Archive for January 23, 2024

Tuesday, January 23, 2024

Charging for “Remarkable Alexa”

Scharon Harding (via Hacker News):

A quote from an anonymous Amazon employee in a Wednesday Business Insider report paints a dire picture. Amazon needs its upcoming subscription version of Alexa to drive revenue in ways that its voice assistant never has before.


All voice assistants have struggled to drive revenue since people tend to use voice assistants for basic queries, like checking the weather, rather than transactions.

Amazon announced plans to drive usage and interest in Alexa by releasing a generative AI version that it said would one day require a subscription.

I wonder if they’ll include it with Amazon Prime, as I’m hearing more grumbling about whether that subscription is still worth it now that the price has increased, shipping has slowed, and Prime Video will be adding commercials.


I used to find my Alexa devices useful, until they took the widely-discussed quality nosedive and started understanding less than half of what they used to. I can’t think of anything else I’ve purchased that became so markedly worse of a thing after I bought it. 1 experience of misunderstanding stomps out 10 of it working perfectly.

I’d read a book on the inside story of the failure of this product. From cute, moderately useful novelty to glitchy, nagging revenue grab that takes it upon itself to come into your home with “offers”. Eroding goodwill, missing the boat on AI you’re naturally leveraged to integrate with your large installed base, it’s shiny object middle management bingo.


SwiftUI Main Thread Hang Detector

Wade Tregaskis:

This is just a little snippet that is quite useful for reporting when your GUI thread (the main thread / actor) hangs for a significant amount of time. There are numerous heavier-weight tools for analysing this sort of thing, but I’ve found that this simple monitor does what I need most of the time.

PostScript’s Sudden Death in Sonoma

Howard Oakley:

Finally, the complete removal of support for PostScript and EPS was recorded as another “deprecation” in the release notes for Sonoma: “macOS has removed the functionality for converting PostScript and EPS files to PDF format. As a result, CoreGraphics’ CGPSConverter returns an error when invoked, ImageIO no longer converts EPS files, NSEPSImageRep does not display EPS files, and PMPrinterPrintWithFile does not accept a PostScript file for non-PostScript print queues.”

Search of Apple’s previous release notes doesn’t reveal any prior warnings of this removal of support or deprecation (in the general meaning of the term), in contrast to other removals from Sonoma such as ATS/ATSUI. Although conversion from PostScript and EPS must now be in relatively little demand, its demise has been rapid, as if Apple can’t wait for macOS to be rid of it. The most likely reason is security.


PSNormalizer is now little used, and has no significant role in macOS. The first step was to make it inaccessible from the GUI by disabling that feature in Ventura’s Preview, then following that in Sonoma by removing PSNormalizer altogether, so removing its command tool pstopdf and Core Graphics’ CGPSConverter.

Would it have been that hard to sandbox?

Howard Oakley:

If you want to view or convert either file type, there are three main local options:

  • Use an app with its own PostScript rendering engine, such as Adobe Acrobat and other paid-for products; although expensive, Adobe’s Distiller engine is the best available, but Acrobat Reader won’t convert PostScript or EPS files for free.
  • Install open source Ghostscript, using either MacPorts or Brew; although this is free, unless you already use either of those, there’s quite a lot of work involved, and they’re centred on the command line. As Ghostscript has had several serious security vulnerabilities, you’ll also need to keep it up to date.
  • Use the Preview app in a version of macOS older than Ventura, where conversion was removed from the app. If you’ve got an Apple silicon Mac, this is performed entirely in the GUI, comes at no cost, and is simple to set up.

This article walks you through the third option, of setting up a virtual machine (VM) running macOS Monterey 12.6.1 on an Apple silicon Mac running Sonoma.


Campfire Is ONCE #1

Jason Fried:

Once upon a time you owned what you paid for, you controlled what you depended on, and your privacy and security were your own business. We think it’s that time again.

Introducing ONCE, a new line of software products from 37signals.

  • Pay one time, own forever.
  • We write the code, you get to see it.
  • We give you the software, you get to host it.
  • Simple and straightforward, not enterprisey and bloated.


In the early 2000s, we were among the early pioneers leading the industry into the SaaS revolution. Now, 20 years later, we intend to help lead the way out.

David Heinemeier Hansson (Hacker News):

SaaS is great for systems that need to be services. The kind of software that’s constantly evolving or difficult to operate.


But there’s also a lot of SaaS that does not need to be a service. That could just as well be a simple product. A finished product, even. And we think standalone chat is the perfect example of that. It’s simply ridiculous to hear people paying hundreds of dollars a month, if not thousands, if not TENS OF THOUSANDS, for a system like Slack. When all they need is a basic system for their employees to talk to each other.

It seems like there’s an opportunity here because Slack is way too heavyweight and expensive for a lot of companies and organizations. And I like the idea of having control over my data and access to the source code, even though it isn’t open-source. $299 gets you three years of bug and security fixes. I’m not sure what happens after that. No software is ever truly a finished product.

For many years, I used vBulletin, which kind of had this model except that they had the ambition to keep rewriting the software, adding bloat and bugs. I would keep buying paid upgrades but turning off the new features because they were no longer maintaining the old versions.

Currently, I’m using Sendy, which also has a one-time fee.


Update (2024-01-30): Austen Allred (via David Heinemeier Hansson):

Having paid Slack millions of dollars, exporting our data is failing. We tried a few ways, none of it works.

Slack’s response?

“Sign a new contract or your data automatically enters deletion queue.”

In case you’re wondering, the “services package” they are referring to where they would migrate the data for us was quoted at $78,000.

His tweet got 1.7M views, and the CEO of Salesforce responded promptly. If you have less reach, good luck getting out the data that you supposedly own.