In a 19-minute YouTube video, Fran Blanche explains how those big screens at Mission Control worked during the Apollo era. Stop and think about it: they were displaying information in ways that computers wouldn’t be able to do for decades. The displays were produced mechanically, by multiple projectors using glass slides to project images on the screen. The projectors could move spaceship icons across the screen like a graphical sprite, or use plotters to scratch a flight path across a slide to represent a flight path, using telemetry data processed in real time by mainframe computers. [Boing Boing]
We’ve both installed the COVID Alert app, even though it’s not fully functional in our province (so far it’s just Ontario). We can’t report a COVID diagnosis, but we can get notified if someone from Ontario we’ve come into contact with does report a positive COVID test result. Since we live near the Ontario-Quebec border, and sometimes have to cross into Ontario for errands and such, there’s already some value in installing it.
It can’t run on older phones (on the Apple side, older than an iPhone 6S or first-gen SE) because of hardware limitations, I believe. It makes use of the Apple/Google API, which has strong privacy protections: the only things it shares with the server or with other phones are anonymous tokens. The privacy protections are such that Michael Geist is comfortable installing it, which is something.
It’s in that context that I have to look really sideways at a CBC article that suggests that some people could be identified by the COVID Alert app.
In 2005, two products I used heavily were sold to new owners: the photo hosting service Flickr was sold to Yahoo, and the Mac RSS reader app NetNewswire was sold to NewsGator. Those decisions turned out to be pivotal, and not necessarily to the good; and this year they’re in the process of being undone.
Flickr didn’t exactly reach its full potential under its new owners, Yahoo not being one of the competently run tech giants, and for many years it languished, falling behind its competitors as its parent company died a slow death. Verizon acquired Yahoo last year, and in April of this year SmugMug bought Flickr from Verizon’s Oath subsidiary. Today SmugMug announced some changes to Flickr. Most controversially, the one terabyte of free storage announced in 2013 is coming to an end, and free users are limited to 1,000 photos. This is not a surprise: SmugMug is a small but profitable private company that has never taken VC funding, and they’re not interested in offering a free service to everyone in order to get their personal data; they want to sell services to customers, not customers to advertisers. Which in 2018 is refreshing. Also, they’re small and privately held: they can’t run at a loss. In some ways this is a retreat: they’re not going to even try to compete with the social media networks. But I suspect it’ll make for a better experience, at least for those who pay $50 a year for it, or have fewer than 1,000 photos. Not everything has to scale.
As for NetNewsWire, its development also languished for a while, as ownership passed from NewsGator to Black Pixel in 2011. At a point where most people were consuming RSS feeds via online readers like Google Reader, a desktop app—especially one you paid for—was almost an anachronism, though NetNewsWire always had healthy numbers in my feed stats. (How much of that was myself, though?) RSS itself, however, withered on the vine, as users started getting their news from social media sites rather than newsreader apps or portal pages (a lot of my RSS traffic came from Yahoo, oddly enough), and especially after Google Reader was shut down in 2013.
Version 4 of NetNewswire eventually came out in 2015. It was a commercial product, and I paid for it. But since then it’s been getting increasingly crufty. It keeps unread articles long past the point they disappeared from their RSS feeds, to the point that I now have something like 175,000 unread articles. As you might expect, even on my quad-core 5K iMac, this has an impact on performance: the app regularly pegs a processor core, and the spinning pinwheel of death is a frequent visitor. Whereas the original NetNewsWire was quick and snappy on a G3 iBook. It’s frustrating.
At the end of August, Black Pixel ended support for NetNewsWire sync and transferred the name and intellectual property to Brent Simmons, the original developer of said quick and snappy first version, who is releasing a new version 5.0 of NetNewsWire as a free and open-source app. You can download an early build today: it is, in Brent’s words, “not even alpha” and “barely useable”; it lacks some of the most basic of features (you can’t even drag a feed from one folder to another). But it’s so fast and responsive, compared to NetNewsWire 4.1, that I’ve already switched to it. It may be barely useable, but it at least it doesn’t freeze my computer.
So at least with these two services we’ve come full circle: small, functional and cruft-free services that predated the VC-fed ramp-up to rapacious data collection, invasive advertising and social-media dysfunction are, in the end, still ticking along, and able to find a home in more modest surroundings. They’re living fossils that come from an Internet that was smaller, less resource-intensive and more private. In many ways I miss that Internet.
I downloaded the update this afternoon and everything is now back to normal. The Health and Activity apps have their data back — and not just the data from before the 10.1 update. The iPhone continued to collect and receive Health and Activity data during the period of the bug — even the weight data I entered manually. It just couldn’t display it.
This must have been a simple fix, like a typo in the code, if they could go from gathering data to releasing a solution in two days flat.
There are reports that the iOS 10.1 update is deleting users’ Health data. I can say something about this, because it’s happened to me too.
On Friday I installed the 10.1 update on my new iPhone 7, which had arrived the previous day and was so far working flawlessly. Transferring the data from my old iPhone 5 and pairing my Watch had taken place without incident. But on Saturday morning I noticed that my Health data — which goes back two years — was missing. So was my Activity data, which goes back to April (when I bought the Watch).
I checked the Internet and found a few reports of people having their Health data disappear on them after the 10.1 update on the Apple discussion boards and in online media: see here and here. Those reports suggested that nothing appeared to fix the problem — not restarting, not restoring from backup or factory settings, not even downgrading back to 10.0.3. They also suggested that the data was simply inaccessible rather than missing. A check of Settings revealed that I still have (as of this writing) 88.5 megabytes of Health data; I just can’t get at it. And adding new data doesn’t do anything: it doesn’t appear either.
So I called AppleCare, which began as an exercise in frustration. Getting past the first level of support required me to breathe fire a bit, and I got disconnected when being transferred, but in the end I got through to a senior advisor and was able to have a productive conversation about it. Apple is just starting to get reports on this, so not everyone has encountered customer complaints about it or knows about it — keep this in mind if you have to call AppleCare yourself.
From what I can tell Apple’s engineers are still trying to get a handle on the issue. I was given a number of questions to answer that I presume are so that they can replicate the issue, and I’ve been following up with additional observations (which by the way is really quite extraordinary: it takes out a bit of the sting of having been hit by this bug to be able to help in fixing it) so I suspect they’re at the early stages of “Apple is aware of the situation and is working on a solution.”
I hope that this will turn out to be an easy fix and that it’ll be pushed out quickly. (Apple has every motivation to get this done fast: Health and Activity are rather important features that form a major part of the rationale for the Apple Watch.) The fact that the data still appears to be there, and that Activity sharing is still taking place between my and Jennifer’s Watches, makes me think that it’s a problem with the user-facing apps accessing the data rather than the data itself. When you go into Sources in the Health app and choose one of the data sources (for example, your iPhone or your Watch), I get an endlessly spinning wheel; on Jennifer’s iPhone SE, which is still running iOS 10.0.3, the categories of data the devices contribute to (such as heart rate, walking activity) show up in a second or two.
Does this mean you should hold off upgrading to 10.1 if you haven’t already done so? That’s a really tough call: 10.1 fixes some major security flaws that really ought not to be left unfixed. It’s not clear how widespread the Health and Activity problem is: whether it’s affecting only a few people or whether it’s hitting everyone who uses the apps — we’ll know more in the coming days. At this point, if you have an Apple Watch or use the Health app a lot, I can totally understand not wanting to upgrade quite yet.