May 15, 2019

Snippet: Why Paul Ford (Still) Loves Tech ☍

Paul Ford for Wired (via John Gruber):

The things we loved — the Commodore Amigas and AOL chat rooms, the Pac-Man machines and Tamagotchis, the Lisp machines and RFCs, the Ace paperback copies of Neuromancer in the pockets of our dusty jeans — these very specific things have come together into a postindustrial Voltron that keeps eating the world. We accelerated progress itself, at least the capitalist and dystopian parts. Sometimes I’m proud, although just as often I’m ashamed. I am proudshamed.

As someone who grew up while this industry had its foot down on the gas pedal, more and more I’m finding myself amazed, disgusted, tired, and having a tough time reconciling all of it. When things like irresponsible social networks or privacy problems or the ever-reigning ad revenue become too much, I retreat into thinking about the stuff that would’ve amazed me as a kid:

When I was a boy, if you’d come up behind me (in a nonthreatening way) and whispered that I could have a few thousand Cray supercomputers in my pocket, that everyone would have them, that we would carry the sum of human ingenuity next to our skin, jangling in concert with our coins, wallets, and keys? And that this Lilliputian mainframe would have eyes to see, a sense of touch, a voice to speak, a keen sense of direction, and an urgent desire to count my actual footsteps and everything I read and said as I traipsed through the noosphere? Well, I would have just burst, burst. I would have stood up and given the techno­barbaric yawp of a child whose voice has yet to change. Who wants jet packs when you can have 256 friggabytes (because in 2019 we measure things in friggin’ gigabytes) resting upon your mind and body at all times? Billions of transistors, attached to green plastic, soldered by robots into a microscopic Kowloon Walled City of absolute technology that we call a phone, even though it is to the rotary phone as humans are to amoebas­. It falls out of my hand at night as I drift to sleep, and when I wake up it is nestled into my back, alarm vibrating, small and warm like a twitching baby possum.

May 13, 2019

Snippet: Google Thought My Phone Number Was Facebook’s and It Ruined My Life ☍

Lorenzo Franceschi-Bicchierai for Motherboard/Vice:

But on this query, Google’s algorithm was clearly broken—for some reason, it thought it was a good idea to extract and prominently display a phone number from article hosted on vice.com that’s titled “Facebook’s Phone Number Policy Could Push Users to Not Trust Two-Factor Authentication.”

Google’s search algorithms are why it became so powerful in the first place, but sometimes, however, the algorithm is painfully stupid. In 2017, The Outline showed that Google often displayed completely wrong information at the top of the results when people searched for things like “Was President Warren Harding a member of the KKK?” or “Why are firetrucks red?” The article delved into the so-called “featured snippets,” those big boxes at the top of search results that are supposed to give users a quick answer to what they’re looking for.

Of course Google is trying to surface as much good information as possible and make it readily available to users, there’s a point where things start to break down. Furthermore, it may be difficult to reach someone to actually help, especially if you aren’t a writer for a larger publication.

I also question the people calling that number—where’s the common sense that the main customer service number for one of the biggest tech companies probably is a toll-free number (800, 888, 877, etc.)?

Snippet: Spotify is Picky About Postal Addresses ☍

Josh Centers for TidBITS found a weird and broken corner of Spotify:

My techie warning bells went off. Apparently, Spotify requires address verification to try to ensure that all family members are in the same household, so presumably, those addresses need to be entered identically. Did my wife type out the word “bypass” in our address, or did she use an abbreviation? Did she put our box number on the first or second line? Wanting to make sure I got it right, I asked her to check the address format on her account.

A few minutes later, she told me she couldn’t find it. At first, I figured that she had just overlooked it. So I looked. And looked. She was right, there’s no way to see the address you entered…

Considering how many different ways my address is formatted (even though the apartment number should go on a second line, it’s not officially formatted as such for me), companies should either offer an “is this what you meant?” option, so you pick a consistent address. Alternatively, maybe comparing an address with another and figuring out if certain things match, but ignore common and abbreviations (street, st, apartment, unit, etc.) could also make it more user-friendly.

May 9, 2019

Snippet: What to Expect From Marzipan ☍

The Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenberry examines the interface and usability differences with bringing iOS apps over to the Mac and what this means for Apple developers as a whole:

It’s my opinion that Universal apps were the worst thing to ever happen for the iPad ecosystem. There’s no way for a developer to recoup the costs for new interactions and the extra work needed for more sophisticated apps. Apple makes it easier for a customer up front by offering a single download, but at the same time they make things worse because a Universal version of the user’s favorite app isn’t financially viable. Apple no longer has customers who pay directly for their software, so this aspect of third-party products may be a blind spot for the company.

My biggest fear for Marzipan is that Mac apps become a part of a universal download. Nothing could kill my enthusiasm for the project more quickly.

While the tone of the piece is mostly neutral-to-positive on the possibilities, the concern is worthwhile, especially as we’ve seen it before. Personally, I’m more than happy to pay for quality apps that I use regularly (regardless of platform), but I also recognize that many people don’t. As frustrating as it was when a developer didn’t make a Universal app and let the iPad version languish, having separate versions for sale for iPhone, iPad, and/or Mac could still work, provided they were updated in a similar timeframe (Reeder would be a good example of this, although obviously not utilizing Marzipan).

May 4, 2019

Snippet: A Conspiracy to Kill IE6 ☍

Chris Zacharias with an incredible story:

The bittersweet consequence of YouTube’s incredible growth is that so many stories will be lost underneath all of the layers of new paint. This is why I wanted to tell the story of how, ten years ago, a small team of web developers conspired to kill IE6 from inside YouTube and got away with it.

I was all in on Safari on the Mac from day one, typically using Camino, Firefox, and later Chrome as backups. However, I had to often test this site on various versions of Internet Explorer and IE6 was always difficult long after the world moved on to IE8. The market has moved on and this group of YouTube employees probably helped put the final nail in the coffin. I especially loved the interaction with the Google Docs team.