Pizza Emoji
by Brandon Butler
“This is deadly stuff” 9/10/2020

In a taped conversation with Bob Woodward, when he spoke to Trump on a February 7th phone call, Trump admitted to the deadliness of COVID-19:

“You just breathe the air and that’s how it’s passed,” Trump said in a Feb. 7 call. “And so that’s a very tricky one. That’s a very delicate one. It’s also more deadly than even your strenuous flu.”

“This is deadly stuff,” the president repeated for emphasis.

At that time, Trump was telling the nation that the virus was no worse than a seasonal flu, predicting it would soon disappear and insisting that the U.S. government had it totally under control. It would be several weeks before he would publicly acknowledge that the virus was no ordinary flu and that it could be transmitted through the air.

Trump admitted to Woodward on March 19 that he deliberately minimized the danger. “I wanted to always play it down,” the president said.

This, from the man who incites race riots, stokes fears of caravas of gangs entering the country, and encourages shootings and violence, but he doesn’t want to cause a panic. Yup, sure.

Bob Woodward’s book “Rage” is the #1 best seller on Amazon and is available for pre-order.

Microsoft Surface Duo Reviews 9/10/2020

The reviews are out for the new dual-screen Microsoft Surface Duo phone, and... they are not good:

Dieter Bohn for The Verge:

There are more than enough problems here to keep me from recommending it.

Brain Heater for TechCrunch:

There are other pragmatic considerations with the design choices here. The book design means there’s no screen on the exterior. The glass and mirror Windows logo looks lovely, but there’s no easy way to preview notifications.

Scott Stein for CNET:

The shift from single to dual screen hasn’t been magical at all. It’s been a struggle.

Julian Chokkattu for Wired:

The Duo is powered by Qualcomm’s Snapdragon 855, the flagship chip that was in dozens of 2019 Android phones. I know it’s capable of offering a relatively smooth experience, so it’s clear the problems lie with software optimization.

Sam Rutherford for Gizmodo, and one of the most favorable reviews I read:

This Surface Duo is for people who have dreamed of having real multitasking on a phone, and are willing to put up with growing pains to experience that for themselves. [...] Even with its flaws, the Surface Duo is already an incredibly powerful business phone. [But] there’s little excuse for a phone this expensive to have image quality this bad.

MKBHD on YouTube:

Practicality is clearly suffering to achieve this form factor.

This is incredibly disappointing. The consensus is clear: the Duo’s hardware is really impressive, but the software is a mess. I like The Verge’s wrap-up:

But like that first Surface, there are more than a few glimmers of vision and potential in the Surface Duo. Microsoft has the clearest, strongest vision for a new direction in mobile computing that I’ve seen this year, but picking a direction and getting to the destination are still two different things.

I think the real mistake Microsoft made with the Duo phone was trying to paste their dual-screen/multitasking hacks on top of Android. Yes, Android has an ecosystem of apps, but none of them are designed to work on a dual screen phone. And Android apps for tablets are terrible. If Microsoft is truly committed to this dual screen vision for the long-term, they should create a dual-screen OS based (lightly) on Windows. There’s no rush: They can limp along with Android for the Duo 2 or even the Duo 3, but if Microsoft is really, honestly, committed to a mobile device — and these days, you kind of have to be, right? — the Windows Duo OS needs to happen.

Defector 9/10/2020

Tom Ley for new sports and culture website Defector:

That’s the story of how we arrived at this point, but if you want to truly understand why we are doing this, you need to widen the scope a little bit. The full story is about more than just an irascible staff of writers reacting flippantly to a memo they didn’t like. It’s a story about what will and won’t be tolerated, both by those with the power to shape the present and future of the media industry, and by those who bear the consequences of how that power is wielded.

These were the people who quit Deadspin ten months back. I’m really happy to see that they’ve been able to create a site they own and are proud of.

Xbox Series X and S Launching November 10 9/10/2020

Kyle Orland for Ars Technica:

Microsoft has finally revealed a $499 “estimated retail price” for its top-end Xbox Series X. That system will launch alongside the $299 Xbox Series S on November 10, the company confirmed this morning.

Microsoft is also expanding its existing “All Access” subscription program to give customers access to its next-gen hardware with no upfront cost. Qualifying players who commit to a $25/month subscription for the Series S (or $35/month for the Series X) for two years get the console as well as access to all the games available on Xbox Game Pass Ultimate (and its attendant xCloud streaming options).

I’m liking that All Access subscription; it makes the Xbox into an “impulse-buy” kind of console. I wonder if Sony has any response to this for the PS5.

Also, the size of that heat sink in the exploded graphic looks huge. Hard to say without a banana for scale, but it’ll be interesting to see the tear downs of this thing. But I love the design of both the X and S.

Microsoft is making it hard to say no to an Xbox.

Apple Face Mask 9/10/2020

Mark Gurman for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has developed masks that the company is beginning to distribute to corporate and retail employees to limit the spread of Covid-19. [...]

The company, which confirmed the news, said it conducted careful research and testing to find the right materials to filter the air properly while not disrupting the supply of medical personal protective equipment. Apple will start sending the Apple Face Mask to staff over the next two weeks.

Not for sale to the public, except on eBay.

Wolfwalkers 9/8/2020

One of my favorite animation studios, Cartoon Saloon, the makers of The Secret of Kells, Song of the Sea, and The Breadwinner, has a new animated feature coming to Apple TV+ later this year: Wolfwalkers.


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From the synopsis:

In a time of superstition and magic, a young apprentice hunter, Robyn Goodfellowe, journeys to Ireland with her father to wipe out the last wolf pack. While exploring the forbidden lands outside the city walls, Robyn befriends a free-spirited girl, Mebh, a member of a mysterious tribe rumored to have the ability to transform into wolves by night. As they search for Mebh’s missing mother, Robyn uncovers a secret that draws her further into the enchanted world of the Wolfwalkers and risks turning into the very thing her father is tasked to destroy.

Robert Pattinson Tests Positive for COVID, The Batman Filming Delayed Again 9/3/2020

Vanity Fair:

Robert Pattinson is said to have tested positive for the coronavirus, causing filming of The Batman to be halted just days after the superhero drama resumed work at studios outside of London.

Warner Bros. would not comment on any individual worker’s health, sharing only this statement: “A member of The Batman production has tested positive for Covid-19, and is isolating in accordance with established protocols. Filming is temporarily paused.” Vanity Fair confirmed through a highly placed source that Pattinson was the individual who became sick.

Get well soon, Batman.

Mario Kart Live 9/3/2020

Nintendo announced Mario Kart Live: Home Circuit today for the Nintendo Switch. I’ve been playing Mario Kart games all my life. I never imaged this would be possible. This is a video you have to watch.


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An Education in Gaming the Algorithm 9/2/2020

Monica Chin for The Verge:

Simmons watched [her son] Lazare complete more assignments. She looked at the correct answers, which [online education platform] Edgenuity revealed at the end. She surmised that Edgenuity’s AI was scanning for specific keywords that it expected to see in students’ answers. And she decided to game it.

Now, for every short-answer question, Lazare writes two long sentences followed by a disjointed list of keywords — anything that seems relevant to the question. “The questions are things like... ‘What was the advantage of Constantinople’s location for the power of the Byzantine empire,’” Simmons says. “So you go through, okay, what are the possible keywords that are associated with this? Wealth, caravan, ship, India, China, Middle East, he just threw all of those words in.” [...]

Apparently, that “word salad” is enough to get a perfect grade on any short-answer question in an Edgenuity test.

I think I would have enjoyed taking exams back in high school if I’d be using something like Edgenuity. Being able to game the stupid AI for an easy grade? What’s not to love? I especially love that this kid’s mom is not only poking at this AI grading system, but also encouraging her son to poke at it and tweeting about it, too.

But she’s also asking a valid point: Aside from the basic lesson that AI’s are still kind of dumb (Hey, Siri!) and easily hackable, what is her son learning in his history class? Trying to cram a bunch of ancient names and dates into a teenage brain doesn’t seem like a winning strategy. I mean, I probably had to actually memorize some of this Byzantine empire junk, but I honestly don’t know, as I can’t remember a single thing from my high school history classes. I can’t even remember the classes!

Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway Ride & Learn 9/2/2020
From the Disney Parks Blog:

You hear that train whistle? Engineer Goofy is inviting you aboard Runnamuck Railroad for a magical experience in Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway!

This fun, family-friendly adventure opened earlier this year inside Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Walt Disney World Resort – marking the first ride-through attraction in Disney history featuring Mickey Mouse and Minnie Mouse. In this new “Ride & Learn” video, step inside the park’s Chinese Theatre and into Mickey and Minnie’s cartoon world. With Goofy at the controls, what could possibly go wrong?


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This looks like a really fun ride. And these “ride & learn” videos are fun — you get to virtually ride the ride, and learn some neat facts along the way. And don’t forget — Mickey & Minnie’s Runaway Railway opens at Disneyland in 2023!

Ars Technica Plays Mario Kart 9/2/2020

Ars Technica got a bunch of people to play Mario Kart 8, including a speedrunner, on the classic Rainbow Road track. The results are about what you’d expect if you know the course. I enjoy watching speedrunners, but I lack the patience and discipline required to re-run the same track over and over to get the best time. But if I was going to try and speedrun a track, the Rainbow Roads are the ones I’d try: they’re fun, colorful, and have great music. The video is embedded below:


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One of Pizza Emoji’s first posts was my thoughts on Mario Kart’s Blue Shell, which you can read here.

Pizza Emoji’s 1st Anniversary 8/31/2020

Today is the one year anniversary of Pizza Emoji!

And what a year it’s been. I didn’t set out to start a blog six months before a worldwide pandemic, but here we are. If you’ve been a reader, thanks for reading! If this is your first visit, add a bookmark and come back soon.

I’ve had a lot of fun writing Pizza Emoji, working on the site design, and improving my linux server administration skill set. I’m looking forward to the next year of Pizza Emoji, because there’s so much left to do, like getting the RSS feed working!

Incredibly, Pizza Emoji doesn’t ask for your money, doesn’t track you and sell your data, and doesn’t run ads. I’m not sure what kind of business model that is, but it doesn’t seem like a very good one from my end. Maybe someday I’ll find a way to make money from writing, but not today. So instead, I thought maybe I could ask something of my Pizza Emoji readers. I promise it won’t cost you a dime and it might save someone’s life.

I think everyone wants to be a superhero. Super powers are cool, and when I see Spider-Man swinging around New York City in the comics and movies, that just looks like the best thing ever. Spidey and Co. are also out there saving lives, but you don’t need to be bitten by a radioactive spider to be a life saving super hero.

Every three minutes, someone is diagnosed with a blood cancer, and every ten minutes, someone dies from a blood cancer. For many people with leukemia and lymphoma, getting a bone marrow donation from a compatible donor is their only cure.

Today, donating bone marrow is nearly painless, and the vast majority of donations are actually peripheral blood stem cells, which are donated by IV. The donor’s blood is pumped out one arm, passes through a machine that filters out the blood-forming cells, then pumps the blood back into the other arm. For actual surgical bone marrow donation, it’s a quick out-patient procedure that may leave a little bruising for a few days. But the biggest issue is finding a donor: if the donor’s family members aren’t a compatible match, doctor’s turn to “the largest and most diverse marrow registry in the world,” Be the Match.

Be the Match works to find compatible bone marrow donors for patients diagnosed with life-threatening blood cancers like leukemia and lymphoma. By becoming a donor, you’re literally saving someone’s life.

And like I said, there’s no cost to you: Be the Match pays for travel to the hospital, meals, and even a hotel if you need to travel out of town. But the absolute best part? That’s the life saving. Because if you are called to donate, it means you were matched with somebody suffering from a terrible illness. And all you have to do is give a little marrow to save their life. You know, super hero stuff.

If you’ve never signed up for Be the Match, it’s free and easy: they’ll send you a little swab kit, you swab your mouth, send it back, and they’ll do the rest. If you match with someone, they’ll let you know. They especially need people of color, so please consider signing up, and getting your friends and family to sign up, too. And should you ever decide to leave the registry, it’s an easy opt-out process.

And remember, the actual donation, should you be called, is nearly painless and often involves a few hours hooked up to an IV.

Even if you can’t donate marrow for whatever reason, but you’ve got some money, consider a financial donation. You’re still a hero in my comic book.

I signed up for Be the Match about a decade ago; I’ve never been called to donate marrow, but I’ve donated financially. And this isn’t one of those paid posts: I just wanted Pizza Emoji’s first anniversary to be a little special, and what’s more special than saving someone’s life?

I know, there are so many charities that need your help, but this is one of the few charities that you can make a donation to without spending a cent. Thousands of people of all ages, children, teenagers, and adults, are searching the registry everyday in the hope of finding a match. You could Be the Match they need to save their life.

Thanks for reading.

Vox: The Summer Without Blockbusters 8/30/2020

Alissa Wilkinson writing for Vox, ‘The summer without blockbusters’:

“We can all just sit here on Earth, wait for this big rock to crash into it, kill everything and everybody we know,” Bruce Willis’s Harry Stamper says to his fellow oil drillers in Armageddon. “United States government just asked us to save the world. Anybody want to say no?”

Sure, we nodded, back in 1998. Makes sense. The US government wants some ordinary guys to go into space and save the planet. The fictional version of the government had issued a similar call two years earlier, in 1996, when Independence Day’s President Thomas Whitmore (Bill Pullman) personally led a fighter jet attack on an alien saucer. And then again in 1997, when a pair of American secret agents dressed in black — one of whom was a former NYPD officer — saved the galaxy from another extraterrestrial threat.

Not so much in 2020. The very reason Americans — and the rest of the world — couldn’t go see any new blockbusters this summer has to do with American failure. And that failure spans all levels, from the White House to average citizens, in the face of a humanity-threatening virus. As the summer of 2020 has worn on, and other economies have warily but safely reopened around the world, the US has looked less and less like a leader and more and more like an ostrich with its head buried deep beneath the dusty ground.

And so, strangely, the dearth of Hollywood blockbusters in 2020 perfectly illustrates where the US stands in the world at the end of a long, maddening summer. Because it’s a story that’s not just about a commercial product that wasn’t shipped to customers at home and abroad; it’s a story about what the American blockbuster stands for, the myths it weaves, and the place in our collective cultural consciousness it occupies.

Olivia Wilde Directing Not-So-Secret Spider-Woman Film 8/30/2020

From Deadline:

Sony Pictures is not only growing its slate of its Universe of Marvel Characters but is building on the female characters at the center of it, and looks to have landed one of the most sought-after female directors in Hollywood. Sources tell Deadline that Olivia Wilde has closed a deal to direct and develop a secret Marvel film project revolving around a female character in the universe. While not confirmed, it is expected that the story will be centered on Spider-Woman.

This is last week’s news but I never posted about it. Spider-Woman is a safe but technically vague bet as to the identity of this character, especially considering Wilde’s spider emoji tweet. The real question is: which Spider-Woman? Jessica Drew and Gwen Stacy are the two most likely secret identities, with my money being on Gwen as Ghost-Spider. We’ll find out for sure in a couple of years.

Wilde, for her part, directed last year’s Booksmart. Go see it. Based on that movie, I can see her putting together a very human story of an awkward teenage superhero dealing with friend drama and supervillains.

And! Also from Deadline: ’Captain Marvel 2: Candyman’s Nia DaCosta To Direct Sequel‘!

Chadwick Boseman Dies 8/28/2020

Variety, ‘Chadwick Boseman, ‘Black Panther’ Star, Dies at 43’:

Walt Disney Co. chairman Bob Iger said, “We are all heartbroken by the tragic loss of Chadwick Boseman — an extraordinary talent, and one of the most gentle and giving souls I have ever met. He brought enormous strength, dignity and depth to his groundbreaking role of Black Panther; shattering myths and stereotypes, becoming a long-awaited hero to millions around the world, and inspiring us all to dream bigger and demand more than the status quo. We mourn all that he was, as well as everything he was destined to become. For his friends and millions of fans, his absence from the screen is only eclipsed by his absence from our lives. All of us at Disney send our prayers and heartfelt condolences to his family.”

Apple Terminates Epic’s App Store Account 8/28/2020

Filipe Espósito at 9to5Mac:

As previously warned by Apple, Epic’s App Store account has now been terminated due to the Fortnite developer knowingly violating App Store policy. Epic Games still had a few apps available for iOS aside from Fortnite, and they were all removed today.

Apple’s full statement:

We are disappointed that we have had to terminate the Epic Games account on the App Store. We have worked with the team at Epic Games for many years on their launches and releases. The court recommended that Epic comply with the App Store guidelines while their case moves forward, guidelines they’ve followed for the past decade until they created this situation. Epic has refused. Instead they repeatedly submit Fortnite updates designed to violate the guidelines of the App Store. This is not fair to all other developers on the App Store and is putting customers in the middle of their fight. We hope that we can work together again in the future, but unfortunately that is not possible today.

Epic CEO Tim Sweeney’s response:

Apple’s statement isn’t forthright. They chose to terminate Epics account; they didn’t *have* to.

Apple suggests we spammed the App Store review process. That’s not so. Epic submitted three Fortnite builds: two bug-fix updates, and the Season 4 update with this note.

The note says:

Fortnite build v14.0 with the new Season 4 has been uploaded though App Store Connect.


This build continues to offer customers the choice of in-app purchases through either Apple’s payment solution or through Epic direct payment. Epic is submitting this version in case Apple wishes to restore Fortnite to the App Store in time for Season 4 launch.

This is like someone walking into your home, they steal your stuff and kick your dog, and then say, “You didn’t *have* to call the cops!” Epic has clearly violated App Store policy, knowingly and repeatedly.

Epic didn't *have* to submit a build of Fortnite that broke Apple’s rules. Apple didn’t *have* to charge a 30% fee on in-app purchases. Epic didn’t *have* to agree to Apple’s App Store terms. This is just stupid whinny bullshit from a CEO — and it's embarrassing.

Mark's Mess 8/28/2020

Last week Facebook made the decision not to take action against the Kenosha Guard Facebook page, an illegal terrorist group in Wisconsin, which was issuing a “call to arms” against protestors upset over the shooting of Jacob Blake. But then two people were murdered by some dumb kid with an assault rifle who’s not old enough to vote, drive, gamble, enter a strip club, watch porn, rent a hotel room, rent a car, or enter a Chuck E. Cheese’s restaurant without an adult present, but can own and carry an assault rifle in the United States of America. But I digress.

After the shooting, Facebook eventually took the page and the accounts of these so-called militants (slash-terrorists) down, but the damage to the community and to Facebook was already done. According to a statement provided to The Verge, Facebook said they “have not found evidence on Facebook that suggests the shooter followed the Kenosha Guard Page or that he was invited on the Event Page they organized.”

But apparently some Facebook employees were less than happy with this explanation from Facebook, and called out CEO Mark Zuckerberg at a company wide meeting on Thursday. According to Ryan Mac at Buzzfeed:

Frustrated Facebook employees slammed CEO Mark Zuckerberg on Thursday during a companywide meeting, questioning his leadership and decision-making, following a week in which the platform promoted violent conspiracy theories and gave safe harbor to militia groups. The billionaire chief executive was speaking via webcast at the company’s weekly all-hands meeting, attempting to address questions about violence in Kenosha, Wisconsin, and the QAnon conspiracy that has proliferated across Facebook. [...]

Zuckerberg said not taking down the page earlier was “An operational mistake”:

The company did not catch the page despite user reports, Zuckerberg said, because the complaints had been sent to content moderation contractors who were not versed in “how certain militias” operate. “On second review, doing it more sensitively, the team that was responsible for dangerous organizations recognized that this violated the policies and we took it down.”

Some employees didn’t find Zuckerberg’s answer very satisfying:

“We need to get better at avoiding mistakes and being more proactive,” one [Facebook employee] wrote. ”Feels like we’re caught in a cycle of responding to damage after it’s already been done rather than constructing mechanisms to nip these issues before they result in real harm.”

In a separate article on Buzzfeed, Mac and Pranav Dixit report on comments Zuckerberg made regarding Apple’s App Store:

“[Apple has] this unique stranglehold as a gatekeeper on what gets on phones,” Zuckerberg said to more than 50,000 employees via webcast. He added that the Cupertino, California–based company’s app store “blocks innovation, blocks competition” and “allows Apple to charge monopoly rents.”

I would honestly argue that Facebook has done more harm to technology and to the world at large more so than Apple’s gatekeeping of the App Store. Zuckerberg can call Apple out for being a bad gatekeeper all he wants; I wouldn’t necessarily disagree. But until Facebook can clean up their social network, remove the conspiracy theories and the misinformation and the calls for violence, I don’t think Zuckerberg has much of a leg to stand on.

Kevin Mayer Calls it Quits 8/26/2020

Rita Liao at TechCrunch:

Kevin Mayer, the chief executive of TikTok, announced on Wednesday that he is resigning, just over 100 days after the former Disney executive joined the world’s largest short video app in mid-May. [...]

“We appreciate that the political dynamics of the last few months have significantly changed what the scope of Kevin’s role would be going forward, and fully respect his decision. We thank him for his time at the company and wish him well,” said a TikTok spokesperson in a statement to TechCrunch.

The New York Times reported earlier that Mayer announced his decision in a note to employees as TikTok came under pressure from the Trump administration over its links to China. Mayer “did not anticipate the extent to which TikTok would become involved in tensions between China and the U.S.,” sources told the Financial Times, and the executive “didn’t sign up for this.”

Mayer was the former Disney exec who helped make acquisitions like Marvel and FOX happen, and was heavily involved with the launch of Disney+. He came to TikTok with the intention of selling the government on the idea of TikTok and easing tensions between the two; I can’t imagine he was thrilled with the possibility of either A) having his company banned from the US or B) working for Microsoft. But Mayer won’t have any issues finding another role, he’s a very smart and well liked guy.

Rooting for the Users 8/26/2020

Jason Snell at MacWord, ‘Epic versus Apple? I’m rooting for the users‘:

So what should happen? I guess it depends on what side you’re on. I’d like Apple to loosen up on its App Store restrictions, without sacrificing security and safety. I’d like Apple to let reputable companies process payments for digital goods directly, but I don’t want to pause every time an app asks me for money in fear that it’s a scam.

Above all else, I think that Apple has brought this scrutiny upon itself by failing to adapt to the times. When the App Store was formed, Apple was a much smaller company and the iPhone only had the beginnings of being a hit. Now Apple is a behemoth and the iPhone is one of the most popular products of our lifetimes, but sometimes it acts as if it’s a scrappy upstart that desperately needs to hold on to as much money and control as it possibly can. In 2008, its policies seemed straightforward and even innovative—and in 2020 those same policies seem cruel and tone-deaf and even greedy. [...]

But just as Apple’s status quo isn’t necessarily great for users, an Epic victory wouldn’t necessarily be one, either. If a court opens holes in the App Store and prevents Apple from closing them, it might cause positive change and unfortunate side effects.

Whatever happens here, it should be the users that win. I’m not sure what that win looks like exactly, but Snell’s crystal ball says, “Easier, Better, Safer, and Secure,” and I like that win a lot.

The Bucks Stop Here 8/26/2020

Four years ago, Colin Kaepernick knelt during the national anthem, and said at the time:

I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color. To me, this is bigger than football and it would be selfish on my part to look the other way. There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder.

Four years later, and nothing has changed — except the name. This week it’s Jacob Blake, shot seven times in the back, by police in Kenosha, Wisconsin. So this afternoon, the Milwaukee Bucks did more than take a knee. They didn’t play.

Tipoff for Game 5 of the playoffs never happened, with the Bucks boycotting the game. They knew they’d be forced to take a loss, but instead the other players joined them. Then it spread. To other teams, the entire NBA, then the MLB, the WNBA, the MLS, even tennis play was postponed. There were no sports.

The statement from the team said, in part:

When we take the court and represent Milwaukee and Wisconsin, we are expected to play at a high level, give maximum effort and hold each other accountable. We hold ourselves to that standard, and in this moment, we are demanding the same from our lawmakers and law enforcement.

The NBA, owners, coaches, and players all voiced their support for the Bucks.

And total silence from the government. Where is our leadership?

Facebook Whines that it Can't Spy on iOS 14 Users Anymore 8/26/2020

Facebook:

Today, Facebook shared how we’re addressing Apple iOS 14 changes, which includes not collecting the identifier for advertisers (IDFA) on our own apps on iOS 14 devices. This is not a change we want to make, but unfortunately Apple’s updates to iOS14 \[sic] have forced this decision. We know this may severely impact publishers’ ability to monetize through Audience Network on iOS 14, and, despite our best efforts, may render Audience Network so ineffective on iOS 14 that it may not make sense to offer it on iOS 14 in the future.

Translation: “For years we’ve been abusing the privacy of our products [the Facebook users], but Apple’s new iOS 14 updates protects user privacy so well that, despite our best efforts to sneak around Apple’s protections, we may be unable to continue this abuse of our products [the Facebook users] in the future.”

Update: Ars Technica has lots more details on tbe changes to iOS 14 that are upsetting Facebook and how Facebook has abused their products [the Facebook users] in the past.

Here, Facebook, is the world’s smallest violin. Do you hear it?

Idiots Going to the Movies 8/26/2020

Manori Ravindran for Variety, ‘’We’ll Do Anything to See ‘Tenet”: Meet the Fans Taking Flights for Christopher Nolan’s Latest’:

Though 65% of cinemas across the globe are now open, according to Gower Street Analytics, some international fans keen to see rare 70MM IMAX screenings of the film, and Americans in states with shuttered movie theaters [...] are willing to cross state and country lines to be among the first to see “Tenet” on the big screen. [...]

Another Los Angeles-based fan set to take flight for “Tenet,” who spoke to Variety on the condition of anonymity, likens the experience to “Star Wars” fans camping out for tickets, or Apple users queueing for new iPhones. “It’s stupid, yes,” says the 30-year-old university administrator who’s flying to Salt Lake City over a long weekend, “but it’s something I’m interested in.”

Except those camping out for Star Wars tickets or new iPhones weren’t doing it during a deadly pandemic. I’ve stood in long lines at Disneyland because that’s something I’m interested in; the difference is this anonymous idiot is risking the continued spread of this life-threatening disease at a time when a thousand Americans are dying every day.

Chris Nolan should be asshamed of himself for encouraging this behavior.

Apple Goes on the Offensive vs Epic 8/21/2020

Devin Coldewey for TechCrunch:

Apple’s filing challenges the TRO request on several grounds. First, it contends that there is no real “emergency” or “irreparable harm” because the entire situation was concocted and voluntarily initiated by Epic:

Having decided that it would rather enjoy the benefits of the App Store without paying for them, Epic has breached its contracts with Apple, using its own customers and Apple’s users as leverage.

But the “emergency” is entirely of Epic’s own making…it knew full well what would happen and, in so doing, has knowingly and purposefully created the harm to game players and developers it now asks the Court to step in and remedy.

It doesn’t help Epic’s case that CEO Tim Sweeney emailed Apple, stating:

Epic will no longer adhere to Apple’s payment processing restrictions.

From TechCrunch again:

Lastly Apple notes that there is no benefit to the public interest to providing the TRO — unlike if, for example, Apple’s actions had prevented emergency calls from working or the like, and there was a serious safety concern:

All of that alleged injury for which Epic improperly seeks emergency relief could disappear tomorrow if Epic cured its breach…All of this can happen without any intervention of the Court or expenditure of judicial resources. And Epic would be free to pursue its primary lawsuit.

Epic’s the kid at the dinner table who refuses to finish his vegetables. All he has to do is take a few bites and then he can go back to playing games.

Adobe Deletes User Photos in Botched Lightroom Update 8/21/2020

Monica Chin with The Verge, ‘Adobe accidentally deleted people’s photos in latest Lightroom update’:

For the past two days, photographers have been posting in a panic across Twitter, Reddit, and the Photoshop feedback forums. They’d downloaded Adobe’s latest update for Lightroom’s iOS app, and suddenly their photos and presets were gone. Adobe has now confirmed the issue, and it’s also said that the data is gone for good.

Some people reported hundreds of photos lost. Who has hundreds of photos on a small glass device that is easily dropped, broken, or stolen, and doesn’t backup? Adobe screwed up — big time — but there’s at least some blame and shame to be had for the photographers not backing up their work.

The Case of the Top Secret iPod 8/19/2020

David Shayer for TidBITS:

It was a gray day in late 2005. I was sitting at my desk, writing code for the next year’s iPod. Without knocking, the director of iPod Software—my boss’s boss—abruptly entered and closed the door behind him. He cut to the chase. “I have a special assignment for you. Your boss doesn’t know about it. You’ll help two engineers from the US Department of Energy build a special iPod. Report only to me.”

Fun story.

Microsoft Surface Duo Hands-On with the Hardware 8/14/2020

Microsoft has sent CNET’s Scott Stein a fancy hands-on version of the not-yet released Surface Duo Phone — but with the black screens replaced by clear plastic. The device obviously doesn’t work, but the plastic lets us see inside the device and, best of all, see how the hinge works.

I gotta admit, it’s a cool looking device. The price tag, while steep, accurately reflects what it would cost to buy two high quality screens with the brains and battery of one smartphone.

Stein writes:

Back in 2004, I remember opening up an absurd two-screen device that I felt was sure to fail. It had a stylus. It promised twice the viewing area for whole new experiences. I thought it was insane. It was the Nintendo DS, and I soon realized it was a lot more amazing than I expected.

I think about that Nintendo DS whenever I see a product with dual screens or folding screens. But I think about it the most when holding a nonworking shell of the Surface Duo for the first time. I've seen the Galaxy Fold, and the Moto Razr, and all the other dual-screen laptops and tablets that seem to be sprouting up like weeds. The Duo seems a lot more like a Nintendo DS or some sort of magic Moleskine. It's tiny. But not that tiny. It depends on whether you're perceiving it as a tablet, a phone or a funky digital book.

The charging port is horribly misaligned from everything on the bottom of the device. This really bothers me. There’s only one front-facing camera on the entire device, but if you flip the screens around 180 degrees it becomes an “external” camera — not sure what the screen facing your subject displays, but maybe it just serves as a giant soft flash? The Kindle app will support two-page reading, so basically you can hold it just like a real book. Despite the comparisons to a Nintendo DS, this is clearly a device intended for business use, and priced as such. But I like the hinge design, and I like the overall appearance of the device. I think Microsoft might be onto something here, it’s just too bad they — Microsoft, the company that makes Windows — has to rely on Google for Android support. That just feels very wrong.

AMC Reopens with 15 Cent Tickets and Free COVID Infections 8/13/2020

According to Variety, on August 20th AMC Theatres will sell you a fifteen cent movie ticket to see Back to the Future, The Goonies, or The Empire Strikes Back. They’ll also throw in a case of the COVIDs completely free. It’s the new Summer 2020 Pandemic Theatre Pass, and AMC’s big plan to get audiences back to theaters. Brent Lang for Variety has more:

AMC is embarking on a phased reopening of its theaters in the United States, with the goal of having approximately two thirds of its more than 600 locations operational in time for the Sept. 3 release of Christopher Nolan’s “Tenet.” That does not include venues in major markets such as New York and Los Angeles, where officials have not approved reopening cinemas due to public health concerns.

Isn’t there enough on Netflix and DIsney+ and HBO Max, do we really need to be encouraging people to go out in public and get sick? This seems reckless and irresponsible on AMC’s part. Going to the movies should not be a death sentence. A competent government wouldn’t allow this.

Epic Sues Apple After Fortnite Removed from App Store 8/13/2020

This morning Epic Games pushed out an update to their popular battle royal game Fortnite on mobile devices that allowed players to use Epic’s payment system to buy in-game items and currency direct from Epic at a 20% discount. Epic promoted the update heavily on social media and their website, stating that Apple and Google collect a 30% “fee” from purchases. Epic makes it sound like Apple and Google set the price, which is a little dishonest, but they do collect 30% of the transaction from the developer. The developer can choose to eat that fee or pass it onto the user; Epic chooses to pass it onto the user.

Epic was able to push this update out via a server-side game patch, bypassing Apple and Google’s app update processes.

Within hours of the update, Apple removed Fortnite from the App Store, and within minutes, Epic filed a lawsuit against Apple, which opens with:

In 1984, the fledgling Apple computer company released the Macintosh—the first mass-market, consumer-friendly home computer. The product launch was announced with a breathtaking advertisement evoking George Orwell’s 1984 that cast Apple as a beneficial, revolutionary force breaking IBM’s monopoly over the computing technology market. Apple’s founder Steve Jobs introduced the first showing of the 1984 advertisement by explaining, “it appears IBM wants it all. Apple is perceived to be the only hope to offer IBM a run for its money . . . . Will Big Blue dominate the entire computer industry? The entire information age? Was George Orwell right about 1984?”

Fast forward to 2020, and Apple has become what it once railed against: the behemoth seeking to control markets, block competition, and stifle innovation. Apple is bigger, more powerful, more entrenched, and more pernicious than the monopolists of yesteryear. At a market cap of nearly $2 trillion, Apple’s size and reach far exceeds that of any technology monopolist in history.

Epic clearly states they are not after money, but instead:

Epic brings this suit to end Apple’s unfair and anti-competitive actions that Apple undertakes to unlawfully maintain its monopoly in two distinct, multibillion dollar markets: (i) the iOS App Distribution Market, and (ii) the iOS In-App Payment Processing Market (each as defined below). Epic is not seeking monetary compensation from this Court for the injuries it has suffered. Nor is Epic seeking favorable treatment for itself, a single company. Instead, Epic is seeking injunctive relief to allow fair competition in these two key markets that directly affect hundreds of millions of consumers and tens of thousands, if not more, of third-party app developers.

As Nilay Patel explained on Twitter:

To make this more plain-english, this lawsuit’s main claims are not about whether Epic agreed to the App Store terms; it’s that the terms themselves are illegally furthering a monopoly.

A few hours after Apple pulled Fortnite and Epic filed suit, Google pulled the game from the Play Store, and Epic sued Google. I think, with the second lawsuit, Epic made their intentions crystal clear: they’re here to dismantle the app store monopolies enjoyed by Apple and Google.

Based on the immediacy of Epic’s lawsuit, the company knew exactly how Apple would respond to their game update, and they were ready for it. (Apple, for it’s part, likely knew Epic would sue; both companies have very smart people working for them.) In addition to the lawsuit, they had a surprise for Apple fans: a parody of Apple’s original Macintosh commercial, 1984, and in a jab to Google, uploaded to Vimeo.

Epic is a monster in gaming (yet small compared to Apple), and they’re using their size to reach a massive number of iPhone and iPad users with the message “Apple isn’t playing fair.” They’ve released a brief FAQ on their #FreeFortnite website, taking aim at Apple for “blocking your ability to get the latest Fortnite updates!” (For those with an exclamation mark allergy, you’re better off avoiding the site.) Epic is a master of the Internet, and the damage to Apple’s reputation, if this lawsuit is allowed to run it’s course, will be far worse than any amount of money Apple might lose in In-App purchases.

But this lawsuit is also about control of Apple’s iPhones, marketplace, and relationship with users. Apple is, if nothing else, a control freak. They’re switching from Intel to their own Apple silicon for better control of their Mac hardware, and they bought Intel’s 5G modem business last year to control pricing and escape the heel of Qualcomm. Apple has a history of being in control, but they just might be losing control of the narrative against Epic.

Jason Snell at Six Colors knows the future:

My inclination is that Apple should compete on the merits of its features, rather than winning because it’s the only option. Apple’s in-app purchase system will be simpler, more convenient, and more familiar to most users of its platforms. Add in Sign In With Apple and Apple Pay and things could become even more frictionless. If Apple is afraid that video-game-streaming services threaten the future of games in the App Store, I can relate—but if that’s truly the future of gaming, Apple won’t prevent it from coming true by banning the future from its store. It’ll just end up being behind the times.

“Apple” and “gaming” are two words that have never quite fit together. But by banning some of the most popular games and cutting edge platforms from the App Store, Apple is on the wrong side of technology and history. Apple is a company that feels very protective of it’s iPhone and App Store, and I don’t think anything less than a legal order will change their policies.

Let’s Clean the US First, Maybe? 8/7/2020

Sam Biddle with The Intercept, ‘The Filthy Hypocrisy of America’s “Clean” China-Free Internet’:

The State Department has a new vision for a “clean” internet, by which it means a China-free internet. This new ethno-exclusive network “is the Trump Administration’s comprehensive approach to guarding our citizens’ privacy and our companies’ most sensitive information,” by ensuring that China won’t be able to do a litany of subversive and violative things with technology that the U.S. and its allies have engaged in for years. As a policy document it’s nonsensical, but as a moral document, a piece of codified hypocrisy, it’s crystal clear: If there’s going to be a world-spanning surveillance state, it better be made in the USA.

The real question, even more than how could any of this practically be accomplished by State Department diktat, is: Why should anyone in the world take the initiative seriously? How can any network fondled for decades by American spy agencies be considered clean? The absolute gall of the United States in condemning “apps [that] threaten our privacy, proliferate viruses, and spread propaganda and disinformation” is just slightly too stunning to be laughable. Without exception, the United States engages in every one of these practices and violates every single one of these bullet pointed virtues of a Clean Internet. Where do we get off?

It’s pretty incredulous to say that the US government is protecting US citizens from China while the US government has — and likely continues to — spy on, hack, and compromise the data of US citizens.

But it’s not just US spy agencies attacking us:

It is the rare American citizen whose daily movements, habits, tastes, and desires aren’t surveilled around the clock by a constellation of for-profit firms whose names they will never know and whose interests they will rarely share.

Maybe this is why people don't seem worried by China and TikTok being a potential threat to their online safety and security — the US has been doing this for so long we’ve become apathetic.

Trumps Bans (Transactions with) TikTok 8/6/2020

Catherine Shu for TechCrunch:

President Donald Trump signed an executive order on Thursday banning transactions with ByteDance, the parent company of popular app TikTok . The White House also announced that he signed a similar order banning transactions with Tencent-owned WeChat, a messaging app that is ubiquitous in China, but has a much smaller presence than TikTok in the United States, where it is used mainly by members of the Chinese diaspora. Both orders will take effect in 45 days.

Matthew Panzarino on Twitter:

Would you be shocked if the president did not even understand what he was signing here? Scope. Methodology. Ramifications. Yeah me neither.

Half of the hot esports industry including valorant, fortnite, league of legends and a ton of other gaming firms just got nut shot by el pres and I highly doubt that was on the list of desired effects.

Tencent spends an enormous amount of money in the valley, hollywood and music. Tencent pictures has 3 Sony movies coming including Monster Hunter and a little Paramount movie called Top Gun: Maverick. Is money earned there included in this? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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