Chinese spies, comprimised supply chains, and hacked servers.

The Big Hack: How China Used a Tiny Chip to Infiltrate U.S. Companies:

One country in particular has an advantage executing this kind of attack: China, which by some estimates makes 75 percent of the world’s mobile phones and 90 percent of its PCs. Still, to actually accomplish a seeding attack would mean developing a deep understanding of a product’s design, manipulating components at the factory, and ensuring that the doctored devices made it through the global logistics chain to the desired location—a feat akin to throwing a stick in the Yangtze River upstream from Shanghai and ensuring that it washes ashore in Seattle. “Having a well-done, nation-state-level hardware implant surface would be like witnessing a unicorn jumping over a rainbow,” says Joe Grand, a hardware hacker and the founder of Grand Idea Studio Inc. “Hardware is just so far off the radar, it’s almost treated like black magic.”

But that’s just what U.S. investigators found: The chips had been inserted during the manufacturing process, two officials say, by operatives from a unit of the People’s Liberation Army. In Supermicro, China’s spies appear to have found a perfect conduit for what U.S. officials now describe as the most significant supply chain attack known to have been carried out against American companies.

Are we living in an action movie with Bruce Willis?

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Technology

Donald Trump, self-made liar and thief.

A solid piece of investigative journalism from The New York Times on the “self-made” empire of Donald Trump:

President Trump participated in dubious tax schemes during the 1990s, including instances of outright fraud, that greatly increased the fortune he received from his parents, an investigation by The New York Times has found.

Mr. Trump won the presidency proclaiming himself a self-made billionaire, and he has long insisted that his father, the legendary New York City builder Fred C. Trump, provided almost no financial help.

But The Times’s investigation, based on a vast trove of confidential tax returns and financial records, reveals that Mr. Trump received the equivalent today of at least $413 million from his father’s real estate empire, starting when he was a toddler and continuing to this day.

Just another reminder that Donald Trump is a liar and a thief.

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Business, Finance, Tromp

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Monster in the Closet

Despite the economic recovery, student debtors’ ‘monster in the closet’ has only worsened:

Ten years after the 2008 financial crisis, there are headlines of record low unemployment and a booming economy. Yet one area has only worsened over the decade and threatens that recovery: student debt. Average debt at graduation is currently around $30,000, up from $10,000 in the early 1990s. The country’s outstanding student loan balance is projected to swell to $2 trillion by 2022, and experts say a large portion of it is unlikely to ever be repaid; nearly a quarter of student loan borrowers are currently in a state of delinquency or default. Because of these loans, many Americans are unable to buy houses and cars, start businesses and families, save or invest.

Wall Street gets fat bailouts but not students. Seems totally fair to me.

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Education

Venom McGregor

Tom Hardy based Venom character on Conor McGregor:

Tom Hardy has discussed his decision to base a Venom character on Conor McGregor, telling RTÉ Entertainment it was largely because the Irish MMA fighter “wants to have a scrap with everybody”.

Hardy makes it clear the character traits he’s based off of McGregor he’s internalized along with an amalgam of other characters.

Don’t expect to watch the movie and see him mimicking Conor.

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Film

Instagram co-founders step down.

Instagram co-founders Kevin Systrom and Mike Krieger are stepping down:

Mike and I are grateful for the last eight years at Instagram and six years with the Facebook team. We’ve grown from 13 people to over a thousand with offices around the world, all while building products used and loved by a community of over one billion. We’re now ready for our next chapter.

We’re planning on leaving Instagram to explore our curiosity and creativity again. Building new things requires that we step back, understand what inspires us and match that with what the world needs; that’s what we plan to do.

We remain excited for the future of Instagram and Facebook in the coming years as we transition from leaders to two users in a billion. We look forward to watching what these innovative and extraordinary companies do next.

—Kevin Systrom, Co-Founder & CEO

You don’t need to read headlines to know kids have been ditching Facebook in record numbers for quite a while now. Most of the social media action is on Instagram (owned by Facebook) and Snapchat.

The departure of the Instagram co-founders isn’t necessarily cause for alarm, but at the same time no platform lasts forever.

Huawei the Copycat

Huawei has replaced Samsung as the top Apple Ripoff Artist. Let’s also not forget they’ve been caught trying to pass off DSLR pictures as phone camera samples.

But for now, check out Huawei’s latest nova 3 phones compared to the iPhone X Apple released just last September:

Huawei doesn’t stop at copying the hardware. They copy the product photography styles and angles too.

But why stop there? Why not copy the wallpaper styles too:

I wouldn’t be able to feel proud of my work if all it entailed was reacting to what other people made and trying to copy it as closely as possible.

Yesterday was Apple’s Keynote where they announced the new iPhone Xs. I’m curious how long it will take Huawei to update their own product line to match.

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Influencer

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“The result is a two-track presidency.”

The New York Times published an anonymous Op-Ed essay by a senior member of the Trump administration, something they’ve never done before:

The root of the problem is the president’s amorality. Anyone who works with him knows he is not moored to any discernible first principles that guide his decision making.

Although he was elected as a Republican, the president shows little affinity for ideals long espoused by conservatives: free minds, free markets and free people. At best, he has invoked these ideals in scripted settings. At worst, he has attacked them outright.

In addition to his mass-marketing of the notion that the press is the “enemy of the people,” President Trump’s impulses are generally anti-trade and anti-democratic.

Scathing.

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Politics, Tromp

The Bullshit Web

Nick Heer breaks down the problems with the Web today:

The average internet connection in the United States is about six times as fast as it was just ten years ago, but instead of making it faster to browse the same types of websites, we’re simply occupying that extra bandwidth with more stuff. Some of this stuff is amazing: in 2006, Apple added movies to the iTunes Store that were 640 × 480 pixels, but you can now stream movies in HD resolution and (pretend) 4K. These much higher speeds also allow us to see more detailed photos, and that’s very nice.

But a lot of the stuff we’re seeing is a pile-up of garbage on seemingly every major website that does nothing to make visitors happier — if anything, much of this stuff is deeply irritating and morally indefensible.

He draws a great analogy between widening highways and increasing internet bandwidth:

You know how building wider roads doesn’t improve commute times, as it simply encourages people to drive more? It’s that, but with bytes and bandwidth instead of cars and lanes.

Now, instead of encouraging companies to build more efficient websites, Google swoops in the save the day with AMP:

Launched in February 2016, AMP is a collection of standard HTML elements and AMP-specific elements on a special ostensibly-lightweight page that needs an 80 kilobyte JavaScript file to load correctly. Let me explain: HTML5 allows custom elements like AMP’s , but will render them as elements without any additional direction — provided, in AMP’s case, by its mandatory JavaScript file. This large script is also required by the AMP spec to be hotlinked from cdn.amp-project.org, which is a Google-owned domain. That makes an AMP website dependent on Google to display its basic markup, which is super weird for a platform as open as the web.

How kind of Google to create a copy of an entire website with all the extra bullshit stripped out. As Heer points out, this is not Google being altruistic. It’s all done in service of itself.

Resist the bloat. Trim down your website. Cut the fat. Kill the bullshit.

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internet, Technology

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Reply Hazy, Try Again Later

Over at Slate, Will Oremus lets us know Alexa is losing her edge:

As recently as a year ago, Amazon single-handedly controlled the global smart speaker industry, with a market share upward of 75 percent, according to estimates from two of the leading market watchers, Strategy Analytics and Canalys, based in Singapore. Amazon itself boasted in a February earnings report that it had sold “tens of millions” of Echo devices in 2017. That figure included not only its flagship Echo smart speaker but the Echo Dot, Echo Show, and other Echos, the company clarified to me (though not other Alexa-powered gizmos, such as the Tap or Fire TV). It makes sense that Amazon was crushing the competition, because there wasn’t much competition yet: Google had just launched the Home in late 2016, and Apple’s HomePod was not yet on the market. The Echo has been available since 2014.

Would-be rivals faced an uphill struggle. Amazon’s head start in smart speakers resembled the daunting leads that Apple famously built in portable MP3 players, smartphones, and tablets. But Apple’s high prices at least gave competitors an opening to build cheaper alternatives for the mass market. Not so with Amazon. Because it viewed Echo partly as a path to Amazon purchases, the company sold its smart speakers at affordable prices, opting to maximize sales rather than profit margins. How could latecomers compete?

First off, Oremus is being selective with his MP3 player timeline.

Apple entered an already crowded MP3 player market when it launched the original iPod in 2001. The classic and often quoted ‘BrownFury’ on SlashDot said what all short-sighted nerds at the time were thinking, No wireless. Less space than a nomad. Lame.

Table stakes, erroneously determined by the dorks, had been set. Apple was a day late and a dollar short. Except they weren’t.

Amazon was first to market with the Echo, but not best to market. The smart speaker product segment is still a young one and it’s unclear which one(s) will be the winner(s). A few weeks ago I questioned the value of a speaker you can order things from (will this blog entry look cute and naive in a decade?).

As I see it, Google seems to have the biggest lead in AI assistants and voice recognition/dictation, but Apple will be releasing iOS 12 in a month which includes Siri Shortcuts, something I’m very excited about.

Maybe Apple ends up dominating the premium end of the smart speaker category, mirroring what they have been doing with the iPhone for 10 years, while Google and Amazon fight for the rest. Maybe Google winds up the winner.

We don’t know. Won’t know for a while.

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Square Peg in a Round Hole

The Verge has a look at Google’s revamped Wear OS.

First off, ‘Wear OS?’ I know they replaced ‘Android Wear’ a while back, but when you update a product or service you’re supposed to make it better. Engineer-led companies are just the worst at product naming and branding (and Microsoft is still champ).

Secondly, Google wants their round watch interface to work so bad, but it just doesn’t:

The circle is a beautiful shape and in my 20 years of being a graphic designer I’ve seen many attempts made at round interfaces on everything from kiosks to websites, with varying degrees of success.

Screen real estate is extremely limited — therefor valuable — on a watch and by using a round screen Google is throwing away a lot of real estate. They’re also throwing away the whole history of written language.

Unless Google is presenting Mayan and Aztec calendars on their watches, circular screens are inferior to rectangular screens for presenting anything more than the time.

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Interface