Tuesday, May 1, 2018

More on Apple’s Cross-Platform API Project ↦

A few months ago, Mark Gurman reported that Apple was working on a way to enable developers to write applications that run on both macOS and iOS. I briefly mentioned it on this blog. Now John Gruber at Daring Fireball reports more details:

THE NAME: There is indeed an active cross-platform UI project at Apple for iOS and MacOS. It may have been codenamed “Marzipan” at one point, but if so only in its earliest days. My various little birdies only know of the project under a different name, which hasn’t leaked publicly yet. […]

WHAT IS IT? I don’t have extensive details, but basically it sounds like a declarative control API. The general idea is that rather than writing classic procedural code to, say, make a button, then configure the button, then position the button inside a view, you instead declare the button and its attributes using some other form. HTML is probably the most easily understood example. […]

WHEN: I’m nearly certain this project is not debuting at WWDC 2018 in June, and I doubt that 2018 was on the table in December. It’s a 2019 thing, for MacOS 10.15 and iOS 13.

On June 6, 2009 (bear with me, I promise this is going somewhere), Palm, Inc. launched its answer to Apple’s iPhone: the palm prē. At the heart of the palm prē was Palm’s long-awaited successor to its aging PDA/smartphone operating system Palm OS: webOS. webOS moved Palm’s platform into the then-modern age in many ways but its signature feature—the whole reason it was called webOS—was that its “native” application API used web technologies: HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. Around the same time, Microsoft announced that Windows 8 would enable developers to write applications for that OS using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript as well.

I remember thinking at the time that Palm and Microsoft had gotten the wrong end of the stick. Web-based applications were hitting something of a peak of popularity at the time and those two companies, among others1, wanted to capitalize on it. But I felt (and still do) that developing web applications was (and is) popular in spite of the specific technologies involved—HTML, CSS, and especially JavaScript—not because of them. Web applications are popular for two reasons: (1) they are cross-platform and (2) they enable a declarative style of development2. I thought that what platform providers should be doing was creating a declarative style of application development without using HTML, CSS, and JavaScript and instead using a new, purpose-built declarative syntax for the user interface and existing programming languages for the actual code.

We still don’t have many details on exactly how Apple’s declarative APIs will work but given Apple’s past work, I’d be surprised if it actually used HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It seems more likely that they will create a new, purpose-built declarative syntax for the user interface and use an existing programming language for the actual code.

  1. Electron represents the open source equivalent of these efforts; it enables developers to write cross-platform desktop applications in HTML, CSS, and JavaScript. It is the core technology enabling applications like Atom and Slack

  2. What these technologies allow developers to do is separate the user interface from the code that runs it. The user interface becomes a matter of declaring, using a relatively simple text-based syntax, that the developer wants a button here or a text label there, etc. Separately, then, the developer defines what should happen when that button gets clicked. 

Monday, April 30, 2018

T-Mobile and Sprint to Merge ↦

Jon Brodkin, reporting for Ars Technica:

T-Mobile USA and Sprint today announced an agreement to merge, a deal that would combine the US mobile industry’s third and fourth biggest carriers to create a giant nearly as large as AT&T or Verizon Wireless. The all-stock merger deal would have T-Mobile acquire Sprint for $26 billion worth of stock, according to Reuters.

As also noted in the article, this is not the first time that these two companies have tried to merge. A 2014 attempt was in essence blocked by the Obama administration. And, of course, this is just the latest attempt at consolidation among the US’s four major carriers: AT&T tried to merge with T-Mobile in 2011 but that effort also faced opposition from the Obama administration and eventually collapsed.

The Trump administration, however, is far more accommodating to the whims of large corporations. While it is true that the Trump administration has sued to stop the AT&T/Time Warner merger, the opposition to that particular deal appears to be largely motivated by Trump’s hatred of CNN1. It seems likely to me that this deal will be rubber-stamped by the relevant agencies this time around. Consequently, the cellphone oligopoly will shrink from four members to three.

Friday, April 27, 2018

Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee Release Final Report ↦

Matt Zapotosky, Karoun Demirjian, and Greg Miller reporting for The Washington Post:

House Intelligence Committee Republicans released a redacted version of their final report from a year-long probe of Russia’s “multifaceted” influence operation, generally clearing President Trump and his associates of wrongdoing while accusing the intelligence community and the FBI of failures in how they assessed and responded to the Kremlin’s interference in the 2016 election.

The report charges the intelligence community with “significant intelligence tradecraft failings,” suggesting, without saying explicitly, that Russia’s main goal was to sow discord in the United States and not to help Trump win the election. It says investigators found “no evidence that the Trump campaign colluded, coordinated, or conspired with the Russian government,” even as it details contacts between campaign officials and Russians or Russian intermediaries.

The real news here isn’t the report itself. The report is so glaringly divorced from reality as to be laughable. The real news is that this report isn’t from the House Intelligence Committee. The report is from the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee. The traditional bipartisan nature of the House Intelligence Committee has completely broken down. It is but one of many traditional norms on which our democracy rests which has utterly dissolved in the withering onslaught of Trumpism.

How many norms will still remain when Trump finally leaves office?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

Jackson Withdraws as VA Nominee ↦

Lisa Rein, John Wagner, and Josh Dawsey reporting for The Washington Post:

Ronny L. Jackson, President Trump’s embattled nominee to lead the Department of Veterans Affairs, withdrew from consideration Thursday amid mushrooming allegations of professional misconduct that raised questions about the White House vetting process.

Jackson’s nomination had become imperiled even before Capitol Hill Democrats on Wednesday released new allegations of misconduct. The claims include that he had wrecked a government vehicle after getting drunk at a Secret Service going-away party.

Could it be any clearer that Admiral Jackson’s nomination was an impulse on the part of Donald Trump and that it was not given the consideration or vetting that it so badly needed?

Thursday, April 26, 2018

School District Prepares for Gun Violence With Rocks ↦

Tanya Chen, reporting for BuzzFeed News:

The superintendent of a Pennsylvania school district has taken a unique approach to keep his students safe in the event of a school shooting. He’s equipped his classrooms with 5-gallon buckets of river rocks for students to throw at an armed intruder.


His idea to literally stone an armed shooter is not in direct response to the Parkland shooting. [Superindendent] Helsel told BuzzFeed News his schools have had buckets of stones ready to use in their classrooms for two years now.

It’s bad enough that our children have to worry about being shot in school. Now we are asking them to be prepared to literally stone an armed intruder while being shot at. When will this madness end?

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

“Why People Really Want to Move to Idaho but Are Fleeing Its Neighbor, Wyoming” ↦

Andrew Van Dam reporting for The Washington Post (emphasis added):

Idaho is the fastest-growing state in the union.

Half of its neighbors are in the top five. All but one are in the top 13.

The “but one” is Wyoming. It’s dead last. 51st out of a possible 51 (our ranking is adjusted for population and includes Washington, D.C.). Wyoming lost 1.0 percent of its population in 2017 even as Idaho was gaining 2.2 percent.


So why are so many people leaving Wyoming while Idaho booms?

For clues, look at the full ranking [of states by population growth]. The Pacific Northwest and Mountain West are extremely well represented at the top of the chart but Wyoming and West Virginia are stuck to the bottom. Those two, and others in the lower echelon, have something in common: resource dependence. In their case, it’s primarily coal mining.

Wyoming has long been the nation’s coal king. The vast operations of the Powder River Basin produce more coal than all but a handful of states put together. But cheap natural gas has reduced power plants’ dependence on the mineral and, with it, its price and production. Wyoming’s mines are shipping out fewer tons of coal and getting paid less for each of them.

It’s hard not to think of Trump’s efforts to bring back coal while reading this article. Much has been said and written about why those efforts are ill-advised. There’s been a lot of talk about coal’s negative environmental impacts (all true), and about its declining value as the world (even including the United States!) turns away from fossil fuels to renewal sources of energy such as wind and solar (also true). But there’s another, more primal, economic factor at work: extracted resources, like coal, are inherently volatile. They boom and bust as new deposits are discovered, extracted, and exhausted, and as demand waxes and wanes.

Increasing our dependence on coal makes our economy less stable. Even if Trump can usher in the coal boom times that he has promised, the bust will inevitably follow.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Tax “Overhaul” Bill Passes Congress ↦

Damian Paletta and Jeff Stein reporting for The Washington Post:

Congress on Wednesday passed the most significant overhaul of the U.S. tax code in 30 years, delivering a landmark legislative victory to President Trump and the Republicans that had once seemed impossible for the fractured party.

The sweeping measure imprints a clear conservative vision on the tax code that will affect nearly every household and business. Corporations will see a massive tax cut, while most Americans will see temporary savings of various sizes. And in a move that may prove politically perilous, Republicans delivered the biggest gains to the wealthy.

I do have to take issue with some of the characterizations of this bill in that article. The idea that this bill is an “overhaul” and “imprints a clear conservative vision on the tax code” is a complete farce. First and foremost, there is absolutely, positively nothing that is clear about this bill:

The passage kicks off an intense period of uncertainty for consumers and businesses as both scramble to understand the changes[…]

Second, this bill does nothing to realize the vision conservatives have talked about for decades with respect to taxes: “A tax system so simple, your tax return would fit on a postcard.” If anything, this bill makes the tax system more complicated, not less.

The bill is also deeply unpopular. It’s almost as if the Republicans are resigned to losing in a big way in the 2018 elections and are just trying to line their pockets before they go.


Thursday, December 21, 2017

Apple to Introduce Ability to Write Apps That Work on Both macOS and iOS ↦

Mark Gurman reporting for Bloomberg:

Starting as early as next year, software developers will be able to design a single application that works with a touchscreen or mouse and trackpad depending on whether it’s running on the iPhone and iPad operating system or on Mac hardware, according to people familiar with the matter.

The report is thin on details as to how this would work, so the floodgates have opened for speculation. Some have suggested that this means Macs are moving to ARM processors. I think this move, however, is entirely unrelated to the possibility of ARM-based Macs; a single app can contain multiple binaries, each compiled for a different processor. And such a transition would take years, anyway, just like the transition to Intel processors.

I think this is much more likely to be the outcome of a unified set of libraries and APIs that will be available on both platforms.

Thursday, December 21, 2017

Comcast’s Infrastructure Investment ↦

Jon Brodkin, reporting for Ars Technica:

Comcast yesterday claimed that it will invest more than $50 billion in infrastructure over the next five years because of the repeal of net neutrality rules and the new tax overhaul.

But the numbers show that Comcast’s investments soared while the net neutrality rules were in place and would hit the “new” milestone if its investments continued increasing by a modest amount.


Thus, if Comcast continues increasing capital expenditures by the same rate as it did with net neutrality rules in place, the company would easily break the $50 billion figure that Roberts attributed to the net neutrality repeal and tax break.

Industry-wide, cable broadband speeds soared during the years net neutrality rules were in place.

Is anyone surprised that a major ISP with monopolies or near monopolies in several markets would be dishonest about why it wanted net neutrality repealed?

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Democrat Doug Jones Wins in Alabama ↦

Jessica Taylor reporting for NPR:

Democrat Doug Jones has won the Alabama Senate special election, a victory that was a stunning upset in a deeply red state that voted overwhelmingly for President Trump. The president, who had backed Republican Roy Moore despite multiple accusations of sexual misconduct and assault, congratulated Jones on Twitter.

It’s unfortunate that a pedophile and professional loony came so close to winning but in the end sanity prevailed, if only by 21,311 votes1 (as of this writing).

  1. If we define sanity as “could not bring oneself to vote for pedophile and professional loony Roy Moore” then we could include the write-in votes, currently totaling 22,777, as voting for sanity. But one could also interpret the write-in voters as saying, “I don’t want to be personally responsible for it, but I would rather risk pedophile and professional loony Roy Moore becoming a United States Senator than vote for a Democrat.” That attitude is undeniably better than a vote for Roy Moore, but it is still troubling.