How did Apple manage to screw up the iOS calculator app?

This is a strange one.

Not too long ago, Quartz reported on an unfortunate gaffe by Apple in the calculator app in the latest version of iOS. If you typed in “1+2+3=” fast enough, you would get a wrong answer (i.e. not 6). In some cases, you would get a very wrong answer.

Apple did finally get around to fixing this bug about a week after the article. What’s disturbing is just how the botched calculator came to be to begin with. Per the article:

According to a group of eagle-eyed iPhone users on Reddit who spotted the issue, it seems to be because of a new animation in the calculator app, where a button briefly fades to white when you press it. The result is that if you press an operator button (i.e., the plus sign) before the short animation finishes, the app ignores it. So, 1 + 2 + 3 accidentally gets read as 1 + 23.

Translation: Apple cares more about the flashy and purely cosmetic animation than the calculator actually performing its intended function. This is wholly unacceptable for any company involved in devices intended to be used for functional computing. A calculator app is not a laser light show with numbers on it. It is a tool, much like the dedicated devices it is modeled after, which is relied upon to give accurate results when used. Screw up something like the calculator, and you (quite justly) lose the trust of a good number of your users, something which is not very easy to regain.

The good news is that Apple is fixing it. The bad news is that it apparently took Apple two minor iOS revisions to recognize the issue and get a fix out there. Quite disturbing to me. Yes, there are third-party calculator apps, but one should not have to resort to a third-party app for something like this.

I can only imagine what’s next: a phone app that dials the wrong number if you enter it too quickly?

On the US withdrawal from the Paris Accord

I wanted to get this up a bit sooner, but other committments and personal illness made that impossible. This is still being talked about and will undoubtedly still be a major topic for months if not years to come.

CBS News recently reported on DJT’s decision to withdraw the US from the Paris Accord as our president.

The US is now on the same side of the agreement as Syria and Nicaragua. Nicaragua has a decent reason for not being part of the Paris Accord: they feel the agreement is not aggressive enough. There’s at least some honor in that. Syria also has a pretty good excuse: they are dealing with a civil war right now, so yeah, it’s hard to blame them for putting environmental issues a bit further down the list.

So, the United States of America not only the only country in the world to pull out of the Paris Accord after initially agreeing to be part of it, but also the only country to do so because of a change of administration, and specifically because of a change in the ruling political party. Say what bad things you will about Hillary Clinton, but I can assure you she would not have done this. Of course, I know Bernie Sanders wouldn’t have done something so selfish and short-sighted. Withdrawing from the Paris Accord is a bad move for America; I don’t care what DJT says.

So why did DJT pull the US out of the Paris Accord?

If you don’t feel like watching/listening to the entire 33 minute, 26 second video, NPR also has an annotated transcript of the speech. You might want to look at the transcript anyway because NPR provides some important non-obvious context to some of the things DJT says. I’ll quote a couple of them here as they are real eye-openers:

DJT: I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.

Jessica Taylor, NPR: Allegheny County, which encompasses Pittsburgh, actually voted for Hillary Clinton in November […] [a]nd the city itself voted for Clinton by about 80 percent. […]

The Pittsburgh mayor also said on Twitter that even though Trump is withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris Agreement, the city will continue to follow the guidelines set forth in it.

[Pittsburgh Mayor Bill] Peduto is not the only one, either […] Those reaffirming their commitment to the Paris Agreement include the mayors of Los Angeles, Boston, New York, Chicago, Houston, Seattle, Philadelphia and Atlanta.

Scott Detrow, NPR: [Due to the area’s recent boom in natural gas drilling,] sticking to the Paris accord — and the Environmental Protection Agency regulations that the Obama administration set up to reach its Paris goals — would very likely have helped, not hurt, Pittsburgh.

And later on:

DJT: It is time to put Youngstown, Ohio; Detroit, Mich.; and Pittsburgh, Pa.; along with many many other locations in our country, before Paris, France. It is time to make America great again.

Jessica Taylor, NPR: Mahoning County, Ohio (which includes Youngstown), narrowly voted for Clinton, 49.8 percent to 46.8 percent. Wayne County, Mich. (Detroit), went heavily for Clinton over Trump, nearly 66.8 percent to 29.5 percent.

While I can get that DJT is naming these cities figuratively, the reality of it is, there are a lot of major cities where Hillary Clinton won the popular vote. Hillary Clinton also won the national popular vote, yet the Electoral College system gave us DJT instead, and arguably failed to do its job as the last-ditch effort to keep totally unqualified people like DJT out of the White House. DJT is also dead wrong in the actual effect of the Paris Accord on Pittsburgh, which shows just how out of touch he is with what’s going on in this country.

More from the NPR transcript:

DJT: Our tax bill is moving along in Congress, and I believe it’s doing very well.

Danielle Kurtzieben, NPR: This bill has not yet been introduced.

Yeah, nice leadership, DJT. You just told a flat-out lie to the American people. It’s kind of like saying I’m “moving along” on a trip, say, back to Columbus, Ohio, when I haven’t even bought bus tickets or a hotel room yet. (For a variety of reasons, I don’t fly right now.) Sure, I’d like to do a lot more travel at least around the US if not beyond, but I’m not going to say I’m “moving along” on plans to take a trip when the very first step hasn’t been taken.

Having our president tell flat-out lies like this gives the kids in school today the idea that it’s okay to lie. Dishonesty is about as un-American as you can get, at least according to the American values I was taught. You talk so damn much about “mak[ing] America great again?” If you really do want to make America great again, start by being honest and leading by example. Oh, and learn the results of the last election, and when you pull city names out of a hat for rhetorical purposes, try not to name cities that did not in fact have a majority vote in your favor. (Yeah, I know, there won’t be too many left. That’s kind of the point.)

I could probably go on and on, but there is something else that should be noted: getting us into the Paris Accord was one of Barack Obama’s most prized accomplishments, and DJT sees the withdrawal as a largely symbolic move to reverse part of Obama’s legacy. This is perhaps the most pathetic and most outrageous reason to screw up the reputation of the entire country of the United States of America.

Some things just don’t belong in an operating system; this is one of them

What the hell were they under the influence of when they came up with this crazy idea? Am I in the Twilight Zone?

This article on TorrentFreak discusses a report published by the organizations Black Market Watch and the Global Initiative against Transnational Organized Crime, about ending online copyright infringement in Sweden. The report itself is in what would appear to be Swedish (guessing since it’s about Sweden, though I can only say for sure it’s not in English). What they suggest honestly reeks of George Orwell’s dystopian future: have copyright infringing content blocked at the operating system level.

There are so many problems with this suggestion, so I’m only going to address the most obvious one I see. With copyright comes something called fair use, known outside the US as fair dealing but which is essentially the same concept. Basically, fair use means there are some purposes for which it is allowed to use copyrighted material without having to get the permission of the copyright holder. I am not sure how something in the operating system is going to be able to tell the difference between unlawful infringement and fair use. My guess is that it probably won’t, and will interfere with perfectly legal uses of copyrighted material.

Another big issue has to do with the very basic foundations of computing, and what makes computers and related technology so useful. I have been using computers since elementary school, back when the requirement in Texas for computer literacy class was one semester in middle school. (Now, the requirement is not for a separate class, but that all classes at all grade levels incorporate some form of what is now called technological literacy. This is completely different and shows the difference between technology in the late 1980s versus technology in the mid-2010s; it is quite a stark contrast.)

What made computers so useful then, is that the computer did exactly what one told it to. For the most part, this is still the case, though in more recent times there have been attempts of varying success in eroding this. Examples include things like scanners or copiers refusing to make copies of currency or other documents which pattern-match a list of prohibited items. Sometimes the restriction is on the software running on the computer versus the actual scanner firmware (in the case of scanners), so it’s easy to work around if desired. I haven’t checked lately but it is possible newer scanners may have the restriction in the scanner itself, which to me would fit right in Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four.

Another case is DVD copy protection, which is also relatively easy to circumvent. The major obstacle here is the Digital Millennium Copyright Act which makes it a crime to do so, albeit one which is rarely if ever enforced against someone who just wants to watch a DVD on a PC running GNU/Linux without having to spend more money on a properly “blessed” DVD player or non-free DVD playing software. Most of the same applies to Blu-Ray (and HD DVD) copy protection, though it’s a bit more robust given that it came out after the US government relaxed regulations on cryptography export (in 1996, when the first DVD players hit the market, it was difficult if not impossible to export any encryption systems which used keys longer than 40 bits, which even at the time was laughably small).

There’s also an edge case which may seem far-fetched, but may well become real and a very real problem: what if someone’s original work gets mis-detected as copyright infringing by this system, due to a hash collision or something similar? It’s not as far-fetched as it may seem, given stories like the one about Fox appropriating a clip of someone playing the original Nintendo Entertainment System version of Double Dribble. Fox used the clip in Family Guy, then had the original taken off of YouTube due to a copyright infringement claim, possibly through automated means. Now, what if the clip in question is, say, an original computer animation, and an automated system which is part of the computer’s operating system decides to block it (or even outright erase it) based on a similar content matching system after a TV network uses it? If it were my work, I’d be pretty damn pissed off. Wouldn’t you? Worse, that same operating system module could decide to erase it from my backups if I were to try to restore it.

No. Just plain no. We, the computing public, have a right to have computers free from such an absolutely insane and idiotic system. I acknowledge that copyright as it exists today has deviated far from its original purpose, and may even be considered broken, but this is no way to fix it. In fact, this breaks it even more.

Ahmed’s clock

If there was ever an incident that deserves the well-worn “galactically-stupid” tag, this is it.

For those who have not heard the story by now, it made CNN. A student named Ahmed Mohamed brought a clock he had made himself to school to show off. Apparently, to one of his teachers, it “looked like a bomb.” I’m not sure where the teacher got this idea, or if the teacher even knows what a real bomb looks like. The story ends with Ahmed getting arrested for a violation of the hoax bomb law, Texas Penal Code 46.08. (The charges were later dropped, but Ahmed still got suspended from school.)

Except that there’s no violation of that law here. I don’t think the school authorities or the police ever thought this was a bomb, and certainly Ahmed had no intent to make anyone believe this was anything but an electronic time measuring device (i.e. clock). That’s what he told the cops, and they refused to believe him:

Irving Police spokesman Officer James McLellan told the station, “We attempted to question the juvenile about what it was and he would simply only tell us that it was a clock.”

The teenager did that because, well, it was a clock, he said.

Gee whiz, guys, what else did you want him to say? And yet you arrested him anyway. Shame on you, Irving PD.

I don’t think the cops ever thought Ahmed had a bomb, even a so-called “hoax bomb.” None of the usual protocol and precautions used to handle this so-called “bomb” were taken with this device. The school wasn’t evacuated, the bomb squad was not called, and in general this device was handled as though it was harmless (i.e. definitely not handled like it was a bomb).They even took pictures of it. Sure, the pictures show wires hanging out, but that’s going to be the same with any electronic device. I certainly don’t see anything in those pictures that looks like it could be an explosive. It doesn’t look much different than most of the other prototype-level electronics projects I’ve seen.

Their only “suspicion,” if you can call it that, was the student’s name and race. In other words, in an act of flagrant racism, he was arrested and later suspended from school for little other reason than he was of Middle Eastern descent. Completely un-American, and certainly un-Texan. And apparently I’m not the only one to come to this conclusion.

Among other things that have happened since, President Obama invited Ahmed to the White House to show off his clock. Thankfully, we have a sane president; I don’t want to think about how McCain or Romney might have handled this incident. The fact that this got as far as Ahmed actually being arrested is scary enough.

A tweet linked from the CNN story shows a (white) student building a nuclear fusion reactor, which was actually backed by his school, and contrasting this with what happened to Ahmed. Granted, the former story is out of the UK, and it remains to be seen whether or not that would fly in the US. The sad thing is, apparently the race of the student might matter… and here I am thinking we have made actual progress eradicating racism in the US.

Now, I’m saying to myself, “Shit, we’ve still got a real racism problem.” How are we going to fix it, America?

What does the NCAA really stand for?

I haven’t done a good sports-related post in forever. Apparently, it takes a broken leg to get me interested in college sports. I’ve learned more about how the NCAA started than most college fans probably want to know, and I’m shocked by what I’ve found out.

This ThinkProgress article on Kevin Ware’s broken leg takes a pretty big swipe at the NCAA. It quotes a story from the 2011 October issue of The Atlantic at length, which while being over a year old, is still quite timely and relevant:

Today, much of the NCAA’s moral authority—indeed much of the justification for its existence—is vested in its claim to protect what it calls the “student-athlete.” The term is meant to conjure the nobility of amateurism, and the precedence of scholarship over athletic endeavor. But the origins of the “student-athlete” lie not in a disinterested ideal but in a sophistic formulation designed … to help the NCAA in its “fight against workmen’s compensation insurance claims for injured football players.”

…The term came into play in the 1950s, when the widow of Ray Dennison, who had died from a head injury received while playing football in Colorado for the Fort Lewis A&M Aggies, filed for workmen’s-compensation death benefits. …

The term student-athlete was deliberately ambiguous. College players were not students at play (which might understate their athletic obligations), nor were they just athletes in college (which might imply they were professionals). That they were high-performance athletes meant they could be forgiven for not meeting the academic standards of their peers; that they were students meant they did not have to be compensated, ever, for anything more than the cost of their studies. Student-athlete became the NCAA’s signature term, repeated constantly in and out of courtrooms.

Now, think about this last paragraph in the light of such things as the Texas “No Pass No Play” rule, which came into effect in 1985–and has had unintended deleterious consequences, I might add. (Without going off on too much of a tangent, let’s just say youth gangs don’t care what’s on the last report card.)

The rule was originally intended to decrease failing grades by eliminating “distracting” sports, mainly for students in football, and mainly those who failed two or more courses. (If memory serves me correctly, the news exposé at the time brought to light students who failed four or more courses.) Instead of a rule focused strictly on the biggest part of the problem, the Texas version of the rule lets any teacher who can find a way to flunk a student have complete control of whether or not that student is in any extracurricular activities. Yes, there are (or at least were) teachers who will get “creative” and round down a 69.9 average so the student gets an “F” instead of a “D”. Bam! Game over. No sports, no band, no choir, no part in the school play for the next six weeks. I was stuck in “cadet band” one semester because of this, and I got a failing grade in band (68) during a grading period as a result due to the ridiculous number of demerits that being in “cadet band” set me up for. The school counselor, not surprisingly, didn’t believe me. (This is why I quit school band after that year.)

So, back on topic… any way you slice it, the bit about not meeting the academic standards of their peers is definitely hogwash today. Being on the football or basketball teams is not an excuse for having lower grades and honestly, I don’t realistically think it ever was.

The article from The Atlantic goes into detail about just how the NCAA has resorted to selling game broadcast videos and made other merchandising deals in apparent exploitation of the athletic students it should be protecting. A small portion of this:

All of this money ultimately derives from the college athletes whose
likenesses are shown in the films or video games. But none of the profits go to them. … Naturally, as they have become more of a profit center for the NCAA, some of the vaunted “student-athletes” have begun to clamor that they deserve a share of those profits. You “see everybody getting richer and richer,” Desmond Howard, who won the 1991 Heisman Trophy while playing for the Michigan Wolverines, told USA Today recently. “And you walk around and you can’t put gas in your car? You can’t even fly home to see your parents?”

… “Once you leave your university,” says [Ed] O’Bannon, who won the John Wooden Award for player of the year in 1995 on UCLA’s national-championship basketball team, “one would think your likeness belongs to you.”

Later on in the article comes a huge indictment of how the NCAA defines amateur status. I obviously can’t quote the entire article here but this should give you some idea what’s at stake. We have, on one hand, the NCAA, which has gone from its original mission to what is in effect a near-monopoly on college sports, using this flimsy excuse that college athletes are amateurs to first, exclude them from worker’s compensation claims, and second, to keep them from even negotiating with professional sports teams at all without risking their supposed amateur status.

The idea that (most) college athletes are amateurs is absurd. College athletes are paid when they get an athletic scholarship. (The walk-ons might be true amateurs, thus the “most” above.) The NCAA is truly treating college athletes like professionals by licensing their likenesses and, worse, not paying them for the privilege. The Olympics abandoned amateur status requirements back in 1986, for better or for worse. On top of this, it strikes me as just plain silly to rule players ineligible just for testing the market by negotiating with a professional team–even if no money changes hands.

This would be less of an issue if not combined with the most utterly short-sighted and galactically stupid limit of one year on scholarship commitments. Add this all up and you have the following: college athletes are at the mercy of their coaches and pretty much commit to playing their sport of choice for all four years to have a chance to graduate, if their coaches will let them. If the coach decides to cut an athlete the following year–boom! It’s either don’t graduate, hope to qualify for a Pell grant, or take out student loans.

I will probably revisit this topic at a later date. It will take me time to find suggestions on ways to fix the problems, because there are simply too many. But it’s clear to me that the NCAA as it stands today, stands for what is wrong with college athletics. We, the sports fans of the US (and the world), deserve better.