Month: December 2013

Alexis Madrigal, the Atlantic:

The great irony is that we got what we wanted from the stream: a way to read and watch outside the editorial control of editors, old Yahoo-style cataloging, and Google bots. But when the order of the media cosmos was annihilated, freedom did not rush into the vacuum, but an emergent order with its own logic. We discovered that the stream introduced its own kinds of compulsions and controls. Faster! More! Faster! More! Faster! More!

And now, who can keep up? There is a melancholy to the infinite scroll.

An absolutely wonderful piece from Madrigal.

How do you message someone in 2013? Do you send them an email, like a pleb? Or perhaps you might fire up iMessage, Snapchat, WhatsApp, BBM, Twitter DMs, Google Hangouts, Skype, Facebook, Kik, or one of the countless other messaging apps you may have on your phone.

Is that not enough? Well, Instagram is launching one, too. In such a crowded field, how is this app different from every other messaging app? Brian Heater, Engadget:

You can send photos and videos with text, but not text alone, naturally. Images and videos, [Kevin] Systrom added, is what the new feature is all about. According to Systrom, the new feature is all about “connecting people around moments.” Once a friend looks at the image, you’ll see a check mark next to it. If they like it, you’ll see a heart.

It’s the Instagram experience, complete with filters and “Likes”, but among just a few of your friends. I’m not sure if that’s enough of a differentiator, but it’s a fairly bold move.

Oh, yeah, and the Instagram icon still looks out of place on the iPhone.

Update: Casey Johnston of Ars Technica reports that senders can delete photos from recipients’ feeds:

Instagram Direct not only leaves the detonation button in the hands of the sender, but the act of deleting a photo interrupts the recipient’s viewing of the photo. For example, say Jimmy sends John an Instagram Direct photo of a hot dog. John opens the photo to view it, and the read receipt on the photo notifies Jimmy that John has opened it. If Jimmy swipes the message to delete it from his inbox as John gazes upon the hot dog, John’s viewing experience will be interrupted by a “This photo has been deleted” dialog. The photo is also no longer listed in John’s inbox. If Jimmy hadn’t deleted the photo, John could not himself delete it, only “hide” it in his inbox.

What if they simply added a timer? This is one of a few reasons why I think Snapchat is vastly overvalued.

Josh Constine, TechCrunch:

The News Feed is about to get a lot more lively. Just days after pushing its auto-play feature for videos to all mobile users, today we spotted auto-playing videos on, and the company confirms to me “we’re continuing a wider rollout of in-line video on web”. Once this rollout is complete, the stage will be set for the introduction of more flashy video ads.

I’m sure this will be well-received by Facebook users, who are often extremely amenable when it comes to the changes the company makes on a regular basis.

Interesting development from the file of “Commercial Sectors Technology Is Rapidly Superseding”. I thought most people in Canada would have door-to-door delivery, but according to Canada Post, that’s not the case — only about five million people, in a country with about 13 million households. They’re going to be switching us over to group mailboxes, which is a minor hurdle, according to our mayor:

Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi pointed out that cities across the country will have to negotiate with Canada Post about where the community mailboxes will go.

“Obviously we’re going to have to find space. In newer communities they’re built with the … mailbox stations in place. So, in older neighbourhoods, over time, we’re just going to figure out where to put them,” said Nenshi.

There’s no major issue here, I don’t think. It’s slightly less convenient for us in older areas where we’re used to door-to-door delivery. Elderly and disabled customers in older neighbourhoods might find it challenging, which is obviously concerning, but I hope the mailboxes will be located within a reasonably close distance to most homes they cover.

Another interesting observation: Canada Post expects their parcel deliveries to increase, the only segment of their business to do so.

David Smith responds to Feedly’s dick moves:

I am not, nor should I be, in the business of making unilateral changes to the chosen business models of content publishers. As a reader I love it when publishers provide full-text, unencumbered feeds for all of their articles. I understand, however, that not all publications choose this route. When they don’t, I believe my responsibility as a reading service is to respect that choice.

And this is why we like David Smith.

Marina Esmeraldo, Minimalissimo:

An international group of graphic designers respond to the systematicity of Braun Design, each one of them notably minimalist, such as Experimental Jetset, Hey Studio, Ross Gunter, Antonio Carusone, Spin, Tomasz Berezowski, Spin and more.

(Via Kontra.)

Mat Honan, Wired:

It’s a big change to the way Twitter fundamentally works. Previously, when you uploaded a picture to Twitter it was public by default, which was why you couldn’t send them via direct message. Now if you want to send a photo privately, that only you and the recipient can see, you can do that from right within the app.

This will probably be spun as Twitter taking on Snapchat, but that doesn’t seem quite right. Twitter’s photo messages don’t expire like Snapchat’s do. In fact, they can be saved to a device.

But, here’s the thing: Twitter could add one measly little toggle to make the photo expire and, optionally, spin the direct messaging portion off into its own app, and they’d have an instant Snapchat competitor. Just add the “Ew, I didn’t need to see that.”

Also strange: these images don’t follow the standard Twitter image API, meaning that they’re not supported in third-party clients.

Charles Arthur, the Guardian:

The truth of this was revealed to some Microsoft researchers, who in the early days of Microsoft Word asked lots of people to send them their configuration files. These were anonymous, because the researchers just wanted to find out what people actually preferred, so they could have those set as the defaults. To their amazement, they discovered that less than 5% had made any changes. At all.

Mary Jo Foley, ZDNet (Threshold is the next version of Windows):

With Threshold, my sources say, there could be three primary SKUs: A “modern” consumer SKU; a traditional/PC SKU; and a traditional enterprise SKU.

Separate versions for touch screens and traditional PCs? Why, that sounds almost as if there are separate requirements for those two input methods. How sensible.

A fantastic, infinitely-quotable article from the Economist:

Interestingly, though, Cisco is not one of the signatories to the letter. In fact, plenty of big tech companies are missing. The fact that only eight companies could be persuaded to sign may be revealing in itself. All of the firms that did sign are software houses. Hardware companies (like Cisco) are entirely absent, even though one of Mr Snowdens’ many revelations is that the spooks have been spending plenty of money and sweat trying to subvert their products. Big telecommunications firms like Level 3 and AT&T, whose fibre-optic cables the spies have been tapping, have not said anything either.

Another notable non-signatory: Amazon. Perhaps this is reading too much from their lack of participation — there are many simple answers for why a company wouldn’t sign the letter — but in a recent interview on 60 Minutes, Jeff Bezos mentioned that Amazon was building a version of their web storage database for the CIA. I don’t necessarily think that their non-participation is indicative of disagreement with the spirit of the letter, but perhaps they — along with Cisco, etc. — don’t want to lose their government contracts.

Craig Timberg, Washington Post:

The uncommonly unified front — featuring companies, such as Google and Microsoft, that compete fiercely on business matters — underscored the deep alarm among technology leaders over revelations that the National Security Agency has collected user data far more extensively than the companies understood, in many cases with little or no court oversight.

In a letter to U.S. leaders published in several newspapers Monday, the coalition calls for an end to bulk collection of user information — such as e-mail, address books and video chats — and for the enactment of significant new protections when courts consider specific surveillance requests.

From the letter:

We understand that governments have a duty to protect their citizens. But this summer’s revelations highlighted the urgent need to reform government surveillance practices worldwide. The balance in many countries has tipped too far in favor of the state and away from the rights of the individual — rights that are enshrined in our Constitution. This undermines the freedoms we all cherish. It’s time for a change.

It’s an awfully complex issue for the reason cited above: governments should protect their people. This has been accomplished through clandestine means for millennia. Once upon a time, phone taps were required to be specific. Law enforcement was required to know the number before requesting a warrant to intercept the line. Now, it’s like all of our phones are being tapped and a warrant is required to access the data. Data which, by the way, has already been collected and an automated warrant tool which, frequently, requires barely any human interaction.

Let’s assume for a minute that these broad and repeated violations of our right to privacy have actually managed to save lives. How many prevented attacks are required for this to seem worthwhile? Would it be worth sacrificing our entire right to privacy to prevent the death of a single human being? That’s, understandably, a hard question to answer; I don’t necessarily think there’s a “correct” answer, or even a logical opinion for this one.

The above is, of course, under the assumption that the United States is always under threat of attack. To what extent is that true? I wouldn’t be surprised if the US sees more potential external threats than, say, Belgium. But perhaps the US also faces many more internal threats which cannot be neutralized because the NSA swears — hand on heart — that it doesn’t monitor US communications. This is, of course, because they ostensibly abide by the Fourth Amendment, which protects against search and seizure without a warrant. 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?”.

These are all questions which I wish there were answers, easy or hard. I don’t necessarily think there’s any way to simplify this issue, though. I think this is tricky. That’s why I’m interested in the outcome of these eight major tech companies unifying against these surveillance capabilities. Perhaps it will continue the dialogue to create the meaningful reform that’s so desperately needed. I am optimistic.

Nate Hoffelder:

Instead of sharing a link which leads to a publisher’s website, Feedly users are now sharing links that lead to the same content, only now it is hosted on Feedly’s website.

This change happened sometime around midnight Friday night. Any link shared from Feedly before midnight links to the original source, but any link shared after about 10am links to Feedly.

They have since suspended this behaviour. There was outrage when Digg was framing articles with the “DiggBar” in 2009; why did Feedly think they can get away with even poorer link hijacking in 2013?

Mark Hellweg (via Nate Boateng):

Ratio is the result of pondering coffee makers for several years. After listening to many customers complain about flimsy plastic parts, complicated programming steps, and overall inelegance, I decided to draw together a team of talented designers, engineers, and creatives to build a new company that is devoted entirely to coffee machines of unmatched beauty and quality.

This is an object of inspiring quality and craft. It combines the wonderful taste of a Chemex with the ease of a drip coffee machine. The $395 sale price tag (regular $480) is a little steep for me, especially considering how much I love my AeroPress, but this is a piece of kitchen equipment to admire.

Agam Shah for Macworld (via Stephen Hackett):

Sharp’s PN-K321 4K Ultra HD LED monitor, which displays images at a 3840 x 2160 pixel resolution, is on sale for €3,999 (US$5,444) through Apple’s U.K. and other European online stores. The monitor is not yet listed on Apple’s U.S. online store.

Nice name.

This is particularly intriguing in the wake of Dell’s announcement of a 4K display which they say will be affordable:

The Dell UltraSharp 32 Ultra HD Monitor (UP3214Q) is available globally starting at $3,499. The Dell UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitor (UP2414Q) is now available in the Americas, starting at $1,399. It will be available worldwide on December 16. The Dell 28 Ultra HD Monitor (P2815Q) will be available in early 2014. […]

The Dell 28 Ultra HD Monitor will be available in early 2014. Offering the same incredible Ultra HD screen performance as the Dell UltraSharp 32 and Dell UltraSharp 24 Ultra HD Monitors, but priced at under $1,000…

All three of Dell’s displays are being offered for far (far) less than Sharp’s; it isn’t the result of retail markup by Apple, either. Oh, and remember that UK pricing is egregious; the Sharp sells for around $3,500 in the US. If you think all of these displays are expensive, by the way, remember that the 30-inch Cinema Display was first priced at $3,300 in 2004, which is $4,079.95 in 2013 dollars.

I bet Apple’s sale of the Sharp display is a temporary measure until they release a 4K Thunderbolt Display, though. And, yes, I want one.

Update: …And it’s gone.

Barbara Ortutay, of the Associated Press:

The implications of iBeacon go beyond Apple stores. One day, commuters might get information on subway delays as they stand on the platform, while museum visitors might get details on the painting they are standing in front of. Other retailers will be also able to offer deals or track which aisles shoppers linger in the longest.

There are huge implications beyond retail. What Apple is rolling out right now is only scratching the surface, and is probably the least interesting (at least, to me) implementation of iBeacon. If this takes off, transit authorities won’t have to spend hundreds of dollars per bus stop to install LED displays, for instance. For smaller cities, that’s not a big deal; in Calgary, we have 5,874 bus stops, which could potentially mean a large cost savings.

Or consider some of the things which NFC is used for today which could be migrated to iBeacon. The possibilities are more open and adaptable because the technology doesn’t require hardware beyond Bluetooth 4.0, which has been seen in most major smartphones since about 2011. NFC, on the other hand, has seen a poor adoption rate, even though it was rolled out sooner.

This is a much smarter way of creating augmented reality. Instead of holding your phone up and using its camera-and-display combo as a sort of augmented window into the world, iBeacons allow for similar functionality in a much subtler way. My biggest question is whether this technology will be easier for Muggles1 to understand and use.

  1. You know, people who don’t read Daring Fireball, TechMeme, or yours truly. ↥︎

We all know Android devices aren’t supported for as long as iOS devices; “Fidlee” has put together a chart which demonstrates the speed at which they lose support.

It’s a little more complicated than the chart makes it out to be, though: not all devices in either ecosystem necessarily support all of the features of each version of the OS. My iPhone 4S does not support AirDrop because it lacks the hardware for it, while a friend’s iPhone 4 doesn’t support all of the iOS 7 blurring, because it can’t be rendered quickly enough. But enough of the APIs are supported for developers on all devices that they can require the latest version of iOS for an app and still have a broad user base.

The talks from this year’s Çingleton have been uploaded…

…six days ago. I should pay attention to my Vimeo feed. Scott Simpson’s talk is very funny, while Sebastiaan de With’s is insightful, and Jonathan Rentzsch’s has a lot of consonants in a row. Christina Warren’s talk is absolutely one of the most honest and significant of the year, though. Every year, the conference seems to produce some of the best talks in the indie software/Mac user/nerdy conference space. You weren’t doing anything tomorrow, right?

I’ve been a little quiet lately because I have been preparing for an exhibition I curated. It’s called “Departures”; here’s an excerpt from my curatorial statement:

These sundry works have been selected from a much greater pool of works by [Teresa] Tam, and have been arranged in an open but deliberate narrative. By placing older works in context with more recent ones, parallels are revealed in the aesthetic and formal choices despite years and mediums of separation. Further exploration reveals that this is not a simple retrospective, but rather a more complex commentary on the mediums’ influences on each other. There are analog “glitches” in the Polaroids which are reflected in the digital glitches created in the videos, for example.

Due to their arrangement in the gallery, the individual works are given new context and meaning; collectively, they form an entire work unto itself, which I have titled “Departures”.

I try not to self-promote here, but I wanted you to understand my absence. This has been a huge amount of work, and I look forward to showing you a little more very soon.