Image

But I Am Connected!

Despite my iPad showing that I’m using its built-in speakers, the top right bar indicates that I’m attached to my BeatsX headphones. And music is, in fact, being played through the headphones. But no matter what I do – connect, disconnect, turn off and on Bluetooth, etc -I can’t get this panel to recognize I’m connected to my headphones.

Apple design: it’s often great if Apple has recently given a damn about the area you’re dealing with.

The Roundup for December 30 – January 5, 2017 Edition

Climb
Climb by Christopher Parsons

I’ve long planned a lot in my personal and professional life. I keep financial roundups so that I can see how I’m faring through and across years, periodic emotional evaluations, and live by my weekly and quarterly professional schedules.1 But what I’m doing is only kinda-working. So I’ve been casting about for a new process to not just hold myself to account but to hold myself to better set goals and accomplish my tasks at hand.

I’m considering adopting shortened planning periods (e.g. 10 week planning cycles, with a 2 week ‘buffer’ for recollection, learning, evaluation, and next-cycle planning) and will likely experiment with this approach to professional goal setting and project completion. But I also want to get better at reflecting on my annual themes and goals. To that end, I was interested in what Michael Karnjanaprakorn (of Skillshare) wrote about planning his ‘ideal’ year.

Specifically I was interested in how he reviews his monthly and weekly goals. In writing about monthly goals, at the end of each month he evaluates:

  1. From 0–10, how do you feel you are doing?
  2. What were the highlights and lowlights?
  3. What were the biggest lessons learned?
  4. Review your goals and assess your progress. Did you spend your time on the right things? If not how will you improve next month?
  5. Write down goals for the upcoming month.

I’ve been really bad at reviewing my monthly (and quarterly) goals but that’s a result of why I’ve historically set and logged professional goals: I’m just really bad at remembering all that I’ve done in any given year, and so fall into deep funks if I can’t periodically go through the past year and realized ‘oh, hey! I’m actually doing a hella lot of work, and am advancing both my own projects and those of colleagues and partners!’ After years of doing this kind of goal-tracking I want to get better at longer-term tracking that is less done for just mental health reasons and more for organizational accountability reasons.

So, to try and get better at reviewing longer-term goals I want to try something like what Michael has outlined. But, at the same time, I want to figure out a way of nicely presenting this information a glanceable digital format; all of my weekly tracking is on paper and so it’s not particularly conducive to understanding longer-term trends that exceed a month or two.

With regards to weekly updates, Michael evaluates progress on monthly and weekly goals. Specifically:

  • Review annual & monthly goals
  • Review last week’s progress
  • Review habits
  • Plan weekly priorities (3 personal & 3 work)

I’ve been good at reviewing my last week’s progress and thinking about weekly priorities but less good at either thinking about habits or how activities really advance my longer-term goals. So I want to adopt some of these kinds of reviews as well.

But the area that I most need to focus on surrounds setting longer-term personal life goals. I’m pretty good at professional goal setting: I’ve been setting and hitting the big ticket items over the past decade or so. But I don’t have really good visions for what I want to happen in my personal life.2

To this end, I’ve adopted a series of personal goals this year that aren’t just about reforming habits but are more focused towards longer-term aspirations. I’m going to be curious as to how those really work out but, to be honest, I just want to try and envision what my non-technical personal goals might be.3 If I can spend a year thinking through what I want to do with my personal life over the next 5, 10, and 20 years, and have some discrete strong ideas, then I’ll really be happy regardless of how well I accomplish the more technical personal goals I’ve set for myself this year.


Companies are doing everything they can to ensure that you own a speaker and/or microphone device that is hooked into their virtual assistant. Microsoft is trying to do it with Cortana. Google with, well, Google. Amazon with Alexa. And Apple with Siri.

For a long time it’s seemed like the assistant that comes with your chosen smartphone would act as the pathway into any given virtual assistant. While some might have multiple assistants on the same device — by way of installing the assistant in a separate application — it was unlikely that the secondary assistants would ‘take over’ your daily operations. And given the failure of Amazon’s Fire Phone, Amazon was likely out of the running for establishing the most dominant assistant in the United States.

But then along came Amazon’s smart speakers and the landscape of smart speakers and Alexa in the continental United States has changed dramatically. As noted by M.G. Siegler:

Amazon is winning this battle because they’re putting Alexa everywhere. Some of this is thanks to third-parties, but a larger part is the strategy to sell devices such as the Echo Dot for $29. At such prices, it’s not only a no-brainer to get one to at least try out — it’s a no-brainer to get a few of them to place all around your house. If this is the winning strategy — which I believe it to be — Apple cannot compete with this because it’s not in Apple’s DNA to run this type of playbook.

I think that one the one hand Siegler is very correct: Amazon is fast becoming a dominant player in the United States. But there are a few limitations to his (admittedly brief) analysis:

  1. Amazon’s Alexa, by being as cheap as it is, lacks the prestige of Apple’s brand and, by extension, Siri’s exclusivity;
  2. Apple’s ‘moat’ which is created around their infrastructure by only letting Siri be the default virtual assistant means that a lot of non-price conscious users will keep waiting and using Apple products;
  3. Alexa is a very United States-focused product; the speakers are cheap by not essential to conducting daily life or business. Contrast with smartphones which are requirements for daily life in many areas of the world; this means that even as Alexa floods the U.S. market the emerging economic regions of the world will continue to adopt Android (i.e. Google) and, to a far lesser extent, Cortana and Siri.

While the ‘threat’ to Apple of Alexa’s spread-by-speaker is linked to people buying them in droves I think that Amazon’s smart speakers are fundamentally poised to intrude into Google’s market and less Apple’s. Moreover, while people tend to only buy speakers once in a few years4 that tends to be the case because they’re expensive. So if people are only spending $100 or so on speakers…will that mean they’re disincentivized to buy ones that sound significantly better to play music? For consumers that purchase the HomePod they’re unlikely to replace the one or two they buy every few years, whereas if someone dropped $60 on Amazon speakers they might be tempted to just shift over to Google’s own (equivalently priced) offering or even to Apple’s or Sonos’ more expensive, and better sounding, premium offerings.

I think that the real threat to Apple or to Google will come as consumers purchase the more expensive and, by extension, better sounding, speakers. Those kinds of devices are unlikely to be replaced and will function as another kind of ‘moat’ that will contain consumers in a given virtual assistant ecosystem. Though it would be pretty amazing to see a world where people, when selling their phones second-hand, also end up selling their speaker sets alongside them to truly switch ecosystems…


Great Photography Shots

I’m absolutely loving some of the 100 best iPhone photos of 2017 which have been collated by iPhone Photography School. A few examples:

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Things

  1. Ok, so I sometimes blow the quarterly schedules but I hold myself to account for why they get blown.
  2. To some extent my ‘success’ in planning long-term professional goals has been tightly linked to a historical failure to balance my work and life: my work entirely dominated everything I did and who I was.
  3. Technical goals being things like reduce student loan debt by X or learn Y new recipes.
  4. I’ve been using the same 2.1 speakers attached to my TV for over a decade at this point and not really tempted to replace a perfectly good set of speakers for something else that would be equally perfectly good. Except for maybe a pair of Apple HomePods…

The Roundup for December 16-22, 2017 Edition

Picture of a illuminated maple leaf
Canadian Heart by Christopher Parsons 

My less-busy times this week were spent writing out notes, cards, emails, and other correspondence to some of the most important people in my life. It’s been a challenging year; the world seems to be falling apart due to changes in American politics, deaths and illnesses by family and friends have been hard to take, and the tempo for high-quality professional work never really slows down. And so I took some time writing to the people I’ve most closely worked with, supported, or been supported by to thank them for just being present and active in my life.

I find writing these sorts of messages of thanks, encouragement, and praise challenging. They’re not the kind of thing that I have ever really received much of throughout my personal or professional life; it’s just not normal in my family to communicate our deep feelings for one another, and in academe the point is to move to the next project (and subject it to critique) instead of dwelling on past projects and receiving accolades for them. But as challenging as I find writing these messages they have a profound personal impact: by pulling together my thoughts and writing them down and sending them, I’m humbled by realizing just how blessed I am to be surrounded by the kind, funny, supporting, and amazing people in my life.

There used to be a time when a lot more holiday cards, notes, and messages were sent back and forth between people this time of year. And many people still send cards, but don’t take the time — five, ten, or even twenty minutes — to handwrite a real thought to whomever the recipient happens to be. But those are the cards and notes and emails that people carry with them for years, packing them carefully away as they move from one physical or digital home to another. They don’t cost a lot of money to produce, and in the case of email are almost entirely free, but they show that you’ve spent time thinking about a specific person. And that time, in and of itself, is indicative of someone’s importance in your life.

So before you go out and spend money on another present consider taking that time and, instead, writing a letter or note to whomever the recipient is. Chances are good that they’ll remember and treasure the message you left with them for longer than any material possession your might give them.


Some of the bigger news in the Apple world, this week, has focused on changes to how Apple treats older iPhones which are suffering battery degradation. While the majority of the reporting is focused on how iPhone 6 and 6s devices are experiencing slowdowns — which is the change Apple has imposed as of iOS version 11.2.0 — iPhone 7 devices are also exhibiting the slowdowns as they suffer battery degradation.

I’m of mixed minds on this. I see this as an effort by Apple to avoid having to replace batteries on older (but not THAT old) devices but in a sneaky way: the company’s lack of transparency means that it appears that Apple is trying to pull a fast one on consumers. This is especially the case for those consumers who’ve purchased Apple Care; if their devices are suffering known problems, then Apple should at the minimum be notifying owners to bring the devices in for servicing on a very proactive basis, and that doesn’t seem to have been the case.

So, on the one hand, this is Apple being sneaky.

But on the other it’s a semi-elegant engineering problem to resolve a hard-to-fix problem. We use our smartphones with such regularity and subject them (and, in particular, their batteries) to such exceptional abuse that degradation has to happen. And so I think that Apple stuffing processors into devices (at least in the current and last generation) that are excessive for daily use means the slowdowns are less problematic for most users. They might think that their devices are a bit slower but, generally, still be able to use them for about as long as they used to use them. And that length of use is what most people measure ‘battery life’ by so…maybe Apple is dealing with the problem the way users would actually prefer.

That Apple doesn’t change out batteries when they’re worn down, however, emphasizes that it’s a pretty good idea to resell your devices every year or so in order to get the best return for them as well as in order to enjoy the best performance from your iPhone. And I guess, as a byproduct, if you’re buying a second-hand iPhone you should definitely do a battery test before handing over your cash.


Inspiring Quotation

“Giving is about more than donating money. It’s about sharing your capabilities, content, and connections—and above all, giving others the chance to be heard, respected, and valued.”

– Adam Grant

Great Photography Shots

I’m absolutely blown away by the award winning photos for the 2017 Siena International Photo Awards.

Music I’m Digging

Neat Podcast Episodes

Good Reads for the Week

Cool Products

Link

Delight and Apple’s Face ID

Om Malik:

The reason Face ID works is because of some key silicon innovations — yes, there is that TrueDepth camera system made up of a dot projector, infrared camera and flood illuminator and a seven megapixel camera. Face ID projects more than 30,000 invisible IR dots. The resulting IR image and dot pattern is then used to create a mathematical model of your face and send the data to the secure enclave to confirm a match, while adapting to physical changes in appearance over time. What decodes the data captured by this camera (for lack of a better descriptor) are neural capabilities of its A11 Bionic chip. I saw this first hand and was blown away by the effectiveness of Face ID.

The FaceID is a perfect illustration of Apple’s not so secret “secret sauce” — a perfect symbiosis of silicon, physical hardware, software, and designing for delight. Their abilities to turn complex technologies into a magical moment is predicated on this harmonious marriage of needs.

I appreciate that a lot of people in the security and technologist community are dubious of Face ID. There are reasonable concerns about whether the technology will enable law enforcement or other third-parties to unlock a person’s phone by flashing it phone in front of their face, and whether or not it will even work.

But all of those questions fail to get what Apple doing with Face ID. Don’t believe me? Then go find entirely normal users who walk into a Best Buy and buy a laptop without doing any real research, and subsequently discovering their Windows laptop supports logging in with the infrared camera. They are amazed by the technology and tend to be pretty forgiving it doesn’t always work perfectly.

If Apple can ensure that Face ID works reliably then they’re going to have an amazing halo product because, remember, those who are amazed by Face ID likely won’t own one of the new top-of-the-line iPhones. So, instead, Face ID will function as an aspirational feature that few people will have but that many will want, and likely lead to regular users purchasing the first ‘normal’ iPhone that has this cool feature.

Link

Hackers and Law Enforcement Could Hijack Wi-Fi Connections to Track Cellphones

From The Intercept:

But if the operator is O’Hanlon and not Verizon — that identity is compromised. “The IMSI is revealed during this interchange, during the early stages of the conversation. It’s not encrypted,” he says.

This type of activity is called passive monitoring, because it doesn’t require a specific active attack or malware. It only works in some cases, however.

O’Hanlon also developed a couple active attacks that would get the job done, one involving masquerading as the operator’s endpoint where the Wi-Fi call is being directed, and another using a man-in-the-middle attack to intercept it.

Apple is the only company that has taken steps to mitigate the privacy and security risk, he says — they added additional security protocols when he brought up the issue over the summer. It was addressed in iOS 10, though there are still ways to get around the protections. But the problem is less with the companies and more with the way the connections were set up in the first place.

Yet another time that Apple has dedicated engineering resources to better protect their customers whereas their major competitor has declined to do so. And this wasn’t even an Apple or Google problem, per se, but a protocol level issue.

Link

Apple Logs Your iMessage Contacts — and May Share Them With Police

The Intercept:

Every time you type a number into your iPhone for a text conversation, the Messages app contacts Apple servers to determine whether to route a given message over the ubiquitous SMS system, represented in the app by those déclassé green text bubbles, or over Apple’s proprietary and more secure messaging network, represented by pleasant blue bubbles, according to the document. Apple records each query in which your phone calls home to see who’s in the iMessage system and who’s not.

This log also includes the date and time when you entered a number, along with your IP address — which could, contrary to a 2013 Apple claim that “we do not store data related to customers’ location,” identify a customer’s location. Apple is compelled to turn over such information via court orders for systems known as “pen registers” or “trap and trace devices,” orders that are not particularly onerous to obtain, requiring only that government lawyers represent they are “likely” to obtain information whose “use is relevant to an ongoing criminal investigation.” Apple confirmed to The Intercept that it only retains these logs for a period of 30 days, though court orders of this kind can typically be extended in additional 30-day periods, meaning a series of monthlong log snapshots from Apple could be strung together by police to create a longer list of whose numbers someone has been entering.

That Apple has to run a lookup to see whether to send a message securely using Messages or insecurely using SMS isn’t surprising. And the 30 day retention period is likely to help iron out bugs associated with operating a global messaging system: when things go wonky (and they do…) engineers need some kind of data to troubleshoot what’s going on.

Importantly, Apple is not logging communications. Nor is it recording if you communicate with someone who is assigned a particular phone number. All that is retained is the lookup itself. So if you ever type in a wrong number that lookup is recorded, regardless of whether you communicate with whomever holds the number.

More troubling is the fact that Apple does not disclose this information when an individual formally requests copies of all their personal information that Apple retains about them. These lookups arguably constitute personal information, and information like IP addresses etc certainly constitute this information under Canadian law.

Apple, along with other tech companies, ought to release their lawful access guides so that users know and understand what information is accessible to authorities and under what terms. It isn’t enough to just disclose how often such requests are received and complied with: customers should be able to evaluate the terms under which Apple asserts it will, or will not, disclose that information in the first place.