Redmonk:

Most toolchains, from where the first lines of code are written through test, build, integration and deployment all the way out to production, are made up of a patchwork quilt of products and services from different suppliers. […] In order to make the life of a developer easier, rather than harder, a quality developer experience is focused on allowing developers to use the tools they’re familiar with, or at least closely mimicking them. Whether that’s the out of the box support for VS Code that is a common feature of today’s platforms or the Git-like syntax Heroku pioneered in its CLI, the less that developers have to context switch between tools and steps the less friction there is in usage.

This sounds like a saner way to handle privacy settings than having a banner on every single website (security UI doesn’t work).

A reminder that the best emails are plain text and nothing else. Not only they read well on any screen (even on a watch), they actually perform better:

The plain email—which took no time to design or code—was opened by more recipients and had 3.3x more clicks than the designed email. The plain, unstyled emails resulted in more opens, clicks, replies, and conversions, every time. […] Replies to welcome emails were tripled. Cold emails were getting 30-35% open rates and 3% conversion rates, which is incredible.

Besides, every HTML email looks like an ad.

I initially believed the new time picker of iOS 14 was a bug specific to the calendar app I use, until I started encountering it across apps. If you haven’t seen it yet, it looks like this. What.

New watch faces. Watch faces should receive the same attention screensavers get. Fun, cool, not frequently that nice mostly just fine. I think the stacked cards interface of the Siri face should be the default wake up screen, and all efforts should go in that direction. The watch metaphor was useful to begin with, but the Apple Watch was never a watch and complications are what their name implies.

I am pleased to find out I am not the only one frustrated by the behaviour of the back button in Photos or bewildered by where it would take me in Music. There’s a growing list of apps, developed directly by Apple, that would benefit from having proper navigation but have opted for an erratic and lazy back button:

The more common apps that have long featured back and forward buttons do not function in these peculiar ways. Web browsers do not; Finder doesn’t; neither does System Preferences. And, as I was writing this article, I was worried that it would be made obsolete by the forthcoming release of MacOS Big Sur, but everything is pretty much identical as of the latest beta. If the back buttons in the apps listed at the top of this post do not conform to the system standard in any way, the obvious question is something like: “why do these apps have a back button at all?”

In every instance, it seems to be a catch-all attempt to solve complex UI design problems. In Catalyst apps, it kind of works like the iOS system back button. In the App Store and in Music, it is a way to display web-based pages without having to implement a hierarchical navigation structure. In Photos, I suppose it is a way to reduce the amount of toolbars and buttons onscreen compared to iPhoto, and to make it conform closer to its iOS counterpart.

Here’s another aspect of the ebook reading experience Amazon has a monopoly on, and somehow lacks a vision for. From The New Stateman:

Goodreads today looks and works much as it did when it was launched. The design is like a teenager’s 2005 Myspace page: cluttered, random and unintuitive. Books fail to appear when searched for, messages fail to send, and users are flooded with updates in their timelines that have nothing to do with the books they want to read or have read. Many now use it purely to track their reading, rather than get recommendations or build a community. “It should be my favourite platform,” one user told me, “but it’s completely useless.” […]

With the vast amount of books and user data that Goodreads holds, it has the potential to create an algorithm so exact that it would be unstoppable, and it is hard to imagine anyone objecting to their data being used for such a purpose. Instead, it has stagnated: Amazon holds on to an effective monopoly on the discussion of new books – Goodreads is almost 40 times the size of the next biggest community, LibraryThing, which is also 40 per cent owned by Amazon – and it appears to be doing very little with it.

To improve discovery I would focus on manually curated lists, like bookshop.org and fivebooks.com do, and instead of giving users a meaningless star rating I would aggregate book reviews. bookmarks.review, a sort of Rotten Tomatoes for books, does just that.

A calming little website collecting 10 minute videos of someone’s else window. Displayed randomly, from anywhere in the world.

Andy Matuschak:

Books are static. Prose can frame or stimulate readers’ thoughts, but prose can’t behave or respond to those thoughts as they unfold in each reader’s head. […] How might we design mediums in which “readers” naturally form rich associations between the ideas being presented? How might we design mediums which “readers” naturally engage creatively with the material? How might we design mediums in which “readers” naturally contend with competing interpretations? If we pile together enough of these questions we’re left with: how might we design mediums in which “reading” is the same as “understanding”?

The state of ebooks is truly sad. Nothing has changed in a decade (to be optimistic) and the digital book is still just a scan of the paper book trapped in a screen.

GPT-3 — let’s define it as the autocomplete tool by OpenAI trained on a large amount of uncategorized text from the internet — is quite impressive, comparable to what happened to AI image processing from 2012 onward. We can safely ignore the hype — it’s probably a dead end in terms of reaching artificial general intelligence (see its performance on the Turing Test). And I doubt it’s going to replace developers. But as an autocomplete, at guessing common sense or trivia questions, it’s a leap forward. Here I am asking Alexa for the third time to lower the volume, and this thing can almost handle a conversation.

Anyway because of how it works (you give it some text, a prompt, and it guesses what comes next) in recent weeks the internet got inundated with things they made GPT-3 do. There’s even a course in creative writing taught by GPT-3 (which is probably as valid as most creative writing courses).

Like all good AI GPT-3 never admits of not knowing an answer, it’d rather make up stuff, weird stuff sometimes, nonsense but nicely written nonsense. It might not make sense but at least it’s syntactically correct. It’s an idea machine, and a quite funny one. Here’s one of its replies, when prompted by Arram Sabeti to write an essay on human intelligence:

I propose that intelligence is the ability to do things humans do. [..] The brain is a very bad computer, consciousness is a very bad idea.

Los Angeles Review of Books:

Does a text message conversation take place? It has a beginning, I suppose, though who can remember when it was. Does it have a middle? An end? An ever-expanding middle maybe, half-punctuated by a series of tentative ends — and perhaps one final, devastating one. […]

When you receive a text message you are presented with a choice: you can treat it as you would a phone call and immediately answer and strike up a back and forth, or you can treat it as a letter — letting it linger, inspecting it for possible implications, reading between the lines, trying out various interpretations — then finally crafting a response attuned meticulously to imagined contingencies that you will send at the most opportune moment.

The text message’s built-in ambiguity — its optional absence — generates its own opportunities and anxieties. It opens up whole avenues for expression that alternately try to take advantage of or try to soften the threat of absence. Response time becomes its own form of communication.

Some insights on voice interfaces from Ian Bicking:

Voice interfaces are voice interfaces. They are a way for the user to express their desire, using patterns that might be skeuomorphism of regular voice interactions, or might be specific learned behaviors. It’s not a conversation. You aren’t talking with the computer.

I’ve been speaking with Alexa for quite some time now — we like to talk about the status of the lights in the living room and which is the most suitable time for me to wake up.

Also very true:

I hate how voice interfaces force us to speak without pauses because a pause is treated as the end of the statement. Many systems use a “wakeword” or “keyword spotting” to start the interaction. What if we used keyword spotting to determine the end as well? “Please” might be a good choice. It’s like the Enter key.

Marc Andreessen:

Every Western institution was unprepared for the coronavirus pandemic, despite many prior warnings. This monumental failure of institutional effectiveness will reverberate for the rest of the decade, but it’s not too early to ask why, and what we need to do about it.

Many of us would like to pin the cause on one political party or another, on one government or another. But the harsh reality is that it all failed — no Western country, or state, or city was prepared — and despite hard work and often extraordinary sacrifice by many people within these institutions. So the problem runs deeper than your favorite political opponent or your home nation.

Part of the problem is clearly foresight, a failure of imagination. But the other part of the problem is what we didn’t *do* in advance, and what we’re failing to do now. And that is a failure of action, and specifically our widespread inability to *build*.

We see this today with the things we urgently need but don’t have. We don’t have enough coronavirus tests, or test materials — including, amazingly, cotton swabs and common reagents. We don’t have enough ventilators, negative pressure rooms, and ICU beds. And we don’t have enough surgical masks, eye shields, and medical gowns. […] Why do we not have these things? Medical equipment and financial conduits involve no rocket science whatsoever. At least therapies and vaccines are hard! Making masks and transferring money are not hard. We could have these things but we chose not to — specifically we chose not to have the mechanisms, the factories, the systems to make these things. We chose not to *build*.

New York Times:

Labor and robotics experts say social-distancing directives, which are likely to continue in some form after the crisis subsides, could prompt more industries to accelerate their use of automation. And long-simmering worries about job losses or a broad unease about having machines control vital aspects of daily life could dissipate as society sees the benefits of restructuring workplaces in ways that minimize close human contact. […]

Recycling is one industry that may be altered permanently by the pandemic.

Another sign of the acceleration.