2018.1.30, iPhoneography

After failing to complete a deal for a used Olympus 12-40mm 2.8 lens I’ve decided to save a pile of money and instead satisfy my curiousity with iPhone lenses. So I’ve now got a Moment Macro lens and accompanying Moment walnut case inbound. Way cheaper compared to a much more expensive macro micro 4/3 lens and easier to carry with me at all times. Super curious how it actually performs though…

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


What’s On My Homescreen, December 2017 Edition

Screenshot of my iPhone 7 homescreen from December 2017
Screenshot of my iPhone 7 homescreen from December 2017

My homescreen is mostly divided between stuff that I want immediate access to on a very regular basis and one or two ‘testing’ applications (in terms of position on the homescreen and/or whether I like them as applications). Without further ado:

Photography (Folder): I play with a lot of different photo apps, though I tend to alternate between Darkroom and Snapseed a fair bit and rarely use Polar anymore. Slow Shutter is something I’m playing around with off and on, and ProCam was free.

Reminders: I don’t like the application but since I basically just use it for groceries I’m not willing to spend money for a ‘better’ app.

Notes: Much of my life exists in Notes.  I wish there was better support for markdown and would love tagging support. And it’d be great if Apple would fix the freezing bug that was introduced in iOS 11! But on the whole Notes plays well across all my Apple devices and the interface just gets out of the way.

Messages: Not my default means of communicating with people, in part because I try to avoid sending SMS messages as best I’m able for security reasons, but it’s a necessary evil in my life.

Phone: I take and make a lot of calls.

WhatsApp: My preferred method of communicating because it’s a cross-platform app (don’t need to know if someone is on an iPhone, Android, Blackberry, or whatever else) and encrypts voice-, video-, and text-based messages end-to-end. Still, it leaks some metadata and so, in some instances I use…

Signal: The best of consumer-available secure messaging app. Unlike WhatsApp, Signal keeps the bare minimum amount of information required to process communications.

Podcasts: I listen to silly numbers of Podcasts. I had problems with the application in iOS 9 but they seem to have been fixed in iOS 10/11. Importantly, the application syncs well across all the Apple devices that I own.

Hello Weather: I wish I could download and use Dark Sky but it’s not available in the Canadian App Store. Hello Weather pulls data from the same repository as Dark Sky so it’s as accurate, if not as pretty.

Day One: I’ve kept digital journals in one format or another for well over 15 or 16 years. I’ve been using Day One for a few years and love the interface.

Ulysses: I keep coming back to Ulysses even though I don’t derive any joy from using it. It’s certainly functional and lets me publish to my WordPress websites and I enjoy how it does markdown. But the interface is the definition of ‘meh’ for me.

Reeder: Too much of my time is spent in Reeder. I follow a lot of wonky websites and blogs, plus fashion, tech, culture, and more. So much to read and so little time!

Paprika: A relatively new application in my life, I’m seeing whether the application fits  into my life. Previously I was using the Notes app to keep track of recipes but that didn’t scale very well. My hope is that Paprika really does take over part of my life and make shopping that much more pleasant.

iBooks: For pleasure reading I only purchase digital copies through iBooks. I realize it’s a walled garden but I’ve long since made my peace with that.

Activity: I’ve tracked my baseline activity information for almost ten year and this app collects daily information from my Apple Watch. I use a separate application — Healthview — to study longer-term trends in my personal fitness and health.

Halide: The newest application in my life! Though I usually shoot with my mirrorless camera, sometimes it’s not convenient and so I whip out my iPhone. Halide gives me more control over what I’m shooting and I really appreciate the ability to turn on focus peaking.

Safari: Because I, too, browse the Internet.

Mail: It’s not the best of clients but it’s as bad as most. And the really good ones would force me to move my mail through additional third-parties, and I’m not willing to engage in that kind of activity.

Tweetbot: I use Twitter a lot and a large portion of my professional network is located there. But the official Twitter application is just horrible in my view, whereas Tweetbot gets out of my way and lets me just enjoy the content steaming by.

Music: I usually have music playing in the background if I’m not listening to a podcast.


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.


Feds Walk Into A Building. Demand Everyone’s Fingerprints To Open Phones


Legal experts were shocked at the government’s request. “They want the ability to get a warrant on the assumption that they will learn more after they have a warrant,” said Marina Medvin of Medvin Law. “Essentially, they are seeking to have the ability to convince people to comply by providing their fingerprints to law enforcement under the color of law – because of the fact that they already have a warrant. They want to leverage this warrant to induce compliance by people they decide are suspects later on. This would be an unbelievably audacious abuse of power if it were permitted.”

Jennifer Lynch, senior staff attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), added: “It’s not enough for a government to just say we have a warrant to search this house and therefore this person should unlock their phone. The government needs to say specifically what information they expect to find on the phone, how that relates to criminal activity and I would argue they need to set up a way to access only the information that is relevant to the investigation.

It’s insane that the US government is getting chained warrants that authorize expansive searches without clarifying what is being sought or the specific rationales for such searches. Such actions represent an absolute violation of due process.

But, at the same time, the government’s actions (again) indicate the relative weaknesses of the ‘going dark’ arguments. While iPhones and other devices are secured to prevent all actors from illegitimately accessing them, fingerprint-enabled devices can let government agencies bypass security protections with relative ease. This doesn’t mean that fingerprint scanners are bad – most people’s threat models aren’t police, but criminals, snoopy friends and family, etc – but instead that authorities can routinely bypass, rather than need to break, cryptographically-secured communications.