Link

Apple and a Deep Dive into LIDAR

Timothy B. Lee has a good deep dive into how Apple has managed to get LIDAR into the newest version of the company’s phones and high-end iPads, and more broadly what the advances in the technology mean for integrating LIDAR into cars.

Lee notes that while it may take another 2-4 years, we can expect to see such sensors more prominently featured in motor vehicles so as to improve on existing driving assistance systems. Left unstated, however, is how more advanced LIDAR sensors will enable next-generation content experiences of the type that Apple (and other technology companies) have been promising are in the wings for the past few years.

Link

Making Sense of Wine Labels

Eric Asimov has a helpful piece that decodes wine labels from around the world. The takeaway for me? Unless you spend a bunch of time pre-studying how different parts of the world have passed laws around labelling it’s almost entirely unclear what, exactly, you’re reading on a label and what is meant by what’s on it. Combined with the strong variability in tasting notes and it seems like the way to find a ‘good’ bottle of wine principally comes down to finding a reviewer that you agree with and just buying the things that they recommend, and which are within your price range.

Link

VPN and Security Friction

Troy Hunt spent some time over the weekend writing on the relative insecurity of the Internet and how VPNs reduce threats without obviating those threats entirely. The kicker is:

To be clear, using a VPN doesn’t magically solve all these issues, it mitigates them. For example, if a site lacks sufficient HTTPS then there’s still the network segment between the VPN exit node and the site in question to contend with. It’s arguably the least risky segment of the network, but it’s still there. The effectiveness of black-holing DNS queries to known bad domains depends on the domain first being known to be bad. CyberSec is still going to do a much better job of that than your ISP, but it won’t be perfect. And privacy wise, a VPN doesn’t remove DNS or the ability to inspect SNI traffic, it simply removes that ability from your ISP and grants it to NordVPN instead. But then again, I’ve always said I’d much rather trust a reputable VPN to keep my traffic secure, private and not logged, especially one that’s been independently audited to that effect.

Something that security professionals are still not great at communicating—because we’re not asked to and because it’s harder for regular users to use the information—is that security is about adding friction that prevents adversaries from successfully exploiting whomever or whatever they’re targeting. Any such friction, however, can be overcome in the face of a sufficiently well-resourced attacker. But when you read most articles that talk about any given threat mitigation tool what is apparent is that the problems that are faced are systemic; while individuals can undertake some efforts to increase friction the crux of the problem is that individuals are operating in an almost inherently insecure environment.

Security is a community good and, as such, individuals can only do so much to protect themselves. But what’s more is that their individual efforts functionally represent a failing of the security community, and reveals the need for group efforts to reduce the threats faced by individuals everyday when they use the Internet or Internet-connected systems. Sure, some VPNs are a good thing to help individuals but, ideally, these are technologies to be discarded in some distant future after groups of actors successfully have worked to mitigate the threats that lurk all around us. Until then, though, adopting a trusted VPN can be a very good idea if you can afford the costs linked to them.

Aside

2020.9.17

I’m preparing to run a very small Japanese whiskey tasting, and it only now occurs to me that I have to cut off a bunch of whiskeys from the entirety of my Japanese collection (most of my tastings max out at 6-7 different bottles, carefully organized so as to experience and compare across varietals). It’s hard because I want to showcase lovely examples of the nation’s whiskey while, at the same time, exposing my guests to a range of distilleries and the sheer variety of styles that are available. I can almost certainly predict this means some of my Nikka bottles will need to be excluded, as well as at least one of Suntory’s, though it should mean that I ultimately showcase 5-6 different distilleries and the different characteristics of each.

Link

WatchOS’s Basic Failure

Elizabeth Lopatto, in January 2018 for The Verge, writes:

The Move goal is adjustable — I can lower it at any time — but there’s no way to program the Watch to consistently honor my rest days. I just have to manually lower the goal for that day, and then raise it for the next one. Unfortunately, this requires too much of my attention. I have actual things to do that are more important than manually telling my fitness app to let me rest, so mostly I forget to do it until it’s too late. Even when I remember, I wind up with a different problem: I forget to reset the Watch to a higher Move goal the next day. I spent one week being psyched that I hit my goal only to discover that I had only hit the lowered goal.

It’s two years later, and several versions of WatchOS have come and gone, with another is forthcoming. And yet Apple hasn’t fixed this very common and very basic problem with their wearable line of products.

Apple has repeatedly stated that it recognizes that the Apple Watch is a super popular device for fitness tracking, and I can attest that it’s about the best wearable that’s currently on the market. But when the world’s richest company can’t even get the basics of their product right it raises questions about what it’s really focusing on, and why; pushing people to exercise each day, and forego rest days, is harmful to health and fitness alike. Sadly, it doesn’t look like the current Watch betas fix this problem, though maybe Apple will surprise people with some extra promise when they reveal their new devices in the coming days.

Developing a Remote Work System

I have the privilege of working at a place where remote work has been a fact of life for some of our employees and fellows, whereas the bulk of us have worked out of a beautiful workspace. Obviously, the pandemic has forced everyone out of the office and into their homes and, with that, has come a forced realization that its important to get a lot better at handling remote work situations.

For the past few months I’ve been trying to collect and read resources to ensure that remote-based work, works. To date the most helpful resources have definitely been the huge set of resources that Doist has published, and their ‘book’ on leading distributed work forces in particular, as well as some of the publications by Steph Yiu based on her own remote work experiences at Atomattic. I’m also slowly working through some of the work that’s come out of Basecamp, and I’m keen to dig into Remote: Office Not Required over the fall.

Some of the most valuable stuff I’ve picked up has been around re-thinking which communications systems make sense, and which don’t, and how to develop or maintain a team culture with new and old colleagues. And some of these things are really basic: when someone joins an organization, as an example, rather than just saying ‘hi’ or ‘welcome!’ over chat, all members of a team can instead state who they are, their position, some of their areas of responsibility, and one or two personal things. By providing more information the new team members start to get a feeling for what the rest of their team does and, through the personal attributes, a sense of who they are working with.

Given that many of us are likely to be working from our homes for the foreseeable future—and some of us permanently, even after the pandemic—it seems important for employers, managers, and employees alike to think through what they want to change, and how, so that we can not just enjoy the fact that we’re still employed but, also, that we’re working in ways that provide dignity and respect, and which are designed to best help us succeed in our jobs. We’re all 5-6+ months into the pandemic and we should be very seriously asking what kind of world we want to inhabit both throughout the rest of the pandemic, as well as afterwards, and we can’t keep saying that things are ‘unprecedented’ to excuse not trying to make our work environments better suited to the current and future realities we’re within.

Link

Election Nightmare Scenarios

The New York Times has a selection of experts’ ‘nightmare scenarios’ for the forthcoming USA election. You can pick and choose which gives you colder sweats—I tend to worry about domestic disinformation, a Bush v. Gore situation, or uncounted votes—but, really, few of these nightmares strike to the heart of the worst of the worst.

American institutions have suffered significantly under Trump and, moreover, public polarization and the movement of parts of the USA electorate (and, to different extents, global electorates) into alternate reality bubbles mean that the supports which are meant to facilitate peaceful transitions of power such that the loser can believe in the outcomes of elections are badly wounded. Democracies don’t die in darkness, per se, but through neglect and an unwillingness of the electorate to engage because change tends to be hard, slow, and incremental. There are solutions to democratic decline, and focusing on the next electoral cycles matters, but we can’t focus on elections to the detriment of understanding how to rejuvenate democratic systems of governance more generally.

Link

The State of News

Tom Ley, over at Defector, wrote:

Everything’s fucked now. Newspapers have been destroyed by raiding private equity firms, alt-weeklies and blogs are financially unsustainable relics, and Google and Facebook have spent the last decade or so hollowing out the digital ad market. What survives among all this wreckage are websites and publications that are mostly bad. There’s plenty to read, the trouble is that so much of it is undergirded by a growing disregard (and in some cases even disdain) for the people doing the actual reading.

What readers are being served when a sports blog leverages its technological innovations in order to create a legion of untrained and unpaid writers? Who benefits when a media company cripples its own user experience and launches a campaign to drive away some of its best writers and editors? Whose interests are being served when a magazine masthead is gutted and replaced by a loose collection of amateurish contractors? Who ultimately wins when publications start acting less like purpose-driven institutions and more like profit drivers, primarily tasked with achieving exponential scale at any cost? What material good is produced when private equity goons go on cashing their checks while simultaneously slashing payroll throughout their newsrooms? Things have gotten so bad that even publications that get away with defining themselves as anti-establishment are in fact servile to authority in all forms, and exist for the sole purpose of turning their readers into a captive source of profit extraction.

The truth is that nobody who matters—the readers—ever asked for any of this shit. Every bad decision that has diminished media—every pivot to video, every injection of venture capital funds, every round of layoffs, every outright destruction of a publication—was only deemed necessary by the constraints of capitalism and dull minds. This is an industry being run by people who, having been betrayed by the promise of exponential scale and IPOs, now see cheapening and eventually destroying their own products as the only way to escape with whatever money there is left to grab.

Without a doubt, this is one of the most direct and forceful assessments of how the news media has become what it is, today. Rather than having reporters and editors working to produce high-quality products which are designed to serve the interests of their readers they are, increasingly, forced to capitulate to managerial actions that are designed to temporarily gin up sales numbers at the expense of the very readers who should be being served. It’s no wonder that the state of political discourse, and public discourse write large, has become so degraded when that degradation is actually chased after if it means a few more ads or advertorials can be placed for a short-term increase in numbers.