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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 Medium.com:

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.

🥶

Your 2020 NFL Champions: The Tampa Bay Bucs

Congrats to Tampa Bay.. what a dominating performance over the defending champion Chiefs.

Tom Brady is without a doubt the best to have ever played the game. He now has more Super Bowl wins than anyone else, and any other franchise has too. The first and only to person to do this in the major sports leagues. Quite incredible.

Jeff Bezos to Step Down as Amazon CEO

Big announcement yesterday from Amazon: Jeff Bezos, its founder and CEO will be stepping down later this year.

From Bezos’ letter to employees:

This journey began some 27 years ago. Amazon was only an idea, and it had no name. The question I was asked most frequently at that time was, “What’s the internet?” Blessedly, I haven’t had to explain that in a long while.

Today, we employ 1.3 million talented, dedicated people, serve hundreds of millions of customers and businesses, and are widely recognized as one of the most successful companies in the world.

How did that happen? Invention. Invention is the root of our success. We’ve done crazy things together, and then made them normal. We pioneered customer reviews, 1-Click, personalized recommendations, Prime’s insanely-fast shipping, Just Walk Out shopping, the Climate Pledge, Kindle, Alexa, marketplace, infrastructure cloud computing, Career Choice, and much more. If you get it right, a few years after a surprising invention, the new thing has become normal. People yawn. And that yawn is the greatest compliment an inventor can receive.

It’s hard to overstate how much Bezos’ work has impacted the world. The Amazon story is very clear, but transparent to many people is how much of an impact AWS has had on startups, tech, and nearly every online business today. It’s astounding.

The announcement seems very reminiscent of the Bill Gates announcement over 20 years ago with the same move. First to chairman, then retirement years later. Imagine if, like Gates, Bezos uses his focus and skills for the public good and philanthropy.

Nice timing here too: Amazon just delivered its first $100 billion quarter.

GameStop, Reddit, and Robinhood

I can’t seem to get enough of the Reddit GameStop stock story this week. It’s seeming to become more interesting by the day.

Jason Koebler, writing at Vice, has a great summary of how we got to this point:

What is going on is that GameStop, a company that sells physical copies of video games next to Auntie Anne’s pretzel shops in dying malls, is the most highly traded asset in the United States, a “meme stock,” and currently the primary front in a micro class war. GameStop’s stock price jumped from $4 last summer to $20 at the end of 2020, to $40 two weeks ago. It was worth $100-ish at times on Monday and Tuesday, and as I write this it is worth close to $300. Essentially, many normal-ish people have made a huge bet against gigantic financial institutions and are currently winning. In practice this means we are seeing one of the largest wealth transfers from the financial ruling class to the middle and middle-upper classes in recent memory, so it is, understandably, the only thing anyone is talking about.

Other redditors and [Reddit user] DeepFuckingValue eventually caught on that something else was happening with GameStop stock: It was the most shorted stock in the entire stock market. That, combined with what DeepFuckingValue described as “strong fundamentals,” suggested that, at some point, these short sellers would be forced to close their positions. The opportunity, as I mentioned earlier, is that short sellers overextended themselves and would only be able to close their positions: A) at a loss and B) if suddenly a bunch of people who own GameStop stock sold their stock, which would drive it down.

Yesterday things escalated even more when Robinhood, a stock trading app with no user-fees, blocked purchases of GameStop and other stocks targeted by Redditors. Robinhood was an app of choice by many of the Reddit users, so this is particularly impactful to them. Robinhood, as of this morning at least, is now saying that users can only sell their positions in GameStop and others. They aren’t the only trading provider to stop activity on these stocks, but they are the most prominent in this market.

This move by Robinhood has seen some pretty interesting agreement from a very diverse group of people.

US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez tweeted yesterday:

This is unacceptable.

We now need to know more about @RobinhoodApp’s decision to block retail investors from purchasing stock while hedge funds are freely able to trade the stock as they see fit.

As a member of the Financial Services Cmte, I’d support a hearing if necessary.

And even got a “fully agree” from the Senator from Texas.

Next up: this morning it was announced that Robinhood is attempting to raise more than $1 billion from its investors.

Robinhood still needed more cash quickly to ensure that it didn’t have to place further limits on customer trading, said two people briefed on the situation who insisted on remaining anonymous because the negotiations were confidential.

It seems that this was the real issue all along with Robinhood suspending the trading on GameStop and other stocks: they apparently don’t have the liquidity or cash to handle it. If that’s the case, why not just come out and say that? The damage to its brand and reputation is going to be extremely difficult to fix.

What a week!

Tweetbot 6

Tapbots has released the latest version of its great Twitter client: Tweetbot 6. Tweetbot has been my Twitter client of choice for longer than I can remember so I’m happy to see them continuing to release new major versions.

This version switches to a subscription model: $6 per year. Seems very fair.

Tweetbot 6 on the App Store

The Business of Influence with MKBHD

Excellent interview by Nilay Patel of YouTuber Marques Brownlee, aka MKBHD:

I still edit 99 percent of everything. I have the motion graphics artist and cinematographer, Vinh and Brandon, who will just go in on eight hours of editing for the first seven seconds of the intros and fun stuff like that. But I’m 99 percent of the edit, I’m writing everything, and I think at the end of the day, it’s still my face and it’s still my presentation of my ideas. Andrew is sort of a co-producer and assistant. We share the vision of how the thing grows and what we want to make. But I really say “we” because I just like to give credit to the people who’ve made it possible.

When the pandemic started, it felt like a throwback where it was just me making things again. I gave everyone the chance to get home and stay safe. And I realized, this is kind of how it started and it’s really hard to make the stuff you want to make this way. It’s a team process and I like to give credit for that.

Including some interesting tidbits about the business of being primarily a content creator on YouTube:

So, YouTube ads is the primary, fundamental way that YouTubers make money. You upload a video, there’s ads somewhere on it or in it, and the YouTuber gets paid for the placement of those ads because they brought the eyeballs to the video.

The deeper understanding of that is, there’s different types of ads. There’s the ads that are built into YouTube through the AdSense program. That’s one version of it. You don’t really get to control those ads, but you can still have banner ads, you can have pre-rolls, mid-roll video ads, things like that. And there’s a whole ecosystem there where you try to find a balancing act between how many ads do you place? Do you put mid-rolls in your videos or not?

But then there’s also the integrations that you do control, which can be inside the videos. Sometimes it’s a pre-roll, you say “this video is sponsored by…” You have an integrated section inside of a video or a post-roll. You get control over that, which is often very beneficial because that’s way better targeting for the company who’s trying to talk to somebody. And then there’s all kinds of other alternate ways that YouTube channels make money. For example, we have a merch store.

“Why iPhone is today’s Kodak Brownie Camera”

Lovely piece by Om Malik on the iPhone and comparing it to the original point-and-shoot.

A century apart, many professionals still miss the point. Photography is about people and their creation of their own narratives. As Dr. Michael Pritchard, President of the U.K-based Royal Photographic Society, said in an interview, “The Brownie was transformative because it allowed people to take photographs, get decent results most of the time and then share those photographs through the family album, in a way it was much quicker and simpler to do without having any technical knowledge.”

The professional photographers often get caught up in the technology, forgetting that how people engage with image making is just as important, if not more so. It should also be acknowledged that casual photographers are the ones who have given the industry its much needed scale, helping further the development of new technologies.

Super Bowl Ad Sitouts

An interesting twist on this year’s Super Bowl ad lineup: no Budweiser or corresponding Clydesdale horses this year. For the first time since 1983.

Brian Steinberg, for Variety:

Beverage giant Anheuser-Busch InBev is benching Super Bowl commercials from Budweiser, perhaps its best-known product — the first time in nearly four decades that the brand won’t have a place on the Big Game ad roster. The move follows decisions by both Coca-Cola and PepsiCo to sideline Super Bowl ads for their flagship products, and suggests CBS’ broadcast of Super Bowl LV will lack some of the event’s most familiar trappings as the world continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the coronavirus pandemic.

Budweiser will give the money it might have spent on running a Super Bowl commercial to the Ad Council, an industry coalition that produces and places public-service announcements, to help raise awareness of the benefits of getting the coronavirus vaccine.

A New Day

It’s a new day, and a new era in the United States. For the first time in years it feels like the adults are back in charge of the country. They aren’t going to be perfect, they’re human. But they have the correct intentions and are setting themselves up to do their best.

The Biden/Harris administration is already on its way towards repairing the country. It’s going to be a challenge, but I’m optimistic and encouraged for the first time in a long time.

One great example: Jen Psaki, the new press secretary, held a press briefing in the White House and committed to the truth, facts, and serving the American people before closing the briefing with “Thank you everyone”, and “Let’s do this again tomorrow.”

Indeed, let’s.

New MacBook Rumors

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg with some good news for MacBook fans coming later this year:

A major change to the new computers will be how they charge. Over the past five years, Apple has relied on USB-C ports for both power and data transfer on its laptops, making them compatible with other manufacturers’ chargers. But the company is now bringing back MagSafe, the magnetic power adapter that means any accidental yanking of the power cable would simply detach it from the laptop rather than pull down the entire computer. It was a favorite feature of the company’s portable PC lineup that was first introduced in 2006 and most recently revived for its latest lineup of iPhones.

MagSafe was one of the coolest innovations in the industry. Prior to MagSafe we all had a moment, whether for a computer or a video game console, where we experienced someone tripping over a cord and pulling a device off a table. MagSafe was one of those features that when you saw it, it was completely obvious. A hallmark of great Apple design. I understand the desire to remove it in favor of uniform ports that all can charge, but it always felt like a step backwards. I’d be super excited about its return.

In developing its next set of Mac laptops, Apple has also tested versions that remove the Touch Bar from its laptop keyboards. The Touch Bar, introduced as part of the last MacBook Pro redesign in 2016, turns the keyboard’s top row from function keys into a touchscreen strip that can display a variety of information and a changing set of controls to adapt to apps and tasks. Some professional users have said they found that control scheme less convenient than physical keys.

The Touch Bar on the other hand, is one of my least favorite features. It adds zero value for me and makes my everyday computer life harder. Instead of feeling around for a key and being able to hit it directly, I now have to look down at the Touch Bar to hit the correct button. And that’s if the Touch Bar is active. If it has fallen asleep you first have to tap the Touch Bar to make it visible, then tap again on the area where the button is. This would be a welcome change as well.

Raymond Wong, writing in a delightfully designed post on Input, agrees:

Apple is going to return to the very features it removed five years ago? That is seismic. Apple hates to admit any wrongdoing. But with Ive long gone and Schiller no longer leading marketing, Apple no longer has these old balls and chains weighing it down.

He also mentions the SD card slot, which would be a very welcome improvement to have back as well. I don’t see it happening, but sure would be nice.