WTF Weekly

my thoughts on the week that was

16 Jul 2019

WTF Weekly for July 16, 2019

Hit me up on Twitter to yell at me about typos or just to comment on 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.[^Water receives huge metal objects falling from the sky more gracefully than do houses, for example.]

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:

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.