“…if progress is ever to be made, some opportunities and discoveries will be inconceivable in advance”

My brother Mark wrote an essay on current uproar over ‘No Man’s Sky’. He, like many others, bought the game, but he’s not angry like them.

He makes a distinction between buying something that is and investing in what something can become and draws a great comparison to one of his (and my) favorite scenes from Mad Men:

In my favorite scene of Mad Men, head honcho Don Draper gets into an argument with junior copywriter Peggy Olson in his office after hours. She delivered work the client loved, and while she got paid she never received acknowledgement of her role in the win. With tears in her eyes she finally breaks down and reminds Don she didn’t even get a ‘thank you,’ to which he quickly shouts, “That’s what the money’s for!” You see, Don uses money as a reward, not as encouragement. He’s not an investor in good creative, he’s a consumer of it. He pays for results, not future potential. I think the disappointment we’re seeing among many buyers of No Man’s Sky comes from the fact that what they received is not what they thought they paid for. And perhaps many of those who are content with their purchase see their money more as support for what No Man’s Sky pursued and is possibly becoming, and are enjoying their purchase for what it is and not what they thought it would be.

I see both sides on this. I understand the disappointment, but I also know what to expect by someone who has both backed and also created projects on Kickstarter.

What I would like to see change is more effort on the part of project creators to manage expectations.

Did anything bad ever come from under-promising and over-delivering?

Errors, Snap Judgements, and Manufactured Outrage

Last week, on August 26th, Facebook announced they were automating their Trending feature and phasing out the people who previously wrote the descriptions for the trending news items.

Then, earlier this week, things started getting screwy:

First, there were the hilarious mix-ups. Yesterday a video of a dog reacting to seeing its owner for the first time in two years went viral. The top headline, from something called iHeartViral.com, told people they just had to watch it. And yet the Trending Topics module put the video under the headline Watch Dogs 2 — an upcoming video game about hacking and cybersecurity.

Yesterday, a more serious error occurred: a fake news story about Fox News commentator Megyn Kelly’s supposed secret affinity for Hillary Clinton blew up on Facebook, landing it on top of the Trending list. Not only did the engineers (or algorithms) responsible for Trending fail to realize the story was false — it came from a partisan libertarian source called End the Fed — but Facebook also left it in the Trending module for hours to collect likes and comments. All the while, the company unwittingly gave enormous exposure to a damaging piece of false information.

Oops. Looks like those algorithms need some fine-tuning, right? That’s not how The Verge framed the problem in their headline the above quote is from. Their headline is, “Facebook’s editorial purge has completely backfired”.

Wow. Ok. That’s another way of looking at things, but I think this is part of a bigger problem in our modern world: immediate reactions without contemplation. Online services like Twitter and Facebook have helped expedite and amplify snap decisions. Many people would rather be first and wrong in 140 characters than last and well-read in 800 words.

I think the Facebook Trending bump — and that is all is truly is, a tiny, fucking bump — is something we’re all going to forget about in 4 days when the next thing to get outraged over happens.

This brings me to the other problem in our modern world: manufactured outrage. The term has been around at least since 2012, but I first started hearing it used regularly this year on The Joe Rogan Experience podcast. Right now the big one is Colin Kapernick sitting down during the National Anthem. The correct response to this bullshit is “who gives a fuck?” But news sites and idiots in my Facebook feed are fueling the fire and making this trivial event into a story. It’s not.

You can’t have an informed opinion about something if you don’t have information about that something (see that word “informed” that comes before “opinion”?).

We have an ever-increasing number of world events thrown in our faces every second of every day of every year, but our time is still finite, so we need to be very careful what we choose to focus our attention, time, and energy on.

Has Facebook’s replacement of people with algorithms “completely backfired”? I have no fucking idea, and neither does anyone else. It’s hasn’t even been a week.

Give it some time. I swear everything will be ok.

Our Shitty Political System Doesn’t Allow For More Than Two Parties

Harry Enten at FiveThirtyEight explains why Gary Johnson Isn’t Fading:

Why is Johnson’s support proving more durable than past third-party candidates’? The most obvious answer is that Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton are extremely unpopular for major party presidential nominees; if third-party voters eventually settled on a major party nominee in past campaigns for fear of “wasting their vote,” they may be less willing to settle this year. (Of course, Johnson’s support may simply fade later than past third-party candidates.)

It would be great if had more than two shitty choices for president and it wasn’t about who got the most campaign contributions.

Remember: If the App is Free, You’re the Product Being Sold

Relaxing Privacy Vow, WhatsApp Will Share Some Data With Facebook:

When Facebook bought the start-up WhatsApp in 2014, Jan Koum, one of WhatsApp’s founders, declared that the deal would not affect the digital privacy of his mobile messaging service’s millions of users.

“We don’t know your birthday. We don’t know your home address,” Mr. Koum wrote in a blog post at the time. “None of that data has ever been collected and stored by WhatsApp, and we really have no plans to change that.”

Two years later, in a move that is rankling some of the company’s more than one billion users, WhatsApp will soon begin to share some member information with Facebook.

I am absolutely shocked. Shocked.

I’m sure all the millions of users will immediately cease use of the app.

Vesper Vacates the App Store

Vesper, the note-taking app created by John Gruber, Brent Simmons and Dave Wiskus, is shutting down:

What went wrong was very simple. We never made enough money. Why we didn’t make enough money, what we should have done differently to make more money — those are complex questions (which I’ll tackle below). But what actually sunk Vesper was not complicated. Even as a relatively popular app at a relatively high price (for iOS), revenue was never high enough. Brent took a job at the excellent Omni Group in September 2014, and from that point onward the writing was on the wall. We could have, and probably should have, shut Vesper down a year ago. But we loved it too much. Or at least I did.

I bought Vesper when Gruber announced it on his site because I knew there was probably a lot of care and attention put into it, but the truth was, I had already started my relationship with SimpleNote (SimpleNote was acquired by Automattic, the makers of WordPress, in 2013).

I can’t remember if SimpleNote had their native OS X app from the start, but they did have a web app version which I used all the time. It’s still a part of my daily workflow and note-taking.

In the original version of his post (Google screenshot), Gruber mentions the font-licensing as one of the two, big, ongoing costs to keep the app running (he seems to have removed any mention of fonts). As a designer and type aficionado, I can understand the desire for great typography in an app or website, but I wouldn’t let it break the bank, especially with the solid lineup of fonts to choose from in iOS.

Vesper uses Ideal Sans, from Hoefler & Co. who are notorious for their hefty licensing fees. Back around 2011-12 I worked briefly on the redesign and rebuild of HBO.com while at Roundarch (now Isobar). We looked into the licensing of HBO’s identity typeface, Gotham, for use on the web and I think Hoefler & Co’s license was in the tens of thousands per month (a quick look at the current HBO.com reveals they still use a version of Gotham).

It’s too bad Vesper didn’t pan out. I’m a big proponent of creating things you want to see and use in the world, not creating for some imaginary customer or fan in your head. Q Branch did just that and I respect them for it.

As Gruber points out, their timing and execution were just a little off, and sometimes that’s all that separates the successes from the failures (for more on timing, talent, practice Outliers by Malcolm Gladewll is a must-read).

Dirty Boulevard

Give me your hungry, your tired your poor I’ll piss on ’em
That’s what the Statue of Bigotry says
Your poor huddled masses, let’s club ’em to death
And get it over with and just dump ’em on the boulevard

Dirty Boulevard by Lou Reed

Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results

The New York Times: Inside the Failing Mission to Save Donald Trump From Himself:

And Mr. Trump has begun to acknowledge to associates and even in public that he might lose. In an interview on CNBC on Thursday, he said he was prepared to face defeat.

“I’ll just keep doing the same thing I’m doing right now,” he said. “And at the end, it’s either going to work, or I’m going to, you know, I’m going to have a very, very nice, long vacation.”

Sounds like insanity to me.

Enjoy your very, very nice, long vacation, Trump.

Watch Those Decimal Points

Ars Technica: Kansas couple sues IP mapping firm for turning their life into a “digital hell”:

Ever since James and Theresa Arnold moved into their rented 623-acre farm in Butler County, Kansas, in March 2011, they have seen “countless” law enforcement officials and individuals turning up at their farm day and night looking for links to alleged theft and other supposed crime. All of these people are arriving because of a rounding error on a GPS location, which wrongly points people to their farm.

I love it: “because of a rounding error on a GPS location”


High Fives

This video made me smile.

It also made me think about how archaic the act of sticking out our hands to summon a vehicle is.

“Grandpa, what’s a taxi cab?”

“Oh they were these yellow automobiles, driven by humans, that would take you where ever you wanted to go in New York and you would get them to pick you up by standing in the road and sticking out your arm to hail one.”

“They didn’t drive themselves and you couldn’t use your neural chip to give it commands?”