I often find the “Less Wrong” style more wearisome than enlightening, but it’s hard to explain why. Perhaps I should compose a 27,000-word blog post divided into nine subsections, each one a treatise on a different yet empirically related “Well, actually—”

In 2019, my iPad Pro had completely supplanted my MacBook, and I spent more time on it then my iMac. In 2021, I’m evenly split between that iMac and an M1 MacBook Air and I have to remember to pick up the iPad to apply updates. This is not at all what I would have predicted.

I’m not sure whether it’s worse if this is a fake dialog box, or if it’s real.

I tried NextDNS for a bit, but its default blocklist is so aggressive I think I’m backing off for a while. (Today is “give up on seemingly good tech ideas that end up being more hassle than they’re worth day,” apparently.)

Okay, giving up on getting Time Machine to work automatically over my local wireless network. It will just be the when-I-remember-to-back-up backup disk instead.

Now that we’re barely a month away from WWDC, it seems like a good time to upgrade my desktop to Big Sur. (I’ll admit it: while I definitely have nits to pick, I mostly like the look.)

Update: day after the second vaccine and I feel fine. Apparently donuts work.

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.

I have perhaps optimistically booked my first “staycation” in over a year, in about three weeks’ time, although I have made it refundable just in case.

And got the second vaccine dose. So far no ill effects but the day is young! 💉

“Musk suffers from the common frailty of those who are smart and successful in one field and think they can easily master all other fields.” jeetheer.substack.com/p/embarra…

Jimboy’s Tacos—a chain based out of Sacramento that makes what research will tell you is Kansas City-style tacos (crispy shells dusted with parmesan)—is really good, and also makes one ponder “authenticity” in cuisine a bit.

Increasingly convinced that while the AT&T-owned HBO is trying turn itself into the new Netflix, Apple is trying to turn Apple TV+ into the new HBO. And might just do it.

Apple Disk Utility is a pile of garbage soaked in oil, lit on fire, and set adrift on a toxic river.

Disk Utility’s “First Aid” has been running on my Time Machine volume—a 500GB external USB3 SSD—since yesterday evening. This seems…maybe a little excessively slow.

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]

Tried the Magic Keyboard on my desktop because my Matias Mini Tactile Pro is SUPER LOUD. And even though I like these switches, flat keyboards are just weird to me on desktops now! Back to the MX Clear keyboard, which is…quiet by mechanical keyboard standards.

Tim Cook: We’re long overdue for refreshing the iMac design. Anyone have any ideas? Craig Federighi: IPAD ON A STICK Tim Cook: Ship it.

While I very rarely use TeX these days, I’ve been using a Markdown processor that follows TeX’s “2 hyphens → en dash, 3 hyphens → em dash” convention, and I realized I’ve internalized “—” instead of “–” as the way to type an em dash now.

I just had a good App Clip experience in the wild! A restaurant check had a QR code that brought up an Apple Pay applet with the total and a tip option.

I’ve settled on Ulysses as my main prose writing program now, despite my reservations about its not-quite-Markdown. I’ve installed the Duo font from iA Writer, though, and use my own theme. (It’s called “Nota Bene,” and it’s in the official Ulysses theme gallery.)

How you know someone is a technical writer: they not only read the manual first, they judge it

Even in 2021, any new server-side web app with even a vain hope of being installed by people who are tech savvy but not modern web nerds should probably still be written in PHP. True or false?

Occasionally I buy a new domain name on the theory that it will spur me to actually create the associated dream project. One day this may actually work!