Tag: IT


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.

Obsidian

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. 

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: .

Thermocline of Truth

Rob Millar provides us with an excellent explanation of why the Royal Mail let the prosecution of so many postmasters happen when the organisation couldn’t believe1 that their new IT system was screwing up so badly:

[Generally speaking,…], those at the bottom of an organisation have a fairly accurate view of what’s going on. They’re close to the detail; they know whether their area of the project is on-track, and can infer from that the state of the wider project.

Those at the top, though, have no such first-hand knowledge. They rely on the bubbling-up of information from below, in the form of dashboards and status reports. But, […] those status reports tend to produce a comically optimistic view of the state of the project. Individual contributors presented a rosy picture of what they were working on to their line managers; middle managers gave good news to their bosses; and senior managers, keen to stay on the promotion track and perhaps hopeful that other parts of the project would fail before theirs, massage the truth yet again.

A couple of decades from now, is the phrase "the thermocline of truth" destined to be part of the received wisdom about how big organisations do major IT projects?

[Via Memex 1.1]


  1. You’d like to think that the middle managers and their superiors would be asked some hard questions about whether they were worth their salaries if they didn’t (officially) notice a problem on this scale. 
, 31 July 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: .

Ian Betteridge on the Surface Duo in the UK

I continue to be fascinated at the cack-handed way Microsoft have launched the Surface Duo. I’ve just spotted Ian Betteridge’s thoughts on the Surface Duo from March 2021:

Yes, the cost here is ridiculous – £1300 at a time when the price has been reduced to $999 in the US – but I’ve always loved Microsoft’s Surface line and was curious about it. […]

Overall I think Microsoft is on to something with this form factor, but I really wish it was larger and a tablet rather than smaller and a sort-of phone. Microsoft is absolutely correct not to market this as a smartphone, because it never really feels like one — but it does feel like a tiny, interesting and highly usable mini-tablet.

I hope Microsoft will persist with the form factor, but selfishly I mostly want them to do that to plant the idea in someone in Apple’s head that they really need to sort out1 the iOS/iPadOS windowing model.


  1. Not that they need to be told that, I know, but it feels as if the whole “let’s fork iOS and create an iPad variant” thing has not come close to achieving what some of us iPad users were hoping for and that’s just a crying shame. 
, 9 May 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .

Time travel

I really wish I’d read Craig Mod’s piece on The Healing Power of JavaScript earlier:

[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…


  1. 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. 
  2. 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.) 
  3. 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. 

An experiment

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.

, 24 March 2021. Category: Uncategorized. Tagged: , .
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