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The Black Hole: It’s time for Apple to ditch the MacOS trash can



Black hole image captured for the first time (CNET)
Every image of a black hole you’ve seen was just an illustration. Until now. The Event Horizon Telescope captures one of the most powerful objects in existence. And basically, it’s the Eye of Sauron.

If you haven’t heard the news this week, an international team of scientists from the Event Horizon Telescope (EHT) Collaboration photographed and confirmed the existence of Powehi: the supermassive black hole at the center of galaxy Messier 87, which is over 55 million light years away, has the mass of over 6.5 billion suns, and has a radius wider than our entire solar system.

It is a very, very big black hole, and it is beautiful and utterly frightening.

It was imaged with 5 petabytes of collected data from a network of geographically dispersed radio telescopes around the world, using a computer algorithm created by a young post-doctoral student from MIT, Katie Bouman.

Of the many very important things about this discovery, this is what stands out for me: How it has put science front and center, reminding us that incredible mysteries in the universe are yet to be revealed to us, and that the end products of hard scientific research can be fun, exciting, educational and terrifying all at the same time.

And most importantly, black holes. Black freakin’ holes, people. We finally got to see one.

I have always loved black holes. The very idea — that these monsters are sitting out there in the universe, devouring stars and other stellar objects like giant vacuum cleaners — was an awesome thought to grow up with. 

As a 10-year-old boy, back in 1979, I was a huge fan of the Disney film, The Black Hole, one of the last movies to be produced before the company’s old studio system was dismantled and Disney moved full-time into animated features. 

It was creepy, dark, but also wacky. It had a big $20 million budget ($96 million in 2019 dollars adjusted for inflation) and had a star-studded, old Hollywood cast that included Anthony Perkins, Ernest Borgnine, Yvette Mimieux, and Maximillian Schell. 

The acting was wooden, and sometimes the effects looked really chintzy due to the limitations of the technology in use and how they rushed it out as a response to the first Star Wars film, a property it would own and exploit decades later. But man, I loved this movie. It had probably the coolest evil robot to ever hit the silver screen — Maximillian — that looked like it came straight out of hell. 

While the movie made Disney some money, compared to feature films the studio releases now, The Black Hole would be considered a flop. But with this week’s discovery, boy does it deserve to either be re-made or to have a special edition re-released with a full film remaster.

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The film put black holes into my teenage zeitgeist. But in college, back in 1988, it would be supplanted by something else — a computer system.

Not just any computer system: The NeXT Computer. Arguably, this is the computer system that is 100 percent responsible for Apple becoming the company that it is today. But back then, it was Rogue Apple. 

In September of 1985, Steve Jobs was kicked out of the company he founded by Apple’s board of directors, and went on to do other things. In addition to founding Pixar — a firm which pioneered computer graphics in the entertainment industry and is now known for producing such landmark animated Disney films as Toy Story, Cars, Wall-E, Up, The Incredibles, Brave and Coco — Jobs founded NeXT.

During its time as an independent company, NeXT could be best remembered for its esoteric, expensive nature and its ultra modern, minimalist industrial design — both traits that carry on in Apple products to this very day. A single NeXT Computer in 1988 cost $6,500.00 — which was hardly affordable to the higher education market it was being targeted to at the time. 

The NeXT ran on a Mach-based, graphical UNIX operating system that had an object-oriented programming language, Objective C, which remains in use on Apple systems to this very day. It used a 650MB, read-write magneto-optical storage drive designed by Canon and was ahead of writeable CD-ROM products used on PCs by about a decade. It had built-in integrated Ethernet networking and a TCP/IP stack, built-in digital audio, and a high-resolution graphics display, the “Megapixel”. In every respect, the product was way ahead of its time. 

It will probably also be remembered as the system that Tim Berners-Lee, the creator of the World Wide Web, used to create the first version of httpd on at CERN.

But what do I remember most about NeXT and its operating system? It didn’t have a trash can like Mac and Windows did. It had a Black Hole. So freaking cool.


NeXTStep 0.8 with Black Hole.

(Image: ZDNet)

In NeXTStep, the Black Hole was an icon that docked at the corner of the screen wherever you put it. You tossed stuff in there, it was toast. You purged your Workspace with it. It was a very Zen-like experience, especially for a 20-year-old college student in the late 1980s.

Eventually NeXT got rid of the Black Hole and went to a “Recycler.” How boring and corporate. As a company, NeXT was a failure. Unable to make a go of building these esoteric, expensive computers for universities and academia, they eventually fired most of their 200 or so employees and ported their software to Intel x86 systems as the OpenStep OS. 

In December of 1996, the company was acquired by Apple for $450 million, which at the time was undergoing its own financial difficulties and was unable to complete its homegrown next-generation OS, Copeland. With his return to the company he founded, Steve Jobs again took the helm as CEO. What followed, of course, was history — the iPod, the iMac. And MacOS and iOS.

Today Apple is a consumer electronics powerhouse that is worth hundreds of billions of dollars. MacOS arguably is one of the coolest operating systems on the market today. But you know what it doesn’t have? An appropriately cool way of getting rid of your trash.

Also: Apple’s first employee: The remarkable odyssey of Bill Fernandez 

Let’s face it, the MacOS trash can is dated. It looks like it is made of transparent plastic, and when it gets filled up, it appears unsightly. It doesn’t represent the 21st century ideal of having a green solution to removing digital refuse. If Steve Jobs were alive today, I think he would agree that it is in need of a makeover.


If Apple had a black hole trash can, it could be a floating hole you drag anywhere on the desktop, and it’ll distort the graphics around it in a swirling motion. Drag stuff in there, and it’ll stretch as it falls into the event horizon and disappears forever.

(Image: ZDNET)

The Black Hole in NeXTStep made its appearance over 30 years ago. This week, a dedicated team of scientists revealed a real one, using various leading-edge technologies which undoubtedly were assisted by Apple’s products in some way. In fact, you can very clearly see Katie Bouman using a MacBook Pro the very moment the imaging data collected by the EHT begins its integration process (on an Ubuntu Linux compute cluster) in a Smithsonian Channel special, Black Hole Hunters, which premieres today. 

We have been presented with an opaque, frightening monster of singularity, extreme gravity, and improbable mass that lurks in the darkness of space, 55 million light years away. One of perhaps millions or billions that sit out there in a black void, devouring everything around it.

I believe to commemorate this scientific achievement, Apple should remove the “Trash” in MacOS — and also in iOS — and replace it with an updated version of the NeXT Black Hole. Sure, Dark Mode is great, but a Black Hole? Microsoft doesn’t have one in Windows. Neither does Google in Android or Chrome OS. It is fitting with the uniqueness of Apple.

Being Amazingly Great is knowing when to bring back the old. As a wonder of the the universe, black holes fit the very definition of amazingly great, and old. Some almost as old as the universe itself. 

Should Apple bring back the NeXT Black Hole in MacOS and iOS to commemorate the discovery by the EHT Collaboration? Talk Back and Let Me Know. 

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Twitter’s decentralized future – TechCrunch



This week, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey finally responded publicly to the company’s decision to ban President Trump from its platform, writing that Twitter had “faced an extraordinary and untenable circumstance” and that he did not “feel pride” about the decision. In the same thread, he took time to call out a nascent Twitter-sponsored initiative called “bluesky,” which is aiming to build up an “open decentralized standard for social media” that Twitter is just one part of.

Researchers involved with bluesky reveal to TechCrunch an initiative still in its earliest stages that could fundamentally shift the power dynamics of the social web.

Bluesky is aiming to build a “durable” web standard that will ultimately ensure that platforms like Twitter have less centralized responsibility in deciding which users and communities have a voice on the internet. While this could protect speech from marginalized groups, it may also upend modern moderation techniques and efforts to prevent online radicalization.

Jack Dorsey, co-founder and chief executive officer of Twitter Inc., arrives after a break during a House Energy and Commerce Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., U.S., on Wednesday, Sept. 5, 2018. Republicans pressed Dorsey for what they said may be the “shadow-banning” of conservatives during the hearing. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

What is bluesky?

Just as Bitcoin lacks a central bank to control it, a decentralized social network protocol operates without central governance, meaning Twitter would only control its own app built on bluesky, not other applications on the protocol. The open and independent system would allow applications to see, search and interact with content across the entire standard. Twitter hopes that the project can go far beyond what the existing Twitter API offers, enabling developers to create applications with different interfaces or methods of algorithmic curation, potentially paying entities across the protocol like Twitter for plug-and-play access to different moderation tools or identity networks.

A widely adopted, decentralized protocol is an opportunity for social networks to “pass the buck” on moderation responsibilities to a broader network, one person involved with the early stages of bluesky suggests, allowing individual applications on the protocol to decide which accounts and networks its users are blocked from accessing.

Social platforms like Parler or Gab could theoretically rebuild their networks on bluesky, benefitting from its stability and the network effects of an open protocol. Researchers involved are also clear that such a system would also provide a meaningful measure against government censorship and protect the speech of marginalized groups across the globe.

Bluesky’s current scope is firmly in the research phase, people involved tell TechCrunch, with about 40-50 active members from different factions of the decentralized tech community surveying the software landscape and putting together proposals for what the protocol should ultimately look like. Twitter has told early members that it hopes to hire a project manager in the coming weeks to build out an independent team that will start crafting the protocol itself.

A Twitter spokesperson declined to comment on the initiative.

Bluesky’s initial members were invited by Twitter CTO Parag Agrawal early last year. It was later determined that the group should open the conversation up to folks representing some of the more recognizable decentralized network projects, including Mastodon and ActivityPub, which joined the working group hosted on the secure chat platform Element.

Jay Graber, founder of decentralized social platform Happening, was paid by Twitter to write up a technical review of the decentralized social ecosystem, an effort to “help Twitter evaluate the existing options in the space,” she tells TechCrunch.

“If [Twitter] wanted to design this thing, they could have just assigned a group of guys to do it, but there’s only one thing that this little tiny group of people could do better than Twitter, and that’s not be Twitter,” said Golda Velez, another member of the group who works as a senior software engineer at Postmates and co-founded, a privacy-centric social network for civic engagement.

The group has had some back and forth with Twitter executives on the scope of the project, eventually forming a Twitter-approved list of goals for the initiative. They define the challenges that the bluesky protocol should seek to address while also laying out what responsibilities are best left to the application creators building on the standard.

Parrot.VC Twitter account

Image: TechCrunch

Who is involved

The pain points enumerated in the document, viewed by TechCrunch, encapsulate some of Twitter’s biggest shortcomings. They include “how to keep controversy and outrage from hijacking virality mechanisms,” as well as a desire to develop “customizable mechanisms” for moderation, though the document notes that the applications, not the overall protocol, are “ultimately liable for compliance, censorship, takedowns etc.”

“I think the solution to the problem of algorithms isn’t getting rid of algorithms — because sorting posts chronologically is an algorithm — the solution is to make it an open pluggable system by which you can go in and try different algorithms and see which one suits you or use the one that your friends like,” says Evan Henshaw-Plath, another member of the working group. He was one of Twitter’s earliest employees and has been building out his own decentralized social platform called Planetary.

His platform is based on the secure scuttlebutt protocol, which allows users to browse networks offline in an encrypted fashion. Early on, Planetary had been in talks with Twitter for a corporate investment as well as a personal investment from CEO Jack Dorsey, Henshaw-Plath says, but the competitive nature of the platform prompted some concern among Twitter’s lawyers and Planetary ended up receiving an investment from Twitter co-founder Biz Stone’s venture fund Future Positive. Stone did not respond to interview requests.

After agreeing on goals, Twitter had initially hoped for the broader team to arrive at some shared consensus, but starkly different viewpoints within the group prompted Twitter to accept individual proposals from members. Some pushed Twitter to outright adopt or evolve an existing standard while others pushed for bluesky to pursue interoperability of standards early on and see what users naturally flock to.

One of the developers in the group hoping to bring bluesky onto their standard was Mastodon creator Eugen Rochko, who tells TechCrunch he sees the need for a major shift in how social media platforms operate globally.

“Banning Trump was the right decision though it came a little bit too late. But at the same time, the nuance of the situation is that maybe it shouldn’t be a single American company that decides these things,” Rochko tells us.

Like several of the other members in the group, Rochko has been skeptical at times about Twitter’s motivation with the bluesky protocol. Shortly after Dorsey’s initial announcement in 2019, Mastodon’s official Twitter account tweeted out a biting critique, writing, “This is not an announcement of reinventing the wheel. This is announcing the building of a protocol that Twitter gets to control, like Google controls Android.”

Today, Mastodon is arguably one of the most mature decentralized social platforms. Rochko claims that the network of decentralized nodes has more than 2.3 million users spread across thousands of servers. In early 2017, the platform had its viral moment on Twitter, prompting an influx of “hundreds of thousands” of new users alongside some inquisitive potential investors whom Rochko has rebuffed in favor of a donation-based model.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Inherent risks

Not all of the attention Rochko has garnered has been welcome. In 2019, Gab, a social network favored by right-wing extremists, brought its entire platform onto the Mastodon network after integrating the platform’s open-source code, bringing Mastodon its single biggest web of users and its most undesirable liability all at once.

Rochko quickly disavowed the network and aimed to sever its ties to other nodes on the Mastodon platform and convince application creators to do the same. But a central fear of decentralization advocates was quickly realized, as the platform type’s first “success story” was a home for right-wing extremists.

This fear has been echoed in decentralized communities this week as app store owners and networks have taken another right-wing social network, Parler, off the web after violent content surfaced on the site in the lead-up to and aftermath of riots at the U.S. Capitol, leaving some developers fearful that the social network may set up home on their decentralized standard.

“Fascists are 100% going to use peer-to-peer technologies, they already are and they’re going to start using it more… If they get pushed off of mainstream infrastructure or people are surveilling them really closely, they’re going to have added motivation,” said Emmi Bevensee, a researcher studying extremist presences on decentralized networks. “Maybe the far-right gets stronger footholds on peer-to-peer before the people who think the far-right is bad do because they were effectively pushed off.”

A central concern is that commoditizing decentralized platforms through efforts like bluesky will provide a more accessible route for extremists kicked off current platforms to maintain an audience and provide casual internet users a less janky path towards radicalization.

“Peer-to-peer technology is generally not that seamless right now. Some of it is; you can buy Bitcoin in Cash App now, which, if anything, is proof that this technology is going to become much more mainstream and adoption is going to become much more seamless,” Bevensee told TechCrunch. “In the current era of this mass exodus from Parler, they’re obviously going to lose a huge amount of audience that isn’t dedicated enough to get on IPFS. Scuttlebutt is a really cool technology but it’s not as seamless as Twitter.”

Extremists adopting technologies that promote privacy and strong encryption is far from a new phenomenon, encrypted chat apps like Signal and Telegram have been at the center of such controversies in recent years. Bevensee notes the tendency of right-wing extremist networks to adopt decentralized network tech has been “extremely demoralizing” to those early developer communities — though she notes that the same technologies can and do benefit “marginalized people all around the world.”

Though people connected to bluesky’s early moves see a long road ahead for the protocol’s development and adoption, they also see an evolving landscape with Parler and President Trump’s recent deplatforming that they hope will drive other stakeholders to eventually commit to integrating with the standard.

“Right at this moment I think that there’s going to be a lot of incentive to adopt, and I don’t just mean by end users, I mean by platforms, because Twitter is not the only one having these really thorny moderation problems,” Velez says. “I think people understand that this is a critical moment.”

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Facebook blocks new events around DC and state capitols – TechCrunch



As a precaution against coordinated violence as the US approaches President-elect Joe Biden’s inauguration, Facebook announced a few new measures it’s putting in place.

In a blog post and tweets from Facebook Policy Communications Director Andy Stone, the company explained that it would block any events slated to happen near the White House, the U.S. Capitol or any state capitol building through Wednesday.

The company says it will also do “secondary” sweeps through any inauguration-related events to look for violations of its policies. At this point, that includes any content connected to the “Stop the Steal” movement perpetuating the rampant lie that Biden’s victory is illegitimate. Those groups continued to thrive on Facebook until measures the company took at the beginning of this week.

Facebook will apparently also be putting new restrictions in place for U.S. users who repeatedly break the company’s rules, including barring those accounts from livestreaming videos, events and group pages.

Those precautions fall short of what some of Facebook’s critics have called for, but they’re still notable measures for a company that only began taking dangerous conspiracies and armed groups seriously in the last year.

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WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash – TechCrunch



WhatsApp delays enforcement of a controversial privacy change, Apple may get rid of the Touch Bar in future MacBooks and Bumble files to go public. This is your Daily Crunch for January 15, 2021.

The big story: WhatsApp responds to privacy backlash

Earlier this month, WhatsApp sent users a notification asking them to consent to sharing some of their personal data — such as phone number and location — with Facebook (which owns WhatsApp). The alert also said users would have to agree to the terms by February 8 if they wanted to continue using the app.

This change prompted legal threats and an investigation from the Turkish government. Now the company is pushing the enforcement date back three months.

“No one will have their account suspended or deleted on February 8. We’re also going to do a lot more to clear up the misinformation around how privacy and security works on WhatsApp,” the company said in a post. “We’ll then go to people gradually to review the policy at their own pace before new business options are available on May 15.”

The tech giants

Uber planning to spin out Postmates’ delivery robot arm — Postmates X is seeking investors in its bid to become a separate company.

Apple said to be planning new 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pros with MagSafe and Apple processors — This could be the end for the Touch Bar.

Amazon’s newest product lets companies build their own Alexa assistant for cars, apps and video games — Yes, that means your next car could have two Alexas.

Startups, funding and venture capital

Bumble files to go public — The company plans to list on the Nasdaq stock exchange, using the ticker symbol “BMBL.”

Tracy Chou launches Block Party to combat online harassment and abuse — Currently available for Twitter, Block Party helps people filter out the content they don’t want to see.

Everlywell raises $75M from HealthQuest Capital following its recent $175M Series D round — Everlywell develops at-home testing kits for a range of health concerns, and it added a COVID-19 home collection test kit last year.

Advice and analysis from Extra Crunch

Fifteen steps to fundraising a new VC or private equity fund — Launching is easy; fundraising is harder.

Lessons from Top Hat’s acquisition spree — The acquisition of Fountainhead Press marks Top Hat’s third purchase of a publishing company in the past 12 months.

Twilio CEO Jeff Lawson says wisdom lies with your developers — Takeaways from Lawson’s new book “Ask Your Developer.”

(Extra Crunch is our membership program, which aims to democratize information about startups. You can sign up here.)

Everything else

Video game spending increased 27% in 2020 — According to the latest figures from NPD, spending on gaming hardware, software and accessories was up 25% in December and 27% for the full year.

DOT evaluated 11 GPS replacements and found only one that worked across use cases —  The government wants to create additional redundancy and resiliency in the sector.

The Daily Crunch is TechCrunch’s roundup of our biggest and most important stories. If you’d like to get this delivered to your inbox every day at around 3pm Pacific, you can subscribe here.

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