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

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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-blackhole.png

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.

black-hole-trash-can-mac.jpg

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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Facebook knows Instagram harms teens. Now, its plan to open the app to kids looks worse than ever – TechCrunch

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Facebook is in the hot seat again.

The Wall Street Journal published a powerful multi-part series on the company this week, drawing from internal documents on everything from the company’s secretive practice of whitelisting celebrities to its knowledge that Instagram is taking a serious toll on the mental health of teen girls.

The flurry of investigative pieces makes it clear that what Facebook says in public doesn’t always reflect the company’s knowledge on known issues behind the scenes. The revelations still managed to shock even though Facebook has been playing dumb about the various social ills it has sown for years. (Remember when Mark Zuckerberg dismissed the notion that Facebook influenced the 2016 election as “crazy?”) Facebook’s longstanding PR playbook is to hide its dangers, denying knowledge of its darker impacts on society publicly, even as research spells them out internally.

That’s all well and good until someone gets ahold of the internal research.

One of the biggest revelations from the WSJ’s report: The company knows that Instagram poses serious dangers to mental health in teenage girls. An internal research slide from 2019 acknowledged that “We make body image issues worse for one in three teen girls” — a shocking admission for a company charging ahead with plans to expand to even younger and more vulnerable age groups.

As recently as May, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri dismissed concerns around the app’s negative impact on teens as “quite small.”

But internally, the picture told a different story. According to the WSJ, from 2019 to 2021, the company conducted a thorough deep dive into teen mental health, including online surveys, diary studies, focus groups and large-scale questionnaires.

According to one internal slide, the findings showed that 32% of teenage girls reported that Instagram made them have a worse body image. Of research participants who experienced suicidal thoughts, 13% of British teens and 6% of American teens directly linked their interest in killing themselves to Instagram.

“Teens blame Instagram for increases in the rate of anxiety and depression,” another internal slide stated. “This reaction was unprompted and consistent across all groups.”

Following the WSJ report, Senators Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) and Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) announced a probe into Facebook’s lack of transparency around internal research showing that Instagram poses serious and even lethal danger to teens. The Senate Subcommittee on Consumer Protection, Product Safety, and Data Security will launch the investigation.

“We are in touch with a Facebook whistleblower and will use every resource at our disposal to investigate what Facebook knew and when they knew it – including seeking further documents and pursuing witness testimony,” Senators Blackburn and Blumenthal wrote. “The Wall Street Journal’s blockbuster reporting may only be the tip of the iceberg.”

Blackburn and Blumenthal weren’t the only U.S. lawmakers alarmed by the new report. Sen. Ed Markey (D-MA), Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL), and Lori Trahan (D-MA) sent Facebook their own letter demanding that the company walk away from its plan to launch Instagram for kids. “Children and teens are uniquely vulnerable populations online, and these findings paint a clear and devastating picture of Instagram as an app that poses significant threats to young people’s wellbeing,” the lawmakers wrote.

In May, a group of 44 state attorneys general wrote to Instagram to encourage the company to abandon its plans to bring Instagram to kids under the age of 13. “It appears that Facebook is not responding to a need, but instead creating one, as this platform appeals primarily to children who otherwise do not or would not have an Instagram account,” the group of attorneys general wrote. They warned that an Instagram for kids would be “harmful for myriad reasons.”

In April, a collection of the same Democratic lawmakers expressed “serious concerns” about Instagram’s potential impact on the well-being of young users. That same month, a coalition of consumer advocacy organizations also demanded that the company reconsider launching a version of Instagram for kids.

According to the documents obtained by the WSJ, all of those concerns look extremely valid. In spite of extensive internal research and their deeply troubling findings, Facebook has downplayed its knowledge publicly, even as regulators regularly pressed the company for what it really knows.

Instagram’s Mosseri may have made matters worse Thursday when he made a less than flattering analogy between social media platforms and vehicles. “We know that more people die than would otherwise because of car accidents, but by and large, cars create way more value in the world than they destroy,” Mosseri told Peter Kafka on Recode’s media podcast. “And I think social media is similar.”

Mosseri dismissed any comparison between social media and drugs or cigarettes in spite of social media’s well-researched addictive effects, likening social platforms to the auto industry instead. Naturally, the company’s many critics jumped on the car comparison, pointing to their widespread lethality and the fact that the auto industry is heavily regulated — unlike social media.

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Twitter Super Follows has generated only around $6K+ in its first two weeks – TechCrunch

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Twitter’s creator platform Super Follows is off to an inauspicious start, having contributed to somewhere around $6,000 in U.S. iOS revenue in the first two weeks the feature has been live, according to app intelligence data provided by Sensor Tower. And it’s made only around $600 or so in Canada. A small portion of that revenue may be attributed to Ticketed Spaces, Twitter’s other in-app purchase offered in the U.S. — but there’s no way for this portion to be calculated by an outside firm.

Twitter first announced its plans to launch Super Follows during its Analyst Day event in February, where the company detailed many of its upcoming initiatives to generate new revenue streams.

Today, Twitter’s business is highly dependent on advertising, and Super Follows is one of the few ways it’s aiming to diversify. The company is also now offering a way for creators to charge for access to their live events with Ticketed Spaces and, outside the U.S., Twitter has begun testing a premium product for power users, called Twitter Blue.

Image Credits: Twitter

But Super Follows, which targets creators, is the effort with the most potential appeal to mainstream users.

It’s also one that is working to capitalize on the growing creator economy, where content creators build a following, then generate revenue directly through subscriptions — decreasing their own dependence on ads or brand deals, as a result. The platforms they use for this business skim a little off the top to help them fund the development of the creator tools. (In Twitter’s case, it’s taking only a 3% cut.)

The feature would seem to make sense for Twitter, a platform that already allows high-profile figures and regular folks to hobnob in the same timeline and have conversations. Super Follows ups that access by letting fans get even closer to their favorite creators — whether those are musicians, artists, comedians, influencers, writers, gamers or other experts, for example. These creators can set a monthly subscription price of $2.99, $4.99 or $9.99 to provide fans with access to bonus, “behind-the-scenes” content of their choosing. These generally come in the form of extra tweets, Q&As and other interactions with subscribers.

Image Credits: Twitter

At launch, Twitter opened up Super Follows to a handful of creators, including the beauty and skincare-focused account @MakeupforWOC; astrology account @TarotByBronx; sports-focused @KingJosiah54; writer @myeshachou; internet personality and podcaster @MichaelaOkla; spiritual healer @kemimarie; music charts tweeter @chartdata; Twitch streamers @FaZeMew, @VelvetIsCake, @MackWood1, @GabeJRuiz and @Saulsrevenge; YouTubers @DoubleH_YT, @LxckTV and @PowerGotNow; and crypto traders @itsALLrisky and @moon_shine15; among others. Twitter says there are fewer than 100 creators in total who have access to Super Follows.

While access on the creation side is limited, the ability to subscribe to creators is not. Any Twitter iOS user in the U.S. or Canada can “Super Follow” any number of the supported creator accounts. In the U.S., Twitter has 169 million average monetizable daily active users as of Q2 2021. Of course, only some subset of those will be iOS users.

Still, Twitter could easily count millions upon millions of “potential” customers for its Super Follow platform at launch. Its current revenue indicates that, possibly, only thousands of consumers have done so, given many of the top in-app purchases are for creators offering content at lower price points.

Image Credits: Sensor Tower

Sensor Tower notes the $6,000 in U.S. consumer spending on iOS was calculated during the first two weeks of September (September 1-14). Before this period, U.S. iOS users spent only $100 from August 25 through 31 — a figure that would indicate user spending on Ticketed Spaces during that time. In other words, the contribution of Tickets Spaces revenue to this total of $6,000 in iOS consumer spending is likely quite small.

In Canada, the other market where Super Follow is now available to subscribers, Twitter’s iOS in-app purchase revenue from September 1 through September 14, was a negligible $600. (This would also include Twitter Blue subscription revenue, which is being tested in Canada and Australia.)

Worldwide, Twitter users on iOS spent $9,000 during that same time, which would include other Ticketed Spaces revenues and tests of its premium service, Twitter Blue. (Twitter’s Tip Jar, a way to pay creators directly, does not work through in-app purchases).

Unlike other Twitter products that developed by watching what users were already doing anyway — like using hashtags or retweeting content — many of Twitter’s newer features are attempts at redefining the use cases for its platform. In a massive rush of product pushes, Twitter has recently launched tools not just for creators, but also for e-commerce, organizing reading materials, subscribing to newsletters, socializing in communities, chatting through audio, fact-checking content, keeping up with trends, conversing more privately and more.

Twitter’s position on the slower start to Super Follows is that it’s still too early to make any determinations. While that’s fair, it’s also worth tracking adoption to see if the new product had seen any rapid, out-of-the-gate traction.

“This is just the start for Super Follows,” a Twitter spokesperson said, reached for comment about Sensor Tower’s figures. “Our main goal is focused on ensuring creators are set up for success and so we’re working closely with a small group of creators in this first iteration to ensure they have the best experience using Super Follows before we roll out more widely.”

The spokesperson also noted Twitter Super Follows had been set up to help creators make more money as it scales.

“With Super Follows, people are eligible to earn up to 97% of revenue after in-app purchase fees until they make $50,000 in lifetime earnings. After $50,000 in lifetime earnings, they can earn up to 80% of revenue after in-app purchase fees,” they said.

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Facebook revamps its business tool lineup following threats to its ad targeting business – TechCrunch

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Facebook today is announcing the launch of new products and features for business owners, following the threat to its ad targeting business driven by Apple’s new privacy features, which now allow mobile users to opt out of being tracked across their iOS apps. The social networking giant has repeatedly argued that Apple’s changes would impact small businesses that relied on Facebook ads to reach their customers. But it was not successful in getting any of Apple’s changes halted. Instead, the market is shifting to a new era focused more on user privacy, where personalization and targeting are more of an opt-in experience. That’s required Facebook to address its business advertiser base in new ways.

As the ability to track consumers declines — very few consumers are opting into tracking, studies find — Facebook is rolling out new features that will allow businesses to better position themselves in front of relevant audiences. This includes updates that will let them reach customers, advertise to customers, chat with customers across Facebook apps, generate leads, acquire customers and more.

The company earlier this year began testing a way for customers to explore businesses from underneath News Feed posts by tapping on topics they were interested in — like beauty, fitness, and clothing, and explore content from other related businesses. The feature allows people to come across new businesses that may also like, and would allow Facebook to create its own data set of users who like certain types of content. Over time, it could possibly even turn the feature into an ad unit, where businesses could pay for higher placement.

But for the time being, Facebook will expand this feature to more users across the U.S., and launch it in Australia, Canada, Ireland, Malaysia, New Zealand, Philippines, Singapore, South Africa, and the U.K.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook is also making it easier for businesses to chat with customers. They’re already able to buy ads that encourage people to message them on Facebook’s various chat platforms — Messenger, Instagram Direct, or WhatsApp. Now, they’ll be able to choose all the messaging platforms where they’re available, and Facebook will default the chat app showcased in the ad based on where the conversation is most likely to happen.

Image Credits: Facebook

The company will tie WhatsApp to Instagram, as well, as part of this effort. Facebook explains that many businesses market themselves or run shops across Instagram, but rely on WhatsApp to communicate with customers and answer questions. So, Facebook will now allow businesses to add a WhatsApp click-to-chat button to their Instagram profiles.

This change, in particular, represents another move that ties Facebook’s separate apps more closely together, at a time when regulators are considering breaking up Facebook over antitrust concerns. Already, Facebook interconnected Facebook’s Messenger and Instagram messaging services, which would make such a disassembly more complicated. And more recently, it’s begun integrating Messenger directly into Facebook’s platform itself.

Image Credits: Facebook

In a related change, soon businesses will be able to create ads that send users directly to WhatsApp from the Instagram app. (Facebook also already offers ads like this.)

Separately from this news, Facebook announced the launch of a new business directory on WhatsApp, allowing consumers to find shops and services on the chat platform, as well.

Another set of changes being introduced involve an update to Facebook Business Suite. Businesses will be able to manage emails through Inbox and sending remarketing emails; use a new File Manager for creating, managing, and posting content; and access a feature that will allow businesses to test different versions of a post to see which one is most effective.

Image Credits: Facebook

Other new products include tests of paid and organic lead generation tools on Instagram; quote requests on Messenger, where customers answer a few questions prior to their conversations; and a way for small businesses to access a bundle of tools to get started with Facebook ads, which includes a Facebook ad coupon along with free access to QuickBooks for 3 months or free access to Canva Pro for 3 months.

Image Credits: Facebook

Facebook will also begin testing something called “Work Accounts,” which will allow business owners to access their business products, like Business Manager, separately from their personal Facebook account. They’ll be able to manage these accounts on behalf of employees and use single-sign-on integrations.

Work Accounts will be tested through the remainder of the year with a small group of businesses, and Facebook says it expects to expand availability in 2022.

Other efforts it has in store include plans to incorporate more content from creators and local businesses and new features that let users control the content they see, but these changes were not detailed at this time.

Most of the products being announced are either rolling out today or will begin to show up soon.

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