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Achievement Unlocked: WWDC Keynote

Yesterday was pretty cool. During the Safari portion of Apple’s 2021 WWDC Keynote, for a brief few seconds, my work at Air Mail was featured. I was so busy trying to grab a quick screenshot, I missed the following few minutes where it was featured again. Just the icon and name the second time, but still really fun to see your work on the world stage.

A blurry Air Mail icon behind Craig Federighi 🤩

WWDC Wishes

It’s another June, and WWDC is right around the corner. The annual keynote is on Monday and will be delivered virtually just like last year. I really miss going to WWDC in person, but the virtual keynotes are really nice. It’s just a totally different vibe.

I’m not as plugged into the Apple ecosystem as I have been in years past, but there are so many things I’d like to see changed and improved this year. Here’s a few items for my wishlist:

  • iPadOS: The iPad hardware is so amazing and getting better every year. But the OS and its software ecosystem is quite rough. The multitasking situation is confusing at best. Features like widgets and the App Library from the iPhone aren’t fully-baked or even existent on iPad. But overall the software just feels incomplete and incapable of replacing a Mac for most use cases. I’m not one of the people that needs a fully developer-friendly Xcode environment on the iPad, but a step in the direction of pro workflows would be amazing. Let the hardware shine with a usable and robust operating system!

  • A stable macOS: Can we stop redesigning the surface layers on macOS, and spend some time polishing the internals of what’s already here? The standard apps, especially Mail, are less stable and useful than ever. Core operating system features like notifications are continuously broken for me. I shouldn’t have to force quit Notification Center daily. A stability and overall improvement is strongly needed here.

  • A Pro M1 Story: I know that WWDC is typically a software event, but the main thing I’m looking forward to over the coming months is hardware. The M1 is amazing, by almost all accounts. But we’ve only seen it on the low-end of the product range. What is the story going to be for the Pro-level products? MacBook Pro, iMac 27", and the Mac Pro. I’m not sure we’ll know next week, but this is a wishlist, not a prediction.

  • External display for the rest of us: The last WWDC that I attended saw the introduction of the Pro Display XDR: an incredible high-end monitor that cost $5k and didn’t even include a stand to put it on. The audience groaned when they announced the price. How about a monitor that the rest of the 99% of your users can justify, Apple? Let’s do this.

Looking forward to Monday!

New Things Round-up

In lighter news, it’s been a very busy few weeks for new product launches and interesting tidbits. Here are a few I’m following..

Ford F–150 Lightning: The all-electric F–150 is coming soon. There are some really neat ideas in here: powering your home in an outage, a ton of electric outlets around the vehicle, and more. Best of all: it looks pretty nice!

MKBHD’s M1 iMac Review: The colors on the new iMacs are delightful. Excited to see what pro offerings are to come (hopefully) later this year.

Federico Viticci’s M1 iPad Pro Review: As robust an iPad review as you’ll ever find here. The hardware is so amazing on iPad, and the software leaves so much to be desired. At some point this hardware deserves a better software OS experience.

iJustine’s Apple TV Review: “I love the new remote”. Thank goodness!

Cleanshot Cloud Pro: Cleanshot is my favorite sceeenshot tool for the Mac. It’s so well done and they just announced the pro cloud offering.

Success hides problems

The Basecamp situation is still bothering me. I’ve admired this company for so long and have applied many of the founders’ principles to my own ventures. I had often used them as way to describe how companies should work and think smarter. I find myself cringing thinking of them now, knowing how it’s ending up.

David Heinemeier Hansen had a follow-up post yesterday, with this curious paragraph:

We’ve also kept a watchful eye on the business. While there was a small uptick in cancelations for HEY during the first tumultuous week, they were more than offset by an increase in new customer signups for Basecamp. And now both products are growing like they were before that difficult week.

On the surface, I get it: they probably need to spend time reassuring their customers that the business is going to be fine. Portraying confidence and the ability to weather storms and challenges is a good thing.

But the attitude of “we’re fine and still making plenty of money” without a hint of remorse or humility is gross. It’s the type of thing that DHH has spent years criticizing about growth-at-all-costs Bay Area startups. He would have ripped other companies apart for putting this type of nonsense statement out there in the past, I’d like to think. It’s deeply disheartening to see this behavior continue.

It’s okay to admit you made a mistake and, importantly, clarify what that mistake was to show that you understand it. Mistakes are acceptable, and the community will forgive and move on.

CDC: The vaccinated do not need masks

It was quite the milestone yesterday with the CDC announcing that it no longer recommends mask wearing for the fully vaccinated people. This has been a significant change from recommendations even within the past few weeks, so it’s encouraging to see. We’re almost returning to normal!

Basecamp’s Loss

The Basecamp story is getting weirder by the day. Since last week’s announcement, almost a third of Basecamp’s staff has resigned. A third! And perhaps growing. John Breen has a thread on Twitter with some of the folks.

These are not small losses for the company. The people in this thread are some of the most prominent and prolific employees and members of the open source community. Many of them have built the products we love and use everyday for over a decade. (Even if it was lesser-known folks, it would still not be ok. But the fact that there are such well-known names in the list shows what a problem this is.)

Sam Stephenson’s work in particular is worth calling out. I respect Sam and his work more than almost anyone in our community. The list of his contributions to open source software is incredible. He is among the people that have left the company and on his way out he announced that he’ll no longer make updates or releases to his projects. It is such a great loss for the community and I feel terrible for Sam that he was forced into this position. Thank you for everything, Sam.

I keep expecting to see an apology blog post by Basecamp’s founders. Surely it’s coming, right? Each day that we don’t see a “we really screwed this one up and here’s how we’re fixing it” post published is a bigger mistake. And let’s be clear: the problems at hand are deep and systemic and need more than a blog post to resolve. But you have to start somewhere. Updated May 5: Here is the blog post

Casey Newton’s reporting on the company has been excellent over the past week. His latest post sheds light on the internal meeting last week that led in part to the exodus. I don’t want to quote it in any specific spot, because the whole thing is worth a read and shouldn’t be taken out of context. It’s not particularly friendly towards the leadership team at Basecamp, and if all of these accounts are true, it shouldn’t be.

What’s happening at Basecamp?

I’ll admit it: this one has been difficult to read about and think through on my end. Basecamp is one of my favorite companies out there, if not the most favorite. I’ve followed the company, its work, and ideas since the early days of my career. I’m a customer of both of Basecamp’s current products and many others throughout the years. I’ve made most of my career working in Rails, created by David Heinemeier Hansson and in large part the team at Basecamp. So it stings a bit to see a company you admire miss the mark.

Miss the mark they did. This one is a mess and they’re feeling the heat from the community right now, for good reason.

It started this week with a post from Jason Fried about some changes at Basecamp. Several of them are worth discussion, but the one that has been causing most of the discussion is this point:

No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account

My initial reaction to all of this is that it shouldn’t be happening in public. Basecamp is not a public company and its internal discussions and happenings aren’t really the business of any of us. If they are having an issue with political discussions internally, then they should sort it out internally.

Why is the CEO of a company letting its employees know about a very controversial change with a public blog post? Reading a few accounts of Basecamp employees I follow it’s clear that they were not briefed on these changes before the public post. This is a complete failure of leadership on many levels, but the most egregious is not handling it delicately with your employees before (if at all) posting the news to the public.

I’m not saying that the decision to make this change was a good one. But if you’re going to make such a change: talk with your people about it, understand them, and make sure it’s the right move to make. Starting the discussion in public communicates very clearly that the changes are not negotiable the decision is made regardless of how it will impact and affect the team. I think that’s wrong.

Here are a few other of the links and interesting happenings regarding this story:

  • Casey Newton, writing in his excellent Platformer newsletter, had some insight and details from employee interviews yesterday. It seems that a certain list of customer names from years ago had caused some of the internal controversy which led to the changes. It is worth a read to understand some of the reaction from various folks within the company itself.
  • DHH followed up this morning with another post “letting out” all of the details mentioned in Casey’s article from yesterday. This includes a brief note about offering severance to any employees that want to leave the company.
  • The Basecamp Rework podcast is “going dark” with a very odd message from the hosts, Wailin Wong and Shaun Hildner, about not being sure they want to continue. Yikes, this is a mess. Listen to the awkwardness in their voices.

Spring Apple Event

This week’s Apple Event had a few interesting details to me. I’m a few days late here after some travel, but catching up on all of the latest.

First, they could have stopped the entire presentation after the redesign of the Apple TV “Siri” remote and I’d have been happy. The current Apple TV remote control is one of the strangest products I think Apple has ever released. It seemed inexplicably designed by someone that has never used a remote control on a couch to watch TV. It was even stranger that it remained basically unchanged for so many years.

Many years from now, when the current Apple employees are retired and writing books, I hope we can learn about some of these questionable decisions (including the newly replaced MacBook butterfly keyboards) that went into this era of Apple design. There have to be stories here.

Second, AirTags look pretty nice. As rumored for several years, these devices will be used to locate anything you want to track using your iPhone. The only questionable decision here to me is why the new Apple TV remove doesn’t include this capability? I don’t have a problem with losing my keys in the couch, Apple. I’m losing the remote!

Lastly, Ted Lasso season 2 coming in July. I love this show and can’t wait for the next season to drop.

Embrace the Grind

Jacob Kaplan-Moss:

I often have people newer to the tech industry ask me for secrets to success. There aren’t many, really, but this secret — being willing to do something so terrifically tedious that it appears to be magic — works in tech too.

We’re an industry obsessed with automation, with streamlining, with efficiency. One of the foundational texts of our engineering culture, Larry Wall’s virtues of the programmer, includes laziness:

Laziness: The quality that makes you go to great effort to reduce overall energy expenditure. It makes you write labor-saving programs that other people will find useful and document what you wrote so you don’t have to answer so many questions about it.

I don’t disagree: being able to offload repetitive tasks to a program is one of the best things about knowing how to code. However, sometimes problems can’t be solved by automation. If you’re willing to embrace the grind you’ll look like a magician.

A nice little story about magic tricks too.

Supreme Court sides with Google in API dispute

Yesterday, the Supreme Court sided with Google in a long-standing battle with Oracle over the design of the Android APIs. Specifically the court ruled that Google did not violate US copyright law when it used the Java SE API to create Android.

Russell Brandom and Adi Robert, reporting for The Verge:

“Google’s copying of the API to reimplement a user interface, taking only what was needed to allow users to put their accrued talents to work in a new and transformative program, constituted a fair use of that material,” the Supreme Court ruled in a 6–2 opinion, with one justice (Amy Coney Barrett) not taking part in the ruling. It overturned an earlier federal decision, which found that Google’s use of the API had constituted infringement.

The court’s opinion concludes that APIs — which let programmers access other code — are significantly different from other kinds of computer programs. “As part of an interface, the copied lines are inherently bound together with uncopyrightable ideas … and the creation of new creative expression,” Justice Stephen Breyer writes in his opinion. Unlike many other computer programs, Breyer wrote, much of the copied lines’ value came from developers being invested in the ecosystem, rather than the actual operations of the program. Google used the API to let Java programmers build Android apps, which the court declared is a fundamentally transformative use

This is a great thing for the software industry. Copyrightable API signatures would be a giant unenforceable mess.

Substack is not a mess

From the Substack Blog:

[T]oday we’re pleased to announce that we have agreed to a $65 million Series B funding round led by Andrew Chen of Andreessen Horowitz that will allow us to make a significant investment in writers. […]

We started Substack because we were dismayed by the state of the media ecosystem. Writers were losing jobs and newspapers were going out of business. At the same time, the rise of the attention economy had locked us all in newsfeeds optimized for engagement, rewarding the types of behavior and content that harm discourse, making it harder for people to understand each other and work together. Substack is our attempt to build a new and better model. We have set out to show that platforms that put writers and readers in charge are the way forward.

Substack has had quite an impressive growth curve over the past few years. They seemingly came out of nowhere and are now the default choice for creating an independent newsletter. Unlike Medium, they seem to be firing on all cylinders these days.

A few years ago when I was creating Air Mail, we looked at Substack as a possible platform to build on. It was early days and they didn’t have very many bells and whistles as they do now. I still don’t think it would work today for a visual weekly magazine like ours, but the gap is closing quickly.

The Mess at Medium

Casey Newton, with an interesting take on what’s been going on with

In a blog post, billionaire Medium founder Ev Williams announced the latest pivot for the nearly nine-year old company. Just over two years into an effort to create a subscription-based bundle of publications committed to high-quality original journalism — and in the immediate aftermath of a bruising labor battle that had seen its workers fall one vote short of forming a union — Williams offered buyouts to all of its roughly 75 editorial employees. […]

Medium’s original journalism was meant to give shape and prestige to an essentially random collection of writing, gated behind a soft paywall that costs readers $5 a month or $50 a year. Eleven owned publications covered food, design, business, politics, and other subjects.

But in the end, frustrated that Medium staff journalists’ stories weren’t converting more free readers to paid ones, Williams moved to wind down the experiment — throwing dozens of journalists’ livelihoods into question, just as he had in 2015, when he laid off 50 people amid a pivot away from advertising on the site.

Remember when Medium was first around and it was the darling of web publishing? Everyone had to get a Medium account. Oddly enough, it’s still the publishing platform of choice for many high-profile writers. I still don’t understand why anyone would want to write there.

I can’t think of a better article to explore the virtues of owning your own presence on the web. I get it: it’s still too tech-y and annoying for most people to buy a domain, configure a website, and keep it online to publish their thoughts. Medium, and others like it, are the easy path. We in the industry should be making this easier, without the walled gardens and centralized control of platforms like Medium. Journalism and writing on the web is better when there are more options and places to publish, not less.

How Were the Covid-19 Vaccines Developed So Quickly?

Interesting roundup from Kottke about the reasons why the Covid–19 vaccines were developed so quickly.

For example:

4. International & corporate collaboration. Countries and companies shared research, data, and resources because the primary goal was to develop effective vaccines and save lives, not make a profit. For instance, Chinese researchers posted the genome for SARS-CoV–2 on January 11, 2020, allowing the effort to develop a vaccine to begin.

Politico: Last night is why Joe Biden won the presidency

A nice take on Biden’s speech last night from Politico:

Whether it’s a natural disaster, a war, a terrorist attack, a mass shooting — some devastating event that shocks Americans equally and temporarily suspends the usual divisions — for better or worse we turn to the president not just to push and pull the levers of government in response, but also to console us.

The images of those moments are indelible: Ronald Reagan speaking after the Challenger disaster, Bill Clinton memorializing the victims of the Oklahoma City bombing, Georg W. Bush with a bullhorn on a pile of rubble and Barack Obama wiping away tears describing the Sandy Hook massacre.

The image last night of Biden retrieving from his breast pocket his daily schedule on which is written the latest Covid–19 death toll — 527,726 — may one day be a part of that grim pantheon of moments.

The right man for this moment, for sure.

The Covid Year

It’s officially been a year of Covid. Technically yesterday was the anniversary of the W.H.O. declaring that the coronavirus was a global pandemic. For us, a year ago today was the day we decided to keep our kids home from school because this thing was real and it was here.

A few days prior had been the first confirmed positive case here in North Texas and the cases were growing quickly. This thing that we’d heard about from a distance was real and in our own backyard.

I remember wondering if our kids would go back to school after spring break. Surely they’d be back in a week or two? Not even close.

A year later and we’re finally starting to see some light. I had my first vaccine round this week along with millions of others. President Biden delivered a wonderful speech last night with a July 4th goal to return to normalcy. We’re not there yet, but things are starting to feel optimistic for the first time in a while.

What a year.

Brave takes on Google with privacy-focused search engine

In other non-Texas news, last week Brave announced it had acquired a search engine product and is focused on relaunching it as a privacy-first competitor to Google.

Stephen Shankland, writing for CNET, has some details:

The startup hopes to pay users for seeing the ads, like it does with its flagship browser. Brave’s existing browser-based ad system pays 70% of ad revenue to Brave users who opt into the system, called Brave Rewards.

“If we get to that promised land of our own automated search ad system, then we will give the user at least what we make,” Chief Executive Brendan Eich said.

The ad system is a cool concept and I hope it catches on.

Brave is unlikely to dethrone Google search anytime soon. But Tailcat could show there is room for financial success with a business that puts privacy first. The Brave browser has grown steadily since its initial release in 2016. Eich forecast Brave will have as many as 50 million monthly users at the end of the year, double the 25 million users it has now. It doesn’t release financial information, but its revenue has grown by a factor of 28 over the last 16 months and it now employs 115 people.

I don’t think “dethroning” Google is (or should be) the goal here. A small percentage of the search market could be a massive business. And if one company shows that doing so in a private user-focused way is a successful venture, then others will follow. I’d argue that DuckDuckGo is already doing this quite well, so hopefully Brave is continuing the trend. More choices in search, and more choices that respect privacy are good things.

Where’s the evidence that it’s safe to remove Texas’ mask mandate?

Another good one articulating the problem in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram:

We know that public health policy has been far more effective in dealing with the pandemic than individual actions alone. We understand the push to stimulate our economy and support our businesses. So why not start with increasing businesses’ allowed capacity to 100% while maintaining the mask mandate?

After talking with many people about the Governor’s announcements last week–it’s obviously been the talk of the town–it’s hard to find a non-political reason why this action was taken. The science doesn’t back it up. The experts weren’t even consulted.

The frustrating part of the removal of the mask mandate is that every business, school, church, and other organizations now have to put out their own policies and enforcement. It’s created an unnecessary amount of work and burden for these groups when there’s no reason for it.

An exercise in survival

This is a nice piece by Karen Attiah, writing in The Washington Post, describing the current state of Texas politics:

It was ironic that Abbott made his announcement on Texas Independence Day. For many of us Texans, what we desperately need is to be free from a GOP leadership that has put our safety last at every turn since the pandemic began. Abbott’s decision to lift occupancy limits on businesses and other restrictions is reckless and premature. If you are unvaccinated in Texas — as most of us still are — the message is clear: You’re on your own.

And a side note for my non-Texan friends: The state leadership does not represent all of Texas. Some commentators have reacted to Abbott’s move by suggesting that Texans don’t deserve vaccines, but that ignores the fact that tens of millions of Texans did not vote for any of this. Voter groups have worked for years to end the gerrymandering and voter suppression that have enabled Republicans to put such unserious men in power.

Governor Abbott Lifts All Restrictions in Texas

During a press conference and release yesterday, non-coincidentally on Texas Independence Day, Governor Greg Abbott removed all Covid–19 restrictions on Texas businesses and will allow them to open at 100% capacity again. He also removed all state mandates that require masks.

The CDC’s data tracker is reporting encouraging news: there are less cases and deaths than there have been for a few months. President Biden also announced yesterday that his administration’s efforts to ramp up vaccine production will result in enough vaccines for every American “by the end of May.” The good news here is that the Covid–19 situation is improving, but let’s not get too far ahead of ourselves. We’re still in the midst of a major public health crisis.

Governor Abbott’s move is in direct contrast with science, public safety, and the well-being of Texans. It’s too soon. He knows it, and we all know it. This is nothing more than a publicity stunt as he attempts to energize his base for a reelection campaign next year. It’s also a convenient way to change the narrative away from the complete failure of our energy grid during the winter storms a few weeks ago.

This announcement is premature at best. It would have been better if he had a giant ‘Mission Accomplished’ banner hanging behind him while he spoke.

Weather Line

Weather Line, my iPhone weather app of choice, is being acquired by an unknown source:

Weather Line has been beloved by so many people across its near-decade long life on the App Store. First and foremost, thank you to everyone that has supported the app over the years. We never could have imagined how far it would go. Weather Line has had a fantastic journey as an indie app, and we are grateful to all of you for that.

In recent months, we were approached by a buyer. They saw the uniqueness of Weather Line and the strong foundation we’ve built. While we aren’t able to provide further details on their future plans for the app, we hope you can understand, and will look forward to it.

First, it’s great to see a delightful indie app being acquired. I hope this means good things for the founders and it’s a decision that supports them. Second, it’s kind of a strange thing to announce an acquisition without naming the purchaser. I’m sure there’s reasons behind this, but it certainly makes me curious.

I’m sad that the app will be going away after another year but hopeful that the purchaser will do great things with it.

Texas Winter Week Continues

Today is Thursday. I had to check a few times. We thought the weeks were long last year during the first days of lockdown, but this is something else. Texas is still frozen, but the politics and opinions as hot as ever.

Texas has become a national poster child for how to fail its citizens during an emergency. It’s an embarrassment. Our politicians, the ones who aren’t jetting off to vacation in Mexico, are busy blaming green energy for the trouble, or saying that a few days without power is our civic duty as Texans.

In other words, we’re going to do nothing to prevent this from happening again.

The Frozen Tundra of Texas

It’s been quite a week here in Texas. The snow wasn’t so bad, we’re prepared for a bit of that. But the bitter cold temperatures, even some below zero, this week are crippling the state’s energy grid.

Texas is just not prepared: Stories from around North Texas chronicled by the Dallas Morning News.

In Texas’s Black-Swan Blackout, Everything Went Wrong at Once: Power plants weren’t prepared for the cold weather, which wiped out generators and extra capacity. The Texas power grid is separated from other states, so we’re on our own.

No, frozen wind turbines aren’t the main culprit for Texas’ power outages: Our inept leadership tries to blame the problem on green energy, even though it only makes up a tiny fraction of the total energy production in the state.

Texas grid fails to weatherize, repeats mistake feds cited 10 years ago: The Super Bowl was played in DFW 10 years ago, and was plagued with similar weather to this week. It seems like we’ve learned nothing since then.