“Eventually everyone has to hit the dark side of life — Someone doesn’t like you, someone doesn’t like your work, someone doesn’t love you back… people die. What we have is a generation who are super-confident and super-positive about things, but when the least bit of darkness enters their lives, they’re paralyzed.”
– Bret Easton Ellis, via interview February 17 2014 (via sydneyrae)
Shots from my walk this morning, Humboldt Park, Chicago.
Saying “no” has more creative power than ideas, insights and talent combined. No guards time, the thread from which we weave our creations. The math of time is simple: you have less than you think and need more than you know. We are not taught to say “no.” We are taught not to say “no.” “No” is rude. “No” is a rebuff, a rebuttal, a minor act of verbal violence. “No” is for drugs and strangers with candy.
About a week ago, I broke one of my own rules and installed an early developer preview of OS X Yosemite on my regular, day-to-day, work-issued Mac laptop. I had previously promised myself I’d at least wait until the public beta, on the theory that no matter how many caveats Apple gives the million or so beta participants, enough everyday users are likely to start using the new OS that at the very least it shouldn’t totally hose one’s computer.
Well, it turns out my timing was almost perfect: Yosemite was installed for less than 4 days before Preview 4 came out, and it seems that the Preview 4 build will be the first public beta release, coming out tomorrow.
If you’re among the lucky million-or-so who’ll receive a beta channel code from Apple tomorrow, some things to know, based on a week or so using the OS day to day:
Old iCloud vs New iCloud
The most recent iOS and Yosemite betas have added UI that supports both the “old” iCloud document syncing (called “Documents & Data”) and the new iCloud Drive. What you need to know is: these two things are not compatible, and moving from Docs & Data to iCloud Drive is a one-way move on each device.
What this means in practice is that Macs or iOS devices that have made the switch to Drive can still talk to each other, but only if they’re both running beta software and both have enabled New iCloud. Otherwise, your apps will still work, but they’ll be talking to different iCloud backends and therefore will lose the ability to sync with each other. AFAIK, Apple plans to migrate any data stored in Old iCloud into folders on iCloud Drive when the service launches this fall, so nobody’s data will be lost—it’ll just be inconvenient to access it.
In theory, if you enable iCloud Drive but all your iCloud-enabled apps still expect the old Docs & Data syncing to work, everything should still work. Behind the scenes, Apple is simply directing apps’ requests for Docs & Data resources over to iCloud Drive, where your files will appear as special managed folders in OS X and (eventually) the new iOS document picker.
In practice, there are probably plenty of bugs that will mean iCloud will be even flakier than usual until everything shakes out.
If in doubt, follow Apple’s advice and just don’t enable iCloud Drive until it ships. I have it enabled on my Mac, and can tell you it’s pretty neat, but if you use Dropbox or anything similar it’s nothing you haven’t seen before.
Dropbox, by the way, generally works great on Yosemite. I did see some issues on Preview 3 where the Desktop app will hang and need to be relaunched, but upon relaunch everything was back to good, and I haven’t had to do that again since installing Preview 4.
Dark Mode = meh
Maybe there’s some third-party support that’ll make it more compelling, but so far, not only is the dark UI theme for the title bar and Dock unimpressive, because menu extras and other apps are designed to assume a light background, switching into dark mode tends to make things look bad. Unless there’s some master plan I’m not aware of, it’s superfluous enough to make me wonder if Apple won’t just yank the feature before Yosemite ships.
How’s Helvetica Neue as a system font?
I’ve gotten this question from a fellow type nerd at work, and my answer is: it’s a mixed bag.
First, the good: Helvetica Neue is a much more versatile font than Lucida Grande, giving app designers a much broader range of typographic expression. Of course, most people will abuse the weight I fondly call Helvetica Neue Extra Stupid Light, but generally I think it’ll be great for the system font to support more than 2 weights (and to have italics!).
On the other hand, Lucida Grande is a true screen type workhorse, and Helvetica Neue is not nearly as good, legible, or crisp, especially at tiny point sizes or on non-Retina displays. Having used Yosemite for a few days on both a retina MacBook Pro and a non-retina Thunderbolt Display, I’ve stopped noticing the difference, and my current opinion is that trading off optimum legibility for a more expressive range of type styles and weights is worth it. But this will probably remain controversial, especially for people whose only Mac screen is a tiny, non-retina MacBook Air that will now be full of (relatively) smeary Helvetica type.
In retrospect, I can’t understand what Oliver Reichenstein et al were thinking by blowing all manner of patent-related smoke w/r/t Syntax Control. The nature of the tech in question, and the weakness of the patent filing itself, leads me to question how well iA understand how patents even work. A provisional patent application is not a patent filing, which is absolutely not a patent. Only the last one is actually enforceable. What they said/did was sort of like laying fresh milk, eggs, and sugar on the table and expecting us all to ooh and ahh over the soufflé they planned to make.
To me, the specific words Reichenstein used in his vaguely threatening tweets were reminiscent of the ones Steve Jobs used when introducing the first iPhone and its then-revolutionary multi-touch technology: “boy, have we patented it!” Not to mention all the statements Apple, Jobs, and Tim Cook have made over the years about Google and what Apple perceives as stolen ideas in Android. Reichenstein’s passionate, somewhat folksy threats in defense of Syntax Control sound a lot like the way Apple has defended iPhone and iOS, but there are a couple of key differences:
First, with the possible exception of that very first statement at Macworld, Apple’s threats weren’t speculative — they were in reaction to competitors actually trying to copy the iPhone and iPad, and successfully copying the Mac before that. iA’s closest precedent for being so worried about copycats was being one of the first “distraction-less” iPad text editors, but even that is pretty silly. WriteRoom beat them to market on the Mac by a few years, and that doesn’t count modal text editors like Vim or Emacs that beat them by decades. Any claim they think they might have to a text-editing environment that fills a whole computer screen is ridiculous, and also implies a lack of understanding of how patents and prior art work.
Second, when Apple makes patent threats, those threats are backed up by the company having a shit ton of lawyers. A company at Apple’s scale may have dozens or even hundreds of in-house patent lawyers, and/or employ multiple huge outside law firms that specialize in getting, defending, and enforcing patents. Apple has these lawyers because patent law is arcane and complicated, in the U.S. it’s handled in the federal court system, and both of these make it very expensive to deal with. I don’t know how many lawyers iA has, but it’s probably not as many as Apple (or any large company) has. It’s probably not even as many as a typical zero-employee patent troll has. Not only were iA’s provisional “patents” not real patents, but iA seems unlikely to ever have the legal or financial resources to effectively defend those patents if they were ever granted.
It’s not about the patents
Working now for a large company like Adobe — and now having a patent pending myself for some work that isn’t yet in a shipping product — I’m not as secure in my beliefs about the patent system as I used to be. There are clearly software and business-method patents that should never have been granted, and there are clearly bad actors who’ve abused the system to terrorize and extort money from small businesses in a way that should be abhorrent to anyone. On the other hand, patents are how Eli Whitney was able to prosper from his development of the cotton gin. When they cover a genuine innovation, the point of patents isn’t to lock up technology, it’s to codify it and make it possible to share without sacrificing ownership. The world is a lot more complicated now, and it’s possible that there is no way to modernize the patent system without creating tons of new problems. I’m just saying: I don’t feel ready to say it should be abolished, or that anyone who files for a patent is evil.
I’m also saying that, in this case, the patents are beside the point. They’re a MacGuffin. Given the weakness of the patent claims, I don’t think it’s worth considering whether iA could ever truly become a patent troll. They couldn’t, and would have made poor fools of themselves trying. First by losing customers and reputation from this mess, then by wasting time and money on defending their IP instead of making good products for their loyal customers.
This story reminds me of startup CEOs and other tech folks who think they’ll find success by emulating Steve Jobs, and that the part of him to emulate to to behave terribly toward other people. Yes, Steve Jobs passionately believed in Apple’s right to profit from their innovations, and threatened “thermonuclear war” against Google and Android when he thought those innovations had been copied. But they had been copied, and he had the ammunition to fight that war. His statements were bold, but consistent with reality, and therefore it wasn’t foolish for him to put his own reputation behind those statements. Besides, he was Steve Jobs.
iA’s patent “threats” were never realistic, and their “innovations” are, well, weak. When the iPhone and multi-touch were unveiled in 2007, I immediately knew how they would change my daily life. At best Syntax Control seems kinda cool, but I have no idea what I would use it for. That’s not to say it’s a bad feature, it’s just not as groundbreaking and important as multi-touch, which is only a bad thing given how much iA has staked their reputation on it being the greatest change to editing text on computers since the keyboard.
The customer is always the hero
This is less about patents than about PR, and a company making themselves the heroes of their story at the expense of their customers and peers. Nobody cares about whether iA can patent Syntax Control or not. That feature being a Writer Pro exclusive is nice; a patent is just one means of ensuring and implementing exclusivity. But exclusivity is really hard to truly enforce, and really, who cares? What matters is what the app can do, and whether it does it better than other apps. That’s the story worth telling.
iA dropped that in favor of a story about themselves, and how hard it was to do their job. Nobody ever wants to hear about how hard something was, until after they’ve been dazzled by how easy you made it look. (And really, even then, it’s better to be the guy who can make the impossible seem effortless than the guy who works really hard for something that doesn’t seem that difficult.)
For me, iA’s sin here wasn’t that they used the evil p-word. It’s that the story of their product isn’t about me, the user. The fact that it was all for nothing — and that the company bet their name on a patent system they may not even understand — leaves me doubting not only their commitment to serving my writing needs, but also their competence at running a software company.
It has seriously taken me years to get this done, and now it’s done.
I could go to my usual insane level of detail explaining how the new website came to be, what tools I used, the thinking behind my two web font choices. But I think for now it’s enough to point out just three really important things.
First, the new site is powered by the awesome static site publishing CMS Siteleaf. I started playing with one of their free developer accounts last week, right before Thanksgiving, and the finished site launched today. Siteleaf made it really, really easy to organize my content and make it editable, and their local development workflow for building out a site’s templates is just so well done. What’s most exciting about using Siteleaf isn’t the site you see today, but that it gives me a really nice platform on which to grow. This is the first launch for the new demaree.me; it won’t be the last.
Second, I’m very proud of the new Talks section, because I’m very proud of the talks I’ve given over the past two years and I’ve wanted a better way to collect videos, slides, and other materials about them for a while. I’m going to keep adding new talks as I give them, and will be going back to add older ones as I find videos for them online.
Finally, it’s a responsive site (of course), but I found I didn’t really love any of the common patterns for mobile-friendly responsive navigation. But I do love iOS 7’s “layering” concept for modal states and the springboard, especially the way Tweetbot has executed it with underlying layers very, very clearly shifting back in space when a modal dialog is open. So I decided to pay homage to that with my mobile navigation. Check out the site on an iPhone and you’ll see what I mean. It’s nifty (and 99% CSS).
All the Valley’s talk about transhumanism, human potential, life extension, and generally “changing the world” is a bunch of hooey. It’s a myth — in the pejorative sense of that term. It’s a fluffy religion meant to snooker young professionals into giving their employers everything they have and working their brains down to the myelin until they become too old to be relevant anymore.
No, it’s worse than that.
They don’t get too old to be relevant. They get too old to be cheap.
If nothing else, it’s a shame Silicon Valley has optimized itself for things you can do with, at most, 5-10 years of experience. It seems a lot of startup culture has organized around the theory that the idea is everything, and the awesomest ideas come when you’re young. America’s whole technology infrastructure is shifting toward implementing stuff 19-25 year olds think is cool. (Not useful, not problem-solving—those things are at best side effects or by-products of the endless quest for cool.)
If you want to know why we don’t haven’t cured cancer or invented cold fusion or built a transit system that’d make the Hyperloop look as insane as it is, that is why. Because developing technology on the scale of a whole society requires wisdom and experience. It requires mastery. Our technology culture claims to value mastery, but instead of developing a whole industry of masterful 45 and 50 year olds, we’re driving those folks out of the business in favor of looking for a few prodigious 22 year olds.
Low-end disruption (doing the same thing we’re already doing, but cheaper and on a wider scale) is good for business, but it’s not how societies progress. And optimizing a whole industry around the best and brightest youthful talent smells like a form of low-end disruption. Silicon Valley is just innovative enough to get by, and its labor costs are way lower than they could be if the older engineers were encouraged to stay involved.
I’ll be honest with you, Pathers: I’m bad at social networking, at least at the bi-directional kind like Facebook and Path. I like Twitter because it’s easy, and part of what makes it easy is that friendships are one-way. On Twitter we’re all individuals publishing things out to the ether, trusting that among the masses are some of our friends who will see and appreciate them, perhaps hoping that there are also strangers who will also like to hear what I’m about today.
Private networks like Facebook are weird because they tend to either flatten people out (“omg my parents are here I can’t ever post the word ‘fuck’ or a pro-Obamacare link again”) or give them license to overshare (because a private audience can be assumed to be a friendly audience?). Google+, BTW, avoids this problem via self-selection: if you use Google+ you’re probably a *huge* nerd, someone who’s very concerned about privacy and control who nonetheless has a very narrow band of interests and is probably speaking to other people in the same narrow band.
Path seems to avoid this problem (so far) by de-emphasizing text. It’s (IMO) simpler and more intuitive to post a *thing* — a photo, a check-in, what music you’re listening to — than a status update about your life. Interestingly, it doesn’t seem like those *things* include links. Unlike Twitter, Facebook, and most other social thingies, Path seems totally ambivalent to having people share links to content outside Path.
Also unlike other platforms, Path either doesn’t have an API for sending or cross-posting content from other places, or people are so uninterested that no one does it. (AFAIK, the answer is that Path does limit write access to itself, Nike, and maybe 1-2 other partners.)
I think these are big contributing factors to why Path feels so much… calmer than other social feeds. It’s (as it says on the tin) a series of intimate moments from your friends’ lives. It’s closed in the sense that it’s not public, and also in the sense that all the various forms of content are heavily curated or mediated by Path or their apps. Clearly text posts are allowed, but they kind of go against the grain.
Of course, it’s also that very few people are actually using Path, and when they do it’s for brief moments, like to check in or post a photo. What I’m trying to get at it, I think these things go hand in hand. Path just doesn’t behave the way we expect a social medium to behave. It’s not a place where you can share a link to your new product, or a YouTube video you love, or make a political rant. You could do these things, but it’d be like playing a boom box in a library or art gallery. Whether that’s a good thing or not remains to be seen.
For my part, if I let go of worrying about being That Guy Who Uses Path For Some Reason, I *like* seeing people’s Nike stats or pictures from their morning bike ride. Maybe it’s something about my specific Path network, but this just feels like a more chill and humble social feed. I don’t feel like every other post is trying to show me how much cooler you are or how much more fun you’re having. The story of this feed isn’t about a bunch of people demonstrating their lives, it’s little, modest pieces of lives that are being graciously shared.
I think I’ll try to come around here more often, and we’ll see how it goes. at Schloß Weinmaree – Read on Path.
“If you really want to communicate something, even if it’s just an emotion or an attitude, let alone an idea, the least effective and least enjoyable way is directly. It only goes in about half an inch. But if you can get people to the point where they have to think a moment what it is you’re getting at, and then discover it … the thrill of discovery goes right through the heart.”
Singhal is a Google product manager working on Hangouts. He confirms via Google+ — which I believe is a website Google employees use primarily to talk about Google? — that the plan is for Hangouts to absorb Google Voice, the way it’s already absorbing Google Talk.
However, he also says something about “better integration” which would imply Voice will stay around as its own product that’s just, y’know, integrated with Hangouts. So it’s not so much that Hangouts is absorbing Voice as that it’s absorbing Gmail’s chat feature, and its ability to make and receive phone calls.
Gee, would sure be great if the people at Google could finish making a crazy new plan before they start implementing parts of it. Maybe then they could explain what the hell is going on.