A year back in Florida

About a year ago, I moved away from the San Francisco Bay Area, back to Tampa Bay, Florida, where I’d lived for (mostly) all my previous life.

Florida is not the same place it was when I left. The metros feel more urban, more alive, than I remember. Some of that is undoubtedly on me, on my failure to explore them adequately back in the 1990s. But a lot of what I’ve been finding now simply wasn’t there two decades ago. St. Petersburg now has blocks of walkable downtown, starting from the waterfront museums and moving west through the Edge District, on to Kenwood and Grand Central, where they recently held one of the biggest Pride festivals in the country. Tampa’s downtown no longer feels like they roll up the sidewalks at five (a problem that San Jose struggled to solve for years as well). Just like St. Pete’s Central Avenue reminds me—a little—of K and J Streets in midtown Sacramento, smaller towns like Gulfport and Dunedin remind me—a little—of the smaller walkable towns back in California like Danville, Campbell, and Livermore.

Some of the areas that were truly nothing twenty years ago have become, well, something. The town I’ve moved to, Ridge Manor, is an unincorporated area a few miles north of still-tiny Dade City, on a state road that goes straight east-west between I-75 and Orlando. The next “big small town” over, Clermont, has blossomed from a near-abandoned downtown into a genuinely interesting suburb, even if it’s hard to figure out just what it’s a suburb of. Wesley Chapel, about a half-hour south along I-75, is a surprisingly large suburb of Tampa now.

A year ago, I wrote that you can find great coffee shops and craft breweries and cocktail bars in any metro area, and that’s true here, too. Dade City itself has a great craft brewery and a solid coffee shop, and there are far more throughout Tampa/St. Pete and Orlando. Great cocktail bars are the hardest to find here, I’ve found, but they are here.

Florida is not the same place it was when I left. It was, back then, a relatively purple state overall. There are still Florida liberals and leftists, but the Florida of 2023 is a one-party state. And, not to put too fine a point on it, Florida Republicans lead the charge to make that party indistinguishable from the far-right fascist parties plaguing Europe and Central America. Every day brings a new attack on the rights of people DeSantis and his supporters have identified as The Enemy. Trans people. Queer people. Drag queens. Immigrants. Teachers. Librarians. Disney.

A drive around rural Florida a quarter-century ago would have certainly taken you past houses and farms flying confederate battle flags; the state’s panhandle has long been an epicenter for the neo-confederate movement. On a similar drive today, though, the flags are almost exclusively for Trump. And there are many, many flags for Trump. Flags and bumper stickers and banners, and an ugliness I can’t remember seeing in America in my lifetime. When I left Florida, Jeb Bush had just won reelection; I’ve returned to a state where Republicans would consider Jeb too suspiciously liberal to elect him to a municipal utility board.

I am not in the same place in Florida as I was when I left. Politically and culturally, I’m more Left Coast than I had been two decades ago, to be sure—but I spent most of my previous Florida years in Tampa or its suburbs, or the wealthy, culturally rich city of Sarasota.1 As someone who presents as a cishet male, I have little to worry about in most interactions here yet—but that yet slowly gathers weight. I’ve been open about my beliefs, moderately open about my not-so-binary, fairly asexual identity. I write queer, often political, furry fiction under my own name. So far, this has only resulted in lost friendships, but the potential for worse is real.

Yet my worries don’t center on me. The majority of my friends are queer, too. Will any trans friend, including my BFF/partner, be safe here even for a visit? They’re certainly not going to move here. More and more, I’m hearing of people moving out.

I am not in the same place in Florida as I was when I left. All my adult life, both in California and previously here, I could reach dozens of choices for shopping, eating and drinking in under fifteen minutes; some were just a nice walk away in good weather. But Ridge Manor’s several thousand residents spread out over rural half-acre lots. A few businesses cluster in a couple of strip malls around the I-75 interchange. There’s a grocery store, three or four decent restaurants (and three or four fast food places), so-so Chinese takeout, and a few gas stations. Anything else is twenty minutes away at a minimum.

That might not sound like a big deal. It didn’t sound like one to me, either. I’d come home to this house every Christmas from California; I knew where it was. And, I’ve always enjoyed driving. For years, my BFF and I took Saturdays out, exploring towns hours away. How bad could this be?

The answer, it turns out, is worse than I thought. In all my adult life, I’ve lived where I could reach dozens of choices for shopping, eating and drinking in under fifteen minutes, often in places where some were just a nice walk away in good weather. Now, hitting even most standard suburban chains is no longer a whim, it’s an excursion.

Sometimes I’ve dreamt of living in a cabin in Big Sur. I don’t anymore. I want to be in walking distance of something, a short driving distance of anything. Markets, coffee shops, a neighborhood bar, an ice cream parlor. Ridge Manor is not a place where that’s possible, and despite the construction and development around the area, it never will be. Yes, it will get hundreds of new tract homes, but the people who move in there will find that they, too, are a half-hour away from everything.

But do I regret moving? No. I moved to be with my mother, to help take care of her and the house. Our relationship isn’t frictionless, but it’s good, better than many such relationships that I see among my own friends and, for that matter, among hers. I know her better now than I have at any previous point in my life. It’s not just a solid, loving parent-child relationship, it’s a solid, loving friendship. That’s invaluable.

I still take Saturdays out, albeit mostly by myself now, and I’ve discovered or re-discovered plenty of cool places, many of which weren’t here before and all which have changed. There are places I could truly feel at home in, if I lived closer to them, and if Florida’s politics ever become less fraught. And if I can still deal with Florida summers.

The what-ifs remain, though, no matter how much I try to shunt them away.

First what-if: My ability to carve out my own time has been markedly impaired over the last year, from writing to TV watching to reading. Perhaps I am not good at setting boundaries, or perhaps I am just not used to living with someone who wants a lot of attention compared to past, undemanding housemates. Would it have been better to live in the suburbs a half-hour down the road, drive up here a few times a week for dinner, spend the night every other week?

I’m doubtful. The connections I’ve been making with my mom couldn’t have been made if we weren’t living together. Beyond that, I wouldn’t be here to be able to help with routine small things, and helping with large ones would be that much more challenging. She’d be markedly lonelier, and despite my penchant for solitude, I would be, too.

And there’s the cost of living. Despite the isolation, there are many things to like about this house—it’s on over an acre of wooded land, for a start—but the number one thing is, simply, that it’s fully paid off. A year ago, I wrote, “I won’t miss paying as much in rent share [in California] as I would pay for an entire two-bedroom apartment in Tampa.” That turned out to be optimistic; a decent one-bedroom, not two, apartment in Wesley Chapel would be hundreds more a month than my rent share in Santa Clara was. The median rent in Sacramento is, as of this writing, lower than both Tampa and Orlando.

Second what-if: my mother and I could move somewhere else, somewhere that checks off more of my boxes and, ideally, more of hers. She’d like to be closer to amenities, closer to medical care, closer to the water. We’re both concerned about the heat, too. As I write this, Florida swelters in record-breaking heat. The SF Bay Area and Sacramento are at unusual highs, too, but the old “it’s a dry heat” joke hits home. Sacramento’s projected high of 103°F tops our projected 94°, but our heat index hits 116° compared to Sac’s 104°—and our low will be 74° (with a heat index ten degrees higher), whereas Sacramento will make it down to a comparatively arctic 58°. If this is the new normal, it may be untenable for both of us.

Housing prices anywhere we’d want to live are likely to be challengingly high even with our resources pooled together, though, and I don’t know what place we’d both agree on. Stay in the state, or leave it? She thinks about going back to Baltimore, where she grew up, or around Asheville, where Floridians seem to be moving to when they want to leave this state. I have no personal affinity for Maryland or North Carolina, though; the places I do have affinity for—most of California and the Pacific Northwest, parts of the Southwest—aren’t places she does.

Beyond that, the thought of moving anywhere leads to uncomfortable thoughts of mortality—both my mother’s and my own. When will I find myself living alone once more? Will I want to stay where I’m living then? If it’s still here, still in this house, the answer is likely no. But if my mother and I move to a new place, she’ll push for a bigger house. I doubt I’d want a bigger house by myself, or even with a housemate. (And if it’s in Florida, the current politics all but ensure my trans BFF won’t be that housemate.)

Of course, maybe a bigger house still makes financial sense; with luck, having a more expensive house means I get more money if I sell it and do move somewhere else, ultimately. The money isn’t being lost. Objectively, I know that. But I don’t feel it.

So, where does this leave me? It leaves me with a loving parent and great finances; it leaves me isolated, frustrated with my inability to manage my own time, wondering why I’m even worse than I used to be at coordinating with friends. It leaves me in a good and bad place. It leaves me in limbo.

I’ll check back in after another year.

  1. Sarasota is now ground zero for not just Florida’s culture wars but all of America’s, as the home of the neofascist Moms of Liberty and epicenter of QAnon conspiracy nonsense. My college, New College, is the one that DeSantis is in the process of transforming from a nationally-recognized liberal arts school into a national laughing stock. [return]

You're So Vain, You Probably Think This App Is About You: On Meta and Mastodon

Those of you not plugged into the Mastodon community may not be aware of the predominant reaction to Instagram Threads. This started when it was merely rumored, reaching a crescendo with reports that Meta had been talking to a few of the larger Mastodon instances under NDA, presumably to encourage them not to “defederate” with Threads when it came online.1 Let me describe that reaction for you, with only mild exaggeration:

Meta is coming! If Threads is allowed to become part of the Fediverse, it will destroy it! It will steal your data! It will inject ads onto your timeline! It will corrupt Mastodon into being everything you hate about Facebook and Twitter combined!

Let’s stipulate that Meta has a long history of doing demonstrably bad things, and that the argument I’m about to make—that Threads is not what people on Mastodon believe it is—should not be mistaken for an argument that Meta is just here to give everyone free cookies. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has written extensively about how Facebook wanted NSO spyware to monitor iOS users, produced their own spyware VPN and pushed it within their mobile app, and how Facebook’s “unknowable megascale” created “societal harm…as easy for anyone to see as the respiratory problems caused by smoking.” Threads is a product of that data-tracking, spyware-installing, society-harming Facebook, and it is not joyless unreasonable alarmism to keep that in mind when we evaluate how fun and interesting it otherwise may be.

Having said that, Threads is not an attack on Mastodon to subvert it for nefarious purposes.

How can I say that so confidently? Because Threads is not a Mastodon instance. It is its own self-contained, centralized social network with plans to let its users follow Mastodon accounts and vice versa.

The difference is not mere semantics. Mastodon doesn’t care what client software you use—or even what server software you use. Threads does. Threads needs you to use their app. It’s baked into the business model. Facebook and Instagram never killed their robust third-party client ecosystem the way Twitter and Reddit recently did, because they never had one. They understood their business model from the get-go.

When push comes to shove, Threads is Instagram. That’s how, as of this writing, it already has over 100M accounts created. If you have an Instagram account, you have a Threads account. If you get a Threads account, you get an Instagram account. Threads has zero-effort access to over one and a half billion users who, by definition, tolerate Meta’s privacy policies and Instagram’s monetization strategies.

By contrast, Mastodon is maybe two and a half million users on a network explicitly positioned as “social networking that’s not for sale”. The users are much less receptive to monetization strategies. And as Mastodon founder Eugen “Gargron” Rothko notes, the design of the network makes it effectively impossible for Threads to collect personally identifiable information on Mastodon users merely interacting with Threads users.

So, on one hand: a billion users who accept Instagram showing them ads, algorithm-jamming their timelines and hoovering up as much personally identifiable information about them as they can. On the other: two or three million users on an explicitly anti-corporate platform engineered to be highly resistant to leaking private data. I dare you to make a convincing business case for Facebook spending a single cent trying to capture a fraction of the second group, when it’s less than a percent the size of the first group.

Threads is not now, and never will be, about Mastodon. It’s not about embracing it, extending it, or extinguishing it. It’s not about it at all.

So if Threads isn’t trying to overwhelm and destroy Mastodon, why have ActivityPub support at all? Two answers. First, “Look, see? We’re open!” is not only perceived as a great talking point these days, it’s perceived as a regulatory relief valve. Look, see? ActivityPub! We’re open!

Second, remember that the business model for Threads is keeping you on Threads. If 95% of your friends are on Threads but 5% are over on that weird Mastodon thing, now you don’t have to use Mastodon to follow them! Just follow them from Threads! Woo! Will Threads be a good Mastodon client? No, but it just has to hit “good enough.” Will any Mastodon client be a good Threads client? Fuck no. They don’t want you accessing Threads from Ivory or Tusky or Elk, they want you accessing it from the Threads app, guaranteed to show you as many ads and gather as much data as possible.

The argument Mastodon is collectively mustering against Threads is, at the end of the day, “but Facebook is evil!” Again, no argument. But Mark Zuckerberg is evil in the way of a greedy, privacy-flouting tech bro, not in the way of Sauron.2 Not only would the “extinguishing” part of “embracing, extending and extinguishing” Mastodon be extremely difficult at a technical level, the plausible ROI on doing so would be minimal at best—and probably even counterproductive.

Yeah, but should people defederate?

The aforementioned John Gruber is bullish on Threads’s chances, and he wrote “Threads is the most fun, most interesting new product of the year” on Mastodon (while taking a swipe with “have fun over here in the library,” as if libraries are terrible sad stern places, a weird dig for a professional writer to make, John). Seriously, while I love the estimable Mr. Gruber’s writing, when I look at Threads what I see is an influencer-infested, brand-driven, algorithmically-jammed-up crapfest. A lot like, well, modern Instagram, without the silver lining of pretty photographs.

My point is that Threads and Mastodon are already really different culturally. Even when-slash-if the ActivityPub bridge exists, I don’t think many Threads fans will rush to follow us Mastodon users over here having fun in the library, nor will many Mastodon users be rushing to follow their friends on Threads through the Mastodon client of their choice. I predict the vast majority of people who want to use both networks will maintain separate accounts to do so.

Instagram has thousands of content moderators, and while they’re already making decisions that will make everyone mad, they’re clearly making decisions. While I doubt Threads will officially follow the Mastodon Server Covenant, in practice I suspect they’ll be more strict in some respects. Instagram has a puritan streak that Threads will carry through—there’s a non-zero chance that Threads may refuse to federate with your instance because, I don’t know, you allow titties and people who say “fuck”. The chances of Threads becoming a conduit for harassment on Mastodon are slim.

Personally, I would federate with Threads in “silence” mode: my instance’s users would be able to follow Threads users and vice versa, but posts from Threads would not show up in any public timelines on my server. I think, though, this should be a choice each instance makes with input from their users, and it is a little dismaying how many instances are perfectly happy making that decision unilaterally.

The truly toxic idea, though, is that Mastodon instances should not only refuse to federate with Threads, but they should refuse to federate with other servers that do federate with Threads. In other words, users should be punished for decisions they have no control over and may not even be aware of, made by the administrators of servers they don’t belong to. I am dead serious when I call this toxic. The default position must, must, be that breaking your users’ social graphs is a last resort against clear and present danger. A server explicitly welcomes Nazis, child porn, TERFs, and serial harassers? Block that fucker. But it’s absurd to insist that federating with Meta’s general-interest server presents the same threat level.

Look. At the end of the day, I’m a Mastodon partisan. But I don’t love its collective tendency toward self-important dogmatism. I’ve seen more than one friend get set up only to pull back, worrying there are dozens of unwritten rules about content warnings and alt text and linking and boosting they will constantly be put on blast over. I have never seen so many self-identified queer leftists reflexively drop into well, actually mode.

New users frequently get stuck on the “pick an instance” part of Mastodon’s signup, and we always say oh, it doesn’t matter that much, which is just not true. Some instances seriously up the unwritten rule count; some suck at moderation, and the admins go tinpot dictator when they’re called on it; smaller ones get their plugs pulled with some regularity.3 How much worse will it be when hundreds of small-to-medium servers decide they won’t federate with the largest servers—the ones new users who took our “don’t stress about picking your instance” advice ended up on—because those servers have chosen not to block Threads? That level of fracture won’t preserve the Fediverse, it will mortally wound it.

The truth is, Threads is not about Mastodon. It’s about Meta and only about Meta, and Mastodon isn’t important enough to them to spend the considerable effort that would be necessary to destroy it. It’d be awfully damn ironic if the Fediverse decides it’s become necessary to destroy itself to stop them.

  1. An “instance” in Mastodon parlance is one of the many distributed servers that comprises the network; Mastodon users have accounts on individual instances. Nearly all instances are “federated” with nearly all other instances, e.g., they allow their users to follow one another, but any instance can choose to “defederate” with any other instance. [return]
  2. Peter Thiel, however, is evil in the way of Sauron. [return]
  3. And let’s not get into how many asterisks there still are to “moving between instances is easy”: sure, as long as you remember to export the right things first, do everything in precisely the right order, and oh yes, don’t care about losing your entire post history. [return]

Twitter, failure modes, and your favorite bar

So I’ve been seeing arguments for why, no, you should really stay on Twitter, because of the problems with anything vying to replace it. Most circle around what tech people might dub failure modes in terms of both engineering and policy.

Make no mistake, many of these are solid arguments. Twitter has, as much as we like to pretend otherwise, gotten many things right. They’ve got fast onboarding. They provide a good experience on both mobile and desktop. (Please don’t @ me with your objections to ads and algorithms and whatever; I’m not saying the UX design on Twitter is perfect or free of dark patterns, I’m saying that it’s been developed by UX professionals over a 15-year period and it shows.) They understand the importance of making a service like theirs accessible. They understand the importance of well-designed terms of service that limit their legal liability without taking draconian stances toward users and their content. These are all failure modes that other, newer, smaller services have done little or nothing to address.

But for many people, the real issue isn’t what’s wrong with the other places. It’s that they love this place. Twitter, for all its faults, for all the love/hate relationship you have with it—it’s your favorite bar. This is what most indie creators are feeling, I think. None of the other services have the audience reach; it’s unrealistic to expect us to be on a half-dozen new sites when we could just stay put; and, hey, the likelihood of Twitter really exploding is pretty low. All of those are true, too.

The problem, though, is that just because Twitter’s failure mode isn’t likely to be “closing up shop” doesn’t mean it doesn’t have other failure modes. You might have noticed I didn’t mention harassment and toxic behavior as a failure mode—the things a Trust and Safety Team handles—but it is. As Nilay Patel observed, the product of a social network is content moderation.

To be clear, this is something all the Not-Twitters are going to have to come to grips with in ways they haven’t yet. Cohost, Hive, and OoobyBloobly (which I just made up, or did I, you’re not sure, are you) look good by comparison because they are a fraction of a fraction of Twitter’s scale. Your favorite Mastodon instance this week is even smaller. With Twitter’s two hundred million users, trying to regulate bad behavior is a 24/7 rearguard action.

Well, guess what? Twitter’s Trust and Safety Team is now gone. By deliberate design. It’s not coming back, at least not in any recognizable form, not any time soon.

You think I’m going to mention Musk restoring Trump’s Twitter account. I am. But the canary in the coal mine isn’t the who as much as it’s the how. Musk claimed in October that he’d set up a new “council” for moderation, and that “no major content decisions or account reinstatements will happen before the council convenes.” That was a blatant lie. He polled his followers—hardly a statistically unbiased group—about restoring Trump’s account, and has restored others just on his own. Tech journalist Casey Newton:

At the risk of stating the obvious, this sort of ad hoc approach to content moderation and community standards is completely unsustainable. It does not scale beyond a handful of the most prominent accounts on the service. And, most worryingly, it is not based on any clear principles: Musk is leading trust and safety at Twitter the same way he is leading product and hiring—by whim.

And this is Twitter’s failure mode. All those tweets you’ve seen bitching about how a big problem with Mastodon is that you might choose an “instance” that ends up being run by an anti-woke edgelord tinpot dictator? That’s Twitter now.

Oh, you say the need for advertisers will help rein in Musk’s worst impulses, because no sensible advertiser wants to have their “promoted tweets” running in line with alt-right propaganda? Good luck with that: a Twitter that’s only ten or fifteen percent of its original size requires a lot less money to run, and Musk’s been clear he aims to reduce the company’s dependency on advertising income.

And those remaining thousand employees or so aren’t going to push back the way we saw happen in some tech companies a year or two ago. The shakeout isn’t just in progress, it’s almost over. The ones left either can’t afford to leave or subscribe to Musk’s worldview. Anyone who joins Twitter under his leadership will have done so knowing what that worldview is.

The “liberal bias of big tech” has always been a phantasm. Silicon Valley has always had a strong libertarian bent to it, from the right-of-center Hoover think tank at Stanford University to the military/aerospace roots that long predate the 1990s dotcom boom. While many SV libertarians are socially liberal, not all are, and a few of the most prominent conservatives came out of the “PayPal Mafia”: Musk, the openly anti-democratic Peter Thiel, and VC David Sacks, who co-wrote a book called The Diversity Myth with Thiel a couple of decades ago. Along with professional idiot Jason Calacanis, Sacks now advises Musk on how to run Twitter, and the circumstantial evidence suggests they’ve encouraged the performative cruelty Musk’s exhibited in how he’s run things so far.

So here’s the thing. What conservative culture warriors always say they want is the absence of political bias, but time and time again what they mean is bias that explicitly favors them. Everything else, you see, has an innate liberal bias—it’s them against the world, fighting the good fight. They want fairness and balance the way Fox News does. They don’t want an unbiased social media site; what they want is a site with Gab and Parler’s slant, but Twitter’s reach. Now they have it. The product of a social network is content moderation, and Twitter’s new content moderators will be hand-picked by Musk. It’s going to be full of people who won’t object to racism, homophobia, and transphobia as much as object to fighting it, because “free speech”.

If you do believe in the Fox News kind of balance, that I’m wrong about Silicon Valley’s political biases and especially wrong about Twitter’s, this isn’t a failure mode. It’s what you want, or at least what you think you want. It’s clearly what Elon Musk thinks he wants. But for Twitter as we knew it, this is a catastrophic failure. It’s a terminal condition, an unrecoverable crash.

New Twitter will be hostile to anyone queer, or non-white, or slightly to the left of Ronald Reagan. You may be a creator who wants to stay on Twitter to reach your audience, but the audience there will inevitably tilt toward the anti-woke, All Lives Matter, gender critical, Just Asking Questions crowd. If they’re your audience, congratulations, I guess. If they’re not, you have a problem.

I get that, right now, it’s still easy to rationalize staying on Twitter. The alternatives are too confusing, or have questionable terms of service, or don’t have a registered DMCA agent, or have a crappy official app, or have a crappy web interface, or just seem like they’re run out of a college dorm room. We can go down the list and acknowledge most or all of those are great points.

But your favorite bar is under new management, and whether you want to admit it or not, you know damn well what kind of bar they’re making it into. You need to think long and hard about whether you’re okay with that.

Thoughts on Leaving California


I wasn’t born in California. I wasn’t born in Florida, either, even though it was, until 2002, the only place I ever remembered living, the place I would say I was from. I was born in Dallas, but only lived there maybe six months. I think the next place we moved was Albany, New York; I know that’s where we were living a few years later when my parents divorced. When I was around kindergarten age, we moved to the east coast of Florida, and in little more than a year moved to the west coast, to Tampa Bay.

I moved out to San Jose, to Silicon Valley, looking for computer work, just after the original dotcom crash. This might have been quixotic, but my technical background was all Unix, and Tampa’s businesses—enterprise back offices, military subcontractors hanging off MacDill AFB—were almost all Windows. I landed in wobbly fashion, doing (of all things) Excel work and then technical writing. Then finally, someone I was applying with for a different position actually read my résumé and realized I was a web developer.

To call my career path spotty would be charitable at best. Some years I made less in Silicon Valley than I had in Tampa, although occasionally I’ve made considerably more. When I recently passed my four-year anniversary with my current company, it made this the position I’ve held the longest since the mid-1990s.


Moving to the West Coast had been on my mind for years. I always had some reason not to, though. A job, whether or not I liked it. Not enough money in the bank to take that kind of risk. An impoverished roommate I would feel guilty about abandoning, even though I was hardly much less impoverished than he was. A mother who, after her mother passed away, had no local family in Florida besides me.

But by the time I moved out here, I had been laid off, so had no job to leave. I had some savings after that long-lasting, high-paying job. (At least, it seemed high-paying to me at the time, which it was by some measures, and the savings seemed like a lot, which I now know it was by very few measures.) I lived alone. And my mother was in a new relationship. A friendly acquaintance had a spare room in his house in San Jose and offered to withhold rent until I could find a job, so I took the leap.

When I announced I was moving to California, more than one person reacted like it was some kind of phase, something I needed to do for a few years to get out of my system. Then my wanderlust would be fulfilled, I would move back, and get on with whatever serious business I presumably couldn’t do in Cali.

But I didn’t, back then, have any intention of moving back. On one of my first interviews out here, my prospective manager asked me the ultimate interview cliché: “Where do you see yourself in five years?” Somewhat foolishly, I said, “With any luck, living in a cabin closer to Big Sur, writing.”

I got the job anyway. I never got the cabin.


Every so often, I hear that California doesn’t have seasons, just climate. To someone who grew up in a place with hot summers and snowy winters, maybe. To someone who grew up in a subtropical climate—hot summers and warm winters, differentiated mostly by storm frequency—not at all. The Bay Area moves from dry, bright summers whose highs reach into the nineties and beyond to wet, grey winters whose highs rarely reach the sixties. And it gets snow almost every year, a light dusting on the Santa Cruz and Diablo Range mountains, if only for a few days.

And yet, the climate changes across the Bay Area in a way it doesn’t in Florida. From Silicon Valley, it’s less than an hour inland to the Tri-Valley, where the Mediterranean climate takes on a touch of desert aridity and the highs are higher and lows are lower. And, it’s less than an hour to the coast, to Santa Cruz and Half Moon Bay, where moderate is the best description: the change between daily high and low is consistently about twenty degrees, and the change between summer and winter highs (and lows) is maybe about fifteen degrees.

These climates are not what I grew up with, but I adjusted to them quickly. Every year I have flown back to Florida for Christmas, and despite it being December it always feels like a sauna when I first step outside. I don’t remember that feeling growing up. Perhaps I’ll readjust to Florida as quickly as I adjusted to California, but it’s hard to shake the feeling that adaptation isn’t reversible.


I don’t have a great affection for wine, but I love wine country. Some of my favorite parts of the Bay Area—the Santa Cruz mountains, Livermore, and of course Sonoma County—are all known for wine, and they’re all beautiful, each in different ways.

I’ve picked up some things about wine since being out here, though. It’s hard not to. I’ve also learned about—and learned to love—cocktails, beer, and coffee since I’ve been out here. (I’ve been drinking coffee since I was a child, prescribed it for ADHD back when we called it “hyperactivity.” It took moving out to the Bay Area to appreciate coffee, though.) I was a nascent foodie my last few years in Florida, and that’s only grown in California.

It’s hard to pick a single cuisine that somehow defines the Bay Area. There’s good Japanese food, and Thai, and Korean, and Filipino, and lots of good Mexican. People from the northeast seem to think there’s no good Italian, but the reason wine country is wine country is Italian settlers. There’s not just good Italian, there’s great Italian.

Whenever someone asserts the Bay Area is rare in this “café culture” of terrific cocktails, beer, wine, food, coffee—cites it as a reason that they don’t want to leave, or a reason that people want to move here—it gets met with pushback, skepticism, or defensiveness. Other places have great versions of all those things, you know, they’ll say. And of course, we know. We know you’re going to be able to find a great coffee shop and a great craft brewery and a great cocktail bar and and and in nearly any metro area, often even in the smallest towns.

We also know, though, that there just aren’t that many places in the world where you can find this many in this concentration. And we also know that “how many good coffee shops do you need” is a pretty lame comeback.


As my mother got older, being closer—being able to take care of her when needed—felt more important. Her relationship, the one that gave me confidence I wouldn’t be leaving her alone if I lived on the other side of the country, had ended disastrously. In 2016, she had surgery on her carotid artery, and I didn’t go back to care for her, trusting her local friends to do so. That failure ate at me. When I look back at my journal, this is the year I find entries about me looking for my own places in Florida.

What I pictured then was a situation like I’d been in before, and like she had been with her mother: living nearby but not together. My grandmother only moved in with my mother during the last year of her life. Before that, they visited every other week, then every other week. If I lived in Tampa and my mother lived in east Hernando County, about fifty miles north, we’d live even closer to one another than she had with her mother.

Yet back then, this was abstract. I’d already attached to places here, the land, the cafés, the Pacific Ocean rather than the Gulf of Mexico—and I’d attached to people, too. Friends. A writing group. Even some coworkers; I had one of the best jobs that I’d ever had, not knowing the company wouldn’t survive the year. And an old friend I’d feinted at dating once, failed at, and stayed friends with anyway was becoming—I could say an aromantic partner, and maybe I could just say BFF. Either way, someone I’d rather be able to keep seeing regularly.

At the time, I thought it might happen in 2018, after I passed four years with my company and my 401(k) became fully vested. Instead, by 2016 the company had collapsed, and the next job I had in 2017 was short-lived and not particularly enjoyable. I might well have moved back to Florida in 2018, if I hadn’t gotten another job, this time one I did enjoy—and that paid extremely well.

So I stayed. And these last four years might well have been the best of my years here.


In 2020, my mother started pushing hard for us to move in together. I had been thinking about my schedule, not hers, and she was in her mid-70s marching toward the late 70s. Instead of pushing for me to move there, she wanted to move out here.

This wasn’t the first time the possibility had come up. In 2016, my mother had found a potential home in Gilroy, a town about thirty-five miles south of San Jose. I didn’t like the house, and liked the location even less. In retrospect, Gilroy would have been a nicer place to live than where my mother lives now, a tiny town fifty miles north of Tampa, but I didn’t recognize that back then.

By 2020, though, housing prices here had made homes even south of San Jose virtually unattainable. We looked at the outskirts of the Bay Area, in Vallejo and Concord, and in Sacramento, a city I’ve come to love over the last decade. Sacramento was more expensive than Tampa, but not by much.

But, of course, the pandemic began in 2020, and traveling back and forth house-hunting in the midst of it became unsustainable. So this, too, was put on hold. And in the two years since, housing prices in Sacramento skyrocketed.


It’s tempting to try to find one specific problem to blame for California’s housing costs: it’s restrictive zoning, it’s foreign investors, it’s NIMBYs, it’s absurd tech salaries, it’s Proposition 13. It’s not any one of those things, though. It’s all of those things.

And it’s also one other thing. People want to live here, despite the soaring costs, legendarily bad commutes (at least pre-pandemic, although traffic snarls are returning), rampant homelessness, a myriad of other strikes. It’s not just a matter of putting up with the area in exchange for great pay, if they’re getting one of those absurd tech salaries.

I’m not going to miss paying over a dollar more per gallon for gas. I won’t miss paying as much in rent share as I would pay for an entire two-bedroom apartment in Tampa. But even twenty years on, there are moments nearly every day when I’m sitting in an outside patio, or walking in a park, or even driving down an interstate through the hills on either side of the Bay and think, I am so lucky to live here.

There are other places I could have that feeling about. Other parts of California. Probably most of the Pacific Northwest. I like being near the ocean, even if I don’t visit it as much as I should. I like the moderate climate. I like hills and evergreen trees, sunny summers and grey foggy winters. I like coffee culture. I like the whole region’s mostly progressive politics.

And I can’t pretend the politics, both legislative and cultural, don’t matter. My BFF-slash-aro-partner is trans. Most of my friends are LGBTQ. So am I. Words I could use to describe myself—grey-asexual, aromantic, masculine nonbinary—feel very, very Californian. I don’t think of myself as “closeted,” just quiet. But I’m going to stay a lot quieter after the move.

A late friend of mine used to say Florida was paradise, and that he couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to live anywhere else. He and his partner—one of my oldest friends—weren’t particularly quiet or closeted. It was half-joking, suggesting I should move back, but for both of them, Florida really was, and is, paradise.

But it’s not my paradise.

And I wonder whether, as Florida’s politics shift from purple to red to proto-fascist, it’s safe for that friend there. Or my BFF, who has family in Florida.

Or me.


There’s a voice in my head trying to play therapist.

Is your dismay at moving back partially because you feel like you’re returning to watch your mother die? Probably some.

But you do want to be with her in her last years. Of course.

Yet, you feel like you’re returning under duress. Why? Because it’s happened like the old line about how someone went bankrupt: first gradually, then suddenly.

Back in 2020, my flatmate for the last fifteen years started considering where he would go when I moved out, seriously looking at Portland and Seattle; for a variety of reasons, he likes the Pacific Northwest, too. My former housemates, the ones I first lived with when I moved to San Jose, now live on the outskirts of Portland.

When I went back to Florida for Christmas in 2021, somehow my moving back in July of this year, now, was treated as a fait accompli by my mother. I don’t remember committing to that during the year, nor do I see any journal entries about having done so—when they touch on moving back, they’re mostly concerns about personal space—yet I don’t remember not committing. Does that make sense? I left that Christmas trip with the feeling of, “So, I guess it’s happening now, then,” not the feeling of, “I am deciding that it is happening now.” At the same time, my flatmate found what seems to be his dream loft in Olympia, and put a deposit down on it before I’d gotten back to California.

So then it definitely was happening. I mean, if I’d said “No, I’m not ready, and I’m not moving,” he could have gotten his deposit back, but it felt like the quantum states were collapsing.

Your mother asked you to make sure that you had no reservations about moving in with her, but you clearly have them. What was I going to say? When I re-read what she wrote in March 2020, it isn’t the ultimatum it became in my head, but the subtext of “if you say no, I have to make plans to move into a group home” still comes through.

And besides, at the end of the day, it’s not moving in with her that’s the issue. It’s leaving California.

So why not stick with her moving out here? I don’t know. Scared of the economics. Scared of the recent wildfires and their air quality issues, which mom was extremely put off by—for an asthmatic not too far from turning 80, not without reason. Feeling like somehow this was the path of least resistance.

Maybe you need a real therapist. Maybe.


Four days ago, junk haulers came to my apartment and took away furniture I’m not moving with; two days ago, movers came and took away nearly everything else, and I moved into a hotel in San Jose to live out the rest of the week, wrap things up, say goodbyes. My flat now has nothing in it but abandoned cleaning and packing supplies, and some flotsam and jetsam I haven’t disposed of yet. A dish rack. Three pillows.

Two days from now, a Sunday, I’ll set off on a cross-country road trip. Sunday night will be spent just outside Palm Springs, on a day when the predicted high hits a balmy 115 °F (46 °C). On Monday, I leave California behind to drive to Tucson, Arizona. I’ll be following I-10, more or less; after Tucson I stop in Van Horn, Texas, then Austin, then New Orleans. From there, I could make the trip all the way to my mother’s house—my house—in a day, but I might stop somewhere around Tallahassee. I’m not sure yet.

I’ve joked about retiring and opening a tiki bar somewhere around Tampa Bay, which has a surprising dearth of real ones, serving the complex rum cocktails invented by Trader Vic’s, Don the Beachcomber’s, and other mid-century bartenders. Even though I don’t think I’m serious, I’ve thought enough about it to think what I would (and wouldn’t) do: focus on drink quality, lean on beach culture and the Caribbean for theming rather than Polynesia, try to sidestep the “white dudes do the exotic Orient” issues endemic to tiki.

Yet, at least now, as I sit outside a brewery in Santa Cruz, it’s hard not to daydream of moving back even though I haven’t left yet. I don’t know if I’ll be able to afford moving back to the Bay Area on my own after I leave, unless I get another flatmate. But I don’t have to, necessarily. There’s Sacramento. Or Santa Rosa, the most affordable North Bay City. I could even go up the California coast toward Eureka, which is beautiful but maybe too secluded for me. And there’s always Portland or Seattle or Eugene, the whole Pacific Northwest.

I have faith I’ll find things I like in Florida: friends, old and new; rediscovering old places that survived all this time; finding interesting new places. If I’m honest, I’ve been scouting over the last few years on my return holiday trips, finding breweries and coffee shops and restaurants and, yes, even a tiki bar, although it’s seventy miles away in St. Petersburg. (St. Pete is perhaps the most interesting city in Tampa Bay these days, manifestly not the case when I lived in that Tampa suburb a quarter-century ago.)

But one day, I’ll return. For all the quirks, all the expenses, all the travails I’ve been through these past twenty years, this is my paradise.

BBEdit 14, and why you should care

When TextMate burst onto the scene in the mid-2000s, it didn’t take aim at Emacs and Vim as much as BBEdit, a Mac-only editor around more than a decade at that point. TextMate offered radically easy ways to create sophisticated new language modules and plugins compared to most editors of the day. Mostly, though, TextMate had Ruby on Rails: David Heinemeier Hansson developed the framework with early versions of the editor, making it almost custom-built for Rails. That gave TextMate a boost working with other server-side frameworks.

Since then, cross-platform editors and IDEs like Microsoft’s Visual Studio Code and JetBrains IDEs have come to dominate the coding world. This is an issue for those of us who want Mac-assed Mac apps. I hung onto TextMate and then the native-but-weird Sublime Text, shifting to Code somewhat reluctantly. Last year, I pounced onto Panic’s new Nova, reviewing it positively shortly after release.

BBEdit is obviously a Mac-assed Mac app, and for reasons I’ll return to, I came back to it years ago for technical writing—but not for coding. (It sometimes seems like BBEdit’s biggest fans are writers.) Some more code-focused users, though, haven’t looked at it in years. With the release of version 14, should they reconsider?

Musty, or battle-tested?

Few editors have been around longer than BBEdit—and few have been as rock-solid. I don’t think I’ve ever lost work. It can even “rescue” never-saved documents you mistakenly close without saving!

Yet, that venerable age has become a double-edged sword. “Looks old” is a dismissal I’ve heard a lot. I’ll be honest: to me, it looks like…a text editor.

Screenshot of BBEdit 14
BBEdit 14, editing HTML.

It’s information dense, but neither overly busy nor packed with unnecessary bits. (Nearly everything shown here can be turned off, too.) One thing you don’t see? Tabs. Instead, there’s an open documents list in the sidebar. If you end up with a dozen or more files open at once, this approach starts really showing its advantage.

Leaping forward

Here’s something cool:

A snippet of PHP code showing autocompletion in an editor
A language server at work.

This editor understands PHP well enough to know that after you type $handler->, it should offer methods from the Handler class as autocomplete options, because it knows $handler is an instance of that class.

This level of introspection used to be the exclusive domain of IDEs, but a couple of years ago, Microsoft introduced the Language Server Protocol for Code, so plugins could offer this functionality. Nova supports LSP natively, and with version 14, so does BBEdit. In addition to smart autocompletion, BBEdit uses language servers for:

  • Function parameter help
  • Real-time code linting
  • Navigating to function definitions and symbol declarations
  • Reformatting documents

See the green dot in that screenshot? It’s a dropdown for showing errors and warnings in a file. Individual lines also get their line numbers highlighted and the issues shown by underlines. (The snippet above shows $response with a red underline in two occurrences: the first because that line isn’t complete and so has a syntax error on it; the second because, thanks to the first error, $response isn’t defined yet.)

BBEdit is preconfigured to use many language servers, like Intelephense, out of the box once they’re installed. This can be considerably more complicated in other editors, especially if their LSP support is itself provided by an extension.

A couple of caveats: first, a lot of language servers apparently haven’t been tested with anything but Code, and can get quirky with any other editor. Sometimes BBEdit can work around quirks, but not always. Second, BBEdit doesn’t support all LSP features. For instance, documentation won’t pop up when you hover your pointer over a function or symbol.1

Other new features

BBEdit 14 now has a “Notebook.” This takes the already-existing “scratchpad” feature (itself unique to BBEdit) a step farther, storing multiple notes as individual sheets within an always-available Notebook window. By default, BBEdit creates notes as Markdown files, but you can change them to other languages. As with any text file, you can create new notes from the clipboard or from selected text, by dragging text, or even from the shell by piping text to bbedit --note.

I haven’t played with the Notebook much yet. It strikes me as the kind of feature you’re either going to rarely use or use all the time, and it’s not clear to me where I’ll fall. I use scratchpads a lot, though, and have a weakness for note-taking apps. I could imagine putting together a package that offered some basic to-do list functionality that might effectively replace TaskPaper, too. It’s not Emacs’s legendary Org mode, but then again, it doesn’t make you learn Emacs.

Beyond that, BBEdit now supports Emmet for HTML and CSS expansion if you install the Node Emmet module; if you make from-scratch HTML pages a lot, this is a big deal. If you’re a Python programmer, BBEdit is now aware of Anaconda/Conda virtual environments out of the box, and lets you switch between them with its shell menu.

Other old features

When I became a full-time technical writer in 2014, I tried a few different editors and settled on BBEdit, even though its Markdown syntax highlighting is…spartan. Why? Because BBEdit is a Swiss Army knife, a Leatherman multi-tool, for text processing. In no particular order, here’s some interesting things BBEdit does that I rarely see in other editors.

  • What it lacks in Markdown highlighting, it makes up for in Markdown previewing. You can set custom HTML templates, CSS files, and even processing scripts. (You can do this for HTML files, too, and I suspect for other kinds of plain text markup languages.)
  • Many editors have a “fuzzy file open” feature, but BBEdit can open multiple matching files simultaneously. I use this way more often than you might think.
  • BBEdit keeps a history of find/replace searches, and lets you save complex grep patterns with names for easy recall. And you have to see its “Multi-File Find” feature to fully appreciate how great it is.
  • You can build a “text factory” of multiple actions; it’s like having a simple version of Shortcuts or Automator built right into the editor. You can save them as text filters or use them for batch processing. I have a simple-minded Markdown to BBCode conversion “script” I created this way without writing a line of actual shell script.
  • You can “process” lines in a file, searching for duplicates or lines that match specific patterns (including regular expressions), and delete those lines, copy them to the clipboard, or create a new document with them.
  • BBEdit can operate on “columns” of tab-separated values, cutting, copying, pasting, and even rearranging them.
  • While Git support is mostly (ahem) bare bones, it’s fantastic with file-specific commands like diffs and revision history.
  • The “Pattern Playground” is outstanding for constructing complicated regular expressions that work with your documents.
  • BBEdit uses Kapeli’s Dash documentation browser if it’s installed.

The Unix Worksheet in BBEdit deserves its own paragraph. Send any line in the worksheet to your shell by tapping Control-Enter, and the output from the shell appears under that line in the worksheet. You can’t run interactive shell programs this way, but for most commands you now have an editable, modifiable history. In my technical writing, I create lots of local branches; I usually use a worksheet to clean them up by running git branch to get a list of them, then adding git branch -d before each one I no longer need. The worksheet is inspired by the long-defunct MPW, but Emacs fans might consider it a cousin of shell mode.

Lastly, another feature of BBEdit worth checking out: the 400-page user manual. Yes, that is what a technical writer would say, but it’s a remarkable boon.

A few missing features

BBEdit has a more “batteries included” approach than most editors, and so needs fewer third-party extensions. But, the integrated managers in Code and Nova make a strong argument for a centralized package index. Sublime Text’s Package Control started as a third-party system, so it’d be possible for someone else to take up the mantle here. The closest BBEdit has is BBEdit Extras, and while it has some good stuff, it’s also got a lot of outdated (and frustratingly undated!) stuff and an awful lot of link rot.

Sublime Text popularized multiple cursors in text editors. BBEdit’s processing commands can do nearly anything these can—honest—but if you’re a multi-cursor junkie, it’ll be an adjustment.

Codeless language modules only set colors for strings, comments, keywords and “predefined names,” along with delineating functions for navigation and folding. CLMs also can’t be used for templating systems like Jinja or EEx that exist as “embedded languages” in HTML. You can write a more powerful language definition in Objective-C—I presume including templating languages, since “PHP in HTML” and “Ruby in HTML” are standard—but that’s a hella big ask.

Back to the future

I’ve long believed that BBEdit’s balance of text processing power with discoverability and ease of use makes it the best tool for “documentation as code”-style technical writing on the market. But at least for me, it hadn’t kept up with the state of the art for coding. With BBEdit 14, this no longer feels true.

So, I’m moving back. I’ve created a new color scheme, SpaceBones, inspired by the default color scheme of Spacemacs. I’ve been working on an up-to-date package for Elixir that comes with an LSP, as well as creating a new set of clippings for PHP 8. My old Editor Actions package may get a reboot. Hopefully, there will be ways to publicize these; I’d love to see a BBEdit-focused project similar to Vim Awesome.2

If you’re already a BBEdit user, version 14 is an essential update. If you’re not—whether you used it years ago but drifted away, or never used it at all—it’s time to give it another look.

BBEdit 14 is $49 new from Bare Bones Software, with upgrade discounts for owners of earlier versions, or from the Mac App Store with a $39/yr annual subscription. You can use BBEdit for free with a more limited feature set. Disclosure: I beta-tested BBEdit 14, and received a free upgrade serial code.

  1. Although some might argue that is more feature than bug. [return]
  2. Ironic detail: Vim Awesome is built on RethinkDB, a document-store database whose documentation was primarily written—by me—using BBEdit. [return]

Panic’s Nova, ten months in

TL;DR: I’m not using it much.

I’m sure my review of Nova made it clear that I wanted to like this editor a lot. In practice, though, it’s felt more like its predecessor Coda and a similar competitor of Coda’s era, Espresso, than like Visual Studio Code or BBEdit: targeted chiefly at web developers mucking about with static websites. (Which, to be fair, is a sizable audience; my website is static, and Nova’s pretty good with it.)

Nova’s built-in smart autocompletion hasn’t proved particularly smart when I’ve been using it, which in some ways makes it more frustrating than not having it at all. Backing it with a language server theoretically improves it, but Nova’s LSP support is fragile and weird. I don’t mind it being somewhat incomplete, but it’s entirely dependent on third parties writing extensions that talk to language servers—which would be fine if they worked. But at least in the languages I use, they don’t. For PHP, there are two wrappers for Intelephense; one just flat out doesn’t start, and the other one makes Nova crash on startup. For Elixir, the elixir-ls extension works in the sense of, you know, not crashing, but mostly what it seems to do is hover huge documentation pages over the screen if the mouse pointer rests over an Elixir keyword. (I have heard Nova’s TypeScript extension is solid, but I haven’t tried it.)

Beyond that, when it comes to the basics of just editing, Nova is…fine? It does the job. But—like Coda and Espresso—it doesn’t have the selection and manipulation chops of higher-power editors. I still have no idea what commands like “Select All in Any Scope” are supposed to do because they’ve never worked. Nova’s clips are useful, but limited compared to the equivalents in BBEdit or Code (or any editor, like Code, that basically adapted TextMate’s snippets).

So, am I going to renew for the $49 annual subscription? I haven’t entirely ruled it out, but, well, it’s not looking good. I’ve been spending much more time back with BBEdit recently…but that’s another article.

A quick unofficial Apple Music Spatial Audio FAQ

So, what is it?

Music mixed in Dolby Atmos.

So, like, surround sound?

Yes, with an asterisk we’ll come back to. Most surround systems use multiple channels: the original Dolby Surround used four (left, right, center, and rear), then moved to five (splitting the rear into left rear and right rear), and a few Even More Channels variants. Dolby Atmos, though, doesn’t have channels. Instead, it assigns audio tracks to “audio objects,” which have three-axis positions in virtual space. Each object has metadata that says, “this object should sound like it’s coming from a point this far between the left and right walls, this far between the rear and front walls, and this far between the floor and ceiling.” When you play the Atmos soundtrack, the decoder—called a “renderer” by Dolby—knows how many speakers it has available in the room and their positions within 3-D space, and it maps the audio objects onto specific speakers at specific values. It’s remixing the audio to match the playback environment on the fly, with as high fidelity to the original audio object positions as possible.

That’s pretty cool! What about, uh, not movie theaters?

The home version of Atmos works essentially the same way, just mapping to fewer speakers—typically just five, although you can get fancy and go up to eleven.

Is that a Spinal Tap reference?

If you want.

So how do you get all that fancy three-dimensional positioning with only two speakers, or a pair of headphones?

Congratulations, you’ve found that asterisk I said I was going to come back to!

Yay! Explain.

For headphones or any other two-channel system, Atmos positional data has to be down-mixed into two-channel audio. If you want to hear Atmos music with the highest fidelity to the recording, you’re going to need to play it over a system with at least four physical speakers. As far as I know, the only way to do that with Apple Music is to use an Apple TV box: it outputs Dolby Atmos over HDMI.

So it’s all a lie!

Well, not so fast. What Dolby Atmos does for Headphones is render binaural audio. Binaural audio is, per Wikipedia, “a method of recording sound that uses two microphones arranged with the intent to create a 3-D stereo sound sensation for the listener of actually being in the room with the performers or instruments.” Basically, the theory is that we only have two ears, yet we can clearly hear when sounds are up, down, front, or back, not just left or right. In theory, two channels should be enough to capture full positional information if we record the sound properly.

So: when there’s only two speakers to output to, the Atmos renderer takes each Atmos audio object and calculating volume and left/right panning settings to synthesize a binaural mix. All the positional information is still used.

Is it better stereo, or just different?

That’s hard to answer. First off, you may not hear much difference between binaural stereo and normal stereo. I hear what audio nerds call a “wider soundstage,” but I rarely think sounds are in front of me or behind me. Occasionally, I get that “enveloping sound” sensation they talk about, but I can also get that from a good normal stereo recording. In my experience, I’m more likely to get it from a pair of great full-range speakers than from headphones. From what I’ve read, I’m not an outlier here; the truth is that most people just don’t have great speakers.

That’s very audiophile snob of you.


You said “first off.” Second?

Second, the original multichannel Atmos mix just might not be as good, at least subjectively, as the stereo mix. Tracks are definitionally going to be placed differently, and you might find some are overemphasized or underemphasized to your tastes. This gets even more complicated if you’re listening to headphones, because you’re relying on the Atmos renderer to synthesize the binaural mix.

So is this an Apple exclusive thing? Apple talks about it like they’re doing amazing things nobody else has.

Apple talks about everything that way. Atmos Music has been a thing since at least 2017, and TIDAL and Amazon Music already stream it. When Apple says they’ve been working with studios on this, I have a suspicion that what they mean is “Dolby has been working with studios on this.” I haven’t seen any indication yet that Apple’s getting exclusive tracks and deals.

Huh. So what does any of this have to do with AirPods “Spatial Audio”?

Apple seems to be using that to describe two unrelated things:

  • Their own clever synthesized binaural audio that they use with video playback, which only works between iOS and AirPods Pro and Max. This considers your physical position relative to the playback device when it’s calculating the binaural audio effects, making it seem like the “front center channel” is right where the video is playing regardless of your head’s position.
  • Apple branding for Dolby Atmos music.

So does Spatial Audio work in Spatial Audio?

Come again?

Does the Dolby Atmos “Spatial Audio” music play back on AirPods Pro and Max using “Spatial Audio”?

Oh, gotcha! No.


But, an Apple tech note says it’s coming “this fall,” which seems to mean “with iOS 15.” A friend with the developer beta says it’s already working in that release, and that when she turns her head she can sense the instruments “moving” on the soundstage. This suggests the Atmos binaural rendering is being reconfigured on the fly by dynamic head positioning.

If (Atmos) Spatial Audio isn’t (Apple) Spatial Audio, can I listen on non-Apple headphones and speakers?

Yes. If you’re using an Apple TV box, then It Just Works™. Otherwise, you’ll need to go into the Music app’s settings and set Atmos to “Always On” rather than “Automatic.” Apple Music warns that isn’t “supported” on all speakers, but I would read that as a warning that it may not sound good on all external speakers—remember, the Atmos binaural rendering happens in Apple Music itself. It should be fine on any decent headphones, though.

So is this really the future of music?

If anyone can finally make multichannel audio mainstream, it’s Apple, but that’s a big if—the consumer audio market has been rejecting multichannel audio for going on five decades. We’re going to have to wait a few years to see if “3-D music” really takes off, or if it goes the way of 3-D movies.

A quick unofficial Apple Music Lossless FAQ

So what’s the deal?

Apple Music can now stream files as “lossless,” up to 24-bit resolution and a 48 KHz sampling rate (which is better than CD quality), or “hi-res lossless,” up to 24-bit resolution and a 192 KHz sampling rate.

Does that really make music sound better?

Depends on who you ask and what your equipment is. I feel like I can often hear a difference between CD quality and “lossy” encoding, but not reliably. I don’t think I’ve ever heard a difference between hi-res and CD quality that couldn’t be attributed to remastering, which gets into a whole different subject.

You said “feel.” Isn’t that very subjective?


Have you gone through scientifically sound ABX testing, ideally in a soundproofed room and conducted by qualified audio engineers?


I sense you are not interested in this argument.

You are correct.

Okay, so let’s talk about Apple Music specifically. Can I get lossless quality over any Apple AirPod?

No. There are no lossless Bluetooth codecs.

How about the HomePod?

Not yet, but it’s promised for later.

The Apple TV?

Yes, but not at hi-res, and it appears to be locked at a 48 KHz sample rate. (Some lossless music Apple has is likely at a 44.1 KHz sample rate, the same as CDs.)

Okay, so it’s best on the Mac.

Well, two caveats. One, you’ll probably need an external DAC (digital to analog converter) to get better than “lossless” quality. Two, Apple Music doesn’t do output bit rate switching.

What’s that mean?

The music files have sample rates they’re encoded with, and your computer sends data to either its internal or your external DAC at a specific sample rate. Ideally, those two rates should be the same, and most “audiophile” music players match them automatically. Apple Music on the Mac doesn’t. It uses whatever bit rate the output device happens to be set at when the Music app launches. If that bit rate doesn’t match the music it’s playing, the music will be resampled to match the output rate.

If it’s resampled, is it still lossless?

If it’s resampled down, say from 96 KHz to 44.1 KHz, then definitionally, no. If it’s resampled up, say from 44.1 KHz to 48 KHz, the answer is murkier; no data gets lost, but new data has to be synthesized.

How do I fix that?

A few approaches off the top of my head:

  1. Check what you want to play before playing it and set the output rate in Audio MIDI Setup. Music will only show you the sample rate for “hi-res” music, but anything that’s listed as an “Apple Digital Master” or whatever they’re calling it this week is probably 48 KHz. This is arguably bad advice.
  2. Enable “lossless” but not “hi-res” in Music, and use Audio MIDI Setup to set the output at the highest bit rate and sample rate your DAC has. This is arguably less bad advice, although it’s still not ideal.
  3. Subscribe to TIDAL.
  4. Listen on iOS.

Wait, are you saying that iOS does do sample rate switching?


Why doesn’t the Mac?

The Music app on the Mac is really still just iTunes. Internally, iTunes is, if you will forgive the technical jargon, a trash fire.

You mentioned TIDAL. Does it do sample rate switching on the Mac?

Yes. As much as TIDAL gets made fun of, it’s got a decent app, and TIDAL Connect, like Spotify Connect, is arguably better than Apple’s AirPlay for getting home audio devices to stream music. But its lossless tier is $20 a month and its radio stations and curated playlists are noticeably worse than Apple Music’s.

What about Spotify and Amazon HD Music?

I don’t know. Like Apple Music, though, they’re more “consumer-oriented.”

What about Qobuz?


So what are you personally doing?

For my desktop, I’m following #2 above. My computer speakers (Vanatoo Transparent One Encores) have a USB DAC built into them. For my living room system, I can use the Apple TV, but compared to Spotify or TIDAL Connect—both of which work natively on my A/V receiver—it’s a little fiddly.

I read on a website that the best music quality possible is from MQA, “Master Quality Authenticated,” files. Does Apple Music support that?

Please stop reading that website.

If I play Apple Lossless over $200 AudioQuest Carbon USB cables through a $10K Luxman L-509x amplifier connected to Wilson Audio’s $48K Alexia speakers via $4000 Cardas Clear speaker cables (terminated in spades), will it sound great?


The Peril of “No Politics”

Basecamp is both the name of a small tech company and their primary product, a web-based project management tool that includes forum-like message boards and a Slack-like chat component. It’s pretty good. (So I’ve heard.) In some ways, Basecamp is actually more famous for Ruby on Rails, the web framework they created for Basecamp. And, they’re famous for having capital-O Opinionated leaders, who recently banned “societal and political discussions” on the company Basecamp—essentially the equivalent of saying “no politics on the internal Slack”:

Today’s social and political waters are especially choppy. Sensitivities are at 11, and every discussion remotely related to politics, advocacy, or society at large quickly spins away from pleasant. You shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it means you’re complicit, or wading into it means you’re a target. These are difficult enough waters to navigate in life, but significantly more so at work. It’s become too much. It’s a major distraction. It saps our energy, and redirects our dialog towards dark places. People can take the conversations with willing co-workers to Signal, Whatsapp, or even a personal Basecamp account, but it can’t happen where the work happens anymore.


Basecamp’s post has provoked predictable outrage on Twitter, and, well, duh. Twitter is outrage’s natural habitat, where nothing is worth stating if it can’t be stated in the most extreme form possible. But pop quiz: what does “politics at work” mean to you?

  1. Facing fraught but important questions about company policies and culture, including pay equity, hiring practices, workplace behavior, and even the ethics of the work being done and for whom.
  2. A continual verbal slugfest among coworkers who seem more interested in pwning one another for their terrible viewpoints than coming to any understanding.

It’s clear from the text of their post that Basecamp wants to stave off the latter. And, y’know, that’s not unreasonable. I’ve had coworkers with political views I absolutely didn’t share, and we could still, well, work together. There was no explicit ban on politics; we just understood that it’s not something one gets into with coworkers.

The problem, though, is that shutting down the latter all too often means ducking the former. Suppose your company supports a politician pushing policies that would benefit the business directly; aren’t they now indirectly supporting every other policy that politician’s pushing? What if it comes out that one of your customers is a neo-Nazi network? Why does your company have only one woman and zero Blacks in its twenty-person engineering team? Why did that trans customer support engineer quit after only four months?

Again, I think—at least, I’d like to—that Basecamp’s intended message was keep company chat channels civil and focused on work. But if that’s what they meant, that’s what they should have said. By saying “no politics,” what they’ve communicated is don’t ask uncomfortable questions about our workplace culture.

Maybe they shouldn’t have to wonder if staying out of it makes them complicit, or if wading into it makes them a target. But they’ve tried to have it both ways. That guarantees the answer to both of those questions is yes.

Postscript: Literally just after I wrote this, I came across Jane Yang’s open letter to Basecamp’s founders, a brilliant—and depressing—read that makes me rather less sanguine about Basecamp’s intent.

The Mac and the iPad aren’t meeting in the middle yet

At the end of 2010, John Gruber of Daring Fireball wrote in a Macworld column,

The central conceit of the iPad is that it’s a portable computer that does less—and because it does less, what it does do, it does better, more simply, and more elegantly. Apple can only begin phasing out the Mac if and when iOS expands to allow us to do everything we can do on the Mac. It’s the heaviness of the Mac that allows iOS to remain light.

Back then he wrote that long-term (“say, ten years out”), iOS might replace macOS. But in 2020, Apple recommitted to the Mac: the Mac Pro, the return of good keyboards, and—the biggest move yet—a new CPU architecture designed in-house.

Since then, I’ve seen a chorus of pundits, both professional and armchair (hi), push two theories that are either at odds or entwined, depending on how you look at them:

  • Surely, a dystopian iOS-like future of only sanctioned App Store purchases lies ahead for the Mac. (Let’s call this the “Hacker News bait” narrative.)
  • Surely, the iPad is going to catch up or even surpass the Mac—it already does so many things so well, and it’s only held back from its potential by an OS with artificial limitations.

The Hacker News bait narrative is bullshit. But I’m not sure about that second, sunnier one, either. Apple has been demonstrating a consistent philosophy for over a decade:

  • Macs are general purpose computers.
  • iPads and iPhones are application consoles, analogous to game consoles.

These have been true from the beginning of each platform. Macs have always been general purpose computers, and iPhones and iPads have never been such.

There’s no intrinsic reason iOS devices had to be consoles; other smartphones like Windows Mobile and PalmOS phones weren’t. We all know that, but we forget that there’s also no intrinsic reason Macs had to be open. Not only was its direct antecedent the Xerox Star considerably more console-like, so was Jef Raskin’s original concept for the Macintosh, which evolved into the Canon Cat. Yes, if the Mac had been positioned as an appliance the way the Star and the Cat were, it would likely have joined them in obscurity—but we say that now with nearly four decades more “common wisdom” about computers. The Cat wasn’t the only early attempt at an application console; the 1990s saw the Sony eVilla and other “Internet appliances.” Those products didn’t fail because the concept was bad; they failed because the technology to support the concept just wasn’t there yet. A decade later, we had small, lightweight touch screens and widespread high-speed wireless data—and internet appliances became possible.

As long as this philosophy on Apple’s part holds—and there’s no evidence that it’s changing—macOS will never be locked down to the degree iOS is, i.e., unable to install non-App Store apps without jailbreaking. But the Venn diagram of “users likely to walk over such a drastic change to the Mac” and “users likely to spend boggling amounts of money on Apple hardware” is close to a perfect circle. Apple would have to not only make up the lost hardware revenue in App Store revenue but beat it. You need 30% of a hell of a lot of apps to make up for a single lost 16-inch MacBook Pro sale, let alone a Mac Pro. Even if it was just four or five percent of users—and I think that’s extremely optimistic—that’s millions of lost unit sales, and likely forgoing entire markets the Mac currently has a meaningful presence in. There’s just no business case for such a move. Beyond that, given all the radical changes Apple made to the Mac in 2020, it feels like that was the “now or never” moment. If M1 Macs and macOS Big Sur didn’t lock us into an App Store-only world, it’s pretty unlikely macOS Pismo Beach or whatever is going to.

But that brings us to the second point. Is this the year when the iPad does get to do everything, not just most things, the Mac does? Will we be able to run macOS apps on M1 iPad Pros the way we can run iOS apps on M1 Macs?

I do think Final Cut and Logic will come to the iPad eventually in some form. But so far, macOS has remained a general purpose OS, and iOS has remained a console OS—and I don’t think that’s changing soon. I just don’t. I’m doubtful that Apple has any interest in getting an Xcode-like iPadOS development going, and doubtful they plan to “open up” iOS any more than they must for technical, market, or regulatory reasons.

Yet on an infinite timescale, this dichotomy can’t hold. It may be a minority of people who truly can’t do their work on the iPad, as opposed to just kvetching that they can’t do it the same way as they do on a Mac or a PC. But that minority is there, and they matter.1 So the question is what happens to break it and when. I’m expecting iPadOS 15 to have some major UI changes, possibly even the first tiling window manager designed for humans. My pie-in-the-sky guess is that a new operating system replacing both macOS and iPadOS is already underway. Its foundations are Swift and SwiftUI, and macOS Big Sur and iPadOS 15 are early bits of scaffolding. The Mac gets lighter; iOS gets heavier. But they’re not meeting in the middle yet.

  1. As a technical writer, I’m actually in that minority: not only am I expected to be able to do local preview builds of the documentation web site I help edit/maintain, no iPad text editor I’ve tried comes close to BBEdit for working on projects with thousands of Markdown files. [return]

I’ve done some minor updates to Coyote Tracks, my web site, tweaking the styling and updating text. I’ve also consolidated the RSS feeds—yes, they are still a thing—into just one, so if you’re seeing this via RSS or on Tumblr, you’ll only see article-length posts.

A brief chat about Chuck Wendig, the Internet Archive, and bad information spread in good faith

Because I’ve got a bug up my butt about this again, let’s briefly dig into a social media myth that Will Not Die:

“Chuck Wendig is suing the Internet Archive!”

No. No, he is not.

There are two important bits of background here.

First, the Internet Archive. If you know them, you probably know them because of the “Wayback Machine” that archives millions of web sites. They do a lot of other archive-ish stuff, though, including collecting and scanning books. A while ago, they decided to create a digital “library” of those books: anyone could “check out” as many copies of those books at one time as the IA had physical copies of. This is more or less the way digital lending works from your local library: they pay for, say, three copies of a given ebook title, and now three library users can “check out” that book at once.

Well, that’s the “more” part of “more or less”; the “less” part is that the IA was doing that with physical books and technically lending digital copies is not the same thing under copyright law. Even so, publishers mostly looked the other way.


At the start of the Great Pandemic, the IA decided they were now running the “National Emergency Library” and lifted the per-copy limit. If they had ten copies or a book or two or one, it didn’t matter, however many people wanted to check out a copy at once could. And the IA sent out press releases about this. They wanted everybody to know!

I’m not going to argue about the ethics of modern copyright law, but as a legal matter, this is not a gray area, kids. It just isn’t. The Internet Archive was all but sending out notarized letters to publishers saying “we dare you jerky jerks to come after us with everything you’ve got,” and golly gee, they got sued by the Authors’ Guild and several publishers. Who could possibly have predicted that outcome other than, you know, fucking everyone.

You will notice, perhaps, that the IA was not sued by individual authors over this. They were sued by publishers and a writing guild.

Second, Chuck Wendig. Wendig is a science fiction, horror-ish author who runs a popular blog and has a freewheeling, gonzo, over-the-top style—I’d argue more in his non-fiction than his fiction—that, well, you could call polarizing. (I enjoy it, most of the time, but I could see how many might be driven far away at high speed.) He also wrote a couple Star Wars novels, famously introducing the saga’s first major gay character in Star Wars: Aftermath.

And this was not popular with a predictable loud subset of reactionary fans, who carried a hate-on for Wendig that culminated in the trolls getting him fired from Marvel’s “Shadow of Vader” comic book, ostensibly because of his “vulgarity” in expressing what Quartz calls, with delightful understatement, “his unabashedly left-wing political views.”

So if Wendig didn’t sue the IA over the Emergency Library, how did he get involved in all this?

Well, he called it a “pirate site,” which he pretty quickly apologized for, but also wrote a much longer statement on the subject.

The problem with bypassing copyright and disrupting the chain of royalties that lead from books to authors is that it endangers our ability to continue to produce art—and though we are all in the midst of a crisis, most artists are on the razor’s edge in terms of being able to support themselves. Artists get no safety net. We don’t get unemployment and aren’t likely to be able to participate in any worker bailouts. Health insurance alone is a gutpunch cost, not to mention the healthcare costs that insurance wouldn’t even cover. I’m lucky enough (currently, at least), that I can weather a bit of that storm more easily, but most can’t, particularly young authors, debut authors, and marginalized authors who are already fighting for a seat at the table. I’m also not alone in calling this site out—others like Alexander Chee, NK Jemisin, Neil Gaiman, and Seanan McGuire have noted their concerns over this.

I am all for access to information and entertainment, and remind folks that libraries here already allow you to take out e-books, even while their brick-and-mortar locations are closed. I used to work for a library system here in Pennsylvania, and libraries all around the country deserve their time to shine in this crisis, as we realize what vital institutions they are, both intellectually and as a service to the community.

Come on, how could anyone read that and, in anything even approaching good faith, take major offense at it? This is empathetic to authors and libraries. Yes, it’s (gasp) making a claim that copyright does have value, and maybe you don’t see that. But I hope you at least see why a lot of authors feel they should be the ones to make the choice about how their books get distributed. I’m not against giving my own work away for free, but I am against you telling me that you’re going to give my work away for free and I have no choice in the matter.

In fact, I don’t think the people who started this “Wendig sues the IA, film at 11” bullshit did so in good faith. I think many people spreading it are doing it in good faith, but bluntly, I think they’re being used by trolls relying on it being way easier to click “like” or “retweet” than to do fact-checking. (Frankly, I despair at how often I see left-leaning friends gleefully retweeting the most dubious shit that confirms their biases, but that’s a bridge I won’t burn today.)

While this whole nonsense is months old, I’m seeing another new thread floating around today fisking an older book of writing advice from Wendig, inviting us all to mock how weird and bad his writing is and how awful his advice must be and oh yes remember he sued the Internet Archive!, and I’m out of patience nuggets for this one. If that’s your image of Chuck Wendig and what he’s like and what he writes, let me offer a different one, from “Follow the River, No Matter Its Rapids, No Matter Its Turns”:

It’s a lot right now.

I think if we can agree on anything, anything at all between us, it’s that everything is a whole lot. It’s too much. If you’re not screaming into a couch cushion soaked with gin right now, who even are you?

But here’s what I’m thinking.

I’m thinking all of this is a river. It’s a dark, fast river. It crawls serpentine through the earth, through the forests. Sometimes it moves slow, other times it’s all rapids. Sometimes it is eerily serene, and sometimes it’s rough enough to knock your teeth into your knees and draw blood. It’s waterfalls and eddies, it’s deep and it’s cold. Like all rivers, it can soothe you, and it can betray you.

This river, the river we’re in and on now—it’s harder, meaner, a river after a flood, a river whose waters are not sated, who will not abate. It’s mudded up and frothing like the muzzle of a rabid wolf.

You can fight against that river.

We often do, in writing. We often go against our own moods, against the news of the world, against bad reviews and against poisoned thinking. Our work is often an act of anchoring our boots against the soft slick weeds and the water-smoothed stones and move against the current.

Upstream, stories can be born.

Sometimes, though, I think you gotta do the other thing.

Sometimes, you go the other way.

You go with the flow.

You run with the river, not against it.

And what that means, practically speaking, is you let it happen. What you’re feeling, what you’re seeing, sometimes those elements demand to be seen in the work. Sometimes the river is the channel that feeds the narrative sea, and that means you need to put it in there, out there, all over it. You don’t escape. You confront. You ride the turns, you rough out the rapids, you take all your fear and your anger and your confusion and you put it on the page. And not even in a way of trying to write something that’s marketable or sellable—but just trying to speak honestly about who you are, about the world in which we’re living, and about your grappling with all of it. It’s not even about writing a cogent book or a collective piece. It can be about taking the time to punch that keyboard and scream onto the page—if only to clear the water and find time to climb back onto shore to write something else. It can be the thing you’re writing, or it can be a way to get to the thing you’re writing.

I don’t mean to suggest this as good “advice”—it’s certainly no requirement. You have to do what feels best and right—and, further, what feels most productive in the direction you need to be going. I’m only saying that, if it’s that much of a slog, if the slow churning march upriver and against the current feels like you’re fighting too hard and losing to the pressure, turn around and go the other way. Sometimes we want to, even need to, write about what’s going on inside our heads and our hearts. Sometimes we can’t ignore the room on fire. Sometimes we can’t get out of the river or go against it. And in those cases, let the waters take you. Write what needs to be written. Write what the river tells you to write. Follow the water, and see where you go.

You may still hate that writing, but if you do, who even are you?

Panic's Nova text editor (a review)

Panic, the long-established makers of Mac utility software, seems fully aware that introducing a new, commercial code editor in 2020 is a quixotic proposition. Is there enough of an advantage to a native editor over both old school cross-platform editors like Emacs and explosively popular new editors like Visual Studio Code to persuade people to switch?

I’m an unusual case as far as text editor users go: my primary job is technical writing, and the last three jobs that I’ve worked at have a “docs as code” approach, where we write documentation in Markdown and manage it under version control just like source code. The editor that works best for me in tech writing is the venerable BBEdit. When it comes to editing code, though, BBEdit lags behind. My suspicion is that BBEdit’s lack of an integrated package manager has hurt it here. Also, BBEdit’s language modules don’t support extending one another, making it effectively impossible to do full highlighting for a templating language like JSX or Jinja.

When I was a web programmer, I was one of many who moved to TextMate, and used it for everything for a while. When the Godot-like wait for TextMate 2.0 became unbearable, I wandered the text editing wilderness, eventually splitting my loyalties between BBEdit, Sublime Text, and more recently VS Code. At this point, I suspect nothing will pull me away from BBEdit for technical writing, but for programming I’m open to persuasion.

So: meet Nova.

A screenshot of Nova's main window, showing its sidebar and a Ruby file.

I’ve been using Nova off and on in beta for months. I’ve reported some bugs, although I may mention a couple here that I didn’t catch until after 1.0’s release. And, I’m going to compare it to the GUI editors that I’ve been using recently: BBEdit, Sublime Text, and VS Code.

Nova is a pretty editor, as far as such things go, and with files of relatively reasonable size it’s fast. With stupid huge files its performance drops noticeably, though. This isn’t just the ridiculous 109MB, nearly 450,000-line SQL file I threw at it once, it’s also with a merely 2MB, 50,000-line SQL file, and Nova’s offer to turn off syntax highlighting in both files didn’t help it much. This may sound like a silly test, but in my day job I’m occasionally stuck editing an 80,000-line JSON file by hand (don’t ask). This is something BBEdit and VS Code can do without complaint. Panic wrote their own text editing engine for Nova, which is brave, but it needs more tuning for pathological cases like these. They may not come up often, but almost every programmer has one stupid huge file to deal with.

Nova has an integrated terminal and an integrated SSH client, and even an integrated file transfer system based on Panic’s Transmit. In fact, if you have Transmit and use Panic Sync, it knows all of those servers out of the box. Nova has a task workflow system for automating building and running. You can associated servers, tasks, and more with individual projects; Nova’s project settings are considerably more comprehensive than I’ve seen in other editors. You can even set up remote tasks. Nova has a serviceable Git client built in, too. Like VS Code, Nova uses JavaScript for its extension API, and it has built-in Language Server Protocol support—it’s a superbly solid foundation.

Beyond that, some smaller features have become table stakes for modern GUI editors, and Nova handles them with aplomb. “Open Quickly” can jump to any file in the open project, as well as search by symbols or just symbols in currently open files; it has a command palette; you can comprehensively edit keybindings. It has multiple cursor support for those of us who like that, and a “mini map” view for those of you who like that, although know that you are wrong. Nova’s selection features include “Select all in scope” and “Select all between brackets,” a command I often use in BBEdit and miss dearly in Code. (Both Nova and BBEdit select between brackets and braces, although BBEdit also selects between parentheses.) This effectively becomes “Select between tags” in HTML, a nice touch. There are a few other commands like “Select all in function” and “Select all in scope” that I didn’t have any luck in making work at all; a little more documentation would be nice.

That’s worth an aside. Panic has created a “library” of tech note-style articles about Nova sorted by publication date rather than an actual manual, and it’s not always easy to find the information you want in it. I know this is just what a technical writer would say, but I’d dearly like to see a human-organized table of contents starting with the editor basics and moving to advanced topics like version control, server publishing and extension authoring.

The Zen of Language Servers

A lot of Visual Studio Code’s smarts depend on the implementation of a “language server” behind the scenes: language servers offer almost spookily intelligent completion. For instance, take this PHP snippet:

if ($allowed) {
    $response = new Response(405);

If you have the Intelephense PHP language server plugin, Code understands that $response is an instance of Response and, after you type the > above, offers completions of method names from the Response class.

Right now, Nova’s mostly limited to the language servers completion systems Panic provides, and they’re… not always so smart. In that snippet above, Nova starts by offering completions of, apparently, everything in the open project, starting with the variables. If I type “s,” it narrows things down to methods that begin with “s,” but it’s all methods that start with “s” rather than just the methods from Response. The “Jump to Definition” command shows a similar lack of context; if I highlight a method name that’s defined in multiple places, Nova shows me a popup menu and prompts me to choose which one to jump to, rather than introspecting the code to make that decision itself. (Edit: Panic said on Twitter that they’re not using LSP in any of their built-in languages yet!)

But, this is a solvable problem: there’s (I think) no reason someone couldn’t write an Inteliphense plugin for Nova. If Nova’s ecosystem takes off, it could be pretty formidable pretty quickly.

Walk like a Mac

Even so, LSP support isn’t Panic’s biggest selling point. Unlike Sublime Text or VS Code, Nova isn’t cross-platform: it’s a Mac-only program written to core platform APIs. Is that still a huge draw in 2020? (Is it instead a drawback?)

You can definitely see a difference between Nova and BBEdit on one side and Sublime and Code on the other in terms of resource usage. With the two Ruby files shown in the screenshot above loaded, I get:

  • VS Code: 355 MB, 6 processes
  • Sublime Text: 338 MB, 2 processes
  • Nova: 101 MB, 2 processes
  • BBEdit: 97 MB, 1 process

Code is an Electron-based program, although Microsoft famously puts a lot of effort into making it not feel like the black hole a lot of Electron-based apps are. Sublime uses its own proprietary cross-platform framework. In fairness, while us nerds like to harp on resource usage a lot, if your computer’s got 16G or more of RAM in it, this probably isn’t a big deal.

You notice Nova’s essential Mac-ness in other ways. Its preference pane is, like BBEdit’s, an actual preference pane, instead of opening in another tab like Code or just opening a JSON file in a new tab (!) like Sublime. And while all editors better have first-class keyboard support—and Nova does—a good Mac editor should have first-class mouse support, too, and it does. You notice that in the drag-and-drop support for creating new tabs and splits. Nova’s sidebar is also highly customizable, possibly more so than any editor I’ve regularly used. (Yes, Emacs fans, I know you can write all of Nova in Lisp if you want. When one of you does that, please get back to me.)

Unlike BBEdit, though, Nova doesn’t have a Mac-like title bar, or a Mac-like outline view of the project files, or Mac-like tabs. (Well, BBEdit doesn’t have tabs at all, which turns out to be a great UI decision once you have a dozen or more files open, but never mind.) This isn’t necessarily bad; people often say BBEdit “looks old,” and it’s hard not to suspect that what people mean by that—whether or not they know it—is that it looks like the long-established Mac program it is. Nova is relying less on “we have a Mac UI and the other guys don’t” than on “we have Panic’s designers and the other guys don’t.” Make no mistake, having Panic’s designers counts for a lot.

What may be more disappointing to old school Mac nerds is AppleScript support: none whatsoever. It doesn’t even have a vestigial script dictionary. Again, this may not be something most people care much about; personally, I hate having to write AppleScript. But I love being able to write AppleScript. BBEdit’s extensive scriptability is one of its hidden strengths. Nova’s Node-based JavaScript engine is probably more powerful for its own extensions and certainly more accessible to anyone under the age of 50, but it may be hard to call it from external programs.

So is it worth it?

That probably depends on where you’re coming from.

If you loved—or still use—Panic’s older editor, Coda, this is a no-brainer upgrade. If you used Espresso, a Coda-ish editor that always seemed to be on the verge of greatness without ever reaching it, Nova may also be a no-brainer for you.

If you’re a fan of Sublime Text, BBEdit, TextMate, or another editor that doesn’t have native Language Server Protocol support, you should definitely try Nova. Sublime and TextMate have more plugins (especially Sublime), but many extensions seem to be languishing (especially TextMate). BBEdit never had a great extension ecosystem to start with. All of these editors have strengths Nova doesn’t, but the reverse is also true, and Nova may catch up.

If you’re an Emacs or Vim power user, we both know you’re just reading this out of academic interest and you’re not going to switch. C’mon.

If you use Visual Studio Code, though, it’s way tougher to make the case for Nova. Code has a vastly larger extension library. It has the best support for LSP of any editor out there (LSP was developed for Code). Despite being Electron-based, it’s pretty high-performance. Code doesn’t have an integrated SSH or FTP client, but it does have an integrated terminal and task runner and Git client. If you don’t object to using an editor that isn’t a “perfect fit” with the Mac UI, Code is very, very good… and it’s free.

I don’t object to Nova’s pricing model—$99 up front including a year of updates, $49 for future years of updates—but I can’t help but wonder if Panic should have gone with super aggressive introductory pricing. Also, I saw more than a few suggestions on Hacker News about how there should be a Code-to-Nova extension translator; I’m not sure automatic conversion would be practical, but a guide on manual conversion seems like an excellent idea.

For my day job of technical writing, I’m going to stick to BBEdit. (One day I’ll write up an article about why I think it’s the best “documentation as code” editor on the market.) For programming and web editing, when I was working on both a Ruby and a PHP project—the former a Rails learning exercise, the latter an obstinate “I am going to write a modern PHP app without using a framework” exercise—I kept trying Nova’s betas and then switching back to Code for Inteliphense and, I swear to God, MacVim for Tim Pope’s amazing rails.vim plugin. I suspect Nova could duplicate both of those, but I’m not sure I want to be the one to do it. (Also, while Panic has decent reference documentation for writing extensions, I’d like to see a few simple end-to-end walkthroughs for those of us who look at a huge list of reference topics and don’t know where to start.)

But Nova isn’t just pretty, it’s powerful, and has a lot of promise. The editors I’ve been comparing it to have been around since 2015 for VS Code, 2008 for Sublime Text, and 1992 (!) for BBEdit; it’s not reasonable to expect Nova to blow past them in every respect right out of the starting gate. Even so, they are Nova’s competition. Catching up fast is an essential requirement.

So: yes, I’ve bought Nova, and I’m rooting for Panic here. I’ll come back in a year and report if I’m willing to stay on the update train.

Signs of the old Apple

For a long time, there’s been two competing narratives about Apple’s pricing:

  1. They’re “premium”: sure, they’re expensive, and yes, you pay for the brand name. But when you compare them with products of equal quality, counting not just feature specs but design, materials, and build quality—so an iPhone with a Galaxy S, a MacBook with a Dell XPS—they’re rarely unreasonably higher, and the user experience of macOS and iOS is arguably1 worth it.

  2. They’re “luxury”: there’s nothing about a Mac, an iPhone, or an iPad that truly makes it better than its competition; the only reason anyone buys Apple products is for the supposed status of owning them and showing them off.

For most of my Apple-using life, I’ve unsurprisingly been in the first camp. But for the past, oh, let’s call it five years, Apple has been making this…difficult.

  • Phone prices have climbed faster than their sizes, especially at the high end;
  • Their vaunted hardware engineering and design teams have become tethered to form over function, leading most infamously to the “butterfly” keyboard that prioritized thinness at the expense of not only typing feel but reliability;2
  • Laptop prices have also climbed fast, possibly because prioritizing form over function turns out to be expensive;
  • While iOS 7 made significant UX changes, those changes sometimes came at the expense of clarity (e.g., little to no visual cues as to where tap targets are), and later development seems fairly stagnant, other than a few changes for the iPad;3
  • While Apple has always had a “we know what’s best for our users” attitude and has never been super chatty about their decisions, they’ve just made themselves look arrogant and unresponsive a few times, most infamously over battery management.4

But the two products announced this week show off two old-school Apple moves we haven’t seen in, well, a while.

First, the new MacBook Air. They’re bringing the Magic Keyboard to it, as we all assumed (hoped?) they would, fixing the biggest problem with their laptops of the last few years. They’ve upped the starting SSD from 128G to a more respectable 256G, and upgraded to a modern Intel processor that can turboboost up to twice as fast as last year’s Air—and that’s just the base processor: you can get up to a quad-core i7.

And they lowered the price.

For the last few years Apple’s been far more likely (especially with Macs but arguably with the iPhone, too) to improve a product some ways while making it worse in others and raising the price, playing right into that “luxury” narrative. But this wasn’t always Apple’s modus operandi. For many years, their classic move was upgrading a product while keeping the same price point: you still paid $1499, but now the CPU was faster, you had more RAM, you had a bigger hard drive, and so on. But the new Air is back down to the semi-magic $999 point (and Apple loudly trumpets that it’s $899 with the education discount). To be fair, we’ve been seeing more of this from Apple in the last couple of years—there was a modest price drop moving from the iPhone 8 to the XR, and while high-end iPads climb to nosebleed pricing territory, the low-end model has gained power while dropping in price—but there was a multiyear stretch when “get more for the same money” became “get mildly aggrieved for another couple hundred.”

Second, the new iPad Pro—but especially the new iPad Magic Keyboard, which has a trackpad, a USB pass-through port, an amazing cantilever design like no other tablet keyboard case I’ve ever seen, and a wheeze-inducing price point of $299–349 depending on size. This is also a classic Apple move: the damn thing is so expensive you can’t help but think of it as overpriced, but there’s literally no competition for it. You are not going to be able to get a keyboard case that nice from anyone else. (Amazon will fill up with knockoff versions for $99 or less, and they will all be pretty bad by comparison, because that’s the way of things.)

Personally, I’ve grown frustrated with the iPad’s software limitations at both the OS and app level. I wrote about that in “The iPad needs more focus on the little things” last August, which concluded with,

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up my iPad. Who knows what iPadOS 14 will bring? But in the meantime, I confess I’m watching what happens with the next MacBook Air revision pretty closely.

Well, that update is here, and frankly, they knocked it out of the park. It’s pretty much everything I was waiting for.

And yet, if the iPad Magic Keyboard lives up to its promise, it’s the keyboard case for the iPad that I’ve always wanted. I still do love the iPad, and the Magic Keyboard might make it the best portable computing device for me ever—in terms of hardware. Unfortunately, hardware won’t fix the frustrations I have with the platform. So now, I suppose I’m watching what happens with the next major iPadOS revision pretty closely.

For the time being, though? The portable computer for me—and, I think, for anyone who wants the best laptop—sure seems like it’s the new Air.

  1. I’m using the term literally here: many of the Linux-using folks that I know don’t like the macOS user experience at all, and long-time Windows users often find the small differences frustrating, just like I do when trying to use Windows (or a Linux desktop environment). [return]
  2. Other things I’d put in that camp are the Touch Bar, a clever idea that, five years on, remains a solution in search of a problem; the change to make the bottom row of the keyboard the same size as the other rows and the left and right arrow keys full-height, just so everything is perfectly symmetrical; the spartan set of ports on modern Mac laptops, even the biggest ones that could surely spare space for a micro SD card slot; the now discontinued 12″ MacBook. [return]
  3. I know that undersells some of the changes for the iPad, and I’m not throwing in with the “iPad multitasking is a fiasco that ruined everything” camp. The biggest problem isn’t features being unintuitive—as many people point out, little about any modern GUI is intuitive, strictly speaking—but being undiscoverable. For a quick example, you can display folder contents in both macOS Finder and iOS Files by icon, list view, or column view. Finder controls those through little buttons; you can find that feature for yourself. In Files, though, you swipe down to reveal the iOS equivalents, and there is no visual indicator or other affordance that suggests swiping down is a meaningful action. There are more of these hidden gestures in iPadOS with each major release, and even the ones I know about get frustrating. (Swipe up from the bottom edge to pull up the dock or go back to the home screen or pull up the multitasking space navigator? This is bad UX design, okay? It’s bad.) [return]
  4. The narrative to this day is still “Apple secretly slowed down your old phone to get you to buy a new one.” That’s wrong on multiple levels, but the secretly part isn’t. If Apple had treated battery management like a public-facing feature from the start, they’d have saved themselves a massive PR fiasco and multiple lawsuits. [return]

Notes from the Road

For a while about a decade ago, I was doing tech blogging; I never rose to “A-list blogger” level, but I probably hit B-list for a couple years, based on who was linking to me and the “yeah, I think I’ve heard of Coyote Tracks” comments from bigger names. I used to joke that while you weren’t reading me, people you were reading were reading me. I never figured out how to monetize those eyeballs, as they say, I suspect because I worried I wasn’t big enough to go after any real ad networks. The blog did lead to my tech writing job at RethinkDB and a middle-age shift into that career path, though, so in a way it paid off handsomely.

But I’d been “blogging” since 1998, even though nobody had that term back then. My first try was for some kind of online column, as I recall, just personal essays; I doubt anyone read it, and I didn’t keep up with it. For a decade or so after that, though, I kept a journal called Coyote Cartography, the name I resurrected for this blog.

That started up while I still lived in Florida, where I’d taken to driving long distances for no reason other than to do it. I used to joke about practicing “driving zen” instead of walking zen, but it wasn’t entirely a joke. I did a lot of thinking when I drove, and once I got out of traffic and found myself on relatively rural roads, it brought a measure of peace.

I kept doing that occasionally after I moved to California, at least for a while. Occasionally, I’d write up wherever I’d ended up and post it in the journal with the title “Notes from the Road.”

Geography makes it harder than I’d expected to drive out of the San Francisco Bay area and get somewhere new and interesting than it is to drive out of the Tampa Bay area and get somewhere new and interesting. Also, I’m old enough now that driving ten hours for no particular reason can be more tiring than relaxing. Over the last few years, it’s been rare for me to go much farther than Sacramento, even as I’ve had the resources to take “staycations” as a way of recharging. (Those staycations tend to be in the Sacramento area, as I’ve come to love it despite its brutal dry heat summers—and also, I confess, because the hotels there are so much cheaper than anywhere near San Francisco.)

But a couple weeks ago, I’d started to feel unaccountably melancholy and maudlin, a kind of free-floating mild depression I’d become familiar with off and on. In the past, I’ve self-medicated with St. Johns Wort, which I suspect may be as much placebo as anything else; while I’ve grown to like beer, wine and spirits more now than I did when I lived in Florida two decades ago, that’s a dangerous road to go down. So I decided to take to the literal road, heading back to Big Sur for the first time in years. Last weekend, I ended up in Modesto after a slightly too late start, so I didn’t see much of Modesto. (I don’t know if there’s anything to see there, but sometimes overlooked towns can surprise you.)

And, as I type this, I’m in Ukiah, at Black Oak Coffee Roasters.

Ukiah is the largest city in Mendocino County, which is still only about 17,000 people. Like a lot of Mendocino, there’s a mix of old school agriculture and hipster counterculture around the town. This is a coffee shop you’re going to go into and find great local-roasted coffee and people working on laptops; it’s not going to be abuzz with conversations about social media startups. It feels kinda Bay Area in a good way, but also feels fully of its place.

San Francisco insists it’s “northern California,” but a glance at the map tells you it’s clearly in the middle. This is northern California, and it’s a noticably different pace. You start feeling it at the northern edge of the Bay Area, in Sebastopol and Santa Rosa and Healdsburg, although those are still close enough to San Francisco to make everything just a little more fraught in both good and bad ways. Going north of Healdsburg requires effort. It rewards you, as long as you like the kind of place Ukiah is. I do, which I’d almost forgotten. It all came back instantly when I turned down its main street. (There is a Main Street, but the real main street is State Street, one block over.) It’s the sort of town I’d love to live in, if only I could install a teleporter. For one, my job isn’t keen on full-time remote employees. For another, as solitary as I can be, I’m not antisocial—I’m bad at being social, but that’s not the same thing. I wouldn’t want literally all of my friends to be a day trip away.

The last time I was in Ukiah, at least a decade ago, I was at this coffee shop, too. But back then it was called the Coffee Critic. Apparently they went under back in 2010 or 2011, and two locals—one of whom had been a head roaster for both Ritual Coffee and Counter Culture Coffee, two pretty big names in the snooty coffee world—bought the shop. They’re doing light roasts in that “third wave” style, but also doing dark roasts, blends, crazy flavors for lattes and mochas, all to fit in to the local market.

Frankly, this is too far from home to be out this far on a Sunday at a quarter to five; it’s a three-hour haul back. But because of that time, now that I’m here I’m going to find some place for dinner. Ideally I’ll have enough time to walk around, too, and won’t get back deathly late.

I’d planned to get out and do some writing today; I don’t know if that’s going to happen. Other than, of course, this. But maybe that’s okay.

The iPad needs more focus on the little things

I’ve been using an iPad Pro instead of a laptop for going on two years now, and have definitely spent more time on it than I have on my personal Mac during that time. Name a major writing app on the iPad and I’ve almost certainly not just tried it but given it a serious spin. We’re talking an 80,000-word novel in Scrivener; short stories, multi-part novellas and blog posts in Ulysses; a screenplay in Slugline; random bits and bobs in Drafts. I’ve made cover art on the iPad. I’ve created shortcuts for arcane conversion and batch processing. I am not an iOS guru, but I don’t think I’m overselling myself if I say I’m a power user. One could argue that the iPad has become my main computer, too. (Maybe “had”? I’ll come back to that.)

It’s always been hard to explain why the Mac works “better” in some subjective way than a Windows PC. It’s not one huge thing; it’s the sum of small, seemingly inconsequential things that add up to a nicer experience. The iPad often feels that way compared to the Mac (or PC), because so many big ticket items—document management, windowing, security—have been radically rethought for the better in iOS.

The problem is the little ticket items, if you will. To get into that, I need to talk about writing on the iPad.

It’s become received wisdom among a certain set that the iPad is great for long-form writing. Here’s tech pundit turned novelist Matt Gemmell back in 2016 talking about using iOS Scrivener for writing novels (he later switched to Ulysses). MacStories’ editor Federico Viticci, who calls his iPad his “main computer,” literally wrote a book called Writing on the iPad. Podcaster and writer/blogger Jason Snell has blogged about his setup, which he’s been using in some form or another since 2014.

The problem—for me, but I would argue I am not a unique, special snowflake among writers—isn’t the writing, it’s the editing.

Editing is what you do after the first draft. Rewrite paragraphs. Move text around. Run a spell check. Change words across the entire document, or even multiple documents. Look at the first part and the last part of the story (or article or whatever) together to make sure you’re staying consistent and not contradicting yourself.

And the iPad is just not good at that stuff.

Let me show you. On the Mac, the arrow keys behave the same way in every editing app, and the modifier keys (nearly) always behave the same way, too. On the iPad, though, it’s not merely that behavior isn’t consistent app to app—it’s that most editors get at least one basic operation just bonkers wrong. Tap the up arrow repeatedly, and at some point the cursor jumps to the start of the line. Option-up jumps to the start of a paragraph and stops rather than continuing to move up. Option-down moves with weird hitches. On the Mac, Shift with any movement operation performs the same operation but selects the text; on the iPad, that’s usually true, but not a given. I’ve seen at least one app that doesn’t let you use up and down arrows when holding down Shift, and several that don’t handle Shift with another modifier key, like Option or Command.

What in blue blazes is going on? Mac apps are built on the crufty and old AppKit framework, while iOS apps are built on the shiny and new UIKit. And that’s the problem. UIKit’s shiny and new text components suck lemon-flavored poop balls. AppKit may be uglier, but it’s simply more powerful. iPad developers are on their own to implement things Mac developers get for free, and, the results are…not great.

Okay, the arrow keys are quirky. But come on, you can live with that. But what about running spell check?

I don’t mean “check as you type.” I want to turn off the red squiggly lines when writing first drafts, and check the document for spelling errors after writing. For each possible misspelling, I can skip that one instance, ignore the word for the rest of that review, or add the word to the dictionary. I can turn on grammar checking, which isn’t great but catches duplicate words, and once in a blue moon catches an actual grammar mistake.

But on the iPad, it’s “check as you type” or nothing—and literally only check as you type. If you open a document full of Lorem ipsum, it will be blissfully, stupidly squiggle-free. There’s no way to ignore words or add words to the dictionary. (The Mac lets you do that even in check-as-you-type mode by right-clicking a word.) What if I’m writing an article of a few thousand words full of technical terms? How about my 110,000-word science fiction novel Kismet, with invented city names and in-world jargon like “totemic” and “cisform?”

Some of my complaints have fixes in iOS 13. Touch (but not keyboard) text selection is getting overhauled; apps can run in multiple windows once compiled against the iOS 13 SDK, which should address both “see two places in the same document at once” and “let me have a notes document and the main document open in the same app at once.” But the final editing that I’m going to go through with this blog post—a spell check and a pass through Marked with its keyword highlighting turned on—that needs a Mac. You use Marked by having the same file open in both it and your editor simultaneously; I’m not sure that’s even possible in iOS.

Look, I love that the iPad is rethinking so many big things about the computing experience. And I get the pushback about how the iPad is not a “laptop replacement” in the sense of letting you do what you did on your laptop the same way you’ve always done it. What I’m talking about here are little ways in which the iPad is not different than the Mac, but objectively worse.

And here’s the thing: despite the common wisdom that iOS is wired and macOS is tired, I’m using iA Writer right now on the Mac and it’s just as good as it is on the iPad—and I can do all those Mac-only things like use Marked with it. What are the iPad-only things I can do with it that don’t have Mac equivalents? There’s no share sheet, but there’s an export command—and to open it simultaneously in Marked, I just dragged the document icon in the title bar to the Marked icon. The iOS counterpart would be “tap the share icon, tap ‘Share…’, tap ‘Marked’ if it existed.” I don’t have Shortcuts, but I have the Services menu and Automator. And AppleScript. And Keyboard Maestro. The Mac turns out to be pretty good at this application interoperability thing, huh.

“Yeah, but the iPad is young, and you need to cut it some slack.” For how long? The iPad is nearly a decade old, and iOS is even older. I’m not asking why we can’t still can’t sideload even signed and notarized apps, or install non-toy development environments, or even just make Chrome our default browser. All those things are good questions, questions that, if the iPad is truly the future of computing, Apple needs to deal with. But I’m just asking why I can’t add a word to the system dictionary. I’m asking why, when I connect a Bluetooth keyboard, I can’t expect consistent behavior from the fucking arrow keys.

It’s nice that Apple focuses on big moments of wonder and delight on iOS—but in truth, the Mac can still be pretty wonderful and delightful, too. I’m happy I let myself be surprised at how nice using an iPad as a main computing device can be. But I suspect some of the more partisan iPad users would be surprised at how nice using a Mac is if they let themselves. I love how those big-picture Computing Experiences are being rethought on the iPad, but it’s past time for iOS to go after the prosaic bits and bobs that the Mac had nailed before the turn of the century.

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not giving up my iPad. Who knows what iPadOS 14 will bring? But in the meantime, I confess I’m watching what happens with the next MacBook Air revision pretty closely.

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.