Taking Things Internal, Part ichi:

One thing the cloud does well is sync things so they are accessible and up-to-date. I have two simple, non-critical use cases – insecure email for newsletters and Real Simple Syndication (RSS) for articles – I will bring in house.

The RSS bit is relatively trivial, as is the insecure email for newsletters that are free. The complicated bit is the email for newsletters where it needs to be at least a bit secure as I need the email for a paid subscription, sometimes to a magazine or newspaper.

The other bit is that I want it all, RSS and the various newsletters, in a single app that is reading first. My RSS reader of choice right now is NetNewsWire on various Apple platforms, but if I move off of Apple whatever system I set up should serve Linux/BSD/Android as well.

The closest service is FeedBin, which offers a unique email address to which one can forward free newsletters. Its API connects to a bunch of readers. However, managing paid subscriptions through it is difficult to impossible. Also, some of my subscriptions have to go through my student email address. Anti-SPAM measures means forwarding or redirecting emails from various email accounts is a spotty endeavor.

Which is all to say that I don’t yet know precisely how I will achieve this end. This is not the first time I’ve traversed this path nor the first time I’ve written about it here.

↪ Apple’s missing “augmented” intelligence

Apple’s missing “augmented” intelligence:

As part of writing a review, I have been using Apple’s 2022 version of the 13-inch MacBook Air. I am not the first one to say it  — many others have said before — it is a great device. It is a great testimonial of Apple’s hardware excellence and knowledge crammed into this thin sliver of engineering marvel. The new M2 chip, the longer battery life, improved webcam, keyboard, and speakers — everything is of exceptional quality. Apple does know how to build good premium hardware at scale. 

Sadly, you can’t say the same when it comes to its software & services that rely on machine learning and augmented intelligence. The obvious deficiencies, whether on the Mac, the iPhone, or the iPad, are quite annoying

Om pretty much nails my experience and thoughts.

There’s also something to be said about power users needing to install additional tools like Apple’s Command Line Utilities and HomeBrew to fill in the gaps Apple chose to leave.

REQ: Local music media library organization app

Status

Dear Lazyweb,

What app is best to help me organize my far flung music files? My music library is a mess, and I need it to be less of one. This is very much a 90’s to early 10’s question, yet here I am.

Requirements:

  • Not reliant on Apple iTunes/Music or Amazon Music or Google or similar
  • Not reliant on Spotify or Pandora or similar streamer
  • Handles open and closed (but DRM-free) formats (mp3, ogg, FLAC, ALAC, etc.)
  • Properly tags files
  • Actually organizes (moves files into a file structure)
  • When uncertain, asks or leaves files to be reviewed (non-destructive)

I buy music media – LPs, CDs, cassettes. Some are new; some are used. New stuff I source from Bandcamp or artist sites or local stores.

※ I host a live radio show on WAWL.org every Thursday from 18:00-21:00 Eastern US Time (America/Detroit). There’s a story to it, one I will tell another day. I’ll also make a bigger deal about the show.

Scenarios, delivery edition

Status

One finds an unexpected delivery on the doorstep. Upon verifying it was not a forgotten purchase, the global retailer is contacted.

“Thank you for your concern,” the chatbot says. “We’ve already sent a replacement to the intended customer.”

“That’s great for them,” you say. ”But I’ve got this thing by my front door that I didn’t ask for.”

“You’re free to dispose of it,” says the chatbot.

“But I don’t want to touch it. It’s not mine. It’s not something I ordered. Can’t giant retailer send someone out to dispose of it?”

“No.”

“But what if it contains materials that requires specific handling and disposal? Are you saying that cost and responsibility is on me?”

“We contract with third parties on deliveries so there is no way for giant retailer to dispose of it. But, good news! We’ve determined that the package is fine for you to dispose of yourself. As we said, the intended recipient is getting a new delivery.”

“That response does not fill me with confidence.”

That response also does not answer the question.

If a package from one of the global retailers, delivered by one of the global delivery retailers or the local post, arrives at your door but is not meant for you and contains hazards materials, who has the responsibility for disposing of it and who bears the cost?

I would think the analogy would be someone in a truck pulls into your driveway, dumps a barrel of toxic waste in your yard, and drives away. Your home security system recorded that the truck is from Acme Trucking, the barrel had a Zephyr Chemical sticker, and you caught the dumper’s face.

Who’s responsible for the clean up? Who bears the cost?

What if the barrel was full of eels? Or rubber bouncy balls? Or micro plastics? Or a dead human body? Or pudding?

Trustless

Let’s all call cryptocurrency, NFTs, and web3 (in all of its poorly defined sense) a sunk cost and move on.

Trustless:

But beware of tech bros preaching decentralization. Technology has been promising to eliminate the middleman for decades, only to present new middlemen — in this case, new actors asking you to transfer trust and wealth from one institution to theirs. Crypto enthusiasts spent 14 years and tens of billions of venture capital dollars trying to create a trustless financial system with no middlemen. Status? See above: Celsius.

Crypto’s dirty little secret is that it’s no more eliminated the need for trust than it has replaced the U.S. dollar. (Sorry, Jack.) Its core rhetoric is in the Reaganite antigovernment creed … “Don’t trust the Fed.” Don’t trust anyone, they told us. But this is bullshit. I mean bullshit3. When crypto went mainstream in 2020, it appended a new line: “trust us.”

※ In Praise of Trackballs

Real physics are a lovely thing when you’ve got a human body

Clive Thompson writes about something on which I have strong feelings. Those feelings are about the trackball.

First off, trackballs are awesome. They require exactly the space taken up by itself unlike a mouse that needs room to roam. They’re more precise than mice in detailed work.

The quintessential trackball was made my Microsoft, the Trackball Explorer, where one’s right thumb was on the scroll wheel and mouse buttons. The forefinger on the trackball.

Today, one can get the same design with wireless options from Elecom. While not as durable as the Microsoft one, they’re available, in various sizes, and not crazy expensive.

Viva la trackball!

Support for Apple Passkeys on Older Devices

Apple Passkeys:

At WWDC, Apple just announced Passkeys, their implementation of the FIDO protocols that aim to replace passwords. In Apple’s case, this capability will be available with iOS 16 and macOS Ventura, probably this fall. The other vendors are doubtless planning similar releases in a similar timeline.

Dan Moren from Six Colors has a post that gives a nice explanation of Passkeys and its operation by endusers. If you’re an Apple user with some or all of your passwords stored in the Apple iCloud Keychain, nothing much will change: you’ll authenticate with a fingerprint or face ID and a cryptographic exchange takes place between your device and the remote site to verify you. You can even use one device to log into another. Take a look at Moren’s post for the details.

(Via Irreal)

What I want Apple to do to enhance this is to extend this and other privacy efforts backwards so older Macs and other devices can take advantage.

For example, I have a 2012 Mac Mini that doesn’t support Apple Pay natively. I can use my more modern iOS devices to approve purchases made on that machine. But it doesn’t support Hide My Email or other privacy mechanisms.

Get on this, Apple!

※ Twitter stuff

EMu is not nearly as smart as his PR makes him out to be:

“It is all going to get so much dumber,” I wrote yesterday, about Elon Musk’s efforts to get out of his deal to buy Twitter Inc. by complaining about bots. Seventy-three minutes later, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton tweeted this:

Today I’m investigating Twitter for potentially misleading Texans on the number of its “bot” users. I have a duty to protect Texans if Twitter is misrepresenting how many accounts are fake to drive up their revenue.

The press release is … so dumb

(Via Matt Levine at Money Stuff)

Remember, EMu chose to not do the due diligence he was free to do before committing to buying Twitter. And …

To be clear, Twitter has claimed that bots are fewer than 5% of “monetizable daily active users” (not “all users”) for eight years, and the “intense scrutiny in recent weeks” consists entirely of Elon Musk claiming, with no evidence, that there are a lot of bots because he regrets agreeing to buy Twitter for $54.20 per share just before a market crash. This is a regulatory investigation entirely for the purposes of trolling: Paxton is harassing Twitter because (1) Musk moved to Texas, (2) Musk announced, like two weeks ago, that he’s a Republican, (3) Musk has a passionate fan base on Twitter, and (4) Musk is trying to rile up that fan base against Twitter by complaining about bots. So Paxton is happy to hitch himself to that: If he harasses Twitter on Musk’s behalf, he will endear himself to Musk’s fans online, which seems valuable for an elected official though not, of course, for his constituents, or for the rule of law. The fact that this is all completely fake is beside the point, as is the fact that Paxton himself is currently under indictment for felony securities fraud. This all seems bad! I don’t know what to tell you! This is not how one wants one’s democracy to be going! 

Regardless of what happens with EMu and Twitter, and I expect that it will be a roller coaster, one cannot help but think about how this misadventure will sour institutions to working with this … I don’t know, person? He jerked investors around with Tesla. News outlets can’t help themselves but post that gawdawful picture of EMu and real world evil Sauron PeTh in front of a CRT display.

Where will Texas AG Paxton find time to fight EMu’s battles when he’s so busy getting into bedrooms and dining rooms and doctor’s offices (but not personal armories) where he thinks the government should be?

macOS Ventura kills off my last Mac & next steps

Status

It was a good run, I suppose, for my MacBook Pro 2015 15”. It joins the ranks of my Mac Mini Servers 2012 and 2011 as devices no longer in the loving embrace of Cupertino. All of these devices are still running and running well, though I need to rebuild the ’12 machine to repurpose it and undo some experimentation with which I flirted. The ’15 will stay in production and I have a replacement battery ready to go in once the current one goes.

The privacy stuff is perhaps the most compelling positive changes announced today. I’ll likely talk about that once more is understood. It’s a weird juxtaposition with the iOS/iPadOS lock screen widgets, which often compromise privacy, but that should be disabled anyway.

This does leave me with decisions about next steps. Apple seemingly doesn’t want to spend much effort in stabilizing their OSes, working on improving accessibility, or in function discovery. They also don’t seem to want to address any issues or improve workflows to solve my problems. This is not new – Apple’s been adding features that are mostly shiny chrome for years now. With decent odds that my iPhone might only see one more major release I can take this opportunity to reëvaluate my tech stack.

Time to start saving monies!

macOS Ventura Drops Support for Older Macs, Works With 2017 and Later Machines:

A full compatibility list is below:

    • iMac (2017 and later)
    • iMac Pro
    • MacBook Pro (2017 and later)
    • MacBook (2017 and later)

These are the Macs that were compatible with macOS Monterey :

    • iMac – Late 2015 and later
    • iMac Pro – 2017 and later
    • MacBook Air – Early 2015 and later
    • MacBook Pro – Early 2015 and later
    • Mac Pro – Late 2013 and later
    • Mac mini – Late 2014 and later
    • MacBook – Early 2016 and later
(Via Juli Clover at MacRumors)

Bunches of cryptocurrency issues

Countering the Crypto Lobbyists:

Countering the Crypto Lobby

… 

Crypto skepticism is not a homogeneous school of thought, and there is no central doctrine or leaders to this movement other than a broad north star of working to minimize fraud and protect the public from undue financial harm. There are crypto skeptics who think there might be some redeeming qualities in some crypto assets, and there are those who want it all to “die in a fire” and everywhere in between. The guiding principle of this letter is to find a middle way that at least most people can agree on and phrase it in a manner such that it can be best understood by our policymakers, who are deeply confused by even minimal jargon and technical obscurantism.

Blockchain is Meaningless

Blockchain is a meaningless term. This is an enormous problem because if we aim to build policy concerning financial assets built on top of blockchains, we need to have a shared vocabulary about what we’re seeking to regulate.

There is no universal definition of blockchain. …

Permissioned Blockchains

No issue seems to draw contention amongst technologists more than the issue of so-called “permissioned blockchains.” It is a highly ambiguous term that is obfuscated by marketing jargon and where the boundaries between it and traditional relational databases are incredibly unclear. Many so-called “permissioned blockchains” are simply relational databases with perhaps some additional software or marketing layered on top. … 

Permissioned blockchains go under various names ranging from private blockchains, permissioned blockchains, enterprise blockchains, distributed ledger technology, and ledger databases. The three most prominent examples of this appear to be:

  1. Amazon QLDB
  2. Microsoft Azure SQL Database ledger
  3. Hyperledger Fabric

Cryptocurrencies

The word “cryptocurrency” itself is also a misnomer because, as any economist will point out, these tokens are financial assets not currencies. Nevertheless crypto assets aren’t a homogeneous group of products, and talking about the entire space in full generality is fraught with ambiguity. Broadly speaking there two buckets of assets, speculative tokens and non-speculative tokens. … 

We Want Our Words Back

Crypto used to mean cryptography, a branch of study at the intersection of mathematics and computer science. Web 3.0 used to mean the semantic web, a version of the internet in which all the world’s knowledge was organized into a searchable graph. Now both words have been co-opted to mean highly risky speculative investments and frauds and as marketing buzzwords to obscure intent.

A great many researchers and working software engineers don’t like this abuse of computer science terms to peddle risky investments. We’re tired of this, and many of us feel this is a blight on our profession and it needs to stop.

Grassroot Lobbying

Technologists need to be involved in more grassroots lobbying on these issues. I’m certainly going to devote some of my life to this work, but I can’t do it alone. We have to work within our existing democratic institutions and with other like-minded people in the law and finreg community to tackle the problems because crypto is a problem that the software community created, and it’s one that we inevitably have to have a hand in reigning in. Although we might differ slightly on the end regulatory state, I have high faith in our democratic processes and institutions to arrive at a solution that balances the public interests with a legitimate desire for responsible financial innovation, and I think we can all agree we can do better than the hot mess we’re in right now.