181 stories

Glenn Fleishman: ‘The New Night Shift Feature Probably Won’t Help You Sleep Better’

1 Comment

Glenn Fleishman, writing at Macworld:

The Night Shift feature in iOS 9.3 lets you adjust the color temperature of the display, shifting away from blue spectrums of light, in the putative interest of improving sleep. But Apple makes no promises. On its website, Apple notes, “Many studies have shown that exposure to bright blue light in the evening can affect your circadian rhythms and make it harder to fall asleep.” In iOS, the feature is explained with “This may help you get a better night’s sleep.”

In fact, this feature likely will have little or no effect on most people. Apple hasn’t misrepresented any of the science, but clinical work done to date doesn’t point a finger right at mobile devices or even larger displays. Night Shift also can’t remove enough blue to make a difference if that color is the culprit. And blue light may not be the trigger it’s been identified as. While researchers haven’t tested the new feature yet, several factors add up to at best a placebo effect and a reminder to power yourself down.

I know people who enjoy Night Shift (and its Mac progenitor, F.lux) because they find it easier on their eyes at night. I think the stuff about getting a better night’s sleep is bunk, though. (And personally, I find the effect hideous.)

Read the whole story
62 days ago
I used f.lux for awhile before admitting to myself that I hated it.
Share this story

Jake Tapper Asks Trump 7 Straight Horse Race Questions


I began watching the Sunday talk shows again last weekend because of Antonin Scalia's death, which propelled the U.S. into an exceptional time in our history. We'll be living with the consequences of how the next Supreme Court appointment is made for a long time. I have no idea how it will turn out, though I believe strongly that a president should be allowed to fill a vacancy when there's nearly a year left in his term. A presidency is four years long, not three.

Watching one of the shows today reminded me of how terrible political reporting on television can be.

On CNN's State of the Union, host Jake Tapper asked Donald Trump 10 questions: questions:

  1. Mr. Trump, congratulations on your victory. What do you think this means for the race going forward? Are you unstoppable?
  2. Your campaign manager, Corey Lewandowski, said that you have not gotten the credit you deserve from the party for leading the race. Why do you think that is? Do you think some Republicans still don't take you seriously?
  3. Last week, Senator Rubio said he didn't think a brokered convention would necessarily be a bad thing. Are you concerned at all that party leaders might try to block your nomination at the convention?
  4. Senator Cruz says that you attack him every day because you know he's the only one who can beat you. Is that right?
  5. Governor Jeb Bush dropped out last night. He was once the front-runner, once expected to win the nomination. Many would point to you as the primary reason his campaign sputtered. Do you think, by labeling him low-energy and targeting him so quickly, do you think that's what did him in?
  6. You also took on Jeb's brother President George W. Bush in South Carolina, a state that he won in 2000. And then you won it handily, even though you took on George W. Bush. Do you see Jeb's loss and your victory in South Carolina as a vote on the entire Bush legacy, in a way?
  7. There's a lot of concern, as you know, among Republican Party leaders in Washington about, can you win a general election? Let's talk about demographics for a second. If the next Republican nominee wins the same share of the white vote that Mitt Romney did in 2012 -- that was 59 percent -- that nominee would need to win 30 percent of the non-white vote. Now, with all due respect, sir, a lot of Republican leaders in D.C. struggle to envision you accomplishing this, especially given the fact that there are white supremacist groups and individuals like that who support you, some of whom you have even retweeted.
  8. I want to get some clarification on comments you made this week at the CNN town hall about Obamacare. Take a listen. ... So, sir, what did you mean when you said, "I like the mandate"?
  9. But -- but, just to clarify, you're saying now that you would not support requiring every individual in America to have health insurance? You wouldn't support that?
  10. Last question, sir. We heard from your wife, Melania, last night, which doesn't happen a tremendous amount. Are we going to hear more from her going forward?

By my count that's seven straight horse-race questions that are solely about who's leading and who's trailing, one policy question with a follow-up and then a nice softball question that lets him say something nice about his wife.

Trump is the Republican front-runner and the favorite to win the GOP nomination. There's a great deal of importance in the media getting beyond his vague policy statements to pin him down on actual things he would do as president. Making America Yuge Again is not a concrete policy objective.

Tapper had an opportunity to do this, but he thought the bulk of his time with Trump was better spent with such queries as "Are you unstoppable?"

That's the kind of dumb-ass question a non-journalist would never ask. Political reporters ask them all day long.

The one time Tapper delved into Trump's actual policies on health care and the individual mandate, we got to see that Trump is completely out of his depth. After he took insurance away from millions of Americans by killing ObamaCare, the only things Trump could suggest are to let states compete and offer healthcare savings accounts.

The answer Trump gave was as floundering and repetitive as the Marco Rubio debate answer when he was accused of being robotic. Trump twice repeated that we're going to have great health care if he's president, and three times said people won't be dying in the streets.

Or the sidewalks: "They're not dying on the sidewalks, and they're not dying on the streets if I'm president," he said. "They're just not."

Unless he shoots them, I guess.

The Sunday show reporters should ask candidates I want reporters to ask Trump as many questions about policy as they do about winning and losing. If they did, it would be clear to millions that Trump's he's a bag of hair whose ideas never go beyond braggadocious posturing.

Read the whole story
98 days ago
Not journalism.
Share this story
1 public comment
98 days ago
"I want reporters to ask Trump as many questions about policy as they do about winning and losing.
If they did, it would be clear to millions that he's a bag of hair whose ideas never go beyond braggadocious posturing."

★ On the San Bernardino Suspect’s Apple ID Password Reset

2 Comments and 4 Shares

The latest news in the Apple-FBI legal fight has resulted in much confusion. John Paczkowski, reporting for BuzzFeed:

The FBI has claimed that the password was changed by someone at the San Bernardino Health Department. Friday night, however, things took a further turn when the San Bernardino County’s official Twitter account stated, “The County was working cooperatively with the FBI when it reset the iCloud password at the FBI’s request.”

County spokesman David Wert told BuzzFeed News on Saturday afternoon the tweet was an authentic statement, but he had nothing further to add.

The Justice Department did not respond to requests for comment on Saturday; an Apple spokesperson said the company had no additional comment beyond prior statements.

Here is what the FBI wrote in its legal motion, in a footnote on the four ways Apple suggested they obtain the data they seek:

(3) to attempt an auto-backup of the SUBJECT DEVICE with the related iCloud account (which would not work in this case because neither the owner nor the government knew the password the iCloud account, and the owner, in an attempt to gain access to some information in the hours after the attack, was able to reset the password remotely, but that had the effect of eliminating the possibility of an auto-backup);

To unpack this, the “owner” is not Syed Farook, the shooter. The iPhone at the center of this was supplied by Farook’s employer, the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health. They are the “owner”. The “government” is the federal government: the FBI and the Department of Justice.

The iPhone had been configured to back up to iCloud. However, at the time of the attack, it had not been backed up to iCloud for six weeks. Under warrant, Apple supplied the FBI with the data from that six-week-old backup. The FBI (for obvious reasons) would like the most recent six weeks of data from the phone, too.1

iCloud backups are triggered automatically when the phone is (a) on a known Wi-Fi network, and (b) plugged-in to power. Apple’s suggestion to the FBI was that if they took the iPhone to Farook’s office and plugged it in, it might trigger a backup. If that had worked, Apple could supply the FBI with the contents of that new backup, including the most recent six weeks of data.

It is not clear to me from any of the reports I have read why the iPhone had not been backed up in six weeks. It’s possible that Farook had disabled iCloud backups, in which case this whole thing is moot. 2 But it’s also possible the only reason the phone hadn’t been backed up in six weeks is that it had not been plugged-in while on a known Wi-Fi network in six weeks. The I think the phone would have to be unlocked to determine this, and the whole point of this fight is that the phone can’t be unlocked.

The FBI screwed this up by directing the San Bernardino County Department of Public Health to reset Farook’s Apple ID password. They did not, and apparently could not, change anything on the phone itself. But once they reset the Apple ID password, the phone could not back up to iCloud, because the phone needed to be updated with the newly-reset Apple ID password to do so — and they could not do that because they can’t unlock the phone.

The key point is that you do not have to unlock an iPhone to have it back up to iCloud. But a locked iPhone can’t back up to iCloud if the associated Apple ID password has been changed.

Again, there are two password-type things at play here. The Apple ID (iCloud) password, and the four-digit device passcode locking the iPhone. The county, at the behest of the FBI, reset the Apple ID password. This did not allow them to unlock the iPhone, and, worse, it prevented the iPhone from initiating a new backup to iCloud.

How did the county reset Farook’s Apple ID password? We don’t know for sure, but the most likely answer is that if his Apple ID was his work-issued email account, then the IT department at the county could go to, enter Farook’s work email address, and then access his email account to click the confirmation URL to reset the password.

In short:

  • The data the FBI claims to want is on Farook’s iPhone.
  • They already have access to his iCloud account.
  • They might have been able to transfer the data on his iPhone to his iCloud account via an automated backup, but they can’t because they reset his Apple ID (iCloud) password.

The only possible explanations for this are incompetence or dishonesty on the part of the FBI. Incompetence, if they didn’t realize that resetting the Apple ID password could prevent the iPhone from backing up to iCloud. Dishonesty, if they directed the county to do this knowing the repercussions, with the goal of setting up this fight to force Apple to create a back door for them in iOS. I’m not sure which to believe at this point. I’d like to know exactly when this directive to reset the Apple ID password was given — ” in the hours after the attack” leaves a lot of wiggle room.

  1. Much (or all?) of the data stored on Apple’s iCloud backup servers is not encrypted. Or, if it is encrypted, it is encrypted in a way that Apple can decrypt. Apple has a PDF that describes the information available to U.S. law enforcement from iCloud, but to me it’s not To my knowledge, Apple has never made clear exactly what information is available under warrant. search warrant from an iCloud backup. They should publish this in detail. And, I would bet a large sum of money that Apple is hard at work on an iCloud backup system that does store data encrypted in a way that Apple cannot read it without the user’s Apple ID password. ↩︎

  2. Another possibility: Farook’s iCloud storage was full. If this were the case, presumably Apple could have granted his account additional storage to allow a fresh backup to occur. But again, this became moot as soon as the county reset the Apple ID password at the behest of the FBI. ↩︎︎

Read the whole story
98 days ago
Nice explanation of the iCloud password change aspect.
Share this story
1 public comment
97 days ago
Interesting development
Brooklyn NY


1 Comment
I had a realization, towards the end of my last job, about company values. What are company values (aka "Core Values")? Well, here are some examples: Zappos, Etsy, Facebook. My former company had 10:
1. Everyone deserves a Cinderella Experience
2. Dream big and go after it!
3. Make the most with what you have...scrappiness is a virtue
4. Debating, honest conversations and collaborating make the company stronger
5. Happiness and positivity is a choice
6. Embrace the RTR family and bring your authentic self into the office each day
7. Bring your best intentions to everything and trust that others do the same
8. Adapt and learn from everything you do
9. Roll up your sleeves and get involved. Everyone should be accessible and involved with the day to day elements of RTR
10.We are all founders of Rent The Runway
When I first started, I was skeptical about the purpose of Core Values. Zappos, the most famous advocate of this concept, seemed a bit weird. I am not a conformist, and I felt like expecting a diverse group of people to embrace the same set of values and beliefs was a bit Orwellian.

What changed my mind? As part of the company review process, we would ask people to mention ways in which their peers embraced the core values. One person might write, for example, "When Jane suggested we try this crazy experiment to increase the performance of our product page, she encouraged us to dream big and go after it." You weren't required to spell out how each person met every value, just give one or two instances where they had met them.

Is it a good idea to use values as part of the performance review process? Well, for better or worse, one of the things that indicates success within a company is how well a person is capable of working within the culture of that company. This can be a bad thing, when the culture of the company is confused with the color of the company, the gender of the company, the background of the people in the company. That is not a very specific culture, and it is likely to cause bias that does not actually serve to reduce the collaboration issues that you might worry about in heterogenous groups. When company values are more explicit, however, they give you something that is (hopefully) less correlated with how people look and more correlated with how people communicate, make decisions, and behave.

I wrote, read, and delivered many reviews, always involving a section on values. I also observed many "core value stories," where employees would stand up and tell about another person or group who went above and beyond and how that tied back to some of our core values. I got to see over and over again examples of people exhibiting these values and the ways they presented themselves.

At some point, I realized there was a pattern. The people in the company who were beloved by all, happiest in their jobs, and arguably most productive, were the people who showed up for all of these values. They may not have been the people who went to the best schools, or who wrote the most beautiful code, in fact they often weren't the "on-paper" superstars. But when it came to the job, they were great, highly in-demand, and usually promoted quickly. They didn't all look the same, they didn't all work in the same team or have the same skillset. Their only common thread was that they didn't have to stretch too much to live the company values, because the company values overlapped with their own personal values.

What's the takeaway here? Well, we often talk about "culture." By now, we know that beer and ping pong tables aren't culture. Many of us fear that "culture" can be a dog whistle for "people who look like me." And yet, people are more likely to be successful and happy if they are in a company with a culture that matches their values. My experience has led me to conclude that looking for the values of your company as part of your interviewing process is probably at least as important as the technical and skills screening, in finding the best employees.

Why is this post called Framing?

The way you ask people to look for values is going to make a big difference in what they look for, and what they see. You might have 10 values, as RTR did. Would you really want to ask every interviewer for a "yes/no" on all 10? Probably not. But if you boiled that question down to "culture fit", do you think the interviewers are going to think about the company values? Or are they going to think about whether this person looks like them, talks like them, is "a person they could get a beer with?" The way you frame the question of culture is important, and if you aren't explicit, people may skip over the details and go with their bias.

If you agree with me that values are valuable, I encourage you to put them in your interview process, and make them explicit. Don't ask for "culture fit", list the values and ask people to mention any they noticed the person definitely meeting or definitely not meeting. Prime the interviewers beforehand with the list of values, so they know what to look for. And then, let me know how it goes! Because this is still theoretical for me, and I would love to hear your experience, as well as any counterpoints to what I have suggested.

Read the whole story
102 days ago
Yep yep yep
Share this story

Control Center


Stephen Hackett, “The Case Against Control Center”:

I don’t think this has aged very well, unfortunately, and it’s mostly Control Center’s fault. In addition to it being confusing to have a hidden panel at the top of the screen, having one at the bottom too is a lot to handle for some users. But there’s a bigger problem in my mind: Control Center just does way too many things.

I love the top row and screen brightness settings, but as I get closer to the bottom of the screen, the usefulness of Control Center lessens. With the exception of maybe the flashlight button, I’d be fine if the bottom row went away, Calculator and that creepy new Night Mode button included.

I think Apple could simplify all of this by looking to Android’s Notifications Drawer, where all of this stuff is in one pull-down tray from the top of the screen. Pull down a little to see notifications; pull down further to reveal a set of utilities.

I couldn’t disagree more strenuously. Control Center is probably my single favorite system-level UI change to iOS ever. I kind of wish you could change the apps hard-coded at the bottom (I’d replace Calculator with PCalc, for example), but I use it all the time.

I think Notification Center and Today view could still use some improvement. But cramming Control Center into the same pull-down sheet would make things worse up, not better. Putting the dynamic Notification Center at the top and the static Control Center at the bottom provides a consistent spatial familiarity. It makes these features feel like they’re part of the hardware. (And I think Android might have to make them both pull-down-from-the-top because Android phones have soft buttons at the bottom of the display.)

Read the whole story
120 days ago
I definitely use Control Center all the time, particularly to get to the camera. I also like the easy access to Airplane Mode.
Share this story

What the new video compression strategy from Netflix means for Apple and Amazon

1 Comment and 3 Shares

Last week, several folks on Twitter pointed me to this technical post from Netflix about their new video compression strategy. While not yet implemented, it promises to save bandwidth while improving quality for some content.

And the article is very nearly a nerdgasm for a transcoding geek like myself. I’d still like to see more details about the exact rate control mechanism they’re using and actual encoder arguments but, hey, you can’t have everything.

The tl;dr of it all is simply that Netflix plans on scaling bitrates up and down based on the complexity of the their video. So, slightly higher bitrates for busy action blockbusters and possibly lower bitrates for relatively static, flat cartoons.

Basically what we’ve all been doing for years with variable bitrate (VBR) encoding. But they’re trying to control that variance a lot more than an encoder like x264 typically allows. In fact, as near as I can tell, Netflix still plans on encoding everything with a constant bitrate (CBR), but they want to be really particular about the target number.

To do that, Netflix will transcode every one of their videos a bazillion times at different resolutions and at different bitrates, finally selecting the smallest one for a particular title that doesn’t suck visually. Seriously, their algorithm for all of this is quite clever.

And the new Netflix proposal will likely succeed. After all, they have a server farm the size of a small country to do all those iterations.

Since the rest of us don’t have that kind of hardware, the rate control system used in my video_transcoding project might be more appropriate.

Anyway, besides all the geekery, what struck me about this whole plan by Netflix is that Apple and Amazon will likely go down the same path. For competitive reasons, if nothing else.

They all have the same server farms. Owned by Amazon, no doubt. And there aren’t any technical hurdles. It’s just more computation.

At least Apple and Amazon will likely do this for streaming. But I’m not sure that’s true for sales of digital video downloads.

Let me explain.

When Apple first opened the iTunes Store to sell music, those audio files were provided at 128 Kbps in AAC format using Apple’s own encoder.

And that encoder was quite good, but back then it was only used for constant (CBR) and average bitrate (ABR) output. So a track that was advertised being 128 Kbps was very likely encoded at or very near 128 Kbps. You got what you paid for.

Later, Apple did away with audio DRM and upped the bitrate to 256 Kbps. For nearly the same price. It was awesome. And we all remember the awesomeness of it.

Apple also developed a new version of their audio encoder with a true variable bitrate (VBR) mode. And that new mode produced just as good if not better quality audio than the CBR and ABR schemes. Often at much lower bitrates, too.

But I suspect that was a problem.

You see, it would probably be difficult to sell those VBR files — some of which were quite a bit lower than 256 Kbps and a few even lower than 128 Kbps — because customers might perceive a loss of value.

I think this is why Apple developed a new encoding mode they call Constrained VBR. It has all the benefits of the regular VBR mode, but it just doesn’t dip the bitrate too low. In a way, it acts like the old ABR mode, occasionally wasting space for less complex audio.

Of course, for some tracks the Constrained VBR output is larger than 256 Kbps. In fact, all of the songs on Taylor Swifts’s “1989” are larger than 256 Kbps. I bet you’re thinking, “Wow! More value for my money!” (And maybe, “WTF? Gramps listens to Taylor Swift?”)

But there are quite a few audio files in the iTunes Store that could probably be a lot smaller with no perceived loss of quality if Apple used that original VBR mode to do the encoding.

I would bet money that Amazon ran into this same conundrum with the unconstrained VBR mode of the LAME MP3 encoder which they use. And this might explain why some of Amazon’s files are in CBR format, artificially boosting their size.

Anyway, Netflix is talking about the bitrates for their 1080p videos soon being as low 2000 Kbps for the simple stuff. That’s down from the 4300-5800 Kbps range they’re using now. And I’m sure they can do that on the low end without any perceivable loss of quality while streaming.

But can Apple and Amazon sell 1080p videos — averaging about 5000 Kbps now — at bitrates as low as 2000 Kbps — less than half that average size — without a perceived loss of value?

I don’t know. It’s hard to predict because consumers… well… we’re fucking stupid.

Read the whole story
158 days ago
Share this story
1 public comment
159 days ago
It's like the MHz wars. And just like in the MHz wars and megapixel wars, any attempt to use a more nuanced measurement will just confuse people (e.g., we deliver X PSNR at AxB resolution using 30% less of your modest data cap than our competitor), so best to just be cagey about the details and teach people not to worry.
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm
Next Page of Stories