Archive for October 5, 2020

Monday, October 5, 2020



The Mac gets a lot of flack from people who are nose deep in technical specifications and price matchups. What they don’t see — or aren’t interested in — is the intangible: the culture that people with big dreams and small means have made the unconventional available, the complex seemingly simple and the advanced accessible. This culture doesn’t live or die by Apple in particular, although the original Macintosh being a product of a similar mindset helped set the tone. This culture produces things that are hard to find elsewhere, not because it’s technically impossible to do, but because the values that drive those other platforms produce different outcomes.


The culture and the people and the shared values and what it all comes together to produce. That’s why I’m still here. You can live in many houses, but not all of them will ever feel like home. I’m upset with the landlord and the building manager who ignores leaking pipes and oiled floors catching on fire while upping the rent and turning a blind eye to hustlers running Three-card Monte, but aside from that, I love the neighborhood, I love the surroundings, I love that they value the things I do and I love what it can build over time.

UK COVID-19 Cases Missed Due to Excel Glitch

James Tapsfield (also: Hacker News):

The extraordinary meltdown was caused by an Excel spreadsheet containing lab results reaching its maximum size, and failing to update. Some 15,841 cases between September 25 and October 2 were not uploaded to the government dashboard.


The problems are believed to have arisen when labs sent in their results using CSV files, which have no limits on size. But PHE then imported the results into Excel, where documents have a limit of just over a million lines.

The technical issue has now been resolved by splitting the Excel files into batches.

Alex Hern (tweet):

But while CSV files can be any size, Microsoft Excel files can only be 1,048,576 rows long – or, in older versions which PHE may have still been using, a mere 65,536. When a CSV file longer than that is opened, the bottom rows get cut off and are no longer displayed. That means that, once the lab had performed more than a million tests, it was only a matter of time before its reports failed to be read by PHE.

Excel recently turned 35, and it sounds like they were using the old .xls format that was superseded in 2003. The .xlsx format has higher limits, but even 1,048,576 rows is less than one doubling away from the 516K total cases in the UK that Google currently reports.


Big Sur’s Hidden Document Proxy Icon

Marco Arment:

The Big Sur auto-hidden document-proxy icon is so frustrating — it hides functionality behind an invisible mode, and introduces a delay for anyone trying to use it.

How does this help usability?

What problem does this solve?

It looks cleaner in a static screenshot, and it saves a little space for another toolbar button now that the window title and toolbar are squeezed into the same row. But I miss seeing the proxy icon, too. I drag these every day (though rarely from Finder).

John Gruber:

I would definitely argue that this change makes the whole thing harder to discover in the first place. One of the neat things about document/folder proxy icons is that they’re discoverable. All it takes is a moment of inspiration, “Hey, I wonder if I can drag that icon...?”

Jason Snell:

I’m going to co-sign this. I use proxy icons all the time and Apple hiding them behind a delay and animation is infuriating.

I don’t mind the look of Big Sur but this is a regression in functionality.

Joe Groff:

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but

defaults write -g NSToolbarTitleViewRolloverDelay -float 0

Marco Arment:

People keep sending me this, but it doesn’t fix the problem — it just makes the delay shorter. (There’s still an animation delay — it just starts on hover instead of shortly after.)

It’s still a needless mode with a needless delay to achieve only the shallowest visual appeal.


Update (2020-10-07): Daniel Jalkut:

It’s not about the Finder but about a long-standing affordance for working with the file representation of any document window. Cmd-clicking in the title is a related, priceless affordance.

Matt Birchler:

Looks like you guys were more familiar with proxy icons than I expected! It’s still a minority of a nerdy group, so I suspect it’s lower among the general public, but still, not as niche as I assumed.

Update (2020-11-07): Jeff Nadeau:

Changed in macOS 11.0.1 β2:

  • You no longer need to wait on the reveal animation before starting a drag from the proxy icon.
  • Holding the Shift key instantly reveals the proxy icon and expanded title, and it turns the entire title region into a draggable proxy.

Update (2021-05-21): chucker:

Want old-style proxy icons and a bigger grabbable title bar back?

defaults write NSWindowSupportsAutomaticInlineTitle -bool false


Update (2021-07-15): Aaron Brager:

The proxy icon can be re-enabled in macOS Monterey Beta 3 woooooo 🎉

Brian Webster:

This is great to see, but a classic example of Apple shoving something in an accessibility option when it’s really just the better design for everyone.

Update (2021-07-26): John Gruber (tweet):

Does removing proxy icons from document window title bars reduce “clutter”? I can only assume that’s what Apple’s HI team was thinking. But I’d argue strenuously that proxy icons aren’t needless clutter — they’re useful, and showing them by default made them discoverable. Keeping them visible reminds you that they’re there. There’s a one-to-one relationship between a document icon in the Finder and the open application window for that document; showing the document icon in the window title bar reinforced that concept. This hidden Finder preference for MacOS 11 Big Sur delights me, because in addition to showing proxy icons, it also restores grabbable title bars in MacOS 11.

Steven Aquino:

Worth adding to this @gruber piece proxy icons are a useful de-facto accessibility feature (not the discrete Accessibility features John mentions) insofar as the more visual feedback, the better. Not insignificant for cognitive load.

Jeff Johnson:

“Minimalist” design is supposedly for non-experts, but ironically it forces everyone to become experts, because hiding most useful controls means that users need to already know and memorize how everything works before they use it.

John Gruber:

Zack Katz found this archived version of Apple’s developer docs on the feature for Mac OS 8.5[…] What a joyful little feature this was (and could be again).


5 GUIs

Joe Groff:

With its eclectic mix of AppKit, Catalyst, iOS, SwiftUI, and web apps, macOS should consider rebranding to “Five GUIs”

Helge Heß (tweet):

5 GUIs is a simple file analysis tool that detects which of these 5 GUI frameworks a Mac app uses: AppKit, SwiftUI, macOS Catalyst, UIKit or Web.

Simply drop a Mac application on 5 GUIs main window, and it’ll start detecting the GUI frameworks the application uses.

The source code, and some cheeky screenshots, are here.

Scribble in iPadOS 14

Alexander George (via Tim Hardwick):

In the newest update to iPadOS, when you write with the Apple Pencil ($129), the iPad can understand your scrawl and, with Scribble, convert it to typed text. It works like most machine learning—examples inform rules that help predict and interpret a totally new request—but taps into a smarter data set and greater computing power to do what had stumped generations of previous machines. While Alexa and Siri rely on a connection to faraway data centers to handle their processing, the iPad needs to be able to do all that work on the device itself to keep up with handwriting (and drawing—machine learning also helps the Notes app straighten out an imperfect doodle of a polygon, for example).


Federighi says that for Apple’s tech, static examples weren’t enough. They needed to see the strokes that formed each letter. “If you understand the strokes and how the strokes went down, that can be used to disambiguate what was being written.”