Archive for April 8, 2020

Wednesday, April 8, 2020 [Tweets] [Favorites]


David Smith (tweet):

Watchsmith is an application that seeks to give you complete control over the appearance and utility of your Apple Watch.

First, it provides a wide array of complications. Each of these is completely customizable, with controls for things like font, color, hand type and location. The initial set is just over 50 unique complications, with dozens more planned down the road. My goal is to provide a complication for just about every use and let you make it look just how you want. In the absence of 3rd-party watch faces, this is the closest I can get to making my own watch faces.

Second, rather than simply providing a static display of the complication you configure, Watchsmith lets you dynamically schedule the complications to appear on your watch face. This is done using time based triggers (with plans for additional trigger types down the road).

This looks really cool. The app is free with a $20/year subscription to enable additional options and use data sources that have recurring costs.

Ryan Christoffel:

As Smith has previously explained, while third-party faces may never be possible, several first-party faces already offer significant room for customization. The Infograph face, for example, contains eight different complication slots; if a rich array of third-party complications were available, you could build a highly customized watch face using the existing faces provided by Apple.


The iPhone version of Watchsmith is all about creating your custom complications.


Having complications automatically cycle through the same slot was pioneered in HomeRun by Aaron Pearce last year, and I’m thrilled to see another app follow HomeRun’s example. Although Apple itself doesn’t enable scheduling complications through a native feature, I wouldn’t be surprised to see that change in a future version of watchOS.

HBO to Drop Support for Apple TV 2 & 3

Joe Rossignol:

HBO today announced that its HBO GO and HBO NOW streaming services will no longer be available on second-generation and third-generation Apple TV models starting April 30, 2020.

Since iOS 13, the Remote app has been unreliable with my Apple TV 3. It gets stuck in different modes, and sometimes the keyboard won’t come up or won’t dismiss. I guess the writing is on the wall for my Apple TV. I want a working Remote app, AirPlay, etc., but this doesn’t seem like a good time to buy a nearly three-year-old Apple TV 4K. Or the even older Apple TV 4 for $150.


Update (2020-04-10): Mitchel Broussard:

The company has now extended this deadline, and will remove HBO NOW from these platforms on May 15, 2020 and HBO GO will remain available for “a few additional months.”

Masks and Face ID

John Gruber:

It’s nonsense to argue about the fact that wearing a mask — even a homemade one — is less than 100 percent effective. Nothing is 100 percent effective, and all evidence suggests that masks are, at the very least, quite effective.

Maciej Ceglowski (tweet):

I want to persuade you not just to wear a mask, but to go beyond the new CDC guidelines and help make mask wearing a social norm. That means always wearing a mask when you go out in public, and becoming a pest and nuisance to the people in your life until they do the same.


Masks are in short supply, but you can MacGuyver one out of practically anything, including paper towels, cotton, vaccum cleaner bags. Expect the number of online tutorials to proliferate. Here are some I am partial to[…]

Tim Cook:

Apple is dedicated to supporting the worldwide response to COVID-19. We’ve now sourced over 20M masks through our supply chain. Our design, engineering, operations and packaging teams are also working with suppliers to design, produce and ship face shields for medical workers.

Unfortunately, modern iPhones don’t work well with masks. If you’re wearing a mask, Face ID won’t let you unlock your phone. Setting up an alternate appearance wearing a mask doesn’t work because it will complain that something is obstructing your face.

You can set up the alternate appearance up while wearing half a mask, and I was eventually able to get this to work and complete the full scan. It would then let me unlock the phone while wearing the full mask, although it would often take multiple tries. I’m not sure whether this totally ruined the security so that it would have unlocked for anyone wearing a mask. Anyway, it’s moot because by the next day the iPhone was no longer recognizing me with the mask at all, and I was unable to even set it up with the half mask again.

So, what to do:


Update (2020-04-24): Felix Krause:

I’m really surprised Apple didn’t yet ship an iOS update properly supporting face masks.

I see people trying to unlock their phones in grocery stores, and you can guess what they do next when they notice their phone doesn’t unlock.

Calling for COBOL Programmers

Kif Leswing (tweet, Hacker News):

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy says that the state is looking for volunteers with skills that can be used to help in the COVID-19 coronavirus outbreak, and one of those skills is knowing your way around a 61-year-old programming language used on big, old, mainframe computers.


New Jersey needs COBOL programmers because many of the state’s systems use older mainframes, and those systems are now seeing record demand for services as the coronavirus outbreak disrupts the economy.

For example, an unprecedented 362,000 people have applied for unemployment in New Jersey as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, and the state’s IT department is working to have the 40-year-old mainframes that power that service up and running, New Jersey’s commissioner of labor Rob Asaro-Angelo said on Saturday.

Brian Roemmele:

Folks laughed when I said there is more 200 times of COBOL transactions each day then Google searches.


I used to work on mainframe COBOL during the Y2K times. While the language is easy to pick up and the OS specific things are not too hard, the style of programming can lead to issues. Typically, shared data structures are often stored in separate files called copybooks and they can be hard to track down. Most of the code is not in any source control repositories which means no one knows which is the actual deployed version. It was all fun times then..

Update (2020-04-17): Dave Gershgorn (via John Feminella):

“I show COBOL programs written in 1960 that you can still compile and run today,” says J. Ray Scott, a professor at Carnegie Mellon University, and one of the few professors who still teaches COBOL.


“There was a period of 20 years where people were sure COBOL was dead, so there was nobody teaching it, nobody learning it,” he said. “COBOL started before there were disc drives, let alone the internet.”

A sliver of hope, Scott says, is that COBOL isn’t a particularly complex language to learn. When he was starting his career programming for steel mills in Pittsburgh, he says companies would perform aptitude tests for workers on the floors of the mills. If they passed, they were sent to a two-week COBOL class at IBM and then put onto the job in the IT department.

Zed Shaw:

The east coast governments are riddled with ancient VAX and OpenVMS COBOL systems because there are employees tied to these systems.


A main source of failure in many rewrite projects is the former programmers know that if their code is gone they can be fired, so they try to sabotage it. I’ve seen it over and over, and they’re slick about it. Just little failures all over.

See also: Dilbert.

Input (via Hacker News):

IBM is releasing a free training course next week to teach the 60-year-old programming language COBOL to coders. It is also launching a forum where those with knowledge of the language can be matched with companies in need of help maintaining their critical systems.

Michelle V. Rafter (via Hacker News):

Connecticut’s labor department is bringing back retirees and using IT staff from other departments to upgrade its 40-year-old system, which runs on a Cobol mainframe and connected components. The system is not fully automated, and requires manual actions at multiple points in the process, according to Nancy Steffens, the department’s head of communications. “I don’t have any info to provide to you other than some of the retirees returning to work are programmers knowledgeable in Cobol,” Steffens said.

kristopolous (via Dan Luu):

I asked a few friends about the New Jersey call. They (2 of them, both retired and over 70) claimed there’s no work to be done and it’s actually an incompetently administered administration with human problems who are scapegoating the technology. Also supposedly the New Jersey govt sacked their team and then was trying to contract out the work at $50/hr. Now they are offering $0/hr. And the solution isn’t in software, or so they claimed. This assessment was after both signed up to volunteer to do the work and saw it was a human process failing and not a software issue.

Glenn Fleishman:

There have been efforts in the past to build a full replacement for MOCAS, and they’ve sputtered due to cost, complexity, and transition planning. Because the system handles so much that’s in progress and critical to the DoD, any new system has to overlap and perfectly hand off everything underway. The government is asking vendors once again to submit bids to shed this highly functional vestige of the past.

Dr. Drang:

I wonder what kind of stories we’ll see when word gets out that weather predictions are made using Fortran?

Makena Kelly:

A survey by The Verge found that at least 12 states still use COBOL in some capacity in their unemployment systems. Alaska, Connecticut, California, Iowa, Kansas, and Rhode Island all run on the aging language. According to a spokesperson from the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment, the state was actually only a month or two away from “migrating into a new environment and away from COBOL,” before the COVID-19 pandemic hit.


For the last 25 years, Congress has steadily made cuts to the states’ funding for modernization projects. According to Williams, many government budgets only include enough money for “keeping the lights on.”

John Gruber:

As a sidenote, I’m fascinated at how code has, seemingly all of a sudden, eclipsed program in common usage. Until recently, a programmer was one who programmed using a programming language. Now, you typically hear that a coder is one who codes using a coding language.


iPad Desk Mode

Federico Viticci (tweet):

Ever since I upgraded my home office with a new desk, Mac mini, and UltraFine 4K monitor in November 2018, I’ve been working toward a single goal: building a setup that would allow me to use the same external display and keyboard with two different computers and OSes – the Mac mini and iPad Pro. Same desk, two vastly different experiences. It took me a while, but thanks to the improvements in iPadOS 13.4 (and a late realization on my part), I’m happy to say I finally have the “desktop iPad Pro” setup I’ve long desired.


In practice, the net result of Apple’s pointer efforts is a comprehensive system that lets me fully control the iPadOS UI mirrored on my UltraFine 4K monitor without ever touching the iPad Pro. This has fundamentally altered the ergonomics of my setup and improved how quickly I can get work done with multiple apps in this configuration.

With a native pointer, I can finally select text with higher precision than multitouch without taking my hands off the keyboard and trackpad in front of me.