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November 15, 2015

Links 2015-11-15 Sun: PumPum, evidence of an oil glut, garbage text generators, "information security", constraint-solving and pattern matching in Common Lisp, and a roboticized freight terminal!

Filed under: Uncategorized — @ 12:00 a.m.
Links 2015-11-15 Sun: PumPum, evidence of an oil glut, garbage text generators, "information security", constraint-solving and pattern matching in Common Lisp, and a roboticized freight terminal!

Gigablast API Documentation

Search is interesting, yo.

Graffitimundo interview with PumPum

When I first found her work, PumPum did big pieces in what I'd call "vector art" style. Either they're more Flash-gradient-style these days or I simply never noticed the gradients. Whatever, I love PumPum.

Git manpage generator

Garbage text—another name for that which comes out of Robert Viragh and other Markov chain text generators. See also: Baba, a grammar designer application, written (inexplicably) in javascript.

Infosec Institute 2016 Presidential Candidate Security Investigation

The computer "security industry" is an insane scam. The money is all made by scaring people who are tech-illiterate into buying various kinds of snake oil. Largely these tech-illiterate people also run Windows, which opens them up to a myriad of "antivirus" and "trusted software" scams. The Infosec Institute sells brainwashing into the cult of modern computer security.

Say what you will about their core business, they do know how to mimic the tried-and-true PR strategy of attaching oneself to a hot story, which is the story of the link above. The Institute has "reviewed" the "candidates'" "website security". There's not enough here for a full-blown adnotation, but do indulge me in calling out some of Jonathan Lampe's (CISSPLOL), particular idiocies:


Candidate Pros Cons
Hillary Clinton Building a security team. Runs up-to-date software. Large attack surface that relies on a quickly-built custom application.

Leaving aside the claims around "building a security team" and the speed of website development, which in the first case is a guess from job postings and in the second case is a completely unsubstantiated claim in the PDF that nominally goes into detail about all of this. "Attack surface" here is a term of art meaning more or less "all of the possible ways someone might compromise this website", and its usage here should be read as "this site doesn't yield to any of the scripts we teach the use of at the Infosec Institute, therefore it must be a custom job and super vulnerable". Granted, the thing runs on Node.js, and there might be merits to vulnerability claims predicated on its use of that particular set of idiocies, but Lampe fails to make that argument, instead falling back to the "IT professional"'s mainstay: "it's custom and ergo has a large attack surface".

Despite her campaign’s woman-first messaging, Clinton’s website seems to be built on a stereotypical “brogrammer stack” of Node.js, Rudy and other technologies…

I know—let's conflate the campaign messaging with the technologies used to build the campaign website. Firstly, this isn't a "stereotypical brogrammer stack" (whatever that would be), this is a smorgasbord of technologies that the Clinton campaign would like to see experience with from candidates. What would the team have had to write here in order to avoid the "brogrammer" claim? Are there "stereotypical babegrammer stacks" that I'm unaware of, or is this just a cheap attempt to tar Clinton's campaign with the "no true feminist in tech" brush?

Moving on, it's interesting to compare the unsubstantiated claims of the Clinton site's "large attack surface" with the one can only assume smaller attack surfaces of the other sites running WordPress. Yes, the festering open sore source PHP shitpile with a legacy of being broken and open wider for access by random derps than the village prostitute is, according to Jonathan Lampe and the Infosec Institute, more secure than something written by hand. It's not an unfair guess to make, but he presents this guess as a substantiated conclusion after failing to present evidence to support that claim.

The "infosec" industry is a bunch of script kiddies who assume that anything the scripts they downloaded from some other script kiddie can't identify and enumerate the flaws of must of necessity have a large attack surface. Pay attention to these fearmongers and snake-oil salesmen at your own risk.

iOS Secure Coding Workshop

My brief sojurn through the Infosec Institute's website revealed this lolarious gem as well. Dig:

Our classroom trainings come with a number of easy-to-understand exercises providing live hacking fun.

Once again we encounter the pernicious notion that work should be fun and easy.

REGRESSION (iOS 8): <select> values are not properly updated in a form with multiple <select>s

Apple can't ship quality software any more, doesn't address ancient and outstanding bugs, etc etc, old and tired thread.

Tern

A JavaScript code analysis engine. Looks neat, but given that 99% of JS in the wild is only accidentally able to refer to other code imported into the same page with script tags, I'm going to bet that this is pretty useless. I do have a mega-JS project sitting on my HDD right now that I could test this on…

CL-MATCH

An interesting Common Lisp library that emulates the pattern-matching functionality of Haskell or other ML languages. I just crapped out my first pile of CL (a noob project, an implementation of Stan's V), relying pretty heavily on CLOS and methods defined on the objects (more on this later when I get around to the "literate programming" post of my V implementation).

Relatedly, Clojure has a notion of "multiple arity", eg functions defined to behave differently based on the number of arguments with which they're called:

(defn my-multi-arity
  ([x] (println x))
  ([x y] (println x) (println y)))

Naively, I'd implement this in CL with generic functions:

(defmethod my-multi-arity1
  (print x))

(defmethod my-multi-arity2
  (print x)
  (print y))

But with CL-MATCH, could do something along the lines of the Clojure-style multiple arity functions. Not that I'm going to, the library in question seems more of a self-entertainment project than something ever intended to go into production. Nevertheless, a good example of how easily actual good ideas can be folded into Common Lisp, and how many of them are implemented perhaps better in the core language already.

robo terminal

Super roboticized shipping terminal—watch for the ABB box! Via Gcaptain.

Screamer

Constraint solving in Common Lisp.

Screamer: A Portable Efficient Implementation of Nondeterministic Common Lisp

In spite of the fact that Screamer's compilation techniques require global analysis, Screamer does support incremental redefinition of procedures. Screamer maintains a who-calls database to identify those code blocks requiring recompilation. Thus if f, g, and h are initially deterministic—and f calls g which in turn calls h/—redefining /h to be nondeterministic will cause Screamer to automatically recompile f and g as well after performing the appropriate CPS conversion.

Badass. Lovely example of the power of a programming language that can eat itself. Other nifty papers at the first link as well.

Magit Introduction and Demonstration

I've had the pleasure of meeting Howard Abrams a few times. The man has an exquisitely curated .emacs, and has lent me some powerful insight at least once.

It's hard to believe today, but 10 years ago Wikipedia was considered a doomed experiment run by utopian radicals.

However, it's a runaway financial and cultural success today with pages for the Dune character Chani but not MPEx.

Oil Tanker Backlog in U.S. Gulf Seen as New Symbol of Glut

I also just finished listening to the episode of Ritholtz' Masters in Business podcast with Gary Shilling, wherein (among other things) Shilling predicts that we're headed into a new world of oil production with a price bottom per barrel somewhere in the ~20/30 USD range. His reasoning being that's the marginal cost of operating the extant infrastructure, and that if the commodity wars between the OPEC cartel and the rest of the world continue, that producers will fall back away from the floor that is currently the cost required to pay for new infrastructure, and simply rely on what they have in the field.

The oil glut is reeeeeal!

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  2. x string) (y string []

November 13, 2015

Don't say tragedy of the commons. Don't say it!

Filed under: portland — Benjamin Vulpes @ 12:00 a.m.
Don't say tragedy of the commons. Don't say it!

So you have a street, and people leave garbage upon it. Because your city was once a well-ordered place where citizens handled their own garbage, this makes you very upset. Your solution:

commons

The average vote-casting individual don't know anything, not even basics like what happens to things that are "owned by everyone" but for whose upkeep nobody is held responsible.

I'm pretty sure that this is the same person leaving the hilariously stupid "pick up after your dog" notes around the neighborhood.

This post is almost pointless, except to rehash the "frantic activity as cover for impotence" point. Look at this sign: "4th day notice", impotent screaming about trash on the corner, blablabla. Absolutely no recognition that the breakdown in civilizational services in Portland is entirely the fault of the last two generations.

November 3, 2015

Inside Apple's perfectionism machine, adnotated

Filed under: Uncategorized — @ 12:00 a.m.
Inside Apple's perfectionism machine, adnotated

Original article may be found here. Images have been stripped.

CUPERTINO, California — In retrospect, it was easy to miss — a bit of combined technology never really seen before in a laptop. Everyone missed it, even those who tore down the ultra-portable MacBook, even those who looked right at it1.

The little strip of black along the two back edges of the MacBook’s twin speakers could easily have been mistaken for a bit of shielding or a vibration dampener. Except, that's not what it is.2

Some like to call it the "Speaktenna."3 The black strip along the back edge of the MacBook speakers is a never-before-tried combination of speakers and antennas for Wi-Fi and Bluetooth. It's a fairly ingenious bit of space-saving technology that teardown artists ignored4.

But that's not really the story. It's about what "speaktenna" represents: the Apple way of conceiving, designing and building its products.

The Speaktenna

This MacBook speaker module has a thin strip of black along the outer edge, which is actually the system’s antenna. The wiring for it, is the silver strip of wire that runs in a channel on top of the gold speaker chassis.

Phil Schiller, Apple's longtime senior vice president of worldwide marketing5, is waiting for me when I arrive at Building 3 at the company's Infinite Loop headquarters in Cupertino, California on an unusually warm fall day. He's wearing his trademark gray button-down shirt and, incongruously, a pair of glasses that he quickly removes.

Schiller doesn't give a lot of interviews. A quick Google search tends to bring up quotes from keynotes and one lengthy chat with Daring Fireball's John Gruber.

Schiller is, for most people, a cipher: A highly knowledgeable Apple spokesperson who can speak as passionately about its products as his late boss, Steve Jobs. In fact, to listen to Schiller speak is to hear echoes of the visionary leader who died in 20116. It occurs to me more than once that, perhaps, many of turns of phrase we often attributed to Jobs may have actually started with Schiller7.

Schiller, who joined Apple in 1987 as the company was launching the Mac SE and Mac II (and, as Jobs did, left the company only to return in 1997), has seen a lot of change in the last two decades. He described those changes in a somewhat Jobsian way: "A couple of things that I observe are different and, I think, incredibly great compared to the past."8

"From the beginning, the Mac has been about Apple taking responsibility for the whole thing: hardware, software, how applications can work and, increasingly, Internet services9. But that means something different today than it did 20 years ago," Schiller said.

"Today, those teams are not only integrated and designing something together, they’re actually thinking of features that could only exist because of that integration and solving problems that could only be solved because of that unique advantage."10

Collaboration

It's a recurrent theme in my conversations with Schiller and John Ternus, vice president of Mac and iPad engineering. As they see it, much of the innovation — certainly something like the speaktenna — inside the 2-pound, 0.5-inch-thick laptop would not have been possible without disparate teams working together.

In the case of the speaktenna, Apple engineers did everything in their power to fit the maximum amount of technology possible into the tiny anodized aluminum chassis. This included creating new battery chemistry and forms to support a terraced battery design that marries perfectly with matching cutouts in the chassis. There's even a deeper level of terracing cutouts in the body that aren't for more battery power, but to cut down on the overall system weight.

"We realized we could not create a great antennae and a great speaker because we'd be compromising," Ternus said. "Both of those elements need space. Antenna elements are small, but they need cavity; they need space to resonate."

MacBook casing

The MacBook’s anodized aluminum case interior is a bas-relief map of the battery topology. There is, though, a little more extra space removed from the chassis to save on weight.

The answer was to make the speaker and antenna teams collaborate to create something new.

"We absolutely married them together to make this happen," said Ternus, who laid out before me a disemboweled MacBook. I saw what looked like a regular pair of gold-plated speaker housings that sit at the back of the MacBook, near the hinge. Along both rear speaker edges was a millimeter or so of black material, which turned out to be the antennas.

"We ended up with a group of antenna engineers who know more about speakers than any other antenna engineers and a group of speaker engineers who knew more about antenna design than just about anyone else in the world," Ternus said with a laugh.

That level of collaboration is part of the company's DNA today. But this wasn't always the case.

"Before Jony [Ive] and Steve came back, there was a relationship between the industrial design team and the engineering teams, but not an integrated one," Schiller recalled. "The industrial design team might create some models and designs and those may not reflect the product that was ultimately made or they may not result in any product at all."

It was, put simply, much less of a clear path from product conception to production. There was, instead, a sort of back and forth between groups, where one would come up with an idea, lob it over the wall to the other group — design or engineering — which would then throw back over its concepts.

This is in stark contrast to how things work today.

"One of the amazing things for me is how stable things stay from first models that we make to the products that we ship,” Ternus said.

Schiller recalled that turning point in development and design, which led to products like the reinvented iMacs of the turn of the century and categories new to Apple — like the iPod, iPhone and iPad.

"Ever since Steve came back [in 1997] and worked with Jony on redefining the entire process, the industrial design teams, the engineering teams are joined at the hip in the work they do," Schiller said. "They think up solutions to problems together as the disciplines are merged into a seamless process."11

Beyond collaboration, Apple relies heavily on institutional memory to build upon past achievements.12

"It is very deeply ingrained in how we work, and it's also something that is amazing to watch because it's a process that is building on itself each year," Schiller said. "These learnings all help to create the next product we’re making, regardless of what part of the company it comes from."

It's also evident in the MacBook parts laid out before me. The tiny logic board (aka the motherboard) fits in one of my hands. It's literally packed on both sides with chips of varying sizes and includes everything from memory to storage and even the display drivers. It's also deeply informed by everything Apple learned from building circuit boards for handheld technologies like the iPhone. As I examine it, Ternus tells me the board is 67 percent smaller than the one found in the 11-inch MacBook Air.

Creating something new

Apple may have mastered coming up with new solutions for tough technology problems, but it doesn't always have the answers or resources in house.

"There are times when we have to add resources to Apple, grow talent to do something that we weren't able to do before," Schiller said.

And then there are times when Apple has to make others change what they do to meet its expectations.

Apple has a habit of leaning on suppliers in ways few other companies would do13. Schiller said it's not uncommon for Apple to refine third-party part specification and to help suppliers deliver exactly what the company needs to achieve its original product vision.

Sometimes "we're asking for technologies and features they've never created before or brought to market, things that [our partners] wished they could do, but were never able to do," he said.

“Almost every new product has a new material, process or technology that we’ve never done before,” said Ternus, “and, in many cases, no one has ever done before.”14

Of course, Apple works with many suppliers because, ultimately, they do not build the individuals parts. Apple specs out what it needs and then finds someone who can build it for them. In the case of Corning, which supplied Gorilla Glass for the original iPhone, Corning had the glass technology, but, in a world filled with mostly plastic phones, cellphone manufacturers weren’t willing to buy and use it.

“We had a higher expectation of what the experience should be and we had a partner who was amazing at delivering on that,” said Schiller, offering rare, third-party-vendor-specific praise.

Of course, Apple’s relationship with these partners is more complicated than that. Direct questions about who supplies Apple’s signature glass screens and, sometimes, backs, has often been met with silence or obfuscation. So it came as a surprise when, at the unveiling of the iPhone 6S and 6S Plus, Apple casually shared that they both featured Corning Glass (not necessarily Corning Gorilla glass).15

Why can't Apple consistently share where it gets its parts?

In part, it's because Apple doesn't always source parts from a single supplier, Schiller said. He added that those partnerships can change, meaning the parts change.

Take a look the recent news about the two simultaneous A9 chip suppliers (Samsung and TSMC) and possible battery performance differences — a claim Apple quickly disputed. In general, Apple simply doesn’t want to constantly explain the potential minuscule differences between part suppliers or when they choose a completely different supplier.16

There is a larger reason, though.

"The most common scenario is simply that what we got from a supplier basically has been created so uniquely for Apple that implying it's an off-the-shelf part like others may get would be really misleading," Schiller said. "So it's best not to even talk about the source because that implies things that aren't true."

Ternus said it was, for the MacBook, a pattern repeated again and again. The full-sized keyboard that essentially defined the overall size of the MacBook could not simply be sourced from a company adept at building laptop keyboard modules. Apple found a keyboard supplier, and then redesigned the keyboard, including the mechanisms under each key, from the ground up.

Staring in the mirror

Inside the Apple bubble, a giant campus with more than 10,000 employees, it's easy to lose introspection. Yet, when I ask Schiller if Apple does everything well, his answer surprises me.

"No, of course not, of course not," he said. "And we don’t want to sound like we’re perfect. We never are, we always have to get better and always have to listen to where we’re not doing well."17

Apple, Schiller said, is also always up for re-examining preconceived notions, whether that means selling a large-screen iPad with an optional stylus (the Apple Pencil) or creating something entirely new.

“When we look at creating each new product, one of the great things about the process is the product teams are free to re-imagine a product any way that would make it better. They’re not tied to a schedule, to force it into a specific time window, not tied to past definitions of the product,” said Schiller.

Radically different products put pressure on Apple and its suppliers who are sometime asked to change their factories to support Apples plans. I wondered if anyone within Apple ever vetoed one of these crazy ideas.

Ternus, though, told me “no” isn’t a very popular term at Apple. “There’s ‘No’s’ in some way,” he explained, adding, “There’s ‘No’s’ about what we do, but in terms of how we do it, going and making the best product there really aren’t a lot of ‘No’s.’ That’s one of the great joys of working here. [For] something really compelling. We can afford to make it happen.”

Building the new certainly gets you noticed. We were all surprised when Apple unveiled the new MacBook, a laptop shorn of the "Air" moniker as well as all its ports save one: USB-C.18

That kind of risk-taking can appear both bold and dangerous. It's a delicate balance not lost on Schiller, who said Apple puts a lot of thought into meeting expectations while advancing the state of the art.

"We found that the best thing we could do is push boundaries beyond what's expected, beyond what's comfortable sometimes," he said.

Schiller contends that people expect a little bit of daring when it comes to the MacBook. "It's a little counterintuitive to people, that doing what people don't expect, ends up being what people do expect. But that is true of Mac."

The spaceship approaches

Radical innovation, though, isn't possible without the level of intense collaboration Apple currently enjoys, according to Schiller and Ternus.

As I walked through the sprawling Cupertino campus with Schiller, noting how Apple employees hurried past, lost in their own product conundrum thoughts, perhaps not even noticing Schiller, I marveled at the sheer number of people. During the lunch hour, employees jockey for table space in the lunchroom. That room faces a large quad into which all of Infinite Loop's building faces.

As a result, Apple employees are often spotted walking between buildings, passing by each other, and perhaps, stopping to chat. To some extent, the design may be a reflection of Jobs' desire for serendipitous interaction (he reportedly helped design Pixar's headquarters for just that effect).

However, if you were to go to the third floor of Building 3 or 4 and stare east you would see, rising in the distance, Apple's new "Spaceship" campus, which may eventually house almost all the employees from One Infinite Loop.

The 2.8-million-square-foot building is a circle with a giant quad in the center. It's hard to imagine how employees will get around it, let alone collaborate as they've been doing for decades at One Infinite Loop.19

What, I wondered, would happen if one team was seated on one side of the circle and another all the way on the other side? Would collaboration suffer?

"Quite the opposite," Schiller said. "The design of the new campus has been all about fostering collaboration."

Apple, Schiller said, is well aware of the collaborative platform that the current building offers. The open quad means people can always grab a chair for impromptu meetings, though Schiller says its standalone buildings aren't actually as conducive to continual collaboration.

"Whereas, with the new campus, everything about it is designed for that. From the fact that, on the ring, the internal and external surface of the ring are the hallways, and they completely traverse the space," he said. "So you can walk through the entire space, both on the inside and outside perimeter and go from section to section."

"It has, obviously, the biggest, open quad-like space you can imagine and it's being designed to encourage us all to mingle and travel through it with pathways and even running trails through the campus. It has very large, open stairways and spaces vertically through the place both for its airflow and light, but also it creates a floor between the sections. We're creating an environment with large, open spaces between everyone’s seating areas to foster much more work together in communal space," Schiller said.

By this time, Schiller had gotten pretty excited. He obviously spends a lot of time thinking about Apple's new headquarters.

However, he caught himself and reminded me that he's not the architecture expert.

"But, absolutely, this is going to be the most incredible collaborative space that's been created."

Surely a phrase that Jobs would be proud of.

In-house collaboration and outside partnership on new designs and technologies only takes Apple partway to an obvious goal.

The company does not exist in a vacuum. It's part of a vast, competitive landscape where Apple is far from the leader in desktop and laptop PCs. But it's bucking the current downward trend where PC market leaders are slipping quarter over quarter.

Apple just reported a record 5.7 million Macs sold in the last quarter; over the past 12 months, it's sold more than 20 million Macs — more than any other year. Late last year, IDC reported Apple's U.S. PC market share had grown to more than 13 percent.

Schiller, however, told me that estimate was conservative.

"There are endless numbers of stats out there, you can quote any of them to tell any story, but the number that closest reflects what we all experience and see as we travel around is actually a U.S. market share approaching 25 percent," he said. "That closer reflects what we see when we go to the airport, when we go to the coffee shop, when we go to schools. You increasingly are seeing more Macs than PCs."

The design of Apple's campus encourages impromptu meetings, but its new "spaceship" facility will have collaboration in mind throughout.

Schiller was referring to the perception-versus-reality problem that dogs Apple.

Even as Mac sales numbers grow, Apple is consistently reported well behind Lenovo and HP, which, as of late 2014, had between 18 and 20 percent worldwide market share, respectively, compared to Apple’s 6 percent global numbers.20

Standing in a startup office, at a college lecture or on an airplane, it may look as if every other person (or more) is using a Mac. So why don’t the numbers match the optics?21

"I think what offsets that is maybe IT purchases or system integration projects or other things," Schiller said. "Why you don't see over 50 percent, because it sure feels like it in the real world. I feel like more people like Macs than other things and they’re not equal."

Schiller’s perception, though, is accurate. NPD analyst Stephen Baker confirmed those market-share numbers, which represent retail and consumer sales (including those in Apple Stores). It does not include sales to enterprise customers, through resellers and large OEMs. In the NPD data, which tracks sales and not shipments, the company is still behind HP, but Apple has been "slowly gaining share on Windows and the Windows brands," according to Baker.

For Schiller and Apple, that trajectory matters.

"The trajectory has been a market where the majority of PC vendors are not doing well; they're shrinking and we're growing," Schiller said. "That's reflected in an increasing market share and the number I quoted is the highest we’ve had since the start of the Mac. Our highest market share."

Apple, however, is growing at a time of sea change in the PC industry, where devotion to a piece of hardware may be less important than connection to files, content and services. As
the cloud looms larger, will the hardware we use still matter? Schiller rejects this notion.

"No. 1, the importance and value of great hardware has not diminished in any way," he said. "Across the board, our goal is to make the best in the categories we choose to compete in.
It's what we're doing and it's reflected in customers choosing our products over anyone else's. So I do think people are showing with their choice that they do value quality and beauty of the hardware and that is not diminishing."22

"I have never heard anyone say, ‘Because I like to keep my stuff in the cloud, I will take a cheap piece of hardware and I want it to be ugly.' All things being equal, of course,
nobody wants that," Schiller said.

He also rejects the idea that there's a growing market for hybrids, or, to be more specific, laptops with touch screens that also happen to be tablets.23

"There certainly are more offerings today, more people trying to create a market. But based on all the data that I've been able to see, it is still incredibly small and niche and may
not be growing to anything significant. Time will tell," he told me.

Schiller didn’t mention Microsoft by name, but the implication was clear. He doesn’t believe products like the swiftly selling Surface Pro or new Surface Book quite represent a trend.

In particular, Schiller doesn't just believe that people are choosing products like the Mac because they appreciate the innovation and craftsmanship. He contends that they love them.

"It's important to us and something we're lucky to have and it’s never lost on us that we have customers who really deeply love these products."

Customers' adoration for their Macs is not a new phenomenon, according to Schiller.

"This is something that goes back to the first generations of the Macs that people felt an attachment and a bond, and cared about their Macs in a way that you would normally not
expect from inanimate objects," he said.24

"Truth be told, knowing that that can be the case, we certainly try to support and enhance that, not only when delivering amazing products, but identifying with them ourselves.”

What's love got to do with it?

If you know — or at least believe — that your customers have an affinity for your products that goes beyond the norm, you may do unusual things.

As we looked over the pieces of MacBook, examining the tiny logic board and usual speaktenna, Ternus encouraged me to lift the lid of the completed MacBook he'd placed before me.

I placed the edge of one finger on the base to hold it in place and started to lift the lid. Ternus told me to stop holding the bottom and just lift the top. I did as I was told and noted how the bottom did not move as opened the MacBook. Ternus said that it's no accident.25

It's also an indication of the care Apple put into tolerances on the ultraportable.

"Every single unit gets measured on line for force required to open it, and we actually adjust every single unit," Ternus said.26

In fact, Apple is apparently taking the time to custom-fit all sorts of pieces in the MacBook through a process it calls "binning." Since there can be minuscule variances that might
make, for instance, the Force Touch trackpad not a perfect fit for the body or the super-thin Retina display not exactly a match for the top of the case, Apple finds matching parts
from the production line. Even the thickness of the stainless steel Apple Logo, which replaced the backlit logo on previous MacBook models, can vary by a micron or so, meaning Apple
needs to find a top with the right cutout depth.27

Pretty much all of Apple's manufacturing partners use robots and laser-vision systems.

Apple's Apple store

Inside Apple’s brand new campus store. In addition to all the typical Apple products, the campus store is the only one where you can buy Apple swag like Apple logo T-Shirts.

The result is that every MacBook is, in a way, special and imperceptibly different. I joked that every MacBook is like a Cabbage Patch Kid. "Every one is unique," I said. Ternus
finished the thought: "all in an effort to make them the same."

It's an almost unprecedented attention to detail. And with each successive generation of Mac, Apple is getting better at it.

"You see a Mac today and its level of technology integration, the specifications for how tight the tolerances have to be and on and on are higher this year than they were a year ago,
and a year before that, and a year before that," Schiller said. "As you learn to do something better, you can then build on that. Next year you now assume you can do that and try to figure out where else you can push the boundaries."

Talking to Schiller and Ternus, it occurs to me that the concept of Mac fanboys and fangirls is inside-out. The so-called cult of Apple doesn't begin and end outside its headquarters and Chinese factories. It is a part of Apple itself, a sort of cult of perfectionism that has been driving product development for 20 years.

For those struggling to understand what Apple is up to, it might be best to imagine the Apple logo as a giant, rose gold-colored apple sculpture that's being polished beyond
perfection, to some sort of ideal, a level of quality that is so undeniable that no competitor dares forget it.

Before I left, Schiller walked me over to the brand-new on-campus Apple Store. Compared to other Apple Stores around the world, it's relatively small. But like most others, it was
bustling. Here I saw the 27-inc Mac with its redesigned keyboard and minimalist Magic Trackpad.

Schiller smiled as he touched the devices. He loves these products and fully expects you will, too.

Footnotes:

1

It's always lost on people who take things at their surface impressions that they are that thing and that thing only. This guy is a psychiatrist, not an alcoholic. That guy is a CEO, not a father. That guy is a father, not a programmer. That woman is a mother, not a whore. That tire iron is for popping wheels off the bike and stripping tires effectively, not opening bottles.

2

One must actually understand how things are made in order to look at a novel thing and understand how its parts fit together to achieve the design goals. The best thing that you can do for the mechanically-inclined kid is take him out to the junkyard for an afternoon or three and wander around pointing out all of the things that he'll never see during the day-to-day business of life, hiding as they are underneath the branded wrappers that insulate Americans from chancely encountering the mechanisms that drive life.

This is one of the grand tragedies of starting a family in 2015: it's nigh impossible (I'll have to assemble the components myself, apparently) to get a chemistry set that can be used to blow things up, and similarly difficult to get something like the Amiga (this I cannot assemble from parts for my children, unfortunately) that the curious child can crack open the programmatic guts of and begin to learn how computers work.

Not that I'd wish a knowledge of how computers work on anyone, they'll be useless come the dawn of Stan's computronium fabric.

3

The author, probably, and he won't stick his name on the name because it's so patently stupid a name.

4

Ignored, or didn't have the knowledge to understand it for what it was? The "teardown artists" in question are probably iFixit (but remain unnamed likely to avoid pissing off the subject of the puff piece), and "artists" because if they were engineers they wouldn't be running a repair shop, they'd be working with the objects of their adoration! Fandom, it's been said, only ever goes in one direction: extraction from the fans, to the adored.

5

This piece was written by a "journalist" who came up with PCMag and now writes Apple puff pieces for Mashable. The job of these people is not to write hard-hitting investigative pieces, lambasting crimes of the powerful (its own bag of worms), but to take leads from PR folk and turn those into articles inflating the perceived market value of the companies who pay PR's salary. The journalist follows the SVP of Worldwide Marketing around learning about all sorts of things, but fails to tease out that the marketroid's job is to sell that which engineering and design have decided to produce.

"If you're reading it, it's for you" << I find more and more applications for this Ballas line every single day. Today, the messages "for you" are that a) the marketing people matter b) Mashable matters and c) Apple's customer's love for Apple products trumps all other concerns, like "does this machine do what I tell it to?

Jumping off from there, I recently discovered that MACOS 10.10.2 categorically refuses to sleep if a video is playing in Chrome. I haven't tested this in other browser because I can't be arsed to get this machine to behave the way it should, but isn't it funny that the thing purports to be an actual computer up until you ask it to do things like "lock after two minutes", to which it salutes and responds "sure, boss!", right up until you do something consumer-y like…play a video in a web browser, at which point it starts acting like a dumb butler: "oh I thought you might like to watch that video, so I left the front door agape."

6

George Bush was one of these people as well. An intimate of his machine once described his public behavior to me, the long and short of which is that the man is excellent at regurgitating that which had been said to him or that he'd heard, and to stitch together a pastiche that can pass for creative conversation, but largely unable to cook up his own output.

7

Like "one more thing", the emails from steve@apple.com, and "Rip. Mix. Burn." could all have come from anyone in the organization. Apple is a corporation, Steve was a well-crafted illusion, and only the men who work the sausage plant day in and day out could ever tell us what's in the links. Not that they'd know how many fingers made it in, but that's immaterial.

8

Ah, the vacous and meaningless statement from PR, over which the 'journalists' swoon. Of course the HMFIC of marketing thinks that things have changed and that they've changed for the better. Twenty years ago Macintoshes didn't run on stolen Unix, and Apple's still around as a company. Things are different and wonderful, you see.

9

True, and disingenous. Truly disingenous. They absolutely are "taking responsibility" for the whole stack, but in the opposite direction of that Moldbuggian notion of the modern bureaucracy dissolving both authority and responsibility across the whole organization. Apple's working quite well to gather the mantle of authority around themselves while avoiding any responsibility at all for the work that they produce.

Nobody, and I mean nobody, is holding their toes to the fire on any front. The software quality is continually decreasing (their hilariously inadequate office stack, Pages and Numbers, completely rejects the notion of backwards compatibility, and corrupts files willy-nilly), the build quality is on a similarly constant decline (the current Macbook that I'm using is chipping along the right front edge, and my iPhone's screen doesn't sit flat in its housing, leading to the dreaded 'creak' every time I drag my finger across the screen). The development tools are similarly universally broken, with Apple shipping entirely non-functional Xcode updates on a regular basis, Swift not having an "either" type, and the idiotic "spaces" debacle in place of an end-user programmable window manager are further examples in this vein.

10

Sort of like when piston heads developed into convective heat transfer devices back in the day, reducing piston mass and cost for only a minimal strength drop but also radical cooling characteristic improvements. Cross-training and spreading of the institutional knowledge across the institution is clearly a thing that Apple came up with, and not a standard management practice in all long-lifed manufacturing operations.

11

I suspect that Jobs wasn't necessarily a brilliant manager so much as he was a driven tyrant (in the sense of tyranny being a prerequisite for quality) who was willing to cut through swathes of bureaucracy to play with new organizational models.

Communication friction between working groups is very, very expensive. In a healthy organization, the separate groups respect each other (on the surface) and strive to present quality, finished work to each other in order to preserve the group and individual reputations. This polishing of potential turds is very expensive, especially when the teams are iterating on things. Eliminating some of this friction is at the root of the "agile movement": the notion being that an "agile team" can avoid wasting lots of time and energy polishing features for presentation to the business or design stakeholders.

The process can go entirely off the rails when the design and product stakeholders treat the development teams as prototyping engines, and fail to involve us in high-level application design: "here are some designs for this screen and that screen and the other screen—please go and implement them." "Mnah, I changed my mind about pretty much everything here, and possibly even the whole flow through the application. Please rip everything from the past two weeks out and replace it with the following designs."

"Agile" (to the extent that it's actually a thing, and not a construction of frustrated nerds) really only works when the tech team is involved in designing applications and their user interfaces (I know, it's a sad world we live in wherein the user interfaces are written by programmers and cannot be diddled programatically by people using them. I however, live and breathe and eat in this world, and not some hypothetical alternative universe where Symbolics didn't come to depend on USG largesse and so survived the AI Winter). In sanely-designed "modern applications", the UI is itself a projection of the application state. For the programmers to put that projection together and codify with the paradigms of the targeted platform's user interface toolkit, first we must have a robust understanding of what the application is meant to do. Then and only then can we put together designs for marshalling application state through its lifecycle and projecting that state through the native UI widgetry to the user.

If you just throw designs over the wall in an ad-hoc fashion and ask us to write software around them, you are going to get software that was designed as a result of attempting to introspect what all the application does from the limited data contained in the mocks. Such software won't look terrifically expensive to develop at first, but due to the ad-hoc nature of its growth and evolution it will rapidly mount in the costs to maintain and extend.

I ascribe these dynamics in software development to (in at least some small part) a cultural refusal of programmers and business stakeholders to draft and rewrite. Refactoring can be done, sometimes, under some circumstances as bizfolk can be made to understand that specific subsets of application code are crazy and need redoing. Raising the spectre of rewriting the whole application is almost always a non-starter, and for good reason: no business team wants to see progress come to screaming halt while the development team rewrites the world. One solution I've pondered with my peers in the past is to let the team grinding on feature work continue to do so while the A-team takes a step back and re-designs the whole application. The costs of this approach can be astronomical (adding somewhere between a tenth and a half of the development costs to the project, depending on scale and velocity), and so are hard to justify outside of companies that have everyone on salary and not desperate to get a product to market and making money.

All of the above is why I can get a dope mobile app built for under 80K, and you'll have trouble getting a prototype for 100K. You don't have the wisdom to articulate your vision, and the strength of character to trust my team to execute. I, on the other hand, have a well-seasoned team who understand intimately how to write quality software, into whom I can install a product vision and get results rapidly.

12

Old hat, if you've been following the "institutional memory is the only way to survive as a long-term manufacturing concern" thread around here. It's also old hat from a purely biological perspective, as evolutionary design ratchets forward against the relentless pull of entropy. Multicellular organisms depend on the existince of unicellular organisms, and the randomly +ev specialization of individuals in those colonies.

13

This is such complete and utter hogwash, but I have a hard time faulting Ulanoff for buying the Apple party line on this, unfamiliar as he is with how the world works.

Every company with the power to change their suppliers' processes does so. Honda and Toyota, for example, take this so far as to negotiate profit margins with their suppliers. One manufacturing company I worked with spent several labor-months with a casting supplier improving the mold design and casting process in order to drive reject part numbers down, an investment that the casting supplier wasn't about to make on their own preferring instead to take the hit on both internal and delivered quality.

To digress (because I can't do footnotes in footnotes yet), the parallels and contrasts between software consulting dynamics and contract parts manufacture dynamics is really interesting, especially with regard to tooling and quality.

The typical contract part fabrication shop will quote you part costs given tolerances within their ability to machine. The shop knows that it can readily hit certain tolerances (± 0.005 inches, or what have you), and will happily quote within that range. For tighter tolerances, sales will have to talk to the operators about how much ongoing tweaking of machine parameters the operator's will need to engage in to hit the tighter tolerances, which machines the parts will have to be run on, etc. Cutting faces wear, and modern machines have some amount of prediction built in, but cutting lots of parts at the bottom of your normal tolerance envelope is going to be expensive in: keeping machines in true to hit the numbers, inspecting the parts, and accounting for rejected parts.

Software's reflection of the machine shop's tooling setup is…murky.

Deploying new iOS builds to Apple is a nightmare of error-prone manual steps, compounded by their constant tweaking of how iTunes Connect works and where the buttons are put. What is this new save button for? The (post-TF acquisition) semantics for shipping builds to testers is very similar to the old TestFlight routine, but complexificated with a myriad of new steps whose role and effects aren't immediately apparent. So all of that's a complete nightmare to automate the deployment of. Nevertheless, we have some tricks up our sleeve, in the same way that part fixture designers have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves for cutting reusable or multipart fixtures.

Deploying Android builds is much less complex, and so much more easily automatible that it's almost not worth spilling the ink to talk about—just configure Jenkins to crap compiled builds out and email them to everyone, or link them into your VCS system or something. Doesn't matter, as all of your mobile application deployment costs are going to be on iOS.

Single-page JS applications? We've got piles of tooling and knowledge of how to build quality into those as well (step one: never try to retrofit an ad-hoc collection of HTML, CSS and JS into a SPA—while it might work, you can easily burn 10x what you would have had you simply rewritten the thing with a sane design up-front. Plus, maintenance costs will be significantly lower).

Server provisioning and deployments—we've got that handled. Conveniently, none of our clients use bare metal servers, which gave me the freedom to write automation that neglects the entire server state mutation problem, with all of its concomittant rollback problems. Nevertheless, I chose to take a dependency on Docker so that my automation stack can make those assumptions: provisioning involves installing Docker and then building the relevant images (although Docker's surface area is far too great, and still reeks of a company attempting to ensnare a new generation of developers in a toolchain whose complexity will ensure that some fraction of them will need "professional" support).

All of our institutional experience and in-house tooling around modern mobile and web application development boils off a whole shitton of complexity and uncertainty in writing software for other people. While I can't make claims like the parts producers do, of ability to produce so many widgets within thus and such a variance in size on these critical dimensions, I sell on other fronts: extant tooling saves time and money, institutional knowledge of best practices across the various software stacks produces higher quality and more cheaply maintained code; and (if you can bring yourself to buy it) holistic design and development a la Apple upon Steve's return lets us move at vastly faster paces than organizations who segregate these "functional areas" from each other.

14

In this regard, at least, Apple is no different from any other startup building mission-critical systems atop MongoDB and NodeJS. What saves Apple from the startups' fates is that (like all manufacturing operations of any quality) they test their parts before building production lines around them, and the nature of production lines and software development pipelines are so wildly divergent as to defy simple comparison.

A production line will have umpteen CNC mills (for example), of by-and-large the same make so that the same fixtures can fit into all of them. The product that they make may be a complex one, requiring parts from all fifteen of the mills (and who knows how many other lathes, stamps and presses), all of the machines are interchangeable with regard to their ability to produce parts for inclusion in the final work product. A well-designed production line will have a clear flow of parts into assembly, and a clear flow of parts through production steps. Iterating on this business construct is far simpler than iterating on businesses built on software: the clean interfacing between steps in the process lends itself readily to root cause analysis, and the constrainedness of each process or assembly step lends itself similarly readily to incremental improvements, or even step eliminations when appropriate.

A business that runs on software (and frequently the software that drives businesses whose core operations are not even software) is more akin to bootstrapping that entire production line from the mills on up oneself. Except in the sense of the request/response HTTP cycle and analagous technical pipelines, software companies do not produce widgets in the same way that fabrication companies do. Instead, they build whole systems that…do something. Perhaps the system is an aircraft carrier that flies. Or a submarine stapled to a Warthog, because it was easier to do that than build a flying submarine from scratch. Or, one simply ends up with a flying submarine because that's what the kids who hacked on the first draft accidentally crufted together out of other open-source systems they found lying around.

Actually, I take it back. Apple's web software has always been complete shit, and their desktop and mobile software has trended in the same direction for years now. The parts of their business that are vulnerable to bad software exhibit all of the hallmarks of unstable systems: unpredictable processing times, random changing of UIs, inconsistent data across applications (I think that I've updated my name 3 times in iTunes without it taking, and iTunes Connect at least twice now).

15

Sure, either they "casually shared" the source or "reluctantly complied with their contractual obligations". How could we ever know? Well, we can make a guess by looking at what their puff pieces say and assuming the polar opposite.

16

This story is a total hoot that somehow slipped past my radar. Okay, "somehow slipped" implies that I a) give a shit about Mac rumors and b) have radar tuned for this shit, neither of which is true.

The hoot:

According to the company, battery life between two otherwise identical iPhone 6S or 6S Plus models may vary, but only by 2-3%.

2% might be the margin of error in mechanical and civil engineering, but that's only because the engineers in those trades use 2-3x safety ratios more than compensating for 2% errors in computation, even if those errors stack up across multiple elements and interfaces.

For industrial products, performance numbers matter. Furthermore, the methods by which benchmarks are constructed also matter. Yes yes, chips are designed to beat benchmarks, and this is old hat in computerland, but Apple's brazen "fuck you, you don't get to see the numbers", or more accurately, "nono, these metrics are the real metrics, pay no attention to the reproducible experiments" attitude is endlessly hilarious, and utterly unsurprising. They build the boxes, and you buy them. Oh, did you want to upgrade anything in that laptop? Get fucked, not even the hard drive is available for an upgrade—nominally to serve their gods of design but once again look for what they say and assume the opposite: the real reason those hard drives aren't replaceable is so that you fill them up with (what, a blockchain? You can't stick a blockchain into an Apple laptop and still use it for things, idiot!) your photos (NB: the iPhone shoots in RAW by default. Why? Clearly not for the quality of the photos (again, ask why and assume the opposite), but because by setting one bit in software, Apple can chew through your iPhone's storage, your iCloud storage, and your local storage as well), music, Dropbox's duplicated space, the 3 15GB backups of your iPhone and then come to the (reasonable, if you're the sort of moron that believes it when Schiller's stooges take the stage) conclusion that you need a new device with more storage!

17

Schiller then goes on to talk about anything except for things that Apple sucks at, like writing their own software, or cracking the whip on Chinese fabricators, or stealing Unix (okay, okay. Buying NeXT) and pretending like they've added value atop it. Ulanoff completely fails to examine this "oh yeah, we suck in some areas claim". Why? The guy's a "car reporter". No more, no less. If he says negative things about the companies that pay his salary, he gets fired and the publication for whom he works never gets another scoop/lead/exclusive.

18

Because a giant dongle hanging off the side of your laptop so that you can charge your laptop is "good design". Someone at Apple's praying that everyone forgot about FireWire. Perhaps Apple has even forgotten FireWire…

19

I gather that Ulanoff has never heard of the Panopticon.

20

This doesn't even begin to account for the number of USG-mandated Windows licenses in the world (good luck getting a Linux system through the FDA's approval process), and beyond that buys the fallacious argument that the important thing here is the hardware and not the operating system. Yes, Apple sells the only portable computers that even sort of work. No, that doesn't matter so long as you're splitting out Lenovo and HP, blessed resellers of Windows licenses and treating them as "hardware sellers".

Look, the point is complex. Apple sells hardware, and the operating system is ancillary. Everyone else sells Windows machines (if you're chosing between Lenovo and HP and plan to put some breed of Linux on it, you don't count in these numbers either), and the hardware is ancillary. Apple only exists and can compete with Microsoft because they bought NeXTSTEP (including all of the hard work underpinning a Unix, stolen from a generation of nameless open-source developers) and made a couple of well-placed and well-timed media buys.

I too once loved their operating systems and user interfaces, but as I've come to want as complete control over my computing hardware as is possible, I've also learned that the tyrannical quality Steve drove Apple towards naturally precludes ordinary mortals from tinkering in the guts of the machine.

It's actually rather impressive—his tyranny extends beyond the grave and reaches slowly, surely, inexorably for my throat. I hear that "root" may not even be "root" in upcoming Apple OS updates. I'm not surprised (I ain't even mad, bro!), but I'm still driving myself towards a Linux toolchain I can cut over to in a heartbeat. At the moment the setup is Emacs in X11 with urxvt, but I'm still hobbled by the complete absence of an X11-compatible browser.

Perhaps I'll install Masamune in a VM and see if I can run with an emulated system. Le sigh.

21

Because corporate IT departments want fungible workers, and if you're all using Apple machines the temptation to start using Linux on the backend is just too great. Once you start using Linux for your line-of-business applications, people will start using other open-source tools and before you know it you'll have to change your hiring standards for the IT department to include people with blue mohawks, and you'll buy yourself a whole mess of organizational politics that are honestly more easily avoided by hiring derps who can tinker with Microsoft systems. Worst case, you have to hire some really expensive consultants to do the hard stuff your endogenous teams can't handle. That's what all the money you saved on salaries is for, I suppose.

That said, if you don't want to give away industrial secrets to China and Russia, you gotta stop using Windows. Linux—it's the patriotic choice!

22

Some of us will settle for vaguely nixy portables that also Just Work (tm) (r).

NB: this is the exact same sales pitch used to push Louis Vuitton and other high end brands that target the aspirational 14%. "Show your class and discerning taste by buying this commodity product that's classy, elegant, and 2x as expensive as other things that also get the job done but not nearly as prettily nor as ego-strokingly."

23

Sometimes a bad idea is obvious to everyone. Sometimes technological convergence is impossible to see coming.

24

Douglas Adams has a hilarious piece on the topic that explains the relationship between the early Macintoshes and the users thereof: Frank the Vandal. It's a real pity the man appears to have never encountered the Symbolics machines. To quote:

Why, when I'm working in a document in one word processor, do I keep on finding that if I want to do something else to the document I have virtually to dismantle the document and ship it over to another word processor which has a feature I need that the first one doesn't? (Why don't I just use the second word processor? Well, because it doesn't have other features that the first one does, of course). Or, if I want to put a picture in it, why do I have to go off to another program entirely and do the picture there, and then go through all mind numbing palaver of discovering that for some reason the WP I'm using doesn't know how to handle graphics in that particular format, or claims that it does but then just goes all black and sulky or makes the machine go bing when I actually ask it to. In the end I have to paste all the various bits into PageMaker which then refuses to print for some reason. I know that MultiFinder has made all this a bit easier, but it's really just the equivalent of making Birmingham easier to get to, if you follow me.

25

Nor was the coefficient of static friction of the surface upon which the device was placed an accident.

26

We? Not Foxconn?

27

This is either insane or awesome, and I cannot tell which. I was trained to make parts that fit together and to perform stackup analysis of the tolerances on assemblies to identify potential intersection zones. Apple's fabrication partners appear to be taking the opposite approach, which is to select parts whose tolerance errors cancel each other out. Sounds great in theory, but I wonder about statistical pileup of some classes of parts from some subcontractors that are routinely of the wrong size in the same dimension, and cannot be used in assemblies. How, again, is an outsider to know? Nifty technique, though, and kudos if it works for them.

November 1, 2015

Links 2015-10-31 Sat: self-driving cars, short fiction, Nigerian lolz, ship photos, Volkswagen's embroilment in ship engine number fudging, planes landing on cargo ships, the Palestinian Authority and more!

Filed under: linkpoasten — Benjamin Vulpes @ 12:00 a.m.
Links 2015-10-31 Sat: self-driving cars, short fiction, Nigerian lolz, ship photos, Volkswagen's embroilment in ship engine number fudging, planes landing on cargo ships, the Palestinian Authority and more!

I am now a father, but mammals have been reproducing since the dawn of time. Moving on…

(Tesla) Owners Are Now Training Their Cars to Drive Autonomously

Most of the systems we currently use aren't built to improve through use. They have locked in performance and capabilities. These systems can only improve through revisions and patches made by technical experts.

That approach is on the way out.

Systems can now be improved operationally ….

Further, for the most complex activities, this will be the only type of system you will be able to buy.

There's this great (for Doctorow) Doctorow story about nation-states using "alternate reality games" as covers for their espionage activities in each others' territories. The thing never stuck with me (like most of Doctorow's work, for good reason), and so I haven't thought of it in years until this piece of Robb's popped up. The book has an entertaining little scene wherein the protagonists must escape from an autonomous vehicle that has been hijacked by the (iirc) nameless, faceless Chinese antagonists to of course terminate said protagonists.

Anyways, it's pretty obvious that the systems in question will of necessity leverage the Bayesian "machine learning" systems, and produce black boxes nobody can reason about because operating in the real world is a difficult proposition requiring a brain, and the ML techniques are the closest that humanity has come to constructing one of those without, you know, going home and talking to the wife. And, because these are black box systems, they're going to suffer from crashes whose root causes are going to be devilishly difficult to run down (just ask any "ML" expert about how much fun it is to debug their production systems, much less keep them stable over time ).

All of that aside, I am bullish on the future and propagation of self-piloting vehicles. I have encountered and ridden with my statistically fair share of bad drivers, and I look forward to the actuaries pushing them off the road and into vehicles that at the very least have lower error rates than the average human driver. I doubt that Tesla will succeed as the winner in this game, as they're competing against other car manufacturers who have millenia of institutional memory around producing vehicles with excellent lifetime maintenance cost profiles, and deployment of genuinely new technologies does not always a winner make of the first-to-market (hilariously, Nikola Tesla's life is an excellent example of this). It frequently goes to the most well-capitalized and those leveraging the new technologies in extant businesses.

My naïve Tesla "buy" call was predicated on the American green fetish at the time and a complete ignorance of the history of electric vehicles:

oldish_electric_car

Since they can't actually make cars that age gracefully, they're either going to have to have to fix their quality issues. Take it from a onetime production engineering cog: that cannot come from great amounts of investment in robots. That comes from being in business long enough to accumulate failure reports and build institutional knowledge about how to make quality products that last a long time.

A RELIABLE NARRATOR

I love Aramchek. EOM.

Experimental mobile apps by Devine lu Linvega

So much strange:

  • http://wiki.xxiivv.com/Oscean
    An example of the not entirely bad implementation of a lot of current design trends that are almost universally a mistake. Trigger warning: lots of JS and CSS.

    OScean, the project name of this site, was started in 2006 and was meant to be a personal time tracking system. This project evolved into a wiki and my main website as it stands today, a system overarching all of my experiments and releases.

  • http://paradise.xxiivv.com/

    …Paradise is a procedural interactive fiction and multiplayer novel, in which you can be anything and anyone, travel to the oddest of places, entirely user-created. You may choose to make a mess, or to create order, in the comfort of your teacup.

  • http://wiki.xxiivv.com/Aliceffekt
  • http://wiki.xxiivv.com/IssuesThe issue tracker, duh!

Making Sense of Dell + EMC + VM

How Dell and EMC put this deal together is interesting, as a lot of experts thought a buyout deal of this size could never happen — and certainly not in technology. The sheer size as a leveraged buyout is unprecedented. The amount of debt used to finance the deal is staggering. And all three companies involved were already incredibly complex — not just in their organizational and business structures, but in their ownership and capital structures as well.

Mega article from a VC firm, which, lolwut? Are they pumping this deal in some regard? Still working through this piece myself.

Inside Apple's perfection machine

An amusing puff piece dedicated to a company whose software quality has done nothing but go downhill for the past six years (that'd be the release of 10.6, the last OS version that didn't have rotating chairs glued to the ceiling), and don't even get me started on the utter shitshow that is iTunes connect. That godawful web application has been responsible for more strife at my office than anything that we've written or worked on. UGH.

The Vanguard (a Nigerian publication)

Punching down is wrong, except when it's so, so right:

This is where you're going, America, Mr. and Mrs. cartoons excepted. The American sex life is too impoverished for jokes about sex and infidelity to amuse at scale. We're far more of an "Ow My Balls!" iPad game kind of country anyways. And hey, there's a thought: Candy Crush : Americans :: Mr. and Mrs. : Nigerians.

Implementing pgloader: from python to common lisp

Little did I know about the Global Interpreter Lock when
I convinced myself that a parallel approach is what pgloader
needed to be faster at what it did.

Those two approaches have been implemented in pgloader
using Threads and a BoundedSemaphore in the main controler
thread. Of course, the GIL makes it so that no improvement
has been experienced from there.

Switching from threads to multiprocessing has been on the
todo list for a while, but didn’t get addressed before the
rewrite, and wouldn’t have possibly solved the problems of
copying too much data in memory, nor the command language
problem.

Poor guy. Python is a notoriously painful language in which to implement parallel designs due to the aforementioned GIL. Pythonistas will of course disagree, and point towards such libraries as multiprocessing, or the libev wrapper gevent. I'm not really a fan of the pythonic concurrency and parallelism constructs, but then again I'm not really a fan of the lawless Python object-orientation implementation or the language in general, so I'm probably not the right person to talk to for opinions on library quality in the language. Reitz' requests isn't half bad as these things go, though.

Meantime, the great question had to be answered: which
version of Python to target in your applications, Python2 or
Python3 ? Note that any answer here is not going to help
solving the three main problems of pgloader at this point…

Poor Python. It's forked even harder than Bitcoin! Their competing implementations are even less compatible than ours…

Ship Photos of the Day – First LNG Cargo Shipped from Australia’s Santos GLNG Plant

Great photos of a new LNG terminal and its first tanker fillup.

Ship Photos of the Day – BigLift’s Happy Star Arrives in Rotterdam Carrying 22 Vessels

Another Gcaptain link, this one to photos of a boat that ships ships.

Dispute Over Rigged Ship Engine Tests Adds to Volkswagen’s Woes

Another Gcaptain link (don't worry, I'll get bored of this eventually). Volkswagen's in trouble for more engine cheating! This time it's an acquired subsidiary in hot water for manipulating efficiency numbers.

Oldies and Oddities: The Alraigo Incident

I think that I got this one from Gcaptain as well—once upon a time a pilot landed a Harrier jet on a cargo ship! The cargo company even managed to successfully claim salvage.

What drives the new, lone wolf attackers?

Commentary on how the Palestinian Authority is losing the battle for "hearts and minds" in its own territory.

Hamas now appears to [this young generation] as a beleaguered movement that is begging for its life and is courting Israel.

What would you do if Andre the Giant had his hands wrapped firmly around your throat?

Once the landlords in the area, Fatah members are described as cowards and corrupt, who have long relinquished the armed struggle against Israel to enjoy benefits and perks.

The problem here seems to be that there's a rentier class that's at least getting to eat, but nobody below them is getting on the hedonic treadmill. I prescribe a civilizational course of HFCS, CNN and MTV.

mega painting

Socialismos! Impressively scaled, though.

International Consortium of Investigative Journalism's Leaks Database

Discovered this a few links past the piece by the lady who "studied to be a wealth manager" that did some rounds recently:

The database contains ownership information about companies created in 10 offshore jurisdictions including the British Virgin Islands, the Cook Islands and Singapore. It covers nearly 30 years until 2010.

And relatedly, from 2013: Data Leak Shakes Notion of Secret Offshore Havens and, Possibly, Nerves

The embarrassment caused by Thursday’s revelations has been particularly acute in France, where the Socialist president, François Hollande, who wants to impose a 75 percent tax on millionaires, has been struggling to contain a political firestorm touched off this week by a former budget minister’s admission — after months of denials — that he had secret foreign bank accounts.

Contrast the fiat approach to wealth and the Bitcoin approach to wealth: in fiatlandia, a judgement gets rendered by some soi-disant government against some individual with assets. In fiatlandia, assets are typically bound to a jurisdiction, be that non-alloidal property whose title can be reassigned at will by the government in question, money in a NATO bank account that can be "frozen" (read: stolen), or stocks/bonds/misc. financial contracts in a brokerage account that can be similarly ripped from their rightful owners. In The Most Serene Republic of Bitcoin, the problem is turned not only on its head but also inside-out: firstly, nobody holds title to any Bitcoin, regardless of what words individuals use to describe their Bitcoin "holdings", and assets may only be stolen by crypanalysis thermorectal or traditional, and secondly, "hiding" or "sheltering" assets is simply a subset of the actions that any responsible holder of private keys must undertake in order to protect their keys from threats physical or mathematical.

In B,TMSR~, litigants must be in the web of trust to bring suit. The only governing body is the forum, and unlike all states with which you're familiar, it posesses none of the powers of coercion that your soi-disant governments claim for themselves. Participation is voluntary, taxation is voluntary, and should the forum render a judgement, compliance with even that is voluntary. Even though everything is voluntary around these parts, refusing to comply with the WoT's judgements may result in negratings and expulsion from the forum. Isn't setting precedent fun?

The Suburb that Tried to Kill the Car

Hey, I spent the first 6.5 years of my life in Evanston! I have lovely memories of talking to the garbagemen in the alley through the fence in my back yard, jumping off the front porch into what felt like six feet of snow, jumping off of the top of a decommissioned firetruck that had been emplaced as a clambersite at a playground, and climbing a firetruck's ladder into the second story bedroom of the fire chief's house on the 4th of July (the latter two clearly things that would never fly anywhere in the States at this point in the trajectory of child-protectionism).

Anyways, my father and mother moved the family to Portland from Chicago as they studied at Lewis and Clark and Reed back in the day and saw the little town for the underpriced idyll it was at the time. It's funny to see the town in which I spent my first years of my childhood chasing the image of the town in which I spent the rest of my childhood and returned to make a meatwot and family.

The essay lauds Curitiba, a city that was heavily pushed during my truncated study at Parsons' Product Design program as a marvel of design and my hometown in the same breath:

The stunning success of Curitiba’s master planning revolution, which would place it at the forefront of the global urban architecture movement alongside cities like Helsinki and Portland, Oregon, transformed Lerner into an international urban-planning celebrity. And these bold new ideas came onto the world stage just as inner-ring American suburbs like Evanston were facing their own special set of problems.

In 2013, Chicago aldermen passed a TOD ordinance which encourages developers to build within 600 feet of a commuter rail or metro station by sharply lowering the parking requirements and increasing a building’s permissible height. That means higher density buildings with more units for the developer to sell without having to build as many costly parking stalls. Last month, the city’s 50 aldermen passed an amendment to the ordinance that essentially eliminated parking requirements within a TOD zone, and doubled that zone to a quarter mile from a transit stop—a move that increased tenfold the amount of Chicago now eligible for parking-light development.

Parking requirements, along with more or less every intervention in the free market, are insane and counterproductive. I am unsurprised that zoning-happy Evanston (a classic white-flight suburb) would be built (and ossify) around the car and not the train, and as the era of personal car ownership drew to a close seek to undo those mistakes. A quarter mile is an entirely reasonable walk—fifteen minutes for anyone in decent shape carrying ~15 pounds (which is what I bet the portable computers my father lugged from Evanston into Chicago proper on the El weighed in at). Topic of my father and the El, I remember quite vividly getting caught in a hailstorm while walking him home from the train. Great big thumpers, and random strangers inviting us into their homes and out of the storm.

Meanwhile, millennials, who have seen their young careers affected by the economic recession and high levels of student debt, are more interested in keeping their costs to a minimum from the start. “They’re choosing to work smarter rather than harder, and part of that is giving up things they don’t need,” explains McLean, the developer. “And one thing they certainly don’t need is a car.”

My generation can't afford the things our parents took for granted, and are going to great lengths to convince ourselves that not owning a car and riding mass transit with the rest of the cattle is a Good Thing. While my father certainly rode the train into Chicago, we also had a few cars and he did so because operating one's own car in cities like Chicago, New York and Buenos Aires is just…nuts. Portland's derpy as sin, but I still wouldn't recommend driving in every morning and parking downtown.

Evanston’s economic development division manager, Johanna Leonard, says she overheard a conversation between two of the city’s young residents, explaining, “My Uber was only $150 this month—that’s still less than a car payment.”

This will only become more common. Every American owning a car was a horrid civilizational misstep—just look at all of the capital equipment that sits idle every day, and all of the otherwise useful real estate dedicated to parking that equipment while it's not in use. I do hope that fractional ownership of autonomous vehicle fleets will undo this great mistake.

And with that, adieu!

Footnotes:

aha! I just recalled that "Human Readable" is the title of the thing, as it revolves around systems that are not inspectable by humans. A thread that's cropped up in #bitcoin-assets lately, most recently in the context of how completely impossible it is to reason about software that attempts to handle character sets other than ascii.

An incredibly important point that hasn't been called out by anyone yet. Developers using machine learning in ecommerce applications have trouble keeping these systems stable—and I'm expected to accept that Musk's whiz-kids can handle the massive influx of data points and keep their models stable over a decade or more? I mean fine, that's a bold proposition to make, but I'm going to continue building out my stockpile of old Toyota Land Cruisers.

The worst thing that can happen to a man is for him to invest speculatively as a sideline and for it to work. He then runs the risk of considering himself a good investor. The man who invests speculatively on the side and sees no return does not run this risk. Even were he to consider himself a bad investor, it's not the end of the world, as it won't significantly alter his perception of himself, as he can still delude himself about how good he is at whatever he actually does and the image of himself that he constructs thusly.

Union Pacific, via Mircea Popescu. Also, in case you're under the illusion that the quality of goods is going up over time, note carefully that the car is from the 1920's (it looks strikingly like the Milburn 27L, but the proportions of the rear window are either off or foreshortened to the point where I can't pin it precisely), and the photo from 1953. The ancients made cars that lasted for at least thirty years, in lots of perhaps 5,000 over the lifetime of the manufacturing company. It strikes this naive product of the American shitocracy that things were vastly better in the past when fewer things were made, made better, and made for better people. I can only surmise, though, because everything I have the privilege of touching is made as cheaply as possible, to wear out as quickly as possible, and for as many people as possible. The last item clearly precluding that anyone even targets "better people" with their wares.

Since I'm on the topic, let's do the Apple Watch. The thing's highest price point is what, $12K? I was just browsing a magazine in which Cartier was advertising a bracelet for nearly six times that. A bracelet that has no electronics in it, selling for nearly 6x the cost of Apple's most expensive luxury item. The whole thesis (as explained to me by fanboiz) of the watch was that rich people with disposable income will get them as status symbols. Status symbols, apparently, that cost a fraction of status symbol bracelets. What is actually going on is that Apple is attempting to signal to the derps who willingly buy their fashion goods that actual rich people also buy those things. Sure, this may be true in the sense that even a billionaire might like a laptop that doesn't actually smell of VOC's upon unboxing, but is categorically false in the sense that anyone with any fashion sense will be so plebian as to wear a computer on their wrist. There's this inverse correlation between how much technology you're seen to use and your apparent status in this country, a thing that is unsurprisingly impossible for American programmers to wrap their heads around, living as they do at the center of a world designed to make them feel…at the center of the world.

I have only seen conspicuous consumers and Apple fanboys wearing the things. Not even the girls will condescend to it, and if you can't sell fashion goods to the girls, you can't sell the goods.

I actually had the privilege of laboring at a shop that catered to only the most well-capitalized of their market, and sold whole-office solutions so as to capture the absolute most value from every relationship. Yes, some 60% of what they sold was somewhat marked up off-the-shelf goods, but they got those sales of OTS goods by being the unquestionable leader in the quality of heavy equipment that those offices needed to even exist, and by dispatching sales people to sell whole offices in one fell swoop, and manufacturing the cabinetry as well.

They've been in business for fifty-one years. Institutional knowledge of quality methods is a hell of a drug.

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