Just Show Up

Something I’ve struggled with lately is a conflict between the desire to write more, but not knowing exactly what to write about. This in turn creates more and more pressure to come up with good topics to write about, which then amps up the pressure on any given post. Round and round we go.

The way I’ve stared to solve this, both in my Day One writing as well as here, is to treat it much like I do exercise. It doesn’t have to be perfect, but having a routine and ensuring you keep “showing up” is just as important as the actual writing. Sometimes the posts are short, and like this one, not very good. But like any exercise, building up the muscle is crucial for the those moments where you want to push yourself.

So here I am, showing up to write. See you again soon.

The Taylor Swiftification of The National

From Spencer Kornhaber at The Atlantic:

The National and Taylor Swift have become one of the unlikeliest and most productive synergies in contemporary music—the cross-pollination of a gloomy indie-rock fraternity and proudly sentimental, stadium-charming pop.

This relationship has been fascinating over the past few years. Swift and The National (and Big Red Machine) have all been cross-pollinating and I think it’s made all parties better as a result.

Arc Will Change the Way You Work on the Web

From Adam Engst at Tidbits:

Why does Arc deserve this spot? Arc’s designers have taken the Chromium engine and created a Mac-native app that improves on the standard Web browser interface in four conceptual areas: context, persistence, visibility, and refinement. Each plays a vital role in why I describe Arc as transformative. In the sections below, I’ll explain how its unique features—or at least unique combinations of features—make it stand out.

Adam covers a ton of ground here, and provides a solid overview of what makes Arc a really compelling browser. I’ve been using it on and off for about 6 months now and it’s the first non-Safari browser I really like.

Arc tries to be your hub for the web and it does quite a good job of being a beautiful app that happens to also be great tool for power users. It’s rare to see something so customizable have the level of detail and whimsy that Arc brings to the table. Power users expect to have multiple profiles, keyboard shortcuts and tools for screencaps, notes and more. The command palette is super powerful, so you really can accomplish nearly everything with a few keystrokes. What you often don’t get when you try something with those features is the polish, beauty and attention to detail that you seem in Arc.

Still, I’d say that Arc is trying to do a bit too much – Easels and Notes are cool but not something I even remember exist most of the time. In addition, the power user features add a bit of cognitive load to doing basics. In an effort to make the most of the tab Spaces feature, I’m constantly making sure pages I’m viewing are in the correct location instead of just using the browser. There are also some small UI glitches, but for a beta, it’s quite impressive.

I likely need a little more time to figure out how to make things work perfectly for me, but the fact that it’s been about 6 months and I still feel that way says that it’s too complex in some ways.

If you’re on the lookout for an invite, ping me on Mastodon and I’ll get you set up.

Electricity generated from renewables surpasses coal for first time in US

From AP News:

Electricity generated from renewables surpassed coal in the United States for the first time in 2022, the U.S. Energy Information Administration announced Monday.

Renewables also surpassed nuclear generation in 2022 after first doing so last year.

Growth in wind and solar significantly drove the increase in renewable energy and contributed 14% of the electricity produced domestically in 2022.

A huge milestone, but a long ways to go. The part that stuck out to me the most was the economic argument:

Over the past decade, the levelized cost of wind energy declined by 70 percent, while the levelized cost of solar power has declined by an even more impressive 90 percent.

That’s a remarkable drop in just 10 years. As it becomes more affordable than coal, we should see even wider adoption.

ActivityPub for WordPress Joins the Automattic Family

From WordPress.com:

We’re excited to announce that Automattic, the parent company of WordPress.com, has acquired the popular WordPress plugin ActivityPub.

This innovative plugin brings a whole new level of social networking to your website by integrating it with the wider federated social web. When installed, the plugin allows you to easily share your content and interact with users on Mastodon and other platforms that also support the ActivityPub protocol.

Just as Automattic aims to do with all of our products, this plugin helps to decentralize the web, break down silos, and foster a more connected online ecosystem.

This is a great start and I love the idea of allowing you to not only publish easily to ActivityPub networks like Mastodon, but also allow comments to your posts to show on your site. I hope that eventually we could see more bidirectional sync. I had mentioned this a while back on Mastodon, and would love this plugin to eventually evolve into a space where I could do the following:

  1. All blog posts are pushed to Mastodon
  2. Comments on the post are brought into my site
  3. Non-reply posts made on Mastdon are brought in as a WordPress ‘Post Type’

Fingers crossed we see continued innovation in this space.

Maybe Zoom Parties Weren’t So Bad

From Clive Thompson:

But during COVID, while my socializing was purely online, it was broader. I spent time hanging out with far-flung peers, like my friends in Canada who I don’t see nearly often enough. Or, after my mother passed away in the summer of 2020, her side of the family held a 2021 memorial online, and it was amazing to see all my oodles of cousins, many of whom I haven’t been in the same room with for years and years.

I can relate to this. My social network was briefly much broader and had more frequent interactions than it does now that things are back to normal. Almost nightly I’d play games online with friends, hop on zoom parties to watch movies we’ve seen a hundred times, or simply happy hours.

If I’m being honest, the part I don’t miss is the work-mandated ones. I feel like tons of leaders did the bare minimum to set up something “fun” to check the box and it was nothing more than a distraction.

Stark’s Simple Browser Extension Will Check For Accessibility

From Elissaveta M. Brandon at Fast Company:

For now, the browser extension focuses on physical disabilities, but the team is also working on a prototype that takes into consideration people with cognitive disabilities, including dyslexia. The ultimate goal is for all of the web to be accessible, so that anybody can navigate a website, regardless of their physical or cognitive ability. “There’s no such thing as 100% accessibility,” says Noone. “But there is such a thing as continual integration of accessibility, and that’s what we aim for.”

One of the biggest challenges for folks who care about accessibility but aren’t deep into best practices is a lack of easy-to-use tools to help make small but meaningful improvements. This seems like a great step in the right direction.

I’m happy to see their extension and tools available for a ton of platform and browsers as well. Oddly, the entire article doesn’t actually link to the extension. Here it is.

Rendering Engine Diversity on iOS

Last week, some interesting news broke about Google and Mozilla prepping versions of their iOS browsers to use their own rendering engines rather than simply being a wrapper around Webkit, Apple’s rendering engine. If you aren’t familiar, iOS has rules that prevent browser makers like Google and Mozilla from embedding the engine that handles layout and features in their browsers. Instead, they have to use the one that Apple provides, which is called Webkit and is the engine that powers Safari. This means that the only real reason to use Chrome over Safari is the UI or features like bookmark and password sync, but other web technology differences are non-existent.

This has gotten Apple into hot water in recent years, as the overwhelming popularity of the iPad and iPhone gives Apple the power to dictate a ton about how the “mobile web” looks and acts. One imagines this possible change on Apple’s part is due to anticipated antitrust rulings & legislation against Apple mounting. Given that, it might behoove Apple to get ahead of the issue and simply relax restrictions, but either way it would appear the dam might be breaking soon.

According to Statcounter, Chrome commands about 65% of the browser market share on the desktop and mobile. One arguing in favor of allowing other rendering engines would say that there likely won’t be much of a difference in adoption numbers if Blink and Gecko are allowed to run natively on iOS, but there’s a lot to unpack about the pros and cons of such a move.

What are some of the pros of rendering engine diversity?

If Apple does this (regardless of why they do it), there are definite advantages to having more competition on iOS.

It’s likely that allowing other rendering engines onto iOS would increase competition in the market and lead to better quality and more innovative solutions. Apple has done a better job in the past few years – the Interop initiative has borne a lot of fruit for all of the major browser makers, and I’m hopeful that continues. Still, knowing Chrome or Firefox could add more pressure for Apple to up their game across the board would lead to a lot of innovation on the platform. Webkit is actually a good rendering engine in most ways but it falls short when it comes to some of the features Progressive Web Apps need. This pressure would likely force WebKit to adopt those features as well.

Users would have a greater choice of rendering engines and be able to choose one that best suits their needs. Folks could choose to use Chrome, Firefox, Arc (seriously, check out Arc) or something else if the features make more sense for them, and competitors could compete on more than just adding a few features on top of the rendering engine they are handed. In addition, this choice could lead to extensions finally making their way to non-Safari browsers on mobile. Having native 1Password integration on mobile is a game-changer and I wouldn’t entertain switching on mobile until things like that and a solid ad-blocker are available on other browsers.

This is likely wishful thinking based on what I see on the Mac (Safari runs circles around Chrome and Firefox when it coems to battery life and performance), but rendering engines may offer better performance and more efficient use of system resources than the Webkit engine, resulting in a smoother user experience. Different rendering engines may have better compatibility with different types of websites and web applications, improving the overall browsing experience. In general, many sites work best on Chrome and having fallback options when something isn’t working in Safari would be a fantastic experience for users on iPhones and iPads.

If done right, there’s a great chance we could see tons of innovation in the mobile browser space. In my opinion, Safari on iOS is a really solid browser but Apple’s incentives to prioritize some web standards (cough, PWAs, cough) might not align with their business interests (App Store and their 30% cut). Having true competition will mean that Apple will be forced to focus on the entire spectrum so that developers don’t go “Chrome only”, thus sidelining Safari on mobile platforms completely.

Are there any cons?

There are definitely cons, but the biggest one is the potential decline of WebKit as a first-class citizen. Organizations often can’t or won’t be bothered to have a testing strategy around multiple browsers, but instead choose to support the dominant browser (Chrome). Once a certain marketshare threshold gets crossed, developers and businesses will treat Gecko and Webkit like second class citizens. I don’t agree with the strategy, but locking users into Webkit/Safari on iOS & iPadOS does ensure a floor of market percentage that can’t be taken away. I do believe that a variety of standards-comptabile rendering engines should exist to keep each other in check, but creating an artificial monolopy isn’t the way to accomplish that. There are a few other risks:

Allowing other rendering engines onto iOS could potentially introduce new security vulnerabilities and make the platform less secure. Different rendering engines may have different standards for rendering web content, which could lead to compatibility issues and broken websites for users. Even if Apple does open up, I’d imagine we’ll see entitlements introduced to only allow some companies to ship their own browsers.

Also, the introduction of different rendering engines could lead to fragmentation of the platform and make it more difficult for developers to create consistent experiences across different devices. There’s also the risk that allowing other rendering engines onto iOS could decrease the control that Apple has over the platform and potentially result in a less consistent and user-friendly experience.

The biggest risk for Apple is WebKit’s decline, but that assumes they do nothing to compete. If they open things up and also invest in their platform, I’m confident engineers will continue to build toward standards and Safari/WebKit will be fine.

What do I hope happens

As a Safari user, I really hope to see increaesd competition as it should make Apple’s browser better but also gives power users an off-ramp if they need more functionality. Yes, there is a risk to opening up to allow other engines but I personally think it’s worth it. The gravity of a default experience will still draw the vast majority of iOS users to Safari and as a result force most companies to still support WebKit. The increased competition, however, should be a good thing for all consumers.

There’s a great series on browser choice on iOS that’s worth a read. I commented on this a few years ago and I still believe the same thing. Alex Russel can be correct but also have a perspective that’s very Google-centric as well. The truth is likely somewhere in the middle.

To Safari’s credit, Webkit has been getting a ton of investment in the past 12-18 months. I admire the Safari and Firefox teams’ focus on privacy and want them to remain as a counterweight to Google and their desire to use “standards” as an argument to push their own vision for the web on all of us. Funny how it typically involves us spending more time using the web and giving up our data in the process.

This year’s WWDC will be very interesting, as I’d imagine if we’re going to hear about changes to Apple’s browser policies, that’ll be the time they’ll roll out.

The Electric Vehicle Boom Is Bad News For Tesla

From Jesus Diaz, Fast Company:

After a decade of being the only game in town, Tesla is entering a new era of the EV wars, which started in earnest in 2022 but will only intensify in 2023. Tesla still dominates the EV market in the U.S. today, but its lead has consistently dropped—and is expected to quickly dwindle—as legacy automakers roll out their own electric models.

Tesla’s rise to fame has been nothing short of impressive, but in a competitive market like the automotive industry their regression to the mean was inevitable. As a Tesla Model 3 LR owner, I can say that while I am happy with my car, I wouldn’t buy a Tesla for my next vehicle.

The early decision to start from the top and working your way down the price ladder was something that set them apart and helped drive the “cool” factor despite the car not being premium in ways folks paying $60–100k for a car would normally expect. They used the early dominance to build a charging network that is still unrivaled, and the battery life for their long range models is still better than most of the competition. The ongoing software update model aligned with consumer expectations in the iPhone era and was fairly unique in the indsutry. Combine that with Musk’s larger that life personality (and expectations about self driving that he’s been promising since 2014), the company earned a lot of fans (myself included!) for accelerating the move away from ICE vehicles by making something cool, approachable and futuristic. But the cracks that have always existed are much more apparent now that the rest of the indsutry is getting into the game.

Teslas are notorious for questionable build quality, which is not at the level of other $50–70k cars that I’ve driven. Personally, I haven’t had many issues on my end but I’ve experienced a few unsatisfying noises from time to time, the feel of closing doors and windows isn’t satisfying, and I wish the road noise was a bit quieter. Additionally, the company’s insistence on cramming everything into one touchscreen is a weak point, and their insistence on building every single app for their touchscreen in-house means they’re always playing catch up when it comes to other infotainment systems. Tesla’s refusal to integrate with Carplay and Android Auto, likely due to their view of those platforms as competitors, is super frustrating. And then, there’s the elephant in the room – Elon Musk. While his outspoken nature and leadership of Tesla and SpaceX was once seen as a competitive advantage, it has now become a distraction.

While Tesla’s Full Self Driving (FSD) technology has been highly anticipated for a decade now, I don’t believe anyone will be able to deliver on it within the next 15–20 years. FSD is at level 2 or 3 out of 5 right now, and haven’t made a ton of progress. The standard “Autopilot” feature, which is basically variable cruise control and lane assistance, is quite good for level 1. Highway driving on long road trips is way better with this tech. But the rest of it? Way too many edge cases for me to be interested in trying out. Like most software, that last 20% is hard to iron out, but in this case we’re dealing with 500k beta testers playing with human life. No thanks.

To keep a market share close to what they have now, Tesla needs to scale up, fix the quality issues they have and convince nearly every current Tesla owner to buy a second vehicle when they’re ready to buy. They also can’t rely on consumers paying premium prices for EVs forever. Delivering on a true mass-market EV in the $30k range will help them maintain a lead. Oh, and crack Level 4–5 autonomy to differentiate themselves from the rest of the market. Hard to see that happening with all of the great options coming out from established automakers.

It’s far easier for traditional automakers to figure out how to transition their fleet from ICE to EV than it is for Tesla to become a big automaker and solve for all of the small but significant headwinds they’re facing. That doesn’t mean Tesla is going out of business or doomed to fail. What it does mean is that capitalizing on the first mover advantage in an industry without strong network effects is hard to do for long. I don’t think many automakers could have maintained Tesla’s lead for long, but it seems like Musk and Tesla are squandering it even more quickly.

Bonus reading: https://www.wired.com/story/teslas-problems-elon-musk-twitter/

Twitter and 3rd Party Apps

From Mitchell Clark, the Verge:

Elon Musk just decided to throw all of that away. Twitter has abruptly cut itself off from that stream of ideas — the stream that produced its apps, some of its most popular features, and much of its core identity. Even if he backtracks, why would developers spend their best ideas on a company that’s burned them so badly?

Twitter was always unique in that they are one of the only social media platforms to allow 3rd-party clients to essentially re-create the entire platform’s experience. Looking back at how much those early apps made the experience what it is today is really worth celebrating, even if we knew it wouldn’t last forever. Given the fact that they never were able to push ads into those timelines, it’s no wonder that eventually they would shut Twitterrific, Tweetbot and others down.