James Bond: Spectre Movie Review

Spectre_posterSpectre is as absurd as it is enjoyable, even given the high standard that everyone holds James Bond movies to. The cinematography goes to new heights, featuring bigger explosions and wilder stunts than ever before. The native marketing does too, where every scene plugs some alcohol, watch, car, exotic destination, or clothing. Further, there’s the more subliminal message that it’s plausible to do any of the things Bond does while intoxicated, motion-limited by tight (and expensive) clothes, in extreme weather, in old and unreliable cars, et cetera. The storyline also tries its hand at one-upmanship, attempting to weave together the disparate prior plots of Daniel Craig’s James Bond. In doing so, Spectre positions itself as the magnum opus of the era and maximally silly: that in the whole life of a psychopathic spy, in the background has been a would-be brother plotting to both make Bond suffer as much as possible and run a supranational surveillance program (all without thinking maybe you could just kill James Bond). Having said that, the plot is virtuous in that it makes a villain out of the globalist surveillance state. Spectre has all the right elements in all the right doses, but the genre needs to go deeper than the whole “James Bond is an outdated view on the world” self-referential plot. Rather than espionage and villains being outdated, it’s the campy and sexist antics of the 60s that are outdated. The James Bond franchise blew the potential of a dark, gritty reboot, analyzing the ethics of espionage and depicting a plausible version of Ian Flemings character. Maybe I’m being too harsh, because I enjoyed almost every minute of Spectre.

The Avalanches: Wildflower Album Review

Wildflower_Avalanches_cover_art The Avalanches finally released a new album, Wildflower, and it is flagrantly weird while ceaselessly captivating. Every track is a melodic hodgepodge of samples, beats, raps, singing, odd instrumentation, and sonic experimentation. Sometimes it makes you bob your head, other times it makes you dance, and much of the time you’re not exactly sure what you’re listening to: but it’s always a lot of fun. Wildflower is evocative of Daft Punk, The Beatles’ deeper cuts on The White Album, and even Jay Z/Kanye style soul beats, all while retaining that goofy charm from The Avalanches’ first album, “Since I Left You.” The album’s tone is silly and serious, pointless yet hints at a meaning, often familiar but still so foreign: it’s a celebratory, self-aware musical enigma.

“Because I’m Me” is the first full song on the album, and it’s a strut-worthy hip-hop track with catchy horns and am excitingly trippy chorus. But the straightforwardness doesn’t last long, as the ensuing song, “Frankie Sinatra”, immediately throws you right into the deep end, indicative of their track “Frontier Psychologist”, with stream-of-consciousness vocals over a Sgt. Peppers horn beat. It only gets weirder from there, and by the time you reach “The Noisy Eater”, you realize the bizarre genius of the album. It’s has an overall childish atmosphere, yet it’s occasionally performed on Baroque instruments, like sonic graffiti. In the end, while you’re listening to “Saturday Night Inside Out”, you’ll have enjoyed yourself, but have some elusive discomfort. The Avalanches took their successes from the first album and distilled them into extremely listenable and equally alien sophomore success: go listen to Wildflower.

Alleged iPhone 7 leak has no headphone jack and a big camera

It’s a very grainy, short video, but MacRumors discovered a video purporting to display the iPhone 7. Here’s the big camera:Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 7.36.36 PM

And here’s the lack of a headphone jack:

Screen Shot 2016-07-19 at 7.37.08 PM

This runs against the speculation that there’d be two camera sensors, however I imagine it is possible that this leak could be of the regular instead of the Plus size, which could be different.

This also suggests to me that if Apple do not ship with a headphone jack, they’ll ship with an in-the-box alternative. There’s no way consumers are going to be satisfied with a $700 device which doesn’t have headphones in the box. However, as a user of the tremendous Bose QC-35s, which are wireless and noise canceling, I can attest that Bluetooth is firmly “good enough” now, much like WiFi was when it achieved critical mass.

Allo goodbye – why you shouldn’t use Google’s new messenger app

At their respective yearly developer conferences, Apple and Google both announced changes to their messaging platforms that compete with Facebook Messenger and Snapchat. All of these services now have features like stickers, photo editing, wacky themes, zany message styles, and other fun features. Under this glossy veneer of oversized emoji lies some serious privacy considerations, however. The security risks of Messenger and Snapchat are welldocumented, but given that Google have announced a new app, it warrants further investigation.

Consider that Google makes money when you engage with an advertisement. In order to increase their chances of you doing this they develop free services like Gmail and Search. They take this opportunity to serve you those targeted ads, but also to collect metrics on your behavior, which in turn improves targeting. I suspect that the reason that Allo is not encrypted by default is that Google is analyzing your messages to further build out a profile on you, determine what type of ads you’re likely to click on, and serve them to you from the highest bidder. This profile will include products your considering buying, health conditions you mention, plans you have for the future, and more. Google “knows” these facts about you and uses that knowledge to sell advertisements. This would not be possible if the messages were encrypted end-to-end, because only the sender and receiver would have the digital keys required to see the contents of the messages.

If it were the government or someone you knew that intercepted your communications to pry into your business or secrets, it’d be rightly called unwarranted surveillance or just plain creepy. Consider that the analog equivalent of this behavior may be, say, reading your post-office delivered mail, which is a federal crime finable of up to $5,000 and punishable up to 5 years in jail. The turn of phrase at the start of this paragraph, to “pry into the business or secrets of another”, is exactly the wording of federal law 18 U.S. Code § 1702, and yet it seems that this is exactly what technology companies have convinced their users to be complacent with. There will be some that respond to this with, “I have nothing to hide.” Perhaps this is the case for some that make this claim, but if asked, I doubt most people would allow anyone to download their search history in full, forward all of their emails to somebody, or have their recent text messages read aloud in a public place (even if it was done anonymously, I suspect). Further, the mere existence of an incognito mode in Allo admits that there are messages that users do not want to share with Google and be profiled for.

This is a concession, a compromise. It’s because Google, like Facebook, realizes that consumers are wising up about the importance of privacy, and they are attempting to appeal to them. But it’s not a compromise that you have to make considering competing end-to-end encrypted chat services like WhatsApp or iMessage. A much stronger rebuttal to my claim that Allo is surveillance and creepy is that Google’s server do not in fact store the chat logs (it does, however, “read” them). Among other reasons, storing these messages is a liability they must manage with law enforcement agencies (remember Apple vs. the FBI?). As evidence of this, here’s Dieter Bohn from the Verge interviewing Google executives on the launch of Allo:

[Messages sent with Allo] are read by Google’s servers, but Kay assures me that the data is stored “transiently,” which is to say that Google doesn’t keep your chat logs around to be subpoenaed. And Fulay adds that Google doesn’t assign identity to the chat logs on those servers even then.

On storing messages “transiently”, this is not re-assuring. To re-use the previous metaphor: it’s akin to someone reading all of your mail, storing copious notes on the contents, and referring to those notes later to take guesses at your future behavior. Considering that in that period of time the message are stored on Google’s servers, they are run through the world’s most sophisticated machine learning algorithms to glean information from them. The reason they don’t store them is not to protect your privacy, it’s because they’re finished harvesting information from the message. And with regards to Google “not assigning identity ” to messages, the process of “de-anonmyizing” data has been well-documented at MIT and the Universitè Catholique de Louvain. The way it works is cross-referencing “anonymous” data with publicly available or leaked information. Not only that, but the data isn’t much use to Google unless they can use it to target ads to individuals, which makes me skeptical of this claim. Perhaps Google today is secure, both from external hackers and internal leakers, but there’s no guarantee that this will always be the case. Quite the contrary, the recent purchase of LinkedIn by Microsoft and LinkedIn’s frequent leaks show that your data can end up in different hands than you anticipated (though the terms of service users “agreed” to allows it).

The trade-offs involved with using Google’s Allo messaging service are not worth the value they provide. In particular, Allo’s off-by-default end-to-end encryption policy makes it inconvenient to secure your conversations, Google’s motives to profit is opposed to their user’s best interests, and the engineering countermeasures to limit the scope of this are at least unknown, perhaps superficial, and definitely not required considering the competition. However, there are number of really great ideas in Allo that are very popular amongst users of trendier messenger apps like WhatsApp, WeChat, and Facebook Messenger. (For the record, WhatsApp is end-to-end encrypted by default, it doesn’t seem to like WeChat even uses over-the-wire encryption, and Facebook stores all of your messages.) If you’re an Android user, stick with another chat service that encrypts by default like WhatsApp or Signal. If you’re an iOS user, many of the features from Allo were announced to be coming to iMessage, which is encrypted end-to-end, in the Fall.

Pokemon Go, Nintendo’s market value, and intellectual property

Like seemingly everyone near my age and many people below and above it, I’ve been playing Pokemon Go. It’s fun, and the nostalgia is palpable. It isn’t particularly well-done, however, the most innovative products perhaps necessarily rushed, and so, my criticisms:

  • I hate having to give access to my full Google account to some shady subdivision without the public oversight and reputation of Google proper;
  • It makes me sad to throw out Pokemon I trained since the beginning or caught in meaningful locations for much more powerful and otherwise identical Pokemon I find on my commute;
  • It destroys battery (but to be fair, the GameBoy was pretty awful at that too).

The news of Pokemon Go made it to Wall Street, and Pavel Alpeyev and Yuji Nakamura (via John Gruber) report for Bloomberg that they like what they see:

The company has added more than $7 billion in market value since last week’s debut of a new smartphone app for its Pokemon fantasy monster character franchise. The game, which lets users track down virtual monsters in their vicinity, has topped the free-to-download app charts for Apple in the U.S. and Australia since its release on July 7, according to market researcher App Annie.

Nintendo’s shares responded with their biggest intraday jump since at least 1983, when the stock started trading in Tokyo, climbing as much as 25 percent on Monday. Investors are taking Pokemon’s early success as a sign of things to come for a company that has yet to commit the most popular characters from its Mario or Zelda franchises to mobile gaming apps.

The lesson I see here is not necessarily that this is a tipping point for AR/VR but rather that it’s still exceedingly good business to be in intellectual property. Consider that Niantec released an AR app before this that was met with a whimper, but when some IP from 1999 is added, a whole generation loses their collective mind and goes outside. The success of Pokemon Go is a powerful reminder of why companies like Marvel, Games Workshop, and Nintendo defend their IP so fervently: it can add $7 billion to your market value even 10 years after its inception.

I also caught an Electabuzz I’m quite proud of, and have a viciously high-level Pinsir.

Spotify launch new radio stations

Music is an art, a commodity, a lifestyle, a business, and more recently, an app. People used to pay for physical media in a way they didn’t pay for digital music, probably because it doesn’t feel like you’re receiving “a thing” when you download a file. As an alternative, music businesses developed around streaming, either on-demand or as “radio” (programmatic content). The way this was monetized was with advertisements and paying to remove them. This was to the benefit of the companies that were first in music streaming to generate the large scale required to be very profitable, and to the detriment of content producers that couldn’t generate that scale. Up to this point, I understand completely, armed with the amazing power of hindsight. But when Apple announced Beats 1, I was stupefied. When we have all the music we want available for immediate play, why would anyone want to go back to the Byzantine distribution method of programmed radio?

Perhaps it’s a significant differentiator, however, because here’s Rich McCormick from the Verge:

Swedish streaming service Spotify is launching two new radio shows today, both of which feature musicians talking about the kind of music that they like listening to while they’re making their art. The first, AM/PM, will feature artists like electronic music pioneer Jean-Michel Jarre and Terry Hall of ska icons The Specials talking about the music they listen to in the mornings before work, and in the evenings after a day spent creating. The second, Secret Genius, speaks to the songwriters and producers behind major songs, and features the actually-pretty-well-known James Blake, among others.

Perhaps it will be clear in time, but I don’t know what the appeal of this is when we have all the music available (almost) all the time.