The Psalms

software

Gurgle Crum Tile

Almost exactly two years ago, I warned that Google was on track to replace God of us all. Last month, The Verge's Dieter Bohn reported that Google plans to begin accounting for “page experience” in its search rankings beginning in 2021, later explaining in a subsequent episode of The Vergecast:

Here is another example of the Chrome team coming up with a bunch of web standards and then the Search team making a bunch of incentives based on those standards.

It was news to me that in May, Google launched a page called “Web Vitals” on its web.dev domain (which they've apparently owned since November 2018.) The company measures “page experience” based on three main criteria:

  • Largest Contentful Paint measures perceived load speed and marks the point in the page load timeline when the page's main content has likely loaded.
  • First Input Delay measures responsiveness and quantifies the experience users feel when trying to first interact with the page.
  • Cumulative Layout Shift measures visual stability and quantifies the amount of unexpected layout shift of visible page content.

CoStar just sent an oddly topical (and honestly, encouraging) notification:

Costar Notification

I'm not a “real” web developer – nor do I mean to dictate to a single one – but I know enough theory to note that of this “core web” education operation centered around web.dev is operating on some irritating assumptions:

1. Smaller assets are ideal.

The simple assumption that it is always better to have the smallest page possible – that images should be resized and compressed to hell and typography/other elements should be few in number. Instantaneous page loads should be priority over any other standards of measure for a web page – like interesting design, for instance.

2. Minimalistic design is necessary.

The reality – for most of the Western world, at least – is that average network speeds are exponentially increasing year-by-year. In 2018:

World-wide average mobile download speed was 22.82 Mbps (Megabits per second), an increase of 15.2% over 2017. Average upload speed was 9.19 Mbps, an increase of 11.6%. Fixed broadband speeds also increased. Average download speed increased 26.4% to 46.12 Mbps, while average upload speed came in at 22.44 Mbps, a 26.5% increase.

I may be a yokel, but these averages are still absolutely inconceivable to me. Our phones have as much RAM as my “studio” work desktop, now. 22.82 Mbps will reliably download very complex web pages nearly instantaneously. There is a very reasonable argument for essential services like search engines and news websites to conform to/adopt standards like AMP, but for the rest of The Open Web, ingenuity and risktaking should be encouraged, not discouraged, for the true good of all Peoplekind.

A term I haven't seen for a good while describes this ideology: “the mobile web,” and it completely sucking ass is not a new concept. I've before referenced an old complaint from 2015 by The Verge's Editor-in-Chief, Nilay Patel (which the original article also links in different context in its last line):

The entire point of the web was to democratize and simplify publishing using standards that anyone could build on, and it has been a raging, massively disruptive success for decades now. But the iPhone's depressing combination of dominant mobile web marketshare and shitbox performance means we're all sort of ready to throw that progress away.

3. Google has the right to dictate “Best Practices.”

The Mobile Web as a utility has its place, but it's certainly not a necessary or desirable ideal for the entirety of The Web, yet Google has the audacity to presume it can dictate what is and is not optimal web design. The URL in and of itself is extremely presumptuous – Google technically has every right to own web.dev, sure, but should it? The Accelerated Mobile Pages (AMP) program has already had an annoying effect on day-to-day browsing. I despise AMP links more than most things in life, just as I despise the name of the website Search Engine Land (which sounds like actual hell) who also reported on this:

If you have AMP, the good news is that the majority of AMP pages do extremely well in terms of page experience metrics, [Google Project Manager] Rudy Galfi said. It doesn’t mean that all AMP pages will have top page experience metrics, but AMP is built in a way to help with this.

Recently, I discovered an incredibly refreshing/affirming essay wrapped in a hand-build web experience called “Rediscovering the Small Web” by designer Parimal Satyal, arguing for a different variety of Web presence:

Modern web design principles are very rarely directed at regular people looking to make a website on something they are interested in. Instead, the focus is on creating websites that perform well: Don't use too many colours. Write short, catchy headlines. Don't let content be too long. Optimise for SEO. Produce video content, attention span is decreasing. Have a an obvious call to action. Push your newsletter. Keep important information above the fold. Don't make users think. Follow conventions.

I realize that the majority of Web utilization cannot “revert” to hand-coded plain HTML web pages hosted on Neocities, but there's something to be learned (or remembered, in my case) from Satyal's argument: The Web's forgotten strength is diversity (much like my country's, it would seem,) and the majority of users are being pushed by Google's search engine toward a very specific minority of URLs. We have not been exploring for a very long time:

Instead of browsing, the web is for many an endless and often overwhelming stream of content and commentary picked out by algorithms based on what they think you already like and will engage with. It's the opposite of exploration.

“It is worth remembering a website does not have to be a product; it can also be art,” argues Satyal. “The web is also a creative and cultural space that need not confine itself to the conventions defined by commercial product design and marketing.” (Emphasis mine.) It's not just that The Web was meant to be more – nostalgia is definitely not my particular trip, if you didn't know – it's that it can be so much more. My list of favorite Open Web projects contains just a few examples of what I mean.

It's possible I am being too critical of Google. A Twitter search for the link to The Verge's article reveals commentary like “Experience, matters ;),” “Web search moving forward,” and “Halleluja!,” so there are clearly users who are more than onboard, and not all of what Google has done for the web recently has been detrimental. It was also announced last month that Chrome will begin blocking “resource-heavy” advertisements by default and that Google and Microsoft have been working together to improve spellcheck and scrolling in Chromium. There's not much to feel about these announcements, but – as always – there is a whole lot to feel about Google as a company.

Google has announced a three-day live digital event at the end of this month (June 30th-July 2nd) in which viewers will “celebrate our community's actions, learn modern web techniques and connect with each other.” “Over three days, we'll share quick tips on aspects of modern web development,” explains the company on its web.dev/live page. I am planning to attend and bitch as much as I am allowed. Stay tuned to hear a chronicle.

#software

USS Bataan over New Khittomer

The ancient IP’s MMO is still Online, albeit with some disappointing discontinuations.

I entertained fantasies about a Star Trek MMO since first experiencing the genre through Eve Online and World of Warcraft in early adolescence. The idea of commanding my own starship in a universe of other “captains” alongside a hand-picked bridge crew was a beguiling one to myself and many others. This year, the game celebrated its ten-year anniversary (aligning well with the continued involuntary beat of this blog.) I’m currently in the midst of my annual check-in with STO and thought an exploration of this most-consequential video game of my life’s history would be an appropriate undertaking.

The execution of today’s final, Arc Games-owned and maintained product is a particularly long and interesting one. As Justin Olivetti chronicled for Engadget, the license for Star Trek Online was originally bought and developed on by Perpetual Entertainment, which was assaulted by a lawsuit and extensive layoffs in December, 2006. The company was sued by Kohnke Communications for allegedly selling “valuable assets like the Star Trek Online license” to an affiliated entity called P2 entertainment. Clever. A quote from the complaint as reported by Ten Ton Hammer:

“On information and belief, the assets transferred to P2 include Perpetual Entertainment trademarks and copyrights, the perpetual.com domain name, and assets related to Star Trek Online, including code and the license… Perpetual received less than market value for the assets it transferred to P2, and the transfer made Perpetual insolvent (or worsened Perpetual's existing insolvency).”

Perpertual’s STO was significantly different from today’s MMO. Instead of captaining one’s own starship, “players would have taken on the role of an officer who would be part of a crew of a starship,” echoing old legacy titles like Star Trek: Bridge Commander.

The proposed solution was that players could own smaller ships like fighters and minor spaceships, but the big ones — like the Galaxy class — would instead be adventure hubs with explorable, detailed interiors.

Perpetual Entertainment's Star Trek Online

I was 14 in 2008 when I joined the original post-Perpetual Entertainment STO IRC channel when the game's license was first transferred to Cryptic Studios. In fact, this channel was the only reason I left IRC clients open on my computers for years. It was exciting to find a community of people who were looking forward to participating in a Star Trek MMO as much as I was. I originally went by the (very cringey) username “crazyhooligin,” under which my current STO account is still registered. In the IRC channel, I met Sata – host of the now-defunct MMO Junkies podcast and ex-Perpetual developer. He and the STORadio crew accepted me into their Teamspeak conversations despite how strange and unsocialized I was. I learned how extensive and beautiful their development had been. One wonders what Cryptic did with the original game and art assets and who technically owns them now.

After acquiring the rights to make the game in early-2008, Cryptic was legally compelled to come up with a completed product in two years’ time as then-Executive Producer Stephen D’Angelo explained on the 100th episode of the STOked podcast:

We were under a very massive deadline to deliver the game. We had acquired the license from Perpetual and Perpetual’s license had an expiration date on it, and we had to ship the game before the expiration date or we would lose the license.

STOked also provided an excellent historical account of the acquisition entitled “How Cryptic Saved Star Trek Online.” By late-Fall, 2009, Star Trek Online entered Closed Beta, which I somehow acquired a key for in the name of STOHolic.com (a blogger site which represents one of my first web projects ever.) I was dual-booting Windows 7 Beta on my 2008 MacBook, which only supported 2 of its 4GB of RAM. The resulting performance was not optimal, but I was tremendously excited just to participate. Somewhere, there are at least three 480p handicam videos of Closed and Open Beta gameplay taken from over my shoulder, but I could not find them at the time of this writing. Comparatively, beta looked drastically different from the property that’s online today. In this video of the original entry tutorial, we are introduced to the game’s basic controls by the voice of Zachary Quinto of J.J. Abrams fame as the new Emergency Medical Hologram in godawful dropshadowed text. The lighting is dated, the blue-based user interface even more so.

Star Trek Online Closed Beta

The hair was bad and the textures of the armor, worse. So was mine, though. I uploaded two videos under my STOholic name: an unboxing of the Collector’s Edition and what appears to be the definitive YouTube tutorial to run Star Trek Online on Mac OSX using the (now defunct) wineskin wrapper. Though I was sixteen years old, I appear to be about eight. Endless waves of ground enemies, pressing the “1” key hundreds of thousands of times to whittle them away with my phaser rifle. There were bugs on top of bugs. My favorite was a swap between one's ground and space avatars: a gigantic captain would appear in space and a little ship would appear on the ground.

Four years ago, Lead Developer Al Rivera wrote “History of Star Trek Online – a Retrospective” – a blog post detailing the chronology of the game from its February 2nd, 2010 release date – about a week after my 16th birthday, for which my mom bought me my first and only gaming PC. I have never been very good at video games, and Star Trek Online has been no exception. After 10 years, my main Captain – Ambassador Kuvak – is still not doing adequate DPS to hold my own in Task Force Operations, from what I understand. My 15-16-year-old self chose a Science Captain but wanted to fly the great (engineering/tank-focused) cruisers of The Original Series, The Next Generation, and the latter's movies. This is possible, but not necessarily advised. Generally, one specs an Engineering Captain to tank, a Tactical Captain for DPS, and a Science Captain for “exotic DPS” and light healing. I managed to level a single science character – the original – through to the max ranks using little intelligence and a lot of persistence. Later in life, I’ve learned the patience for a more deliberate approach, but still struggle to make the numbers.

The Exploration System

For many Star Trek fans, Star Trek Online’s combat feels excessive. Or at least, that’s what you’d think. The current reality is that search engine results for “too much combat in STO” are virtually nill. There are some comments on Massively Overpowered posts, a year-old blog post in Contains Moderate Peril by Roger Edwards, an old Ryan Somna take, and… that’s about it. There was a definite (and entirely reasonable) argument against the amount of combat across the community early in the game’s development, but it looks like the arguers have simmered down and/or given up. This is also reasonable, considering its now ten-year lifespan. The only trouble is that non-combat options in Star Trek Online have actually diminished over the years.

Star Trek Online Romulan Borg

The original Exploration System was an ingenious and significant idea that “used automated tools to facilitate large quantities of widely varied content.” Unfortunately, the result was “nothing close to what [Cryptic] originally planned.” Instead of inspiring variety, Exploration Clusters ended up becoming the most repetitive activity in the game – nothing more than a good source of crafting materials. The missions were generic and the environments simply randomly combined segments of the same interior textures. Procedurally generated environments would hit the mainstream conversation years later with No Man’s Sky, which was written about in two fascinating articles by Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorker and Chris Baker in Rolling Stone:

Using procedural generation isn’t simply about offloading the creative process onto an algorithm – the real challenge is that it requires developers to teach an algorithm the difference between good and bad game design.

Perhaps if Star Trek Online’s initial development window had not been so limited, Cryptic would’ve had time and resources to pioneer something truly Trek and extraordinary in the exploration system, but it ended up having to kill the idea altogether – no amount of Change.org petitions could prevent this.

The Foundry

Perhaps the most innovative feature Star Trek Online contributed to gaming as a whole came to the live server in Spring, 2011. It was called The Foundry, and it allowed players access to a diluted form of the same mission creation tools Cryptic themselves used to create content, enabling the community to publish its own playable stories. The result was a wonder virtually inexpressible in words. In player-made Foundry Missions, I found joy, wonder, sorrow, and insight – truly everything and more than one could ever want from fiction. Throughout 2013-2014 my girlfriend at the time and I ran regular Foundry missions together along with couple friends in our fleet. Unfortunately, I cannot remember a single specific mission (aside from Unholy Alliances, I think,) but I remember the storytelling. I remember laughing at, dwelling on, and even crying for the characters we were introduced to. There were farming-oriented missions and some fairly rough drafts, sure, but the vast majority of the content was deliberately and delicately considered, especially the Foundry Spotlight series, which highlighted player-created stories of a particular quality and intrigue.

Ambassador Class

Last April, however, Arc retired the Foundry forever – perhaps the worst possible news – stating “the legacy knowledge required to maintain the Foundry at our quality standards is no longer available,” meaning – as Rodger Edwards notes – that all developers with their hands, hearts, and heads in the project had long since departed the company. The community reaction was heartbreaking. On Reddit, a group of mission authors and devotees committed to capturing as many Foundry Missions as possible on video in the month between the announcement and date of death. User waimser lamented the loss of the Foundry as a critical hit to Star Trek Online’s endgame:

Once you've played through the story missions and built your ship, the foundry is what's left, and it has some damn good stuff.

The group even created a Google Docs spreadsheet to coordinate the effort. Another created a thread in the Star Trek Online forums dedicated to “aggregating the various channels with Foundry content and providing those links to you and updating them as necessary.” In an interview for Gamesindustry.biz, Al Rivera suggested that the secret to the title’s longevity in which his team had been “strategically successful” was knowing when and when not to make drastic changes. “Don't change the fundamentals of what players love about your game,” he suggested.

UFP Fleet Roster

Community

Though STOked and STORadio have long since been off the air, the Roddenberry Podcast Network’s PriorityOne is still going strong, having just recorded its 460th episode. As I discovered last year, the game’s Twitch community is also thriving. Layiena’s streams are incredible because – while he understands theory as well as the other broadcasters in the STO Twitch community – it’s his incredible skills at live Captain commentary (calling out abilities and other command inputs as if he really is in the captain’s chair.) It may sound cringey (and perhaps it would be to many,) but his thoroughness and accuracy actually 1) make it seem pretty darn cool to me and 2) are hugely valuable in helping the viewer understand what he’s doing. After some three years, I know my one rotation fairly well, but only three or four of its steps by name – not even remotely well enough to do what he does. Unfortunately, it appears as though he’s been inactive since last year.

Sphynx’s streams also have an especially professional feel – he is excellent at calling out his actions as well, if perhaps without so much intensity. His Norwegian sensibility is wonderful: when I introduced myself as being around in the community since 2008, he remarked “that’s strange considering the game has only been out since 2010.” Nigh-universally common threads among them: imperturbable kindness to their audience and an impressively wholesome commitment to actually having fun. Though I’m far from deeply saturated with Twitch culture as a whole, I’ve watched my fair share of Eve Online, World of Warships, and Gran Turismo Sport streams, and – while all of these have incredible communities – there’s none quite like the sincerity of the Star Trek fraternity.

A few weeks ago, I departed my own derelict STO fleet for the aptly-named United Federation of Planets which has over three thousand (presumably at least semi-active) members in its fleet armada. The fleet website has user profiles, a very active forum, and a Discord server – everything I could possibly ask for. So far, I have been welcomed with overwhelming positivity, and I’m grateful. In a prompt posted on both their forums and Reddit, I asked players what their favorite part of the community is. Oddly enough, some of the responses I got from the latter were quite jaded: “I really enjoy the love and respect the PVP community gets. No, wait...” Alex Rowe for The Startup:

The game’s subreddit is full of folks who are tired of the game because they’ve blasted through all the content, but as someone who has only seen about 1/6th of the quests currently in the game, I’m eager to check out more.

User JediMasterx4 seemed particularly disgruntled:

You can do all the lockbox promo vids you want, but you are going to have to live in reality, no matter where your ego flies off to.

However, there were some positives. User ModestArk:

What I really like about this community is that it seems to be more grown up than other gaming communities. Maybe this comes from Star Trek itself, since it is more based/focused on science than Star Wars etc.

Jahoan recommends StarSword’s series on the U.S.S. Bajor and Jordanomega1 vouched for Captain Geronimo’s videos.

State of The Game

This past January, Star Trek Online: Legacy was launched, bringing The Original Series-referencing episodes The Measure of Morality parts I and II along with a new 10 year anniversary event and the Tier 6 Khitomer Alliance Battlecruiser – “the first Klingon/Federation Starship.” I did not participate in the event, save for experiencing the new missions, which I talked about in my review of Star Trek: Discovery. JustGaming4Us produced an excellent, in-depth video review of the two missions as well as a tour of the event as a whole. I, for one, have never been partial to Shiny New Ship gluttony largely because of how long it took me to “master” my own Intrepid-Class Retrofit – christened the U.S.S. Bataan after the aircraft carrier my grandfather served on in WWII – as much as I have. It took me years to arrange my bridge officer abilities and their keybinds in such a way that I could maintain a fairly-steady dps rotation and I have no desire to go through the process of learning a new ship again. For most veteran players, however, trying out different ships/skill specs is all there is left to do.

Choosing whether or not – or to whom – to recommend the game is an issue best left to actual gaming journalists. In March, Massively Overpowered – the followup project to what was once Massively.com – published Mia DeSanzo’s account of her first experience in the game:

Everything you’ve heard is true. Ground combat is, as multiple sources have told me, “a hot mess.” I don’t think clunky is an adequate descriptor. You’d have to try it.

For the same site, Tyler F.M. Edwards argued in January that Star Trek Online is best left to those who already love Star Trek:

STO has some things going for it as a video game, and it’s certainly unique in the MMO space, but it has too many basis quality issues for it to be a game I’d recommend to someone who’s never watched an episode of Star Trek.

Compared to what I experienced all those years ago in Closed and Open Beta, Star Trek Online is now vastly more polished, but perhaps compared to other MMOs in 2020, it is, indeed, “rough.” In my casual return this past month, I have yet to experience any significant bugs. Considering his character data dates back to launch, I’d like to think that the server is set into some brief, confused panic every time I log in to Kuvak, but perhaps that’s just a fantasy. I have still been enjoying the space combat in the classic Advanced-level Borg Disconnected and Counterpoint TFOs and my first entry into high-level gear upgrade crafting from the vast cache of materials I’ve built up over the years. . Apparently, my old lockbox collection might actually be worth some significant Energy Credits on the Exchange – as of the time of this writing, however, not a one had yet to sell.

Constellation Class Retrofit

If you’re a ship junkie who’s entirely unfamiliar with the property, know that Star Trek’s ships are fucking cute. The Nebula Class, especially, inspires real affection. In my opinion, it alone is worth giving this free-to-play game a shot. My two point eight pound Surface Laptop 2 is enough to run it fairly well at medium-high settings, which is an absurdly low barrier-to-entry. You shouldn’t be worried about investing your time, either – Star Trek doesn’t appear to be dying anytime soon.

View more screenshots in this gallery.

🗎 PRINT/PDF

#software

Discord Art Orange

Why Extratone has used Discord instead of Slack for our team chat.

Back in 2015, I hosted a pre-Extratone culture podcast called Drycast with musician friends from all over the net. To record remotely, we originally used Teamspeak 3 – a gamer VoIP staple. When I discovered Discord, I thought we'd found podcasting heaven. Originally, the free plan included 128kbps audio in its voice channels, which was nearly twice what we were getting out of our paid Teamspeak server. If I were still podcasting, Discord's just-released server video feature would undoubtedly prove invaluable for live streams.

According to a poll I ran on Twitter, 2/3rds of all people on Earth are thankful for Discord's existence. This is not surprising considering what every Discord user is still offered without spending any money at all: community spaces with audio/video and text chat capability, organizable by Twitch and YouTube-integrated roles with a plethora of different permission options, instantly and easily shareable by customizable temporary or permanent invite links through an application that's about as cross-platform as one can get (Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS, or simply one's web browser.) Those of us that remember IRC, Ventrilo, and Teamspeak should all consider Discord a tremendous gift.

Never before have so many VoIP, video, and text chat features been offered together, or in such a beautiful package. “What we really did was create an all-in-one voice, video, and text chat app that replaced this constellation of tools that people would use,” said CEO Jason Citron in an interview with CNBC. Technically in terms of these details, Discord has no competition. Slack offers text and voice chat with its paid plans, yes, but nothing close in terms of video – especially considering Discord Go Live, its fairly-new streaming feature, which allows users to stream game video directly to 10 other users in the server. With some jury-rigging, it's possible to simply screen share this way, which is an essential sell for business video communication applications like Skype.

“Discord and Slack have many similarities, but Discord is the superior tool,” says esports team Ardent United. “Discord has voice channels, which allows us to easily chat with our supporters and other team members. Discord also allows us to set user roles and permissions which makes moderation extremely simple.” It's not just gaming companies, though. Decentralized cloud platform Sia also moved their community to Discord:

Its intended audience is gamers, but many large communities have switched from Slack to Discord, including development communities like Reactiflux and Unreal Slackers. It includes an unlimited number of users, unlimited file uploads (with a per-file size limit), unlimited message histories, and really great moderation and spam filtering features.

Slack is often praised for its integrations, but it shares support with Zapier – a dedicated web integration service which more or less integrates them equally.

Slack works with a long list of tools, including Google Calendar, Zendesk, Salesforce, Wunderlist, and dozens of others. If you're looking for an integration that isn't immediately obvious, you can always turn to Zapier for help, because Slack is a supported service. Zapier is an online service that creates integrations between other apps and services, without you having to know any code to make it happen.

For sharing detailed post embeds, there's also Discohook, which I just discovered. Productivity company Chanty's blog wrote perhaps the most in-depth comparison of the two services (emphasis theirs):

At their core, Discord and Slack and very similar. Both are team chat apps with a similar interface. Both apps have team communication organized in channels. The biggest difference between the two is their target audience, and of course, their specific features.

Ultimately, one must decide how relevant the services' respective target audiences are to productivity. For a not-for-profit media organization like Extratone, Discord's features-for-price ratio is simply too rich to pass up. If you'd like, stop by our server or try out our server template.


Further Reading

#software

Microsoft Build Olive Tracker

New Microsoft Office features, the PowerToys Run Preview, and a test of Edge Chromium.

I have no idea why I signed up to attend Microsoft's virtual 2020 Build Conference, but I did. I thought I'd add my End User commentary to the mix. Sorry. My first event was called “Every developer is welcome, with Scott Hanselman and guests.” Hanselman is listed as a blogger and podcaster living (of course) in Portland. I'm not a “real” developer, but I know what Microsoft Teams is, and I recognized the event as a desktop screenshare of his calls with different Microsoft employees. There was a child invasion and a dropped phone. I also noticed the icon for the “new” Microsoft Edge browser in his taskbar and realized that I hadn't downloaded it yet. I remedied that for the conference's sake – I thought it only appropriate that I try to use as much Microsoft software as possible in this context. I also installed the new PowerTools Run preview which I mentioned in my tips post.

Build allows an attendee to build one's own event schedule, but I neglected to find those focused on what I really care about: Office 365. As reported by The Verge, Microsoft Fluid is going to change a lot:

Microsoft’s Fluid Framework sounds a lot like Google Docs, but it’s actually Google Docs on steroids. Microsoft is so confident it has built the future of productivity, it’s now open-sourcing its Fluid Framework so the rest of the world can help shape what it has created.

There's also Microsoft Lists, which is reportedly going to revolutionize SharePoint Lists into something more modern and useful:

It builds off the existing feature in SharePoint, and will let you track progress and data to organize your teams, potentially making the company’s offerings more streamlined and productive.

Microsoft PowerToys Run

Microsoft Edge Chromium

As an Office 365 administrator, I basically only use Edge for administrative/management tasks. Otherwise, I can't imagine a reason to use it over Firefox, Brave, Vivaldi, Chrome, Opera, etc, but I thought I'd give the “new” (as of January) Edge a tryout for your sake and make it my default browser for a day as well as Microsoft's Bing search engine. There's also news specific to Build: Edge is integrating with Pinterest, of all things:

Now, Edge will feature a Pinterest-powered tool that will show suggestions from Pinterest at the bottom of a collection. Clicking on that, Microsoft says, will take users to a Pinterest board “of similar, trending Pins so users can quickly find and add ideas relevant to their collection.” Users will also be able to export collections to Pinterest.

I'm in no position to “test” a browser, but the new Edge is noticeably faster at rendering pages and much much smoother when navigating between tabs/preference windows. It looks much more like Chrome, which makes sense. Perhaps because my install is absent of third-party extensions, opening new tabs and windows was much faster than my other browsers. I recorded a ~2 minute demo of normal browsing on my Surface Laptop 2.

In terms of touch support, Edge remains the only acceptable browser on Windows 10. If you've spent money on a new PC recently, chances are your device is touch-enabled. If you're like me, you've already disabled it. If not, you'll find scrolling and navigation in Edge have improved tremendously – it's like an entirely new browser because it is.

Because Edge used a different rendering engine than Chrome or Safari, it meant that it would sometimes have problems on websites. Testing a website against multiple browsers has always been difficult, and because Edge had so little uptake, it meant optimizing for it often fell off the priority list for web developers.

I really like how easy it is to mute audio from tabs and how much better my CMS is rendered. I still prefer Firefox's method of tab switching (by last-used chronologically instead of in the order presented.) The reader view is smoother than its competitors and offers a beautiful selection of themes as well as the best “Read aloud” feature in the business.

Microsoft Edge Reader View

I'm not going to quote you measurements – check out Computerworld's browser review for that – but I can say that Edge Chromium is using more RAM than Firefox but a bit less than Chrome. Office.com also looks and works incredibly well. Overall, I'm extremely impressed with Edge Chromium and the improvements to Bing. As of my experiences today, it's the fastest and smoothest web browser I have, which is a complete flip from that of the old Edge.


Further Reading

#software

Zalgo Generator for iOS

A powerful iOS utility for fucking digital text with ruthless efficiency.

A warning siren sounds louder still for the current state of the Digital Divide than the profoundly ignorant spectacle of Mark Zuckerberg’s drooling, ghoulish interrogators last year from the digital hole of none other than W3School’s trusty web validator, which would surely be rated as the Most Anxious Being in History if it were to acquire sentience. The CSS file this very webpage referenced returned no fewer than 350 syntax errors at the time of this writing; Facebook dot com’s login page set off only 55. For going on a decade, now, the web has continued to expand into a grotesque, diseased mass.

Yet another piece of software I have notably been using for 10 years: the infamous eemo.net Zalgo web text fucker. Ideally, I’d now proceed to embed some special examples of the hedonistic online text vandalism which the tool enabled me to inflict widely throughout my adolescence. However – as you can probably imagine – searching for these criminally-broken posts using standard tools provided by the services that have hosted them is virtually futile. In retrospect, I do not recall ever eliciting any acknowledgment of Zalgo’s effects, yet I’m positive that at least the majority of my victims set eyes upon the mess at some point – their silence is actually more entertaining than not, I think. Despite my extensive use of the format, I made a point to maintain my total ignorance about the origin of “Zalgo” for the past decade – only spoiling it in the name of good journalism for your sake and this review.

On forums and image boards, scrambled text began being associated with Zalgo with phrases like “he comes” and “he waits behind the wall.” David Higgins revealed that the text is an ~abuse~ of a Unicode feature that enables the user to combine multiple superscript and subscript characters into a vertical line.

By bizarre coincidence or some ridiculously obscure, intractable common cultural thread (which would probably take a lifetime to successfully trace,) Dave Higgins and I were already mutuals on Mastodon before I had any idea his name was at all associated with Zalgo. More bizarre still: Dave must’ve been watching his timeline at the exact moment when I posted the above quote mentioning him.

Unfortunately, it seems his blog has moved, killing the hyperlink citation in one of the two relevant search engine results for “zalgo”: its Know Your Meme page. Searching the same term on his new WordPress blog yields absolutely nothing, so perhaps “I deny everything” was a more sincere response than one expected. A thread on Stack Overflow entitled “How does Zalgo text work?” explains the fuckery in more detail than I ever could:

You can easily construct a character sequence, consisting of a base character and “combining above” marks, of any length, to reach any desired visual height, assuming that the rendering software conforms to the Unicode rendering model.

There is something artistic about destroyed text like this – something that's more than just edgy chaos. I believe in “surreal memes” that can break Facebook and Twitter posts. I believe in Zalgo, and I believe you need Zalgo Generator for iOS on your phone right now.

#software

Face Computer

I don’t want you to think this is just another listicle to mark as spam or ignore completely – though it technically is, I suppose. I know how it looks… because I’ve run into many of them and have been just as irritated as you. In fact, I would be so bold as to presume I’ve run into many many more than you have simply because a primary hobby of mine has always been Just Trying to Do Things On The Computer without any academic authority or hands-on training. This is a way of life for my generation and those proceeding it, yes, but I promise you that I have gone far, far deeper than the vast majority of anyone you know. What I’m ultimately trying to do here is to spare you the hundreds – perhaps thousands – of hours I have had to spend mulling through shitty workflows throughout my childhood and adulthood before I stumbled upon Good Practices (i.e. Better Ways to Do Things.)

I want you to come away from this list feeling as liberated and powerful as I do now when I’m On My Computer without any condescension or tedium. Unfortunately, there’s probably going to be some of both, so please stick with me and don’t take it personally. I do a lot of online reading, writing, and fiddling. I’ve been compelled to do these things in one form or another since very early childhood, and what follows could be described as a list of my favorite tools to accomplish things. Almost all of them are entirely free to use and the vast majority of them are easily and beautifully functional as well. They are what I suggest for my own mother to use, for what that’s worth, and I would argue sincerely for their extreme importance. Don’t waste your life on bad software.

Enpass Password Manager

You Need a Password Manager

In 2020, password managers are no longer optional for digital life. They are mandatory. If you only ever heed a single piece of my advice, ever, please make it this one. Most password managers available are secure, cross-platform, optionally cloud-synced tools that help you generate, store, and organize digital credentials. More likely than not, you’re already using one in your favorite browser. On MacOS and iOS, Safari is linked to a service called Keychain, which is – functionally – a robust password manager. On signup for a given website or service, Safari should prompt you to automatically generate secure, complex passwords to store in Keychain. Generally, it’s pretty smart about knowing when it’s time to retrieve the credentials with Touch-ID, but for when it isn’t, you should know how to manually retrieve passwords from Keychain. If you’re deeply enough embedded into the Mac ecosystem, you can feel free to continue to rely on this process as long as you know how to help yourself when it fails. I’m not going to tell you who to trust, but I do almost actually believe in Apple’s commitment to securing user data, if only because of the way their incentives are aligned (in contrast with those in front of data-funded organizations like Google.)

If you’re using a Windows Home Machine and/or an Android smartphone, I believe it’s more urgent that you find a standalone password management solution immediately. I use a gorgeous app called Enpass to store all of my passwords as well as my bank credentials, credit cards, driver’s license information, and anything else I might need to keep handy, securely. I can use virtually any cloud or file-sharing service to keep my “vaults” synced between all of my devices: Microsoft OneDrive, Google Drive, Dropbox, iCloud, Box, etc, and I also regularly create encrypted local backups just in case. I can even share end-to-end encrypted credentials with another device or Enpass installation. I migrated to Enpass two years ago after using 1Password for nearly 10. It was intuitive and virtually seamless, as such things in software tend to be these days, and as a result, I haven’t had to memorize a single password since my adolescence. Enpass allows me to create custom login templates for quick differentiation when creating new entries as well as picturized categories and tags. With one click, even the icon can be pulled from a given URL’s favicon to help keep my vault looking visually itemized. It also includes presets for a hundred services or so – from Google to Wix to Yahoo! Japan.

Total Recall with a Clipboard Manager

Imagine if everything you had ever copied (as in Ctrl-C) were listed in linear order, easily and instantly searchable via a single global keyboard shortcut (Alt-`) and navigable with the arrow keys. Imagine if you could then export an archive of your clipboard so nothing could ever be lost. Imagine clipboard tabs that are easily switchable. CopyQ – an “advanced clipboard manager” – is one of my favorite software discoveries of all time. Some workdays, I use it literally hundreds of instances in my workflow. It is difficult to describe how much more useful it makes the clipboard feature – something we’ve all been using for decades, now. For someone like me who copies a ridiculous amount of links every day, CopyQ’s functionality has truly become life-changing.

Windows 10 Keyboard Shortcuts - General

Alt-D and Other Keyboard Shortcuts

Somehow, I did not discover Alt-D until 2018, which means that I had spent the entirety of my 24 years since triple-clicking to select every single URL I’d ever copied. I built a media company this way, and I can’t believe nobody told me about this shortcut. Open any given web browser, use Alt-D, and your selection will move to the URL in the address bar on top of the page. It’s very possible this will be of little use to you, but anyone who regularly shares or copies links will save themselves so much time. I felt the same way when I discovered text navigation with Alt, Shift, Ctrl + the arrow keys. Most of these are cross-platform, but I am specifically focusing on Windows shortcuts for this piece because that’s what I’m currently using.

· Shift in conjunction with the arrow keys selects text in a document surrounding the cursor.

· Alt in conjunction with the arrow keys allows one to go forward or backward in a browser.

· Ctrl in conjunction with the arrow keys allows one to navigate text by word.

Virtually all of the “Windows logo key” shortcuts are usable in day-to-day workflows. I use Win-D to immediately minimize all windows and show the desktop on the regular. Microsoft is currently testing a feature like MacOS’ spotlight which is triggered with this key.

Designed to replace the existing Win + R shortcut, the new launcher will include options to quickly search apps and files across Windows and support for plugins like calculators, dictionaries, and search engines.

We can only hope this feature will be as useful as spotlight (which is triggered with ⌘-Spacebar for you Mac users,) and will be implemented as standard as soon as possible. If you’re not already using basic shortcuts for functions like closing tabs/windows and cut/copy/pasting text, I’d advise you to begin as soon as possible. It can be hard to commit, but I promise it’ll make your life better. Try printing out a list of shortcuts for your particular operating system to keep by your workspace and/or find or create an image of the list to set as your desktop background for a while.

Learn Markdown Immediately

While we’re on the subject of text – and hopefully without finding ourselves exploring the entire history of word processing – I’d like to evangelize what very well might be the Ultimate Formatting Language for digital text. It’s called Markdown, and it’s something you’ve likely already used in one form or another. Technically, Markdown is “a text-to-HTML conversion tool for web writers,” but – more importantly – it’s a method of stylizing text which is as simple as possible, easy to universalize, and already quite popular. While Vice argues that Markdown is a “power-user tool,” I’d suggest that it’s one everybody should make use of. Though I am currently writing this in Word (for the first time in a good while,) I’m going to pay for it later.

A Word file is the story-fax of the early 21st century: cumbersome, inefficient, and a relic of obsolete assumptions about technology.

“[Markdown] has all the advantages of plain text, but with the organizational power of a word processor,” says Lifehacker. From Ian Lurie:

I once had to convert a Word document to a web page.

Once.

After spending hours deleting mso-style blocks and cleaning up thousands of lines of crap, I swore (and swore, and swore) that I’d never do that again.

So I moved to Markdown. For a writer who publishes mostly to the web, it’s perfect.

Before I committed to writing in Markdown and moved Extratone to Write.As – a wonderfully simple, open-source web CMS entirely based on Markdown – I really struggled with text formatting on our old WordPress-based site, spending hours cleaning up text from Word, Apple Notes, Dropbox Paper, and Google Docs. Now, WordPress natively supports Markdown along with Ghost, Slack, Discord, Tumblr, and more.

Mashable published a formidable list of Markdown editors in 2013, but many are since significantly out of date. Instead, I’d refer you to @awwsmm’s “State of Markdown Editors 2019,” which suggests Joplin as the winning pick. Joplin is open-source and syncs across devices using your preferred cloud service, but it requires that all notes be written in a monospace typeface, which I do not prefer. If you have a MacOS-running machine and/or an iOS-running smartphone, you must download and try an application called Bear. It is quite simply the most beautiful piece of software – aesthetically and functionally – that I have ever seen, and therefore the most beautiful possible execution of a Markdown Editor. From The Verge’s Dieter Bohn:

Bear uses a simple three-paned design. The largest column is devoted to your current note. A smaller column to the left contains your notes in reverse-chronological order, topped by a search bar. The left-most column contains notes that you’ve pinned, as well as any tags you’ve created to organize your notes — #recipes, for example. I spent years trying to sort my notes into notebooks in Evernote, only to learn that what I really needed was a faster search box.

As much as I despise the term “seamless,” everything about Bear is its definition. For someone like me, it, alone, almost warrants a reversion to MacOS. If you have the correct platforms, I require you to try it. Unfortunately, there can be no true Windows or Linux equivalent without the work Shiny Frog has done to streamline Bear’s near-instantaneous iCloud integration, but there is one application that can literally simulate its functionality in every other way. Typora is an infinitely-customizable alternative that spans all three platforms with a well-populated themes gallery (including an actual copy of my favorite Bear theme.) My installation is not nearly as smooth as Bear, but it’s technically more powerful – bad news for users like me who can’t resist fiddling. I’ve downloaded (and attempted to author/modify) a billion themes for Typora. Bear, by contrast, allows just enough stylistic modification (color theme, a choice list of 7 beautiful typefaces, and sliders for font size, line height, paragraph spacing,) without any access to its internal workings. In this way, it provides the perfect blend of customizability and minimalism. If you tend toward the latter, try an ultra-slim solution like WordPress’ Simplenote.

Telegram Desktop

Telegram

I ran a poll on both Twitter and Mastodon yesterday asking “do you still email things to yourself?” Overwhelmingly, my “audience” responded “yes,” which is awfully surprising considering their demographic – young, techish early adopters. Though email is not yet “obsolete” – as envisioned by Inc’s John Brandon in 2015 – it has indeed been replaced by other software in many of its functions, especially the old Mail-to-Self practice. I cannot remember the last time I emailed myself anything – even to transfer photos from my cellular to my computer, as I used to do often. Instead, I use a private Telegram channel to send myself photos, videos, links, text, and any other file up to 1.5GB! There’ve always been plenty of reasons to use the messaging app for general communication – especially since Facebook acquired WhatsApp in 2014. Though press coverage of the application has all but dried up, I would argue there are now more reasons than ever to make use of Telegram in your day-to-day life.

As of 2016, Telegram had 100 million active users, but it’s certainly experienced its fair share of controversies. I see no reason to be worried about encryption or privacy at all, for that matter, for the vast majority of Mail-to-Self cases. If the files you’re sending yourself are sensitive enough to worry about, you shouldn’t be emailing them, anyway.

Other Stuff

If you’re the sort of person who regularly types out 500+ word text messages (or have to do homework/any real writing) on your smartphone, I have a secret to reveal to you: most smartphones still have Bluetooth keyboard support. It may look strange, but yes, you can use a full qwerty keyboard with your phone. Those of us who’ve livestreamed or used screenrecording software know that OBS (Open Broadcaster Software) is an absolute gift from Gourd, but these days, it’s also easy enough for most computer users to make use of. I’d encourage everybody who can think of a reason to record their screen – to show somebody how to do something, for instance – to download and install it. Finally, I think every Windows user should look into compacting their operating system into just the essentials. “Compact OS” is really just a Windows 10 install without bloatware: the shit you almost certainly don’t need. If you do find yourself in need of default Microsoft apps, you’ll be able to redownload them instantly from the Windows Store.

I’d been meaning to write something like this for a very long time, so I hope you or someone you know has found it useful. I’m not an authority in the technical sense, but I’ve used every one of these suggestions in my own computing life for years, now, to great benefit. If you have any comments/suggestions/feedback/petty insults, please do contact me via email, Twitter, Mastodon, or Discord.

🗎 Print/PDF

#software

The Crossing Auditorium

Askeptical spectacle in the day-to-day typhoon of Faith’s modern enterprise.

The year I was given my first generation iPhone was the last of 14 through which my mother was still comfortable enforcing my obligation to attend Sunday morning church service. She and my stepfather had migrated 18 months or so prior from [Suburban Church of Mediocore Dope Christ-Appropriated Lukewarm Dilluted Prog Rock and The Occasional Teachings of Protestant-ish Side-Glances at The New Testament] to the New York Times-appointed champion of Columbia Missouri’s 20-Year-Long Quirk the Church! Soverignty Crusade: The Crossing. Like its competitors (of which my parents’ previous church had ranked quite poorly,) the blatantly death-cult-sounding House of God includes its own artisanal, latte-equipped coffee shop (I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s actually a Starbucks affiliate at this point,) a regularly-replenished catering table full of doughnuts immediately to the side as one enters, and a sophisticated childcare operation staffed no less thoroughly than my public elementary school.

Since 2007, the church has been expanding from its first home (as a functional place of worship, anyway,) which lies within 1) line-of-sight from one of Nancy Walton’s properties, 2) a mile of the southernmost exit off US-63 – mid-Missouri’s primary North⟺South roadway – and includes a powered pump-arrogated pond, though the majority of the acreage is blackened by pragmatically-arrayed big box store-caliber multi-rowed parking. Ye, by night, it is flooded in coordinately-distributed cold white light suspended by the same uniform steel poles which guard long-term airport lots. Naturally, the entry and exit points for the asphalt spread are arranged deliberately opposed so that four figures’ worth of God’s children may be fed, digested, and evacuated through their weekly appointment with Christ as efficiently and hassle-free as possible.

God’s ~white~ children become especially sensitive to entirely-trivial delay or other perceived deviation from Their Expectations when inside an automobile thanks to a rampant misconception that simultaneously allows them a renewed sense of control over their environment. Psychoanalytic observation has suggested it is catalyzed by delusions of physical anonymity, exemption from civic responsibility, and a titanically-inflated perception of their personally misattributed contributions to the perpetuation of the universe. This vehicular component of the customer experience is a fundamental ingredient in The Crossing’s stellar member retinenance record – the single metric above all quantifying a Christian organization’s overall effectiveness in accomplishing the faith’s (mostly cross-denominational) evangelistic Prime Directive / General Order Number One as abridged by Christ himself to the Pharisees after his resurrection: “go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of [The Holy Trinity].” I did not take the opportunity to sample The Crossing’s baptismal services, but I’m sure sufficient combing of the church’s Yelp! page would yield as qualitative an analysis of such a “service” as you could possibly imagine. (Notably, it would appear the “lowest” review is the singular 4/5 star entry.)

I do not mean to disparage The Crossing, specifically nor even organized religion, generally, but instead to emphasize the absurdities which have leapt just as readily into what I’d specifically call The Business of white protestant Christianity over just the course of my own maturation as it has into any other aspect of our lives. The difference, of course, is the universal set of exceptions – and the particular age of said exceptions – which religion maintains, societally. The perspective formed by my own experiences having grown up wholly embedded across the spectrum of white midwestern Christianity – including two years of vigorous and quite academic study of the Bible in a tiny private school headquartered in the basement of a Lutheran church – lends to a particular skepticism, amusement, horror, offense, and existential astonishment that latches my fascination into a not-entirely-voluntary hold.

(Before I go on, I suppose I should also note that it’s been at least two or three years since I last set foot inside the church building at all – my only recent experiences/engagement with The Crossing has been with their digital content from a relative distance.)

Apple Leadership Headshots

The ludicrous parallels between Apple events and services at The Crossing, especially, come immediately to mind every single time I watch one (live or otherwise,) as they did just weeks ago when I first engaged with this summer’s WWDC keynote. Pastors Dave Cover, Keith Simon, and Shay Roush all look, dress, speak, and photograph exactly like Steve Jobs, Tim Cook, Scott Foristell, Jony Ive, and just about any public-facing leadership figure we’ve ever seen giving an Apple Keynote. They’re hilariously interchangeable, as are other explicit aspects of the typical Sunday morning service at The Crossing. As far as I can tell, the church as a whole only uses Mac computers and the projections in the main auditorium/worship hall – mostly sing-along hymn lyrics and referenced bible verses – are exclusively created through Apple’s office presentation software, Keynote, just as the company itself does for its “Keynotes.” This was immediately obvious to me upon first entering that space because they both use the default theme – typography, color palette, transition animations and all. Indeed, during the sermons, the three pastors would take command of the slides by fairly inconspicuously clicking what I’d imagine must be a very sweaty Apple Remote in the exact same manner in which Tim Cook and his underlings still do.

I JUST REMEMBERED DAVE EXPLICITLY USING MENTION OF APPLE PRODUCTS IN HIS SERMONS

The Crossing on WordPress

Nay, the likenesses do not diverge when comparing the fundamentals of the two organizations more broadly: The Business of the faith is very much a volume business, which also describes Apple’s contemporary strategy with perfect precision. It’s been a few years since “ecosystem” ceased to be an exhaustive buzzword in tech media discourse, perhaps because the term falls very short in expressing the change in global Apple scale. My recollection of high school biology has failed to produce a scientific substitute, but I find Matt Honan’s “very lovely swamp” exceptionally said in 2014, but the fact of the swamp’s becoming generally lovelier in the interim – in a less linear fashion than would have been ideal, mind you – leaves ample room, I think, to fear and respect whatever it was that we then called The Apple Ecosystem in 2014 as a ruling deity or daemon (just as Google’s sought to be, recently.)

The church live streams every fucking keynote sermon in HD on Vimeo, not YouTube. (I had no idea Vimeo offered “professional streaming services” until this moment.) They have a fucking iOS app (apparently developed by an outfit called Subsplash, who had the audacity to include analytics meta tags following the root of their website within the in-app attribution button) which features a calendar-bound tool containing full-text preparatory reading material from scripture, on-demand audio and video recordings

I genuinely wonder quite often if the individual who set the digital template for the sign in front of our Portland neighborhoood’s Episcopalian church paused to look at the text he was arranging: “PRAYER REQUESTS BY EMAIL.” I'm not sure any of this really means anything, but it's sure spectacular to look at.

#software

Mablis Festival Dot no

A not altogether-cohesive review of July reads and research.

In case you're similarly long overdue for a reminder that beautiful things are still being made on the internet...

After nearly a year of relative sobriety from my old, once-severe addiction to Web Site hunting, it occurred to me just yesterday that some explicit wandering as I once did for days at a time – through the clever, innovative, and uniquely tasteful projects through which an astonishingly-original few give their whole thinking (and often physical) selves in obscurity despite how little financial (and often professional) incentive is maintained by those who unknowingly need it the most – might be the best feasible remedy to my current, most perplexing state of faithlessness and bafflement toward the ambitions of trades and cultures I feel I once so thoroughly understood. A great portion of you are surely undergoing your own manifestations of the same hopelessness – I cannot ever remember a time in my life when global events were so utterly discouraging so relentlessly.

Design and The Open Web

In this present when every element of American reality is so much more incessantly ugly than we could’ve ever imagined, let’s take at least a momentary respite to look at some visually irresistible and/or super sick Sites on the truly-resolute Open Web to assure our existential selves that yes, beauty shall not cease to exist. For better or worse, my #1 goto source to find innovative, delicious web design has always been Typewolf, who announced last fall that he will not be continuing his “Site of the Month” section, though his relentless “Site of the Day” roll will continue, unhindered.

Zeff Cherry

Recent Discoveries

Poolside.fmPoolside.FM is a retro digital oasis for your summer” | The Verge

Audio

Those of us for whom the Podcast medium became a trusted and relatively regular one in our lives long before anyone figured out how to make a real business out of it – certainly eons preceeding the original startup podcast-only (apparently HBO-like publication – Gimlet Media – to be successfully launched. Now, though, your mom – perhaps even her mom – listens to podcasts, and what was once a The single Missouri alumni at The Verge, Ashley Carmen, explored the proliferation of podcasting and the process by which it became profitable.

In 2009, only 11% of the U.S. population had listened to a podcast in the past month.
How podcasts became so popular | The Verge on YouTube

Whilst trying out Garageband for iOS’ new sample packs, I sampled the accompanying video to the article and produced the best “track” I’ve ever made with the app (for whatever that’s worth.)

Speaking of Gimlet Media: the latest episode of my longtime favorite of their podcasts, Reply All, is a sort of condensed remake of my favorite podcast episode of all time (of any show, not just this one) in which hosts Alex Goldman and P.J. Vogtmaintained an open telephone line for 48 hours and spoke with a whole bunch of people (mostly Americans) about... whatever. The result was beautifully human, if you’ll forgive my use of the cliche. I tend to revisit it when I’m feeling particularly isolated from and/or confused about the general ambitions of the people around me. I’ll be honest: I didn’t pay much attention to my first listen through the new episode, but I can tell you that it is worth your time, at least.

I was distraught when Spotify bought both the aforementioned Gimlet Media and the social audio turned podcasting app Anchor – both of which I (rather ridiculously) felt a special personal ownership over. (The latter, especially, because they reached out to me early on to feature Extratone’s channel on their music section.) However, it appears that both are being treated fairly well in the 18+ months since their acquisition – probably because they’ve been making Spotify money.

Further Reading

Other Favorites

#software

Mastonaut Full Screen

Premium desktop Mastodon clients incoming?

Since you last heard from us, the federated social network Mastodon has scaled tremendously in usership and steadily grown technologically into an incredibly robust and dynamic platform. Perhaps inevitably, Eugen Rochko and his gaggle of open source developers have continued to embarrass the living fuck out of Twitter's team – at least for those who've continued to pay attention (i.e. those of us whose sense of aspiration has yet to perish.)

I planned on getting ahead of an innovative wake in iOS development by watching closely for the first “premium” Mastodon clients to come out, which I suspected (quite correctly) would carry the first substantial risk-taking on the part of plucky social apps to be seen on the goddamned App Store in what felt like eternity. Unfortunately, I've ended up far too deep in screenshots/insights from Toot! and Mast, creating a bit of an overwhelming obstacle in comparing and/or reviewing the two without sinking deep in my regular, pretentious hole. (Though both of them are absolutely gorgeous, fascinating, and impressive projects which you should invest in and follow if you're interested in the future of federated social whatsoever.)

That said... I'd like only to mention and briefly demonstrate the first premium desktop Mastodon client, Mastonaut, which I had the privilege of experiencing momentarily last night.

Mastonaut Add Instance

In the interest of brevity (and because I was unable to continue fucking around for any length of time,) I'll just list some observations:

  • The entire GUI experience is distinctly uncluttered (or perhaps barren, depending on your subjective desires from this sort of thing,) but duplicates dearest TweetBot's functionality impressively well considering its age as an independently-developed product.
  • Keyboard shortcuts! Fuck me, God.
  • I love the live-updated instance directory search (above) as a second landing for first-time users.
  • Though I did actually have to repeat the first-time login process after freezing and subsequently force-quitting Mastonaut, I think you'll probably place the blame on my own immediate and inpatient window management mania considering how smoothly it all went the second time around.

To be honest, Bear, Spark, and recent other beautiful Mac applications beckon me to buy or hack myself into MacOS again. If I have time in the near future, I'll show you why.

#software

Siri Shortcuts

Apple's latest mobile OS update might've seemed mundane, but Siri Shortcuts gives users vastly more power than Apple customers have ever before experienced.

Back in 2016, Pokémon Go, overclocked Apple Watches, pissing wearables, and What You See is What You Get blogging services all claimed unprecedented casualties among consumers according to Futureland's iOS 10 episode, which we did our absolute best to dramatize in order to survive what was expected to be the dullest event on record. We'd only that day been first made aware of Boomerang photos and the mysterious nature of “Live Blogging” as an occupation. AirPods were introduced and subsequently shit on, and the comparatively archaic 3.5mm analog audio jack was confidently parted with, finally. At least I got over “forgetting” about Live Photos because it's rapidly becoming difficult to keep stuff on the phone now. I am coming sincerely close to believing none of this is real, anyway. Today, though, it’s a damned straight ballgame, isn’t it? Months have passed since Apple pushed out its major mobile OS release of the year to more little rectangular computers than any one person could speedcount in a lifetime and YouTube is already recommending me dozens of videos about the next one. At this point, you and I are already aware of the iOS development community, who has already been using Internet Operating System 12 on their personal devices for more than half a year by the time your irises are landing here. Hopefully, all but two or three stranded, dying explorers in the arctic have updated their iPhones and iPads by now, and why wouldn’t they?

Our expectations from this ritual are completely alien compared to those we’d need to anticipate from the event 5 or 6 releases ago, when one’s phone had to be sent away (in a sense) to latch itself tight to the stability of a desktop-class product in order to undergo a lengthy, destined metamorphosis. Sometimes, backups via 30-pin to USB-2.0 cables took hours, after which the custodian may or may not find their companion’s replication had completed successfully. If it had, one had to be sure to close any applications apart from iTunes to provide a working environment of utter silence – restarting after finishing the download was my own preferred method – before entrusting the despicably unreliable software to whittle away in a sometimes frantically rebooting, feverish procedure with near life-threatening stigma: it wasn’t uncommon for an update to inexplicably fail, “bricking” the subject iPhone and requiring that one take two whole steps in the wrong direction and restore it from the entire backup they’d just created (hopefully) in order to… make another, precisely-identical attempt, for lack of variables or alternatives to the process. However, if the user planned sufficiently and made a point to begin the whole charade immediately upon arriving home for the evening, these potential frustrations could be compensated for, and odds would favor counting on their smartphone to emerge safe and sound from the procedure just before bed, when even those holding the second-newest product in the lineage would have just enough screen time to notice that text entry, web page loading, and window management had noticeably slowed before sighing and tossing their device toward the darkness.

These days, one would need to try very hard to be inconvenienced by iOS updates. My iPhone 8 Plus is two or three times more powerful than my laptop at the moment, and my new friends’ WiFi connection is better than what the State government uses internally, back home. I haven’t needed to physically back it up more than once or twice since I bought it — iCloud stores the lot for $4.99­ a month anyway. I blinked once watching Riki-Oh with high school friends some time ago and all of the sudden, a 1.6GB download isn’t really a big deal. Siddown and watch your Instagram stories for twenty minutes, and hey! You’re ready to update! Somehow, I have abruptly found myself in a reality in which I am the obvious bottleneck and my 100 words per minute on a smartphone keyboard, even, is no longer fast enough: my fucking phone is now waiting on me when it updates. The keyholder is the whole goddamned holdup.

So, what possible purpose could there be in pounding out this “Review” of a free software update that’s in no way optional (waiting a month is no longer a rational minimization of risk — it’s just dumb,) not any more difficult to attain than the bills currently waiting in your mailbox, nor allowed by the nature of mobile operating systems to compete with any cross-platform alternatives? For myself, it’s proved a gratifying tradition of sorts and a good use of my apparently-abundant time if only for the record's sake (hello, future web archivists, neohuman and otherwise!,) but this release – assuming I haven’t overlooked something – is the most globe-shucking of all because of one single featureset: Siri Shortcuts. However, the v ast majority of the intra-Apple press' coverage of this release has come across nearly as unconcerned with them as I was originally. Take Macworld's iOS 12 Review, for instance: it was the first result in my Google search for “iOS 12 review,” yet Siri Shortcuts are only mentioned in the bottom quarter of its first page. When I recorded the “iOS 12 Review” episode of my “podcast,” I spoke as if I was somehow the only person on the planet who comprehends the profound implications of this software addition – which was, of course, more of an absorbent acquisition – but I have since discovered one gem, at least, which has continued the conversation in a most superb manner. It's a technology podcast called Supercomputer, and it's hosted by Alex Cox and Matthew Cassinelli – the latter of whom developed a significant amount of the iOS app Workflow (and wrote most or all of its documentation, apparently,) which Apple assimilated as Siri Shortcuts. Both are extremely knowledgeable and competent commentators on – as far as I can hear, at least – virtually the entire iOS *lifestyle*. (For those on the outside who've never stepped in: laugh if you must, but yes it is a lifestyle, still, and it's new thought leader isn't exactly coming up short these days.) iOS is technically software, yes, but it leaves an intractable itch for some greater, transcendent term.

In just forty minutes, without any prior knowledge about this feature, I was able to create a Shortcut which sends any given handset's IP address and precise GPS location (among other mundane metrics) in a text message to my phone number. I could share this shortcut among my other submissions to Sharecuts or ShortcutsGallery.com, where any iOS user could download and subsequently send this information back to my phone. (Don't believe me? Have a go at it yourself and I'll send back a screenshot if you'd like.) I accomplished this without any particular skills or education in software development or cybersecurity – without any real malice, even – I was just playing around. As far as my recollection goes, Apple has never included such a powerful, potentially-dangerous piece of software in a standard software update before. It's both absolutely brilliant and sortof a ripoff to be so entrusted for the first time. In many ways – like my Disable Bluetooth & WiFi shortcut – Siri Shortcuts represent an awfully half-assed solution to some of the most basic, longtime incongruencies within iOS. Sure, it's great that I can just make myself a shortcut to completely disable my phone's WiFi and Bluetooth activity with one press or Siri command (combining “type to Siri” with Siri Shortcuts basically enables a form of Command Line functionality in iOS,) but frankly, one should've expected the world's largest company to do it themselves in perhaps the second of third version of this operating system instead of saying okay, here are the tools – you do it! in its twelfth.

I've found it inevitable when speaking on iOS to avoid discussing the other literature available on the subject at any given time. The depth to which technology media has assimilated the habits and mannerisms of a single American company is absolutely mind-boggling, regardless of its history, its market share, or even its recent trillion-dollar valuation. Dozens of media companies – CultofMac, MacRumors, Macworld, 9to5 Mac, AppleInsider, iMore, and... more – exist solely to cover one single independent company: Apple, Incorporated. One wonders how the sum total of the individuals involved with and these organizations compares with the total number of employees working for the company their careers are (for the moment, at least,) entirely centered around. (Further interesting questions: are there any comparable situations anywhere else in Western capitalism, and if not – doesn't this sort of attention constitute some kind of Monopoly, even if it was not necessarily an anti-competitive one?) For “reasonable people,” the image one conjures up of The All-The-Time Apple Beat does not lend to envy, but let's choose to limit ourselves to only the most casual forms of speculation. I do not wish to mock them, for I, too remember the sensation of The Apple Drug from an unfortunate time in my childhood development when I was willing to wear a cheap sweatshirt branded with a stupid Mac vs. Windows Users joke unironically to a real live public Junior High school. There are few more embarrassing admissions, except perhaps admitting that a part of me genuinely yearns to return to this level of enthusiasm, as misplaced and cringey as it was. It's the addiction to the mystic; it's aspirational in its democratization. Billionaires are running the same operating system and much of the same software as I am every day – even the most followed person on any given platform is still accessing it through the same interface I might be. These are incredible truths, but they also reflect a dangerous lack of competition in a product category that has become more essential to day-to-day human life than any other in just three or four blinks of an eye.

Fuck David Blue, though. Who are the real, hard-hitting minds who've kept this industry and this company in check? Well, it's funny you should ask that, because the people's quirky New York Times tech critic of late – the esteemed Farhad Manjoo – has just concluded a five-year-long technology column with some essential (if perhaps a bit unoriginal) advice: “just slow down.” If you're still following along, you shall surely enjoy clicking some of his links, and I would certainly encourage that you do until you're out of free articles, at least. When Manjoo speaks, Apple listens: his January decree for Apple to bend with the industry wind and build “a Less Addictive iPhone” is convincingly prophetic considering Screen Time – probably the most mulled-over iOS 12 addition. As someone who was diagnosed with Attention Deficit Disorder (however much or little that may mean to you) just one or two years after I began using my/the first iPhone, I've developed a history of what he might call Addiction to iPhones in variable oscillation touching both extremes. I carried my first-generation iPhone for almost 5 years – as you can imagine, it was far from a 100%-functional device toward the end of that bell curve. In contrast, I've also stood in line at dawn for two iPhone launches, jailbroken, listened to podcasts only about apps (far before they were good,) and been compelled to chronicle and reflect upon all of it for as long as I can remember.

There's no denying that the iPhone has had a profound effect on my life mostly thanks to my own choices, which is why it's worth telling the vast majority of you that features like Screen Time will never help you achieve whatever vague conception of reduced usage you may have. If you haven't yet quantified the figures you'll find within it in mental estimates, you aren't really concerned at all and if you have, Screen Time will only confirm them. Using reminder notifications to optimize your appflow makes no attempt at all to actually escape the mentality of the behavior you seek to lessen from yourself. Another app is still another app; a notification reminding you to stop using an app does nothing but add still more stimuli. If you want to stop using the phone so much, *stop* using the fucking phone. If you are truly concerned about how your handset companion has changed your life, turn it off for a week/month/quarter – however long you possibly can. By that, I mean no more or less than what you can manage without getting fired/dumped/expelled/etc. If you have truly reached this point, anything less is probably worth it. There is simply no other way to get a clear picture of how it's changed you.

Google, Facebook, and the rest of the industry are well aware of this, but know they can't actually advocate against the fundamental mechanism that drives their businesses, so they express concern by doing what they know: building more software. Apple is in a slightly different situation: they still need you to buy their phones – and even to look at them – but not past the point of hurting yourself emotionally, mentally, or physically because those injuries tend to hurt one economically. Screen Time's purpose is to keep us thriving and buying, but the only effective solve for this can only be communicated in garbage cinema language: you must find it within yourself. I am actually the worst person from which to model your life, except perhaps for my iPhone use: unless there's little else worthy of my attention, my phone is not out. Even if checking my emails, Mastodon, Twitter, etc are my default tasks, there are infinitely many besides that come first. Every once in a while, it's okay to finish an important message while walking down the street or waiting at a stoplight if things are urgent, but I can guarantee you that my attention is better consolidated on traveling in 95% of cases – moving with purpose and then focusing on my composition after I've arrived is almost always more efficient. I realize that I'm cowboying it here and sound like your Dad, but I'm better with iOS than he is, yet I've never publicly run into anything while looking down at my smartphone in 10 years of hardcore use. Find somebody who's company makes you forget about all of this for hours at a time and treasure them. Also: stop playing games on your phone. What the hell are you doing? Read a blog! Explore the wonders of the open web! Your peers, your battery, and your elderly future self with thank you for it. (One exception is playing word/trivia games with your partner. That's very cute and good for you.)

I was elated to see that even Apple supports my age-old cause for Twitter Lists. Also, the new function in Apple Music allowing the user to search by lyrics appears to work very well...

To get back to specifics, the new Photos application is now basically what it should have been all along, 3D Touch has been virtually eclipsed for those strange bastards among you who never liked it, and the release's most democratically-redeemable feature is optimization, which even on my iPhone 8 Plus was blatantly noticeable and very welcome. However, probably the best insight to come out of my long, rambly End User review was the revelation that basically any other human activity is a better use of time than applauding Apple for learning to hold new features off until they've been thoroughly tested and focusing instead on smoothing existing software. In fact, I'd argue there is absolutely no reason for someone like me to say anything even remotely positive about the world's wealthiest company ever again, though that doesn't apply to The Verge or Chaim Gartenberg, who's review – for the record – was much more useful to 9999 times more people than anything I'll ever write. However, isn't it sortof unreasonable to expect anything but absolute perfection from Apple at this trillion-dollar juncture? A handful of varying interpretations of absolute perfection per product category, even.

With gorgeous, iCloud-enabled premium apps like Bear in the picture, integrating wholly into the Apple environment has maintained its relative rank above the alternatives to its specific minimal-esque utilitarian niceness which appeals so strongly to those people among both consumer and professional buyers. Readers from within this culture recognized a short time ago that iOS is in the process of replacing MacOS as the star component of this environment across the board, though there's at least a moderate journey ahead before it truly reaches this achievement for the median user. For myself, iOS 12 improved the experience of using my 8 Plus and certainly gave me something intriguing to play with in Siri Shortcuts. For the rest of the world's billions of daily iOS users, I say be as insatiable as possible – always expect more.

#software