the importation and sale of several Apple Inc iPhone models in China due to patent violations, though Apple said its phones remain available in the country.

The preliminary order affects the iPhone 6S through the iPhone X sold with older versions of Apple’s iOS operating system. Qualcomm, the biggest supplier of chips for mobile phones, initially filed its case in China in late 2017.

In a statement, Apple said that all iPhone models remain available for its customers in China. New iPhones use Apple’s latest version of its mobile operating system, iOS 12.

Yet another skirmish in the war between the two companies. But China is the largest battlefield in the world.

Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN:

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that as many as 6.1 million Americans are living with a-fib, and that number is only expected to increase as the population grows older. Apple’s hope is that with the single-lead ECG available anytime you are wearing your watch, you have a better chance at screening for atrial fibrillation at the time it is happening.

This is a well-written, easy to understand first look at the just-released Apple Watch’s ECG feature. It’s full of little details, such as:

The new Apple Watch features are cleared, but not approved, by the US Food and Drug Administration. It may seem a subtle point, but for something to be approved by the FDA, it is subjected to much more rigorous testing and data collection. Clearance is typically given to medical devices that have been determined to be substantially equivalent to another legally marketed device — an easier hurdle to cross.

And:

According to clearance letters sent by the FDA to Apple on September 11, the app is intended for use only in people ages 22 and up, whom the FDA considers adults. The irregular rhythm notification feature is not intended for use in people who have been diagnosed with a-fib, who should be under a doctor’s care.

There are already lots of stories floating around about people who have tried this feature out and caught a potentially life-threatening condition. I have yet to see a downside emerge, a rash of false positives for example.

So far, this seems like a hugely positive rollout. Time will tell, obviously, but I like what we’ve seen so far and I’m looking forward to more features like this from Apple and the Apple Watch and Health teams.

NASA:

NASA’s Interior Exploration using Seismic Investigations, Geodesy and Heat Transport (InSight) lander, which touched down on Mars just 10 days ago, has provided the first ever “sounds” of Martian winds on the Red Planet.

Incredible to me that this video was shot on another planet, and I get to embed it in this post. Will humans eventually live on other planets? Will we someday see videos like this that include news from other extraterrestrial outposts?

Not sure selfies is the right term here, but these panorama shots are both cool and, if you are into this sort of trick photography, inspiring.

Load the tweet above, click play.

This quiz original came out in 2013 but has been flying around the internet over the past few days.

In a nutshell, you answer 25 questions that try to pry out how y’all refer to things like soda, rubber bands, and service roads and, in return, you’ll get a surprisingly accurate guess as to where you grew up.

Obviously, this is specific to the US and will be more accurate if you spent a good chunk of your developing years in one place.

From John Gruber’s take on the state of native Mac apps:

In some ways, the worst thing that ever happened to the Mac is that it got so much more popular a decade ago. In theory, that should have been nothing but good news for the platform — more users means more attention from developers. The more Mac users there are, the more Mac apps we should see. The problem is, the users who really care about good native apps — users who know HIG violations when they see them, who care about performance, who care about Mac apps being right — were mostly already on the Mac. A lot of newer Mac users either don’t know or don’t care about what makes for a good Mac app.

Fascinating read, all the way through.