Tag: IT


Watching the video at Google’s Little Signals site, I was struck by the thought that all these oh-so polite, unobtrusive attempts to replace notifications look fine in a demonstration video but they really don’t scale well.

Take the use of a device – shown 1 minute, 15 seconds in – that taps on a solitary bottle of pills to hint that it’s time for you to take your morning (or evening, or whatever) medication…

Looks cute, doesn’t it.

Outside of demo-world, at present I take six different pills after breakfast, then one of the same pills again after tea, then one other pill after supper. A gentle tap threatens to turn into a drum solo accompanying my morning repast.1 In practice, the fact that I currently keep my pill dispenser out of sight in a cabinet in my kitchen might also be a bit of a problem.

Don’t we want alerts to take your medication to be difficult to ignore?

What I really want is…

  • A medication timer app for iPadOS (or simply daily recurring entries on any halfway-decent ToDo app) that sends me notifications that I can’t easily ignore, not a polite tapping sound from the kitchen cabinet that I might miss completely.
  • Or a high-tech version of my cheap plastic pill organiser that can light up the appropriate compartment containing the pills I need to take at the appropriate time.2
  • Or just the self-discipline to keep on top of and check off the uncleared medication-related tasks from my Markdown-formatted Daily Note.3

[Via Dan Hon

  1. Also, all my pills come in cardboard boxes and once a week I file them away in the right compartment in a weekly pill organiser according to when I’m due to take them. A dull tap on a plastic pillbox just won’t deliver the same distinct audible signal as a tap on a glass pill bottle, I fear. 
  2. With a companion app to program the times, set default colour schemes and sound effects, naturally. 
  3. Yes, I’ve turned into an Obsidian zombie. 

, 27 April 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .

Getting [On | Old]

Dan Hon ponders an increasingly important question:

I gave in and upped the font size on Mail.app on my Mac because I’m now not too precious to admit that I need to be able to read things. Which got me thinking: if we’ve got Dark Mode, then what does Old Mode for Internet Olds look like?

Potential Old Modes:

  • text-only sports websites because Old Internet People remember when stuff loaded quickly and was just text and then evergreen example text.npr.org
  • Make This Like A Chronological Feed For Me Mode for Old Internets who keep going on about some “Google Reader” and “RSS” and can’t handle intrinsically algorithmic/recommendation-powered feeds like TikTok
  • So, you know, not just skins that make things look old, but skins that are interfaces on top of modern services that behave in certain kinds of old. Or interface aesthetics that work for Old People.

I realise this is really just a subset of the last item, but it’s an important one. Letting users control your software using keyboard shortcuts1 is a big one, for me.

  1. If your software has drop-down menus, have it display those shortcuts on-screen, right next to the menu items. 
, 21 April 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .

Being Evil

Compare and contrast: Contra Chrome and Scott McCloud’s original.Fair use, to be sure.

Can’t imagine why Apple are so disinclined to allow sideloading of apps under iOS/iPadOS, given the number of ways Google/Alphabet Inc. have backed away from the picture they drew1 back in 2008.

[Via MetaFilter]

  1. Well, Scott McCloud drew, but as a work-for-hire for Google. 

I can’t not look…

The horror! The horror!

[Via jwz]

, 20 January 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Public roads, private risks

Dave Winer’s years of experience writing software has prepared him for life as a newbie Tesla owner:

I found out in the latest update. I had the temperature in the car set to 65 degrees, the same temperature I have my house thermostat set to. When I got into my updated car, the temperature was 72. It said so very clearly on the big display in the middle of the dash. So I did what I did before, touched the temperature, up pops the environment panel, but I couldn’t find any way to change the temp back to 65. I know how to scan a UI from left to right and top to bottom to find the thing that should be big, in the middle the display. A slider that sets the temperature. It wasn’t there. I sat in the car in my garage for a few minutes before I had a brilliant idea. Try doing it on the phone where the UI didn’t change. Voila. Back to comfort. I’m in good shape until they auto-update the phone UI. 😄

A bunch of other things were moved around. Why? Developers have their own insights into what users need, and they’re always wrong. What users want first and foremost is the UI of the fucking cars to not fucking change! I put the f-word in there twice to emphasize the importance of this idea.

I’m way out of practice as a driver – I haven’t driven a car on the public roads in more than 20 years – but I do remember the extent to which muscle memory helps you operate the car’s controls when you’re driving, and the notion of a driver’s attention being drawn to the central screen to on a Tesla to try to find and use a non-tactile control while driving is horrifying. One day, Tesla would say, their cars will have full self-driving capabilities built in and turned on by default so this won’t matter, but that day is not with us just yet.

Sure, logically the driver should know that tweaking the internal temperature is a much lower priority than steering the car and defer fiddling with the touchscreen until a more opportune moment. No doubt there’s small print covering this in the End User Licensing Agreement, but HUMANS ARE JUST NOT ALWAYS THAT LOGICAL.

I would imagine that a significant portion of Tesla’s funds is devoted to employing lawyers whose job is to shield Tesla from liability if lawsuits about their software updates to their user interface ever makes it to court. It’d be good to think that state regulation will pre-empt their efforts and Elon Musk will one day find himself having to answer for inflicting this sort of idiocy on road users, whether they’re driving Teslas or just unlucky enough to share the public roads with those who do.

, 3 January 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .


After a few months of starting to get my head around what Obsidian can do, interesting to read a take on what it’s capable of from the viewpoint of someone who doesn’t want to build an outboard brain:

Not sold on the whole Knowledge Management bandwagon either. I use Obsidian to write everything. I am not creating a second brain or anything like that. I am writing in it. Everything. The goal is to write. Use it as the main text editor, and manage my schedule and tasks while I am in the program. It is my one-stop-shop for all my writing. The charm of the graph-view of my notes is lost on me. Not interested in that.

It’s refreshing to read a take on Obsidian that makes zero mentions of Zettelkasten.

My perspective on Obsidian chimes with this. The specifics are different – I value Obsidian because it makes a good successor to Evernote as an Everything Bucket that lets me capture notes from the web, store whatever details I feel a need to hang on to in the medium and long term and tag entries accordingly, and makes it easy for me to quickly search all that text content. Unlike Evernote1 I can extract content from it even after I’ve stopped using it. At heart, the strengths of Obsidian are that,

  1. It’s built on a bunch of Markdown files on my local storage that are not reliant upon anything in the Cloud; and,2
  2. The array of community plugins makes it easy to link and manage those files in ways that encourage linking to atomic notes about people and places I deal with frequently, rather than repeating references to the same person/place/event.

Both those strengths are things I could have made using Drafts or a local wiki3 but the big difference is that Obsidian lets me use plugins like Dataview to include live updates of to-do lists in my Daily Notes and – this is the bit that really appeals to my inner packrat – retain plain text lists of when I checked those items off. I was using Apple’s Reminders app for this sort of thing until an OS upgrade resulted in most of my lists and list items disappearing into the ether. If I’m ever going to lose my folders-full of Markdown files listing tasks I’ve done, it’ll be because I did something stupid with them, not because the OS/iCloud did it to me/for me/on my behalf.

Obsidian, supported by an army of plugin authors, is advancing rapidly and filling in gaps in functionality as the months go by. From my perspective, the biggest pain points of Obsidian are:

  1. Obsidian Mobile under iPadOS is subject to the customary iOS limitations on how long a non-media player app is allowed to stay alive in the background. The app is pretty good at restarting and reloading data from its’ local vault quickly – vastly quicker than the current Evernote client, for sure, if a tad slower than Drafts manages to recover from being automatically force-closed in the background by the OS – when I return to it after a few minutes away, but that’s not the fault of Obsidian.4

  2. Obsidian Mobile is not at all integrated with Apple’s Share menu. Obsidian can accept data copied-and-pasted into it, and some apps (like Drafts) can make use of URL schemas to feed data into Obsidian, but at present Obsidian operates at one remove from the Share menu5 and that does feel quite limiting. It’s amazing how much you can do with plain text if you must, but it’d be better if the Obsidian app for iPadOS wasn’t so reliant of the system clipboard and file system for transferring data.

  3. Obsidian on iPadOS just feels slightly clunky to use, at least compared to a native app like Drafts. It’ll be interesting to see a couple of years from now whether Drafts (another app which is comfortable using Markdown and has quite a user community churning out extensions) has reacted to Obsidian turning up on iOS by implementing the same feature set. In the end, it’s a race between multi-platform Obsidian (way more developers, but not necessarily focussed on dancing to Apple’s tune) and the smaller numbers of developers who focus on the Apple ecosystem and have no strong urge to accommodate other platforms. If we’re lucky, Obsidian’s base of Markdown documents will smooth the path between platforms and future iterations of the iPadOS client will fit in better with their surroundings.

Obsidian is proving to be an interesting journey so far.

I have a sneaky feeling that in a month or two I might give in to the long-standing temptation to compose and publish content for Sore Eyes using Markdown again.

  1. True, when I started with Evernote I was using the MacOS client and was reassured by the possibility of avoiding lock-in by being able to export data in ENEX format, from where it could be imported by other software. Nowadays I only have the Evernote client running on iPadOS and – sad to say – the current version of the Evernote client software doesn’t support ENEX export. Which is odd, given that ostensibly one of the drivers for their introducing version 10 of their client software was to finally solve the problem of the clients they offered on different platforms having historically offered different feature sets. Nowadays the web-based Evernote client does not offer ENEX export and nor does the iPadOS client, so here I am with several years of notes locked away in Evernote where I can’t extract it. 
  2. True, I do subscribe to Obsidian’s Sync service to take advantage of the backups of individual files, but the One True Copy of those files lives on my system, not theirs. An occasional backup of my entire Obsidian Vault to a folder in iCloud is sufficient, but not really necessary. 
  3. Like I did with VoodooPad some years ago. 
  4. It’s a pity that Apple still enforce that background app limitation even now that iPadOS is running on much more capable hardware than the first iPads had. 
  5. Some extensions like ReadItLater can pick up a URL from the iPadOS clipboard and download the web page’s content and then save a Markdown copy of the page to Obsidian, but passing data via the clipboard feels very 2012 and by modern standards Obsidian is not exactly a good iPadOS citizen. That’s a shame. 
, 3 January 2022. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , , .

At last!

Just for a change, a post about someone who found using the Surface Duo 2 to be a life-changing experience:

In the final week of semester, I gave my last class lecture. Some might have seen my lecture studio: I teach, I solve problems with digital ink, I also self-produce, switching between multiple cameras and screen share, and I clumsily try to read the student chat (a laptop on a stand) and following my notes (a printed PDF). Before my class, my laptop decided it would start an epic Windows update… so I picked up my Duo in a lightbulb moment and those two clumsy things were replaced by the duo: Teams meeting chat on the left and OneNote mathematical notes on the right. Once again, the phone went from being my time-wasting pocket device to a valuable part of my workflow.

After so many it’s-ok-but-it-costs-too-much-and-the-camera-is-poor-and-the-software-is-way-too-buggy reviews, fascinating to read about someone who found the whole dual-screen phone experience pretty much life-changing. I hope he gets his wish and the next hardware version gives the phone the higher level hardware and better-integrated software he thinks it deserves.

I can’t help but notice that, possibly uniquely, his Surface 2 Duo review never even mentions the rather high price of the device. Not a peep about how high the price was at launch, or how much he saved when Microsoft reduced the price in what seemed like a vain attempt to stop every review commenting on the price-performance disparity. Makes you wonder if this guy is an academic, dedicated to communicating what the device did for him without reference to how big a hole buying it left in his bank balance, because everyone buying a personal device has their own notions of what extra time to spend on life outside work is worth to them.1 Alternatively, this guy is the real-life counterpart of Connor Roy (Alan Ruck’s spendthrift eldest Roy sibling from Succession): rich enough not to care about money and prone to following his own whims wherever they take him.

I know I’ve banged on about this phone a lot on here for a device I have no interest in buying, but that’s because I find the experiment of trying to give users almost a tablet-sized screen experience in a phone-sized package fascinating. Also, I really would like to see Apple take a swing at this notion one day. I almost certainly won’t be able to afford it if/when they do, but I can still dream, can’t I?

  1. After all, if using the Surface 2 Duo buys you back some time spending your life not toiling away to accomplish the things you hope to at work, that’s got to be worth spending some serious coin on, no? Like he says at one point, “This thing gave me back life.” 

Surface Duo (one more time)

Continuing my obsession with Microsoft’s Surface Duo, interesting to read the thoughts of someone who took the plunge after a sharp price reduction:

When turned on, the Duo greets you with two separate displays, and that is exactly what you are meant to see. Unlike Samsung’s Fold series that gives you an iPad-ish display when opened, the Duo is never mistaken for anything other than two screens. In fact, it is built into how the device functions. Open an app and it will only appear on one screen, inviting you to do something else with the other.

Trying it out led to this conclusion:

Frankly, I think the problem isn’t the Duo itself, but it is how I interact with my technology these days. You see, I’ve always loved writing in Moleskine notebooks, but I haven’t done that in a good long while because my notes are more convenient when stored in the cloud. And because of that, I’ve been accustomed to writing my notes on my phone or my tablet. I’ve been accustomed to using one screen. The Surface Duo, for as excellent a device that it is, flies in the face of years of muscle memory. Sure, given time, I might be able to break that and really make the Surface Duo a useful gadget- and a strong part of me wants to give it that chance- but even at $400, and especially with an older version of Android and slow updates and lingering bugs and newer versions on the horizon, I just don’t think I can give it that chance right now.

A shame that Microsoft didn’t put their new form factor out there at a price that would encourage users to give it a try. Perhaps the Surface Duo experiment was the right idea (for users who were prepared to revise their working habits, at least) but at the wrong price point.

Uncle Clive, R.I.P.

The news that Sir Clive Sinclair has passed away makes me sad, like a few million others who got the chance to own a microcomputer of their own for a ridiculously low price in the 1980s.

Sad that a quick search of the text in that obituary doesn’t even find a single instance of the letters "QL." Such a missed opportunity, launched right at the point when the computer-buying public was starting to look askance at the Sinclair model of launching really cheap hardware that it turned out cut a few too many corners. No denying it, for a few years in the early 1980s Sinclair’s machines hit a sweet spot and the limitations were bearable.

At one point I had expanded my Sinclair QL’s RAM capacity to a whopping 640KB and was running a utility that let me run multiple copies of Quill and Abacus and a RAM Disk and jump between them at a keystroke1 and it was GLORIOUS, particularly since there wasn’t a cat’s chance in hell that I could afford an Apple Mac.

I could have afforded a BBC Micro Model B and I’m sure I’d have liked BBC Basic, but SuperBASIC suited me nicely. Also, Quill and Abacus were really, really good home office software so I could make a Sinclair QL work for me until, a few years later, I upgraded to an Atari 520STM with a gorgeously sharp monochrome monitor. Uncle Clive started me down that road, and I suspect that an unusually high proportion of my contemporaries built a life-long interest in IT on the foundations the ZX-80, ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum provided.

Sinclair never got the second act that Steve Jobs did or the level of fame, but a lot of people like me in the UK owe him a huge debt for giving us a chance to get early hands-on experience with technology that dominated the 21st century.

  1. I forget which software that was. This is what I get for mentioning stuff I was using in the mid-late 1980s and haven’t thought about in almost forty years. Man, I’m getting old… 
, 16 September 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Tough enough?

Watching a feature film on commercial TV with ads earlier this evening – not something I do all that often these days – I was interested to see Samsung’s latest ad campaign referring to their new phones as : "Our toughest foldables yet."

Not the highest bar they’re setting themselves there, I thought. Then I visited their web site and found this statement:

Designed to shatter expectations
Scratches and damage are no match for this phone. The exterior front cover and back cover on Galaxy Z Flip3 5G are made of the toughest Gorilla Glass yet on Galaxy Z: Corning® Gorilla® Glass Victus™.

So, they’re hoping that tackling their earlier foldables’ bad reputation by pretending that last time wasn’t a fiasco and emphasising the "toughness" of the glass this time round as if this was just a routine marginal upgrade from one generation on materials to the next 1 will get this generation of product over the hump.2

Time will tell how that works out for them. Not sure I like their chances.

  1. Just like a new generation of phones coming with a slightly higher screen resolution or a moderately better camera or a slightly faster processor compared to the last one. Is incremental change really going to do the trick given how far short the last generation fell, or are Samsung just hoping that most phone buyers didn’t pay attention to the technical press in relation to the epic embarrassment they delivered last time round. 
  2. Wasn’t the problem last time round less how “tough” the glass was and more that the bits of the design that needed to be flexible turned out to need to be incapable of coping with that need without seriously degrading their performance as glass to display an image on? Will it all turn out that it depends on what you mean by “tougher”
, 26 August 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .
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