Coda

I've been testing out a new document system, kind of a new take on Google Docs. It's called Coda, and their site is coda.io.

It's a new way of making documents, but it integrates really well with Google Drive, and can import things like Google Sheets, CSVs, or Excel documents. It's kind of a hybrid of Google Sheets and Docs, where you can make a document, but add tables in to the document. Tables are a little different than a spreadsheet though, and there are some really cool things you can do with it.

One of my favorite things is that you can create a table for the data, and then build out different views to that data for different situations. The table views are separate, but can refer to the same data. For instance, if you had one team that was working on a project, but your main table had all of the project data from all of the teams, it's very easy to have a specific view to that data just for one of the teams.

I recommend signing up for an invite, and checking out some of the templates. If you know me personally, feel free to reach out for an invite.

Google G Suite Can Now Alert Admins of Government Based Attacks

Google today announced that in their G Suite accounts, admins will be able to set up alerts based on if Google believes that a government based attack has been attempted on any users within the domain.

Google writes -

If an admin chooses to turn the feature on, an email alert (to admins) is triggered when we believe a government-backed attacker has likely attempted to access a user’s account or computer through phishing, malware, or another method. It does not necessarily mean that the account has been compromised or that there was a widespread attack on an organization.

I have been the G Suite administrator for a very large domain for some time now, and I have often wondered why political campaigns don't use something like G Suite for their email, considering the security tools that Google offers. Between security keys to log in, Google AI backed phishing and malware detection, spoofed email and domain detection, and several other security tools, I feel like it's definitely possible to protect something like a political campaign from email attacks.

This new tool makes total sense given the current political climate, as well as the information companies like Google are able to gather at scale. I wasn't expecting any sort of announcement like this, but I think it's a really cool tool.

Social Media and Capitalism

This last week was a pretty rough week if you owned stock in one of the social media giants. Facebook made history last Thursday when the stock dropped almost 20% immediately following their earnings call. This drop totalled in $120 billion in loss, which is completely unbelievable.

John Oliver, on his Last Week Tonight had a great segment about this -

Twitter, not to be outdone, also lost about 20% on Friday, following their earnings call.

To me, both of these are extremely concerning. I'm not concerned because those companies are losing moeny, and frankly, if both platforms closed up completely, the world would almost definitely be a better place, however what concerns me is that these massive drops are because both companies have started to hint at "doing the right thing".

Anyone who has been paying attention the last few years has likely noticed that Social Media has become increasingly toxic. We tend to use a blanket statement of "Fake News" and just call it a day. I think that it's very common to think that there is fake news out there on social media, and then think "Well I would never fall for fake news, so it doesn't impact me!", and while you may be good at spotting fake news, it's more complex than that.

The problem is that it's not just news stories. There are also people out there commenting on things that people say, or there are ads in your feed designed to influence how you think or feel about certain things. Maybe you would spot a blatantly fake news story, but maybe these other ads, comments, etc. are influencing the way you think about things in ways that you aren't aware of. Even as simple as putting you in a bad mood about something, or overwhelming you with poisonous political sludge until you mentally check out and stop thinking about what is happening in the country.

Regardless, I could write a very long article about what kinds of things are happening on social media that are the problem, but the main point I'm trying to make here is that both Facebook and Twitter have started saying that they are going to clean things up, and get it back to where they are supposed to be.

My personal opinion is that they will only do some superficial things to get the media cycle off their back, and then not much will change, but again, that's not what this is about specifically.

What really concerns me, is that when Facebook and Twitter simply start talking about cleaning up their platform, and do the most minor adjustments to their platform, such as trying to clean up the ads a bit, and banning fake accounts (bots, etc.), Wall Street crucifies them for it.

This makes me seriously wonder how compatible something like a social network and capitalism really is. This last week we brutally punished these companies for even hinting that they were going to start doing the right thing, and clean up their platforms. Why would they want to continue to try to do that, if this is the result of those actions? If we assume that Zuckerberg or Dorsey actually wanted to clean up their platforms (I don't believe they do, but pretend that they do), I'm not convinced that the board of directors are even going to let them with this kind of fallout.

I'm honestly not sure what we can even do at this point. I do not trust Social Media platforms, and when things like this happen in the stock market, I don't know how we ever can. Unless these platforms figure out another way to make money, or become private again and have leaders with a strong moral compass, I don't see any way that this works out well.

Apple Store Milan

Apple posted some new pictures of the opening of their new store - Piazza Liberty, in Milan.

Beautiful store with some pretty remarkable architecture. We've come to expect this from Apple flagship stores, but every one still impresses me.

Check out all of the pictures here

Google Cloud Next Conference - Day 1

This week I am down in San Francisco for the Google Cloud Next conference, where Google talks about all of the new things coming to Google Cloud. Google Cloud has two parts. The first part is Google Cloud Platform, which includes a suite of platform and infrastructure as a service offerings, as well as a whole suite of Developer tools to run your applications, databases, machine learning, and lots of other things in the cloud. The other part is G Suite, Google's competitor to Office 365.

Today brought several new exciting announcements to the platform. Google is pushing it's AI agenda further and further every day, and todays announcments show that as well as anything. At Google IO a few months ago, Google announced some Gmail features that allow for Google's AI to automatically suggest completing sentences for you as you write an email, and learns from how you talk even going as far as how you talk to specific people over other people. Google is bringing this to their enterprise G Suite platform very soon.

In addition Google is bringing AI in to Google docs by adding Grammar checking, and promises that this will be more advanced than any current tools out there, as it will look more at the context of what you are writing. Early access to this service is available starting today.

Google Hangouts Chat, which is Google's answer to business chat like Slack and Microsoft Teams, will be adding the Gmail feature of "Smart Reply" which uses AI to suggest quick responses in situations where a quick response to what someone says is appropriate. In my experience I have found the Gmail quick responses earily accurate to what I would generally respond to an email with, so I find this pretty exciting as well.

Additionally, Google is adding a bunch of security features to their G Suite Admin toolbox. Previously, if there was a security issue with an email or Drive doc within your domain, you would need to utilize one of the API's or a tool that uses the G Suite API's in order to remediate that email (either retracting an email, retroactively marking it as spam, quaratnining the message, changing drive permissions retroactively, etc.). With the new G Suite Security Center, you can get valuable insights and react to those insights much more quickly, all within the platform without the need of additional tools.

Everyone is probably tired of hearing about AI and Machine Learning at this point. Many companies (Google definitely being one of them) tout AI/ML as something that will transform the world in ways that we can't even imagine right now. Some even call it the next industrial revolution. None of the announcements today are quite to that level, however Google has been steadily adding AI/ML features to G Suite, and are doing so in ways that are useful for people, and help them get work done. They are adding up quickly, and I think are extremely interesting for the future of G Suite, Google Cloud, and Google in general.

Google Employee Phishing

The timing of this report form Brian Krebs on his security blog Krebs on Security, was perfect. This morning I was getting on a flight to the bay area, and right as I was getting on the plane, I received a chat message from someone wanting me to look in to an email they had received and weren't sure if it was legitimate or not.

For me it was relatively easy to see that it was a phishing scheme, and since the user forwarded it to me for further inpection, clearly the user felt so too.

My next thought was "That's strange, I can't remember the last time we actually had a phishing attack even show up in a users inbox. We have 10,000 licenses in our G Suite account, and it has genuinely been months since we've had a single phishing attack. It wasn't that long ago, that there were dozens to hundreds per day.

An interesting thought, but this week I am down at Google's Cloud Next conference, learning about all sorts of things, and it was interesting timing with everything. I went to dinner with a couple of Googlers, and they were mentioning some of the very strict security guidelines that they have to follow, then I get back to my hotel and read Krebs article about how Google has 100% effectively eliminated phishing entirely since early 2017. From Krebs -

Google has not had any of its 85,000+ employees successfully phished on their work-related accounts since early 2017, when it began requiring all employees to use physical Security Keys in place of passwords and one-time codes

85,000 employees is a lot of people that can make mistakes, and on top of that, I would wager Google is a huge target for this kind of stuff. I'll bet before any filtering, each employee at Google, regardless of role would bet bombarded with toxic email.

Again, I'm super impressed by that number. We do well with our 10,000 accounts, but not perfect.

It's hard to mention all of this without singing praises of G Suite and Google Cloud. This sounds like a salespitch but I can assure you I'm not getting paid for this. G Suite's set of anti-phishing, anti-malware, and frankly whole security suite have made it very easy to effectively manage all of this kind of mess. Google Cloud's tooling runs G Suite, which gives powerful analytics and searching cabability, as well as how it allows G Suite to use AI to help with things like Phishing and malware detection, and much more.

Google, according to this article has taken it up even further on their own computers.

EU hits Google with massive antitrust lawsuit

This week Google was hit with a massive fine by the European Union, totaling in €4.34 billion, or just over $5 billion US dollars.

From the European Commission Press release -

Today, mobile internet makes up more than half of global internet traffic. It has changed the lives of millions of Europeans. Our case is about three types of restrictions that Google has imposed on Android device manufacturers and network operators to ensure that traffic on Android devices goes to the Google search engine. In this way, Google has used Android as a vehicle to cement the dominance of its search engine. These practices have denied rivals the chance to innovate and compete on the merits. They have denied European consumers the benefits of effective competition in the important mobile sphere. This is illegal under EU antitrust rules.

Elaborating specific violations -

In particular, Google:

  • Has required manufacturers to pre-install the Google Search app and browser app (Chrome), as a condition for licensing Google's app store (the Play Store)
  • Made payments to certain large manufacturers and mobile network operators on condition that they exclusively pre-installed the Google Search app on their devices
  • Has prevented manufacturers wishing to pre-install Google apps from selling even a single smart mobile device running on alternative versions of Android that were not approved by Google (so-called "Android forks").

Margrethe Vestager, the EU Commissioner for Competition tweeted -

This seems ludicrous to me, for several reasons. First, it is incredibly easy to remove the default browser and search application in Android, and to install one that is from a competitor. I don't see how this is anti-competitive at all. Google tweeted exactly how to do this shortly after this news broke. I understand this is from the company being fined, but it truly is this easy -

You could easily argue both ways on if Google is really truly "Open" with the Android operating system, but I think that it's difficult to make the argument that it isn't easy to replace those default apps, which are at the heart of this fine.

I'm not sure what Google is really supposed to do here. Are you supposed to ship Android with no browser or search installed? Does this mean that manufacterers can just install whatever browser they choose to? If manufacterers are allowed to bundle apps, I don't see how that would be any more legal in the EU than Google bundling the apps.

In general, I am not a very big Android fan, but I think this is an incredibly stupid decision by the EU, and is only going to hurt innovation. I'm all for regulations when necessary, and for enabling fair competition in business and in technology, but I fail to see how this accomplishes any of that.

Instapaper Going Independant Once Again

Instapaper, which has been around since 2008, by Marco Arment. Shortly after I started using it and love it. I still use it to this day. They say -

Today, we’re announcing that Pinterest has entered into an agreement to transfer ownership of Instapaper to Instant Paper, Inc., a new company owned and operated by the same people who’ve been working on Instapaper since it was sold to betaworks by Marco Arment in 2013. The ownership transfer will occur after a 21 day waiting period designed to give our users fair notice about the change of control with respect to their personal information.

Instapaper does a much better job explaining their history than I can. I’m curious what the reasoning and situation is here, but I wish the best of luck to them.

I’m hoping we continue to get more of what makes instapaper great. Good luck instapaper team! Excited to see what’s going on for the next few months.

Apple Combines AI/ML Team with Siri Team

Matthew Panzarino, at Tech Crunch -

Apple is creating a new AI/ML team that brings together its Core ML and Siri teams under one leader in John Giannandrea.

Apple confirmed this morning that the combined Artificial Intelligence and Machine Learning team, which houses Siri, will be led by the recent hire, who came to Apple this year after an eight-year stint at Google, where he led the Machine Intelligence, Research and Search teams. Before that he founded Metaweb Technologies and Tellme.

The internal structures of the Siri and Core ML teams will remain the same, but they will now answer to Giannandrea. Apple’s internal structure means that the teams will likely remain integrated across the org as they’re wedded to various projects, including developer tools, mapping, Core OS and more. ML is everywhere, basically.

I'm very excited for what this can mean for Siri and AI/ML at Apple. Although Apple is pretty far behind in this realm, the article brings up a good point about how Apple has by far the largest edge compute network in the world. Edge computing is a term associated with cloud computing, that refers to computing happening on users devices instead of in a datacenter somewhere. Both datacenter cloud computing and edge computing have their own unique advantages. It will be interesting to see where this all goes.

Siri is clearly way behind Google Assistant, or Amazon Echo in terms of functionality, however it has advantages in how it's so tightly integrated in to the Apple ecosystem, that if John and his new team can iron out some of the basic functionality, I think Siri becomes a serious player again.

Tesla Model 3 Orders Open to North America

You can now order a Tesla Model 3 without needing to preorder. Starting today, Tesla opened the configuration page for the Model 3. To this point, you needed to pre order and put $1000 down, and join a waiting list. Once you reached the top of the list, you would then have the chance to configure your vehicle. Now anyone in North America can.

Unfortunately, Tesla still only offers the higher end models, and doesn’t have the cheap option that was promised with the Model 3. Still, it is a much more affordable option than the Model S or Model X.

It seems Tesla has largely worked out their production issues which have plagued the Model 3 to this point. I’m sure they aren’t out of the woods entirely, but this is definitely a step in the right direction.

I have seen a few Model 3s around town, and I have to admit I’m pretty jealous.

Apple May Acquire 1Password

Jonathan S. Geller writing for Boy Genius Report initially reported in this story that not only was Apple looking to deploy a massive 1Password deployment, but were also looking at acquiring 1Password.

The article has since been updated with a tweet from the 1Password team

There have definitely been times when Apple has acquired a company where that company denies that anything like that is happening, right up to the point where it's officially announced, however with the comment "and plan to remain so" it does seem fairly final.

I totally understand and respect a company that doesn't want to be acquired. Often corporate takeovers by large companies can destroy your culture, and may require that you move somewhere you don't want to move, etc. however I personally would love it if Apple did actually acquire them.

Many of the new password API's in iOS 12 will make 1Password even better, however I can't help but imagine what it would be like if 1Password replaced Keychain all together. If Apple treated the app like they have with Workflow (becoming Shortcuts in iOS 12), that would be phenomenal.

Guess we'll have to wait and see!

iOS 11.4.1 - USB Restricted Mode

Chris Welch, writing for The Verge -

Apple has added protections against the USB devices being used by law enforcement and private companies that connect over Lightning to crack an iPhone’s passcode and evade Apple’s usual encryption safeguards.

If you go to Settings and check under Face ID (or Touch ID) & Passcode, you’ll see a new toggle for USB Accessories. By default, the switch is off. This means that once your iPhone or iPad has been locked for over an hour straight, iOS will no longer allow USB accessories to connect to the device — shutting out cracking tools like GrayKey as a result. If you’ve got accessories that you want to continue working after your iPhone has been sitting locked for awhile, you can toggle the option on to remove the hour limit.

More detail on this feature here, by Jack Nicas at the New York Times, from June 13th when the feature was first announced.

This is a great idea for solving a potential security issue with iOS. To me this is a security feature that no one would have faulted Apple for not doing. This is not something that was specifically causing issues for almost anyone, but it was the right thing to do. Even if the investment in making this feature never has a specific ROI, all of these types of features add up, and eventually make iOS one of the most secure platforms in existence today.

At this point I'm a little surprised that they released this as a feature in 11.4.1 when iOS 12 is right around the corner. I assume that as a feature they felt like it was ready, and likely had some important bugs to knock out. Interesting timing though.

Apple Music Surpasses Spofity in US Subscribers

From Digital Music News -

Apple Music has more paying subscribers in the United States than Spotify, according to confidential details shared with Digital Music News this morning.

This is really interesting. Apple hasn’t been in this particular space very long, but seems to be making really good progress. I think the biggest advantage of Apple Music is how integrated it is with the Apple ecosystem. It’s so easy to just use it right on your iPhone, iPad, Mac, or even HomePod. It’s like having access to almost every song, as if it were right in your own personal library, which is pretty cool.

I do think that Apple Music falls down when it comes to discovering new music, or listening to “radio”. The concept that Pandora first made popular. I use both Spotify and Apple Music (and I subscribed to Pandora for many years), and it strikes me how quickly Spotify learns the types of things I like, and starts creating interesting stations for me with new music that I tend to actually like.

Apple Music, on the other hand, seems to come up with just a station that seems thrown together, possibly by genre, but is incredibly generic, and mainstream. It doesn’t seem to actually learn anything about what I like or don’t like, and just throws broad categories at me. I am very consistent about liking and disliking the music that comes up to try and teach either system, but Apple Music consistently falls down in this area.

I love the convenience of Apple Music, and will definitely continue to subscribe to it, however it would be amazing if they could up their game in the music discovery department. Spotify is a great service, but it’s hard to see how it can compete with Apple with the simplicity of using it on Apple devices.

Source: https://www.digitalmusicnews.com/2018/07/0...

Health Data

When Apple released iOS 11.3, they quietly announced the beta of a new feature within the Health app.

From Apple -

With the Health app in iOS 11.3, a new beta feature makes it easier than ever for users to visualize and securely store their health records. Now your patients can aggregate their health records from multiple institutions alongside their patient-generated data, creating a more holistic view of their health.

To me this is fascinating. One of the big problems with health records is that they are almost always isolated to whatever healthcare system you use. With rare exceptions, if you see a doctor in one system, and for whatever reason need to see another doctor in a different system (different state, or sometimes your work may change medical plans), the second doctor can’t directly see any information about your first visit. Sometimes they can request those records, but it’s often a surprisingly manual task for all that are involved.

Apple isn’t solving all of the problem, at least yet, but another big problem is how difficult it can be to view your own medical records. Sure, you have the “right” to, but that doesn’t mean anyone is going to make it easy for you. At least until now.

If your medical provider (or multiple providers) support Apple’s new Health feature, it will import and organize all the data for you. It presents it in a clean, easy to understand manner, and if it’s importing from multiple sources, it will even combine the data for you.

Nation wide, many providers don’t support this feature yet, but they are being added at a surprisingly good clip. I noticed this evening that my provider, Intermountain Healthcare, was on the list, so I gave it a shot. One quick login to my online account and everything populated in a matter of minutes. It’s remarkably simple. Within a few more minutes of looking at my data, I could quickly see all my doctors appointments, medication, lab results, etc, and it all made sense to me.

This by no means solves the whole problem with medical records, but I think it’s a huge step in the right direction. It may seem like a weird thing to get excited about, but I’m excited about it. Now that my medical records are stored on my phone, I’m even more glad Apple takes an obsessive approach to individual privacy. I’m hopeful this is just the first step in Apple trying to revolutionize even a small part of the medical system.

Check here to see the list of supported providers.

Facebook Randomly Unblocking Users

Yet another case of Facebook mismanaging our data any worse. I left facebook for good recently, and will likely write a post soon about why I did so, but things like this make me glad I did.

I don't trust Facebook as a company, and although they publicly announced this bug, I just don't understand how something like this took so long to discover.

The bug, in short, randomly unblocked people who you had previously blocked.

Starting today we are notifying over 800,000 users about a bug in Facebook and Messenger that unblocked some people they had blocked. The bug was active between May 29 and June 5 — and while someone who was unblocked could not see content shared with friends, they could have seen things posted to a wider audience. For example pictures shared with friends of friends. We know that the ability to block someone is important — and we’d like to apologize and explain what happened.

On the one hand, yes, they admitted what happened, disclosed it responsibily, and seem to have already corrected the issue.

On the other hand, how long do we keep letting them do this?

It's easy if you're lucky enough to never have had to deal with cyber bullying, harassment, stalking, or any other abuse online, to think that it's not really that big of a deal that people you blocked got randomly unblocked, but it shouldn't be hard to put yourself in someone elses shoes who has.

There are people out there who make the internet a truly terrifying place to be. An abusive ex may have used Facebook or something similar in the past to look at the things you're doing, and try to show up somewhere that you may have been or may be going. It's not hard to immagine a bunch of horrible things that they could do with access to your Facebook information, particularly if you use Facebook frequently. This is not fictional, or theoretical. It happens all the time.

The small piece of comfort you could get is that if you blocked someone, it really blocks them. They can't see your posts, they can't see your info, and you should be safe from them on Facebook. Until the day you're not, and a random "bug" in their software just decides to start unblocking these people. This is far more serious than a few people accidentally seeing their crazy uncle rant about politics again for a few days, even though you blocked him. This is dangerous.

FB acknowledges this, barely, with the following statement -

There are many reasons why people block another person on Facebook. For example, their relationship may have changed or they may want to take a break from someone posting content they find annoying. Other reasons are more serious like harassment or bullying.

I don't believe that Facebook did this maliciously. I think this is yet another example that protecting your privacy and your data is not top priority to them. I would argue that it isn't at all a priority to them, because there isn't any evidence of them taking it seriously.

Simple Banking

Occasionally I like to make personal recommendations for products that I use and love.  One of those products is Simple.

I joined Simple many years ago when it was invite only, and I think it has been a great bank to work with.  Simple was built around the modern, app and internet focused world, and makes banking very simple.  They clearly want the customer experience to be first, and built their whole product around the way banking should be, not the way other people do it.

It is limited to a debit card right now, and there are no physical banks.  This sounds weird, but in my experience, it makes it so they can offer things like no fees for your account, and a lightweight mobile experience that is simple to use.

This seems like a small thing, but one of my favorite things about Simple is that they make it so easy to find your account numbers in an easy way.  It's also incredibly easy to set up sending a check (rent, power, etc.) and make sure that it's recurring.  In my other banks, both of these simple tasks are excruciatingly difficult to figure out.  These are just a couple of ways that Simple makes the banking experience better for me personally.

I encourage you to check them out, and give them a try.  Here's an invite link from my account if you decide you'd like to give them a shot - https://simple.com/friends/BNQM6J6

Source: https://www.simple.com/

Apple Maps

Matthew Panzarino, writing for Tech Crunch this last week broke the news that Apple would be redesigning their maps from the ground up in iOS 12.

This is nothing less than a full re-set of Maps and it’s been four years in the making, which is when Apple began to develop its new data-gathering systems. Eventually, Apple will no longer rely on third-party data to provide the basis for its maps, which has been one of its major pitfalls from the beginning.

This was interesting to me, because although I knew Apple was working with 3rd party companies to augment their map data, I was under the impression that they still created the majority of the data already.

I have mixed feelings on this whole story. On the one hand, Apple Maps definitely needs some love, as it has not worked very well since it was introduced six years ago. Although the maps has noticeably improved since it's initial launch, I have found that I still fairly frequently have it search for an addresss that is nowhere near what I'm actually searching for. Sometimes, maddeningly, searching for the exact same thing more than once yields different results.

Matthew interviewed Eddie Cue, SVP Internet Software and Services, who has taken over the maps project at Apple for this article, who to his credit did not seem to shy away from the fact that Apple messed up with Maps, and that they need to do better. They seem to acknowledge and understand what the problems are, but I wonder if they really know how to fix it.

To me, one of the worst parts of Maps is the searchability. Matthew briefly discusses this in one paragraph -

Search is also being revamped to make sure that you get more relevant results (on the correct continents) than ever before. Navigation, especially pedestrian guidance, also gets a big boost. Parking areas and building details to get you the last few feet to your destination are included, as well.

That sounds like the right things to say, but it doesn't exactly have the same substance as the rest of the article does. To me, things like that worry me that this won't be enough, or more accurately that they won't be focusing on the right things.

Emphasized several times in this article is how importantly Apple is taking privacy. I think this is becoming more and more important in today's world, and I truly appreciate the effort that Apple puts in to each product to protect the users privacy. I'm not sure if this is making a tangible difference in who wants Apple products versus any other product, but in a way that makes it all the more impressive that Apple puts the time and money in to doing it correctly. It's the right thing to do, and I'm glad they are willing to do it.

I do look forward to the improved accuracy and visual upgrades that are coming to Apple Maps. Apple's attention to detail, and tight system integration allow them to make a truly beautiful and easy to use map system in to iOS. I genuinely hope that they are building a system that is enough of an improvement that people can, and will, rely on it for their mapping and give other companies a run for their money.

I think the timing of this new map data is interesting, given iOS 12 will allow 3rd party map apps to integrate with CarPlay. To be completely honest, the only times I ever used Apple Maps instead of Google Maps was if I am plugged in to my car, so I can see it on the dashboard. If I ever needed to actually look for something, I would switch to Google Maps.

I'm willing to give it another shot, whenever this becomes available outside of Northern California. I wonder how many other people will.

Follow up article with Q&A, also by Matthew Panzarino