by Brandon Butler
I only wake up before 5 am for Disneyland and new iPhones 10/16/2020

My day today started at 4:30 am — about four hours earlier than usual — for the annual iPhone pre-order event. I haven’t put myself through the stress of pre-ordering a new iPhone in a couple of years; I usually decide I don’t want a new iPhone this year, then see the new phones are on sale, then decide I want one. This year I just cut out all the middle will-I/won’t-I nonsense and bought a Pacific Blue iPhone 12 Pro.

I gotta say, the pre-order process this year didn’t suck.

I used the iPhone Apple Store app to setup my PacBlu pre-order a day ago. I opted for the SIMless model (see “And Verizon”, below) and 128 gigerbytes. I put it on my Apple Card with the new 24 month, 0% financing, which I’m told I can pay off early at anytime. With my pre-order saved, I got into bed early. About 4:59 am I opened the app and was greeted with a little note that I was early and to get some sleep. Hm.

At almost exactly five the app refreshed and showed me it was getting a few things finalized.

About a minute later, the app showed me my pre-order, ready to pay for. I made sure my shipping and billing was right and slammed that Pay button. I got a confirmation my iPhone will arrive Friday, October 23rd, and then I went back to the store and picked up a few MagSafe accessories. Now we wait.

I never got back to sleep after that, and instead about twenty minutes later was playing Mario Galaxy (I’m just a few purple comets from 120 Stars).

And Verizon: I saw on Twitter that the no-SIM option allows you to swap the SIM from your old iPhone into your new iPhone and avoid the “activation fee” from the carriers. Last year I called Verizon and very nicely asked them to refund me that activation. The rep had no problem crediting my account. It’s an especially ballsy $40 for Verizon to tack onto their customer’s bills, as they don’t do anything to earn that quad-Hamilton. I’m hoping the SIM swap works and I don’t have to deal with Verizon customer service this year. Emoji fingers crossed.

I’m really liking that e-commerce has grown up enough so a bunch of nerds can buy something all at the same time and a server somewhere doesn’t burst into flames.

WeChat users claim violation of First Amendment rights in WeChat ban 10/16/2020

Kim Lyons for The Verge:

A judge in San Francisco said Thursday she’s not likely to lift a temporary block on the US government’s attempts to ban WeChat. […]

[A] group of users calling themselves the WeChat Users Alliance — not officially connected to WeChat or parent company Tencent — says banning the app in the US would violate users’ free speech rights, and such a ban specifically targets Chinese Americans.

Considering how central WeChat is to Chinese Americans (from purchases and news to phones calls, and even used by police for information about the pandemic and medical information) banning it is a targeted attack against a single demographic. If the government has actual security concerns against Tencent, they should ban WeChat and League of Legends and Fortnite and reddit and Snapchat and Spotify… the list goes on, as Tencent is involved with a lot of American companies in a lot of ways, including full ownership, partial ownership, and investments.

Prime Day protests and lousy Prime Day deals 10/16/2020

Yahoo! Finance:

The protests over working conditions and air pollution at the tech giant’s vast warehouse network come as a global pandemic has boosted Amazon’s e-commerce business but also heightened the safety risks faced by its employees.

Workers will voice coronavirus fears less than two weeks after the company announcedthat nearly 20,000 of its frontline workers had been infected with or were presumed to have COVID-19 during a six-month period.

One worker says it’s “life and death” but putting card games and pants into boxes shouldn’t be a a life-risking day job. If shipping my shoes, tomato slicer, and USB-C cable 3-day ground or 5-day it’ll-arrive-eventually saves someone’s life, please ship it as slow as possible, Amazon. I don’t want to be responsible for hurting someone, but I also don’t want to drive all the way to Target.

I didn’t buy anything on Prime Day. It was all junk. Prime Day is quickly becoming a way for Amazon to unload garbage. And, according to The Washington Post, which is owned by Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, the deals on Amazon’s Prime Day weren’t even that good.

A man in a jetpack seen flying over Los Angeles 10/16/2020

CNN:

“A China Airlines crew reported seeing what appeared to be someone in a jet pack at an approximate altitude of 6,000 feet, about seven miles northwest of Los Angeles International Airport,” the FAA said in a statement. […]

CNN obtained the audio between air traffic control and American and JetBlue flight crews from the September 1 incident. According to the communications, air traffic control warned a JetBlue flight to “use caution… person on a jetpack reported 300 yards south.”

After the plane acknowledged the instruction, the controller concluded with: “Only in LA.”

Putting aside the fact the jet pack pilot is putting a lot of people in danger, if you’re going to commit a felony, do it in the most awesome way possible.

FCC lacks Constitutional power to change Section 230 10/15/2020

Mike Masnick for Techdirt:

For years, FCC Chair Ajit Pai has insisted that the thing that was most important to him was to have a “light touch” regulatory regime regarding the internet. He insisted that net neutrality (which put in place a few limited rules to make sure internet access was fair) was clearly a bridge too far, and had to be wiped out or it would destroy investment into internet infrastructure (he was wrong about that). But now that Section 230 is under attack, he’s apparently done a complete reversal. He is now happy to open a proceeding to reinterpret Section 230 to place a regulatory burden on the internet. This is because Ajit Pai is a hypocrite with no backbone, and no willingness to stand up to a grandstanding President. […]

Pai is wrong in almost everything he says above. The FCC has no jurisdiction over internet websites. Previous lawsuits have already held that. Furthermore, the FCC has no jurisdiction over Section 230, which was explicitly written to deny the FCC any authority over websites. The FCC has no power to reinterpret the law. […]

As a final note: we’ve long disagreed with Pai about his stances on many issues, regarding net neutrality, the digital divide, municipal broadband and more. But at least he was consistent. I’d previously believed that he was misguided, but stuck true to his principles. That is clearly no longer the case. He’s a lying hypocrite with no principles, no backbone, and should be regarded as a complete joke. No one can even say that his stance on net neutrality was a principled “small government, fewer regulations” stance any more, because this moves proves it was not. He has no problem moving for regulating the internet when it’s politically convenient. And that’s just pathetic.

The Gen-Z kids and their QAnon parents 10/14/2020

Fortesa Latifi for Teen Vogue (yup, seriously) on the divide QAnon is creating in families:

Emily now watches her mother get sucked deeper and deeper into the world of Q. “I hate it for me and I hate it for her,” Emily says. “It’s a spiral. A downward spiral.”

She tries to reason with her mother, telling her the articles she shares are from nonreputable news sources (or once, even a satirical website), but it hasn’t worked. “She gets very defensive, saying I don’t know what I’m talking about and that I think she’s stupid,” Emily says. […]

Cynthia Miller-Idriss, a sociology professor at American University who specializes in extremism, said there’s a reason Emily feels like she can’t get through to her parents. “You can’t fight conspiracy theories with logic or reason,” Miller-Idriss says. “It’s very difficult to get people to come back from. Even talking about the theory can reinforce it.”

Miller-Idriss says it’s important for children to remember that it’s not their job to fix their parents: “It’s already hard in a pandemic to maintain childhood. They need to worry about their own growth and development first.”

I’m always pleasantly surprised when I read current events written for teens and young adults that is smart and well informed and doesn’t talk down. I read a few of the other pieces on the site, like On Amy Coney Barrett, Motherhood, and Choice, and First Amy Coney Barrett Hearing Is a Display of GOP Senators’ COVID-19 Hubris, and the reporting is good. It feels more direct, written with less of a focus on word count and more on the audience’s limited time. Teen Vogue knows their audience, knows they’re busy and distracted, and they keep the fluff out of the article. Sure, there’s still a Style section and the who’s-dating-who “news”, but that’s fine. I read Destructoid and XKCD. Everyone needs their escape, but Teen Vogue is also giving teens crucially important news next to their TikTok lighting guides.

Disneyland still closed, COVID-19 still everywhere 10/14/2020

Variety:

Senator Elizabeth Warren has blasted Disney over its decision to lay off 28,000 employees, asserting that the entertainment giant’s priorities are unfairly weighted in favor of shareholders and executive pay packages. […]

Warren said Disney depleted its capital cushion by “showering its top executives with over-the-top compensation packages and salaries” and spending $47.9 billion on share buybacks between 2009 and 2018.

“It appears that — prior to, and during the pandemic — Disney took good care of its top executives and shareholders — and is now hanging its front-line workers out to dry,” Warren wrote in the letter.

I’ve never known any publicly traded company that put front line employee interests above those of it’s executives. This is what capitalism allows for, and it’s really sad. Warren just seems to be picking a fight here that isn’t going to affect the status quo.

For Disney’s part, they’ve been trying to re-open the Anaheim, CA resort but are having disagreements with the state of California and Governor Newsom. Newsom is saying the state is going to follow a “health-first framework” and be “stubborn about it” while Disney says they’ve proven around the rest of the world that they can “operate with responsible health and safety protocols”.

I think Disney is only concerned about Disneyland, while Newsom is trying to determine the best way to open all theme parks in the state — and we have a lot of theme parks in this state. I don’t think it’s fair for Newsom to give Disneyland the thumbs up emoji while keeping Universal, Knotts, Six Flags, and SeaWorld all closed. I’m siding with the state on this one; I don’t think you can re-open until the risk of spreading COVID-19 drops significantly. Los Angeles County has 283,000 cases, and Orange (where Disneyland is located) has another 56,000. The virus is running rampant in these counties. How does Disney feel the science supports them re-opening now?

At this rate Disneyland may not re-open before the New Year.

AMC is nearly out of cash 10/14/2020

Julia Alexander for The Verge:

AMC Theaters is warning investors that without a steady flow of movies to bring people into the remaining theaters it has open, the company could run out of cash by the end of 2020. […]

To try to avoid the potentially devastating financial impact the ongoing pandemic will have on its business, AMC is laying out a few potential ways of raising cash, according to public documents filed today. This includes continuing negotiations with landlords over lease payments on theater locations, starting joint ventures with other business partners, and potentially selling off assets. As it stands right now, however, “at the existing cash burn rate, [AMC] anticipates that existing cash resources would be largely depleted by the end of 2020 or early 2021.”

Remember when AMC was upset because Universal released their Trolls movie on Premium VOD instead of in theaters during the start of the pandemic, and AMC’s CEO was like, “Effectively immediately AMC will no longer play any Universal movies in any of our theaters.” Ah, good times.

Apple, iPhone 12, and the environment 10/13/2020

The Verge has a good overview of the 12 biggest announcements from today’s iPhone event, including the new HomePod Mini and the four new iPhones. The edited down 12 minute video (I’m sensing a theme) from The Verge video director Becca Farsace will give you exactly what you need to know about the new products.

One small announcement from today’s event that I wanted to focus on was Apple’s decision to no longer include a charging brick and headphones in the box, opting to just provide the iPhone and a USB-C to Lightning charging cable. This change is being made to all iPhones, including the older XS and 11 models that are still for sale, and the new iPhone SE.

I’m completely in support of this change, and like Apple said, I hope this is something other phone manufactures do copy from them. The number of people who don’t own a smart phone is minuscule, and the number of people upgrading from an older model is very high. Very few people are going to be negatively impacted by not including drawer clutter in the box.

Today, anyone with an iPhone has a Lightning cable and a charging port somewhere in their home, either the back of their iMac or the charging brick in their kitchen. Many people have multiple outlets for charging their iPhone. The need to supply users with yet another lower-power, slow-charging power outlet is a huge waste of resources. It also increases the shipping weight and volume of those boxes, and when you’re selling 100 million iPhones, every gram you can save on shipping not only helps your margins, but it helps the environment.

Apple even says in their video that there are “700 million Lightning headphones” and “2 billion Apple power adapters out in the world, and that’s not counting the billions of third party adapters.” But if you really want a new pair of those terrible Lightning EarPods, they’re just $19.

The biggest knock against Apple in all of this is that they claim this is an environmental effort, but at the end of the day they’re just doing it to shave margins and save money. But I’d counter with Apple’s long standing efforts towards sustainability, with 2013 seeing all of Apple’s data centers using renewable energy, and in 2018 when Apple became 100% powered by renewable energy, from the retail stores to the data centers to the offices. A decade earlier, Climate Counts had said Apple was best to “avoid for the climate-conscious consumer,” but Apple turned their act around fast — Greenpeace commended Apple in 2015, saying, “Apple’s commitment to renewable energy has helped set a new bar for the industry.”

Today, Apple has committed to having its products and supply chain 100 percent carbon neutral in just another decade. That kind of commitment requires spending a lot of money — much more so than they’re saving by not including a power adaptor in the box.

Here’s how I look at it: if Apple is doing this for the environment, and this boosts their profits by 2%, then great — they’ve earned it for making a commitment to better our planet. But if Apple’s doing this to save money, and the environment is just marketing spin? I’m fine with that, too, although I can’t imagine a $2 trillion dollar company needs the benefit of whatever those tiny margins are going to provide. Don’t shame Apple for trying to save the planet.

I said back in July:

This is ultimately Apple positioning itself for the future, either for the next charging technology, or the next evolution in smartphone design, or both.

With the newly announced MagSafe chargers (using 100% recycled rare Earth elements in the magnets) and the slow transition away from wall chargers (and AirPods!), Apple is clearly eyeing a future not with Lightning or USB-C ports, but a truly wireless future without the need to plug in a cable — ever. And they’re doing it as environmentally safe as possible.

As theatrical distribution crumbles, Disney looks to streaming 10/12/2020

CNBC:

Disney is restructuring its media and entertainment divisions, as streaming becomes the most important facet of the company’s media business.

On Monday, the company revealed that in order to further accelerate its direct-to-consumer strategy, it would be centralizing its media businesses into a single organization that will be responsible for content distribution, ad sales[,] and Disney+.

Shares of the company jumped more than 5% during after-hours trading following the announcement.

The move by Disney comes as the global coronavirus pandemic has crippled its theatrical business and ushered more customers toward its streaming options. As of August, Disney has 100 million paid subscribers across its streaming offerings, more than half of whom are subscribers to Disney+.

Disney CEO Bob Chapek said, “I would not characterize it as a response to Covid, I would say Covid accelerated the rate at which we made this transition, but this transition was going to happen anyway.”

I would definitely characterize it as a response to COVID. Avengers: Endgame made 1.2 billion with a “B” dollars on its opening weekend last year. Three days! $1.2 billion!

Endgame‘s box office total was $2.79 billion. Tenet, meanwhile, just passed $300 million — what a difference a pandemic makes! I don’t believe for a second that Disney was going to transition away from those kinds of numbers to a streaming-centric view anytime soon. This new power the studios have over the theaters only exists because an incompetent president released a pandemic on America. Before Trump, the movie theater box office was richer than ever. Maybe it’ll take a few years before we have another Endgame-like theatrical experience, but it’ll eventually happen.

Five Eyes asking for encryption backdoors, again 10/11/2020

Catalin Cimpanu for ZDNet:

Members of the intelligence-sharing alliance Five Eyes, along with government representatives for Japan and India, have published a statement over the weekend calling on tech companies to come up with a solution for law enforcement to access end-to-end encrypted communications. […]

The Five Eyes alliance, comprised of the US, the UK, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand, have made similar calls to tech giants in 2018 and 2019, respectively. […]

Officials said they are committed to working with tech companies on developing a solution that allows users to continue using secure, encrypted communications, but also allows law enforcement and tech companies to crack down on criminal activity. […]

And there’s the issue, once law enforcement has backdoor access to the encrypted data, it’s no longer secure. Once that secret key or backdoor access leaks — and it will — it’s only a matter of time before China and Russia and North Korea are reading our iMessage and WhatsApp chats. And it may not even be an intentional inside leak; you can fill your department with the most loyal, patriotic workers you can find, but negligence could still cause the leak.

Signal, a very popular E2EE messaging app, is operated out of the United Arab Emirates, and if these governments continue pushing for backdoors then anyone concerned about their privacy — journalists, businesses, and criminals alike — will simply use software created in countries without these ridiculous backdoors.

Bloomberg can’t decide if 5G is already everywhere or still not ready 10/9/2020

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg, ‘Apple Prepares to Launch 5G iPhones Into Unready U.S. Market‘:

Apple Inc. is set to embrace 5G as one of its most significant additions to this year’s iPhones, but the technology is still not ready for the masses in the U.S.

That’s because the country’s three largest wireless carriers, Verizon Communications Inc., AT&T Inc. and T-Mobile US Inc., have yet to roll out 5G in a way that provides consistently higher data speeds or widespread coverage. If these companies do not dramatically upgrade their networks soon, many consumers buying the latest iPhones could find this year’s premier feature underwhelming.

But wait, Ian King for Bloomberg, just one year ago, ‘Apple’s 5G iPhone Delay Stings as Next-Gen Devices Hit Shelves‘:

Apple Inc. is planning to bring 5G to the iPhone next fall, more than a year behind some rivals. The company can ill afford to let the timing slip. […]

Fifth generation, or 5G, is off to a much faster start. There were 31 commercial 5G service launches in 17 countries by the end of the second quarter of 2019, less than a year since the first offering, according to research firm IHS Markit. In contrast, it took about four years for a large number 4G roll-outs, the firm noted in a recent report.

Gotta love Bloomberg. It seems 5G is either already here or way in the distance compared to Apple’s plans to launch a 5G iPhone. A year ago Apple missed the boat — 5G was everywhere and customers were missing out. But now that Apple has a 5G iPhone coming out, the 5G technology isn’t ready and customers will be underwhelmed! It’s everywhere but not ready, according to Bloomberg.

Bloomberg is such a bullshit technology publication. Everything feels like a clickbait headline written to frame Apple as negatively as possible.

It’s good Apple has a 5G iPhone coming out, even if in some areas 5G isn’t there yet. Many people upgrade their iPhones every three, four, or five years, so while a new iPhone 5G owner may be on a 4G network when they crack open the box, within a year or two they’ll automatically get faster 5G speeds, and that seems like a good thing. (A better thing would be the carriers to have their networks working on reliable 5G already, but c’mon, it’s not like they’re made of money.)

Also, it’s good Apple is able to release a wide range of iPhone sizes and colors. People like having unique devices, and one size does not fit all.

There’s nothing controversial regarding Apple’s upcoming iPhone announcement except how Bloomberg wants to frame it, and all they ever do is frame Apple news in the worst light possible. Apple is far from a perfect company, and they deserve their fair share of scrutiny, but Bloomberg is making up a controversy where there’s just a couple of new iPhones.

More free AppleTV+ time 10/9/2020

Matthew Panzarino at TechCrunch:

Apple told me today that it will be extending Apple TV+ subscriptions that are set to end November 1, 2020 through January 31, 2021 through their billing date in February of 2021.

The basic situation is that Apple gave away a free year of Apple TV+ to new device purchasers last year and those are all set to end in November. Apple knows everyone is still looking at a tough winter ahead filled with COVID-related restrictions so it’s bumping those subs out to February.

Monthly users whose subscription start date is before November 1st, 2020 also get a deal, with a $4.99 credit (the cost of an Apple TV+ subscription) appearing for November, December and January 2021. You do not have to do anything to receive the credit and users will be getting emails notifying them of these extensions/credits.

I already deleted my reminder to cancel my Apple TV+ subscription. I love it. For All Mankind, Dickinson, Ted Lasso, Central Park, Tiny World, Home Before Dark, Home, and coming soon, Wolfwalkers — had I been paying $5 each month, I’d argue I have gotten more value out of Apple TV+ than my HBO Max sub, which is $12.99 per month and I usually just watch John Oliver. Oh, and a delightful show called Selena + Chef, wherein pop star Selena Gomez uses her time in quarantine to learn to cook extravagant meals over Zoom with world famous chefs. But I digress. If you don’t have an Apple TV+ sub, you’re missing out on a lot of good content, and if you have one you now get a few (more) months free. If you don’t have an Apple device, you can sign up and watch on the web at tv.apple.com.

xCloud coming to iOS as a web app 10/9/2020

Tom Warren at The Verge:

Microsoft is working on a “direct browser-based solution” to bring xCloud to iOS early next year. Sources familiar with Microsoft’s plans tell The Verge that the company has been developing a web version of xCloud to run on iOS and iPadOS devices, alongside continuing its work on an app that it hopes will also eventually run on Apple’s platform. […]

Apple has been blocking services like xCloud and Stadia from running on iOS devices via its App Store, and recently offered an olive branch to these services with some big restrictions. Apple insists that developers must individually submit their games as separate apps using their streaming tech. Microsoft and Google are free to create a “catalog”-style app that collects and links out to all of these individual apps.

Amazon is doing the same with their new game streaming service, Luna. Web apps have become incredibly powerful over the last five or ten years, so I’m really optimistic that they can pull this off, despite Apple’s ridiculous App Store rules. I think it’s only a matter of time before we get a web app store that Apple can’t regulate.

Pixar’s ‘Soul’ skips the theater for Disney+ this Christmas 10/8/2020

Variety:

Pixar’s Soul is skipping theaters and will debut exclusively on Disney Plus in time for Christmas. The animated family film will launch on the streaming service on Dec. 25. In international markets where Disney Plus isn’t available, Soul will be released theatrically on a yet-to-be determined date.

This is a nice gift from Disney, and the right decision. Soul was originally due for release in June, and has been repeatedly postponed, just like all the other movies of 2020.

New Zealand beats coronavirus, again 10/8/2020

Livia Albeck-Ripka for The New York Times:

The first time New Zealand thought it had eliminated the coronavirus from its isolated shores, a mysterious outbreak in its largest city shattered any sense of victory over a tenacious foe.

Now, after a second round of strict lockdown, the country believes — if a bit more tentatively this time — that it has effectively stamped out the virus once again.

On Wednesday, New Zealand moved to lift the last of its restrictions in Auckland after 10 days with no new cases linked to a cluster that first surfaced in August. The government will now allow unrestricted gatherings, and trips on public transit without social distancing or masks, in the city of 1.6 million people.

Today there are more cases of COVID-19 in the US White House than in all of New Zealand.

All the iOS 14 privacy alerts and what they mean 10/8/2020

The Wirecutter has a list of all of the new iOS 14 privacy alerts and what they actually mean. For instance, that one that says “XYZ App would like find and connect to devices on your local network”?

Sometimes, apps have valid reasons for accessing devices on your network, namely in order to function. If you have Sonos speakers, for example, the Spotify app won’t see them unless you allow the app to access your local network. The same goes for devices such as a Chromecast and for most smart-home-related apps. In these cases, you should approve the request.

But other apps have no justification to access this type of information. For example, my banking app asked for it, for some reason, and so does Facebook. If you can’t imagine why an app would need this permission, don’t allow it.

I don’t think I’ve allowed a single app this permission yet.

Facebook bans QAnon 10/6/2020

Nick Statt for The Verge:

“Starting today, we will remove any Facebook Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts representing QAnon, even if they contain no violent content. This is an update from the initial policy in August that removed Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts associated with QAnon when they discussed potential violence while imposing a series of restrictions to limit the reach of other Pages, Groups and Instagram accounts associated with the movement,” the company writes in its update. A Facebook spokesperson tells The Verge that while the ban targets organized behavior on the platform, it does not prohibit individuals from posting about QAnon to their person Facebook profiles. 

Facebook says QAnon content, which purports that a secret society of pedophiles is plotting to against US President Donald Trump, represents an “identified Militarized Social Movement,” which is prohibited under its current rules. In other words, Facebook is reclassifying QAnon as no different than an extremist militia group, but not quite on the level of a terrorist organization or full-fledged hate group.

It took Facebook a while, but they finally did the right thing here.

Here’s the Big Tech antitrust report 10/6/2020

Adi Robertson and Russell Brandom for The Verge:

The House Judiciary Committee has released its conclusions on whether Amazon, Facebook, Apple, and Google are violating antitrust law. Its 449-page report criticizes these companies for buying competitors, preferencing their own services, and holding outsized power over smaller businesses that use their platforms. “Our investigation revealed an alarming pattern of business practices that degrade competition and stifle innovation,” said committee member Val Demings (D-FL). “Competition must reward the best idea, not the biggest corporate account. We will take steps necessary to hold rulebreakers accountable.”

The majority’s report lays out a number of concrete policy recommendations, which, taken together, would drastically change how the tech industry operates. It urges Congress to consider passing commercial nondiscrimination rules that would make large companies offer equal terms to companies selling products and services on their platforms. It recommends barring certain dominant platforms from competing in “adjacent lines of business” where they’d have a huge advantage.

That is a big report. I have not had time to read it; I doubt many people have fully read the entire report, although people are skimming and searching the well-made PDF (“sherlocking” is name dropped on pages 361-363).

Axios has a good summary of the report, and here’s The New York Times article (which, with the news around COVID and the President this week, was way way way down on on the bottom of the page!).

Of course, the four big tech companies aren’t happy with the results:

Apple’s statement:

We have always said that scrutiny is reasonable and appropriate but we vehemently disagree with the conclusions reached in this staff report with respect to Apple.

Amazon’s statement:

All large organizations attract the attention of regulators, and we welcome that scrutiny. But large companies are not dominant by definition, and the presumption that success can only be the result of anti-competitive behavior is simply wrong. And yet, despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, those fallacies are at the core of regulatory spit-balling on antitrust.

Google’s statement:

We disagree with today’s reports, which feature outdated and inaccurate allegations from commercial rivals about Search and other services.  

I haven’t seen a statement from Facebook, but I’ll update the post if I find one. But I want to give Facebook their fair time in the spotlight, so I’ll leave you with this gem from page 136 of the report:

Facebook describes a diverse list of other firms as competitive substitutes for Facebook, including Microsoft’s Bing, a search engine; Yelp, a publisher of crowd-sourced business reviews; and BuzzFeed, a digital news publisher. According to Facebook, these firms exert competitive pressure on Facebook in the market for users’ attention. Most recently, in response to an inquiry by the United Kingdom’s Competition Market Authority, Facebook calculated its market share as “time captured by Facebook as a percentage of total user time spent on the internet, including social media, dating, news and search platforms.” Based on these measures, Facebook concluded that it lacks monopoly power.

Facebook deletes another Trump post lying about COVID-19 10/6/2020

CNN:

Facebook on Tuesday removed a post from President Trump in which he falsely claimed that Covid-19 is less deadly than the seasonal flu. […]

The President also posted the same message on Twitter. That post is still live, but Twitter has appended a message to the Tweet stating it violated the company’s rule on spreading misleading information related to Covid-19.

He is more concerned about his re-election than the lives of his fellow Americas, or he has become so mentally unstable that he is unfit for duty and he should be removed from office. His actions are recklessly criminal. If people go out and die because of his statements, he should be held accountable. And he won’t hold himself accountable because he has no conscience.

Face with Medical Mask Emoji is now smiling under the mask 10/4/2020

Sean Hollister for The Verge:

In a move that, I’m sure, has absolutely no relation to anything going on in the world today, Apple has quietly updated its “Face with Medical Mask” emoji with friendlier eyes, eyebrows, and rosy cheeks. Before, it looked a little lethargic. Now, it’s almost happy? You can practically imagine a smile underneath. […]

As Emojipedia points out, the new emoji is literally Apple’s existing “Smiling Face” with a mask on top.

I smile under my mask all the time.

“The goddamn pandemic that remains out of control” 10/4/2020

The Hollywood Reporter:

Following the delay of more Hollywood tentpoles — including James Bond film No Time to Die — mega-movie theater chain Cineworld, the second largest exhibitor globally after AMC, is planning to temporarily close or keep shut all of its locations in the U.K. and the U.S., The Hollywood Reporter has confirmed. […]

Disney and Pixar’s Soul is likewise expected to scrub its Thanksgiving 2020 release, leaving exhibitors without major fall tentpoles following the delay of No Time to Die, Wonder Woman 1894 and Black Widow. Without fresh titles on the marquee, it will be tough to win over already-wary consumers.

John Gruber at Daring Fireball:

This framing is backwards and broken. The cause of movie theaters’ problems isn’t the lack of tentpole movies in the cinema. The cause is the goddamn pandemic that remains out of control. Almost no one would go to a movie theater amidst this, and no one should. You can’t successfully release a blockbuster theatrically in a pandemic, and you can’t have movie theaters without blockbusters. Ergo theaters need to remain closed. Jesus.

Gruber gets it. This isn’t a lack of movies — this is a lack of leadership by a man who is now sickened from his own incompetence. THR has followed up on their reporting with the headline: ‘Halloween Classic ‘Hocus Pocus’ Nearly Beats ‘Tenet’ as Box Office Recovery Collapses‘. (Although, if we’re being honest, who’s risking their lives to see Hocus Pocus in theaters?)

Everyone in America should get free testing and medical care for COVID-19 and the US Government should pay for it 10/4/2020

By the time Trump is out of the hospital and fully recovered from COVID-19, his medical bill will be hundreds of thousands of — if not over a million — dollars. But: he’s the President of the United States, and so American taxpayers (i.e., those who pay taxes) will be paying his bill.

It doesn’t matter if you’re “the worst president America has ever had” or a baseball player or a factory worker at Amazon sick with the disease: everyone going to a hospital in the US should get free testing and free medical care, regardless of citizenship or medical coverage.

Everyone with COVID or COVID symptoms should get automatic, free medical care, and the government should be automatically sent the bill, the government should pay the bill, and the matter should be closed. It doesn’t matter if the end result wasn’t COVID, they should still get that free pass. A person can’t know what they have until tested, and tests are still very difficult to get. If a person believes they’re sick and have COVID-like symptoms, they should get a free pass to the ER. If they have medical coverage but that coverage comes with a deductible or co-pay, the government should pay that, too.

You might be asking, how would the government pay for all of this? To start with, let’s actually tax trillion-dollar businesses and tax the wealthy their fair share. Let’s also stop this ridiculous ballooning of hospital care bills. The ACA attempted this, but we really need to re-think the entire system.

You might be asking, how would hospitals handle the strain of so many patients? First, test results would need to come back in a couple of hours, not days, and those testing negative, unless deathly ill, could simply leave. Those with positive results should have their medical history reviewed for high-risk complications and, if safe to go home, should go home with special quarantining instructions.

You might be asking, why should illegal immigrants get free testing and medical coverage? While you’d be right pointing out that our taxes would be paying for their coverage, there are many US citizens who don’t pay taxes and are getting very expensive medical care right now. But testing and care can help prevent the spread, inform policies, and keep communities safe. The virus doesn’t care if you’re a citizen of a man-made box on a map or not, and if people don’t know that they’re sick or are too afraid of seeking treatment, it puts all of us at risk.

You might be asking, and I’ll stop you right there, because this is a national pandemic, and people are dying. Whatever qualms you have with people getting access to free medical care are irrelevant.

This is a societal problem. COVID-19 is bigger than you or I or any individual. It’s a problem we can only solve as a society. And while you may feel safe and secure with your health and medical coverage, not everyone is so fortunate.

According to NPR, Black and Latino Americans are more likely to get infected with, and more likely to die of, COVID-19. Further, they’re less likely to have health coverage, and less likely to seek treatment. “It’s a legacy of structural discrimination that has limited access to health and wealth for people of color,” said Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith, director of the Equity Research and Innovation Center at Yale School of Medicine.

Nobody deserves to die from COVID-19 or suffer through it alone. We, as a country, have lacked the leadership and the patriotism to fight this virus, resulting in (as of the evening of October 4th, 2020) 209,802 deaths. We as a society should, at the very least for those who become sick, ease their recovery just a little by paying the bill.

Please wear a mask and vote on November 3rd.

Greenland is melting faster than anytime since the last ice age 10/2/2020

Scott K. Johnson for Ars Technica:

But Greenland is not stabilizing in a world that continues to warm, of course, and the rate of loss is expected to increase. The researchers looked at a future scenario where climate change halts at about 2°C of total warming, comparing it to a scenario of much higher greenhouse gas emissions that produce 4°C or more. Calculating the average rates of loss for the 21st century, they find a span of 8,800 to 35,900 billion tons lost per century for this area—far surpassing anything in the last 12,000 years. And the researchers note that their model tends to simulate smaller future losses than some others do, so that might be conservative.

The researchers conclude, “Our results suggest that the rate of mass loss from the GIS [Greenland ice sheet] this century will be unprecedented in the context of natural GIS variability over the past 12,000 years, unless a low-carbon-emission scenario is followed.”

Lower emissions even than the 2ºC warming scenario, that is. For context, current emissions pledges would likely get us something around 3ºC warming this century.

Greenland is like our canary in the coal mine: We’re inside watching the little bird gasping and twitching with its last breathe, and half of us are saying run, run, get out of here, and other half are saying, well wait, didn’t you see those vultures circling back when we entered the mine? They seem fine out there, so that makes it fine in here. Look, I even brought this snowball into the mine and it’s not even melted yet. We’re fine! Let’s strip the Earth bare and make a fortune.

Trump tests positive for COVID-19 10/1/2020

President Trump has confirmed via Twitter that he and the First Lady have both tested positive for COVID-19 and are in quarantine.

The New York Times:

Hope Hicks, one of President Trump’s most senior advisers, was revealed to have tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday night.

Ms. Hicks is the closest person to the president known to have contracted the virus. She traveled with Mr. Trump to the presidential debate in Ohio on Tuesday and accompanied him aboard Air Force One to Minnesota for a campaign rally on Wednesday night.

Late Thursday night, Mr. Trump tweeted that he and the first lady, who have both received new tests for the coronavirus, would begin their “quarantine process” as they await their results.

The results have been confirmed as positive. The President is showing mild symptoms as of Friday morning, according to the White House. VP Mike Pence has tested negative, Joe Biden has tested negative, as reported by Washington Post and Guardian. Late Friday it was reported Kellyanne Conway and Trump campaign manager Bill Stepien also tested positive for the virus. Additionally on Friday Sen. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) both confirmed positive test results, potentially jeopardizing the confirmation vote for Judge Barrett.

CNN reports Trump is being taken to Walter Reed medical center Friday evening as a precaution; symptoms include a fever and fatigue, and will be evaluated by a team of experts.

The Times is also reporting that the president of the University of Notre Dame has tested positive for COVID-19 less than a week after a visit to the White House in which he did not wear a mask or follow social distancing guidelines. The White House sounds like a Petri dish of COVID. A big, angry, racist Petri dish…

Beth Mole for Ars Technica has details on the infection, outlook, and potential further spread within the White House:

Trump and Hicks were also likely highly infectious during the presidential debate Tuesday night in Cleveland, Ohio. Trump family members and staff did not wear masks at the debate, which was hosted in part by Cleveland Clinic and required masking. According to CNN, a Cleveland Clinic doctor approached Trump’s entourage and asked them to put on masks, which the doctor offered to them, but the group declined.

Biden and his family and staff were reportedly wearing masks at the debate, and the campaign official said that the two groups were “never near” each other. The most significant risk of transmission is close, prolonged contact, generally defined as being within six feet for 15 or more minutes. However, researchers suspect that transmission can occur at longer distances when people are in crowded indoor environments with poor ventilation. […]

More from The New York Times, Axios, Washington Post, The Wallstreet Journal, Buzzfeed News, Vox, The Verge, Variety, CNN, The Guardian, Fox News.

Pizza Emoji sends its Thoughts and Prayers to the President and First Lady, and our sincere wishes for a speedy recovery for everyone else stricken ill by the virus. Please, do as Chris Wallace says and “wear the damn mask.”

Chris Wallace on moderating the first presidential debate 10/1/2020

Chris Wallace gave an interview to Michael M. Grynbaum and The New York Times on his attempts to moderate the first presidential debate:

But as the president gave no sign of backing off, Mr. Wallace said, he grew more alarmed. “If I didn’t try to seize control of the debate — which I don’t know that I ever really did — then it was going to just go completely off the tracks,” he said.

Asked what he was feeling when he called the debate to a temporary halt — instructing the candidates that “the country would be better served if we allowed both people to speak with fewer interruptions” — Mr. Wallace said, “The answer to that question is easy: Desperation.”

Asked directly if Mr. Trump had derailed the debate, Mr. Wallace replied, “Well, he certainly didn’t help.”

Care to elaborate? “No,” Mr. Wallace said. “To quote the president, ‘It is what it is.’”

My respect for Wallace dropped a bit when, after Trump refused to condemn white supremacists and instead gave them a new rallying cry, he simply moved on to the next question and let Trump’s remarks stand. Wallace says, “I didn’t have that advance warning” that Trump was going to try and derail the debates; To that I ask, what rock has Wallace been living under for the past four years? Wallace was clearly unable or unwilling to handle Trump’s tantrums, but I hope the next mods can and will do better.

Jamie Foxx Returning as Villain Electro in MCU’s Spider-Man 3 10/1/2020

Borys Kit for The Hollywood Reporter:

Jamie Foxx, who played classic Spidey villain Electro in the Andrew Garfield-starring The Amazing Spider-Man 2, is in final talks to reprise the role for the latest Spider-Man installment, starring Tom Holland and being made by Marvel Studios and Sony Pictures.

Why yes, I do have some thoughts on this, thanks for asking.

The Amazing Spider-Man 2 was an entirely forgettable sequel to an entirely forgettable Spider-Man film. The Andrew Garfield’s Spider-Man films focused on teenage angst and lots of grunting during fights, and some convoluted conspiracy backstory concerning’s Peter Parker’s parents that was never resolved due to The Amazing Spider-Man 2 bombing at the box office. This Amazing reboot bombed so badly that plans to expand on the Spider-verse were scrapped, and eventually Marvel and Sony started talking about bringing Spidey to the MCU.

Foxx’s Electro was a boring bad guy, and he added to that weird teenage angst movie vibe with the hoodie he wore over his high tech suit. Did anyone like Electro? Was it the way the character was written, or was it Foxx’s portrayal of the character? I’d wager a little from column A, a little from column B. But this will be a rare instance where the director and actor will have an opportunity to wholly re-invent the character — maybe the second time’s the charm?

I will admit, it seems very suspicious of Sony and Marvel to bring back a villain that was not especially liked the first time around. There seems to be a lot of speculation around a “live-action” multiverse of Spider-Man films, but I don’t see it playing out that way. Sure, you’ve got J. K. Simmons playing J. Jonah Jameson in a cameo at the end of Spider-Man: Far From Home, but who else do you really get to play Jameson? Of all the Spider-Man movie villains so far, Foxx’s Electro is a strange choice to bring back, and I have to wonder if Sony is actively trying to sabotage the MCU at this point with ridiculous villains. It seems incredibly unlikely Tobey Maguire or Andrew Garfield would be tapped to reprise their prior Spider-Man roles, and without them it’s not really a multiverse of Spider-Men, is it?

So why bring Foxx back into the roll? There’s a lot of multiverse speculation, primarily because Spider-Man is known for crossing the multiverse almost annually in the comics. But — I don’t think casting Foxx is a doorway into the multiverse. If they were doing to open a door to the multiverse, it’d be with Alfred Molina as Doc Ock — or somebody as equally liked from previous Spider-Man films. Amazing 2 is not the doorway to a multiverse for Tom Holland’s Peter Parker. Foxx was cast because Sony thinks it will create buzz and generate interest in their Sony Pictures Universe of Marvel Characters (SPUMC!).

Jon Watts will be directing Tom Holland (and Jamie Foxx) for the third time in Spider-Man 3, currently scheduled for release on December 17, 2021 — although I would treat that date as tentative at best. Filming on Part 3 should begin soon. Also don’t forget, the MCU get’s one last shot at Spidey before Holland’s contract expires in an Avengers-like romp in ’23 or ’24.

iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard: Six Months Later… 10/1/2020

I’ve been using the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard as my daily computing device for the past six months, and over the last month I’ve been jotting down notes on when I find myself really enjoying the device, and really frustrated by the device. And now, I’m going to snap my fingers and transform all of my notes and half-thoughts into a full essay. And, snap! Well, that didn’t work, so I guess I’ll start typing everything out.

Oh, that’s right, here’s the link to my original iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard Review, if you need a refresher.

The Magic Keyboard loves to get dirty. Fingerprints are all over the matte black case, grease marks from my palms get on the palm rests, and the area just under where the iPad “floats” seems to acquire some impossibly high amount of dust or dead skins cells or something despite it being literally under an awning. The iPad Pro also gets a lot of marks on the screen, from fingerprints and Apple Pencil lines to smudges and weird specs of dust or hair. Both devices are designed to be touched, so cleaning is just part of ownership, but I will point out that I’ve never needed to clean my Mac’s aluminum case nearly as often as this Magic Keyboard. There’s a lot of cleaning involved with both the Magic Keyboard and the iPad Pro to keep them looking nice — and these are devices you want to keep looking nice.

Speaking of looking nice, the screen really is incredible. It’s a great device for reading books or comics on, but the 4:3 “square” aspect becomes very noticeable when watching movies or TV shows made this century. Yes, the iPad Pro 12.9” is the exact size of a standard piece of paper — so what? Why did Apple think a standard sheet of paper was the ideal dimension for consuming books, comics, music, games, and movies? Ironically, movies are probably the only type of media that gives a hoot what your screen aspect ratio is, and Apple picked the wrong aspect ratio. I’d gladly trade up for a widescreen iPad Pro — but based on the Magic Keyboard’s sizing and the new iPad Air, I wouldn’t hold my breath that there’s a widescreen iPad Pro in the future. That’s a shame, and a baffling choice by Apple.

Apple Pencil is one of my favorite Apple products, honestly, but the use cases for the $130 stylus are small — mostly drawing, but I guess writing, too. I still prefer typing over trying to hand write my notes — my handwriting is bad enough that even the iPad’s machine learning can’t figure out what I’m writing half the time, making the search and indexing worthless. I fully admit this is a me problem, and your milage will vary widely with the handwriting. Because of this, I haven’t found many uses outside of Procreate for the Pencil, but when I’m drawing with it in Procreate I’m really having a blast.

The iPad Pro is probably one of the most powerful computers I’ve ever owned. It’s fast and responsive as I’m browsing the web or texting or running two whole apps at the same time. I’ll admit it, I’m baffled as to why the iPad Pro has the power and capability that it does but lacks any sort of Pro app, like Xcode, Final Cut, or Logic. And notice Apple’s keynote earlier this month for the new iPad Air: It has a brand new A14 SoC and all Apple can think to do with it is take notes. I’m super disappointed with iPadOS 14, which added essentially nothing to the iPad in terms of multitasking or functionality. I find the iPad works best as a focus device. It’s easy to turn off distractions, turn on some background music, and just write or draw or read with my full attention. …All while the A12X processor sits idling at 98%. That’s a hard sell: Do one thing at a time on your $1200 computer.

But trying to do anything that requires three programs, like my recent WordPress migration of Pizza Emoji, is just easier on a Mac. I needed to edit and upload PHP and CSS files, view the changes in the browser, reference documentation and notes, and make changes to the server via a command line. Trying to do all of this on an iPad just wasn’t practical. The lack of a filesystem was the biggest hurdle, and terminal apps disconnect if left in the background for more than a few seconds. But switching between apps on the iPad can be the most frustrating aspect of using the device. The bottom swipe isn’t always a sure thing and Command+Tab app switcher won’t trigger sometimes, and I have no idea why. I’ve used Command+Tab on a Mac since before it was built into Mac OS as a third party extension. Alt+Tab was part of Windows 3.1 and I’ve always loved it as a shortcut key. Why it sometimes just won’t trigger on the iPad is not just an annoyance; it interrupts my workflow. Anytime I think, “I need to jump back to Safari” and I swipe or Command+Tab and it doesn’t take me to Safari is incredibly disruptive. There’s also a hard limit of the ten most recently used apps in the Command+Tab switcher, and it’s easy to have apps just fall off the end of the switcher if I’m doing a lot of things.

I think my biggest dislike of the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard is, ironically, the thing that convinced me to buy one: the trackpad. The trackpad is way too small, which is a concession Apple made by allowing the iPad to “float” above the keyboard. This smaller size requires more finger lifting to drag the pointer around the screen, which can get tiring after eight hours at the keyboard. The trackpad also requires a good deal of force to click, much more so than my MacBook trackpad — in fact, my MacBook has the haptic touch trackpad, which simply registers force and responds with a simulated click. The Magic Keyboard, however, has an actual trackpad that must be pressed down to click. Like the trackpad’s size, the click resistance was a design choice by Apple.

And this is what makes my dislike of the entire iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard so frustrating: Apple chose these designs, from the design of the trackpad to the multitasking gestures to the limited file system of iPadOS to the 4:3 aspect ratio of the screen. Coming from macOS, everything on the iPad feels too restrained, too tightly controlled, and too simplified. When I want to do something the tiniest bit complex, I’m spending time either trying to create a shortcut (only to discover there’s no way to trigger a shortcut to paste, for example) or returning to my Mac. Ownership of an iPad Pro, as a $1200 device with a $350 keyboard, shouldn’t include an asterisk that says “May require a second computer to actually complete work.”

So confession time: This entire post was written and edited on the MacBook. When I started the Pizza Emoji migration, I gave it a try on the iPad, but I soon realized I was fighting the limitations Apple has imposed on the machine and I just gave up. As my physical desk space is limited, the MacBook managed to push the iPad onto the floor, and it’s been down there for a few days now. I spent six months trying to get the iPad Pro to work with me, not against me. And I think I’m done fighting with it.

Apple’s had an iPad Pro available for sale for half a decade, and in development for at least a good two to three years prior, if not longer. They’ve had just as many opportunities to update the software into something that power users can take advantage of with customizations, Pro apps, real multitasking, and a file manager. But after six months and a major OS update, it’s clear to me that Apple has purposely designed iPadOS to work first and best on the $329 iPad with a Home button; it’s designed for the masses. Apple either doesn’t see a world where pros are using the iPad Pro to do real work, or they don’t want to commit the resources to giving the pros the professional environment and tools we need.

I’m not sure how I see the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard working for me in the future. Maybe they can be travel devices, or maybe they’re just expensive media consumption devices. I think it’s folly to wait for Apple to realize the iPad Pro as the professional touch screen device we all want. The Shortcuts app and a few widgets are not enough to convince me that iPadOS is designed for pro users. I’ll keep the iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard around for reading comics and the occasional travel companion, but in my view iPadOS is designed for a $329 iPad, and that’s what I should have bought.

Oh right, there’s also a LiDAR sensor I’ve never used.

COVID-19 effects on lungs, heart, brain 9/30/2020

Caitlin Owens for Axios:

Scientists are racing to learn more about the damage the novel coronavirus can do to the heart, lungs and brain.

Why it matters: It’s becoming increasingly clear that some patients struggle with its health consequences — and costs — far longer than a few weeks.

The list of potential, long-term health effects is not short: the lungs — causing breathing problems; the vascular system — causing stroke, atherosclerosis, myocarditis, or heart attack; neurological symptoms — stroke, brain hemorrhage, and memory loss. And just from six months of short term study. Axios concludes with:

Even if we manage to get the coronavirus under control, whether that’s through a vaccine or behavior modification, we’re probably going to be dealing with its effects for a long time.

We should really rename COVID-19 to the Trumpfluenza. I mean, he does like to put his name on the stuff he imports from other countries.

Disney announces 28,000 layoffs 9/29/2020

Sarah Whitten for CNBC:

Prolonged closures at Disney’s California-based theme parks and limited attendance at its open parks has forced the company to lay off 28,000 employees across its parks, experiences and consumer products division, the company said.

In a memo sent to employees on Tuesday, Josh D’Amaro, head of parks at Disney, detailed several “difficult decisions” the company has had to make in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, including ending its furlough of thousands of employees.

Sad news, but I take exception with Disney blaming the State of California’s “unwillingness to lift restrictions that would allow Disneyland to reopen”. California is doing what’s best for it’s people, not what’s best for a mega-corporation. I am sad Disneyland has been closed for six months; I am sad 28,000 Disney employees lost their jobs today; And I am sad over 200,000 Americans have died from this virus. But California is making the difficult and right decisions to keep people safe.

(Seriously, fuck the Governor of Florida: he is literally killing people by reopening bars and restaurants at full capacity.)

And meanwhile the rest of the world just shakes their heads in disbelief.

“Unpresidential” 9/29/2020

Speaking of this country, America had the first of three — there’s two more?! — presidential debates tonight. I’m not sure who’s still undecided or how, but I don’t see how two old men yelling over each other can be helpful in deciding who you want as the next President of the United States of America.

Jonathan Martin and Alexander Burns for The New York Times:

In a chaotic, 90-minute back-and-forth, the two major party nominees expressed a level of acrid contempt for each other unheard-of in modern American politics.

Mr. Trump, trailing in the polls and urgently hoping to revive his campaign, was plainly attempting to be the aggressor. But he interjected so insistently that Mr. Biden could scarcely answer the questions posed to him, forcing the moderator, Chris Wallace of Fox News, to repeatedly urge the president to let his opponent speak.

“Will you shut up, man?” Mr. Biden demanded of Mr. Trump at one point in obvious exasperation. “This is so unpresidential.”

What a night. I feel sicker.

I feel sorry for Americans, too, and I’m one of them 9/29/2020

Hannah Beech for The New York Times:

“I feel sorry for Americans,” said U Myint Oo, a member of parliament in Myanmar. “But we can’t help the U.S. because we are a very small country.”

The same sentiment prevails in Canada, one of the most developed countries. Two out of three Canadians live within about 60 miles of the American border.

“Personally, it’s like watching the decline of the Roman Empire,” said Mike Bradley, the mayor of Sarnia, an industrial city on the border with Michigan, where locals used to venture for lunch.

Amid the pandemic and in the run-up to the presidential election, much of the world is watching the United States with a mix of shock, chagrin and, most of all, bafflement.

I honestly feel sick. What has happened to this country?

Amazon wants to store your palmprint in the cloud so you can buy stuff in stores 9/29/2020

Jason Del Rey for Recode:

Amazon on Tuesday is unveiling a new biometric technology called Amazon One that allows shoppers to pay at stores by placing their palm over a scanning device when they walk in the door or when they check out. The first time they register to use this tech, a customer will scan their palm and insert their payment card at a terminal; after that, they can simply pay with their hand. The hand-scanning tech isn’t just for Amazon’s own stores — the company hopes to sell it to other retailers, including competitors, too.

No.

There are many reasons I’m very against this. Amazon’s storing your palm print data in the cloud. They say it’s secure and encrypted, but they don’t say they can’t access the data. (By contrast, Apple stores biometric data, such as fingerprints and face scans, in an encrypted chip on the device, which no one — including Apple — has access to.) If Amazon has internal access to this data, they could potentially provide it to law enforcement, an organization Amazon has a history of voluntarily sharing data with. And although it appears you don’t actually touch the scanner with your palm, but still, ew.

I can understand Amazon’s thought process here: They want to process more payments, because that’s a way to make money and track shopping trends. They’ve failed to sell phones, so now they’re trying to setup shop directly in the store. It’s a clever attempt at transitioning from digital to physical space, and maybe enough stores and shoppers buy into it, but Amazon is asking a lot here.

The Atlantic: The Election That Could Break America 9/25/2020

Barton Gellman for The Atlantic, ‘The Election That Could Break America‘:

Let us not hedge about one thing. Donald Trump may win or lose, but he will never concede. Not under any circumstance. Not during the Interregnum and not afterward. If compelled in the end to vacate his office, Trump will insist from exile, as long as he draws breath, that the contest was rigged.

Trump’s invincible commitment to this stance will be the most important fact about the coming Interregnum. It will deform the proceedings from beginning to end. We have not experienced anything like it before.

Maybe you hesitate. Is it a fact that if Trump loses, he will reject defeat, come what may? Do we know that? Technically, you feel obliged to point out, the proposition is framed in the future conditional, and prophecy is no man’s gift, and so forth. With all due respect, that is pettifoggery. We know this man. We cannot afford to pretend.

Amazon’s new Luna game streaming service isn’t a native iOS app 9/24/2020

Jessica Conditt at Engadget:

Luna is what happens when you take the subscription model of Prime Video, mash it up with Twitch, plug that into Amazon Web Services, and wrap it all in an Alexa-powered gamepad. In short, Luna is Amazon’s cloud gaming platform, and the latest rival to Microsoft’s xCloud and Google’s Stadia. It goes live in early access in October, subscriptions start at $5.99 a month, and players in the US can sign up today to receive an invite via Amazon. […]

With Luna, Amazon has discovered another way to circumvent Apple’s App Store fees. Luna is a progressive web application (PWA), which means it’s actually a browser-based program masquerading as a native iOS app. You’ll download the PWA from the Luna website, and the resulting icon on your iPhone’s home screen will function like a shortcut to Amazon’s cloud gaming portal on the web. 

Wow, if this is actually playable, I’ll be really impressed. You know what doesn’t impress me? Amazon’s Fire TV Stick, which is constantly stuttering when playing Prime movies. Yeah, movies from Amazon’s streaming service, playing on Amazon’s streaming device, stutter every ten minutes. It’s super annoying. I get why Amazon makes and sells it — it’s a $30 super cheap device to get people to watch and buy Prime movies, but I also think it’s wrong to sell such a terribly underpowered device. But I digress. If Amazon can pull off a streaming web app on the iPhone, and allow me to play a game like Control with no lag? Yeah, I’d probably pay $6 a month for that.

So Microsoft, Sony, Google, and Amazon all offer streaming gaming options now. Who’s next?

New social network Telepath wants to make the internet nicer 9/24/2020

Biz Carson for Protocol:

The rules of the new social network Telepath are simple: Be kind. Don’t be mean. No harassment, and no fake news. The existential question for Telepath will be whether that’s easier said than done. […]

Telepath is beginning to dole out invites Thursday to people who want to bring back the feel of the early internet conversations over mutual interests without the fear of being doxxed, harassed or trolled. People sign up to follow different conversation networks, from funny tech memes at #TechHumor to conversations about failing companies on the #Deadpool network, or smaller groups talking about subjects such as the HBO show “Lovecraft Country” or Chinese investment in Africa. 

In a landscape of social networks, Telepath stands out because it’s more about your interests than who you know, and it requires real names for the conversations. It’s also positioning itself as a kinder, more inclusive network by making a point to establish ground rules and moderation up front. There’s also a sense of timeliness to it, with conversations ranging from Supreme Court nomination guesses to Miami Heat rookie Tyler Herro’s win over the Celtics. Telepath also deletes all posts after 30 days.

Color me intrigued, but highly skeptical of this working. I gotta say, though, the idea of deleting posts after thirty days made me tingle with excitement. I signed up for one of the early invites; if I get in, I’ll be sure to give it the old tire kick.

Facebook employees upset over missing snacks 9/24/2020

Casey Newton for The Verge, ‘Mark in the Middle‘:

For years, Mark Zuckerberg has faced criticism that Facebook is bad for democracy.

Employees want him to take a harder line against the Trump Administration. His user base wants him to do the opposite.

In a summer’s worth of leaked audio recordings obtained by The Verge, you can hear Facebook’s CEO trying to hold the center.

In 2020, Facebook would be roiled by a global pandemic, internal protests over racial injustice, a deeply polarizing election, and the ongoing threat of multiple state and federal investigations into antitrust and privacy. But on the morning of July 16th, Mark Zuckerberg found his workforce asking for something else: their missing office snacks.

A major sell to candidates is our office perks include free food, read the question, which had ranked near the top of questions asked that week in an internal poll. And now, with work from home, we’ve lost a huge financial part of our package. What is the plan on this?

This is probably the clearest look I’ve seen at how Facebook operates and functions. The best part of this are those internal recordings Newton was able to get: The Verge has ingeniously embedded a play button next to the quotes, so you can actually hear Zuckerberg answer the questions in his own voice. This is really an outstanding piece of reporting and an outstanding use of the web, something a traditional newspaper or book could never do.

Related: Casey Newton is starting his own paid, $10/month newsletter called Platformer.

Two Geese, One Untitled Game 9/24/2020

The PlayStation Blog has a post from Nico Disseldorp from House House, developer of the amazingly fun Untitled Goose Game. A new update to the game (out now on all systems!) allows for a local two player game, with two geese wrecking havoc on the poor townsfolk. From the blog post:

After the game’s release last year, we had an opportunity to do some more work on the game. One of our favourite things about the response to the game was how many people were playing together with their friends, watching or taking turns. So we decided that the most exciting thing for us would be to add that second goose into the game.

In this post I want to share with you what it was like to add a two player mode into a game that didn’t originally have one. Both in terms of what kind of work we had to do, and how it turned out once it was finished.

When it came to adding a new goose to the game, there were a few big things we had to do, and lots and lots of small things.

Remember, this update is available for all systems, so grab a friend and a couch and start honking.

Epic, Basecamp, Spotify form the Coalition for App Fairness 9/24/2020

Erin Griffith for the New York Times:

For months, complaints from tech companies against Apple’s and Google’s power have grown louder. […]

Now these app makers are uniting in an unusual show of opposition against Apple and Google and the power they have over their app stores. On Thursday, the smaller companies said they had formed the Coalition for App Fairness, a nonprofit group that plans to push for changes in the app stores and “protect the app economy.” The 13 initial members include Spotify, Basecamp, Epic and Match Group, which has apps like Tinder and Hinge.

“They’ve collectively decided, ‘We’re not alone in this, and maybe what we should do is advocate on behalf of everybody,’” said Sarah Maxwell, a spokeswoman for the group. She added that the new nonprofit would be “a voice for many.”

Amazon announces new indoor security drone from Ring 9/24/2020

TechCrunch:

It’s a drone that flies autonomously throughout your home, to provide you with the view you want of whatever room you want, without having to have video cameras installed in multiple locations throughout your house.

The Always Home Cam is a diminutive drone that can be scheduled to fly preset paths, which you lay out as a user. The drone can’t actually be manually flown, and it begins recording only once its in flight (the camera lens is actually physically blocked while it’s docked) — both features the company says will help ensure it operates strictly with privacy in mind. Always Home Cam is also designed intentionally to produce an audible hum while in use, to alert anyone present that it’s actually moving around and recording.

Whoever created this has never owned a pet.

Matthew Panzarino helpfully tweets a photo that shows the actual scale of this thing. It’s huge.

Disney’s new postponed release schedule, including the MCU 9/24/2020

Variety has a look at Disney’s and other studio’s postponed film release schedules. Now that Tenet has officially bombed at the US box office, the studios are pushing nearly everything back to next year. The MCU is heavily affected due to the way the films are connected, with Black Widow seeing a new May 2021 release (over a year after the original 2020 date). This pushes back the rest of the MCU, as Variety notes:

Due to the interconnected nature of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, “Black Widow’s” move shifted back other installments in the superhero franchise. “Eternals,” a comic book adventure about a super-powered alien race, will debut on Nov. 5, 2021. It was previously dated for Feb. 12, 2021. Chloé Zhao directed the film, which stars Angelina Jolie, Richard Madden, Gemma Chan and Kumail Nanjiani.

Nanjiani endorsed the move on Twitter, saying “Marvel made the right and responsible decision.”

“Nothing is more important than health & lives,” he wrote. “I can’t tell ppl to go to a movie theater until I feel safe going to one.”

After Nolan’s cries to basically release Tenet and let God sort it out, Kumail’s take on prioritizing human life is a refreshing change of pace.

Quibi, the hot new video streaming service no one is talking about, except on tech blogs 9/22/2020

David Pierce writing for the Protocol Source Code newsletter today:

Quibi is on the market, The Wall Street Journal reported. It’s considering all options: an acquisition, a SPAC-enabled public listing, maybe even raising more money. Either way, Quibi’s clearly in trouble. It’s fighting a patent lawsuit, hasn’t had a show that’s really permeated culture, and sure isn’t helped by a pandemic that undermined its business model by keeping everybody at home for the first six months of its existence.

Pierce lists a few potential buyers, like Verizon (“Nobody loves a big-name, flailing company more than Verizon!”) but then reveals this eye-opening fact about Quibi I did not know:

There’s (at least) one significant downside to buying Quibi: It doesn’t own its content. It has seven-year licenses on all its shows and movies, but after two years creators can “reassemble” them and run them elsewhere.

Let’s read that again: Quibi spent $2 billion and owns nothing but a stuqid name and some code. Who invested in this?

Xbox One X sales up over 700%, also pre-orders for the Xbox Series X started today 9/22/2020

Yeah, you can probably see from the headline what happened here, but let’s spell it out: Microsoft made two Xbox consoles with nearly identical names, one is for presale (the Series X) and one has been for sale for a few years (the One X). Twitter user @AndrewAlerts noticed the Amazon sales rank for the One X was up 747% at one point today, the same day the Series X went on pre-order.

I’m guessing Amazon will be processing a lot of Xbox returns in the coming weeks. And/or there will be a lot of sad kids on Christmas. Either way, what a crummy naming scheme Microsoft has chosen for their Xbox line. What’s wrong with Xbox, Xbox 2, Xbox 3, Xbox 4, etc?

Facebook will act if US descends into chaos 9/22/2020

Ars Technica, ‘Facebook vows to restrict users if US election descends into chaos‘:

Facebook has said it will take aggressive and exceptional measures to “restrict the circulation of content” on its platform if November’s presidential election descends into chaos or violent civic unrest.

Nice of Facebook to wait until the chaos erupts before acting. Also, um, 200,000 dead and a president saying he’d create an executive order to prevent his opponent from being president, and the chaos hasn’t started yet? Gonna be an interesting 42 days. Vote.

200,000 coronavirus deaths in America 9/22/2020

Sam Baker for Axios, ‘U.S. reaches 200,000 coronavirus deaths‘:

The coronavirus has now killed 200,000 Americans, according to Johns Hopkins data. […]

And deaths keep coming — we’re averaging roughly 830 per day — even as the country increasingly sees the pandemic as background noise, as live sports resume and schools reopen and interest in news about the pandemic wanes.

Vote.

TikTok and WeChat Aren’t Banned, Yet 9/21/2020

Kim Lyons for The Verge:

President Trump said Saturday he had given a deal between TikTok, Oracle, and Walmart his “blessing,” prompting a one-week delay from the Commerce Department on TikTok’s ban. And a judge in California issued a preliminary injunction blocking the administration’s WeChat ban.

Nintendo 3DS line has been discontinued 9/20/2020

Kotaku:

Today [two days ago], the official Japanese page for the Nintendo 3DS series, which includes the 2DS, announced that the consoles are no longer being manufactured.

The Nintendo DS first released in 2004, into a world without iPhones. The 3DS was released in 2011. That’s really the end of an era.

Growing up is hard to do 9/19/2020

Over the last week I’ve been transferring Pizza Emoji onto a new blogging backend and a new server. You may have seen some errors over the last few days, but I’m glad you didn’t give up on me and the site.

Welcome to the new Pizza Emoji.

I knew Pizza Emoji couldn’t last long with the current setup: a half finished PHP script and no MySQL database to speak of. Technically you can build a site with just PHP, but it’s a struggle to get automated features, like an RSS feed, working. And posting was a mostly manual process. For the last few months I made equal efforts in adding in a SQL backend and also looking for an entirely new, off the shelf blogging platform. I wanted something under active development, affordable for a small, low trafficked website that doesn’t make money, and was lightweight and simple. I found the first two in WordPress, but WordPress is anything if lightweight and simple. Still, it checked a lot of my boxes so I spun up a new server and installed WordPress.

After a few hours of tinkering I discovered I could simply copy and paste a significant amount of HTML and CSS from my old design directly into WordPress’s template system. Even the JavaScript for the mobile menu just worked. And some little headaches, like Favicons, were completely handled by a quick drag and drop into a WordPress window. This really impressed me, and I began to understand how WordPress works. This understanding, as basic as it was, provided me with a lot of reassurance that I’d be able to figure the rest of this stuff out with a little effort. (Learning some basic PHP on the old site also really helped ease the transition.)

Of course, some bits of WordPress didn’t let me do exactly the thing I wanted (at least, not that I could figure out) like sizing my images for the [Features] page, but WordPress lets me add in those kinds of images by switching to an HTML editor and typing the HTML tags in directly.

I also discovered functions.php, which is like a WordPress configuration setting page. This lets me make a lot of changes to how WordPress works, from disabling its built-in emojis to customizing page titles and even getting some basic Google Analytics running (sorry, more on that below).

By Sunday night I decided WordPress would be the new backend for Pizza Emoji. And it helped that I’ve watched Jason Snell at Six Colors and Bruce Schneier at Schneier on Security both very recently make the switch to WordPress — that kind of “I use it myself” endorsement holds a lot of weight with me.

Problems appeared Monday evening as I was trying to move the domain — WordPress’s admin page doesn’t like Cloudflare’s flexible SSL and was stuck in a redirect loop for a few hours. Then I accidentally broke MySQL and had to do some reinstalls. Once I felt the new server and WordPress install were working as intended, I began the long process of manually copying in my old posts into the new backend. This gave me an opportunity to review old posts, fix old links, and take a look at what I thought was working and what could be improved for future blog posts.

It took about a week of part time work to import everything, but we’re now fully running on the new server and WordPress backend. Phew.

Some fun facts for the original Pizza Emoji:
The entire site’s code, images, and first year of posts could fit on a 1.4MB floppy disk.
The “engine” of the site, from the first bracket to the final </HTML>, was 143 lines, including comments (I use a lot of comments) but excluding CSS.
The stylesheet was another 366 lines, or one line (that’s a joke for you web designers).
The original color scheme of the site had three or four colors; the attempt was to make it look like a pizza, with a brown background for the crust, and the words the cheese, naturally. This was an eyesore and I quickly settled on a minimalist three color scheme: white background, black font, and a nice orange for the header and logo.
Pizza Emoji has been on four servers in it’s slightly longer than one year of existence; two of the previous servers were abandoned when I broke some core Debian/PHP/MySQL function. I learn best by breaking things; backup your data!
The logo was created by me in the great Mac app Acorn. The original logo was the HTML tag &#9787; or this:

And as always, thanks for reading.

Tencent gets scrutinized by Trump admin 9/18/2020

Hot on the heels of WeChat’s US ban, the app’s owner Tencent is getting scrutinized by the Trump administration over how they use American’s personal data. Owen S. Good for Polygon:

The Trump administration wants to know more about U.S. video game companies’ involvement with China’s Tencent Holdings, whose relationships with American firms includes full ownership of Riot Games, a significant minority stake in Epic Games, and publishing deals with Activision Blizzard. […]

Tencent is the world’s largest video game vendor, but its U.S. holdings are not limited to just that marketplace. It also has stakes in Reddit, Discord, and Snapchat maker Snap Inc.

While personal data is important, I might be more concerned with the influence many of these games and services have on (young) American’s lives. This, combined with TikTok, potentially gives China a lot of political power in the US. Does that mean we should be banning World of Warcraft? Probably not, but I would definitely support an investigation into these companies’s relationship with Tencent.

TikTok, WeChat downloads banned starting Sunday 9/18/2020

Jason Koebler for Vice with the winning headline of the day, ‘Trump Protects TikTok Users’ Security By Cutting Them Off From Security Updates‘:

The Trump administration announced Friday that WeChat and TikTok will be banned from American app stores on Sunday night, in one of the dumbest possible outcomes of an exhausting, unnecessary saga. 

Banning WeChat will cut people off from their loved ones in China, a particularly cruel move during a pandemic that all but prevents international travel. TikTok users, meanwhile, will continue to be able to use the app until November 12, but the app will be removed from the Google Play Store and Apple App Store, meaning new users will be unable to download the app, and TikTok parent company ByteDance will be unable to issue patches or updates to the app. 

Meanwhile, TikTok can continue to operate into November while Oracle works out their deal with ByteDance, made possible by the corruption of the Trump Administration, but the apps will be removed from download on Sunday. TechCrunch:

The U.S. Commerce Department has now announced the details of how it will enforce the shutdown of TikTok and WeChat in the country, after announcing in August plans to do so by September 20 over national security concerns. The news is structured along two dates, September 20 and November 12. Both apps and their app updates will no longer be distributed in U.S. app stores as of September 20. But TikTok  specifically gets an extension on how it operates until November 12.

That not only keeps it up until after the November 3 U.S. election, but leaves the door open for it to complete a complicated deal with Oracle and partners to take control of its U.S. operations without an interruption in service.

But while TikTok can continue to work past the Sunday, WeChat is forbidden from “any provision of internet hosting services enabling the functioning or optimization.” Basically, firewalled.

If you think that doesn’t sound fair at all, let me refer you to my earlier statement: corruption.