Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Archive for December, 2013

Big Fan

So you want to buy a new Mac Pro, but you’re concerned about a tiny computer producing a lot of heat? Jason Snell:

They ran 4K video on two 4K displays and I held my hand over the top of the Mac Pro. Hot air was blowing out, but I couldn’t hear the fan.

Reminds me of this, one of my all-time favourite Daring Fireball articles. For some reason, the video embeds don’t work any more (at least, they don’t on my end); here’s the first video, and the second.

Apple’s Inter-App Sharing Dilemma

Ole Begemann:

I think Apple faces a real dilemma here. Any API that facilitates data sharing between apps without user interaction can easily be abused for tracking purposes, a practice Apple has opposed pretty strongly – at least in word if not in actual rejections of apps.

Just like ad networks, analytics services and social network companies ([through] social sharing buttons) are able to track users across websites, analytics and ad libraries can track a user’s app usage across multiple apps as long as they have a common identifier for each device. Trackers used to use the unique device identifier for this purpose until Apple forbid it. Afterwards, many libraries switched to solutions that involved shared pasteboards. I am not sure if tracking companies have found another solution that works in iOS 7 (short of heuristics).

I’ve previously focused on the user interface challenges faced by Apple when designing an inter-app sharing system. I don’t think the Share sheet is necessarily the best option, and there are edge cases which require a more comprehensive consideration of what intrer-app sharing entails. Begemann raises some smart additional concerns regarding the security of inter-app sharing.

Obama Panel Recommends New Limits on NSA Spying

When the panel membership was announced, it was widely panned by critics calling it “questionable” and “illusory“. But, surprisingly enough, the resulting report (PDF) is actually a decent set of recommendations. It’s not as comprehensive as I, or indeed many, would have liked, but it’s a step in the right direction.

I’m about halfway through the report as of writing this, and I was pleasantly surprised to see this recommendation on page 30:

We recommend that, in the absence of a specific and compelling showing, the US Government should follow the model of the Department of Homeland Security, and apply the Privacy Act of 1974 in the same way to both US persons and non-US persons.

This is broadly in-line with what I have been asking:

The Constitution and the Bill of Rights have been held up as an example of human rights affordances and protections, to which I ask: “So why are non-American humans undeserving of being protected according to these rights? Shouldn’t the US be strong enough to treat others in accordance with their own laws?”.

I’m very pleased that the review panel considered a similar opinion.

Mac Pro Available Starting Tomorrow

I’ve noticed a little pattern recently:

  1. Apple uncharacteristically announces a product well ahead of when it will be available to consumers.
  2. They give a one-month window of availability. For the Retina iPad Mini, it was “November”; for the Mac Pro, it was “December”.
  3. About halfway through that month, chatter on Twitter and rumour blogs turns to talk of delays, for various reasons.
  4. A weekend passes.
  5. An announcement is made that the product will be available that day or the following day.

So, perhaps the lesson here is to be patient.

iTunes Match and Mastered for iTunes

Among Kirk McElhearn’s many observations comes this gem from the Pink Floyd song “Wish You Were Here”:

What is interesting, however, is that when looking at waveforms, the Mastered for iTunes file shows a bit of clipping; it’s clearly louder, and there are some peaks that shouldn’t be there.

In their guide for audio engineers (PDF), Apple says:

With digital files, there’s a limit to how loud you can make a track: 0dBFS. Trying to increase a track’s overall loudness beyond this point results in distortion caused by clipping and a loss in dynamic range. The quietest parts of a song increase in volume, yet the louder parts don’t gain loudness due to the upper limits of the digital format.

Although iTunes doesn’t reject files for a specific number of clips, tracks which have audible clipping will not be badged or marketed as Mastered for iTunes.

McElhearn states that he didn’t notice the clipping until he saw the waveform in this particular case, but it seems to me that any clipping should be intolerable by the Mastered for iTunes standard. The people who choose Mastered for iTunes are people who care about details like this.

The Pricing of the Best Apps of 2013

If you remove the outliers, Apple has chosen Mac apps with an average price of $28.24 as their favourites this year.

For iPhone apps, it’s a different story. The first column shows all iPhone apps featured by Apple in their 2013 roundup; the second shows the same apps without any free apps, any games (which account for about half of the apps featured), and with the lowest- and highest-priced apps removed (Afterlight and OmniFocus, respectively).

All Featured Apps Featured Apps – (Games + Free + Highest + Lowest)
$19.99 $6.99
$19.99 $5.99
$8.99 $5.99
$6.99 $4.99
$6.99 $4.99
$6.99 $4.99
$6.99 $3.99
$6.99 $2.99
$5.99 $2.99
$5.99 $2.99
$4.99 $2.99
$4.99 $2.99
$4.99 $2.99
$4.99 $1.99
$4.99 $1.99
$4.99 $1.99
$3.99 $1.99
$3.99 $1.99
$3.99 $1.99
$3.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$2.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$1.99
$0.99
$0.99
$0.99
$0.99
$0.99
$0.00
$0.00
$0.00
$0.00
$0.00
$0.00
$0.00
$0.00
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$9.99 AVG $3.57 AVG

You can clearly see how reliant the iPhone is on free apps, and also how much of the paid app market is dominated by games. I still think there is a market for a good non-game app which costs money, but it’s clearly a much smaller one. But, on the other hand, perhaps that significantly limits your customer base to those who care. You could follow the example of OmniFocus ($20), for example. It’s not an easy sell, though.

Misunderstood or Double-Edged?

Robert McGinley Myers:

In the first half of the ad, the kid is portrayed as self-absorbed, antisocial, even rude in his attention to his iPhone. But why? Would we have seen him in such a negative light if he had been reading a copy of The Catcher in the Rye, or writing in a journal, or drawing in a sketchpad, or noodling on a guitar? The magical, revolutionary thing about an iPhone (and I say this unironically) is that it can become a novel, a journal, a sketchbook, a musical instrument, or a video camera/video editor (with apps like iBooks, Day One, Paper, Garageband, and iMovie among many others).

What is it about reading The Catcher in the Rye on a screen that causes a different perception than reading the same book in dead tree form? I think there’s something much greater to this ad than a simple twist, or just selling a product. I think Myers has really latched onto an interesting thread here: what is it about a glowing screen that creates an adverse reaction compared to a printed page?

Shawn Blanc thinks it’s because the open-ended nature of such a device draws us to conclude that the user is probably not reading a book, but reading Twitter; they’re probably not writing in a journal, but sending a text message. I think that’s a reasonable approach, but I also don’t think there’s something necessarily wrong with that.

While commuting by train the other day, I was iMessaging my sister — this isn’t necessarily a big deal, except she’s been on an exchange program in Europe since the end of August, and I haven’t seen her since. It was nice to catch up with what she’s learning in her classes over there, and how she’s enjoying her time in Amsterdam.

The multifunctional nature of a smartphone invites us to use it in myriad ways. Who’s to say that this is necessarily a “bad thing”? Perhaps someone is reading on Twitter about a breaking news story that concerns a relative on the other side of the world, or just because they’re interested in that story. Is it so bad to be curious, even if that curiosity is explored in front of and through a glowing screen?

Misunderstood

Federico Viticci, MacStories:

As Christmas approaches, Apple is once again advertising the iPhone as an experience more than a gadget. It’s not about the camera sensor, the faster processor, the apps, or wireless streaming taken individually — it’s about how all these elements, together, make technology (in this case, Apple’s technology) fit into our lives, empowering us.

I didn’t like this ad when I first saw it; I found it saccharine, which made it difficult to watch. But, having rewatched it a couple of times, it’s pretty marvellous, and I no longer think it’s phoney.1 It falls into the line created by the “… Every Day” ads from earlier this year: quiet, subtle, and relatable.

It reminded me a lot of the last few minutes of the Mad Men episode “The Wheel”, in which Draper explains his concept for the carousel slide projector campaign. It works in much the same way:

Technology is a glittering lure. But there’s the rare occasion when the public can be engaged on a level beyond flash: if they have a sentimental bond with the product. My first job, I was in house at a fur company with this old pro copywriter, a Greek, named Teddy. Teddy told me the most important idea in advertising is new; it creates an itch. You simply put your product in there as a kind of Calamine Lotion. We also talked about a deeper bond with the product: nostalgia. It’s delicate but potent.

This is that same ad concept.


  1. Well, it’s an advertisement selling a product, so it’s as authentic as that can be. ↩︎

Twitter Working on “Edit” Feature for Tweets

Good scoop by Matthew Keys. It doesn’t appear to be a simple editing feature, either:

Twitter wants to enable users to immediately debunk incorrect information, especially erroneous tweets that go viral. However, Twitter wants users to be able to edit a tweet without changing the overall purpose — in other words, Twitter doesn’t want a user to post a news story, accumulate a large amount of re-tweets, and then change the tweet to display a promotion or advertisement.

To solve this problem, Twitter is looking at a few things, including limitations on how many characters or words a user would be allowed to insert or delete. According to sources, Twitter is also developing an “editorial algorithm” that, if it works correctly, would be able to “detect” whether or not a user is attempting to change the overall intention of the tweet instead of fixing a minor mistake or retracting an erroneous report.

It will be intriguing to see how well this works. There are dozens of instances that I can think of which, from a programming perspective, would appear as though I am changing the intention of a tweet. For example, suppose I tweeted an erroneous link and wanted to replace it — it would be hard to distinguish, algorithmically, the difference between that and replacing it with a promotional link.

Perhaps this won’t cover all the instances I’m thinking of, and will simply be a way to fix grammatical or spelling errors. But Twitter has always prided itself on ease-of-use and assuming best intentions. It doesn’t make you fill in a CAPTCHA when tweeting a link, for example. Perhaps it would be simplest to deploy a straight-up editing feature with no restrictions, and further restrict it if edits get out of control.

Update: Or maybe not a good scoop for Keys. Mat Honan’s sources say there’s no editing feature on the way.

The Definitive Facts Behind CBS’s Flawed Report

Spencer Ackerman, for the Guardian:

[T]here is a fundamental discrepancy in power between the Fisa court and the NSA. The court’s judges have lamented that they possess an inability to independently determine how the NSA’s programs work, and if they’re in compliance with the limits the judges secretly impose. That leaves them at the mercy of NSA, the director of national intelligence, and the Justice Department to self-report violations. When the facts of the collection and the querying are sufficiently divergent from what the court understands – something the court only learns about when it is told – that can become a matter of law.

In other words, it can be simultaneously true that NSA doesn’t intend to break the law and that NSA’s significant technical capabilities break the law anyway. Malice isn’t the real issue. Overbroad tools are. But that’s not something that NSA had to address during its prime-time spotlight inaugurating its publicity tour.

‘60 Minutes’ and the Revolving Door Journalism of John Miller

Kevin Gosztola:

What we have here is a self-perpetuating cycle of propaganda. The White House says no clemency for Snowden, like he asked for it. John Miller, who may return to work for the US intelligence community (and in some respects still is working for it), says he already said he would accept amnesty if he was offered because of this manufactured story about clemency previously in the news. Ledgett uses the opportunity to spew propaganda about how he would have a conversation and need “assurances that the remainder of the data could be secure,” as if that is even a remote possibility. And it gives NSA the ability to, from a public relations point, say we let Snowden make his point. Come back home now and stop damaging the United States.

However, it is worth recognizing that over a span of six months the US intelligence community has gone from hysterically pushing conspiracy theories about what information China, Russia, Iran or other US enemies managed to obtain from Snowden to an internal discussion about whether to grant Snowden amnesty so this could all be over. They are all clearly tired of being scrutinized. They are also tired of losing to Snowden, journalists, privacy groups and politicians, who are changing public opinion. And that is primarily why the American public was treated to this propaganda, which Miller proudly presented last night.

Truly, that 60 Minutes show was an awful piece of journalism.

Special Access

Late last night, I published “A Swing and a Miss“, wherein I criticized the 60 Minutes story on the NSA as little more than a puff piece. In their “Overtime” segment, it becomes clear why this is the case:

Producer Ira Rosen: This is an agency that really is under the gun. They have basically allowed this kid, who is now in Moscow with 1.7 million classified documents, to become the hero and they to become the villain.

John Miller: Part of what we wanted to get to in this story is to talk to the guy who runs the place, who is the ‘dark prince’, who controls the largest and most secretive intelligence agency on the globe.

Ira Rosen: Ultimately it was Gen. Alexander who made the call to invite us in. He’s fighting for his programs.

It becomes clear that Gen. Alexander invited 60 Minutes in to boost the public profile of the NSA, not to create television which was necessarily informative or investigative.

Then they talk about the “minders” they were provided:

Ann Silvio: This was pretty unusual, right? You had a group of minders following you, about 20 people, right?

John Milller: Well, sometimes it seemed that way.

Producer Gabrielle Schonder: Some of these were classified officers who were just making sure we weren’t shooting anything we shouldn’t have been. Others were just monitoring interviews in case anyone we spoke to started talking about classified information. They would jump up and interrupt them.

Then there’s a clip of Miller’s interview with the three young analysts, where “Morgan” is interrupted mid-speech by a minder, and Miller tells her to skip the question.

Ann Silvio: There were a few times when Gen. Alexander would [ask for] a time out.

John Miller: Did the NSA actually find any foreign power that had identified this capability and discussed using it offensively?

Gen. Alexander: I need time out on that.

John Miller: He looked over like this to a whole crowd of people in the dark and said “can I answer that?”.

This is followed a short time later by a series of questions Rick Ledgett “can’t answer”.

What all of this makes clear is that the tougher questions — the questions privacy advocates, many Americans, and yours truly want answers to — simply couldn’t be asked or fully answered. Assuming Miller asked these questions (and he indicates that he did), the problem here is that 60 Minutes was allowed only enough access for the NSA’s image to be boosted, and not enough to address the most serious of issues.

A Swing and a Miss

On Sunday, CBS’ newsmagazine program 60 Minutes aired an episode billed as “unprecedented access to [the] NSA”. Given the regularly high reputation of 60 Minutesrecent transgressions aside — it sounded like a promising premise; however, it quickly became clear that this was little more than an NSA puff piece. Tougher questions were asked of Jeff Bezos when he was demonstrating Amazon’s pie-in-the-sky drone delivery system. All quotes here are from the official transcript, [sic].

The first potential issue here is the correspondent responsible for this piece. John Miller discloses at the beginning this conflict of interest:

Full disclosure, I once worked in the office of the director of National Intelligence where I saw firsthand how secretly the NSA operates.

Anything coming from this report will be undermined by this very conflict of interest. Could CBS not find another correspondent to cover this story? Or, possibly, would the NSA only grant Miller access? These questions are unanswered.

Edward Snowden revealed another program called “prism.” Which the NSA says is authorized under the foreign intelligence surveillance act, or FISA. Prism is the program the NSA uses to target the Internet communications of terrorists. It has the capability to capture emails, chats, video and photos. But privacy experts believe the NSA’s dragnet for terrorists on the Internet may also be sweeping up information on a lot of Americans.

Gen. Keith Alexander: No. That’s not true. Under FISA, NSA can only target the communications of a U.S. person with a probable cause finding under specific court order.

We don’t get to hear Miller’s original question here — it has been replaced with a voiceover. However, notice the fuzzy distinction created between the original question asking whether American communications are being swept up with Prism, and Gen. Alexander’s response stating that American communications are not being targeted. This distinction was made clear earlier in the program when considering the NSA’s phone records-keeping:

John Miller: Then why do you need all of those phone records?

Gen. Keith Alexander: How do you know when the bad guy who’s using those same communications that my daughters use, is in the United States trying to do something bad? The least intrusive way of doing that is metadata.

Here, Gen. Alexander subtly admits that metadata concerning American phone calls is being recorded, but states that it is not being accessed.

In a similar vein, I doubt that it is possible for the NSA to record only foreign internet communications. Therefore, while Gen. Alexander’s statement that US communications are not being “targeted” without specific court orders may be true, it did not entirely answer Miller’s question of whether American internet traffic may be swept up by Prism.

John Miller: A judge in the FISA court, which is the court that secretly hears the NSA cases and approves or disapproves your requests. Said the NSA systematically transgressed both its own court-appointed limits in bulk Internet data collection programs.

Gen. Keith Alexander: There was nobody willfully or knowingly trying to break the law.

First, that’s bullshit.

Second, if you watch the video version, you’ll notice a sharp cut between Miller’s question and Gen. Alexander’s response. I’d love to see an unedited version of this exchange or, indeed, the entire interview.

Edward Snowden worked for the NSA in Hawaii.

This is factually incorrect. Edward Snowden worked first for Dell, then Booz Allen Hamilton, both under larger contracts with the NSA, according to Rolling Stone. This is not a minor distinction; in a story about something as serious as this, every detail counts. The fact that Snowden worked for other companies which were contracted by the NSA could raise an interesting discussion about the US government’s procurement process; these questions can’t be asked if viewers are led to believe that Snowden was a direct NSA employee.

Miller then talks to Rick Ledgett, who runs the committee tasked with assessing the damage and potential damage of the documents Snowden took:

John Miller: Of all the things he took is there anything in there that worries you or concerns you more than anything else?

Rick Ledgett: It’s an exhaustive list of the requirements that have been levied against– against the National Security Agency. And what that gives is, what topics we’re interested in, where our gaps are. But additional information about U.S. capabilities and U.S. gaps is provided as part of that.

[…]

John Miller: If those documents fell into their hands? What good would it do them?

Rick Ledgett: It would give them a roadmap of what we know, what we don’t know, and give them– implicitly, a way to– protect their information from the U.S. intelligence community’s view.

[…]

So far, none of those crucial documents have been leaked.

A couple of things are going on here, but the broader result of this is a character assassination on Snowden, raising suspicions that he will leak documents potentially catastrophic to US intelligence abilities or, worse, give or sell those documents to target countries. This line of questioning is dishonest and damaging.

Snowden and those he’s entrusted with the leaked documents have stated that they are carefully reviewing each document to ensure the contents are in the public’s interest, and that what they release will not contain specifically sensitive details. Furthermore, the documents that have been released so far have had some specific details redacted, demonstrating that news organizations are behaving responsibly and in the public’s interests.

In the program’s second part, Miller asks about the Reform Government Surveillance letter, signed by eight major tech companies:

John Miller: One of the Snowden leaks involved the concept that NSA had tunneled into the foreign data centers of major U.S. Internet providers. Did the leak describe it the right way?

Gen. Keith Alexander: No, that’s not correct. We do target terrorist communications. And terrorists use communications from Google, from Yahoo, and from other service providers. So our objective is to collect those communications no matter where they are.

But we’re not going into a facility or targeting Google as an entity or Yahoo has an entity. But we will collect those communications of terrorists that flow on that network.

Once again, fuzzy terminology prevents this question from being asked and answered clearly. I don’t think Miller clearly understands what he’s asking here; or, at least, he has not demonstrated that he clearly understands what he’s asking here.

Gen. Alexander’s response states that they aren’t targeting the entities, but the data from those entities. That’s a distinction which doesn’t necessarily answer the question. Furthermore, his response that they collect “communications of terrorists” flies in the face of his earlier response regarding the collection of communications regarding Americans; specifically, that they must collect all records:

Gen. Keith Alexander: Well, the reality is if you go and [get a specific court order] for each, you have to tell the phone companies to keep those call detail records for a certain period of time. So, if you don’t have the data someplace you can’t search it. The other part that’s important, phone companies– different phone companies have different sets of records. And these phone calls may go between different phone companies. If you only go to one company, you’ll see what that phone company has. But you may not see what the other phone company has or the other. So by putting those together, we can see all of that essentially at one time.

If they cannot specifically target the collection of phone call metadata, do you really think that they can specifically target the Gmail inboxes or iCloud accounts of terrorists?


My grievances with this interview basically come down to two things:

  1. much of the interview was spent as a puff piece explaining why the NSA is so great, why these programs are ostensibly necessary, and why you shouldn’t be worried; and
  2. CBS really blew their “unprecedented access” chance.

I’ve explained the first a little bit above, and I don’t think I need to re-hash it. I invite you to watch the full 60 Minutes episode to experience the cushy line of interviewing.

My second issue with this report is substantially more frustrating.

In the twenty-five-minute piece, significant questions remain inadequately explained. Approximately ten minutes of the piece’s second half is spent meandering through the NSA offices, glancing at cabinets full of secrets without actually being able to show anything within, and asking a code breaker to solve a Rubik’s cube. All of this makes for flashy television, but occupies the time for the questions that should have been asked when 60 Minutes was granted “unprecedented access”.

Issues concerning classified programs other than the phone metadata collection and Prism program remain unaddressed. The programs and systems known as Boundless Informant, XKeyscore, Stellar Wind, the broader tapping of fibre-optic connections, or that big-ass data centre in Utah all remain unaccounted for by the NSA. Either Gen. Alexander was not asked about these issues or the exchanges were not aired. One would think he’d jump at the chance to defend these programs. Similarly, Miller did not ask Gen. Alexander about his misleading 2012 Congressional testimony. To be fair, 60 Minutes has limited airtime, but they also spent thirteen minutes talking about the persecution of Egypt’s Coptic Christians. And, while that story is certainly valuable, perhaps it could have been bumped to next week in order for more time to be spent on such a significant issue as the NSA’s tapping of worldwide communications.

Finally, Miller does not appear to fully understand the subjects of the questions he’s asking. As noted above, the distinction between collection and access remained unclear throughout all interview segments in which it was discussed. In the past, a court order was required in order to intercept communications of Americans in any way, including wiretapping, or to begin recording these communications. With Prism, it appears that the NSA has been collecting communications en masse, and — in accordance with FISA regulations — must receive a court order to look at American communications. This distinction remains unaddressed. If Miller knows the difference between the two — and he should, if he’s responsible for filing this report and having worked in National Intelligence previously — he did not seek to clarify this distinction at any opportunity; if he did not know the difference, he should not have been the reporter in charge of this story.

This grievance is similar to John Gruber’s qualms with Walter Isaacson’s “Steve Jobs”, insomuch as both reporters wasted a critical opportunity. CBS repeatedly emphasized how significant it was for them to be allowed on-camera interviews with NSA employees. If this occurrence was as rare as they made it out to be, they missed their one shot.

Keeping It Simple Is Complicated

The Wall Street Journal’s John Maeda, in a dual review of “Keep It Simple” by Hartmut Esslinger and “Jony Ive” by Leander Kahney:

To Jobs, design was never just about plastic versus aluminum (though such choices were always made with great care). Apple’s approach under Jobs recognized that great design had to be flawlessly manufactured and marketed at a profit margin advantageous to Apple. That is, producing the right product required not only Mr. Ive identifying the perfect aluminum but CEO Tim Cook locking down the raw materials at a sustainable price. Though on the surface Apple appears to be dominated by the guys in black turtlenecks, what truly distinguishes the company is how integrated its efforts are—the manufacturing requirements and supply-chain logistics are included in the design process.

This is what most companies miss. The phrase “design is how it works” is often thrown around with little care as to what it entails. Design, in this functional sense, requires dedication at every step of the process, which requires production line finesse at an unparalleled level. That’s what makes simplicity complicated and hard, but it’s ultimately what makes it so rewarding for Apple, for employees and, most of all, for customers.

Canadian Competition Bureau Files Complaint Against Google

The United States, then Europe, and now Canada. Matt Hartley, Financial Post:

Earlier this week the Competition Bureau of Canada filed documents with the Federal Court of Canada requesting records from Google Canada that detail various aspects of the technology company’s search and advertising businesses in the country as part of an investigation into alleged anti-competitive practices at the search engine giant.

According to the documents, the Competition Commissioner of Canada has reason to believe that Google controls one or more markets related to Internet search and advertising services in Canada, and that the Mountain View, California-based company may have engaged in a number of anti-competitive acts in violation of Canadian law.

Earlier this year, the FTC declined to bring charges against Google while subsequently beginning another investigation into their ad business. Meanwhile in Europe, the antitrust case seemed ready to wrap up in October, but objections may lead to a reconsideration of the proposed settlement. Now it’s Canada’s turn.

Charlie Parker

WordPress has been updated to version 3.8, notable for two reasons: a redesign of the admin panel, and a new “Twenty Fourteen” theme. Following Automattic’s jazz musician-themed code names, this one’s called Charlie Parker, and I like it a lot.

Matt Thomas wrote an excellent overview of the design decisions that drove WordPress 3.8 (via Shawn Blanc). The only thing I dislike is this:

We overhauled and streamlined typography, reducing to a single typeface, Open Sans.

I don’t know why, but I dislike Open Sans immensely; it simply doesn’t look very nice to my eyes. That’s why I made the Helveti-Admin plugin. It’s less than 2 KB and, if you dislike Open Sans as much as I do, you may find it to your liking. Just download it and upload the /helveti-admin/ folder to /wp-content/plugins/. Then head to your WordPress admin panel, click Plugins on the side, and activate it in the list.

I’m not really planning on updating the plugin. I don’t think it themes the admin bar, but I just care about the main content area. It shouldn’t break anything, but you know, use it at your own risk and peril.

The rest of the update is gorgeous, though. The new default theme is leaps and bounds better than any previous default theme. I tried the live preview on this site and, I have to say, I like it a lot. I’m not tempted to switch — I worked hard on this theme, dammit — but it appears to be a very flexible theme, despite the demo showing a cluttered magazine-like style.

The admin panel is a substantial improvement. It’s flat, yeah, but it’s smartly designed and doesn’t have the heavy look of the previous admin page. Everything looks more uniform and more decisive. I love it.

Update: Perhaps I spoke a little too soon about the Twenty Fourteen theme. It seems that nobody at WordPress owns a large display, because if I increase the width of my browser window too much, a large blank space appears on the right-hand side. Responsive, indeed.

There’s some sense in this decision: you don’t want super-wide paragraphs with atrocious line lengths, for instance. This seems like an ungraceful way to handle that.

Instagram Direct, Twitter DMs, and the Social/Communications Map

Tying into today’s presumed theme of ephemeral vs. permanent writing — and public vs. private messaging — here’s an insightful (as ever) article from Ben Thompson. I love this observation:

Both Twitter and Instagram face the same challenge in moving into this space: both have been built on interest graphs, which by definition is more about broadcasting and less about conversation. Twitter though, given its text background and the fact that DM’s are not a new product, has seeded many a relationship that naturally extends to messaging.

Instagram, on the other hand, is about images, literal projections from a user, and what text exists (i.e. comments) is about said projection, not the user.

Like I wrote earlier, I’m interested in Instagram’s angle, but I’m not sure how successful it will be. Placing images at the forefront makes it similar to Snapchat, but without the necessary ephemerality. Twitter’s direct messages are much more malleable, which I think makes them easier to understand and use.

Stock and Flow

In “The Year ‘The Stream’ Crested“, Alexis Madrigal references a piece from Robin Sloan, writing for Snarkmarket (oh, how I love that name):

  • Flow is the feed. It’s the posts and the tweets. It’s the stream of daily and sub-daily updates that remind people that you exist.

  • Stock is the durable stuff. It’s the content you produce that’s as interesting in two months (or two years) as it is today. It’s what people discover via search. It’s what spreads slowly but surely, building fans over time.

This piece may have been written in 2010, but it’s a perfect example of Stock — it hasn’t lost its relevance or interest in that time.

I love the analogy, too. I like to think of a post like this, in the context of Pixel Envy, as Flow, whereas the long form piece I’m working on is more like “Stock”. It isn’t length that defines Stock, but rather a lack of transience. It’s more permanent, and retains its value with time.

These are not necessarily mutually exclusive, mind you. Something like Twitter is ostensibly the epitome of Flow, but individual tweets may have lasting value. It’s the message, not necessarily the medium, that defines Stock and Flow.