January 2, 2017

Link: ‘Profitable’ Washington Post Adding More Than Five Dozen Journalists ☍

Ken Doctor for POLITICO Media:

The Post newsroom will number more than 750, third among the national newspaper-based press and moving it closer to the Times, with which it increasingly competes for high-end talent. The Times complement stands at about 1,307, the company says. USA Today’s newsroom stands at about 450, while the Journal, after its recent buyouts, tells me it employs 1,500.

While a story about a newspaper isn’t the normal technology things covered on this site per se, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos does own the paper and has been making some big changes. Throughout the course of the election, I’ve been impressed with some of the coverage and decided to get a digital subscription. That carried over to Apple News, too. The aspect of it being dirt-cheap for Amazon Prime members, and cheaper than The New York Times for everyone else really pushes it to impulse-subscription territory.

December 22, 2016

Link: Facebook Already Has a Muslim Registry—and It Should Be Deleted ☍

Peter Bright for Ars Technica:

One company, however, stands head and shoulders above the rest when it comes to collecting personal data: Facebook. Facebook’s business is data collection in order to sell more effectively targeted advertisements. While massive data collection is not new or unique to Facebook—search engines such as Google and Microsoft’s Bing have the same feature—Facebook is unusual in that it actively strives to make that information personally identifiable. Facebook accounts tend to use our legal names, and Facebook relationships tend to reflect our real-life associations, giving the company’s data a depth and breadth that Google or Microsoft can only dream about.

Among the pieces of personal information that the site asks users for is religion. As with most pieces of information that Facebook requests, this is of course optional. But it’s an option that many people fill in to ensure that our profiles better reflect who we are.

This data collection means that Facebook already represents, among other things, a de facto—if partial—Muslim registry. Facebook has the data already; the company can provide a list of self-attested Muslims in the US simply by writing a query or two. That data could be similarly queried for anyone who isn’t straight.

As such, government coercion of Facebook—or even a hack of the company—represents a particular threat to civil liberties. Accordingly, Facebook should take a simple and straightforward protective step: delete that information. Remove the field from our profiles, and discard the historic saved data.

None of this should be a surprise, and my dislike of Facebook has been well-documented, but this still should get us thinking about what kinds of information we willing volunteer to some technology companies.

Link: DirecTV Now Problems ☍

Nat Levy for GeekWire:

DirecTV Now subscribers have been complaining on social media in recent days about problems with the service using #QP1502, a nod to an error message some viewers have run into.[…]

We reached out to AT&T, and the company issued the following statement: “With any new technology there are going to be fixes that need to be made. While we understand we still have work to do, overall feedback on DirecTV Now has been very positive. In this instance, only a limited amount of customers are affected and we are working quickly to address.”

I wrote about some early impressions after a day of use, and while there are a lot of positives, it’s also frustratingly bad that some things just don’t work or don’t work consistently. Besides the QP1502 error making an appearance every now and then, Fox regional sports networks are still hopelessly broken, starting a just-aired or in-progress program from the beginning sometimes just dies, as do some streams. The best example is that I favorited Fox Sports Networks, a channel that looked like it was mostly Fox Sports Ohio, but was later removed. Unfortunately, the favorited channel still shows up on my list and there is no way to remove it. When I asked DirecTV Now’s customer service via Twitter, it turns out, there is no way to remove the favorite designation.

At this point, some issues have been fixed, but the mess of regional sports networks is especially baffling, considering that both AT&T’s U-verse and DirecTV products could’ve been used as a baseline for many, if not all, areas. The lack of customer service is also disappointing, turning early adopters off. I’m prepaid through March (the “free” Apple TV was worth it), but I’ll be anxious to try Sling and PlayStation Vue when it comes time to renew. Basically, AT&T is showing how not to treat early adopters and kill enthusiasm for a new service.

Link: Automation is the Long-Term Jobs Killer ☍

Claire Cain Miller for The New York Times:

No candidate talked much about automation on the campaign trail. Technology is not as convenient a villain as China or Mexico, there is no clear way to stop it, and many of the technology companies are in the United States and benefit the country in many ways.[…]

Dennis Kriebel’s last job was as a supervisor at an aluminum extrusion factory, where he had spent a decade punching out parts for cars and tractors. Then, about five years ago, he lost it to a robot.

“Everything we did, you could program a robot to do it,” said Mr. Kriebel, who is 55 and lives in Youngstown, Ohio, the town about which Bruce Springsteen sang, “Seven hundred tons of metal a day/Now sir you tell me the world’s changed.”

Since then, Mr. Kriebel has barely been scraping by doing odd jobs. Many of the new jobs at factories require technical skills, but he doesn’t own a computer and doesn’t want to.

It is an unfortunate side-effect of technology improvments that more machines are taking jobs from people than any foreign country. Still, the idea of hiding from and avoiding technical skills is absurd. I understand that as time goes on, it’s harder to learn and start from scratch, but this change was telegraphed long ago. It’s just moving to new industries.

I’ve been really fascinated by these kinds of moves, as many retailers have switched to a self-checkout system and if you are used to the steps, it makes a lot of sense and, in the case of a few stations replacing one cashier, might be faster. I suspect we’ll see push-button fast-food ordering in the restaurant, as some chains already offer mobile ordering. The other aspect I’m watching for is self-driving semis, which can take a lot of the human error factor out of interstate shipping.

Link: The Mac’s Marginalized Future ☍

Stephen Hackett takes Mark Gurman’s thoughts a bit further:

To a degree, it’s hard to argue with Apple here. The iPhone is Apple’s driving force, and to let off the gas there would be a really dumb move. The iPad — while still in a sales free fall — is so closely tied to the iPhone, it’s easy to see why it’d get attention before the Mac. Plus, Tim Cook is super into it, and you’ve got to keep the boss happy.

Most of the big features added to macOS in the last few years originally appeared on iOS, or at the very least are in place to make using a Mac with an iPhone or iPad better.

I don’t think Apple is going to merge its two operating systems, but rather keep dragging macOS behind iOS. The news of the stand-alone macOS team being absorbed shouldn’t be shocking for people who have been paying attention.

There is much truth to this…the iPhone gets the headlining features and development, some features come to the Mac (maybe after a long delay), while some don’t at all (think of the weirdness with iMessage this fall). The iPad, by virtue of being a “big ol’ iPhone” is easy to implement features on, despite being something that should probably also get less attention. Even app developers can easily turn an iPhone app into an iPhone and iPad app, but moving it to a Mac requires a complete rewrite. As a fan of the iPad, this does give me some hope that Apple will keep building and growing the platform.