Saturday, December 30, 2017

Tech regressions: MORE, Quicken, PalmOS, iOS, Podcasts, Aperture, Music, iPad photo slide shows, and toasters.

One of the odder experiences of aging is living through technology regressions. I’ve seen a few — solutions that go away and are never replaced.

Symantec’s classicMac MORE 3.1 was a great outliner/editing tool with the best style sheet implementation I’ve seen. It died around 1991. The closest thing today would be Omni Outliner — 16 years later. There’s still no comparable Style Sheet support.

Quicken for DOS with 3.5” monthly diskette records of credit card transactions was the most reliable and useable personal accounting tool I’ve experienced — though even it had problems with database corruption. I think that was the 1980s. Today I use Quicken for Mac, a niche product with unreliable transfer of financial information, questionable data security, and limited investment tools.

PalmOS Datebk 5 was an excellent calendaring tool with good desktop sync (for a while the Mac had the best ‘personal information management’ companion). That was in the 1990s. When PalmOS died we went years without an alternative. I briefly returned to using a Franklin Planner. Somewhere around year 3 of iOS we had equivalent functionality again — and a very painful transition.

iOS and macOS have seen particularly painful combinations of progressions and regressions. OS X / macOS photo management was at its best somewhere around the end of Snow Leopard and Aperture 3.1 (memory fuzzy, not sure they overlapped). OS X photo solutions had finally reached a good state after years of iPhoto screw-ups — the professional and home products more or less interoperated. All Apple needed to do was polish Aperture’s rough edges and fix bugs. Instead they sunset Aperture and gave us — a big functional regression. Apple did something similar with iMovie; it’s much harder to make home “movies” than it once was.

iOS was at its most reliable around version 6. So Apple blew it up. Since that time has gone from great to bad to not-so-bad to abysmal. The iPad used to have a great digital picture frame capability tied to screen lock — Apple took that away. For a while there was a 3rd party app that worked with iCloud photo streams, I could remotely add images to my father’s iPad slideshow digital picture frame. There’s nothing that works as well now; as I write this I’m working through a web of bugs and incompetence (I suspect a desperate timeout stuck into iTunes/iOS sync) to sneak some photos from Aperture to an iPad.

Apple Music is following the path of as Apple moves to ending the sale of music (probably 2019). At the same time iTunes is being divided into dumbed down subunits (iBooks regression). The last 2-3 revisions of iTunes have been so bad that this feels almost like a mercy killing.

We don’t have a  way to avoid these regressions. Once we could have gotten off the train, now the train stations are dangerous neighborhoods of lethal malware. We need to keep upgrading, and so much is bundled with macOS and iOS that we can’t find 3rd party alternatives. Data lock is ubiquitous now.

I think regressions are less common outside digital world. It’s true toasters aren’t what they were, but since 2006 Chinese products have become better made and more reliable. Perhaps the closest thing to tech regressions in the material world is the chaos of pharma prices.

This takes a toll. There are so many better ways to spend my life, and too few minutes to waste. I wonder what these regressions do to non-geeks; I don’t think it goes well for them.

Friday, December 29, 2017

Did an autonomous Tesla kill its first cyclist?

This Nov 2017 crash hasn’t gotten enough attention …

Tesla Strikes and Kills UK Cyclist |

… An 80-year-old man was killed Friday when a Tesla Model S, an electric car with some autonomous capabilities, struck him as he rode his bike near the U.K. village of High Shincliffe.

The cyclist—identified as Fred Heppell, a former bank manager from Lanchester, U.K.—was airlifted to a nearby hospital, where he later died. Initial news reports did not indicate if the driver faces any charges, although police are reportedly seeking eyewitnesses to the crash.

While not a fully self-driving vehicle, the Model S has an autopilot feature that allows the car to steer itself in certain circumstances. Promotional videos online show test drivers letting go of the steering wheel while the vehicle maintains speed and control on relative straightaways. (It tops out at 90 miles per hour in autopilot mode, according to the company website.) The car can also change lanes and park on its own.

It’s unclear if the driver in Friday’s crash had applied the autonomous technology at the time of the collision. U.K. reporters described the road where the crash occurred as “predominantly a straight road with gentle inclines.” Heppell was, by all accounts, an experienced rider.

“Fred averaged 10,000 miles per year on his bike and with his wife by his side had cycled across America, Australia, Argentina, Chile, New Zealand, and a host of European countries in his retirement years,” Heppell’s family told the British press…

I was unable to find any follow-up. I am skeptical of Tesla’s approach to autonomous vehicles: I think it is reckless. Any Tesla in autonomous or semi-autonomous mode should run a 360 video to ensure accidents are well understood and permits should not be issued without testing response to cyclists.

I think Google’s autonomous vehicles may, in time, be a boon to cyclists and pedestrians. Tesla, no so much.

Sunday, December 10, 2017

NYT moves columnist blogs into a controlled venue -- with some deprecated RSS

The NYT has moved Krugman’s blog to a new platform. I presume this is true for all their journalists. The NYT RSS index still points to his now frozen blog at 

So what’s the new platform?

K wrote that posts will show up on his regular columnist page: That page has an RSS feed. Of course, as is the norm these days, the page does not indicate the feed exists. It has an odd structure

When I added the feed to Feedbin it displayed in a strange sequence — without the publication date. So the source RSS may be malformed. It’s possible the NYT will fix this.

I note that the footer for the post from 12/9/2017 still points to his old blog “The Conscience of a Liberal”. 

It looks like the NYT is sort-of keeping it’s RSS feeds around, but the transition is at least a bit messy. I can’t tell how one distinguishes K blog posts from his “print” articles, they seem to share one stream. That has to make his writing more formal and more controlled. Which is perhaps the point. 

I am reminded again of an unfortunate side-effect of the ad-funded internet. “Free” media streams now target the easily manipulated populations, typically to serve causes of the corporate and wealthy, often to persuade  the credulous to act against their own interests. They are essentially parasitic. Pay streams can be excellent, but they are only accessible to a small minority.

Tuesday, December 05, 2017

Weinstein, The Enquirer, Pecker and Trump - a curious set of friendships

From NYT essay on Weinstein and his enablers an interesting set of misogynistic relationships …

Weinstein’s Complicity Machine - The New York Times

… Mr. Weinstein held off press scrutiny with a mix of threats and enticements … He was so close to David J. Pecker, the chief executive of American Media Inc., which owns The Enquirer, that he was known in the tabloid industry as an untouchable “F.O.P.,” or “friend of Pecker.” That status was shared by a chosen few, including President Trump.

Via Twitter, how Trump is fighting sexual harassment in DC.