8/8/2022

Maybe Amazon do want to know where you placed your sofa

The fallout from Amazon’s $1.7 billion purchase of iRobot has analysts and industry insiders dismissing fears that Amazon is buying a shortcut to consolidate data from consumers’ houses.

In Bloomberg’s technology newsletter, for example, Brad Stone said he thinks that “the idea that Amazon wants Roomba’s help mapping the inside of your home is absurd: Amazon does not care where you’ve placed your sofa.”

On Twitter, Benedict Evans echoed the sentiment:

The general point that perplexes me about threads like this is the idea that anyone wants to know trivial and random details about your life - that this has any economic value. “Amazon will know where your furniture is!” No, it won’t, but why on Earth would it care?

Perhaps the co-founder and current CEO of iRobot could help us understand? From a 2017 Reuters interview of Colin Angle:

There’s an entire ecosystem of things and services that the smart home can deliver once you have a rich map of the home that the user has allowed to be shared.

At the time, iRobot had just made its Roomba robots compatible with Amazon’s Alexa. In the interview, Angle floated the possibility of sharing home maps with the three technology giants — Amazon, Apple, and Google —, a service that would be free of charge.

The advantage to iRobot in these arrangements, in the executive’s vision, would be to connect the Roomba robots to as many other companies as possible to make them more useful at home.

The reaction was quite negative, which led Angle to a damage control tour. In another interview, this one with Mashable, he emphasized the fact that data from houses gathered by Roomba robots is only sent to the cloud and would only be shared with third-parties with user’s consent, but he also didn’t rule out selling it in the future: “We have not formed any plans to sell the data.”

So, yeah, maybe this is indeed a point of concern?

Discuss @ Hacker News.

6/8/2022

Embraer's new turboprop airplane and other cool links

— Embraer revealed its next turbopro airplane, the TPNG. It’s due to start flying in 2027.

— LinkedIn’s 20 most popular courses are available for free until the end of August.

Pokémon’s phone has been updated and now boasts two cameras, like (almost) every good modern phone.

— Insta360 has a new webcam, called Link, with a feature similar to that of Apple cameras that “follows” a person in the frame. USD 299.

A suitcase that resembles (and fits like) Lego pieces. For now, just a concept.

— The 1kB Club is a select group of sites that weigh less than 1 KB. So far it has four members.

Apps and sites

Papers, Please was released for phones (Android, iOS).

— This guy built a dictionary app from scratch. Why? None of those available worked the way he uses dictionaries. The app is Wordnote Dictionary (Android, iOS) and here he told its making of.

Emery’s proposal is ambitious: tie together your tasks, appointments, and thoughts in one app. For USD 4.50 per month.

Banish is a Safari extension that removes those annoying requests from sites like Reddit to “install the app”. For iOS, USD 1.90.

LibRedirect is an extension that redirects you to privacy-friendly front-ends when you access social media sites. For Chrome and Firefox, free.

Blurred is an app that fades background windows and the desktop so you can better focus on the window you’re working on. For macOS, free and open source.

CyberChef is the developer’s Swiss Army knife: over 300 common operations presented graphically. Free.

Material You Color Theming extension changes the colors of windows and other UI elements according to the wallpaper in use, just like recent Android versions. For Gnome, free.

— Avoid using CAPTCHAS. If you must, use mCAPTCHA, an open, free and privacy-compliant solution.

Yesterlinks is a directory of interesting sites. “Remember when the internet was mysterious and exciting?”

4/8/2022

Apple's Marxist TV Show

A white man, short hair, sit on his desk, in front an old-fashioned computer, in an old-fashioned office environment.
Photo: Apple.

Apple TV+’s Severance is that kind of entertainment full of references to thoughtful, deep themes distilled into obviousness. No wonder (and, of course, not only because of this) it’s been so successful.

Even someone as ignorant as I am in Marxist theory can pick up on such influence in the show. Not so much on the viewer’s merit, though. It is that Severance kind of rubs this in our faces: the work is repetitive, mysterious, nobody there can see its result or even know what it is for, and employees give up their autonomy in a way that the owners of capital can only dream of today. It’s pretty much Karl Marx’s theory of alienation 101.

To those unaware, in Severance (the TV show) a mega-corporation, Lumon Industries, developed a brain implant capable of splitting someone’s consciousness into two: one exclusively dedicated to work, and one for everything else. Whoever goes through the severance procedure kind of becomes two people, whom everyone refers to as “inners” (workers) and “outies” (free, non-worker one).

The novelty is sold as the future of work, an easy and convenient solution to enable the utopian split between “real life” and “work life,” taken to an extreme there: when going down Lumon’s underground elevator, employees simply switch personalities and forget any memories from outside the company building, and vice versa.

Mark S., the protagonist played by Adam Scott, volunteered for the severance procedure after losing his wife in a car accident and burned-out at his job as a professor. It was the escape he found to mitigate the pain (at least from 9 to 5) and get back on the market.

Obviously, this arrangement doesn’t work for long. Two interconnected events trigger the suspicions and move the story forward: the arrival of Helly R. (Britt Lower), who from the first minute hates the “inner” life she sees herself stuck on and does her best to escape Lumon after Petey (Yul Vazquez), Mark’s former boss and friend, fired and “reintegrated” — i.e. reversed the severance procedure —, goes after the “outie“ Mark, to whom Petey is a complete stranger.

Along the way, Mark and his colleagues begin to discover the inhumane system they have subjected themselves to, the widespread corruption from their superiores at Lumon, and that the sky is blue. (It could just be a silly joke, this last discovery, but considering that the “inners” never go outdoors… maybe not?)

The macrodata refinement division’s office, where the four main characters work, resembles a typical 1980s American office — right down to the computers, with their monochrome CRT screens with keyboard and trackball attached.

Four office workers sit or leaning on desk offices, in an old-fashioned office, being observed by a standing man on the left.
Photo: Apple.

The aesthetics of this environment is a marvel in itself. And despite the visual strangeness and the anachronism — revealed in external scenes, outside the weird office and Lumon’s labyrinthine corridors, where tech and other things are contemporary —, the treatment of the employees is recognizable to anyone who has ever worked in an office, perhaps just a little more exaggerated. From the pathetic “perks” (although the “defiant jazz” scene is quite amusing) to the dumb bureaucracy, not to mention the micromanaging of the employees, it’s all there.

In that sense, Severance is perhaps the best joke that comedian, director and executive producer Ben Stiller has ever told: the show works perfectly as a self-parody of Apple, which publishes it on its streaming service. Apple, let’s remember, a company that built a USD 5 billion headquarters where employees bump into unsigned glass walls because ~aesthetics and creates barriers for WFH despite the increase in productivity and quality of life of employees, both of which was proved true during the pandemic.

That Severance is available only on Apple’s streaming service is both a fine irony and a declaration of the overwhelming victory of capitalist logic over other ways of thinking, a logic capable of swallowing everything, even the sharpest criticism, and regurgitating a sleek product with a price tag attached.

In the universe of Severance, the Severance show could just as well be released on a Lumon streaming service. Even a Steve Jobs-like leader they have: the spirit of Kier Eagan, the beloved founder, is present all the time as a guide and an inspiration to the obedient employees of the company.

The first season ends at the climax, but with a cheap and lazy cliffhanger, another symptom of the system in which the show exists — after all, you gotta keep those Apple TV+ subscriptions. And here we go, waiting a whole year to find out what happens in the already confirmed second season.

Unfortunately, all this transforming potential ends up being wasted by many people, judging by the comments on social media and reviews from the press, for whom apparently Severance is just a stylish, well paced science fiction set in a strange office. C’mon, even Apple itself, which vetoes sex, violence, and politics from a number of Apple TV+ shows, seems to ignore the extremely subversive appeal and political nature of Severance.

In the end, it’s like those people who complain that Rage Against the Machine’s music would be better if they left “political bs” out of it. Ignorance is bliss.

2/8/2022

The iPhone With A Button Joke

In my iPhone SE (2022) review, I wrote that the “iPhone with a button” (Touch ID) became a recurring joke in Brazil. Explaining the joke is rarely a fun proposition, but hold on for a second; that’s interesting, I promise you.

A few months ago, random people started making jokes on Twitter associating Touch ID iPhones with poverty.

Since the most expensive and recent models (with the exception of the aforementioned iPhone SE) use Face ID, therefore lacking “the button”, older Touch ID iPhones would’ve become a sign that its owner cannot afford to replace it for a newer one with Face ID.

One of the jokes that went viral said something like “yesterday I paid the lunch for my friend that have an iPhone with a button”. Another: “Just saw a surgeon using an iPhone with button. It’s been rough for everyone!”

Context plays a role in this kind of humor. In Brazil, the iPhone is seen as a luxury product, or a sign of wealth, because it’s very expensive here.

The cheapest ones — the iPhone SE and old versions like the iPhone XR — cost at least three months of minimum wage and more than the average monthly revenue that one makes in the country. The country is always fighting for the top of the world’s most expensive iPhone rankings. While in the United States and Europe Apple has a good slice of the mobile phone market, in Brazil the iPhone is a phone for far fewer people.

Some numbers for a better understanding:

The joke with the button iPhone is even funnier because of all of this. According to StatCounter (not the most reliable source, but it serves as a proxy in this case), Apple holds only 14.9% of the installed base of mobile phones in Brazil, behind Samsung (42,1%) and Motorola (22%), and very close to be passed by Xiaomi (12,5%).

Assigning poverty status to an iPhone is a kind of breach of expectation, which helps a lot to make a good joke in a honestly very bad situation — real poverty increased a lot here due to the pandemic and economic policies of our current government led by a lunatic, authoritarian guy.

On the other hand, the wave of phone robberies to break into digital bank accounts to transfer money elsewhere makes the “iPhone with a button” a less desirable target for burglars. In this sense it’s a joke with a positive side effect for those holding one of these.

Discuss @ Hacker News.

30/7/2022

Cool Links #1

Every Saturday, I publish a list of cool, interesting, or funny links I gathered through the week. If you enjoy it, please subscribe to the newsletter. Thanks!


— A chess robot broke the finger of a 7-year-old boy during a competition in Russia. Is this how the machine rebellion begins?

— While certain companies still have trouble on supporting Android updates, Nikon released a firmware update for a ten years old camera.

— Anker throw a 20+ minute, Apple-style event to announce… new battery chargers. (They seem great, though.)

Sony announced the Backbone, its first official controller for iPhones. For USD 100.

— dbrand released funny skins for the Pixel 6A that inspired by the phone’s resemblance to the Ninja Turtles.

This animation puts the depth of the oceans into perspective. (This channel has other interesting similar animations.)

— Analogue Pocket, a modern device compatible with original Game Boy cartridges, has re-released Spacewar!, from 1962, considered to be the first video game in history.

Chord Genius is an app that synchronizes with other music streaming apps to help you play guitar.

— A system that generates Excel formulas from simple prose.

— A wallpaper generator based on emojis, like the one coming in iOS 16.

Standard Ebooks is a project that takes public domain books and publishes fancy digital editions, all for free.

Typst is a kind of Google Docs, but for academic writing.

Quiqr is an GUI app for publishing blogs made with Hugo. Still experimental.

Comcast is a tool designed to simulate common network problems like latency, bandwidth restrictions, and dropped/reordered/corrupted packets.

exa is a modern replacement for the ls command from Unix systems. Tip from reader Paulo GPD.

28/7/2022

The Best iPhone

A black iPhone SE on a white table.
Photo: Rodrigo Ghedin.

The iPhone SE is the most boring phone that ever existed. Almost nobody notices you have a new phone; when someone does, the conversation ends quickly and invariably in a sentence like “it’s just like the old one, only faster”.

I love this.

The body of the 3rd-gen iPhone SE, released last April, is indistinguishable from the 2020’s 2nd-gen iPhone SE, which was almost identical to 2017’s iPhone 8, which retained the same design of the 2014’s iPhone 6, only swapping the metal finish used until the 2016’s iPhone 7 for glass to enable wireless battery charging.

The iPhone SE looks old. Or, as I prefer to say, it looks like a well-finished product. Its aesthetic is the apex of the first iPhone era, the phone that defined what a modern phone is; the era of phones that could be used with one hand. The old design makes for a low-profile phone, one that doesn’t call attention for itself. At this point, you can say it’s “utilitarian”.

Despite the outdated look, the new iPhone SE brings new features. Some, admittedly, are subtle, such as the slightly darker black finish and the centralized, more prominent Apple logo on the back, and a slight reduction in weight, of only 4 grams (or 2.7%) compared to the iPhone 8, even with a 10.8% larger battery capacity.

The new iPhone SE and an old iPhone 8, both black, but different blacks.
Photo: Rodrigo Ghedin.

The lightness is most likely due to the removal of 3D Touch, a feature introduced in the 2015’s iPhone 6S that added a layer of depth to the touch screen. Many people thought it was silly. I liked it and miss it.

The biggest new features of the iPhone SE are inside, hidden: upgraded chips.

It is a crazy strategy of Apple to put the “brains” of its most expensive phone, the iPhone 13 Pro Max (+USD 1.099), in its entry model, low cost (USD 429). No other company does this.

The A15, besides being very fast, gives the phone new powers. The 3rd gen iPhone SE can take pictures with the background blurred and identify text directly from the viewfinder. The only feature that Apple has denied for any reason other than technical is night mode when taking pictures at low light, absent here.

The single camera, by the way, is very close to the main one on the top models. Apple’s marketing gives the impression that every year the new iPhone cameras leave the old ones in the dust. The truth is, I’m having a hard time distinguishing between the photos of the iPhone SE, those from my girlfriend’s iPhone 11 and my iPhone 8. They all come out great. (Some samples here) The better overall quality from newer cameras just appears in direct comparisons. On video recording (samples on this YouTube video), the feeling is reinforced. iPhone cameras have been great for at least five years.

Otherwise, I don’t have much to talk about. Oh, the other big internal change is that the new iPhone SE supports 5G networks. I haven’t noticed any use for it yet, though.

Front of a 3rd-gen iPhone SE showing iOS' main screen.
Photo: Rodrigo Ghedin.

It is very likely that this is the last iPhone SE of its kind, the last “iPhone with a button” (a recurring joke here in Brazil). The reception from critics has been lukewarm and sales, apparently, below expectations. That’s a shame.

I have already argued in the past that I prefer this iPhone model over any newer one with Face ID. It is perhaps the closest to a perfect gadget I have ever used — no wonder I’ve bought the “same” device three times over the last seven years (before, the iPhone 6S in 2015 and the iPhone 8 in 2017). If, despite all the rumors, there’s a “5th generation iPhone SE” in five years with the same look and another round of updated internals, it will most likely be my next phone.

Discuss @ Hacker News.

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