What's Wrong With Apple?

Watching the Google event last week, I was struck by how exciting it was. We were seeing new products that are some of the most beautiful , and even more importantly, new ideas. The Clips and the Pixel Buds are nice looking products but their differentiatior is the software they run. They both provide other ways of accessing Google's machine-learning services, which is something that their competitors will never be able to do.

The Google Home Mini is directly aimed at the Amazon Echo dot in both size and price, and gives users integrations to home automation solutions while also giving the Google Assistant an entry into the home. It's a small donut-sized puck, covered in cloth with lights underneath.

The Pixel 2 phone is lacking in all sorts of ways that will mean I'll stick to my Samsung S8, but for most people it's a great device and gives the option of a pure Android experience for users. It also has the best camera on a smartphone, which relies on some interesting technologies to do depth detection and on machine learning to do face and scene detection and processing.

Contrast this to the recent Apple event, where there was no real unifying vision to the presentation. The iPhone X looks very nice, but giving up TouchID for FaceID seems like a huge mistake. Adding wireless charging to all the things is nice, but they're just catching up with the rest of the industry. OLED allows an edge-to-edge display, but they're late to the market. If you were to compare an iPhone 8 with an iPhone 6 you'd be hard pressed to see any differences, and while the iPhone 6 style was interesting at the beginning it has not aged well in the 3 years since. Especially since the iPhone 6 was widely considered to be a serious step back from the iPhone 5. 

Apple has long been a company that gives its customers fewer options, but with a curated user experience that will be a joy to use. We buy Apple products because we believe that since the company has full control over the hardware and software they will be better integrated. We trust their judgement because they have engineers working on cutting edge technologies and they know where the industry is going. We show off our Apple devices because they look like the future. They are sleek and pure. They use premium materials that no one else uses.

The problem with Apple right now is that none of those things are true in late 2017. 

In fact, they haven't been true for quite a while. The design of the Apple Watch hasn't changed since it was released. The Macbook Pro finally changed last year, but they ruined a leading product by taking away MagSafe, the SD card, and the escape key and giving users a bunch of ports they can't use and a keyboard that has major problems. The iPhone finally has a new model this year which is the first new design in 4 years. The Mac Pro and the iMac continue to be jokes that don't even offer upgrade options for users that have been desperate for a new model. 

The reason for the stagnancy is that they don't have a vision for what Apple is, and this has been the case since 2011

In the next post I'm going to go into more specific problems with their current strategy. Stay tuned!

Recent arXiv Reads

This is as much for me as for anyone else, just to track what I've read and what I haven't:

As you can probably guess, this year I've spent a lot of time thinking about galactic composition and trying to get my head around a few key questions: 

  • So if dark matter is a requirement to understand what we see in observed galaxies, how are we identifying velocities of individual stars in distant objects?
  • What's the most distant galaxy we can see where individual stars are identifiable and whose velocity can be accurately measured?
  • Considering the fact that when we look at a galaxy we're looking at an object where there is a significant delay from the far side of the object to the near side of the object (imagine a coin on a table arms length from you) on the order of hundreds of thousands of years, does this change what we expect to observe when it comes to spectral analysis?
  • Assuming dark matter was present, what affect would this have on the evolution of the early universe?
  • We talk about different epochs in the evolution of the universe w/r/t quark gluon plasma, the hadron epochrecombination, etc.  Are there similar epochs that would have focused on dark matter? 
  • Since dark matter appears to be non-interacting and non-collisional, what does compression of dark matter result in?
  • Does identification of dark matter result in a shortcut to quantum gravity? Since there appears to be no such thing as a macroscopic clump of dark matter, the main way that we would describe the behavior of dark matter would be at the quantum level.
  • What is the presumed quantum model of dark matter? Since it appears to be non-interacting, is there anything we can even say about quantum dark matter?
  • How are dark matter models presumed to work with black holes? Can dark matter be assumed to have finite density?

Ok, so more than a few questions.

Algorithmic Passwords

Everyone hates passwords. It's hard for people to come up with passwords that they can remember and which match the inconsistent standards set by websites. The result is that they figure out one password that generally fits the standards and then use that everywhere they can. Password expiration policies that prevent users from reusing passwords actually make the problem worse, since they encourage users to use simpler passwords than they would otherwise.

The function of any password is to prove identity and therefore determine authorization. A password is paired with a username to provide two pieces of information that only an authorized user of a system would know. The fact that usernames have shifted to being the same as the user's email actually makes the problem worse. It means that there are options to determine usernames rather than just guessing them, since people tend to have a very small number of email addresses they use. Most people have one personal address that they use for many years and a work address, and rarely more than that.

It's unlikely that email addresses will stop being used for authentication since they're guaranteed to be unique and users like them. That puts even more focus on making sure passwords are effective. The minimal characteristics that any password must have are:

  • It can't be easy to guess.
  • It needs to be able to be remembered.
  • It must be unique for each website.

So what about password managers? They meet the first and last requirements and they remove the second requirement, but they introduce other problems. Synchronization between devices is non-trivial and requires the password manager to be present in each computing environment. It also requires integrations to allow passwords to be copy and pasted from the password manager into each application that it's being used with. It also provides a single point of failure. If someone has access to your password manager, or the password to your password manager, has access to all of your accounts.

Using the XKCD method, we've come up with a process of password construction that manages to satisfy the first two requirements. To supplement Randall's approach we should also add something unique for each website. The easiest way is to add something about the website (or application) itself.

Let's start with a unique core that we can remember: coppertrucks

Now let's add a number, an uppercase letter, and a special character to satisfy most password requirements: C0ppertruck$

Finally, let's say we're logging into facebook.com. We can have a universal rule that says we take the first letter and last letter from the URL and add them to the beginning of the password route: fkC0ppertruck$

For nytimes.com we can apply the same rule and come up with an entirely unique password: nsC0ppertruck$