tech

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The setup.

For no particular reason, other than it’s been on my mind recently, I present to you my Essential Most Used Apps from independent developers and “smaller” companies:

  • Scrivener: Essential writing tool. Took a while to get used to but now I can’t imagine going back to anything else. The iOS app is also great.
  • Sublime Text: Still my favorite text editor of all time, and still comes with a large library of great plugins and themes. Supported on Windows and Linux as well. Also not owned by Microsoft like some other editors I could name…1
  • Ulysses: Sort of a cross between the above two apps, when neither one quite hits the spot. I use it as my primary text editor on iOS.
  • Reeder: RSS reader that’s been consistently good for years, and allows syncing to multiple different platforms (I used a self-hosted RSS service I mostly read via this app). Has iOS and Mac versions.
  • Toot!: A fantastic Mastodon app. Well-designed, fun, and a pleasure to use.
  • Mailplane: Good, native-interface multi-account client for Gmail. Yes, it’s basically just a standalone browser, but technically it predates things like multiple account support in Gmail itself, meaning I’ve been using it for a million years and will probably continue to use it for the same.
  • Nova: Formerly Coda, from the people who brought you Untitled Goose Game (yes, really). What I use for all my webdev stuff. Its predecessor still exists as an excellent iOS app. The same company also makes an amazing SSH app for iOS. Actually, pretty much everything Panic makes is great.
  • Basecamp: Probably the “biggest” entrant on this list, but have been making excellent project-tracking software for years. Every time I try something else2 I wish I hadn’t. Also have an email service that, while I have some reservations about, I confess I do use and really, really like the workflow of.
  • Tweetbot: I don’t use Twitter all that much any more but, when I do use it, I use it via Tweetbot. Another app that’s been consistently good for a very long time, despite Twitter’s constant efforts to kill it off by nerfing its API.
  1. cough Atom cough []
  2. cough Asana cough Trello cough []
2021-01-11T09:23:28+11:0025th January, 2021|Tags: , |

sudo touch

This doesn’t work for me because of the way I have the accounts set up on my Mac, but there are a lot of other people for whom using TouchID with sudo will be very handy.

2021-01-05T07:44:27+11:0018th January, 2021|Tags: , |

Netflix for music.

You can add Spotify to the list of services pivoting to satisficing as a business model…

Satisficing is, incidentally, the answer every time anyone asks something along the lines of, “But why would Netflix cancel [popular show]?” Answer: Because Netflix isn’t in the business of making “good” content. Netflix is in the business of making “good enough” content, which is far cheaper. Netflix seems to cancel shows the second they get popular because popular shows can do things like demand more money for their actors and creators, which Netflix is definitely not in the business of paying (the only people getting more money from Netflix are their executives and shareholders). Because Netflix is vertically integrated—it’s both the content delivery platform and the content producer—it knows that most people won’t cancel it to chase content, so long as it provides them with something. Netflix was arguably the first to catch on to this, but it’s the same model everyone else is also changing, and that Disney will likely perfect…

2020-12-07T08:27:52+11:0022nd December, 2020|Tags: , |

Communities, not commodities.

In a federated software system, groups of users are built around small, neighborly instances of servers. These are usually small servers, sporting only modest resource requirements to support their correspondingly modest userbase. Crucially, these small servers speak to one another using standard protocols, allowing users of one instance to communicate seamlessly with users of other instances. You can build a culture and shared sense of identity on your instance, but also reach out and easily connect with other instances. […]

And, because there are hundreds or even thousands of instances, the users get the privilege of choosing an instance whose rules they like, and which federates with other instances they wish to talk to. This system also makes it hard for marketing and spam to get a foothold — it optimizes for a self-governing system of human beings talking to human beings, and not for corporations to push their products.

The costs of scaling up a federation is distributed manageably among these operators. Small instances, with their modest server requirements, are often cheap enough that a sysadmin can comfortably pay for the expenses out of pocket. If not, it’s usually quite easy to solicit donations from the users to keep things running. New operators appear all the time, and the federation scales up a little bit more.

 Drew DeVault on federation.

Big, centralized social media has been one of the worst things to come out of the early 21st century, on basically every measurable metric, from exacerbating social inequality to reducing individual happiness. There are alternatives and, more importantly, we need to stop automatically reaching for The Facebook Model every time someone gets mad and wants to make a new Facebook. Facebook is bad because it’s Facebook! Ditto Twitter, et al. You are not going to make a “better Faceboook” by re-inventing Facebook only colored purple this time, and yes fandom I am looking at you on this one, c’mon.

2020-12-04T08:28:39+11:0016th December, 2020|Tags: , , |

The death of local.

Readership for newspapers has been declining since the early 1970s. By the 1980s, Gen Xers growing up in newspaper-reading households were increasingly shunning the format, year over year. For a smart newspaper company, the internet presented an opportunity to capture young readers who hadn’t formed the newspaper habits of their parents.

That opportunity was wasted. Most newspaper chains were publicly traded companies that had conditioned investors to expect high profit margins, often in excess of 30 percent. A company that wanted to prepare itself for a digital future would have been spending those profits on R&D. But because readership was dropping—even while newspapers were wildly profitable—companies met investor expectations by making subtle cuts to newsrooms, freezing positions and leaving openings unfilled.

Media’s real tragic mistake was that by the time the internet came around, it was treated as a place to dump content, a “shovelware” strategy. Treating the internet like a newspaper represented a serious misjudgment of the platform. The internet wasn’t just paper—it was also the paperboy. It was a content, platform, and distribution model all in one.

Newspapers were slow to realize that they had been operating in a pseudo-monopoly for years, one neatly defined by the limits of geography and technology. They fundamentally misunderstood the distribution role of the internet.

On the death of newspapers.

2020-12-03T08:05:32+11:0013th December, 2020|Tags: , |

History.

Tl;dr most people are individually and personally identifiable by their browsing history.

Technically, this should have legal and regulatory implications (it basically makes browser history a form of PII) but… y’know.

2021-01-11T09:23:18+11:0010th December, 2020|Tags: , |

If it’s drudgery to you, it’s drudgery to them.

A couple of days ago, I saw a series of tweets from a parent, complaining that her junior high school-age son had gone from loving history class to hating it — “tears,” “stress,” “self-doubt,” after the first auto-graded assignment he turned in gave him a score of 50/100. The parent, a professor at USC, showed him how to game the software: write long answers, use lots of proper nouns. His next score was 80/100. An algorithm update one day later: “He cracked it: Two full sentences, followed by a word salad of all possibly applicable keywords. 100% on every assignment. Students on @Edgenuityinc, there’s your ticket. He went from an F to an A+ without learning a thing.” (Sidenote: in 2016, Alabama state congressperson Mike Hubbard was found guilty of 12 counts of felony ethics violations, including receiving money from Edgenuity. Folks in ed-tech are busy trying to stop students from cheating while being so shady themselves.)

On edtech.

“Edtech” is bad for learning, demeaning for students, reinforces existing social inequalities and, more importantly, is just straight-up solving the wrong problem.

But, like. I guess the local teachers’ union isn’t the one giving kickbacks to politicians and why invest in something like education1 when you can invest in some edtech company devoted to making its already-rich CEO even richer. Brilliant!

  1. Social mobility! Say it ain’t so! []
2020-12-02T18:33:20+11:009th December, 2020|Tags: , |

Bad systems.

The reason Facebook’s engineers, managers and leadership don’t and will never take operational responsibility for their code – the reason they won’t ever put the people who write their software and the people subject to the worst consequences of it in the same State, much less the same building – is simple: if Facebook’s engineers and managers had to spend one week every quarter doing the moderation work they fob off on underpaid contractors, Facebook wouldn’t exist in a year. And everyone working there knows that.

If you work at Facebook, quit. You might have good intentions – the best intentions, just really great intentions, fantastic intentions – but you know who you are and what you’re complicit in. Your intentions are just the bedtime stories you’re telling your conscience so you can sleep at night. You have a choice. Do better.

Mike Hoye on complicity.

2020-11-18T09:31:40+11:0030th November, 2020|Tags: , , , |
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