Donald Trump and the Paris Accord

Donald Trump has appeared to or has been characterized as pulling back on his promises to “build a wall”, “drain the swamp”, “lock her up”, and more. But if there’s any campaign promise I want him to pull back on, it’s not implementing the Paris Accord. From Democracy Now!:

As Democracy Now! broadcasts from the U.N. climate talks in Marrakech, Morocco, we report that nearly 200 nations have agreed on a proclamation that declares implementation of the Paris climate accord to be an “urgent duty.” This comes just over a week after the election of Donald Trump, who has vowed to pull the United states out of the Paris Agreement and has called climate change a Chinese-created hoax. Meanwhile, climate activists staged protests targeting corporate sponsors of the climate talks.

Even if there were a plausible case for skepticism in man-made global climate change, the gamble of potentially making large swaths of land uninhabitable and unarable is not worth the risk.

iPhones send call history to Apple if you’ve enabled iCloud

The Intercept reported via a digital forensics firm that iPhones with iCloud enabled send user’s call history to Apple servers:

Russian digital forensics firm Elcomsoft has found that Apple’s mobile devices automatically send a user’s call history to the company’s servers if iCloud is enabled — but the data gets uploaded in many instances without user choice or notification.

“You only need to have iCloud itself enabled” for the data to be sent, said Vladimir Katalov, CEO of Elcomsoft.

This can be justified. Apple do a number of things with your phone call: they allow you to answer calls on any of your devices, they allow third parties to make VoIP calls that look and feel like normal phone calls, for instance. Apple’s response:

“We offer call history syncing as a convenience to our customers so that they can return calls from any of their devices,” an Apple spokesperson said in an email. “Device data is encrypted with a user’s passcode, and access to iCloud data including backups requires the user’s Apple ID and password. Apple recommends all customers select strong passwords and use two-factor authentication.”

It is still technically accessible to law enforcement via a subpoena, but granted, I believe this is true anyway given that carriers would happily provide call logs too. The mistake Apple made here is not in the actual behavior of the phone, but in the disclosure to users. This should have been made clear to the user, or at least found in their famously long agreements.

ProPublica exposes professors being hired by corporations to justify their mergers.

The most straightforward example of corporate purchase of academic economic research in their favor that ProPublica found was Dennis Carlton:

Dennis Carlton, a self-effacing economist at the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business and one of Compass Lexecon’s experts on the AT&T-Time Warner merger, charges at least $1,350 an hour. In his career, he has made about $100 million, including equity stakes and non-compete payments, ProPublica estimates. Carlton has written reports or testified in favor of dozens of mergers, including those between AT&T-SBC Communications and Comcast-Time Warner, and three airline deals: United-Continental, Southwest-Airtran, and American-US Airways.

This is the elitism that is the source of America’s growing populism, with academic class gorging themselves on corporate-funded and government subsidized hit-peice publications that justify decisions that benefit that same academic, political, banker, and corporate class. The politicians making the most noise about this are hugely popular: Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren, Ron Paul, and Donald Trump come immediately to mind. ProPublica continue:

In addition, politicians such as U.S. Senator Elizabeth Warren have criticized big mergers for giving a handful of companies too much clout. President-elect Trump said in October that his administration would not approve the AT&T-Time Warner merger “because it’s too much concentration of power in the hands of too few.”

The merge has the same affect as trade deals: while it’s true that a broad view of the economy shows that there’s more capital in the system, it disproportionally benefits the rich and punishes the poor. Democrats and Republicans alike have been increasingly cozy with ex-corporate interest “independent” lobbyists which later become politicians themselves before getting hired by a corporation again. Obama in 2008 had a populist message, and moving to 2016 he’s become everything people didn’t vote for: bigger trade deals and bigger mergers and acquisitions:

A late Obama administration push to scrutinize major deals notwithstanding, the government over the past several decades has pulled back on merger enforcement.

The rest of the article explores how Apple’s iBooks price fixing scandal and the AT&T/Time Warner deal are examples of being technically advantageous to the United States on grounds that while the customers face a bigger burden, the corporation can take advantage of efficiencies to deliver more value to shareholders. And if this difference is net positive, they argue, it is a good merger. But this is false because empowering the people at the base of the economy with competition for cost and features is better for more people and has broader positive economic effects. When consumers have more money, they can afford more, take a chance at starting a business, have a kid, and many more positive outcomes. But when a very narrow group of executives, politicians, and academics funnel more money into their accounts by taking advantage of efficiencies in economics of scale, they’re actually delivering capital to where it is least needed. ProPublica conclude:

Today, AT&T’s much grander takeover of Time Warner will be an early test case for president-elect Trump, who feuded during the campaign with CNN, a Time Warner property.

If Trump blocks the deal, I hope it’s the first in a series of good decisions; if he allows the deal, he’ll have completely repudiated his claim that he’ll “drain the swamp.” Ideally, the populist liberals and conservatives in all the branches of government can unify to fight this establishment corporatism.

Facebook promises its users more censorship

Facebook via TechCrunch:

We take misinformation on Facebook very seriously. We value authentic communication, and hear consistently from those who use Facebook that they prefer not to see misinformation. In Newsfeed we use various signals based on community feedback to determine which posts are likely to contain inaccurate information, and reduce their distribution. In Trending we look at a variety of signals to help make sure the topics being shown are reflective of real-world events, and take additional steps to prevent false or misleading content from appearing. Despite these efforts we understand there’s so much more we need to do, and that is why it’s important that we keep improving our ability to detect misinformation. We’re committed to continuing to work on this issue and improve the experiences on our platform.

It’s amazing how straightfacedly and unironically this VP admits to and endorses censorship, as though they have some unique access to the truth, like the solution to Trump getting elected is even more media control. But to their point, it’s their platform, and they can control the flow of information all they want, to me it’s another reason not to use Facebook.

It should’ve been President Sanders

While the result of the presidential election is upsetting to me on grounds of many of my personal beliefs – namely, that anthropogenic climate change is an existential threat to humanity, that everyone should be allowed to live the life they want with whoever they love, that a country as wealthy as the United States should guarantee its citizens healthcare as a human right, among others – I’m pleased because it was a triumph for democracy.

The reason the Republicans won is that even though almost every establishment figure was wary of Trump, when the results of their primary came in, Republicans did the right thing for democracy and accepted it, however reluctantly or reservedly. Contrastingly, the Democrats impeded Sanders at every step of the way, preemptively blaming him for Clinton’s loss, threatening him, slandering him, and otherwise fudging their primary to the favor of Clinton. Is it any surprise then that it resulted in a candidate that no one wanted. Before you demonize me and profess your passion for Clinton, consider that Trump didn’t win so much as Clinton lost. Look at the voter turnout of 2008, 2012, and 2016, and you’ll see that it shows that Republicans had a typical showing, and that no Democrats came to the polls. Even if some people are passionate about Clinton, the Democratic primary still failed to pick a popular candidate because establishment politicians forced their candidate through with super delegates, manipulation of the media, and threats, and these people are the ones responsible for letting Trump win.

If Democrats continue to blame third-party candidates, “Bernie-bros”, the FBI, Russians, WikiLeaks, whoever, for the failing of their top-down chosen candidate to garner popular support, they’ll continue to lose elections. If Democrats continue to retort to Republicans concerns about terrorism and immigration with “that’s racist”, they’re not going to convince voters as much as they’re going to silence them, because even if it’s true it’s an unpersuasive argument. This will only distort the polls, fail to convince people, and the Democrats will continue to lose election. If the Democrats continue to garner “right side of history” support using identity politics, they’ll alienate rural and suburban people who vote on economic and foreign policy issues, and they’ll continue to lose elections. Before you label me or any Trump voter a racist, which is the type of moralizing blame-shifting that’s losing Democrats elections, consider that the Rust Belt and Bible Belt voters chose Obama, an anti-establishment populist Democratic, twice over a white conservative establishment figure. Those people aren’t white supremacists, they’re the backbone of our country, and if Democrats continue to treat democracy with contempt, it won’t matter that the Democrats automatically get 55 delegates from California, they’ll continue to lose elections.

I’m pleased with the result of the election despite being upset with the winner because Democrats deserved to lose for their blatant disregard for the will of the people, the only legitimate source of power.

Self-hosted content versus centralized third-party services

Andy Baio via Ben Brooks

Here, I control my words. Nobody can shut this site down, run annoying ads on it, or sell it to a phone company. Nobody can tell me what I can or can’t say, and I have complete control over the way it’s displayed. Nobody except me can change the URL structure, breaking 14 years of links to content on the web.

While I may cross-post some content to Apple News, Medium, and other services as they spring up — I won’t cross post everything and I certainly don’t trust those sites to ever be more than a passing fad. Having my own site gives me complete control to do whatever I want, whenever I want, however I want. I don’t understand why people ever want it any other way.

This is right on the money: I haven’t been on the Internet as a browser or producer for even a fraction of its total life, and I’ve still seen the rise and fall of many websites. MySpace, Digg, Friendster … there is no reason to believe that the trendy publishing platforms of today will be around tomorrow, in fact quite the contrary. While I take this to be an argument against using these services and have no desire to change, I do suspect that this is a somewhat selfish and hermetic Internet existence, where many people would argue Internet introverts have a lot more to gain from centralized platforms than they’re giving up. Specifically, because it’s centralized, the audience is centralized, discovery is easier, and the value of the interactions that happen while the site is live far outweigh the risks of losing that data or ability once the service invariable tanks, either by shutting down or with some insipid monetization scheme.

Perhaps, perhaps not.

More Samsung recalls

NBC News via John Gruber:

Samsung has one more fire to put out: The South Korean company announced on Friday that it was recalling 2.8 million top-load washing machines, following reports of “impact injuries” that included a broken jaw.

The problem stems from unbalanced drums, which can separate from the washer and generate enough internal force to cause other parts of the washer to detach — and, in some cases, be launched out of the machine.

Samsung is also the subject of an August lawsuit from owners who said their machines “explode during normal use.”

Investors.com via Macrumors via /r/apple

Apple was No. 1 by a mile in smartphone operating profit in Q3. Among major vendors, Samsung was No. 2 in smartphone profits with a tiny 0.9% share, he said. Money-losers in the smartphone business last quarter included LG and HTC […].

Perhaps Samsung should cut their losses, play to their strengths, and enter the very lucrative munitions industry. Snark aside, I’m amazed they turned any profit at all after their Note 7 debacle, and in the interest of healthy competition I hope they rebound quickly. I’d still argue their biggest problem isn’t their exploding phones, it’s their operating system, if they had an OS that could even shine a light on iOS in terms of battery efficiency, their batteries wouldn’t need to be nearly as big or would last twice as long.

Who needs jesters with kings like these?

Jill Stein posted this to her Facebook a couple days ago:

We need to begin having honest conversations about the oppressive tactics corporate comedians continue to do towards already-marginalized groups of people.

And had this to add on her campaign website:

Oliver’s staff actually called our campaign before the program to ask for clarification on Jill’s platform – especially on the main part of his rant, cancelling student debt.

Despite this stab at due diligence (of the sort comedians undertake) … Oliver got it woefully, intentionally wrong. Gosh, it was almost as if they weren’t interested in the truth. It’s almost as if they just wanted to do a hatchet job…

Of course Oliver isn’t interested in the truth: he’s interested in making people laugh and in keeping his job. His show is a little better than some of his competitors because HBO doesn’t have to answer to advertisers, but it is owned by a company that answers to advertisers and lobbies the government. Of course corporate media forwards the goals of corporate media: it’s impossible for any sufficiently large corporation to pursue goals outside of growth and profit, because every decision is scrutinized by understandably penny-conscious shareholders. Oliver is a consumer-facing, front-line product from a Time/Warner company, and he fits into some larger strategy they have for growth and profit. To expect otherwise from a comedy show is misguided.

And this is the real problem. These comedy shows, like The Daily Show and Last Week Tonight, lampoon the news, and in doing so, replace the news for people that prefer to actually enjoy their television experience. I think the problems Stein should really be pointing out is that Oliver gets to market himself as news without needing to uphold journalistic standards, like supplements get to pose as medicine without upholding standards of safety and efficacy, and that the news has become so intolerable with the 24 hours news cycle that it’s difficult for me to believe anyone voluntary watches it (Their ratings must be falsely inflated by TVs in airports whose remote control has been misplaced.)

I’m considering voting for Stein come election day, Oliver’s piece made me laugh heartily, and it made no change to my convictions. When you decide to watch controversial, political, or lewd comedy, it’s just stupid to get offended when you, your ideology, or your identity is made fun. What did you expect? That only things you dislike would be mocked? To try to suppress this would be an affront to free speech, one of our most important freedoms. Not only is this stupid, but you cede power to the comedian when you do this, and you’ll often make the joke funnier for the target audience. If you want an example of how to handle being made fun of, and it’s uncomfortable for me to praise a group I have so many problems with, look no further than how the Mormon Church handled “The Book of Mormon”:

The production may attempt to entertain audiences for an evening, but the Book of Mormon as a volume of scripture will change people’s lives forever by bringing them closer to Christ.

Let me rephrase that for you Jill Stein:

Jon Oliver may attempt to entertain viewers for an 20 minutes or so, but the ideology of the Green Party is designed to benefit the general population of the United States, unlike the corporatist duopoly.

TechCrunch: “Google buys Eyefluence eye-tracking startup”

TechCrunch:

Eyefluence shared the announcement quietly today in a blog post, spotted first by Mattermark:

Today, we are excited to announce that the Eyefluence team is joining Google!  With our forces combined, we will continue to advance eye-interaction technology to expand human potential and empathy on an even larger scale.  We look forward to the life-changing innovations we’ll create together!

As Google launches its Daydream virtual reality platform next month with its Daydream View headset, there is already attention being directed to its next-gen headset efforts.

There’s no reason to believe that Google or any other company has today or will evee infiltrate people’s computers to track their eye movements, but they’re certainly incentivized to do so. I encourage you cover your cameras.

iOS development links: October 25th, 2016

Zany genius rocket man releases dreadfully cool video of Tesla’s self-driving car

Tesla have released a video of their self-driving technology via HackerNews. Here’s what it looks like:

screen-shot-2016-10-20-at-10-19-14-am

It looks just like a Tesla. Compare this with Uber’s self-driving offering:

uber-self-driving-car-pittsburgh

Given the recent rumor that Apple is pulling out of making the car itself, I think it’s worth noting a critical difference in these two cars: only one of them is cool, and it’s the one with integrated hardware and software.

The U.S. and Russia fighting proxy war in Syria

From Military.com:

In a warning to Russia, the Pentagon said Tuesday that the U.S. maintains the right to self-defense against advanced anti-aircraft systems sent to Syria by Moscow.

“This is something that we take very, very seriously — the safety of our aircrews,” Pentagon Press Secretary Peter Cook said in response to reportsthat Russia sent highly mobile S-300 anti-air missile systems (known to NATO as the SA-23) to its naval facility in the northwestern Syrian port of Tartus over the weekend.

“Those aircrews have the inherent right to self-defense,” Cook said at a Pentagon news conference.

Hillary Clinton via The Intercept:

“They’re getting more sophisticated thanks to Russian imports. To have a no-fly zone you have to take out all of the air defense, many of which are located in populated areas. So our missiles, even if they are standoff missiles so we’re not putting our pilots at risk—you’re going to kill a lot of Syrians,” she said. “So all of a sudden this intervention that people talk about so glibly becomes an American and NATO involvement where you take a lot of civilians.”

From the Guardian, “are US-led airstrikes on Syrians as bad as Russia’s?”:

It only attributes deaths with clear evidence so not all are accounted for, but its records hold the Syrian government and affiliated militia responsible for 92,000 civilian deaths, Russian forces for 3,412, Syrian opposition fighters, excluding Isis, for 2,470, and Isis for 3,078. It attributes 768 to the international coalition.

George Monbiot on “the flight of reason”

In a powerfully argued essay, George Monbiot makes the case we should fly less to save the planet:

The prime minister has just announced that her cabinet will recommend where a new runway should be built. Then there will be a consultation on the decision. There is only one answer that doesn’t involve abandoning our climate change commitments and our moral scruples: nowhere. […]

Are we incapable of making such changes for the sake of others? If so, our ethics are weaker than those of 1791, when 300,000 British people, to dissociate themselves from slavery, stopped using sugar, reducing sales by one third. They understood the moral implications of an act that carried no ill intent, that seemed sweetly innocent.

The perceptual gulf between us and the distant and future victims of climate change is no wider than the ocean that lay between the people of Britain and the Caribbean. If we do not make the leap of imagination that connects our actions with their consequences, it is not because we can’t but because we won’t.

Event: Sam Jarman on Push Notifications @ CocoaHeadsNYC

Thank you to Sam Jarman, CocoaHeadsNYC, and Google for hosting an event on push notifications. Sam has a lot of good advice on push notifications, the biggest take away being that notifications are sent to people and not devices, and that you should respect peoples time. One of the data points he has to back this up is that 70% of app uninstalls are triggered by a push notification! So be wary!

Naked Capitalism: “Wells Fargo Fake Accounts Hidden by Fake Whistleblowing”

Wells Fargo have been implicated in not only forging signatures to set up fake accounts for customers, but they’ve now been found to have fired whistleblowers for reporting it. Naked Capitalism via Richard Stallman:

Mind you, the CNN story didn’t establish that Wells Fargo had larded up the numbers by including internal dissenters it fired. But what it has found is far worse: the bank terminated employees who made use of formal whistleblower procedures to object to account fakery and other abuses, like forging signatures.

Not only does the story have multiple sources, most of whom let their names be published, but it also includes a source from Wells Fargo who confirms that the “can the whistleblowers” process was institutionalized. For instance, the Human Resources department gave the business units tips as to how to created trumped-up charges so as to cover for the real reason for the firings.

Why won’t anyone, including the CEO, be prosecuted? Wells Fargo have contributed $1,370,643 to political parties and has been significantly increasing their contributions year over year since 1990.

Electrek: “Tesla increases its lead on the US luxury sedan market, beating Mercedes, BMW and Audi”

Gruber:

Fred Lambert:

Tesla shocked the industry earlier this year when it confirmed having delivered 25,202 Model S sedans in the U.S. in 2015, which gave the company a 25% market share in the premium sedan market. For the first time, Tesla had surpassed market leaders like BMW and Mercedes. Furthermore, every single other large luxury sedan has seen its sales decrease during the same period.

Now the electric automaker is increasing its lead on the US luxury sedan market to such a point that the Model S is now twice as popular as the Mercedes S-Class or the BMW 7-Series. Tesla is literally selling more all-electric sedans in the US than Mercedes and BMW are selling S-Class and 7-Series combined.

I’m surprised at how few of these cars are sold overall, but it’s amazing that Tesla has already taken a commanding lead.

Here’s a take I’m not completely sold on and may be slightly controversial: the cars Tesla are making are faster horses relative to the combustion automobile. The coming revolution in the industry is not a car powered by a different energy source, but a more efficient way of getting between two points, where efficiency is profit, energy, and convenience, namely self-driving. Tesla makes beautiful cars with a laudable set of innovations, which I hope continues have a place in the market, but I see Uber, Apple, and Google as better placed to deliver an autonomous car platform than Ford, General Motors, and by association, Tesla. The Apple or Google autonomous car will not be something you buy at a dealership, it will be a service that’s available in your city.

Related to this point: the dirty secret of Teslas is that they don’t do much to reduce carbon emissions today in the sense that nearly 70% of electricity used charge these cars are the result of burning stuff (which admittedly is a hell of a lot better than a combustion engine’s 100%, it’s likely much more efficient to burn this fuel elsewhere, deliver the electricity, and perhaps capture the carbon). Of course, Tesla seems to be taking steps to address this with Solar City, and they’re doing great work. In fact, far from being a reason to not buy a Tesla, I much prefer the idea of individual ownership of cars to the collectivization of means of transportation for privacy and autonomy reasons, but I digress.

Was just struggling with a very annoying bug where my Storyboard would always display “Internal error. Please file a bug.” Following the suggestion of a StackOverflow answer, I delete my derived data and cleaned the project to avail. I want to love Storyboards Apple, please make sure they work!

Was just struggling with a very annoying bug where my Storyboard would always display “Internal error. Please file a bug.” Following the suggestion of a StackOverflow answer, I delete my derived data and cleaned the project to avail. I want to love Storyboards Apple, please make sure they work!

Ars: “Verizon says its Pixels will get updates at the same time as Google’s”

Gruber:

Ron Amadeo:

A Verizon spokesperson has reached out to Ars with the following corrections about its version of the Pixel:

“… [W]hen Google releases an update, Verizon phones will receive the same update at the same time (much like iOS updates). … [W]e have three apps pre-installed on the phone Go90, My Verizon (which is your account management tool) and Verizon Messages (your messaging app). As you noted, all three can easily be uninstalled by the user.”

Assuming this pans out, it’s the closest anyone has gotten to Apple’s total control over the software on its phones. The only difference: the (removable) pre-installed Verizon crapware apps.

When I last purchased an iPhone from a carrier store, I was pressured to activate the phone in-store so they could install their apps for me, supposedly it was “company mandated policy.” I wanted to do an iCloud restore, I didn’t want to twiddle my thumbs while that happened in their store, so I insisted on getting the phone in the box or I was leaving. I was only allowed to do that on the promise that I’d install “myAT&T” when I was finished with the iCloud restore. Naturally, I didn’t do it, their website works just fine.

Mossberg: “Why does Siri seem so dumb?”

Phones have become good enough that differentiating them to consumers is becoming increasingly difficult. Consider that in pursuit of this, Samsung made a phone which explodes, Apple have been re-releasing the same core phone for 3 years now, and LG have actually marketed their DAC in the new V20. But another critical way these phones compete is in artificially intelligent assistants. Here’s Mossberg’s diagnosis:

It seems to me that Apple has wasted its lead with Siri. And now Google, Amazon, Microsoft, Facebook, and others are on the march. Apple has made excited announcements each time it added knowledge domains like sports and movies and restaurants to Siri on the iPhone. But it seems like it hasn’t added any major new topic domains in quite a while.

With regards to the competitive landscape of of artificial intelligent voice assistants, I’d make a case like this: Siri can set timers and alarms, which it excels at, and occasionally to try to respond to a message when typing would be inconvenient, which it is mediocre at best at. I implore you to never try to use it while driving, as it often requires more interaction in time and taps with my phone than typing “yes” or “no” takes on the digital keyboard. Contrastingly, Alexa is great at transcribing, excels in its very limited domains, but cannot perform interesting tasks at the moment other than ordering stuff from Amazon. Similarly, Google’s assistant is probably the best in the market overall in terms of transcribing, understanding, and acting on input, but comes with a series of compromises in privacy and mobile OS that don’t make it worthwhile for me.

More broadly, Mossberg’s piece is unduly pessimistic about Apple’s competitiveness. Apple’s on the right track with Siri extensions – allowing 3rd party developers to interact with their assistant in predictable ways. You can now order an Uber or Lyft with Siri or send money to people, which I consider more important than knowing trivia about the presidential debate or sports games, even if that’s arguably lower hanging fruit. AI assistants are an abstraction which hides a computer’s complexity in a way that I’m not sure will ever be as productive or as fast as a command line or web page, but I look forward to them occupying a a convenient position in our digital lives.

Brand New Machine: Chase and Status Album Review

cs2308290-02a-bigBrand New Machine is a tasteful and innovative album by English drum & bass duo Chase and Status released in 2013 featuring collaborations from Major Lazer, Nile Rodgers, and Pusha T. It’s sound ranges from pure drum & bass, rap, pop, and jazz, in bits and pieces. “Gun Metal Grey” opens the album on a dark mysterious note, only to be blown open by the weirdly catchy but fierce “International” (with a superb remix from Skrillex on the deluxe edition). Brand New Machine is a bittersweet but aggressive album, with both toned down drum and bass over beautifully produced vocals and the synth sounds fans will known and love. It has enough range to be a good whole-album listen to but also has some singles that are well suited to a work out mix. Other standout tracks include “Machine Gun” and “Gangsta Boogie”.