[As we join the story, Mod has decided to use some of the time afforded him by the pandemic to rebuild his personal web site…] In that spirit, as I moved my homepage I also rebuilt it as a so-called static site. A simpler version that should continue to work for the next hundred years. It looks nearly the same as it did before. With static sites, we’ve come full circle, like exhausted poets who have travelled the world trying every form of poetry and realizing that the haiku is enough to see most of us through our tragedies.
As is true for most infrastructure work, these gruntish behind-the-scenes tasks are often neglected, or derided as irrelevant, underfunded, ignored. That is, until they break, or a pandemic hits, and then we realize how infrastructure is everything, and without it our world reverts to some troglodytic cave state, or perhaps worse, an ever-widening extreme of haves and have-nots. […]
I really wish I’d taken the time to dive in and restore my older content and publish it under one roof again, rather than have the content spread around various ancient archived files, generated by umpteen different Content Management Systems over the years. That was always my plan, but somehow I let myself get distracted1 and kept putting off turning my attention to personal projects like web site rebuilds.
I can’t help but wonder whether, if I had rebuilt Sore Eyes, I’d have dared to run a link checker against all the links to external sites to see what didn’t generate a 404 response code.2 I’ve been doing this since early 2000, and I suspect I’d be horrified at the number of sites that I linked to that are no longer up (or, worse yet, which are still up but have been completely repurposed so that the content I was linking to is no longer at the URL I pointed to.)
Do I really want to do that to myself, to confirm to myself how much of that linking – and the work I might have put into restoring and republishing my content – was a waste of time?
Anyway, that’s my feeble excuse for having let Sore Eyes fall apart like this. I could start work on resolving the problem tonight, but I plan to spend much of the rest of my evening finishing a rewatch of the last four episodes of the final season of Travelers.3 A better use of my time, I think…
- It’s also partly that my working week has continued to be taken up with working from home, so lockdowns 1-3 didn’t really free up any time to spend on personal projects. I know, I’m lucky to have been in a job rather than furloughed, but still… If anything, I found myself spending spare time during lockdown thinking about how to live life under lockdown, or just resorting to watching TV programmes of varying qualities to fill up free time and distract myself from my situation. ↩
- Of course, the absence of a 404 response tells me nothing about whether the content that’s present at that URL now is still the content I was pointing to at the time. I wonder whether there’s some straightforward way to have the link-checker look for the presence of whatever blockquouted content I included in my blogpost. That sounds like one of those things that should be possible, but is almost certainly beyond my coding skills to put together. (Or, alternatively, there’s an API for doing that but it’d require me to learn to use an unfamiliar language to make it work and my brain’s no longer up to it.) ↩
- A pretty decent – though by no stretch of the imagination hard-SF – tale of time travel from some of the folks who brought us the Stargate franchise. Yes, I already know it doesn’t end particularly well for our Travelers, but I’m glad they at least got to wrap up the tale rather than just have it stop in mid-story. ↩
Matt Webb is running an interesting little experiment on his site, aiming to build an awareness that someone else is reading a given page at the same time as you are) and letting readers highlight a portion of the content on that page for other readers who happen to be around at the same moment (e.g. participants in the same meeting, looking at the same document at the same time):
There’s no reason that Social Attention shouldn’t a one-liner to add to any website, or part of the browser itself. Maybe it should be part of a suite of social tools to make the web a well-lit, neighbourly place – with, naturally, good privacy-preserving fences.
That being said, I’m trying and failing to think of a circumstance where this would be useful to me. Given that the meetings I attend online generally lack an agenda or any minute-taking and mostly don’t involve everyone accessing a common document simultaneously to discuss/critique/pick apart, perhaps I’m just not the audience for this.
Doesn’t mean that the experiment isn’t worth doing.
I’m indebted to Tim Bray for the pointer to jwz’s They Live and the secret history of the Mozilla logo, which I must have read at the time but which I don’t think I posted about here:
I’m going to draw a line through 1930s agitprop, Ronald Reagan, methane-breathing zombie space aliens, the Mozilla logo, Barack Obama and the International Communist Conspiracy. It’s a long walk, so please stick with me. […]
It’s a longish read, but it’s about ancient history about important software and one of John Carpenter’s best films: how could I resist?1
- Also, a commenter pointed to a collection of essays on They Live by Jonathan Lethem that I bought sight unseen. ↩
Further to this earlier post about how Microsoft planned to have Microsoft 365 track user productivity, Microsoft issued a graceful apology, very likely delivered through gritted teeth for that feature that someone sneaked into the software they were planning on selling to businesses everywhere they could:
Jeffrey Snover, a veteran Microsoft engineer and CTO of the company’s “modern workforce transformation” unit, praised the change and thanked Wolfie Christl, the Austrian privacy activist who first raised alarm about the feature, for the feedback.
“The thing I love most about Microsoft is that when we screw up, we acknowledge the error and fix it,” Snover tweeted. “10,000 thanks to Wolfie Christl and others for the feedback which led to this change!”
Shameless. Quite shameless. Be interesting to see what portions of that functionality remain even after this.
[Via Michael Tsai]
2000 me: Wow you still work on the web, that’s amazing. It must be so easy to publish really interesting web pages.
2020 me:Technically, well, yes. Anything you could do 20 years ago, you can do today, and you can do much, much more. It’s cheaper, faster, and just all around better than it used to be. But it’s also far more complicated, and as always, it’s how people push against constraints that makes things interesting. So the overall interestingness has gone down, while the potential has increased. […]
It’s not as if View Source… has gone away, more that the size and scope of what it’ll reveal is that bit harder to unpick than it used to be.
As if the whole use-Microsoft-Teams-to-extend-the-working-day-to-include-commuting-time thing wasn’t enough, now Microsoft seem to be keen on extending Microsoft 365’s reach to quantifying worker productivity:
Esoteric metrics based on analyzing extensive data about employee activities has been mostly the domain of fringe software vendors. Now it’s built into MS 365.
A new feature to calculate ‘productivity scores’ turns Microsoft 365 into an full-fledged workplace surveillance tool […]
Sound as if for now this would be illegal-as-hell in the EU. Which should cause UK users of Microsoft 365 some worries, since this is just the sort of notion some chum of the UK government who contributed to Britannia Unchained would pounce on as a way of boosting productivity in the UK. Because you just can’t argue with hard numbers, right?
[Edited to add: Update JR 2020-12-17.]
- Granted LibreOffice is far from perfect, but this productivity-measuring idea is not very likely to be high on their list of Microsoft 365 features they hope to emulate better. ↩
As usual, Paul Ford’s Web Conversations With the Year 2000, says it better than I can:
2000 me: Wow you still work on the web, that’s amazing. It must be so easy to publish really interesting web pages.
2020 me:Uhhhhh. [Very long pause.] Look, you can pay a low monthly fee and listen to any album anyone ever made.
’00:That must create some amazing opportunities for musicians!
’00:There also must be some really good music discussion forums.
A small part of me wishes he’d qualified the "listen to any album anyone ever made" line to reflect the realities of music licensing and stuff not making it onto Spotify or Apple Music or whatever Amazon call their variant and so on, but his wider point still holds regardless.
I think Nick Heer is being much too charitable to Apple when he says that:
So, while I generally agree with Hansmeyer’s suggestions for changes, I have to wonder if these limitations are somehow deliberate, rather than something Apple has yet to change. The touchscreen-oriented interaction model of the iPad necessarily limits its software in some ways, but that does not excuse users’ more egregious workarounds. […] I have to wonder: is this a way of clearly separating the iPad and the Mac, so users do not attempt to treat one as the other? If so, what is Apple’s long-term strategy?
Apple would much rather charge users higher prices for Mac laptops than have everyone switch to iPads, and keeping such a yawning gap between the functionality of iPadOS and macOS is entirely at Apple’s discretion. Yes,there will be platitudes about expanding iPadOS to meet the needs of professional users. Perhaps next year’s iPadOS will see a more radical gap opening up between how iOS and iPadOS work that addresses some of those needs, but IMHO that’s not the way to bet.
Apple’s new M1 SoC looks to have plenty of processing power and battery life compared to the Intel models they’ve started to replace for certain low-end models, but Apple are not even coming close to passing on the cost savings to customers in the form of lower prices. 1 That they might just have several hundred million incentives to stay towards the top end of the market pricing-wise and wait and see what happens next. Sure, Apple could be brave and forge onwards into a future where they use their control of their hardware to show us all new form factors and applications that make use of all that processing power and so on, but they could probably keep to the more conservative path and spend a few years letting their shareholders reap the rewards of greatly improved profit margins on M1-powered systems.
I won’t hold my breath waiting for Apple to formally confirm that’s the long-term strategy they’re going with, not in so many words.
- Prices do seem to have this habit of going up when Apple announce new models. Granted they’re offering more bang for the buck, and Apple would argue that they want to sell customers the best computers rather than the cheapest, but that’s a strategy that works better for Apple when they don’t face a serious challenge in the tablet market nowadays. I’d love to see some future low-cost version of the Microsoft Surface Duo prod Apple into radically rethinking what a tablet OS can do and how it can do it, but I’m not optimistic (especially at Surface Duo prices) that’ll come to pass. ↩
I have to confess that I’m fascinated by the slow reveal of Microsoft’s Surface Duo, as reviewers have had to negotiate two separate embargoes on the reveal of first the hardware1 and then the software. 2
Part of me really hopes Microsoft have the deep pockets 3 and the patience 4 to pull off creating another form factor for portable computing, but it does sound a little bit as if early adopters are going to need to be really, really keen users of Microsoft Office to get enough joy from their shiny, expensive new devices.
Me, I’m mostly hoping, entirely selfishly, that the Surface Duo is enough of a success to nudge Apple into a serious revamp of the iPadOS multitasking model. I certainly don’t have the money to invest in a Surface Duo or a desire to wrangle my content into Microsoft Office. It is just great fun to watch from the sidelines, though…
- Generally considered to be slightly underpowered but very nicely put together. ↩
- Which seems to be very good as long as you stick to Microsoft’s apps which support the new form factor, but given that Microsoft are pricing the Surface Duo at a level even Apple would think twice about you have to wonder how big an incentive anyone else has to build their Android apps differently for the sake of the tiny market share the Surface Duo seems likely to command. ↩
- Fair to say they do. Whether that’s what they see – and continue to see as they see the sales figures start to come in – as the best way of spending that money, we shall see. ↩
- In these days of everyone assuring us of their passion for their product, perhaps a decade from now some future Microsoft CEO will find themselves looking back and revealing that they personally were so overwhelmed by the way the Surface Duo unlocked their multitasking abilities that they fought hard to stay the course and not give up when the whole world mostly decided it could get by with a single screen and conventional windowing/task switching on Android. ↩
I have a feeling that lots of people are going to be confused by the Surface Duo once it gets out into the market:
I am confused. Microsoft did a press blitz for their Surface Duo device this week and… I don’t understand anything. About the product. The strategy. The goal.
Look, I think the foldable tablets on Westworld look cool too. But if this is that, it sure seems like the prehistoric version of it. Granted, I think it looks and sounds better than Samsung’s gimmicky foldable phones, but only just. At least with a phone you can make the argument that folding a big screen to be pocketable makes some conceptual sense. This is decidedly not a phone. Because Microsoft insists it’s not. Even though it runs Android and can make phone calls. Listening to Microsoft, it’s not a tablet either. It’s something new. […]
Siegler notes that "it feels like you’re paying a ton of money to beta test something", which is as true of the Surface Duo as it was of the Apple Lisa back in the day. This is what happens when you’re trying to establish a new form factor and a new user interface paradigm: someone gets to pay handsomely for the privilege of figuring out what works for them. It’s unclear whether the price in this case is a product of the need to avoid a Samsung-style fiasco when you launch a foldable device and it turns out to be a bit too fragile to survive the real world or just a case of Microsoft hoping to reap the benefits of selling this new form factor at a professional price for a bit1 before moving the design downmarket a bit if the concept has legs.
Judging by the demos of how Microsoft’s apps work in the demo it looks as if Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making their apps reasonably lever about how they display their content across one or two screens at a time. It may well be that if other app makers follow Microsoft’s lead then the adapted version of Android the Surface Duo uses will be looked back on one day as a standard-setter for the foldable twin-screen tablet format or whatever we’re destined to call it. Or it could be that users will decide that software windowing on a single screen, iPad Mini-style is what they want if they have to use something bigger than a phone.
Perhaps a year from now the Surface Duo will be a roaring success, or perhaps iPadOS will have improved the mess that is Split Screen versus Slide Over and the Surface Duo will be history. Me, I have no money for new hardware any time soon and no great desire to jump to the Android ecosystem unless I get a strong push in that direction, but I will admit to being fascinated to see someone trying to give us a Westworld-style device to play with. I hope the Surface Duo is a success and puts some pressure on Apple’s dominance of the tablet space so that Apple have to apply themselves for the next generation of iPad hardware.
Failing that, everyone will decide to give up on folding devices for a few years until someone comes up with radically more capable display hardware. We live in interesting times.
- The introductory video from Panos Panay is very big on this, even as he fails to note that the main reason the Surface Duo can’t display content in a two- or three-pane window is that the screen just doesn’t have the room for it. ↩