Apple and McLaren

Financial Times: Apple in talks on McLaren supercars takeover:

Left to right: Eddy Cue sits on the board of Ferrari, Sir Jonathan Ive has fondness for Aston Martin, and Phil Schiller owns a McLaren

Apple has approached McLaren Technology Group, the British supercar engineer and Formula One team owner, about a potential acquisition, in the clearest sign yet that the iPhone maker is seeking to transform the automotive industry.

Whaaaaaat.

I’m envisioning a very, very affordable car.

UPDATE: Nevermind.

Home Field Advantage

ProPublica set out to see how Amazon’s software was shaping the marketplace:

We looked at 250 frequently purchased products over several weeks to see which ones were selected for the most prominent placement on Amazon’s virtual shelves — the so-called “buy box” that pops up first as a suggested purchase. About three-quarters of the time, Amazon placed its own products and those of companies that pay for its services in that position even when there were substantially cheaper offers available from others.

I am shocked Amazon would do something to help them make more money.

NYC Bomb Suspect Captured

Ahmad Khan Rahami Is Arrested in Manhattan Bombing

The police on Monday took into custody the man they believed to be behind the bombing in Manhattan over the weekend, according to law enforcement officials.

The dramatic arrest of the man, Ahmad Khan Rahami, came after the police issued a cellphone alert to millions of residents in the area telling them to be on the lookout for the suspect, who was described as “armed and dangerous.”

Mr. Rahami, 28, was identified on surveillance video near the locations of both the bomb that exploded in Chelsea and another device that did not detonate a few blocks away. He was described as a naturalized citizen of Afghan descent who had been living with his family in Elizabeth, N.J.

The cellphone alerts are incredible (and creepy). It’ll be interesting to find out if how much they helped in the capture.

UPDATE: I got my answer:

All around New York City, cellphones blared on Monday morning with the dissonant, but familiar, tone of an emergency alert. But this time, the alert — typically used for weather-related advisories or abducted children — was different.

For what is believed to be the first time, the nation’s Wireless Emergency Alerts system was deployed as an electronic wanted poster, identifying a 28-year-old man wanted in connection with the bombings in Manhattan and New Jersey.

Suddenly, from commuter trains to the sidewalks of Manhattan, millions were enlisted in the manhunt.

The message, probably received by millions, nearly at once, was simple: “WANTED: Ahmad Khan Rahami, 28-yr-old male. See media for pic. Call 9-1-1 if seen.”

Welcome to the future.

“They all got addicted to crack.”

The Netflix Backlash: Why Hollywood Fears a Content Monopoly:

Still, at a time when business is tough all over in the entertainment industry, there is a lot of gratitude for a deep-pocketed buyer that is snapping up an array of material, much of which might not find a home elsewhere. Netflix and its chief content officer Ted Sarandos are at once a savior, offering a giant gush of money to license shows that in some cases were past their prime or even out of production, and a terrifying competitor to studios.

“Out of the blue Netflix comes into the market and says, ‘We’re going to give you a number [to license a network show],’ ” says one television agent. “For the studios, it was, ‘Holy shit. Do we even need a cable sale?’ They all got addicted to crack. Nobody really thought they’d be a competitor on the originals market. They used stuff from the studios and became important. Now you see the backlash.”

It’s important to understand who’s not scared of Netflix: the actors, writers, directors and everyone else behind the great shows Netflix is buying. Creative people with talent who create great content have nothing to worry about.

From interviews I’ve seen with people who have worked with Netflix, they all say it’s great. Netflix gives them free rein over everything and they don’t meddle in the process (as it should be).

Jaded and Fickle

Farhad Manjoo doesn’t think Apple is cutting edge anymore:

The absence of a jack is far from the worst shortcoming in Apple’s latest product launch. Instead, it’s a symptom of a deeper issue with the new iPhones, part of a problem that afflicts much of the company’s product lineup: Apple’s aesthetics have grown stale.

Apple has squandered its once-commanding lead in hardware and software design. Though the new iPhones include several new features, including water resistance and upgraded cameras, they look pretty much the same as the old ones. The new Apple Watch does too. And as competitors have borrowed and even begun to surpass Apple’s best designs, what was iconic about the company’s phones, computers, tablets and other products has come to seem generic.

And

It’s not just that a few new Apple products have been plagued with design flaws. The bigger problem is an absence of delight. I recently checked in with several tech-pundit friends for their assessment of Apple’s aesthetic choices. “What was the last Apple design that really dazzled you?” I asked.

This article could have been written 5 years ago. If people keep writing ‘Apple is Doomed’ stories, I suppose there’s a chance they’ll eventually come true.

I’m curious if automobile news sites complain that the Porsche 911 doesn’t delight anymore. That the design is basically the same as was last year and the year before that.

Perhaps the problem isn’t with Apple’s design chops, design chops I feel are still top notch. Perhaps the problem is with Manjoo and people like him. It’s easy to become jaded and fickle. It’s as if people expect (demand?) the things they buy will solve all their problems and constantly delight them in the process.

I think what happened is Manjoo was given a creative writing assignment: Apple presented a great, albeit iterative product lineup, we need you to show us why is was shit. If this was the case, Manjoo was doing a great job until the last two paragraphs:

And while Apple has slowed its design cadence, its rivals have sped up. Last year Samsung remade its lineup of Galaxy smartphones in a new glass-and-metal design that looked practically identical to the iPhone. Then it went further. Over the course of a few months, Samsung put out several design refinements, culminating in the Note 7, a big phone that has been universally praised by critics. With its curved sides and edge-to-edge display, the Note 7 pulls off a neat trick: Though it is physically smaller than Apple’s big phone, it actually has a larger screen. So thanks to clever design, you get more from a smaller thing — exactly the sort of advance we once looked to Apple for.

So Apple’s design prowess is in trouble, but Samsung continues to make smartphones that are practically identical to the iPhone. So this means what? Samsung’s industrial design is superior to Apple’s?

And then comes Manjoo’s final caveat:

An important caveat: Samsung’s software is still bloated, and its reputation for overall build quality took a hit when it announced last week that it would recall and replace the Note 7 because of a battery defect that caused spontaneous explosions. To the extent that making a device that doesn’t explode suggests design expertise, Apple is still ahead of Samsung.

Ok, so Apple continues to break sales records with their phones, has top-rated customer satisfaction but somehow, “The real danger is in Apple’s long-term reputation.” Not Samsung’s reputation because I guess we all know they’re rip-off artists so they get a pass.

Slacky Skype

It looks like Microsoft has some updates coming to Skype:

It was recently reported that Microsoft wanted to buy Slack for $8 billion. Slack, for those unfamiliar, is a messaging app for teams that’s been getting quite popular recently. Now, Microsoft is working on a direct Slack competitor under the Skype brand, according to people familiar with the matter.

Meet Skype Teams.

Skype Teams is going to be Microsoft’s take on messaging apps for teams. Skype Teams will include a lot of similar features which you’ll find on Slack. For example, Skype Teams will allow you to chat in different groups within a team, also known as “channels”. Additionally, users will be able to talk to each other via Direct Messages on Skype Teams.

Now this is the Microsoft of old that I know and love: reacting to what other companies are doing, rather than innovating on their own.

As a longtime user of Skype, it’s hard for me to see how Microsoft has improved it since they bought it in 2011.

“You don’t lick it off the rocks.”

I found a video clip with two of my favorite comedians of all time.

John Stewart interviews George Carlin in 1997:

George Carlin has been my favorite comedian since I discovered him in high school over 20 years ago. What I’ve come to see and appreciate from him as an adult is why he was great: he considered what he did art. And as an artist he had a strong creative habit which is one of the reasons he did what he did until he died (as he admits, genetics and luck also played a big part too).

Towards the end of the interview, Stewart asks Carlin, “You’re at a point in your life […] Why do you care so much?” To which he replies, “You wouldn’t say to Picasso, when ya gonna put those brushes down. Get ridda da canvas, ya done it! I’m an entertainer, first and foremost, but there’s art involved and an artist has an obligation to be on route, to be going somewhere, there’s a journey involved here and you don’t know where it is, and that’s the fun…”

Then, to put a cherry on top of the whole thing, Carlin tells Stewart at the end when they’re wrapping up, “It’s been great to know you a little, and you are going to show us a lot, and I look forward to it.”

How right he was.

Why Podcasts Don’t Use VBR MP3s

Marco Arment, creator of the podcasting app I use on my iPhone, Overcast, explains why podcasts don’t use VBR MP3s, even though they’re more space-efficient and sound better:

AVFoundation, the low-level audio/video framework in iOS and macOS, does not accurately seek within VBR MP3s, making VBR impractical to use for long files such as podcasts. Jumping to a timestamp in an hour-long VBR podcast can result in an error of over a minute, without the listener even knowing because the displayed timecode shows the expected time.

I’ve been using time-jumping links on YouTube videos for years. It’s really handy.

Like this clip of George Carlin naming the seven words you can’t say on television (circa the mid ’70s). Here is a link starting from the beginning, and here is a link jumping right to him saying the words.

It’s too bad podcasts don’t support this. I splice in sound effects and little easter eggs throughout my podcasts all the time. It would be great to have direct links to them instead of having to remember the timestamps.

The Useless Machine

Over at The New York Times, Mark O’Connell talks about his Useless Machine, created by computer scientist Marvin Minsky in the 1950s at Bell Laboratories:

There is something charming, and even inspiring, in the paradoxical efficiency of this machine that does nothing, that fulfills its entire purpose by bluntly refusing to fulfill any purpose at all. When I reach over to flick the switch on my Useless Machine and then watch it rouse itself, with patient defiance, to switch itself off again, I wonder whether this is what it might mean for a technology to be truly intelligent: to receive an order and to respond by politely but firmly declining to follow it. The plain contradiction here, of course, is that in refusing to do what it’s told, the machine is stoically following its explicit commands. In this sense, the Useless Machine is like a battery-operated koan: a playfully profound riddle on the relationship between humans and technology, and on the nature of intelligence.

I think O’Connell shows us The Useless Machine is far from useless in the questions and thoughts it arouses in people who see and interact with it. Sometimes seemingly silly things can effect us profoundly.

The article also points out the other useful things that came out of Bell Laboratories: the transistor, the solar cell, the laser, and the UNIX operating system (which is the foundation of iOS and what Linux is based on).

Narcos was good, but still not as good as Breaking Bad.

I burned through season 2 of Narcos this weekend with my wife. Pretty good, but not as good as Breaking Bad (Breaking Bad is my benchmark). My main issue is with the depiction of Pablo Escobar. He was not as solemn as they made him in the show. He was a jovial, fun guy when he wasn’t bashing guys’ faces in.

I think Digital Kitchen did a great job with the main title graphics:

Season 2 is done, Pablo is dead (fuck you, he died in 1992, that isn’t a spoiler), but there are still plans for a season 3. Interesting.

‘Less & Better’ Not ‘More & Shitty’

Apple is going to remove abandoned apps from the App Store:

It’s cleaning time in the App Store. Apple sent an email to its developer community indicating that there will be some upcoming changes in the App Store. If an app no longer works or is outdated, it’s going to get removed from the App Store. And it’s about time.

“We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps, removing apps that no longer function as intended, don’t follow current review guidelines, or are outdated,” Apple wrote.

And:

And Apple is not going to stop at abandoned apps. The company will also fight spammy app names. For instance, if you search for “Instagram” on the App Store, one of the first results is an app that is called “[app name] Photo Collage, Picture Editor, Pic Grid, F…” and then it gets cut off.

It’s about time. I’d rather have less & better than more & shitty.