December 4, 2017

Ars Technica:

According to a top Irish official, Apple has agreed to to pay Ireland around $15.4 billion in back taxes.

“We have now reached agreement with Apple in relation to the principles and operation of the escrow fund,” Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe told reporters before a meeting with European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager, per Reuters.

“We expect the money will begin to be transmitted into the account from Apple across the first quarter of next year.”

This seems to be such an odd story. Ireland doesn’t want the money. Apple doesn’t want to pay the money. But the rules of the EU dictate the settlement. And how do you go about transmitting $15.4 billion “into the account”? Paypal?

Bloomberg:

Apple Inc.’s Tim Cook and Google’s Sundar Pichai made their first appearances at China’s World Internet Conference, bringing star power to a gathering the Chinese government uses to promote its strategy of tight controls online.

Apple’s chief executive officer gave a surprise keynote at the opening ceremony on Sunday, calling for future internet and AI technologies to be infused with privacy, security and humanity. The same day, one of China’s most-senior officials called for more aggressive government involvement online to combat terrorism and criminals. Wang Huning, one of seven men on China’s top decision-making body, even called for a global response team to go well beyond its borders.

Apple and Cook are walking a fine line between their corporate culture of user privacy and the Chinese government’s desire for control over those same users.

A Supermoon trilogy

A “super blue blood moon”? Come on. They’re just making stuff up now.

Om Malik talking about how a simple sound brought back powerful memories of his grandfather:

But to me, AI as we know it is nowhere close to having the intelligence of the human mind. I suspect my brain took random bits of metadata stored in my mind and constructed a good enough memory to bring a tear and a smile to my face.

That’s an interesting point. I can’t imagine that AI would be able to bring such an emotional response to something as simple as a sound that takes us back in time.

TidBITS:

Digital forensics firm Elcomsoft revealed this week that Apple has changed how encrypted iOS backups are protected, reducing security to improve the overall user experience.

Elcomsoft’s discovery kicked off a vigorous debate on Hacker News and Twitter, but does this change represent a real risk to the average Apple user? The answer is yes, but that answer has to be understood in the proper context. In absolute terms, Apple’s change is a step backward for iOS security, but the nuances of real-world usage suggest that Apple sees it as a net improvement for protecting user data from loss.

While I wish that Apple hadn’t made this change, and I do consider it a hit to my personal security, I can see where Apple is coming from and how the company may see it as enhancing the safety of user data. Let me explain.

After some friendly nudging by Dave Mark and I (and others), Rich Mogull comes up with his usual great explanation and cuts through the FUD.

Daily Mail:

The ground-breaking digital blue box was developed by Apple’s co-founder Steve Wozniak in 1972 and was the inventor’s first printed circuit board.

But the box was actually a hacking device that fooled a phone company’s switchboard by reproducing its specific tones.

As a result, the user was able to get free overseas phone calls in an era when making a long-distance call was hugely expensive.

Click through to the post. Some terrific pics and a video of Steve Jobs telling the blue box story. This is a piece of history I would love to own.

Chance Miller, 9to5Mac:

Ming-Chi Kuo of KGI Securities is today out with a new investor note, obtained by 9to5Mac. In the piece, Kuo breaks down how Apple is working to integrate faster and more versatile circuit boards across its product lineup come 2018.

Currently, the iPhone 8 and iPhone X both use a new flexible circuit board made from liquid crystal polymer. Both phones use it in their antenna designs, while the iPhone X also uses it in its TrueDepth camera. This LCP FPCB technology allows for high-speed and low-latency data transfer.

More detail in the post, but nice to see this terrific, space-saving, performance-increasing tech making its way over to the Apple Watch and Mac.

Makes me wonder if this is part of the supply-chain scheduling driving the iMac Pro and Mac Pro. The iMac Pro was announced at WWDC, said to ship this month (December 2017). And the Mac Pro is, well, anybody’s guess. But good to know this tech is coming.

Lots of goodies in the iOS 11.2 update. Biggest of all was the release of Apple Pay Cash. I’ve been playing with it, looks very useful. In a nutshell, you’ll tie a debit card to the Apple Pay Cash card in your wallet, then use the Apple Pay Cash card to send or receive cash. A bit like Venmo or PayPal, but tied in to the secure enclave.

The folks from MacRumors put together a nice intro to Apple Pay Cash that I found quite easy to follow. It’s embedded below.

Once you’ve installed the iOS 11.2 update, fire up the Wallet app and you’ll be prompted to set up Apple Pay Cash.

UPDATE: There have been some comments about Apple Pay Cash only being available in beta. While this might be true, I can tell you that I played with it on a phone running the beta as well as on a phone that has a public release of iOS 11.2. So, perhaps it’s the Apple Pay Cash server that’s in beta?

Apple releases four new Apple Watch Series 3 ads

The ads are branded as “The Gift of Go”. Beautifully filmed eye candy. All four embedded below. Worth watching.

I think Emojipedia is a terrific resource. If you’ve not spent time here before, jump to the linked page, showing the emoji changes that came with this iOS release. First, there’s there’s the high resolution images of the 17 emoji that have changed.

To get a sense of these, take a look at the tumbler emoji. Here’s the old, iOS 11.1 version. And here’s the version updated for iOS 11.2.

I love the attention to detail here. The old one looks like a bit flat, and the scotch (or whatever is in it) looks cloudy. The new one looks more realistic.

[UPDATE: Apparently, the tumbler emoji was updated, then reverted back to the old version, then updated back to the new one, perhaps as a result of a QA oversight. Regardless, nice to see the design improvement.]

Another thing to note about this page is “all, changed, new, removed” links. Each gives you a different, useful view into the current emoji.

And, if you are interested, you can scroll down and tap on the links for previous versions of iOS, to see what was new with those releases. Good stuff.

December 3, 2017

JPL:

If you tried to start a car that’s been sitting in a garage for decades, you might not expect the engine to respond. But a set of thrusters aboard the Voyager 1 spacecraft successfully fired up Wednesday after 37 years without use.

Voyager 1, NASA’s farthest and fastest spacecraft, is the only human-made object in interstellar space, the environment between the stars. The spacecraft, which has been flying for 40 years, relies on small devices called thrusters to orient itself so it can communicate with Earth. These thrusters fire in tiny pulses, or “puffs,” lasting mere milliseconds, to subtly rotate the spacecraft so that its antenna points at our planet. Now, the Voyager team is able to use a set of four backup thrusters, dormant since 1980.

This is incredible. Voyager 1 is 13 billion miles away, running on ancient computer code and JPL was able to use dormant thrusters to give it a nudge.

The Michelangelo of Microsoft Excel

Great Big Story:

When Tatsuo Horiuchi retired, he decided to try his hand at art. But instead of spending money on paints and brushes, Horiuchi used what he already had pre-installed on his computer—Microsoft Excel. Now, the 77-year-old artist is creating remarkably intricate digital masterpieces of the Japanese landscape, all on the free graphing software.

Mind. Blown. I can barely add 2+2 in Excel and this guy is creating art with it.

Open Culture:

In 1958, Merle Haggard saw Johnny Cash play in San Quentin, and went on to sing honest country songs for country outlaws. In 1982, future Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello saw Joe Strummer play with The Clash in Chicago and went on to play angry righteous rock for angry punks.

Hear Cash and Strummer sing Marley’s “Redemption Song,” with Morello on guitar. As one site succinctly put it, the recording represents “the first true punk rock star and the last. Together forever.”

Chills. Two of my favorite singers playing with one of my favorite guitarists on an amazing song.

December 2, 2017

Sebastiaan de With:

I am the design half of the team that makes the iPhone app Halide, which is a camera app with manual controls and, most importantly, RAW capture.

RAW affords you editing freedom. Absolute freedom to change the colors and white balance of a photo, or recover too-bright highlights and too-dark shadows.

However, as awesome as RAW is, it’s important to know RAW isn’t a magic “enhance” button. It’s helpful to understand how a RAW file is fundamentally different than JPEG, to fully understand the tradeoffs.

Great post and, now that I have an iPhone X, I’m really looking forward to using it with the Halide app and shooting and editing in RAW as I do with my DSLR.

December 1, 2017

Jeff Benjamin, 9to5Mac:

On the heels of launching a YouTube channel dedicated to how-to tutorial videos, Apple today pushed a significant version 2.0 update to its Apple Support app for iOS.

The app, which initially launched last November, received a major update back in the spring that allowed users to schedule repairs at participating Apple Authorized Service Providers, and provided broader access to Genius Bar reservations.

Today’s update adds a redesigned user interface, along with a new Discover tab dedicated to learning about your Apple products. In addition, the app also features the ability to search the company’s library of support articles, which can prove useful for finding solutions to specific issues.

Here’s a link to Apple’s official Support app.

I’m a big fan of Susan Kare’s work. All it takes is a quick scan of her Wikipedia page or this sample page of some of her Apple icons and you can see the impact she had on the original Mac, an impact that carries on to this day.

Susan is still very active as an artist and designer and has a collection of table linens just perfect for the old-school Mac lover in your life. This is definitely my cup of tea. Take a look.

BBC:

The 100-megawatt battery, built by Tesla, was officially activated on Friday. It had in fact provided some power since Thursday due to demand caused by local hot weather.

South Australia has been crippled by electricity problems in recent times.

As I understand it, the region is a leader in wind-power, but suffers blackouts when wind levels fall too far.

Elon Musk stepped in, said he’d have a 100 Megawatt backup battery built, delivered, installed and working within 100 days or he wouldn’t charge them a penny.

Great story.

From this very thoughtful post by Neil Cybart:

When introduced at WWDC 2017, HomePod was marketed as an iOS accessory that will serve as the best speaker people have ever owned. The $349 price certainly reflects this accessory mindset. While Apple briefly went over how HomePod will be able to serve as a type of smart home hub, it was almost more of an afterthought. At its core, Apple does not think the only function for stationary smart speakers is to pipe digital voice assistants.

And:

I don’t think stationary smart speakers represent the future of computing. Instead, companies are using smart speakers to take advantage of an awkward phase of technology in which there doesn’t seem to be any clear direction as to where things are headed. Consumers are buying cheap smart speakers powered by digital voice assistants without having any strong convictions regarding how such voice assistants should or can be used.

And:

If the goal is to rely on a digital voice assistant, an Apple Watch wearer has access to Siri at pretty much every waking moment. When simply wearing an Apple Watch, Siri is instantly available everywhere in the home. The same kind of access to Alexa would require five, ten, or maybe even 15 Echo speakers spaced strategically throughout the home (another reason why Echo sales are becoming increasingly misleading – some consumers may be buying a handful of $20 speakers at one time). With a cellular Apple Watch, Siri is now available outside the home even when users are away from their iPhones. Meanwhile, Alexa is stuck within four walls – at least until Amazon unveils its Alexa smartwatch.

To me, this is the core flaw in the argument I’ve frequently seen that HomePod is competing with Echo and Google Home, that Apple is late to the game.

Another way to look at it is, Amazon is late to the game. The Echo is a big seller, no doubt, but it is Amazon’s ingenious mechanism to get their digital voice assistant shoehorned into the space with Siri and Googly (my name for Google’s identity free voice assistant) when their phone strategy did not catch on.

Read the rest of Neil’s piece. It’s very interesting. I’m looking forward to the HomePod, to getting a sense of Apple’s long term strategy here.

Mikey Campbell, AppleInsider:

After a rocky start marked by a quick initial sellout and lingering supply issues, Apple is quickly catching up with iPhone X demand, with current U.S. delivery estimates pegging ship times at six business days.

I just checked and delivery now shows as December 11 (ten days from now). That’s still pretty good, and in plenty of time for gift-giving, if that’s your goal.

Even better, most models are showing available for pickup today. If you live near an Apple Store and an iPhone X is in your near future, check pickup availability for the model you crave. 64GB models are available today at most stores I checked, 256GB available at some, but far fewer.

November 30, 2017

Open Culture:

There has rarely ever been an artist more fully in command of as many different art forms as Orson Welles during his height – the late 1930s and early 40s. He revolutionized the stage, radio and cinema before the age of 26 and became a household name in the process.

Now you can listen to 61 hours of radio plays, all created by Welles for his 1930s radio show, The Mercury Theatre on the Air. The Spotify playlist includes A Christmas Carol, Heart of Darkness and even a rehearsal for Julius Caesar.

Most people only know of Orson Welles from his movies – Citizen Kane is arguably the greatest film of all time – but he started as a director of groundbreaking stage plays and radio dramas. I know what I’ll be listening to on my 24 hour plane flight to Sydney, Australia on Friday.

CNBC:

Apple has released a first-of-its-kind Heart Study app to research whether its Apple Watch can pick up a heart rhythmic disorder called atrial fibrillation — one of the most common causes of strokes and heart failure.

People who sign up for the study will use the watch to monitor their heart rate and heart rhythm and will consult with a physician if there’s an abnormality.

Atrial fibrillation is responsible for some 130,000 deaths every year in the U.S. alone.

Apple is continuing along a path that will take them to the Apple Watch becoming the preferred device for health monitoring.

Keith Enevoldsen:

This pictorial periodic table is colorful, fun, and packed with information. In addition to the element’s name, symbol, and atomic number, each element box has a drawing of one of the element’s main human uses or natural occurrences. The table is color-coded to show the chemical groupings. Small symbols pack in additional information: solid/liquid/gas, color of element, common in the human body, common in the earth’s crust, magnetic metals, noble metals, radioactive, and rare or never found in nature.

This is really cool. I used to know all of the elements (had to learn/memorize them in school) but we were never taught what some of them do, why they are important or how we use them. This illustration helps a lot.

Architectural Digest:

From the mysteries of Machu Picchu to the enigma of Blarney Castle to the gleaming white peaks of Chamonix, these destinations are not only historical but are served by these train journeys that truly evoke the period and style of the landscapes they roll past. Upgrade your experience by booking these ten journeys that offer luxury amenities, beautifully curated interiors, and true hospitality. From measured candlesticks to crystal vanities to plummeting heights, you’ll remember more than your final destination once you step on board these glamorous locomotives.

Like many people, I love trains but they aren’t the most efficient form of travel. If I had all the time and money in the world (many of these trips are not cheap), I’d definitely travel by train.

I was lucky enough as a student to take the train across Canada and the Banff to Vancouver section through the Canadian Rockies was utterly stunning.

The University of Chicago Press:

The first volume of the History of Cartography was published in 1987 and the three books that constitute Volume Two appeared over the following eleven years. In 1987 the worldwide web did not exist, and since 1998 book publishing has gone through a revolution in the production and dissemination of work. Although the large format and high quality image reproduction of the printed books (see right column) are still well-suited to the requirements for the publishing of maps, the online availability of material is a boon to scholars and map enthusiasts.

On this site the University of Chicago Press is pleased to present the first three volumes of the History of Cartography in PDF format. Navigate to the PDFs from the left column. Each chapter of each book is a single PDF.

Even though I’m directionally challenged, I love maps, especially ancient ones. While this is not a light read, check it out for the map illustrations alone.

Cheng Ting Feng, Nikkei:

Apple is designing its own main power management chips for use in iPhones as early as in 2018, cutting dependence on Dialog Semiconductor, according to industry sources, as shares in the U.K. developer plunged as much as 19% in afternoon trade in Frankfurt.

Seems a natural move, if true. Part of the process of reducing dependency, where possible.

This is a Popular Science article from a few months ago, but I came across it last night, found it fascinating.

Rob Verger, Popular Science:

The device has functioned as a swim tracker since it became water-resistant in 2016, but with its latest operating system, it presents a more granular metric: set detection. It knows when you rest at the pool’s edge and then uses that information to divide the workout into sets of laps, showing you how far and long you swam in each, what stroke, and your rest time.

And:

Apple built its own algorithms to discern the stroke of swimmers of all skill levels, as well the calories they’re burning. The process involved gathering data from more than 700 swimmers and over 1,500 swim sessions. And Apple gathered even more data from people swimming in place (in an “endless” pool) while wearing a mask that descended from the ceiling.

And:

The watch uses the gyroscope and accelerometer to track the motion of your strokes, but in open water, it can leverage another sensor: the GPS chip. If you’re swimming in the ocean or a lake, your watch uses that to determine how fast and how far you go. But GPS signals don’t travel through H2O. Luckily, people are likely to do freestyle in open water and for that stroke, your arms regularly break the surface. Apple sets the GPS chip in acquisition mode for the whole swim. It looks for the satellite signal each time your hand rises from the water. “We’re trying to catch it every single time,” says Ron Huang, Apple’s director of engineering for location and motion services.

I absolutely love the effort that Apple puts in to get things like this to work. This is Apple at its best. Read the article. As I said, it’s fascinating.

Billboard:

It’s been three and a half years since Jimmy Iovine left his role as CEO of Interscope Geffen A&M to run Apple Music, but that doesn’t keep him from thinking about the problems facing labels today — or the rest of the industry for that matter.

Over a dinner recently at NeueHouse Hollywood in Los Angeles with Iovine and Allen Hughes, who directed the four-part documentary series, The Defiant Ones — which focuses on storied careers of Iovine and Dr Dre., his partner in developing Beats Electronics — a handful of journalists lobbed questions at and shared their thoughts with the iconic exec.

This was a fascinating read. Not too long, and completely Jimmy.

Just a little taste:

It’s not the price point that’s the problem for streaming services. It’s the free alternatives that are undermining the system in a way film and television streaming platforms are not forced to manage. He pointed to Netflix as a prime example, spending $6 billion on original content in 2017, while charging customers $9.99 or $11.99 for unlimited access to its unique offerings — including TV and film they exclusively license. Meanwhile in contrast, by and large, all music digital streaming platforms offer the same material.

And:

Put yourself in Kansas without a job and YouTube is free, Pandora is free, Spotify is free…. If there’s a restaurant down the street with the exact same food as this restaurant that’s on a mountain with a view, only this one’s for free, a lot of people are gonna eat there. They’ll use paper towels, they don’t give a shit about napkins.

A great read, well worth your time.

AppleInsider:

With the introduction of the iPhone X and Face ID, some are concerned that Apple’s new biometric system is not as secure or easy to use as the legacy fingerprint-based Touch ID. AppleInsider digs deeper to explain why you shouldn’t fear facing the future.

I went into the iPhone X launch with some preconceived notions about Touch ID having some convenience advantages over Face ID.

As this article points out, the convenience advantage lies with Face ID, and Face ID is only going to get better over time. It is the future. Good read.

UPDATE: Looks like Apple’s re-issue of Security Update 2017-001 most likely addressed the file sharing issue, so there’s nothing you need to do on your end. [H/T, Bryan Lee]

If file sharing stops working, go to this Apple Support knowledge base article.

Short story even shorter, you’ll go to Terminal and enter this line:

sudo /usr/libexec/configureLocalKDC

Follow with your admin password, when prompted, and you should be good to go. This is all a bit of a mess, but kudos to Apple for their rapid response here.

High Sierra root login bug was known weeks ago, if not longer. What should have happened?

John Gruber, in this Daring Fireball post:

It’s natural to speculate how a bug as egregious as the now-fixed High Sierra root login bug could escape notice for so long. It seems to have been there ever since High Sierra 10.3.0 shipped on September 25, and may have existed in the betas through the summer.

And:

More insidious though, is the notion that it might not have escaped notice prior to its widespread publicization yesterday — but that the people who had heretofore discovered it kept it to themselves.

Here’s a link to a thread in Apple’s Developer Forums. Scroll down to the post dated November 13th. From that post:

If you’re unable to login at startup using username: root and empty password, then login with your existing account (standard user).

Again, head over to System Preferences>Users & Groups. Click on the Lock Icon. When prompted for username and password, type username: root and leave the password empty. Press enter. This might throw an error, but try again immediately with the same username: root and empty password. This should unlock the Lock Icon.

There it is, in all its glory. This was a known issue a full two weeks ago. And well enough known that someone pulled it out as a recommendation for someone else. In other words, this was not discovered two weeks ago, it was already old hat. It’s possible this was discovered back in September, when High Sierra first shipped.

I get how a bug can sit there, undiscovered, for a long time. But (and this is my two cents) once it’s known, find a way to quietly and privately communicate this to Apple. There are many ways to do that. Filing a radar is the obvious first path, but what do you do if that does not get the attention of the right people?

Going to Twitter might seem the exact wrong approach, but I think that’s actually a pretty effective path, provided you do so without revealing any of the details in public. I’ve found that a tweet to @AppleSupport always yields a response. Start by saying you’ve got a significant security bug, but one whose details you don’t want to reveal in a public forum. I’ve no doubt the @AppleSupport mechanism will quickly offer you a path to start a private DM chat.

That’s my take. File a radar, then follow with an @AppleSupport tweet, but keep the details private. Give Apple a chance to fix this before word gets out. This isn’t about Apple’s reputation, this is about minimizing the misuse of a security breach.

UPDATE: Or, as Kirk McElhearn points out, check out the official Contact Apple About Security Issues support page.