Audacious Fox

When you perform a right-click in MacOS via the trackpad — by clicking or tapping with two fingers — there’s a small delay before you see the contextual menu appear. Apparently, to my delight, this lag can be removed by disabling the “Smart zoom” gesture, relieving MacOS from waiting a few milliseconds to see if another two-finger tap/click was on the way, which would indicate you wanted to zoom the current content.

Thankfully, I never use this zoom feature (pinch-to-zoom is more precise anyhow), and I was able to disable the gesture by going to:

System Preferences > Trackpad > Scroll & Zoom

and then unchecking “Smart zoom”. It’s amazing how much faster my secondary click feels now — the contextual menu appears instantly. Sometimes it’s the small things.

Google Inbox, the gesture-driven email experiment that turned your inbox into an actionable list of tasks, is going away at the end of March 2019. I get why they’re shutting it down — Google wants to focus their efforts on Gmail, which recently received a brand new UI — but I’m still disappointed. Inbox made it easy to keep your, uh, inbox tidy because the app grouped related types of messages; allowing you to send an entire category to the archive with a single swipe. I don’t mind Mail on iOS, but Inbox always felt a bit faster for interfacing with Gmail, and Mail probably won’t ever support Google’s unique approach to labels-as-folders.

The Medium Exodus of 2018 continues. This week, it’s a tweet from CTO and co-founder of Basecamp, David Heinemeier Hansson (DHH):

After further review, we’re going to be leaving Medium at some point in the near-to-mid-term future. Thanks for all the fish,@ev! You built a beautiful typewriter, the early community was awesome, and I respect trying something different. Shame about the VC pressures. Adieu!

If you’re not familiar with Signal v. Noise, it’s a well-known “publication about the web” with almost 20 years of history. I’ve been reading Signal v. Noise for over a decade now, and their strong opinions on product, design, and business tend to be succinct and influential in those communities.

I was always a bit surprised that Basecamp — staunchly in support of companies that choose profit over potential growth — would go all-in with a platform like Medium. A VC-funded, zero profit publishing company that restricts your ability to control the design of your content felt like the antithesis to what Signal v. Noise was all about. I’m not sure where they’ll go next (their previous blog was a homegrown Rails app), but if they’re not going back to something in-house I could see them trying out Ghost; the 2.0 release looks slick.

Regardless, this isn’t a great sign for Medium. Ever since they dropped support for custom domains, I don’t see why any new publications would seriously consider moving there. And if you already have a custom domain with Medium, I’d urge you to start looking at alternatives.

I should really just put that in my site’s header.

Executive Editor and co-founder at Polygon, Chris Plante:

Games have changed since we launched Polygon. We’re changing with them. 

We believe that a new strategy, focusing on criticism and curation, will better serve our readers than the serviceable but ultimately limited reviews rubric that, for decades, has functioned as a load-bearing pillar of most game publications.

As part of this evolution, Polygon will no longer score reviews.

Polygon’s updated review strategy is built around two new programs: Recommends (labeling to endorse a particular title) and Essentials (curated lists of the best games available). As Mr. Plante points out, Polygon is following the lead of Kotaku, Waypoint, and Eurogamer; all of which have stepped away from numerical score systems.

This is a good move for Polygon and, I’d argue, any video game review site. When it comes to reviews, 5-star scales are worthless, let alone the 10-point variant sites like Polygon previously used. If it were up to me, I’d make all review sites use a simple thumbs up/down grade and maybe a “neutral” for something not terrible nor worth endorsing. A thumbs up tells me the game is worth playing — a 7.6/10 doesn’t.

Behavioral Biometrics Are a Cookie You Can’t Clear

Stacy Cowley, the New York Times, on how banks and retailers are using your taps, swipes, and other device sensor data to verify you’re you:

The way you press, scroll and type on a phone screen or keyboard can be as unique as your fingerprints or facial features. To fight fraud, a growing number of banks and merchants are tracking visitors’ physical movements as they use websites and apps.

Some use the technology only to weed out automated attacks and suspicious transactions, but others are going significantly further, amassing tens of millions of profiles that can identify customers by how they touch, hold and tap their devices.

The data collection is invisible to those being watched. Using sensors in your phone or code on websites, companies can gather thousands of data points, known as “behavioral biometrics,” to help prove whether a digital user is actually the person she claims to be.

This sort of invisible “continuous authentication” — where my taps and swipes are tracked and checked against how I’ve tapped and swiped in the past — sounds great from a security perspective but not from a privacy one. Metadata can be incredibly revealing, and while I don’t think behavioral biometrics are a bad idea, I dislike how the data would be collected in the background without my knowledge. Couldn’t behavioral biometrics be an additional, opt-in security feature like two-factor authentication? Or is that too weird for most people to think about?

For now, it appears behavioral-tracking companies like BioCatch are focused on banking and retail. But how long until these techniques are applied by the advertising industry to further track and maintain a profile on who you are? If advertisers rely more on a combination of sensor data and how a user behaves on a webpage, then it’s possible that the user themselves become the ultimate cookie — one that’s almost impossible to clear.

To prevent this sort of misuse, our devices should prompt us for permission whenever a website or app tries to read device data that could be revealing. Android and iOS already require permission prompts for certain kinds of user data, like access to your contacts or location. But these permission requests should extend to include data coming from the device itself, whether device orientation, ambient lighting conditions, or battery levels.

Allowing websites and apps to read device data isn’t inherently bad, and as our devices become more powerful we’ll want our software to have access those capabilities. But unfettered visibility into my device and how I’m using it shouldn’t be available without my consent. Any less and I see it as an intentional leaking of private user information.

Nice overview of Liverpool F.C. by Kevin Draper for the New York Times, in which he correctly identifies the club’s primary advantage — its manager:

The birth of the new Liverpool may have been Oct. 8, 2015, the day F.S.G. announced the hiring of [Jürgen] Klopp, the former Borussia Dortmund manager. In less than three years, Klopp has become the exuberant, backslapping and hugging face of the club. His aggressive gegenpressing, or counterpressing, system is the key to Liverpool’s ruthless attack, and it can be a pleasure to watch — provided you’re not supporting the team being subjected to it

Klopp’s enthusiasm during matches is absolutely intoxicating.

No post-move announcement like when Baremetrics did the same thing, but it’s still curious to see a hot tech company leave what’s supposed to be the panacea for digital publishing. As best I can tell, the move happened sometime within the last month or so.

The Sweet Setup Staff (via Michael Rockwell), on using the password manager 1Password as a digital will:

Unlike a conventional will, this document (or database) is not as much about who gets your stuff, but more about helping your family member unwind the countless online accounts and collections of media and digital property that you have.

When my mother passed away a number of years ago, handling all of the online bills, email accounts, and digital subscriptions for my family would have been a nightmare if not for 1Password. After a death, there’s enough to worry about in the physical world let alone the digital one that person leaves behind. As the person who handles most of the online bills and subscriptions for my family, the knowledge that my wife has a one stop shop for all of those life details is relieving.

Back to the linked-to piece: 1Password is my go-to recommendation whenever someone asks for a good password manager, but there’s so much more it can do. The team at the Sweet Setup have done a great job writing up the 1Password-as-a-will angle, and they’ve also just launched an entirely new 1Password course that goes deep on the many other ways 1Password can bring security and sanity to your digital life. There’s a launch price special for $23 (cheap!), and any course purchase gets you an extended 90-day free trial of 1Password itself. It’s an excellent deal.

I try not to write in absolutes, but 1Password is one of few (if not the only) service that I’ll happily pay for until the day I die. I really don’t know how else to put it.

Over at the Sweet Setup, I wrote down some brief thoughts on a few of the best Markdown editors for iOS. My pick — for most people — is the excellent iA Writer, which has been a staple of my writing kit for years. This was a fun piece to work on, and I think it turned out well.

Deborah Bach for the Microsoft company blog:

Packaging can be annoying for any consumer (see: wrap rage). But for people with disabilities, it often creates yet another challenge in a world riddled with them, an unnecessary obstacle that leads to frustration and a delay getting to the object inside.

Recognizing that reality, Microsoft’s Packaging Design team faced a unique challenge in creating a box for the new Xbox Adaptive Controller, designed to accommodate gamers with limited mobility. […] It had to enable gamers with limited dexterity, who might be using just one hand or arm, to easily open the box and remove the controller. And it had to be as high-quality and aesthetically appealing as any other Xbox packaging.

I love everything about this project. The whole thing is a wonderful example of thoughtful design and innovative problem solving — and all for a group of gamers that are often overlooked.

MIT postdoctoral fellow Douglas O’Reagan, writing for Physics Today:

Over the course of centuries, a struggle has been playing out about who gets to own ideas. Is it the person who comes up with them? The employer who funds the research? Or should the ideas be somehow shared between them? […]

By the 1990s teams of MBAs and business-school scholars joined forces to see if advances in information technology, management techniques, law, and sociology could allow them to extract workers’ know-how so that the company could store and own it indefinitely. The resulting academic research field and management fad became known as “knowledge management.”

This article traces changes in US law, business practices, and social expectations about research and invention in order to illuminate the history of business control over scientists’ ideas.

I found this a short and fascinating look into the world of academics and scientific research. It got me thinking too, and now I’m curious how big tech companies like Google or Apple approach this sort of “knowledge management”, especially as it relates to academic- and research-driven departments like machine learning or artificial intelligence.

Brian Feldman for New York Magazine, in a piece titled, “The Most Important Video Game on the Planet”:

Analysts estimate that Fortnite is currently raking in more than $300 million a month, and has made its maker, Epic Games, more than $1.2 billion since its battle royale mode launched in late September. That’s all from a game that’s free to download and play unrestricted.

To clarify: anything you can buy in Fortnite is purely cosmetic and doesn’t give you a better chance at winning. You buy outfits or dance moves to taunt your friends with. We know microtransactions are a profitable business plan, but even Epic’s success here is somewhat staggering.

The article goes into a few reasons why Fortnite — not the first game to have a battle royale mode — is currently experiencing a moment. A combination of wide availability (it’s on almost every game console and smartphone you can think of), cartoon-style graphics, and kid-friendly goofy “violence” (there’s no blood when you eliminate an opponent) leaves you with a game that’s literally everywhere and enjoyed by seemingly everyone.

One final bit from Mr. Feldman’s piece that caught my eye was this aside about one of Fortnite’s most famous players, Tyler “Ninja” Blevins:

Ninja, whose real name is Tyler Blevins, makes an estimated half a million dollars every month streaming Fortnite rounds on Twitch, a service for livestreaming video games that is owned by Amazon.

I don’t know which scenario is more astonishing: Epic making $300 million a month from a free-to-play game, or Ninja collecting $500,000 in the same amount of time for playing said game.

James Ball, Columbia Journalism Review, on the effects that years of a “compliant and often cheerleading media” have left on the technology press’ ability to be a watchdog in the industry:

The result is the big four tech giants have a head start of 25 or more years in building their business models and laying their groundwork ahead of receiving serious scrutiny—and today, detailed scrutiny could hardly be more important. For most of the past decade, these companies were untroubled by media incident, perhaps to their own detriment: If Facebook had faced tougher questions on moderation earlier, it would have been much easier to address and build in as it scaled up—which would have helped the global information ecosystem, too. […]

Maybe we should simply scrap the idea of a “tech desk” altogether: The sector needs scrutiny, but since technology now touches every aspect of our society, keeping it siloed from the rest of the newsroom now feels artificial. Let it be covered, extensively, across desks.

The New York Times Company:

The title of the 2017 blog post was innocuous enough: “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber.” The author, a young developer named Susan Fowler, described how she was sexually harassed by a manager within days of starting work, how her efforts to report the problem went ignored, and how she eventually learned that other women at Uber had faced similar harassment, only to be similarly ignored. The 2,900-word post became an overnight sensation in Silicon Valley, leading not only to the downfall of Uber’s chief executive but also some serious soul-searching in the industry that continues today. […]

As our tech editor, she will be responsible for commissioning — and sometimes writing — pieces on all the ways technology is shaping our culture, economy, relationships, politics and play. She will bring her unique brand of courage, clarity of mind and moral purpose to our pages starting in September.

If you’ve been following the technology beat for the past year, there’s little chance you missed Ms. Rigetti’s blog post on her time at Uber. Her well written recounting of the toxic and inappropriate culture that permeates Uber rocked the tech world so hard that it quite simply knocked Travis Kalanick out of the CEO job.

This is a great get for the Times. It also comes not long after the paper announced that Recode editor at large Kara Swisher would be getting her own technology opinion column in August. Elevating the reach of Ms. Swisher and Ms. Rigetti will help ensure we continue critiquing humanity, technology, and culture — which is something we need now more than ever.

As usual with his hardware reviews, Mr. Ginter’s written impressions are interspersed between some gorgeous product shots. On the HomePod itself, Mr. Ginter reaffirmed what most other reviewers noted (excellent speaker, okay digital assistant), but I like the way he put it here:

HomePod is a speaker. And a really, really good speaker at that. She plays music unlike any other device on Planet Earth, and her ground-breaking bass has ushered in new sounds to songs I’ve heard since I was five years old. I’ve listened to Streets probably three or four times a week for the last five straight years and there are certain parts of Adam Clayton’s bass guitar I didn’t know existed until about a month ago.

The notion of discovering new music within your old music is wonderfully romantic and certainly something a high quality speaker can help with. But not all speakers look as good as HomePod or produce the same level of audio fidelity for the price. That’s the selling point.

I have more thoughts on this HomePod-is-a-speaker-not-a-voice-assistant angle, but they ended up being long and rambly so I’ve cut them from this piece. In general though, I think that we should review products by primarily measuring them against what they set out to accomplish, not by what the competition is doing. Mr. Ginter’s review does that.

Kevin Quealy and Josh Katz, New York Times:

Nike says the shoes are about 4 percent better than some of its best racing shoes, as measured by how much energy runners spend when running in them. That is an astonishing claim, an efficiency improvement worth almost six minutes to a three-hour marathoner, or about eight minutes to a four-hour marathoner.

And it may be an accurate one, according to a new analysis by The New York Times of race data from about 500,000 marathon and half marathon running times since 2014.

If you like well designed charts and data, you’ll like this report. The Times used public (user entered) data from social running app Strava to corroborate Nike’s claim, and the results seemingly back up Nike’s statements; runners who wore Vaporflys were consistently faster than runners who didn’t.

Despite Argentina’s unceremonious departure from this year’s World Cup — following an embarrassing group stage performance — their star player Lionel Messi is still a wonder to watch on the field — particularly when he doesn’t have the ball. Bobby Gardiner for FiveThirtyEight:

Throughout his career, Messi has been criticized for walking. After an El Clasico match between Barcelona and Real Madrid in December 2017, there was widespread coverage of the fact that Messi walked 83 percent of the roughly 5 miles he covered that game. Despite this, he scored and assisted in Barca’s 3-0 trouncing. […]

The most popular explanation has been that Messi walks to conserve his energy for critical moments, like a perfectly efficient machine. But even when he’s walking, new research suggests, he’s far from idle.


Leaning against our headboard awake far later than I wish to be, my little guy nuzzles deeper into the crook of my arm he’s chosen to fall asleep in and I can’t help but feel it’s all so very much worth it; the fatigue, frustration, fear—they all melt away in these moments, and for a minute my heart knows nothing but the contentedness of a man who truly has everything, and for whom nothing else could replace this feeling.

Josh Constine, TechCrunch:

At just 573 kilobytes, Instagram Lite is 1/55th the size of Instagram’s 32 megabyte main app. It lets you filter and post photos to the feed or Stories, watch Stories, and browse the Explore page, but currently lacks the options to share videos or Direct message friends.

First, the photo-only version of Instagram was the best version. Second, what in the sweet heavens is in the current Instagram app that makes it 55x larger than Instagram Lite? Trick question — it’s always the ads, analytics, and A/B testing frameworks.

Again I say, your “lite” app should be your only app.

Derek Godin, writing about iOS developer/designer Zach Gage and his newest game, Pocket-Run Pool:

Gage specializes in taking well-worn casual game mainstays (word puzzles, chess, solitaire) and twisting them in small, clever ways. Often these are simple mechanical tweaks; Really Bad Chess gives players one king and 15 other random pieces to duke it out with, while Sage Solitaire elegantly splits the difference between classic Klondike and poker. His latest game Pocket-Run Pool is his version of an arcade-style billiards game, with rotating pocket multipliers and three lives (i.e. scratches) to clear the table.

A Zach Gage remix is the best kind of remix. Pocket-Run Pool is certainly enjoyable, but Really Bad Chess remains one of my favorite games on iOS.

One of the more thrilling announcements at WWDC 2018 is that iOS 12 will focus heavily on performance and longevity of older iOS devices. This means not only will iOS 12 support anything that currently runs iOS 11, but also those older devices should see noticeable performance increases. Apple PR:

Camera launches up to 70 percent faster, the keyboard appears up to 50 percent faster and typing is more responsive. Even when there is a lot going on across the system, apps can launch up to twice as fast. From iPhone 5s, introduced in 2013, to the most advanced iPhone ever, iPhone X, iOS 12 brings performance improvements to more devices than any previous version.

This isn’t just a new-features thing — it’s a security thing too.

Manufacturers are often playing a game of cat-and-mouse with exploits and hackers; every update eliminates any number of vulnerabilities, and the more nefarious folks need to start looking for alternative ways to compromise your device. However, once a device maker stops pushing out updates, it’s only a matter of time before your device becomes susceptible.

Update: It helps to remember — at least for me — that not everyone can afford to or desires to keep up with Apple’s yearly iPhone upgrade cycle. For folks that keep their devices for many years (iPad users in particular), this extended approach to compatibility, security, and performance is huge.

Nick Heer, Pixel Envy:

You know how you sometimes just need a quick place to jot something down — a single scrap of paper, the back of an envelope, or whatever you have laying around — and you know you won’t need to save it? Edit is like the digital version of that. It’s fast, it’s simple, and I use it all the time.

I hate how he explained Edit better in 58 words than I could in 200+.

Michael Rockwell, Initial Charge, in his review of Edit:

Overall, I think K.Q. Dreger made all the right decisions with Edit’s initial offering. Utilizing the share sheet and the select-all shortcut to eliminate the need for storing multiple documents is such a brilliant idea. I still think its a few small features away from becoming an absolute must-have. But despite that, Edit has become an important part of my writing workflow because it’s core set of features are rock-solid and the application is such a delight to use.

Overall, this is the sentiment I’ve been seeing. It’s humbling how much Edit is resonating with people. A few weeks ago, it was just my little app.

Mr. Rockwell has a few points of criticism that — as the sole developer and designer — I really enjoyed reading. One of his main call-outs is the lack of iCloud syncing, or the inability to start a note on your iPhone and finish writing on your iPad.

I get the draw, really. I don’t have an iPad, so this particular pain was probably lost on me as I fiddled with the Xcode simulators, but enough people have asked about it that I am actively working on figuring out a solution. Ideally, I can use your iCloud accounts to sync the current sheet back and forth, but I have speed concerns that I haven’t been able to test yet. I’ve long thought that a syncing service should be fast enough that all changes are committed and sent to the server by the time a user can close the app or shut their laptop lid/smart cover. If CloudKit isn’t able to provide that sort of performance, I might need to look at a few other options. Whatever I end up doing though, it’ll be totally seamless for the users; you’ll turn it on, and it’ll just work.

Just over a year ago, I started working on a small iOS app for writers. I was tired of not having a focused, single-purpose place for drafting and editing important messages, emails, and text. I hated doing those things in Messages or Mail, and I avoided Notes because what I was writing didn’t need to be stored anywhere. All I wanted was a tasteful place to write.

Well, I’ve finished, and next week I’m excited to ship Edit for iOS.

Edit has several neat features (dark mode, pinch-to-zoom text size, word and character count), but I think the most interesting one is that Edit doesn’t store multiple notes. You get one page, and whatever you leave there will be there when you come back. Because of this, I’ve found that Edit complements many of the other great writing and note taking apps out there instead of competing with them. You can quickly drop a thought in Edit, let it sit, come back later, punch it up, and then export what you’ve written to anywhere in iOS. Over the past year, I’ve used Edit to jot down journal entries, tweak tweets, or as a place of reference for important information I need throughout the day. I use it almost every single day, and I’m really happy with how this single page scratchpad fits into my life.

Edit is available as a pre-order on the App Store for $1.99, and it also comes with a 10-year good faith guarantee, which basically means I’ll work hard to keep Edit available for your next decade of iOS devices. Cool, no?

(Typography fun: I’m using the system standard San Francisco, but I’ve enabled a few alternative characters and numbers to give Edit a familiar but unique feel.)

Check out Edit on the App Store or enjoy the micro-marketing page I put together. I hope you like Edit as much as I enjoyed making it.

Happy writing.

Fun bit of trivia regarding those “click on all the squares with street signs in them” prompts you tend to see on a login or sign up page:

reCAPTCHA’s verification uses several factors to determine the chances that a user is a human, not just the answer provided. We allow true humans to make mistakes in solving the challenge, while punishing bad bots even if they submit a correct answer.

It is expected that, if the system determines you’re likely a human, it accepts your answer despite knowing that it’s an invalid one. In fact, this feature is necessary to be able to combat spam effectively - if we always require a correct answer, it would be easier to create an automated solution to bypass reCAPTCHA challenges. By accepting invalid answers (and sometimes rejecting valid ones!), creating such a bypass gets much more complicated for spammers.

As game designer Jennifer Scheurle was prepared to speak at the 2018 Game Develoeprs Conference, she asked her Twitter followers for examples of “brilliant mechanics in games that are hidden from the player to get across a certain feeling.” There were hundreds of replies, many from the game developers themselves, and the insight was fascinating. The original thread is a lot of fun to read through, but here are some of my favorites:

Charlie Butler:

Not sure if it was mentioned, but the tutorial in Halo 2 asked player to look up. Their input determined whether y-axis would be inverted.

Matt Cox:

In Scribblenauts, we used synonyms liberally to spawn the same object, but that object kept the name you spelled, making it seem unique!

Ms. Scheurle:

Assassin’s Creed and Doom value the last bit of health as more hit points than the rest of it to encourage a feeling of JUST surviving.

Paul Hellquist:

In Bioshock if you would have taken your last pt of dmg you instead were invuln for abt 1-2 sec so you get more “barely survived” moments.

Ken Levine:

First shots from an enemy against you in BioShock always missed…that was the design, think it got fully implemented. No “out of blue!”

Matt Ditton:

In Jak and Dexter the player would “for no reason” trip and fall to give enough time to load the next section off disc. […] In the era of open world and “no load screens” you needed to stop the player going too fast. Disc load time was a nightmare.

Tom Forsyth:

HL1 [Half-Life 1] - if facing more than two enemies, only two would actually attack. The rest would run to random locations and bark lies e.g. “flanking”

And finally, James Parker:

Most (good) platform games allow you a small window after you run off the edge of a platform to initiate a jump

If only Wile E. Coyote had such luck.

Some of these might leave you feeling like Dorothy when Oz is revealed, but I love seeing how and when a developer might deploy a cheat on the player’s behalf. And, although I enjoyed reading through the various game mechanics, some of the best replies were from players who never realized what was happening.

Jessica Conditt, Engadget:

The Xbox Adaptive Controller is the first of its kind. It’s a plug-and-play option for people with disabilities – it connects to the Xbox One or Windows 10 PC via Bluetooth and powers on just like the Elite. The controller itself is a clean white rectangle, about 11 inches long and 6 inches wide, with two large black buttons on its face. The buttons aren’t touchpads, but they are light-touch enabled, clicking down with the softest of taps so players can roll their palm between the two or otherwise click them without exerting much force. Each button makes a slightly different noise as well, offering an extra layer of sensory input. […]

Some of the controller’s most impressive features are on back of the rectangle. Nineteen 3.5mm ports line the backside, one for each button on the traditional Xbox gamepad. This allows players to plug in their existing accessibility tools, such as air-powered input methods, big buttons or small clickers, and have them instantly mapped to the proper function. If a particular set-up isn’t working out for any reason, players or their caregivers can quickly change ports to manually remap their controller, all without pausing the game.

This is my new go-to example of a product with “good” design. The number of non-obvious considerations that went into the XAC’s design, in my opinion, set a new bar for accessibility and consumer hardware. Additionally, let’s be clear, no accessibility hardware looks this good. It would be laudable for Microsoft to create this controller at all, but I’m surprised at how nice the aesthetics are.

There’s an oft-quoted saying from Steve Jobs along the lines of: design isn’t just how it looks, it’s how it works. With the XAC, Microsoft has created a device that succeeds on both fronts to a stunning degree, and they did it for a community of users that are often forgotten. More of this, please.

From the Medium Help Center:

Medium is no longer offering new custom domains as a feature. If you already have a custom domain on Medium, nothing will change for you for the foreseeable future, and your domain will continue to work as expected.

As best I can tell, this decision is a change from January (courtesy of the Internet Archive), when the help page for custom domains read that Medium was “pausing” offering the service. It would now seem they don’t offer the setting at all.

I wonder if current custom domain users find the “for the foreseeable future” bit at all reassuring. I wouldn’t. Using your own domain was one of the few meaningful ways you could separate your Medium-hosted blog from all the others. Anyone signing up today will be stuck using whatever publication names ( are still available to register, making Medium more akin to a long-form Twitter than a place to keep a blog. Lame.

Oliver Roeder, FiveThirtyEight, was one of 15 people who were recently invited to the United Nations for the chance to play chess against Norwegian chess grandmaster—and currently the world’s number 1 ranked player—Magnus Carlsen. The result, while unsurprising, was nonetheless entertaining to read. Mr. Roeder (slight language warning):

The event was a “clock simul,” short for “simultaneous exhibition with clocks,” in which each of us “challengers” sat at our own boards while Carlsen, the “exhibitor,” darted around the room, rarely taking more than a few seconds to make any move before moving on to his next victim. We each had 30 minutes to make all our moves, but Carlsen’s clocks constantly ticked away at every board, putting him at a nominal disadvantage. […]

In retrospect, I blundered — unbeknownst to me at the time — on my 12th, 13th and 17th moves. Others too, I’m sure.

This was always going to happen. But as I sat shroudless, Carlsen did break my heart. By move 12, he’d pushed a pawn down his right flank, which caused me all sorts of problems, and my king was the equivalent of a sitting duck on the opening day of hunting season. But my own pawn, my little pawn that could, was on the march. My pawn made it two squares from the end of the board, where it could become a queen. And it would soon defend my extant queen, which on the next move fled down the board to put Carlsen in check — I put Magnus Carlsen in check! I confess that for precisely 1.5 seconds I thought, “I am going to fucking win.”

Carlsen then easily defended, parried … and destroyed me.

(Hat tip, CBD)

Nellie Bowles, New York Times, reporting on the increasing popularity of esports, and the businesses springing up to capitalize on the fervor:

Across North America this year, companies are turning malls, movie theaters, storefronts and parking garages into neighborhood esports arenas. […]

“The movie theater!” said Ann Hand, the C.E.O. of Super League Gaming, which converts movie theaters into esports arenas, and has raised $32 million from investors. “It has that thunderous sound, and it’s empty a lot of the time.”

For the Super League Gamers, the events can accompany or replace traditional sports. It’s a new Little League and Minor League for today’s athletes. Each city plays together as a branded team — there’s the Chicago Force, the New York Fury, the San Francisco Ionics. So far, there are 50,000 players.

Parents accompany younger players, and the real-life experience opens their eyes. “The most common piece of feedback was that they knew their son or daughter loved this game, but they had no way to understand the game or know if they were any good at it,” Ms. Hand said. “Like, ‘I didn’t know my son or daughter was that competitive.’”

By 2019, she expects to be in 500 venues.

I like watching streamers play games like Fortnite or Overwatch in the same way I enjoy watching Liverpool play on Saturdays. At the end of the day, it’s all entertainment.

However, what’s particularly interesting about esports is that the competitive scene isn’t limited by geography in the same way that physical sports are; this allows esports players to improve more quickly because they’re able to go against a worldwide pool of talent from the start. That said, part of what makes physical sports so popular is their regionality. It’ll be curious if esports benefit from these revamped local venues (remember how popular the arcade scene was?) or if the malls and theaters are empty again in a year’s time.