Day: 2 November 2022

I have been using MacOS Ventura for a little over a week now and, while I still have not gotten used to phrases like “Preferences” and “Desktop Picture” getting replaced with the dreary words “Settings” and “Wallpaper”, respectively, I do think there are two legitimately great things in this release worth calling out.

The first is Stage Manager. I only have Ventura on my laptop, but I bet that is the context where the Mac version of Stage Manager makes the most sense. Its single-application mode and aggressive animations have made me think twice about habitually ⌘-Tabbing over to my Twitter client, and I find it makes it easier for me to juggle multiple windows while reducing clutter. It is imperfect, but it feels successful in a way that is surprising to me. Who knew MacOS needed yet another way to manage windows? Turns out.

The other thing I find impressive is the redesigned Print dialog box. It suffers from a few of the same bizarre layout choices that plague System Settings — there are yawning chasms between the left-aligned labels and the often narrow fields on the right, for example. But as far as functional redesigns of longstanding complex UI patterns go, I find it a joy to use. I have quibbles — Cupertino-area friends, I am filing feedback reports — but I think it is a true success overall.

Above all, what I am most surprised by in MacOS Ventura is that the maturity of this operating system has not stopped rethinking even basic elements like window management and printing. Neither improvement has gotten in my way or made me feel uncertain about how to use MacOS, either. That is a hard balance to strike and I think these are both successful examples of making big changes that do not break workflows in their quest for improvement.

More of this, please. I have thoughts about Notifications.

Speaking of ProPublica, it appears the publication is struggling with its own trustworthiness problems after fallout from a scandalous story claiming a “research-related incident” was responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic.

Max Tani, Semafor:

The ProPublica/Vanity Fair article relied on Toy Reid, a State Department China analyst whose close readings of Chinese Communist Party documents apparently unveiled revelations that all other observers had missed.

“Party speak is ‘its own lexicon, Reid explained in the piece, cautioning that even native Mandarin speakers might not understand it. “It’s almost like a secret language of Chinese officialdom. When they’re talking about anything potentially embarrassing, they speak of it in innuendo and hushed tones.”

But Reid’s “party speak” interpretations, quickly came under scrutiny from some journalists and experts on China, including many native Mandarin speakers, who said the story was based on a mistranslation.

Readers of the ProPublicaVanity Fair investigation and at least one of their own sources are disputing the very substance of the story. In the last month, four separate publications — the Wire, the Intercept, and this joint effort — have released bombshell articles with glaring problems. We need a better calibre of scoops and reporting.

Update: Ryan Grim, DC bureau chief for the Intercept, begged in his newsletter for these issues and questions to not be cast along partisan lines. That is something I am entirely in agreement with.

Andrea Bernstein and Ilya Marritz, ProPublica:

In early 2022, the Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency, or CISA, which is part of DHS, was in talks to deploy a federally funded nonprofit to protect election workers from harassment and violence.

The effort would have allowed elections officials to sign up for a service to protect them from having their identities and personal information exposed on the internet, known as doxxing. It also would have created a system to track and alert elections officials who were subject to serious threats on social media, including from foreign actors.

Around the same time, as lies about elections were becoming a central plank of GOP candidates, Republicans also began to attack the administration’s efforts. Some free-speech advocates also expressed concerns about government overreach.

Again, if the Intercept wanted to build a more complete context for its reporting, it would have included information like this about the DHS’ intended efforts. Bernstein and Marritz interviewed election officials who say they now spend their days explaining elementary civics to voters while worrying about their safety.

Mike Masnick, Techdirt:

Do not believe everything you read. Even if it comes from more “respectable” publications. The Intercept had a big story this week that is making the rounds, suggesting that “leaked” documents prove the DHS has been coordinating with tech companies to suppress information. The story has been immediately picked up by the usual suspects, claiming it reveals the “smoking gun” of how the Biden administration was abusing government power to censor them on social media.

The only problem? It shows nothing of the sort.

I linked to this story earlier this week, but I think you owe it to yourself to read Masnick’s more careful interpretation, too. It does seem like the Intercept’s reporters on the story, Ken Klippenstein and Lee Fang, took liberties with the context of quotes and misrepresenting what officials were actually doing.

The Intercept’s reporting usually strikes me as more careful to adhere to documented evidence, even if it is sometimes dramatic. This is a sloppy effort. While it does appear to be true that officials sometimes flag social media posts that may cause confusion about U.S. elections or offer dangerous COVID-19 health advice, the claims made by Klippenstein and Fang are a stretch. Besides, if you are concerned about moderation by social media platforms, does it not seem better for health misinformation to be flagged by representatives of the Surgeon General instead of relying on underpaid and overworked contractors?

Jake Offenhartz, Gothamist:

At least 500 drones will depart the shores of New Jersey on Thursday evening, flickering over the horizon in a choreographed dance meant to evoke the experience of swiping colorful treats on a phone screen.

Promising a “surreal takeover of New York City’s skyline,” the fleet will pulse with LED lights as it serves miles of Lower Manhattan with an aerial advertisement for the mobile video game, Candy Crush.

This is not the first time something like this has been done with drones and, as Offenhartz documents, it is not even the first time over New York. Surely little is in the greater public interest than looking up at the night sky and being reminded of Candy Crush.

Rebecca Bellan, TechCrunch:

Uber recently launched its new advertising division and in-app ads. Apparently, those ads aren’t staying within the app.

Instead, ads from other companies are being sent out as push notifications, much to the chagrin of some Uber users. Over the weekend, people turned to Twitter to complain about the notifications, sharing screenshots of ads, including one particularly popular one from Peloton that Uber had sent out. One of the primary complaints: notifications are being sent out when users aren’t engaging with the app.

I get businesses that want to promote their own services in notifications. I do not like it — apps like Doordash thoroughly abuse push notification privileges, and nobody at that company or Apple seems to care — but I get it. But selling users’ screen space to third parties? Appalling.

When Apple formally permitted ads in push notifications in March 2020, a behaviour developers had long engaged in regardless of App Store rules, I guessed something like this might happen:

Notably, there is also no requirement that push notification ads be a promotion for the app or its features. It seems perfectly legal under these rules for unscrupulous developers to sell push notification ad slots to third parties. Gross.

Apple also permits ads in Live Activity views.

Uber’s aggressive advertising appears to be a perverse and unintended consequence of changes to the above App Store policies combined with its desperate need to find a business model which does not look like an inferno of investor funds. The future is what we make of it and, increasingly, businesspeople have decided dystopian science fiction is awesome, actually.