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‘The Lab-Leak Hypothesis’

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Nicholson Baker, writing for New York:

What happened was fairly simple, I’ve come to believe. It was an accident. A virus spent some time in a laboratory, and eventually it got out. SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, began its existence inside a bat, then it learned how to infect people in a claustrophobic mine shaft, and then it was made more infectious in one or more laboratories, perhaps as part of a scientist’s well-intentioned but risky effort to create a broad-spectrum vaccine. SARS-2 was not designed as a biological weapon. But it was, I think, designed. […]

But I keep returning to the basic, puzzling fact: This patchwork pathogen, which allegedly has evolved without human meddling, first came to notice in the only city in the world with a laboratory that was paid for years by the U.S. government to perform experiments on certain obscure and heretofore unpublicized strains of bat viruses — which bat viruses then turned out to be, out of all the organisms on the planet, the ones that are most closely related to the disease. What are the odds?

A riveting, compelling, deeply researched read.

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jqlive
7 days ago
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What the f**k?
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Justice Department Charges Zoom With Suppressing U.S. Calls About Tiananmen Square, at Behest of China

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Drew Harwell and Ellen Nakashima, reporting for The Washington Post:

A security executive with the video-tech giant Zoom worked with the Chinese government to terminate Americans’ accounts and disrupt video calls about the 1989 massacre of pro-democracy activists in Tiananmen Square, Justice Department prosecutors said Friday. […]

Prosecutors said the China-based executive, Xinjiang Jin, worked as Zoom’s primary liaison with Chinese law enforcement and intelligence services, sharing user information and terminating video calls at the Chinese government’s request.

Jin monitored Zoom’s video system for discussions of political and religious topics deemed unacceptable by China’s ruling Communist Party, the complaint states, and he gave government officials the names, email addresses and other sensitive information of users, even those outside China.

Outrageous in so many ways. How in the world can Zoom ever claim that calls are private and encrypted when they’ve clearly demonstrated the ability to monitor them, and abused that in patently offensive ways? Best to assume that every call made with Zoom is monitored by the Chinese government. Remember too that Zoom employs 700 Chinese nationals on its engineering staff. I’d be surprised if Zoom’s source code and server infrastructure was not riddled with backdoors and eavesdropping features.

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jqlive
25 days ago
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Wow. the xenophobia in the last 2 sentences is strong. Just because you hire Chinese nationals, doesn't automatically mean they're up to no good.
CN/MX
kyounger
14 days ago
Do you think the likelihood goes up, the more you hire? This isn't a slight on the Chinese people, but their government.
jqlive
7 days ago
No, I do not. That's like saying if you hire enough Mexicans, you'll get some cartel members, or if you hire enough Russians you'll get FSB agents. One bad overzealous actor does not represent an entire group of people.
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bronzehedwick
27 days ago
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Yikes. Tempted to repeatedly say Tiananmen Square in a Zoom and see what happens.
Astoria NY

How to Use the New Text Tools in iOS and iPadOS 13

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Charlie Sorrel, writing for Cult of Mac:

For the last ten years, selecting and manipulating text has been a frustrating nightmare on the iPad. Try to select a couple of words in Safari, for instance — a package delivery tracking number, for instance — and the selection would bounce back and forth between a few characters, and the entire page.

It was enough to drive you back to the comfort of the Mac’s mouse pointer.

In iOS 13, though, this has all changed. Text selection is accurate and predictable. And the new copy/paste gesture shortcuts become second nature almost immediately.

One more tip: With 3D Touch on pre-11 iPhones, you could not just move the insertion point by doing a hard-press-and-hold on the keyboard to turn it into a virtual trackpad, you could also select a range of text in this mode by hard pressing again while dragging. On iPhones 11 (and iPads), you can still get into text selection mode by tapping the keyboard area with another finger while in trackpad mode. This is nowhere near as elegant as 3D Touch, but it’s still a good trick to know. (This isn’t really new to iOS 13 — iPads have been doing this for years — but it’s new on iPhone for anyone accustomed to 3D Touch.)

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jqlive
482 days ago
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Seems like the iPhone 11's usability went backwards
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★ iPhone XR Review Roundup

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The bottom-line conclusion in my iPhone XR review:

It sounds too good to be true, but the XR is almost as good as the XS models at a far lower price. Dollar for dollar, the XR is almost certainly the best iPhone Apple has ever made.

I’ve read over a dozen other reviews of the XR this week, and that’s been the bottom line of every single one of them. It’s a remarkable consensus. There are some interesting differences though.

Matthew Panzarino thinks the biggest compromise is the lack of a telephoto second camera:

However, I found myself missing the zoom lens a lot. This is absolutely a your mileage may vary scenario, but I take the vast majority of my pictures with the telephoto lens. Looking back at my year with the iPhone X I’d say north of 80% of my pictures were shot with the telephoto, even if they were close ups. I simply prefer the “52mm” equivalent with its nice compression and tight crop. It’s just a better way to shoot than a wide angle — as any photographer or camera company will tell you because that’s the standard (equivalent) lens that all cameras have shipped with for decades.

Wide angle lenses were always a kludge in smartphones and it’s only in recent years that we’ve started getting decent telephotos. If I had my choice, I’d default to the tele and have a button to zoom out to the wide angle, that would be much nicer.

But with the iPhone XR you’re stuck with the wide — and it’s a single lens at that, without the two different perspectives Apple normally uses to gather its depth data to apply the portrait effect.

Nilay Patel, on the other hand, doesn’t miss the telephoto second camera much but instead thinks the LCD display is the biggest compromise compared to the XS iPhones:

Those differences are interesting and worth pulling apart, but really, the simplest way to think about the iPhone XR is that it offers virtually the same experience as the iPhone XS for $250 less, but you’ll be looking at a slightly worse display.

So, how much do you care about the display on your phone?

Look. The display on the iPhone XR is… fine. It’s fine! It has a lower-resolution and pixel density than the OLEDs in new flagship phones like the iPhone XS, Galaxy S9, and Pixel 3, but it’s the same 326 pixels per inch as Apple’s previous non-Plus LCD iPhones. Anyone coming to this phone from any iPhone, save the iPhone X, will not notice a huge discrepancy in resolution. I suspect most people will find it totally acceptable.

That’s not to say it matches the quality of previous iPhone LCDs. The iPhone XR LCD definitely shifts a little pink and drops brightness quickly when you look at it off-axis, which often leads to a bit of a shimmery effect when you move the phone around. I noticed that shimmer right away, but I had to point it out to other people for them to see it. (It’s one of those things you might not notice at first, but you can’t un-see it.) Apple told me the XR display should match previous iPhone LCDs in terms of performance, but side by side with an iPhone 8 Plus, the off-axis shifts are definitely more pronounced.

Neither Panzarino nor Patel are wrong. It’s obvious that the display and lack of a second camera are the two biggest compromises on the XR that allow it to be priced so much lower than the XS models. Which one matters more to you is purely subjective. Panzarino says “If I had my choice, I’d default to the tele and have a button to zoom out to the wide angle”; Patel says “I rarely take zoom photos, so I didn’t miss the telephoto lens from the iPhone XS at all”.

Count me on Panzarino’s side, though. If I could have a next-gen iPhone XR that either (a) keeps the same LCD display but adds the XS’s second camera, or (b) switches to the XS’s OLED display (including smaller bezel) but still lacks the second camera, I would choose (a) in a heartbeat. After a day with the iPhone XR I stopped seeing anything wrong with the display or wider bezel. I miss the telephoto camera every day.

Another tidbit from Patel, regarding the amazing work Apple put into making the XR display as nice as they could:

Apple’s also done some extremely detailed work to make the rounded corners of the LCD perfectly match the corners of the phone itself, which is work I desperately wish other companies would do. (Most other phones with rounded corners have mismatched radii, and the Pixel 3 XL has different corner radii at the top and bottom, which, to me, looks far worse than any chunky bezel.)

It’s somewhat easier to round the corners of an OLED panel: each pixel is its own light source, so you can turn them off individually around the curve to smooth it out. You can’t do that with an LCD panel because there’s just one single backlight for the entire display, which will shine through the black pixels along the edge. So Apple built little apertures for the pixels around the corners of the XR display to mask some of the light coming through, on top of antialiasing the curve in software. It’s a neat example of Apple’s attention to detail.

The sub-head from Panzarino’s review made me laugh:

The iPhone XR is Apple’s best knockoff yet of its groundbreaking iPhone X.

I think it could have worked to write an entire iPhone XR review using the conceit that it’s an amazing knockoff of the iPhone X.

Speaking of design details, Rene Ritchie, in an otherwise glowing review, points out some small industrial design niggles:

Less fine is the sudden loss of Z-axis asymmetry thanks to the shoved down Lightning port on iPhone XR. Again, yes, this is only something I.D. nerds like myself care about, but after iPhone XS broke X-axis symmetry to fit a 4 × 4 MiMo antenna on the bottom, iPhone XR has gone and broken the Z by top aligning instead of middle aligning Lightning to the screws and grills, probably to make room for the not-as-thin-as-self-illuminating-OLED edge-to-edge LCD.

I still haven’t gotten used to the steel screws and ports not always being vapor coated to match the aluminum anodization, now this?

I know it bugs the designers and engineers even more than it does me. And while it’s still not as rando as some other companies seem to be by tossing elements into the casing like drunken darts at a board, and as nit-picky (and I’m sure eye-rolling) as I’m sure it is for some of you, I’ve given Samsung shit about it for years, so I’m not going to stop just because, this time, my eyes are bleeding courtesy of Apple.

I hate to admit it, but I didn’t mention the Lightning port not being centered with the screws or speaker grills because I didn’t notice it until I read Rene’s review. (Nilay Patel mentions it too.) But now I can’t unsee it:

Bottom view of the iPhone XR, showing how the Lightning port is not center-aligned with the screws or speaker grills.

It’s not perfectly aligned but it is perfectly excusable. It’s simply really, really hard to make an LCD phone with no chin or forehead to mask the display controller. It’s hard to make an OLED phone with no chin or forehead — just ask Google. But LCD is a different ballgame. To my knowledge, iPhone XR is the only LCD phone ever made, by anyone, with no chin or forehead. With the display controller underneath the display, the Lightning port had to be pushed down. It is absolutely a compromise, but well worth it for the overall look of the device. Everyone would notice if the XR had a chin; almost no one is going to notice the Lightning port is top-aligned rather than centered with the screws and speakers.

Joanna Stern, as usual, has the best video. She got the Product Red variant, and her video really shows how great it looks. She also illustrates well the sort of scenarios where you’ll miss having a telephoto lens.

Lastly, a point on pricing and the notion that today’s phones are “just” phones. Here’s Lauren Goode at Wired:

Apple wants to make it clear that it’s not trying to gouge you. Sure, when the iPhone X launched last year, Apple priced it at nearly $1,000. And yes, this year’s iPhone XS sells for the same amount. And of course, Apple killed off its smallest and most affordable handset, the iPhone SE, right as it was introducing the most expensive iPhone yet.

But Apple wants you to know you have a choice. You get to pick from a very small pool of potential devices, but hey, at least you have options! Never mind that certain choices, like color, were predetermined for you by a room full of powerful tastemakers who decided to make coral or cerulean happen. Never mind that whatever you pay, it’s still a crazy amount of money for a phone. You are making the call. You, sir or madam, have your choice of new iPhones.

I think the rest of Goode’s review contradicts the notion that $750 (or better, $800 for the 128 GB version) is a “crazy amount of money for a phone”.

Phones are the most important computer in most people’s lives. They’re the only computer in many people’s lives. Nobody says it’s crazy to spend up to $1,500 on a laptop — but most people use and care about their phone more than they do their laptop. That’s why phone displays are getting bigger. We’ve been corrupted by thinking of them as “phones” in the pre-2007 sense of the word.

A cell phone used to be just a wireless telephone. No longer. They are our ever-present personal computers. They are also our most important cameras (and often our only cameras). A decade ago, point-and-shoot cameras ran $200-400, easily. It’s your watch, it’s your alarm clock, it’s your Walkman, it’s your map and GPS. It’s your wallet full of photos of your family and friends. It’s also, increasing, your actual wallet.

If you took an iPhone XR back to 2006 people would be amazed. If you told them they could buy one for $750 they’d think you were lying.

On a related note, I would argue that iPhone prices aren’t really going up. Last year’s X and this year’s XS models are a new premium tier. The iPhone XR is the phone at the previous “regular” top-of-the-line tier. New top-tier iPhones used to cost $600-650, yes, and the iPhone XR starts at $750. But when you account for inflation that starting price is about the same. The iPhone 4 was introduced in June 2010 starting at $600. $600 in June 2010 dollars is about $700 today. That $600 got you a 16 GB iPhone in 2010. The 32 GB model cost $700. That’s about $810 in today’s dollars — $10 more than the price of a 128 GB iPhone XR, which I think is the sweet spot in the lineup for most people. Inflation adjusted, the iPhone XR is right in line with the iPhone 4 prices from 2010.

Considering how much more capable an iPhone XR is compared to an iPhone 4, I’d say $750 is an amazing bargain.

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jqlive
811 days ago
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You could swear that he's on Apple's payroll. Always so apologetic and making up excuses for the company. Apple's products are overpriced and over hyped. They are good products, but they're not cheap or world saving. Apple is a public company, they only care about their profits, and their shareholders. It is a business, therefore they will expand those profit margins as much as they can, their consumers be damned... people will keep buying their phone until a new product class replaces the smartphone. Apple is smart enough to keep improving their cash cow. The XR is outrageously overpriced for what it is, no doubt about that. The sole reason it exists is to hit a price point that otherwise would've been usually handled by the previous year's phone. But because they didn't want to lower the price of the X, and decrease their margins in the process, they created the XR... IMO the only things that make any iPhone worth buying is iOS's security and update track record.

iPhone XR is not a bargain, a $750 USD phone will never be a bargain. Unless you are privileged enough to think it is.
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jheiss
812 days ago
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I think it’s crazy to spend up to $1,500 on a laptop. But thankfully modern laptops are overpowered so I can buy slightly used ones on eBay for what I consider reasonable dollars.
apadilla
811 days ago
Same for used iPhones on ebay

Ben Thompson on the iPhone as a franchise ↦

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Here’s some typically brilliant analysis from Ben Thompson of Stratechery. In his piece, Ben puts Apple’s interesting new iPhone product line in the context of its continuous ratcheting up of iPhone pricing—with a nod to the last time Apple tried to make a multi-colored iPhone with a funny letter stuck on the end.

Ben’s conclusion is fantastic:

That is the iPhone: it is a franchise, the closest thing to a hardware annuity stream tech has ever seen. Some people buy an iPhone every year; some are on a two-year cycle; others wait for screens to crack, batteries to die, or apps to slow. Nearly all, though, buy another iPhone, making the purpose of yesterday’s keynote less an exercise in selling a device and more a matter of informing self-selected segments which device they will ultimately buy, and for what price.

One of the most important things to remember when analyzing any new iPhone is to remember the extended buying cycles. The average iPhone XS and XR buyer won’t be updating from the iPhone X; they’re upgrading from an iPhone 6 or 6S or 7.

[Read on Six Colors.]

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jqlive
850 days ago
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Yep, I'm coming from a 6, and from the amount of money I'm spending, I'll go another 4 years before I update again.
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Apple Identifies and Fixes Thermal Bug in the New MacBook Pro Models

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Statement from Apple:

Following extensive performance testing under numerous workloads, we’ve identified that there is a missing digital key in the firmware that impacts the thermal management system and could drive clock speeds down under heavy thermal loads on the new MacBook Pro. A bug fix is included in today’s macOS High Sierra 10.13.6 Supplemental Update and is recommended. We apologize to any customer who has experienced less than optimal performance on their new systems. Customers can expect the new 15-inch MacBook Pro to be up to 70% faster, and the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar to be up to 2X faster, as shown in the performance results on our website.

I figured it was a bug when some tests were showing that performance improved on the Core i9 15-inch MacBook Pro after disabling two of the six cores. Apple told me that this thermal bug affects all new MacBook Pros — not just the Core i9 model — and older models are not affected. Anyone with a new MacBook Pro should now see the fix via Software Update.

I’d love to hear a further explanation of exactly what this “missing digital key” is. I think it’s just the sequence of bytes that configure the thermal settings for the CPU.

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jqlive
906 days ago
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I'll believe it was a software bug after everyone runs their tests again... Apple PR likes to gloss over stuff and stick to their single message.
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MotherHydra
905 days ago
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Apple: Hey Squirrel! Meanwhile the VRM is hosed don't look at that!
Space City, USA
satadru
906 days ago
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Turns out that the problem is likely the voltage regulator module getting too hot, which leads to deeper thermal throttling than one would get from the processor getting too hot. And the VRM chip doesn't have a heat sink on it, so that's going to be a limitation too.

More in this deep dive post here: https://www.reddit.com/r/macbookpro/comments/91256u/optimal_cpu_tuning_settings_for_i9_mbp_to_stop/
New York, NY
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