The Self-Driving Car That Will Never Arrive

An excellent, level-headed article over on The Outline about the future of self-driving cars:

It’s easy to forget how quickly we can overextend technology, which is so good at solving some of our problems, into a good way of solving all of our problems. But eventually the self-driving wheel turns and we realize we don’t have as much command to reduce the whole complex world to a set of yes or no answers, let alone predictions, and our grossest capitalistic dreams are thwarted yet again, but not without a cost.

While the California and desert-based tech industry focuses relentlessly on self-driving technology, I’ve always thought about what a joke it is for other climates. So many of the demonstrations have been in ideal conditions: sunny, well-maintained roads, generally good driving. Here in Winnipeg, the weather can be terrible at times and the roads are atrocious. Half of them barely even have lines and 6 months of the year is spent dealing with slush, snow, and ice.

Given the challenges this technology has in not killing people in even ideal conditions, it’s clear that it’s going to be a long, long time before it’s ready for anything resembling reality.

Into the Breach

A recent article on Gamasutra about the upcoming game Into the Breach makes it sound like it has some interesting tricks up its sleeve:

The inspiration came from various superhero movies and other media where a whole city could be destroyed during the battle and no one seemed to care. We wanted a game where you had to care about the collateral damage. When you have varied goals and priorities rather than just “kill the enemies”, you get interesting choices. Sometimes it may be more be worthwhile to let the buildings be destroyed while other times you may choose to sacrifice a mech to save the city. Just surviving, with minimal damage, until the end of the battle is often more important than eliminating the enemy.

This is the studio that produced the wildly successful game FTL, and some of the insights in the Gamasutra interview have me quite interested in how that game ends up. It didn’t hurt that Austin Walker shared positive thoughts about about it on Waypoint Radio recently.

Additionally, Ben Prunty – creator of the soundtrack for the studio’s first game, FTL – is returning with a soundtrack that sounds great and may be some of his best work yet.

Definitely one to keep an eye on. It release this coming Tuesday, February 27th.

A Quick Ulysses Tip For Beta-Testing Software

If you find yourself often beta-testing software, you might find yourself often cross-checking feedback with the developer’s release notes to make sure you’re not encountering a problem they’re already aware of.

Fortunately, with Ulysses (Mac and iOS), you can simplify this task. One thing I’ve gotten into the habit of is creating a new note in the sidebar of the document I jot developer feedback into, and paste the latest release notes from the developer.  This way, I can write down an experience/problem in Ulysses, then quickly cross-check it right in the sidebar to make sure it’s not already a known issue.

Screen Shot 2017-06-20 at 3.40.53 PM
Adding the developer’s release notes as a note in your Ulysses document can make cross-checking issues substantially easier.

Certainly not a very complicated tip, but one that I can say has saved me quite a bit of time and checking between e-mails and Ulysses!

“Mercury” from Sufjan Stevens’ new Planetarium Album

Sufjan Stevens’ newest project, Planetarium, has him teamed up with classical music composer Nico Muhly and Bryce Dessner from The National. In this album, Sufjan has taken the cosmos as his inspiration to write a series of songs that range the gamut across several styles, but all sharing an unmistakable texture that evokes…otherness.

This recording for NPR of Mercury, the album closer, is absolutely beautiful.

Project Phoenix: Twitterrific for macOS

Late last week, Iconfactory launched a Kickstarter campaign to develop a new Twitterrific client for macOS:

While the project is relatively sparse on details, the promise of a new Twitterrific client for macOS is exciting. Iconfactory is a veteran Mac developer who has been churning out work for over a decade, and make some of the best designs & applications out there.

I currently use Tweetbot on Mac & iOS, however I primarily do that as I feel “locked in” to that ecosystem as cross-platform syncing is important to me, and iCloud has worked far better than TweetMarker in my experiences. That said, I think that Twitterrific, while a very different client that Tweetbot, is pulling ahead of the others when it comes to innovative & intuitive features. They’ve implemented some smart ideas: some, such as facial recognition to better position image previews, are clever enhancements. Others, such as their “muffle” feature which acts similar to “muting” but instead of removing the content from your timeline completely it leaves it intact but minimized. That way if you still want to see the content, just tap to return it to your timeline proper.

The original Twitterrific was an OS X app just a few months after Twitter launched, and it came to define many of the characteristics of Twitter today. The storied pedigree of Iconfactory & the long history of Twitterrific have combined in a project that I was more than happy to support. Another option for a Mac-iOS Twitter ecosystem that approaches it from a distinct enough angle will be positive for the platform.

Why Kickstarter? Iconfactory’s Craig Hockenbury summarized it on the latest “Release Notes” podcast:

The basic problem is we don’t know if there’s a market for a Mac social networking product right now. […] It’s not clear that there’s a market for that any more.

He elaborates about how a lot of social media use has moved onto mobile products (of which Twitterrific is well received), and how web apps have improved dramatically from a few years back. The lack of any clear idea if there’s much of a market means that by utilizing Kickstarter they can gauge whether or not they’re right.

So Iconfactory is asking for $75,000 with stretch goals at $100,000 and $125,000 dollars. It sounds like a lot of money, but for a team of 4-5 people developing for 6+ months, it’s clear that this is a labour of love that they want to see if there’s any economic feasibility to. So, for $75,000 dollars, they’re planning:

  • Unified home timeline
  • Multiple account support
  • Composing, replying, and quoting tweets
  • Muffles and mutes
  • Streaming
  • Themes
  • Delete and edit your own tweets
  • Sync timeline position with iOS
  • VoiceOver Accessibility
  • Keyboard control
  • Attaching images to tweets
  • Timeline search (text filter/find)
  • Open links to other tweets, profiles and media in your browser

At $100,000:

  • Direct messaging
  • Read, create, delete saved searches
  • Read lists
  • Built-in Twitter search
  • Built-in quick media viewer (images, GIFs, videos)
  • Built-in conversation and threaded tweet viewer
  • Built-in viewer for user profiles
  • Alt-text attachment when tweeting images
  • Searching for and getting suggested users while composing

This list makes it pretty obvious that $100,000 should be considered the base minimum for a functional modern Twitter app. And at $125,000:

  • Simple list management (create, edit, delete)
  • Manage drafts and sync them with iOS
  • Dock-less mode
  • Built-in profile editor so you can change your bio, avatar and more
  • Trends
  • Video upload
  • Geolocation

Those are certainly nice-to-haves but not necessary.

What sort of life it takes on after Kickstarter will likely be a mix of how well it does through this process combined with how much attention it’s able to get outside of the crowd-sourcing bubble. That said, Twitterrific is a very popular iOS client, so there could easily be a channel to advertise the macOS availability there.

All that to say, I happily pitched into this project. Not only do I think Twitterrific is an innovative client whose presence helps make Twitter better for everybody, and not only because I think the ecosystem could use more competition, but also because I know Iconfactory does fine work and that I’m happy to support creators who are striving to make something excellent.

You can check out their Kickstarter here, and you can see Twitterrific for iOS here.