Email is your electronic memory

02/15/18 1:00 PM

From the FastMail Blog:

Yesterday, Google announced that Gmail will use AMP to make emails dynamic, up-to-date and actionable. At first that sounds like a great idea. Last week’s news is stale. Last week’s special offer from your favourite shop might not be on sale any more. The email is worthless to you now. Imagine if it could stay up-to-date.

More:

Over time your mailbox becomes an extension of your memory – a trusted repository of history, in the way that an online news site will never be. Regardless of the underlying reasons, it is a fact that websites can be “corrected” after you read them, tweets can be deleted and posts taken down.

I agree with FastMail here. I look to my email as a source of “truth”. I can count on it to be static and unchanging. I have an archive of emails stretching back to around 1996, and I count on all of remain unchanged forever, safe in my archive.

Also not to be discounted are the legal ramifications of dynamic emails. I work in politics and, while not frequent, my emails have had to be turned over for discovery in litigation. That entire process assumes that the contents of emails have remained unchanged and will be turned over in the same state. AMP tosses that entire premise out the window.

AMP for email is a bad idea.

Also, if you’re in the market for a new email provider, FastMail is fantastic. I’ve been using them for a number of years and they are absolutely the best. Fast, reliable, trustworthy, and inexpensive. Visit this link to sign up.

Apple Backs AV1: What Does This Mean for the Future of Video Codecs

02/6/18 4:01 PM

Apple Backs AV1: What Does This Mean for the Future of Video Codecs:

Earlier this month, Apple joined the Alliance for Open Media (AOM), which is working on the next-generation AV1 video compression standard. It’s interesting that Apple is now supporting AV1, after having just announced backing HEVC in both devices and software tools (i.e., publishing, browsers).

The importance of free and/or open high-quality video standards cannot be overstated.

Site Transition

01/21/18 9:26 PM

I think I change my website CMS as frequently as I do my keyboards…

Anyway, this site is now running on WordPress. It’s still in an Azure-hosted VM, but now I’m just another WP drone. I think the last mainstream CMS I used for my personal site was MovableType, from maybe 2002-2007. Since then, it’s been static pages, either hand-coded or generated with Pelican. Last year I moved to Ghost but it left a lot to be desired.

I think I’ve gotten it mostly configured how I want, and most of the content (sans images) has been migrated. The theme still needs some tweaks, but I’m relatively happy with things.

And then there were two…

10/9/17 10:56 PM

Windows Central reporting:

Microsoft’s Corporate Vice President for Windows, Joe Belfiore, has today clarified the company’s stance with Windows 10 Mobile and what it’s currently doing in the mobile space. In a series of tweets on Twitter, Belfiore states that as an individual end-user, he has switched to Android, and that Windows 10 Mobile is no longer a focus for Microsoft.

To me, this remains the second-biggest business story of the 21st century (the debut of the iPhone, tied directly to this story, is the biggest.) It is shocking how Microsoft was the biggest and most influential software maker of the last 35 years and yet completely missed the boat on mobile. Their mobile OS strategy is now completely dead.

Let that sink in: the mobile revolution happened, and Microsoft is only a surface-level player. They make apps and provide services for mobile operating systems and hardware which is not their own.

In hindsight, Steve Ballmer’s 13 years as CEO of Microsoft marked one of the most catastrophic missed opportunities in the history of business. Microsoft had all of the incentives, resources, and experience it needed to put together a compelling competitor to the iPhone in 2007. Case in point, after the iPhone debuted, Google immediately changed gears and shifted Android from a Blackberry competitor and into something that looked a lot more like an iPhone.

From 2007-2010, Microsoft continued to fumble around with Windows Mobile 6.5 and eventually Windows Phone 7. They did not understand or appreciate what was happening to the market which they themselves had created.

Microsoft never managed to bring to market a mobile product which was compelling enough for consumers to purchase in enough numbers that made the platform compelling enough for developers. I think Windows 10 Mobile could have been that product, but it came five years too late.

Satya Nadella has done an incredible job pivoting Microsoft into a focus on services, entertainment, and hardware. But imagine what could have been! Instead, today Bill Gates carries an Android

Old Mail

10/9/17 10:17 PM

Ernie Smith has a great history of Eudora, one of the most important computer applications of the 1990s.

In early 1997, two applications were in the process of taking over the internet, and both had roots in the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. One of those applications, Netscape, became a bedrock of how we surf the web. The other, Eudora, put a graphical twist on email.

I wasn’t much of a Eudora user myself. I envied the powerful filtering abilities it possessed, but I never much cared for the UI.

My client of choice in that era was Claris Emailer, which was both gorgeous and functional. These days I use MailMate and Mail.app (the latter because MailMate doesn’t support Exchange.) If you look at those apps (and really, most other email apps, including gross Outlook) the influence of Eudora is undeniable.

Tim Cook Gets It

07/1/17 3:56 AM

From his recent commencement address to the MIT Class of 2017:

Technology is capable of doing great things. But it doesn’t want to do great things. It doesn’t want anything. That part takes all of us. It takes our values and our commitment to our families and our neighbors and our communities. Our love of beauty and belief that all of our faiths are interconnected. Our decency. Our kindness.

I’m not worried about artificial intelligence giving computers the ability to think like humans. I’m more concerned about people thinking like computers without values or compassion, without concern for consequences. That is what we need you to help us guard against. Because if science is a search in the darkness, then the humanities are a candle that shows us where we’ve been and the danger that lies ahead.

A Review of the 2016 MacBook Pro 15”

06/9/17 7:56 PM

Forward

I started drafting this review a few weeks prior to the 2017 updates to the MacBook Pro line. Those updates (Kaby Lake, speed-bumped AMD graphics) are negligible improvements, so I’m not too worried about this review being outdated even as I publish it.

Introduction

I’m a long-time Mac user, starting with the platform in the late 1980s, and using it full time since about 1992. There are a lot of MacBook Pro reviews out there, but I think my Mac credentials can offer things that might be missed by other reviewers who never used a Macintosh SE, or never had to use Mac OS versions prior to X.

Ordering and Configuration

I’ve been needing/wanting a new MacBook for a while, as my old machine has been slowly failing in peculiar ways.

I use my Mac full-time for work and for my personal needs, which can include a lot of web work (many open tabs across two different browsers); graphics work, including Photoshop and Lightroom; transcoding video (client videos or my own DVDs/Blu-Rays); the occasional game. The 15-inch model continues to serve these needs the best, as I need the extra screen real estate and the faster GPU.

As I have done since Apple’s online store debuted, I placed an order for a custom configuration.

I started with the base model, which is the only way to get the slower 2.6 Ghz CPU. I often value battery life over raw CPU speed, so I’m comfortable sacrificing CPU speed for some battery gains (this “slower” CPU is still faster than the i7 in my much older machine.) To this base model I then added the Radeon 460 and 1TB of storage.

My new machine arrived in about a week.

Build Quality

I’ve been using this machine for two weeks, and I can safely say that this is the most solidly-built Mac portable I’ve ever owned (a list which includes a couple each of iBooks, PowerBooks, and MacBook Pros.)

When you pick it up, it feels like a solid piece of aluminum. No creaking or flexing anywhere. Using only touch, you cannot even feel the seam where the bottom panel meets with the main body. That is excellent overall engineering and quality control.

The new MacBook Pro charges with an 87-watt USB-C power supply and cable. The power supply brick looks like any other power brick Apple has included for the past 15 years. The cable is the big change. The beloved MagSafe connector is dead, and USB-C is the new do-it-all plug. I’ll miss MagSafe, but USB-C seems fine. The ability to charge my MacBook from any of the four ports is pretty handy.

The build quality of the new charging cable is excellent. It is thicker than previous cables, as well as being replaceable (on previous generations, if your power cable broke you had to replace the entire $80 power supply; now you can just swap out the $20 cable.) The strain relief on the ends seems much more robust than previous cables. Overall, I think the new cable is the best that Apple has ever shipped with a MacBook.

Living that USB-C Life

Alright, so as of June 2017, the USB-C standard is a mess. Excluding Thunderbolt 3, there are at least 4-5 very different USB-C cables with very different specifications (specs which determine how well it can charge your device, or if it can carry video, or how quickly it can move your data.) My Nerd IQ is pretty damn high, but I still find the USB-C “standards” to be unnecessarily confusing.

Unfortunately, USB-C style ports are the only ports available on the MacBook Pro, in the form of Thunderbolt 3. Thunderbolt 3 is awesome. It’s super-fast and fulfills the dream of having a single port which can do everything. I picked up a CalDigit Thunderbolt Dock through which I can connect Ethernet, a 4k display, and 8 USB devices to my Mac with a single cable. No third-party drivers needed, and my desktop isn’t a mess of cables.

Once I leave my tidy desktop though, I’m living in a dongle hell. USB-A to USB-C adapters everywhere. But it will get better.

Veteran Mac users have survived many of these situations in the past. SCSI gave way to Firewire; ADB to USB; Firewire to Thunderbolt. Dare I even mention the 68k to PowerPC and PowerPC to Intel transitions? Being a Mac user means living a life of transition, those are what allows the platform to continually move forward.

In the PC world, most of their desktops still carry PS/2 ports, for mostly unnecessary reasons. I’d much rather trade that space for a few extra USB ports…

In the case of USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, I have to live with some dongles for a while. I’m okay with that. The long-term gain is that we will have a single port that can do everything. That’s the future we’ve dreamed of, right? Well, at least until we can replace ports with wireless tech that doesn’t suck (but I’m not going to hold my breath on that one.)

For perspective, here’s the evolution of ports on Apple laptops since 2005 (from my collection):

15” PowerBook: IMG 0943 jpg Who were all of these people who needed an S-Video port on their computer? I guess maybe for the camcorders of the era?

15” Retina MacBook Pro: IMG 0944 jpg

15” New Hotness: IMG 0942 jpg

In Day-to-Day Use

It’s fantastic. Everything is faster.

The updated display is noticeably brighter. The new GPU can drive both the built-in display and my external 4k display with buttery smoothness; on my old machine it would occasionally turn into a slideshow as it attempted to move all of those pixels.

The keyboard, it’s not great. I use a fully-mechanical keyboard at my desk, but the keyboard on this new machine has so little key-travel that it’s almost like typing on an iPad. I’ll get used to it. Look, it’s not as offensive as the hockey puck.

The Touch Bar is fine. Reaching my pinky for the Escape key and finding only glass is a little weird, but I think it’s a feature with a bright future as developers figure out the best ways to utilize it. It’s the first step toward a Mac keyboard which is just one big sheet of programmable glass. I bet the 2020 MacBook either goes all-glass, or has dual-Touch Bars (now also consuming that bottom row with the modifier keys and arrows…)

I consider Touch ID an indispensable feature of my iPhone, and it is quickly entrenching itself the same way on my Mac. A single swipe of my finger to unlock my system or 1Password? Yes, please.

Conclusion

It’s a great machine. If you need a laptop that’s both powerful and lightweight, it’s hard to do better than the MacBook Pro. There is plenty of griping about this machine, and I’ll admit that the USB-C port situation is sorta painful, but it really is a solidly engineered machine. It’s not built for all users in all situations, but what computer is?

So many reviews of this machine were written at a time when it appeared the Mac was stagnant and this one new MacBook Pro would have to serve all “pro” needs. But as of this week, we’ve got all refreshed portables. We have higher-end iMacs with really fast GPUs (and the iMac Pro was announced for the end of the year.) A few weeks ago we learned that the Mac Pro lives, and will get a full re-design sometime after this year. Even the MacBook Air got an update. There are Macs for everyone!

I’m curious how those original reviews of the 2016 MBP would change if they had been surrounded by all of these other updated Macs? I suspect they would be a lot more positive.

Floppy Longevity

05/27/17 4:12 AM

This week, I received a package in the mail. From my mother. Inside was a treasure:

A bunch of my 3.5 inch floppy disks! All of these are at least 20 years old, so I was pretty curious if any of them could still be read.

Modern macOS dropped the ability to read floppy disks a few versions ago, but thankfully I still have a 12-year old PowerBook running 10.4 and it can read floppy disks just fine. Armed with a USB floppy drive, I inserted the first disk.

It was readable! In fact, of the 20 disks I’ve tried, 16 of them seemed perfectly fine. Most of the disks contained software (mostly vintage shareware, and a few commercial bits that have long since achieved abandonware status.)

I also unearthed some Hypercard stacks I created for school in the early 1990s. I cannot wait to fire up an emulator and explore those.

I spent about 30 minutes creating read-only disk images of them, so I’d have a perfect archive of these for the future.

I’m sad to report that this is one of the disks that was unreadable:

Yes, I used to be a teenage boy.

Floppy disks: more durable than I thought.

Practice Skeptical Computing

01/27/17 10:43 PM

From Ars Technica:

Former Firefox developer Robert O’Callahan, now a free agent and safe from the PR tentacles of his corporate overlord, says that antivirus software is terrible, AV vendors are terrible, and that you should uninstall your antivirus software immediately—unless you use Microsoft’s Windows Defender, which is apparently okay.

This has long been my personal policy. More often than not, antivirus software causes more problems than it fixes. It’s either an impediment to user activities, or a drain on system resources; most likely it is both. I haven’t installed an anti-virus package on a Windows machine in over a decade (though I generally allow Windows Defender to continue to function.) I certainly haven’t used a Mac antivirus in the OS X era.

Just practice smart computing. Don’t download software from shady websites. Don’t click on links you receive in your email (even if it says it’s from your bank or your dad or the exiled Crown Prince of Nambutu.) Keep your computer’s software, especially your web browser, up-to-date at all times.