Rely little on iOS Shortcuts

Okay, it was a little perilous to get this issue of the Weekly Thing to all of you. You see, I use Shortcuts extensively to generate the newsletter. It has evolved a lot since the I first shared the setup and now relies on about 20 shortcuts that work together. With the upgrade to iOS 15 this week some of my hooks to other apps stopped working. PANIC! 🙀

One of the nice things about Shortcuts though is you can bang around in them pretty easy. After some workarounds, and then a final swap out of Toolbox Pro for Data Jar I was able to get the thing to generate. It was touch and go, and I’ve got some cleanup to do to fix things, but here it is! Winning! 🏆

(Via Weekly Thing)

It’s not winning.

I have one Shortcut that is critical to my workflow. It stopped working on my upgrade to iOS 15 on my iPhone. What’s worse, it stopped working with no better information than that the Shortcut stopped working. I do not have time to “bang around in them” to figure out what Apple broke.

If Shortcuts is supposed to augment and/or eventually replace Automator and other MacOS tools, Shortcuts has to be bulletproof through upgrades. If it doesn’t replace those tools, Shortcuts still needs to be bulletproof.

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Apple Watch what?

Apple Watch Series 7: The MacStories Overview:

… the Series 7 Apple Watch is the first to support a native QWERTY keyboard interface.

This is interesting.

With tapping or swiping (via a new feature that Apple is calling “QuickPath”) supported, this should make text input on the device vastly more straightforward. Writing out short texts or emails on the Apple Watch may finally be a reasonable thing to do.

Hmm. I’m less interested, and now concerned that this new input method required a marketing term.

From Tidbits:

watchOS 8 on the Apple Watch Series 7 adds a full keyboard that lets you enter text either by tapping or by sliding your fingertip from character to character in a manner that has long been common on smartphone keyboards. Apple’s version of this system, dubbed QuickPath, taps into machine learning to predict the words you’re trying to enter.

Thanks but I’d rather not. If they kept the keyboard to the swipe method only sans branding, I’d be ok. Until QuickPath is proven trustworthy or disable-able, I’ll consider other options.

Back to MacStories:

Beyond text input, the Series 7 also includes widespread design updates to Apple’s first-party watchOS apps to make use of the new screen real-estate. Buttons are bigger, interface elements are more spread out, and far more content is visible on each screen.

None of this I found a problem on my S5 watch. Or on my smaller S2. Maybe a third-party can take advantage and show something compelling. Apple hasn’t yet IMHO.

The display is also made from a new crystal … 

This does not solve a problem for me. Your circumstance may vary.

New Faces

Don’t care.

Battery Life and Charging

The Series 7 will have the same 18-hour battery life as Apple has essentially always advertised for it. This year though, the always-on display is getting 70% brighter indoors when your wrist is down. In other words, Apple has made it easier to read the display when it’s in power-saving mode, but has still maintained the same battery life metrics.

I still think the dumbest idea Apple has had in the last 5 years is an always-on watch display. As soon as I tell someone they can turn that shit off and how to do it, they do. They don’t seem to care they get a battery increase. They just want it gone. That they get a battery improvement is gravy.

I’ve always thought always-on display was a feature designed for one specific audience, tech writers in and of San Francisco.

I am open to understanding use cases for it outside of my experience.

Case and Colors

Don’t care.

Fitness

If Apple Fitness+ works for you, jump on it. For me, I don’t care.

Conclusion

The Series 7 Apple Watch isn’t a particularly groundbreaking update,

Yes

but all of the changes are welcome improvements.

“All” changes? That seems a generous stretch.

The new display looks like an exceptionally nice upgrade, and the improved resistance to cracks and dust will keep this line of Apple Watches pristine.

If this was a problem for you, I can see this being welcome.

Overall, while I’m not entirely sure how enticing the Series 7 is for users who already have a Series 5 or 6 Apple Watch, it still looks like an excellent device for anyone who buys it.

Respectfully I disagree.

Bottom line:

This device gets so close to an upgrade for my S2 Watch. Maybe after there’s more information about that keyboard, or my S2 dies.

I would not consider it to upgrade my S5.

If you need a new Apple Watch, I suggest getting a S5 or S6 while you can, or an SE or S3.

If the S7 does something fantastic for transit in Tokyo (the reason I bought my S2 in Japan many years ago) that none of the current watches can do OR can do it faster in real life, then get a S7.

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Mailchimp Change

Via Dave Pell’s NextDraft:

Mailchimp, the newsletter service that sent this to you, just sold to Intuit for a cool $12 billion. More amazing than the number, which is damn amazing, is that the company never took any outside funding, making this the “largest-ever acquisition of a privately-held bootstrapped company. It’s also a huge windfall for the founders of Mailchimp, which opted for profit-sharing instead of stock-based compensation for employees.” When I first started with MailChimp, I used to call founder Ben Chestnut for tech support. Now I might call him for a loan. Congrats to him and the team.

The problem isn’t that Mailchimp found a buyer, it’s the buyer they found.

A fascinating pair-up. Mailchimp is an exemplar among startups: agile, focused, competitive, bootstrapped, driven by a novel product that still seems mercifully simple compared to the nerdly alternatives.

Intuit, on the other hand, is the ultimate sprawling corporate parasite, despised by every tricked taxpayer, an eyeless life-form lurking in the deepest depths of rent-seeking, regulatory capture and political lobbying.

So long, Mailchimp!

(Via Boing Boing)

I spent over 2 hours on the phone and on-line chat today to delete an old Mint (independent when I signed up, now an Intuit property) account I no longer use.

Mailchimp becomes yet another property, like Medium, where I have to decide if the content is worth dealing with the platform. If a content producer, like the afore mentioned DavePell and his NextDraft, decides it is still right for them to be on Mailchimp if I decide it is not right for me, I wish them all the best in their endeavors.

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A Mini upgrade?

Apple announced a new iPad Mini.

As described here I set aside an iPad Pro for a Mini early last year. That was one of many steps to a smaller, more modular compute platform.

How might this new Mini help with that?

Intriguing

… with a larger 8.3-inch Liquid Retina display … Featuring the brand new A15 Bionic chip … A new USB-C port … and cellular models with 5G … [edited to get rid of most of the marketing – pj]

The Mini plays key roles for me:

At home it is my primary on-line news reading device. When I finish reading my soon-to-depart analog paper I fire up my articulated-arm-clipped Mini. I read my digital subscriptions on it.

When I travel it is my chief media consumption device on sometimes cramped conveyance, like airplanes and Japanese commuter & subway trains.

I’ve long been a fan of the iPad mini, especially for travel. It’s so compact, yet very powerful for almost everything you would want an iPad to do.

(via The Loop)

Around town the Mini is my “laptop” with the Japanese Magic Keyboard and Magic Trackpad I carry in my Tom Bihn Le Grand Derrière.

Across all of my use cases, one key aspect of the new iPad Mini model will help me: the display is brighter. I have a privacy shield on my current Mini, but even before I applied it the display seemed dim. I’ll be happy for the extra light when I need it.

The other key aspect I use my Mini for is listening to podcasts. Nothing changes there.

Less intriguing

The Mini comes … 

… in four gorgeous finishes. … New advanced cameras, Center Stage, and support for Apple Pencil (2nd generation) enable new ways for users to capture photos and videos, communicate with loved ones, and jot down their ideas when creativity strikes. [I left in the marketing – pj]

In addition to the deëmphasis on Lightning connectors my OG Apple Pencil would need to be replaced as well.

The Mini comes in colors, which will be unseen with the obligatory case, unless a viable transparent option exists.

The cameras on mobile devices always disappoint and more so on tablets, thus one reason why I reëntered the digital camera owners realm. Center Stage is “neat”, but most of my colleagues on most of my video calls leave their cameras off. Unless I plan on speaking I leave mine off as well.

Bottom Line

Will I buy this upgrade? Eventually

Will I buy it day 1? Unlikely

Will I buy it before my next international or long haul business trip? Probably

Will I wait for it to start to be discounted? No

What about the rest of the Apple announcements? They’re not for me at this time

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Sanity running on fumes

Oustian Bargain:

“The cyberattack disabled computer systems responsible for fuel production from Texas to the Northeast, and now gas stations in the Southeast are seeing panicked motorists lining up in droves to fill their tanks … Drivers are being turned away from now-empty gas pumps.” Panic Drives Gas Shortages After Colonial Pipeline Ransomware Attack.

+ WaPo: Gas shortages intensify in Southeast, with 28 percent of North Carolina stations now dry. (The frenzied gas buying is one more example of citizens not trusting government officials who are telling them not to panic. This mistrust is a bigger threat than hackers.) [emphasis mine]

That last sentence is killer. Feel free to replace ‘hackers’ with your favorite threat du jour.

Dances with Clubhouse

Clubhouse does not solve a problem or spark joy for me. It’s is a fun experiment that maybe destined for that nice farm out in the country. I waited a long time for access (h/t Ahmed for hooking me up), yet I stopped using Clubhouse about 3 days in. YMMV, but for me it was like listening to a frustratingly poorly produced, engineered, and edited podcast.

Start Up No.1545: Covid vs climate change, China used iPhone contest hack against Uyghurs, Clubhouse hits Android, and more | The Overspill: when there’s more that I want to say:

That 10-to-1 collapse in downloads suggests to me at least that Clubhouse isn’t going to thrive. If a growing userbase doesn’t lead to a growing number of would-be users, your troubles are just beginning. As people emerge from lockdowns, as everything returns to some semblance of normality, we’ll find out just where not-a-podcast stuff fits in to our lives. Meanwhile, the people at Clubhouse are very positive about everything. Naturally. To me, though, it feels like the wave has passed.

I’m happy for Clubhouse that they finally got an Android app out and wish them all the best, but it might be too little, too late. I deleted the iOS app a few weeks ago (but just reinstalled it to deactivate my account). I hold no interest in the competing products from Twitter, Facebook, and their ilk.

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Hell is other syslog

I had to go into the recesses of my mind to recall this Syslog mess for one of the things I’m working on in Korea. It has me pleasantly tech-adjacent. I’m not rolling up my sleeves to lay hands on said tech. Rather, I am spending a lot of time looking at how this bit of tech was implemented, best described (and very timely for me) here ↴

The Syslog Hell – Bozho’s tech blog:

Syslog. You’ve probably heard about that, especially if you are into monitoring or security. Syslog is perceived to be the common, unified way that systems can send logs to other systems. Linux supports syslog, many network and security appliances support syslog as a way to share their logs. On the other side, a syslog server is receiving all syslog messages. It sounds great in theory – having a simple, common way to represent logs messages and send them across systems.

Reality can’t be further from that. Syslog is not one thing – there are multiple “standards”, and each of those is implemented incorrectly more often than not. Many vendors have their own way of representing data, and it’s all a big mess.

It’s all coming back to me know, like the hot kiss at the end of a wet fist.

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The US military’s privacy pearl clutching

The Ease of Tracking Mobile Phones of U.S. Soldiers in Hot Spots – WSJ:

 

In 2016, a U.S. defense contractor named PlanetRisk Inc. was working on a software prototype when its employees discovered they could track U.S. military operations through the data generated by the apps on the mobile phones of American soldiers.

…  The discovery was an early look at what today has become a significant challenge for the U.S. armed forces: how to protect service members, intelligence officers and security personnel in an age where highly revealing commercial data being generated by mobile phones and other digital services is bought and sold in bulk, and available for purchase by America’s adversaries.

 

A bunch of thoughts:

I can’t help but immediately think about the push in many political quarters to weaken security by breaking encryption. I’ll get back to that.

Why did this get attention in 2016? And no, this was not “an early look”.

The government has known for decades that cell phones are trackable if they have power and their transceiver is on. It’s how cell phones work. Anyone who’s watched any incarnation of Law & Order in this century or the last also knows this. The government could have mandated a phone system that would have afforded protections but the carriers resisted, I expect.

And don’t forget cell phones aren’t always phones – laptops and tablets and watches and Kindles and a bunch of other things might – and eventually will – have cell connectivity. With 5G, the distinction might go away if the media (cell, wired, wifi, &c.) converge as advertised. Imagine golf gloves that report your stats back to the cloud.

By the way, all that additional social media data is gravy to the buyer, but someone specifically wanting to track the movement of US military personnel around the globe don’t need it … from military personnel.

Take this scenario:

  • They script a tool like the McDonalds Ice Cream Machine tracker to scrape airline seat assignments to see if open seat availability suddenly drops on certain routes;
  • They scrape social media for hub airport and airline workers who are talking about increases in military personnel coming through; and
  • They watch counts for private Facebook groups for military families to see if their memberships increase.

Based off of that trivial-to-collect data (It’s free or for sale), and we assume they just generally monitor social media and the news, it’s not hard to get an idea of what’s happening. And before anyone complains that my loose lips are sinking ships, this is a simple scenario that is well understood and the plot of several books, movies, and TV shows.

Note, my above scenario assumes all the military personnel are disconnected and analog.

Also note that the above scenario works for advertisers as well as it does for bad actors and for industrial espionage …  and other use cases..

That things would evolve into what the Wall Street Journal article describes was predictable:

buried in the data was evidence of sensitive U.S. military operations by American special-operations forces in Syria. The company’s analysts could see phones that had come from military facilities in the U.S., traveled through countries like Canada or Turkey and were clustered at the abandoned Lafarge Cement Factory in northern Syria, a staging area at the time for U.S. special-operations and allied forces.

The U.S. military’s clutching of pearls and muttering, “Well, I do declare that I never …  ,” about this situation is perhaps disingenuous. ※

The U.S. government has built robust programs to track terrorists and criminals through warrantless access to commercial data. Many vendors now provide global location information from mobile phones to intelligence, military and law-enforcement organizations.

But those same capabilities are available to U.S. adversaries, and the U.S.—having prioritized a free and open internet paid for largely through digital advertising with minimal regulation of privacy—has struggled to effectively monitor what software service members are installing on devices and whether that software is secure.

Which brings us back to encryption – strong, uncompromized encryption –  is one of the tools that the government could bring to bear to help protect troop movements. There are innumerable ways they could, and do, leverage encryption. By the way, we need strong encryption for e-commerce, on-line banking, and a ton of other critical things.

There’s some reflection on the tech industry welding batteries into their phones (and devices) and adopting eSIMs, predicating an always on-line but always trackable society, that needs considering.

Solving this problem, the consolidation of anyone’s/everyone’s/each-of-our on-line and off-line life into a revenue stream for the advertising companies that are Facebook and Google, one that is very much the government’s own creation yet needs to be solved by the government, is a complex undertaking that will require the private sector to forgo some profits for the greater good. Oh, it could fix some of the military troop movement leak issue as a byproduct.

※ There is a American trope about the White southern belle or matriarch who, when faced with realities with which she does not want to deal, does what I describe.

S. Korean telcos to share 5G networks in remote areas

Can you even imagine? US telco’s are too busy entrenching to do anything like this for the public good.

S. Korean telcos to share 5G networks in remote areas:

South Korea’s three major mobile carriers will share their 5G networks in remote coastal and farm towns in a move to accelerate the rollout of the latest generation networks, the ICT ministry said Thursday.

The carriers — SK Telecom Co., KT Corp. and LG Uplus Corp. — signed an agreement so that 5G users can have access to the high-speed network regardless of the carrier they are subscribed to in 131 remote locations across the country, according to the Ministry of Science and ICT.

Under the plan, a 5G user would be able to use other carrier networks in such regions that are not serviced by his or her carrier.

The ministry said telecom operators will test the network sharing system before the end of this year and aim for complete commercialization in phases by 2024.

The ministry said the selected remote regions are sparsely populated, with a population density of 92 people per square kilometer, compared with those without network sharing at 3,490 people per square kilometer.

The move comes as the country races to establish nationwide 5G coverage, with network equipment currently installed in major cities.

The three telecom operators promised in July last year to invest up to 25.7 trillion won ($23.02 billion) to update their network infrastructure by 2022.

As of February, the country had 13.66 million 5G subscriptions, accounting for 19 percent of its total mobile users. South Korea was the world’s first country to commercialize 5G in April 2019. (Yonhap)

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