Ian Betteridge

John G on Monica Chin's review of the Surface Laptop Go 3


Daring Fireball: Monica Chin on the Microsoft Surface Laptop Go 3: ‘Why Does This Exist?’:

A $999 laptop that maxes out at 256 GB of storage and has a 1536 × 1024 display — yeah, I’m wondering why this exists in 2023, too. And I’m no longer wondering why Panos Panay left Microsoft for Amazon.

The $999 MacBook Air has 256Gb of storage, 8Gb of RAM, and a three year old processor. I’m kind of wondering why that exists in 2023, too.

Not to say that the Surface Laptop 3 is any good – it isn’t – but Microsoft isn’t the only company that has some bizarre pricing at the “low” end of its laptop range.

Importing Apple Notes into Obsidian is now easy


Obsidian’s Importer Plugin Lets You Move Your Apple Notes to Any Note-Taking App That Supports Markdown - MacStories:

Apple Notes doesn’t have an export option. Instead, as Obsidian’s blog post on the Importer plugin update explains, it stores your notes in a local SQLite database. The format isn’t documented, but the developers of the plugin were able to reverse-engineer it to allow users to move notes and their attachments out of Notes and into two folders: one with Markdown versions of your notes and the other with the files attached to your notes. The folder with your notes includes subfolders that match any folders you set up in Notes, too.

This is just outstanding work from the Obsidian team. There are a couple of limitations, mostly that it can’t import password protected notes (obviously), but I’ve tested it and it worked well.

Related: undocumented SQLite databases should not be the way that a multi-gazillion dollar corporation is storing valuable data.

Who would have thought Amazon would behave like this?


Amazon deliberately deleted messages to hide dodgy business practices:

The FTC also alleges that Amazon tried to impede its investigation into the company’s business practices. “Amazon executives systematically and intentionally deleted internal communications using the ‘disappearing message’ feature of the Signal messaging app. Amazon prejudicially destroyed more than two years’ worth of such communications—from June 2019 to at least early 2022—despite Plaintiffs’ instructing Amazon not to do so.”

And the answer to the headline is, of course, “anyone that’s been paying attention.

DOJ probing Tesla’s EV range cheating


DOJ probing Tesla’s EV range after reports of exaggerated numbers - The Verge:

The US Department of Justice (DOJ) is investigating the range of Tesla’s electric vehicles after reports surfaced that the company was relying on exaggerated numbers.

In documents filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission, Tesla said that it had “received requests for information, including subpoenas from the DOJ, regarding certain matters associated with personal benefits, related parties, vehicle range and personnel decisions.”

This follows on from a Reuters’ report earlier this year, which found Tesla was getting so many complaints about range it was cancelling appointments with its service centres for customers with the problem:

According to Reuters, there was nothing actually wrong with the vehicle’s battery. Rather, Tesla had allegedly created software to rig its driving range estimates to show a rosier picture. This led to thousands of customers seeking service appointments to figure out what was wrong with their vehicles. But because the vehicle was working as intended, Tesla’s diversion team simply canceled all the appointments.

So Tesla created software which gave a false reading of battery range, then when people spotted it, they just canceled any service to them.

It’s worth noting that when VW was caught cheating on its emissions tests by using a device to check when it was being tested and artificially improving results, it ended up being fined tens of billions of dollars.

This isn’t on quite that scale, but regulators tend to take a very dim view of cheating customers. It’s quite possible this will cost Tesla billions.

Anyone willing to bet that it will turn out this was done at Elon Musk’s insistence? And will that be the final nail in the coffin of his reputation?

China launches investigation into iPhone maker Foxconn, says state media


China launches investigation into iPhone maker Foxconn, says state media:

China has launched an investigation into Apple iPhone maker Foxconn over tax and land use, Chinese state media reported on Sunday. The Global Times, citing anonymous sources, said tax authorities inspected Foxconn’s sites in the provinces of Guangdong and Jiangsu and natural resources officials had inspected sites in Henan and Hubei… The Global Times article quoted an expert saying “Taiwan-funded enterprises, including Foxconn . . . should also assume corresponding social responsibilities and play a positive role in promoting the peaceful development of cross-strait relations”.

This is a very big deal and should be keeping Tim Cook awake at night. Effectively, it’s a small shot across the bows for Foxconn, a reminder that without the good graces of the Chinese government, it can’t exist.

The new Apple Pencil


Apple has released a new Pencil for iPad and it’s weird. It looks like the Second Generation Pencil (the one which charges by sticking to the side of the iPad Pro or current Air). And it will attach there. But it won’t charge if you do – it charges through a hidden USB-C port via a cable.

Oh and it’s not pressure sensitive, which makes it worse for drawing than the old Pencil which charged via Lightning.

It is, though, £79 rather than the ONE HUNDRED AND THIRTY NINE POUNDS the second generation Pencil will cost. So that’s one thing.

Marc Andreessen's manifesto


It would take a far, far longer post than I’m prepared to spend my time writing to go through Marc Andreessen’s “Techno-Optimist Manifesto” paragraph by awful paragraph, but a few points probably won’t go amiss. - If you’re going to approvingly paraphrase “a manifesto of a different time and place”, you might want to check that said manifesto’s author wasn’t an early member of Mussolini’s fascist party.

- Writing “we believe technology is universalist. Technology doesn’t care about your ethnicity, race, religion, national origin, gender, sexuality, political views,” and then, two paragraphs later “We believe America and her allies should be strong and not weak” either shows you have no idea how to write, are being entirely disingenuous, or simply too stupid to think except in blocks of 240 characters. Either way, get an editor to help.

- If you are going to talk about the Greek notion of arete then having an understanding of its relationship to class in Greek society might be a good idea, too. Aristocrats were assumed, by definition, to be exemplars of arete. It wasn’t something that thetes like me would have.

- Believing that techno-optimism “is a material philosophy, not a political philosophy” while giving many repeated examples of what even a first year philosophy undergraduate which know was a political philosophy does not make you look smart.

I could go on – the whole thing is riddled with howlers – but really is there much point?

Thirty years ago, in a different life, I was a philosophy postgraduate student and taught first year undergraduates their introduction to metaphysics and ethics. In the first time, every time, someone would turn in an essay which read like this, and you would have to patiently explain to them they were going to have to rewrite it or fail, because philosophy does not mean writing down all the random thoughts you had when smoking that bundle of weed the night before the deadline.

This is the manifesto of an emotionally insecure man having a mid-life crisis as he realises that his life’s work is meaningless and all the gold and treasure he has accumulated will never make him happy. Mid-life crises in men are often surprisingly redolent of the emotional outpouring of pseudo-intellectual silliness that accompany late teenage, that first period of life when boys start to realise they are not the centre of the world and lash out at the injustice of it all.

Perhaps, then it’s no surprise this reads like it was written by a 14 year old and put on Pastebin. That it was written by a 52 year old with billions of dollars at his disposal says more about the failure of capitalism to imbue life with meaning than Andreessen could possibly imagine.

EDIT: The first draft of this contained something about A16Z’s investment in Uber. In fact, they passed on Uber. But as if to make the point about the kind of technology which Andreessen believes will save the world as long as we never question it, let’s ask an AI...

Screenshot 2023 10 17 at 08 48 51

Publishers need to wake up to the truth about Google traffic


Google-Extended does not stop Google Search Generative Experience from using your site’s content (searchengineland.com)

Google explained that SGE is part of the Google Search experience; it is a search feature and thus it should work as how normal search directives work. “The context is that AI is built into Search, not bolted on, and integral to how Search functions, which is why robots.txt is the control to give web publishers the option to manage access to how their sites are crawled,” Google told us.

I’ve been using both Bard and Bing CoPilot a lot lately and the direction is clear: while AI-driven search will link to original sources as references, they are not going to send much traffic your way. The aim is to provide the answer to any query on the results page, not one more click away.

This has massive implications for publisher traffic, particular for reviews and answers pages which I think are most vulnerable to AI-driven answers. I’ve been using CoPilot for purchasing research and it’s great. I can start by asking it for, say, laptops under £1000 with good battery life. I can then have a conversation to interrogate more about each product. It’s a superior experience to any web page I have ever used for that kind of product research.

Is it 100% accurate? No – but neither are a lot of reviews, particularly the kind of “best laptop for…” top tens that are written to hit the top of product searches on Google.

But it’s not just affiliate: search provides between 40-80% of publisher site traffic. And we have already seen Facebook traffic, the other biggest referrer, die off.

Publishers can no longer rely on Facebook and Google for the bulk of their traffic. The time has past when content strategies should focus on them. Instead, they need to focus on getting a loyal audience which they have direct relationships with. The SEO era is coming to an end, at least for large chunks of traffic.

GitHub Copilot costs more per user than it charges


Big Tech Struggles to Turn AI Hype Into Profits - WSJ:

Individuals pay $10 a month for the AI assistant. In the first few months of this year, the company was losing on average more than $20 a month per user, according to a person familiar with the figures, who said some users were costing the company as much as $80 a month.

The first stage of the enshittification cycle is often to charge customers less than it costs to run the service, in order to acquire and lock in as many as possible. After that, at some point, you dump on them from a great height.

The good use of ChatGPT for factual writing


I’m not a huge fan of using ChatGPT for writing, because even leaving aside issues of accuracy, its style is stilted and just the wrong side of formulaic. But there’s one area where it really works as a writing assistant: giving you an outline on a topic as a starting point.

Tell it what you want and what to include, and it will come back with an outline of everything you should cover. It won’t be your final structure, but as a place to start and especially if you’re a bit stuck and need something to bounce around to fine-tune your idea, it’s a really good assistant.

I’ve been thinking a lot about large language models as assistants for human creativity lately, in the context of Steve Jobs’ old view of computers as “a bicycle for the mind” and also the Knowledge Navigator video which came later on – John Sculley’s vision of the future of computing. More to come on that…

No, the UK government did not back down on its plans to spy on encrypted messages


Many places reported that the British government had seen sense and backed down from its plans to require companies like Apple, Meta and Signal to give them back door access to end to end encrypted messages. Unfortunately, these reports were completely wrong.

All that the government did was acknowledge that Ofcom, the body which would issue notices to companies requiring them to scan their networks, could only do so if it was technically possible – in other words, that it would be pointless to attempt to demand companies do something they physically couldn’t. This is clear in the quote from Lord Stephen Parkinson, the minister responsible, in the original FT story:

“A notice can only be issued where technically feasible and where technology has been accredited as meeting minimum standards of accuracy in detecting only child sexual abuse and exploitation content,” he said.

That is a long way from a government retreat. And as it stands, the clauses requiring companies to endanger their users privacy and security remain in the bill.

The government has now confirmed this, with Michelle Donelan, the technology minister, saying saying:

“We haven’t changed the bill at all… If there was a situation where the mitigations that the social media providers are taking are not enough, and if after further work with the regulator they still can’t demonstrate that they can meet the requirements within the bill, then the conversation about technology around encryption takes place,” she said.

But the government is claiming it’s all technologically feasible:

She said further work to develop the technology was needed, but added that government-funded research had shown it was possible. (My emphasis)

The government is not backing down. It believes it’s possible technically, and will attempt to make companies comply. It will do this in secrecy, and it doesn’t give a damn about the privacy or security of the British people. The fight is not over.

Elon Musk deliberately sabotaged a Ukrainian attack


New Musk biography offers fresh details about the billionaire's Ukraine dilemma | CNN Politics:

Elon Musk secretly ordered his engineers to turn off his company’s Starlink satellite communications network near the Crimean coast last year to disrupt a Ukrainian sneak attack on the Russian naval fleet, according to an excerpt adapted from Walter Isaacson’s new biography of the eccentric billionaire titled “Elon Musk.”

As Ukrainian submarine drones strapped with explosives approached the Russian fleet, they “lost connectivity and washed ashore harmlessly,” Isaacson writes.

How, exactly is this man not in prison? This is also quite telling:

Gwynne Shotwell, Musk’s president at SpaceX, was livid at Musk’s reversal, according to Isaacson.

“The Pentagon had a $145 million check ready to hand to me, literally,” Isaacson quotes Shotwell as saying. “Then Elon succumbed to the bullshit on Twitter and to the haters at the Pentagon who leaked the story.”

Musk, like many stupid men, has been radicalised by Twitter into supporting the far right. That includes supporting Putin, the “white knight” who the far right thinks of as the saviour of western civilisation.

Brexit making Windows worse in the UK


Tom Warren, for The Verge:

Microsoft will finally stop forcing Windows 11 users in Europe into Edge if they click a link from the Windows Widgets panel or from search results. The software giant has started testing the changes to Windows 11 in recent test builds of the operating system, but the changes are restricted to countries within the European Economic Area (EEA).

“In the European Economic Area (EEA), Windows system components use the default browser to open links,” reads a change note from a Windows 11 test build released to Dev Channel testers last month. I asked Microsoft to comment on the changes and, in particular, why they’re only being applied to EU countries. Microsoft refused to comment.

Of course this isn’t happening in the UK: thanks to Brexit, we’re not an EEA country, and so you’re stuck with Edge opening links from things like widget no matter what browser you choose. Now that’s what I call taking back control.

It's long past time for Apple to stop advertising on Twitter



Over the past 24 hours, the hashtag “BanTheADL” has been trending on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter. The trending hashtag refers to the Anti-Defamation League, the Jewish anti-extremism civil rights organization.

Even more concerning is that X owner Elon Musk has signaled support for the attacks against the ADL on the platform.

Within the same time frame, numerous X users have also reported being served an X-approved advertisement on the platform that promotes white supremacy.

At this point advertising on Twitter is directly extending financial support to neo-Nazis. It’s long past time that companies like Apple,1 which resumed advertising on the platform in December 2022, just stopped.

But it won’t, which is finally putting the lie to the idea that the company’s leadership team care one iota about about the impact its actions make on the culture of the country which nurtured it. “You support rampant anti-semitism on your service? No problem! Here’s some money. You explicitly allow transphobic hate speech on the service? That’s fine with us! Here, have some more money.”

Apple is very good at taking a stand when it’s easy. It refused to carry various small right-wing social platforms on its App Store, because the content moderation policies weren’t up to scratch. Meanwhile, Twitter gets a pass despite having no practical control over hate speech and an owner who actively encourages it.

Should we be considering boycotting Apple and other companies that advertise on Twitter? Let’s frame that another way: if you found out that a company was actively funding hate speech, would you want to buy products from them?

I know I wouldn’t.

  1. Why am I picking on Apple here? First because it’s the world’s biggest company. Second, because unlike, say, Amazon, it makes a great deal of noise about its commitments to societal good, such as privacy and recycling. No one should be surprised if, say, a car company advertised on Twitter. We hold Apple to a higher standard, because at least publicly it holds itself to one. ↩︎

On the read later experience in Pocket and Readwise


Om Malik on how the experience in Pocket has declined and his thoughts on Readwise Reader:

To me, Pocket has always been a repository where I save, store, and archive articles I want to read or use for my ongoing research. That’s its value for me. I don’t care much for their “Home Screen” and its recommendations. While it may seem minor, these changes detract from the app’s core purpose, revealing a user-hostile behavior. The changes implemented by Mozilla and Pocket prioritize their interests and haven’t notably improved my user experience.

Readwise initially offered a service for saving highlights from various sources — Apple Books, Pocket, Amazon Kindle, Twitter, and even Discord. I appreciated their approach. Then they launched Reader, their own “read-it-later” app. It lets me save articles, highlight text, add notes, enable public links, save YouTube videos (with text captions), and offers other features. Both Readwise and its competitor, Matter, prioritize enhancing the online reading experience. Meanwhile, Pocket seems to be deciding for me what I need.

I switched from Pocket to Readwise Reader when it was in early beta and I couldn’t agree more with Om’s assessment. Reader feels like it is built from the ground up to just give me a better experience for getting articles into my inbox, working with them, and getting useful information out of them into other tools. Pocket feels more like it wants to keep me within Pocket.

Apple explains why it abandoned iPhone CSAM detection


Apple explains why it abandoned iPhone CSAM detection:

“Scanning every user’s privately stored iCloud data would create new threat vectors for data thieves to find and exploit,” Neuenschwander continued. “It would also inject the potential for a slippery slope of unintended consequences. Scanning for one type of content, for instance, opens the door for bulk surveillance and could create a desire to search other encrypted messaging systems across content types.”

“We decided to not proceed with the proposal for a hybrid client-server approach to CSAM detection for iCloud Photos from a few years ago,” he finished. “We concluded it was not practically possible to implement without ultimately imperiling the security and privacy of our users.”

One of the things which is interesting about this is that these are the exact arguments which campaigners against Apple’s scanning proposal used at the time – and the company seems to have listened.

And that Apple has made its reasoning public gives a strong imperative to it not to try the same thing again, which is a good sign for the future.

Ha ha ha ha nope


X, Formerly Twitter, Plans to Collect User Biometric Data, Job, Education - Bloomberg:

“Based on your consent, we may collect and use your biometric information for safety, security, and identification purposes,” the company said in its new policy. X doesn’t define what it considers biometric, though other companies have used the term to describe data gleaned from a person’s face, eyes and fingerprints.

Of the many, many companies on this planet that I would not trust with biometric data, “X” comes pretty much top of the pile.

The Real Story of Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover


The Real Story of Elon Musk’s Twitter Takeover - WSJ:

The way that Musk blustered into buying Twitter and renaming it X was a harbinger of the way he now runs it: impulsively and irreverently. It is an addictive playground for him. It has many of the attributes of a school yard, including taunting and bullying. But in the case of Twitter, the clever kids win followers; they don’t get pushed down the steps and beaten, like Musk was as a kid. Owning it would allow him to become king of the school yard.

The whole of this annoyingly paywalled article1 is full of absolute zingers which demonstrate quite how unsuited Musk is to owning something like Twitter.

By then, a new ingredient had been added to this cauldron: Musk’s swelling concern with the dangers of what he called the “woke mind virus” that he believed was infecting America. “Unless the woke mind virus, which is fundamentally anti-science, anti-merit, and anti-human in general, is stopped, civilization will never become multiplanetary,” he told me gravely.

This use of “multiplanetary” isn’t a mistake or a metaphor. Musk has bought into the idea that we can wreck this planet and move on to the next, one that’s common amongst the Silicon Valley idiocracy.

And always remember, the personal is political:

Musk’s anti-woke sentiments were partly triggered by the decision of his oldest child, Xavier, then 16, to transition. “Hey, I’m transgender, and my name is now Jenna,” she texted the wife of Elon’s brother. “Don’t tell my dad.” When Musk found out, he was generally sanguine, but then Jenna became a fervent Marxist and broke off all relations with him. “She went beyond socialism to being a full communist and thinking that anyone rich is evil,” he says… He blamed it partly on the ideology he felt that Jenna imbibed at Crossroads, the progressive school she attended in Los Angeles. Twitter, he felt, had become infected by a similar mindset that suppressed right-wing and anti-establishment voices.

It’s been rumoured for a long time that having a trans child had been an influence on Musk’s blatantly transphobic behaviour. This confirms it.

I am very glad that I no longer have a presence on Twitter.

  1. I’m assuming you don’t need me to tell you how to get around paywalls. ↩︎

Unraveling the Digital Markets Act


I absolutely loved this post on Unraveling the Digital Markets Act: by the team from iA, who also make one of my favourite pieces of software. 

Printer makers are evil, part 3422


Judge denies HP's request to dismiss printer lockdown suiit • The Register:

HP all-in-one printer owners, upset that their devices wouldn't scan or fax when low on ink, were handed a partial win in a northern California court this week after a judge denied HP's motion to dismiss their suit.

This whole story is just a brilliant example of why there is a special circle of hell reserved for printer manufacturers. And of course it’s also exactly the kind of thing that Cory has been railing against for years. Software locks to prevent you doing things with a device you bought outright are evil. 

Gnome windowing becoming more like Apple's Stage Manager?


The Gnome foundation, which makes arguably the most popular desktop environment for Linux, is experimenting with new windowing models. While there’s development work going into better tiling, the more interesting mode is what they’re calling “Mosaic” – and to my eyes, it looks quite a bit like Apple’s Stage Manager.

Here’s how they describe how it works:

You open a window, it opens centered on the screen at a size that makes the most sense for the app. For a web browser that might be maximized, for a weather app maybe only 700×500 pixels. As you open more windows, the existing windows move aside to make room for the new ones. If a new window doesn’t fit (e.g. because it wants to be maximized) it moves to its own workspace. If the window layout comes close to filling the screen, the windows are automatically tiled.

That’s a pretty good description of how Stage Manager works too, although the details are different. By default when you open a new application in Stage Manager, it opens in its own “workspace”, with other windows sliding into the shelf on the side. Drag another window in and Stage Manager tries to move windows about so they overlap in the smallest possible way. The Gnome approach looks to be more aggressive about tiling and avoiding overlaps, and although the underlying grid which Stage Manager uses is more relaxed in iPadOS 17 it still feels more “gridded” than Mosaic.

It will be really interesting to see where Gnome goes with this – and what the reaction to it will be. Some parts of the Linux community are heavily committed to tiling and see overlapping windows as basically an error in the history of operating systems, while others are more relaxed and open to new ideas.

Apple and repair


I largely agree with Nick Heer’s take on Apple’s policies on repair – and the criticisms thereof. I don’t think Apple goes out of their way to engineer things which are harder to repair, and nor do I believe they deliberately engineer-in stuff which breaks third party repairs. They just build stuff to incredibly tight tolerances and are very specific about parts. But… that is ultimately an engineering choice, too. Apple chooses to place tight integration over giving users more ability to repair and replace parts.

To give Apple credit, this tight integration is part of what gives Apple devices longevity. Predictable parts means that Apple can optimise future operating systems to known targets, which is helpful if you want to ensure an older phone is usable with newer software. But I think still think it’s the wrong call. While it gives technical advantage, it increases e-waste and ultimately lessens the lifespan of the device.

Apple doesn’t have to create modular phones that are incredibly easy to repair, although it would be fantastic if it applied its undoubted engineering prowess to doing so. There are a lot of things it could do which aren’t as radical as that. Apple could publish its calibration processes, which would make third party repair easier. It could publish the schematics for its devices, as for example Fairphone do (but other phone makers don’t). It chooses not to do these things. Everything about Apple’s behaviour here is a choice, one that it could and should change.

(And before someone jumps in with “fiduciary duty to maximise profits blah blah” – even in the US, where shareholder primacy is fairly well established, courts have long held that shareholder value is not the same as simple profits.)

Five billion mobile phones will be thrown away this year, and the majority of them will not be recycled. Apple is in a position to do something which benefits its customers and society – and it is choosing not to. It could lead the industry. Instead, it’s contributing to making the planet a less healthy, more polluted place. History will not be kind on the likes of Apple.

(PS This is a bit of an experiment in publishing something to my Micro.blog rather than Wordpress, so bare with me if it goes a bit wrong.)

Mastodon, BlueSky, and Highlander Syndrome


I am total agreement with Jamie Zawinski here. There is no way I will trust anything that Jack Dorsey has anything to do with. He’s either incredibly naive – in which case he should be nowhere near a service which requires trust and safety to be at the front of everyone’s minds – or he knew what Musk was like and didn’t care (in which case… you guessed it).

I don’t, though, really care if people jump from Twitter to BlueSky. There is room for more than one successful microblogging platform and different people will have priorities which aren’t the same as mine. I don’t particularly want to spent a massive amount of effort on a centralised service, but you might feel differently.

There is a lot of Highlander syndrome here: “there can be only one” social network which wins, there can be only one platform which everyone must be on. Some of this comes from the narratives which tech journalists love to write about. Conflict sells, conflict drives clicks, and if you can personalise the conflict to two “heroic founder” figures duking it out, all the better.

This isn’t, by the way, some kind of failing solely in journalism. Our oldest and most fundamental narratives frame things as battles between giants. The myths of gods and heroes are full of them, and seeing founders in the same vein is just part of the same old story. We do it with kings, religious leaders, scientists, you name it. Even our efforts to celebrate the collective often devolve back into hero worship. We’re just not very good at celebrating the collective, unless we have a clear enemy to stand against.