From a profile on the New Yorker that I only just now had the ill-fated idea of reading:

Andreessen is tomorrow’s advance man, routinely laying out “what will happen in the next ten, twenty, thirty years,” as if he were glancing at his Google calendar. He views his acuity as a matter of careful observation and extrapolation, and often invokes William Gibson’s observation “The future is already here—it’s just not very evenly distributed.” Jet packs have been around for half a century, but you still can’t buy them at Target. To smooth out such lumps in distribution, Andreessen disseminates his views via every available podcast and panel discussion and CNN interview slot: he’s a media soothsayer, Andreessen the Magnificent. He also tweets a hundred and ten times a day, inundating his three hundred and ten thousand followers with aphorisms and statistics and tweetstorm jeremiads. Andreessen says that he loves Twitter because “reporters are obsessed with it. It’s like a tube and I have loudspeakers installed in every reporting cubicle around the world.”

That is exactly why I do not enjoy social media at all anymore. Turn the amplification off. Enough with the loudspeakers. Enough with the Marc Andreessen kind of takes.

It’s fascinating how a single guy can embody everything that is wrong with startups and their funding system:

Such tests help a16z determine whether the founder is a mercenary who wants to sell the company within four years, which will cap a16z’s return at 5x, or a missionary, determined to change the world. “At the same time,” Andreessen said, “we’re not funding Mother Teresa. We’re funding imperial, will-to-power people who want to crush their competition. Companies can only have a big impact on the world if they get big.”

What an adorable human. Thanks for making the world a better place, Marc.

Advices from the Wikipedia community on how to handle having made a mistake with public consequences.

Brought to you by cameronsworld.net, a website with as many colours as you can get from your monitor. I look forward to the AR version.

A markup language that makes the authoring of interactive articles more accessible. You can see it in use on the Parametric Press, a new magazine experimenting with the dynamic capabilities of digital texts:

The current generation of publishing technology mimics tools that were designed during the era of the printing press. Past aspirations for the future of computing centered around empowering individuals and enhancing cognition, but many of these ideas fell to the wayside during the wildfire spread of internet connectivity and the commodification of publishing through platforms like WordPress and Facebook.

Alan Kay imagined the Dynabook in the hands of children across the world, while Neal Stephenson wrote of interactive paper that could display videos and interfaces, and books that could teach their readers. The web offers rich dynamic capabilities, but to most authors these are off limits, residing outside the confines of restrictive content management systems. We are a group of designers, programmers, and researchers who want to change that. Together, we are building interactive publishing tools, supporting digital journalism, and pushing the boundaries of web design.

(On the same topic: why books don’t work)

An overview of what goes into the computer processing of text:

I don’t believe there is a single place where it’s all properly written down. I have some explanation for that: while basic text layout is very important for UI, games, and other contexts, a lot of the “professional” needs around text layout are embedded in much more complicated systems such as Microsoft Word or a modern Web browser. […]

The hierarchy is: paragraph segmentation as the coarsest granularity, followed by rich text style and BiDi analysis, then itemization (coverage by font), then Unicode script, and shaping clusters as the finest.

Andrew Russell and Lee Vinsel on the New York Times:

While innovation — the social process of introducing new things — is important, most technologies around us are old, and for the smooth functioning of daily life, maintenance is more important. […] It’s not just maintenance that our society fails to appreciate; it’s also the maintainers themselves. We do not grant them high social status or high salaries. Typically, maintenance is a blue-collar occupation: mechanic, plumber, janitor, electrician. There are white-collar maintainers (like the I.T. crowd) and white-jacket maintainers (like dentists). But they, too, are not celebrated like the inventor.

Once you notice this problem — innovation is exalted, maintenance devalued — you begin to see it everywhere.

Same authors (they organised a conference around this topic), on Aeon Magazine:

First, it is crucial to understand that technology is not innovation. Innovation is only a small piece of what happens with technology. This preoccupation with novelty is unfortunate because it fails to account for technologies in widespread use, and it obscures how many of the things around us are quite old. […]

Second, by dropping innovation, we can recognise the essential role of basic infrastructures. […]

Third, focusing on infrastructure or on old, existing things rather than novel ones reminds us of the absolute centrality of the work that goes into keeping the entire world going.

To truly appreciate the mundane labour that keeps everything running pay attention to the details, to how stuff works. It’s anything but mundane. Maintaining stuff should be cool.

Un-doing is oftentimes easier — the number of times I heard someone suggesting starting from scratch to take the complexity away. The problem with this line of thought is that things only stay simple in the beginning. Any mature system is complex.

Audio editing using text. You can remove filler words (uhm, ehm) automatically but, most impressive, you can change what you said by editing the transcription: the app will update the recording by generating a digital voice that sounds like you.

Interesting take from Palladium Mag:

Considered frankly, this trend reveals the internet to be a technology of centralization. One of the core functions of the internet is to record material of human interest in digital format. These records span everything from our trivial preferences and financial habits to the most intimate messages we send each other. With adequate analysis, this data can be used to predict user behavior. This information is not made available to us as individuals. Even if it were, it would not be the kind of information we could use. It’s only useful en masse—in other words, only insofar as it makes us legible and visible to centralized institutions. The rise of Amazon, Tencent, Facebook, or Twitter aren’t bugs in the system, but the natural result of its real logic.

But maybe we shouldn’t always look at centralisation as necessarily bad?

In trying to understand and chart a course for the future, we might take inspiration from the centralizing effects of past technology. The printing press reduced the Catholic Church’s control over intellectual institutions. But it also paved the way for the standardization of language and for more direct control by state bureaucracies. Society was vastly more centralized in 1750 than it was in 1400. Through the modern lens, the benefits of the printing press vastly outweigh its costs, suggesting that we may be wrong to fear centralizing technologies in our own time.

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 will 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.