WTF Weekly for September 24, 2019

The past week was not a fun one for my family. We discovered unexpectedly that our pet cat of the past 9 years had advanced cancerous tumors. It was a surprise to us because he wasn’t showing any big changes in behavior right up until he quit eating one day. We took him to the vet for tests where they gave us the bad news.

Putting a sick pet down is never fun. It always feels like murder, even if it’s the right thing for the animal. At least I got to be there with him and hold him when he died. It’s the least I could do, since I doubt he was any happier about it than I was, and I wasn’t about to send him off to die alone with strangers.

I still keep expecting him to come running down the stairs to greet me when I come home, which he did every time, or to be curled up on a pillow when I enter a quiet room. Then I remember that he’s not there, and I’m sad.

A lot of people seem to think cats are aloof and distant, but I’ve never had one that was. I believe they reflect your attitude towards them back at you – if you’re indifferent towards cats, they won’t waste a lot of time trying to change your mind, but if you love them, they’ll love you back.

Anyway, that’s the kind of week it was at my house.

From a more global perspective, the world was as weird and awful as ever. This week’s events did little to refute already overwhelming evidence of our President’s corruption and incompetence, and finally the House has had enough. Impeachment proceedings have begun.

Nancy Pelosi Announces Formal Impeachment Inquiry of Trump

This one really does feel like a “FINALLY!”, but as noted by Jonathan Bernstein on Bloomberg (written before Pelosi’s Tuesday announcement), there is historical precedent for Pelosi’s seemingly extreme patience and caution over impeaching Trump. Indeed, the House waited months before moving on impeachment of Nixon in 1973, and even then spent months more gathering evidence all the way into August of the following year.

Impeachment is not a given, of course, but at least for those of us who are beyond tired of the way this president and his administration have reveled in their own brazen corruption, it feels like the fight is finally on and that maybe someone actually gives a damn about the damage being done to our country both at home and internationally.

After all this time, I still have a difficult time understanding the motivations of Trump voters. It was hard enough for me to believe that anyone who voted for him honestly thought he was the right person to be President of the United States, and it’s even harder to believe that there are people who think he’s doing a good job now. Even more annoying is how Trumpers seem to think patriotism is their private domain, when in fact their dear leader is one of the least patriotic people in this country.

I guess people would rather win partisan fights than do the right thing.

Apple releases iPadOS 13.1 featuring Dark Mode, new Home Screen and multitasking, Arcade, and more

It’s iPadOS day for those of you who have iPads and have not been running iOS 13 betas. I’ve been on iPadOS on my 2018 iPad Air long enough now that I can barely remember the crudity of iOS 12, so it’s a bit weird to have friends messaging me about iOS 13 and seeing comments on Twitter about it as people familiarize themselves with all the changes.

iPadOS truly sets the iPad free in a way that makes me wonder what took Apple so many years to do it. iPad is now a workstation, capable of performing most tasks for most professionals1, and few people will find it lacking for their chosen endeavors.

Exceptions are still iOS development (no Xcode) and podcasting. You certainly can record your end of a podcast to send in to the host, but you’re not going to record multiple people in a conversation or replace the functionality of Rogue Amoeba’s Mac apps, such as Audio Hijack, Loopback, and Farrago.

Obviously specific pieces of software that aren’t available on iPad are going to stop some people, but as people like Shawn Blanc have proven in the case of photo editing, some flexibility and willingness to learn mean you can at least complement your Mac workflow, and possibly even replace it entirely. And that was written long before the giant functionality increase afforded the iPad by iPadOS.

I think iPadOS is going to open a lot of eyes about the iPad being more than a toy, and it’s about time in my opinion.

After 6 Years in Exile, Edward Snowden Explains Himself

It’s possible, as the author of this Wired piece notes, that the ephemeral, anonymous internet that Edward Snowden laments the loss of never truly existed, but there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that the internet has fundamentally changed in character since its early days.

Early personal computing, even into the dawn of the public internet, was optimistic, much more positive, and very forward looking. Now it’s cynical, depressing, filled with venom and vile behavior, and often borderline unusable thanks to bloated, malware-laden advertising.

It’s true that there is bi-partisan loathing of Edward Snowden, but, while I’m no libertarian, neither am I into blindly trusting authority. I think exposing abuses of power is always necessary, and that’s what Snowden did. Ultimately, I have far more sympathy for him than I do the Clappers and Comeys of the world.

Millions of Americans’ medical images and data are available on the Internet

It should come as no surprise that most companies have zero clue or desire to protect our personal information, but the medical industry seems to me to be one of the most clueless about security. In addition to critical medical equipment that can be hacked easily, the medical industry also has issues securing even the most basic patient information, including x-rays and other images.

Often the theory seems to be that it’s ok to assume that people with no knowledge of or legitimate reason to access a certain system won’t find it or bother with it if they do, but that goes against the entire history of computing and hackers. Security is always thought about last, if at all, and nowhere more so than in medicine.

A Guide to City Pop, the Soundtrack for Japan’s Bubble-Era Generation

I lived in Japan as a kid during the late 70’s and early 80’s, and I’ve heard more than I care to of Japanese pop music. What I didn’t know, however, was that there’s a genre known as City Pop, and some of it isn’t bad at all.

This article covers some of the key players in city pop, and funnily enough, The Golden Age is defined as the period I was there. It’s funny to me, because what I was listening to was either Japanese or American rock albums, soundtracks, or Japanese radio programs featuring American pop and rock, and most definitely not any of the artists covered here.

Utilizing my newfound knowledge, I downloaded albums from the Suchmos, Tatsuro Yamashita, and Yumi Matsutouya (formerly Arai), and I’m really surprised at how much I’m enjoying listening to them.

If you’d told me in 1980 that I would willingly download Japanese pop music decades later as an adult, I’d have assumed you’d lost your bloody mind. Yet here I am.

Ok, that’s it for this edition of WTF Weekly. I seem to be fond of making disclaimers that I don’t know what I want the format of these posts to be, and it’s still true. I’m not sure who (if anyone) reads this and what they would like to see. Let me know! Twitter link below…

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

  1. Particularly if they’re willing to learn new workflows

WTF Weekly for September 12, 2019

I hope you’re an Apple fan, because this is Apple September keynote time, and I’m dedicating this WTF Weekly to it.

This week’s Apple Special Event didn’t produce the same levels of excitement as WWDC 2019 in June did. iPadOS, iOS 13, SwiftUI, and other related iOS technologies that were announced then were HUGE, and still are. I still can’t believe the massive tech dump that was WWDC.

Still, this was a solid keynote, with a couple surprises, and generally solid incremental progressions otherwise.

Sometimes people forget that not all Apple keynotes are incredible and that Apple doesn’t change the world every year. They also seem to forget that Apple’s direction on their frameworks and software initiatives matter just as much as tweaks to hardware in any given year. Apple is doing a lot of things right at the moment.

Apple still produces really good products and not every keynote has to be a barnstormer. Apple Watch would be considered a hugely successful product by even the dimmest analyst if it weren’t overshadowed by the unprecedented success of the iPhone.

Hands on with the iPhone 11 cameras

Year after year, Apple continues to focus on the photographic capabilities of iPhones, in some ways pushing the boundaries of smartphone cameras, and in other ways playing catch up.

This year, Apple plays catch up with Night Mode and a wide angle lens, but implements them cleverly. The way you can switch between camera lenses seamlessly while shooting video, for example, seems like classic Apple refinement.

I like that iPhone 11 now has two lenses and is much more capable than its XR predecessor. Now it can do real hardware enabled portrait mode as well as let you choose between wide angle and ultra wide angle views.

I generally replace my phone every 2 1/2 to 3 years now. In February, I bought an iPhone XS Max. At the time, I honestly wouldn’t have considered the XR for a few reasons, the camera being a major one. Now with the iPhone 11, I don’t think that’s an issue anymore, even though obviously the Pro still leads in that area.

Apple Unveils Apple Arcade Game Subscription Details

One of the surprises of the day for me was Apple’s pricing of Apple Arcade. It probably shouldn’t be a surprise – there are other game services out there that have deeper, more high quality games than iOS games tend to be.

That sounds like a bashing, and all of us can probably name some really good iOS games. There certainly are some wonderful examples like Crossy Road, Monument Valley and Monument Valley 2, Alto’s Adventure and Alto’s Odyssey, Minecraft, Stardew Valley, Chess Time, Machinarium, and probably a bunch of others that you’re angry at me right now for not mentioning.

Generally speaking, though, I don’t think iOS games are as great as Apple thinks they are. They’re often full of scammy ways of duping people out of money, or they focus on “amazing graphics” (asterisk: for a phone) at the expense of being fun, and the quality level of games in the App Store is all over the map.

As a result, Apple Arcade has a bit of an inherited cloud hanging over it. Whether or not Apple understands games and gaming enough to make compelling choices for what to include is a fair question. The demos showed in Tuesday’s keynote weren’t that encouraging, frankly. Frogger is one thing (although Crossy Road more than expertly fills that need), but the weird LSD version shown seems like an automatic pass for me.

Here’s the thing though – for $4.99, all Apple has to do is get a couple compelling games into the lineup per month, and it’s more than worth it. If my daughter can find 2 – 3 new games per month she enjoys that I know won’t require IAP to complete or to not frustrate her in the process, that’s a win. Same goes for me, frankly.

I’m reserving complete judgement on Apple Arcade, but at that price, it seems like a no-brainer. For now, I put it in the solid win column.

Apple iPad 2019 hands-on: A 6th-generation iPad in a 2019 iPad Air’s body

You may know that I’ve recently become an iPad owner again for the second time with my purchase of a 2019 iPad Air in early June. I’ve been using iOS 13 and iPadOS betas since early days (big mistake, by the way) and iPadOS truly does transform the iPad into something it should have been much, much sooner in its life.

I love the iPad.

So I have mixed emotions about the 7th generation iPad announced on Tuesday. On the one hand, great, they’re keeping the base iPad refreshed and the price is still one of the best deals in tech. On the other hand, the A10 Fusion is three years old now, and it’s the same CPU that was in the 6th generation iPad from a year and a half ago.

By the way, a lot of podcasters in the Apple ecosphere have commented on the oddity of a 10.2” base iPad and a 10.5” iPad Air existing in the same lineup, and I’ll give them that with the caveat that the iPad Air is still more capable and fills a hole in the price range between iPad and iPad Pro models that would be a little more glaring without its existence.

A lot has been made about people walking into Apple stores not understanding the differences between the iPad and iPad Air, but for people who do know what they want out of an iPad but can’t currently justify the cost of the much more expensive iPad Pros, the iPad Air makes pretty good sense.

What Apple does going forward with the iPad Air is definitely up for debate though. What probably makes more sense is for Apple to make the base iPad more capable and get rid of the iPad Air in the next iPad upgrade cycle.

Dear Apple: Face to Face – Apple Watch

There are a lot of fitness trackers and wearables in the world, but in my admittedly somewhat biased opinion, none of them come close to offering the value of the Apple Watch, even at its sometimes stratospheric prices. Apple gave us some examples why in this really compelling video. It’s definitely worth a watch.1

Apple Watch is a superb blend of fitness tracker, convenience device, communication device, and the best ever alarm clock.2

Not only has it helped people lose weight and get fit, even people who knew how but benefited from daily prompts and metrics to really make it happen, but now Apple Watch is becoming more vital to alerting people to dangerous physical conditions that need addressed immediately.

How much Apple lucked into this feel-good story and how much they foresaw the effect some of the features of Apple Watch would have in people’s lives is anyone’s guess, but this device is one that has been so much better and more important than I could have ever anticipated.

Again, I maintain that the Apple Watch is only overlooked as a wild success due to the huge sales numbers the iPhone has generated in its history.

By the way, I didn’t see always-on screen coming this year either, that’s for sure. I’ve heard mixed second-hand opinions of this feature in Wear OS devices. If it’s as good as Apple claims, it’s ready sooner than I personally expected, and it’s a hugely welcome update to Apple Watch. I don’t know how many times during a workout I’ve been unable to twist my wrist in the exact way my watch requires to illuminate the display, and it annoys me every time.

Apple Watch may be one of the most satisfying to own Apple products ever, and it just keeps getting better.

That’s it for this time. Thanks as always for reading, tell a friend, and contact me on Twitter and let me know your thoughts on anything I’ve talked about here, and even things I haven’t.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

  1. See what I did there?

  2. Use one of the third-party light-sleep alarm apps in conjunction with the built-in one and you’ll never go back.

WTF Weekly for September 3, 2019

I have good news for podcast lovers: I’m finally working on another project in cooperation with someone I’ve known all my life and who knows how to bring a listener through a narrative to arrive at a point. It’s a slightly different type of podcast than I’ve done so far, but it should be fun.1

This time in WTF Weekly, I’ve tossed in one or two links that aren’t so much news as they are just interesting and informative. I think mixing it up a little is fine, and the goal of this site is not to provoke anxiety in the reader. News can do that.

So with that subtle rule change, let’s get into it.

Shotengai: Exploring the Nostalgic Pulse of Japan’s Local Shopping Streets

One of the virtues of living in Kagoshima in the late 70’s and early 80’s as a boy is that I got to wander aimlessly around a lot of city streets and shopping centers that are now affectionately considered nostalgic and old fashioned.

Much of downtown Kagoshima is covered (literally) by a wonderful shopping district known as Tenmonkan (天文館), an area I spent many a happy hour in as a boy. In Japan, certainly then but even now, children are perfectly safe wandering around by themselves, and take advantage of that fact of life I did.

Combine the security aspect with the excellent reliable transportation systems and you’ll understand why Tenmonkan was to me a wonderland of book stores, record shops, toy stores, and restaurants. Often I spent most of a day downtown by myself before hopping a crowded evening bus and heading back home.

Given my background, this piece really resonates with me. I believe I’d feel right at home in Osaka’s Tenjinbashisuji, for example.

Britain makes Alan Turing, the father of AI, the face of its 50-pound note

I don’t know which is worse, the fact that it took Britain until 2013 to pardon Alan Turing for being gay, or the fact that they pardoned him rather than saying “there’s nothing to pardon – this is not an offense that needs to be pardoned.”

Regardless, Turing’s contributions to society are finally being recognized, even though it’s just a tad bit later than desirable.

I finished reading the abridged version of Alan Turing: The Enigma earlier this year, and much of it was incredibly fascinating. Some of it wasn’t, and even the abridged version felt at times like it would never end, but I highly recommend it for the history of Alan’s early years and his work on the Enigma code breaking.

Walmart to stop some ammo sales, ask to not open carry guns

If any store in the US knows about how problematic our obsession with, nay, our worship of guns is, it’s Walmart. 22 people were killed at a Walmart in just a month ago, in what must surely be the capital of gun worship: Texas.

Naturally the NRA issued a statement decrying Walmart’s move to eliminate certain types of gun and ammo sales, saying it makes no one safer and that Walmart is cowing to “elites” (apparently elites are people who don’t love guns more than humans).

Where was the NRA, exactly, when 22 people were getting pumped full of lead in a Walmart in El Paso? Maybe the people at Walmart aren’t cowing to elites so much as reacting in horror to a massacre that took place in one of their stores. Maybe they reacted as most normal humans would and decided that flesh and blood is more valuable than steel and powder. And maybe they have a vested interest in not putting money into the gun culture that keeps endangering their own employees.

I’d like to see Walmart eliminate their gun and ammo sales entirely, frankly.

Quietly, Japan has established itself as a power in the aerospace industry

SpaceX and Blue Origin get a lot of press, but it shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that Japan is active in the aerospace industry. Robotics and automated systems have long been Japan’s forte, something I know from years of experience in the semiconductor industry.

Any company involved in space gets extra credit from me for having the words “Heavy Industry” in its name.

Also not news to me, sadly, is that the aerospace industry in Japan, like almost everything else there, is dominated by men, with almost no serious roles for women at all. Some things don’t change quickly there.

2020 Democrats Will Discuss Climate Change in Prime Time. But Voters Want More Than Talking

In a stunning turn of events, voters in the US are finally waking up to the fact that climate change might be bad for them, and they want their elected officials to recognize this as well.

Although I honestly fear we’ve already reached a tipping point from which there’s no return, we can and must look at behavior modification and mitigation technologies going forward. I don’t know if anything consequential will come of the voting public finally pulling their heads out of the sand, but one can only hope we all quit giving air time to climate deniers (and science deniers in general).

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

  1. For me anyway; the listeners will have to decide for themselves.

WTF Weekly for August 20, 2019

Fall approaches, and so does the annual release of a new version of iOS. This year it’s iOS 13 and iPadOS 13. Although the betas have been incredibly rough this year, as of developer beta 7, released this past week, I think they’re finally stable enough for most people.

If you’re fortunate enough to have an iPad, you’ll love iPadOS. It took Apple long enough, but they’ve finally managed to arrive at a vision of their software that makes the iPad truly a productivity workhorse (not to mention just plain fun to use).

Enough of my Apple operating system summer report, let’s get on to the week or so that was.

Twitter is blocked in China, but its state news agency is buying promoted tweets to portray Hong Kong protestors as violent

I don’t know what’s going to happen between Hong Kong and China ultimately, but it’s fascinating watching.

I believe that the Chinese campaign to smear the protesters is effective. The company I work for has a plant in China, and one Chinese coworker over here in the U.S. for a few weeks griped to me angrily last week that Hong Kong and Taiwan should just get over it and allow themselves to be fully subsumed by the People’s Republic of China.

Personally, I’m no nationalist, and I think if people want their own country separate from the giant to the north (in the case of Hong Kong) or west (in the case of Taiwan), they should be allowed to. I’m sure in the minds of Chinese mainlanders, wanting independence is ridiculous and insulting, but it’s really hard to make a case for forced patriotism.

China itself is an ongoing study in industrial progress combined with a rapidly expanding authoritarianism. It’s a country that will continue to increasingly impact global political dynamics, for better or worse (and probably both).

AI Algorithms Need FDA-Style Drug Trials

We don’t just let people toss mind and body altering drugs on the market without testing, so why should we do the same with society altering software algorithms? This is the argument presented by Olaf J. Groth, Mark J. Nitzberg, and Stuart J. Russell in Wired’s Opinion column.

Despite the fact that three men with middle initials J seems like something only an AI could come up with, this article calls for regulation of Artificial Intelligence, so I guess perhaps these are real human beings postulating caution here.

To be sure, social media in particular has unleashed algorithms bent on exploiting human behavior for financial gain with quite destructive results, if the past few years have been any indication. This is bad enough in and of itself, but as AI entrenches itself in all parts of our lives going forward, careful testing and study of effects on society seems even more important.

I don’t know if I’m optimistic that the human race will recognize the severity of the danger that AI and ML in general pose to us, particularly because most people working in those fields do not encompass a diverse enough subset of the human race, but I’m glad at least some people are thinking about this issue and trying to bring it to more widespread attention.

Shareholder Value Is No Longer Everything, Top C.E.O.s Say

Capitalism loves it some maximized returns, but it looks like a lot of corporation CEOs are at least seeing the need to publicly profess that ultimate profits aren’t the only thing that matters in business.

I’ve long argued that no company can live quarter to quarter and manage a decent strategy. Tech companies, for example, generally have a pipeline at least a couple years long, and an understanding of where technology is going and the will to put a plan in place and stick with it is important for their success. Bowing at the altar of Wall Street is anathema to successful strategy.

That’s not the reason for the sudden chorus of socially conscious disclaimers emanating from the mouths of chief executives, but it’s part of the reality any decent CEO should consider if this is truly a moment of business priority reconsideration.

As noted in the article, if CEOs are truly suddenly becoming more caring, self-aware human beings, they could start showing it by raising salaries for employees, particularly low wage workers, and by narrowing the gap between their own pay and that of everyone else in the company.

Capitalism has a history of maximizing profit at the expense of worker and customer well-being, and that’s probably not going to change any time soon. If by some crazy miracle a genuine reflection of what it means to be a corporation in modern society is underway, however, it’s about damn time.

And finally, from the “what could possibly go wrong” bucket:

Japan Approves Experiments Splicing Human Dna With Animal Embryos

Organ donation is a troublesome necessity that has several issues. People have to die for organ transplants to take place, for one thing, and this is not only a sad thing but also results in waiting lists for important organs. Basically, someone is guaranteed to die if enough people need a liver.

Using animals to harvest organs suitable for human transplant seems like a solution though, right? Right??

Or maybe it seems creepy and fraught with unexpected consequences, but maybe that’s just my opinion.

All I know is the tendency of humans to do something just because it’s possible cuts both ways. Sometimes it saves the patient, and sometimes it kills them and everyone else.

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

WTF Weekly for August 9, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

How ‘Microcracks’ Undermined San Francisco’s New Bus Terminal

One of the benefits of being human is that we have disciplines such as structural engineering that allow us to build cities and other trappings of modern societies. We pretty much take it for granted that the bus terminal we’re in, for example, won’t come crashing down on our heads unexpectedly.

This isn’t always a given, as Transbay discovered in San Francisco, when a maintenance worker noticed cracks in ceiling levels of the giant new SF bus terminal. What followed was a multi-agency investigation involving an engineer specializing in fracture mechanics and fatigue, the construction contractor, and Transbay.

It’s a fascinating read, and far more intriguing than you might think, even if you’re not into civil engineering or gigantic concrete structures.

Security researchers demonstrate how to bypass Face ID with glasses and tape

It’s like Revenge of the Nerds but where glasses and tape can get you into someone else’s iPhone!

All you have to do is find someone who doesn’t pass Face ID’s “liveness” detection (meaning they’re dead or unconscious) and put glasses with tape on the lenses onto their face.

It’s a weird bypass that still requires the victim to be present and (for some reason) unconscious or otherwise inattentive according to Face ID.

In summary, it’s a non-issue in the real world, but it’s still something Apple should fix.

Still, any hack involving glasses and tape gets my vote.

And not completely unrelated…

Apple expands its bug bounty, increases maximum payout to $1M

Apple has had a bug bounty program for iOS for years, but it’s avoided doing so for macOS until now. Pretty much all Apple products running an accessible OS (AirPods are excluded) is now eligible for payout upon vulnerability disclosure to Apple.

In addition, Apple is upping the maximum payout to $1 million for extremely severe exploits (which, considering the market value of exploits when sold to shady companies, is an absolute necessity if people are going to submit their findings to Apple instead of someone with less honorable intentions).

And finally, Apple is going to distribute some developer phones to trusted, vetted security researchers, which will give them greater ability to poke under the hood and find vulnerabilities that are normally not accessible to them.

Apple has a lot of enemies ranging from nation states, including the US government, to black hat hackers in general. iOS specifically is a huge target, but macOS is as well, and vulnerabilities in your Mac can also impact your mobile devices (not to mention much of the same data). It’s good to see Apple stepping up their game and cooperating more fully with the outside security industry.

Fukushima nuclear plant out of space for radioactive water

You can file this under the “we’re all f#$%ed” category, if you’re looking for more man-made failures to either gloat about or cry over.

TEPCO has been accumulating and storing radioactive water from its damaged Fukushima reactors in large tanks since the 2011 disaster. The problem is, rainwater and groundwater mix with the existing contaminated water, so there’s an ever-increasing and seemingly endless supply of the tainted liquid. TEPCO estimates they’ll run out of storage space by summer 2022.

To make matters worse, there’s still no real plan on what to do with the radioactive water, which will reach 1.37 million tons when TEPCO runs out of storage.

That’s a lot of death water.

5g Is Here—and Still Vulnerable to Stingray Surveillance

It’s obvious no one cares, but all our cellular communications can be very easily compromised, and that won’t change with 5G, in case you were counting on it to solve all our problems.

Stingrays, those little fakers previously used mostly by government agencies, but now pretty well accessible to anyone, can still trick cellphones into connecting to them and spilling their secrets, regardless of which brand of cellular connectivity is used. Even though 5G does implement some security fixes to prevent fake base station attacks, it doesn’t go far enough.

One attack 5G devices are vulnerable to is being tricked into being downgraded to an older connection technology, which then opens it up to the greater level of vulnerabilities that older connection is susceptible to.

That’s it for this issue of WTF Weekly! I wrote this the same day news broke about Epstein’s apparent suicide, but that whole mess plus the immediate QAnon conspiracy theories springing forth from brain donors everywhere made me wish for a giant global flood of Biblical proportions, so you’ll have to read about that somewhere else.

See you next time, whenever my random “time to publish” instinct generator kicks in.

WTF Weekly for July 27, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk about anything I’ve included here.

If you’ve never spent a few days strolling the beach in Newport, Oregon, I officially advise right now that you do so as soon as possible. My family goes at least one a year, and we dwell in nice little condos and walk on the beach and wade into the water.


But now I’m home, and WTF Weekly demands my attention.1

Why Apple Buying Intel’s Modem Business Is a Big Deal For The iPhone

Apple is now in the modem business, as we all suspected would be the case back when Intel announced it was selling off its smartphone modem business. Naturally there has been a lot of handwringing and verb slinging on the topic, but it really seems pretty straightforward a move to me.

Qualcomm doesn’t appear to be a beloved company in the semiconductor industry, so perhaps it’s no surprise that Apple wants to find a way out from under their reliance on the wireless chip monster. Apple likes to control their own destiny, and quite often when they have to rely too heavily on an outside party to supply them with a key component to their own products, they wind up disappointed at frustrated.

Overall, there are no surprises here. My only real question prior to this being finalized was whether or not Apple could make it happen (they’ve missed out on a couple other opportunities recently), but they put that to rest and now life goes on. I expect at some point in the next 2-10 years, Apple will no longer rely on Qualcomm for cellular modems.

Siri records fights, doctor’s appointments, and sex (and contractors hear it)

I guess we should have seen this coming after Amazon and Google were caught listening to audio clips of people speaking to their digital assistants, but Apple bangs its privacy drum often enough that I guess it lulled us into complacency.

More to the point, Siri is bad enough at understanding and performing the simplest requests that one could be forgiven for thinking that no one has ever bothered to analyze Siri performance with an eye towards improving it, let alone that they’re actively monitoring our speech.

Jason Snell says it best:

Bottom line: It doesn’t matter to me if this is Amazon or Apple. I don’t want human beings listening to the audio these devices record. In fact, I don’t want recordings made of my audio, period—I want the audio processed and immediately discarded.

I don’t know how speech detection and digital voice assistants can ever get any better without real humans listening to interactions and determining where they went wrong. But I also know that not a single one of us ever wants other people listening to things we say to our phones or speakers, regardless of how innocent it may seem.

Tesla Execs Claim Service Problems Are Over As Owner Frustration Boils Over

Tesla, not unlike Elon Musk, is a fascinating entity. Tesla makes great cars that people love, and inspires people to believe in and long for a fully-electric automotive future. On the other hand, it’s also one of the worst run companies on the planet in terms of customer service.2

Tesla, mostly via Elon Musk, has long exhibited signs of reality denial. The bit about difficulty in contacting real humans to resolve problems is something I’ve heard from multiple Tesla owners. As bad as “normal” American car companies are, at least there is always a dealership you can go to and demand action from someone when your car is broken.

I want Tesla to succeed for many reasons. I think it’s an important car company with an important mission. I also think Elon Musk is the wrong guy to be in charge when it comes to figuring out customer service and car repair logistics.

Cat refuses to move from Japanese convenience store on anniversary of store manager’s death

I have some thoughts about this. First of all, I don’t believe cats communicate with the dead. I think cats are from another planet instead.

Still, who doesn’t love a cat story?

Secondly, I like Japanese convenience stores too. It’s possible that when I get old, I’ll move back to Japan and lie down in front of a Japanese convenience store and refuse to move. I can think of worse ways to see out my final days.

Finally, I’m very excited that I could read several of the kanji in the letter outside the store, including
本日早朝 (I’ll leave the translation as an exercise for the reader).

The Hard-Luck Texas Town That Bet on Bitcoin—and Lost

This last one isn’t really something that happened this week, but I did read it this past week, so that must count for something. It’s the weirdest bit of high-tech-collides-with-Americana thing I’ve seen in a while, and it’s what happens when a place where you’d think no one had possibly ever heard of Bitcoin bets their future on it.

I think we all know how the cryptocurrency gold rush dream is going at the moment.

  1. As does my professional occupation, but let’s not go there.

  2. And probably employee satisfaction.

WTF Weekly for July 16, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or to talk with me about anything I’ve included here.

Before I get to the links for this installment of WTF Weekly, let me just say that the news in general is about as depressing as I can ever remember.

We have clear and powerful signs of climate change, but it seems like we’ve given up. We have Republicans doing their best to strip women of their rights, and not enough people are fighting back on that one. We have a president of the US telling American Congress members to go back where they came from and it’s largely being ignored, on top of all the things he’s done that are criminal and impeachable offenses.

It’s enough to make you want to bludgeon a Nazi and a male chauvinist or two.

As a result, I’m not going to focus on any of that on WTF Weekly for the foreseeable future. I’m of two minds about this – it’s certainly better for my mental health, and yours, but ignoring the problem is also how we’ve gotten into this mess. Still, I am not likely to solve any societal problems here, so I may as well try to keep it positive for as long as possible.

Here’s hoping sanity prevails at some point in our nation’s and world’s future.

In the meantime, let’s talk about space and a rather historically significant event!

In case you somehow missed it, it’s the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission that put man on the moon back in July of 1969.

Photographer Dan Winters on His Apollo Obsession

NASA decided to commemorate Apollo 11 by restoring the Apollo mission control room in Houston back to the condition of its glory days. This article isn’t about that, per se. it’s really about the photographer who shot the restored control room for Wired, and his obsession with and love of all things Apollo related.

I’m not monstrously old (although I am old), but when I was a kid it was still close enough to the glory days of the space program that NASA and rockets and space captured our imaginations and inspired many an original imaginative space tale. We’ve lost a lot of that magic. Now the US is talking about the moon again, but when Mike Pence is involved… well, it’s just not the same, is it?

Why the Apollo missions made Florida synonymous with space

The Apollo command center may be in Houston, but as you’re probably aware, rockets usually launch from Florida. It’s not just that it’s renown for its weather and Disneyland, it’s that proximity to both water and the Equator work out well for things being shot into space.1

This is a great telling by National Geographic of just what the space industry has meant for the Florida Space Coast region.

Speaking of space, there’s one between your ears that’s filled with gray matter, unless you’re POTUS number 45. Elon Musk wants to communicate with that gray matter:

Elon Musk’s Neuralink wants you to type on your iPhone using your brain

On the one hand, things wired to your brain reading your thoughts are creepy and undoubtedly ripe for misuse by someone. On the other, typing on an iPhone sucks, even with iOS 13’s swipe keyboard (yeah, it’s nice, but it’s still typing on an iPhone).

I have all kinds of questions about this story.

I didn’t know, but am not surprised, that Elon Musk has a brain-computer interface company.

I did know, but have serious conflicted feelings about the fact, that people obviously want to bypass the inferior interfaces we use with computing devices everyday currently, and go straight from brain to machine.

It’s risky enough to decide to trust any computer engineers enough to let them wire one directly to the brain – it’s another when said computer then communicates wirelessly with the iPhone, increasing even further attack vectors and risks. Even if the people wiring things to your brains turn out to be good guys, bad guys love them some wireless communications to man-in-the-middle with.

And finally, speaking of dubious tech ideas:

Apple Plans to Bankroll Original Podcasts to Fend Off Rivals

Look, no one is enamored of all these companies trying to silo podcasts and make podcasting proprietary and dependent on terrible service-specific apps. But (assuming this rumor is true) I don’t know how Apple making its own exclusive podcasts really changes that.

Apple has been a good, although somewhat distracted, steward of podcasting in the sense that it has built up a huge directory while at the same time not ingesting the shows that make up its lists. It doesn’t host any podcasts, and all podcasts in the Apple Podcasts directory do (and must) have RSS feeds that enable them to be listened to by anyone, anywhere, using anything that can handle RSS, which includes a number of outstanding general purpose podcast apps.

So it is good that Apple is now looking at how to keep podcasting from becoming a Spotify thing, or a Luminary thing, or whatever. I don’t know how they go from public podcasts with open, freely available RSS feeds to exclusive content though without changing their model (and therefore that of podcasting in general).

I know a lot of the super wise pundits who believe themselves to be the only people capable of standing impartially outside the tech bubble will go on and on about how podcasting is already changing and we (the tech types) just don’t understand how the world works, but the fact that Apple institutes its podcast directory in the manner it does is what has kept podcasting open and non-proprietary to this point.

Whatever Apple does to modify its podcasting formula going forward, even if it’s just making closed feeds or services seem more acceptable or normal, could have big ramifications for the industry in general. Right now Stitcher and Luminary are fighting against the tide. Apple’s approach to exclusive podcasts could actually change that.

  1. Water receives huge metal objects falling from the sky more gracefully than do houses, for example.

WTF Weekly for July 8, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or just to comment on anything I’ve included here.

WTF Weekly is something I do for fun and to keep me writing when I’m failing to otherwise. It’s actually provided me with minimal writing opportunity, however, since I link to several articles each time and usually provide very little commentary.

So starting today, I am going to link to fewer items in WTF Weekly and write more about each of them. This may sound great to you if you already have more than enough links and “read later” items in your life, or it may sound like utter hell if my opinions aren’t what you’re here for.

I guess we’ll find out. 😄

Two sides of the same coin:

Apple: Misunderstanding Design And Jony Ive’s Role


Jony Ive’s Fragmented Legacy: Unreliable, Unrepairable, Beautiful Gadgets

I know, I know. I’m tired of hearing about Jony Ive too. But that’s mostly because most people are talking about it in very black and white terms depending on whether they want to believe Apple is doomed without him, or whether they want to believe everything wrong with Apple is Jony Ive’s fault and it’s a relief that he’s leaving.

What I’m more interested in than the event itself is dispelling the simple-mindedness that pervades so much of Apple-related commentary these days.1

Like anything interesting in life, Jony Ive’s legacy is more complicated than a simple black and white narrative. There is no doubt that he has been key to several major Apple success stories that either saved the company (iMac) or allowed it to grow into the behemoth it is today (iPhone). Also true is the fact that his design sensibilities have at times led to less well-rounded or useful products, and certainly that applies to his takeover of the iOS UI with iOS 7.

Personally I think that Jony Ive without Steve Jobs is a less compelling situation for Apple than Jony with Steve. I don’t know (and probably no one knows) the exact nature of their interactions and who acted as whose reality check most often, but I think post-Steve Apple has proven that sometimes Ive’s design sensibilities need pushback in terms of final products for actual customers.

The reality of the situation is we won’t know for awhile what the long term effect of Jony Ive leaving Apple is. My belief is it’ll be less detrimental to modern Apple than some people think, while at the same time I acknowledge how important Jony Ive has been to Apple’s success (unlike some other people).

How NASA gave birth to modern computing – and gets no credit for it

As the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing nears, a lot of great stories about the mission, the people, and the technology involved are being written. It’s common now for people to joke about how each one of us has more computing power in our pockets than we sent men to the moon with in 1969, but in fact the Apollo command and lunar module computers were advanced for their day and led directly to integrated circuits becoming ubiquitous today.

Without knowing it, the world was witnessing the birth of “Moore’s Law,” the driving idea of the computer world that the capability of computer chips would double every two years, even as the cost came down.

In fact, Fairchild Semiconductor’s Gordon Moore wrote the paper outlining Moore’s Law in 1965, when NASA had been the No. 1 buyer of computer chips in the world for four years, and the only user of integrated circuits that Moore cites by name in that paper is “Apollo, for manned Moon flight.” Moore would go on to cofound and lead Intel, and help drive the digital revolution into all elements of society.

It’s true that the computing revolution would have happened anyway, but as Fishman notes:

Sure, we’d have iPhones if we hadn’t flown to the Moon, and word processors, and Jeff Bezos probably would have founded

But just because something would have happened anyway doesn’t mean you take credit from those who drove it. Apollo dramatically accelerated the pace of the digital revolution by transforming the technology at the heart of it: the integrated circuit.

The Terrifying Science Behind California’s Massive Camp Fire

This is not a new article, but it is one that I came across just today.

Most of us living on the west coast undoubtedly remember last winter’s horrific wildfire that destroyed Paradise, CA. 88 dead, hundreds missing, a little Northern California town lost. Matt Simon brings us the science behind why this fire was so devastating, and it’s not good news for the future:

This is what a climate change reckoning looks like. “All of it is embedded in the background trend of things getting warmer,” Lareau says. “The atmosphere as it gets warmer is thirstier.” Like a giant atmospheric mosquito, climate change is sucking California dry.

I worry about a lot of things I can’t control, and climate change is high up on that list. Fire, famine, uncontrollable disease, and mass-extinction events are all on the list of things happening or that will happen in our near future. I don’t think even now people are taking this seriously enough.

Frankly, if it was just me, I wouldn’t care that much. I’ve had my time and I don’t really care about traditional sunset years like so many other Americans. But I, like millions or billions of others, do have a child whose future is still ahead of them, and the belief that we’ve selfishly stolen her future and the future of all of our children is really saddening.

Finally, here’s one I truly do not understand:

Apple Updates Its Texas Hold’em iOS Game

A game that was originally for a non-iOS device, brought to the iOS App Store to celebrate that store’s 10 year anniversary… which was one year ago. Say what?

I don’t make ‘em up, people. I’m just a lowly commenter on the bizarre reality others have wrought.

  1. Let’s face it, it’s really the simple-minded, click-bait approach to writing almost all writers on every subject employ on the internet in recent years.

WTF Weekly for July 2, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or just to comment on anything I’ve included here.

I’m happy to be writing this installment on my iPad. I had the iPadOS version of the iOS 13 public beta installed, and it broke iCloud folders for iA Writer (but only inside iA Writer, for some odd reason). Today the iOS developer beta 3 came out, which is a newer version than the first public beta (and which will almost certainly become the next public beta). I installed the iPadOS update from the developer site, and iA Writer is back in business.

It’s a little flaky – files and folders appear and disappear from iA Writer’s iCloud list, but I can work around it and make it function.

Shortcuts in iOS 13 are a complete nightmare for me, but iA Writer is back in business.


The real reason Jony Ive left Apple

If you’re remotely interested in Apple, you already know that Jony Ive is leaving Apple to open his own design firm. Everyone in the universe has an opinion on why, what it means, whether or not Apple is doomed, etc, etc, but John Arlidge’s take on it isn’t bad.

John does fall into the “but Apple hasn’t had a hit in years” trap, which is a sure sign that the writer hasn’t counted how many years typically go between Apple blockbuster hits. And no, the Apple Watch isn’t the sales wonder the iPad has been, but few products are.

Publishers reportedly underwhelmed with Apple News+ so far, Apple promising improvements

I have zero knowledge of the financial math behind Apple News+, but I can’t say the assertion that publishers aren’t ecstatic about its impact so far surprises me at all. I wonder how many people who signed up for the trial stuck with it when it came time to pay up – I certainly didn’t.

It’s not that Apple News+ is a bad product. It’s nice, and I think if you subscribe to even 2 or 3 monthly magazines, this is worth switching to from a cost perspective. But news and magazines fall very low on the priority list when it comes to budget allocation for me, and I suspect for many.

Considering how many publishers the monthly fee has to be split between, it seems hard to believe that Apple News+ works in favor of those publishers.

Apple bolsters its chip team by hiring architect who worked at ARM, Intel, AMD

One man departs, another guy rolls into town. Really, in and of itself, this doesn’t mean anything other than that Apple still takes their CPU design team seriously, but of course as the article subtitle states, this will probably stoke expectations of sooner-rather-than-later Mac ARM processors.


Japanese Government Passes Law to Support Foreign Residents Studying Japanese

I don’t know what the practical outcome of this law will be, but even the fact that Japan recognizes that foreigners well educated in Japanese is something that would benefit them is kind of impressive.

‘Help’: Photos show hundreds of migrants squashed into cells, appealing for assistance

There’s really no solid argument that the US isn’t running concentration camps, at this point. This seems like major human rights violations are taking place on a daily basis at our borders.

I still remember paranoid white people saying Obama was coming for them and that all “gun loving Christians” (whatever that is) would wind up in internment camps.

Looks like it’s their party persecuting other humans instead. Non-white humans. It makes me sick.

Toy Story 2 casting couch ‘blooper’ deleted by Disney after Me Too movement

Pretty bad look for Pixar that they ever included this scene at all. As noted here, Toy Story 2 director John Lasseter wasn’t exactly at the top of the sensitivity and appropriate behavior ladder either.


Chinese border guards put secret surveillance app on tourists’ phones

Anyone who goes into China with their real phone instead of a burner dummy phone logged out of all important accounts is insane.

To be honest, I’d recommend it for anyone entering or re-entering the US also.

Airports in Japan to introduce facial recognition for foreign visitors

Speaking of creepy government behavior at the borders…

I really am not a fan of facial recognition used in this manner at all. I assume this will go into some giant database, which is both creepy and inevitably susceptible to hacking.

OpenID Foundation says ‘Sign in with Apple’ has critical gaps, urges changes

I’m not qualified to comment on OpenID Foundation’s issues with Sign in with Apple, but any input that results in better security is fine with me.

I don’t know how optimistic I am that Apple will join the OpenID Foundation as requested, but you never know. It might help Apple’s case with their requirement that developers include Login with Apple whenever they accept another third party login service such as Google or Facebook.


Spoiled Shores: Japan’s Tsushima on the Front Line of Marine Plastics

Continuing my recent theme of really depressing stories about nature, here’s one from Tsushima about the problem of plastics in our oceans.

It’s really hard to feel positive about what we’re doing to our planet these days.

Gene editing could help eliminate HIV

It’s incredible how long we’ve been combatting HIV. It’s not really in the consciousness of most people now, which probably says as much about us as a species as it does about the (admittedly vastly improved) state of HIV treatment.

And finally,

NASA’s restored Apollo Mission Control is a slice of ’60s life, frozen in amber

Ars Technica has some happier science related news, and it only cost $5 million to bring! Still, few things are cooler than the restoration of the Apollo Mission Operations Control Room 2.

WTF Weekly for June 22, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter if you notice any typos, or just want to talk about some of the stuff posted within!


If you’re still using an AirPort (or Time Capsule), you should upgrade your firmware ASAP.

I wonder if this is related to any of several recent vulnerabilities that have affected other routers and Apple is just late to the patching game, or if it’s something else entirely.

I quit using my Time Capsule not long after Apple announced they’re out of the router business anyway. Firstly, I don’t trust Apple to be interested enough now to worry about all security vulnerabilities, and secondly, my Time Capsule couldn’t cover my house adequately anymore for some reason. I now am basking in the glow of fast, ever-present radio waves from a Netgear Orbi mesh system.

Inside Apple’s team that greenlights iPhone apps for the App Store.

That’s a somewhat awkward headline to a somewhat interesting story by CNBC on the Apple App Store app approval team (talk about awkward phrasing). I think most of us probably already knew a lot of this from listening to podcasts like The Talk Show and ATP, but a couple interesting things caught my eye.

I find it intriguing that some App Store principals are named while others are kept anonymous (hi, “Bill”) for safety and security reasons. I’m sure there are angry developers, but are Apple execs really afraid of a handful of irritated app developers?

I would have liked to have seen a little better explanation of the kinds of things Apple is trying to prevent on iOS with the App Store, such as location tracking misuse, personal data leakage, etc.

3 products that would be hits for Apple if the company made them.

Speaking of Apple routers…

Dan Moren makes a good case on Macworld for Apple to address some unmet customer needs with a nice standalone display that doesn’t cost $6,000 and isn’t a reference monitor; secure and private networking in the form of a HomeKit router; and iCloud backup for Macs.

I’ll admit when Apple announced the HomeKit router spec at WWDC this year, my first thought was “Yeah, and you bastards killed the Airport, didn’t you?”. My second thought was “I wonder if HomeKit is coming to Netgear Orbi?” (Answer so far: No). As for the monitor, it seems like a no-brainer. The market for that $6,000 reference monitor pales in comparison to a stand-alone 5k display like that in the current iMac.


Trump approved cyber strikes against Iran’s missile systems.

According to the Washington Post, we just launched offensive cyber attacks on Iran to disable their middle launch control systems. This comes right after Trump first decided to militarily attack Iran and then decided otherwise.

Really, speaking of fake news, it’s hard to know what Trump is doing and what he isn’t, because he and his administration lie about everything. I think it’s safe to assume though, based on reports, that Trump really was about to go to war with Iran and then decided not to.

Militia threat shuts down Oregon Statehouse amid walkout.

Leave it to Oregon republicans to run away rather than vote on a climate bill. I try not to swear in print because it generally is a sign of a weak vocabulary, but I’ll just say it – these Republicans are cowardly assholes.

On top of it, a bunch of right-wing gun nuts threatened to provide armed guard for these GOP senators in the event that state police came to haul them back to the Capitol. Among them were the Oregon Three Percenters, a lovely group of individuals whose name apparently comes from the three percent of their brains they’re currently utilizing.

God bless Oregon and its merry band of nutty armed conservatives.

Rogue slug blamed for Japanese railway chaos.

Sure, blame the dead guy.


Florida city pays hackers $600,000 in ransom to save computer records.

This has to be a record ransomware payout. And it seems insane. Honestly, I’m not sure if the best advice is the FBI’s (don’t pay) or that of the unnamed security consultants (do pay). I guess we’ll know if we ever see an update on the outcome.

The Highly Dangerous ‘Triton’ Hackers Have Probed the Us Grid.

This story seems like some seriously bad news, and it’s even more unsettling when immediately followed by:

The US Has Allegedly Placed Malware Deep in Russia’s Power Grid.

One has to wonder if this is in response to the above story or vice versa, or if it’s all just wacky coincidence and everyone is all up in everyone else’s grids.

Either way it seems really hard for us to complain about the unsettling ticking time bombs in our own electric grid when we’re bragging about doing the same to other countries.

It’s a nutty time to be alive.


New Report Suggests ‘High Likelihood of Human Civilization Coming to an End’ Starting in 2050.

I thought my science report was going to be fun and cheerful this week to take your mind off all the electric grid hacking going on, but nope. It’s not. Instead we get to learn about the imminent demise of civilization.

This will make those gun nuts in the story about Oregon happy though.

Selling tickets to the space station is actually decades overdue.

If you think a lot of unqualified and incautious people have died on Mt. Everest in recent years, wait until you see what happens when rich people with more money than brains start touristing their way up into space!

I’ll watch from here, thanks.

New report finds NASA awarded Boeing large fees despite SLS launch slips.

I want a job where I can get nine-figure bonuses despite not meeting expectations and generally falling years behind schedule. Anyone want to hire me?