Monthly Archives: September 2015

Evan Williams on indie web sites

From a rough transcript of an interview with Evan Williams:

“The idea won’t be to start a website. That will be dead. The individual website won’t matter. The Internet is not going to be about billions of people going to millions of websites. It will be about getting it from centralized websites.”

I’m concerned about this. Evan is reading into the current rise of centralized services and thinking it’s more than a short-term trend. But I believe strongly that the open web will bounce back.

Putting all of our writing in one place like Medium goes against our hope of permanence, because there’s no guarantee Medium will be around in 20 years, and so all of that content will disappear from the internet if it fails. At least with independent sites and custom domain names we have a chance. We have control, so it’s in our hands to succeed or fail, not left to the whims of Silicon Valley startups.

Every device needs the web

In a widely-linked post to Medium, Daniel Pasco writes about the problem of not having WebKit available on tvOS:

“Webviews are the duct tape of the mobile world. I’d estimate that 50% to 80% of the major apps out there use webviews somewhere within their apps. Apple’s Mail app uses webviews for your email messages, because webviews can style and render the content very efficiently. NetNewsWire uses them prolifically, particularly in a few features we haven’t enabled in the shipping version yet.”

I’ve argued on Core Intuition that even with the Apple Watch — as silly as it might seem to want to browse the web on your wrist — there should still be some basic access to the web. If not a full browser, at least a webview so that developers can style short content.

Daniel Jalkut suggests a related compromise for the Apple TV:

“I propose that Apple could strike a compromise that would serve those ambitions while also supporting the tasteful handling of web content in apps. How? By forbidding network access to web content. Apps themselves could still access the network, but not from within their web views.”

This is much better, but I think we should aim higher, since giving up on the web seems to admit early defeat to what Daniel acknowledges is probably WebKit’s politically-motivated omission. The web might not be the most usable medium on all devices, but it is arguably the most important one. Just because we all love native apps doesn’t mean we should trade in the significant value that the web provides, especially for independent writing and a permanence that can outlive silos and platforms.

Apple has 4 major platforms now: iOS, tvOS, watchOS, and the Mac. It’s a dangerous precedent for 2 out of those 4 to not have access to the open web. Web services are only part of the story; HTML and the hyperlink are also both fundamental components of web access. A platform is too shut off from the rest of the world without them.

Glen Keane drawing in 3D

Here’s a wonderful video of Glen Keane drawing with VR goggles. I’ve been watching and listening to Glen explain animation for a long time, on bonus videos going back to my small collection of Disney feature LaserDiscs. It’s great to see him still in the spotlight after leaving Disney, and the great work he did on last year’s Duet.

Speaking of the Disney company, I really enjoyed last night’s American Experience on Walt. Part 2 airs tonight on PBS.

Update: Shortly after posting this, a new film from Glen Keane showed up in my newsreader. It’s a good month for animation.

Web history and IPFS

Dave Winer on the continued disappearance of old web sites:

“I’ve tried to sound the alarms. Every day we lose more of the history of the web. Every day is an opportunity to act to make sure we don’t lose more of it. And we should be putting systems into place to be more sure we don’t lose future history.”

Earlier this week, Steven Frank pointed to a new format and protocol called IPFS, which Neocities is embracing. Copies of your content would live in multiple nodes across the web instead of in a single, centralized location. From their blog post:

“Distributing the web would make it less malleable by a small handful of powerful organizations, and that improves both our freedom and our independence. It also reduces the risk of the ‘one giant shutdown’ that takes a massive amount of data with it.”

I took some time to read through what it can do, and I’d like to support it for the publishing platform that’s in my new microblogging project. I don’t know if it’s technically feasible yet, but I love that someone is trying to solve this. We just have to start somewhere.

Apple’s hitting their stride now. Two brand new development platforms in a year. I’ve just been poking through tvOS and it’s pretty fascinating so far.

→ 2015/09/09 3:48 pm

No last-minute predictions for me. I’m mostly curious at this point about the pressure on the iPad Pro. I have a new Wacom Intuos Creative 2 which has 2048 levels of pressure, but regardless, seems like native hardware support from Apple could be great.

→ 2015/09/09 11:32 am

Marco’s mic review and the quality trade-off

Marco’s review of his favorite microphones is comprehensive. You can’t go wrong by following his advice. I recorded my first podcast 10 years ago, and Daniel and I are about to hit 200 episodes of Core Intuition, yet I still learned a few new things from reading Marco’s review.

As with most things, though, it’s a personal choice too. Take this part:

If you’re just getting started with podcasting, a USB mic is good enough. If you’re established and looking to upgrade your production quality, or if you just love gear like me, you’ll likely find the jump to XLR worthwhile.

I did the opposite of this. For years I used an XLR mic along with a chain of two additional audio devices: the M-Audio FireWire Solo for getting the audio into the Mac, and the PreSonus TubePRE preamp for boosting the signal. This produced a nice sound and gave me knobs to fiddle with, but the extra complexity was just not worth it. I now use a simple USB mic and prefer it. (It’s the Rode Podcaster, which gets a mediocre endorsement in Marco’s review.)

This kind of “downgrading” is a common pattern with me and computers. I used to run a Mac Pro with 2 external Cinema Displays. Now I exclusively use a 13-inch retina MacBook Pro without a monitor.

In both cases — Macs and microphones — I find the trade-off worth it. If I want to work from a coffee shop, it’s the same resolution display, so I don’t need to change how I use Xcode. If I travel and need to record a podcast, it’s the same as if I was home, so I don’t need to risk messing up my audio settings. You give up some performance and flexibility, but in exchange you get the simplicity of having the same setup no matter where you are. And best of all: no more cables all over my desk.

Podcast interviews and the new Riverfold

I was interviewed for two podcasts recently. The first is the CocoaConf Podcast. Daniel Steinberg does a fantastic job of editing his show with a tight format, mixing together interviews and community news.

We talked a lot about my new microblogging project and working on things that matter. I told the story of shutting down my Mac app Wii Transfer to focus on other projects:

“It was really popular. I remember when I shipped 2.0 it was one of my best sales days ever, probably the best sales day ever. But what I came to is that as neat as it was, as useful as it was for some people, in the big scheme of things — if you take 5 years out, 10 years out — that app just wasn’t that important. It was neat, but it’s time had come and gone.”

The other podcast I was on is a new one called Consult. It’s an interview show all about consulting and client work. I had a good time chatting with host David Kopec about evolving Riverfold Software to include consulting while at the same time expanding into a full-time indie business.

Sometimes I forget I’m not a full-time blogger. Accidentally spent all morning writing instead of coding.

→ 2015/09/04 2:09 pm

Watch form over function

Everyone’s thinking the same thing: Samsung’s new smartwatch looks significantly better than the Apple Watch. Even the rounded scrolling control looks as usable or more usable than Apple’s digital crown. If Apple tried multiple designs internally, including a round watch — and I’m sure they did — why did they opt for a nerdy square shape that looks more like a computer than a watch? Especially in a product with such a focus on fashion that they felt the need to charge $10,000 for the high-end models.

Surprisingly, this might be Apple showing they can still choose a functional user experience over purely beautiful form and design. Square looks worse but it’s just more practical for reading text. The digital crown is a better fit for scrolling vertically.

It’s rare in the modern era of Apple (post-2000 or so) for the company to sacrifice beauty for usability. The iPhone is always thin at the expense of battery life. Mac scroll bars are hidden in the name of cleanliness. The new MacBook has a single new cable type which no one owns peripherals for. But with the Apple Watch, I think they built something with a foundation that could last for years, despite its initial awkwardness, and square was the right call.

Doubt, part 2

The flip side to the optimism of my last post is the hard reality that sometimes the doubt is warranted. Sometimes, a little caution could lead to better, more reasonable business decisions.

I like this post from Brett Terpstra about how his wife provides some balance:

“For every wild idea I plan out, she reminds me of the realistic outcomes, backed with historical data. If it weren’t for the tempering quality of having ‘pessimists’ around, I’d be living in a tiny apartment, buried in debt, and likely friendless.”

I’ve been trying to do a better job of bouncing ideas off other people before fully committing, while still holding on to a strong enough original concept that I can’t get too distracted or discouraged. I also have a new idea to help lay the groundwork for my new microblogging service, before actually shipping it. Hope to announce more in the next couple of weeks.

Ordered a couple of those Amazon Dash buttons (for coffee and ziplock bags) because the launch deal means they pay for themselves right away, and because I love it when Amazon invents crazy new products.

→ 2015/09/02 10:29 am

Finished writing a basic XML-RPC parser this morning. I forgot how verbose that format is. We’ve been spoiled on JSON.

→ 2015/09/01 10:44 am