A collection of miscellany – 2nd August 2022

You know how websites want you to use their app instead? There’s a good reason for that: apps can often collect more data about you, and are more difficult to block. Banish is a Safari extension which stops this happening. Neat.


Outlook: an app so bad that Uber receipts can crash it. Microsoft is apparently working on a fix.


Not content with having a webcam that looks like ass, it sounds (sic) like the audio on the £1600 Apple Studio Display has issues too. Glad I didn’t buy one.


Google has a habit of introducing stuff and then quietly forgetting about it — and its hardware is no exception. My personal favourite was Soli, which I thought was genuinely useful but was dead in a year.


Paul Carr — who knew the man well — has an interesting review of a new book on Tony Hsieh, the troubled founder of Zappos. Incidentally, The Upgrade is one of my favourite books and I’m long overdue for a reread.

Stuff I’ve been reading today: 29th May 2022 edition

Google has delayed its third party cookie ban till 2024. Of course, all this is doing is just giving browser makers even more reason to work preventing third party cookies from working at all.


Meanwhile, Intel has seen its revenues fall by 22% year on year. It is blaming a 10% drop in PC sales, although it’s also worth remembering that the PC had a big boom over the past couple of years as people moved to working from home and companies raced to equip previously office-bound employees with laptops. Apple stopping using their chips won’t have helped either — by any measure, Apple is a top-five PC maker.


Apple now has 860m subscribers across its services. This is an insane number of people for a company which isn’t really a cloud provider except to people owning its devices.


And another NFT scam turns to be, well, a scam. This time it’s some bros claiming to save the rainforest using the power of the blockchain:

According to the MPF, members of Indigenous groups in the area reported the company had violated their rights. They also explained that Nemus had expressed to them their plans to use heavy machinery to open an airstrip and build a road in order to access Brazil nut groves in the area.


One of the most hilarious moments of Web3 insanity is winding down, as the nerds who bought a book for $3m have finally admitted to themselves what everyone else knew: just because you own a book doesn’t mean you own the copyright.


In another “let’s get our priorities right” moment, demand for electricity for data centres is now so high that no new houses can be built in parts of London. I mean, it’s only people, right? Who cares if they want somewhere to live?


I had forgotten that Amazon Drive existed, so it shutting down isn’t exactly a loss.


I am really not sure that a 41.5% margin is something that’s good for society.


Twitter Blue – which isn’t even launched in the UK yet – is raising its price in the US from $2.99 a month to $4.99. There is nothing in the product at this point which is even remotely worth $4.99.


Meanwhile I’m reading Ruthanna Emrys’ A Half-built Garden and after a slightly slow start it’s really drawing me in. I’m not going to write too much about it till it’s finished, but Cory’s review is here if you want some persuading.

What I’ve been reading today: Firefox, Spotify sucks, spoken word recording and combat drones

The latest version of Firefox includes better support for ProMotion displays, for those lucky lucky people who have a new 14- or 16-in MacBook Pro.

You’ve probably heard about Amazon’s Ring handing over video doorbell footage to police without a warrant. Turns out that the terms of service for Google Nest allows them to do the same thing. Apple’s HomeKit Secure Video on the other hand is end-to-end encrypted so Apple can’t do this, even if it wanted to.

Spotify Car Thing, a product which should never have crawled out of a company brainstorming session, has been unceremoniously dumped after just five months on sale. I avoid Spotify like the plague because I don’t want a penny of my money to the odious Joe Rogan.

I asked the wonderful Mr Christopher Phin for some advice on an audio setup for recording books (not for me, I should add). Needless to say, he massively overdelivered and wrote the definitive post on what you need to record spoken word.

Remember the Bayraktar TB2 combat drone which Ukraine used to such good effect in the early stages of their war against Russia? Russia wants to buy them. It will be interesting to see if Turkey – a NATO country – sell them (or more likely, find a third party country to ship them to or manufacture them under license, which then sells them to Russia).

Boris Johnson is an evasive weasel. Nothing more needs to be said on that score.

Some people really do want their Instagram back

Taylor Lorenz has written a piece on why you don’t want the old Instagram back and I couldn’t disagree more with it.

No really, a lot of people do want the old Instagram. Insta became a great space for visual artists who adopted the platform as the de facto place where they show their work and build community it.

People think that bringing back the “old” Instagram design, or a chronological feed will somehow recapture the magic of using Instagram in 2014. It won’t. That time is gone and the internet and culture have irrevocably changed. Most importantly, how and what we want to share on the internet has changed.

What Taylor is missing here is that Instagram was always a place for discovery in a way which was controlled by the user. TikTok gives you little control over what you see: the algorithm decides that for you in a way which is much more opaque than even Facebook’s much-maligned news feed. Facebook at least has a notion of what kinds of content is important to you: birthdays, babies, weddings, and all the major events of life. TikTok? Not so much

These days, intimacy is fostered through features like DMs, group chats, or ephemeral posts to Close Friends.

Except that intimacy needs to start somewhere. And that somewhere can’t, by definition, be a DM.

Spaces which are private like the ones Taylor is describing have only two kinds of relationship in them: the already-established relationship between people who already know each other from elsewhere, or the relationship between an advertiser who has paid to be in that space and the people in it.

People think that bringing back the “old” Instagram design, or a chronological feed will somehow recapture the magic of using Instagram in 2014. It won’t. That time is gone and the internet and culture have irrevocably changed.

Culture is not monolithic: platforms have many forms of users, and users find the use for platforms – not the other way round.

This piece is a great example of the tech journalism communities obsession with the newest latest smartest thing, with destroying the old no matter what the cost. And it’s just wrong.

Weeknote Sunday 24th July

“The hottest day of my life so far” is an event which should cluster in your childhood. I suspect that for the next few years we will see quite a cluster for most older people too. The long stretches of time when the weather stayed about the same and very hot days were exceptional look like they’re over.

It’s really been a week where, if you’re paying attention, you’re likely to get quite depressed about the state of the world. Climate fucked, politics fucked, climate even more fucked because the politics is fucked. War in Europe… Roe vs Wade in the US. You name it, it looks like humanity is in a bad shape.

Normally the best advice for the kind of depression all this engenders is to get into the outdoors and enjoy the sunshine. But when one of the reasons for your depression is the parlous state of the climate, even that advice is hollow.

It’s tough. The only thing to do is look after those close to you and do what you want you can for the world.

This week though we have at least had the pleasure of a dog’s company. Laika, who has now become a regular house guest when her owner is away, is a two year old spaniel, which is quite a contrast from our old dog Zoey, who was a sedate 16 year old rescue dog. There is much more licking of feet and (if she can get to them) noses.

Yesterday we went down to Folkestone to see a friend’s gallery exhibition. I like Folkestone: it has the same feel as Brighton had when I first started going there in the early 90s, and when I moved to it in 1998. Empty buildings, ripe for use for culture. Art thrives in the liminal spaces at the edges of things, which is why towns on the physical periphery of the island often end up full of art. Artists are the flotsam that the land washes up on the borders of the sea.

Meanwhile I have been transferring documents from the cloud on to the local drive of my ThinkPad. I have mixed feelings now about cloud services. It’s not that I don’t trust them, but when your documents exist only on a hard drive elsewhere in the internet they cease to be yours in some intangible but undoubtedly real way. I should write something about it: this is part philosophical, part political and part purely practical.

Weeknote, Sunday 3 July 2022

Some weeks fly by and leave you feeling that nothing has been done. Unfortunately, this is one of those weeks. While I’m sure that if I looked back through my calendar and plotted the meetings I’ve had and the places I’ve been, I would feel like the days had been packed, without doing that, I’m left with the thought that nothing much happened.

Work-wise, that’s not true: I spent two days this week in extensive workshops on a couple of projects. The travel involved (both were early starts up in Peterborough, a two-and-a-half-hour journey from home) also knocked out a lot of my spare time. Even if you’re getting home on time and the travelling is easy (it is), it’s wearing. Even quiet reading becomes a chore if you’re mentally exhausted.

June and July always feel like the sluggish months of the year for me, when the heat of the day saps my energy. Unfortunately, my Indian DNA doesn’t give me the gift of coping well in hot weather: instead, my father’s midlands genes kick in, and I feel like I’m wading through treacle. And apart from the absolute soaking I got cycling down to the station on Thursday morning, the warm weather doesn’t offer much relief.

Writing has been minimal, reading also, but we finished watching Danny Boyle’s Pistol. Unfortunately, the last couple of episodes lost their way a bit. Having focused on humour and fun in the first few, it was hard to turn it around when things got darker later. The murder of Nancy by Sid and Sid’s subsequent death just don’t lend themselves to lightness. Looking at the series as a whole, the episode which focuses on the back story to the song “Bodies” is the pivot: things got a bit scary for the Pistols, and the series reflects that. All that said, the performances are great: no one looks like their character physically, but absolutely nails the characteristics.

Weeknote, Sunday 26th June 2022

This has not been much of a week. I missed last week’s week note because I was sick: I had been coughing for a few days and generally felt tired and run down. I managed to work through it from Monday to Wednesday, but Thursday decided that I had to take a day off work in the hope that a bit of rest would set me back on my feet. In fact, Friday was worse. The cough continued and I felt absolutely exhausted.

This has been affecting Kim too and at one point on Friday we had decided that this might be something which only antibiotics were going to clear, and so we would call the doctor today (our doctor doesn’t work weekends, but there are emergency services in place). I even looked up what the symptoms were of TB. That’s how bad I felt.

On Friday night I had a terrible night’s sleep, unable to sleep until about 2am, but on Saturday morning I woke up and for the first time in a week felt vaguely human. I am still not entirely well, but I don’t feel the kind of levels of awful that I didn’t. I am still coughing, but instead of being a long, hacking thing it’s now, as the doctors say, “productive” – a sign, I’m told, of being on the mend.

And that meant that finally – after what seems like but probably wasn’t a whole week of being cooped up – I got to go out, down to Whitstable for a couple of hours. First coffee in Blueprint, which has both good coffee and the kind of tiny collection of well-curated books which makes me whimper with delight, and then to Harbour Books.

Harbour is probably my favourite bookshop in the world. Its collection is incredibly well pieced together, with particular prominence to women writers of all kinds. It’s the first general bookshop I’ve seen where there are more women authors on display than men, and that’s incredibly gratifying. What I love about it is that I’m absolutely certain to find a book in there I have not heard of but instantly want to read, often from a new author.

All this lead to a couple of hours of pleasure: sitting in the garden on a bright evening, with a cup of tea and a book to read.

My view from a garden chair (book missing)

Reading

Buyer Beware by Sian Conway-Wood. There are lots of slightly hokey books that I’ve read about consuming less. This is the first one which I’ve seen which not only tackles how to consume less, but looks at both the psychological tricks which manufacturers and retailers used to get you to consume more and takes a view on the way that capitalism itself is structured.

Next in the never-ending book stack is Julian Barnes’ Elizabeth Finch, which I’m actively having to stop myself from diving into instantly (“finish the book you’re reading first, Betteridge!”). You probably already know Barnes is a great writer, but if you don’t, then you really need to know it. There’s an old phrase from Clive James who wrote “all I can do is turn a phrase until it catches the light”, and although James was writing about himself (writing about himself was really most of what he did) it could have been about Barnes.

Writing…

Very much curtailed this week. Writing is one of the things which suffers badly when I’m ill, particularly when I’m trying to fight through it and work. If I work when I’m ill, which I did for the first three days of the week, then I don’t have any energy at all to write in the evening.

What I did manage to write on Saturday was a small wall of angry social media posts. The demise of Roe vs Wade in the US affects many friends and hundreds of millions of women, and it fills my heart with anger and sadness. It put me in mind of Peggy Seeger’s Song of Choice:

In January you’ve still got the choice

You can cut the weeds before they start to bud

If you leave them to grow high they’ll silence your voice

And in December you may pay with your blood…

The weeds are all around us and they’re growing

It’ll soon be too late for the knife

If you leave them on the wind that around the world is blowing

You may pay for your silence with your life

We – I – believed for far too long that the progress we had made on women’s rights, gay rights, trans rights, the rights of minorities was part of a forward march of progress which could never be revoked. Roe vs Wade is the first large-scale unwinding of that, the literal cancelling of a fundamental right for women. We didn’t cut the weeds of fascism early enough, and now we have to work harder to clear them before, as Peggy wrote, it’s too late for the knife.

Watching…

Pistol, Danny Boyle’s utterly brilliant and completely batshit story of the Sex Pistols. What Boyle has done is great: taken fragments of Steve Jones’ book Lonely Boy and turned them into poignant little moments in motion.

Weeknote, Sunday 12th June 2022

One of the many useful things about writing a week note is it give you a regular reminder that life is as much about doing as thinking about doing. But this week has been a lot of watching and tinkering: with WWDC happening and new releases of iOS, iPadOS and macOS, my inner nerd has emerged like a raging hulk.

Every year I tell myself I won’t race to install the first developer releases of all the new operating systems. Every year, within 24 hours, I’ve become too excited to wait until the public betas. This year was no exception, particularly because the new version of iPadOS offers the feature which I have been wanting for years: proper support for second monitors.

And Stage Manager for iPadOS really will be that most clichéd of things: a game changer, at least for me. I have preferred using the iPad as a device over the Mac for years. However, I haven’t been able to do use it as my main machine because it doesn’t work on a screen size that I’m comfortable using for a long time.

I’m not going to write in detail about iPadOS 16 just yet — I think it deserves a post of its own — but this year might be the one where I finally give up on having a Mac laptop and just use the iPad as my portable Apple device. There are drawbacks, even though the software is almost in the right place, but the advantages now eclipse those drawbacks.

Reading

I’ve gone back to one of my most annoying reading habits: being unable to settle on what book I want to read next, so bouncing from book to book without really feeling I’m achieving much reading. So this week I’m going to settle on A. L. Kennedy’s On Writing, which I have been flirting with for a while.

Writing

In a massively mediated society, understanding how media works is incredibly important if people are to avoid being controlled by what they read, see and hear. I have worked in publishing now for 27 years, which always feels weird when I say it, so I have picked up a lot about how media works.

This is why I’m on a bit of a mission to educate people more about publishing in general and reporting and editing in particular. It struck me when reading Twitter that most people don’t understand what an “editorial line” is and how it interacts with what you see and hear. So I wrote something on what an editorial line is, to hopefully help people understand it a bit more.

Watching

If you haven’t watched the first episode of Ms Marvel, you are missing out on a treat. I think of it and Wandavision as the opposite ends of the scale for how Marvel treats its TV shows. Wandavision was incredibly clever and genuinely frightening, with an impact across the whole of the MCU. Ms Marvel is funny, smart, and endearing. After the mess that was Moon Knight, it’s a great comeback.

Meanwhile, on the internet…

The situation at the Washington Post with reporters attacking each other on social media sounds like an absolute mess. I have an elementary rule about work and social media: I don’t talk about work on social media. I don’t even mention the business I work for on social media. Same rules here: I’ll never talk about my work.

Occasionally, that makes writing these week notes challenging! I spend 37.5 hours of every week working, none of which I will talk about here. That, at least, means I have to push myself to talk about the more personal side of my life.

Meanwhile, back in the real world, Londoners don’t particularly want to return to the office. I’m not surprised at all — the notion of going to a place to work is weird unless your work physical requires you to be there. For any kind of what we used to call “knowledge worker”, who spends their life on a computer all day, the internet makes that pointless. Rethinking the role of the office is vital, but the government can also play a part by improving and cutting the cost of public transport.

What is an “editorial line”?

Journalism isn’t the most transparent of trades. And a trade it is — despite the best efforts of all involved in my working education, I’ll never think of journalism as a profession. But like all trades, it has its methods and modes of action, and people who aren’t journalists often don’t know what they are. One of the elements we don’t talk about is the editorial line, what it is, and how it manifests itself in publications.

An editorial line is a set of beliefs about what is essential to your audience and desires to make that audience understand that certain things are important. Good journalism is balancing the two. Journalism which is only about what the audience cares about, is really just entertainment. Journalism which is only about what you believe is vital for the audience to start thinking about, is really just propaganda.

Editorial lines have an impact in two places. First, there’s the selection of stories you choose to publish. “Magazine” comes from the Middle French word “magasin”, which means a warehouse or store, and like a warehouse, it’s a collection of disparate things chosen by humans. And, also like a warehouse, it’s not finite: you can’t publish every possible story. So instead, you must decide what stories to put together in your collection. So you are always choosing which stories to publish based on that balance of what the audience wants and what you believe is important for the audience to know or believe.

The second place the editorial line manifests is in the angle of the story. Every story has an angle, a direction which the writer wishes to take the reader along. Although the first duty of any reporter is to report the facts, you can’t write all the facts: facts are interlinked and often rely on more facts to prove they are true. So you have to choose what facts to report.

And, of course, you have to interest the reader, which means moving them along in the story, keeping them engaged with it as you go. This is why salaciously-written stories are often so successful: salacious comes from the word salire, which means to leap on something with lust. Salire is also the root of salient, as in “the salient point” — something all good reporters get to as quickly as possible to draw the reader into the story.

How you draw people into a story — how you choose which points are salient, whether something needs to be salacious, and so on — depends on the editorial line. But, of course, you might not have an explicit editorial line on every topic. Still, you have a good idea of what the audience is interested in, which is how the audience feels about the world and what things your publication believes they need to care about more (or less). Based on that, you can understand what points are salient to them in a story.

Are editorial lines set by the politics of the owner and editor? Partly: but more important in any publication is the politics of the intended audience. Remember, you’re not trying to brainwash them: if you are, then you are propagandists, not journalists.

Weeknote, Sunday 5th June 2022

This might be abbreviated as we have just returned from spending a long weekend camping with some lovely friends. Memo to self: take more pillows. And a titanium back. Oh, and of course, it rained, because this is England in June. I am fond of camping, though, at least the whole sitting outside with a campfire reading a book bit.

Apparently, there was some kind of jubilee celebration too? Must have missed it.

After much fooling around, I managed to get Scrivener 3 working on Linux via Wine. In theory, this should be easy, but there are a lot of configuration bits and pieces to go through to make it work, and annoyingly the articles which tell you how to do it have some minor errors in the options they suggest. Now I’ve got it done, though. I have been able to completely nuke the Windows partition from my ThinkPad, as there are no other Windows applications I need to use on it.

Watching

Episode three — sorry, “Part III” — of Obi-Wan Kenobi was OK. I’m not really getting drawn into it, which has been true of quite a few of the Netflix/Disney+/Amazon Prime series. I haven’t even really got into the second series of Russian Doll. Maybe it’s me?

Reading

While spending time stuck in a tent, I finished Neal Asher’s Weaponized. Asher’s speciality is space opera on the cusp of horror, with a different take on what a post-scarcity society run by AIs would look like compared with Banks’ Culture. In this one, Asher comes back to a theme that he used in his first novel, Gridlinked — that of what it might be like to be so altered by technology that you start to lose your humanity. Where Gridlinked looked at this from the perspective of computing tech, this time around, it’s about genetic engineering of a sort.

If you’ve read and liked Asher before, you’ll enjoy this one, but parts of it definitely felt like Asher-by-numbers, and I’d like to see him abandon the Polity Universe — although he would probably end up suffering the same experience as Gary Gibson, dropped by his publisher after he started writing novels which weren’t like his Shoal sequence:

The thing I learned writing for Pan Mac was that publishers expect you to write books as much like each other as possible. In many ways, this actually makes sound business sense. It means readers come to you seeking the specific type of experience you can provide them with, and it also makes it easier to market you. You always knew with an Iain M. Banks Culture novel what you were going to get. Ditto with an Peter F. Hamilton book, or even a Clive Cussler book, and so on and so on.

My problem was that no one fucking told me this, so I had to figure it out largely for myself. Unfortunately, I had a problem: I get bored easily. Worse, while I have no trouble generating story ideas, they aren’t automatically ideas that fit in the context of starship+aliens+space travel. Or rather, I had plenty of mediocre ideas for space operas, but brilliant ideas for entirely different kinds of books.

Having read that and Alistair Reynolds’ Eversion in a row, it’s time for a change of tack, and I’m not sure what I’ll read next. I might finish off D. B. C. Pierre’s Release the bats, which is about as far away as you can get from space and aliens.