Prop ’n Go Tote 

My thanks to Padded Spaces for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed. They’ve just released the new Prop ’n Go Tote, a convertible multi-angle lap desk and messenger bag. Made for every lap, it’s perfect for keeping gadgets at just the right angle. When it’s time to go, the hidable handle and shoulder strap transform Prop ’n Go Tote into a stylish, versatile messenger bag.

iBedside is an elegant bedside caddy for storing and charging iPad and iPhone. A magnetic shelf flips down with a flick, and three full-sized pockets store gadgets or gizmos. Clever cable management keeps everything tidy and charged. These are great holiday gifts.

Prop ’n Go and iBedside ship for free with Amazon Prime in the US, CA, and EU. Padded Spaces products are made in Seattle by crafters making honest wages.

Political Moneyball: America’s Unfair Elections and the Republicans’ Art of Winning Them 

Jason Kottke:

Nothing in politics gets my blood boiling faster than gerrymandering… it is so grossly and obviously unfair. I bet you don’t even need to guess which of the two US political parties has pushed unfair redistricting in recent years.

More than anything for me, this is the story of politics in America right now: a shrinking and increasingly extremist underdog party has punched above its weight over the past few election cycles by methodically exploiting the weaknesses in our current political system. Gerrymandering, voter suppression, the passing of voter ID laws, and spreading propaganda via conservative and social media channels has led to disproportionate Republican representation in many areas of the country which they then use to gerrymander and pass more restrictive voter ID laws. They’ve limited potential conservative third party candidates (like Trump!) by incorporating them and their views into the main party. I would not be surprised if Republican donors strategically support left-of-center third-party candidates as spoilers — it’s a good tactic, underhanded but effective. They increasingly ignore political norms and practices to stymie Democratic efforts, like the general inaction of the Republican-led Congress over the past few years and the Senate’s refusal to consider Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland to the Supreme Court.

Don’t skip the two videos from CGP Grey — they’re excellent.

‘Designed by Apple in California’ Book Alongside Actual Products 

There aren’t many people other than Stephen Hackett who could have made this video.

Lenovo Moto Getting Out of the Smartwatch Game 

Dan Seifert, writing for The Verge:

Lenovo Moto today confirmed that it will not be releasing a new smartwatch for the launch of Android Wear 2.0, due early next year. The company had earlier said it would not be releasing a new smartwatch in 2016, but it is now saying that it doesn’t plan to put out a new device timed to the arrival of Google’s newest wearable platform, either.

Shakil Barkat, head of global product development at Moto, said the company doesn’t “see enough pull in the market to put [a new smartwatch] out at this time,” though it may revisit the market in the future should technologies for the wrist improve. “Wearables do not have broad enough appeal for us to continue to build on it year after year,” Barkat said, and indicated that smartwatches and other wearable devices will not be in Moto’s annual device roadmap.

I don’t think it’s what sunk their watches, but the flat-tire displays on their round faces were one of the worst designs in recent memory.

Chuck Wendig on White Resentment 

Loved this Twitter essay from Chuck Wendig. It starts with a bang, but turns into a thoughtful examination of white working class resentment:

It is ironic to tell entertainers to shut up about politics when we just elected a greasy reality show host to the highest fucking office.

“Apes shouldn’t have guns,” you bellow, as you load a revolver and hand it to a bigoted orangutan.

“Entertainers shouldn’t talk politics,” you bellow as you vote for a carnival barker con-man to wield the nuclear codes.

TechCrunch: ‘Fitbit Is Buying Troubled Smartwatch Maker Pebble for Around $40 Million’ 

Jon Russell, reporting for TechCrunch:

A source close to the company told TechCrunch that watch maker Citizen was interested in purchasing Pebble for $740 million in 2015. This deal failed and before the launch of the Pebble 2 Intel made an offer for $70 million. The CEO, Eric Migicovsky refused both offers. Our source said that Fitbit is now paying between $34 and $40 million for the company and is “barely covering their debts.”

If Citizen was really willing to pay $740 million for Pebble, that’s incredible. They really dodged a bullet on that one.

The Talk Show: ‘Election Escape Key’ 

Joanna Stern returns to the show to talk about the new MacBook Pros (and their keyboards), stockpiling old MacBook Airs, dongles, Touch ID, SnapChat Spectacles, and more.

Sponsored by:

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Netflix Finally Allows Downloads 

You know I don’t like the overuse of “finally” in a headline, but here’s a case where it’s justified.

Nintendo World Coming to Universal Theme Parks 

Nintendo press release:

Imagine the fun of stepping into a larger-than-life Nintendo adventure. Gigantic Piranha Plants spring to life. Question blocks, power-ups and more surround you. And Mario and all his friends are there to pull you into a brand-new world.

You will enter an entire realm filled with iconic Nintendo excitement, gameplay, heroes and villains. And it is coming to three Universal theme parks around the globe.

The creative visionaries behind Nintendo’s legendary worlds and characters are working together with the creative teams behind Universal’s blockbuster theme park attractions. Their goal: to bring the characters, action and adventure of Nintendo video games to life within Universal theme parks. And to do so in new and innovative ways that capture what makes them so special. All of the adventure, fun and whimsy you experience through a screen will now be all around you — in breathtakingly authentic ways.

Universal did a good job with the Harry Potter franchise — the Hogsmeade land at Islands of Adventure is kind of meh, but Diagon Alley at Universal Studios is amazing. If they can do something as good as Diagon Alley for Nintendo, it’ll be great. (Universal Studios did a good job with their area for The Simpsons, too.)

Penn and Teller Burn a Flag in the White House 

“You go to law school?”

“No, clown school.”

How Stable Are Democracies? ‘Warning Signs Are Flashing Red’ 

Amanda Taub, in an eye-opening piece for the NYT:

Across numerous countries, including Australia, Britain, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Sweden and the United States, the percentage of people who say it is “essential” to live in a democracy has plummeted, and it is especially low among younger generations.

The graph showing the results for this question is terrifying.

Support for autocratic alternatives is rising, too. Drawing on data from the European and World Values Surveys, the researchers found that the share of Americans who say that army rule would be a “good” or “very good” thing had risen to 1 in 6 in 2014, compared with 1 in 16 in 1995.

That trend is particularly strong among young people. For instance, in a previously published paper, the researchers calculated that 43 percent of older Americans believed it was illegitimate for the military to take over if the government were incompetent or failing to do its job, but only 19 percent of millennials agreed. The same generational divide showed up in Europe, where 53 percent of older people thought a military takeover would be illegitimate, while only 36 percent of millennials agreed.

Militaries that answer to democratic civilian authority are the bedrock of Western civilization.

Mark Gurman: Amazon Planning Alexa Speaker With 7-Inch Display 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg: Inc. is developing a premium Echo-like speaker with a screen, a sign the world’s largest online retailer is trying to capitalize on the surprise success of its voice-controlled home gadgets and fend off competition from Google and Apple Inc.

The new device will have a touchscreen measuring about seven inches, a major departure from Amazon’s existing cylindrical home devices that are controlled and respond mostly through the company’s voice-based Alexa digital assistant, according to two people familiar with the matter. This will make it easier to access content such as weather forecasts, calendar appointments, and news, the people said. They asked not to be identified speaking about a product that has yet to be announced.

The latest Amazon speaker will be larger and tilt upwards so the screen can be seen when it sits on a counter and the user is standing, one of the people said.

Interesting — but unsurprising — to see Gurman getting scoops about companies other than Apple.

Andy Baio on the Decline of Independent Blogging 

Andy Baio, earlier this month:

More people than ever before are able to express themselves on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Medium, YouTube, Pinterest, and countless other social platforms. All of that is great.

But there a few reasons why I’m sad about the decline of independent blogging, and why I think they’re still worth fighting for.

Ultimately, it comes down to two things: ownership and control.

Last week, Twitter announced they’re shutting down Vine. Twitter, itself, may be acquired and changed in some terrible way. It’s not hard to imagine a post-Verizon Yahoo selling off Tumblr. Medium keeps pivoting, trying to find a successful revenue model. There’s no guarantee any of these platforms will be around in their current state in a year, let alone ten years from now.

Here, I control my words. Nobody can shut this site down, run annoying ads on it, or sell it to a phone company. Nobody can tell me what I can or can’t say, and I have complete control over the way it’s displayed. Nobody except me can change the URL structure, breaking 14 years of links to content on the web.

Couldn’t say it better myself.

Jonathan Chait: ‘Trump Wants You to Burn Flags While He Burns Constitution’ 

Donald Trump, in a seemingly bizarre (even by his standards) tweet this morning:

Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag - if they do, there must be consequences - perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!

Jonathan Chait:

This is an unusual “issue” for the president-elect to highlight, given the dire conditions he claims the country faces. The odd protester has torched the odd flag every so often for decades. The Supreme Court in 1989 held that burning the flag constitutes political speech, and thus cannot be banned. Republicans have occasionally used the issue as a cheap political stunt, since a majority of the public viscerally opposes flag-burning. To that standard tactic, Trump added the new Trumpian touch of proposing to revoke citizenship for violators, which would make his unconstitutional proposal even more unconstitutional, and also more attention-getting. And he did not send this one in the middle of the night, as he often does, but at 6:55 a.m., a moment probably calculated to seize the morning news cycle.

But why would he choose to pick this strange fight? Here is a case where the common complaint that he is distracting the public from unflattering stories rings true. Proposing a flag-burning ban is a classic right-wing nationalist distraction, and Trump has a number of ugly stories from which to distract: his plan for massive, unprecedented corruption, the extreme beliefs of his appointees, a controversy over a recount that highlights his clear defeat in the national vote.

Trump using this as a distraction aside, the 1989 Supreme Court decision that held flag-burning to be a legal form of First Amendment protest is an interesting one. It was a 5-4 decision, but the split among justice was not along party lines. The majority decision was written by William Brennan, perhaps the staunchest liberal ever to sit on the court, and joined by Harry Blackmun, Thurgood Marshall, conservative Anthony Kennedy, and arch-conservative Antonin Scalia. Dissents were written by conservative chief justice William Rehnquist and liberal John Paul Stevens. Different times.

(Scalia, notably, is Trump’s proclaimed model for the type of justice he plans to nominate to the court.)

Update: Fox News ran a segment on flag-burning at a Massachusetts college half an hour prior to Trump’s tweet. So it probably wasn’t strategic. He just tweets grotesquely unconstitutional thoughts that pop into his head while watching Fox News.

AP Style Guide on the ‘Alt-Right’ 

John Daniszewski, vice president for standards at the Associated Press:

“Alt-right” (quotation marks, hyphen and lower case) may be used in quotes or modified as in the “self-described” or “so-called alt-right” in stories discussing what the movement says about itself.

Avoid using the term generically and without definition, however, because it is not well known and the term may exist primarily as a public-relations device to make its supporters’ actual beliefs less clear and more acceptable to a broader audience. In the past we have called such beliefs racist, neo-Nazi or white supremacist.

Again, whenever “alt-right” is used in a story, be sure to include a definition: “an offshoot of conservatism mixing racism, white nationalism and populism,” or, more simply, “a white nationalist movement.”

Trump’s Lease for His Brand-New D.C. Hotel Forbids Him From Being ‘An Elected Official’ 

Steven L. Schooner and Daniel I. Gordon, reporting for Government Executive magazine:

The Post Office Lease differs from many of Mr. Trump’s other business arrangements. That’s because, in writing the contract, the federal and D.C. governments determined, in advance, that elected officials could play no role in this lease arrangement. The contract language is clear: “No … elected official of the Government of the United States … shall be admitted to any share or part of this Lease, or to any benefit that may arise therefrom…

The language could not be any more specific or clear. Donald Trump will breach the contract on Jan. 20, when, while continuing to benefit from the lease, he will become an “elected official of the Government of the United States.”

One gets the sense Trump hasn’t thought this through.

James Fallows: ‘A Reflexive Liar in Command: Guidelines for the Media’ 

James Fallows:

Most people would hesitate before telling easily disprovable lies like these, much as shoplifters would hesitate if the store owner is looking at them. Most people are fazed if caught in an outright lie. But in these cases and others, Trump never blinked. As part of his indispensable campaign coverage this summer, David Fahrenthold (and Robert O’Harrow) of The Washington Post offered an astonishing documentation of Trump being caught in a long string of business-related lies and simply not caring.

The news media are not built for someone like this.

Our journalistic and political assumption is that each side to a debate will “try” to tell the truth — and will count it as a setback if they’re caught making things up. Until now the idea has been that if you can show a contrast between words and actions, claim and reality, it may not bring the politician down, but it will hurt. For instance: Bill Clinton survived “I did not have sexual relations with that woman,” but he was damaged then, and lastingly, when the truth came out. To close the loop, knowledge of the risks of being caught has encouraged most politicians to minimize provable lies.

None of this works with Donald Trump. He doesn’t care, and at least so far the institutional GOP hasn’t either.

How can the press gird for action? Here are three early indications from the news.

A very good read, including this note from one of Fallows’s readers, on dealing with a narcissist:

The Times got in trouble by trying to make sense of his words. It’s an easy mistake for people in a word-saturated medium to make, but anyone who’s dealt with a narcissist knows you never, ever believe what they say — because they will say whatever the person they are talking to wants to hear. DT is a master at phrasing things vaguely enough that multiple listeners will be able to hear exactly what they want. It isn’t word salad; it’s overt deception, which is much more pernicious.

But the Times fell for it. I’m watching the same mistake get made over and over again, but I don’t know how to help journalists get out of the trap. If we are going to survive the days ahead, someone needs to teach reporters the difference between naming narcissism vs. dealing effectively with a narcissist.

Case in point, The New York Times staff seemed buoyed by Trump’s claim during his interview that he would keep “an open mind” about “pulling out of the Paris climate agreement.” It was bullshit. He was simply telling The Times staff what they wanted to hear.

The Ethical Double-Standard 

E.J. Dionne, writing for The Washington Post, “An Ethical Double Standard for Trump — and the GOP?”:

“If Hillary Clinton wins this election and they don’t shut down the Clinton Foundation and come clean with all of its past activities, then there’s no telling the kind of corruption that you might see out of the Clinton White House,” Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt.

Presumably Cotton will take the lead in advising Donald Trump to “shut down” his business activities and “come clean” on what came before. Surely Cotton wants to be consistent. […]

“The deals that she and her husband were pocketing — hundreds of thousands of foreign money,” Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) told the Breitbart website, the right-wing outlet once led by the soon-to-be White House chief strategist, Stephen K. Bannon. Issa added that Clinton wanted her activities “to be behind closed doors” and “did that because she doesn’t know where the line is.”

We can assume that Issa will press the president-elect about the dangers of doing business deals “behind closed doors” and instruct him about where the ethical “line” should be.

My only objection to this column is the question mark in the headline.

It’s pure hypocrisy. And no, both sides don’t do it. There is no precedent for this.

Justin Pot: ‘The Mac App Store Is Full of Scams’ 

Justin Pot, writing for How-To Geek, on top result for “Microsoft Excel” in the Mac App Store:

It’s possible for a collection of templates to be worth $30, and for all I know these are really great. But let’s review:

  • This is the top result if you search for “Microsoft Excel.”
  • The word “template” is not in the name of the product.
  • The word “template” is not in the product’s description.
  • The product’s description outlines several functions that are specific to Microsoft Office, and have nothing to do with what customers will acquire by purchasing a collection of templates.
  • It’s literally impossible to find this product by searching for “templates.”

It’s easy to see that users could be deceived by this, and it’s hard to imagine that it’s not intentional on the developer’s part. Whatever the intention here, people were deceived.

Matt Yglesias on Apple’s Functional, Rather Than Divisional, Corporate Structure 

Matt Yglesias, “Apple May Have Finally Gotten Too Big for Its Unusual Corporate Structure”:

Even Apple’s more popular laptop products show some signs of the same kind of neglect. The latest iteration of the MacBook Pro offers a number of impressive features, but it maxes out at a relatively low level of RAM, doesn’t offer many ports, and isn’t equipped with truly top-of-the-line internal chips. The computer is impressive in many ways — certainly the innovative new TouchBar looks cool — but, like most of Apple’s other products, it appears to be optimized for lightness and thinness rather than for true professional use.

But this all raises a more fundamental question. If GE can build jet engines, tidal energy farms, freight rail data systems, mining equipment, and medical devices, how is it that the world’s most valuable company can’t find the time to make a full line of personal computers and PC peripherals alongside its market-leading smartphones and tablets? The answer goes back to Apple’s corporate structure, which, though fairly common for a startup, is extremely unusual for an enormous company.

It’s an interesting read, especially for anyone who isn’t aware of just how atypical Apple’s functional, rather than divisional, structure is for a large corporation (let alone for the largest, by market cap).

I think it’s almost certainly true that if there were, say, a “Macintosh” division within Apple, that we’d see more frequent updates to all Mac hardware. That doesn’t mean Apple should change its structure, though — and in the long run, I don’t even think that would be good for the Macintosh. Apple’s functional structure is absolutely central to their success over the past 20 years.

I think what Yglesias shows is that Apple’s functional structure is not a panacea — but not that their structure should become more traditional. Like with almost everything else in the world, there are tradeoffs. The Mac going through a years-long period of sporadic (or non-existent) hardware updates is a downside of these tradeoffs. But if Apple had a standalone Macintosh division, there might never have been an iPhone or especially iPad, because the Mac division chief would have been motivated to protect the Mac. We would have had a MacPhone and MacPad instead, and they’d have been lesser products for it.

Also, this problem is not new at Apple. There are certainly growing pains with regard to Apple’s enormous size today. The iPhone’s extraordinary success creates a sort of gravity that has warped the company. But Apple ran into “can’t walk and chew gum” problems even when they were a much smaller company.

Auto Safety Regulators Seek a Driver Mode to Block Apps 

Neal E. Boudette, reporting for the NYT:

The guidelines call on electronics manufacturers like Apple and Samsung to design future operating systems that limit the functionality and simplify interfaces while a vehicle is in motion and to develop technology to identify when the devices are being used by a driver while driving. That would ensure the limits are placed on drivers and not other vehicle occupants.

The new guidelines from N.H.T.S.A. are the agency’s first recommendations specifically for portable devices that are used while driving. The agency cannot force electronics companies to comply, but in the past it issued a set of guidelines for the navigation and entertainment systems built into cars by the manufacturer and carmakers adopted them, for the most part. […]

A driver mode would present a simplified interface and detect when the device is being used by a driver. In this mode, a smartphone would block any video or distracting graphics; eliminate scrolling text; and prohibit keypad use for texting or email. Any social media content or content from web pages like news reports should be blocked as well, the guidelines say.

In theory, this is a great idea that I would support wholeheartedly. Studies suggest that drivers distracted by their phones are more dangerous than those who are intoxicated by alcohol. But how could it work? A phone with GPS can detect when it’s moving at a high speed, but how could you detect that the phone belongs to the driver of the vehicle, and not a passenger?

Blocking everyone — drivers and passengers alike — from using their phones in a moving vehicle is not going to fly. The only solution I can think of is to greatly increase the penalties for causing an accident while using your phone. We greatly decreased incidents of drunk driving the same way — serious legal penalties, combined with making the act socially unacceptable.

Trump Picks El Chapo to Run D.E.A. 

Andy Borowitz:

Just days after picking Betsy DeVos to run the Department of Education, President-elect Donald Trump has tapped another wealthy outsider by naming Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán to head the Drug Enforcement Administration.

In an official statement, Trump said that El Chapo’s “tremendous success in the private sector” showed that he has what it takes to “shake things up” at the D.E.A.

How Serenity Caldwell Drowned Her Fiancé’s iPhone 7 Plus on Vacation 

Serenity Caldwell:

Unfortunately, even if you wind up with a defective model — as we did — Apple doesn’t officially cover water damage in its warranty. You’ll need AppleCare+ not to pay an outrageous sum to replace your device. Thanks to the phone being covered, it was just $99, but you only get two incidents at that price — drown your iPhone a third time, and you’ll be paying half of your original purchase price for a replacement.

The Genius we spoke to did note that one-time drownings were rare; they were sending our phone to Apple’s engineering department to dissect and check on the seals, and if one of the display seals was indeed found to be faulty, we might get our money and AppleCare+ incident back. But that’s a long shot, and not one I’m necessarily banking on.

My general takeaway from the week’s misadventure is this: You can probably use your iPhone in the shower, at the beach, or wash debris off its screen under the faucet with no ill effects. But when you completely submerge it, you’re putting stress on every water-resistance gasket in the phone — and if just one of those gaskets fail, you’re looking at an Apple Store visit and a costly to very costly repair.

How to Fight iCloud Calendar Spam 

David Sparks:

Most of the calendar spam I’ve seen has originated from China. Somebody has a big list of email addresses and sends out calendar invites with spammy links embedded. By default, the Mac looks at these invites and gives them to you via the calendar app along with a notification.

Historically, I’ve really liked this feature. My family uses multiple calendars and we routinely send each other invites. If I need to drive my daughter to a particular event, she sets the event in her calendar and sends me an invite. (We also have a shared family calendar but that includes everyone and in this case it would just be me and my daughter.)

This is what makes me so pissed about calendar spam. It’s taking something I use often and corrupting it. My guess is this is only going to get worse and I really hope Apple intervenes. In the meantime, there are a few steps you can take.

I started getting these last week. Same as a lot of you, I’ll bet: spam for Ray-Ban sunglasses and Ugg boots. Knock on wood, but I haven’t gotten one in about three days as I write this, so maybe Apple figured out a way to stop this? If you’re still getting them, let me know.

Update: A large number of readers report being hit by this spam yesterday and today, so I must just be lucky that it has (temporarily?) subsided for me. The most interesting thing about this is that it’s a way to send completely unauthenticated spam, and it has been just sitting around unexploited until now. This feature has been around for years, but the spammers seemingly didn’t find it until very recently.

Update 2: Apple is “actively working to address this issue by identifying and blocking suspicious senders and spam in the invites being sent.”

Doxie Q 

My thanks to Doxie for sponsoring last week’s DF RSS feed to promote their new Doxie Q. It’s a smart new rechargeable document and receipt scanner that flips open to scan stacks of paper automatically — anywhere, with a rechargeable battery, built-in Wi-Fi, and no computer required. Get all the power of a big desktop scanner with the flexibility of being able to scan anywhere. You’ve never seen anything like it.

Best off, Doxie’s lightweight design and elegant Mac and iOS apps make it easy to go paperless. Doxie handles any workflow — save scans to your desktop, share with your favorite apps, or send to cloud services like iCloud Drive, Evernote, or Dropbox.

Check out the new Doxie Q here — and, through November 30, every Daring Fireball reader gets a super secret discount — $60 off every new Doxie Q.

Donald Trump Lost Most of the American Economy in This Election 

Jim Tankersley, writing for The Washington Post:

In the modern era of presidential politics, no candidate has ever won the popular vote by more than Hillary Clinton did this year, yet still managed to lose the electoral college. In that sense, 2016 was a historic split: Donald Trump won the presidency by as much as 74 electoral votes (depending on how Michigan ends up) while losing the nationwide vote to Clinton by 1.7 million votes and counting. [Note: It’s now over 2.2 million votes and counting.]

But there’s another divide exposed by the election, which researchers at the Brookings Institution recently discovered as they sifted the election returns. It has no bearing on the election outcome, but it tells us something important about the state of the country and its politics moving forward.

The divide is economic, and it is massive. According to the Brookings analysis, the less-than-500 counties that Clinton won nationwide combined to generate 64 percent of America’s economic activity in 2015. The more-than-2,600 counties that Trump won combined to generate 36 percent of the country’s economic activity last year.

I will say it flatly: Trump voters are ignoramuses, bigots, and/or fools. But time is not on their side. This is their last gasp.

David Remnick: ‘Obama Reckons With a Trump Presidency’ 

David Remnick, editor of The New Yorker, had extraordinary access to Barack Obama both before and after this election. Regardless of your feelings on Trump’s election, this is a sharp and insightful take on Obama’s perspective:

Even in the midst of what he can only see as a disastrous turn of history, Obama retained the uncanny capacity to view his quandaries as if he were drafting a research paper. “A President who looked like me was inevitable at some point in American history,” he said. “It might have been somebody named Gonzales instead of Obama, but it was coming. And I probably showed up 20 years sooner than the demographics would have anticipated. And, in that sense, it was a little bit more surprising. The country had to do more adjusting and processing of it. It undoubtedly created more anxiety than it will twenty years from now, provoked more reactions in some portion of the population than it will 20 years from now. And that’s understandable.”

How did he speak with his two daughters about the election results, about the post-election reports of racial incidents? “What I say to them is that people are complicated,” Obama told me. “Societies and cultures are really complicated.… This is not mathematics; this is biology and chemistry. These are living organisms, and it’s messy. And your job as a citizen and as a decent human being is to constantly affirm and lift up and fight for treating people with kindness and respect and understanding. And you should anticipate that at any given moment there’s going to be flare-ups of bigotry that you may have to confront, or may be inside you and you have to vanquish. And it doesn’t stop… . You don’t get into a fetal position about it. You don’t start worrying about apocalypse. You say, O.K., where are the places where I can push to keep it moving forward.”

If you read only one thing this Sunday night, this should be it.

Democrats Won the Most Votes in the Election. They Should Act Like It. 

Ezra Klein:

More Americans voted for Hillary Clinton than for Donald Trump. More Americans voted for Democratic Senate candidates than for Republican Senate candidates.

So why aren’t Democrats acting like it? Why aren’t they trying to force Republicans, the media, and the emergent Trump White House to act like it?

This is not an argument that the election was rigged, or that Trump’s win is somehow illegitimate. The president is chosen by the Electoral College. The Senate is built to favor small states. Gerrymandering is legal. America does not decide national elections by simply tallying up votes.

But the will of the voters still matters, or at least it should. Thus far, Democrats have slipped comfortably into the position of minority party. They aren’t demanding that Trump put forward compromise candidates for key posts. They aren’t laying out a proactive agenda that would serve as their basis for negotiations with Trump and the Republicans. And they aren’t, in their public messaging, emphasizing that most voters opposed Trump’s agenda, and that both Democrats and Republicans need to take that seriously.

We lost the election, but we’re the plurality. That’s the truth. It doesn’t change the results, but it’s so uncomfortable for Trump that he’s just making shit up that he somehow actually won the popular vote.

Adam Geitgey: ‘The New MacBook Pro Is Kind of Great for Hackers’ 

Adam Geitgey:

But in some ways, the new MacBook Pro is the most techy and expandable laptop Apple has ever made. They are trusting their pro users to wade into murky USB-C waters in search of the holy grail of a universal, open standard for moving data and power between devices.

I’m not here to change your mind about the MacBook Pro. Yes, it’s probably too expensive and more RAM is better than less RAM. But everyone posting complaints without actually using a MBP for a few weeks is missing out on all the clever things you can do because it is built on USB-C. Over the past week or two with a new MacBook Pro (15in, 2.9ghz, TouchBar), I’ve been constantly surprised with how USB-C makes new things possible. It’s a kind of a hacker’s dream.

One of his observations: it makes life easier for high-end Android users, because it uses the same port.

On Jony Ive’s Role at Apple

Abdel Ibrahim, writing for AppAdvice:

In the latest episode of The Talk Show, John Gruber discusses with Six Colors founder, Jason Snell, about Jony Ive’s role in the company and how it’s changed in the years since Steve Jobs’ passing. He specifically makes mention that he’s heard that Ive’s role has changed in a way where he’s not as much involved in the design of physical hardware as he used to be.

I’ve heard that he has lately been checked out or not as directly involved with product design and that he’s been largely focused on architecture, meaning the spaceship campus and the new stores. And that maybe the other top-level executive who’s been working the most with Ive is Angela Arhendts.

The comment comes on the back of Apple releasing a photo book called “Designed by Apple in California” in which the company looks back the last 20 years of products made under Ive and his design team. Many Apple fans see the book as part of Ive’s slow retirement from Apple, some who believe that Ive has been on his way out for a while now.

This is what I dislike most about podcasting. With everything I write here at DF, I aim for painstaking precision in my choice of words and phrasing. I try not only to make it easy for my meaning to be understood, but also difficult to be misconstrued. On a podcast, that’s not possible. I have no doubt Ibrahim transcribed my words accurately, but the above excerpt is not an accurate representation of what I tried to convey. I think if you listen to that part of the show, the surrounding context makes that clear.

There are definitely people who think Ive might be on his way out. There’s been speculation to that effect ever since his promotion last year to chief design officer and the coinciding promotions of Alan Dye and Richard Howarth to vice presidents of user interface design and industrial design, respectively. The company line is that this new arrangement allows Ive to spend less time on management, and more time directly on, well, design. The skeptic’s take is that this new arrangement allows Ive to be less involved, period, and that the chief design officer title is almost ceremonial.

Ive has also always been a bit of a mystery man at Apple. There aren’t many people who work with him directly, and those few who do, don’t talk about it. Almost everything I’ve heard about Ive’s current role is second or third-hand. Nobody has said to me “Jony Ive has checked out of day-to-day product design.” What I have heard is from people who’ve said “I think Jony Ive has checked out of day-to-day product design.” There is a big difference between those two sentences. The first implies direct knowledge. The second is speculation. That’s what I tried to convey on The Talk Show last week.

Importantly, I’ve also heard from well-placed sources within Apple that there is nothing to this — that while Ive is devoting much of his time and attention to architecture recently (both for the new campus and Apple retail), every aspect of every new product remains as much under his watchful eye as ever. That his chief design officer title isn’t the least bit ceremonial, and instead is an accurate representation of his increased authority.1 Some of this I’d heard a while back. Some of this I’ve heard just in the last few days, in the wake of last week’s episode of the show and the ensuing misconstruing of my remarks.2

The Designed by Apple in California book is fascinating in this regard. It lets you see what you want to see. Steven Troughton-Smith expressed the “this is Ive’s swan song” side succinctly:

That it’s only the last 20 years says a lot — this is Ive’s portfolio, not Apple’s. My impression is that his career is drawing to a close.

I’ll argue the other side: the existence of this book — not just what the book is about, but the extraordinary effort that went into creating and printing it — is evidence that Jony Ive is wholly in charge of product at Apple. Perhaps every bit as much as Steve Jobs was. If Jony Ive wants to make a $300 book of super-high-end product photography, Apple makes that book. (See also: last year’s $20,000 gold Apple Watches.)

Maybe it’s just wishful thinking on my part, because I don’t want Ive to leave Apple. Confirmation bias can lead one to see what one wants to see. But if I had to bet, I’d bet he’s not going anywhere. Fundamentally I think Jony Ive loves Apple, feels a responsibility to the legacy of his collaboration with Steve Jobs, and that whatever aspirations he has for the remainder of his career, personally, they’re only possible at Apple. I think if you want to argue that Ive is one step out the door at Apple, you also have to argue that he’s one step out the door of being a designer. That doesn’t sound right to me.

I see why some people think Designed by Apple in California could be Ive’s goodbye to Apple. But it feels to me like Ive’s heartfelt goodbye to his best friend and colleague, five years gone. I don’t think Jony Ive is going anywhere. 

  1. I think if Jony Ive were to be slowly extricating himself from Apple, he could get a ceremonial title, but a C-level corporate officer doesn’t sound ceremonial at all. It would be irresponsible for a publicly-held corporation to claim to have a C-level executive who didn’t actually have C-level responsibilities — and Tim Cook is most certainly not an irresponsible man. It has never made sense to me that so many people took Ive’s promotion to chief design officer as a sign that he’s on the way out. Corporate governance is serious business, and the fact that Tim Cook would not play fast and loose with it is reason to take it at face value. ↩︎

  2. When I first started seeing these “Gruber thinks Jony Ive is on his way out” stories, I was appalled. It felt like a punch to the gut, because it wasn’t what I meant to convey, and I realize how influential my word is in such regards. But perhaps it was worth it. It shook a few well-placed little birdies out of the tree, all of whom emphasized that Jony Ive is as connected to product design as ever. ↩︎︎

White Nationalists Exult in Donald Trump’s Election With a Salute: ‘Heil Victory’ 

Joseph Goldstein, reporting for the NYT:

Earlier in the day, Mr. Spencer himself had urged the group to start acting less like an underground organization and more like the establishment.

But now his tone changed as he began to tell the audience of more than 200 people, mostly young men, what they had been waiting to hear. He railed against Jews and, with a smile, quoted Nazi propaganda in the original German. America, he said, belonged to white people, whom he called the “children of the sun,” a race of conquerors and creators who had been marginalized but now, in the era of President-elect Donald J. Trump, were “awakening to their own identity.”

As he finished, several audience members had their arms outstretched in a Nazi salute. When Mr. Spencer, or perhaps another person standing near him at the front of the room — it was not clear who — shouted, “Heil the people! Heil victory,” the room shouted it back.

These are neo-Nazis, and they now think they are the establishment. This is not normal; this has nothing to do with the pre-Trump partisan divide — deep though it was — in the U.S. Neo-Nazis weren’t pulling for Mitt Romney or John McCain, and they didn’t celebrate George W. Bush’s election.

If you think this is no big deal, you are either with them, or you are in denial regarding a grave crisis.

A Nepotistic Kook for National Security Advisor 

Nicholas Kristof, writing for the NYT:

The announcement that Trump has recruited Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn as national security adviser is particularly alarming. Flynn is smart and knows the world very well, but he was fired from his last government job for incompetence. Worse, he today is regarded by many Republican and Democratic foreign policy specialists as a kook. […]

Indeed, for an intelligence officer, Flynn seems to have trouble distinguishing truth from falsehood. Earlier this month, he tweeted an obviously fake story claiming that the police had found emails linking Hillary Clinton to sex crimes with children. When he was in government, subordinates had a special name for his delusions: “Flynn facts.” […]

For his chief of staff, Flynn chose his son, who is a looney on social media, calling President Obama a communist and fascist, tweeting racially insensitive comments and sharing absurd conspiracy theories.

Follow the link to those tweets. This is Jack D. “sap and impurify my precious bodily fluids” Ripper stuff. No national security advisor should be hiring one of his own children as chief of staff, let alone one who by all appearances lost his mind five years ago.

Now Is Not the Time to Criticize the Galaxy Note 7 

Wen Powers, writing for McSweeney’s:

Here’s the thing though, we did choose, and you should all stop protesting against it. Yes, more of you voted for the iPhone, but you also seem to forget that the mail room staff liked how the Galaxy Note 7 has such fun games, and their votes count more. That’s the system that we have always used, that’s the system we will always use. Get used to it.

Jony Ive and Marc Newson Create Room-Size Christmas Tree for Claridge’s 

The whole installation is the project, not the unlit, undecorated tree itself.

Bloomberg: ‘Apple Abandons Development of Wireless Routers’ 

Mark Gurman, reporting for Bloomberg:

Apple Inc. has disbanded its division that develops wireless routers, another move to try to sharpen the company’s focus on consumer products that generate the bulk of its revenue, according to people familiar with the matter.

Apple began shutting down the wireless router team over the past year, dispersing engineers to other product development groups, including the one handling the Apple TV, said the people, who asked not to be named because the decision hasn’t been publicly announced.

Not surprising, given that their current hardware hasn’t been updated in three years. Apple used to refresh its AirPort routers frequently, to keep up with the state of the art. They often weren’t first to adopt new standards, but they never sat still for three years.

The question is, are they really out of the router game (and will start selling Belkin or Eero routers in their stores), or are they working on something new, a HomeKit hub, that will include the functionality of a router?

Just seems like Apple is abandoning a lot of stuff without having replacements ready these days.

Victory: A Charting Library for React.js and React Native 

My thanks to Formidable for sponsoring this week’s DF RSS feed to promote Victory, their data visualization library for React.js and React Native.

Simple question: are you building custom charts? Victory is used by companies like Airbnb, FiveThirtyEight, and Victory makes it easy to get started without sacrificing flexibility. Use the same API to create charts for web and mobile devices. And the results are gorgeous. Seriously, even if you’re not a web developer, you should go check out their website and see how beautiful these charts are. And not in a show-y off-y bullshit way like using “3D” for two-dimensional data. No — Victory lets you easily create charts that are gorgeous in the sense of traditional graphic design and serious data visualization practices. The documentation is alive — you can play with the charts just by clicking and dragging.

Victory is created and supported by the open source team at Formidable, free use under the MIT license. There is no catch here. It’s an open source library that you can just use.

The Talk Show: ‘Fork the Universe’ 

Jason Snell returns to the show to talk about the new MacBook Pros and the Touch Bar, and Apple’s new book chronicling the last 20 years of their industrial design, Designed by Apple in California.

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‘Quite Literally’ 

Michael Jurewitz on why kakistocracy is even more apt a description of Trump’s incoming administration than I thought.

The Right Way to Oppose Trump 

Luigi Zingales, writing for the NYT:

Mr. Berlusconi was able to govern Italy for as long as he did mostly thanks to the incompetence of his opposition. It was so rabidly obsessed with his personality that any substantive political debate disappeared; it focused only on personal attacks, the effect of which was to increase Mr. Berlusconi’s popularity. His secret was an ability to set off a Pavlovian reaction among his leftist opponents, which engendered instantaneous sympathy in most moderate voters. Mr. Trump is no different.

Perfectly applies this very morning. Twitter is full of people talking about Mike Pence getting booed by the audience at Hamilton last night. Now Trump himself is tweeting about it, focusing news media on the incident. Booing is not meaningful opposition. But it has served to distract from a legitimate scandal: Trump settling a fraud lawsuit for $25 million yesterday. The smart opposition is focused on that today.

And the real news — what is happening this week that will have serious repercussions — is that the Trump administration is being filled with cronies, fools, and white nationalist bigots. Trump just nominated an avowed racist to head the Department of Justice and we’re talking about Mike Pence getting booed at a play? If you’re truly opposed to Trump, get serious and stay focused.


Ryan Lizza, writing for the New Yorker:

Seven days may not be enough time to fully assess any new leader, especially in the case of Trump, whose first week was marked by seeming chaos in his efforts to put together an Administration. But what we’ve learned so far about the least-experienced President-elect in history is as troubling and ominous as his critics have feared. The Greeks have a word for the emerging Trump Administration: kakistocracy. The American Heritage Dictionary defines it as a “government by the least qualified or most unprincipled citizens.” Webster’s is simpler: “government by the worst people.”


Extended version of Apple’s commercial for the new MacBook Pros. Captures the Mac at its heart.

The New Touch-Bar-Equipped MacBook Pros and the State of the Mac

I think there’s been a lot of confusion over the nomenclatural transition Apple is going through in its MacBook lineup.

Back in 1998, Steve Jobs presented a simple four-quadrant lineup for Apple’s entire Mac line: a consumer notebook (iBook), pro notebook (PowerBook), consumer desktop (iMac), and pro desktop (Power Mac).

No one could be confused by the difference between an iBook and a PowerBook. The PowerBook was more expensive, faster, had a better display, and even used more “serious” design language — iBooks were candy-colored and the PowerBooks were matte black.

Much has changed since then, including all those product names (except for the iMac). About midway between then and now, Apple introduced what I believe to be the best-selling Mac notebook in history: the MacBook Air.

At the time the Air was introduced in 2008, Apple’s other notebooks were the “regular” MacBook and the MacBook Pro. Sound familiar? The MacBook and MacBook Pro played the exact same roles as the iBook and the PowerBook. One was significantly less expensive, and accordingly, not as nice. Plastic vs. aluminum, slower vs. faster. I used a white iBook for several years. My wife used a white MacBook for several years about a decade ago.

These were good notebooks and I remember them both fondly. But the only reason we bought those machines was that we couldn’t or didn’t want to spend the money for a PowerBook or MacBook Pro. The PowerBook “pro” alternative to my old white iBook was one of the most ahead-of-its-time designs Apple has ever made: the 12-inch PowerBook G4. Just look at it. It’s thick and heavy by today’s standards, but it foretold much of Apple’s aluminum-era design language. I wanted one badly, but couldn’t justify the price difference compared to the iBook, especially for what was going to be a secondary machine.

One notebook that was slower but cheaper.

One notebook that was faster and more expensive.

The MacBook Air didn’t fit into this matrix at all. It was slower than the regular MacBook but as expensive as a MacBook Pro. What you were paying for wasn’t “power” but instead right there in the (then utterly perfect, today somewhat confusing) name “Air”: remarkable thinness and lightness.

Apple moved from the names PowerBook and Power Mac to MacBook Pro and Mac Pro when they shifted from PowerPC to Intel processors. At the time, I chalked this up entirely to wanting to distinguish the Intel-based machines from the “Power” in “PowerPC”. In hindsight, though, I think it also signified a subtle shift in Apple’s design priorities for its very best computers. For decades, computers were starved for raw performance. CPUs were slow, RAM was scarce, disks were slow (and unreliable), graphics were slow. Printing was slow. Networking was slow. Everything was slow. And the more money you spent, the more you could alleviate these problems with faster components, and more ports and peripherals.

Just about everyone agreed the original MacBook Air was beautiful to behold and that something so light and thin would be nicer to carry around than something thicker and heavier. But many critics thought Apple had lost its goddamn collective mind by breaking the rule that you spend more money on “faster”.

From EveryMac’s page describing the differences between the original MacBook Air and the then-current regular MacBook:

Upon viewing the respective specifications pages for the original MacBook Air and a “regular” MacBook at the time the original MacBook Air was introduced — the MacBook “Core 2 Duo” 2.4 13” (Black- Early 2008), for example — two users might come to very different conclusions. A style-conscious user might view the MacBook Air as sleek and beautiful and the “regular” MacBook as comparatively clunky. A cynical user might instead view the MacBook Air as half the system for twice the price.

Both of these viewpoints could be legitimate. Most would agree that the MacBook does look rather “clunky” compared to the MacBook Air.

Likewise, there is no denying that the MacBook Air does have substantial limitations compared to the “regular” MacBook in performance (it’s slower and uses the same lackluster integrated graphics), connectivity (it only has one USB 2.0 port and no onboard Ethernet, compared to the “regular” MacBook with two USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire “400” port, Gigabit Ethernet, and optical digital audio in/out), and expansion (no swappable battery or upgradable RAM and it is a pain to upgrade the hard drive, compared to the “regular” MacBook which has a swappable battery, upgradable RAM, and it is relatively simple to upgrade the hard drive). The “regular” MacBook also has a convenient internal optical drive whereas the MacBook Air requires the usage of an external one or software workarounds.

Costs more. Not faster. Fewer ports. Fewer user-replaceable components. Sound familiar? MacBook Air buyers were paying a premium not for performance (or to use the old word, power) but instead for niceness. Apple effectively bifurcated the premium side of the MacBook lineup: Air for niceness, Pro for performance.

But then a funny thing happened. MacBook Airs got steadily faster and cheaper. Moore’s Law at work. The regular MacBooks went away, and eventually the 11-inch MacBook Air dropped to $899, and the more popular 13-inch Air to $999. The MacBook Air transitioned — not in one fell swoop, but slowly and steadily, year after year — from being a premium product to being Apple’s most decidedly consumer-oriented Mac. The go-to Mac for students, casual users, and the budget-conscious.

Last year Apple reintroduced the no-adjective MacBook brand for a device that was thinner, lighter, had a better display, one single expansion port that doubles for charging — and came at a premium price. Oh, and it’s quite arguably slower not just than the old MacBook Airs that are still sitting there in Apple’s lineup, but also slower than an iPhone.

The regular MacBook’s value proposition today is exactly what the Air’s was in 2008. The MacBook Air’s value proposition today is exactly what the MacBook’s was in 2008. They’ve flipped. But the Air is the device whose name implies “thin and light”. Here’s what I wrote back in May:

The outrage is coming from people who want Apple to update the MacBook Airs with retina displays. That’s not going to happen. The Airs are now Apple’s low-priced models. The Pros will get thinner (and thus more Air-like) and the new MacBook will get faster (and thus more Air-like). But the MacBook Air as we know it serves only one purpose: to hit the $899/999 price points.

Back in March 2015, after the debut of the current one-port MacBook, I wrote:

The key to understanding the new MacBook is that it didn’t replace any existing models in Apple’s lineup. In fact, the 11- and 13-inch Airs and the 13-inch MacBook Pro all got speed bump updates last week. If you need more ports or better performance, or if you frequently need to work while your MacBook is plugged into a power outlet, this machine is not for you, today. That’s why it didn’t (yet) replace anything in the lineup.

The original 2008 MacBook Air was slow, expensive (based on specs), lacked storage, only had one USB port, was the first Apple notebook without an optical drive, etc. It was not for everyone. It was not for most people, in fact. But some people loved it. The new 2015 MacBook is the same thing — some people will love it today, and it shows us Apple’s vision for the future of the notebook form factor.

So forget about the word Air. Apple’s vision for computers — notebooks, phones, tablets, even desktops — is thinner and lighter. Everything Apple makes today is an Air model in spirit. The name “Air” is no longer meaningful.

My Thoughts on the New MacBook Pros

I’ve spent almost three weeks testing a few models of the new MacBook Pros: the 13-inch model that lacks the Touch Bar, a mid-range (Core i5) 13-inch with the Touch Bar, and a 15-inch model with the Touch Bar. By way of comparison, my personal MacBook is a top-of-the-line 13-inch MacBook Pro that I bought just about exactly two years ago. As I’ve used these new models, the thought I keep turning back to is this: What Apple means by “pro” is tied very much to being nicer.

A rundown of details and observations:

  • The build quality is decidedly nicer. This is particularly noticeable with the display hinge. It feels better when you open it, it moves smoother as you adjust it to your preferred angle, and it closes with a more satisfying snap. iFixit’s teardown contains some interesting observations about how Apple achieved these improvements.

  • Space gray looks amazing. I wish it were even a little darker, but it’s very cool. In very bright light, it doesn’t look that different from the traditional silver finish. In darker lighting, though, the difference is very noticeable.

  • The trackpad is excellent. I enjoy that it’s bigger, and Apple’s palm detection has worked perfectly. Not once has it gotten in the way.

  • The reduction in bezel area surrounding the display is noticeable. The combination of device thinness, bezel reduction, and the space gray finish all serve to make my previous MacBook Pro look old.

  • The keyboard is, for me, a mixed bag, and it’s probably the one thing that many people will like least about these machines. I find less key travel to be less pleasant while typing. But I’m so far out there on this issue that I use a 20-year-old Apple Extended Keyboard II, with mechanical key switches, at my desk. I’ve never liked any notebook keyboard compared to an actual mechanical keyboard. But every time Apple makes its keyboards thinner, I get used to it. I always do, and I’m already pretty used to these new ones. And here’s the mixed bag part: the new MacBook Pro key switches do have a premium feel to them. I now can’t stop noticing how much the key caps on my old MacBook Pro jiggle around when I’m just resting my fingers on the keys. The new keys don’t do that. It feels like a premium keyboard — just one with incredibly short key travel, alas. [Update: Is the new MacBook keyboard too loud?]

  • The keyboard change I’m having the most trouble with is the arrow key arrangement. Starting with the 2015 new MacBook, Apple has made the left and right arrow keys full-height; previously all four arrow keys were half-height, in an upside-down T arrangement. I’m having a devil of a time getting used to this. I use those keys frequently and do so without looking at them, and my fingers just can’t find what they’re feeling for. I’ll get used to it, I suspect, but this is one of the few things I’d change if I could.

  • I like the Touch Bar a lot, especially Touch ID. It also feels like the right way to do a keyboard for the emoji age.1 I’m still not entirely used to it, and I’m unsure how best to use it to suit my needs. What I’m sure of is that the wrong way to think about the Touch Bar is to expect it be to be a game-changing input method. It’s just a modern, dynamic replacement for a fiddly, static set of cryptic buttons. And it’s really nicely done. It looks less like a screen and more like a button bar with dynamically changing labels.

  • It took about three days using Touch ID on this review unit before I instinctively tried to use it to unlock my old MacBook. Typing my login password now feels archaic.

  • The Esc is the one button in the classic function key row that some people really use a lot. I’ve heard from them. “How’s the Esc key?” is the number one question I’ve gotten from readers about the Touch Bar. For some reason, the Esc key doesn’t sit flush with the left edge of the Touch Bar. It’s inset by about the width of a key. (My best guess is that it is inset for visual symmetry with the Touch ID sensor on the other side, but it’s possible there were engineering constraints.) But about half of the blank area at the left edge is touch sensitive, even though there is no display under that part of the bar. I made a brief video about this that shows it better than I can explain it. The bottom line is that it’s pretty easy to hit Esc accurately without looking — the team that made the Touch Bar was clearly aware that some people really do use the Esc key a lot.

  • My main wish for the next-generation Touch Bar: Taptic Engine support. Fake clicks like those on the Magic Trackpad, or even like the iPhone 7’s 3D Touch haptics, would be great. This might be trickier for Apple to pull off than I’m imagining, though. The trackpad has better haptics and works with much less pressure from your fingers, but the trackpad doesn’t have a display. The iPhone has a display, but 3D Touch on the iPhone takes more pressure to activate than I think a keyboard button should. This might take a few years.

  • I miss MagSafe. I think what it gets down to is that Apple sees the future as being battery-only while using it. Charge it like your phone — overnight — and then just go all day. And I also see the beauty in having just four USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports that all work the same way. But boy, MagSafe sure was a great idea, and it will be missed. (Even leaving aside the “trip over the cable accidentally scenario”, MagSafe is great on a daily basis just because it’s so effortless to connect. It feels like a cable that connects itself.)

  • Speaking of battery life, it has been amazing. I watched Game 7 of the World Series with the 13-inch Touch Bar-equipped model open on my lap, for following Twitter and messaging a few friends about the game. It was a long game, over four hours, and I had the brightness on the display set as high as I wanted. (Maximum brightness would have been way too bright.) When the game ended the MacBook Pro still had 70 percent of its battery remaining. That’s probably the definition of “light use”, but my two-year-old MacBook Pro never got that much battery life under similar conditions.

  • It is almost criminal that the extended power cord is now a $19 peripheral, and not included in the box. These machines cost upwards of $4,000 and they’re going to nickel-and-dime you over a power cord?

  • Nickel-and-dime move number two: Not including a USB-C to Lightning cable with the iPhone 7. You can walk into an Apple Store today and drop thousands of dollars on a new MacBook and iPhone, but you can’t connect the two without a $19 cable (which will cost $25 again come January).

  • I don’t know if this is a nickel-and-dime move or just a design decision, but the wall charger no longer has flip-out arms for wrapping the cable. That was a great little thoughtful detail, and I miss it.

  • As promised, sound is way better from the built-in speakers. There’s almost no comparison.

Where the Mac Stands Within Apple

To me, an iPad in notebook mode — connected to a keyboard cover — is so much less nice than a real notebook. And the difference is more stark when compared to a great notebook, like these MacBook Pros. There are advantages to the tablet form factor, but no tablet will ever be as nice as a notebook as these MacBook Pros. I also prefer MacOS over iOS for, well, “doing work”. I think I’m more productive on a Mac than I am on an iPad. I can’t prove it, but even if I’m wrong, the fact that I feel like it’s true matters. I always feel slightly hamstrung working on an iPad. I never do on a Mac (at least once I’ve got it configured with all the apps and little shortcuts, scripts, and utilities I use).

There are a lot of Mac users who feel the same way I do, and these new MacBook Pros have debuted at a time when many of these users look at Apple’s laggardly update pace for new Mac hardware (including the 1,000-plus day-old Mac Pros) and have come to the conclusion that Apple is sunsetting the Mac. They think Tim Cook really does want them to switch to an iPad.

I think these new MacBook Pros, and the Touch Bar in particular, stand as refutation to that. These are very nice machines, designed and made with great care. And the Touch Bar is clearly no afterthought. A lot of teams from across the company worked for a long time on this. It’s an embedded iOS device, with the accompanying characteristics you’d expect: 60 FPS animation, seemingly instantaneous touch latency, well-done animation as things like the Control Strip expand and retract, and more.

The Touch Bar is also, clearly, a costly component, making the Touch Bar-equipped MacBook Pros more expensive. Price aside, the new MacBook Pro with the old-school function keys shouldn’t exist. But the Touch Bar won’t be expensive forever. It’s just so clear to me that these machines share the design ethos of the original MacBook Air. They’re designed for the future — the near future, I think — but until then, we’ll buy compatibility dongles and wait another year to see versions that support more than 16 GB of RAM.

There’s much griping about these machines now, just like there was much griping about the original Air then, but these are exactly the MacBooks I want Apple to be making — ones that show that the company is putting very hard work into every aspect of them. I’d be more worried about Apple’s commitment to the Mac if they did the easy thing — easier both technically and in terms of initial critical response — and just stuck a retina display in a MacBook Air and called it a day. 

  1. I do wish my most-used emoji characters synced across my various devices through iCloud, the way my keyboard text substitutions do. It seems weird that every device I use has a different set of most-used emoji. ↩︎

On Hiding vs. Encapsulating Complexity, in the Context of Twitter’s Experimental Reply Interface

Matthew Panzarino hits today’s DF trifecta with this piece railing against a confusing new reply interface Twitter is testing with some users:

The solution for this mess should probably start with removing the user names from the character count but leaving the actual user names themselves. Much in the way that a link (eventually, still not implemented, lol) or photo is added and appears in the tweet but does not count towards the character count.

The argument against this is that ‘normals are confused by ‘@ names’. I disagree. I think that this may have been an issue early on but enormous swaths of people have been familiarized with usernames by the huge audience for tweets on mainstream media, TV and the web, as well as in pop culture like Jimmy Kimmel’s Mean Tweets segments and on and on.

Twitter reply chains are confusing to some/many users. Is the problem with Twitter, or with the users?

The fundamental problem with most designers of complex systems intended for mass market use is that they decide to hide complexity. They won’t admit it — they’ll deny it even — but it’s because they’re disdainful of their users. They think their users are stupid, so they need to present them with a design for stupid people. If they weren’t stupid they wouldn’t be confused, right?

That’s fundamentally wrong. If people are confused with a design, the problem is with the design, not with the users. It’s Twitter’s designers who aren’t smart enough, not Twitter’s users, because if Twitter’s designers were smart enough, they’d come up with a design that wasn’t confusing by encapsulating rather than merely hiding complexity. It’s the difference between actually cleaning up a mess versus just sweeping the mess under a rug. This new Twitter reply interface is a “sweep it under the rug” design.

A good “simple” design will help users to understand what is actually going on, how a thing actually works. A bad “simple” design will leave users just as confused as ever with even less chance of figuring it out, because what they need to see to understand it is hidden.1 

  1. Apple has always been very good at this — designing software and hardware where complexity is encapsulated rather than hidden. The genius of the original Mac wasn’t that it was suitable for dummies but that it was the first system that wasn’t confusing. Smart people flocked to the Mac.

    But an example where Apple got this wrong is the way Mac OS X (to use the old name) defaults to hiding file name extensions. This is a pet topic of mine from the earliest days of Daring Fireball. If you’re going to require file name extensions in your system, then show them. If you don’t want to show them (and you shouldn’t, because they’re ugly, inelegant, and easily broken), then design a system where they’re never needed. The classic Mac OS got this right. iOS got this right. Mac OS X got this wrong, and it’s still a bit of a mess on today’s MacOS. ↩︎

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