by Brandon Butler
While Mom-and-Pop shops fear they’ll be victims of App Tracking Transparency, they ignore the fact their customers have been victims of online tracking for decades 4/10/2021

Christopher Mims for The Wall Street Journal:

If Apple is King Kong and Facebook is Godzilla, mom-and-pop online merchants are worried they’re the screaming, scattering citizens who are about to get stomped as these two giants battle it out.

What’s at issue is a seemingly small change to the iPhone and iPad operating system that upends the past decade of the online ad industry, by prompting users to choose whether or not they’d like to be tracked by the apps they use. […]

“I’m not in the camp that privacy doesn’t matter, but data has been used forever in order to personalize advertising,” says John Merris, CEO of Solo Stove, a startup that sells backyard fire pits online. “The question is, where is the right place to draw the line? And why is Apple now the decider?”

That’s the thing, John. Apple isn’t the decider. And neither are you, nor Facebook. It’s the consumers who finally get to choose how their data is used to track them. Simply because you’ve been using my data without my permission to track and target me with advertising for “forever” doesn’t make it any more right. Using the argument of “we’ve always done things this way” puts us back in a pretty dark era of dueling with pistols to settle disagreements.

Apple isn’t entirely deaf to advertisers’ concerns. “We firmly support advertising, we simply believe users should have the choice over the data that is being collected about them and how it’s used,” says an Apple spokesman. “Apps and advertisers can continue to track users across apps and websites as before — App Tracking Transparency in iOS 14 simply requires that they ask for users’ permission before sharing their data with other companies,” he adds.

So if a user wants to give their data to John Merris and his stove company, users can still do exactly that. And I’m certain many, many users would be happy to know their browsing history, personal interests, previous purchases (both online and off), and contact lists are in the safe and responsible hands of Mr. Merris in exchange for personalized ads about… stoves… Good luck with that, John.

We, the consumer — and ironically this joker’s customers — have been the victims of online tracking and data theft for decades. I’m certain I never gave John Merris or Facebook permission to grow their businesses on the back of my personal data. Small businesses survived for centuries with word of mouth, good customer service, and print and television ads that didn’t track their readers and viewers.

So why do these small businesses suddenly believe they need to know my browsing history to sell me a stove? Facebook. Facebook is like the drug dealer giving out free samples at the PTA meeting, and before you know it, you’re hooked. Hooked on addictive data about every customer, every sale, every click. And now that consumers are finally getting back some control of our data, business owners are feeling the shakes. It’ll pass and their business will be fine, and they’ll realize this, too, once that poison Facebook has been feeding them is out of their system.

A prehistoric nanosecond 4/10/2021

Cody Cassidy for Wired:

The day the Chicxulub asteroid slammed into what is now a small town on Mexico’s Yucatán peninsula that bears its name is the most consequential moment in the history of life on our planet. In a prehistoric nanosecond, the reign of the dinosaurs ended and the rise of mammals began. Not only did the impact exterminate every dinosaur save for a few ground-nesting birds, it killed every land mammal larger than a raccoon. In a flash, Earth began one of the most apocalyptical periods in its history. Could you survive it? Maybe.

The destruction Cassidy describes in this story is extraordinary. It’s incredible to think this single asteroid impact is why I’m here writing this and you’re here reading it.

Yahoo! Answers is shutting down, won’t be archived, and that’s okay 4/8/2021

Nick Statt for The Verge:

Yahoo Answers, one of the longest-running and most storied web Q&A platforms in the history of the internet, is shutting down on May 4th. That’s the day the Yahoo Answers website will start redirecting to the Yahoo homepage, and all of the platform’s archives will apparently cease to exist. The platform has been operating since 2005.

This is probably one of the smartest things Verizon has ever done. Yahoo! Answer doesn’t need to continue to exist and it doesn’t need to be saved. There is no value to the future of humanity in that dumpster fire. Turn it off, format the hard drives, and let’s try to forget that part of the internet ever happened.

Disney apparently shows off a working lightsaber but won’t reveal it to the public 4/8/2021

Rachel Leishman for Collider:

At an “A Special Look Inside Disney Parks” press conference, Disney has reportedly shown off a working lightsaber. While Disney will supposedly not be showing off photos or videos of the new device, Josh D’Amaro, Chairman of Disney Parks, Experiences and Products is said to have pulled the lightsaber out of small box and stated “it’s real.”

The patents floating around social media today are from several years back. As far as I can determine, only D’Amaro, the Imagineering team that built this, and whoever was at the press conference today are the only people who have actually seen this laser sword. There are no photos or videos — yet — of this thing. But there are surely some people working in Photoshop right now to earn those sweet, sweet internet points.

Assemble June 4th at Avengers Campus 4/8/2021

From the Disney Parks Blog:

Super Heroes Assemble! As we’ve all been anticipating, I’m pleased to share that Avengers Campus – an entirely new land dedicated to discovering, recruiting and training the next generation of Super Heroes – will open June 4, 2021 at the Disneyland Resort!

At this fully immersive land inside Disney California Adventure park, you will be invited to team up with the Avengers and their allies and live out your Super Hero dreams. Avengers Campus is comprised of several heroic locations, each hosted by a different Avenger to share their unique powers, technology and knowledge with recruits.

Planning my visit for February.

Facebook won’t warn their users about the massive data breach 4/8/2021

Elizabeth Culliford for Reuters:

Facebook Inc did not notify the more than 530 million users whose details were obtained through the misuse of a feature before 2019 and recently made public in a database, and does not currently have plans to do so, a company spokesman said on Wednesday.

But Pizza Emoji will tell you about it. If you want to check if your data was exposed in the breach, you can search

The next two years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe 4/6/2021

Awesome MCU Title

After a year-plus delay due to a global pandemic, Black Widow is just three months from releasing in theaters (and Disney+!) and the theatrical start of the Marvel Cinematic Universe’s Phase 4 will finally begin. So let’s take a look at the next two years of the MCU, and see just what the greatest film franchise on the planet has in store for us:

Let’s take a look at the next two years of the MCU, and see just what the greatest film franchise on the planet has in store for us.

Scarlett Johansson reprises her role (for the final time?) as Natasha Romanoff in Black Widow. Black Widow takes place in the period between Civil War and Infinity War as Natasha returns home and confronts her history. Robert Downey Jr. also appears as Iron Man from previous MCU films, so expect some significant flashbacks. And MCU newcomer Florence Pugh stars as Yelena Belova, another Black Widow who will show up in some future Disney+ series later this year.

Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings stars Simu Liu in Marvel’s first Asian lead role exploring the clandestine Ten Rings organization, which has been referenced as far back as the first Iron Man film. Shang-Chi is a skilled martial artist with a difficult past. Tony Leung is The Mandarin, the leader of the Ten Rings. You might recognize the name of The Mandarin from Iron Man 3, in which Ben Kingsley played an actor playing the roll of The Mandarin, but now we’re going to meet the real deal.

The Eternals are an immortal alien race created by the Celestials who secretly live on Earth. They fight the Deviants, both of whom are offshoots of the process that created life on Earth (and Thanos was a hybrid created by both races). The Eternals film will be a massive origin story of not just an entire new race of beings but of individual characters played by big names like Angelina Jolie, Salma Hayek, Kumail Nanjiani, and Kit Harington. Also, the score is being composed by Ramin Djawadi, which only feels right for a movie of this scale.

Spider-Man: No Way Home will wrap up the first year of Phase 4, which will see an entirely new type of Spider-Man film due to Far From Home‘s shocking mid-credits scene. Tom Holland, Zendaya, and Jacob Batalon return as Peter Parker, MJ, and Ned Leeds, with Benedict Cumberbatch reprising his role as Doctor Strange, as well as (according to rumors) Alfred Molina and Jamie Foxx as Doc Ock and Electro, respectively, reprising their roles from the original Toby McGuire Spider-Man and Andrew Garfield Amazing Spider-Man film series. Rumors also report that the original Spider-Men will make appearances, but I am highly suspect of these rumors. Similar to WandaVision‘s Quicksilver cameo recasting and J. K. Simmons’s cameo as J. Jonah Jameson in Far From Home, I suspect these villains are being recast more as fan-service than as a merging of the previous Spider-films. Doctor Strange’s appearance (and the upcoming Multiverse of Madness film) is likely lending credence to the rumors. And personally? I don’t want to see them appear, as I feel it dilutes the quality of the Spider-Man films currently in the MCU and gives Sony’s bad Spider-Man films more credit than they deserve.

The Spider-Man hype this year is huge, and rightly so.

The Spider-Man hype this year is huge, and rightly so. There’s also discussion of a fourth Spidey film in the MCU as Peter Parker starts college (rumors say it’s a possible trilogy, taking us well into 2027 or beyond with the Marvel Cinematic Universe), and don’t forget Tom Holland is due to reprise Spidey in a major MCU Avengers-style film within the next few years (I have a theory on this, but keep reading).

So that’s four big MCU films finally getting released after a two year drought of Marvel cinema, but we’re not done yet.

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness releases in theaters in March 2022, just three months after No Way Home‘s release. In addition to Comberbatch, the cast includes the Scarlet Witch herself straight out of Westview, Elizabeth Olsen, and newcomer Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez, an extremely powerful superhero from Utopian Parallel, a reality out of time. America has the unique ability to punch star-shaped holes between realities and travel the multiverses. I’m beginning to detect a theme here.

Thor: Love and Thunder reunits Taika Waititi with the MCU (after taking a fun little detour to a galaxy far, far away) and reunites Chris Hemsworth’s Thor with Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster (who becomes the Goddess of Thunder, but this isn’t a spoiler, it’ll literally be the plot of the film as revealed at Comic-Con 2019). Also joining Thor (and reprising their roles) are the Gardians of the Galaxy, Tessa Thompson as Valkyrie, and Waititi as Korg. Good old, Korg. There are a lot of big names in this one, but don’t expect to see Zoe Saldana as Gamora just yet — this is Thor’s film, and the search for Gamora will likely be put on hold until the Gardians get their Vol. 3. There are enough big names, big heroes, and big egos in Thor 4 to make it feel like a mini-Avengers in space.

Thor: Love and Thunder is also the conclusion of Phase 4 of the MCU.

Next summer Ryan Coogler will take us back to Wakanda in Black Panther II, which will kick of Phase 5. With the role of T’Challa not being recast following the death of Chadwick Boseman, the film will explore other characters within Wakanda and — likely — pass the mantel of the Black Panther to Shuri. Filming begins this summer, and I’m honestly amazed they can begin filming and a year later have a completed movie.

Captain Marvel 2 will see release in November of next year, with Brie Larson returning as Carol Danvers, Teyonah Parris as Monica Rambeau (from WandaVision) and Iman Vellani reprising her role as Kamala Khan / Ms. Marvel from the Disney+ series Ms. Marvel — more on that in a second!

Lastly, Ant-Man and the Wasp: Quantumania has a vague 2022 planned release date, but with the year pretty full, I wouldn’t be surprised to see the film slip to early 2023. Paul Rudd and Evangeline Lilly are both returning as the titles characters, with Jonathan Majors joining the MCU as Kang the Conqueror!

James Gunn returns to complete his trilogy on Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 3 in 2023. The core cast — Saldana included — is expected to return, with Hemsworth expressing interest in returning as Thor. Yes, please!

Blade staring Mahershala Ali is also joining the MCU and the film is now in development.

Finally, Jon Watts — director of the three MCU Spidey films — will be directing the MCU’s Fantastic Four. No cast or release date has been announced, but 2023 sounds like a reasonable timetable for release. Now, remember how I mentioned that Tom Holland is due to join a non-Spidey MCU film within the next couple of years? And how I just wrote that Watts was director of all three previous Spider-Man films set in the MCU? Marvel hasn’t announced anything yet, but the pairing seems obvious. Putting Spidey in Fantastic Four gives Marvel’s First Family a huge introduction and, maybe most importantly, sets it apart from previous FF films that have not been super successful (or good). Telling a story with the Fantastic Four and Spider-Man is something never before seen on the big screen, and possibilities for putting a paper bag over Tom Holland’s head are endless.

Putting Spidey in Fantastic Four gives Marvel’s First Family a huge introduction and sets it apart from previous FF films.

That’s every theatrical release for the next two-ish years for the MCU that has been announced by Disney. But the MCU has expanded beyond the cinema: Disney+ is joining the fray and providing home audiences with a new episode of something almost every day of the year. You already know WandaVision and we’re just getting started with The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, but let’s recap:

WandaVision officially kicked off Phase 4, and although it wasn’t the start Marvel intended, it was a huge weekly event for the MCU and Disney+. WandaVision was also intended to lead directly into Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness, but it appears Wanda will be spending a little longer in her log cabin of seclusion than was intended — and viewers will be waiting a full year longer for the continuation of Wanda’s story in theaters.

The next Disney+ series to air, The Falcon and the Winter Soldier, was intended to be the first MCU series on Disney+, but delays in filming due to the pandemic pushed the series back to mid-March. As the series has just begun airing, I don’t want to say anything except those first ten minutes of the first episode were wow. If that’s what we can expect from the future of the MCU on Disney+, I’m never canceling my subscription.

Loki stars Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson and takes place in an alternate timeline Loki creates after stealing the Tesseract during the time traveling antics of Avengers: Endgame. Loki premiers this June with a second season currently in development.

What If…? is a multi-season animated anthology series that takes events from the films and reimagines them in a whole new way. Many of your favorite MCU stars reprise their roles for the series, including Hayley Atwell, Chadwick Boseman, Josh Brolin, Karen Gillan, Jeff Goldblum, Chris Hemsworth, Samuel L. Jackson, Natalie Portman, Michael Rooker, Paul Rudd, Mark Ruffalo, and Taika Waititi, to name a few. Notably absent are the voices behind Tony Stark, Steve Rogers, Stephen Strange, Carol Danvers, and Howard the Duck, who are also expected to feature in the series (sadly, no Peter Parker/Spider-Verse, I know, right?). While What If…? takes place in the MCU, the events of the series aren’t expected to impact the continuity of the films and other television series. A second season is also in development.

Later this year we’ll meet Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who writes Captain Marvel fan fiction and gains incredible shape-shifting powers to become Ms. Marvel. Newcomer Iman Vellani is set to star in the series, which will setup Captain Marvel 2 where Vellani will reprise her role next year.

Later this year we’ll meet Kamala Khan, a 16-year-old Pakistani girl who writes Captain Marvel fan fiction and gains incredible shape-shifting powers to become Ms. Marvel.

Jeremy Renner returns as Hawkeye, reprising his role from way back in the original Thor (and a few more recent MCU films) and introduces Hailee Steinfeld as Kate Bishop. The Hawkeye series will show us more of Ronin, and guest star Florence Pugh as Yelena Belova (reprising her role from the Black Widow film). As a fan of Kate Bishop from the comics and Hailee Steinfeld from everything she does, I’m super excited to see this new Hawkeye pick up the bow. Hawkeye also introduces another new superhero: Maya Lopez / Echo. Echo is a deaf Native American who can perfectly copy of movements of others (and in the comics briefly maintained the identify of Ronin). Disney has announced Echo’s own series is in development for Disney+.

Hawkeye also concludes Phase 4 on Disney+’s streaming series. The next year’s worth of shows are currently in early development or just beginning filming, and we don’t have a lot of information about them yet, but here’s what we do know:

Oscar Isaac will star as Marc Spector in Moon Knight. Moon Knight is a vigilante who suffers from dissociative identity disorder, with each identity being a unique character. Th backdrop of the series is Egyptian iconography and has a Raiders of the Lost Arc vibe. Moon Knight should premier in early 2022, but likely sometime after Thor hits theaters (otherwise we’ll have overlapping phases which could tear apart the multiverse or just be really confusing to audiences).

She-Hulk stars Tatiana Maslany as Bruce Banner’s cousin Jennifer Walters, who gains Hulk-like strength after receiving a blood transfusion from Bruce. Mark Ruffalo will reprise his role as The Hulk, and Tim Roth reprises his role as Abomination from 2008’s The Incredible Hulk. Walters is a lawyer specializing in superhero legal matters, leading to Producer Kevin Feige teasing, “You never know what Marvel character is going to pop up from episode to episode.” Could this be the series to relaunch Daredevil in the MCU? Pure speculation on my part but it’s a shame the Defenders have been sidelined on Netflix.

The Guardians of the Galaxy Holiday Special, written and directed by James Gunn, is a one episode “television special” that will take place between the events of Guardians Part II and Guardians Part III and is set to premiere in late 2022 on Disney+. There’s also a series of short films staring Baby Groot coming soon titled, of course, I am Groot.

Also newly announced for Disney+ is Secret Invasion staring Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, which will lead into future MCU films. Ironheart will star Dominique Thorne as Riri Williams, a character created by Miles Morales creator Brian Michael Bendis just before he left Marvel Comics for DC. And Armor Wars will star Don Cheadle as James Rhodes / War Machine and will explore Tony Stark’s biggest fears when his tech falls into enemy hands. Finally, an untitled Wakanda series is in the early stages of development. I would expect some of these series released mid or late 2022 and even into 2023.

Lastly, Disney+ has a few behind-the-scenes series available to the MCU obsessed: Marvel Studios: Legends recaps moments with different characters across the films and television episodes of the MCU. New episodes usually premier just prior to the release of a new series or film, beginning with Wanda Maximoff and The Vision back in January of 2021. Marvel Studios: Assembled is a behind the scenes documentary series with cast of crew of the shows and films. WandaVision is out now with new episodes planned for release shortly after a film or the final episode of a series has been released.

We’re getting some huge series on Disney+ and a massive set of movies over the next two years, and I’m super excited for what Marvel and Disney have planned for the MCU.

That is the MCU over the next two years as it stands in April 2021. Remember that Phase 4 was originally set to end in the Fall of this year and we’re only now just getting started. We’re getting some huge series on Disney+ and a massive set of movies over the next two years culminating with the first previously-owned FOX property finally entering the MCU, Marvel’s First Family, the Fantastic Four. I’m super excited for what Marvel and Disney have planned for the MCU. I’m personally excited for Doctor Strange, Captain Marvel 2, the Ms. Marvel series, the Hawkeye series, and of course, anything and everything Spidey.

Today I received my first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine, and I feel great. I’m really hopeful this entire ordeal is behind us, and within a few months we’ll all be back in theaters cheering on Black Widow this summer and Spidey this Christmas. I’m ready for it.

Biden wants everyone in America to have broadband access and lower bills in a decade 4/1/2021

Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica:

President Biden’s plan to connect all Americans with high-speed broadband includes proposals to boost competition, build more publicly owned networks, lower prices, and prioritize “future-proof” networks instead of ones that would quickly become outdated. In other words, the plan includes some of the broadband industry’s least-favorite ideas and is sure to meet fierce resistance from cable and telecom lobby groups and Republicans.

Biden’s $100 billion broadband proposal is part of the American Jobs Plan described by the White House in a fact sheet released today. The broadband details released so far are a bit vague, and the plan could be changed in Congress, but there’s a lot to like for Internet users.

Biden’s entire American Jobs Plan is good. Definitely read the fact sheet for yourself.

My sister moved recently and didn’t want to deal with Comcast for service and asked if there was anyone else she could sign up with, and I had to tell her no, because the US has allowed the industry to monopolise so severely that for many people, there is no competition in their area. The day Comcast has to actually start providing decent customer service is the day they go out of business.

Brodkin is already reporting that the Cable lobby says it hates Biden plan to expand broadband and lower prices. Comcast charges $50/month for 20 Mbps down and 2 Mbps up.

Apple is now rejecting apps using Fingerprinting to track you 4/1/2021

John Koetsier for Forbes:

Apple is rejecting updates to apps that conflict with its new privacy policies in iOS 14, signaling that it is now getting serious about privacy enforcement. And, likely, that iOS 14.5 is close to being released, since that’s the version of iOS 14 in which Apple will require apps that want to track users to display the App Tracking Transparency prompt and get user permission. […]

Adjust [the creepy company you’ve never heard of that makes the tracking software -B.B.] says that it is trusted by “over 50,000 apps” on its website, and according to AppFigures, 18% of the apps on the App Store and 11% of the apps on Google Play that use attribution providers use Adjust.

And now zero percent of apps on the App Store use Adjust, and good riddance.

Device fingerprinting, sometimes called probabilistic attribution, uses a large amount of data about a device to identify it. A measurement company might, for instance, collect data on software version, time since last system update, time since last restart, location, time zone, and more: even things like battery status, charging level, and amount of disk space.

One down, but this is just endless wack-a-mole until Congress wakes up.

The Verge reminds Facebook to pay their creators 3/31/2021

Ashley Carman for The Verge:

But these creators say Facebook only cares about advertisers, leaving them with no one to turn to when their payments are unexpectedly short. They reached out for help, but the company gave them no feedback on what could be wrong.

After The Verge reached out for comment, however, Facebook said it “resolved a technical issue that prevented a small number of video creators on Facebook from receiving their full in-stream ads payouts.”

The Verge says Facebook payments to creators were short by thousands of dollars. This isn’t a rounding error or a bit of forgetfulness, Facebook sent them a fraction of what was owed and then ignored them when they contacted the company. That’s just downright hostile. Good on Ashley Carman for helping these creators when Facebook ghosted them.

Siri’s vocal cord replacement surgery 3/31/2021

Matthew Panzarino for TechCrunch:

Apple is adding two new voices to Siri’s English offerings, and eliminating the default ‘female voice’ selection in the latest beta version of iOS. This means that every person setting up Siri will choose a voice for themselves and it will no longer default to the voice assistant being female, a topic that has come up quite a bit with regards to bias in voice interfaces over the past few years.

The beta version should be live now and available to program participants.

iOS 14.5 is shaping up to be a big update. I like Apple’s new strategy of updating iOS throughout the year with new features.

Volkswagen rebrands to Voltswagen a little earlier than planned 3/30/2021

Michael Wayland for CNBC:

Volkswagen accidentally posted a press release on its website a month early on Monday announcing a new name for its U.S. operations, Voltswagen of America, emphasizing the German automaker’s electric vehicle efforts.

Voltswagen/Volkswagen has confirmed the name change — I’m certain the marketing department was deep into a big style name reveal event, so this leak has got to be incredibly disappointing for them. But does VW currently sell any electric vehicles? I can’t think of a single one.

It was all a fucking joke. And to think I took pity on their marketing team. Then again, the people at Volkswagen are experts at lying. The company claims this is an April fools stunt, but A) it’s not April 1st for another two days and B) they went on record with reporters stating it was a real thing they were doing. The Verge staff are pissed that VW lied to them and wasted their time, and I don’t blame them.

Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are super effective at preventing COVID-19 3/30/2021

Marisa Fernandez for Axios:

People who are fully vaccinated with the mRNA vaccines from Pfizer or Moderna are 90% less likely to get infected with COVID-19, according to a CDC study that tested nearly 4,000 health care workers and other essential workers for the virus weekly.

Why it matters: The data show how well the vaccine performs in non-clinical trial settings. During the mRNA clinical trials for both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, effectiveness from full vaccination was about 95%.

California is allowing all residents to get poked in the arm starting April 15th, and I’m as giddy for this as I am every September for a new iPhone.

Apple announces WWDC21 3/30/2021

Apple has announced WWDC21 for June 7th through the 11th. The conference will be online-only again this year — a good call — with the tagline “Glow and Behold”. iOS 15 and macOS 12, among others, are expected to be announced.

The mystery of Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room’s Rosita 3/26/2021

On Twitter, @cabel asks:

Friends… have we solved a theme park mystery? Do we now know What Happened To Rosita?

Ok, let me back up.

In Walt Disney’s Enchanted Tiki Room, José drops this infamous line, and it has haunted me, and many others, forever.

Cabel includes a clip of the introduction to the song “Let’s All Sing Like the Birdies Sing”, when Pierre is introducing the ladies above the fountain, and names each one. Then José makes a comment about Rosita:

Let’s be honest. This “joke” makes no sense. After naming a bunch of fancy birds, José blurts out “I wonder what happened to Rosita?”

I often wondered if learning the meaning of the joke would make me cringe (a bit like José’s accent). It didn’t add up. It was clearly SOMETHING.

I think he solved the mystery, but it’s bittersweet.

Microsoft isn’t good with communities, and Discord could be their next victim 3/26/2021

Tom Warren for The Verge:

Microsoft is reportedly having discussions with Discord to buy the communications app. The Wall Street Journal reports that Microsoft is in “exclusive talks” to acquire Discord, and a deal could close next month. It’s the latest acquisition target for Microsoft, after the company failed to acquire TikTok and Pinterest recently. While all three are very different services, they share one common element: community.

Microsoft is willing to spend big on these services because, outside of Xbox, it doesn’t have a huge consumer-facing community like rivals Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Apple do. Microsoft has watched Google acquire YouTube and turn it into the world’s biggest video platform, Amazon buy Twitch and dominate streaming, Facebook acquire both Instagram and WhatsApp to control the way millions communicate and socialize online, and Apple rule mobile with its App Store.

Discord gives Microsoft access to a growing list of more than 140 million monthly active users that includes thousands of top YouTubers, creators, and gamers. Microsoft wants its own community.

I would be sad to see any big tech company buy Discord, but especially sad to see Microsoft do it. They don’t seem to manage “communities” well — and they do own several communities. Over the last decade they’ve acquired Skype, Mojang (the company that created Minecraft), LinkedIn, and GitHub. And don’t forget Mixer, which Microsoft recently shut down and then jumped in bed with Facebook for game streaming.

Microsoft also, of course, has their Xbox platform — and how they’ve never managed to expand the Xbox brand into anything beyond a console and a monthly subscription to connect to the internet is something that I’ll never understand.

I hope Jason Citron can look past that massive dumptruck of cash ($10,000,000,000!) and see that he has a powerful platform. And people with powerful platforms have a chance to shape the future of the world. By selling Discord, Citron becomes just another cog in the machine at Microsoft. He might be wealthy but he doesn’t control the system — and if you aren’t in control, you don’t have influence (compare and contrast Kevin Systrom to Mark Zuckerberg). Of course, not all people want that kind of power — nor should they have it — so could you blame him for taking the cash and spending the next seventy years lounging on a white sandy beach without a care in the world?

Motherboard documents Amazon delivery drivers’ pee bottles 3/25/2021

After @Amazonnews, the company’s official Twitter news account, tweeted, “You don’t really believe the peeing in bottles thing, do you? If that were true, nobody would work for us,” Lauren Kaori Gurley for Motherboard wrote about the pee bottles:

But the fact that Amazon delivery drivers pee in bottles and coffee cups in their vans is not invented. It has been well-documented, and is a huge talking point among many delivery drivers. It is one of the most universal concerns voiced by the many Amazon delivery drivers around the country that Motherboard has interviewed. Delivery workers, who drive Amazon emblazoned vans, often deliver up to 300 packages a day on a 10 hour shift. If they take too long, they can be written up and fired. So spending time locating and using a bathroom is not always an option.

For the record, I believe “the peeing in bottles thing” and I’d gladly wait an extra day or two for my packages if it means Amazon drivers get to stop at a restroom a few times a day.

NFTs are a massively dumb way to waste energy 3/25/2021

As seen on Daring Fireball, Seth Godin with ‘NFTs are a dangerous trap‘:

The rest of us are going to pay for NFTs for a very long time. They use an astonishing amount of electricity to create and trade. Together, they are already using more than is consumed by some states in the US. Imagine building a giant new power plant just to make Christie’s or the Basel Art Fair function. And the amount of power wasted will go up commensurate with their popularity and value. And keep going up. The details are here. The short version is that for the foreseeable future, the method that’s used to verify the blockchain and to create new digital coins is deliberately energy-intensive and inefficient. That’s on purpose. And as they get more valuable, the energy used will go up, not down.

It’s an ongoing waste that creates little in ongoing value and gets less efficient and more expensive as time goes on. For most technological innovations the opposite is true.

NFTs are the dumbest thing since the CueCat. Except NFTs — like all blockchain based digital currency — have the potential to do real damage to the planet as their energy use skyrockets. All so some rich asshole can say he owns a GIF, when in reality he owns a line on a blockchain ledger somewhere. We can only hope that, due to the high barrier of entry for NFTs, the fad will burn out before the energy grid does.

Arizona bill to regulate app stores goes poof 3/25/2021

Nick Statt for The Verge:

The Arizona State Senate was scheduled to vote on an unprecedented and controversial bill Wednesday that would have imposed far-reaching changes on how Apple and Google operate their respective mobile app stores, specifically by allowing alternative in-app payment systems. But the vote never happened, having been passed over on the schedule without explanation. The Verge watched every other bill on the schedule be debated and voted on over the senate’s live stream, but Arizona HB2005, listed first on the agenda, never came up. […]

“The big show turned out to be a no show. The bill was killed in mid-air while on the agenda with a backroom deal. Apple has hired the governor’s former chief of staff, and word is that he brokered a deal to prevent this from even being heard,” said Basecamp co-founder David Heinemeier Hansson, a fierce Apple critic who submitted testimony in support of HB2005, on Twitter this afternoon.

Apple declined to comment.

Keep your friends close and your enemies closer?

Addicted to misinformation 3/24/2021

Karen Hao for the MIT Technology Review, ‘How Facebook got addicted to spreading misinformation‘:

By the time thousands of rioters stormed the US Capitol in January, organized in part on Facebook and fueled by the lies about a stolen election that had fanned out across the platform, it was clear from my conversations that the Responsible AI team had failed to make headway against misinformation and hate speech because it had never made those problems its main focus. More important, I realized, if it tried to, it would be set up for failure.

The reason is simple. Everything the company does and chooses not to do flows from a single motivation: Zuckerberg’s relentless desire for growth. Quiñonero’s AI expertise supercharged that growth. His team got pigeonholed into targeting AI bias, as I learned in my reporting, because preventing such bias helps the company avoid proposed regulation that might, if passed, hamper that growth. Facebook leadership has also repeatedly weakened or halted many initiatives meant to clean up misinformation on the platform because doing so would undermine that growth.

In other words, the Responsible AI team’s work—whatever its merits on the specific problem of tackling AI bias—is essentially irrelevant to fixing the bigger problems of misinformation, extremism, and political polarization. And it’s all of us who pay the price.

“When you’re in the business of maximizing engagement, you’re not interested in truth. You’re not interested in harm, divisiveness, conspiracy. In fact, those are your friends,” says Hany Farid, a professor at the University of California, Berkeley who collaborates with Facebook to understand image- and video-based misinformation on the platform.

Hao’s editor, Gideon Lichfield, shared on Twitter some of the PR stunts Facebook (and other companies) use to push back on articles like these.

It’s not surprising Facebook wants to push back on these types of stories, but it also almost doesn’t matter. The damning stories keep coming, but Facebook continues to thrive.

Hao’s article is also the story of how we got addicted to Facebook, and why we keep coming back to it as a society. But Facebook isn’t an essential system; for most of us, it’s a daily habit that we mindlessly tap on when we’re bored. This is the easiest problem to solve: delete Facebook and once enough people do, the company — and Zuckerberg — go away.

Facebook somehow justifies death threats of public figures 3/24/2021

Alex Hern for The Guardian with the headline, ‘Facebook guidelines allow users to call for death of public figures‘:

Facebook’s bullying and harassment policy explicitly allows for “public figures” to be targeted in ways otherwise banned on the site, including “calls for [their] death”, according to a tranche of internal moderator guidelines leaked to the Guardian.

Public figures are defined by Facebook to include people whose claim to fame may be simply a large social media following or infrequent coverage in local newspapers.

They are considered to be permissible targets for certain types of abuse “because we want to allow discussion, which often includes critical commentary of people who are featured in the news”, Facebook explains to its moderators.

When your company has to justify death threats on it’s social media platform as “critical commentary” you really need to step back and re-evaluate your company’s mission and ethics, and then find a new job.

The MCU continues with Black Widow on July 9th in theaters and Disney+ 3/23/2021

Disney has announced that the theatrical start of the MCU’s Phase 4 will begin on July 9th, 2021 with the release of Black Widow in theaters and on Disney+ Premier Access for a $30 rental fee.

I’ve yet to be tempted to pay that $30 for a Premier Access film on Disney Plus, but let’s be honest: I’m paying that to see Black Widow. Spider-Man: Far From Home was released July 2nd, 2019, putting a two year gap between theatrical MCU releases. Thankfully we’ve had WandaVision and The Falcon and the Winter Solder to ease the withdrawals, but I am itching for a two-hour, three-act, big screen spectacle, and Scarlett Johansson will deliver in Black Widow.

While the new July 2nd release date for Black Widow pushes Shang-Chi and the Legend of the Ten Rings back to September 3rd (and presumably a theater-only release unless things with the pandemic go really off the rails) it shouldn’t affect Eternals or Spider-Man: No Way Home‘s November and December releases.

While I’m disappointed to hear Black Widow has been delayed again and we’ll now have to wait another two months for the film, I’m happy to see that Disney is playing it safe and giving us a Disney+ same day option. I’ll gladly pay a premium movie ticket price for the comfort of watching — and rewatching — from my couch.

Variety has more information on Disney’s other upcoming films, including from Pixar and 21st Century.

Stephen Colbert explains the MCU licensing situation 3/23/2021

Last night on A Late Show with Stephen Colbert, the CBS talk show host spent a few minutes explaining the complex licensing situation of the Marvel Cinematic Universe to DC supervillain Deathstroke during the end credits scene of Justice League. I sincerely enjoyed the visual aid.

Ars Technica calls out AT&T for lying about California’s net neutrality law 3/19/2021

Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica:

AT&T lied about California’s net neutrality law yesterday when it claimed the law requires AT&T to stop providing “free data” to mobile customers.

In reality, the California law allows AT&T to continue zero-rating HBO Max, its own video service, as long as it exempts all competing video services from data caps without charging the other video providers. But instead of zero-rating all video without collecting payments from its competitors in the online-video business, AT&T decided it would rather not exempt anything at all.

AT&T has the right to make their entire mobile service free. What they can’t do is favor their own apps or services over a competitor’s. It’s not at all surprising they flat out lied; they’ve been throwing a tantrum for weeks over California’s net neutrality law now that they’ve lost their lawsuit. Of course, if AT&T spent half as much time improving their service as they do lying about net neutrality their subscribers might actually be able to watch videos.

Startup wants to measure your blood pressure with just your smartphone 3/18/2021

Natasha Mascarenhas for TechCrunch:

Riva Health, founded by scientist Tuhin Sinha and Siri co-founder Dag Kittlaus, wants to help people measure their blood pressure in a clinically-approved way. Blood pressure can help indicate at-risk patients before they are actually at risk, showing early signs of heart disease. And while other hardware solutions on the market promise the same end-goal, Riva wants to be a purely software solution that integrates with hardware that it thinks its end-user has anyways: their smartphone. […]

To use Riva, all a person needs to do is open the app on their phone and tap ‘Go’, which triggers the camera flash on the back of the phone. The app will then guide the user to place their finger over the right camera, and help them adjust positioning until it locks into place. After that, Riva will use the light to track blood pressure change and create a rendering of it on screen.

I am highly skeptical of any camera and flashlight scan to determine health, but high blood pressure is the silent killer for good reason. If Riva has a reliable way to determine hypertension in an app, it could raise awareness and save lives.

Disneyland re-opens on April 30th 3/17/2021

After more than a year of being closed due to the pandemic, Disneyland will re-open on April 30th, 2021. From the official Disney Parks Blog:

From surprise appearances along Main Street, U.S.A., and Pixar Pier to playful interactions, characters from favorite Disney stories will entertain and delight. Beloved characters will pop up in new ways and sometimes in unexpected places as they remain mindful of physical distancing. Certain experiences that draw large group gatherings – such as parades and nighttime spectaculars – will return at a later date.

Because theme park capacity will be significantly limited to comply with governmental requirements and promote physical distancing, the Disneyland Resort will manage attendance through a new theme park reservation system that requires all guests to obtain a reservation for park entry in advance. To enter a park, both a park reservation and valid admission for the same park on the same date are required for guests ages 3 and up. Theme park reservations will be limited and subject to availability and, until further notice, only California residents may visit the parks in line with current state guidelines. More details about this new reservation system will be available soon.

This will be a very different Disneyland experience. I’m eager to return once the pandemic is fully under control and masks are no longer required and it’s safe to watch fireworks and parades near other humans. If you visit, please be safe and responsible. COVID-19 is still a very real and deadly virus.

Apple allows Russian Government to pre-install apps on iPhones 3/16/2021

Apple will comply with a new law in Russia beginning next month that requires manufactorers to pre-install government approved apps on devices sold in the country.

The apps will be installed during the setup process, with the list of approved apps consisting of things like browsers, email, messaging, and antivirus — all from Russian developers (Russian devs are also required to share user data/server access with the Russian government).

Users will be allowed to delete any of the apps they don’t want, just like apps installed from the App Store, but there appears to be a provision in the law that can make some apps mandatory and those cannot be removed (I think, my Russian is a little rusty).

This law covers all types of devices, including phones, tablets, and computers. Apple had considered leaving Russia entirely — recall the original iPhone and Apple’s refusal to pre-install any AT&T crapware onto it — but according to Russian news site Vedomosti the company and government worked out a deal.

Expect to see more of this kind of law in the coming years from other authoritarian governments.

Working from home after the pandemic 3/15/2021

Sam Baker with Axios is reporting on a new poll today that shows Americans like the work from home lifestyle and might want to keep doing it even after offices reopen:

Americans have also gotten used to working from home, according to the Harris Poll data, which were pulled from a comprehensive report combining multiple surveys over the past year.

67% said their lifestyles have gotten healthier while working from home, and 55% said they’ve discovered that they didn’t miss the office as much as they thought they would.

I definitely prefer the work from home style, and my company is slowly coming around to supporting it once they reopen. I say “slowly” because for months they’ve been saying we’re all going back into the office when it’s safe, but they closed my nearby office and opened a new office that’s over an hour’s commute away.

But even if the same, nearby office was reopening, I’d still prefer to work from home. I save so much money on gas, wear and tear on the car, and lunch. Plus I get to set my own climate controls at home, I can wear what I feel comfortable wearing (or not wearing), I have a great view out my window, and I have a furry co-worker who doesn’t annoy me. The thirty minutes I don’t spend driving to the office and the thirty home gives me back an hour of my day, which I use to take walks (in what often feels like a futile effort) to improve my health.

I know several of my co-workers prefer to work at the office for whatever reason — escape from their family, or socializing with co-workers, or just enjoying the serenity of cubicle farms, and for them, sure, give them a cube and some harsh overhead fluorescent lighting.

Me? I’m just happier at home, and that should be reason enough to let me stay here.

But I find this particularly disturbing:

74% of Americans who are working from home said they’d consider taking a “workcation” — going somewhere else for a while, but working while there.

Americans are really bad at taking vacations and not working. I often see and hear from co-workers who are on paid time off of some kind but are still checking email or running reports or doing work. Americans already are some of the most overworked with the least amount of vacation and sick time provided to us compared to the rest of the world; I can’t understand the mentality of using that little time where we are paid not to work — to work! When I take time off I am completely offline as far as my employer is concerned, and they know this. There’s absolutely nothing I do that one of my 50,000 co-workers can’t do for one week each year. Maybe we just don’t like to admit it, but the vast majority of us are just not that individually essential to our companies.

Bowling with drones 3/13/2021

Mike Ives for The New York Times:

A drone flies into a bar, swoops through an adjacent bowling alley and crashes into the pins.

The drone’s operator, who shot the 87-second video in a Minneapolis bowling alley last week to rally support for the business, didn’t expect it to be viewed hundreds of thousands of times on social media, or to win high praise from Hollywood directors.

But it was and it did.

It’s a great video; this pilot makes an outstanding flight through the bowling alley — but definitely needs to work on the landing. I love FPS drones and have been wanting to build my own for years. I’m glad to see this is getting the attention it deserves.

Adobe shows off new Super Resolution machine learning in Adobe Camera Raw 3/12/2021

Jaron Schneider with PetaPixel:

In addition to adding support for the lastest Apple Mac products, Adobe also has unveiled what it is calling “Super Resolution.” Super Resolution is a new feature to Adobe Camera Raw that uses machine learning technology to boost the resolution of an image, resulting in “higher quality results than ever before.” […]

“Imagine turning a 10-megapixel photo into a 40-megapixel photo,” [Adobe’s Eric] Chan says. “Imagine upsizing an old photo taken with a low-res camera for a large print. Imagine having an advanced ‘digital zoom’ feature to enlarge your subject.”

If you have Pixelmator Pro, you already have a feature like this. I’ve used it a few times to upsize some digital artwork I’ve created on my iPad Pro that was just a little too low resolution for me to print at the quality I wanted: resizing with ML Super Resolution was as simple as entering in a new resolution, clicking the radio button for MLSR, and clicking OK. And wow, is it fast in Pixelmator on an M1 MacBook Air. The details are sharp and nothing about the end result looks digitally upsized — at least to my eyes, and I’m the one that created the original artwork!

Now I’ve never used ML Super Resolution on a photo, but if I needed to add a few inches to a photo I wanted to print, I wouldn’t hesitate to process it with MlSR first. This isn’t your grandfather’s bicubic resampling.

Adobe is also sharing news of their re-write of Photoshop for M1 Macs:

“While we will continue to work together with Apple to further optimize performance over time, we are very happy with the results so far. We think our customers using these new Macs will love the difference, too. Don’t blink. You might miss the splash screen launching…” Adobe says.

T-Mobile to start spying on customer’s browsing so they can sell more ads 3/9/2021

Drew FitzGerald for The Wall Street Journal:

T-Mobile US Inc. will automatically enroll its phone subscribers in an advertising program informed by their online activity, testing businesses’ appetite for information that other companies have restricted.

The No. 2 U.S. carrier by subscribers said in a recent privacy-policy update that unless they opt out it will share customers’ web and mobile-app data with advertisers starting April 26. For example, the program could help advertisers identify people who enjoy cooking or are sports enthusiasts, the company said. […]

A T-Mobile spokeswoman said the changes give subscribers advertising that aligns with their interests. “We’ve heard many say they prefer more relevant ads so we’re defaulting to this setting,” she said.

Bullshit. Nobody asked for their cell phone carrier to spy on their web browsing and steal their data at the DNS level so it could be sold to advertisers. The US already overpays for cell service due to a lack of regulation and monopoly status among the carriers; now we have to deal with having our web browsing spied to sell ads?

Here’s what you’re going to do. Call T-Mobile and opt out. (You can do so in their app, but don’t install their app, that just opens another avenue to your data for them.) I would definitely call them and let them know you don’t appreciate being spied on. I would also highly consider flat out canceling your T-Mobile service or porting your number to a carrier like Mint. (With Mint, you might pay $30/month for unlimited 4G/5G data because you’re pre-paying for the data up to a year in advance, and they offer a good free trial so you can test your signal and data speeds with them before you sign up.)

Next, you’re going to highly consider signing up for a VPN service. The app from Cloudflare is a good start (also available for macOS, Android, and Windows). Nord and Proton are other, more advanced VPN choices. Do your research so you know what works best for you.

Finally, if you really want to get involved, you need to reach out to your elected officials and say consumers need basic privacy and data protection laws, and we can start by making opt-in the default by law.

Far-right misinformation dominates the news on Facebook 3/9/2021

Issie Lapowsky for Protocol:

In the months before and after the 2020 election, far-right pages that are known to spread misinformation consistently garnered more engagement on Facebook than any other partisan news, according to a New York University study published Wednesday.

The study looked at Facebook engagement for news sources across the political spectrum between Aug. 10, 2020 and Jan. 11, 2021, and found that on average, far-right pages that regularly trade in misinformation raked in 65% more engagement per follower than other far-right pages that aren’t known for spreading misinformation.

That finding was specific to the far right. In every other category — including far left, slightly left, center and slightly right — misinformation pages saw significantly less engagement than non-misinformation pages of the same political slant.

So, a few takeaways from this:

We know from previous reporting that not only does Facebook know that their algorithms fuel anger, Zuckerberg himself and weakened and blocked efforts to improve those algorithms.

And Trump set the bar high for misinformation, lying 30,573 times during his four years in office. His base follows in his footsteps, and they organize on Facebook.

Facebook is financially incentivized to allow the conspiracy theories and lies to continue.

NYT: Data collection should be opt-in on apps and websites, and laws are “urgently needed” 3/8/2021

The Editorial Board of The New York Times calls on Congress finally fix our consumer-hostile data collection practices:

All of this is why federal legislation is so urgently needed. That should include provisions making personal data collection available only with consumers’ prior consent. (Some data is needed to ensure products are working properly.) The European Union’s General Data Protection Regulation, for instance, may provide some guidance over how to empower users to halt the dissemination of their data. If American consumers want more targeted advertising, or wish to freely share other personal data, they can choose to do so, rather than trust that companies have their best interests in mind.

Lawmakers also ought to consider other consumer-focused measures, such as the right for people to easily request their data from companies and ask that personal information be deleted or not sold — similar to provisions in the California law. Allowing consumers to halt data collection from all companies at a point of entry to the internet, such as the browser, would limit annoying pop-ups and consent forms. Laws preventing websites from broadly disseminating personal consumer data to other websites also seem prudent.

While I appreciate the NYT for calling on Congress to act, I think the article does a bad job of addressing just how aggressively companies like Facebook and advertising networks build detailed profiles of individuals and how deeply they’re able to track those individuals’ real world movements — from the computer screen to the brick-and-mortar store. There also must be a right for consumers to be forgotten — shadow profiles and all — from an app or website, especially when an individual deletes their account. And the companies should be required to process a request to be forgotten via a simple, easily accessible form or email address. If the companies are allowed to create any friction in the request process, people will simply give up. Remember, it’s in the companies’ best interests to keep the data, so it must be in Congress’s best interests to give consumers back control of their data.

iMac Pro comes to an end 3/6/2021

Joe Rossignol for MacRumors has confirmed with Apple that the iMac Pro is coming to an end.

Not surprising, given the zero updates to the machine since it’s introduction three years ago. The iMac Pro was a strange Mac, with an amazing cooling system and powerful specs but inside an iMac case with a 27-inch 5k screen.

I suspect the timing of this news means two things: There’s a major iMac redesign coming with Apple’s SoC, and it’s not too far away.

Behind the scenes of deepfake TikTok Tom Cruise 3/5/2021

James Vincent has an interview with the @deeptomcruise creator for The Verge:

When a series of spookily convincing Tom Cruise deepfakes went viral on TikTok, some suggested it was a chilling sign of things to come — harbinger of an era where AI will let anyone make fake videos of anyone else. The video’s creator, though, Belgium VFX specialist Chris Ume, says this is far from the case. Speaking to The Verge about his viral clips, Ume stresses the amount of time and effort that went into making each deepfake, as well as the importance of working with a top-flight Tom Cruise impersonator, Miles Fisher.

“You can’t do it by just pressing a button,” says Ume. “That’s important, that’s a message I want to tell people.” Each clip took weeks of work, he says, using the open-source DeepFaceLab algorithm as well as established video editing tools. “By combining traditional CGI and VFX with deepfakes, it makes it better. I make sure you don’t see any of the glitches.”

Unfortunately Ume says the project is done and there won’t be more deepfakes created. The amount of work that went into these short videos really surprised me. While creating deepfakes will undoubtably get easier and faster over time, Ume says he isn’t worried about the future being riddled with fake videos. People learned to identify (or at least distrust) suspicious photos that have been Photoshopped, and we’ll learn to identify and distrust deepfakes, too, he says.

Google claims they’ll stop tracking you for advertising, but will they really? 3/3/2021

Sam Schechner and Keach Hagey for The Wall Street Journal:

Google plans to stop selling ads based on individuals’ browsing across multiple websites, a change that could hasten upheaval in the digital advertising industry.

The Alphabet Inc. company said Wednesday that it plans next year to stop using or investing in tracking technologies that uniquely identify web users as they move from site to site across the internet.

The decision, coming from the world’s biggest digital-advertising company, could help push the industry away from the use of such individualized tracking, which has come under increasing criticism from privacy advocates and faces scrutiny from regulators.

Advertising that can’t track an individual doesn’t make a $50 billion company. Google can know if I buy a Twix candy bar in a store the same day I saw an ad on YouTube for one, and that kind of tracking knowledge is the holy grail to advertisers. Saying I’m deeply skeptical that Google will just give that up is an understatement.

Arizona is trying to ban the iPhone 3/3/2021

Nick Statt for The Verge:

The Arizona House of Representatives just passed landmark app store legislation in a 31-29 vote on Wednesday that could have far-reaching consequences for Apple and Google and their respective mobile operating systems.

The legislation, a sweeping amendment to Arizona’s existing HB2005, prevents app store operators from forcing a developer based in the state to use a preferred payment system, putting up a significant roadblock to Apple and Google’s ability to collect commissions on in-app purchases and app sales. It will now head to the state senate, where it must pass before its sent to Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

Either Congress or the FTC or something Federal needs to start getting involved. There can’t be 50 different laws concerning the App Store in this country.

Also, this section stands out:

The bill specifically exempts game consoles “and other special-purpose devices that are connected to the internet,” and it also bars companies like Apple and Google from retaliating against developers who choose to use third-party payment systems.

This is a mess of a bill, and excepting game consoles opens the floodgates for all sorts of shenanigans. Apple is no longer selling a phone in Arizona, they’re now selling the Apple Game Console, which also has an app for texting and making calls and a camera! (The iPod touch was marketed as a game console pretty heavily a few years back.) Plus, how is buying Fornite on my phone different in any way from buying it on my Switch? Nintendo processes the payment on one device and takes 30%, Apple processes the payment on the other device and takes 30%. And both devices are mobile! What is a computer even?

The Verge also notes:

Notable opponents of the bill have been Arizona Democrats, who’ve argued that state legislatures shouldn’t get involved in ongoing legal matters between companies, in reference to ongoing antitrust lawsuits between Apple and Google and companies like Fornite maker Epic Games. There was also concern the bill would interfere with interstate commerce and raise unconstitutionality claims.

And other states are considering similar laws.

WTF is an NFT 3/3/2021

Mitchell Clark for The Verge has a really good, non-technical FAQ on what an NFT is and how they work:

Sorry, I was busy right-clicking on that Beeple video and downloading the same file the person paid millions of dollars for.

Wow, rude. But yeah, that’s where it gets a bit awkward. You can copy a digital file as many times as you want, including the art that’s included with an NFT.

But NFTs are designed to give you something that can’t be copied: ownership of the work (though the artist can still retain the copyright and reproduction rights, just like with physical artwork). To put it in terms of physical art collecting: anyone can buy a Monet print. But only one person can own the original.

This is exactly where NFTs fall apart for me. If you own an original Monet, you own something the artist touched and directly manipulated. You can see the three-dimensional ridges of the paint, smell the canvas, taste the— you get the point. You lose all of that with a gift store glossy poster reproduction. But digital works are just 1s and 0s, and they copy exactly the same every time. Clark covers all of this and topics like bit rot and climate change other uses for NFTs, like video games. The article is really comprehensive and easy to understand, and answers many of my questions. (Except, you know, how to setup a wallet, which still perplexes/scares me.)

The FOX News cancel culture meltdown 3/2/2021

Aaron Rupar for Vox:

On Tuesday morning and into the afternoon, programming on Fox News and Fox Business ceaselessly harped upon the purported “cancellation” of legendary children’s author Theodor Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, as the latest example of woke liberalism run amok — conveniently ignoring the fact that Dr. Seuss has not, in fact, been canceled.

VOX has the whole brouhaha on FOX News’s cancel culture meltdown, which of course is all a bunch of dumb noise. And all of this is happening on FOX News and no where else, because it’s easier for FOX News to rile up their/Trump’s base with anger than it is to talk about the half million dead on Trump’s watch from the devastating COVID-19 pandemic, the millions who lost jobs during Trump’s presidency, the violent Capitol insurrection that Trump led, and the fact that GOP Senators are fighting hard to prevent sending a measly $1400 to the lower and middle classes — money that Trump actually wanted to send out!

iPad’s tiny problems add up to big limitations 3/2/2021

Samuel Axon for Ars Technica:

But while we’ve found in our iPadOS reviews that Apple has done a marvelous job with the big-picture changes to the OS aimed at making it real-work friendly, there are still a bunch of minor annoyances or “nope, you can’t do that” limitations that sabotage Apple’s intentions.

For that reason, it makes sense to preempt that upcoming marketing push with a few key caveats—especially since Apple likely won’t announce a major iPadOS software update alongside new hardware in March. Significant new OS changes probably won’t be discussed until the company’s developer conference in June, and those updates probably won’t reach the public until September or October.

Most of these are tiny problems, but they add up. iPads won’t be a real laptop replacement for everyone until most of these issues are addressed.

I love having a touchscreen on the iPad, but I need real (or better? different?) multitasking. I might be working across two or three apps on a blog post (or more on a feature) and iPadOS just makes it too difficult to get around between apps. The iPad I have has something like 8 cores in it but it can’t run multiple apps? And the Files app is not a file system replacement, and it was never supposed to be one. It’s great as a little app, but it’s terrible as a file manager, and I want a file manager. Of course, this is all by design: Apple choose simplicity over power with iPadOS, and either iPad users learn to deal with the limitations, or they’ll do what I did — give up and go back to the Mac.

“Tech Tips” for getting a vaccine 3/1/2021

Joanna Stern for The Wall Street Journal:

Congrats! You survived 12 months of pandemic! Now fragmented systems, shoddy websites and limited vaccine supply stand in the way of you and, well, the rest of your life.

It’s one of the most important human-vs.-machine battles of our time. And it’s made worse by the fact that most humans currently eligible to enter the fray are over 65 and not necessarily glued to a keyboard all day. Many sites don’t take appointments over the phone, either.

But let me tell you, these systems are maddeningly broken, no matter your age or technical skill level. From national pharmacy chains to hospitals to local supermarkets, every Covid-19 vaccine-appointment website I’ve been to has made me feel like I’m bad at computers. And I’ve, well, you know, been reviewing computers for nearly two decades!

I linked to The Verge’s story on terrible vaccine sign-up websites back in January; it’s sad (but not surprising) that it’s still this bad. Stern has some good tips, but you shouldn’t need “tech tips” or browser extensions to get a flu shot that your life literally depends on.

Petaluma says “nope” to new gas stations 3/1/2021

Jennifer Kingson for Axios:

Petaluma, California, has voted to outlaw new gas stations, the first of what climate activists hope will be numerous cities and counties to do so. […]

Why it matters: Expect more such ordinances, particularly in liberal towns. Grassroots groups are popping up with the mission of spreading this type of ban and forcing pollution cleanups at existing gas stations. […]

In Petaluma — where neighborhood opposition to a new Safeway gas station prompted years of litigation — the council voted unanimously last week to move forward with a permanent ban on new stations; a final vote will happen Monday. […]

I grew up in the North Bay; I’m not at all surprised to see this news coming out of Petaluma. I remember the town as mostly farms and a pretty nice movie theater. These days it’s huge homes and Teslas. And the town already has sixteen gas stations — they really don’t need more.

Verizon’s support tweet suggests turning off 5G 3/1/2021

Kim Lyons for The Verge:

Despite its relentless promotion of 5G phones and the fact that it spent more than $45 billion bidding on a new faster spectrum, Verizon support now is advising people on Twitter to turn off their phones’ 5G access to preserve battery life.

In a Sunday morning tweet, Verizon support helpfully suggested that “one way to help conserve battery life is to turn on LTE” if users found their batteries were “draining faster than normal.” That step would, of course, turn off 5G in a phone that has it available. It’s also worth pointing out that you don’t actually “turn on LTE” when doing this step — LTE is always enabled as a fallback for the 5G network. But Verizon is obviously being cautious so as not to actually tell its customers to “turn off 5G”.

The tweet has since been removed, but this is very likely a case of an underpaid social media employee working an early Sunday morning, trying to be helpful, and probably saw this “tip” on TikTok or Instagram and decided to repost it. While these channels are officially connected to the companies, they are rarely a unified voice. This is almost certainly why Apple doesn’t have these kinds of social media customer interaction channels: Apple’s marketing is tightly controlled. Not so for many other brands.

Despite Verizon’s massive marketing push into 5G, I hope they doesn’t fire whoever posted this — it’s actually a really good troubleshooting step! It can improve battery life and in many areas might actually speed up your cellular internet connection. And while I keep 5G off on my iPhone, you might get better performance with 5G turned on. 5G is such a spotty mess right now, it’s impossible to say what works best in your area.

Crazy Tom Cruise deepfakes hit TikTok and it’s crazier than Tom Cruise 2/26/2021

Marlow Stern for Daily Beast:

Three days ago, a TikTok account going by @deeptomcruise began posting video clips of the Hollywood actor Tom Cruise doing everything from golfing, to tripping and telling a joke in what appears to be a men’s clothing store in Italy, to performing a magic trick with a coin. In each of the three videos, Cruise delivers his signature maniacal laugh—you know, the one he repeatedly unleashed in that batty Scientology recruitment video years back—before launching into some sort of bit, and in all of them, it looks just like Cruise. Only it’s not Cruise.

I saw the golfing tok a few days ago and thought, “He is much too tall to be Tom Cruise.” It looked very real, but I trust so little of what I see on the internet these days that I totally dismissed it. But the account keeps pumping out new deepfakes and they keep getting more disturbing and delightful. The man is a total nut job and we made him, but the deepfakes are something even more worrying. You can now make anyone do anything on video, and this is the internet age — this stuff lasts forever.

LastPass has seven embedded trackers in its app, stealing your personal information 2/26/2021

Tim Anderson for The Register

A security researcher has recommended against using the LastPass password manager Android app after noting seven embedded trackers. The software’s maker says users can opt out if they want.

Most users won’t know they’re being tracked, and won’t understand how to opt-out. Saying users can opt-out is not justification for filling your (already bad) app with multiple trackers that steal your users’ personal data — location, phone identifier, browser history, text history, contacts, who knows what! — and send it to four different companies that use it for advertising. LastPass couldn’t respect their customers less, and their actions within their app show it. They don’t deserve your business.

1Password has zero embedded trackers.

Spider-Man: No Way Home 2/24/2021

After trolling fans for a few days with fake movie names, the official title for the third MCU Spidey film has been revealed, and it is Spider-Man: No Way Home. The title was revealed in a clip posted to Tom Holland’s Instagram, which I highly recommend watching. And just below the title reads, “Only in movie theaters this Christmas.”

California gets a big win on net neutrality 2/24/2021

Sean Hollister for The Verge:

Net neutrality died a horrible death in 2017, but things have just turned around: California’s landmark net neutrality law — erected in 2018 but immediately blocked by lawsuits from Trump’s Department of Justice and the telecom industry — can finally be enforced.

That’s the verdict from Judge John Mendez today, who declined to grant the telecom industry the preliminary injunction it had requested. The case might not be over, but the law can go into effect — and the judge doesn’t think the telecom industry is likely to win.

And from Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica:

Mendez reportedly was not swayed by ISPs’ claims that a net neutrality law isn’t necessary because they haven’t been blocking or throttling Internet traffic.

“I have heard that argument and I don’t find it persuasive,” Mendez said, according to The Hollywood Reporter. “It’s going to fall on deaf ears. Everyone has been on their best behavior since 2018, waiting for whatever happened in the DC Circuit [court case over the FCC’s repeal of net neutrality]. I don’t place weight on the argument that everything is fine and we don’t need to worry.”

Mendez, who was nominated by President Bush in 2008, also said, “This decision today is a legal decision and shouldn’t be viewed in the political lens. I’m not expressing anything on the soundness of the policy. That might better be resolved by Congress than by federal courts.”

And Karl Bode for Techdirt:

As we’ve noted a few times, there’s a misinformed refrain in some tech policy circles that goes something like this: “the internet didn’t immediately implode in a rainbow, therefore net neutrality’s repeal must not have mattered.” That’s wrong for several reasons.

One, ISPs are still violating net neutrality, they’re just being more clever about it (see: AT&T only charging you broadband overage fees if you use a competitor’s service). Two, the only reason ISPs behaved half as well as they did is because they were awaiting a federal legal ruling, and worried about running afoul of state net neutrality rules. Three, killing net neutrality didn’t just kill “net neutrality,” it dismantled the FCC’s consumer protection authority over everything from anticompetitive behavior to billing fraud. If you’re applauding the government ignoring the public and neutering itself because some Comcast lobbyists told it to, you might not be half as clever as you think you are.

I’m glad to live in a state that is leading by example when it comes to the internet.

Fry’s is out of business 2/23/2021

KRON 4, ‘Fry’s Electronics permanently closing all stores nationwide‘:

Fry’s Electronics is going out of business.

KRON4 has confirmed that the iconic Bay Area retailer is permanently closing the doors of all stores nationwide.

Apparently today was Fry’s last day. Their social media pages are down, and the website will be gone at midnight tonight.

The last time I went to Fry’s was in early 2020: I had heard rumors they were getting close to going out of business and I wanted to take one last walk among the motherboards. The place was deserted. Almost no employees, almost nothing for sale, and maybe three customers — myself included — on a Sunday afternoon. Entire asiles of shelves were empty. And this was long before the world shut down because of COVID-19. Fry’s has been on life support for years; I’m only surprised that it’s taken this long for them to finally pull the plug.

I was never a huge fan of Fry’s. It was packed full of treasure, sure, but it sucked being treated like a shoplifter every time you left the store. Remember how they’d stop you and check your receipt? Yeah, I usually didn’t stop, just a friendly wave and keep on walking. What could they do? It was always a crappy customer experience, but nothing else had anywhere close to the variety of inventory. You know, except New Egg. And Amazon.

The Verge has more more details on the closure.

Watch the HD video of Perseverance landing on Mars 2/23/2021

NASA has released the high definition video of Perseverance’s landing on Mars, and when you consider this is a video of a rover landing itself on another planet, it might just be the best video on YouTube. (At the very least, the best video shot on another planet.)

Twitch panics at live Metallica concert, replaces audio stream with royalty free junk 2/23/2021

Jem Aswad at Variety:

The gaming platform Twitch, which has had no shortage of music-copyright problems in recent months, cut off the audio for Metallica’s BlizzCon performance Friday due to legal concerns, replacing it with comically inappropriate instrumental folk music. That the switch came in the middle of “Enter Sandman,” one of the group’s biggest hits, only made the disconnect more enraging and/or hilarious.

If you needed a look at the state of Twitch streaming in 2021, this sums it up nicely. The music was cleared by Blizzard and was only replaced on Twitch. Recall Twitch is owned by Amazon which has a massive streaming music library, so you would think they’d understand how all of this works.