Posts by Ian Betteridge

Director of content and audience development at Bauer Media UK. Views my own, duh, so don't bother my employer with them.

Downgrading screens, misogynists losing money, and some Apple stuff

I recently downgraded my screen – my ThinkPad is a 1920×1200 display – so I think John Gruber has got this a little wrong. There is much more to a screen than resolution, and even relatively low-resolution screens now look much better than they used to. It’s not just about the number of pixels.

Dreadful misogynist and racist Vox Day, AKA Theodore Beale, has apparently lost $1m to a crypto scam while trying to crowdsource money for a right-wing superhero film. Just think, only a few years ago, that sentence would have drawn a blank look from everyone. What times we live in.

In case you’re not familiar with Vox Day’s oeuvre, he attempted to manipulate the ballot for the 2015 Hugo Awards to ensure only right-wingers got on the list and was a prominent supporter of Gamergate. He’s an all-around piece of shit, and losing money to a scam couldn’t happen to a nicer person. If you want to check out the deep cuts of his awfulness, We Hunted The Mammoth has you covered.

Chris Hynes (via Michael Tsai) tells the story of Apple Mail’s first importers. I love stories like this.

Michael, by the way, is the creator of SpamSieve, which is still the best way to filter out spam on any Mac. I bought my copy when it first came out in (I think) 2006, and I am still getting updates now, which goes well above and beyond what anyone could reasonably expect from commercial software.

The cost of YouTube Premium’s family plan is getting massively hiked up. Well, when you have a monopoly on video, that’s what you can do. Of course, it’s still “free with ads” if you want to put up with incredibly intrusive privacy-violating tracking.

Completely unrelated, an extension to gPodder allows you to subscribe to YouTube channels and automatically download new content, where you can watch it locally. If you do this, though, support creators by subscribing directly to them — most creators have Patreons or other methods of giving them money while bypassing the egregious middleman that is YouTube.

One of Microsoft’s cleverer things on Windows is creating both Windows Subsystem for Linux — which lets you run Linux apps — and Windows Subsystem for Android. You can guess what that does. There’s now a public development roadmap for Android app support on Windows. What’s nice about it is how it fills in gaps in the Windows app ecosystem, such as having a good Kindle book reader on Windows tablets. It’s much more useful than the equivalent in the Apple world, where iPad apps can run on Apple Silicon Macs, mostly because the Mac app ecosystem is now so much strong than Windows.

Of course, it’s out of date now — things move pretty fast on Brexit Island — but John Lanchester’s article on “Thatcher Larping” is still an excellent read. You subscribe to the LRB, don’t you? You should.

It’s interesting looking through this piece by Cory from 2010 about why he wasn’t going to get an iPad. I think some of it’s proved wrong, but some are pretty prescient. In particular, I think the idea that the iPad’s user interaction model was all about consumption was correct (although I didn’t agree with this at the time). Enterprising users and developers have pushed the platform to be focused on creation too: Matt Gemmell writes and publishes novels on his. But it’s pushing and hacking and so on. Apple has finally acknowledged that the hardware is capable of much more than that, but it is now struggling to retrofit a more powerful and creator-focused user interface on it — and I think iPadOS 16 is the point when the bough breaks. Apple’s best option would be to make the iPad more open, of course (at least as open as the Mac) but I get the feeling there is still something of a religious war internally about doing that.

Paul Thurrott has reviewed the ThinkPad X13s, the first ThinkPad running on an ARM processor. It neatly illustrates the biggest issue with ARM outside Apple: battery life declines as soon as you push performance up to levels comparable to Intel. Paul was getting only six hours from this machine, which is terrible.

Terence Eden writes some good advice about how to write a literature review. Having had to do one, I wish I had read this before I did it. It would have saved me a lot of pain.

As I mentioned yesterday, Ubuntu 22.10 is out; of course, I’ve upgraded. I had to reinstall Wine (the Wine version in Ubuntu’s repo’s is ludicrously old) as 22.10 removed my hand-installed Wine 7. Thanks guys. And Ubuntu is really pushing Snap still. I am not religious about this, but I want Snaps to be at least up to date, which is probably one reason they have posted on the Steam snap.

Some stuff that’s interesting (not featuring Liz Truss)

Cory’s written a great post on how the FTC uses dormant powers and obscure provisions in existing bills to enact key policies like the right to repair. Still, there is a great lesson here for progressive politicians more broadly: being good at your job matters. Being competent is really important because it allows you to get stuff done.

Ubuntu 22.10 is out, and for those who like living away from the steady comfort of LTS releases, you can upgrade by following these instructions.

Google is still pushing hard for Apple to adopt RCS. On paper, this would be great: RCS gives much better support for features like rich messages and a bunch of other stuff. But despite what you may have read, there is no RCS standard for end-to-end encryption. Google’s implementation is proprietary to it, and not supported by any third-party apps. It does not (yet) support group messages or encryption on multiple devices. And, importantly, the metadata surrounding your message is not encrypted, so Google knows who you’re sending messages to, where and when. If you want encrypted messages, use Signal, which does not collect that data.

Idaho Republicans want to ban all public drag shows. Sigh. Meanwhile, over here The Daily Hate is making up shit about trans people to stir up hatred. Because hating minorities is what gets these nasty little people off.

The Das Keyboard Professional 4 for Mac

If you want to start a fight, ask people who are serious about keyboards what their favourite model is and watch them “debate” it. The debate will rapidly descend into something approaching a brawl. The ability of keyboard nerds to come into conflict over the best key caps, switches, wired or Bluetooth, and in fact every aspect of what keyboards can and should be like is unparalleled in the computing world. If you think Windows and Mac fans can get feisty, just wait until you see the adherents of Cherry MX Brown vs Cherry MX Blues come to blows.

From where I’m sat at my desk, I can see six different keyboards. I’ve tried everything, from ergonomic split keyboards from Microsoft to Apple’s Magic Keyboard and beyond. Mechanical, shallow-travel, you name it: I’ve tried all of them. And the one that I come back to all the time is the Das Keyboard Professional 4, which I’m typing this on at the moment.

I always imagined that the Das Keyboard was German. Das Keyboard sounds like the kind of declarative description that German companies love. But in fact, it’s all down to a small company in Austin, Texas, which has now been honing their skills in keys for seventeen years.

The best way to describe the build quality of the Das Keyboard Model 4 is that you could probably beat to death a reasonably stacked bodybuilder with it. It’s heavy, in a way that you will likely not be used to if you have only used laptop or even desktop standard keyboards. What the Das Keyboard has in common with Apple’s perfectly acceptable Magic Keyboard is they are both made from aluminium, and both have keys you press to make letters appear on-screen.

But the similarities end there. Where the Magic Keyboard feels lightweight, utilising the inherent lightness of aluminium to make something that feels and looks like cultured engineering, the Das Keyboard is heavy enough to cause serious damage if you were to apply it with force to someone’s head. Any burglar attempting to rob the house of a writer in mid-flow on a Das Keyboard will be taking their lives into their hands.

The layout is similar to something like the classic IBM Model M, with the addition of media controls on the right, including a very satisfyingly tactile volume knob. There’s also a handy mute switch and a sleep button which, as the name suggests, brings up the sleep/shutdown dialogue box.

There’s no fancy backlighting – another thing it has in common with the Apple – because this isn’t a keyboard designed for gaming on. Of course, you can game on it if you like, and depending on the key switches you choose (more on that later) you will have a good gaming experience. But this is a keyboard designed to make typists, and particularly writers, feel at home. If you’re the kind of person who wears out the WASD key caps first, this probably isn’t the keyboard for you.

And there’s no Bluetooth: this is a USB wired keyboard complete with two additional USB 3 ports to act as a hub, which is handy.

I selected Cherry MX Brown switches, which I find are perfect for the way that I type. They are soft, with the key click about halfway through the action, which means they don’t have quite the same SMASH click sound which you get with gaming keyboards or with Cherry MX Blue switches. If you’re not used to typing on a mechanical keyboard they can be tiring at first: your hands and wrists are used to depressing a key for just a couple of millimetres, whereas with these keys, you are going to apply anything from 2-5 mm of force.

This shouldn’t be a problem for me: I learned to touch-type on a manual typewriter. However, if you’re more often using a laptop, particularly one with limited travel, it can be hard to get used to. My advice is to do as much typing as you can on a mechanical keyboard, saving your work on a laptop as little as possible.

The keys are rated for at least 50 million depressions each, which means you will get a lot of typing out of this keyboard before you’re likely to get much wear. There’s also a special UV-resistant coating on the key caps to avoid fading from sunlight.

If you’re the kind of person whose longest writing work is a bunch of emails, this is not the keyboard for you (unless they are really long emails). However, if you write professionally and spend your life hammering away, then the £159 or so it will cost you will be money well spent. This is a professional tool for professional writers, and it’s worth every penny.

The new iPads

A lot of people are drawing attention to the fact Apple released the new iPad and iPad Pro with a video and a press release rather than an event. I wouldn’t read too much into that. These are incremental updates, particularly to the iPad Pro.

There’s a new Folio Keyboard for the iPad, which looks good but which costs a really rather remarkable $249. On a device which costs $449 that really is quite a lot of money. And it weirdly supports the first generation Pencil rather than the newer (and much nicer) one. Although the iPad has a USB-C port, it doesn’t have the magnetic charging capability of the iPad Air and Pro – hence the old Pencil support. Of course that USB-C port means you need a dongle to charge your Pencil. Elegant design? Not really.

The iPad Pros (iPads Pro?) gain the M2 processor and WiFi 6E, which delivers some speed gains (15% faster processing, 35% faster graphics, 40% faster neural engine, 50% more memory bandwidth). It supports capturing and editing ProRes, which is a big plus for the people out there using iPad Pros as cameras (yes, they do exist). There’s also a new Pencil “hover” feature, which feels like a really odd feature to add dedicated screen hardware for. Nice, but I think it’s going to be a hard sell to get developers adding support for it.

The iPad also sees its camera shifted to the right position: at the top in landscape, not portrait. However, I can’t see anything which makes it clear if this is also the case for the iPad Pro. You would hope so, but I have the nagging feeling that the position of the charging circuitry for the magnetically-attached Pencil might rule it out. If so you can expect another update to the iPad Pro next year which shifts the charging position – again. It wouldn’t be brilliant if the cheaper iPad gets the better camera position while the professional one makes do with the weird “from the side” view you get with the current one.

Apple made quite a big point in its video about Stage Manager, “released with iPad OS 16”. Of course at the moment, the best part about Stage Manager – massively improved external monitor support – isn’t there. It was, of course, demoed in the video. Hopefully it will be released soon.

There’s nothing there which makes it a must-have upgrade over either an M1 or previous generation iPad Pro, in my view. Yes, the performance increase is great, but until the applications are there and external display support is improved I just don’t think there’s a need for all that power.

Pricing hasn’t really changed. The lowest-cost iPad Pro 11in will cost you £899. A fully laden 12.9in with 5G and 2TB of storage? £2,679. I would love to know how many of those 2TB iPad Pros Apple actually sells.

Apple also sneaked in a new Apple TV4K, with an A15 Bionic chip and support for HDR10+. Oh, and best of all: a new Siri Remote which supports USB-C for charging. At last. It’s still too expensive at £149, especially compared to the $129 it costs in the US. Thank you Tories for trashing the currency. And that £149 version doesn’t come with Ethernet as standard: you have to move up to the £169 version for that, which also bumps up the storage to 128Gb.

Some stuff which caught my eyes this week

Oof. Apparently, Windows 11 is installed on just 3% of existing PCs, which is less than Windows 7. That is truly pitiful, but not surprising: there are remarkably few good reasons to update from Windows 10. There are things to like about it but they really are few and far between, and not sufficiently obvious. What will also be worrying for Microsoft and its partners is without compelling software, there’s not much reason to buy a new PC either.

Related: Fedora 37 and Ubuntu 22.10 are out soon, with the rather nice Gnome 43 interface. Just saying.

Hey Apple nerds — or just computer history nerds — you will like this. Someone has digitised their collection of Apple VHS tapes from the 1980s and 1990s and put them on YouTube. Apple did a lot of video content at the time for training and communications, and I remember seeing some of these when they first appeared. The hour-long video on using OpenStep’s cross-platform development tools plus the Rhapsody Blue Box for running classic Mac programmes is well worth a watch. Different era.

Meanwhile, the Tories want to water down your privacy rights online. For a good example of what happens when the rights of businesses to abuse your details become more important than your right to control your data, look no further than India, where commercial spam from legitimate companies has become enough of a problem to make WhatsApp barely usable.

Nick Heer makes a great case for why Apple is completely wrong in opposing charging being standardised around USB-C. It really is, in part, Apple’s own fault: you can’t stick with a standard which only supports USB 2 speeds for ten years and then credibly claim to move to something better is “stifling innovation”.

Gabriele Svelto found a great way to improve performance on Firefox. Also worth noting: if Firefox was distributed in the Mac App Store, it would be banned. It really isn’t great that there are public APIs which don’t work well and private ones which do.

Obviously, this is complete asshattery from Apple.

Chuck Jordan wrote the best view on She-Hulk I’ve seen. I greatly enjoyed it for all the reasons that Chuck did.

This article sums up some of the problems with Microsoft’s Surface Headphones. I have the first-generation ones, and I like them a lot, but it’s a mark of what a market failure they have been that when I went into the Microsoft Store ones wearing them, the security guards stopped me on the way out because they thought I had stolen them from the store. They had never seen an actual person in the real world wearing them.

Paul Thurrott writes about his experience using Microsoft Edge, and he is exactly right. Edge started out as a good alternative to Chrome. It was clean, modern and not burdened with useless features or (importantly) Google’s tracking. As Microsoft has added feature after feature, it has become a bloated, confusing mess. You can almost see how every team in Microsoft has wanted a piece of it. And, of course, its “tracking protection” is poor: you will want to add proper tracking protection extensions to it.

Some good news – We Hunted The Mammoth achieved its pledge goal!

Weeknote, Sunday 16th October 2022

I spent a lot of this week being ill, with the really noxious head cold that Kim had been poorly with finally getting me. Bad head colds are one step up from the flu: Imagine having flu, but take away the fever, and you have it. They are annoying in part because you never feel quite as ill as you think you ought to while not being able to do much, as they really sap your energy.

I recovered enough to have my annual flu jab on Saturday, and as they had some spare, they gave me the COVID booster too, which I’m really glad about. Living on a campus of thousands of students is a good way to get exposed to a wide range of exciting bugs, particularly at the start of term when everyone brings something from all over the country, like the world’s worst party.

The only downside is that I’ve got mild side effects today, similar to what I get with any vaccination: a bit of tiredness and a mild headache that just won’t shift even with paracetamol and ibuprofen administered.

(That, by the way, is a trick a nurse taught me: if you have a fever or bad aches, you can take both paracetamol and ibuprofen simultaneously to knock it dead. Because they work in different ways, it’s not dangerous to do both.)

So here’s to next week… and hopefully not being sick.

Writing

Unsurprisingly, I haven’t written much this week — I just didn’t have the focus required for it till today. Just a couple of hundred words scattered across some of the work in progress. There are a few things in the “in progress” folder at the moment:

  • A long article on switching to Linux: 1,181 words.
  • Why journalism is never objective: 600 words.
  • On Stage Manager and the iPad. 441 words
  • Prompted by a conversation on Twitter with Matt Gemmell, I am also going to write something on using Obsidian for writing and how it can replace Ulysses if that’s your thing. There are pros and cons, and it takes some setting up.

Reading and watching

We had two finales this week: Lord of the Rings: The Rings of Power lived up to its name by actually including the rings of power, and She-Hulk: Attorney At Law which broke the fourth wall in spectacular fashion. I enjoyed them both.

I’m halfway through Cory Doctorow’s Chokepoint Capitalism, and it’s a good — and shocking — read, particularly if you’re into the politics of technology. For many reasons, breaking the stranglehold of monopolies (and monopsonies!) is an important battle.

For a bit of light bedtime reading, I’m also going through Ian Hunter’s Diary of a rock and roll star. Hunter was (is?) the lead singer for Mott The Hoople, and this tour diary comes from the era when Mott were hanging out with David Bowie, who adored them — Bowie, learning they were about to break up from lack of success, gave them his song All the Young Dudes so they could have a smash hit. And hit it was, too — it was one of Bowie’s finest. Diary is one of the best first-person books about 70’s rock, and much more honest and truthful in conveying the boredom of touring than anything else.

Weeknote, Sunday 9th October 2022

OK PEOPLE I got so excited doing some other writing I nearly forgot to write this. I’m slightly tired so I’m not going to write much.

Writing

First draft of a micro-short story, called Like a mother’s love. 1199 words.

Continued work on Abigail Harvey returns home, which is now 4422 words. Someday I will finish this.

Link post with Meta’s Metaverse, Graphene and more: 358 words.

Musk! Twitter! And why Google is a bit cheeky over RCS: 279 words.

Does my alien have a penis and other interesting things for today: 719 words.

Reading and watching

Decentraland is valued at $1.3bn. Decentraland has just 38 users per day. But sure there’s no bubble around this nonsense.

TFI Friday notes: No one loves the Metaverse and podcasts I wish I could find

No one loves Meta’s Metaverse. Including the people working on it. I still haven’t found a compelling reason for the metaverse to exist until we can have a fully immersive virtual reality where I can be an elf.

I nuked my Graphene OS install on the Pixel 6 because I had never been able to re-lock it. So it’s currently Android 13, and it’s a good reminder of how much Google’s Android is in your face and capturing your data all the time. I know Google now makes a story about its commitment to privacy and putting you in control. Still, it now has so many services doing stuff in the background I doubt any consumer can actually make a call on what to block — or even what they can block. It’ll be back to Graphene soon.

John Gruber has a good post about the putative X – The Everything App that Elon Musk teased. There are lots of reasons what amounts to a WeChat clone won’t take off in the West, but honestly, would you want it to? Would you want your entire digital life in the hands of Elon fucking Musk?

IMPORTANT ONE: We Hunted The Mammoth is having a pledge drive, and it’s not going well. The site does the absolute best work in uncovering both the hideous misogyny of the so-called men’s rights movement and the awful transphobia of so-called “gender criticals” — who are often related or actually the same bunches of people. Throw them some money, even £5, if you can.

This post on how it’s getting harder to preserve the internet reminded me of something. One of my favourite podcasts of the mid-2000s was On the run with Tablet PC, hosted by Marc Orchant and James Kendrick. As the name suggests, it focused on Microsoft tablet PCs and had some really good guests. Sadly Marc died in 2007 and James in 2018, both too young. The page for the podcast has now vanished, and before that, the links to the files were broken — I would love to find copies if anyone has them.

Musk! Twitter! And why Google is a bit cheeky with its RCS claims

There’s some new Google stuff out, but I am just not excited about it. The Pixel Tablet looks interesting, especially because of the dock, which sort of converts it into a Google Nest Hub Max, but the watch and phone are just meh.

Of course, Google had a moan about Apple not adopting RCS. A reminder: the RCS standard does not include any end-to-end encryption. The end-to-end encryption Google has built on top of RCS is proprietary to them and only works with their Messages app. If you use it all your messages go through Google’s servers, and of course, as it’s a Google app you have to have Play Services installed which are constantly feeding data back to Google.

Here’s another great example of why it’s best to own your own platforms, or, if you can’t do that, choose specialist providers rather than that “free” thing Google, Facebook or Twitter just launched (you probably should look at Buttondown)

Elon Musk appears to have worked out that he’s better off buying Twitter than ending up paying them $20bn or so to walk away from it. However, he wants Twitter to stop its lawsuit, and if his finance partners bail out, he seems to want to walk away. I cannot imagine why Twitter would agree with that. Related: you can always find me at Mastodon.

Not sure how Apple can avoid this – who can make its chips other than TSMC?

It’s the 30th anniversary of the first ThinkPad, the great-great-great etc grandchild of which I’m typing this on now. The keyboard is still good.

Ever wonder what the specs are for McDonalds characters? No, I hadn’t either.

Does my alien have a penis and other interesting things for today

Only a so-called “gender critical” could turn the sex of a cartoon intended to get kids reading into a debate about whether an alien has a penis. This is a canonical example of why some people shouldn’t use social media.

Meanwhile, Putin’s conscription efforts are going exactly as you would expect from a country mired in corruption.

I have pre-ordered a Kindle Scribe because it sounds like the kind of technology I love. I have a similar Remarkable 2, and while it’s a great note-taking device in many ways, it’s a poor e-reader. The Scribe looks like it’s probably the other way round, and that’s fine with me. It’s due to arrive at some point in December — I’m hoping before I head off to a week-long residential writing course I’m doing.

Tangentially related: you can now easily send ePubs to Kindle, which means that the DRM-free books I’ve bought elsewhere can work on my favourite e-reading hardware.

Dan Moren has a good piece on the conundrum, which is the iPad. I must admit that the iPadOS 16 betas have made me fall in love with my iPad Pro a little bit. However, after the initial rush of excitement that I might be able to replace my Mac with the iPad Pro and a big monitor, external monitor support in Stage Manager has proved to be so rough that Apple has pulled it, and who knows when it will return. Something is wrong internally at Apple to get to this point and still be this much of a mess, which goes beyond just QA or the difficulties of grafting this kind of function onto a device that comes from a completely different paradigm.

Via Om comes this Christian Heilmann piece on the sorry state of the web. Christian is absolutely right: the social web is a mess, and there’s no coherent archiving apart from the incredible work of Archive.org. I would add that the web has become the equivalent of television for my generation: something that just soaks up your attention rather than being a place to go to learn something or be entertained intentionally.

I immensely enjoyed Russell’s latest email in which he ruminates on blogging for writing vs banging out link posts. I, too, wonder about this, but that’s partly because I look at my ideas bucket for longer posts and find about 20 things, all of which I don’t think I’ll ever want to write about. So, for example, that post about how shareholder value isn’t the best thing for directors of companies to focus on is great, but it just doesn’t feel like something I want to write now…

There’s a new Linux kernel out! I’m not sure when I will become a Linux user (is there a badge?), but I’ve been mainly working on my ThinkPad running Zorin OS for several weeks, and it’s starting to feel like home. I’ll probably write some more about this at some point — it took me a while to settle on the right distro and get the right tools in the right places — and although I still use my other laptops (both Mac and Windows), this is where I prefer to work.

One of the reasons that I started investigating Linux was an increasing wariness about Apple’s future direction. Om has a good piece in The Spectator about why the company is pushing more into services and advertising. In short: there’s no growth in hardware, and app store revenue is flatlining and is likely to decline.

Our wonderful government has decided to do away with GDPR and have some kind of “British Data Protection System”. This is almost the perfect Tory policy: it will have little impact on businesses (which will have to continue to follow GDPR if they so much as sniff at an EU customer) while adding most cost because there’s yet another system to support and deliver little if any real-world benefit. Bravo!