Audacious Fox

I remain highly skeptical of Google — who made $27.2 billion in ad revenue last quarter — having any say in what ads Chrome will or won’t display. That said, the initial launch and implementation of Chrome’s native ad filtering seems honest enough, for now.

If, however, the whole thing leaves you feeling a bit icky, Firefox Quantum is a great alternative to Chrome. I’ve been using it for the past few months and have yet to find a reason to switch back.

Saturday, 17 February

Raymond Wainman for the G Suite Developers Blog:

Today, we’re announcing AMP for Email so that emails can be formatted and sent as AMP documents. As a part of this, we’re also kicking off the Gmail Developer Preview of AMP for Email-so once you’ve built your emails, you’ll be able to test them in Gmail.

AMP for Email opens up several new possibilities:

  • Design interactive components for email using a large library of supported AMP components like amp-carousel, amp-form, amp-bind, amp-list and more
  • Help your content stay up-to-date and interactive for your users.
  • Create more engaging and actionable email experiences

Go check out the gif of what an AMP email can do. Basically, it brings the interactivity of a tiny webpage to your email. Devin Coldewey, TechCrunch:

The moat between communication and action is important because it makes it very clear what certain tools are capable of, which in turn lets them be trusted and used properly.

We know that all an email can ever do is say something to you (tracking pixels and read receipts notwithstanding). It doesn’t download anything on its own, it doesn’t run any apps or scripts, attachments are discrete items, unless they’re images in the HTML, which is itself optional. Ultimately the whole package is always just going to be a big , static chunk of text sent to you, with the occasional file riding shotgun. Open it a year or ten from now and it’s the same email. […]

AMP is, to begin with, Google exerting its market power to extend its control over others’ content. Facebook is doing it, so Google has to. Using its privileged position as the means through which people find a great deal of content, Google is attempting to make it so that the content itself must also be part of a system it has defined.

Google being hellbent on slowly, methodically suffocating simple, durable, and universal tools like RSS and email frustrates me. Email thrives in its lack of sophistication and — as anyone who’s accidentally pressed send too early knows — permanence once delivered. This, at times, can be annoying or limiting, but the alternatives would undermine email’s immense usefulness.

This isn’t about innovation, either. AMP critics aren’t against matured technologies becoming better, but you have to do it without bifurcating the core format. Additionally, if Google’s concerned about the user experience of email, they already have a good initiative going: email actions. These are small tags in emails that allow Gmail to extract flight previews, add one-click “track this package” buttons and more to your messages. These are invisible, additive, and — frankly — convenient things to have; and all without fundamentally changing the original email. Extract all you want, but don’t replace the spec.

We haven’t even talked about spam yet, either. Can you imagine interactive spam? Maybe Google’s spam filtering is robust enough to save Gmail users, but if AMP in email becomes as widely used as they intend, they’ll have handed spammers and malicious actors a whole host of new tools to phish and deceive users.

The email experience can certainly be improved, but it needs to be approached as supportive tools around the email message, not replacing the message entirely.

Saturday, 17 February

Natasha Singer, New York Times:

The courses are emerging at a moment when big tech companies have been struggling to handle the side effects — fake news on Facebookfake followers on Twitter, lewd children’s videos on YouTube — of the industry’s build-it-first mind-set. They amount to an open challenge to a common Silicon Valley attitude that has generally dismissed ethics as a hindrance.

“We need to at least teach people that there’s a dark side to the idea that you should move fast and break things,” said Laura Norén, a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Data Science at New York University who began teaching a new data science ethics course this semester. “You can patch the software, but you can’t patch a person if you, you know, damage someone’s reputation.”

Computer science would benefit from an equivalent to the medical profession’s Hippocratic oath. As the complexities of computer systems — especially A.I. and machine learning — increase, the easier it becomes to disregard or remain ignorant to the damage these tools can inflict. Personally, I’m still unsure where the ethical line should be drawn, or to what degree, say, an open source software maintainer is responsible for the eventual usages of her code. Maybe some? Not at all? This, to me, is where any comparison of the medical field to the computer science field becomes futile; the doctor creates actions, a computer scientist creates tools. While both products can be used unethically, a tool can operate independently and in ways the creator never imagined. So should the tool have never been created in the first place?

I always liked Google’s now-defunct mantra of “don’t be evil,” because even if the motto was only paid lip service during its final years, it served as a reminder that technology can be and is used for evil every day. So while these systems are too large to blame any one developer or computer scientist, it’s on all of us to not only discuss, but also come to an agreement on the boundaries of what technology should do and how wide-ranging its influence should be.

Tuesday, 13 February

Angela Guzman, retelling the story of her 2008 summer in Cupertino, where she and fellow designer Raymond created several hundred of Apple’s original emojis:

My first emoji was the engagement ring, and I chose it because it had challenging textures like metal and a faceted gem, tricky to render for a beginner. The metal ring alone took me an entire day. Pretty soon, however, I could do two a day, then three, and so forth. Regardless of how fast I could crank one out, I constantly checked the details: the direction of the woodgrain, how freckles appeared on apples and eggplants, how leaf veins ran on a hibiscus, how leather was stitched on a football, the details were neverending. I tried really hard to capture all this in every pixel, zooming in and zooming out, because every detail mattered. And for three months I stared at hundreds of emoji on my screen. […]

Sometimes our emoji turned out more comical than intended and some have a backstory. For example, Raymond reused his happy poop swirl as the top of the ice cream cone. Now that you know, bet you’ll never forget. No one else who discovered this little detail did either.

Apple’s visual approach to emoji is not only beautiful, but also fascinating when you consider how flat-looking iOS and MacOS are today. In fact, if you put a designer in front of iOS for a few hours and then had them draw up a few emoji concepts, you’d probably get images with far fewer textures, no gloss, and little to no depth. But that’s not what we have, and I’m glad. Additionally, I’ve always liked how Apple’s emoji feel like a distillation of and tribute to the original Mac OS X interface style, Aqua. I don’t necessarily miss all the realistic leather patterns and pill-filled buttons, but sometimes a little skeuomorphism goes a long way, and the current emoji feel just right.

Monday, 12 February

Marissa Grunes, The Paris Review:

Primitive Technology was created two years ago by a man in Queensland, Australia, who builds huts, weapons, and tools using only naturally occurring materials. In all of his five- to ten-minute videos, the man wears only navy blue shorts, rarely looks at the camera, and never speaks.

It’s a niche concept, to be sure. The channel does not focus on historically accurate building techniques. It does not offer explanatory tutorials. It will not even help you survive in the wilderness: the “fire sticks” with which he ignites tinder require at least twenty-four hours to prepare and look fiendishly hard to use. So why have the videos attracted millions of viewers? And what do viewers like myself seek when we watch the channel on loop? What do we get from it?

One answer is often floated. Amid the online flood of glossy DIY demonstrations, the paranoiac alarums of super-wealthy “preppers” (people preparing for an apocalyptic event), and the cynical commentary of survivalists, Primitive Technology offers something different: quiet. A few minutes of the channel can make you feel as though you are out in the Australian forest, breathing the sun-steeped, eucalyptus-tinged air, washed clean by rain. The slow precision with which the man undertakes each step of his projects—from finding materials to shaping his tools to assembling his finished structures—lends the videos a soothing sense of purpose. On the Internet, where lunacy sometimes seems to prevail, these videos bring a kind of meditative calm.

Monday, 12 February

The Privacy We Give Away

Last November, Strava — the “social network for athletes” — released their annual global heatmap of user activity or “a direct visualization of Strava’s global network of athletes.” The report consists of 1 billion activities, 3 trillion latitude/longitude points, and over 10 terabytes of raw data. In short, it’s a staggering amount of personal data, anonymized and aggregated, and overlaid on a map.

For two months, the report made little fanfare. But this week, Nathan Ruser, an Australian university student studying the Middle East and security, pointed out on Twitter that Strava’s heatmap revealed more than just popular jogging paths. Alex Hern, The Guardian:

In locations like Afghanistan, Djibouti and Syria, the users of Strava seem to be almost exclusively foreign military personnel, meaning that bases stand out brightly. In Helmand province, Afghanistan, for instance, the locations of forward operating bases can be clearly seen, glowing white against the black map.

Zooming in on one of the larger bases clearly reveals its internal layout, as mapped out by the tracked jogging routes of numerous soldiers. The base itself is not visible on the satellite views of commercial providers such as Google Maps or Apple’s Maps, yet it can be clearly seen through Strava.

Tim Cushing, Techdirt:

Strava does allow users to geofence “private” areas to prevent tracking in those areas. But it’s not a default option. If you don’t want to share every movement with Strava, you have to opt out. Most users don’t. And most users are seemingly unaware of how much data they’re leaving behind.

This “metadata” – something our government refers to as harmless when gathered in bulk – can result in real-world security issues.

And Jeffrey Lewis, The Daily Beast:

No one is really at fault here, other than individual users who may have violated security procedures. What the heat map does illustrate, though, is that we’re living in a very different age than the one where we developed a lot of our ideas about deterrence and strategic stability.

The amount of data the average smartphone user generates on a day-to-day basis is tremendous. Even when that data is anonymized and presented in aggregate, the results can reveal patterns and routines we might otherwise think are private. It’s fair to ask whether Strava should have attempted to scrub the more sensitive data from their results, but the longterm solution is to educate friends, family, and our military about the personal information we’re passively giving away.

This whole story reminded me of back in 2010, when website Please Rob Me used public Twitter and Foursquare checkins to demonstrate how easy it was to know when someone was away from home. Please Rob Me was the first social-networking PSA I remember where freely shared, public data was used to illustrate opportunity for malicious intent. Since 2010, the issue has only become more widespread, as hundreds of millions more smartphones have started cataloging the edges of everything we do.

Following this explosion of mobile devices, an inexorable side-effect is that we now live in a sort of reverse herd immunity when it comes to privacy. Meaning that even if I don’t have any social media accounts or smart devices, my face (and voice) can still end up in the background of an Instagram photo or video, to be later analyzed by Facebook’s image processing A.I. and added to some database of faces — along with the time and place the data was captured. All of this just by walking in the park, going out to eat, or doing any number of public and private activities. I’m not saying it’s reasonable to expect complete anonymity when you’re out in public — that’s never been the case. Rather, when you consider how our devices are not only exposing our own routines and habits, but also filling in the metadata portraits of those around us, it’s easier to see how important the next decade will be when it comes to personal digital privacy and any laws that support or strip away those rights.

Given that companies won’t stop trying to learn more about their customers, smartphones won’t become less capable at recording our surroundings, and we the people won’t suddenly become any less lax about clicking through “I agree” prompts, the situation can seemingly only be improved by our laws or the device manufacturers. Writing privacy into the law takes time, but the European Union has already taken steps towards this with the European Data Protection Directive, and I expect (hope) we’ll see similar efforts or echoes of it from other countries in the future.

However, for now, the fastest road to broadly available increased security and privacy protection lies in the hands of the smartphone/speaker/Internet-connected-device manufacturers. They control the hardware and (to an extent) underlying operating systems. Implementing things like end-to-end encryption, differential privacy, or even making it visually apparent when apps are using your location are examples of ways to help educate, inform, and protect us while we wait for more comprehensive, enforceable protections to be written into law. It’s not an ideal situation, but it’s all we have. In the meantime, take some time to poke around the privacy settings of your most used apps. You’ll probably be surprised at the data you’ve been giving away.

Tuesday, 30 January

DuckDuckGo Founder and CEO, Gabriel Weinberg:

Today we’re taking a major step to simplify online privacy with the launch of fully revamped versions of our browser extension and mobile app, now with built-in tracker network blocking, smarter encryption, and, of course, private search – all designed to operate seamlessly together while you search and browse the web.

The DuckDuckGo browser extension and mobile app will also now show you a Privacy Grade rating (A-F) when you visit a website. This rating lets you see at a glance how protected you are, dig into the details to see who we caught trying to track you, and learn how we enhanced the underlying website’s privacy measures. The Privacy Grade is scored automatically based on the prevalence of hidden tracker networks, encryption availability, and website privacy practices.

Simple, fast, and powered by a company that cares about your privacy. On today’s web, that’s pretty much all you can ask for.

That said, and although the browser extensions work well, the new iOS app is a little rough. I have no doubt it’s functional, but there are a few UI oddities that come off as tone deaf to how iOS apps should behave. For example, the app mimics Safari in that when you’re scrolling down a webpage, the browser UI recedes so you can see as much page content as possible. However, unlike Safari, when you begin scrolling back up the page, DuckDuckGo’s app doesn’t immediately unhide the UI. Sometimes it’ll take an extra downward thumb flick to get the controls back. Here’s where it gets weirder though. Start by scrolling down so the browser UI recedes, scroll up half a screen (in most cases the browser chrome will still be hidden), and then scroll down. Suddenly, the UI controls are back. It’s baffling.1

  1. Okay, now that I’m done beating up their app, let me pitch why you should be using DuckDuckGo as your default search engine. I’ve been using their web search for the past few years (desktop and mobile), and it’s great. I rarely, if ever, need to run something through Google, and for times I do, I simply append !g to my query and DuckDuckGo runs the search for me.2 I wholeheartedly recommend you give DuckDuckGo a try if you haven’t already. ↩︎
  2. DuckDuckGo has a whole host of other “bangs” that work in the same way as !g. Some of my most used are !yt for YouTube, !a for Amazon, and !nyt for when I’m trying to find an obscure usage of the New York Times Manual of Style. ↩︎

Friday, 26 January

Founder of Baremetrics, Josh Pigford:

I realized Medium is really great about surfacing content, but it removes the face of it. It neutralizes all content to basically be author-agnostic. It’s like Walmart or Amazon in that you can buy from thousands of different brands, but you rarely actually know what brand you’re buying…you just know “I got it from Amazon.”

Same with content on Medium. Sure, you can see who the author is or what publication it’s on, but ultimately your takeaway is “I read this article on Medium”, and that’s not what I wanted. I wanted to get back to people saying “I read this article on Baremetrics”.

Baremetrics is still going to use Medium, but only to mirror the posts from their company blog after a two-week delay.

I’m not a fan of Medium-the-platform, because I’m not a fan of forfeiting design and content control to a company that (a) treats every article the same and (b) has yet to show they can turn a profit. Maybe that’s me being a snob who knows how to run his own site and there are lots of people who just want a simple place to write and publish, but I’d argue that — today — self-publishing a blog is a weekend project for most, and the benefits of owning your content outweigh whatever fleeting readership Medium might send your way.

Regardless the platform, you should own the domain and design of your words. Medium as a second-hand distribution network or social graph is fine, but I think people who are all-in on Medium without a backup plan are nuts.

Friday, 26 January

From the Minecraft: Education Edition product blog:

We are thrilled to bring chemistry into Minecraft with a new update for Minecraft: Education Edition. With input from chemistry teachers, students and Minecraft Global Mentors, the Chemistry Update offers educators and learners a fun, accessible way to explore chemistry within the immersive world of Minecraft. […]

Science education is driven by hands-on learning, but only half of fourth graders in the U.S. do hands-on science once a week. In low income schools, the numbers are even lower, as students have less access to labs and equipment. Chemistry in Minecraft allows teachers to introduce chemistry concepts without the costs of lab equipment in the engaging Minecraft world that will inspire more girls and boys to explore the subject.

I looked through the Chemistry Update documentation and was struck by how naturally a chemistry focus will fit into the build-everything-from-scratch, blocky world. It makes perfect sense. Additionally, knowing a few scientists, I can vouch for how expensive lab equipment is. Doing lightweight chemistry in Minecraft will sacrifice the safety and hands-on learning a lab provides, but if it affords more kids an opportunity to explore the sciences, there’ll be plenty of time for the lab later.

Sidestepping the fun of creating Helium so I lift pixelated farm animals into the sky with balloons, I’m fascinated with and curious how far Microsoft can bring Minecraft into the classroom and what, if any, advantage it will bring them. Between Apple with iPads, Google with Chromebooks, and (recently) Microsoft with cheap and rugged Windows 10 laptops, three of the largest technology companies are waging a war for the next generation of users, and it starts in the classroom. So far, it seems Google has the early advantage, having been quick to the scene with easy-to-manage, cloud-based, and, importantly, cheap hardware.1

Microsoft can’t (yet, ever?) out-integrate the Chromebook/G Suite combination, but they can position Minecraft — which, shocker, doesn’t run on Chromebooks — as a much-adored, interactive classroom necessity. Now that Microsoft has a line of cheap hardware options, it might actually be a route some schools are willing to try.

It remains to be seen whether Minecraft will or can be the reason any school chooses one vendor over another, but it’s certainly off to a strong start. Last November, Microsoft announced that — one year after release — Minecraft: Education Edition had hit two million licensed users across 115 countries. Meanwhile, Minecraft (the standard edition), recently sold over 120 million copies, with 55 million monthly players. Minecraft is one of the most popular video games in the world.2

Give it a few more years, and I wouldn’t be surprised if we look back at Microsoft’s 2014, $2.5 billion acquisition of Mojang, Minecraft’s parent company, as one of the better industry investments of the past decade. This Chemistry Update will certainly strengthen the Education Edition offering, but Minecraft’s true strength lies in its brand and LEGO-like universal appeal. I got into Macs because I loved Mac software.3 I could see Minecraft playing a similar role for Microsoft — laying a foundation of goodwill that leads new consumers right to Windows, the Xbox, and whatever else comes next.

  1. And sure, Chrome OS is a garbage fire, but it’s tightly integrated with Google’s host of online G Suite (Docs, Gmail, Classroom), which many institutions can get for free; it’s a compelling package. ↩︎
  2. Anecdotally, I’ve not found a child who (a) didn’t know what Minecraft was or (b) didn’t immediately launch into an explanation of how they strategically organized their wheat fields for maximum yield. Now, go tell those same kids that their school is considering bringing Minecraft into the classroom. They’ll go nuts. ↩︎
  3. As of today, you can buy Minecraft on PlayStation and MacOS. However, both of these systems missed out on last year’s Better Together update, which brought cross-play to Xbox, mobile, Windows 10, and VR. ↩︎

Monday, 22 January

I’m not going to mock an interface that was obviously done by someone who might have a few other important things on their plate, but this is an incredibly misleading design. Thank God you can only send mobile alerts from here and not, you know, actual missiles.

A practical, real example for why you should start your interface designs by focusing on the words.

Aside: Although the correction took too long to get out, I thought the message on Hawaii’s digital highway signs, “missile alert / in error / there is no threat” was particularly terse and efficient.

Correction: The State of Hawaii is saying the original screenshot shared with the media was only meant as an example. The actual screen can’t be shared due to security concerns, but the state emergency agency has since provided a “more accurate” example, which you can see in Marcel Honore’s piece for the Honolulu Civil Beat. Looking at both images, and assuming they’re close to the original interface, I think my comment of “incredibly misleading” still stands.

Tuesday, 16 January

iA, a design and consulting agency, in a ruminative entry on their company website where they hypothesize about a future where A.I. is left unchecked:

As crazy as this may sound, all of this is not Science Fiction. It is happening right now. Machines already filter, sort and choose the information we base our decisions upon. They count our votes. They sort the tasks we spend our time on, they choose the people we talk to and meet. More and more key aspects of our lives are decided by information technology. And things go wrong. Machines are made by humans. As long as we make mistakes, our machines make mistakes.

When things go wrong, both parties—those who use machines and those who build, manage and own information technology—decline responsibility. Users hide behind their lack of power, owners hide behind “the algorithm”. They sell artificial intelligence as Deus ex Machina and when it fails they blame the machine as a mere machine.

The question “Who serves whom?” is not a topic for experts in 2047. It is a key question for all of us, today, right here and now. Whether or not machines can be intelligent is not just technically or scientifically relevant, it is existential.

Imagine if Facebook decided who you could marry, because the network knows more about you and your tastes than you do yourself. What if machines made better politicians? iA raises these and other scenarios, as well as several suggestions for safeguards we can put in place to help keep more distinct lines between human- and machine-generated content.

When most people think of world-ruining A.I., they might think of a robotic uprising. Legions of drones, smart light bulbs, and other sentient machines overthrow their creators. That’s how the movies paint it, at least.

In reality, damaging, world-shaping A.I. will look less exciting, and we’re already getting glimpses of it. Consider the vast influence and reach that A.I. and machine learning have over the algorithms that feed our social networks, populate our search results, and prompt us with contextual lifestyle suggestions. How much of your life is guided by a machine, and to what degree does that influence sway your decisions? Now consider that these same algorithms and neural networks are proprietary code, often being written and improved by engineers who rarely fully understand the complexities of the whole system. At what point does the situation become a problem, dangerous, or irreversible? iA:

We need to know who runs these robots. And we need to know how they work. Bots have no right to anonymity. Algorithms that influence human existence on the deepest level shouldn’t be trade secrets.

I don’t think we have any clear answers yet, but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t be asking the questions. If anything, these topics need to be more common in our daily lives.

A common example of the dilemma we’re in goes like this: what should happen if a self-driving vehicle suddenly needed to decide between killing a group of pedestrians or swerving off the road and into a ditch, putting the passengers at risk? Should it consider the passengers’ health? What about the pedestrians’ apparent age? Regardless, in either of those outcomes, we should want to know everything we can about the driver. Will we hold machines and their makers to the same standard?

Monday, 15 January

Adam O’Fallon Price:

Periods, commas, colons, semi-colons: in their use or non-use and in their order and placement, can represent elaboration, conjecture, doubt, finality. And in aggregate, over the course of a text, the rhythms of punctuation advance an author’s worldview and personality as surely as any plot or theme. Patterns of punctuation usage are the writerly equivalent of an athlete’s go-to moves, or a singer’s peculiar timbre and range—those little dots and squiggles, in a sense, encode your voice. Anthony Powell’s colon (pardon the inadvertent image) is as signature as Kyrie Irving’s crossover or Rihanna’s throaty cry.

For me, there is no punctuation mark as versatile and appealing as the em dash. I love the em dash in a way that is difficult to explain, which is, probably, the motivation of this essay. And my love for it is emphasized by the fact that many writers never, or rarely, use it—even disdain it. It is not, so to speak, an essential punctuation mark, the same way commas or periods are essential. You can get along without it and most people do.

I wholly, unequivocally love the em dash. Less pretentious than a semicolon, more beautiful than a comma. The perfect punctuation mark—you know?

Monday, 8 January

Start With Words

I start most of my interface designs in TextEdit. Why? Because it forces me to focus on the words. Words are like stock in a delicious stew. If you don’t have good stock, the whole meal feels off.

TextEdit-the-design-tool is surprisingly robust. Let me give you an example.

Say we’ve got to design a rather standard looking confirmation modal with two options for the user. Open TextEdit and start writing:

Are you sure you want to cancel?

Your account will remain active until 2/1/2018.

- If you resubscribe by 3/10/2018 you will retain your data.
- If you resubscribe after 3/10/2018 you'll have create a new account.
- You may download your data until 3/10/2018.

[ No ] [ Yes ] 

You can almost see the modal, can’t you? You can tell that “Are you sure you want to cancel?” is some sort of header. You also know that [ No ] and [ Yes ] are buttons. If you’re feeling fancy, you can even bump up the border radius:

( No ) ( Yes )


Now here’s where the real magic happens — the editing. Before opening Sketch or a new HTML document, continue to iterate on the language. Sometimes it helps to pretend like I have to actually speak these words to someone who’s sitting right in front of me. How would I write this for another human to read?

Are you sure you want to cancel?

Your account will remain active until 2/1/2018.

Come back anytime before 3/15/2018 to reactivate your account or request a copy of your data. After 3/15, your account and data will be permanently deleted.

[ Nevermind ] [ Cancel my account ]

Better. Fewer bullets, more readable.

Constraints help create better designs. TextEdit forces me to focus on the smallest (yet arguably most important) part of any design: the words. Because there’s no functional UI yet, my copy can’t hide behind appealing aesthetic, and I’m less prone to overwriting.

TextEdit (plain text mode, or CMD + Shift + T) is what I use, but pen and paper, Google Docs, or — yes — Sketch work equally as well. Whatever you use, start with words, and then build your design from there.

Thursday, 4 January

Remember how AlphaGo — Google’s Go-playing AI — went 5-0 against the reigning, 3-time European Go champion? Well, Google’s DeepMind team is back with AlphaZero, and it’s just crushed the game of chess. Mike Klein, writing for the Chess.com company blog:

A little more than a year after AlphaGo sensationally won against the top Go player, the artificial-intelligence program AlphaZero has obliterated the highest-rated chess engine.

Stockfish, which for most top players is their go-to preparation tool, and which won the 2016 TCEC Championship and the 2017 Chess.com Computer Chess Championship, didn’t stand a chance. AlphaZero won the closed-door, 100-game match with 28 wins, 72 draws, and zero losses.

Oh, and it took AlphaZero only four hours to “learn” chess. Sorry humans, you had a good run.

Take a minute to notice what’s interesting about this narrative. It’s not that a computer defeated a human, like with AlphaGo, it’s that one computer defeated another computer. At what point will it be more entertaining to watch two AIs compete instead of two humans? While you’re chewing on that future scenario, let me point out why AlphaZero’s accomplishment is being seen as more impressive than AlphaGo’s, despite Go being significantly more complex than chess.

With AlphaGo, Google’s researches, “trained the policy network on 30 million moves from games played by human experts”; essentially, “watch how the best do it, and use that information to choose your moves”. However, AlphaZero wasn’t trained on some huge dataset of chess matches. In fact, AlphaZero wasn’t “trained” at all. Back to Mr. Klein:

This would be akin to a robot being given access to thousands of metal bits and parts, but no knowledge of a combustion engine, then it experiments numerous times with every combination possible until it builds a Ferrari.

At least we still have physical sports. For now.

Sunday, 17 December

The style guide itself is good, but what drew my attention was the visual representation of tone ranges. Personally, I find the visual a far more clear example of what the Firefox UI copy should read like than a bullet list of examples would have conveyed. I also appreciate how a range implies flexibility for the writer to approach the language from a few different angles. A good reminder that product design writing isn’t about how it’s written, it’s about how it reads.

Wednesday, 6 December

This announcement will make two groups of people sad. One group will be the millions who’ve devoured every single one of Tony and Taylor’s brilliantly done video essays, and the other group will be those who’ve just discover them today.

Sunday, 3 December

PR to English Translation For Selected Portions of EA’s Response to Backlash Over ‘Star Wars Battlefront II’ Microtransactions

An Update on Star Wars Battlefront II”, from the desk of Oskar Gabrielson, GM, DICE.

Thank you to everyone in our community for being the passionate fans that you are.

And a special thank you to Twitter, who last week decided to let you dweebs have twice the number of characters to yell at us with.

Our goal has always been to create the best possible game for all of you – devoted Star Wars fans and game players alike.

Our goal has always been to cash in hard on “Star Wars” before it inevitably becomes so diluted with spinoffs that you find yourself with reservations about buying that second BB-8 coffee mug.

But as we approach the worldwide launch, it’s clear that many of you feel there are still challenges in the design.

It’s clear to us that many of you are having trouble finding your wallets. Maybe you left them by your $800 phone or next to your monthly meal kit subscription box. Did you check by the TV, where I can clearly see you pay for Hulu, Netflix, and YouTube Red. Seriously, why do you need all three?

We’ve heard the concerns about potentially giving players unfair advantages. And we’ve heard that this is overshadowing an otherwise great game. This was never our intention. Sorry we didn’t get this right.

We can’t believe our Reddit comments didn’t calm the storm. We never wanted microtransactions to overshadow; we wanted them to be in the shadows. We’re all upset we didn’t get this right.

We hear you loud and clear, so we’re turning off all in-game purchases. We will now spend more time listening, adjusting, balancing and tuning. This means that the option to purchase crystals in the game is now offline, and all progression will be earned through gameplay.

Microtransactions are gone until we can figure out where that magic price point is to avoid public backlash while still selling you an Ewok.

The ability to purchase crystals in-game will become available at a later date, only after we’ve made changes to the game.

The ability to purchase crystals will be back immediately following the mass amnesia you’ll all experience five minutes into piloting the Millennium Falcon over Hoth.

We’ll share more details as we work through this.

I can’t believe we had to write this post.

Star Wars Battlefront II is three times the size of the previous game, bringing to life a brand new Star Wars story, space battles, epic new multiplayer experiences across all three Star Wars eras, with more free content to come.

Star Wars Battlefront II is three times the size of the previous game, which was one fourth the size of a reasonable game, which means Star Wars Battlefront II is now point seven five hundredths of what you’d expect in a game this price. Plus, space battles.

We want you to enjoy it, so please keep your thoughts coming. And we will keep you updated on our progress.

We want to enjoy our holidays, and you want to maniacally wave around Darth Vader’s lightsaber. Fair enough. Enjoy our stopgap, shut-you-up solution while it lasts — nobody escapes the Empire forever.

Thursday, 16 November

Exciting bit of local news. For this story, we turn it over to Bob Jones at News 5 Cleveland to tell us about some pioneering research from the Polymer Science group at the University of Akron. Take it away, Bob:

Scientists, led by Polymer Science Professor Dr. Matt Becker, have developed a polymer film that could be implanted after knee, hip, shoulder and hernia surgeries.

A non-opiate pain reliever on the film would dissolve over a few days into the body and the polymer would degrade in the body over a few weeks.

“If you take half of all laparoscopic procedures and avoid opioid use, you’re talking about hundreds of thousands of patients per year,” Becker said.

Becker believes the polymer product will attack the opioid crisis, because the need for pain pills after procedures would be reduced, as would the number of people who could get hooked.

The opioid crisis is not only a public health emergency, but also the deadliest drug crisis in America’s history. We need innovation from all areas to combat this, and seeing such a simple, practical approach from a local institution is heartening.

Wednesday, 15 November

Firefox—you know, that web browser you used to use—is fast again. Mark Mayo for the Mozilla Blog:

The first thing you’ll notice is the speed. Go on, open some tabs and have some fun. The second thing you’ll notice is the new User Interface (UI). We call this initiative Photon, and its goal is to modernize and unify anything that we call Firefox while taking advantage of the speedy new engine. You guessed it: the Photon UI itself is incredibly fast and smooth. To create Photon, our user research team studied how people browsed the web. We looked at real world hardware to make Firefox look great on any display, and we made sure that Firefox looks and works like Firefox regardless of the device you’re using. Our designers created a system that scales to more than just current hardware but lets us expand in the future.

Along with switching between Safari and Chrome, I’ve been running the beta of Firefox Quantum for a few weeks. Here are a few notes on my experience:

  • Firefox really does feel faster than Chrome or Safari. Noticeably faster.
  • The new UI is good. It gets out of the way, especially if you set the density to “compact”.
  • It’s from Mozilla, who I trust.
  • You can see a site’s favicon in the tab. C’mon, Safari.
  • The web inspector is, bar none, the best out of the three major browsers.

If you haven’t tried Firefox since Chrome came out, or you’ve always used your operating system’s default browser, I’d encourage you give the new Firefox a shot. It’s free and I was left genuinely surprised.

Tuesday, 14 November

John Patrick Pullen, Time:

There’s this photo of my kids in the bath that, well, I’d rather not tell you about. I mean, it’s incredibly cute and I’d love to show it to you, but I’m also a private person, so it wouldn’t be right to go into details. But I will say this: though it’s one of my favorite possessions, this picture doesn’t physically exist. […]

As precious as this image is, I don’t have it stored on a flash drive attached to my keychain, or in some other ultra-safe place. Instead, it’s housed on a server in some unknown probably dank and sunless location. That’s no casual decision. I’ve put considerable time and thought into how I store my photos in general, as well as how I back up my information overall. Despite all the bottomless storage features offered by tech giants like Google and Amazon, I default to keeping my most valuable data with Apple. Why I chose this matters, so let’s talk about it.

Tuesday, 14 November

Thanks for reading. Check out more in the archive.