Beware the ‘Storification’ of the Internet

The Atlantic:

There is a growing trend in American culture of what the literary theorist Peter Brooks calls “storification.” Since the turn of the millennium, he argues in his new book, Seduced by Story: The Use and Abuse of Narrative, we’ve relied too heavily on storytelling conventions to understand the world around us, which has resulted in a “narrative takeover of reality” that affects nearly every form of communication—including the way doctors interact with patients, how financial reports are written, and the branding that corporations use to present themselves to consumers. Meanwhile, other modes of expression, interpretation, and comprehension, such as analysis and argument, have fallen to the wayside.

The danger of this arises when the public fails to understand that many of these stories are constructed through deliberate choices and omissions. Enron, for instance, duped people because it was “built uniquely on stories—fictions, in fact … that generated stories of impending great wealth,” Brooks writes. Other recent scams, like those pulled off by Purdue Pharma, NXIVM, and Anna Delvey, succeeded because people fell for tales the perpetrators spun. In other words, we could all benefit from a lesson in close reading and a dose of skepticism.

The End of the iPod

After more than 20 years, one of the most iconic devices of all time is no more:

Over the years, Apple introduced multiple iterations of the iPod, including iPod mini, multiple versions of the iPod nano, the iPod shuffle, and the iPod touch ... Apple said that it is discontinuing the iPod because the iPod's capabilities have been built into the entire Apple product lineup, from the Mac to the iPhone to the Apple Watch.

My favorite iPod was the fourth generation model, released in 2004.

Apple’s Newsroom posts a farewell:

Music has always been part of our core at Apple, and bringing it to hundreds of millions of users in the way iPod did impacted more than just the music industry — it also redefined how music is discovered, listened to, and shared,” said Greg Joswiak, Apple’s senior vice president of Worldwide Marketing. “Today, the spirit of iPod lives on. We’ve integrated an incredible music experience across all of our products, from the iPhone to the Apple Watch to HomePod mini, and across Mac, iPad, and Apple TV. And Apple Music delivers industry-leading sound quality with support for spatial audio — there’s no better way to enjoy, discover, and experience music.

For those who missed it, it’s hard to describe how exciting this product line was for pre-iPhone era Apple fans. It truly changed the music buying and listening experience.

The Web is (Still) Almost Entirely Inaccessible to People with Disabilities

People with disabilities face limitations and obstacles online that mirror those in the “real” world prior to the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Since 1990 the ADA has guaranteed – among many things – that people with disabilities have access to public buildings, facilities and transit vehicles, reasonable workplace accommodations, and access to sign language interpreters and “other auxiliary aids” in hospitals and clinical settings. 

Today, online experiences for users with certain visual or physical impairments range from infuriating and disorganized to entirely off limits and exclusionary. Most websites, for example, aren’t built or organized to interface well with screen readers, magnification devices, and other tools that assist readers with visual impairments.

In a step forward, more than 170 disability organizations called for the Department of Justice to finalize rules for online accessibility, a process that started in 2012 before being withdrawn in 2012: 

In today’s letter, addressed to assistant attorney general Kristen Clarke, the signees urged “the Department of Justice to maintain this rulemaking process as a priority and finalize a rule by the end of the current administration.” It states that while the DoJ has held that the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) includes websites and other technologies critical to accessing a business’ services, it has “failed to define when and how they should be accessible.”

Efforts to come up with these rules have ebbed and flowed. The letter noted that “In 2018, the Department reconfirmed its position that the ADA applies to the internet but never completed rulemakings that were begun in 2010 under Titles II and III of the ADA and withdrawn in 2017.”

The result is an online world where people with disabilities struggle to get their needs met. According to WebAIM (Web Accessibility In Mind)about 97 percent of the 1 million pages evaluated had WCAG 2 (Web Content Accessibility Guidelines) failures. These issues ranged from using low contrast text and missing form input labels to empty buttons and missing alt text for images.

Compliance with Section 508 is already a very, very big deal to developers and content strategists in the public sector. I’d like to see the same rules apply much, much more widely.

The Secret History of the First Real Smartphone 

via The Verge:

In 1998, Donna Dubinsky and Jeff Hawkins quit Palm, a company they’d founded, to begin a new one: Handspring. They had a simple goal in mind: to eventually create the smartphone. Years before any of the technology was actually ready, their tiny startup began laying the necessary groundwork for what would become the Treo.

In Springboard: the secret history of the first real smartphone, we document the history of Handspring, from its dramatic beginnings to its tragic end. Along the way, we hear from five of the key players who tried to invent the modern smartphone years before the technology world was ready for it. It’s a story that interweaves the dotcom crash, technological innovations, wireless carrier resistance, and much more.

Too Many People Still Use Windows XP

Windows XP, which turned 21 last month and has been unsupported since 2014, still runs on an alarmingly high number of PCs worldwide, including many in government.

via BleepingComputer:

So, why are some systems still using the outdated XP version?

The first category of systems that are still using Windows XP is those belonging to public sectors, known for their crawling upgrade speeds and hesitancy to use new technologies.

For many public entities, the bureaucracy of approving new system license purchases, upgrading hardware, and training the entire public sector is too complicated and costly.

The compatibility of custom-made 32-bit software tools is another crucial reason for still seeing XP in many places like industrial environments, hospitals, etc.

In many cases, there are no newer versions of these critical tools, or companies need to pay a lot of money to have them ported to new systems.

Then there’s the category of people who are using hardware that is too old and weak to run a newer Windows version properly, and they see no good reason to replace something that is still (technically) working.

Many users, including some in government, value ease and tradition over security … often to the detriment of public stakeholders.

Time Machine vs Migration Assistant

I spent much of last weekend restoring my father-in-law’s MacBook Pro, which had stopped receiving updates and was acting out in strange ways following a small-town repair tech’s ill-fated attempt to service it. 

The situation called for a complete erase and reinstall of macOS, followed by a series of updates to bring the machine current with macOS Big Sur. 

Backing up and restoring a Mac has gotten a lot easier thanks to iCloud, but there may be occasions when you need to restore files, settings and media from a backup drive. 

Migration Assistant 

Migration Assistant is an app that lives in the macOS Utilities folder. 

Migration Assistant is more complicated than other backup methods since it requires you to already be on a Mac that has been set up, and accordingly, already on a new user account. Long story short, it can be complicated to migrate an “old” user account over to a “new” account. Migration can easily unravel, resulting in duplicated or missing files and accounts. Migration Assistant has always been complicated and frustrating tool for me.

Time Machine 

Time Machine is Apple’s go-to backup and snapshot app that provides a smoother experience. Simply use Time Machine for regular backups, including just before you want to restore your Mac. Once backed up, erase and update your Mac to the latest OS, then plug in the external drive associated with your Time Machine backup and select while files, profiles and settings you want.

It couldn’t be any easier. 

Bradley Koda, the Parts Seller Keeping Atari Machines Alive

Via Vice:

Among Atari fans, Best is almost as famous for ignoring and blacklisting badly behaved customers as it is for selling Atari parts. A first attempt to buy from Best Electronics is a sink-or-swim proposition: learn the rules, or accept your fate.

Every purchase from Best Electronics requires personal interaction with Koda. Although he’s fond of using the editorial “we,” he is a one-man operation, and he doesn’t believe in automation. “We prefer to talk, Via E-Mail, Phone or E-FAX to our Atari customers, and make sure you getting the Right Atari Replacement Parts / Items the first time,” he explains on the Best website, in his inimitable prose style.

Koda is a monopolist, of a sort, but he’s no Jeff Bezos. Best Electronics has no virtual shopping cart, or any other Amazon-esque conveniences. The store’s website looks the same as it has since the early 2000s: it’s a lengthy, multicoloured text scroll, as if Jack Kerouac quit the novel-writing business (but not the benzedrine) and started typing about Atari.

My Review of the 2020 MacBook Air

2020 MacBook AirOn June 22 Apple formally announced its departure from Intel x86 to its in-house ARM chipset, dubbed Apple Silicon. 

ARM-based chips, like those found in iPhone and iPad, are considerably faster and more efficient than their Intel counterparts and will allow for better battery life and enhanced integration between hardware and software. Close your eyes and imagine the speed and stability of a mobile device but in a laptop or desktop computer. 

The first Apple Silicon Macs will be available later this year. 

All of this is to say my own Mac — a 2011 MacBook Air — died within days of the announcement, so I was confronted with deciding between buying into a dying line of Intel-based Macs now or holding out for Apple Silicon later this year. 

It wasn’t an easy decision; while ARM-based Macs will be exponentially more powerful and more efficient, the transition to get there may include bugs and kinks. While this will be especially true for niche software developers who may lag in their production cycles, I don’t expect transitional issues from “anchor” apps like Microsoft Office and Google Chrome. Still, as a general rule, I avoid buying the first generation of any new tech. Plus, I can’t go months without a computer. 

I opted for the upper-tier MacBook Air. 

My Air’s configuration includes performance and memory bumps: a 1.1 GHz Quad-Core Intel Core i5, 16 GB 3733 MHz LPDDR4 RAM and a 512GB SSD. Choosing quad-core was a no-brainer, and the bump to 512GB of storage provides more wiggle room without fretting about space. 

This configuration is more than powerful enough for my needs: writing with lots of open tabs, light web development and casual video editing. I can run Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro X if need to, though if I used either of those tools fulltime, I would have opted for the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Apple’s attention to detail did not escape the 2020 MacBook Air. At the top of the list of enhancements is the return to the traditional scissor keyboard. The 2020 Air’s Magic Keyboard has 1mm of travel and has a satisfying click to keystrokes. 

And finally, at long last, I have a retina display and Touch ID. 

The line between the macOS and iOS is blurring more each year. There isn’t a hard divide between mobile and desktop experiences, at least when it comes to photos, bookmarks, documents, and settings. The majority of my stuff was synced via iCloud, and the rest was available through my Time Machine backups. I’m comfortably within the walled garden that Apple has constructed for me over the last 15 years, and I can seamlessly move between my MacBook, iPad, and iPhone. I expect macOS and iOS to become even more enmeshed when Apple releases its next OS, Big Sur, later this year. 

The 2020 MacBook Air has only two ports, and they’re both USB-C. None of my devices –– not my printer, my external hard drive, or my GoPro camera –– is USB-C. This is my biggest grievance with the 2020 Air. It didn’t occur to me how many older USB devices I had until I couldn’t use them. The issue of legacy ports was solved by buying a USB-C Hub Adapter, which opens the notebook up to all of my older devices. 

The 2020 MacBook Air, like all current Mac laptops, features a very awful 720p FaceTime camera, so don’t expect much visual appeal for virtual meetings from home. I suppose this is due to the Air’s thin form factor and lack of space for a larger, higher-quality camera. This is unfortunate as so many of us depend on video calls more than ever during the pandemic. 

Will I get almost a decade of use out of the 2020 Air? It’s unlikely. But based on my experience so far, I can say that shoddy camera aside, the 2020 MacBook is a solid option for anyone who needs portability and power.