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Control Center

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Stephen Hackett, “The Case Against Control Center”:

I don’t think this has aged very well, unfortunately, and it’s mostly Control Center’s fault. In addition to it being confusing to have a hidden panel at the top of the screen, having one at the bottom too is a lot to handle for some users. But there’s a bigger problem in my mind: Control Center just does way too many things.

I love the top row and screen brightness settings, but as I get closer to the bottom of the screen, the usefulness of Control Center lessens. With the exception of maybe the flashlight button, I’d be fine if the bottom row went away, Calculator and that creepy new Night Mode button included.

I think Apple could simplify all of this by looking to Android’s Notifications Drawer, where all of this stuff is in one pull-down tray from the top of the screen. Pull down a little to see notifications; pull down further to reveal a set of utilities.

I couldn’t disagree more strenuously. Control Center is probably my single favorite system-level UI change to iOS ever. I kind of wish you could change the apps hard-coded at the bottom (I’d replace Calculator with PCalc, for example), but I use it all the time.

I think Notification Center and Today view could still use some improvement. But cramming Control Center into the same pull-down sheet would make things worse up, not better. Putting the dynamic Notification Center at the top and the static Control Center at the bottom provides a consistent spatial familiarity. It makes these features feel like they’re part of the hardware. (And I think Android might have to make them both pull-down-from-the-top because Android phones have soft buttons at the bottom of the display.)

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rafeco
10 days ago
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I definitely use Control Center all the time, particularly to get to the camera. I also like the easy access to Airplane Mode.
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What the new video compression strategy from Netflix means for Apple and Amazon

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Last week, several folks on Twitter pointed me to this technical post from Netflix about their new video compression strategy. While not yet implemented, it promises to save bandwidth while improving quality for some content.

And the article is very nearly a nerdgasm for a transcoding geek like myself. I’d still like to see more details about the exact rate control mechanism they’re using and actual encoder arguments but, hey, you can’t have everything.

The tl;dr of it all is simply that Netflix plans on scaling bitrates up and down based on the complexity of the their video. So, slightly higher bitrates for busy action blockbusters and possibly lower bitrates for relatively static, flat cartoons.

Basically what we’ve all been doing for years with variable bitrate (VBR) encoding. But they’re trying to control that variance a lot more than an encoder like x264 typically allows. In fact, as near as I can tell, Netflix still plans on encoding everything with a constant bitrate (CBR), but they want to be really particular about the target number.

To do that, Netflix will transcode every one of their videos a bazillion times at different resolutions and at different bitrates, finally selecting the smallest one for a particular title that doesn’t suck visually. Seriously, their algorithm for all of this is quite clever.

And the new Netflix proposal will likely succeed. After all, they have a server farm the size of a small country to do all those iterations.

Since the rest of us don’t have that kind of hardware, the rate control system used in my video_transcoding project might be more appropriate.

Anyway, besides all the geekery, what struck me about this whole plan by Netflix is that Apple and Amazon will likely go down the same path. For competitive reasons, if nothing else.

They all have the same server farms. Owned by Amazon, no doubt. And there aren’t any technical hurdles. It’s just more computation.

At least Apple and Amazon will likely do this for streaming. But I’m not sure that’s true for sales of digital video downloads.

Let me explain.

When Apple first opened the iTunes Store to sell music, those audio files were provided at 128 Kbps in AAC format using Apple’s own encoder.

And that encoder was quite good, but back then it was only used for constant (CBR) and average bitrate (ABR) output. So a track that was advertised being 128 Kbps was very likely encoded at or very near 128 Kbps. You got what you paid for.

Later, Apple did away with audio DRM and upped the bitrate to 256 Kbps. For nearly the same price. It was awesome. And we all remember the awesomeness of it.

Apple also developed a new version of their audio encoder with a true variable bitrate (VBR) mode. And that new mode produced just as good if not better quality audio than the CBR and ABR schemes. Often at much lower bitrates, too.

But I suspect that was a problem.

You see, it would probably be difficult to sell those VBR files — some of which were quite a bit lower than 256 Kbps and a few even lower than 128 Kbps — because customers might perceive a loss of value.

I think this is why Apple developed a new encoding mode they call Constrained VBR. It has all the benefits of the regular VBR mode, but it just doesn’t dip the bitrate too low. In a way, it acts like the old ABR mode, occasionally wasting space for less complex audio.

Of course, for some tracks the Constrained VBR output is larger than 256 Kbps. In fact, all of the songs on Taylor Swifts’s “1989” are larger than 256 Kbps. I bet you’re thinking, “Wow! More value for my money!” (And maybe, “WTF? Gramps listens to Taylor Swift?”)

But there are quite a few audio files in the iTunes Store that could probably be a lot smaller with no perceived loss of quality if Apple used that original VBR mode to do the encoding.

I would bet money that Amazon ran into this same conundrum with the unconstrained VBR mode of the LAME MP3 encoder which they use. And this might explain why some of Amazon’s files are in CBR format, artificially boosting their size.

Anyway, Netflix is talking about the bitrates for their 1080p videos soon being as low 2000 Kbps for the simple stuff. That’s down from the 4300-5800 Kbps range they’re using now. And I’m sure they can do that on the low end without any perceivable loss of quality while streaming.

But can Apple and Amazon sell 1080p videos — averaging about 5000 Kbps now — at bitrates as low as 2000 Kbps — less than half that average size — without a perceived loss of value?

I don’t know. It’s hard to predict because consumers… well… we’re fucking stupid.

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rafeco
48 days ago
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jepler
49 days ago
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It's like the MHz wars. And just like in the MHz wars and megapixel wars, any attempt to use a more nuanced measurement will just confuse people (e.g., we deliver X PSNR at AxB resolution using 30% less of your modest data cap than our competitor), so best to just be cagey about the details and teach people not to worry.
Earth, Sol system, Western spiral arm

Harassment Through Impersonation: The Creation of a Cyber Mob

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At last year’s XOXO festival, I spoke about two insidious ways that online harassment manifests: conspiracy theories and impersonation. I’d like to share an especially pernicious example of the latter, which demonstrates how harassers can make use of malicious impersonation to deliberately incite a vicious cybermob.

On July 12, I made a few tweets criticizing the representations of women in Batman: Arkham Knight. Now, it’s pretty standard for any tweets I make on this topic to be met with plenty of angry responses, but in this case, the influx of replies was particularly vitriolic, and included demands that I stop criticizing the game. In fact, the tweets vehemently insisted that this was an inappropriate time to be criticizing video games at all.

I saw these angry tweets before I read the news that beloved Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata had tragically passed away.

Shortly thereafter, my Twitter feed became flooded with misogynist harassment, hate, and threats. For some reason, most of this abuse mentioned Mr. Iwata. This was strange to me, since I’d never mentioned Mr. Iwata in any of my work about video games, and my only comment on his passing was a retweet of a heartfelt GIF bidding him farewell, using images from The Wind Waker.

In the process of investigating what specifically had triggered this flood of harassment, I found images circulating on Twitter and Tumblr of two fake, inflammatory tweets that I had never written.

fake iwata tweets -- 071205

The Photoshopped tweets should have been too ridiculous for anyone to believe. The coldness they displayed in response to Iwata’s death was so clearly designed specifically to make people angry, and the statements were sheer nonsense. (Also, the second tweet is actually 141 characters long.) But after an hour, the torrent of abuse only seemed to be escalating, so I decided to clarify that these were in fact obvious fakes.

iwata-clarification-tweets

My clarification did not stop the flow of harassment.

Why? Because many of those spreading the fakes knew they weren’t real. They just didn’t care, because their goal was simply to discredit me and to generate so much animosity against me that I would stop speaking critically about video games.

A Twitter user who tracks GamerGate found the origin of the attack on 4chan and shared proof that the harassers knew they were spreading misinformation. They were the ones doing exactly what many of the harassers they spurred on accused me of doing: callously using a man’s tragic death as an opportunity.

They seized it and turned it into a weapon to use against me.

Some harassers knew, others were tricked, but the end result was a cybermob of hate that lasted most of the week.

The intense harassment and threats continued pouring in, along with accusations that I had simply deleted the tweets from my account.

Posts on 4chan encouraged the spreading of these fake tweets through anonymous posts like:

071215 - @srhbutts - iwata fake tweets - 4chan1

071215 - @srhbutts - iwata fake tweets - 4chan2

Impersonation quotes are created in an attempt to discredit and destroy their target. Perpetrators manufacture absurd and offensive statements which they believe are actual representations of the target’s beliefs, so in my case, they created quotes reflecting their view of who I am and what I might say about an event like this, which is not actually rooted in reality. These fake tweets exploiting the death of a beloved figure in the gaming industry were created intentionally to spread misinformation and incite others to attack me.

This cybermob grew both through the participation of individuals who knew the statements were fake but were willing to use them as an excuse to harass me, as well as those who had been duped into believing that I would say something so horrible because it’s consistent with their perception of me as a monster with nefarious plans to destroy all video games.

What follows is a small sample of that mob:

Content warning for misogyny, gendered insults, victim blaming, violence and harassment.

071215 - @TheBrotagonist 071215 - @TheFlamicon 071215 - @trelaw98 071215 - @TwitchingFool0 071215 - @yosonimbord

071815 - @SadisticTaiga - impersonation - fake iwata071215 - Google Chrome 81 071215 - Google Chrome 83 071215 - Google Chrome 85 071215 - Google Chrome 87 071215 - Google Chrome 88 071215 - Iwata's Legacy on Twitter- %22*checks messages* *sees this* *wants a Charlie Hebdoe at the @femfreq office. http---t.co-8W0ygPiID3%22 071215 - The Ronin on Twitter- %22Fuck you Sarkeesian. I'll piss on your ashes and flush it down the toilet when u die #feminismisahatemovement http---t.co-FMSu1fMbuQ%22 071315 - @420bleachitfags 071315 - @Federtyp 071315 - @GeneralisimoZod 071315 - @GGHOODRAT2015 2 071315 - @kuledude28_jack 071315 - @RedColoredSnow  071315 - @RobaFett64  071315 - @uuinb 071315 - @WaddyNL  071315 - @YoursTruly_Kit 2  071815 - @average_potato_ 071815 - @HayabusaIRL 071815 - @Jamberite 071915 - @yodamaster1212 1 071915 - @yodamaster1212

071215 - @BrentJCCherry 071215 - @DeadwingDuck 071215 - @Dailyhelios 071215 - @CopplerJacob 071215 - @Brutjedbear 071215 - @solitonmedic 071215 - @sanic_hegehag 071215 - @SanduskyDaClown 071215 - @Maiyannah 071215 - @rile_elam 071215 - @PSNBradyAlucard 071215 - @kykdryldrm   071215 - @KingofLomarre  071215 - @nachothebird428 071215 - @KingAle64 071215 - @iMattster1 071215 - @GoldPunkin 071215 - @Goforit12345 071215 - @GerrytheDank 071215 - @Freedomtimmy 071215 - @Fidozip 071215 - @dick2mouth071315 - @RichardHusky

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rafeco
58 days ago
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Bohemian Coding Pulls Hit App Sketch From Mac App Store

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Bohemian Coding:

We don’t expect this decision to be unanimously popular, but we want to share how we arrived at it. We take your satisfaction and support seriously, and hope you can understand the choice we have made.

There are a number of reasons for Sketch leaving the Mac App Store — many of which in isolation wouldn’t cause us huge concern. However as with all gripes, when compounded they make it hard to justify staying: App Review continues to take at least a week, there are technical limitations imposed by the Mac App Store guidelines (sandboxing and so on) that limit some of the features we want to bring to Sketch, and upgrade pricing remains unavailable.

We should also add that this move is not a knee-jerk reaction to the recent certificate expiration problems that affected so many Mac App Store customers. However, in light of what happened, we can’t help but feel vindicated in our decision that the Mac App Store is not in our customers’ best interests right now.

Deeply troubling indictment of the Mac App Store. Sketch isn’t the first big name professional app to be pulled from the Mac App Store (Bare Bones Software’s BBEdit, Panic’s Coda, Quicken, just to name a few). But Sketch is the poster child for Mac App Store era professional Mac software. It’s the sort of app Apple might demo in a keynote — and the winner of an Apple Design Award. It’s incredibly popular, Mac-only, and they want no part of the Mac App Store.

The Mac App Store should be designed to make developers like Bohemian Coding (and Bare Bones, and Panic, etc.) happy. It should make developing for the Mac better, not worse than selling outside the App Store. These are among the best apps on the platform, from developers who have been loyal to Apple and the Mac for decades.

The Mac App Store is rotting, at least for productivity software. There’s no other way to put it. If that hasn’t set off alarm bells within Apple, something is very wrong.

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rafeco
69 days ago
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walokra
69 days ago
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Apple should get their act together. Also on App Store side. Long review times etc. can't be an issue with resources.

The Suck.com origin story

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From 1996, a Wired article by Josh Quittner about Suck, Carl Steadman and Joey Anuff's now-legendary website.

Who at HotWired noticed the look of dread and tension on the faces of Carl and Joey when Suck secretly launched like a torpedo on August 28, 1995? Carl tied his desktop machine at HotWired into his server, which was hidden in plain sight among the array of hardware, so he could watch as people logged in to Suck that first day. This is the coldly accurate terror of the new medium: Carl could tell at any second not only how many people were logged in to his server, but in some cases, who they were.

On that first day, a hundred people found Suck -- not a bad turnout considering the Boys told only their friends. Naturally, their friends told their friends, and good news travels like a sweet breeze across the Web.

This was critical since Carl had set some ambitious goals: he wanted 1,000 hits by the end of the week, he wanted to be more successful than any HotWired channel by the end of two months, and he wanted to be the Cool Site of the Day within three months.

Suck made each benchmark.

Some notes: 1) Suck was one of the handful of sites that inspired me to start publishing online. Thank you, Carl & Joey. 2) I loved the site so much that I build a parody of it called Sock. They linked to it soon after it went up and I DIED. Can't link to it because 0sil8, my site from that era, isn't online right now. 3) I applied for an internship at Hotwired in early 1996. Never heard back. What an alternate timeline that would have been. 4) Reading this made me sad. I love the Web so much, like more than is probably sane and healthy for a non-human entity, but nearly every other good thing in my life has happened because of it. And that Web is going quickly, if not already gone. All good things... and all that, but it still fucking wrecks me.

Tags: 0sil8   Carl Steadman   Joey Anuff   Josh Quittner   Suck   WWW
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rafeco
99 days ago
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I wanted so badly to write something for Suck but never did.
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When the Weapon Was Pointed at Me

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Years ago, in the age of Twitter but not deep into the age of Twitter, I made a mistake. And then on Twitter I was piled-on mercilessly and relentlessly for weeks.

The community had always been on my side, so this came as a shock. But I should have remembered Dave Winer’s words to me from 2003, after I released NetNewsWire 1.0. I’m paraphrasing, not quoting, but they were something like this: “You’re the golden boy now. Enjoy it. They’ll turn on you later.”

For the next six months after the pile-on I asked myself every day if I should just quit the industry. Seriously. Every day, and especially every night. I came very close.

I learned a few things. I can’t count on the public to have my back. Forget it. Also: I can’t rely on the public liking me or my apps for any of my emotional needs. (That was another mistake I had made.)

This period of time is a black chasm dividing my career into two parts. I was naive, and then I was heartbroken.

This accounts for much of my ambivalence toward Twitter: having been the target of a pile-on, I know that Twitter is a weapon that is often — usually, perhaps — wildly disproportionate. And it is often pointed at people who don’t deserve even a lick of fire. (Though, to reiterate, I did make a mistake.)

* * *

In retrospect there are a couple other things to learn. One is that nobody but me has any memory of this at all.

Another is that I wasted that six months being hurt by this. I was certainly depressed during that time, and I didn’t need to be, because it wasn’t worth it.

And I’m still hurt by it, so many years later, and I should let it go, but there it is.

* * *

Hence my plea: don’t threaten people. Don’t abuse people. Ever.

Consider that flaming or being mean to somebody isn’t helping the world in any way. Consider proportionality. Consider that you may not have the facts.

And: whatever evil you think you see, it’s probably not as evil as your joining in a mob.

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acdha
113 days ago
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Washington, DC
rafeco
114 days ago
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