Apple’s $1 Billion US Manufacturing Boost

Apple just promised to give US manufacturing a $1 billion boost:

Apple CEO Tim Cook said that his company will start a $1 billion fund to promote advanced manufacturing jobs in the United States.

“We’re announcing it today. So you’re the first person I’m telling,” Cook told “Mad Money” host Jim Cramer on Wednesday. “Well, not the first person because we’ve talked to a company that we’re going to invest in already,” he said, adding that Apple will announce the first investment later in May.

The fund comes as President Donald Trump has made bringing back manufacturing jobs a big part of his agenda, and it fits into Apple’s larger effort to create jobs across its spectrum, from its own employees to app developers to its suppliers.

This is potentially good news.

I know very little about business and manufacturing, but I do know there’s a difference between starting a fund and paying directly for the creation of manufacturing plants which employ people.

I believe Tim Cook to be genuine in his intentions so let’s just see what happens.

“The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them.”

Today I started reading Neil De Grasse Tyson’s new book, Astrophysics for People in a Hurry.

I’m enjoying it. It’s just enough science for my brain not to freeze up.

To the scientist, the universality of physical laws makes the cosmos a marvelously simple place. By comparison, human nature—the psychologist’s domain—is infinitely more daunting. In America, local school boards vote on subjects to be taught in the classroom. In some cases, votes are cast according to the whims of cultural, political, or religious tides. Around the world, varying belief systems lead to political differences that are not always resolved peacefully. The power and beauty of physical laws is that they apply everywhere, whether or not you choose to believe in them.

Tell ’em, Neil.

Like Richard Feynman before him, Tyson is great at conveying complex ideas in simple, digestible terms.

Of course, the key to this is knowing how to deploy the proper metaphors:

You will find most (known) dwarf galaxies hanging out near bigger galaxies, in orbit around them like satellites. The two Magellanic Clouds are part of the Milky Way’s dwarf family. But the lives of satellite galaxies can be quite hazardous. Most computer models of their orbits show a slow decay that ultimately results in the hapless dwarfs getting ripped apart, and then eaten, by the main galaxy. The Milky Way engaged in at least one act of cannibalism in the last billion years, when it consumed a dwarf galaxy whose flayed remains can be seen as a stream of stars orbiting the galactic center, beyond the stars of the constellation Sagittarius. The system is called the Sagittarius Dwarf, but should probably have been named Lunch.

This book is proving to be a fun, fast, and an enlightening read.

“How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live!”

Over at The New Yorker, Ferris Jabr explains why walking helps us think:

Because we don’t have to devote much conscious effort to the act of walking, our attention is free to wander—to overlay the world before us with a parade of images from the mind’s theatre. This is precisely the kind of mental state that studies have linked to innovative ideas and strokes of insight. Earlier this year, Marily Oppezzo and Daniel Schwartz of Stanford published what is likely the first set of studies that directly measure the way walking changes creativity in the moment. They got the idea for the studies while on a walk. “My doctoral advisor had the habit of going for walks with his students to brainstorm,” Oppezzo says of Schwartz. “One day we got kind of meta.”

As a former New Yorker, I walked everywhere for photo-shooting, idea generation, and because sometimes it’s the easiest way to get to where you’re going.

“We have a dream to overcome Apple.”

Since I’m a human, and we humans love to focus on the negative things around us, even if things are great, I’m going to point out what I think is one of the dumbest feature placements on a phone I’ve ever seen.

Samsung has decided it was a good idea to place the fingerprint reader on the back of the new Galaxy 8, right next to the camera lens:

To make it extra confusing, the fingerprint reader appears to have very similar contours and shape to the camera lens. What this means is, as you fumble your finger around the back of your Galaxy 8 to tap the fingerprint reader, there’s a high likelihood you’ll be smudging up your camera lens in the process.

The reason Samsung is merely dreaming of overcoming Apple, and not actually doing it, is because of shitty decisions like this.

Maybe next year, Samsung. Maybe next year.

Rather Than Innovate, Sue Them

Inside the Hotel Industry’s Plan to Combat Airbnb:

Last year, Airbnb underwent a rough regulatory patch.

The short-term rental company became a Federal Trade Commission target last summer after three senators asked for an investigation into how companies like Airbnb affect soaring housing costs. In October, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York signed a bill imposing steep fines on Airbnb hosts who break local housing rules.

The two actions appeared unrelated. But one group quietly took credit for both: the hotel industry.

In a presentation in November, the American Hotel and Lodging Association, a trade group that counts Marriott International, Hilton Worldwide and Hyatt Hotels as members, said the federal investigation and the New York bill were “notable accomplishments.”

Rather than innovate and make booking a hotel room as easy as booking an Airbnb, the hotel industry would rather snitch on Airbnb, form alliances with politicians, and sue them out of existence.

It’s the American way!

I’m not suggesting Airbnb isn’t capable of, or hasn’t engaged in shady business practices like Uber, I’m just saying fighting upstart rivals can’t be the only tool in your box.

“Behind every great fortune, is a great crime.”

Uber’s Top Secret “Hell” Program Exploited Lyft’s Vulnerability (paywall):

As the ride-sharing market was exploding in the U.S. between 2014 and the early part 2016, Uber had an advantage over Lyft that helped Uber maintain its lead, The Information has learned. Thanks to a secret software-based effort within Uber called “Hell,” Uber could track how many Lyft drivers were available for new rides and where they were, according to a person who was involved in the program and a person who was briefed about it.

As the philosopher Chris Rock said in his great standup act, Never Scared (channelling Honoré de Balzac), Behind every great fortune, is a crime.”

Uber is chock full of ’em.

No Speaky to Bixby

Samsung says Bixby voice assistant won’t ship with Galaxy S8:

One of the key signature features of Samsung’s Galaxy S8, its Bixby voice assistant, won’t work out of the box, when the device goes on sale later this month. Other parts of Bixby, including its visual search and reminder abilities, will ship at launch, a Samsung representative told Axios in a statement.

Samsung really doesn’t like being reliant on Android to power all their mobile devices. Tizen is the most obvious example of this. TouchWiz is another. Bixby is the latest example.

What I want to know is if Samsung is truly invested in Bixby for the long-term?

Siri was very beta and had many problems when it first launched. Today it has much fewer, although it has a ways to go. Apple’s great at having the balls to ship 1.0 versions of products and then iterate year after year. Remember when everyone was bitching about the shitty colors, icons, and hard-to-read Helvetica Light in iOS 7? If you compare iOS 7 to iOS 10 you can see a lot has changed in four years.

Even if Samsung does decide to stick with Bixby, they have yet to prove they can ship top-quality software experiences on par with iOS and Android.

If Samsung is dreaming of overcoming Apple, they have some work ahead of them.

“Who,” Not “That”

Over at The New York Times, Frank Bruni asks, What Happened to Who?:

I first noticed it during the 2016 Republican presidential debates, which were crazy-making for so many reasons that I’m not sure how I zeroed in on this one. “Who” was being exiled from its rightful habitat. It was a linguistic bonobo: endangered, possibly en route to extinction.

Instead of saying “people who,” Donald Trump said “people that.” Marco Rubio followed suit. Even Jeb Bush, putatively the brainy one, was “that”-ing when he should have been “who”-ing, so I was cringing when I should have been oohing.

It’s always a dangerous thing when politicians get near the English language: Run for the exits and cover the children’s ears. But this bit of wreckage particularly bothered me. This was who, a pronoun that acknowledges our humanity, our personhood, separating us from the flotsam and jetsam out there. We’re supposed to refer to “the trash that” we took out or “the table that” we discovered at a flea market. We’re not supposed to refer to “people that call my office” (Rubio) or “people that come with a legal visa and overstay” (Bush).

Bruni acknowledges the historical precedent of “that” in place of “who”, but I agree with him: using “who” when referring to a person is just more accurate.

There are many inconsistencies languages adopt through common usage, but that doesn’t make them ok, and it doesn’t mean should use them as the basis for how we write and speak.

I guess my question is: Once you explicitly see the options, “people who” and “people that,” what possible justification would you have to use “that“?

New Mac Pros for 2018

John Gruber with the Mac Pro scoop:

Let’s not beat around the bush. I have great news to share:

Apple is currently hard at work on a “completely rethought” Mac Pro, with a modular design that can accommodate high-end CPUs and big honking hot-running GPUs, and which should make it easier for Apple to update with new components on a regular basis. They’re also working on Apple-branded pro displays to go with them.

I also have not-so-great news:

These next-gen Mac Pros and pro displays “will not ship this year”. (I hope that means “next year”, but all Apple said was “not this year”.) In the meantime, Apple is today releasing meager speed-bump updates to the existing Mac Pros. The $2999 model goes from 4 Xeon CPU cores to 6, and from dual AMD G300 GPUs to dual G500 GPUs. The $3999 model goes from 6 CPU cores to 8, and from dual D500 GPUs to dual D800 GPUs. Nothing else is changing, including the ports. No USB-C, no Thunderbolt 3 (and so no support for the LG UltraFine 5K display).

I’m not a Mac Pro user, but I’m excited about this nonetheless.

Now the Apple-branded pro displays I am interested in.

Car Companies Are Still Struggling with Interface Design

Headline from The Verge:

The 2017 BMW 5 Series emphasizes design over intuitive software

First off, shame on whoever the editor is for creating that headline. They’re conflating design with the superfluous. Design isn’t how it looks, it’s how it works.

How many times do we have to go over this?

If you do eventually get your phone connected over Bluetooth, you have a few options for controlling iDrive. The most novel way is with those gesture controls. I was excited to try them because, as I’ve learned after playing around with many gadgets, it’s often a gimmicky and faulty feature. I hoped that BMW had figured out the magic solution to making it an essential form of interaction. Spoiler: the company hasn’t. The gesture controls didn’t always function, and beyond that, I never wanted to rotate my finger in a circle to adjust the volume level or stick two fingers out to end a call. I tried to make the controls part of my driving experience and ended up never using them, although they were still a fun party trick that entertained my passengers. Buttons and knobs have a 100 percent success rate — why would I want to struggle to change the volume with a twirl of my finger when I could just turn the volume knob?

BMW’s voice commands also weren’t foolproof. The system registered people who have a full name in my phone book, like The Verge’s photographer Amelia Krales, but not addresses like 550 West 25th Street, or simple words like “mom.” Why is it always so hard to call my mom?

Incumbents always laugh at the idea of a newbie coming into their industry and stealing away market share, but the car industry is a great example of an industry ripe for disruption. This happened to the fixed-keyboard smartphones with the iPhone, it’s happening now to the watch world with the Apple Watch, but I’m not sure we can say it’s happening to the auto industry yet (Ford sold 2.5 million cars in 2016, Tesla moved 80K).

It frustrates me when I read about BMW creating it’s own (currently inferior) voice command system, when a lot of us already use Siri or ‘Ok, Google’. It’s bad enough we have redundant AI efforts happening at Microsoft, Google, Amazon, and Apple, but now auto makers are joining in. I understand not wanting to let the tech companies eat your lunch, but something has to give. Let us plug our phones into our cars, our lives are on those devices.

Mercedes-Benz is another company continuing to make cumbersome user interfaces. I recently drove a fully-loaded 2016 E Class sedan and for such a classy, well-engineered, and fun-to-drive car, the on-screen graphics and menus lack the visual sophistication you expect from a Mercedes (fonts are clunky, drop shadows are heavy-handed, background swooshes and texture are dated, animations are stiff), and are also confusing to navigate.

Uber’s Psychological Tricks

The New York Times has a fascinating look into all the psychological tricks Uber (and Lyft) uses to get drivers to to keep driving:

Uber even published a study last year, using its vast pile of data on drivers’ rides and hours, finding that a “substantial, although not most, fraction of partners” practice an extreme form of income targeting when they start on the platform, though they abandon it as they gain more experience. Strict income targeting is highly inefficient because it leads drivers to work long hours on days when business is slow and their hourly take is low, and to knock off early on days when business is brisk.

The beauty of the messages that Uber sent Mr. Streeter and his fellow drivers is that the drivers need not have even had a specific income goal in mind in order for the messages to work. Some of the most addictive games ever made, like the 1980s and ’90s hit Tetris, rely on a feeling of progress toward a goal that is always just beyond the player’s grasp. As the psychologist Adam Alter writes in his book “Irresistible,” video game designers even have a name for this mental state: the “ludic loop.”

Uber, for its part, appears to be aware of the ludic loop. In its messages to drivers, it included a graphic of an engine gauge with a needle that came tantalizingly close to, but was still short of, a dollar sign.

And the ludic loop is far from the only video game feature that Uber has adapted as a way of keeping drivers on the road.

If taken in isolation, this article isn’t all that crazy, but it’s part of a bigger picture revealing a company whose executives visit karaoke-escort bars in Korea, evades law enforcement with their technology, has a hostile, sexist work environment filed with sexual harassment cases, and give the actual drivers rather shitty compensation considering they’re valued at over 60 billion dollars.

The ultimate goal of a corporation is 100% efficiency and after reading this piece, it’s clear humans are but a stopgap solution until robots start driving (and doing everything else).