Dark Sky Weather review

I downloaded the Dark Sky Weather app for iOS, which I tested for seven days and review in this article. It has been said that Dark Sky is pretty good at predicting US weather but I wanted to see how it copes with the festering cauldron of weather we get in the UK. It didn't do a bad job, as it happens, although I did notice one or two interface problems.

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Trump blustering on about Google

Amongst the many things Donald Trump blusters on about, he’s now having a go at Google. He’s saying that their search results are biased towards what he calls the ‘fake news’ from the democrats' side of US politics.

This is what Trump tweeted:

Now it’s not beyond the realms of possibility because Google has been found to rig their algorithms to favour their own products, but in this case I think it’s very unlikely. Favouring one’s own results is simply a matter of profit for Google and a one-off in my opinion. Google would do far more damage to itself if its algorithms were hooky in general. It could lose the trust of searchers.

In fact, Google has defended itself, saying:

Search is not used to set a political agenda and we don’t bias our results toward any political ideology. Every year, we issue hundreds of improvements to our algorithms to ensure they surface high-quality content in response to users’ queries. We continually work to improve Google Search and we never rank search results to manipulate political sentiment.

Given that Trump is always trying to manipulate the media in his favour, I think this is just another one of his ranting missives that’s trying to discredit any news that he feels shows him in a poor light.

Trump’s claim that Google is behaving illegally is also a bit suspect. If Google were fixing the results, I believe they’d be free to do so. It’s their own, privately-owned site after all. Of course Google Search would lose a lot of credibility (and customers) if that was the case, which is why I’m certain they’re not doing this. But I can’t see how it would be in any way illegal.

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Corbyn's plans for Big Tech

I don’t know if Corbyn’s speech is just an eye-catcher or whether it intends to have substance if he should get into power, but it’s not simple to apply a windfall tax to ‘Big Tech’.

James O Malley at Gizmodo writes:

What Corbyn is pitching here is a “windfall tax” — a tax on companies that post excessive profits. This isn’t completely unheard of — such a tax was introduced on the companies running privatised utilities by the evil, neoliberal Tony Blair, in 1997. Since the 2008 financial crisis, it has been regularly proposed as a solution to what to do about the bankers’ bonuses.

But can this translate to Big Tech? The immediate problem as far as I can tell is… it isn’t actually very easy to define which companies count as a “digital monopoly”.

And therein lies a big problem, which James illustrates further with:

Amazon is a tech company… but it is also a retailer. Facebook is a tech company, but is also a communications company. Twitter is a tech company, but it is also a pit of despair.

To really illustrate the definitions problem, think of a traditional company like, say, Argos. Argos is a traditional retailer, but over the past decade has clearly digitised much of its business, from the ordering process (go into a store today and you’ll find iPads instead of tiny pens), to the supply chain (same day delivery). Because it bought some computers… does Argos count as a tech company now?

I don’t think Corbyn’s idea is as easy to implement as he thinks.

As a related aside, I can’t see how adding more tax laws creates anything but opportunities for the tax avoiders. Tax laws are ludicrously long-winded and complicated and thus offer many loopholes. Somebody needs to throw it all away, start again and create simple, explicitly-defined tax laws and then give the courts clear direction about how to interpret them (although if the laws are simple enough that should be self evident).

Alas, like the long-overdue overhaul of the NHS that’s needed, I can’t imagine many governments having the stomach to tackle tax laws from the ground up.

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Ironmaster Super Bench Leg Attachment review

In general I love Ironmaster kit. I have an IM2000 and a Super Bench and I rate both highly. I am however a little disappointed with the Ironmaster Super Bench Leg Attachment, which I review here. Don’t get me wrong, it’s comparable to most leg attachments from other companies, it’s just that I expect more from Ironmaster and there are a few deficiencies with the product that I wouldn’t expect from this company.

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Please telly, have mercy on me

I positively despise talent shows and reality TV. I simply do not understand how enough people watch this drivel to keep justifying the new series’ the television networks constantly inflict on us. What specific ‘hook’ — the one that draws everyone in — am I missing here?

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Facebook’s ’trustworthiness’ score comes under fire

Facebook has started scoring some of its users based on ‘trustworthiness’. This score is allegedly used by Facebook’s misinformation team to try and stem some of the fake news the platform sufferers from.

However, the trustworthiness score has its critics. Dr Bernie Hogan from the Oxford Internet Institute:

But consider the analogy of one’s credit score.

You can check your credit score for free in many countries - by contrast, Facebook’s trustworthiness is unregulated and we have no way to know either what our score is or how to dispute it.

Facebook is not a neutral actor and despite any diplomatic press materials to the contrary, it is intent on managing a population for profit.

And Ailidh Callander, a solicitor at Privacy International:

This is yet another example of Facebook using people’s data in ways they would not expect their data to be used, which further undermines people’s trust in Facebook.

This may only be an issue for non-EU users because Facebook’s secrecy about it might violate GDPR’s requirements in the EU, although I’m only speculating here.

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Instagram face and the quest for perfection

I don’t have an Instagram account and I’m not a huge fan of social media in general, but I found Alexandra Jones’ article on the BBC fascinating. And when I say fascinating, I mean in the way it reflects on society and how superficial everything seems to be these days.

But is it really just ‘these days’?

Celebrities — actors, pop singers, film stars, models etc. — have always provided a look that people have tried to emulate.

In fact, Alexandra says:

Photo-perfect skin and sculpted, contoured cheekbones, wide almond-shaped eyes which taper up into a feline point, and that full, inescapable mouth. This look is what Twiggy’s lashes were to the 1960s and what Kate Moss’ dewy skin was to the 1990s.

Popularised by the Kardashians (who else?) and copied by everyone from Love Island’s Megan Barton-Hanson to myriad beauty influencers such as NikkieTutorials (10.6m subscribers on YouTube), Patrick Starrr (4.5m followers on Instagram) and Sonjdra Deluxe (1.1m followers on Instagram). Increasingly, it’s also appearing on the faces and social feeds of regular people like (for a week), me (about 850 followers on Instagram).

Now I’ve heard of Twiggy, Kate Moss and, unfortunately, the Kardashians, but I have no idea who the other people she mentions are. But it’s possible that what’s going on today is no different to what went on in the 70s. Indeed, as a mid-teen I wanted a leather jacket because The Fonz wore one and he was cool.

My inkling is that things are different now, though. Social media provides further reach than we’ve ever had before and it influences the young a lot more. I’m prepared to accept there may be an element of old-fogeyism in my views, but I think the quest for bodily perfection and other superficial goals is more obsessive now. And I think that’s deeply unhealthy.

But what do I know? It’s certainly not up to me to tell people what to do with their faces (although I feel as justified as anyone else to make social commentary about it).

My own face is less ‘Instagram face’ and more ‘Ben & Jerry’s face’.

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What's the point of Launchpad?

I must admit I usually only activate the macOS Launchpad when I accidentally click its icon instead of the one next to it.

Zac Hall at 9To5Mac says:

Launchpad doesn’t get much love from Mac power users (there are plenty of other efficient ways to launch Mac apps) and Apple really hasn’t touched the feature in years. But it’s a feature I use regularly on my Mac — after making a few adjustments.

And his article goes on to describe how he makes Launchpad slightly more useful.

So will I use it more in the future? Probably not, but I have a soft spot for articles that find uses for unloved apps and maybe there are people out there who’ve just been dying to get to grips with Launchpad.

Playing around with Launchpad did at least remind me to delete some long-unused apps I had sitting around on my machine.

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Twitter flips API, cripples many third-party apps

Twitter is transitioning to a new API today. It announced the changes in April 2018 but today’s the day it’s supposed to be flipping the switch.

The trouble is, this will cripple some of Twitter’s third-party apps. John Voorhees at MacStories reports the following as being amongst the effects:

Timeline streaming has been removed, replaced with automatic refreshes every couple of minutes.

Retweet, quote tweet, like, and follow notifications are gone.

Mention and direct message push notifications have been reworked, which can delay them several minutes.

Tweetbot’s Stats and Activity view that displayed aggregate like, retweet, and follower data along with chronological like, mention, reply, and follow information has been removed.

The Tweetbot Apple Watch app has been discontinued.

I’ve never understood why API producers deliberately crock third party apps because a rich developer ecosystem benefits them in 99% of cases. Presumably the people who make the decisions to do these sorts of things have control issues.

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BodyRip Cast Iron Fractional Weight Plates review

Fractional - or micro - weight plates (1kg or less) can be useful if you're trying to overcome a sticking point. In this article I review the BodyRip Cast Iron Fractional weight plates I bought for this very purpose. I have the 0.5kg and 0.25kg plates.

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Twitter finally takes some (minimal) action against Infowars

Further to my previous post on this issue, Twitter is taking some action against Infowars, although it only amounts to seven days in the sin bin.

Jon Russell at TechCrunch writes:

Twitter is punishing Jones for a tweet that violates its community standards but it isn’t locking him out forever. Instead, a spokesperson for the company confirmed that Jones’ account is in “read-only mode” for up to seven days.

Apparently Infowars fell foul of a targeted harassment clause in Twitter’s Ts & Cs.

This is what Twitter claim, anyway. Or could it be that they’re just finally giving in to user pressure?

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The Infowars debate and a website's whims

Infowars is complete nonsense in my opinion but it raises a bigger question: the rights a privately-owned website has to determine what content they allow. I argue that their right to choose what content they show and who they allow to post on their site is absolute, as long as it's legal.

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Five good books I’ve read in 2018

Five fiction books I've read in 2018 and would recommend, along with very brief reviews. 'The Good Daughter' by Karin Slaughter, 'The Outsider' by Stephen King, 'Norse Mythology' by Neil Gaiman, 'How To Stop Time' by Matt Haig and 'Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine' by Gail Honeyman.

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Why reading beats video for information and instruction

I like to read and I firmly believe that, most of the time, written articles are better than videos or podcasts for imparting information and instruction. This article represents my dubious attempt to justify that position. I'm not against video and audio per se - indeed I love watching films or listening to music - I'm talking about things like help texts, how-to articles and similar.

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Advertising accurate broadband speeds in the UK

I'd missed that a regulation had been introduced to force ISPs in the UK to advertise more accurate broadband speeds. It seems "up to" speeds must now be accurate at least 50% of the time.

The article reports:

BT, EE, John Lewis Broadband, Plusnet, Sky, Zen Internet, Post Office, SSE, TalkTalk, and Utility Warehouse previously advertised their standard (ADSL) broadband deals as up to 17Mbps.

The new advertised speed is now more than a third lower at 10Mbps or 11Mbps.

TalkTalk has completely dropped advertising speed claims from most of its deals.

Vodafone has also changed the name of some of its deals: Fibre 38 and Fibre 76 are now Superfast 1 and Superfast 2.

I can’t say I’m surprised as I think most of us will have often seen speeds lower than the ones advertised for the packages we bought.

Whilst they’re at it, they could take a look at the so-called ‘unlimited’ data packages. These invariably come with small-print limitations that are along the lines of: “It’s unlimited until we decide it isn’t.

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OmniFocus review

There are many list taking and mild project management apps for Apple products. I've tried a few of them but OmniFocus remains my favourite. In this article I review OmniFocus 2 for macOS and 3 for iOS, the latter of which finally brings proper support to the iPad platform. I really like this app and it would have a five star rating if it wasn't for a couple of features in the iOS app that particularly bother me.

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Google plans to comply with Chinese censorship

There isn’t a lot of meat on the bones of this story yet but Google said:

We provide a number of mobile apps in China, such as Google Translate and Files Go, help Chinese developers, and have made significant investments in Chinese companies like JD.com.

But we don’t comment on speculation about future plans.

If this story turns out to be true then it essentially means:

  • 2010: Google shuts down China search engine because they believe in free speech.
  • 2016: Google realises it’s leaving lots of money on the table and CEO Sundar Pichai says “Google is for everyone - we want to be in China serving Chinese users.
  • 2018: Google decides financial gain trumps free speech and plans the release of an app conforming to Chinese censorship.

Just a reminder that Google’s 2004 IPO prospectus said:

Don’t be evil. We believe strongly that in the long term, we will be better served—as shareholders and in all other ways—by a company that does good things for the world even if we forgo some short term gains.

Hmm. I’m looking forward to seeing how they justify this one (if, indeed, there’s any truth in the story).

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Controlling your own creative content and IndieWeb

I've long bleated on about why you should have your own website rather than use the so-called 'corporate web' and I bleat on about some more here. I do feel this is a really important issue and it's the only way to protect your own words, photos and videos, immune to the whims of the likes of Facebook, Google, Tumblr, Blogger and similar. I also point to IndieWeb in this article as they provide an excellent blueprint for doing just this.

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Clamp down on fake news, says MP

Whilst I quite agree that genuine fake news probably needs some sort of regulating, we have to be careful. There’s a trend for politicians (and others) to simply brand anything they dislike or disagree with as ‘fake news’.

The lines are very blurry with this sort of thing and one has to be careful to separate something written as opinion from something written as fact.

Social media — and Facebook in particular (once again) — gets it in the neck a lot in the above article. Normally I’m quite happy to blame social media for many of society’s ills but some of the ‘spin’ from the regular press could also be seen as fake news and maybe that’s a consideration too.

Although the irony of politicians berating others for lying is not lost on me.

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What happened to John Lewis?

A recent experience with John Lewis has made me reassess a company I always used to have a great deal of respect for.

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Bodypower Rubber-Encased Tri-Grip Olympic Weight Plates review

When I set up my home gym, I decided to use Bodypower Rubber-Encased Tri-Grip Olympic Weight Plates and I've mostly stuck with them throughout, adding additional plates as necessary. I have a couple of minor reservations but they're pretty good over all as you'll see by this review.

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Filemaker 17, briefly

I quite like Filemaker. It has a few longstanding peculiarities that sometimes make it awkward to use, but it's useful when you need a quick and dirty database app. I'm now on version 17, which is the latest, and this is my very brief summary of it.

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Apple WWDC 2018 summary

The Next Web provides a useful summary of Apple’s 2018 Worldwide Developer Conference.

If I’m honest, a lot of it doesn’t interest me too much. Emojis (or Animojis or Memojis) are a gimmick I never use; I don’t have an Apple Watch or Apple TV; I’m not a parent so I’m not interested in restricting app use time; and I rarely use Siri. I appreciate these things may be of interest to others, though.

Even the things that did interest me only did so vaguely.

iOS 12 is going to have improved photo sharing options and notifications will be grouped so that they can be swiped away more conveniently.

Mojave is the nomenclature attached to the new release of macOS. It’ll have a ‘dark mode’, a new Finder view called ‘Gallery’ and a screenshot feature like iOS.

The most interesting thing to me was the planned improvement to Safari to stop more tracking by websites. This I welcomed, although I suspect it’ll start a tracking war and Facebook — one of the organisations Apple is specifically targeting with this — will probably figure out ways to track things regardless.

Over all, though: meh.

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