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★ The Mac Pro Lives

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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).

But more good news, too:

Apple has “great” new iMacs in the pipeline, slated for release “this year”, including configurations specifically targeted at large segments of the pro market.


Let’s say you’re Apple. You’re faced with the following problem. Three years ago you launched a radical new lineup of Mac Pros. For multiple reasons, you haven’t shipped an update to those machines since. At some point you came to the conclusion that the 2013 Mac Pro concept was fundamentally flawed. It was tightly integrated internally, which allowed for some very nice features: it was small and beautiful (a pro machine that demanded placement on your desk, not under your desk) and it could run whisper quietly. But that tight integration made it hard to update regularly. The idea that expansion could be handled almost entirely by external Thunderbolt peripherals sounded good on paper, but hasn’t panned out in practice. And the GPU design was a bad prediction. Apple bet on a dual-GPU design (multiple smaller GPUs, with “pro”-level performance coming from parallel processing) but the industry has gone largely in the other direction (machines with one big GPU).

And so you decided to completely redesign the Mac Pro. But that new design isn’t going to ship this year. You’re committed to your pro users, but a sizable chunk of them are growing ever more restless. They suspect — in some cases strongly — that you don’t care about them anymore. They see the stalled Mac Pro lineup as a sign that Apple no longer cares about them, and they worry deeply that the Mac Pro isn’t merely waiting for a major update but instead is waiting to be decommissioned.

What do you do?

There are really only two options at this point. The first would be to suck it up and wait until the next-generation Mac Pros are ready to be announced, and suffer in silence while more and more people point to the current Mac Pro’s stagnation as proof that Apple is abandoning the Mac Pro market.

The second would be to bite the bullet and tell the world what your plans are, even though it’s your decades-long tradition — a fundamental part of the company’s culture — to let actual shipping products, not promises of future products, tell your story.

Apple chose the latter.


We’re inside a nondescript single-story office building on Apple’s extended old campus, across De Anza Boulevard from One Infinite Loop. This is Apple’s Product Realization Lab for Mac hardware, better known, internally, as “the machine lab”. This is where they make and refine prototypes for new Mac hardware. We don’t get to see anything cool. There is no moment where they lift a black cloth and show us prototypes of future hardware. The setting feels chosen simply to set the tone that innovative Mac hardware design — across the entire Mac lineup — is not a thing of the past.

There are only nine people at the table. Phil Schiller, Craig Federighi, and John Ternus (vice president, hardware engineering — in charge of Mac hardware) are there to speak for Apple. Bill Evans from Apple PR is there to set the ground rules and run the clock. (We had 90 minutes.) The other five are writers who were invited for what was billed as “a small roundtable discussion about the Mac”: Matthew Panzarino, Lance Ulanoff, Ina Fried, John Paczkowski, and yours truly.

The discussion is on the record.

Here’s how Schiller broke the news on Mac Pro. It’s worth quoting him at length:

With regards to the Mac Pro, we are in the process of what we call “completely rethinking the Mac Pro”. We’re working on it. We have a team working hard on it right now, and we want to architect it so that we can keep it fresh with regular improvements, and we’re committed to making it our highest-end, high-throughput desktop system, designed for our demanding pro customers.

As part of doing a new Mac Pro — it is, by definition, a modular system — we will be doing a pro display as well. Now you won’t see any of those products this year; we’re in the process of that. We think it’s really important to create something great for our pro customers who want a Mac Pro modular system, and that’ll take longer than this year to do.

In the interim, we know there are a number of customers who continue to buy our [current Mac Pros]. To be clear, our current Mac Pro has met the needs of some of our customers, and we know clearly not all of our customers. None of this is black and white, it’s a wide variety of customers. Some… it’s the kind of system they wanted; others, it was not.

In the meantime, we’re going to update the configs to make it faster and better for their dollar. This is not a new model, not a new design, we’re just going to update the configs. We’re doing that this week. We can give you the specifics on that.

The CPUs, we’re moving them down the line. The GPUs, down the line, to get more performance per dollar for customers who DO need to continue to buy them on the interim until we get to a newly architected system.

In an ideal world, yes, these next-gen Mac Pros (and new displays) would be shipping soon. In fact, if we’re going to say ideal, they’d already be shipping. But make no mistake, this is very good news for anyone who cares about the Mac Pro. Those of us with an ear to the ground knew that there were no major changes to the Mac Pro shipping soon. That meant one of two things: next-gen Mac Pros were a ways off, or Apple was abandoning the Mac Pro market.

Given that, this is very good news for serious Mac users. Even for serious Mac users who don’t buy Mac Pro hardware, this is good news because it’s a sign of Apple’s commitment to pro Mac software. There is no reason for Apple to commit itself to a new modular Mac Pro unless they’re also committed to what makes the Mac the Mac in software.

Some stats and facts Apple shared with us during the discussion:

  • Apple’s research shows that 15 percent of all Mac users use at least one “pro” app frequently. These are apps for things like music creation, video editing, graphic design, and software development. Basically, apps that are performance intensive. An additional 15 percent of Mac users use pro apps less frequently but at least once per week. That 30 percent of the overall Mac user base is what Apple considers the “pro” market.

  • Overall, the split between notebooks and desktops in Mac sales is roughly 80/20. (Personally, I’m a little surprised desktops account for even 20 percent of sales. I would have guessed 85/15, and wouldn’t have been surprised to hear 90/10.)

  • Even among pro users, notebooks are by far the most popular Macs. In second place are iMacs. The Mac Pro is third. Apple declined to describe the Mac Pro’s share of all Mac sales any more specifically than “a single-digit percent”, but my gut feeling is that the single digit is a lot closer to 1 than it is to 9.

So: only 30 percent of Mac users are in what Apple considers the pro market. Most of those use MacBook Pros (or other MacBooks). Most of those who use desktops use iMacs. None of this is a surprise, really — and this is exactly why so many users who depend on the Mac Pro have been deeply concerned about its future. For Apple to care about the Mac Pro, it requires Apple to care about a small number of users.

Regarding iMacs, Schiller also said that new iMacs are in the works, slated for release some time this year (no specifics other than “this year”), including “configurations of iMac specifically with the pro customer in mind and acknowledging that our most popular desktop with pros is an iMac.”

Craig Federighi then jumped in, and said:

That is a pretty incredible evolution that we’ve seen over the last decade. The original iMac, you never would’ve thought as remotely touching pro uses. And now you look at today’s 5K iMac, top configs, it’s incredibly powerful, and a huge fraction of what would’ve traditionally — whether it’s audio editing, video editing, graphics, arts and so forth — that would’ve previously absolutely required the Mac Pros of old, are being well-addressed by iMac. But there’s still even further we can take iMac as a high performance, pro system, and we think that form factor can address even more of the pro market.

What struck me about this is that Apple was framing a discussion in which the big news — the whole point, really — was their pre-announcing a “completely rethought” next-generation Mac Pro by emphasizing that most of their pro users use MacBooks and most of the rest use iMacs — and that they have big plans in store for the pro segment of both of those product lines. It’s exactly what I would have expected Apple to say if they were breaking the news that the Mac Pro was going away: We’re dropping the Mac Pro because its time has come and gone — all but a small percentage of our pro users have their needs met by MacBook Pros and high-end iMacs.

So it might seem curious for Apple to frame the need for an all-new Mac Pro by emphasizing just how many of their pro users don’t need a Mac Pro. But if you think about it in the context of the current Mac Pro, it makes sense. Those whose needs aren’t met by MacBook Pros or iMacs need extreme performance. The current Mac Pro — even putting aside the age of its components — only met the needs of some of those users. For the rest — for those who need the fastest Intel CPUs on the market, the biggest and most powerful GPUs, etc. — the current Mac Pro isn’t a good fit.

There were several questions from a few of us trying to peg down when Apple realized it needed to start over and design a new Mac Pro. Apple, unsurprisingly, wouldn’t budge. But they were forthcoming about the fact that the current Mac Pro isn’t meeting the needs of all the users who need a Mac Pro. Federighi:

I think we designed ourselves into a bit of a thermal corner, if you will. We designed a system with the kind of GPUs that at the time we thought we needed, and that we thought we could well serve with a two GPU architecture. That that was the thermal limit we needed, or the thermal capacity we needed. But workloads didn’t materialize to fit that as broadly as we hoped.

Being able to put larger single GPUs required a different system architecture and more thermal capacity than that system was designed to accommodate. So it became fairly difficult to adjust. At the same time, so many of our customers were moving to iMac that we saw a path to address many, many more of those that were finding themselves limited by a Mac Pro through next generation iMac. And really put a lot of our energy behind that.

Schiller:

As we’ve said, we made something bold that we thought would be great for the majority of our Mac Pro users. And what we discovered was that it was great for some and not others. Enough so that we need to take another path. One of the good things, hopefully, with Apple through the years has been a willingness to say when something isn’t quite what we wanted it do be, didn’t live up to expectations, to not be afraid to admit it and look for the next answer.

The word “mistake” was not uttered, but this is about as close as we’re going to get to Apple admitting they miscalculated with the current Mac Pro’s concept. One word that was uttered, however, was “sorry”. Here’s Schiller, after being asked whether they already had an external design in mind for the next-gen Mac Pros:

We’re not going to get into exactly what stage we’re in, just that we told the team to take the time to do something really great. To do something that can be supported for a long time with customers with updates and upgrades throughout the years. We’ll take the time it takes to do that. The current Mac Pro, as we’ve said a few times, was constrained thermally and it restricted our ability to upgrade it. And for that, we’re sorry to disappoint customers who wanted that, and we’ve asked the team to go and re-architect and design something great for the future that those Mac Pro customers who want more expandability, more upgradability in the future. It’ll meet more of those needs.


My takeaway is that the Mac’s future is bright. Mac sales were up in 2016, once again outpacing the PC industry as a whole, and the new MacBook Pros are a hit, with sales up “about 20 percent” year over year. The Mac is a $25 billion business for Apple annually, and according to the company there are 100 million people in the active Mac user base worldwide.

Yes, those numbers are all peanuts compared to the iPhone, but everything is peanuts compared to the iPhone.

Ternus put it plainly: “Some of our most talented folks are working on [the Mac]. I mean, quite frankly, a lot of this company, if not most of this company, runs on Macs. This is a company full of pro Mac users.”

I asked whether Apple is aware of just how many serious Mac users have begun to doubt the company’s commitment to the Mac in general, and the needs of pro Mac users in particular. Schiller said:

It’s a reasonable question, and this is why we’re here today, specifically, to address that question above all else. We’re committed to the Mac, we’ve got great talent on the Mac, both hardware and software, we’ve got great products planned for the future, and as far as our horizon line can see, the Mac is a core component of the things Apple delivers, including to our pro customers.

I think it was simply untenable for Apple to continue to remain silent on the Mac Pro front. No matter how disappointing you consider today’s speed bump updates to the lineup, they’re certainly better than no updates at all. But there was no way Apple could release today’s speed bumps without acknowledging that in and of themselves, these updates do not suggest that Apple is committed to the Mac Pro. In fact, if they had released these speed bumps without any comment about the future of the Mac Pro, people would have reasonably concluded that Apple had lost its goddamned mind.

Ultimately, actions speak louder than words. But I very much like the words I heard yesterday.


A few other miscellaneous tidbits from the discussion:

  • Near the end, John Paczkowski had the presence of mind to ask about the Mac Mini, which hadn’t been mentioned at all until that point. Schiller: “On that I’ll say the Mac Mini is an important product in our lineup and we weren’t bringing it up because it’s more of a mix of consumer with some pro use. … The Mac Mini remains a product in our lineup, but nothing more to say about it today.”

  • Schiller, on Apple’s own pro apps: “I just want to reiterate our strong commitment there, as well. Both with Final Cut Pro X and Logic Pro X, there are teams on those software products that are completely dedicated to delivering great pro software to our customers. No foot off the gas there.”

  • Federighi: “I think if you use Xcode downloads as a metric, it’s possible software developers are actually our largest pro audience. It’s growing very quickly, it’s been fantastic.”

  • Asked whether coming-in-the-future next-gen Mac Pros would be assembled in the U.S. as the current ones are, Schiller said “We’re not ready to talk about that yet. Further down the line, we’d be happy to.”

  • For examples of the type of software that the current Mac Pro isn’t well-suited for, Federighi mentioned VR: “Those can be in VR, those can be in certain kinds of high end cinema production tasks where most of the software out there that’s been written to target those doesn’t know how to balance itself well across multiple GPUs, but can scale across a single large GPU.”

  • I asked about scripting and automation — whether Apple still sees scripting and automation as an important part of the pro market. Federighi: “We think scriptability and automation of the system remain super important.”

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kbreit
19 days ago
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martinbaum
19 days ago
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Stupendous news... for 2015.
glynn
19 days ago
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Next year...
Ubiquitous

Overcast 3: Design walkthrough

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Overcast 3 is now available, and it’s a huge update, mostly in the design and flow of the interface. I’ve been working on it since last summer, informed by over two years of testing, usage, and customer feedback.

I designed Overcast 1.0 in 2014 for iOS 7, and it was a product of its time: it used ultra-thin text and lines against stark, sharp-edged, full-screen white sheets and translucent blur panes, with much of the basic functionality behind hidden gestures. That fundamental design carried through every update until today.

My design goals for 3.0 were:

  1. Update the style from iOS 7 to today: More affordances, more curves, thicker fonts, less translucency, more tactility. App-design fashion doesn’t stand still, and many iOS 7-era designs now look dated.
  2. Bring all functionality into the open: Add visible controls and affordances to anything that was previously hard to find or behind a hidden gesture, such as table-cell swipe actions and actions that first require tapping corner “Edit” buttons.

    You wouldn’t believe how many customers have asked me to add features that were already there, or couldn’t find basic functions like deleting episodes, because they weren’t apparent enough in the design.

  3. Adapt to larger phones: Enlarge touch targets and make one-handed use faster and easier, even when only part of the screen is within easy reach. I also wanted to reduce the potential for (and effects of) mis-tapping, especially around the lower left and right screen edges, which I believe will become increasingly important as future iPhones presumably get thinner side bezels.

    Overcast 1.0 was designed for the iPhone 5S. Some fundamentals needed to be revisited now that the vast majority of my customers are on 4.7- and 5.5-inch screens.

Now Playing screen, card metaphor

I began by revamping the fundamental structure between the rest of the app and the Now Playing screen with a new card metaphor, which slides up from the bottom instead of pushing in from the right:

Old New

Most popular music and podcast apps have adopted slide-up methods for their Now Playing screens (including the iOS 10 Music app), so this matches what people are already accustomed to elsewhere.

It can be smoothly pulled up from the miniplayer (or just tap it), and can be smoothly dismissed by swiping down anywhere on the Now Playing screen (or tapping the “down” chevron).1

This card metaphor is carried throughout all other modal screens in the app, and they all work the same way, speeding up common tasks and greatly enhancing one-handed use.

I also redesigned the Now Playing screen itself. The old one revealed episode notes in a hidden scroll zone — you’d need to swipe up on the artwork to reveal them, which relatively few people ever discovered.

Old New

The new Now Playing screen can be swiped horizontally to reveal effects on the left or episode notes on the right, and — critically — this is indicated by a standard “page dots” indicator below the artwork.2

The Effects and Playback popovers have been consolidated into a single effects pane:3

Old New

Along with a tightening of the seek-back/forward tap zones, this moved critical controls away from the lower-left and lower-right screen edges, which are often mis-tapped when handling large phones.

Playlists, episode info, and podcast screens

Playlists have been manually reorderable since 1.0, but many iOS users never tap “Edit” buttons in navigation bars, so many people never even knew they could do it. Even for those who knew they could reorder episodes, the two-step process was cumbersome.

The new playlist screen has full-time reordering handles for faster access and better discoverability:

Old New

The miniplayer is also now larger and easier to grab, has larger buttons, and hides when nothing is playing.

I’ve also replaced the episode-info popovers, which I’ve hated since the day I shipped them:

Old New

The old popover lacked contrast from its surroundings, had limited space, and required carefully tapping outside its bounds to dismiss, which was often clumsy when one-handed.

The new episode-info card behaves like all other Overcast 3 cards: slides up quickly, then easily dismissed by swiping down anywhere (or inward from the left edge). It can also be previewed with 3D Touch and swiped up for quick actions.

Playing, deleting, queueing

Previously, tapping an episode in the list would immediately begin playback. This is nice when you want it, but accidental input was always an issue: I found it too easy to accidentally begin playing something that I was trying to rearrange, delete, or see info about.

A lot of people also never swipe table cells (or tap Edit buttons), therefore never finding the Delete button. I’ve gotten literally hundreds of emails since Overcast 1.0’s launch asking how to delete episodes without playing them.

Old New

To address these, I’ve switched to a two-stage method: tap an episode to select it, which shows various action buttons, and tap the newly revealed Play button to play it.

I expect this to be the most controversial change in Overcast 3, as it does slow down playback, but I’ve found that it works far better and more consistently, most people accustomed to the old way get used to it in a couple of days, and it makes the app far more reliable and discoverable for everyone.

It also gave me a place to put a new button: Queue.

Some kind of “Up Next”-style fast queue management has been one of Overcast’s most-requested features since day one. It took me a long time to come around to the idea because I thought my playlists served the same role. And they mostly did, but they needed two big changes:

  1. Easy access from around the interface to quickly add episodes to the queue.
  2. Overcast 3’s new option for manual playlists, instead of just “smart” playlists, matching iTunes’ definitions: manual playlists only ever contain things you add explicitly to them, while “smart” playlists (previously the only kind in Overcast) are a set of rules that automatically include or exclude episodes. Many people want their queue/up-next to be a manual playlist.

The new queue features are simply Overcast playlists with special placement in the interface. If you already have a playlist named “Queue” or the default “All Episodes”, that’s used, and if not, it’s created as necessary. These show up everywhere and have full functionality just like every other playlist.

Miscellany

The podcast screen always had a huge design flaw. Quick: in the old screen, how do you reverse the sort order of the episodes so it plays oldest to newest?

Old New

There’s no standard for this on iOS, so I copied the desktop/web standard of a triangle indicator on the header that can be tapped to reverse the direction. Nobody ever found this, so I’ve added a clearly labeled option under each podcast’s Settings as well.

The old podcast-directory screen was filled with annoyances: podcasts you’d already subscribed to would be dimmed out and show an annoying alert if tapped, you could only add one podcast at a time, etc.

Old New

Now, everything’s visible from everywhere, the same actions show up wherever an episode is listed, and you can add multiple podcasts without having to go back into the directory for each one. (Finally.) And, of course, it’s a card, so it’s easy to dismiss by just dragging down.

Some other new stuff:

A widget!

Rich notifications!

An all-new, much faster Watch app, finally natively running on watchOS 3! (The old one was watchOS 1. Really.)

And even some Swift! (This is why the app has grown from 7 MB to about 30 MB: since Swift is still young, all Swift apps still come with their own custom copy of the Swift libraries.)

Much nicer ads

When my patronage-only model effectively failed and I added Google ads last September, I had to swallow two bitter pills:

  • Bad ads: I had little control over the advertisers or the ad content, which could be offensive or reflect badly on my app without my knowledge. I thought I could set adequate limits, but in practice, it wasn’t good enough.

    Google provides an extensive control panel that lets you block certain ad categories. Most are clearly placed in Sensitive Categories and were easily disabled before launch, like gambling, drugs, etc., but I kept hearing from customers who’d seen other ads that offended both of us. For instance, at least one listener was shown an ad for a gun, which I never even considered would be allowed with all of the “sensitive” categories turned off. But Guns & Firearms isn’t in Sensitive Categories next to drugs and gambling — it’s in Business & Industrial > Security Equipment & Services.

    So I kept blocking more categories, but it was never enough to result in ads that were consistently acceptable to me.

    Other ad networks exist, but they tend to be even worse, or they don’t make enough money, or both.

  • Mystery code in my app: I had to embed the closed-source Google ad library into my app, and accept all of its uncomfortable requirements (Advertising Identifier, permission dialogs to use things like Bluetooth or Contacts if an advertiser wanted it, etc.).

    This made me a little uneasy in September, but then November happened, and by late January, I wasn’t comfortable embedding unnecessary closed-source code from a U.S advertising company in my app anymore.

I decided to do whatever it took to drop the Google ads and Fabric crash reports and analytics, which was recently acquired by Google.

No closed-source code will be embedded in Overcast anymore,4 and I won’t use any more third-party analytics services. I’m fairly confident that Apple has my back if a government pressures them to violate their customers’ rights and privacy, but it’s wise to minimize the number of companies that I’m making that assumption about.

Fortunately, the Google ads made relatively little — about 90% of Overcast’s revenue still comes from paid subscriptions, which are doing better now. The presence of ads for non-subscribers is currently more important than the ads themselves, so I can replace them with pretty much anything. So I rolled my own tasteful in-house ads with class-leading privacy, which show in the Now Playing and Add Podcast screens:

Now Playing can show ads for websites, podcasts, apps, or Overcast Premium, while the Add Podcast screen will only ever show ads for podcasts. (Want to buy an ad? Get in touch.)

That’s right, ads for podcasts. What better place to advertise a podcast successfully than in a podcast player? Tap one, and you get the standard Overcast subscription screen with a complete episode list and one-touch subscribing.

Go get it already

It’s a huge update. Thank you very much to all of my customers who made this possible.

I hope I’ve succeeded in my design goals, and I hope you enjoy it.


  1. Don’t worry, edge-swipers: you can also dismiss it by dragging in from the left screen edge, just like the old way, to fit your established muscle memory. ↩︎

  2. Well, almost standard. I made my own so I could improve some of the built-in one’s behaviors and make my own custom little dot icons for Effects and Info. ↩︎

  3. The continuous-play option previously in Playback, labeled “When Episode Ends: Play Next/Stop”, was frequently missed, misunderstood, or invoked accidentally. Many people have asked where the continuous-play option was, and many more asked why their app was suddenly broken and wouldn’t automatically advance between episodes. It’s now just a “Continuous Play” switch in Settings. ↩︎

  4. Unfortunately, this precludes Chromecast support. I’d gladly reconsider if Google documents a way for apps to send audio to Chromecast devices without embedding their closed-source library. ↩︎

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kbreit
61 days ago
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MotherHydra
61 days ago
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I'm impressed with the thought and consideration that went into this "update" (it's actually a huge overhaul). The podcast player sliding into view from the right always struck me as kludgy and sluggish, but with this update the motion of the interface moving up from the bottom feels both natural and smooth. Also noteworthy: re-thinking how a user accesses audio effects and show notes. This was a fun read if you're a fan of user interface design, but even if you aren't skip down to the solution Marco created for displaying ads- very smart thinking here. I've already acclimated to the new interface and I've had it less than a day.
Space City, USA
peelman
60 days ago
Totally agree. The changes he made are incredibly well done. I love the larger controls, and the changes to list views and selections and control layout is soooooo much better for managing lists. Marco once again proves why he's a premiere example of Indie development.
MotherHydra
59 days ago
Peelman, am I just being a dolt: I can't seem to find the save button to make a vanilla playlist. I can name it and add podcasts, but all I'm offered is "cancel." Oddly enough force quitting the app and re-oppening it caused my tech playlist to appear, but I haven't been able to duplicate that behavior again. It may be time to step away from technology today. EDIT: OK, Overcast was just revved to 3.0.2 via the app store update process, and suddenly Lo! A wild "Done" button appears in my playlist creation sheet. Clearly this was a bug but it didn't affect everyone. Glad it got fixed I thought I was going crazy. The old version, 3.0.1, just had blank playlists without a name so clearly something wasn't kosher.

Preview NewsBlur's upcoming hardware device, Turn Touch

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I have something very exciting to share with you today. I’ve been working on a secret project called Turn Touch and I’m just about ready to show it to you. Signup on turntouch.com to find out.

It’s a new kind of device and it’s machined out of solid wood. I built it to last, much like my other projects (for instance the news reader you’re likely reading this in). Turn Touch is built for NewsBlur, among many other things.

Turn Touch will be launching on Kickstarter next week and I want to ask for your help. When I launch my campaign I’m going to need people like you to share it with people who look to you for recomendations on what’s good. You already use NewsBlur, so you’re already known for having good taste.

Now, you probably want to know what Turn Touch is and actually looks like, yeah? Then signup on turntouch.com.

You’ll get to preview the Kickstarter campaign and offer me any feedback you have. You’ll get to see Turn Touch and find out what it offers you.

I’ve been working on this as a side project for that past few years. And by signing up you’ll have the first access to it.

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kbreit
79 days ago
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popular
80 days ago
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torrentprime
79 days ago
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I'd back that kickstarter if it could somehow make Trump go away
San Jose, CA
samuel
79 days ago
If only.
tingham
80 days ago
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Signed up months ago, no emails. Weird.
Cary, NC
samuel
80 days ago
You should have received at least three emails by now. I suggest signing up again, it will automatically email you the "Sneak peak" email.
GreenChange
80 days ago
I've also put my Gmail address in, and not received anything.
samuel
80 days ago
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It's a remote for NewsBlur (among other things).
The Haight in San Francisco
Splike
80 days ago
Can't wait to find out what this wooden thing actually does! Maybe it's like the Pokémon Go plus device. It will blink when good stories are nearby!
christophersw
80 days ago
I'm hoping for a magic "good news" button that filters everything not fit for /r/aww out of my feeds. :-) ... also it should make popcorn...
theprawn
79 days ago
I love this! I wish you success, but I cannot, however, support Kickstarter as a company. Hope this goes to market!
llucax
79 days ago
I hate this "sign-up to see what is it". I hope somebody posts an image or something on a public web that doesn't require sign-up or login
samuel
79 days ago
It's launching Tuesday. If you don't care to signup you can wait until then. I need people to signup so that I can send out an email on the day of the launch and have a nice start to the campaign.
sirshannon
78 days ago
Email newsletters and announcements are cool but I think the audience here on NewsBlur tends to skew towards RSS ;)

Musing: Google Establishes CA Root Authority.

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Google continues to build out its ownership of key Internet infrastructure. Email/Spam filtering, Chrome Browser, DNS

As we look forward to the evolution of both the web and our own products it is clear HTTPS will continue to be a foundational technology. This is why we have made the decision to expand our current Certificate Authority efforts to include the operation of our own Root Certificate Authority. To this end, we have established Google Trust Services (https://pki.goog/), the entity we will rely on to operate these Certificate Authorities on behalf of Google and Alphabet.

Thoughts, in no particular order:

  1. Bought company with root certificates to shorten lead time to control
  2. Ownership of and widespread use of Chrome web browser, DNS and trusted root certificates means that Google has unprecedented amount of control over user data regardless encryption.
  3. Can silently MITM any traffic in browser by combining web browser and certificate configuration
  4. Data gathering from DNS servers for destinations, source addresses/geolocation, usage profiling
  5. Chrome already prevents many privacy and usability features available in other browsers e.g. Reading mode,
  6. Adds to data-gathering possibilities from web services that predict searches, URLs and spelling errors built into browser

One of the base assumptions for internet safety was that functions would be widely distributed which included the spread of companies that could control and operate these functions. While BGP and routing is still “unowned” critical services like DNS and TLS are being owned by private corporations (Google, Cisco, Oracle etc) and Governments (China, Russia).

This is a disturbing pattern.

Google Online Security Blog: The foundation of a more secure web : https://security.googleblog.com/2017/01/the-foundation-of-more-secure-web.html

The post Musing: Google Establishes CA Root Authority. appeared first on EtherealMind.

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kbreit
83 days ago
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Leap Second Added To World's Clocks For 2017, And How We Keep That From Screwing Up GPS (Badly)

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There probably were not a lot of us that noticed it during the countdown to midnight, and the New Year, last Saturday, but this year, time needed a tweak. At 23:59:59 on December 31, 2016, an additional second was added to UTC (Universal Time Coordinated, the international time standard) so that, for exactly one second, UTC time was 23:59:60. 

This might sound a little "who cares" for most of us, but managing the Leap Second is, among other things, essential for little things like running the Internet, and ensuring GPS doesn't think you're halfway to the Moon when you're just trying to find your mother-in-law's house (literally).

Needless to say, since accurate GPS and hey, a working Internet, are nice things to have, and since managing time for both is already a complicated business, why do something like add a Leap Second? The answer is that UTC isn't based on astronomical observations – at least, not anymore. 

UTC used to be based on the rotation of the Earth around its axis, as observed at Greenwich. Once upon a time – a simpler, happier time – the second was exactly 1/86,400 of a day. By the mid-1950s, however, clocks had gotten accurate enough that we'd figured out that the Earth's rotation on its own axis was irregular, so in 1952, the International Union Of Astronomers decided to define the second as a fraction of one orbit of the Earth around the Sun: a second would now be 1/31,556,925.9747 of a tropical year.

However, the year turned out to have the same basic problem as the day; it's irregular, changing slightly in length from one year to the next. (This is different, by the way, from the problem that requires the insertion of an extra day in a Leap Year; the Leap Year is inserted to keep the Gregorian Calendar in sync with the seasons, but the reason for the Leap Year, is that there isn't a whole number of days in a year, not that an astronomical year varies slightly in length from one year to the next.) The search, therefore, was on for a definition of the second that didn't rely on irregular astronomical phenomena. And, by the 1960s, the atomic clock had become accurate enough to offer a better definition – a second, it was decreed, would now be, "the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium-133 atom."  

In plain English, atoms vibrate at certain frequencies depending on their energy level, and by basing the second on an atomic frequency, you get a definition of the second based on something that's always the same, for every cesium atom, no matter where, no matter when. Forget pendulum swings, forget balance wheels, forget quartz crystals: atoms are the ultimate stable oscillator (and they're everywhere). Today, we still use this as the official international definition of a standard second.

The first cesium beam atomic clock, with inventors Louis Essen and Jack Parry, 1955. National Physics Laboratory, UK.

And this is where the trouble starts. As it turns out, atomic clocks are much more stable than the Earth's rotation around its axis, or its orbit around the Sun, and it soon became clear that while an atomic clock-based time standard (UTC) was great to have, it meant that there was going to be a cumulative difference between UTC, and observed mean solar time. While both the astronomical day, and year, are irregular, the day overall has been getting slightly longer for at least the last few centuries. To keep UTC and mean solar time in sync, a Leap Second is occasionally added to UTC. Exactly when to add a Leap Second depends on how much the Earth's rotation is slowing (which is happening for several reasons, including drag caused by the tides) and it's up to the good folks at the International Earth Rotation and Reference Systems Service to say when it's going to happen. If they deem a Leap Second necessary, they give notice about six months ahead of time.

So what's that mean for GPS accuracy?

GPS works thanks to a system of satellites positioned in orbits about 20,000 km up (there are currently 32 satellites in orbit). It's run by the U.S. military. When you use a GPS receiver, you're receiving a signal from (at minimum) four satellites to get a fix: the signal from three satellites is used to triangulate on your position, and the signal of a fourth satellite, to provide a time correction. Where the satellites are relative to you, is determined by how long it takes a signal to travel between you and the satellites, and for the whole thing to work, the system has to use extremely precise clocks.

GPS can accurately determine position to around 30 centimeters, anywhere on Earth (barring physical barriers to radio signals, or electronic interference) but that's only if the satellite atomic clocks, and the more precise atomic clocks on the ground that correct them, are providing accurate time. The whole system is simple in principle, but timekeeping accuracy is everything. A nanosecond (one billionth of a second) error means a position error of about a foot, which means a one second error puts you off by a billion feet: 189,394 miles, which is around 5/8 of the way to the Moon. At that level of sensitivity to clock precision, GPS has to compensate for effects described by Einstein's theory of General Relativity – clocks moving with respect to each other, will see each other's clocks as ticking at different rates, and clocks experiencing different forces of gravity will have the same problem. 

Thanks to relativistic effects, to a clock on the ground, GPS satellite clocks look like they're running 38 microseconds faster, which produces a cumulative error of 10km per day, so if you do find your mother-in-law's house accurately with GPS, you can thank Albert Einstein – and the ultra-precise atomic clocks that keep the whole system in sync.

 More details NIST physicists Steve Jefferts (foreground) and Tom Heavner with the NIST-F2 caesium fountain atomic clock, a civilian time standard for the United States.

How does GPS handle Leap Seconds? Basically, it doesn't – there's no moment where the clocks on GPS satellites read 23:59:60, or a moment when the clock is frozen for one second. Instead, the GPS system transmits GPS time, while also embedding in the signal the current number of seconds difference between GPS and UTC. Your GPS receiver is responsible for doing the conversion. 

Leap seconds don't need to be inserted very often – since 1972, it's happened a total of 27 times. Managing them, or rather mismanaging them, has created some major problems in the past. The 2015 Leap Second was widely publicized but it still caused issues – certain types of Internet routers turned out to be vulnerable, which caused service outages at Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Netflix, Amazon, and Apple's music streaming series Beats 1 (so if your ability to watch Santa Claus Conquers The Martians at 12:30 AM was impaired on January 1, 2016, now you know who to blame). And the 2016 Leap Seconds caused problems here and there as well. 

The question naturally arises for owners of watches that use GPS receivers for accurate time: does my watch account for the Leap Seconds? For Seiko, Casio, and Citizen, the answer in all three cases is yes; the Seiko Astron, for example, will automatically look for Leap Seconds corrections to GPS time embedded in the GPS signal, on the first occasion it syncs to GPS, after June 1 and December 1 of every year.

The Leap Seconds system is therefore, somewhat controversial; because they're inserted as a correction to an error that's irregular (unlike the Leap Year, which we need once every four years like, well, clockwork) it's not possible to build a Leap Seconds correction into any kind of clock, whether electronic or mechanical; the necessity for a Leap Seconds is based on comparing astronomical observations of inherently non-periodic variations in the Earth's rotation and orbit, with atomic clocks. 

Because the difference between UTC and non-Leap Seconds corrected time (like GPS time) is pretty minute, and because Leap Seconds can cause serious network and navigation issues, some people think we should just forget the whole idea. At the World Radiocommunication Conference in 2015 (which took place, appropriately enough, in Geneva, under the auspices of the UN) it was decided by participating nations to put off deciding whether to abolish the Leap Seconds correction until 2023. The difference between mean solar time and UTC isn't huge, mind you – it takes about a thousand years for a one hour difference to accumulate – but if we do ditch the Leap Second someone's going to have to cope with the offset, sooner or later.

Supermoon image via Wikipedia Commons, same for the solar eclipse photo. Thanks to reader Dr. Daniel Borsuk for suggesting the topic via email.



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kbreit
110 days ago
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[Orin Kerr] Comparing Clinton and Trump

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When I have written about the dangers of Donald Trump, I often get a response that runs like this:

Yes, Trump sounds like an authoritarian, and he has said some pretty crazy things. That’s not good. But you’re overlooking an obvious problem: Trump only says he would do troubling things, while Clinton has actually been involved with troubling things. With Clinton, it seems like there is an endless stream of new stories of questionable, unethical, or otherwise troubling things she has actually done or been involved with in government. With Trump it’s only words. Shouldn’t we be more worried about what Clinton has actually done instead of what Trump only has said?

I’m unpersuaded, and I thought I would explain why.

First, the most obvious reason why Trump has never done troubling things in government is that Trump has never worked in the government before. He has never served in any government office. He has never made a government decision. He has never been present when things went wrong and he had to figure out the best way forward. So yes, Trump has no record of actually making bad decisions in government. But that’s because he has no record of making decisions in government at all.

Favoring Trump on that basis is like saying that a sports team in preseason must be good because they are undefeated.

Of course, Trump has a record outside government service. In trying to judge a candidate who has never been in office before, but has instead been in business, you might reasonably ask questions about his character to make good guesses about how he would be in elected office. Possible questions might include: Is he an honest businessman? Does he pay his bills? Does he treat people with respect? Does he keep his personal promises? Does he hire honest advisors? Does he make business decisions carefully based on a review of the relevant evidence? Can he take criticism? Has he paid his taxes properly?

The answer to every question for Trump is not only “no,” but “hell no.” Is he an honest businessman? No, he has engaged in major scams. Does he pay his bills? No, he is known for not paying his bills. Does he treat people with respect? No, he belittles and mocks every opponent and he has been accused by many women of sexual assault. Does he keep his personal promises? Not his marriage vows, at least, as it appears he has cheated on all of his wives. Does he hire honest advisors? No, his closest advisors have been famously dirty and unethical. Can he take criticism? No, he is remarkably thin-skinned and feels compelled to attacks all critics. Does he make business decisions carefully based on a review of the relevant evidence? No, he makes his big decisions based on gut instinct. Has he paid his taxes properly? Well, he doesn’t want you to know: He has steadfastly refused to release his tax records.

So Trump has no government record to criticize, but the signs point to him being just about the worst kind of person to exercise government power.

In contrast, Clinton has a very long record in government service to scrutinize. As Trump likes to point out, Clinton has been in and around government for 30 years. That means that she has a long government record to scrutinize that has been thoroughly mined for problems over the decades. Her long record, and her long being a political target, means that there is a vast body of records to scrutinize and problems to try to associate with her.

And even then, a surprising amount of the criticism of Clinton is about things that happened when she was in government service when there is no obvious case that she was at fault for them. And how much of the constant drip of new stories over the last few months about Clinton’s record are from Wikileaks releases, which the the U.S. Intelligence Community believes are the work of Russian-government-sponsored hackers who broke into U.S. computers and are now releasing Clinton-related records with intent to influence the U.S. elections?

It’s also worth marveling at how Trump is the Teflon presidential candidate. No matter what terrible thing he is shown to have done or said, nothing seems to stick in the public consciousness for more than a few days. Trump himself has expressed astonishment at this. As he put it, “I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Just to pick an example, did you know that Trump is scheduled to face trial in federal court in just three weeks for perpetrating a massive fraud scheme that the Attorney General of Trump’s state has condemned as “a fraud from beginning to end”? Probably not. No one seems to care.

Why is that?

Here’s my pet theory. I think the reason is that Trump has a deeply-engrained public persona that is tremendously likeable. To be clear, I’m not saying that persona is accurate. To the contrary, the truth appears to be the opposite. Trump is, as he might put it, a “nasty man.”

But if you want to know why Trump gets away with everything, remember that Trump has been an American icon for three decades. Trump is a symbol of success to a lot of people. He’s brash, confident, and made a ton of money in business. He’s so charming that he has all the models chasing after him. The name “Trump” means wealth, success, money and power. And it has meant that for decades in a uniquely accessible way. Trump isn’t snooty or out-of-touch. Instead, he’s seen as a down-to-earth guy who took risks and won big. The Acela crowd can laugh at how there is (or was) Trump vodka, Trump steaks, Trump shirts, and Trump everything. But there’s Trump everything because “Donald Trump” is a genuine brand to a lot of people. To a lot of people, Trump is gold.

I suspect that the Trump brand offers at least part of the explanation for why Trump gets away with things no one else could. His persona is so deeply engrained that it’s hard to redefine him. Once you’re an icon like that, you get the benefit of the doubt even when the evidence is massive that it’s all a con.

One last thought. Some commenters responded to my earlier post by saying that if I vote for Clinton and she wins, I cannot criticize anything she does in office. I couldn’t disagree more. I hope all of us can agree that no matter who we vote for — in this election, or in any election — we should applaud or criticize government officials based on what they do rather than based on whether we thought they were the best qualified candidate. A vote for a candidate isn’t a free pass, just like a vote against a candidate can’t signal a commitment to oppose everything that person does if elected. When the election is over and the governing begins, we need to put our votes aside and treat the elected official as a representative of all of the people.

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kbreit
167 days ago
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