WTF Weekly

my thoughts on the week that was

30 Nov 2019

It’s the end of Thanksgiving week in the United States, and I’m extremely thankful to have taken some mental health days[^Meaning I just really didn’t want to be at work] away from work to focus on more important things – family and technology.

Speaking of technology, it may be easy to assume that we think about design more than ever in technology, but I’d argue that a lot of our current tech proves that we still have much to learn. It is true, however, that bad design can lead to suboptimal, even fatal, consequences, as the B-17 proved during World War II.

How the Dumb Design of a WWII Plane Led to the Macintosh

The lessons of poor user interface gleaned from the B-17 led to design focused on how humans act under stress, and (eventually) influenced the GUI interfaces we all use on modern computing devices.

An infinite loop: New research suggests the universe may be a closed sphere

Infinite loops are undesirable in programming, pretty cool for computer company campuses,[^Say that fast 1000 times…] and (possibly) a feature of the universe.

Contemplating the universe is always a bit mind-bending at the best of times. I’m not sure which is harder to comprehend, a universe that stretches on infinitely, or one that is spherically contained. Either option still leads to more questions about the nature of reality.

Don’t get too excited about it, though, because…

How Overexcited Neurons Might Affect How You Age

Aging may not be as simple as our bodies wearing out. It could be a result of neurons in the brain firing excitedly. Equilibrium is important in life, as we know, but it may also literally be important in LIFE itself.

And finally (speaking of neurons in the brain), a long but fascinating look at the political challenges facing America:

How America Ends

If you think the country is more polarized than ever, you’re probably not wrong. Americans are unable to accurately assess the condition of our two political parties because most of us identify so strongly with one or the other that we can’t understand that they aren’t the parties our grandparents knew.

This is resoundingly true of the GOP. It really has ventured into insane territory with many of its members openly embracing QAnon theories, fear and distrust of fellow member of Congress of different ethnic backgrounds, and generally supporting the most ignorant and corrupt president in our history simply due to party affiliation.

At least in the case of Nixon, even Republicans were willing to stand up and say enough was enough. With Trump, they’re now willing to stand by and not only let it happen, but voice support for it as well.

I don’t see a way for the Republican Party to come back from this level of decay, and I don’t see a way for America in general to walk back the religious zealotry with which they support their party of choice, regardless of what it has become. I think we’re in for a real existential political and national crisis.

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

 

16 Nov 2019

I’m not dead. I’m just resting.

This past week I started diving into a bunch of iOS shortcuts, JavaScript, git, and Hugo related topics. I help Vic Hudson with Bubblesort related podcasting editing and I help publish episodes to the site as well. I wanted to find a way to automate the publishing end of the equation, hence my focus on the aforementioned topics.

Plus it’s just fun to deep focus on nerd things.

Speaking of nerd things… and “Finally!”s…

Key upgrade: A first look at the 16-inch MacBook Pro

They did it. Apple, for the first time in something like three years, came out with a laptop with a keyboard that might actually last more than a year or two: The 2019 16” MacBook Pro.

There’s more to this laptop than the keyboard, of course – beautiful huge Retina display, powerful CPU and GPU options, enhanced cooling, all in a package not much larger than the outgoing 15” MacBook Pro – but the keyboard is both a source of relief for would-be buyers as well as basically an admission from Apple that they made a mistake.

Between this computer and the upcoming Mac Pro, Apple seems willing to acknowledge and rectify previous decisions to put form over function at all cost. That’s a great sign for a company that doesn’t always like to hear that it’s wrong about something.

Also of interest to tech nerds, and directly related to technology and privacy is a great article by Mattt of NSHipster detailing how the technology in your iPhone can be used to track you.

Device Identifiers and Fingerprinting on iOS

While it’s true that there are a lot of entities that would love more information about you, the advertising industry is one of the most manipulative and cynical.

So they enlist the help of one or more advertising firms, who promise to maximize their allocated budget and provide some accountability for their spending by using technology to target, deliver, and analyze messaging to consumers.

Each of these tasks is predicated on a consistent identity, which is why advertisers go to such great lengths to track you.

Google Claims a Quantum Breakthrough That Could Change Computing

Google and IBM have a bit of a difference on the particular calculation Google’s quantum computer supposedly performed. Google says a traditional computer couldn’t do it in 10,000 years, IBM says it could theoretically be done on a current computer in 2.5 days.

I don’t really know what this means at this point except a lot of companies are working on quantum computing and that it takes temperatures close to 460 degrees below zero to make it happen.

That’s cold.

Researchers hack Siri, Alexa, and Google Home by shining lasers at them

Quick, everyone do finger quotes while saying “lasers”.

Even before I was finished reading this article, it did occur to me that this could let someone unlock your house fairly easily if you have any smart locks installed. I guess if you have a canister in the house with a virtual assistant inside, either don’t tie it to your home automation, or don’t put it anywhere it can be seen through a window.

Countries Are Falling Far Short on Action to Tackle Climate Change As Fossil Fuel Use Increases, Says Energy Report

It’s depressing enough that our use of fossil fuels is increasing NOW, but it’s projected to continue that way until at least 2040.

I don’t know how long we can keep saying “this is really it, we have to change NOW” before we admit it really is too late. I have no expectation that humanity is going to do the right thing with respect to our response to climate change.

  • Well, on that depressing note, let me take this opportunity to plug myself and Vic Hudson’s BubbleSort empire.

Vic and I are currently podcasting about the last season of Mr. Robot for BubbleSort TV. Our coverage of episode 6, 406 Not Acceptable, should be out tomorrow.

Also Clay and Vic and I kicked off a new tangent BubbleSort podcast called Rabbit Hole, in which we discussed Clay’s plan to help Vic morph into an incredible moon photographer.

Finally, on a tech-related note, I am going to migrate off Wordpress at some point and go all static using Hugo to generate static site pages for me. It’s what Vic is using for BubbleSort, and it’s very flexible and surprisingly capable. And not serving up hackable scripts that are bloated and slow definitely has appeal.

That move is probably a ways off, but, while it may break individual post URLs, the domain URL will be the same, so you’ll always be able to go to https://wtfweekly.me/ and get your fix.

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

 

22 Oct 2019

Sorry for the delay in getting your fresh WTF to you. I’m sure you’ve been counting the seconds.

This past week, I spent time nuking and paving and doing a fresh Mojave install on iMac number 2 (iMac number 1 still has an undiagnosed, uncured-by-Apple random shutdown problem).

The reason I decided to perform this extreme surgery was because I was encountering weird audio issues that were affecting my ability to podcast with other people. Additionally, this particular Mac was running slow and throwing up constant beachballs, to the point I was worried that the Fusion drive was dying.

Nuke and pave fixed both of those issues, and others as well. Apparently, something had gotten really hosed between lots of migration assistant use over the years, combined with my history of trying various video and audio capture apps during the same period.

My Mac now works, my audio is good, system performance is good, and I can podcast properly again.

As always, while I record on the Mac, podcast editing is far better on iPad with Ferrite and this year’s iPadOS. I love it. And yes, I am going to upgrade to Catalina very soon.

Also (speaking of podcast recording and editing), and possibly of much more interest to you, my dear reader, I am podcasting about Mr. Robot Season 4 for BubbleSort TV with Vic Hudson. Barring any emergencies, I expect to crank out 13 episodes of tense fun as Sam Esmail wraps up his story and finally reveals exactly what it is Whiterose is up to.

Anyway, what another bizarre week! I mentioned at one point that I wanted to stay away from politics, but I couldn’t not share the last one here this time. It’s just too horrible and funny at the same time.

The Death of Cars Was Greatly Exaggerated

Most thinking people (sorry for that characterization, but I don’t know how else to say it) admit that the internal combustion engine automobile has been rather harmful to the environment of planet earth. Many people have been clamoring for years for less dependence on personal cars, which typically each haul one person at a time around anyway, at least in the U.S., in favor of public transit and bikes and scooters.

But Wired is here to alert us to the fact that this future hasn’t come to pass, and indeed car ownership in the US is actually increasing. A combination of factors are to blame, such as millennials buying cars now that they’re starting to assume traditional familial obligations and the demise of many of the services that were meant to enable people without cars to get around easily.

It’s an interesting look at how hard it is for a country built around the auto and with a huge car culture to shake the dirty, carbon-clogged past and move into the future.

Minecraft becomes a board game, and the results are faithful, fantastic

I can’t decide if this looks like a headache-inducing, convoluted time sink, or the best thing ever: Minecraft is now a board game.

Ars Technica claims that it’s “breezy, quick, and kid-friendly”, but the amount of detail and strategy required looks a bit overwhelming. In that way, it’s brilliant that the developers of the game took care and put real effort into making this solid and not some half-assed analog toy solely to cash in on the popularity of Minecraft, but it also makes me wonder if this is the kind of thing I’d pick up for random casual game nights at the house.

I’m kind of intrigued, to be honest. I may decide to splurge on a set as a family Christmas present.

The Studio Ghibli films will stream exclusively on HBO Max

Studio Ghibli has been notoriously determined not to make their movies available digitally whatsoever, so this revelation from Polygon caught me off guard: HBO Max will be the home of the Studio Ghibli films for streaming in the U.S.

I’ve never had HBO, I’ll probably never have it, and I don’t expect to pay for HBO Max, but this is still big news and I’ll admit it gave me a moment’s pause as I briefly reconsidered our family media strategy. I wonder how many sign-ups this will help deliver for HBO Max?

NASA’s Mars InSight is unstuck and officially back to work

I don’t know if you’re paying attention to the goings-on on the red planet or not, but NASA’s InSight was having a rough time on the job until quite recently. Tasked with drilling 16 feet into the surface of Mars with the goal of taking subterranean heat measurements, InSight got stuck only 14 inches into its attempt.

If you’re ever stuck in a 14 inch hole at work, it may not take you 8 months to intuit a way out, but it took NASA that long to devise a plan involving scooping dirt back into the hole around InSite to support it and allow it to push back against as it tunneled downwards.

And it worked.

It’s a great look at just how easily things go wrong in space and the fascinating world of troubleshooting technical issues from 140 million miles away.

Trump’s letter to Turkey’s president is almost beyond parody, but not beyond memes

It’s really hard to overstate what an ignorant a$$h0l3 Trump really is, but you don’t have to take my word for it – take his!

When I first saw the leaked letter from our leader of the “great and infinite wisdom” to Turkish president Erdogan, I didn’t believe it. I thought it was a joke. I know what a moron Trump is, and I still didn’t believe it.

The internet is bad for humanity for a lot of reasons, but it does excel at memes, and if there was ever a meme-worthy piece of correspondence, it’s this one.

Enjoy.

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

 

13 Oct 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 professionals[^particularly if they’re willing to learn new workflows], 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 bloody time if you ask me.

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 and 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.

 

12 Sep 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. ↩︎