2015/03/31 1:27 pm

“I’m a grown man, and I like a splash of colour here and there. Life’s too short, and too damned beautiful, to wear the colour of the grave everywhere you go.” — Matt Gemmell


Stephen Hackett recently linked to the footnote JavaScript library Bigfoot.js:

“It works great on devices of all sizes and makes reading a long article much easier, as you don’t get bumped to the bottom of the article and back up to the top just to read a witty comment.”

You know what else makes a long article easier to read? Fewer footnotes.

This trend of footnotes in blog posts is out of control. Maybe a couple footnotes work well in a very long Daring Fireball essay, but in recent years bloggers are using footnotes everywhere in places where they’re just not necessary. They’re distracting and take you out of the story.

(Also remember, no amount of JavaScript footnote wizardly will help when I read your article in most web-based RSS readers. If I want to read the footnote right away, I’ll have to scroll down and then scroll back.)

I avoid footnotes in my writing. Often the same effect can be achieved with simple parenthesis. If parenthesis don’t fit well, entire extra paragraphs are also much more readable. And if it can’t be conveyed without footnotes, maybe the text should be cut out completely, if it is of so little importance to be relegated to the bottom of the article.

Footnotes are appropriate in two cases: either as true side notes, with facts or sources that can be looked at later, independently of the main writing; or for a particular style of writing, such as Bill Simmons’ Book of Basketball, which often goes off on long tangents and has footnotes on every page. (No small feat because the book is over 700 pages.)

In this rant I’m not trying to criticize anyone in particular. I read several authors who use footnotes frequently and I love their writing. But that doesn’t mean everyone should adopt that style without making sure it actually fits the context. Consider whether footnotes in blogs might be a fad, and if so, that it’s a writing challenge to find another way.

Nimoy’s last tweet

Over two years ago, I carefully planned my final tweets so that they would serve as a proper closing to that chapter of being active on Twitter. But mine were nothing compared to Leonard Nimoy’s final tweet, posted days before he passed away. It’s been a month now but I’m still reflecting on it:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

Beautiful. He left behind much to be remembered by.

Ephemeral blogging

Thomas Brand has changed his blog to let short link-style posts essentially expire off his site, with no permanent archive:

“For the last five months I have been practicing a new way of blogging. Articles of reference receive a permalink with a link on my homepage and a link in my RSS feed. Quotations and comments are displayed in full on the homepage and in the RSS feed, but do not receive a permalink of their own. As I write, older quotations and comments are pushed down the homepage and lost from the site forever.”

And since that post may go away, I’ll quote a little bit more:

“I feel like disposable blogging lends itself to a more carefree publication, not only for me but my audience as well. When you pick up a magazine, you don’t expect to have access to every back issue.”

Meanwhile, Dave Winer has been working on his own new blogging platform:

“There haven’t been new features in blogging in a long time. Where’s the excitement? It looks to me like there’s been no effort made to factor the user interface, to simplify and group functionality so the first-time user isn’t confronted with the full feature set, left on his or her own to figure out where to go to create a new post or edit an existing one.”

I think the next 5 years of blogging are going to be a lot more varied than the previous 5 years. Medium-style UIs, Twitter-like microblogs, and of course traditional WordPress blogs, plus the work Dave is doing and whatever else people build as blogging takes off again. I’m looking forward to shipping an app that contributes something to all of this, too.

2015/03/30 9:52 am

Took some time last night to upgrade an upcoming web app to Ruby 2.1 and Sidekiq instead of Resque. Much easier to do those kind of upgrades before launch.

Criticizing Apple

Marco Arment reacts to the idea that he’s withholding criticism:

“As anyone who’s read my site and listened to our podcast for a while would know, I criticize Apple all the time. A developer’s view of their computing platform and software distribution partner is like any developer’s view of their programming language of choice: if you don’t think there are any major shortcomings, you just don’t know it well enough yet.”

This is all true, but I also think there’s something unique about Apple: we expect greatness in everything they do. It wouldn’t be the same Apple we love if we brushed complaints aside when the company falls short. And as Marco points out, Apple employees aren’t scared of negative feedback, because they want to build great products too.

A number of years ago I was sick of programming and went back to school to study art and life drawing. Maybe more than anything else, I came away with a new appreciation for self-criticism, and accepting the critiques of others. Because that’s how you get better. Until you can see what’s wrong — your drawing sucks and your iOS app is slow and buggy — you have no hope to improve.

The key in both art and technology is to understand the difference between constructive criticism and just complaining. Marco’s original post was about calling out Apple on lower quality standards in the hope that they could focus and get better. Many of the “me too” posts that followed were from Apple haters who were looking for page views and couldn’t care less if Apple quality improved.

Daniel Jalkut writes that it’s about how we react to criticism that matters:

“This is what happens when well-formed criticism meets the ears of a confident, competent individual: the facts are taken to heart and studied, perhaps grudgingly. But upon reflection and determination that there was merit in the complaint, respect for the source of the provocation goes through the roof.”

I’ve been working on an essay about the Apple Watch Edition and why I think it’s wrong for Apple. I do worry a little about putting out a controversial, half-baked opinion. And yet, I’ve seen no one else make my argument against the Edition in the meantime. If I want Apple to live up to the very high standard I hold them to, I can’t withhold my opinion on the direction of the company, regardless of whether that opinion will be warmly received.

Short and sweet job posts

I’ve been very happy to see the variety and high quality of jobs listed on our Core Intuition Jobs site. Two in particular have recently caught my attention for being concise, as if they don’t want to waste a potential candidate’s time with too many bullet points.

First up is Betaworks, which you’ve heard of as the company that now develops apps like Instapaper and Digg. Here’s the listing in its entirety:

“We’re working on a bunch of brand new products at betaworks and are looking for iOS contractors to help our existing engineers move faster. We’re ready to start ASAP and this gig will go through June (with the option to stay on for longer if you’d like to). Email us for more info if you’re interested!”

And here’s new startup Honest Dollar, where you’ll be working in downtown Austin with my friend Justin Youens and a team looking to reinvent retirement plans for small businesses. Again, the full text:

“We’re a new startup in Austin and are looking for awesome people to help build our iOS apps! We have an amazing team in place, and are looking to extend it.

“If you have at least a few years of impressive iOS experience, we’d love to talk. Relocation assistance available, but onsite desired. Full-time or contract.”

I bet both of these companies would be great places to work.

2015/03/12 11:12 am

Follow-up to my earlier post about Medium: custom domains are a great step in the right direction, even if they’re limited to select publishers for now.