Archive for January 12, 2018

Friday, January 12, 2018

Former Apple Intern Looks Back at Designing First Apple Emoji in 2008

Angela Guzman (via Juli Clover, Hacker News):

My first emoji was the engagement ring, and I chose it because it had challenging textures like metal and a faceted gem, tricky to render for a beginner. The metal ring alone took me an entire day. Pretty soon, however, I could do two a day, then three, and so forth. Regardless of how fast I could crank one out, I constantly checked the details: the direction of the woodgrain, how freckles appeared on apples and eggplants, how leaf veins ran on a hibiscus, how leather was stitched on a football, the details were neverending. I tried really hard to capture all this in every pixel, zooming in and zooming out, because every detail mattered. And for three months I stared at hundreds of emoji on my screen. Somewhere in there we also had our first Steve Jobs review, which had created a shared experience of suspense and success when they were approved for launch. And if Steve said it was good to go, I’d say lesson in craftsmanship, check.

Sometimes our emoji turned out more comical than intended and some have a backstory. For example, Raymond reused his happy poop swirl as the top of the ice cream cone.

Birdcage Liners

Joel Spolsky (Hacker News):

Rather than providing a constant stream of satisfying news and engagement with friends, Facebook’s algorithm had learned to give me a bunch of junk I didn’t need to hear, and only gave me intermittent rewards through the occasional useful nugget of information about friends. Once in a blue moon I would hear about a friend’s accomplishment or I would find out that someone I like is going to be in town. The rest of the time I would just get the kind of garbage newspaper clippings[…]


Both Twitter and Facebook’s selfish algorithms, optimized solely for increasing the number of hours I spend on their services, are kind of destroying civil society at the same time.


The good news is that Facebook suddenly realized what they had done, and today they announced a pretty major change of direction. They want the feed to leave people feeling like “more connected and less lonely,” so they have actually decided to sacrifice “engagement.” Mark Zuckerberg posted, “By making these changes, I expect the time people spend on Facebook and some measures of engagement will go down. But I also expect the time you do spend on Facebook will be more valuable.”

Cory Doctorow:

There is a war for your attention, and like all adversarial scenarios, the sides develop new countermeasures and then new tactics to overcome those countermeasures. The predator carves the prey, the prey carves the preda tor. To get a sense of just how far the state of the art has advanced since Farmville, fire up Universal Paperclips, the free browser game from game designer Frank Lantz, which challenges you to balance resource acquisi tion, timing, and resource allocation to create paperclips, progressing by purchasing upgraded paperclip-production and paperclip-marketing tools, until, eventually, you produce a sentient AI that turns the entire universe into paperclips, exterminating all life.

Update (2018-01-12): See also: John Gruber.

Update (2018-01-14): Andy Coravos:

Wait. @instagram strategically withholds “likes” from users that they believe might disengage hoping they'll be disappointed and recheck the app?! Harvesting painful insecurities. This is so messed up.


In case you’re not trained in cutting PR wood: They will not completely “eliminate” news (no one thought that anyway) but show “less”. Will hurt the business of news organizations? You bet, but who cares? Will it hurt Facebook’s business? Probably, at least a bit. So why do they go this way? Next Wednesday, Facebook is set to appear at another hearing on Capitol Hill, along with Twitter and YouTube, about the online spread of extremist propaganda.

Tyler Cowen:

In essence, they are blaming the media, without having to throw the stones themselves. Americans respond positively to attacks on the media, so this is a strong public relations move. Facebook retains the option of blaming the media more explicitly for its previous troubles, if need be.

Update (2018-01-15): Sarah Mei:

I find it really hard to believe that instagram chose eventual consistency for likes specifically so they could drive re-engagement. Let me walk you through how this sort of thing scales up.

Mike Krieger:

To be super clear, we don’t do this.

Frederic Filloux:

Consider us notified. Facebook is done with journalism. It will happen, slowly, gradually, but the trend is here.

Update (2018-01-16): See also: Nick Heer.

Update (2018-01-17): Ben Thompson:

So excuse me if I take Facebook’s pronunciations about the harm its business will soon befall with a rather large grain of salt. The company has already demonstrated it has pricing power such that its advertising revenue can continue to grow strongly even as the number of ads-per-user plateaus; moreover, that power further complicates any attempt to understand Facebook’s motivation.


It follows that Facebook’s ultimate threat can never come from publishers or advertisers, but rather demand — that is, users. The real danger, though, is not from users also using competing social networks (although Facebook has always been paranoid about exactly that); that is not enough to break the virtuous cycle. Rather, the only thing that could undo Facebook’s power is users actively rejecting the app. And, I suspect, the only way users would do that en masse would be if it became accepted fact that Facebook is actively bad for you — the online equivalent of smoking.

This is why I find Facebook’s focus on what is good for users to be so fascinating. On one level, maybe the company is, as they can afford to be, simply altruistic. On another, perhaps they are diverting attention from problematic trends in user engagement. Or perhaps they are seeking to neutralize their biggest threat by addressing it head-on.

Swift Code Generation at Uber

Tuomas Artman:

For images, the tooling would run through the asset catalogs associated with each project target, find relevant images, and generate a static struct with non-null accessors for all the images. Continuous integration would run the tooling too, making sure that if anyone accidentally deleted an image from any of the asset catalogs, the revision would fail to build and the erroneous change would not land.

For localized strings, a similar struct would be constructed. Additionally, the tooling would recognize localized strings that require input variables and generate API that guarantees that the string is only accessed with the correct parameters.


The information required to generate mock classes already exists in the Swift protocol. For Uber’s use case, we set out to create tooling that would let engineers automatically generate test mocks for any protocol they wanted by simply annotating them.

Previously: Sourcery: Template-Based Code Generation for Swift.

Matias RGB Backlit Wired Aluminum Keyboard


With a generous 2mm of key travel, typing feels as tactile and responsive as any of the best laptop keyboards.

Via Jeff Benjamin:

To adjust the color of the RGB Backlit keyboard, Matias has included a handy spectrum color dial for quickly adjusting hues. Turning the dial all the way to the left or right turns the backlight white, while moving in between cycles through the full RGB color spectrum.

Matias has also wisely designed the keyboard to reduce blue hues as you move away from 100% white. As you dial the keyboard back from hard left or hard right, the keyboard’s RGB system will preferentially reduce the blue component first, resulting in softer whites that research has suggested may be more conducive to sleep.

I don’t personally care for keyboard backlighting, but I have renewed interest in wired keyboards since macOS 10.13 continues to have Bluetooth disconnection problems and does not always recognize wireless keyboards at boot. Apple no longer makes a wired keyboard. Its wireless one is $129 and bendy.

Matias confirmed to me that its $99 keyboard does not require any third-party software to toggle whether fn is necessary to use the media/function keys. However, unlike with Apple’s keyboards, the fn key cannot be used by itself (e.g. for activating Diction or LaunchBar).

How does it feel? I have no idea. I liked Matias’s previous (widely praised) Tactile Pro, though I found the keys a bit stiff and was bothered by their high-pitched ringing sound. Matias already sells a wired aluminum keyboard for $59. The lone Amazon review for it isn’t favorable, though Jeff Benjamin likes his wireless one (which has lots of Amazon reviews).

On the subject of keyboards, I also found this article by Jacob Kastrenakes interesting (via Wojtek Pietrusiewicz):

Dell is introducing a 15-inch version of its XPS 2-in-1, after debuting a 13-inch model last year, but this isn’t just a scaled-up version of the original; it’s a much more powerful computer with some unique tweaks.

Among the most interesting quirks is the laptop’s keyboard: though it looks and feels just like typical Dell keyboard, it’s built using a brand-new mechanism that relies on magnets. The keys are still physically held in place at their corners, but there are now magnets beneath them to provide feedback. By controlling the strength of their repulsion, Dell can create a deeper, clickier feeling for the keys than their 0.7mm travel would normally allow.

Apple’s Indirect Presence Fades From CES

Ben Bajarin:

We would go to CES and remark at how Apple’s dominance loomed over the show. Vendors of all shapes and sizes were rushing to be a part of the Apple ecosystem. Apple’s ecosystem was front and center with everything from iOS apps, to accessories galore for iPhone and iPad, and even companies looking to copy Apple in many ways. The last year or so, things have dramatically changed, and that change is further evident at this year’s CES.

Gone are the days of Apple’s presence, or observably “winning” of CES, even though they are not present. It was impossible to walk the show floor and not see a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem in some way. Now it is almost impossible to walk the floor and see any products that touch the Apple ecosystem in any way except for an app on the iOS App Store. The Apple ecosystem is no longer the star of CES but instead things like Amazon’s Alexa voice platform, and now Google’s assistant voice platform is the clear ecosystem winners of CES.

Jason Snell (long thread):

He says “a vast array of interesting innovations which touched the Apple ecosystem,” but all I remember are cases, earbuds, batteries, styluses, and speaker docks.

John Gruber:

It may or may not mean anything for Apple, but I do think this is an interesting and undeniable observation.

Nick Heer:

But I have another theory: maybe CES is full of companies trying to carve their own little space with expensive gadgets that don’t work well and, ultimately, are of little relevance to what consumers will actually want or buy. Sure, there were plenty of products shown that work with Apple’s ecosystem — mostly HomeKit — but so much of what is shown at CES is just gadgetry for the sake of gadgetry. Does it matter how much Apple’s influence is felt at a showcase of stuff that’s mostly irrelevant?

Update (2018-01-12): Federico Viticci:

The difference, I think, is that this new generation of home automation products is an ecosystem in itself with higher value than, say, the iPad keyboards or stylii we used to see at CES. Alexa hasn’t “won”, but it has momentum among third-party companies making products that are or will soon be in our homes, sharing the same space of our TVs, routers, consoles, and mobile devices.

Improving URLs for AMP Pages

Malte Ubl (Hacker News):

We are making changes to how AMP works in platforms such as Google Search that will enable linked pages to appear under publishers’ URLs instead of the URL space while maintaining the performance and privacy benefits of AMP Cache serving.


Based on this web standard AMP navigations from Google Search can take advantage of privacy-preserving preloading and the performance of Google’s servers, while URLs remain as the publisher intended and the primary security context of the web, the origin, remains intact. We have built a prototype based on the Chrome Browser and an experimental version of Google Search to make sure it actually does deliver on both the desired UX and performance in real use cases.

John Gruber:

This announcement isn’t bad news, and might be good news, but at this point it’s all conjecture, particularly for browsers other than Chrome. Even if it all works out, it only solves one problem: URLs. It doesn’t solve the deeper problem of content being hosted on Google’s servers, rather than publishers’ own servers. In addition to ceding independence, think about what this means for search engines other than Google. One of AMP’s foundational tenets is that Google Search is the one and only search engine.