Winter storm Jonas in Brooklyn

Winter storm Jonas was the largest snowfall on record for New York City. With two feet of snow falling from the sky in a matter of hours, the sky and the ground were just white fluffy blurs. I went out with my camera to document the event, and here are some pictures.


As you can see some other people were out and about braving the blizzard, but this is a far cry from the busy streets of Brooklyn on a regular Saturday. Traffic and pedestrian signs were ignored more than usual.


I had a hard enough time getting around on foot, but there were even a couple of cars trying to make it through the snow.


By far the most fun was had at the park, however, where Brooklynites made use of the blizzarmeggedon (you’re welcome, previously untitled metal bands) to do snow sports and otherwise enjoy the weather.


Parse shutting down

Parse, the backend-as-a-service for mobile and web apps, is shutting down, and Marco Arment explains one of the reasons he doesn’t use those sorts of things:

The short answer is that I can’t afford to — for my business models to work, I need to keep costs very low, a discipline I’ve built over time as one of my most important professional skills. […]

For whatever it’s worth, running your own Linux servers today with boring old databases and stable languages is neither difficult nor expensive. This isn’t to say “I told you so” — rather, if you haven’t tried before, “You can do this.”

I agree that getting a Linux box with one of the cloud-hosting providers is very easy, with numerous vendors and 3rd party tutorials provided to get you up and running. However services like Parse can offer peace of mind if you suddenly get 1,000,000,000 users and need to scale. Instead of having to learn how to deploy very complicated load balancers and shards, you can pay Parse to work it out and keep the lights on. Of course, that peace of mind can evaporate suddenly, as it did here, if they cannot keep the lights on with what you pay.

I predict the problem with Parse was also the reason it was so successful: the barrier to entry was so low, and the ratio of paying customers to free-tier customers was probably too low. What I don’t understand is that Facebook could probably afford to run Parse at a loss forever, and just keep tabs on up-and-coming apps.

Apple pushing forward hearing aid technology

From an FCC filing from Apple regarding hearing aid technology:

Apple is driven to make its devices truly accessible, and believes that consumers with hearing loss deserve a better experience than what traditional hearing aid compatibility technologies offer today. iPhones comply with existing HAC rules. But as the Commission has recognized, Apple has also invested heavily to improve accessibility by developing “a new hearing aid platform that relies on Bluetooth® technology.” 4 Apple believes that this Made for iPhone (“MFi”) hearing aid platform represents a substantial improvement to consumers over devices that are deemed accessible by today’s HAC rules.

This is the Apple that I buy products from. I find the discussion of the “Wall Street Apple” interesting, but the Apple I care about is the one that still seems to do things like this. Of course, it’s in Apple’s interest to make iPhones a great product for everyone, but I think there’s more the accessibility on the iPhone than business acumen: it’s the right thing to do. This is definitely inline with Apple’s initiatives in health, and I look forward to seeing how HealthKit develops.

The iPhone 5se and Apple's ecosystem

Rene Ritchie for iMore:

Tim Cook recently said that 60 percent of customers on an iPhone 5s or earlier have not yet upgraded to an iPhone 6 or later. When we polled our readership late last year, a majority of our readers told us they were happy with the current sizes — almost 58%. Of those who did want a smaller iPhone, 12% said it was important enough to them that they’d refrained from upgrading because the iPhones 6 seemed too big. Almost 13%, though, said they were interested in a smaller iPhone especially if it was less expensive than the larger size models.

Shawn King for The Loop:

Whether Apple does this in the spring or not, it certainly makes sense for the company to serve the end of the market that doesn’t need or want one of the ginormous iPhone 6 variations.

John Gruber:

A new 4-inch iPhone with an A9 processor and Touch ID solves a few problems for Apple, in one swoop. It gives Apple a modern iPhone to sell to people who really do prefer the smaller size, and it gives them a low-end-of-the-lineup model that is technically relevant for another 18-24 months.

I almost never like it when analysts harken back to Steve Jobs when it comes to Apple’s future, but I think we may be feeling his persuasive influence still. The notion that a 4-inch device is “perfect” because you can reach all of it with one hand still exists, and may very well be true for some consumers. In my experience, the Plus models are extraordinary. My 6 Plus has completely taken over from my iPad, and continues to gain capabilities that were previously reserved for my MacBook.

Having said that, it is expensive. And should Apple release the “5se”, I think it could be a real crowd pleaser. It predict it’ll be priced around the $500 price point, include Force Touch, NFC, an A9 processor, improved camera, and a 5-class screen at a 6 aspect ratio. Of those 13% who are “interested” and 60% who “haven’t upgraded” into new iPhone users. However, as a developer, I don’t really care if an Apple customer has a 5s or 5se, I’d prefer that Apple continue to convert Android users. To do that will require something more accessible that another phone upwards of $500.

Apple's engineering culture and hiring problems

Nellie Bowles for the Guardian:

Engineers look for “big problems” that will push them and for a culture that puts them at the center, Solomon said. He also noted that the best engineers like to work in “flow state” and keep creative hours, which Apple, with its long commute from San Francisco to Cupertino, doesn’t always allow.
“Apple’s not an engineering culture,” Solomon said. “Tim Cook’s done an amazing job running the company, but [Steve Jobs] was the guy everyone wanted to follow into battle.”

This is right for the wrong reasons – characterizing the challenges of the world’s most valuable company by how they’re perceived by a few professionals in the industry will inevitably fail to tell the full story. However, being that big is the source of Apple’s struggles in recruiting, retention, and quality.

Apple have a massive install base of massive software systems, and public expectations are the same as when they were selling iPods and represented 2% of the PC market share. And in order to retain their culture of “world-changing” perception, they have to keep everything a secret, presumably even from within.

That’s my charitable take on this peculiar piece from the Guardian. Apple likely do have problems attracting the world’s top talent, but when you have as much money in the bank as Apple do, it gives them a strong place to negotiate from. Additionally, engineers that bemoan the lack of free food and the rigid start times are likely not the kind Apple wish to attract.

John Gruber on the article:

The other problem Apple faces is that it’s not just any A-team talent that Apple needs, Apple needs A-team talent that understands and appreciates Apple’s design-focused culture.

As a software engineer, I’m very aware that right now, engineer’s have a lot of bargaining power because of their scarcity. Good engineers will always be scarce. That “engineering culture” that Solomon criticizes Apple for not having is probably more that Apple do not pander to entry-level candidates the same way Google or Facebook do with their silly hats and free lunches. But it won’t always be like this, as universities ramp up to meet the demand for software professionals, being a programmer will become more and more like being any other commodity professional. That’s my take of Apple supposed lack of “engineering” culture, because if you look at their actual engineering culture, it’s brought the world WebKit and Swift and, in many ways, the personal computer.

The Future of Twitter

John Gruber:

I do think Twitter has become far too complicated. The original appeal of Twitter was largely based on its simplicity. But I have argued for years that the fundamental problem is that Twitter is compared to Facebook, and it shouldn’t be. Facebook appeals to billions of people. “Most people”, it’s fair to say. Twitter appeals to hundreds of millions of people. That’s amazing, and there’s tremendous value in that — but it’s no Facebook. Cramming extra features into Twitter will never make it as popular as Facebook — it will only dilute what it is that makes Twitter as popular and useful as it is.

Walt Mossberg:

To potential new users, it’s a real challenge to learn all of Twitter’s often arcane little features. And even for people who have been using the service multiple times daily for years, like me, it can be tricky to decide when to use which feature and in which situation. For instance, new users might be confused about what a retweet is, or the difference between that and a “quote tweet” (where you say more about something you’re reposting). And they surely might not understand the need to place a period before the handle of a user, when that handle is at the very start of a tweet you compose, yet not elsewhere in the tweet.

Ben Thompson:

When it comes to “the empty spaces” most people don’t want to do work, but work is exactly what Twitter required. You had to know what you were interested in, know who to follow based on those interests, and then, to top it all off, you had to pick out the parts that you were interested in from a stream of unfiltered tweets; Facebook, in contrast, did the work for you.

There is an underlying tension in the recent dialogue surrounding Twitter: it’s too complicated for “most people” to use, but it’s simplicity is what makes it appeal to its “niche”, these writers would seem to have us believe.

I think Twitter’s problem is entirely different: when it first began, like Facebook before it and MySpace before it, it was hip. The corporations didn’t know about it, Wall Street didn’t care about it, there were no ads, there were just weird Internet people, doing weird Internet stuff.

Now every news outlet, government body, and multinational are on there tweeting around the clock and feeding you ads. By selling the product to Wall Street and the advertisers, which is exactly what I would have done if I ran Twitter, Twitter alienated at least me. Contrast this with Tumblr, which sold to Yahoo and is unlikely to be profitable, but still somehow manages to retain it’s hip tone.

I think Twitter shouldn’t aim to be profitable. I recognize it isn’t at all practical or at all useful advice to Jack Dorsey, but the reason I don’t think Twitter should be profitable is that’s it’s a public resource – like plumbing, the Internet, and roads – it’s the common discourse. Ideally the U.S. Government would foot the bill and protect it under First Amendment rights. Of course, in reality this would never happen, and if it did it’d likely lead to outrageous privacy abuses.

Digitimes report that iPad will have a 4K resolution panel

Digitimes are reporting that Apple will release a “4K resolution panel” with the iPad in March, citing “Taiwan-based supply chain makers”:

The new 9.7-inch device will reportedly come equipped with a 4K resolution panel and up to 4GB in RAM, in addition to improved battery life.

While possible, it’s highly unlikely. Consider that the only 4K tablet on the market is made by Panasonic for $6,000, and it ships with 8GB of RAM. The amount of battery and weight added by a 4K panel, as well as the added cost and marginal benefit to consumers, makes this report incredulous.

Safari Crashing and Google Chrome's new implementation

Safari on iOS and OS X has been crashing for many people this morning, MacRumors reports. Serendipitously, Google have pushed an update to Chrome on iOS which switches UIWebView for WKWebView, and they posted on their blog today that it’s reduced crashing by 70%. Epic burn aside, it seems to not matter if you’ve got the resources of Apple or Google, or if you’re a one-person shop: code breaks.

Apple Insider: Apple car project hiring frozen

The speculated Apple car project’s hiring has been frozen, Sam Oliver reports for Apple Insider:

Apple has placed a hiring freeze on the team responsible for the company’s nascent automotive ambitions after executives became unhappy with the project’s direction and progress, AppleInsider has learned.

The change was precipitated by a post-holiday progress review conducted by Apple design chief Jony Ive, according to a previously reliable source with knowledge of the team’s activities. Ive is said to have “expressed his displeasure” with the group’s headway.

In all, Apple is believed to have more than 1,000 people working on Project Titan at sites both inside and outside of Cupertino. Hiring was so aggressive that Apple’s poaching of engineering talent from Tesla is thought to have had a “big impact” on the Elon Musk-led company’s ability to keep up with development of future vehicles.

I would love to know the Apple leadership’s reasoning behind entering the car market. As I’ve speculated before, it wouldn’t be enough to just make a car, or an electric car, or a beautiful car … Apple is either hiding something big or making a big mistake, and they’re no fools in Cupertino.

I’m also curious how the Apple car project is affecting Apple’s existing products. For instance, the iPhone launch is said to have taken top engineers away from the Mac, resulting in a lackluster release one year. I certainly think that software quality on Mac has withered, and it could be in part because of the iPhone’s popularity, and in part because of the brain-drain from the Apple car.

Speculation on the new MacBook Pros coming in March

Seth Weintraub quotes KGI’s Ming-Chi Kuo in a report for MacRumors:

We see MacBook as a stronger candidate for becoming a theme given solid growth in the business segment, as well as a potential upgrade to hit the market in 1H16.

I don’t know about whether we’ve hit “peak iPhone” or how this affects Apple’s stock price, but I do know that the Mac as a platform has been neglected in recent years (in comparison to its younger, cooler sibling). To cite a few examples, the Mac App Store is a disgrace, is a bit of mess that was ported from iOS, and the filesystem desperately needs upgrading. If market speculation regarding the potential growth of Macs allows Apple to focus on it, I’d jump for joy. The specs I’d like to see this March are:

  • Skylake processors,
  • faster PCIE storage,
  • an upgraded (and perhaps default) graphics chip,
  • a 32GB RAM option,
  • Force Touch trackpads on the 15-inch models,
  • and the new butterfly keyboard.

I’ve read rumors that we’re going to see a re-design as well, and that I could take or leave, I find the present models plenty beautiful and utilitarian.

WSJ: Apple car project lead is leaving

Daisuke Wakabayashi writing for the WSJ:

Steve Zadesky, a 16-year Apple veteran who has been overseeing its electric-car project for the last two years, has told people he is leaving the company. The timing of his departure isn’t clear. He is still at Apple for now.

Joe Rossignol writing for MacRumors:

Apple’s electric vehicle could be approved for production by 2020, but some employees reportedly believe it “might take several more years” for the iPhone maker to develop a truly differentiated electric vehicle. The project has encountered some challenges internally due to a lack of clear goals, according to the report.

Jordan Golson writing for The Verge:

“While the departure of Apple’s head of automobile efforts may seem like a blow, the reality is Apple has enough money and potential to bring in almost anyone they desire,” says Akshay Anand, analyst with Kelley Blue Book. “This shouldn’t railroad Apple’s efforts and the rumors that they are indeed focused on becoming a player in the automotive space.”

I still struggle to picture, both visually and conceptually, the rumored Apple Car. The car does seem to be the ultimate product in the sense that almost everyone could use one, it’s expensive, and it takes huge amounts of manufacturing and technical expertise to create. However, cars have got many aspects that Apple eschew: it’s highly regulated, it’s highly competitive, and the margins are low (compared to the iPhone).

If Apple truly are entering the car market and they behave the same way they did with the iPhone, they must have an innovation which will allow them to be truly different from the competition and command a high-margin. Because Apple don’t make commodity PCs or phones, it’s safe to assume they won’t make commodity cars, so the high-margin won’t be because of low-cost, it’ll be because of a high-price.

Should this be the case, I think this innovation will be so extreme as to make the cars that Apple make resemble little the cars we know. It won’t be enough that they’re electric, because Tesla do that, or that they’re slickly designed, because many high-end cars are. To me, it seems “personal transport” may be a better label than “car”, because I’d be underwhelmed by an Apple that enters a commodity market with a commodity (or near) product.

Let's Build – A shared economy app – Wireframing

In this series of posts, I’m going to learn how to plan and build a shared economy web app. This is an opportunity to learn and document the process of wireframing, designing, and developing an application from nothing, which (crucially) is usable by real people. I’ll be drawing from Michael Hartl’s Ruby on Rails Tutorial to learn how to build the application. The idea that I’m going to be building out is simple. AirBnb lets you monetize your extra room, Uber lets you monetize your time and car, but what about that pool you have? Or your trampoline? Or your basketball net? So that’s it, a shared economy app for use of your extra amenities.

This post is dedicated to wireframing. In programming and in life, I’ve always found that coming up with a plan before doing something greatly increases the chances of success. When the luxury of a plan can be afforded, it’s advisable to indulge. In the case of building a web app with Rails, the plan should come in the form of a wireframe. A wireframe is a technical document which contains no color, font, or even layout decisions, but rather the structure of information and the architecture of how a user navigates an app.

In order to accomplish this, I purchased the Omni Group’s well-known and quite renowned OmniGraffle software. There were cheaper options out there, with the standard variant of OmniGraffle costing $99.99. Many people I trust use it and I enjoy high-quality Mac apps, so I took the plunge. You can likely accomplish this task with many other tools out there, free or otherwise, just search Google for “wire framing software” and do your research. Honestly, I find many things frustrating about OmniGraffle, but it’s treating me pretty well (I’ll perhaps write a review).

The next tool I’ll need to start wire framing is a good stencil (template) for OmniGraffle. To make my life easier in development, I’m going to use the Bootstrap front-end UI framework, so I found a stencil which has Bootstrap’s elements and grid. With these tools, you can drag-and-drop UI elements into you canvas to mock how your application will work. First, I created what my application will look like to the general public, for those customers who are seeking a pool (as opposed to listing one).


Here, I tried to come up with the absolute minimum number of pages for users to have the core experience of this app – going online, inputing what they want to do, finding results of people who are offering to share their stuff, and checking out on it. I also tried to structure the information in a way that would make designing the application easy, in the sense that I avoided forms and used pictures liberally. Also, note that I’ve made a number of simplifications for the sake of this demonstration, for instance real users would want to refine by their location, I feel it’s just more than I’d like to get into for this learning experience.

After I finished these wireframes I realized I was missing something crucial. Users could easily find something they want to do, but it was impossible for them to post something they wanted to do. In wireframing this, I kept in mind that this user will tolerate something that doesn’t look too pretty, as long as it was efficient at getting their item up on the service. Furthermore, they are going to want a way to tracking how much money they’ve made. This differs from the customer-facing wireframe because it will not make liberal use of pictures and might be quite form-heavy, considering it’s data input. Here’s what I came up with:


With a quick idea, a good wire framing app, and a couple sessions at a coffee shop, I have a plan to take to the terminal. In the next post, I’ll either design the application by giving it some nice fonts and colors, or I’ll just jump into development (depending on my mood and level of impatience).

New Years in Zurich

This New Years I had the tremendous good fortune to visit Zurich, Switzerland with my family. We flew from London, Heathrow to Zurich International Airport arrived on the day before New Years Day. Here’s a shot of our arrival in Zurich HB train station (right on time, of course):

Zurich train station

My family and I stayed at an AirBnb in a quieter part of town, Dubstrasse Street in Werd. We spotted another prominent tech company on our way, with a major Google campus located nearby. Here’s a shot of Zurichsee in the day:

DSC_0065Walking along the river, every corner of the city is packed with history, character, and luxury retailers. In particular, there are four major churches in one part of town, here are two of them:


It got dark pretty fast, but the weather stayed pleasant and the streets stayed safe. It was unusual to see neither an officer of the law nor a homeless person while walking around, which I’m very accustomed to seeing in NYC.


Zurich became more beautiful as night fell, and the water in one of the two nearby rivers was pristine. While rambling about, my family and I noticed that swans made a home in the river, and there were a great many of them. Another unusual sight for a New Jersey native:


As midnight drew closer, we began to head down to the Bahnhofstrasse, where a fireworks display is being held. Before the official celebration, citizens took it upon themselves to ignore the no warnings against setting of fireworks in a rare and magnificent display of law-breaking:


But this was little compared to the official display. The fireworks were especially extraordinary for the unexpected reason of the seemingly constant fog above Zurichsee, where every firework light up the entire night sky in its own shade as it refracted through the fog:


It was a delight to get three days in Switzerland with my family and a pleasure experiencing Swiss culture.

Apple's stance on encryption and tracking

Rich Mogull writing for TidBITS,

We are in the midst of fundamentally redefining the relationship between governments and citizens in the face of technological upheavals in human communications. Other [non-Apple] technology leaders are relatively quiet on the issue because they lack the ground to stand on. Not due to personal preferences or business compromises, but because of their business models, and lack of demand from us, their customers.

Apple surely has their customers in mind with their defense of encryption and privacy, but it is also convenient that many of their competitors’ businesses rely on tracking. This has to be one of the reasons iAd was so unceremoniously swept under the rug, why Apple allowed content-blockers on iOS, and why they are such stalwarts about privacy: it’s good for users and it’s good for business.

How does NBC know Netflix's viewership?

John Gruber has been investigating how NBC president Alan Wurtzel had an idea of how many people watched Netflix shows, it turns out he’s using figures drawn from Palo Alto-based Symphony Advanced Media’s “Media Insider” app. It works like so:

It turns on the microphone to listen to what you’re doing “intermittently throughout the day”, requires permission to see and track all of the apps you use on the device, and they want you to turn on their “M-Connect” “feature”, which is a VPN that intercepts all of your network traffic.

Oh wow. They get people to sign up for this by marketing and offering gift cards.

The ugly overlap of government and technology

Information in the digital age is free. Sharing the words or code or images you make on the Internet cannot really be controlled. In the past, governments and other organizations have limited the spread of information by physically blocking, destroying, or otherwise hampering its spread. But with the Internet this is not so easy.

For instance, England wants to ban end-to-end encryption. China has built a digital version of the Great Wall, censoring anything that they deem counter to their efforts. The White House refuses to strong stance in favor of encryption. But because information is so easily duplicated and shared, because it so badly wants to be free, and because prime factoring is so difficult with current processors, all of these efforts to control and censor people face a constant uphill battle.

And then there’s this:

We’re going to get Apple to build their damn computers in this country instead of other countries.

Flux calls on Apple to allow them to release in the App Store

Today we call on Apple to allow us to release f.lux on iOS, to open up access to the features announced this week, and to support our goal of furthering research in sleep and chronobiology.

The makers of the dimming Flux application want access to private APIs to release in the App Store. In my opinion, they shouldn’t be granted it. Not because they haven’t got a good app, but because these screen whiteness APIs should either be released to everyone or not at all. If they’re released to everyone, we will see as many screen dimming apps as there are farting apps.

Furthermore, the stunt that Flux pulled to distribute their app via GitHub without actually open-sourcing the codebase, by adding an executable binary blob to an empty Xcode project and having user’s side load that, was a terrible move. It made the project look open-source, but was actually executing arbitrary code which no one but Flux knows what does. A bad precedent, and Apple were paying attention, and that is why they’ve drew Apple’s ire and swift sherlocking.

I find Flux’s response poised and classy, but they shouldn’t be allowed to access the private APIs on iOS. They will continue to have tremendous success as a Mac app, and I will continue to use their app. I hope they get their patent approved and Apple license the technology from them. If I were them, however, I would release the code, for iOS and for the Mac, as free and open source. If they’re mission is really “to enable f.lux to advance the science, while providing customized solutions for each person”, then they should go open source. If they had done that in the first place, I bet Apple wouldn’t have minded that they were using private APIs.

And Apple’s ire extends beyond Flux, in the release notes of the Xcode 7.3 beta, it says that they’ve removed all private frameworks from the SDK.

Elon Musk: "It’s an open secret that Apple is working on an electric car"

Dave Mark, writing for The Loop:

Elon Musk, in a BBC interview, talks about the Tesla Model 3, in production next year, designed to be affordable for the masses. When asked about Apple’s plans, he (almost reluctantly, it seems) makes the point that it is an open secret that Apple is working on a car of their own.

I’m in two minds about this. Firstly, quite selfish: I, and many of my city-dwelling peers, am not buying a car. Even low-end, second-hand cars are too expensive for the value it would deliver back to me (as far as I can tell). So I’m quite apathetic about the Apple Car.

But! As a developer, I am curious about the potential for 3rd party apps in the car. It’s a place where consumers spend tons of time, commuting, road-tripping, Sunday-driving, all of which are moments that an app, maybe my app, could deliver value. But I’m also highly skeptical that I want code from any ol’ developer running my (very hypothetical) car.

Apple News app under-reporting usage

From the WSJ:

Eddy Cue, Apple’s senior vice president of Internet Software and Services, said the company missed the error as it focused on other aspects of the product. The company didn’t explain how the problem occurred or say exactly when it might be rectified.

“We’re in the process of fixing that now, but our numbers are lower than reality,” he said. “We don’t know what the right number is,” but he added that it was better to undercount than overcount traffic.

Graham Spencer from MacStories writes:

A curious admission from Apple, particularly given that the issue has not been fixed yet. No details are given about the scale of the miscalculation, so it’s unclear as to whether this will result in a minor adjustment or significant adjustment in reader statistics.

Dave Mark for LoopInsight:

… [T]his is an embarrassing hiccough that Apple News did not need.

Eddy Cue has had a number of missteps in the last year: the Apple Music launch at WWDC was poorly executed, the MAS exodus under his leadership, and now a fairly minor analytics bug making front-page headlines.

Twitter is removing the 140 character constraint

From the WSJ:

The company is planning to extend its 140-character limit to as many as 10,000, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Seems to me that Twitter is expanding to be more like Medium and Tumblr, becoming less of a micro-blog and more of just a blog. Admittedly, I rather dislike reading Twitter conversations, and this change will likely make them more difficult to read. I recognize not everyone wants to go through the effort of starting and maintain a blog, and I also understand that a big part of Twitter’s appeal (like all good social networks) is it’s ubiquity, but I still don’t get why people are willing to surrender their content to corporations, man.