“The World’s Most Personal Distraction Device”

Shawn Blanc:

I mean, of course I’m excited about the Watch. The UI is unlike anything else out there right now, and there are going to be some really great apps and some really useful ways to use the device.

And yet it’s quotes like this one from Kevin Systrom that describe exactly what I don’t want in a watch:

Apple Watch allows us to make the Instagram experience even more intimate and in the moment. With actionable notifications you can see and instantly like a photo or react with an emoji. The Instagram news and watch list allows you to see your friends’ latest photos, follow new accounts and get a real-time view of your likes and comments.

This is exactly what a Watch app should not be, and it remains a mystery to me as to why Apple put this in their press release, especially when you consider the HIG:

Apps on Apple Watch are designed for quick, lightweight interactions that make the most of the display size and its position on the wrist. Information is accessible and dismissible quickly and easily, for both privacy and usability. The notification Short Look, for example, is designed to provide a minimal alert, only revealing more information if the wearer remains engaged. And Glances provide information from apps in an easy-to-access, swipe-able interface. Apps designed for Apple Watch should respect the context in which the wearer experiences them: briefly, frequently, and on a small display.

A Second Kryptos Clue

The New York Times:

Despite many attempts to decrypt it, the final section of the Kryptos sculpture remains unsolved. Jim Sanborn, the sculptor, told the New York Times in 2010 that the 64th to 69th characters, which read NYPVTT, will read BERLIN when decoded.

This week, Mr. Sanborn gave the Times a second clue: the 70th through 74th positions, which read MZFPK, will read CLOCK when decoded.

Twenty years of the best cryptographers in the world having a crack at a 97-letter puzzle, and it remains unsolved. Truly the contemporary Enigma, as it were.

Comments in the Age of Social Media: Recoded

Remember how Reuters dropped comments from their site last week? Today, Recode did the same. Walt Mossberg and Kate Swisher:

The biggest change for some of you, however, will be that we have decided to remove the commenting function from the site. We thought about this decision long and hard, since we do value reader opinion. But we concluded that, as social media has continued its robust growth, the bulk of discussion of our stories is increasingly taking place there, making onsite comments less and less used and less and less useful.

Progress, people. Progress.

Thoughts on WatchKit

It’s been less than two months since the Apple Watch was announced, and it won’t ship for several more months, but Apple is getting developers on the fast track by launching the Watch’s SDK, WatchKit, now. And it’s a real treat because it’s the first extended glimpse into the interface and what it means to develop for the Watch. After reading the documentation, what appears clear is that the Apple Watch will be like no other iOS device and no other smartwatch on the market.

Pixels and Performance

Without releasing any hardware, Apple has revealed the answer to a big mystery on that front: the display resolutions of both models of Watch. The 38mm one has a screen that’s 272 × 340 pixels, while the 42mm one measures 312 × 390 pixels. Based on the 1:1 graphic on the Layout page of the Human Interface Guidelines and my rough calculations, that works out to about 312 and 326 pixels per inch, respectively.

If I were a betting man, I’d have bet on a shared resolution, with the smaller one utilizing a trimmed version of the iPhone 6 Plus’ panel, and the bigger one getting the 326 pixel-per-inch panel used in iPhones since the fourth generation. Clearly — and surprisingly, to me at least — that’s not exactly the case.

But what’s not known is just what kind of panel the Watch will have; I’m interested to see whether it’s an LED or some kind of (AM)OLED, which would be Apple’s first.

Along with display pixels, the Human Interface Guidelines also reveal the different sizes of icons required by the system. As you might expect, with two different — and somewhat finicky — display resolutions, there are two sets of icon sizes required. The small Watch has 29-pixel Notification Centre icons, 80-pixel “long look” icons, and 172-pixel home screen icons; the big one has 36-pixel, 88-pixel, and 196-pixel versions of the same. Apple also provides a set of recommended stroke weights for the contextual Force Touch menu icons, with a single pixel of weight difference between the little Watch and the big one.

From the outside looking in, this seems needlessly resource-intensive and complex; two different resolutions with two different sets of icon sizes means a lot of work for designers and developers alike. But it also comes across as a certain level of care and dilligence. Apple didn’t simply trim down an iPhone; this is someting entirely new for them. It’s a complete reconceptualization of personal technology, and it’s going to take some effort for it to work well. 1

Indeed, the HIG is notable for where it differs from the recommendations in, say, the iOS HIG. From the Color and Typography page:

Avoid using color to show interactivity. Apply color as appropriate for your branding but do not use color solely to indicate interactivity for buttons and other controls.

In the equivalent iOS page:

Consider choosing a key color to indicate interactivity and state. Key colors in the built-in apps include yellow in Notes and red in Calendar. If you define a key color to indicate interactivity and state, make sure that the other colors in your app don’t compete with it.

Avoid using the same color in both interactive and noninteractive elements. Color is one of the ways that a UI element indicates its interactivity. If interactive and noninteractive elements have the same color, it’s harder for users to know where to tap.

There are other, more subtle, differences between the way different UI components are treated on each platform. The message here is clear: don’t just try to scale down your iPhone app.

Speaking of hard work for designers and developers, have you seen the Watch’s approach to animation? I’ll simply quote the HIG:

Create prerendered animations using a sequence of static images. Store canned animations in your Watch app bundle so that they can be presented quickly to the user. Canned animations also let you deliver high frame rates and smoother animations.

Let’s see that again in an instant replay:

Create prerendered animations using a sequence of static images.

I didn’t believe that this meant what I knew it meant, so I downloaded the “Lister” demo app to take a look at its assets. And I found a progress bar rendered as a circle, with each of the 360 frames of the animation in its own PNG image. It means exactly what you think it means: each frame is its own image.

There’s more curiousity at play, too: Maps embedded in apps are non-interactive, and app caches are limited to just 20 MB, or approximately 14 floppy disks.

All this adds up to a distinct impression that the Apple Watch is little more than a dumb notifications screen, which is what I — and so many others — have repeatedly stressed that we don’t want. Indeed, that’s basically what the Watch App Architecture document conveys:

When the user interacts with your Watch app, Apple Watch looks for an appropriate storyboard scene to display. It selects the scene based on whether the user is viewing your app’s glance, is viewing a notification, or is interacting with your app’s main interface. After choosing a scene, Watch OS tells the paired iPhone to launch your WatchKit extension and load the appropriate objects for running that interface.

As of right now, it’s write-only.

So why am I not worried? WatchKit is kind of like the “sweet solution” of the Apple Watch, only way better than that ever was. For now, Watch apps are limited to interactive notifications and Glances, Apple’s name for quick, focused information from a parent app. Watch apps require an iPhone to be present, paired, and nearby for them to run, because they’re basically just showing an extended UI projected from the iPhone.

Apple is promising “native” Watch apps later in the year, though it remains to be seen the extent of the processing that can be done on an Apple Watch itself. The limitations currently imposed on Watch apps are likely limited by the speed at which UI components and code can be transmitted from an iPhone to a Watch, not the processor inside the Watch itself. But I’m not sure it’ll be possible to leave the house with only the Watch, and not your iPhone, too. You may not need to take your iPhone out of your pocket, but it appears that you’ll be relying upon it for most connectivity and app data.

For now, though, WatchKit is limited to treating the Apple Watch as a way to show immediately-relevant information, and little more. So why would I be more optimistic about its chances? Or, at least, more optimistic compared to, say, the way I viewed the Pebble Steel or the Samsung Galaxy Gear — or, indeed, smartwatches as a category. I’m more optimistic because it feels like the iPhone all over again: Apple wasn’t the first to market, but they’re seeking to be the best. And everyone else will likely follow in their footsteps.

There’s a lot to pick through in this new territory, but Apple seems dedicated to making it as straightforward as possible for both designers and developers. Developers have extraordinary limitations — barely any options for sizing and placement of UI objects, and no subclassing of interface controllers, both which developers have previously relied upon to create customized interfaces. Designers have the luxury of a care package of PSD templates of icons, interfaces, and UI components.2 Oh, and the new system fonts.

San Francisco

Top to bottom: the standard character set, stylistic set 1 (which is just the alternate 6 and 9), and stylistic set 2 (which is just an open 4).
I remember reading all kinds of reactions to the Apple Watch, but the commentary from designers about the new typeface is what I remember clearest of all. In September, it didn’t even have a name. Plenty of people called it “DINvetica”, while others speculated that this was, indeed, Apple Sans. While it may be the final form of “Apple Sans”, its public name is San Francisco, harkening back to the old Macintosh days of typefaces with names like Chicago and Geneva. Indeed, it now occupies the namespace of Susan Kare’s original.

This is clearly something Apple has been working on for a very long time. Initial — and, dare I say, lazy — comments immediately rushed to compare it to Roboto. A closer look reveals more differences than similarities.

The San Francisco family comes in three styles, each in myriad weights. Display is to be used when text is 20 points or greater, while Text is to be used at smaller sizes. There’s also a Rounded style hiding in the SDK, but don’t tell anyone.3 There are also a few alternate numbers, shown at right, proper small caps, and a plethora of international and special characters. It’s a very comprehensive typeface family.

I compared it against two similar faces: DIN Next is a 2009 update of the venerable DIN 1451, and Roboto is Google’s house face. I threw Helvetica Neue into this comparison because it’s Apple’s current system face. All of these are the regular weights, and all are set at the exact same size, utilizing the fonts’ built-in kerning metrics. A few things are immediately apparent in this comparison:

  1. San Francsico Display is noticeably optimized for larger sizes. Strokes are thinner, and it’s a little tighter.
  2. The “DINvetica” reference couldn’t be more appropriate: the numbers look very similar to Helvetica’s, while the characters take inspiration from DIN.
  3. If Roboto looked a little gross before, it looks really gross in comparison to these. This is the newly-updated version of Roboto, not the old one with the Helvetica-knockoff uppercase-R. It looks way better than the old version, but it’s nowhere near as precise-looking nor as balanced as the others here.
  4. San Francisco Text — that’s the one for smaller text sizes — has similar metrics to Helvetica Neue. Not the same, but if you squint a little, kind of close enough, and closer still to the metrics of Lucida Grande. Perhaps this is eventually the new UI font for all Apple interfaces. It certainly would be more of a distinct signature face than Helvetica, and it would be more legible, too.

San Francisco is extremely exciting. Apple has released a number of in-house typefaces, even very recently — Menlo was released in 2009, and Chalkboard in 2003 — but this is the first comprehensive family to be released since 1984. It’s apparently still being worked on, but it’s in very good shape.4


  1. Sure, Apple’s not the first. But… 

  2. Just how long have we been asking for a PSD of the iPhone UI? 

  3. San Francisco Rounded isn’t shown here because it silently fails to install. 

  4. When you try to print a document with San Francisco, the tracking is absolutely enormous. This might be due to Dynamic Text features, or it might be related to a Yosemite bug for fonts with UPMs greater than 1000. San Francisco has a UPM of 2048. 

NSA Reform Stalls

Dustin Volz, National Journal:

Senate Republicans blocked legislation Tuesday that would limit the government’s sweeping domestic spying powers, dealing a massive blow to the post-Snowden efforts to reform the U.S. surveillance state.

At a final vote of 58 to 42, nearly every Democrat and four Republicans voted for the bill, the USA Freedom Act, but it failed to clear the 60-vote threshold necessary to move forward in the upper chamber. Its defeat almost certainly means that any reforms to the National Security Agency will have to wait until next year, when Republicans take over the Senate.

With nearly every Republican voting against this bill, what are the chances that any real reform will occur next year when they’re in the majority?

Uber Executive Suggests Digging Up Dirt On Journalists

Ben Smith, BuzzFeed:

A BuzzFeed editor was invited to the dinner by the journalist Michael Wolff, who later said that he had failed to communicate that the gathering would be off the record; neither Kalanick, his communications director, nor any other Uber official suggested to BuzzFeed News that the event was off the record.

Keep the “off the record” defence in mind as you read what Uber SVP Emil Michael said at the event:

Over dinner, [Michael] outlined the notion of spending “a million dollars” to hire four top opposition researchers and four journalists. That team could, he said, help Uber fight back against the press — they’d look into “your personal lives, your families,” and give the media a taste of its own medicine.

[…]

Michael was particularly focused on one journalist, Sarah Lacy, the editor of the Silicon Valley website PandoDaily, a sometimes combative voice inside the industry. Lacy recently accused Uber of “sexism and misogyny.” She wrote that she was deleting her Uber app after BuzzFeed News reported that Uber appeared to be working with a French escort service.

[…]

He said that he thought Lacy should be held “personally responsible” for any woman who followed her lead in deleting Uber and was then sexually assaulted.

This is so incredibly offensive. Sarah Lacy responded on PandoDaily (skip the comments, obviously):

Unless forces more powerful than me in the Valley– or even Washington DC– see this latest horror as a wakeup call and decide this is enough. That the First Amendment and rights of journalists do matter. That companies shouldn’t be allowed to go to illegal lengths to defame and silence reporters. That all these nice words about gender equality in tech aren’t just token board appointments every once in a while. That professional women in this industry actually deserve respect. That they shouldn’t be bullied with the same old easy slurs about bitchiness or sexual objectification. That deep scary misogyny in a culture isn’t something that you hire a campaign manager to “message out” of a founder, nor is it something you excuse as genius at work. That there is a line someone can cross, even amid an era where the Valley believes founders can never be fired.

That last line seems a little prophetic now. Uber’s CEO went on Twitter to apologize for Michaels’ behaviour but, as Mashable’s Todd Wasserman reports, didn’t fire him. Atrocious, but expected in Silicon Valley. And that’s what’s so depressing about this story: it’s par for the course.

Ads in Firefox’s New Tab Page Are Live

Darren Herman of Mozilla:

For users with no browsing history (typically a new installation), they will see Directory Tiles offering an updated, interactive design and suggesting useful sites. A separate feature, Enhanced Tiles, will improve upon the existing new tab page experience for users who already have a history in their browser.

Tiles provides Mozilla (including our local communities) new ways to interact with and communicate with our users. (If you’ve been using a pre-release Firefox build, you might have seen promotions for Citizenfour, a documentary about Edward Snowden and the NSA, appearing in your new tab in the past few weeks.)

Tiles also offers Mozilla new partnership opportunities with advertisers and publishers all while respecting and protecting our users. These sponsorships serve several important goals simultaneously by balancing the benefits to users of improved experience, control and choice, with sustainability for Mozilla.

Translation: “We know these ads are gross, but being forever dependent on Google is worse for us. Also, we’ve just found out that it’s really difficult to make money while giving away for free our software and its source code. Also, check out this ad for a movie about the NSA being creepy as shit while we collect your browser history to tailor ads to you.”

“Or Maybe It’s Just a Malware Infested Serbian Honeypot”

While I merely complained about the use of undetectable ad tracking tags used by AT&T and Verizon, “John Gordon” actually checked out the opt-out steps:

AT&T does have a great sense of humor though — here’s the opt out link you’re supposed to visit while on AT&T’s network:

AT&T Adworks – http://205.234.28.93/mobileoptout/

Yeah, an IP address. I think it’s legit, fwiw the footer says “AT&T’s intellectual property”…

Interestingly enough, AT&T has a support article on their website about phishing:

The good news is that you can avoid scams by looking for telltale signs that indicate when a site is fake or an email is phishy. The next time you are not completely confident that you are on a legitimate website or that an email you received is valid, check for these signs:

Uses an incorrect URL – If you are used to going to your bank via a regular address and the address of the site you land at is not the same name, you can be confident that you are not at the real site. Always double check to make sure that the site address is accurate. You can also hover your mouse pointer over a link in the email to verify that the link is directed to the same site that the email came from.

So, in short, be on the lookout for scams that look legitimate, and legitimate sites that look like scams. And it’s still a big mystery to some that people actually fall for this stuff.

Apple Releases iOS 8.1.1

Some welcome improvements in this update, including (finally) a fix for the Share sheet extension reordering bug, and some nice performance improvements for older hardware.

Update: Federico Viticci noted a couple of edge cases to setting and maintaining Share sheet extension reordering. The systemwide nature of Share sheet extensions is simple to understand for everyone, but might feel heavy-handed for power users. On the other hand, setting them on a per-app basis would be a huge pain in the ass.

Watchville

Josh Constine, TechCrunch:

Watchville for iOS pulls in news stories from top watch blogs with cheeky names like Perpetuelle and Haute Time. That includes hands-on reviews, buyer’s guides, and feature posts that will titillate timekeepers, whether they consume through the app’s Reader Mode or view the original articles through Watchville’s internal browser.

Collectors can synchronize their watches to the exact time using the app’s Atomic Clock. Little bell sounds count down the last five seconds of each minute so they can listen for just when to punch in the crown. And if their timepieces show the moon phase, they can set that too.

If it all sounds wildly esoteric, that’s kind of the point. There’s a small, diehard, but very lucrative community that Watchville wants to appeal to.

I don’t anticipate this market is shrinking, either. I wonder how such a market will react to the Apple Watch, particularly the Edition model. The timelessness of luxury watches is a huge part of their appeal; constant iteration, on the other hand, is part of technology’s appeal.

Code Names of the Surveillance State

Trevor Paglen presents “Code Names of the Surveillance State,” a video installation in Metro Pictures’ upstairs gallery composed from more than 4,000 National Security Agency (NSA) and Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) surveillance program code names. Projected onto four walls as an endlessly scrolling series of columns, the code names are deliberately nonsensical, often droll and sardonic words or short phrases without discernable connection to the programs they designate. “Bacon Ridge” is an NSA installation in Texas, “Fox Acid” an NSA-controlled Internet server designed to inject malware into unsuspecting web browsers, and “Mystic” a program to collect every phone call from the Bahamas.

Paglen’s works are not explanatory documents of his subjects; instead, they are revealing and eerie evidence of the US government’s vast secret surveillance apparatus. His installation is as enigmatic and seductive as is his photographs of drones, black op programs, spy satellites and military “black sites.” Within the installation the code names are subtly suggestive of the clandestine programs they represent, just as Paglen’s photographs, shot from great distance using specially devised photographic equipment, reveal isolated facilities and distant objects in the sky as untethered and dreamlike aberrations.

If you’re in New York City and you don’t go see this — it’s on until December 20 — I will be deeply saddened. This looks incredible. It’s the kind of thing that makes me wish I had more time to devote to art making.

AT&T Stops Using Undeletable Phone Tracking IDs

Julia Angwin, Pro Publica:

AT&T says it has stopped its controversial practice of adding a hidden, undeletable tracking number to its mobile customers’ Internet activity.

“It has been phased off our network,” said Emily J. Edmonds, an AT&T spokeswoman.

Here we have a case of AT&T actually doing the right thing. They get criticized so frequently for so many reasons, so I think it’s important to point out when they do something good and ri—

*mimes touching earpiece*

What’s that? Oh.

Edmonds said AT&T may still launch a program to sell data collected by its tracking number, but that if and when it does, “customers will be able to opt out of the ad program and not have the numeric code inserted on their device.”

Dicks.

Google Glass Future Cloudy

Sarah Mcbride, Malathi Nayak, and Alexei Oreskovic, Reuters:

After two years of popping up at high-profile events sporting Google Glass, the gadget that transforms eyeglasses into spy-movie worthy technology, Google co-founder Sergey Brin sauntered bare-faced into a Silicon Valley red-carpet event on Sunday.

He’d left his pair in the car, Brin told a reporter.

Bet he didn’t leave his phone in the car, though.

The A8X’s GPU

Ryan Smith, AnandTech:

[It] has become clear that with A8X Apple has once again thrown us a curveball. By drawing outside of the lines and building an eight cluster GPU configuration where none previously existed, the A8X and its GXA6850 GPU are more powerful than even we first suspected. Apple traditionally aims high with its SoCs, but this ended up being higher still.

The numbers here are just off the charts. The iPad is aching for software features that can really take advantage of performance like this.

MS14-066

From Microsoft TechNet:

This security update resolves a privately reported vulnerability in the Microsoft Secure Channel (Schannel) security package in Windows. The vulnerability could allow remote code execution if an attacker sends specially crafted packets to a Windows server.

This security update is rated Critical for all supported releases of Microsoft Windows.

[…]

When this security bulletin was issued, Microsoft had not received any information to indicate that this vulnerability had been publicly used to attack customers.

No time to gloat; this is properly scary. This remote code execution vulnerability exists in pretty much all versions of Windows since 95, and it requires almost no user interaction beyond using Internet Explorer to go to the wrong website. And it’s about to get scarier because that last line — the bit about it not being used in the wild — has just changed.

Patch up.

Comments in the Age of Social Media

Reuters recently turned off comments on their articles, perhaps realizing that they’re not exactly a bastion of considered thought. However, there was a curious paragraph in executive editor Dan Colarusso’s announcement:

We value conversation about the news, but the idea of comments on a website must give way to new realities of behavior in the marketplace.The best place for this conversation is where it is open to the largest number of participants possible.

Translation: the best place for this conversation is as far away as is possible from Reuters properties.

Twitter’s New Mission Statement

Yoree Koh, Wall Street Journal:

[Twitter CFO Anthony] Noto, who led and emceed most of the all-day event, also read out Twitter’s new strategy statement, which he admitted was a mouthful: “Reach the largest daily audience in the world by connecting everyone to their world via our information sharing and distribution platform products and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.”

“I struggle to read it every time,” Noto said.

There are word salad mission statements, and then there’s this jumbled pile of meaningless spew. Let’s take this bit-by-bit:

Reach the largest daily audience in the world…

It reads as though they were forced to jam into the statement the worldwide, real-time intent of Twitter, so that’s why this phrase has every buzzword.

…by connecting everyone to their world…

Two instances of the word “world” separated by just five words makes my head whirl.

…via our information sharing and distribution platform products

What the hell is a “platform product”? Why both? What separates these “platform products” from other “information sharing and distribution platform products” like email?

…and be one of the top revenue generating Internet companies in the world.

My guess is that they wrote the first bit of the statement, then realized their investors might get a bit testy when they didn’t include money. Also, another “in the world”? Was this statement written by Jeremy Clarkson?

It’s also 80 characters longer than a tweet, which should be the new benchmark for mission statements, especially Twitter’s.

Ars Technica’s Android “Lollipop” Review

Judging by Ron Amadeo’s review, it seems that this update is a big refinement across the board. As iOS 7 was to iOS 6, Android 5 is to Android 4.x: a universal revision, aiming to provide consistency and structure across the OS. And, as iOS 7 took cues from Android at the time, Lollipop takes some cues from iOS: the lock screen, in particular, looks like a lightly-skinned version of iOS’.

But who cares? All mobile OSes are basically converging towards the same point, each taking inspiration (and often more) from their competition. Until something brand new in either software or, more likely, hardware comes along to really shake things up, we’re probably going to be seeing more of the same push towards refinement, not revolution. And that’s okay.

Ted Cruz’s Net Neutrality Take Isn’t Just Dumb, It’s Dangerous

Kate Knibbs, Gizmodo:

Corporations can be just as tyrannical as corrupt federal administrations, and we have been in danger of ISPs controlling and corroding the flow of information through the internet in a way that would be detrimental to everybody. This is not a case of government scope creep. This is a case of the executive branch of the government taking a stand in an attempt to preserve an endangered freedom.

The only thing net neutrality would slow down is the speed at which you’re getting fucked, and that’s something everyone in Congress should agree on.

Yeah, yeah: Gizmodo. But this is a perfect response to Sen. Cruz’s bile.

President Obama on Net Neutrality

From the President’s prepared remarks:

The rules I am asking for are simple, common-sense steps that reflect the Internet you and I use every day, and that some ISPs already observe. These bright-line rules include:

  • No blocking. If a consumer requests access to a website or service, and the content is legal, your ISP should not be permitted to block it. That way, every player — not just those commercially affiliated with an ISP — gets a fair shot at your business.

  • No throttling. Nor should ISPs be able to intentionally slow down some content or speed up others — through a process often called “throttling” — based on the type of service or your ISP’s preferences.

  • Increased transparency. The connection between consumers and ISPs — the so-called “last mile” — is not the only place some sites might get special treatment. So, I am also asking the FCC to make full use of the transparency authorities the court recently upheld, and if necessary to apply net neutrality rules to points of interconnection between the ISP and the rest of the Internet.

  • No paid prioritization. Simply put: No service should be stuck in a “slow lane” because it does not pay a fee. That kind of gatekeeping would undermine the level playing field essential to the Internet’s growth. So, as I have before, I am asking for an explicit ban on paid prioritization and any other restriction that has a similar effect.

This isn’t in any way about changing the way the internet works; it’s about retaining the way the internet has always worked in the face of increasing corporate influence.

Unfortunately, it seems as though some people have got it into their heads that the internet should be regulated not by the government but by corporate interests. These uncompromising beliefs have polarized an issue that, frankly, is something that should be immune to polarization. The overarching principles of net neutrality are generally agreeable and not something most people would debate; it is the idea that government would set rules around this that seems to frighten people, which is unfortunate. The government already sets rules that prohibit other utilities from discrimination; why would the internet be any different?

More unfortunate is the unlikelihood of any regulations being passed on this extremely important issue. Now that Republicans — overwhelmingly those who not only disagree with net neutrality regulations due to a market solutions-based philosophy, but who summarily reject anything the Obama administration proposes — control both the House and Senate, the likelihood of a bill becoming law is extraordinarily slim. If such a bill were to be proposed, it’s likely that it would become a watered-down, corporate-influenced version of such a bill that doesn’t actually set net neutrality boundaries, but rather reinforces the ability for ISPs to jerk their customers around. Though, that’s probably true regardless of the party in charge — telecom companies routinely donate large amounts of money to candidates from both parties.

Remember, too, that though this debate is taking place largely in the United States, its effects will be felt worldwide. The US exerts massive influence on the way other countries will follow. As Voltaire reminds us, this power doesn’t come without responsibility.

iCloud Drive Stumbles

David Sparks:

I don’t know what to think about Apple and the cloud at this point. I think this is really important to Apple’s success (and my ability to get the most out of their products). Nevertheless, they keep stumbling. I know what they are doing at this massive scale is hard. However, Apple’s secretive nature combined with these obvious problems makes it appear they just don’t care, which I don’t think is true but nonetheless frustrating when it interrupts my flow. I suspect the truth is that the iCloud team is pedaling like mad and don’t want to publicly acknowledge these problems but instead just fix them.

I want to believe that iCloud’s reliability is getting to a point where us nerdier types can comfortably recommend it to our friends and family. But the bungled launch of iCloud Drive combined with quiet changes and backwards incompatibility puts at risk much of the cloud services goodwill Apple has been trying to salvage.

I don’t know how long it’s going to take iCloud to become reliable, but it will almost certainly be shorter than the amount of time it will take me to feel comfortable relying upon it. And I should be able to rely upon it. While I may feel that my local storage is more secure, the truth of the matter is that it cannot compete with server farms mirrored worldwide. Though I could pick up some Amazon storage or use Dropbox, an OS-integrated solution makes far more sense to me if it were done right.

Wulu

When I was a little younger, I used to spend an awful lot of time hanging out on IRC in small rooms of like-minded people. I’ve made a lot of acquaintances and a few friends in that way. Over time, those relationships moved over to Twitter. While the friendships continue, it’s more passive, and a little harder to keep a discussion going. While I’m not one to hope Twitter goes away, I see the value in a platform more tailored to conversations.

For the past week, I’ve been testing an interesting new app called Wulu that promises that and, for the most part, seems to deliver. They describe it this way:

WULU is a place for real people and real conversation.

Just pick a trending topic and we’ll pair you with other people looking to talk about the same thing.

Which makes sense, but I like to think of it as short, real-time conversations among four like-minded people. Just four: no more, no less.

Now, full disclosure: one of the creators of the app, Andrew Turnbull, emailed me to tell me about it, and to inquire about purchasing sponsorship space on the site. I get loads of emails like this, and I ignore most of them, but Wulu seemed interesting. I declined the sponsorship, but told him I’d check out the beta and see if it interested me. And it’s earned a space on my first home screen, so I think that tells you all you need to know.

The app also has another interesting angle: it was developed right here in Calgary. So I met Andrew for coffee (well, tea) yesterday and got to know a little more about the intent of the app. He reiterated that the real-time aspect was very important, so that’s why there’s no archived chats. He explained that double-tapping on a comment in a thread would “nod” that comment — sort of like a thumbs-up; each nod equates to a point, and there’s a leaderboard to see how many nods you and others are getting. Andrew explained to me that this encourages productive conversations, rather than spam. (There’s a “report inappropriate” button on each user’s profile to combat the latter.)

To reiterate: I wasn’t paid for this post, and not even encouraged. I’m just a fan of the app and wanted to let you, my dear readers, know about it. It’s definitely a 1.0; there are some things that aren’t entirely sorted out. Topics, for example, are currently set manually by the founders, with Google News, and trending Facebook and Twitter topics as guides. But it’s a really good start. You should check it out.

The Future of Unison

Cabel Sasser:

Unison — our excellent OS X app for accessing Usenet Newsgroups and the many wonders and mysteries contained within — has reached the end of its road after years of faithful service.

Unison’s end is bittersweet. The market for a Usenet client in 2014 isn’t exactly huge. But if you know Panic, you know we do our very best to never drop things awkwardly — we like to leave our apps in a good place for our (very) valued users.

Frankly, I’m surprised that Unison has survived this long. How many people — aside from a few nerds like myself — actually use Usenet in a year beginning with “2″?1 And, yet, it soldiered on, until now. This is a textbook example of how to discontinue an app in a way where nobody really loses.


  1. There are two major ISPs in Calgary, and I deliberately chose the one that offers Usenet access. Because, of course, I totally like talking to people in a 1980s way. That’s why. 

Amazon’s Echo Chamber

Dustin Curtis:

People buy hardware that fits into their lives, and becomes part of how they identify themselves to the world. If you want to sell hardware, you have to be in fashion, like Samsung was two years ago, or like Apple has always been. Amazon is incapable of understanding fashion, because it has no taste, and its hardware is completely unfashionable and tasteless.