If you know, you know.

My theory: the design brief was: “Build something which looks like Slack and demos well enough, but that is quantifiably worse in every respect. Then add video chat, because we have that lying around and it’s the one thing Slack doesn’t have, so everyone will have to choose us anyway.”

My laundry list from today:

  • Make the top-level organisational concept (the ‘Team’) a second-level component of the user interface, so you can’t switch quickly between Teams. cf. Slack’s ⌘1, ⌘2 etc.
  • Remove notifications from the interface for tertiary-level elements. So to find out if you have new messages within a specific team’s group, you have to open that team.
  • Ensure all of this is slow.
  • No keyboard shortcuts for any of this.
  • No menu items for any of this.
  • No matter how many Teams you’re a part of, they’re all presented within precisely one window.
  • Except Chats, which can be split out into separate windows.
  • …from which key elements of the interface are removed.
  • …except on mobile, where the ‘reply to specific message’ feature is added.
  • …so on mobile, drop the partial Markdown-processing of text entry.
  • Ignore separate Chat windows and switch to the main viewer if you respond to a notification alert.
  • Make those notification alerts not use system-provided mechanisms.

Let’s not get started on why Immersive Reader is a top-level right-click action for individual messages.

The irony here is that email bloody sucks, and many of us have been arguing to get off it for years. What I hadn’t anticipated was the future where we actually do move away from email… to something worse.

Back in the Pro Game

This guide to upgrading classic ‘cheesegrater’ Mac Pros is a rare example of a document which earns its ‘definitive’ title. An astonishing and immensely valuable piece of work.

Related: I’m dusting off my old Mac Pro. Again. It was built in 2008 – twelve years ago – but it’s enough of a tank that I fear it will once again be pressed into service. In theory I can hack it to run the current Mac OS, though it’s not quite clear if it’s going to need yet another graphics card to manage that. If all else fails I can reboot it into (whisper it) Windows 10, where it seems to behave like a normal, supported system.

Not being able to upgrade the RAM and drive in my not-quite-as-old MacBook Pro means it’s not cutting the workloads I’m trying to hack on right now. Amusingly enough, what’s tipped it over the edge is … Microsoft Teams. Sigh.

Where the time goes

One sign of a large project can be the degree of arcane hoop-jumping foisted on project members. Right now, I’ve a few projects underway where I’m supposed to track my time. In at least one case, the overhead of tracking my time will amount to more of my time than the time on the project I’m tracking. If you see what I mean. But here we are.

For the most part I’m rather enjoying using Toggl, which syncs nicely between web, desktop and mobile apps. It also nags me quite successfully, without being too smug about it. However, entering data is a little clunkier than I’d like, and the visual design and typography feel to me just a little… off, somehow. Like the app should be doing just a little more to render my recent history clearly? I’m not sure.

I’ll very likely stick with Toggl, but Brett Terpstra’s command-line/plain text system doing has caught my attention. I’m working partly on an Ubuntu laptop these days (more about that another time, perhaps, but the short version is: meh, but it was cheap) and tearing core tools out of the Mac/iOS ecosystem has its attractions. Presumably I could stick a doing log file in Dropbox and access it from whatever system I happen to be in front of, but these sorts of shell tools aren’t very usable from my phone, so there’s little net benefit right now. This is also why I haven’t (yet?) moved from Things to something more like .taskpaper format files. Also because Things is delightful and fabulous and sync works in exactly the way Dropbox sync all too often doesn’t.

Still: doing: interesting.

Aperture vs. Lightroom

Stephen Hackett has a history of Apple’s photo management application Aperture.

No doubt the program struggled to shake its early reputation. The performance woes and underwhelming feature set in the first version tainted people’s opinions in a way that was hard for Apple to shake.

I have no doubt that this is the case. But I also know that by the time version 3 rolled around, Aperture felt fast in use. Once the import and preview generation cycle had completed, the triage of a large run of shots was invariably snappy. Picking selects, discarding the remainder, tweaking RAW processing and filing images into destination folders was plain fast.

Fast to the point where I need to spend some quality time with Lightroom on my work iMac, trying to work out why its Library mode feels so darn clunky even though I’m running it on vastly superior hardware. It’s partly the weird semi-skeuomorphic display which wants to mimic 35mm slides, complete with their massive surrounds, and hence shows me bizarrely few images even on a 5K display. But it’s also the lag in flicking from one image to the next, which wasn’t a problem I had with Aperture. Even worse is scrolling through the library. How come my phone can handle scrolling through 20,000 images smoothly, but Lightroom can’t?

Perhaps I need to investigate Lightroom CC again. Is it possible to stop the newer app from uploading everything to Adobe’s cloud, yet? Because apart from ‘not being able to justify the inherent data security risk’, that seemed to have promise.

Filtering fake news

YouTube identifies music and video based on an internal system called ‘ContentID‘. Google, Apple and many others have systems for recognising related images (you can use one of them directly within Google image search, by uploading an image to search against, or you can ask your iPhone to show you pictures of trees). I don’t wish to suggest that ‘finding things like an arbitrary image or video’ is a solved problem, but it’s clearly at least partially addressed.

Meanwhile, Snopes does an excellent job of checking and verifying (or debunking) stories which are doing the rounds of social media. PolitiFact won a Pulitzer. A round-up of fact-checking sites by The Daily Dot adds, Media Matters, and others.

So… suppose you’re Facebook, looking at the wasteland over which you preside. Wouldn’t you want to do something like:

  1. Parse the message a user is about to post, looking for links or embedded media and extracting some sort of ID metric for that object.
  2. Check that content key against a modest number of sources, querying for a coarse trust score.
  3. Reflect that score back to the user prior to publication, with a link to the source article. For example: “You’re about to republish this image. Snopes thinks it’s likely a fake. Read more here [link]”.
  4. Allow the user to publish anyway, should they so choose.
  5. Perhaps also (and optionally) badge likely-fake items which appear in the user’s feed.

Would this open up a writhing pit of snakes about authority, editorial judgement and censorship? Sure. But Facebook and Twitter are already writing snake pits. It’s surely not beyond the wit of company execs to present this sort of approach as providing tools for users, and anyway, they already do most of what I’m suggesting: post a commercial audio recording, and YouTube or Facebook will flag it as such and (in the former’s case, at least) divert advertising revenue to the copyright holder.

That is: similar systems are already in place to protect copyright holders. What I’m asking here is for some of the same sorts of tools to be surfaced in the interests of asserting and maintaining moral rights. Such as my moral right not to be subjected to an endless stream of recycled crap, or our collective moral right not to accidentally render ourselves extinct as a population by doing something profoundly stupid just because somebody worked out how to make (transitory, as it turned out) money out of the process.

Put it this way: I think most of the people I follow would check their posts for validity, if only it was easy for them. So let’s do the easy bit.

The hard part, as best I can tell, is funding Snopes et al. to maintain the necessary APIs. It’s in music publishers’ interests to maintain databases of the songs over which they claim rights, because there’s a revenue stream to be had from the playing of those tracks. But… oh wait! Facebook is raking in advertising revenue. Ding!

In the end, the question boils down to: how much money is Facebook willing to spend on cleaning up their system? Their current dead tree media  buy is meaningless unless they’re actually building tools which help drain the swamp they’ve created. The objective here shouldn’t be rebuilding our trust in Facebook, it should be providing the tools which help us trust the media we’re seeing on a continuous basis.

I don’t think one can do that by asserting what’s ‘trustworthy’, there are too many value judgements involved. But one could provide access to datasets of what’s clearly bobbins – even for conflicting values of bobbins – and tools to apply those to our media streams.

I’ll trust Facebook when they give me tools to recognise and deal with the problem of fake news, not when they stick a poster on my bus stop asserting how much they care about the issue.

Penn Jillette, In Conversation

Penn Jillette, In Conversation:

“there’s a secret that I would like to take credit for uncovering: The audience is smart. That’s all. Our goal when we started was ‘Let’s do a magic show for people smarter than us.’ No other magicians have ever said that sentence.”

Great interview. One of my biggest regrets about Demo: The Movie (and there are many) is that we ran out of time trying to arrange an interview with Jillette.