Archive for January 2, 2020

Thursday, January 2, 2020

The Falling Ladder of Abstractions

Nikita Prokopov (via Hacker News):

Every year Apple releases a new operating system and every year it needs a flagship feature to promote it. This year it was a long-overdue standalone Music app. Well, what could be simpler, right? List of files, categories, filters, smart lists. All that has been around in iTunes at least since 2001. But even if it wasn’t, how hard is it to build a decent music player? Many companies order of magnitude smaller than Apple have done it successfully in the past.


Yes, these particular bugs are pretty minor and probably do not affect business in the short run, only Apple’s reputation. Still, it is a big deal. Imagine how tall, opaque and unstable that ladder of abstractions is that it’s even possible to fail such a simple thing as selecting an item in a list??? It is a freaking list and if you click it, it should select a thing that you just clicked.


At this point, you might think I’m just picking on Apple or Catalina. God knows what went wrong there. Maybe they did change priorities and re-hired all the programmers. But no. This problem is universal.

Amazon can’t make a screen with two checkboxes[…]


Twitter newly rebuilt UI takes 7× longer to load first tweet, giving you essentially the same stuff but much later and with much more effort[…]

I think this is less a failure of abstractions and knowledge transfer and more a choice these companies have made not to prioritize the user experience.


IRS Reforms Free File Program

Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel (via Hacker News):

But the success of TurboTax rests on a shaky foundation, one that could collapse overnight if the U.S. government did what most wealthy countries did long ago and made tax filing simple and free for most citizens.

For more than 20 years, Intuit has waged a sophisticated, sometimes covert war to prevent the government from doing just that, according to internal company and IRS documents and interviews with insiders. The company unleashed a battalion of lobbyists and hired top officials from the agency that regulates it. From the beginning, Intuit recognized that its success depended on two parallel missions: stoking innovation in Silicon Valley while stifling it in Washington.

Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel (via Hacker News):

The email correspondence sheds light on a pivotal moment for the future of Free File in the fall of 2018: An expert body called the IRS Advisory Council (IRSAC) had spent months investigating the program. It was preparing to publish a blistering report concluding that the IRS’ “deficient oversight and performance standards for the Free File program put vulnerable taxpayers at risk.”


The emails are striking for what they lack: no counterproposals or efforts by IRS officials to push for a better deal. Less than two weeks after the industry proposal, the IRS official who oversees the program, Ken Corbin, signed a new memorandum of understanding.

Justin Elliott and Paul Kiel (via Hacker News):

The IRS announced significant changes Monday to its deal with the tax prep software industry. Now companies are barred from hiding their free products from search engines such as Google, and a years-old prohibition on the IRS creating its own online filing system has been scrapped.


Sonos Recycle Mode

Devin Wilson (via Nick Lockwood, Hacker News):

Sonos states on their website that “sustainability is non-negotiable,” and that they design products to minimize impact, but I work at an e-waste recycler and have demonstrable proof this is false.

Sonos’s “recycle mode” intentionally bricks good devices so they can’t be reused.

Chris Welch:

It works like this: you check if one of your Sonos gadgets is eligible for the trade-up promo. Then you confirm in the Sonos app that you’d like to “trade” your current device toward a new one. Sonos instantly grants you a 30 percent discount, and then automatically starts a 21-day countdown before your old device goes into Recycle Mode (emphasis mine)[…]


But for some reason, selling or giving your aging Sonos gear to someone else isn’t an option under the program. This is a strange pact that doesn’t really exist with any other major electronics manufacturer.

Update (2020-03-06): Juli Clover:

Sonos is eliminating its controversial “Recycle Mode” that was part of the company’s trade-up program that provides a discount of 30 percent on new devices, reports The Verge.


Sonos is still offering the 30 percent discount for customers who want to upgrade to a new speaker, but is no longer requiring existing speakers to be bricked to get the deal. Customers can now choose to keep their speakers, give their speakers to someone else, recycle it at a local facility, or send it to Sonos for recycling.

Brydge Pro+: iPad Keyboard With Trackpad

Jason Snell:

I had a chance to use a prototype of the Brydge Pro+ last summer, and while in many ways it’s the iPad accessory I’ve been dreaming of for some time, it’s still quite limited by iPadOS 13. While the iPad has a real cursor now if you turn on Assistive Touch, it’s really just a virtual finger. (It kills me that external pointing devices can’t control the text editing cursor that’s been a part of iOS for years now.)


Among the issues Brydge has had to deal with is that iPadOS doesn’t actually support trackpads, it supports mice. So Brydge’s trackpad has to translate trackpad touches into mouse movements and send those to the device. The result is a nifty piece of engineering, but one that doesn’t offer the rich, smooth feel of a MacBook trackpad.

Update (2020-01-10): Jason Snell:

While some will consider the mere possibility of adding a mouse or trackpad to an iPad to be sacrilege, I prefer to see it as an additional option that can improve the iPad’s flexibility in certain circumstances. However, Apple’s support for external pointing devices is very much a first draft. It needs to continue pushing this feature forward in iPadOS 14—and in doing so, the platform could reap some surprising rewards.

MacInTouch Switches to WordPress

Ric Ford:

I have now migrated MacInTouch to a new publishing platform (which hasn’t been at all easy…).

Now it supports permalinks. I wonder what the plan is for the forum.

John Gordon:

It’s not documented, but there’s a feed now; here’s what I see when adding to Feedbin[…]


Update (2020-01-24): Ric Ford:

Now the time has finally come to make one change, which is to phase out MacInTouch-hosted discussion forums (FAQ). As unique as our approach has been, and as much as I enjoy productive discussion, there are other alternatives to something I can no longer personally sustain. Specifically, TidBITS Talk looks like a reasonable alternative from folks with a similar history and philosophy, plus a team of people to run the forum.