Siri doesn’t know what time it is in Palestine (but it’s fine with Israel)

Ask Siri what time it is in Palestine. Doesn’t work. Ask Siri what time it is in Israel, and it’ll tell you the time in Jerusalem, no problem.

Maybe it’s a city thing. Ask Siri what the time is in Bethlehem and see if it knows. Doesn’t seem to work.

Try Jerusalem – Siri nails it, of course. Can’t help you with East Jerusalem, though, which is generally recognised as being part of Palestine.

Mindful Traveller tries a few Palestinian cities on TikTok. No luck. I tried them here in Australia. Same result.1

Let’s try some other small countries. Brunei is tiny – smaller than Palestine – and Siri knows the time there. Cyprus? Got it. Samoa? All good.2 Whatever database Siri is using doesn’t go by size (which, to be fair, would be weird).

Update: After some more playing around, it looks like Siri doesn’t know many, if any, “disputed territories”. Nick Heer noted as much on Twitter and it reaffirms what I mentioned in footnote two.

So it looks like whatever database Siri is pulling from for country info has its limits. In this particular instance – Palestine/Israel – it’s reinforcing Israel is what you can politely call a heated and violent struggle. Defaults, as ever, matter.

Weather is weird, too: if you ask Siri what the weather is in Israel, it’ll tell you the temperature in Jerusalem. If you ask it about Palestine, you’ll be told “there’s no weather information”.

Ask it about a Palestinian city – say, Bethlehem, you’ll get an answer using data from The Weather Channel. But it won’t say “Bethlehem, Palestine” the way it says the weather in “Jerusalem, Israel” or “Tel Avis-Yafo, Israel”.

Palestine just doesn’t exist.

Regardless of your stance on the Israel/Palestine conflict, this functionally erases an entire people.

  1. Same thing when I ask Google. 

  2. Siri also doesn’t know what time it is in Kosovo – a “partially recognised state in Southeast Europe,” having declared independence from Serbia in 2008. 


Cryptocurrency is now forbidden under Islamic law in Indonesia (and some fair points were made)

Indonesia’s national council of Islamic scholars have decided that trading cryptocurrencies is “haram – forbidden under Islamic law.”

Erwin Renaldi and Helena Souisa, reporting for ABC News:

According to Islamic law, a transaction should follow certain requirements, such as having a physical form and definite value.

“Cryptocurrency as currency is forbidden because it has elements of uncertainty, harm and doesn’t meet the Islamic requirement according to Shariah [law],” KH Asrorun Niam Sholeh, the council’s head of religious decrees, said in the forum.

However, Mr Sholeh added that although cryptocurrencies as a currency is forbidden, it could be traded as a commodity or digital assets if they meet requirements.

I mean, they’re not wrong about crypto as a currency.

One of the conclusions that came from the discussion, attended by both crypto and Islamic legal experts, was that crypto trading tends to involve “fraudulent practices and gambling”.

[Deputy Chairman of the East Java NU Ahmad Fahrur Rozi] said cryptocurrencies was also similar to gambling because people speculate about the value without knowing the cause.

Practices such as gambling are not allowed in Islam, since the value and price are indefinite and could financially and physiologically harm those involved.

I mean…

Rozi continued:

It can increase by 1,000 per cent or 5,000 per cent, but it can also be zero. It’s not an investment.

Look, I’m not out here saying crypto should be illegal. Regulated? Sure. Illegal is probably a step too far, depending on your appetite for risk in your economy.

But the things Rozi and Sholeh are saying here aren’t wrong.


Another small reason to dislike Mark Zuckerberg

I don’t go looking for reasons to dislike people. Sometimes they just come to you.

Joanne McNeil has a brief aside about Mark Zuckerberg in her book Lurking:

On his own social network, in its early years, [Zuckerberg] responded to the profile topic “Favourite Books” with “I don’t read.”

As if running the company that enables genocide isn’t enough.


Wikipedia is as contentious as you’d expect when it comes to China

You’ll say “yeah, that makes sense” when you read this: Wikipedia is messy when it comes to China (and especially China’s actions in Hong Kong).

Wikipedia acts a starting point for people wanting to learn about almost anything. It sets a frame of reference for people: you decide to read up on, say, the 2019–2020 Hong Kong protests, and you skim over the Wikipedia article with that exact name.

You might read on from there, you might not, but that article becomes your default view of the matter (even if it’s just a vibe).

That makes Wikipedia a first draft of history when it comes to current events.

Shiroma Silva, reporting for the BBC, has said that the platform has “turned into a war of words between Wikipedia editors who are pro-democracy and those who are pro-Beijing“.

Matters came to a head in September when Wikipedia’s governing body banned seven active pro-Beijing editors and removed the administrative powers of a further 12.

Those involved were accused of bullying and intimidating editors who had a pro-democracy stance.

People in the pro-Beijing camp say this means “narratives relating to China and Hong Kong” will prioritise a western POV.

The “edit wars” are focused on issues about Hong Kong and mostly on the Chinese-language version of Wikipedia (occasionally spilling onto the English version).

“Pro-Beijing people often remove content that is sympathetic to protests, such as tear gas being fired and images of barricades. They also add their own content,” says a Hong Kong-based editor named “John”, who wanted to remain anonymous because of fears of intimidation.

“Pro-democracy editors tend to add content to shift the balance or the tone of the article, but in my experience, the pro-Beijing editors are a lot more aggressive in churning out disinformation,” he says.

Of course, the Chinese government blocks Wikipedia. People within the country use VPNs to access and edit the site.


Roblox went down, parents freaked out

In what must be the online version of stepping on a piece of Lego hiding in the carpet, Roblox went down for 24+ hours and parents everywhere know it.

Here’s Wesley Yin-Poole for Eurogamer:

And now, parents of children who play Roblox are up in arms. I’ve seen multiple posts on various parents’ Facebook groups complaining about their kids complaining about Roblox being down.

“Roblox is down. I repeat Roblox is down,” said one exasperated mum on the Happy Mum Happy Baby Facebook group last night.

“I have an all-boy household. I’ll need a whiskey later.”

“Honestly, my son was freaking out because it wouldn’t let me log on,” said another mum. “It was like the end of the world.”

Roblox, of course, is the uber-popular game platform where kids spend hours building games and other things. It’s been accused of exploiting young creators, which is in no way surprising.


OnlyFans drops sexually explicit content after censoring from MasterCard, VISA, and banks

Update: Tim Stokely, OnlyFan’s founder and CEO, clarified that the platform was going to bans sexual content because of their banking partners (and not MasterCard or VISA).

That said, MasterCard and VISA have “recently clamped down on the use of their cards to pay for sexual content… follow[ing] pressure from organizations that broadly oppose sex work and pornography.”

Now, though, OnlyFans has said they now won’t ban porn. Sploosh.

OnlyFans has built a successful platform on the back of one thing: porn. Sex workers of all stripes have found ways to make a living. It’s been “celebrated as an ethical business model that gives workers financial autonomy and safety” by some, a good side hustle for others, and a disappointment by yet more.

But, no longer:

Video sharing site OnlyFans, best known for its creators’ adult videos and photos, will prohibit sexually explicit content starting October 1st. First reported by Bloomberg, the company says it is making the changes because of pressure from its banking and payment provider partners, though a BBC investigation found that the company had been lenient on creators who had posted illegal content.

The BBC report is worth checking over but, in brief:

  • Accounts are moderated differently depending on how popular (and lucrative) they are
  • Moderators are told to give accounts multiple warnings for illegal content before they’re banned
  • OnlyFans are “failing to prevent under-18s from selling and appearing in explicit videos”
  • Mods have found illegal content including “bestiality involving dogs and the use of spy cams, guns, knives and drugs”

The article has more info and worth a read. OnlyFans seems to have real, undeniable structural issues.

Here’s the thing: every social media platform does. Facebook has a massive child porn problem, for example, and countless moderation issues. And yet payment outfits aren’t backing out of their business.

It speaks to the disproportionate power the likes of Visa and MasterCard have have over content (when they choose to exercise it, which, thankfully is rare).

Here’s Jim Waterson for The Guardian:

Payment processing companies increasingly control what material pornography sites are able to host. Last December, Visa and Mastercard briefly banned payments to websites owned by online pornography giant MindGeek, following reports it was hosting “revenge porn” uploaded without the consent of those involved. The financial businesses only backtracked when MindGeek deleted tens of millions of unverified videos from its sites such as PornHub.

“Payment processors as moral arbiters” isn’t quite a future I expected (and it may not get the attention it deserves – most articles refer to “pressure” from payment outfits rather than, say, censorship).

I’m not here to mount a defence against things like revenge porn and, all told, I think PornHub deleting unverified videos was a good thing. And, based on the BBC’s reporting, OnlyFans needs to improve their moderation practices a great deal.

But, the reality is, banks and finance groups are wiping out a platform that helped sex workers ply their trade in a relatively safe environment. This will push many of them into more fraught, more dangerous positions.

Meanwhile, the organisations that make their living drowning people in debt are acting as moral bell-weathers and censors. What a world.


How the media covers Afghanistan matters (and it’s not great)

How the media covers any given issue matters. The coverage helps shapes how people understand what’s happening and what the limits and bounds of what’s possible (or acceptable).

That’s especially true of long-running issues. The coverage, over time, not only shapes how people understand it now – it informs all the assumptions that underlie the “now”. All those things you’ve now forgotten.

That applies to Afghanistan (and the War on Terror writ large). And the media coverage of the US’s “work” in Afghanistan right now isn’t great.

As Judd Legum explains in Popular Information, a lot of the people who justified the US (failed) intervention over the past 20 years are now trotting themselves out to score political points against Biden.

Here’s Legum on a piece from The Washington Post:

The lead quote comes from former CIA Director and Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta who said Biden’s decision to withdraw reflects the fact that Biden “didn’t really spend much time on the issue” and the Biden administration was simply “crossing their fingers and hoping chaos would not result.”

But is Panetta a credible voice on how policies will play out in Afghanistan? In a November 2011 interview with Charlie Rose, Panetta said that the military campaign in Afghanistan had “seriously weakened the Taliban” and now the Afghan people were “able to control their own fate.” He said that the development of the Afghan army and police force was “on target” and they were “doing the job.”

This was a consistent refrain during Panetta’s tenure as Secretary of Defense. “[W]e are moving in the right direction, and we are winning this very tough conflict here in Afghanistan,” Panetta said in December 2011.

Legum is an example of a journalist doing it right: he explains Panetta’s history and the context in which his present comments sit. The Washington Post didn’t. They just let him state his case and that’s it. They failed their readers.1

But Panetta’s comments, and those from people like him, aren’t so much about Biden as they are an attempt to exonerate himself from the multitude of failures they oversaw. Because the situation in Afghanistan right now, and many of the horrors that will likely occur, are (in part) the result of those failures and those of the US’s allies. And if the media lets the likes of Panetta pull walk themselves out of the narrative, that’s how people will remember it.2

Of course, it’s the Afghan people who are caught up in all this political posturing. They’re suffering because this occupation, this war has never been about them. Successive governments failed them and now, as the US leaves the country and the Taliban takes over, the Biden Government is failing them all over again.

Derek Davidson covers it well:

But you shouldn’t for a second suppose that the people who cheer-led endless war and occupation in Afghanistan ever did so out of concern for the Afghan people. If the United States were really concerned for the Afghan people it wouldn’t have spent well over a decade ignoring the evidence that its nation building efforts were failing. If the United States were really concerned for the Afghan people it wouldn’t have at best tolerated and at worst indulged Afghanistan’s lawless regional warlords, often looking the other way as many of them committed unspeakable atrocities. If the United States were really concerned for the Afghan people it would have spent the past few years evacuating those Afghan nationals who worked for the US military and other Western organizations and are at risk of Taliban reprisal, instead of using legalese about visas and vetting to mask a fundamentally racist national view of refugees and then racing to slap together a half-assed evacuation program at the last minute. Even now the Biden administration is looking for third countries to save these people instead of dropping the immigration artifice and just letting them come here. So let’s not pretend now that it was All About The Afghan people.

Media outlets the world over helped governments sell the war in Afghanistan in the first place and, now, they’re helping those same governments wash their hands of everything they did. They need to do better.

  1. This isn’t to say the Biden Administration is faultless or that they’ve handled things well. Far from it. 

  2. That’s a sweeping statement and countless people will remember that successive governments failed miserably here. But, for so many issues, it’s the general vibe that counts. That’s why political actors spend so much time trying to set the terms of reference for public debates: it let’s them set the tone of things. And media coverage is one part of that. That’s why so many politicians bang out about “tax relief”, for example. If the media always frames tax cuts as “tax relief”, you start assuming that taxation is something you need relief from, so it’s bad, without quite realising it. 


Does Uber charge you more if your phone battery is low?

Another one for the “genius but absolutely get outta here” category if it’s true:

What I learned is that if you’re battery level is below 20% Uber and Lyft will purposely hike up the prices because they believe you’ll be desperate enough to take it since you’re battery levels are low

That’s from Sarah on Twitter. They followed up with a screenshot.

This classic “hard to verify, company will always deny it, but it feels likely” situation. Comes down to your vibe on Uber, Lyft, and the like.

Personally, it wouldn’t surprise me if ride-sharing apps do charge you more if your battery is low. Back in 2016, Keith Chen – Uber’s Head of Economic Research at the time – told NPR that users were more likely to pay surge pricing if their phone’s battery was low.

Chen “promises the company doesn’t use that information to set prices,” of course. But that was 2016.

Maybe Uber has since changed their policies to exploit this quirk of human behaviour. They’ve got to make a profit somehow. Or it could be confirmation bias: use Uber enough and you might collect enough instances where prices seem higher and your battery is low.

Wouldn’t surprise me though. It’s just the vibe of the thing.


The Taliban has seized US biometric and face recognition tech

We haven’t had to wait long to get a worse-case scenario for facial recognition and biometrics:

The Taliban has seized US biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan. This comes after a push to digitise whole swathes of Afghan life.

Rina Chandran, Reuters:

After years of a push to digitise databases in the country, and introduce digital identity cards and biometrics for voting, activists warn these technologies can be used to target and attack vulnerable groups.

“We understand that the Taliban is now likely to have access to various biometric databases and equipment in Afghanistan,” the Human Rights First group wrote on Twitter on Monday.

“This technology is likely to include access to a database with fingerprints and iris scans, and include facial recognition technology,” the group added.

The Taliban, famously pro-violent-reparisal, now have access to high-tech identification systems.

This is a nightmare scenario for people in Afghanistan. And for all the people who have been worried about this exact thing happening.

Damien P Williams summed it up well on Twitter:

I mean jesus fucking CHRIST people, how many times did we warn about the security & privacy vulnerabilities of facial recognition & biometrics as a paradigm in itself & of its storage in the long term?



Apple’s developer relations woes

Apple has a developer relations issue. Here’s Marco Arment diagnosing the problem in a single sentence:

Without our apps, the iPhone has little value to most of its customers today.

Apple doesn’t act like it. Nor do they acknowledge that developers work to find audiences for their apps.

Apples need more than a core

To state the obvious: both the iPhone and iOS are great by themselves and as a platform upon which you can do great things. But platforms need to be built upon.

To Apple, the iPhone/iOS combo is the draw and people only use the App Store to find apps, through a combination of the Store’s recommendations and people browsing. Apple controls all the ins, all the outs.

Arment begs to differ. I’d say he’s right. So let’s look at my phone.1

An orchard of others

Of the 57 apps on my phone, only two are App Store recommendations (one of which I’ll delete after writing this sentence). Then there’s Apple’s preinstalled apps, services like Music, four games from Apple Arcade, and Shortcuts (which is basically my Reddit client at this point).

All of the others came from websites like MacStories, podcasters like Merlin Mann, talkative developers like Arment. That’s how I found my favourite games and all the apps I use every day. They’re ingrained in my life and they define my experience of iOS.2

Sure, Apple make the iPhone. But a collection of small developers, all of whom I discovered though the Apple blog and pod community, helped make my iPhone.

I mightn’t have returned to and then stayed in the Apple ecosystem where it not for them.

Devoid Android

I’ve bounced around Android phones for a while but never stuck with one as my main phone for long. I struggle to find apps I like using.3 Meanwhile, it’s apps that brought me to iPhones and apps that keep me there.

I got my first iPhone in large part because Flight Control looked cool. I left Android because I couldn’t find a Twitter client as good as Tweetbot or a calendar app as nice as Fantastical on Android and I won’t go back because there isn’t a RSS app like Reeder, a podcast app like Castro, or a to-do app like OmniFocus.

Take those apps away and, all of a sudden, my iPhone becomes a lot more disposable. It’s a good phone by itself, but developers add the spark that makes it’s hard to leave.4

This isn’t Apple’s party

Apple supplied a nice venue for a party and now they want credit for everyone having a great time – even though other people provided the food, drinks, music, dance floor, conversation, and decor.

Apple didn’t even hang the bunting. But they still act like its their party and theirs alone. And it’s not like they’re particularly gracious hosts, even if they do have great taste in venues.

  1. n=1, yadda yadda yadda. 

  2. To be fair, I’m probably in the minority of iPhone users here. But I’m guessing it’s also a minority of people who use the App Store as their main way to discover apps. My reckon: most people have a couple of apps they use all the time and they’re likely social media apps, utilities, or things they were recommended by friends. The App Store is just where they go to download them. 

  3. I also try and limit my exposure to Google but that’s a newer objection compared to my persnickety taste in apps. 

  4. Part of it isn’t their fault. No matter how many great new features they announce at WWDC, sooner or later, they all become normal. They’ll be the background hum of iOS and background hums are never cool.