Review: Brydge 12.9″ Keyboard Pro

promotional photograph of the Brydge Keyboard Pro with an iPad Pro

I take my 12.9″ iPad Pro to the office every weekday, where I sneak in writing during lunch breaks. On weekends, some weeknights, and even the occasional work-from-home Thursday it travels to coffee shops and microbreweries around San Francisco Bay. For the past couple of years, when I’ve traveled the iPad has been my sole computer. I may use it more than I use my iMac.

So when Brydge announced they were making their keyboard for the new iPad Pros, I jumped. It’s beloved of (some) heavy iPad users. Mine came at the end of May, and I’ve been using it for over a month now. I absolutely see why people like it.

To my surprise, though, I’m not a convert.

Let me be clear: if you want “laptop running iOS,” there’s a lot to recommend it. Unlike most iPad keyboard solutions, you can set it in your lap. You can adjust the “screen” to any viewing angle. It’s terrific. This is stuff I miss when I just pair the iPad with the Magic Keyboard.

The Brydge keyboard itself is about as thick as the keyboard part of a MacBook Pro. So thin! Well…actually, no. That was the first (literally) big problem. The MBP just has a screen on top of it, but the Brydge has an iPad. The “BrydgeBook” they form together is thicker and weighs more than a 13″ MacBook Pro, let alone a MacBook Air. If you carry this thing around with you, you notice the weight penalty.1

The iPad clips to the Brydge with little rubber clamps that act as hinges. It’s a clever design, but they grip the iPad so tightly it’s difficult to get the iPad out quickly and even harder to get it back in and lined up just so. Maybe I’d get better at this with practice, but I’ve been practicing for over a month. I also worry about the stress this puts on the iPad’s corners and sides; “opening the lid” means gripping one edge of the iPad and lifting it up, rotating the hinges—which take a lot of force to move, as they need to be tight enough to hold the weight of the iPad up at an angle—by using the iPad as a lever.

But I still haven’t talked about the keyboard part of the keyboard, have I? I like the real inverted “T” for the arrow keys and the dedicated home button; I don’t like the dedicated Siri key. The keys themselves feel a little mushy yet a little too resistant at the same time. Maybe it’s the stiffness, maybe it’s the gumminess, maybe it’s the way the keyboard itself is recessed more deeply than other laptops, but I miss letters more often on the Brydge than on any keyboard I recall using in years.

I don’t want to make it sound like it’s a bad keyboard. It’s not. I just don’t like it as much as the Magic Keyboard, or the older Apple bluetooth keyboard, which has some of the same gumminness, at least when compared to the Magic Keyboard, but less resistance. I don’t even like it as much as the polarizing “butterfly” keyboard (talking just about key feel, mind you, not reliability).

Before getting the Brydge, I thought “If you want a MacBook, just get a MacBook” was a dumb criticism. Now I’m not so sure. A BrydgeBook is the only way to get a laptop that runs iOS (er, iPadOS), and if that alone is enough to get you to buy it, I totally understand! But it’s a bulky, heavy laptop with a so-so keyboard, and opening and closing its “lid” puts stress on your iPad in ways it almost certainly wasn’t designed to handle. If what you truly want is a laptop, and you’re not wedded to iOS, look at the 2019 MacBook Air. If what you truly want is iOS, and you’re not wedded to the specific things you get with a laptop that you don’t with any other iPad keyboard solution, well…think twice about the Brydge.

My previous—and now again current—travel setup is the iPad in the non-keyboard Smart Folio cover and a Magic Keyboard in Waterfield Design’s slip case, toted around in a Tom Bihn café bag. The BrydgeBook is way faster to pull out and start using, and I can use it in my lap rather than needing table space or a lap desk (which I use in the living room). But my iPad retains its essential iPad-ness. I don’t have to take the keyboard out at all. I can leave the keyboard where it is and pick up the iPad instantly. It feels true to the iPad’s intent. And If I bring my Compass Pro, I can stand the iPad up in portrait mode, which turns out to be pretty damn cool for writing sprints.

And I have what I consider to be the best travel keyboard ever made.

I have a Touchtype Pro case on order, which—may or may not be my ideal. I’m not sure yet. It’ll solve some issues with the Brydge for me (giving me my beloved Magic Keyboard) while creating other ones (even more weight). When it arrives, I’ll give it a month, too.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do with my Brydge. While they do have a return policy, it’s not the most generous one out there, and I’m past my own return window anyway. I may come back to it later and give it a second round. If it continues to not stick, I’ll try to sell it; as I noted, a lot of people love it, and my lack of enthusiasm doesn’t mean it might not be perfect for someone else.


  1. I know some argue that if you want portability you want the 11″ iPad Pro, because the 12.9″ is just so much of a gosh darn huge monster it’s crazy anyone would carry it with them. I just disagree. The 12.9″ iPad Pro is close in size to the old 11″ MacBook Air and noticeably lighter, even when paired with some (non-Brydge) keyboards. And you get a lot of benefit from that extra screen real-estate. [return]

Random (but not angry) thoughts on "Game of Thrones"

(This will have spoilers for previously-aired episodes. Avert your eyes if you care.)

“Everyone hates this final season!”

I’ve noticed. Entitled nerd rage has been a thing over the last few years.

“Oh, come on. Benioff & Weiss [the show’s creators] are terrible hacks!”

Are they? They not only story-edited your favorite episodes, but they wrote most of the episodes that fans and critics both love. “Battle of the Bastards” (the second to last episode of season six), “Hardhome” (the third to last episode of season five), and “The Rains of Castamere” (the infamous “Red Wedding” episode, second to last of season three)—all written by Those Guys.

“Okay, but the show ran got terrible when they ran out of George R.R. Martin’s books!”

Are you sure? The show started blending in original work as early as season five, and had just about fully parted ways by season six. You can make the argument it was better in earlier seasons, but there were terrific episodes in later seasons that didn’t have much in the way of blueprints from the novels.

“You’re not saying you like where this is all going, are you?”

I like what I think they’re trying to do, I just don’t think they’re doing it well.

They’ve said that they knew the “story beats”—the major plot points—of the final season as far back as season three. As shocked as people seemed to be by Daenerys’s tyrant turn, she’s had a cruel streak for as long as she’s been a major character, sometimes pulled back from villainy only by the counsel of others. Cersei says in the first season, “When you play the game of thrones, you win or you die,” but most of what we’ve seen since then—culminating with Dany’s tragic arc into supervillainy—suggests that, to borrow a line from another story, the only winning move is not to play. If there’s an overriding theme to this epic, it’s more old-fashioned than it lets on: a lust for power corrupts. (This is arguably why the Night King turned out not to be the Final Boss: he wasn’t playing the game of thrones, after all. Thematically, the final battles must involve those that are.)

“If you’re not blaming the show ‘not doing it well’ on the writing, what are you blaming it on?”

Oh, it’s the writing. It’s not the major story beats, it’s the banana crazypants pacing. The show has jettisoned years of magnificent character work to become a dragon-themed roller coaster, all because the creators decided they had to wrap things up in “70–75 hours” total.

And so, so many of the things fans and critics have been bitching about might have worked with more breathing room. No weird time compression between events! Time to develop Dany’s descent into madness beyond a weird voiceover montage in the “previously on…” segment! No pressure to have characters make stupid decisions just to get them in position for the next plot event! No shoving critical plot and character moments off-camera! Explaining why the hell Jaime spent six seasons on a long redemption arc only to apparently throw it away because “Sorry, I just remembered I’m still awful after all!”

(Actually, I don’t think that last one is explainable.)

The most maddening thing is that I’ve never found an explanation for why they made the choice to race toward the ending as fast as possible. Would have making seasons seven and eight both 10 episodes, for 80 hours total, truly have been that onerous?

“So can they stick the landing in spite of all this? Where does it go from here?”

I don’t know, and a few seasons ago that would have been exciting. This season it fills me with sigh. I expect them to go for a “you didn’t see that coming!” note, and I expect it to be something that’s defensible based on the arc of the entire series—but no, I don’t think they can stick the landing.

“Any predictions?”

Dany on the throne. Arya enters. Jon enters. Dany rises. Greyworm rises. Arya draws a sword. Jon draws a sword. Greyworm readies his spear. Cut to black. Credits.

Medium thinks it's a brand

There’s a lot of reasons people are down on Medium, Ev Williams’ ongoing whatever-the-hell-it-is. It’s a platform! It’s a publication! It’s a platform for publications! It’s a clean, clutter-free reading experience, except for all the clutter!

There have been a few great stories written about this; my favorites are reporter Laura Hazard Owen’s “The long, complicated, and extremely frustrating history of Medium” and acerbic typographer Matthew Butterick’s “The Billionaire’s Typewriter.” (He occasionally updates this, most recently linking to Owen’s article.) Butterick critiques Medium’s design from an ethical standpoint, which turns out to be bang on point with Medium’s ultimate underlying problem:

Medium thinks it’s a brand.

What most bothers me when I click on a Medium link these days isn’t the increasingly dispiriting design (nothing says “great reading experience” like fixed-position bars at the top of and bottom of the window imploring you to sign in and/or pay money and/or download the app). No, that annoyance has been eclipsed by watching ever more articles on Medium go behind a paywall. You can only read three “premium” articles for free a month, just like The New Yorker, like The Wall Street Journal, like The Atlantic.

And indeed, when you go to Medium’s upsell page, they’re pushing articles written by the sorts of authors you’d expect to see in a New Yorker issue: Roxane Gay, Dave Eggers, even Margaret Atwood, and namedropping publications that offer a selection of “curated” articles on Medium.

So, their value proposition is:

  • Publications you’ve heard of also publish their stuff on our site, like they do on Apple News! Think of us like a Readers’ Digest for hipsters. (Some of this content may be original, but a glance at Medium’s page for New York magazine shows that the only difference is that everything they put up on their own site for free is behind a paywall on Medium. Which, to be fair, is fucking brilliant if they can get away with it.)
  • Authors you’ve heard of published what may or may not be original content on Medium at least once! This piece from Margaret Atwood is from 2017, and she wrote a couple other things here in 2015, but it’s Margaret Goddamn Atwood, people!
  • By paying us, you get access to a whole world of other content from people you’ve never heard of, “curated” through the editorial mechanism of those authors clicking a checkbox saying “put this behind a paywall and let the checks roll in, please!”

Butterick asks what he dubs “the $132 million question”:

Who’s going to pay $50 every year for this? People dissatisfied with the unlimited free clickbait available elsewhere? Gulls, rubes, and saps? Dogs with credit cards?

While the aspiration to become the premier literary journal of our time by aggregating blog posts seems relatively new, this belief in its own essential brandness, its brandosity, forms Medium’s original sin. If you have a Medium account, your “front page” when you sign in isn’t a list of new articles from people you follow, like a Tumblr dashboard or, heaven forbid, an RSS reader. Goodness, no! Instead, it’s a Netflix landing page: articles they want to push at you, articles popular across the network, articles “recommended” based on your history.

The design changes over the years, but the fundamental notion that you go to Medium™ to read Medium™ Stories remains. What makes a story a Medium™ Story? Who the hell knows? Medium™ surely doesn’t. They can’t. They have no control over their own content. Can you imagine Automattic deciding that because dozens of well-known authors run blogs on WordPress.com, they should charge $50 a year for access to blogs hosted on it? Hey, you can get three free reads a month to get a sense of what the WordPress editorial voice is like! This is essentially what Medium is doing, except that you get only one theme and don’t get to give your blog a title. (There was a point you could create a “publication” on Medium, which meant “give your blog a title,” but that’s gone, along with the ability to use custom domains. Remember: Medium thinks it’s a brand.)

In what’s probably their thirteenth or fourteenth pivot at this point, Medium has brought back the idea of edited “magazines” with staff writers hosted there. They’ve done this before and the results were, what’s a good word, ruinous, but Owens quotes Ev Williams’s statement to Bloomberg in December 2018: “We are going to significantly increase our investment in original editorial in the next year, and we are absolutely not going to pull the football away this time, Charlie Brown.”

I don’t know. Maybe there’s something I’m missing. If you’re paying for Medium, I’m genuinely curious why, and if you think you’re getting value out of it. Also, I’d like to know if you’re a Golden Retriever with an Amex.

For the ones and ones of you who miss the original Coyote Tracks blog and would like a “just the articles” RSS feed like I used to have: now there is one! micro.coyotetracks.org/categorie…

So, Dan Olson has an interesting thread on Patreon’s realization that they’re going to have to make a lot more money to make back their VC investment. Dan’s reading of Patreon CEO Jack Comte’s “Patreon needs to build new businesses, services and revenue line to be sustainable” is “we need to tack more junk on”; this may indeed be what happens, but I’m not sure it’s entirely what they mean. I actually wrote about this over a year ago (apologies for the link to the Medium version, but I don’t seem to have it anywhere else currently, which I’ll have to fix when I can):

To earn that $450M valuation Patreon has, they’re going to have to double revenue every year for the next four or five. Wouldn’t a great way for them to start making serious bank be to start landing creators who can get a few hundred thousand patrons instead of just a few thousand?

As of this writing (December 2017), just six creators have more than 10,000 patrons. The top of the “long tail” curve Patreon has just isn’t that far above the bottom. This is the part of Patreon’s business that I suspect investors are most keen on changing. It’s great that Patreon can get Amanda Palmer now, but they’re going to need to get Imagine Dragons. I don’t mean “the next” Imagine Dragons, either. I mean an existing artist who can bring a bazillion fans with them.

And to do that, going after Financially Successful Creators™ as they’ve defined it now isn’t good enough. They can’t just go after people they think Patreon can bring to the next level. They’re going to have to go after people who are already making six- or even seven-figure incomes from their art. They have to be able to say, hey, if you take a chance on us, we can give you the same income with fewer middlemen.

I wrote that in response to Patreon’s quickly-rolled-back fee structure change, and since they rolled it back virtually the hour that I published the article, I think my conclusion kind of got buried. But you know what? I still think I was right.

Dan Olson may be right that Patreon is going to feel obligated to junk things up for “little” creators (and patrons) in order to extract more money out of them, but the way companies like Slack and Dropbox have thrived is by focusing on the enterprise space and being kind of…let’s say “lackadaisical” about supporting mere consumers. It’s just that, as I wrote, the big value unicorn in Patreon’s space isn’t General Electric. It’s Beyoncé. I don’t think Patreon is necessarily going to eat itself, in Olson’s words–but creators with just a few dozen, or even “just” a few thousand, patrons may not be ones Patreon is structured to serve much longer.

A digression about Facebook

Around this time last year, I was contacted by a recruiter from Facebook wanting me to apply for a technical writing position there. We talked for a little bit, I got the job information; it sounded pretty interesting, and the folks I know here in Silicon Valley who work for FB generally love it. They take care of their employees as much as modern tech companies do, and that’s not meant as a slight; while FB is more prone to the “constant frat party vibe woo” stereotype than possibly any other company as large as it is, they pay incredibly well, and have generous benefits with respect to bonuses, vacation, insurance, and retirement. And, at this point, I’d been out of work for a few months; part of that was by choice, in that I didn’t start looking for new work right after being laid off from Realm in September of 2017, but I’d just had a couple dispiriting rejections after trying to get back into the workforce and was feeling a little desperate.

But…I didn’t feel good about working for Facebook.

This is not about politics, per se; it’s about the way Facebook aggregates, synthesizes, and applies data. It is not an exaggeration to say that they’re the biggest intelligence-gathering organization in the world. We willingly tell them who our friends are and what groups we belong to; they can infer information we didn’t explicitly offer, based on who our friends associate with and what groups they belong with. They know what ads you’ve clicked on, even ones that aren’t on Facebook, since they supply advertising networks to other web sites and increasingly run free wifi at coffee shops and other businesses (just log into your Facebook account to connect). They know what you’ve searched for on Facebook, but they kind of know what you’ve searched for anywhere else, because they served you ads based on the search keywords you used and, hey, you’re logged into Facebook, so it’s you, welcome back! They know things you don’t tell your friends, or at least don’t tell all of them. They probably know if you’re gay, even if you’re still in the closet. They know you’re a science fiction fan, or a Golden State Warriors fan. They know you’re a furry. They also know you’re an alcoholic, or that you have a gambling problem, or that you have an STD. You’ve never explicitly told them any of those things, sure, but they’ve designed their platform to be one giant automated private investigation service…all in the service of giving you better, more targeted ads.

They’d tell you that their mission isn’t just to serve you ads, of course, it’s to “connect the world.” But that makes it a little worse in some ways, doesn’t it? That gives them a philosophical backing for their ends-justify-the-means mentality. Isn’t connection good? Does that end not justify virtually any mean? Can’t any problems just be written off as collateral damage?

Well, no. No, they can’t. Again, this isn’t about politics, per se, but on a meta level, it kind of is: Facebook wants us engaged, and we get engaged by clickbait. We’re engaged when we’re outraged. We’re engaged when we see which of our so-called friends are so very, very wrong about whatever’s got us fired up. Facebook has “connected” us with people we probably didn’t really need to stay in contact with beyond the occasional Christmas card. We think we’re expanding our social circle tenfold, but too often we’re fraying it, click after click.

So I called the recruiter back and said that I couldn’t pursue the position.

Nothing that happened since then has made me feel that was a bad call. Every month seems to bring a new story about Facebook’s essentially unethical behavior. And it is hard to overstate how much reach and power Facebook has in our economy and our society right now; the claims critics made just a year or two ago that seemed bombastic and ridiculous keep being proven right. It’s frankly not a good, healthy place to be, either as an employee or a customer.

So far I’ve avoided deleting my Facebook account, because there are still people who I will literally only hear from if I remember to check FB (which I increasingly do not, for the record). It is so woven into the fabric of hundreds of millions of lives that the notion that someone you care about is not seeing your Facebook posts seems almost absurd. But I’m not checking very often, and I don’t expect that to change. It’s not impossible that 2019 will see me deleting the account entirely.

Let's talk about the Tumblrpocalypse

Did you hear Tumblr’s getting rid of all the adult sites?

Yes, the news is going around.

Man, if only Apple wasn’t so prudish!

Come again?

This is all because Apple pulled the Tumblr app in mid-November after they found child porn on the site.

Apple did pull the app because of that, yes, but there’s no evidence Apple is insisting Tumblr get rid of all NSFW material across the entire site as a condition to get back into the App Store. Besides, Apple has a “17+” rating category for apps, which Tumblr has been in since early 2013. There’s no sign that they’ve been purging other apps in that category.

But we keep hearing about how strict Apple is! Walled garden and all that. They keep cracking down on user-generated content.

Apple’s actual guidelines prohibit services “that end up being used primarily for pornographic content,” so sure, there’s not going to be a Pornhub iOS app any time soon. But “incidental NSFW content” is explicitly (stop it) allowed.

Tumblr’s NSFW stuff is more than just incidental.

Arguably, but Tumblr’s iOS app has been on the App Store since 2009–almost since there was an App Store to be on. Tumblr said Apple found child porn hosted on Tumblr in a “routine audit”; the word routine implies they audit a random sample of Tumblr sites through the iOS app at least semi-regularly. So it’s damn unlikely it took nearly ten years for Apple to be prudishly horrified by a naughty catgirl pinup.

Well, if it’s not Apple’s fault, why would Tumblr do this? It’s going to kill their site deader than a doornail.

Were doornails ever alive?

It’s just an expression.

Right. Well, okay. “Tumblr is for porn” has become received wisdom, but there are conflicting reports as to just how much porn is there. In 2012, Tumblr creator and then-CEO David Karp estimated it at 2–4% of the blogs. A web analytics firm a year later estimated it at 11.4%, and a study in 2016 estimated it at a mere 1%, but estimated 22% of the audience was there for the porn.

That’s all over the map.

Yeah. The analytics firm used “explicit domain names” as a marker for porn production, which is likely to overestimate, and the later study classified Tumblrs as porn if they could be found by “a large number of search engine queries containing pornographic keywords,” which I suspect underestimates. The chances are that Karp’s estimate was likely the best. While it’s an old estimate, I doubt the percentage of porn Tumblrs increased under Yahoo’s watch, given the Great Tumblr Porn Crackdown of 2013. Let’s keep it on the high end and say 5%, though.

No way. There are millions of pornographic Tumblrs!

It’s easy to lose track of just how big the numbers involved are on an absolute rather than percentage basis. There are about 250 million Tumblr users. Suppose only a quarter of them actually post, and only 5% of those post porn. That’s still millions of pornographic Tumblrs.

What about that figure of 22% of the audience being there for the porn? Is that suspect, too?

This is really difficult to quantify, because the vast majority of Tumblr users who look at some NSFW content don’t look exclusively at NSFW content. Also, thanks to Tumblr’s reblog feature, you may see NSFW content you don’t explicitly (stop it!) intend to see; that 2016 study estimated more users saw porn that way than saw it by following Tumblrs they’d categorized as pornographic.

So the real question isn’t how many people see NSFW stuff on Tumblr, the question is how many people will stop using Tumblr if they stop seeing NSFW stuff on it.

So what’s the answer?

No idea. I guess we’ll know in a year.

I still think it’s gonna die. look at sites like LiveJournal and MySpace. Once people start leaving, they don’t come back, especially if the creators they follow aren’t there.

That’s the million-dollar question, right? They’re going to take a big hit initially, but they probably figure it’ll be balanced out. But there’s a real chance that the big hit gets followed by a slow slide.

You sound pretty sanguine about this. Doesn’t Tumblr making this move bother you?

It does. I have a soft spot in my heart for Tumblr; my old tech blog wouldn’t have taken off if it hadn’t been hosted on Tumblr (and probably wouldn’t have survived a few initial “Fireballings” when John Gruber linked to it). I’ve always thought it was underrated as a pure blogging platform. And, yes, I think it’s worthwhile to have a place to share NSFW content.

But the bottom line comes down to the bottom line. Tumblr is on its third owner at this point and still largely resists monetization, and current owner Verizon is not going to keep running it as a social good. As risky as it might seem to bet that kicking off the pronz will increase ad revenue, it wouldn’t be a bet they’d make if Tumblr as it is now were a sustainable business.

Do you think it’ll work?

Maybe? I mean, if you’re asking if I think Tumblr will “die in a month,” or even a year, absolutely not. LiveJournal, MySpace, and Digg are all still around. Fucking Ask.com is still around. Tumblr could have an indefinite life ahead of it as an irrelevant artifact of internet history.

Come on, give me an actual prediction.

Okay, here’s the thing. Tumblr hasn’t really changed much in years, and that’s a risk. Making an unpopular policy change that drives high-follower-count users off the site is also a risk. Tumblr can survive those as long as there isn’t anything else that does the job it does, but both of these moves open up space for disruption.

But as usual with disruptors, we shouldn’t expect The Thing That Replaces Tumblr to look like Tumblr. It might not even be just one thing at all. In fact, LiveJournal’s decline might be a good study: they, too, opened up space for disruption through a combination of site stagnation and stupid policy decisions, but their users didn’t end up all migrating to some LJ-but-better service. LJ was ultimately rendered irrelevant by the one-two punch of Twitter and, ironically, Tumblr.

So what do you think the lesson is that anyone trying to disrupt Tumblr should draw from all this?

Money first, naughty catgirl pinups later.

The new iPad Pro

So I bought a new iPad yesterday.

After a lot of waffling, I made some seemingly counter-intuitive choices:

  • The 12.9” model (up from my original 9.7”)
  • Only 64G of storage
  • WiFi only, not cellular

The rationale for the first one is simple enough. I’ve been using my iPad more than my laptop, and moving to the bigger screen pushes it that much closer to my only-needed portable computing device. Over the last two years I’ve knocked down nearly all the “showstoppers” that keep me from doing my personal work on the iPad, although there are still clunky points–many of which are more due to constraints in iOS.

So if that’s the case, why go with the big iPad but the baseline version? That’s crazy!

Well, okay. It is, sort of. But when I checked my previous iPad just a few days ago, you know how much of its 128G storage I was using? 30G. And the three biggest apps were Grim Fandango (which I haven’t played in a year), Garage Band (which I don’t use), and iMovie (which I don’t use). By either deleting or “offloading” a few of the biggest apps, I’m now using less than 24G. The reality is that I don’t edit media, I stream it. When I travel, I’m more likely to have podcasts or books with me on planes than movies. And I keep a lot of documents in cloud storage. I’m not a big photographer, but even if I start seriously using iCloud Photo Library, the iPad isn’t going to need to keep all or even most of the photos on it–that’s what the point of “cloud” is, right?

Honestly, if Apple had had a 128G version for just $50 more, like they do with the iPhone XR, I’d have taken it. But they’re playing their stupid storage pricing game, as usual, and I’m not.

As far as the cellular radio goes: I’ll be honest. That was tough. I’m still not positive I made the right call. I end up using cellular tethering a fair amount; I’m using it right now, in fact, typing this at lunch at the office (I don’t want to connect the iPad to the corporate network). Doesn’t that make me a perfect candidate for this?

Well, sure. But it’s a $150 option now, and after paying that upcharge, then it’s either add it to my cell plan for another $10 a month or pick a “pay as you go” option. A lot of folks do that, treating the cellular radio as insurance and almost never using it. Well, okay, but if you almost never use it, you have less reason not to just put up with the inconvenience of tethering. I use it enough that I’m still considering taking the iPad back within the 14-day window and exchanging it. But it just feels like a lot to pay to save five seconds–yes, those five seconds could add up to a minute or two a week. But even so. Again, if this was a $50 upgrade, I’d have taken it almost without thinking about it.

So how am I feeling about the new iPad? After less than 24 hours, I love it. I’ll see how it goes in real world usage, but it’s pretty awesome paired with the Canopy and Magic Keyboard (it is so close in width to the Magic Keyboard it almost looks like they were meant to go together). Do I worry I haven’t “future-proofed” this purchase? A little. But I think in practice I’ll be more than okay.

Edit: I exchanged it for the 256GB iPad Pro, still no cellular (and still in Space Gray), on November 20th. Yes, I decided I needed a little future-proofing, just in case. As of February 2019 I am still not using very much space on it, though.

Low cognitive load blogging

Hey, did you know I used to be a blogger?

Okay, it’s not quite fair to say that I’m no longer a blogger; if you check the Journal tab of my website, I’ve made about a half-dozen posts this year. But that’s way down from the original Tumblr-hosted Coyote Tracks; in the earlier parts of this decade I was at least managing a few posts a month, and occasionally even a few posts a week.

Ironically, this post is going to join the rest of this year’s flock as another post about blogging. The truth is that I simultaneously miss it and don’t want the cognitive burden of committing to it again.

I’m edging toward making this microblog my “real, canonical” blog; after all, it can accept long posts like this one, it crossposts to Twitter and can be followed via Mastodon, and it would let me quietly move my main web site off WordPress onto…well, frankly, I don’t know yet, although I’m perversely considering saying to hell with “generators” and moving to pure hand-coded HTML.

But the main advantage that moving to the microblog—as well as moving to the static site not-a-generator—would give me is freedom from that cognitive load. Okay, too strong: a reduction of that cognitive load. I don’t have to worry about templates more complicated than what BBEdit handles for the main site, and the journal can be updated with any Micropub client (including, of course, Micro.blog’s own client).

The million-dollar question: if I go ahead and make this change, will I actually start blogging again? When I think, “I should write about the problems I see looming ahead for Apple,” or “maybe I should write about why I’m considering going iPad-only for portable computing despite that last thought,” or “I feel a little like ranting about how ridiculous it is to deride Nancy Pelosi as a toothless centrist,” will I actually do it?

I don’t know. But I know that making it easier for myself to get there probably can’t hurt.

Apple's topsy-turvy iPhone lineup

I started thinking about this yesterday, and originally was going to say crazy, as in irrationally expensive. William Schuth expresses this well:

My strategy had been to buy the mid-tier spec of the best iPhone offered. My iPhone 6S Plus cost me $849 at launch; the mid-tier XS Max is $1,249. That’s a whole Apple Watch worth of price inflation in three years.

The more I think about it, though, the more I think it’s not as simple as “Apple jacked up the price of the best phone a lot.” They did do that, no question. But they also made the “less-best” phones a lot better. In the iPhone 6, 6S and 7 years, the calculation was pretty straightforward:

  • Get the normal model
  • Pay extra for the Plus model, which got you a bigger screen, bigger battery, and better camera

Last year, though, the calculation changed a little:

  • Get the normal model (iPhone 8)
  • Pay extra for the iPhone 8 Plus, which got you a bigger screen, bigger battery, and better camera
  • Pay even more for the iPhone X, which got you Face ID, an OLED screen, a bigger battery, the Plus’s camera, and an edge-to-edge screen bigger than the iPhone 8 but not as big as the iPhone 8 Plus

This year, though, things are even weirder. All of these phones now have Face ID and an edge-to-edge screen. So:

  • Get the presumably normal model, the iPhone XS, which is “iPhone X with some bumps” (like most “S” model years)
  • Pay extra for the iPhone XS Max, which gets you a bigger screen and bigger battery (but the same camera)
  • Pay less for the iPhone XR, which still gets you a bigger screen and bigger battery than the iPhone XS, but drops back to an LCD screen and a slightly worse camera

So while Schuth’s heuristic ostensibly leads to the $1,249 XS Max, this isn’t the same scenario as we had with the iPhone 6, 6S and 7 where the difference between normal and Plus was obvious, nor is it like last year’s scenario, where the iPhone 8 and iPhone X were starkly different. This year, you have to really want that OLED screen and dual lens camera to make the XS worth it, and you have to really want the Galaxy Note-sized screen to make the XS Max worth it. In many (albeit not all) ways, the XR is the true successor to the Plus versions of years past, and it’s priced like it. The mid-tier XR is $849.

I wonder how this is going to affect iPhone sales next year. Does the ASP go up, because of the Max, or down, because of the XR? I’m betting the latter is at least possible. Unlike the iPhone 8 vs. the iPhone X, the XR provides a huge chunk of the ooh cool new shiny of the iPhone X, it’s available in unique colors, and it’s not a grimace-inducing price. (Well, no more than the Plus phones were, at the least.)

This is my upgrade year (I’m on an iPhone 6, no “S”), and it’s going to be a tough decision for me.

Form over frolic: Jony Ive’s quest for boring perfection

Form over frolic: Jony Ive’s quest for boring perfection

Apple still has the best industrial design on the market, but they’re not much fun anymore

Right now I’m sitting in front of a 27″ iMac. It’s the best computer I’ve ever owned, with a 5K display, high color gamut, 24 gigs of RAM and 512 gigs of SSD storage. It’s beautiful and minimalist, just like every iMac they’ve released since they switched to aluminum in 2007.

It’s also the least modifiable desktop computer I’ve ever owned. This trend also goes back to that aluminum iMac, in which — like today’s — only the RAM is user-upgradeable. (Since 2012, even that’s no longer true of the smaller 21″ iMac.) It’s hard not to ask: why is thinness the priority in all of Apple’s designs?

You know the answer: Jony Ive. It’s clear by now that he would like everything Apple produces to look as close to a pure pane of glass as he can make it, with minimal, unadorned metallic frames, as close to unbroken and symmetrical as functionality allows. And Ive’s team is perfectly willing to sacrifice functionality in pursuit of this goal. A female Lightning port is fractionally thinner than a female USB-C port, and now you know why the iPhone will never get USB-C ports. Sorry. You’re lucky the one-port MacBook’s one port isn’t a Lightning port. (I have it on good authority that was under consideration.)

This often gets portrayed as a choice between staying chained to legacy hardware and forging ahead to the future. But if you were using Macs a decade ago, do you remember the way the power indicator light on a Mac, both desktop and laptop, used to slowly pulse when it was asleep, as if it were slowly breathing? Or the way batteries on laptops, both replaceable and permanent, used to let you check charge levels without turning on or waking up the machine. Or, as recently as last year, the way power plugs changed color to show charging state. All of that — along with the illuminated Apple logo and, now, the cheerful startup chime — has gone away.

All the price of progress, right?

A couple years ago, Shawn Blanc published a book about “how to make good things great” called Delight is in the Details. That phrase captures an essential paradox: we want our products to stay out of our way in everyday use, yet products that convert us from merely satisfied customers to fans have little touches that call attention to themselves in just the right way. When I start my Mazda, its display lights up with the words “Zoom Zoom” for just a few seconds. It’s stupid, but after six years it still makes me smile.

“Little touches that call attention to themselves” are the opposite of Ive’s guiding aesthetic. He creates beautiful objects you can appreciate as works of art. You can’t help but marvel at the lengths to which his team will go to make a perfect fusion of glass and metal, to craft UIs that appear to directly manipulate data, to make the hardware disappear while you’re using it. Under Ive’s direction, Apple delivers works which are closer to the science fiction future than any other major consumer electronics company. And yet his designs are relentlessly whimsy-free. There won’t be a moment that catches you off-guard and makes you smile. Ive’s work never aspires to make you giggle with delight.

Software doesn’t escape his penchant for austerity, either. The Ive era of software UX has been about flattening, removing, relentlessly stamping out skeuomorphism. The “traffic light” window controls are just circles now; the swirling barber pole progress bars are simple blue, with a subtle pulse; we don’t even get the little puff of smoke when we pull icons off the dock. I’m surprised the iOS icons still jiggle-dance when they’re in rearrangement mode. I’m not sure that it’s fair to say that we’re seeing a software analog to Apple’s quest for thinness, but I’m not sure it isn’t, either.

I’d hardly be the first one to complain about a perceived drop in software and UX quality, or to question whether Apple’s being a little too aggressive in dropping legacy ports. Yet it feels like that’s always been part of the deal, right? We’re taking away the floppy drive, or only giving you these weird USB ports, or sealing the battery in, but look at how cool we can make this thing now! It’s not like anything else on the market. It’s fun.

This iMac is the best computer I’ve ever owned, but nothing about it screams fun. The quirkiest thing about it is my mechanical keyboard, something Apple would never dream of making on their own these days. (So gauche.)

Yes, but you keep talking about the Mac line. The future is in iOS! Despite revealing myself in past posts as a Mac partisan, I think this is not only true but, overall, good. I’m a fan of that science fiction future, and it’s not one in which I see many people sitting down in front of 27″ monitors and keyboards for their computing needs — even if the monitors are holographic and the keyboards aren’t physical.

But man, talk about the “pure pane of glass” ideal, right?

The argument Apple is implicitly making is that computers — especially the computers of the future that the iPad typifies — are appliances. Appliances can be beautiful, but they shouldn’t exhibit frippery. They should be focused. We should prefer the Kitchen-Aid stand mixer to the plastic knockoff that does twice as much at half the price, because it won’t do any of those things well and it’ll fall apart in a year. (Besides, you can do all those things with the Kitchen-Aid, anyway; you’ll just need to buy some dongles.)

That’s all true. Maybe Ive knows best. But if you showed me a table with an iPad Pro, a Surface Pro, and a Surface Book on it and asked me to rank them in order of Cool Factor, I’d be hard-pressed to put the iPad at the head of the line. Microsoft isn’t trying for tiny-quirk delight, which is just as well (“It looks like you’re trying to add personality to your UX! Can I help?”), but they’re sweating small, thoughtful details. Apple sweats the details of manufacturing processes. That’s great, but it’s not the same thing.

Maybe — just maybe — a little frippery is okay, even if it adds a half-millimeter in depth to a product, or adds a touch of (gasp) skeuomorphism to the UI here and there, or allows a slightly less restrained, tasteful pigment on the anodized aluminum case. Injecting a bit of fun, even weirdness, to their computers in the late ’90s helped pull Apple back from the brink. It may be time for another injection.

Being Kitchen-Aid is a fine goal, but you know what? They sell that stand mixer in nearly three dozen colors.

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Bubbles, Baseball, and Mr. Marsh

Deep stories and ugly truths in American politics

When I went to high school in Florida, I was in one of the last years that had to take a class called “Americanism vs. Communism.”

I had the dumb luck to get a teacher named Bob Marsh, an iconoclastic sixty-something motorcyclist and science fiction fan who told the students like me who were also sf fans about his friend Joe Haldeman. While there’s a common joke I hear even from today’s high school students about American history classes ending at World War II, we learned about the Cold War, about Korea, about Vietnam. We learned about Castro and Kruschev and Mao, but also about Watergate and COINTELPRO and HUAC. It was, improbably, a pretty good class, I suspect almost entirely due to Mr. Marsh.

Despite the name, the class’s story wasn’t about how Americanism, whatever that was, opposed communism. It was about how liberal democracy opposed authoritarianism.

That sense of “liberal” has gotten conceptually muddled over the years, particularly in post-war America. (Call it “classical liberalism” if you must, although that phrase is even more easily coopted.) This is the point: Bernie Sanders and Paul Ryan might not agree on much, but Ryan has never, to the best of my knowledge, advocated for a return to monarchy; Sanders has never once suggested outlawing private industry. They would both agree that the individual liberty and representative democracy thing is, on the whole, a pretty good idea. They are both pretty firmly standing for liberal democracy and against authoritarianism. That’s a foundational ideal of America. We’ve failed to hit it a lot through our history, but we’ve still done better than many other countries.

The name “Americanism vs. Communism,” though, tells us another story, a story that’s been pervasive in America in the post-World War II era. This story tells us that if we want to oppose authoritarianism, we need only worry about “the left.” It doesn’t tell us that “the right” has its own kinds of authoritarians. To some people, it even implies that Nazis were socialists (it’s right in the name!), and that fascists were liberals.

The name “Americanism vs. Communism” tells us, maybe, to let down our guard.


On John Gruber’s podcast “The Talk Show,” guest Merlin Mann said of the 2016 presidential election: “It’s not that my team didn’t win. It’s that maybe I just don’t understand baseball anymore.”

Merlin and I went to the same small Florida college at more or less the same time. (We all totally knew he was going to be a professional podcaster.) I’m pretty sure he also took an AvC class. We probably share a roughly similar, and from appearances similarly inadequate, understanding of baseball.

Before the election we were inundated with think pieces about how “the left” was wildly misinterpreting the appeal of nationalist populism. No no no, we were told, it’s not racism and misogyny and homophobia. It’s the rage, the deep story, the message to people who felt they were being not merely left behind but that “the elites” were letting other people “cut in line” ahead of them on the way to the American Dream. We’re still constantly hammered with the idea that if you’re in a city you’re in a bubble, if you’re liberal you’re in a bubble, that we just need to get out of that bubble and listen to real, non-bubble America.

The deep story may be about all that. But it’s also about how gay marriage devalues “real” marriage. How letting transgender folk use public bathrooms puts “real” men and women in danger. How we should watch, register and deport immigrants and build a wall around our borders. The racism and misogyny and homophobia isn’t incidental. It’s not a byproduct. The deep story is about tribalism.

Here’s an ugly truth: some of the country doesn’t believe that America belongs to people who aren’t in their tribe. That tribe is white, straight (at least openly), and Christian. It’s gotten bigger over the years — it didn’t used to include the Irish, or Italians, or Catholics, or women — but every inch of expansion has been fought, bitterly and grudgingly. Other tribes can live in America, maybe, but theirs comes first, and everyone else is here at their forbearance.

Another ugly truth is this: some of the country considers not just welfare, not just social programs, but basic justice and legal protection to be a zero-sum game. Her marriage means less if you can get married. The sign on the restroom door means less if you can go through it. The police are here to protect me from you. And when it comes to actual tangible costs, they would rather everyone get nothing than risk paying to help you.

The third ugly truth is this: those people are in power now.

Despite my sarcastic streak, I’m a natural optimist. I’m not going to claim there’s much of a silver lining here, though. I believe that the oft-maligned millennials — and even us Generation Xers — will pull us back on track. I don’t think this is the end of the great American experiment, that representative democracy is at its end, that America is doomed to become a mashup of The Handmaid’s Tale and Idiocracy.

But I think it’s going to get worse before it gets better. And I don’t know how much worse.

I wonder what Mr. Marsh would have said about all this, back in that Americanism vs. Communism class. I think he might say the problem isn’t bubbles. It’s not who’s listening to who in the present. It’s who’s listening to the past. America has always been at its worst when we’re encouraged to turn against one another, and at its best when we move toward ensuring that liberty and justice truly is for all.

I think he might also say this. Liberal democracies can vote themselves into authoritarianism. Voting themselves back out is much harder.

That seems obvious to me, but I never did understand baseball.

Shifts in the blogging tide

Shifts in the blogging tide

Which semi-open platform do I like better?

I’m reading “How Yahoo derailed Tumblr,” an excellent story by Seth Fiegerman over on Mashable, and it’s making me think of my own relationship — such as it is — with Tumblr.

I have more than one friend who thinks of Tumblr as the domain of endless streaming GIFs and disaffected armchair activists looking for things to be angry about. It is these things, in much the same way that LiveJournal was the domain of angsty, oft self-confessional high school students in the early 2000s. LiveJournal was also the domain of a lot of fan communities — again, not unlike Tumblr today — and even of a lot of writers. (Some names you might recognize, like George R.R. Martin, still use LiveJournal as their primary blogging platform.) But Tumblr is also the domain of a surprising number of company blogs, photographers, news organizations, and even the occasional coyote tech blogger. People are sometimes surprised that Coyote Tracks is a Tumblr, but it is.

Arguably, if it hadn’t been a Tumblr, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t be reading this now. A few of my posts got significant attention after being reblogged by Tumblr users with greater audiences, most notably Marco Arment; many of my still few Twitter followers found me because of that Tumblr-based tech blog; many of my even fewer Medium followers found me via Twitter. (Or because “Mr. Money Mustache” linked back to my story about him, which still drives ~70 reads a week a year later. I should eventually return to that, if only to clarify that my skepticism wasn’t about Mr. Mustache’s advice, but only about how widespread its applicability is.)

Earlier today, though, I came across a post from Stowe Boyd called “Moving from Tumblr to Medium.” He pegged his concerns about Tumblr to what he calls “social affordances”:

Tumblr is now a social mess: Disqus comments embedded into themes, fan mail, likes, and reposts never solidify into a social space where reciprocity and response can be balanced. I think Medium is a better way.
Oh, sweet cheese and crackers.

As much as Tumblr’s unique reblogging ability has benefited me, he’s right. There’s no native comment system, only Disqus embedding, and that’s only available with certain themes. Reblogging is terrific for sharing; it’s not so good for conversation. This is intentional design on Tumblr’s part; its mission was always to be a place to share interesting flotsam and jetsam found in your travels around the internet. “Tumblr” comes from “tumblelog,” a blogging style described on Kottke.org in 2005:

A tumblelog is a quick and dirty stream of consciousness, a bit like a linklog but with more than just links. They remind me of an older style of blogging, back when people did sites by hand, before Movable Type made post titles all but mandatory, blog entries turned into short magazine articles, and posts belonged to a conversation distributed throughout the entire blogosphere.

In practice, Tumblr’s certainly powerful enough to be a solid blogging and journaling platform, but I’m aware that using it for long-form writing is swimming against the tide. It doesn’t help my impressions that it’s strangely overrun with spam followers; of the 140,000 followers Coyote Tracks has, I’d be surprised if even 5% are both real and still active.

I’ve been thinking about moving to Medium for a while. here’s my thought process:

  • While I agree with the notion that you should own your own identity, well, I own ranea.org. If I’m sufficiently motivated, I can set up a URL redirect on my end to Medium.
  • Medium has a built-in export tool; Tumblr doesn’t, its quasi-official backup tool broke years ago, and third-party tools are fiddly and fragile. If I’m more concerned about saving my writing, Medium is arguably better.
  • Speaking of web presences, I’ve been trying to bring my “writing” and “tech” presences closer together. (Clearly Mac aficionados should like fantasy and science fiction stories with talking animal people, and vice-versa.) Unifying on one new platform is tempting.
  • I can post directly to Medium from Ulysses if I’m inclined. Medium has a terrific web editor, though. (Although Medium’s web editor only works on the desktop, and their iOS app’s editor is…less than terrific.)

The best counter-argument: lock-in. Tumblr’s original design decision to let you bring your own domain for free is admirable, but its post permalinks contain Tumblr-specific ID values. (This is, I should note, also a problem with Medium.) Unless a new platform can set up redirects on the old URLs, I’m stuck either leaving the Tumblr in place and starting on a new site anyway, or breaking old links. But I’m not averse to the first option.

There’s always moving to self-hosted WordPress, which has a lot of advantages: complete control, unlimited customization, easy embedding everywhere, no concerns about ownership. But just like those ubiquitous podcast ads about Squarespace keep reminding us, doing all that work kind of sucks. (And, yes, I’ve looked into Squarespace in the past; it’s got a lot to recommend it as a web site builder, but not as a blogging-style publishing platform.) I may not love all of Medium’s design decisions, but they’re more in line with the kinds of decisions I’d make myself. That’s a big deal.

I haven’t made any decisions about this either way. At least I’m telling myself that; that I’m posting this on Medium might suggest which direction I’m leaning. We’ll see.