by Lance Somoza

General

General


Kevin Beaumont for Double Pulsar:

So there’s a new Wi-Fi attack. In the media it is being presented as a flaw in WPA protocol which isn’t fixable. This isn’t true.

  • It is patchable, both client and server (Wi-Fi) side.
  • Linux patches are available now. Linux distributions should have it very shortly.
  • The attack realistically doesn’t work against Windows or iOS devices. The Group vuln is there, but it’s not near enough to actually do anything of interest.
  • There is currently no publicly available code out there to attack this in the real world — you would need an incredibly high skill set and to be at the Wi-Fi base station to attack this.
  • Android is the issue, which is why the research paper concentrates on it. The issue with Android is people largely don’t patch.

Good points here. As a matter of fact, I patched my Ubiquiti UniFi access points this morning to protect against the vulnerability. Patches will trickle down to consumer devices in due time, I’m sure.

Post updated on October 7 at 2:20 PM Pacific to include a new notification from Offer Up.

You get them, I get them, we all get them — and no it’s not ice cream, but something far worse — Push Notification spam. Whether they direct us to new features or advertise sales and specials, they have become a plague. We get so many notifications as is. Coupled with the lacking notification management in iOS, the last thing we need is literal spam adding to the mess.

For too long we have let apps control our endless stream of notifications in the hopes they’ll make our lives easier. While most do, there are countless others, big and small, that have abused our trust. I say no more. Here are my top offenders, in order of most annoying to least.

My Top Offenders

Postmates

They are by far the worst in terms of content and frequency. Here’s one in particular I saved from June.

No.
How about you just put it in your update notes instead?

Offer Up

Offer Up isn’t far behind Postmates. Yeah, I know it’s [insert national holiday here]. It doesn’t mean I’m going to look for [insert holiday-associated item here] in your app. I didn’t save an example, but I’m sure it won’t be long before I get another one.

Added on October 7 at 2:20PM:

Right on queue! I just received this about an hour ago.
What did I tell you? Right on queue! I just received this about an hour ago.

Starbucks

Really? Why? Did everyone suddenly forget about the largest coffee chain on Earth?

No shit? Get out of town!
No shit? Get outta town!

Others

There are countless others, as I’ve seen plenty examples over the years. I asked family and friends to send me any notifications they received in the same vein, so here are a few more. If you have particularly terrible ones, feel free to send them to me.

5miles A repeat offender.
Awful, and a repeat offender for my niece.

Even TILE?
Even TILE? Again from my niece.

QVC
Egregious. Sent in by my Dad.

Come now, Domino’s.
Come now, Domino’s.

Solution

The solution I feel is three-fold.

Marketers: Don’t Be Shitty

Marketers need to stop trying to appeal to us this way. To think at any time I could be bombarded with an asinine notification about your product is ridiculous. If anything, it makes me dislike your brand/app and inches me ever closer to never using your service again. Only engage me when it’s actually warranted. Otherwise, get out of my way.

We The People

Report apps that do this to Apple. It’s explicitly against the App Store Review Guidelines, and if we make enough noise, hopefully Apple will listen. Which brings me to the third part of the solution.

You can report an app via the ‘Report A Problem’ site. One you login, apps purchased within the last 90 days will appear. Click the offending app’s ‘Report A Problem’ button and enter something of the following nature. If you need to report an app not on the list, contact support directly.

Apple’s Report A Problem site.
How to report an app. Just using Giphy as an example. They are not an offender.

Apple: Enforce App Store Guidelines

Half of the onus for this mess is on Apple. They have rules explicitly outlawing these kinds of practices, yet have continued to let marketers get away with it. As a result, they have set a terrible precedent.

They also haven’t provided a way for us as users to opt-out or otherwise better manage these kinds of notifications. To draw a parallel, Apple introduced an official API for developers to engage users on rating and reviewing apps in iOS 11. As a result, the experience has been far better than what developers have resorted to over the years. Maybe they could apply this same kind of thinking to ad-based notifications.

Otherwise, Apple needs to get with the program and actually enforce the policies below. Here are a few App Store Review Guidelines that speak best to this situation.

3.2.2 Unacceptable [Business Models]

(ii) Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.

4.5 Apple Sites and Services

4.5.3 Do not use Apple Services to spam, phish, or send unsolicited messages to customers, including Game Center, Push Notifications, etc.

4.5.4 Push Notifications must not be required for the app to function, and should not be used for advertising, promotions, or direct marketing purposes or to send sensitive personal or confidential information.

Emphasis mine. I don’t know how it can be more clear.

The Starbucks notification above is obviously in violation of all these rules. They outright say they want me to place an order from my phone under the guise of ‘cool feature’.

In the case of Postmates asking me to check out their latest update, I’ll play devil’s advocate. One could argue it’s not for ‘direct marketing purposes’, and only a plea to check out ‘cool feature’. Still, what feature could they possibly add that wouldn’t be for the benefit of their core business? Considering this, how could the notification not be in violation of the App Store guidelines? It might as well say ‘Please open our app and order something.’ — at least then I’d have a little more respect for their honesty.

Not A Solution

You might be saying, ‘well then don’t patronize these businesses and stop using their apps’ or ‘turn off notifications for the offenders’, but that’s beside the point. Some do offer great services or experiences that require or provide great benefit via Push Notification (e.g. letting you know when your order is ready). We simply must be vocal about discouraging this kind of behavior or it will continue to run rampant.

In a long interview with Brian Merchant (author of ‘The One Device’), Alan Kay discussed his detailed views on computing. Specifically, Kay outlines how our amazing computers are usually deduced to consumption devices due to lack of education.

This is a fantastic insight into Alan Kay’s thought process and computing vision. Although I don’t agree with everything he says, he makes a lot of striking points.

Some backing on Kay:

Kay is one of the forefathers of personal computing; he’s what you can safely call a living legend. He directed a research team at the legendary Xerox PARC, where he led the development of the influential programming language SmallTalk, which foreshadowed the first graphical user interfaces, and the Xerox Alto, a forerunner of the personal computer that predated 1984’s Apple Macintosh by 11 years (only 2,000 of the $70,000 devices were produced). Kay was one of the earliest advocates, back in the days of hulking gray mainframes, for using the computer as a dynamic instrument of learning and creativity. It took imagination like his to drive the computer into the public’s hands.

Kay describing the Dynabook (one of the article’s main focuses) in his own words:

“Imagine having your own self-contained knowledge manipulator,” they implored—note the language, and the emphasis on knowledge. “Suppose it had enough power to outrace your senses of sight and hearing, enough capacity to store for later retrieval thousands of page-equivalents of reference materials, poems, letters, recipes, records, drawings, animations, musical scores, waveforms, dynamic simulations, and anything else you would like to remember and change.”

Sounds like the iPad, right? As Brian points out here, though, the key word is knowledge as a central point. Instead of being an open book to venture off, Kay essentially thinks tablets should be primarily utilitarian and productivity-driven.

Kay on the original iPhone:

When I first got to Apple, which was in ’84, the Mac was already out and Newsweek contacted me and asked me what I thought of the Mac. I said, “Well, the Mac is the first personal computer good enough to be criticized.”

So, after Steve [announced] the iPhone [in 2007], he brought it up to me and handed it to me. He said, “Alan, is this good enough to be criticized?” And I said, “Steve, make it this size [as big as a tablet] and you’ll rule the world.” Now, that has been misunderstood, because I didn’t know what they were doing. But as a scientist-engineer, I would’ve bet a thousand dollars–and I would’ve won–that there was already an iPad.

Quite an accurate prediction by Kay. We know without a doubt that Apple was already working on the technology in tablet form before the iPhone.

Kay on computing comprehension:

If people could understand what computing was about, the iPhone would not be a bad thing. But because people don’t understand what computing is about, they think they have it in the iPhone, and that illusion is as bad as the illusion that Guitar Hero is the same as a real guitar. That’s the simple long and the short of it.

This is the problem with television. Television is 24 hours a day and it seems like an entire world. It is a kind of a world, but it’s such a subset. And it’s so in-your-face that it essentially puts you into a dumb world. It’s got stuff going on all the time and almost none of it is of a

This right here is an incredibly tall order. Kay essentially says the iPad is viewed to the masses as a television, which I would mostly agree with. However, as he will go on to describe in detail later, the problem is education.

Kay on the original iPad and lack of dedicated stylus holder:

First thing I did was to test how good the actual touch sensor was. I had to go out and get a capacitive pen, because one didn’t come with the iPad. You’re supposed to use your finger on it. There were five things that you could draw with on it and only one of them was good. And with that [Autodesk] pen, I was able to draw, take a ruler and draw lines with this thing, and see how linear it came out on the display, and the thing was a lot better than it needed to be. You’re kind of drawing with a crayon, but they actually did a hell of a good job on it.

No place to put the pen though.

So, I talked to Steve on the phone [about adding a standard pen and penholder]. I said, “Look Steve. You know, you’ve made something that is perfect for 2-year-olds and perfect for 92-year-olds. But everybody in-between learns to use tools.”

And he says, “Well, people lose their pens.”
And I said, “Well, have a place to put it.”

Kay really wants a defined place to store his stylus. Here’s my philosophy: unless you’re using a folio of some sort, traditional paper notebooks don’t come with a defined pen holder, so why should the iPad? That said, most pens have caps, so you could just clip it to the notebook — something the iPad and Apple Pencil can’t do, of course — point notebook. Technically, the Apple Pencil can be held by the iPad’s internal magnets for the Smart Cover, but it’s a side effect not to be trusted versus an actual feature.

For the latest iPad Pro models, Apple has made an optional leather sleeve with a Pencil holder at the top. It looks great, but also costs $129 (10.5-inch) or $149 (12.9-inch). Plus, most people seem to prefer actual cases over sleeves. There are 3rd-party options, but they typically add bulk, and Kay wants something built in.

As for me, I really don’t see it as a big deal. I carry my Apple Pencil in the quick-access slot of my bag 1, so it’s usually just a few seconds away when I need it. I don’t see Apple solving Kay’s problem anytime soon, as they clearly view the Pencil as an ancillary device only to be used (and purchased) by those who truly need it. Otherwise, it would come with the iPad.

I think a better case could be made for including the Smart Keyboard with the iPad if it weren’t for the cost increase. People use keyboards way more the styluses. 2

Alright, back to Kay, now on human universals…

Expand

Years ago, this anthropologist Donald Brown wrote a book called Human Universals. This was just gathering up what generations of anthropologists had gleaned from studying thousands of traditional societies.

They first looked at traditional societies for differences, and found they’re all very different in detail but they’re all very similar in category. They couldn’t find a society that didn’t have a language, that didn’t have stories, didn’t have kinship, didn’t have revenge. They couldn’t find a society that did have equal rights. So, the things that were common to every society without fail, they started calling human universals. Most of them are probably genetic.

Suppose you want to make a lot of money. Well, just take the top 20 human universals and build a technological amplifier for them—like communication.

He goes on to reference the creation of the telephone as an example. The brilliance of this really resonates with me. Throughout history, we have continually improved communication, which I view as the most important human essential.

Kay on education in the 21st century — essentially what we need to do to increase people’s understanding of computing:

Brian: Do you think most people care about this stuff?

Kay: They never have. You know, if you look at [educator Maria] Montessori’s first two books, both were really important. […] One of the things she said was, look, the problem is, the culture around most children, whether at home or in school, is like the 10th century, and we’re living in the 20th century. If you really want them to learn, if you want them all to learn, it can’t be like choosing a musical instrument because you’re interested in it. Everybody learns their culture, because it’s in the form of a culture, and that trumps any particular interest we have. This is what [Marshall] McLuhan was talking about too. That’s a big deal. It’s a difference between taking a class in something and living in something. So if you want to fix this, you gotta fix the schools, and get the kids to grow up in the 21st century, rather than being in a technological version of the 11th century.

This really hits the nail on the head. A good example I can think of for grade school is handwriting. Who the hell needs handwriting anymore? Not to mention, through high school, everything is still largely taught from paper books or in the textbook format. Why don’t we have computers in every grade starting with kindergarten and new, immersive ways to teach?

I remember we had a computer lab in grade school. Though some of the teachings consisted of word processing, most of it was garbage educational games. I was fortunate enough to go to a technical high school and study Computer Science, but the other classes were still as old-school as ever.

Kay on the lack of teaching our devices do, an example being iPhone’s “Shake to Undo” feature:

So, in theory, you’re supposed to shake the iPhone and that means undo. Did you ever, did anybody ever tell you that? It’s not on the website. It turns out almost no app responds to a shake. And there’s no other provision. In fact, you can’t even find out how to use the iPhone on the iPhone. You ever notice that?

I agree with Kay here. Shake to Undo has always been an odd interaction method, with no indication the feature even exists (kind of similar to 3D Touch in certain respects). Apple really should re-think how to better implement Undo/Redo globally, because it really sucks. Maybe a two-finger counter-clockwise gesture for Undo and clockwise for Redo? I always feel like an idiot when I need to shake my phone to undo something.

Apple has always strived for intuition with their UI, but things like Shake to Undo and some of 3D Touch really stray from that path.

Kay thinks computers should better teach us how to use them:

Kay: It’s been an idea in the ARPA/PARC community—which hasn’t been funded since 1980 or so, but a lot of us are still alive—one of the ideas was that in personal computing, what you really need is some form of mentor that’s an integral part of the user interface.

Brian: Something like a digital assistant?

Kay: It’s something just like the GUI, which I had a lot to do with designing. I did that, more or less, as a somewhat disappointed reaction to realizing [AI] is just a hard problem. We had some of the best AI people in the whole world at PARC, but the computers were really small for what AI needs.

We’re getting closer to solving the AI hurdles thanks to things like machine learning, and Apple has been making a huge push for Siri to be at the forefront of all its products. Perhaps one day Siri itself will say something like “Welcome to iOS 11, let me give you a guided tour”, while proceeding to take you through the top new features natively on your phone, as opposed to just playing a video. Siri then ends with “Those are the biggest changes in iOS 11, but just ask if you want to learn more, or about something more specific”.

Optimism is key here. We’ll probably get to Kay’s vision one day, when people no longer view technology as something to be afraid of.


  1. Peak Design Messenger bag, if you were wondering. ↩︎

  2. Side note: I’m incredibly surprised by how much I love the Smart Keyboard. Everything I write for Gaddgict is written on it. ↩︎

Fascinating article from Ben Evans on his grandfather’s predictions, along with our tendency to make predictions about the wrong things. Here’s a few excerpts:

In 1946, by which time he’d become a notable writer of science fiction, he published a story called ‘A Logic named Joe’, which described a global computer network with servers and terminals, that starts giving people the information that it thinks they ought to know as opposed to waiting for them to search for it - the Singularity, if you like, or maybe just Alexa. He also, as I recall, predicted reality TV somewhere.

Tim Berners-Lee, who?

You can see this tendency to ask the wrong questions, or questions based on the wrong framework, in this TeleGeography report from 1990. It was clear that the world was changing, and that the telephone network would see new uses. But if you’re asking about new uses for the ‘telephone network’, that of itself probably gets you to the wrong place (again, click to zoom).

The report he references illustrates how we can make the wrong predictions.

So, a pretty common theme of discussion in tech now is to ask what comes ‘after’ mobile, now that it is moving from the creation to deployment phase and the smartphone platform wars etc are over. There are a bunch of exciting things going on, certainly, from machine learning to AR and VR to electric and autonomous cars. What content will work in VR? Who will be best placed to make AR glasses? Will EV batteries be a competitive advantage, or end up, like LCD screens, as a low-margin commodity? Who will have enough of the right kind of driving data for autonomy? But every time I think about these, I try to think what questions I’m not asking. I still want a glider though.

Very astute points, especially about the questions we’re not asking ourselves (emphasis mine). I think we’re starting to see some of the post-mobile world come to fruition with a focus on the home, AR, and everything else Ben mentions, but we’re just barely on the precipice.

We’re gradually increasing our reliance on smart assistants, but they are far from perfect. Going hand-in-hand with them is the next mainstream computing input method: voice. Sure, voice control has been around for a while, but we’re turning the corner on it being used in extremely meaningful ways throughout the course of our daily lives.

As a big proponent of voice input and smart assistants, here’s a couple improvements that would be a next step in the right direction when it comes to improving the interaction experience.

Adaptive Volume

Picture this: your little one just fell asleep, and you go to turn on the nightlight in the room with your Amazon Echo like you always do. It goes a little something like this.

You: Alexa, turn on the nightlight — oh shit…
Alexa at full volume: OKAY!!!

Now you have to coerce your little one back to sleep. This can apply to using Siri on the iPhone or iPad, too. Sometimes I want to set the Good Night scene using Siri on my phone, but Siri’s volume is set differently from the system volume, so I’d rather not chance what it was last set to.

Ideal Solution

These assistants need to find a way to adapt their volume for the situation, based on multiple factors. If it’s late at night and quiet, it’s probably safe to say I don’t want to hear any feedback at all from Alexa, Siri, or the like. Maybe at a volume level of 3-4, but definitely nothing louder.

Conversely, if there’s a lot of noise in the room, bump that volume up so I can hear the response. All of these devices have multiple microphones built in, so it’s just a matter of software.

In short: don’t take my manual volume change as law if it doesn’t make sense for the situation. This is an instance where a computer should be allowed to decide something for us.

Alternate Solution

Give us a volume request modifier. Two examples:

You: Alexa, quietly turn on the nightlight.
Alexa changes to low volume: “Okay.”
Alexa then reverts back to original volume.

Or

You: Alexa, loudly, what time is it in New York?
Alexa changes to full volume: “THE TIME IN NEW YORK IS 11AM!!!”
Alexa then reverts back to original volume.

Stringed Requests for Smart Home Commands

Pretty straightforward. Let us string at least two commands together for controlling smart home devices. Perhaps I want to selectively control two devices at a time with Siri that aren’t part of a scene I’ve already configured. For example:

Hey Siri, turn off the foyer and living room lights.

Or

Hey Siri, unlock the door and turn on the porch light.

This would be a huge step in improving the manual control experience of smart home devices, instead of one singular command at a time.

Jon Brodkin for Ars Technica:

Verizon Wireless customers this week noticed that Netflix’s speed test tool appears to be capped at 10Mbps, raising fears that the carrier is throttling video streaming on its mobile network.

When contacted by Ars this morning, Verizon acknowledged using a new video optimization system but said it is part of a temporary test and that it did not affect the actual quality of video. The video optimization appears to apply both to unlimited and limited mobile plans.

But some YouTube users are reporting degraded video, saying that using a VPN service can bypass the Verizon throttling. The Federal Communications Commission generally allows mobile carriers to limit video quality as long as the limitations are imposed equally across different video services despite net neutrality rules that outlaw throttling. The net neutrality rules have exceptions for network management.

“We’ve been doing network testing over the past few days to optimize the performance of video applications on our network,” a Verizon spokesperson told Ars. “The testing should be completed shortly. The customer video experience was not affected.”

I’m sorry, but what the fuck?

I’m not saying carriers shouldn’t be allowed to conduct tests on their own network, but Verizon did this in the most shady way possible. No notice was provided to customers who are paying for an expected level of service, and it was only discovered due to some clever sleuthing.

Verizon is in clear favor of removing Net Neutrality regulations, so I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised at their latest bullshit.

Many websites are taking part in today’s Net Neutrality Day of Action campaign in an effort to make clear the need for retention of neutrality rules to Congress and the FCC.

If you don’t know about Net Neutrality, please read my explainer, ‘Net Neutrality and You’. The Internet is something everyone should care to protect, regardless of your political affiliation.

Head over to Battle for the Net (linked) and tell the government to butt out.

Amanda Erickson for The Washington Post:

For months, a team of six teenage girls has been scrambling to build a ball-sorting robot that will compete in an international competition. Other teams received their raw materials in March. But the box sent from America had been held up for months amid concerns about terrorism. So the young engineers improvised, building motorized machines from household materials.

I’m sure the hold up was a total coincidence.

To participate, the girls from the city of Herat in western Afghanistan needed permission to travel to the United States. So, after they convinced their parents to let them go, they made the 500-mile journey to the U.S. Embassy in Kabul to apply for their visas. They did this twice, even though that location was targeted by a deadly truck bomb.

Their determination to compete is inspiring and really puts things into perspective. I’ve never had to worry about a deadly truck bomb in order to do something I’m passionate about.

FIRST Global president and former congressman Joe Sestak was disappointed by the news and frustrated that the “extraordinarily brave young women” won’t be able to travel to the United States and instead will have to watch their robot compete via Skype. Teams from Iraq, Iran and Sudan will be at the competition.

The State Department should be ashamed for singling out the Afghanistan team. It’s an injustice for these girls to sit this out. More par for the course…

Microsoft’s Surface Laptop was eviscerated (literally and figuratively) during the iFixit tear down. Of note, the Alcantara fabric that outlines the keyboard has no conceivable way to be removed without damaging the product and there are no screws that allow access to the innards. Their verdict was as follows:

The Surface Laptop is not a laptop. It’s a glue-filled monstrosity. There is nothing about it that is upgradable or long-lasting, and it literally can’t be opened without destroying it. (Show us the procedure, Microsoft, we’d love to be wrong.)

Harsh words, but it’s still a laptop, given its form factor. John Gruber pointed out the similarity to Apple products–namely the AirPods, saying:

Apple’s AirPods got a 0/10 from iFixit. That just goes to show how little correlation there is between iFixit’s concept of repairability and whether a product is good or not. I consider AirPods to be Apple’s best new product in years.

I think the argument here is that a product can perform well and have a great experience no matter how repairable it is. It could also be a piece of crap. In other words, repairability does not a good product make. I often view iFixit’s concerns about this topic to be a bit heavy-handed, but then I remember they are in the business of selling tools for that very purpose.

This does beg the question… in this day and age, with miniaturization and precision engineering, what is a reasonable expectation for repairability?

Walt Mossberg, legendary tech columnist, has written his last article. Walt is The Godfather of personal technology columns, since his first in the Wall Street Journal in October of 1991. This last column describes what he sees coming in the next 10-20 years, and how amazing it’s going to be.

Walt will definitely be missed, but I’m sure we’ll still see him around now and then.

Save the Internet

Credit: Joseph Gruber License

Yesterday, the FCC voted to begin rolling back Net Neutrality regulations that classified Internet Service Providers as common carriers (utilities) under Title II of the Telecommunications Act back in 2015.

This simply cannot stand for the good of all Americans, and it comes after thousand of comments were left on the FCC’s website against repealing the rules. In case you missed it, my Net Neutrality post goes into more details about the concept as a whole.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai (a former Verizon lawyer, by the way) has frequently said “The Internet was not broken in 2015,” but he is completely missing the point. Net Neutrality exists to protect the internet, not fix anything that’s wrong with it. Read on to find out what’s next.

Tesla Solar Roof tiles

Tom Randall for Bloomberg:

Tesla will begin with production of two of the four styles it unveiled in October: a smooth glass and a textured glass tile. 1 Roofing a 2,000 square-foot home in New York state—with 40 percent coverage of active solar tiles and battery backup for night-time use—would cost about $50,000 after federal tax credits and generate $64,000 in energy over 30 years, according to Tesla’s website calculator.

If you haven’t heard about Tesla’s Solar Roof (and tiles), you really should check them out. They’re made with tempered glass and claimed to be three times stronger than standard roofing tiles. Tesla continues to be the Apple of the car/energy industry, with this blend of design and engineering.

Save the Internet

Credit: Joseph Gruber License

You’ve probably heard the term “Net Neutrality” before, but what is it, really? It’s a highly important topic that should be on everyone’s radar, because it affects us all. It should be a non-partisan issue, but President Trump has already repealed FCC privacy rules, in addition to the GOP passing legislation to allow the sale of private Internet data. Now, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced plans to roll back regulations that classify Internet Service Providers (ISPs) as utilities. Read on for a breakdown of Net Neutrality and what we can do to fight for it.