What is a JSON feed? Learn more

JSON Feed Viewer

Browse through the showcased feeds, or enter a feed URL below.

Now supporting RSS and Atom feeds thanks to Andrew Chilton's feed2json.org service

CURRENT FEED

JSON


More Words of a Coward

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-16 09:39

Yesterday, a day after I wrote Words of a Coward, Trump did a nearly complete reversal of his forced and delayed statement on Monday in which he explicitly called out white supremacists for what happened in Charlottesville on Saturday. He undid whatever small bit of good he might have managed on Monday, doubled down on his moral equivalence of both groups of protestors, and re-emphasized his ignorance.

Just read how the following people, all of whom are aligned with Trump politically, responded. The white supremacists are on his side, and the politicians in his own party are not. There is no better illustration of how wrong Trump is right now.

Statements by Those Who Are or Appear to Sympathize With White Supremacists

David Duke, leader of the Ku Klux Klan:

Thank you President Trump for your honesty & courage to tell the truth about #Charlottesville & condemn the leftist terrorists in BLM/Antifa

Richard Spencer, president of the National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank:

I’m proud of him for speaking the truth.

Tim Gionet, aka Baked Alaska, alt-right Internet troll:

Thank you President Trump for condemning the alt-left antifa thugs who attacked us in Charlottesville.

Ann Coulter:

We were Gideon’s army without Gideon. Today, we got our leader back! @realDonaldTrump press conference:

And recall that on Monday the neo-Nazi site Daily Stormer wrote:

Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us… No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.

Statements by Republican Politicians and Commentators

Senator Marco Rubio:

Mr. President,you can’t allow #WhiteSupremacists to share only part of blame. They support idea which cost nation & world so much pain 5/6

Senator John McCain:

There’s no moral equivalency between racists & Americans standing up to defy hate & bigotry. The President of the United States should say so.

Senator Jerry Moran:

White supremacy, bigotry & racism have absolutely no place in our society & no one - especially POTUS - should ever tolerate it.

Senator James Lankford:

Our words must not create confusion. The supremacy of any race is abhorrent, unAmerican & should be condemned by everyone. Full stop.

Senator Thom Tillis:

When it comes to white supremacists & neo-nazis, there can be no equivocating: they’re propagators of hate and bigotry. Period.

Representative Paul Ryan, Speaker of the House:

We must be clear. White supremacy is repulsive. This bigotry is counter to all this country stands for. There can be no moral ambiguity.

Representative Steve Scalise, House Majority Whip:

I was clear about this bigotry & violence over the weekend and I’ll repeat it today: We must defeat white supremacy and all forms of hatred.

Representative Steve Stiers, chair of the National Republican Congressional Committee:

I don’t understand what’s so hard about this. White supremacists and Neo-Nazis are evil and shouldn’t be defended.

Representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen:

Blaming “both sides” for #Charlottesville?! No. Back to relativism when dealing with KKK, Nazi sympathizers, white supremacists? Just no.

Representative Justin Amash:

“Very fine people” do not participate in rallies with groups chanting racist and anti-Semitic slogans and displaying vile symbols of hate.

Eric Cantor, former Virginia congressman:

“It really did demand a statement at the very beginning,” said Mr. Cantor, who is Jewish. He added that efforts by the president to equate the actions of the counter-protesters, however violent they may have been, with the neo-Nazis and the driver of the car that murdered a protester were “unacceptable.”

Charles Krauthammer:

What Trump did today was a moral disgrace.

Are things ever much clearer than all this?

About the Violence “On Many Sides”

If you agree with Trump in thinking there was equal blame on both sides for the violence in Charlottesville on Saturday, maybe you’re overlooking the larger issue:

On one side, you see, you have white nationalists and neo-Nazis carrying assault weapons and advocating for a white, Christian, fascist ethno-state in America. On the other side, you have people who would prefer not to be systematically exterminated. Both are equally bad!

People from both sides assaulted each other, and there is blame to go around for these skirmishes. But the much larger issue, which Trump seems to want to bury, is that our president and the “alt-right” (or whatever you want to call them) have provided cover for this disgusting reaffirmation and public display of bigotry and hate rooted in a long history of white supremacist terrorism in our country.

Watch this Vice documentary, “Charlottesville: Race and Terror” to see what these white supremacist scumbags really think about violence, their objectives in inciting it, and their twisted, historical justifications. Amazingly, if you’re Donald Trump, you are apparently still willing to defend these people even after seeing things like this:

Chris Cantwell, a white supremacist leader, told Vice News that he wanted a president who “does not give his daughter to a Jew.”

Lost in all of this, lest we forget, is that it was a white supremacist who drove a car into the crowd of counter-protesters in Charlottesville, killing a woman, Heather Heyer, and injuring twenty other people. That is terrorism. Had a Muslim done the same thing in the name of ISIS (or anything else), Trump would have tweeted about it and his supporters would have jumped on it, all within a couple of hours. To watch Trump claim yesterday that he was being prudent by waiting for all the facts is laughable. Does he typically hold his fire after a terrorist event? Actually, he does – when a white man is the perpetrator. Remember the white supremacist who stabbed and killed two people in Portland last May? Or the white supremacist who murdered nine people in a Charleston, SC church? Or the white man who shot two Indian men in a Kansas bar in February, believing they were Muslim? In each case, Trump was silent for hours or days before tweeting a tepid response.

So…

Take all the feedback from across the political spectrum, along with Trump’s other actions, the people he’s put in his administration, the policies he is pursuing, what he says, what he ignores, and what actually happened in Charlottesville, and you can only come up with one explanation: Trump is, at a minimum, sympathetic to these white supremacist groups. You don’t have to wonder about it because he is not hiding it.

What will our Republican leaders do now? If making statements this week is all they accomplish, we’ll be talking about all of this again, in response to probably a more violent incident in another city (though I truly hope not), in the very near future. That might be the best-case scenario.


Dreamhost Fighting DOJ Warrant for Info on Anti-Trump Protesters

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-15 14:21

I want to get back to writing more about technology issues, I really do. But our current political climate is compelling me to respond, and I’m on a roll. Plus, the following is also related to technology…

Dreamhost is fighting a Department of Justice request for user IP addresses:

The request from the DOJ demands that DreamHost hand over 1.3 million visitor IP addresses — in addition to contact information, email content, and photos of thousands of people — in an effort to determine who simply visited the website… That information could be used to identify any individuals who used this site to exercise and express political speech protected under the Constitution’s First Amendment. That should be enough to set alarm bells off in anyone’s mind.
This is, in our opinion, a strong example of investigatory overreach and a clear abuse of government authority.

Dreamhost hosts the targeted website, disruptj20.org, which was used to organize protests at Trump’s inauguration.

We don’t know exactly what is in the affidavit filed with the Superior Court of the District of Columbia or what the DOJ’s objectives are. More information will no doubt come out about this in the coming days.

The preliminary look at this makes one wonder what the DOJ is up to. The Electronic Frontier Foundation:

No plausible explanation exists for a search warrant of this breadth, other than to cast a digital dragnet as broadly as possible. But the Fourth Amendment was designed to prohibit fishing expeditions like this. Those concerns are especially relevant here, where DOJ is investigating a website that served as a hub for the planning and exercise of First Amendment-protected activities.


How to Roll Back Fanaticism (@nytdavidbrooks)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-15 14:15

David Brooks:

Donald Trump is the perfect snake oil salesman for this moment…. He took a nation beset by uncertainty and he gave it a series of “explanations” that were simple, crude, affirming and wrong… Everything could be blamed on foreigners, the idiotic elites… The true link between the Trump administration and those pathetic loons in Charlottesville is not just bigotry, but also conspiracy mongering.

And:

I’m beginning to think the whole depressing spectacle of this moment — the Trump presidency and beyond — is caused by a breakdown of intellectual virtue, a breakdown in America’s ability to face evidence objectively, to pay due respect to reality, to deal with complex and unpleasant truths. The intellectual virtues may seem elitist, but once a country tolerates dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness, then everything else falls apart.

Dishonesty, incuriosity and intellectual laziness. It is epidemic.

We are blasted by information on social media, good/bad, true/false, real/fake, witty memes… Birthers, Pizzagate, Sandy Hook a false flag operation, record turnout for the inauguration, and on and on. There are those on both sides who propagate incendiary information with others, but the political right has simply gone nuts pushing pure mythology over the past decade.

“Fake news,” information created to look like a real story with the intent to deceive, is a term Trump and others, especially (though not exclusively) on the right, have co-opted to mean something they just don’t like. Yet they, and Trump especially, promote ideas that have been thoroughly debunked all the time. They weaponize bullshit for their political aims.

If some politician or point of view that one disagrees with is so bad, there is usually plenty to criticize that is actually true. Unless you’re dishonest, why not stick with that?

Very few people take the time to vet information before sharing or believing it. Yet a lot of stories are easy to verify. If we each took the couple minutes necessary to debunk some of the outrageous things that pop up on our screens every week, we would not be susceptible to being fooled. I was amazed recently when someone I know well told me about a news item she had just read on Facebook. I asked her how she knew that it was true. Blank stare, followed by, “Huh?” She didn’t search for corroborating reports or any confirmation, just took what she read as being valid.

It’s especially despicable when the people promoting fake stories put themselves on the moral high ground. If you claim to have some belief in morality, especially if it’s through your faith, then why would you share stories that might be or that you know are lies? How can you convince yourself that you’re of sound character? Don’t answer. Just look in the mirror. Don’t be another person who deals in falsehoods, intentionally or otherwise. Make the buck stop at your own keyboard. Make an effort at honesty.


The Words of A Coward

Permalink - Posted on 2017-08-14 10:00

Words matter. What is not said matters as well. Trump found some words this weekend for the violence in Charlottesville:

We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry and violence, on many sides. On many sides. It’s been going on for a long time in our country. Not Donald Trump, not Barack Obama. This has been going on for a long, long time.

“On many sides… for a long, long time.” A cop-out. And the words left out: any mention of the perpetrators, the issue, even the name of the city.

Then, our president found more words. Given the context, these strayed into the bizarre:

Our country is doing very well in so many ways. We have record – just absolute record employment. We have unemployment, the lowest it’s been in almost 17 years. We have companies pouring into our country. Foxconn and car companies, and so many others…

A failure to clearly condemn the antagonists, wrapped up with ego-stroking talking points about his presidency.

Maybe we who expected more are the fools.

More significant, Trump failed to acknowledge the terrorist attack several hours later in which a man drove a car into the crowd of counter-demonstrators, killing one woman and injuring nineteen others. Contrast the lack of any response by the president with his hair-trigger tweeting about past terrorist attacks carried out by Islamic extremists or even suspected extremists, whose tactics this killer in Charlottesville copied.

Among our Republican leaders, the immediate response to Charlottesville was tepid or non-existent, though there were some exceptions, some directed right at Trump.

Senator Corey Gardner of Colorado:

Mr. President - we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism.

Senator Marco Rubio of Florida:

Very important for the nation to hear @potus describe events in #Charlottesville for what they are, a terror attack by #whitesupremacists.

Senator Ted Cruz of Texas:

I urge the Department of Justice to immediately investigate and prosecute today’s grotesque act of domestic terrorism.

Even Anthony Scaramucci (remember him?) laid into Trump:

I think [Trump] needed to be much harsher as it related to the white supremacists and the nature of that… I applaud General McMaster for calling it out for what it is. It’s actually terrorism. Whether it’s domestic or international terrorism, with the moral authority of the presidency, you have to call that stuff out.

Courage, we know, means doing what should be done – what is right – despite the repercussions. Trump and many Republicans are simply cowards. Keeping their political support is more important than speaking out for what is right. The best case you can make if you don’t believe they agree with these hate groups is that Trump was treading very gingerly by his silence in order to avoid alienating the vile constituency in his base which includes the “alt-right,” the bigots, the KKK, the neo-Nazis.

Like many politicians, Trump is a candidate for the canonical example of someone we, in the days of our misguided youth, would call a pussy.

White supremacists noticed all of this. They took comfort in Trump’s equivocation. The neo-Nazi Daily Stormer website wrote:

Trump comments were good. He didn’t attack us. He just said the nation should come together. Nothing specific against us… No condemnation at all. When asked to condemn, [Trump] just walked out of the room. Really, really good. God bless him.

At least they got it. Many right-wing apologists would not. Mike Huckabee, for example, said with a straight face:

Donald Trump, I thought, was very explicitly clear in condemning what happened.

But Trump wasn’t explicit, clear, or “very explicitly clear.” Huckabee, Vice President Pence, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and others all cited a follow-up statement attributed to an unidentified “White House spokesperson” to prove the intent of Trump’s previous remarks. Trump, however, actually remained silent about it.

John Kasich almost nailed it, but let us down by referring to “a lot of people” which, presumably, included the president:

There are a lot of people who are just not comfortable with the issue; perhaps they are afraid it would aggravate their base.

David Duke, however, the leader of the KKK, was not about to miss:

I would recommend you take a good look in the mirror & remember it was White Americans who put you in the presidency, not radical leftists.

The KKK… good company, eh?

This afternoon, after blowback from all sides of the political world, Trump read a prepared statement from the teleprompter. Had he the stones on Saturday to stand up tall and deliver what should have been the easiest speech anyone on his team could have conceived, for a situation for which it was so appropriate, despite the certain disappointment from the minority of his supporters who hide in the shadows and stoke fear and bigotry among themselves and lesser humans, he could have risen above this and begun to unite the decent among us. But being two days late to respond, his words were wasted. His words rang hollow, like a reluctant apology from an impetuous kindergartener who was caught pulling another kid’s hair and realizing there would be no snack time:

Racism is evil, and those who cause violence in its name are criminals and thugs, including the KKK, neo-Nazis, white supremacists and other hate groups that are repugnant to everything we hold dear as Americans. We are a nation founded on the truth that all of us are created equal. We are equal in the eyes of our creator, we are equal under the law and we are equal under our constitution. Those who spread violence in the name of bigotry, strike at the very core of America.

Lest anyone think that was Trump finally metamorphosing into an adult, he soon followed it up on Twitter with this:

Made additional remarks on Charlottesville and realize once again that the #Fake News Media will never be satisfied…truly bad people!

Yes, the media jumped all over him, as did politicians in his own damn party, and continued piling on. And Trump, this hollow man, this shell of a leader, yet the most powerful man in the world, got on Twitter and whined, as he typically does. An imbecile. He cannot rise above the fray and lead us to a better place. His best moves are to hunker down, sulk, and hurl insults. Any time he is presented with the opportunity to rise up, he goes low.

The right words, and all of them. They were there on Saturday. Trump could have used them then, the obvious words that everyone saw. But he chose to ignore them. Two days later, those same words fell like duds.

The words of a coward. They always end with shame.


JSON Feed

Permalink - Posted on 2017-06-03 10:30

I updated this blog to support JSON Feed, by Manton Reece and Brent Simmons.

You can find the new feed here.

If I had done this from scratch, it probably would have taken about an hour, including a quick test and deployment. Since I’m using Jekyll, I found a good example from Hafnia Times on github and shamelessly copied and customized it.

I created feedjson.html in the _layouts folder:

---
layout: none
---

{
    "version": "https://jsonfeed.org/version/1",
    "title": {{ site.name | smartify | jsonify }},
    {% if site.description %}"description": {{ site.description | smartify | jsonify }},{% endif %}
    "home_page_url": "{{ site.url }}/",
    "feed_url": "{{ site.url }}{{ site.feed_json }}",
    "expired": false,
    "items": [
{% for post in site.posts %}
        {
            "id": "{{ post.id }}",
            "title": {{ post.title | smartify | jsonify }},
            "content_html": {{ post.content | jsonify }},
            "url": "{{ site.url }}{{ post.url }}",
        {% if post.excerpt %}
            "summary": {{ post.excerpt | smartify | jsonify }},
        {% else %}
            "summary": {{ t.frontpage[page_language].description | smartify | jsonify }},
        {% endif %}
            "date_published": "{{ post.date }}"
        }{% unless forloop.last == true %},{% endunless %}
{% endfor %}
    ]
}

Then I created a feeds folder and put this feed.json file there:

---
layout: feedjson
---  

The whole thing took about ten minutes.

I like JSON Feed for the reasons outlined here. It’s easier to create and consume than an XML feed like RSS or Atom. This is especially true if you’re embedding HTML within the feed. Doing this in XML is pain. In fact, XML in general is a pain. JSON Feed is a long-overdue evolution of blog feeds.

Where does this go from here? Don’t know yet.

Update: In addition to the Hafnia Times project mentioned above, here are some other implementations of JSON Feed for Jekyll (I have only looked at these briefly):


Draining the Swamp… Or Not (@EricLiptonNYT, @benprotess, @lehrennyt)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-04-17 11:48

Update: 31-May-2017 From the New York Times, “White House Details Ethics Waivers for Ex-Lobbyists and Corporate Lawyers”

The details on these so-called ethics waivers — more than five times the number granted in the first four months of the Obama administration — were made public after an intense dispute between the White House and the Office of Government Ethics, which had been pushing the Trump administration to stop granting such waivers in secret.

From Eric Lipton, Ben Protess and Andrew W. Lehren at The New York Times, “With Trump Appointees, a Raft of Potential Conflicts and ‘No Transparency’”:

President Trump is populating the White House and federal agencies with former lobbyists, lawyers and consultants who in many cases are helping to craft new policies for the same industries in which they recently earned a paycheck.

In at least two cases, the appointments may have already led to violations of the administration’s own ethics rules. But evaluating if and when such violations have occurred has become almost impossible because the Trump administration is secretly issuing waivers to the rules.

And:

The White House also announced on Friday that it would keep its visitors’ logs secret…

And:

Mr. Trump’s own ethics executive order in late January eliminated a requirement, first adopted by President Barack Obama, that executive branch appointees not accept jobs in agencies they recently lobbied. That weakened standards applying to approximately 4,000 executive branch hires.

Mr. Trump also made it easier for former lobbyists in the government to get waivers that would let them take up matters that could benefit former clients.

And:

[I]n several cases, officials in the Trump administration now hold the exact jobs they targeted as lobbyists or lawyers in the past two years.

The article goes on and on, loaded with specific examples. It’s all pretty startling.

Say what you want about the Obama administration, but regarding ethics, it should be a model for subsequent presidents. Trump is taking a different approach: actively encouraging corruption.


UK Seeks Access to Encrypted Messages (@AndrewSparrow)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-03-27 09:36

Andrew Sparrow at The Guardian:

Amber Rudd has called for the police and intelligence agencies to be given access to WhatsApp and other encrypted messaging services to thwart future terror attacks, prompting opposition politicians and civil liberties groups to say her demand was unrealistic and disproportionate.

“It is completely unacceptable. There should be no place for terrorists to hide. We need to make sure that organisations like WhatsApp, and there are plenty of others like that, don’t provide a secret place for terrorists to communicate with each other.”

It is interesting to read some of the well-reasoned pushback from UK politicians, such as this:

“These terrorists want to destroy our freedoms and undermine our democratic society,” [Brian Paddick, the Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesman and a former deputy assistant commissioner in the Metropolitan police] said. “By implementing draconian laws that limit our civil liberties, we would be playing into their hands.”

Replace the word terrorists with everyone in Rudd’s statement above, and you get the whole picture. And the big problem, which I’ve mentioned quite a bit, including here, here, here, here, etc. Nothing has changed.


The GOP Wants Healthcare to Crash and Burn (@mattfleg, @thomaskaplan)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-03-27 09:17

Matt Flegenheimer and Thomas Kaplan, in the New York Times:

Mr. Ryan was quick to adopt Mr. Trump’s favored rationale during the health fight, arguing that Republicans had been doing Democrats a grand favor by dismantling President Barack Obama’s health law in the first place and that Democrats would eventually suffer the consequences.

“I’m sure they may be pleased right now,” Mr. Ryan said, but when they see “how bad” things get, “I don’t think they’re going to like that, either.”

So, we who rely on the Affordable Care Act to get fair-to-mediocre health insurance are among the most vulnerable pawns in this political sniping and battle of wills. Trump and Ryan are not going to lift a finger to help shore up the problems with the ACA, and if more insurers leave the marketplace and things get worse, they are going to sit back and laugh in order to score political points with their base rather than try to actually fix the problems with the ACA. Then, maybe they will offer us a replacement plan, one that is truly awful, like the one they just tried to pass. Great.

To Mr. Ryan and Mr. Trump, and all the conservatives who think this is OK, I have one thing to say. In 2018 and 2020, you will be judged.

And I guess I actually have one more thing to say, to members of the GOP if they are content to let the public suffer the effects of their stubborn healthcare politics…

Go fuck yourselves.


Kakistocracy

Permalink - Posted on 2017-03-26 11:21

We are living with a kakistocracy in the U.S. right now:

A kakistocracy is a state or country run by the worst, least qualified, or most unscrupulous citizens. The word was coined by English author Thomas Love Peacock in 1829.

Despite what some liberal pundits have written (such as Ryan Lizza in The New Yorker and Stephen Wolf in The Daily Kos), while its roots are Greek (kakistos, meaning ‘worst’), kakistocracy itself is not a Greek term. I suppose describing it as such would lend it more gravitas, but that’s unnecessary.

The important point: it is the appropriate word.


The Next Blue-Collar Job Is Coding (@Pomeranian99)

Permalink - Posted on 2017-02-09 10:46

From Clive Thompson at Wired, “The Next Big Blue-Collar Job Is Coding,” on how programming as a profession is more approachable than many realize:

Now, to be sure, society does need some superstars! Serious innovators, at companies and in academia, are the ones who create new fields like machine learning. But that doesn’t preclude a new mainstream vision of what most programming work actually is. For decades, pop culture (and, frankly, writers like me) have overpromoted the “lone genius” coder. We’ve cooed over the billionaire programmers of The Social Network and the Anonymized, emo, leather-clad hackers of Mr. Robot. But the real heroes are people who go to work every day and turn out good stuff—whether it’s cars, coal, or code.

I’ve been saying this for a long time. Most programming is a lot of common problem solving, attention to detail, tenacity, and a fair bit of drudgery. In other words, it’s like most jobs.

People have this notion that programmers have to be superhuman geniuses, and I think the industry has happily promoted this myth. For example, if you’re a programmer, you’ve no doubt seen technology recruiters seeking “rock star developers.” It’s ridiculous. This widespread perception is probably a big part of why people shy away from considering coding as a profession. A lot more people could do this for a living if they realized what it actually requires. Organizations mentioned in the article, like Dev Boot Camp, Bit Source, and CodeTN, are helping to destroy these stereotypes.

And there is a real future for this kind of work:

The national average salary for IT jobs is about $81,000 (more than double the national average for all jobs), and the field is set to expand by 12 percent from 2014 to 2024, faster than most other occupations.

Our economy has been shifting away from traditional blue-collar jobs in industries like coal, steel, and manufacturing for decades. Those types of jobs are also being wiped out by automation, and that trend is not going to stop. It would make more sense for our government to help workers transition into sectors that actually have a future, like programming, rather than making empty promises of bringing back jobs that are likely lost forever.


Trump, Truth, Trouble

Permalink - Posted on 2017-01-26 07:49

Trump’s strategy is all about defining who the enemies are: critics, globalists, ISIS (of course), and the media and its version of reality.

There have to be well-defined enemies. Causes require this. Without clear enemies, there is no cause. Populism requires this. Supporters of a populist figure need to be impassioned. Bad press, believed, dents that enthusiasm.

Trump’s media war is part of his strategy to control perception and maintain a lock on political support. In his view, one authoritative and very popular figure must be in charge of the truth. That figure, of course, is him.

That the press is very prominently the first target is a telling sign of the tactics Trump will employ throughout his term. The media will not be trusted, and he alone will be the trustworthy source of information. He alone will define reality. Some are already leaping to curry favor:

Rep. Lamar Smith of Texas: Better to get your news directly from the president. In fact, it might be the only way to get the unvarnished truth.

Millions on the Mall for his inauguration? Millions of illegal votes against him in the election? The intelligence community says torture works? He’s won many environmental awards? And on and on… all these things are easily debunked, and have been. It does not matter. His narcissistic approach requires him to control everything that is reported, everything the public thinks they know to be true. Any fact that does not fit his narrative will be thoroughly, consistently, and ruthlessly questioned by his team. By God, he will tell us what to think, not the media!

The Trump administration is creating a baseline expectation among its loyalists that they can’t trust anything said by the media. The spat over crowd size is a low-stakes, semi-comic dispute, but the groundwork is being laid for much more consequential debates over what is, and isn’t, true.

Delegitimizing the institutions that might report inconvenient or damaging facts about the president is strategic for an administration that has made a slew of impossible promises and takes office amid a cloud of ethics concerns and potential scandals.

It also gives the new administration a convenient scapegoat for their continued struggles with public opinion, and their potential future struggles with reality… It’s not difficult to imagine the Trump administration disputing bad jobs numbers in the future, or claiming their Obamacare replacement covers everyone when it actually throws millions off insurance.

The public will give him attention. His supporters will loyally cheer. Those who do not succumb will still serve his purpose – to further galvanize those who do (and add the GOP and many Republicans in Congress to Trump’s list of enemies… it’s coming).

Leaders always employ this strategy to some degree. Spin is not an on/off switch. It’s a continuum. CEOs do it. Generals do it. Oligarchs do it. Presidents do it. Dictators do it. Fascists do it – too strong a term? Have a long think about that before you set your opinion.

At which end of this spectrum will we land? That is up to us, the people. We the people determine all of this, not Trump. Will we succumb and make him the broker of information? What will we decide for our society? For our civilization?

For the world?


Debunking Bullshit: Trump’s 2017 Inauguration Crowd Size Claims

Permalink - Posted on 2017-01-22 10:22

Technology can be a great thing, unless you are trying to hide something.

The Trump administration has claimed, with absurd certainty and in conflict with widespread reports to the contrary, that the 2017 Presidential Inauguration was, as White House press secretary Sean Spicer angrily put it, “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration, period.” Thankfully, none of us needs to be misled, willingly or otherwise. Some pretty simple technology allows everyone to get a sense of how many people attended the inauguration. If you have the curiosity and small amount of drive to chase down the facts, you certainly can do that for yourself and see how the Trump administration is wrong (I’ll speculate why this issue seems so important to them at the end of this post).

Let’s start with the Washington Metro system ridership numbers, which come from mechanical turnstiles with electronic counters. The Washington Metro Area Transit Authority (WMATA) put out the data from the Metro system (DC’s subway) for the last four inaugurations as of 11:00 am on each of those days:

  • 2017 (Trump): 193,000 trips
  • 2013 (Obama): 317,000 trips
  • 2009 (Obama): 513,000 trips
  • 2005 (Bush): 197,000 trips

On Saturday, Spicer made the case to reporters from a quickly arranged briefing, took no questions, and then walked out. I watched it on TV. It was bizarre. Among the specifics Spicer cited was the following false claim, (possibly) comparing the 2017 daily ridership number with the 2013 11:00 am number:

We know that 420,000 people used D.C. Metro public transit yesterday, which compares to 317,000 that used it for President Obama’s last inaugural…

Spicer either got mixed up, or he was deliberately misleading us. The 11:00 am number of 193,000 trips for this inauguration was 60% of the similar 2013 inauguration figure, and only 37% of the 2009 figure. That’s one indication of the crowd size.

In addition to the real Metro ridership figures, there are photos and videos posted, from the many cameras in people’s pockets and in locations around the city. Look at the photos from Obama’s first inauguration in 2009 and this year’s:

The analysis by Keith Still, a professor at Manchester Metropolitan University in England, estimates that the crowd on the National Mall on Friday was about one-third the size of Mr. Obama’s. Professor Still was a crowd safety consultant for the 2011 royal wedding of Prince William and Kate Middleton, and has advised the Saudi government on crowds for the hajj, the annual pilgrimage to Mecca.

PBS has a great time-lapse video of the inauguration crowd on the Mall, starting at sunrise, which shows the Mall was not at capacity at any time before or during the ceremony.

Katy Tur from NBC posted a video, which shows empty stands along the parade route.

Some analysis from The Atlantic:

Steve Doig, a professor of journalism at Arizona State University, has provided estimates of crowds at past inaugurals, and is well-versed in the challenges they present. “There’s no turnstiles; you didn’t have to buy tickets … so the standard metrics for measuring a contained crowd are not available,” he said. “The fallback is overhead imagery.” That allows experts to estimate the density of the crowd, and divide it by the area it covers, to produce “a reality-based estimate of the crowd.” Based on the photographs available in the media showing the part of the crowd that was on the mall, he said, “the claim that this is the largest ever is ludicrous on its face.”

And from Fox News:

THE FACTS: Trump is wrong. Photos of the National Mall from his inauguration make clear that the crowd did not extend to the Washington Monument. Large swaths of empty space are visible on the Mall.

Thin crowds and partially empty bleachers also dotted the inaugural parade route. Hotels across the District of Columbia reported vacancies, a rarity for an event as large as a presidential inauguration.

And ridership on the Washington’s Metro system didn’t match that of recent inaugurations. As of 11 a.m. that day, there were 193,000 trips taken, according to the transit service’s Twitter account. At the same hour eight years ago, there had been 513,000 trips. Four years later, there were 317,000 for Obama’s second inauguration.

All the evidence shows that this inauguration was not as well attended as either of the previous two inaugurations. But leaving aside the actual WMATA numbers and photos used to get crowd size estimates – which are important, because they are the only data-based indications we have – the more pertinent issue seems to be how crucial the Trump team believes it is to push back on the facts about his apparent popularity. Of course, Trump was the impetus for this, taking time before Spicer’s briefing on Saturday in his remarks at the CIA Memorial Wall to criticize the reported crowd estimates as false.

After the comments from Trump and Spicer, the administration’s assault continued Sunday morning with Kellyanne Conway on NBC’s Meet the Press, in which she described Spicer’s comments as “alternative facts”, which sounds like a derogatory term but apparently is not:

Asked on “Meet the Press” why Spicer used his first appearance before the press to dispute a minimal issue like the inauguration crowd size, and why he used falsehoods to do so, Conway pushed back. “You’re saying it’s a falsehood and Sean Spicer, our press secretary, gave alternative facts to that,” she told NBC’s Chuck Todd.

She claimed – correctly – that one cannot prove the crowd size number, though that ignores how experts actually can make good estimates about it. Then, she intimated what the Trump administration might do when the press calls him out in ways Trump may not like:

Conway also suggested that Todd’s insistence on asking why Spicer delivered a demonstrably false statement could affect the White House’s treatment of the media. “If we’re going to keep referring to the press secretary in those types of terms I think we’re going to have to rethink our relationship here,” she said.

Chris Wallace at Fox News even got into it with White House chief of staff Reince Priebus:

“I think this is a ridiculous conversation,” Wallace shot back. “There were huge areas, he [Trump] said there were crowds all the way to the Washington Monument.”

“There was,” Priebus insisted.

“There wasn’t,” Wallace shot back. “You know what? Let’s put up the picture again.”

At best, the pushback by the Trump team to discount inauguration crowd size reports and disparage the press comes off as impetuous. It’s not statesmanship. It reflects quite a bit of insecurity. It’s petty. And it’s easy to fact-check and show that they are lying. Even Fox News did that. None of this inspires confidence.

At worst, what Trump is doing is an attempt to convince the public that his propagandist narrative of events is typically true, and that the press is typically lying.

Let’s consider the best case of all this first, that Trump’s pushback against the press this weekend shows the amateur political tactics of his rookie team. If they hadn’t disputed the crowd size story, we probably would not have seen the press go to even greater lengths to follow-up and analyze the crowd size in more depth, and keep reporting it. Personally, I was not even thinking about the crowd size much even after the initial estimates were reported – I just did not really care about it. The story would likely have faded quickly on its own. Since the Trump team now has more ability than anyone in the world to generate headlines, they could have unleashed some other news items and effectively replaced this story with coverage of other things. Instead, they chose to prolong this. Some might say that was intentional and shrewd (see below), since it fires up his base. While that might be a benefit, the cost is some serious negative coverage that is firing up everyone else as well, and during a time when Trump’s approval ratings as he enters office are near all-time lows for incoming presidents (that is another Fox News link for those of you who think anything else would be “fake news,” and it confirms the other major polls). It just does not seem smart. And if they fumble simple things like this, how are they going to handle truly tough political problems, like dealing with other countries on issues such as international trade, terrorism, and military aggression?

But maybe Trump’s tactics are in fact intentional rather than a blunder, an effort to energize his supporters. Trump’s reliance on populism may compel him to demonstrate how much support he appears to have. If this is what is behind the crowd size dust-up with the press, then not only will this continue, it could be the start of something much more disturbing, something I will get to in a follow-up blog post.


How We Get the News

Permalink - Posted on 2016-12-23 09:21

We all have our ways of getting “the news” regularly. Some people start with a particular newspaper each morning and read it over a cup of coffee. Some check their favorite news sites on a mobile device. Some use Twitter, others use Facebook, some watch a morning talk show on TV, some listen to the radio. The sources we tap to feed our news intake strongly influence and/or reflect what we are likely to believe.

Acknowledging bias and protecting against its effects requires each of us to resist the entertainment aspect of how news is presented by much of the media, and instead focus on assessing the facts behind a story. This is a more demanding way to consume information. I would argue, though, that each of us must feel compelled to make the effort.

For what it may be worth to anyone, this is how I get my news. I start at the Google News site each morning. I compare headlines, typically reading about a story from no fewer than two different sources. If a story is particularly popular, I will check it on some known partisan sites and compare it to other sources. When I find discrepancies and if I have time, I will try to fact-check things.

I believe that reading what different media organizations are reporting and following up when there are differences in coverage is the only way to target the truth behind a story. Without sounding high-minded, I feel this is part of acting responsibly as a citizen.

Today, there was a good example of discrepancies in coverage of a popular story, Trump’s tweet yesterday that the U.S. should expand its nuclear capability. It showed up in the second spot on Google News this morning, just under the Berlin terrorist attack headlines. I decided to see how the major news sites were reporting this. All of them had it covered pretty prominently, except for one: Fox News.

The first source I read was Politico, whose article included a quote, and commentary similar to other sites about how Trump’s comments contradict decades of U.S. policy:

“Let it be an arms race… we will outmatch them at every pass and outlast them all,” Trump told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” during an off-air conversation on Friday.

The attempt at a clarification came after Trump alarmed some with a vague tweet on Thursday that said, “The United States must greatly strengthen and expand its nuclear capability until such time as the world comes to its senses regarding nukes.”

The tweet, which threatened to upend longstanding U.S. nonproliferation policy, followed comments from Russian President Vladimir Putin, who called on his country to “strengthen” its nuclear forces.

The Politico piece also mentioned these comments from Trump’s spokesman, Jason Miller:

“President-elect Trump was referring to the threat of nuclear proliferation and the critical need to prevent it — particularly to and among terrorist organizations and unstable and rogue regimes,” Miller said in a statement. “He has also emphasized the need to improve and modernize our deterrent capability as a vital way to pursue peace through strength.”

The only things I can find on the Fox News site about Trump’s nuclear weapons comments are some videos, a short four-paragraph bit featuring Charles Krauthammer’s thoughts on this that were broadcast on Thursday’s Special Report with Bret Baier, and this article, which completely ignores the controversy, and does not cover the story in much detail. It does not even mention Miller’s tortured attempt at clarification. And strangely, the article instead goes on to elaborate on another topic: Trump’s proposed Muslim ban, and how it might be affected by the terrorist attack on the Berlin Christmas market.

Weird.

Even weirder is that while sites such as NBC, ABC, CBS, the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, U.S. News and World Report, Politico, USA Today, The Atlantic, the Washington Post, and even conservative sites like The Drudge Report, WND, and Newsmax, feature links on their home pages today to articles about Trump’s nuclear weapons comments, the Fox News home page does not have a single mention of the word “nuclear,” or any links to the videos or articles it did publish about Trump’s nuclear expansion tweet. (Incidentally, CNN is one of the few that also does not mention this story on its home page now, but that is another site I find problematic, which is a topic for another day.)

Fox does have room for headlines on its home page about some real pertinent stories, though… like an 89 year-old Pennsylvania man getting lost and ending up in Alabama, and how the city of Paris, France, has declared war on rats.

Yes, weird.

The Internet has sparked the creation of so many news sites, and it has stoked the fake news phenomenon (this NPR piece is interesting) in a way that makes it easier than ever to willingly feed on whatever type of stories you find appealing. But the Internet also makes it possible for the first time in history to easily scan a variety of news sources and track down what is true. Unfortunately, most people don’t want to put in the effort when they think there is something that appears exaggerated or false. Most don’t even want to entertain the idea that the sources they choose to read might be inaccurate. But it pays to be skeptical, and it is the way to act responsibly.

If you’re not regularly questioning the sources you’re reading, or taking the time to follow-up on things that seem hyperbolic, outrageous, or emotionally charged, you should make an effort. The world is better off when people are educated rather than misled.


House Judiciary Commission Findings on Encryption (@SeanVitka)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-12-22 09:34

Sean Vitka, writing for the Christian Science Monitor, “What some lawmakers still don’t get about encryption”:

The now-public findings of the Encryption Working Group rightly notes that efforts to mandate companies build workarounds to their otherwise strong encryption are not in the national interest.

The findings are a stark departure from what some in Congress were pushing earlier this year in the wake of the San Bernardino shooter case, in which the FBI tried to force Apple to create a custom version of iOS that would allow the Bureau to bypass the device’s security.

This passage is, I think, the heart of the whole issue (bold emphasis is mine):

But [Joe Kennedy (D) of Massachusetts and Adam Kinzinger (R) of Illinois] cannot plausibly claim to be focused on the country’s security while failing to oppose backdoors. If they were committed to security in any serious capacity, they would have concluded at least what the Encryption Working Group and what every other expert has been saying for decades: You cannot have an encryption backdoor that isn’t also a vulnerability. Their abstention and voting records reveal they either don’t understand that or they don’t care – and in any event that they definitely do not support a ban on backdoors in the technology that keeps Americans safe.

Other than this Congressional group going on the record ascertaining the fundamental truism about encryption, there is nothing new here. Unfortunately, the debate will continue despite these findings. The incoming Trump administration has been open about its disdain for encryption, with comments not only from Trump himself supporting this, but also from several of his appointments for cabinet and advisor positions.

Once again, for reference


Jeb Bush Returns, With Support of Scott Pruitt for EPA

Permalink - Posted on 2016-12-21 08:45

The man who woulda, coulda, shoulda… In a piece on CNN, Jeb Bush makes the case for Scott Pruitt, Trump’s pick to run the Environmental Protection Agency. He pitches some of the right-wing red meat anyone of that ilk would want – limit “the intrusion of the federal government in every area of our lives,” rein in “out-of-control bureaucracy,” and more:

Our country has been held back over the past eight years because the appropriate balance between federal and state powers has become totally skewed. Individual liberty and our constitutional order have been threatened. People’s aspirations have been capped by a federal government that overextended its reach, and in no place has this been more apparent than at the EPA. The EPA has become a one-agency job killer, putting working people out of a job and increasing costs for everyone.

There is some truth to the job killing. The coal industry has certainly suffered (by intention, not as a side effect) under the Obama administration, losing over 20,000 jobs through 2015. But the natural gas and oil industries have seen gains, over 30,000 through the end of 2014, though that has declined in the past two years as the prices of these commodities plummeted. But to say that regulations are holding us back, while domestic production of oil and gas has never been higher, vaulting the U.S. to the top of all fossil fuel energy producers in the world, is nonsense.

Let’s recap the past eight years overall, a period in which we’ve risen from the wreckage of the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, a downturn that began in the last year of Bush’s two terms in office. The U.S. has seen corporate profits rise sharply, to record levels, over 10 million jobs created (though there are other ways to look at this, unrelated to regulatory effects), the unemployment rate decline to under 5% (other ways to look at that as well), and a stock market increase of over 140% as of today, and 120% before Election Day this year.

If these are all the horrible effects of the EPA killing jobs, putting people out of work, and increasing costs for everyone, I’m not sure Bush should be screaming about it.

More to the point about Scott Pruitt:

…Pruitt has acknowledged human impact on the climate and supports a robust discussion about its effects and what the government should and shouldn’t do to address it.

I’d like to see how Pruitt has, “acknowledged human impact on the climate,” by finding some public statement or article with any support of this… and I can find absolutely nothing. Everything I see about Pruitt indicates he does not accept the prevailing research into the causes of climate change and has colluded several times with the fossil fuel industry to file lawsuits and challenge federal regulations.

Bush claims that he, during his term as governor of Florida, balanced the interests of business and the environment well, and therefore understands the proper role of the EPA:

I know Pruitt will be successful because I went through this process firsthand running for governor in Florida. Many Democrats claimed that my views were extreme and that I would ruin our beautiful and unique habitat. What they found was exactly the opposite. Applying conservative principles, we streamlined the bureaucracy, saved the state money and invested in Florida’s environment, including setting out on a historic effort to restore America’s Everglades – something the federal government had failed to do.

A notable example in Bush’s environmental record is his gutting of the law to protect the Everglades. In a huge capitulation to the sugar industry in 2003, Bush pushed an amendment to the landmark 1994 Everglades Forever Act that delayed the requirement to meet pollution goals by 2006 for another twenty years. Bush collaborated with the sugar industry to draft the bill. The sugar industry contributed around $750,000 to the Republican Party of Florida from 1998 through 2002, and later became a major donor to Bush’s Right to Rise Super PAC. Now, the Everglades and most of central and south Florida is experiencing the effects of this neglect, partly related to Bush’s legislative “victory” in 2003, as well as to subsequent actions and inaction.

Bush on mirroring his ostensibly sensible approach at the federal level:

This model can be replicated in Washington under an Administrator Scott Pruitt. He will put long overdue limits on the rule makers and roll back those that are choking economic growth. He will ensure that we conserve our natural habitats and resources, while unleashing an energy revolution that will bring millions of jobs to our country.

It seems likely that 1) Scott Pruitt will not make protecting the environment his top priority as EPA director, and 2) that Republicans will have exactly what they desire – an EPA director who is an opponent of the environment and will push for the interests of big business over public safety, and likely be rewarded for it even more than he already has.


Andrew Napolitano Redefines Hacking, and Other Nonsense (@judgenap)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-12-15 10:08

Here is an example of some bullshit mongering on Fox News. Judge Andrew Napolitano, on hacking vs. leaking, tries to frame what intelligence agencies found regarding alleged Russian actions against the Democratic National Committee’s servers as something less nefarious than it actually is:

Leaking is the theft of private data and its revelation to those not entitled or intended to see it. Hacking is remotely accessing an operational system and altering its contents – for example, removing money from a bank account or contact information from an address book or vote totals from a candidate’s tally. When Trump characterized the CIA claim that the Russians hacked the DNC and Clinton campaign emails intending to affect the outcome of the election as ridiculous, this is what he meant: There is no evidence of anyone’s altering the contents of operational systems, but there is evidence – plenty of it – of leaking.

Hacking does not require altering data on a server in order to be defined as “hacking.” This is preposterous. Gaining access to a system on which a user is not permitted is one aspect of hacking. Stealing data is another. Nothing needs to be “altered.”

Napolitano probably got the definition he pushes in his article from the first result in a Google search for “computer hacking definition”:

Computer hacking refers to the practice of modifying or altering computer software and hardware to accomplish a goal that is considered to be outside of the creator’s original objective.

If that’s as far as he went to find a definition of hacking, it’s shoddy journalism. That same source, on the same page, elaborates beyond that misleading description with examples of hacking that do not involve altering anything.

The Computer Fraud and Abuse Act (CFAA) outlaws what is commonly accepted as hacking, which, again, does not require altering anything. The DOJ has more about it here. There are many other sources as well (see the end of this post).

A leak, by the way, is simply the intentional disclosure of information that is not intended to be shared, and often involves information that was misappropriated or stolen… by hacking.

Napolitano also offers a specious justification for why the alleged Russian actions against the DNC do not constitute anything substantive:

If hackers wanted to affect the outcome of the election, they would have needed to alter the operational systems of those who register voters and count votes, not those who seek votes.

If the hackers had information they believed could have influenced voters, releasing or leaking that information could have certainly affected the outcome. That may in fact have been what happened in the 2016 U.S. Presidential election.

Napolitano concludes with a baseless and vague allegation about who actually leaked the data obtained in the hacking of the DNC servers, yet he offers no evidence for any of it.

If you are a conservative and the Napolitano piece is an example of a source you routinely tap for information, do everyone a favor and compare stuff like this to more credible sources. For example, want to understand what hacking actually is? There are tons of resources from experts in the computer science and legal fields that will help you more than a, uh, hack like Napolitano, such as the CFAA links above, and here, here, here, here, etc.


Trump’s Business Ties Already Jeopardizing American Interests (@kurteichenwald)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-12-14 13:04

Not only has President-elect Trump refused to release his tax returns (the first U.S. President in over 40 years who hasn’t), which should have set off alarm bells for every American citizen, but now the details of the enormous entanglement of business and political conflicts his election presents is proving to require a breathtaking effort.

In Newsweek, “How Donald Trump’s Business Ties Are Already Jeopardizing U.S. Interests,” by Kurt Eichenwald, the author examines several known conflicts that are already of concern. One example:

Just the suspicion that Trump might re-establish formal relations with Taiwan for the financial benefit of his children—or might use it as a bargaining chip for landing the kind of development deals on the mainland that Eric Trump discussed—will now be part of the foreign policy calculations in Beijing, as officials there attempt to deal with the new U.S. president.

If you have not already read the article, do it. It goes into enough depth to see that we are all about to really step in it.

Even some of Trump’s picks for his administration have conflicts of interest. Take Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn, Trump’s pick for National Security Advisor, with respect to Turkey’s accusation that Fethullah Gülen, who lives in the U.S., was involved in the recent coup attempt against Turkish President Tayyip Erdogan (emphasis below is mine):

Erdogan has placed Gülen on country’s list of most-wanted terrorists, but the Obama administration has not acted on the extradition request, and it has told the Turks they would have to produce proof of Gülen’s involvement in the coup attempt before he could be sent to Ankara, the Turkish capital.

Enter Donald Trump. The day of the U.S. election, the news site The Hill published an article by Lieutenant General Michael T. Flynn… “The forces of radical Islam derive their ideology from radical clerics like Gülen, who is running a scam,” Flynn wrote. “We should not provide him safe haven… It is imperative that we remember who our real friends are.” (Flynn, who runs a consulting firm hired by a company with links to the Turkish government, seems unaware that radical Islamic groups like the Islamic State, or ISIS, are more likely to decapitate someone like Gülen.)

Flynn’s statement fits too nicely with Trump’s business interests in Turkey, and illustrates that it is likely the Turkish government has significant leverage over Trump even before he takes office.

The examples in the article are just scratching the surface. This has more than the potential for political disaster.


Whither Mac Automation?

Permalink - Posted on 2016-11-17 11:35

Potentially unsettling news regarding macOS automation, reported by MacStories, Six Colors, Daring Fireball, and others, and by the former Product Manager of Automation Technologies himself, Sal Soghoian:

Q. I hear you no longer work for Apple; is that true?

A. Correct. I joined Apple in January of 1997, almost twenty years ago, because of my profound belief that “the power of the computer should reside in the hands of the one using it.” That credo remains my truth to this day. Recently, I was informed that my position as Product Manager of Automation Technologies was eliminated for business reasons. Consequently, I am no longer employed by Apple Inc. But, I still believe my credo to be as true today as ever.

And what that might mean for those of us who rely on macOS automation:

Q. What does the termination of the position of Product Manager of Automation Technologies mean for the future of user automation in macOS?

A. Ask Apple. Seriously, if you have any questions or concerns about the future of user automation, ask Apple. If user automation technologies are important to you, then now is the time for all good men and women to reach out, speak up and ask questions. The macOS user automation technologies include: UNIX CLI (shell, python, ruby, perl), System Services, Apple Events (JavaScript, AppleScript, AppleScriptObj-C, Scripting Bridge), Automator, Apple Configurator (AppleScript, Automator), and Application scripting support in Photos, iWork, Finder, Mail, and other Apple applications.

Sal’s website merits stashing in your handy list of helpful links.


Footnotes in Articles

Permalink - Posted on 2016-11-13 11:28

A quick word about how footnotes are implemented on this site…

In a recent post, The Case For a Demagogue, I used footnotes on this site for the first time, but I was not completely satisfied with the result. By using the HTML <sup> tag surrounding a hyperlink, it’s easy enough to format the footnote reference as a superscript and jump to it:

<ul>
  <li>The 2016 election was the second of the last five in which the 
  winner won while losing the popular vote (Bush #43 in 2000 was the 
  other), and only the fourth in U.S. history 
  <sup><a href="#footnote1">1</a></sup>.
  </li>
</ul>

The problem is getting back to where you were in the text. A quick search revealed a good solution from John Gruber at Daring Fireball. He suggests 1) adding an ID for the footnote reference (I’ve used id="ref-footnote1" in the superscript), and 2) at the end of the footnote text, adding a link back to the footnote reference using its ID, along with a Unicode character often used to represent a carriage return. The way I’ve done it looks like this:

<ul>
  <li>The 2016 election was the second of the last five in which the 
  winner won while losing the popular vote (Bush #43 in 2000 was the 
  other), and only the fourth in U.S. history
  <sup id="ref-footnote1"><a href="#footnote1">1</a></sup>.
  </li>
</ul>

<!-- And the footnote section... -->

<div class="footnotes">
<ol>
  <li id="footnote1">
  From <a href="http://www.pewresearch.org/...">Pew Research</a>: 
  <em>In the 1824 election, which was contested between rival 
  factions of the same party, Andrew Jackson won a plurality of the 
  popular and electoral vote, but because he was short of an 
  Electoral College majority the election was thrown to the House of 
  Representatives, which chose runner-up John Quincy Adams.</em> 
  Some sources refer to this as the <em>fifth</em> time the winner 
  did not get a plurality of the popular vote, but for the purpose 
  of this blog post, I consider this a special case since Congress 
  intervened to pick the candidate. <a href="#ref-footnote1" 
  class='footnoteBackLink' title="Jump back to footnote 1 in the 
  text.">&#x21A9;&#xFE0E;</a>
  </li>
</ol>
</div>

I like the way this works, so this will be the convention I follow going forward.


The Case For a Demagogue

Permalink - Posted on 2016-11-11 11:25

Earlier this week, I made the case against a demagogue. On Tuesday, the electorate made the opposite argument. The demagogue won.

Electoral Vote

Popular Vote

Source: Cook Political Report

Donald Trump won the states he needed to put him over the top, and may end up winning 306 to 232 electoral votes. Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by a few hundred thousand (Update: by 2.8 million). While the electoral vote sends the president to office, the popular vote has a significance that is often ignored by a new administration and Congress.

An electoral/popular vote split last occurred in 2000 when George W. Bush won against Al Gore. Our country has been split pretty evenly for years. The numbers for and against the winner of each election are often closer than you might think:


Popular Vote %
Past Fifteen Elections, 1960-2016

Sources: Cook Political Report, Wikipedia, Cornell University, FEC

Presidents typically win slim majorities. In recent years, convincing even half the population to support a candidate has been tough:

  • The 2016 election was the second of the last five in which the winner won while losing the popular vote (Bush #43 in 2000 was the other), and only the fourth in U.S. history 1.
  • Trump’s share of the popular vote was near historic lows at just 47.7%. Only Nixon in 1968 (43.4%) and Clinton in 1992 (43%) were lower.
  • In six of the past fifteen elections, the winner received less than 50% of the popular vote.
  • In the past eight elections, going back to Bush #41 in 1988, no one has received more than 53.4% of the popular vote.
  • In the past fifteen elections, only three winners got more than 53.4% of the popular vote, with Lyndon Johnson in 1964 getting the highest percentage in history (over 61%), followed by the second terms of Nixon and Reagan.

Note that the three “landslides” in the past 56 years (Reagan in 1984, Nixon in 1972, and Johnson in 1964) all had a winning margin within two points of 60%. Even having merely 40% of voters opposed to your presidency – a best-case scenario – is still a significant number.

There is a lot of talk about unity right now. So what should we expect?

Getting roughly half the popular vote or less should be the first thing a new president considers if he is concerned about uniting the country, especially if he has any sense of humility (though I suppose most politicians don’t have much of that). If I were the president-elect in this scenario (a completely different concern for everyone!), I would probably realize that one of my objectives would be winning over, to some extent, those that did not support me. That’s not because I would want to be “likable,” but because I would see it as an obligation to work for the concerns of all. Though I would certainly make some decisions that would not be popular with one constituency or another, my hope would be that the group that had opposed me would at least see my efforts as honest and fair.

In that spirit, I believe all leaders should “govern from the middle”, identify issues in which both sides have a stake, and build consensus to solve those problems. Instead, new presidents typically rationalize that the team that won gets to do what it wants.

One example of this is from President Obama’s first term. While he deserves credit for several things (such as the role he played in successfully combatting the worst global economic crisis since the Great Depression), I believe he made a significant mistake during his first two years in office.

In 2009 and 2010, Democrats had control of the House and Senate. It was a historic chance to unify the country. But they overreached with the Affordable Care Act. A consensus-driven approach might have worked to pass a few of the major pieces of that law, such as a ban on denying coverage for those with pre-existing conditions, or the ability for anyone to get catastrophic coverage. These were among the parts of that law that conservatives would have likely supported as much as liberals, and passing just those pieces might have been a great start. Instead, Obama led the Democrats in enacting sweeping health care legislation while mostly ignoring the outcry from opponents.

“Obamacare” was deeply unpopular with conservatives, and Democrats paid dearly for it. It galvanized the right during the 2010 elections, launched the Tea Party, and gave the political right control of both houses of Congress. Conservatives remained ignited by this for years and were able to stretch this sentiment into a wider narrative about “big government,” weaving it all into something that at times resembles mythology, mixing shards of truth with some eye-opening embellishment.

That backlash persisted for the rest of Obama’s tenure. It was the catalyst for the movement that has now put Donald Trump into the White House.

Maybe Trump will break the endless cycle of winner-take-all-and-loser-be-damned by showing restraint and focusing on a common set of concerns shared by both conservatives and liberals. Despite his campaign rhetoric, it would be fair to give him that chance, rather than anticipate that his administration will act as though it has a clear mandate to make sweeping changes that many in the majority who voted against him will oppose.

So, will conservatives push their agenda hard in the face of majority opposition? Or, will the outright loss in the popular vote tally concern the new administration and prompt Trump to seek consensus in any meaningful way? We will soon find out, but the initial indications are not promising.

If conservatives ignore popular opinion and move ahead with a contentious governing agenda, the opposition will throw its weight down hard. We may remain stuck in a cycle of bitterness, with unity eluding us for another four years.

Big league.

  1. From Pew Research: In the 1824 election, which was contested between rival factions of the same party, Andrew Jackson won a plurality of the popular and electoral vote, but because he was short of an Electoral College majority the election was thrown to the House of Representatives, which chose runner-up John Quincy Adams. Some sources refer to this as the fifth time the winner did not get a plurality of the popular vote, but for the purpose of this blog post, I consider this a special case since Congress intervened to pick the candidate. ↩︎


The Case Against a Demagogue

Permalink - Posted on 2016-11-07 09:00

Demagogue - a political leader who seeks support by appealing to popular desires and prejudices rather than by using rational argument.

Much ink has been spilled and many pixels have been lit by writers and bloggers and pundits and Facebook friends about the 2016 U.S. presidential election. With only one day left before we vote, writing about my own views now may see them washed out in all the noise, or simply ignored by many made-up minds. Yet because we are about to make a momentous choice (for many, an unfortunate choice), I am compelled to make a case. If there is anyone left who may still be wondering what to do, maybe it will shed some useful light on what we face.

This year’s election puts us in the extraordinary situation of having to choose between two candidates who are perhaps more damaged than any in history. While I agree with quite a bit of the criticism by each side against its respective opponent, my view, simply stated, is this: we cannot elect a demagogue to lead our country.

Donald Trump is the definition of a demagogue, a man pandering to the worst tendencies of a small but notable slice of society. His momentum has spread from that group and swept up a frighteningly large number of others who just want someone – anyone – to make changes – any changes – to shake up our political system. His appeal is one of catering to frustrations, making grandiose promises, and reassuring those who want to believe in a message of strength and jingoism, even though he offers very few specific plans, ignores facts, and propagates outright lies. Regardless of what he says, what is most important to a large part of this group is that he is the alternative to the much-vilified Hillary Clinton. Trump is hoping to ride a wave of hype and hysteria to the White House. To those who support him because he is the “non-politician” satisfying their thirst for upending the system, you may get what you wish for. And you may regret it.

The politics Trump promotes should be deeply troubling to those who want true change. If it isn’t already obvious, take a fingernail and flake off the thin coat of garish paint he’s slapped on his brand of populism and see what hides underneath. He rises on a shaky foundation of fear and anger. It is nothing new. What his election to the highest political office on the planet would mean for all of us is alarming.

What Trump represents may have first been revealed by his comments about Mexican immigrants in June of 2015:

When Mexico sends its people, they’re not sending their best. They’re not sending you. They’re not sending you. They’re sending people that have lots of problems, and they’re bringing those problems with us. They’re bringing drugs. They’re bringing crime. They’re rapists. And some, I assume, are good people.

When I was growing up in the 1970s, there was a TV commercial featuring a man with his grandson fishing on a quiet lake in a rowboat. The child mentions that someone called him prejudiced, and mentions his friend, his Jewish friend, and the grandfather points out how calling him that is an example of being prejudiced. It is a mild portrayal of unintentionally bad behavior compared to that willfully demonstrated by Trump. The point is, most of us learned as children that making judgments about a person based on race or religion is wrong, or at least we all should have learned that.

Trump embraces that kind of ignorance, concentrates it into a potion, and makes it into a bomb. I was floored when I saw the now Republican presidential candidate allege that Mexican immigrants are typically criminals, and speculating that – yes! – there may be some that are good people. That single event forced me to consider this man unfit for the presidency. He never had to elaborate or say anything else. Those comments were completely unacceptable and should have been enough to disqualify him from anyone’s consideration. I was certain that that would be the end of his campaign, but it was just a preview of the race-baiting and xenophobia that would drive his support. He continued to build on it with a litany of crazy shit he did and said, all actively defended by his most rabid supporters and cronies. A small and incomplete list follows:

There is a lot I’m leaving out because it would take hours to compile it all. See “176 Reasons Donald Trump Shouldn’t Be President” for a whole bunch more, written in mid-September, before some of his most damning controversies erupted.

While there are people who will see many of these items as disqualifying, others will see them less critically. To the latter group, these things may only prove that Trump is an oaf, or they are relatively minor, or he doesn’t mean them, or that Hillary Clinton is just so much worse. While I may disagree overall, I get all that. My enthusiasm for Clinton, for example, has never been high (an understatement). However, you have to take what candidates say seriously. It is now a stark choice, one he has made thoroughly certain I don’t need to deliberate.

What I think might make an even stronger case for Trump’s unsuitability and ineptitude for the job of president is highlighted by what others have said about him – others who are not just experienced in governing our country, but Republicans who are, or have been, opposed to him. Here is a partial list of quotes by Republicans:

I am leaving a lot off this list as well. See “Which Republicans Oppose Donald Trump? A Cheat Sheet”, “50 GOP Officials Warn Donald Trump Would Put Nation’s Security at Risk”, and “Open Letter on Donald Trump from GOP National Security Leaders” for more.

Maybe the most troubling development in this election is the support Trump has received from white supremacist groups, exemplified by just one example here:

The support for Trump from the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke, and many hate groups is frightening. To be fair, Trump has renounced these endorsements, but he was slow to do so when they began early in the campaign, and some of his behavior, such as retweeting an anti-Semitic image of Hillary Clinton from a white supremacist message board, leaves me concerned about how much he values the support from these groups. Thankfully, I think this is not an indication of what most Trump supporters believe, and hopefully, the most these groups can ever aspire to is relegation to the fringes of a fading piece of our culture.

On Election Day, I will do what I can to deny Trump the presidency. That doesn’t mean I will be happy with the result, but the choice for two qualified candidates was never given to me. The Republicans took that possibility away when they nominated Trump. The blame for the outcome of this election, whatever it is, rests largely with them.


Obama Giving Away the Internet - Huh?

Permalink - Posted on 2016-10-22 08:37

Someone I know posted this on a social media site recently:

The Obama administration wants to hand over the Internet to the UN and the international community. You need to wake up to what’s going on…

This has been a talking point lately for some politicians. It should be obvious that it’s complete bullshit.

Obama is not “handing over the Internet.” What this is about is no longer having the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) (at the Department of Commerce) oversee the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers (ICANN) (administrator of the DNS servers that translate something like google.com into something Internet protocol understands, like 8.8.8.8). Obama had nothing to do with the original plan for transitioning ICANN to an independent organization. ICANN was supposed to become independent in 2000, and this plan was pushed back many times while everyone tussled over how this arrangement would work. As of 1-Oct-2016, it became independent. The major tech companies that have taken a position on this are all for it. There are some concerns about how this will work going forward, but the concerns are speculation at this point.

Note that ICANN has been managing DNS for eighteen years. NTIA opposed it in ONE case in all that time, when the .xxx top-level domain was proposed, and then let it go ahead anyway. In other words, ICANN had already been operating much like an independent organization.

The politicians and others spouting alarmist rhetoric about this apparently do not or deliberately choose to not understand how the Internet works (e.g. DNS administration will allow governments to censor the Internet – really?).

I think we should be more concerned with the Internet becoming a cesspool of misinformation and bile spewed by extremists on both sides… I wonder when that will start to happen.


Why Does Siri Seem So Dumb? (@waltmossberg)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-10-13 09:29

Walt Mossberg, “Why does Siri seem so dumb?”:

Siri’s huge promise has been shrunk to just making voice calls and sending messages to contacts, and maybe getting the weather, using voice commands. Some users find it a reliable way to set timers, alarms, notes and reminders, or to find restaurants.

It’s not even that great for getting information from the iPhone that I would think is a no-brainer. Some examples:

How many steps have I taken today?

Siri: I can’t answer that on your iPhone, but you can find it in the Health app: Open the health app

Siri can show info from other built-in apps, and it would be nice if Apple could expose other useful and probably innocuous data, like steps taken, miles walked, calories burned, etc.

Turn on the flashlight

Siri: Sorry, but I’m not able to do that.

Siri can turn on the camera, and can toggle WiFi, Night Shift, Airplane mode, but not the flashlight.

Show me my last photo

Siri: (no audio response, immediately opens the Photos app showing my camera roll, oddly in Select mode with the Select and Cancel buttons and my query at the top of the screen.)

It would be helpful to at least put me at the end of the stream of photos, but even easier, why can’t Siri just pull up the last one?

I don’t know what features are restricted from access by Siri, how many queries are pre-programmed, or how much artificial intelligence is actually being used, but there is a lot of room to improve obvious queries in the system. Regarding how much AI is actually used, what Mossberg discovered after he contacted Apple about the examples he tried that did not work (and now do) is troubling – it seems like a lot of queries are actually pre-programmed:

If you try most of these broken examples right now, they’ll work properly, because Apple fixed them after I tweeted screenshots of most of them in exasperation, and asked the company about them.


Google Declared King (@TheMacalope)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-10-09 07:16

The Macalope on some of the recent stupid shit in the media regarding Google’s Pixel and other announcements:

Google announced a phone (which they’ve done several times before but because pundits apparently received a collective bump on the noggin no one seems to remember this), a WiFi hub (Apple already makes one of those), a VR headset (which is just goggles to put the Pixel in and a remote) and an Echo-like smart home assistant. The fawning over the last is a delightful insight into the Apple double standard. Echo sales to date are probably only in the low millions but pundits are falling over themselves about this incredible hit. Meanwhile, Apple’s sold about 15 million Watches, owns the smartwatch market and is doing exceedingly well in the watch category as a whole, and has driven Android Wear into the ocean… and the Apple Watch is somehow a flop.

The media does seem to have some weird mental illness when it comes to reporting about Apple.


Yahoo Secret Email Scanning (@josephmenn, @nickywoolf)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-10-05 08:53

From Nicky Woolf at The Guardian, “Yahoo ‘secretly monitored emails on behalf of the US government’” (and originally reported by Joseph Menn at Reuters):

Some Yahoo employees were upset about the decision not to contest the more recent directive and thought the company could have prevailed, the sources said. They were also upset that [chairman Marissa] Mayer and Yahoo general counsel Ron Bell did not involve the company’s security team in the process, instead asking Yahoo’s email engineers to write a program to siphon off messages containing the character string the spies sought and store them for remote retrieval, according to the sources.

That Yahoo allowed this is certainly troubling. How Yahoo handled this internally is also troubling. Also of concern is a bug that could have allowed hackers to access all Yahoo emails:

When [Alex] Stamos found out that Mayer had authorized the program, he resigned as chief information security officer and told his subordinates that he had been left out of a decision that hurt users’ security, sources said. Due to a programming flaw, he told them, hackers could have accessed the stored emails.

But the larger issue, that of government access to our data on all the major email services, hasn’t changed. Read how carefully-worded the denials are by some of Yahoo’s competitors:

Google, whose Gmail is the world’s largest email service, said on Tuesday that it hadn’t received a similar spying request from the request from the US government. If it had, Google said, its response would be: “No way.”

Microsoft, whose email service also is larger than Yahoo, also said it has “never engaged in the secret scanning of email traffic.”

Twitter, which doesn’t provide email service but does allow users to exchange direct messages, likewise said it has never received such a request and would challenge it in court if it did.

A Facebook spokesperson said: “Facebook has never received a request like the one described in these news reports from any government, and if we did we would fight it.”

These statements all deny a similar effort like Yahoo’s, which scanned every incoming email for some targeted text. But none of these statements indicates that our data is protected with any type of encryption, which is the only way these providers could keep this data private, or that these companies never hand emails over to the government when requested. And some egregious practices continue and are possible only because our data is not encrypted. For example, recall how Google scans all of our emails to target us with ads, a different but still troubling privacy concern.

As for Apple, the one major tech company that has very publicly opposed some types of government efforts to get our data, they said this:

“We have never worked with any government agency from any country to create a backdoor in any of our products or services. We have also never allowed access to our servers. And we never will.”

In a further statement, Apple said “We have never received a request of this type. If we were to receive one, we would oppose it in court.”

Apple should get kudos for things like iMessage and device encryption, but it has never stated that it would not or has never turned over email data when requested, and their issues with how they store iMessage metadata should also be a concern.

The only way to truly keep our information secure is to encrypt it, both end-to-end and while stored. None of these services do that. Remember that before you slam Yahoo about this exclusively.


FBI Demands Signal User Data (@cfarivar, @arstechnica)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-10-04 14:18

Cyrus Farivar for Ars Technica, “FBI demands Signal user data, but there’s not much to hand over”:

All Signal messages and voice calls are end-to-end encrypted using the Signal Protocol, which has since been adopted by WhatsApp and other companies. However, unlike other messaging apps, OWS makes a point of not keeping any data, encrypted or otherwise, about its users. (WhatsApp, by contrast, keeps encrypted messages on its own servers—this allows for message history to be restored when users set up a new device.)

“The only information responsive to the subpoena held by OWS is the time of account creation and the date of the last connection to Signal servers,” [ACLU attorney Brett Max] Kaufman continued, also pointing out that the company did in fact hand over this data.

There is a notable contrast between Signal’s philosophy about storing metadata and the practice adopted by Apple as reported in last week’s story about how it retains iMessage metadata. I think several articles in the media last week almost rationalized that Apple keeps this data because it helps it in debugging iMessage issues. That certainly may be true, but the downside is that this metadata is very revealing even without the content of the encrypted messages, and it is hard to believe that iMessage metadata has not been subpoenaed in the past. Signal’s approach shows that they understand this.


Stupefied (@andre_spicer, @aeonmag)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-29 09:57

André Spicer, professor of organizational behavior at the Cass Business School at City, University of London, writing for Aeon in, “Stupefied (How organisations enshrine collective stupidity and employees are rewarded for checking their brains at the office door)”:

For more than a decade, we’ve been studying dozens of organisations such as this management consultancy, employing people with high IQs and impressive educations. We have spoken with hundreds of people working for engineering firms, government departments, universities, banks, the media and pharmaceutical companies. We started out thinking it is likely to be the smartest who got ahead. But we discovered this wasn’t the case.

Organisations hire smart people, but then positively encourage them not to use their intelligence. Asking difficult questions or thinking in greater depth is seen as a dangerous waste. Talented employees quickly learn to use their significant intellectual gifts only in the most narrow and myopic ways.

The motivation:

Those who learn how to switch off their brains are rewarded. By avoiding thinking too much, they are able to focus on getting things done. Escaping the kind of uncomfortable questions that thinking brings to light also allows employees to side-step conflict with co-workers. By toeing the corporate line, thoughtless employees get seen as ‘leadership material’ and promoted. Smart people quickly learn that getting ahead means switching off their brains as soon as they step into the office.

This article is a pretty damning look at the mindlessness large corporations impose on employees. It may come across as a very cynical read, but I’ll stick my neck out a little and say that in my experience working with organizations in the private and government sectors, a lot of it rings true. Big, bureaucratic environments usually breed conformity and compliance rather than a dynamic environment that promotes frank discussion and real problem-solving. None of this is news, but this article goes into great detail.

A large part of this, in my view, is simply a lack of courage – on the part of the leadership as well as subordinates. It takes some courage to think critically about issues in a group setting and voice those thoughts, and even more to establish consensus in order to change things, even relatively minor things.

Former New York Giants coach Bill Parcells had a good comment about this once:

Hey listen, if you don’t trust each other enough to air out your differences, you are never going to have a team. If you are afraid of conflict within the team and afraid of confrontation within the team, you are never going to have a team. That’s not a team. That’s a bunch of guys soaking around wondering what the other guy is thinking.


Apple and iMessage Metadata (@samfbiddle, @theintercept)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-29 08:48

Sam Biddle at The Intercept, “Apple Logs Your iMessage Contacts — and May Share Them With Police”:

Every time you type a number into your iPhone for a text conversation, the Messages app contacts Apple servers to determine whether to route a given message over the ubiquitous SMS system, represented in the app by those déclassé green text bubbles, or over Apple’s proprietary and more secure messaging network, represented by pleasant blue bubbles, according to the document. Apple records each query in which your phone calls home to see who’s in the iMessage system and who’s not.

As Rene Ritchie at iMore pointed out:

Is this really news? Not for people versed in iMessage architecture, no.

While the first clause of The Intercept headline is true, the second is speculation, but likely also true. We know that law enforcement agencies routinely request data from Apple and other companies, and if Apple typically did not comply, we would probably have heard about it either from a government leak, or from Apple itself touting its principled stand on privacy. Remember, the FBI made a grand spectacle of Apple’s resistance to helping unlock the iPhone used by the San Bernardino shooter earlier this year, so it’s hard to believe they wouldn’t do it again if given another pretense (I use that word deliberately, since it appears the FBI’s long-term objective regarding encryption is to weaken it, an effort which will likely be restarted with another court battle).

When the case this past summer was reported in which authorities identified and arrested a torrent owner using, at least in part, iTunes purchase activity, I mentioned something that is widely known, “authorities can still determine a lot just by examining call, messaging, and other connection-related metadata and traffic analysis.” The logs mentioned in the article have this type of information, but if Apple decided not to share this data, it is very likely that government surveillance of network traffic could intercept it as it travels between a device and network routers and servers. Asking Apple for it would be much easier, though.


Microsoft Bets Its Future on FPGA Chips (@wired, @CadeMetz)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-27 10:32

From Cade Metz at Wired (with a somewhat hyperbolic headline), “Microsoft Bets Its Future on a Reprogrammable Computer Chip”:

Today, the programmable chips that Burger and Lu believed would transform the world—called field programmable gate arrays—are here. FPGAs already underpin Bing, and in the coming weeks, they will drive new search algorithms based on deep neural networks—artificial intelligence modeled on the structure of the human brain—executing this AI several orders of magnitude faster than ordinary chips could. As in, 23 milliseconds instead of four seconds of nothing on your screen. FPGAs also drive Azure, the company’s cloud computing service. And in the coming years, almost every new Microsoft server will include an FPGA. That’s millions of machines across the globe. “This gives us massive capacity and enormous flexibility, and the economics work,” Burger says. “This is now Microsoft’s standard, worldwide architecture.”

Fascinating look into what Microsoft is doing with FPGAs. Seems like a clever use of an established technology and a different approach from Google and possibly others, i.e., choosing rapid reprogramming over optimized chip design to take advantage of changes in implementing artificial intelligence in software.


Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet (@schneierblog)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-26 09:33

Bruce Schneier, “Someone Is Learning How to Take Down the Internet”:

One company told me about a variety of probing attacks in addition to the DDoS attacks: testing the ability to manipulate Internet addresses and routes, seeing how long it takes the defenders to respond, and so on. Someone is extensively testing the core defensive capabilities of the companies that provide critical Internet services.

Who would do this? It doesn’t seem like something an activist, criminal, or researcher would do. Profiling core infrastructure is common practice in espionage and intelligence gathering. It’s not normal for companies to do that. Furthermore, the size and scale of these probes – and especially their persistence – points to state actors. It feels like a nation’s military cybercommand trying to calibrate its weaponry in the case of cyberwar. It reminds me of the US’s Cold War program of flying high-altitude planes over the Soviet Union to force their air-defense systems to turn on, to map their capabilities.

Who would do this, and who could do this? Most implications are China or Russia, and there are undoubtedly some other countries that are capable.

I wonder if cybersecurity will be discussed tonight at the first presidential debate, the topics of which include, “America’s Direction,” “Achieving Prosperity,” and “Securing America.”


The Silencing of Krebs on Security (@arstechnica, @dangoodin001)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-26 09:17

Dan Goodin at Ars Technica, “Why the silencing of KrebsOnSecurity opens a troubling chapter for the ‘Net”:

On Thursday morning, exactly two weeks after Krebs published his first post, he reported that a sustained attack was bombarding his site with as much as 620 gigabits per second of junk data. That staggering amount of data is among the biggest ever recorded. Krebs was able to stay online thanks to the generosity of Akamai, a network provider that supplied DDoS mitigation services to him for free. The attack showed no signs of waning as the day wore on. Some indications suggest it may have grown stronger. At 4 pm, Akamai gave Krebs two hours’ notice that it would no longer assume the considerable cost of defending KrebsOnSecurity. Krebs opted to shut down the site to prevent collateral damage hitting his service provider and its customers.

“It’s hard to imagine a stronger form of censorship than these DDoS attacks because if nobody wants to take you on then that’s pretty effective censorship,” Krebs told Ars on Friday. “I’ve had a couple of big companies offer and then think better of offering to help me. That’s been frustrating.”

It is stunning to think that the capability exists to take nearly any website offline, and that that capability can be wielded by those with less expertise than ever before. And it seems like not much can be done to stop this. Along with the frequent reports of alleged state-sponsored hacking in the news, this is a troubling trend.


iPhone Passcode Bypassed With NAND Mirroring Attack

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-20 11:14

From Ars Technica:

Sergei Skorobogatov has demonstrated that NAND mirroring—the technique dismissed by James Comey, the director of the FBI, as unworkable—is actually a viable means of bypassing passcode entry limits on an Apple iPhone 5C. What’s more, the technique, which involves soldering off the phone’s flash memory chip, can be used on any model of iPhone up to the iPhone 6 Plus, which use the same type of LGA60 NAND chip. Later models, however, will require “more sophisticated equipment and FPGA test boards.”

Later models starting with the iPhones 6s and 7 apparently cannot be hacked using this technique.

I wonder if this is the kind of attack that was used by whomever the FBI hired in March to break into the iPhone seized in the San Bernardino shooting case.


Apple Watch Coming Apart at the Seams: Part 2

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-19 14:01

Here is a follow-up on my Apple Watch Coming Apart at the Seams saga…

I made an appointment at the Genius Bar at the Apple Store in Tysons Corner, Virginia. A very helpful guy named Dave (imagine that) met me, took a look at the watch, and said since it’s out of warranty it would have to go in for service at the standard rate of $199/incident. The likely outcome was that the watch would be replaced with a new Apple Watch Series 1.

I was hoping for something more generous, like massive apologies and handing me a new watch, but I knew that was a dream. A new unit at a $70 discount isn’t the worst outcome, but I’m still pretty unhappy that the thing came apart in the first place.

Anyway, I declined the service and took the watch home. Before shelling out two-hundred bucks, I figured I’d try to fix it myself. I bought an adhesive kit and loosely followed the instructions on iFixit for replacing the adhesive. However, since the Force Touch sensor had completely detached and I only secured one face of that fragile part, the repair was incomplete. The screen started coming apart again after one day. So this morning I took it apart once more and put adhesive on both sides of the sensor, following a different set of instructions on iFixit for replacing the Force Touch sensor.

The watch now seems to mostly work and is staying together so far. I have definitely broken the Force Touch sensor, though. It is not responding at all, but that’s a small price to pay to hopefully keep the thing running for a while longer. Since I mostly use my Apple Watch for fitness tracking, notifications, remote photos, checking the weather, and other pretty mundane but useful stuff I’ve come to rely on, the lack of Force Touch and the fact that these kinds of gestures seem to be less necessary for accessing various features in watchOS 3 means I should be getting by pretty well for a while.


Google Trips and Privacy (@johnvorhees)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-19 13:53

From the very end of the piece on Google Trips by John Vorhees at Mac Stories:

Of course, to get the most out of Google Trips, you need to log into it with a Google account. If you are uncomfortable with Trips scanning your Gmail and search history to customize what it presents to you, Trips is probably not the app for you.

Despite this appearing to be a cool app to check out, I think reviews of Google’s apps should start with this kind of disclaimer instead of concluding with it. But I guess people are really not too concerned with how much of a view Google has into their private lives.

Update: And at The Verge, last paragraph:

If you have privacy concerns about Google tracking your every step around the world, Trips is likely not the app for you. But if you’re comfortable with the trade-offs, I suspect you’ll find Trips to be a tremendously useful travel companion…

Privacy concerns are nearly just a footnote.


Apple AirPods as a New Wearables Platform (@neilcybart, @AboveAvalon)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-13 16:46

Intriguing take from Neil Cybart about Apple’s AirPods and where the company may be heading with its strategy:

Apple is officially positioning AirPods as the beginning of the end of wired headphones. I would go much further. AirPods are the latest clue that the post-iPhone era is approaching. The writing is on the wall. A pair of AirPods (or even just one AirPod in an ear) and an Apple Watch with cellular connectively will eventually be able to handle many of the most popular tasks currently given to an iPhone.

Update Apple “legend” Bill Atkinson has some intriguing things to say about AirPods and Siri, including some interesting use-cases:

The device on which we arguably use personal assistants most often, the smartphone, is far from ideal. “We’re used to using touch screens, but when you’re in a car, that’s not what you want to do, and you certainly don’t want to be looking at a display,” Atkinson reasons.

Atkinson says that as Siri gets more intelligent, it may be able to recognize certain important sounds in the environment. For example, if a user hears a siren while driving, the AirPods might immediately mute any messages or other audio.

In the ear, Siri is more discreet and polite as a notifications device. Sensors in the device will know if you are in conversation, and will break in only with the most important verbal notifications. “John, if you don’t leave now you will miss your meeting with IBM.” That’s far more discreet than getting buzzed on one’s wrist as a cue to look down at some update.

“Your personal digital assistant needs to understand what you’re saying, and be able to piece together concepts even from your quiet mumblings,” Atkinson says. “It will understand the difference between a sequitur and a non sequitur; a simple transcribing technology wouldn’t understand that.”

The assistant needs to understand when the user is talking about taboo subjects, or saying something that’s politically incorrect,” Atkinson says. “I think we will slowly get there.”


Thoughts on the iPhone 7 Camera and Whether to Upgrade

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-08 10:32

Apple introduced the new iPhone yesterday, and the Internet is now marinating in the flow of feedback. There is a lot to like and I am tempted to replace my iPhone 6s for one reason: the improved camera. Tempted, but not convinced.

Would the camera improvements translate into better photos for me? That is the question. Here is what has improved from iPhone 6s and may interest me:

  • Aperture goes from f/2.2 to f/1.8, significant especially for pseudo-macro shots I love to take
  • Optical image stabilization, should improve low-light photos and video generally
  • Not sure what the six- versus five-element lens update will do for my photos, practically
  • New Apple-designed signal processing chip, may or may not be a big deal for me
  • Wide color gamut, may or may not be a big deal
  • Improved LED flash underwhelms me as I’m not a frequent flash user
  • FaceTime HD camera improved megapixel count from 5mp to 7mp, and jump from 720p to 1080p video, doesn’t fill a big need for me.

Overall, I’m sure the new camera will help me take somewhat better photos. But the current iPhone 6s camera already gives me damn nice shots. I would rate the possible improvements as incremental overall. For some types of pictures, the improvements would probably be significant, but those are likely a minority of the photos I take.

The other non-camera improvements are interesting, but I’m not sure the sum of all these changes will compel me to abandon my typical two-year ownership pattern to spring for a new phone. I’m generally very happy with my iPhone 6s.

And then there are the drawbacks of the new design, notably the removal of the 3.5mm headphone jack. The loss of the headphone jack is a negative for me. I’m just not ready for this change, given the ways that I use my phone, including plugging it into my car audio system (a car without Bluetooth), and charging the phone while I’m driving and listening to podcasts. The inability to charge and listen simultaneously is an especially serious downside. Surely someone is going to come out with an adapter that melds the charging and audio features if it is possible, but I don’t know if it is. UPDATE - It is possible, and Belkin will have this.

One nit pointed out by others is the notion that because the iPhone 7 is nearly identical-looking to the iPhone 6s and iPhone 6 before it, it’s less appealing, or that this means Apple is not doing something it should be with respect to industrial design (see the New York Times). I think the current design is beautiful, and I’m happy it will stick around for another generation. The one thing I would ding Apple for, however, is that since the new design is so slightly different because of the camera, for those who use a case and are upgrading from one of the 6 versions, you’ll likely need to spring for a new case. Apple surely could have anticipated that the new camera would have a slightly larger lens diameter, and made the cases for the previous design with a slightly larger camera/flash cutout (and it is slight). Spending another $39 would piss me off since I have a perfectly good case right here that would otherwise fit a new iPhone 7 just fine.

So this appears to be another great device, but it’s just a bit better than the one I already have. I’ll probably sit this upgrade cycle out.


Apple Watch Coming Apart at the Seams

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-06 10:22

After sixteen months, the adhesive holding the screen to my Apple Watch Sport has failed:

Apple Watch Coming Apart

I’m a bit surprised and not happy, needless to say.

My suspicion is that this is due to moisture. The watch is rated for IPX7 water resistance, which means it’s protected from, “rain, splashing and accidental submersion,” or more technically, “immersion in water with a depth of up to 1 meter (or 3.2ft) for up to 30 mins.” Maybe the immersion I’ve exposed it to, including showering with it regularly (just like Tim Cook does), and submersion in a few rivers, lakes, and oceans briefly while fishing was bad because it was intentional rather than accidental; surely the watch could tell the difference.

Or maybe it was the salt water, though it was just a few very brief dunkings (maybe a dozen, and less than five seconds each) over the past year. Who knows? Its ultimate failure was on a road trip to Nova Scotia last week. One morning, I put it on and felt a weird rattling sensation, and then the screen just popped off, retained only by an internal cable.

It still works, though. If I can find the correct adhesive, I’d like to fix the thing and keep it running for another year or so, which was always the plan. Not wearing it for the past week has been a drag. I rely on it primarily for fitness tracking and notifications, and quick glances at the weather and time. I miss it.


Vesper Lessons To Learn (@daringfireball)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-09-05 22:25

A candid retrospective by John Gruber on shutting down Vesper, the note-taking app for iOS that he, Brent Simmons, and Dave Wiskus created. There are lessons to be learned here for anyone thinking of jumping into the iOS app or Mac app business:

If I could do it all over again, here is what I would do differently. I would start the exact same way, with Dave and me designing Vesper for iPhone. But then, before Brent wrote a single line of code, we would immediately design Vesper for Mac. And that’s the product we’d have built and shipped first. There is downward pressure on pricing for Mac apps, but the market is still there for quality apps that cost $20–100 (or more). The plan would have looked like this:

  1. Build Vesper for Mac. Sell it for around $20.
  2. Build a sync system.
  3. Build Vesper for iPhone.
  4. Build Vesper for iPad.
  5. Maybe build a web version.

This seems like good advice for developers looking to build a sustainable business. An iOS app alone is a long-shot way to attempt it, but starting with a Mac app and building a companion iOS app, if applicable, could be a better way to do this successfully. Productivity and other types of apps that are convenient to use on different devices and can share and sync data make sense for this type of business model. Games or other types of apps that only make sense on iOS would not apply.

Another good point (and not novel – it’s “mobile-first”) is in the footnotes:

The reason I think we were correct to design Vesper for iPhone first, before designing the Mac version, is because mobile is more limited. There are technical constraints and screen real estate constraints. A Mac app can do anything an iOS app can do; the opposite is not true. By designing the iPhone app first, we’d be far more likely to avoid the mistake of adding features in the Mac version that were difficult or impossible to do on iOS. Any app you intend to bring to mobile should be designed for mobile first.

Anyway, I think there is a lot of good insight in this long piece by Gruber and it’s well-worth reading if the app business might be your game.

Update Another data point from David Smith about how his apps have generated revenue over time. Summary: it’s mostly from in-app advertising now. And as Gruber again notes (today):

There’s still a strong market for paid-up-front Mac apps, but with mobile apps, you really have to treat them more like websites: free to use, with either advertising, paid extras, or both.


Tim Cook Washington Post Interview And Encryption (@jenamcgregor)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-08-15 07:29

A wide-ranging interview with Tim Cook this past weekend at the Washington Post, with a look back on the encryption fight with the FBI:

With the fight with the FBI, did you have any idea what you were getting into? The lightbulb went off, and it became clear what was right when we did the first piece of work: Could we create a tool to unlock the phone? After a few days, we had determined yes, we could. Then the question was, ethically, should we?… The risk of what happens if it got out, we felt, could be incredibly terrible for public safety.

We knew the positioning on the outside would not be public safety. It would be security vs. privacy — security should win. But we went through the deep, deep, deep discussions on that. It became clear that the trade-off, so to speak, was essentially putting hundreds of millions of people at risk for a phone that may or may not have anything on it, and that likely didn’t, because of other things that we knew about. We thought this actually is a clear decision. A hard one, but a clear one. Then it became more of a matter of how do we explain this. Because this is not easy. You can imagine. You just hear: locked phone. Terrorist. People dead. Why aren’t you unlocking this?

The optics of the situation was exploited by the FBI, for sure. I give Apple credit for making the decision to take this on knowing that public perception could have easily turned against the company for doing it.

Did the FBI fight change how you view the mandate of your job? Customers should have an expectation that they shouldn’t need a PhD in computer science to protect themselves. So I think they depend on us to do some things on their behalf. So with that responsibility comes an obligation to stand up. And, in this case, it was unbelievably uncomfortable and not something that we wished for, wanted — we didn’t even think it was right. Honestly? I was shocked that they would even ask for this. That was the thing that was so disappointing that I think everybody lost in the whole thing. There are 200-plus other countries in the world. Zero of them had ever asked this.

It’s easy to be cynical about any large company’s motives. We assume big corporations are always profit-driven, or complying with regulations… anything to keep them humming along without jeopardizing their ability to continue making money. But Apple had a lot to lose in this battle with the FBI when they took what was truly a principled stand.

The privacy vs. security debate will come up again, and it’s still not clear how the privacy vs. marketing debate (vis-à-vis how companies like Google and Facebook mine and reveal information about us, compared to Apple’s clear stance against this) will play out. But it would be hard for anyone to argue that Apple is not doing what they believe is right on these issues.


Microsoft Accidentally Leaks Windows Backdoor aka ‘Golden Key’ (@DanielEran)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-08-11 09:10

Unbelievable blunder by Microsoft:

Microsoft leaked the golden keys that unlock Windows-powered tablets, phones and other devices sealed by Secure Boot – and is now scrambling to undo the blunder.

It’s akin to giving special secret keys to the police and the Feds that grant investigators full access to people’s devices and computer systems. Such backdoor keys can and most probably will fall into the wrong hands: rather than be used exclusively for fighting crime, they will be found and exploited by criminals to compromise communications and swipe sensitive personal information.

This is exactly what Apple and security experts have warned about regarding the FBI’s push for technology companies to allow them to access communications that would be encrypted.

Anyone who thinks government servers holding these keys are safe need only be reminded of the OPM megahack; anyone who thinks these keys cannot be extracted from software or hardware need only spend a weekend with a determined reverse-engineer and a copy of IDA Pro.

“This is a perfect real world example about why your idea of backdooring cryptosystems with a ‘secure golden key’ is very bad,” Slipstream wrote, addressing the FBI in particular.

The other thing to pick up from all this is how tenacious and therefore effective researchers and hackers are at finding these vulnerabilities. Companies go to extreme measures to get security right, and if they overlook anything, it is usually discovered and often exploited. Think the U.S. government can do better? I don’t.

A recent thing I wrote about encryption was regarding this interview with CIA Director John Brennan, in which I also referenced this, this, and this. Nothing has changed, and I stand by all of it.


Apple Maps Interview with Craig Federighi and Eddie Cue (@tetzeli)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-08-10 09:30

From the Fast Company interview with Craig Federighi and Eddie Cue about Apple Maps (and more):

Eddy Cue: The first thing to know about Maps is there’s no one developing maps in a significant way except us and Google. There’s Nokia, and then you’ve got TomTom, which is a relatively small company selling to cars. Even when you hear of a company like Uber doing that, everyone is doing it with a very narrow focus. We use maps in a very, very broad way, and so do our customers.

Federighi: …There’s a huge data-quality issue there, and I don’t think we initially appreciated all the kinds of technology we would need to do that on an ongoing basis. Going through that lesson in a very public way gave us all the motivation we needed to say we’re going to do this really well.

I think they need a little more motivation.

Some common use cases for me, which I don’t think Apple thinks about very much, are outdoor activities like hiking and fishing. A typical example of Apple Maps vs. Google Maps for a place I might visit (this is similar when comparing the Apple Maps Mac app to the Google Maps website, as well as comparing each company’s iOS app):

Apple Maps Devils Hole PA Crop Apple Maps (above)

Google Maps Devils Hole PA Crop Google Maps (above)

Even zooming in, Apple Maps does not show the parks, state game lands, preserves, or campgrounds. At this level, it also does not show the streams like Google Maps does, but zooming in a little more reveals them. Not only that, but Google Maps has a terrain feature which renders nicely shaded and very usable topographic maps. Try it yourself. Apple has nothing like that.

This is by no means an exhaustive comparison. For many people, directions and common points of interest are all they want from apps like this, and from my experience Apple has certainly matched Google in those areas. I also like the simpler Apple Maps interface much better than either Google’s website or iOS app (I have cropped out the Google Maps left-panel muck in the shot above). But Google has done so much more with their mapping data, and it really shows.

Is it possible for Apple to catch up to Google with mapping? Sure, but it will be a long road and I’m not sure Apple is committed to matching Google for all types of geographic data.


Jekyll Categories: Creating A Category List Page

Permalink - Posted on 2016-08-07 11:49

Now that I’ve been using Jekyll categories on this site for a few months, I decided I needed a page to list all of the categories I have. Implementing this was a pretty simple task, but there are a couple of things I had to do that were not obvious.

The categories generator plugin I adapted from the Jekyll site does the following: it creates a subfolder in the _site output folder named categories, and it builds a page for each category that lists all posts in that category. What it does not do is create the page I need that lists all of the categories used on the site.

To create the categories list page, I supposed I could have done this by further modifying the plugin. However, since the new page is simply a list of links to each specific category page, this seems to be something best handled with Jekyll’s Liquid templating.

The first thing to do is create a categories folder in the main site’s dev folder. Then, create an index.md file and build the categories list:

---
layout: page
title: Categories
---

{% for category in site.categories %}
<p>
  <a href="/categories/{{ category | first }}">{{ category | first }}</a>
  &nbsp;&nbsp;<span class="badge rounded">{{ category[1].size }}</span>
</p>
{% endfor %}

The bit that messed me up at first was how to get the name of the category. You’ll see above that the way to do this, thanks to a post on Stack Overflow, is to use category[0], or “better,” category | first. I thought it was simply category, but that outputs the full category array element, which includes the content of every post in the category – not what I want! What I want is the category title, which is the first element in the category array. Now that I understand this and how to use Liquid filters a little better, this makes sense.

The other piece was to have a link to the new categories page on the site’s main menu. I handled that by adding the new page to the pages list in the _config.yml file:

pages_list:       
  Categories: '/categories'
  About: '/about'
  Feed: 'http://feeds.feedburner.com/YourOwnGravity'

And the menu is built using the pages_list collection in the default.html layout:

{% for page in site.pages_list %}
  &nbsp;&nbsp;&nbsp;
  <small><a href="{{ page[1] }}">{{ page[0] }}</a></small>
{% endfor %}

So now, at build time, the main /categories/index.html page is created from /categories/index.md, the categories plugin continues to generate individual category pages in the categories folder, and the menu has a link to the new page. It all works fine and was pretty simple, with the small caveats (or rather, things I learned) described.


Apple Buying AI Startup Turi (@inafried)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-08-07 10:29

Apple confirmed it is buying Seattle-area startup Turi for $200 million:

The company confirmed to Recode it is buying Turi, which earlier in life was known as both GraphLab and Dato, It grew out of the GraphLab open-source project, which companies such as Pandora used to power recommendations.

Turi is run by University of Washington Professor Carlos Guestrin. After the recent speculation about what Apple is doing regarding artificial intelligence, this seems to bolster the company’s claims that it can compete with Google, Microsoft, and Amazon in enhancing its products and services with AI.

In addition to Turi, recent AI acquisitions by Apple include:

  • Perceptio, “a startup developing technology to let companies run advanced artificial intelligence systems on smartphones without needing to share as much user data.”
  • Vocal IQ, “the world’s first self-learning dialogue API — putting real, natural conversation between people and their devices.”
  • Emotient, “a startup that uses artificial-intelligence technology to read people’s emotions by analyzing facial expressions.”


Apple ID Leads Authorities To Suspect (@iMore)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-22 08:57

From iMore, “Apple ID, iTunes purchases lead to arrest of alleged torrent site owner”:

An Apple ID and iTunes purchases have helped investigators find and arrest Artem Vaulin, the alleged owner of KickassTorrents (KAT). The U.S. government apparently identified an iCloud email address belonging to Vaulin, and sought a court order compelling Apple to offer iTunes purchase activity for that address.

While this case was not necessarily a strong example of law enforcement’s capabilities (this guy was just careless), keep the following in mind: Just because encryption is used (and we don’t know if it was or not by this person), authorities can still determine a lot just by examining call, messaging, and other connection-related metadata (update aka, traffic analysis).

Years ago, I worked on a network analysis project for the intelligence community. Even though the client never gave us details, it was clear they were confident that by knowing 1) who owns the accounts involved in any communications and 2) the patterns of those communications (frequency, length of time, location data, etc.), they had enough information to determine the threat posed by that activity. There is a lot law enforcement and counter-terrorism agencies can do with the massive amount of information they already collect without a warrant, breaking encryption, or any illegal violation of privacy.


Birkenstock To Stop Selling On Amazon (@levynews)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-21 10:13

From CNBC:

Plagued by counterfeits and unauthorized selling on the online shopping site, the sandals company will no longer supply products to Amazon in the U.S. starting Jan. 1. Additionally, Birkenstock won’t authorize third-party merchants to sell on the site, according to a letter the company sent to several thousand retail partners on July 5.

And from a previous piece on CNBC, also by Ari Levy:

Earlier this month, CNBC.com reported on the scores of legitimate sellers that are hurting because fraudsters are knocking off their products and utilizing tactics such as paying for reviews, jumping into their listings and taking advantage of loopholes in Amazon’s logistics system. For example, Amazon commingles inventory from distributors at its fulfillment centers, so authentic products and fakes can get mixed together.

This is all stunning and despicable, and I wonder if Jeff Bezos even gives a shit.

It’s curious why this isn’t a bigger story. Amazon’s reputation has been dinged for years, first by reports of its ruthless personnel management practices (whether or not many of those practices are ethical is up for debate):

But this could be much worse for Amazon. Are you going to feel confident buying something on their site knowing you might get a knock-off? And if you are a business, are you going to tolerate damage to your brand?

The dependence that so many businesses have on Amazon is a major reason why the company hasn’t suffered financially from the counterfeit surge. Amazon’s global network of warehouses and data centers, coupled with a highly sophisticated and efficient delivery system, have produced consistent sales growth and drawn the love of Wall Street. The stock is up 52 percent in the past year and is trading near $743.

Many companies have gone all-in with Amazon and are completely reliant on them as a commerce and fulfillment platform. Birkenstock is apparently in a better position than most. As stated in the latest CNBC piece, it is privately-held and is experiencing a revival in the market, so it can walk away from Amazon and see how things go.

I buy things on Amazon occasionally, but I look for alternative sources first, and I do that more frequently than I used to. And going forward… even more frequently.


Senator McCain May Subpoena Tim Cook (@SenJohnMcCain)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-17 09:06

Not long after I wrote about the interview with CIA Director John Brennan and his views on encryption last week, I saw Senator McCain had raised the issue of encryption and Apple at a hearing the next day:

Sen. John McCain warned Google and Apple executives Thursday that the Senate Armed Services Committee “has subpoena power” that could compel them to testify on why their encryption systems on newer smartphones are not accessible to law enforcement operating under court orders.

The Arizona Republican, who chairs the panel, said, “There’s an urgency” to finding a solution to the matter of protecting privacy while also not closing out police, prosecutors and intelligence agencies from lawfully pursuing criminals and terrorists.

At the start of the hearing, McCain noted that Tim Cook, president of Apple, declined to attend the session. “This is unacceptable,” he noted of Cook’s reluctance to appear, as the hearing neared its end.

McCain is grandstanding to put pressure on these tech companies, and he also may not actually be aware of the dangers in forcing companies to put back doors into their systems. McCain should speak with his GOP colleague, Senator Lindsay Graham, who has changed his opinion about encryption back doors now that he’s made the effort to learn more about it.

Some refresher pieces from security experts about the problems with back doors into systems to bypass encryption (spoiler: they always compromise security):

Meanwhile, the two major party presidential candidates are both uninformed on this issue based on their comments and official positions. Trump and Clinton both think that technology experts are so smart they can come up with a way to implement an effective back door that does not compromise security using some type of magic that circumvents mathematics, apparently, while Trump also thinks that he could actually (and laughably) “shut down” parts of the internet to stop terrorist communications.

The encryption debate is hardly over, but it probably should be.


Swift Playgrounds (@sfsooz)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-15 09:50

Good review of Swift Playgrounds by Susie Ochs at Macworld:

Apple developed the curriculum for Swift Playgrounds itself, based on what its own software engineers think is the best way to learn software engineering. This isn’t a purely academic exercise: Swift Playgrounds is designed to get you thinking like a coder, decomposing problems and applying logic. “It’s made by Apple, by the people who write the real software,” said Tim Triemstra, who handles product marketing for Apple’s developer tools, “so we’re teaching programming how it’s actually done.”

I haven’t tried it yet, but this is pretty cool for kids, and sounds like it is at least fun and maybe even useful for adults who want to get started learning Swift.


White America Couldn’t Handle What Black America Deals With Every Day (@henryrollins)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-14 22:51

More truth from Henry Rollins at LA Weekly:

Things are bad, but I would posit that they have been this way for as far back into American history as you want to go. What has changed is the amount of information available to the average citizen. Thanks to cellphones and people employing social networking to spread news quickly, what goes on minute to minute has crossed the line into overload.

And (emphasis below is mine):

The despicable litanies of willfully ignorant denial and misinformation I have heard spouted in the last several days by pieces of shit like Rudy Giuliani all but ensure that things will get worse. The mainstream media outlets allow this utter crap to slide by unchallenged and, by doing so, legitimize falsehoods that could get people killed. Ratings-based, 24/7, for-profit media is the complete death of true journalism and a catapult for propaganda.

The reason this ratings-driven news industry succeeds is our own laziness, and we get what we collectively deserve. Very few of us seem to ask tough questions or do much critical thinking or even our own thinking. So many people want to be told what to think. So for all these folks, there is an entire industry waiting to serve whatever they want to believe, all day long. It’s not strange, then, that journalists too often shirk responsibility for accurate reporting and real analysis. They are satisfying demand. It is certainly not all news organizations and journalists, but it is becoming troublingly widespread.

And it happens on both sides, the political left and right. Willful ignorance has become universally desired. The actual truth is under-appreciated. And the robots, oh, the robots are coming.

Anyway, the focus on the media is not the primary theme of the Rollins article. The media’s loss of its shit and society’s acceptance of that is a theme I’m hung up on, so I pulled it out and highlighted it, maybe even dwelled a little. The article is really about prejudice and our split society:

If white America experienced a fraction of what black America deals with regarding law enforcement, incarceration, the court system, employment and countless other facts of life, they would immediately and collectively lose their minds.

We who are not in that America have had no idea what it’s like. But now, because of photo and video capabilities of mobile phones combined with social media, we are getting an awful glimpse.


Interview With CIA Director John Brennan, and Encryption (@dklaidman)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-14 09:29

Daniel Klaidman at Yahoo News interviewed CIA Director John Brennan. An excerpt pertaining to technology companies and encryption:

Are you frustrated with some of the technology companies’ [reluctance] to take down extremist content from their sites? You testified recently about Twitter’s decision to block intelligence agencies from using its data-mining service, Dataminr.

I’m frustrated that [in certain parts of] the private sector, there’s insufficient understanding of just how serious the threat is to national security. Believe me, people here at CIA have fought their whole lives to protect liberties. [Censorship] is the last thing we want, but I I think a lot of these companies, because of their attitudes and their positions, are frustrating the rule of law.

What are their attitudes?

They’re going to develop certain types of technologies that are going to be impenetrable to anybody, and even if they —

What’s the attitude?

The attitude is that the U.S government is “them” — almost a we versus them. I think as American citizens, whether in the public or the private sector, there needs to be a recognition that the government has obligations to protect the general welfare and public security. Who do they think makes up the FBI and CIA and NSA? American men and women from every state, carrying out their responsibilities as faithfully as they can to protect their fellow citizens. Have mistakes been made? Absolutely. Are there some individuals who have abused their authority? Yes. But in the grand scheme of things, what the government can do to safeguard the country and protect its citizens is more [important].

The encryption debate seems to be dormant right now, but it’s hard to believe it will be out of the news for long. Clearly, people in the intelligence community have a huge responsibility made harder by encrypted data. But as Brennan himself acknowledges, very interestingly, there have been individuals (in government) who have abused their authority and mistakes have been made. Like Bloomberg’s recent editorial, Brennan sees this as an issue where the public should simply trust the government. After all, he says, employees of the FBI, CIA, and NSA are all just “American men and women from every state carrying out their responsibilities…”

Our principles in a free society once again align or collide with technology improvements (depending on your perspective). The choice: The government decides what private information from any of us is available to them (I’ll use the loaded but accurate term again – police state), or each of us has a right to protect our private information as we see fit.

To review: this, this, and this.


Samsung Finally Gave Us The Laptop Apple Should Have

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-13 18:49

Gizmodo, “Samsung Finally Gave Us the Laptop Apple Should Have”:

The Notebook 7 Spin has a remarkable trackpad. It’s every bit as intuitive and responsive as the Mac trackpad (the gold standard). There are no misclicks. No accidental icon draggings. No “oops” right clicks when you meant to click left. The trackpad doesn’t feel buggy and the mouse doesn’t hop around the screen as if possessed. For a Windows machine it’s exceptional.

I’m sure it’s a good laptop. But it weighs five pounds, gets only six hours of battery life, has a gimmicky “HDR mode,” and a trackpad that doesn’t feel buggy like other Windows laptops. That’s what Apple should have given us?

Sounds like a real fucking winner.


Apple Watch Customer Sat

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-13 07:41

Though no one wants to buy an Apple Watch, JD Power reports that “Apple Watch Crushes Competition in Customer Satisfaction Survey”:

In J.D. Power’s 2016 Smartwatch Device Satisfaction survey, Apple’s (NASDAQ:AAPL) new smartwatch was the only device in the category earning five out of five of the J.D. Power’s “Power Circle” ratings. Second-place Samsung earned just two of five Power Circle ratings.

Almost exactly one year ago, there was another report about Apple Watch customer satisfaction:

It is common practice to add the top two boxes, which demonstrate satisfaction with the product, in customer satisfaction ratings. When doing so, we arrive at a 97 percent customer satisfaction level for the Apple Watch.

And last October, another:

The survey, to an expanded panel of customers, shows that Apple Watch owners are, for the most part, still satisfied with their watches, to the tune of 96%.

An utter failure.


Mac Sales Slump Remedy

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-13 06:51

Apple finally feels the PC sales slump:

Apple shipped 4 percent to 8 percent fewer Mac computers during the second quarter of 2016, compared with a year earlier, according to new estimates from two research firms – even while some of its bigger rivals managed to find growth in the PC business.

This is a notable turn from the past few years when PC sales were slumping while Mac sales were relatively healthy and growing, even if only modestly:

Apple enjoyed eight consecutive quarters of year-on-year Mac sales increases before posting a 4 percent drop in units sold during the last three months of 2015. That was followed by a 12 percent drop in the first quarter of this year.

Another take is from these guys (to whom I am usually hesitant to link):

Apple’s line of Mac computers is not selling as well as it used to and the company needs to launch a new laptop in order to turn the business around.

The prescription to “launch a new laptop” is likely valid, sort of echoed on a recent episode of The Talk Show by John Gruber and Marco Arment when they discussed the lack of updates to several models, especially the Mac Pro.

I’m not sure why Apple has been waiting so long to refresh their better computers. Maybe they underestimated demand for the new MacBook, their lower-end consumer grade models, which they focused on early this year and last. Even a company as large as Apple does not have unlimited bandwidth to work on all these things at once, I suppose. Rumors of a new MacBook Pro with an “OLED display touch bar” above the keyboard are bouncing around now, so maybe something is imminent.


Pinboard Turns Seven

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-11 10:07

Pinboard’s creator, Maciej Cegłowski:

You have helped me make the transition from unemployed to unemployable, and given me something worthwhile to work on in between running my mouth off.

I’ve been using pinboard for a few years now and rely on it to capture all the web stuff I stumble on that I want to save.


No One Wants To Buy An Apple Watch

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-11 09:13

From Quartz, “More than a year after its release, and still no one wants to buy an Apple Watch”:

In early 2015, before the launch of the watch, Quartz ran a similar survey, asking iPhone owners if they planned to buy one. Only about 5% of owners thought it very likely they’d buy a watch in the next 12 months. A little over a year later, not too much has changed: Only about 8% of those surveyed this time said they owned an Apple Watch.

So… now 8% of those surveyed are interested in buying an Apple Watch, up from 5% over a year ago. Despite it likely being a $6 billion business, “still no one wants to buy an Apple Watch.”


Bloomberg On Encryption

Permalink - Posted on 2016-07-07 09:30

Michael Bloomberg, in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, “The Terrorism Fight Needs Silicon Valley”:

When Apple refused to unlock a cellphone used by one of the San Bernardino terrorists (and owned by his public employer), many in the tech industry came to the company’s defense. They argued, in effect, that they shouldn’t be forced to cooperate with a search warrant for one of their products, even though failure to comply could put more innocent lives at risk.

And:

Google, Facebook, Snapchat and WhatsApp are all working to increase encryption in ways that will make it impossible for the courts and law-enforcement officials to obtain their users’ data. They argue that if they are forced to comply with government requests for data, terrorists will simply choose open-source encryption apps instead.

This is not what people or Apple were arguing. The argument is that putting a back-door into these platforms weakens their security and will be exploited. Plenty of evidence and arguments by experts exists about this. And as I contend, it will ultimately lead to legislation that will outlaw encryption. In fact, while not explicitly framed is such, this kind of legislation has already been introduced, and thankfully so far, quashed.

Bloomberg continues, framing this in terms of only one side of the issue:

Yet Apple responded to the investigation with a troubling announcement: In the future, phones will be designed to prevent even Apple from opening them, just as the makers of some messaging services have already done. Such a move would be an unprecedented rejection of public authority and a potentially catastrophic blow to public safety. The prospect of criminals and terrorists communicating with phones beyond the reach of government search warrants should send a shiver down the spine of every citizen.

Yes, anyone can use existing technologies to encrypt communications. But by ignoring the other aspect of this, which is that, um, anyone can use existing technologies to encrypt communications (including personal data, banking, resisting oppressive regimes, etc.), all of us have security we can actually trust. This has huge benefits for society.

It is indeed a double-edged sword. And when that is the nature of any heavy topic, it is one of the hardest concepts for people to accept. It’s truly damned-if-you-do-or-don’t.

I believe Bloomberg is sincere and thinks that the need to spy on potential terrorists outweighs the interest society has to rely on encryption. But what is Bloomberg offering specifically in terms of how to move forward? Not a damn thing. And the general concept he argues is to trust the government and effectively live without encryption, which is another step to becoming a police state.


Encryption: Congress Does Something Good (@wired)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-30 10:53

From Wired, “Even Congress Is Slamming That Crummy Crypto Bill”:

But merely the recognition from Congress that it needs to learn more before making any decision on the thorny topic of encryption represents progress, says privacy-focused Cato Institute fellow Julian Sanchez. “That may be the most hopeful sign. The dangerous thing is to be… too ignorant to recognize your own ignorance,” he says. Now, he says, “there seems to be willingness to learn, rather than an insistence on getting to what they ‘know’ is the right outcome.”

Sanity in Congress, for once.


My Opinion (@wired)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-30 09:49

In my opinion, one of the biggest problems in society is the polarization that is occurring because people can choose what they want to believe, largely stoked by electronic media, aka The Internet. From Wired, “Benghazi Report Shows the Internet Is Killing Objectivity”:

It is the beauty and the tragedy of the Internet age. As it becomes easier for anyone to build their own audience, it becomes harder for those audience members to separate fact from fiction from the gray area in between. As media consumers, we now have the freedom to self-select the truth that most closely resembles our existing beliefs, which makes our media habits fairly good indicators of our political beliefs.

People on the left and the right always want to rush to proclaim how the other side is wrong, corrupt, stupid, untrustworthy, whatever. How many people will actually read this 800-page report? How many will read that as well as previous findings? How many have even a little knowledge of military operations to understand what options were feasible, what intelligence could have been clear and what may have been unclear, the timeline, the geographical and logistical issues involved, etc.? Then, how many will try to sift through all of that and actually try to determine where responsibility for this tragedy lies? My guess is almost no one has because it actually takes effort and time. Yet everyone in the media and on your favorite social networking site will talk endless shit about it.

We should feel comfortable voicing an informed opinion. But an uninformed opinion is irresponsible. We should have no qualms admitting that we don’t know enough to comment on something when we have not done the research.


Historical Badasses (@adventurevida)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-30 09:03

You need a break from everything else today. Peruse the historical badasses at the Adventure Journal, a group that is, by the way, well-populated with women adventurers. For example, Emma Gatewood, three-time Appalachian Trail thru-hiker, sixth person and first woman to complete it, whose first time was in 1955 when she was 67 years old:

I would never have started this trip if I had known how tough it was, but I couldn’t and wouldn’t quit.

Then, since you still need a break, read about macaroni and cheese.


The Demise Of The World’s Oldest Photo Studio (@qz)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-28 07:12

From Quartz, a story about the end of Bourne and Shepherd, the 176-year-old photo studio in Kolkata, India:

I meet scores of people who ask me the same things and I always have the same answers. I had nothing to do at the studio anymore. There weren’t any customers I could talk to either. The world over, photography, especially artistic photography, is dying out. There is no future in it anymore.

Sad, interesting, poignant, inevitable.

Gandhi, who is held in high esteem by those who swear by his knowledge of equipment and photography, never took up photographic assignments, but preferred to build relationships with his customers. “I belong to that school of thought that treats its customers with utmost respect,” he said. “Even if they do not end up buying anything, they should have a good experience at the studio. A positive word-of-mouth publicity is the best you can get in this business.” The philosophy, along with the art of photography, was severely tested in the world of impersonal shopping malls and ill-informed staff.

Also sad, interesting, poignant… and I hope impersonal shopping malls and ill-informed staff are not the enduring aspects of the world we are left with as these old-school institutions die off.


Media Turning Point in Covering Trump (@paulwaldman1)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-07 08:30

Paul Waldman writing for The Washington Post, “The media have reached a turning point in covering Donald Trump. He may not survive it.”:

But it’s possible that when we look back over the sweep of this most unusual campaign, we’ll mark this week as a significant turning point: the time when journalists finally figured out how to cover Donald Trump.

We’ll see.

Put together this series of developments coming one after together, and I suspect that many journalists are deciding that the way to cover Trump is just to do it as honestly and assiduously as possible, which would itself be something almost revolutionary.

And incredible – isn’t that is the essence of journalism?

But it is perhaps ironic that after all this time of wondering how to cover this most unusual candidate, Trump has shown the press that the best way to do it is to cover him like every candidate should be covered. That means not just planting a camera at his rallies and marveling at how nuts it all is, but doing to work to fully vet his background, correcting his lies as swiftly and surely as they can, exploring what a Trump presidency would actually mean, and generally doing their jobs without letting him intimidate them.

Maybe the press has not been taking a Trump candidacy seriously – he seems to skate by without the press halting the media train more than occasionally to ask, “I’m sorry, would you repeat that?… Yeah, you are fucking nuts.” As Todd Gitlin commented about Michael Grynbaum’s recent New York Times piece:

Grynbaum wrote of “Mr. Trump’s unrivaled ability to hijack a news cycle, a trait that producers are not yet sure how to handle.” Really? What are producers paid for? How hard is it to handle a candidate’s attempt to “hijack a news cycle?”

Or maybe it’s something else. Say I’m a cynic, but I’m not sure it’s in the interest of the media to have one candidate thoroughly debunked and battered months before the election, and therefore, they are letting him go for now. In fact, CBS CEO Les Moonves may have justified this suspicion:

It may not be good for America, but it’s damn good for CBS.

Man, who would have expected the ride we’re all having right now?… The money’s rolling in and this is fun.

I’ve never seen anything like this, and this going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But, bring it on, Donald. Keep going.

It’s also possible that the press is worried about looking like they are not objective or “balanced” if they point out the inaccuracies, flip-flops, untruths, and blatant racism in Trump’s rhetoric. Sometimes they actually do, such as Jake Tapper in his interview with Trump about the judge in the Trump University case, but usually it is more of this false appearance of balanced reporting in which journalists balk at providing analysis.

Anyway, journalists, lest you forget, the robots are coming.


Muhammad Ali: Inspirational Figure Worldwide

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-06 09:22

From the Los Angeles Times, “To Muslims the world over, Muhammad Ali was ‘#TheGreatest’”:

“Conservative Muslims loved that he became a Muslim, and people on the left loved that he defied the establishment,” said Munther Dajani, a professor of political science at Al Quds University in East Jerusalem.

The American champion was held up as paragon for emulation in mosques as well as in the Arab street. Neighborhood imams would invoke his sayings in sermons and cite him as a person of faith and principle.

Ali was an inspiration throughout the Muslim world, and was held in high regard by public figures across the political spectrum in the U.S. (though that was not always the case), truly an exceptional feat.

The world was a better place with Muhammad Ali.


Apple Hires Top Pediatric Diabetes Doc

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-03 21:07

Fast Company reported that Apple has hired top pediatric diabetes specialist Rajiv Kumar, another recent recruit by Apple from the healthcare industry:

In the past few years, the iPhone maker has recruited a team of medical experts to help guide its strategy as it moves into health care. Its team currently includes Divya Nag, a former biotech entrepreneur, and Mike O’Reilly, an anesthesiologist who runs the ResearchKit platform. Apple has not disclosed the total number of employees who work on its health care products and services.

While so many are talking about Apple’s secretive car project, the company’s efforts in the healthcare space don’t seem to be getting the attention they probably should. This work could have a much more immediate impact for the company. It certainly seems like the Apple Watch will benefit and become more capable in this area. And Tim Cook isn’t exactly being hush-hush about it.

Alphabet has also been getting more into this.


How Divided Is Our Nation (@henryrollins)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-06-03 08:22

Henry Rollins, always insightful (I mean that):

You share this landmass with some real fuckin’ morons. They’re as dangerous as they are plentiful. It doesn’t have to be you.


Push For Encryption Law Falters

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-31 09:26

Looks like support for the Burr-Feinstein “back door” encryption legislation has evaporated on Capitol Hill:

Feinstein’s Democratic colleagues on the Intelligence Committee - along with some key Republicans - backed away. The House never got on board.

The White House demurred, too, and:

The CIA and NSA were ambivalent, according to several current and former intelligence officials, in part because officials in the agencies feared any new law would interfere with their own encryption efforts.

I agree with John Gruber about the wording of the Reuters headline – saying the push for this legislation has faltered “despite Apple case spotlight”? Not quite right.

See also here, here, and here.


Apple and Artificial Intelligence

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-26 10:30

Some follow up to Marco arment’s piece likening Apple’s fate to BlackBerry’s due to gains in the field of artificial intelligence by competitors. Apple sure does seem to be taking AI seriously, if we can believe the latest speculation and possible leaks.

First is a piece by Brian Roemmele, “Apple’s Secret AI Technology: Meet Vocal IQ the self learning technology that is a part of Siri2”:

There is a narrative that Apple has not understood AI very well. I assert this is based upon not understanding a number of remarkable acquisitions. It started with Siri, Emotient and Perceptio, VocalIQ and perhaps a number of not yet disclosed AI acquisitions.

And he links some of the company’s latest advances to their purchase of Vocal IQ in late 2015:

VocalIQ built astounding technology that no doubt you and I will use every day, some day soon.

More chatter… From Ben Bajarin:

Tease to our voice assistant study coming out next week. More people have/are using Siri than any other voice assistant.

And from The Information, Apple is opening Siri via a forthcoming software development kit (SDK) and creating a product not unlike the Amazon Echo.

So… all this adds up to us waiting to hear more from Apple. Meanwhile, the entire Internet has moved on, for worse.


Avoiding BlackBerry’s Fate (@marcoarment)

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-23 12:30

Good piece from Marco Arment about the push into Artificial Intelligence and how Apple may be left behind:

Today, Amazon, Facebook, and Google are placing large bets on advanced AI, ubiquitous assistants, and voice interfaces, hoping that these will become the next thing that our devices are for. If they’re right — and that’s a big “if” — I’m worried for Apple.

If AI is a capability that can’t be bought and brought or augmented in-house, and if this is “the next thing that our devices are for,” and if Apple is in fact not working hard on this right now, he may be right to worry. Amazon, Facebook, Microsoft and Google may have an advantage in AI – especially Google since they mine so much personal data. But as Marco notes in the article’s footnote:

It’s possible to build tons of useful services and smarts by just using public data, like the web, mapping databases, business directories, etc., without any access to or involvement from the user’s private data.

Given Apple’s well-known effort to protect customers’ privacy (something I value greatly), I think that is clearly the direction they will go. Taking full advantage of public data and possibly data you opt-into for their use seems like something they are just beginning to do well.

In thinking of how often I use Siri, which is only one piece of Apple’s ecosystem that harnesses AI, I don’t use it as often as I had anticipated. One big reason is because I don’t like people seeing me talk to my phone or watch! I must not be the only one; I don’t often see others using it, either. Around the house and when I go for walks in my rural neighborhood, though, I use it more, especially for dictation. Dictation works very well in iOS and has become a killer feature for me to “take notes” when I get ideas.

Anyway, it seems like this will take years to play out, so maybe time is not against Apple as much as Marco suggests.


Jekyll Categories

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-23 12:09

I recently implemented categories on this site, which are really acting as tags here. Jekyll supports both, and if you override the default URL scheme in config.yml (which puts a post “under” its category in the URL, e.g. /technology/my-interesting-post – I’m using permalink: /:title/ instead), the difference mostly evaporates. I figured I’d just stick with categories for now.

Anyway, here is how I implemented it. First, a slightly modified categories.rb plug-in from the Jekyll site goes in your _plugins folder:

module Jekyll

  class CategoryPage < Page
    def initialize(site, base, dir, category)
      @site = site
      @base = base
      @dir = dir
      @name = 'index.html'

      self.process(@name)
      self.read_yaml(File.join(base, '_layouts'), 'categories.html')
      self.data['category'] = category

      category_title_prefix = site.config['category_title_prefix'] || 'Category: '
      self.data['title'] = "#{category_title_prefix}#{category}"
    end
  end

  class CategoryPageGenerator < Generator
    safe true

    def generate(site)
      if site.layouts.key? 'categories'
        dir = site.config['category_dir'] || 'categories'
        site.categories.each_key do |category|
          site.pages << CategoryPage.new(site, site.source, 
			File.join(dir, category), category)
        end
      end
    end
  end

end

Next, create a categories.html layout for the categories pages in your _layouts folder:

---
layout: default
---

<article class="page">
  <h3>Category: {{ page.category }}</h3>
  <div>&nbsp;</div>   
  {% for post in site.categories[page.category] %}
    <p><a href="{{ post.url }}">{{ post.title }}</a></p>
  {% endfor %}
</article>

Then add support in the post.html layout to show categories somewhere in your post layout (I put it at the end of the post content):

<article class="post">
  <h1 class="post-title">{{ page.title }}</h1>
  <time datetime="{{ page.date | date_to_xmlschema }}" 
    class="post-date">{{ page.date | date_to_string }}</time>
  {{ content }}
    {% if page.categories != empty %}
        <p class="category">Categories &nbsp;&nbsp; 
        {% for category in page.categories %}
          <a href="/categories/{{ category }}">
            {{ category }}</a> &nbsp;&nbsp;
        {% endfor %}
    {% endif %}
    </p>
</article>

You should now be able to find posts by categories, e.g. /categories/Technology.


Better Business Writing

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-19 11:46

Seth Godin, “The simple way to get better at business writing”:

With effort and practice, it’s possible to speak with respect, precision and energy. After you speak that way, write down what you said.

Where would we go for corporate bullshit then?


Trump, Kelly: Two Brands

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-19 10:56

Trevor Noah on Megyn Kelly’s interview with The Donald on Fox:

“You know last night’s interview doesn’t seem to be about journalism or the Republican Party or even the election,” Noah continued. “It seemed like it was about two brands: Donald Trump and Megyn Kelly, and whether they could forge a mutually-beneficial partnership.”

This is exactly what I thought when I watched a recording of this. Maybe Kelly was not actually going for “journalism.” That this was more about her bolstering her own brand seemed to be reinforced at the show’s closing with her hawking her new book. Trump knows he can stonewall answering tough questions, or providing specifics for almost any question. On this show, she became yet another enabler who doesn’t follow-up to press him. It all makes for a shallow spectacle that viewers can take in without much critical thought, another example of journalism as infotainment.


Journalism, Robots, And Algorithms

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-18 09:59

In light of the Facebook trending news controversy, there are even more troubling aspects of journalism brewing.

My wife and I were talking about Apple News the other day, and she expressed concern about not understanding what determined the stories she is shown. This got into a larger discussion about the weird state of modern journalism, and I mentioned John Gruber’s thoughts about how curation of news feeds is becoming more automated:

If news curation can be automated, there’s nothing inherently wrong with it. Progress in the industrialized world has always involved previously labor-intensive jobs being replaced by automated machinery. We’ve gotten to the point now where some of this work is white collar, not blue collar, and some journalists seem offended by the notion. Their downfall is their dogmatic belief in not having a point-of-view, of contorting themselves to appear not to have a point of view — which, as Jay Rosen has forcefully argued, is effectively a “view from nowhere”. The irony is that machines don’t have a point of view — they are “objective”. Over the last half century or so, mainstream U.S. journalism has evolved in a way that has writers and editors acting like machines. They’ve made it easier for themselves to be replaced by algorithms. Most readers won’t even notice.

At the risk of being a lightning rod, I’ll offer a subject that is an obvious example of where this type of reporting is widespread – climate change. Many writers go out of their way to appear balanced when writing about it when in fact they would serve their readers and themselves better by being accurate. Climate change, after all, is clearly not a phenomenon with 50% uncertainty that requires an article that gives 50% of attention to each side. Yet a lot of news organizations seem to insist that journalists portray it with this false sense of balance.

And Gruber really hits it right with this:

I do two things here at DF most days: find interesting things to link to, and comment on them. An algorithm may well beat me at finding interesting links. My job then, is to be a better writer — smarter, funnier, keener, more surprising — than an algorithm could be. When I can’t do that, it’ll be time to hang up the keyboard… What I’m saying is more If what you do can be replaced by a robot (whether hardware or software), it will happen — and modern U.S. news journalism’s brand of “objectivity” feels algorithmic.

In other words, you can be interesting and compelling and still be objective. Robotic reporting can’t do that.

Another view of what’s gone wrong is this piece with George Clooney’s thoughts on a more insidious aspect of modern journalism:

Clooney also used the press conference to attack cable news networks for allowing their output to slide further into infotainment, a move that he says helped Trump become a viable candidate for the presidency… asked about his own film about TV news, Good Night, and Good Luck (which told the story of Edward R Murrow’s analytical takedown of McCarthyism), [he] said that the problem in the television industry was that broadcasters had lost sight of the idea that news was never designed to be immensely profitable, but that it was designed to inform.

It’s clear that the Internet, not television, is driving news now, but it’s the same issue: monetization, in web parlance. Monetization über alles, and this is what you get.


Take Back The Web

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-17 16:31

Dan Gilmor on the Facebook trending news dust-up and the meeting with CEO Mark Zuckerberg and conservatives today:

A delegation of right-wing activists will travel this week to Silicon Valley. They will be supplicants at the throne of Facebook, a platform so pervasive that it has unprecedented power to decide what’s news—a platform that could consume journalism itself in coming years. They will be begging Mark Zuckerberg for his indulgence. What they should be doing—what we all should be doing—is finding ways to reduce his company’s dominance.

The promise of the internet and personal technology was in its decentralization: one of the most profound advances for liberty in history. Yet at a rapid rate we’re seeing it re-centralized, as governments and corporations—often with users’ willing, if short-sighted, cooperation—are taking control in the center, creating choke points over what we say and how we can say it.

and:

We—you and I—are part of the solution, too. Unless we recognize what’s at stake, and think about changing our own habits, we’re part of the problem. Unless we advocate for liberty, we’re helping the control freaks win. We’ll need to do things individually, and as members of communities at all levels, to change the trajectory.

I largely agree, but it’s 1) a question of degree and 2) a pendulum. Humankind has always experienced this tension between how much we tolerate centralized control versus the responsibility of how much freedom we want to assume. We often opt to let someone else take care of things, and in many cases including the news now, that someone else is a large platform like Facebook.

Gilmor is right to express concern, but having written about his aversion to the “centralizers” and changing our own habits, it’s funny that he writes some things at one of the new centralizers-on-the-block, Medium.


I Meander, and Swear a Bit

Permalink - Posted on 2016-05-04 10:22

I got curious about something last night. Being knee-deep in moving a website from a homegrown, static concoction to a proper content management system, I’ve become interested (in a somewhat unhealthy way) in the platforms running several blogs I follow. It’s almost unnecessary to say, since it always happens, but this effort took me way into the rabbit hole. I bounced from Apple ticking-and-tocking to life being too short for the slow Apple Watch to better living through Server-generated JavaScript Responses (SJR’s). And anyway…

Yesterday I saw Rands in Repose mention that he’s still using his blog but also selectively putting content on Medium. So he’s using WordPress? Lemme check the page source… sure enough.

I use WordPress for a couple sites I run, but not this site. If you’ve tried to figure out what I’m running here and it’s still a mystery, it’s a static site generated by Jekyll. I love it. The only drawback is not being able to post occasionally from devices besides my MacBook Pro. However, since writing on anything other than a proper keyboard is cumbersome for all but the briefest stuff, that’s not really an issue.

So I meandered a bit more and found some good writing advice, Swear A Bit:

Probably a controversial piece of advice, but fuck it, I love swearing. This is likely a sub-point to sounding like a human, but it’s worth talking about. If you’re sitting at the bar with your friends, you swear. If you’re writing for the web, you’re writing for your extended friends… who cares if you know them? Keep it familiar.

It’s likely I agree that it’s good advice because I already believe it. Then I found more tips about captivating readers who are afflicted by Nerd Attention Deficit Disorder. His entire site is loaded with good shit.

So what was I doing? Building a website, right.


The Verge: ‘FBI Has Lost The Encryption Fight’…

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-25 17:03

Russell Brandom at the Verge with a headline-to-make-ya-click:

But it’s also the end of something much larger. With the New York case closed, the government is no longer using the courts to try to force Apple to break its own security. There are plenty of other iPhones that prosecutors would like to unlock, but no active cases, and given the retreats in both New York and San Bernardino, it doesn’t seem likely prosecutors will start up a new case any time soon. Prosecutors will leave New York with a new ruling in place that strikes down the legal reasoning behind the government’s unlocking request, and there’s now no prospect that ruling will be overturned. After months of high-stakes legal maneuvering, the FBI’s encryption cases are over, and the bureau is leaving in a far worse spot than it started.

I’m not so sure the government is giving up yet, and by withdrawing from these two key cases, little precedent has yet been set in the courts besides the judge’s opinion in the New York case. Besides the legislative route, such as the draft Feinstein-Burr bill, I doubt we have seen the last of government efforts to compel manufacturers or software vendors to break into devices.


Apple Cloud Services On Mesos

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-21 12:37

A follow-up to my post about Mesosphere the other day – apparently Apple runs Mesos too, for Siri, and plans to build on it.


The Road to Illegal Encryption

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-20 09:22

To continue thinking through where we are headed if the U.S. government gets its way on compelling Apple and other corporations to provide access to data on devices

Paul Rosenzweig at Lawfare, in “What If Feinstein-Burr Passes?”, takes this argument down a parallel road with respect to this draft legislation that has been thoroughly criticized by the tech industry:

If we can’t realistically stop the importation of encryption products, the only plausible implementation step left as a counter-move is to prohibit the possession of the non-conforming product. This might be done civilly (in the same rough manner as we prohibit the possession of devices and items that violate intellectual property laws) or it could be done criminally (as we do with drugs). So it seems to me that if we are serious about Feinstein-Burr and want to counter the determined encryptor we are going to have to move to a system of software regulation and prohibition – the ban can’t work any other way.

If you think this is only about the San Bernardino shooter’s phone, or a particular device in the possession of the New York City Police Department, you may be missing where things are headed if this legislation passes or if pending court orders go the government’s way. The end game for the U.S. government is encryption becoming illegal.

Making encryption illegal will have far worse consequences than letting terrorists carry on with encrypted communications – which they will easily do regardless of these legislative and other government actions currently pending. Banning or weakening encryption will end up leaving all of our sensitive data unprotected.

Meanwhile, some good stuff to read about the Burr-Feinstein crypto bill, by cybersecurity experts.


Encryption - An Inconvenient Truth

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-19 17:34

Great article by Rich Mogul, “How FBI vs. Apple could cripple corporate and government security,” that merely scratches the surface of this complex topic that so many try to make into a sound bite:

The President and the director of the FBI have portrayed this conflict as one between privacy absolutists and government compromise. The issue is that the technology itself forces us to make a binary decision. There are no known techniques for providing lawful access to encrypted communications and storage at scale. The only way to allow government access is to reduce the security of foundational technologies used by business and government agencies, not merely individual citizens. That is math, not politics.

If we go down the road where the government gets what they want in these cases – which is to compel manufacturers to be able to decrypt data on devices when requested – or if legislation is passed that requires this, we will end up with encryption becoming illegal. Or it will become de facto illegal, because corporations like Apple will only be able to provide access to this data if it is not encrypted effectively.


Open Sourcing Data Center Operating Systems

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-19 08:49

Cade Metz at Wired on the open sourcing of data center operating systems:

Stoppelman notes that Mesosphere developed an early lead in the new market, and Polvi says much the same thing. But Polvi also believes the market eventually will center on Kubernetes. His company offers an individual server operating system, CoreOS, that works with tools like Kubernetes, and he has worked closely with Google on the open source project. “I think things kinda converge on Kubernetes in due course,” Polvi says. “Kubernetes nailed the interface—the API—for how you talk to these distributed systems.”

Who knows how this all shakes out, but it looks like a significant new battle among the big tech companies. Interesting how Microsoft has been embracing more open source stuff recently, even Linux (which may be explained in part by the company’s investment in Mesosphere).


Cloud Services Security

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-13 11:34

Glenn Fleischman on Smile’s TextExpander and security:

Scown says Smile stores snippets at rest in unencrypted form on database servers operated by Compose.io, an IBM company. The company evaluated using solutions in which data is always encrypted except during the moments items are needed for syncing or updating, and found the other security elements—such as how passwords were restricted—were lacking in its evaluation.

Daring Fireball on TextExpander snippets stored on their servers:

This is my primary concern about TextExpander 6. I see some amount of risk, and no benefit, with storing my text snippets on Smile’s servers.

I don’t know if TextExpander snippets are a rich source of valuable data for hackers, though they certainly could be if users embed things like passwords or other sensitive information in them. But this brings up a larger issue which very few people think about, even in light of the recent FBI vs. Apple encryption battle, and that is knowing how your data is stored when you save it to one of these “cloud” services, such as Google Docs, Dropbox, One Drive, Box, et. al. I have sort of stressed about this for years, and have balked at signing up for some services because I felt I did not understand how they protected my data once it was out of my hands and on their servers.

If you haven’t thought this through before, consider a simple example: you have a product idea. You might be concerned about others finding out about it while you develop it (there are, of course, many startups in “stealth mode” just for that reason). So let’s say you put your thoughts down in a document and back it up to Dropbox (or other service – this is simply an example). Can an admin who works at Dropbox read your document? Or, in the course of Dropbox complying with some request from a law enforcement agency to hand over data, could someone whom you never anticipated read your document? Note that these services typically secure the connection between your device and the cloud, and therefore encrypt your data while in transit, but your data is often stored in an unencrypted format on their servers. It is not just hackers who may be able to read your stuff.

Now consider how a lot of people save their passwords in documents that they store using these services. It is a very short step from there to having your data compromised by just one nefarious employee.

This is very important stuff to think about if you are concerned with the security of your sensitive information. Not unrelated is that it is ultimately the key thing at stake in the FBI vs. Apple brouhaha.


The Problem With 3D Touch

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-11 09:10

Jason Snell and the trouble with 3D Touch:

This is, I realize, [o]ne of the reasons I stopped using 3D Touch so much. It seemed like so many places I attempted to use the gesture resulted in a whole lot of nothing. After a while, I gave up. 3D Touch needs to be pervasive. It needs to be a gesture that works all over the place, so that using it becomes second nature.

I completely agree. 3D Touch has a lot of promise but so far is implemented in a half-hearted way in almost every app I’ve tried. His comments about using the long-press gesture to trigger 3D Touch on devices that don’t have hardware support for it, so that the functionality can work everywhere and thereby entice developers to implement it more widely, makes a lot of sense.

In case you were not aware of all the ways you can currently use 3D Touch, see the iMore 3D Touch Guide. One other very useful capability for those who type a lot of text is using your keyboard as a trackpad with 3D Touch. I type a lot of notes on my iPhone and had forgotten all about this (too bad – it’s a very useful feature), which brings up another problem with features like this: lack of discoverability.


Killer iPad-Apple Pencil Feature

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-11 09:05

Dan Moren on the lack of handwriting recognition in iOS:

And yet even with the debut of the Apple Pencil, which would seem like a natural use to revive this technology, Apple hasn’t delved back into handwriting recognition. Part of that is no doubt because Steve Jobs famously lambasted stylus-based interfaces – though I have no doubt that if he were around today, he’d proclaim the Apple Pencil “the stylus done right.”

Handwriting recognition with the Apple Pencil would be a killer feature. I may buy an iPad Pro, but with this feature, I definitely would, and just for that.


Email Write Order

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-11 09:00

A more logical way to compose email messages from David Sparks at MacSparky. I first heard him mention this on his podcast some time ago, and I think about it every time I compose an email. I’ve made all the typical mistakes – hitting send before finishing, forgetting the attachment, the subject line, etc.

This might be a good way to lay out an email app screen that conforms to David’s approach:

Email Write Order 20160406.001

It follows the order of his workflow, with a summary section showing any issues with the message. At the bottom is an Action section with buttons for Cancel, Save Draft, Send Later (a nice feature in some email apps), and a giant SEND NOW button.


iPhone SE Review: Everything is Awful, Soon We Die

Permalink - Posted on 2016-04-06 13:30

The Macalope on the inane Gizmodo iPhone SE review by Alex Cranz:

Instead of comparing “phone” sizes, how about comparing the size of the brass balls it takes for a publication that did nothing but nay-say Jobs when he was alive to now chastise Cook for rejecting his legacy. Uncomfortably long and sarcastic golf clap for that. Bra-vo.

Gotta love the Macalope.

Gizmodo’s click-bait article ostensibly about how Apple is out of ideas justifies it with observations like…

While I’m knocking the SE for being proof that Apple is bereft of good ideas, I can’t actually knock the phone’s performance or form factor.

The SE on the other hand, is beautifully practical. It simply disappears.

If you’ve been staring off into the distance singing “Someday my tiny phone will come” then you can stop. This is it. The best phone under 4 inches currently available.

A big whatever.


Apple Financials Reporting

Permalink - Posted on 2016-03-18 18:52

For one of Apple’s earnings cycles, I decided to write about the company’s financial performance here and here. I will no longer do that. It’s not because my forecast/guess about first quarter iPhone sales growth was low and therefore wrong (it was)… it’s because this is not something I can do well.

My motivation for these posts was to provide a counterpoint to stories about Apple which I felt were becoming pure hype in the financial media. There are so many people weighing in on the state of Apple and trying to get attention with hyperbolic statements like, “Apple May See First iPhone Sales Decline,” or, “iPhone Growth Hits a Wall,” or, “Apple is Doomed!” It’s not that these reports are always invalid, but it seemed to me they were missing the larger point, which is that Apple is now among the world’s largest companies in terms of sales, and that focusing on a lack of growth ignores the reality of “large numbers.” Simply put, Apple can’t keep growing at double-digits forever.

So I thought I could bring some sanity and a different perspective to this topic, and I thought I could cover it adequately. All I really accomplished, though, was some thin speculation. People like Jason Snell at Six Colors does this kind of thing very well, complete with charts of all kinds of metrics released within minutes of an earnings call. That is where you should go to read about this stuff.

Meanwhile, I plan to get back to writing about various things that I feel are important and to which I believe I can bring a unique perspective. Thanks for reading.


Predicted iPhone Slowdown

Permalink - Posted on 2015-12-15 15:11

There has been a lot of link-bait headlines predicting the upcoming “iPhone 7,” or whatever it will be called, is going to be a flop. These kinds of predictions are routine.


Apps Don’t Last

Permalink - Posted on 2015-12-08 14:52

From Daring Fireball, the eulogies for apps (Dropbox-acquired apps, in this case) that are no longer with us, including Mailbox and Carousel. And of course, we can’t forget some of the many other apps that have been acquired and retired, or the ones that have faded away and died.

This is not to say that you should not buy apps, but investing in something that is software or a web-based service should cause you to think a little. I previously wrote about paying for software and impermanence, and I think this is all related. You need a fallback plan.


You Have to Do the Research

Permalink - Posted on 2015-12-08 14:34

Climate change denial psychology, from the Huffington Post:

“Social scientists have documented that the public follows ‘elite cues’ when forming opinions on topics, especially those for which they don’t have a lot of information,” Dr. Riley Dunlap, an environmental sociologist at Oklahoma State University, told The Huffington Post in an email. “So when Republican politicians and pundits, whose voices are amplified by conservative media figures, deny climate change, this readily filters down to party activists and eventually many lay Republicans.”

These media messages have a major impact. In a forthcoming study, researchers tested the influence of climate change denial messages on American adults’ views of climate change, and found that they have an especially strong effect on conservatives.

The only reason people can successfully propagate invalid ideas and get others to believe them is because those “believers” don’t try to discover the facts themselves. Many people want to be told what to think. It’s easy. The process of learning and discovery is not easy. It can also have the inconvenient consequence of finding out that you’re wrong sometimes.

Update: This seems to happen with many other issues as well.


Apple Stock Pumped by Analyst

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-24 17:44

One day Apple’s stock is shit, another day it’s gold.

Goldman Sachs believes the company is drastically undervalued, awarding its shares a $163 12-month price target and adding the security to the bank’s “conviction buy” list. Trading at close to $117 at the time of this writing, shares are currently at about a 39% discount to this price target. Could Apple stock really be this undervalued?

Wow, things have totally changed in two weeks? It’s hard for me to completely buy the reasoning in the rest of the article, but this is certainly true:

Apple’s conservative P/E ratio is definitely a bit baffling in light of the company’s customer loyalty and annuity potential.


Swift on the Rise

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-24 13:49

Apple’s Swift programming language is getting traction in some novel ways. Wired reports that it may soon be used in server applications, and Ben Snider has a good piece about using Swift for scripting on a Mac.

Swift is in the top 15 programming languages in terms of popularity, impressive for an 18-month-old language.

Apple still plans to open source Swift by the end of 2015. This should help it take off even more, as it is likely to be ported to other platforms quickly.


The Walrus: Bombing ISIS Will Not Work

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-18 13:32

Must read article at The Walrus about how bombing ISIS will not work:

But bombing it was the kind of dumb idea that characterized the US occupation. In the end it’s not just hearts and minds but stomachs that are won and lost. Anyone who attacked Haji Hussein was not going to win in Iraq any more than a terrorist group that attacks a night club in Paris is going to intimidate the French. If anything, it does the opposite.

The premise of this article – that simply bombing ISIS is going to do lasting damage to their movement, and that without a serious effort of local groups rather than far-flung foreign powers ISIS cannot be defeated – is echoed in more and more pieces I’ve been reading by foreign policy and military experts. It is completely counter to our gut response to the terrorist attacks in Paris, and is the opposite of what all the right-wing megaphones have been blaring in the media these past few days.

Because once you feel it your gut, you’re tempted to do what the French did when they attacked Raqqa almost immediately with large-scale bombing raids. But how many new recruits did ISIS get from this gut response? We’ll never know, but no doubt far more than the few they lost in Paris.

We need a strategy that will work to stop ISIS. Air strikes may be necessary in the short term to contain them or slow them down. But again, without local groups and other powers in the region stepping up, there is little hope of defeating ISIS.


iPad Pro Capabilities and Buyer Paralysis

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-11 05:00

The iPad Pro is officially on sale today, and the reviews are out:

A common theme that is emerging is how capable the iPad Pro is and how many are considering its suitability as a laptop replacement. For me, it’s a slightly different twist: with Apple blurring the line between iPads and MacBooks, the buying decision is no longer simple.

I’m starting to get the feeling that Apple has too many models within their iPad and MacBook product lines. They now offer five different iPads and six different laptops. Choosing one of these devices requires a little too much deliberation not only within either product line but across both product lines, given how the capabilities of the iPad overlap with the MacBook. The matrix for making decisions has expanded.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball has sort of his own take on this:

Anyone tying themselves in knots looking for a specific target audience for the iPad Pro is going about it the wrong way. There is no single target audience. Is the iPad Pro meant for office workers in the enterprise? Professional artists creating content? Casual users playing games, watching movies, and reading? The answer is simply “Yes”.

Consider a person who is looking for a target audience as a potential buyer, and you get my situation.

I am in the market to replace my first generation iPad Mini. This is mostly due to not being able to run content blockers — many websites now simply crash when I’m browsing as they load all the cruft and additional content to capture my attention and track me. Plus, I sorely miss having a Retina screen given that I work on a MacBook Pro and iPhone 6s every day. But I am also considering the unique capabilities of the iPad Pro. So, do I get a new iPad Mini? Or maybe the iPad Air is now light and thin enough for me to consider that? Or would the iPad Pro be useful if in fact I am going to take advantage of its new capabilities?

And then, having a super lightweight laptop to write on – something with a decent keyboard – is another desire. Can the iPad Pro with the keyboard accommodate me? Or would the new MacBook be a smarter choice than any of the iPads? And in that case, wouldn’t a MacBook Air be better in a lot of ways — in every way except some weight and that it doesn’t have a Retina display? But I do travel with my MacBook Pro (used for writing as well as coding), and the little iPad Mini is a great companion…

Part of the answer — as I’m sure Apple loves — is that I am driven to consider and possibly purchase more than one device. So I keep mulling all this stuff. Apple has now made the simple buying decision complex. The bad thing for them is that, as someone like me is finding, this weighing of options is delaying my purchase.


Apple Stock Hit by Analyst Warning

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-11 01:25

A Credit Suisse analyst reported today that Apple has cut component orders:

Apple has lowered its component orders by as much as 10 percent, according to our teams in Asia. The cuts seem to be driven by weak demand for the new iPhone 6s.

In response, Apple’s stock fell by over three percent.

Who knows – the report may well turn out to foreshadow a drop in iPhone sales. However, consider that Apple’s CFO, Luca Maestri, forecasted that Apple will likely grow iPhone sales this quarter on their earnings call last week.

The way I can best explain these kinds of reports – without any firsthand knowledge but with strong suspicion – is that these investment companies do this to talk a stock down in order to give their clients an opportunity to buy the stock at a better price. Call me cynical, but it happens allthetime.


Buying Crude Oil

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-08 13:46

That Time I Tried to Buy an Actual Barrel of Crude Oil:

“That [is] all good and well until you learn it’s not Bakken but Kurdish oil, under strict embargo. Well done [for] supporting ISIS,” the consultant replied by e-mail.

The world economy is an entangled creature.


Syria Civil War Allies and Enemies

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-08 05:00

Great interactive graphic on Quartz about the Syrian civil war.. It helps clarify the crazy situation in Syria… a little.


You Absolutely Can Be Run Over…

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-06 05:00

Arianna Huffington on Re/code Radio:

You can absolutely be run over if you don’t continue to pioneer. If you ever see yourself as doing maintenance, then you will be run over.

Taking that quote out of context and reading it as a general, cautionary idea makes it powerful. It’s especially applicable to those in the tech world, but also more widely.


Apple Watch in Trouble, Says the Good Ol’ Internet

Permalink - Posted on 2015-11-05 05:00

Forbes speculates that the Apple Watch is declining.

First, let me say that linking to a typical sensationalist Forbes article is probably not going to happen on this blog very often, but there are echoes here of others who question how successful the Apple Watch has been, and so I think this merits some thought.

The gist of this article is that since Apple is offering a program in some San Francisco and Boston area stores to buy an Apple Watch with an iPhone and get a $50 overall discount, things are going badly. Moreover, since Apple is not breaking out sales figures for the watch, this is a sign that they are hiding this bad news somehow:

Tim Cook won’t offer exact sales figures because the only insights competitors will glean is that if Apple has failed to ignite consumer demand with a halo product, then they surely can’t with a rival offering.

Apple has always said, even before they sold a single unit, that they would not be breaking out sales figures for Apple Watch. Let’s admit, though, that the watch is not going to light the world on fire as the iPhone has. It is never going to be that kind of blockbuster product, at least in its current incarnation. But there is not much analysis or real numbers in this Forbes piece:

Interest in wearables in general is declining. A report by Kantar Worldpanel ComTech in August this year reversed the notion that Apple Watch and wearable tech are extremely popular with the finding that only 3 percent of the U.S. population age 16 and older owns a smartwatch or smart fitness band. This is also in line with previous Gartner IT predictions that the market would slow in 2015 owing to conflicts between different types of fitness bands and because smartwatches offer the same functions.

Well, let’s do that same “analysis” for the PC industry, which declined in the past quarter – as it has in the past several quarters – while Apple’s Mac sales increased this past quarter by almost ten percent, and in each of the past several quarters by varying rates. If Apple didn’t break out Mac sales separately, I wonder if the same people in a tizzy about watch sales would be saying similar things based on looking at the overall PC industry trend. Or, on a slightly different plane but still squarely in the realm of speculation, let’s predict Apple’s chances in the mobile phone industry in 2007 based on the existing landscape of other products. That would have surely predicted an iPhone flop. And in fact, that was predicted by many.

Sometimes we don’t have enough data to do a good analysis. And for the Apple Watch, that’s the situation. Trying to fill in the blanks only with speculation can be interesting, but that doesn’t make it valid.


HTC Copying the iPhone

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-28 04:00

David Pierce at Wired, writing about how the HTC One A9 is a shameless ripoff executed poorly:

Where the iPhone’s ports are perfectly aligned, the A9’s look like they were machined by a drunk 6-year-old with a jackhammer. The headphone jack curls around the back edge. The charging port is off-center horizontally and vertically. And none of the holes is quite the same size or shape.

HTC presumably doesn’t want you to notice that the front-facing camera doesn’t align with the speaker, or that the proximity sensor appears to have been thrown on there randomly. HTC certainly doesn’t want you wondering why it felt the need to put a big logo on the front of the phone when there’s already a huge one on the back.

As with the design, the A9’s software feels like a good idea only half-finished…

Sounds really nice, HTC.


Apple Q4 Results - Part 2

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-27 04:00

Apple iPhone Quarterly Sales through Q1 2015 Projected</img>

Apple reported record 2015 Q4 results that beat analyst expectations, and offered guidance at the high end of next quarter’s estimates:

  • 2015 Q4 iPhone Unit Sales: 48 million
  • 2015 Q4 Revenue: $51.5B vs. $51.1B expected
  • 2015 Q4 Net Profit: $11.1B vs. $10.6B expected
  • 2016 Q1 Revenue Guidance: between $75.5B and $77.5B

So why am I focusing on iPhone unit sales here and in the previous post? There are a couple of reasons.

First, Tim Cook stated on today’s call that a key objective is adding more customers. The driver of Apple’s growth in recent years is due to one product – iPhone. As the iPhone goes, so goes Apple, at least in the short and medium term. How many phones they sell is a good way to track that. Note that average selling price has been trending up slightly.

Second, iPhone sales as a percentage of total revenue have increased steadily over the past three years:

  • 2013: 53.1%
  • 2014: 56.0%
  • 2015: 65.9%

By the way, the highest percentage of iPhone sales to revenue was the first two quarters of the 2015 fiscal year, 68.6% and 69.4%, respectively.

To forecast a wide range of unit sales for 2016 Q1, we could take the lowest percentage of iPhone quarterly sales in 2015 to total revenue (62.5% in Q4, the most recent quarter) and the low end of next quarter’s guidance ($75.5B), and then take the highest percentage of iPhone quarterly sales in 2015 to revenue (69.4% in Q2) and the upper end of guidance ($77.5B) – and use the Q4 average selling price reported today ($670/unit) – and come up with very rough range:

  • 2016 Q1 iPhone unit sales forecast: Between 70.4 million and 80.3 million

Yes, that’s a wide range. The consensus is that iPhone unit sales crack the 74.5 million mark from last year’s holiday quarter, which is right in the middle of this 70 to 80 million range. I think the thing to watch for, though, is iPhone unit sales topping the 79 million mark next quarter. That’s pretty small year-over-year iPhone unit sales growth, about a 6% increase. “We think we can grow iPhone (sales) during the December quarter,” Chief Financial Officer Luca Maestri told The Associated Press. So… let’s put that out there.

If the consensus ~75 million iPhone unit sales figure does end up being correct, and if Apple does come in at the high end of its total revenue guidance, it will probably be due to an increase in Apple Watch sales.


Apple Q4 Results - Part 1

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-27 04:00

Apple iPhone Quarterly Sales through Q4 2015</img>

As always, buzz about the quarterly financial results for Apple is all over the map. Apple will report fiscal 2015 Q4 results at 5pm EST today. They are up against a so-called “tough comp” from 2014 Q4, which is when they started selling the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus in China. This quarter’s results will include two days of Chinese sales of the new iPhone 6s and 6s Plus.

Jim Cramer:

Though the stock still remains cheaper than most other technology stocks that exploded higher on Friday, Apple can still get hurt. Cramer has noticed that Apple’s stock has been creeping up in anticipation of the quarter, so he will be on alert for any bruising, since the tech bar is set so high.

Gene Munster:

It really comes down to is what the guidance is for December. If they guide at the high end of the range…that’s going to be a sign that Apple’s optimistic that the [iPhone] ‘S’ cycle is going to be better than what investors think.

Where Apple’s stock price will end up after they report earnings is anyone’s guess – it almost always goes lower immediately after.

Longer term: Apple’s current price/earnings (P/E) multiple of 13 or so makes it a “cheap” stock compared to others in the tech-ish field:

  • Oracle (17.8)
  • Google (30.5)
  • Microsoft (36)
  • Amazon (879!)


Why We Hate Cell Phone Carriers

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-23 04:00

From Dan Moren at Six Colors:

But in an interview with the UK’s Evening Standard earlier this month, Apple senior vice president Eddy Cue—ostensibly there to talk about music—let drop this interesting tidbit:

[Cue] taps his phone and makes an offhand comment about “trying not to get roaming charges” while in London which, I note, proves how insanely expensive phone calls and data can be abroad. “It’s sad, it’s another problem,” says Cue. “We’re trying to fix it and we’re making a little bit of progress but you’ve got to convince a lot of people.”

I really hope this gets some traction.

Related: My wife and I spent a half hour on the phone with AT&T last night. They somehow decided to separate our combined account into two when we each purchased new iPhones last month. Our bill doubled. Surprise, surpise. Their error, they admitted. And they fixed it. But then we noticed that the upgrade charge was double what we were led to believe, and now that we are not on contract, isn’t the bill supposed to decrease, and…

Do cell phone companies actually wonder why everyone hates them?


Quality Reading about Design and the Web

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-20 04:00

Go to The Deck and see who is in their network. You have to sift the list a little but it shakes out to something like this today (I’ve left out the strictly commercial sites):

Other things: Coudal Partners has some interesting stuff. James Coudal is the founder of The Deck.

The Deck’s take on privacy and tracking is respectable — “WE’RE FINE WITH KNOWING NOTHING.”


Impermanence

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-19 04:00

Gary Allen, author of the ifo Apple Store blog, traveled the world visiting Apple stores, a unique hobby for sure. I had never heard of him until I read this article about his passing. John Gruber at Daring Fireball wrote about this and the issue of what happens to someone’s online writing when that person dies.

How do we protect electronic works in a way that makes them truly durable? Even considering backups, a succession plan, choosing a platform without lock-in, not relying on sketchy cloud providers (geez, the list goes on and on…), this remains a big problem. The effort it takes to anticipate the things that can go wrong and follow a plan to preserve content is not trivial. No matter how far you take it, you can always come up with yet another scenario that can wreck your stuff.

Electronic things are ephemeral. The ease with which we can create something seems almost proportional to how easy it is to lose it.


Paying for Software

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-12 04:00

The main reason I hesitate buying software, even when it’s a $2.99 app, is that it feels impermanent. It feels like you’re always on the verge of being screwed. I have, in fact, been screwed, and of course nobody likes that.

I’ve bought software that was abandoned by the developer and stopped working on future operating systems, or pulled from the App Store, or updated and then the update became a “new version” that required another payment, or the app was bought by another company and turned into subscription-ware.

I think developers can address this by offering some type of guarantee. Some already do this, and I buy software from them. For example, make it known that updates will always be free, or offered at a specific discount, or that you’ll open-source it if you ever give up on it. Yes, future efforts may not seem like they will be rewarded by current customers. But I think developers would make up for that by overcoming this hesitation and selling more copies today, and maybe even at a slightly higher price.


3D Touch

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-09 04:00

Both Jeff Atwood and Scott Hanselman have tweeted about 3D Touch on iOS being nothing more than right click (Atwood) or “long press” (Hanselman). I’m not sure why they don’t get what it actually is – it’s pressure sensitive touch. There is no separate button or gesture like right click, and it is not strictly measured by duration like a long press. It’s genuinely a pressure sensitive touch capability. You can press lightly, or a little harder, or with much more force, and those differences are measured by the hardware and the OS in a very granular way.

It is true, though, that the way it is implemented in many apps right now is crudely – it is typically used similarly to a simple right click. But you can see how the screen responds to pressure if you try the new peek gesture in the iOS Mail app. As you press to trigger the “peek” gesture, watch the subtle changes in the animation as you press and then as you let up a bit. There is nothing like this capability on competing platforms yet, and it is surely something that app makers and Apple will take advantage of. For example: press and then gradually apply more pressure to increment a value in a numeric spinner. Then release and do it again to decrement. Or the photo app – press on the screen harder to accelerate the brightness up, press and do it again to decrease brightness.

These are just quick and maybe poor examples off the top of my head. Game developers will probably find creative uses for this, too. It sure seems like current implementations are only the start. Guess we’ll see.


Apple Pay Traction

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-05 04:00

Bloomberg reports that Apple Pay is facing consumer indifference. Based on my use of Apple Pay with my Apple Watch and iPhone 6S, there is one thing that hangs me up.

When I am in a checkout line, I have a little anxiety when I use Apple Pay. The last thing I want is to be the doofus holding up the line because I’m futzing with my snazzy gadget. Sliding a credit card through the reader is not time consuming, and rarely does it not work. Plus, the first couple times I tried Apple Pay, I had to look up what to press on my Apple Watch to trigger it. That may say more about me than any difficulty in using Apple Pay, but still, using my credit card requires memorizing nothing at all.

But if this is true…

The switch to chip-based cards from magnetic-stripe cards in the U.S. may also accelerate Apple Pay’s adoption. Because the EMV chip cards must stay inserted in in-store payment terminals for the duration of each transaction, instead of being swiped, checkout times may be longer and the process more cumbersome.

…then everything may change.


iOS Content Blocking

Permalink - Posted on 2015-10-04 14:55

If you are an advertiser, or if you run a website and use ad networks, then you don’t need to read beyond this paragraph. Just know this: if you embed scripts, cookies, Flash, auto-launch videos or images used to track metrics about my browsing or to show me advertising, and especially if those assets impair the speed or experience I realize while consuming your content, then stop it. I own my device, so I determine what gets downloaded to it. And now that I can do this on every device I own, it might be time for you to listen.

If you’re still reading, you are probably aware of the debate since Apple released iOS 9 and the new feature that allows “content blockers” to be run in Safari. These blockers can prevent scripts, videos, images and similar junk from being run or even downloaded to your device when you visit a website. Some people argue that blocking this content is unethical, or that it may force websites out of business, or require them to find new ways to generate revenue since many rely on ad networks for that. The problem is that many websites turn over control of how tracking and advertising is done on their own websites to these networks, and the advertisers do virtually whatever they want to monitor your browsing habits and display ads when you visit these websites. Sometimes this impairs a website so badly that it’s unusable. You’ve no doubt seen popups appear on sites that require you to dismiss them before you can read an article. You’ve probably also encountered websites that seem to take forever to load before you can read an article. These are symptoms of this problem.

What To Do

For users, the answer is simple: on a computer, run a browser plug-in such as Ghostery, and configure it to block advertising and tracking assets that you don’t want to run. On iOS, go to the App Store and download one of the many content blockers and follow the instructions to set it up and run it.

For websites and advertisers, you have even more options and all are better than what you’re doing now.

Make Better Ads and Don’t Pollute Your Site With Crap

This is the main reason people even noticed tracking and advertising – the crappy user experience…

There are sites I can’t even load on my previous iPhone or my first generation iPad Mini. One example is CNN, a site that rarely loads a page completely before crashing. On my computer I can use the developer tools Chrome or Safari to see what is going on, and it’s ugly. CNN loads so many third party tracking assets:

CNN Tracking Junk CNN Page Load Hit
Tracking Junk Loaded on CNN's Website

This is a page with a news article. It might have 100kb of content aside from the sidebar, stuff, some images, and… the AUTO-PLAYING VIDEO. The stats above include all that. When I run the Ghostery plugin, it cuts the payload down by half. CNN still manages to load a bunch of additional junk, however, and this points out that ad blocking is not 100% effective. I’m sure over time more sites and ad networks will figure out tricks to keep pumping as much stuff as possible down to your browser, but right now, this is a good start.

In contrast to the “typical” ad networks, there are ad networks such as The Deck. Their ads are very unobtrusive, and – even better for advertisers – I actually notice them and find they often have things I’m interested in. And isn’t that the key objective of advertising?

Rely On Your Server to Track Traffic

The use of the resources I provide when I browse the web, such as bandwidth, memory and storage, are not for websites to piggyback on to serve ads. You have your own server. Why don’t YOU do the tracking and serve ads from YOUR server instead of forcing my device to download all this crap and run this stuff for you? YOU should not make me incur the implicit costs in terms of bandwidth and load times. If it’s valuable for you to have these trackers, you should have no trouble justifying payment for a beefed up server and resources on YOUR end.

Sign Users Up

If your site is of value, which you probably know by the traffic you get, then encourage people to sign up and provide some information about themselves – an email address or what their interests are are good places to start. After all, YOU and your advertisers already try to surreptitiously gain access to this information. Why not just come right out and ask for it as a condition of using your site?

Where This Goes From Here

This is anyone’s guess right now. I do think ad networks like The Deck have a huge advantage, and over the long term, websites that take this kind of lightweight approach while featuring their content and the user experience over all else will win. This is especially true now that we the users have the tools to enforce what we want.

I don’t think getting to this point with content blocking would have ever happened if advertisers hadn’t abused how they track and server ads. We’ll see what they come up with next. Hopefully they won’t crawl back into the slimy muck.