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Scripting News

Chrome is dying, day 4

See the previous pieces in this thread.

Today, I have to say that unfortunately, while turning off automatic plug-ins did significantly decrease the instances of clipboard failure in Chrome/Mac, they are still there.

At this point, I don't think the problem is going to go away until Google decides it's time to make it go away.

Why this problem persists

I'm learning a lot about how the tech industry works today from this example. I was very naive, apparently.

The reason this bug is not a high priority is that it is only a problem for people who use the web to write. People who just watch YouTube videos and click on links in Twitter or Facebook, they don't use the clipboard. They probably don't even know it exists.

Basically if a bug interferes with your ability to watch advertising, it's high priority. If not, well, someone can work on that in their "spare time." Said with a wink and a nudge.

And when someone gets too close to saying this in public, flame them, hoping they will think it's not worth the trouble.

What do do?

It seems there's enough economic interest in the web to find a few million a year to keep a fork of WebKit nice and solid and working well across all versions of Mac OS. Based on the theory that PBS hasn't had a huge negative effect on commercial TV over the years, the tech industry might not even try to sabotage it.

As much as I don't care about advertising, personally, I have to say that in order for this idea to work, this version would have to specifically not support advertisers' interests. They're what's making the web crazy right now.

What I'm thankful for

I love to learn, and therefore the most important people to me are teachers.

And as with most things today, the teachers aren't just the ones with the titles. There is information and lessons to be learned everywhere you look.

So in 2014, I have to say -- it's teachers I am most thankful for.

A hidden Mac paint program

I didn't know that every Mac comes with a simple paint program built-in, until I asked for advice on getting a new one. It's part of the Preview application. Here's how to access it.

How to

  1. Copy an image to the clipboard.

  2. Launch the Preview app.

  3. Choose New from Clipboard from the File menu.

  4. When the image window opens, click on the toolbox icon to enable the editing features. Screen shot.

  5. You should see a row of icons.

What I was looking for

I use a paint program basically to edit small sidebar images for my blog and for screen shots to document my software. These are the features I need.

  1. Resize an image, usually scaling.

  2. Make the background transparent.

  3. Draw an arrow on the image.

  4. Save as either GIF, JPG or PNG.

The Preview app can do all this and more. And the other features don't seem to get in the way.

I'm still figuring out how to fit it into my workflow.

Happy Thanksgiving!

A picture named givePeaceAChance.png

Your beliefs are bupkis

A picture named beliefs.png

From Banksy. Never more relevant.

Turn off Flash in Chrome

Yesterday I followed Tracy Hern's advice and turned off the Flash plug-in in Chrome/Mac, and things are now running faster and in less memory.

Haven't had a clipboard failure since. Of course that's not yet proof that the problem is gone. But it's a good sign.

How to

Choose Preferences from the Chrome menu.

At the bottom of the page, click on Show advanced settings.

Click on the Content settings button.

Scroll down to Plug-ins.

Choose Click to play from the set of radio buttons.

Click on the Done button.

What this means

Now, when you visit a web page with Flash movies, instead of seeing a preview, you'll see the image of a jigsaw puzzle piece. If you want to watch the movie, click the image.

Feels really good. I'm not a big fan of movies that start playing while I'm reading, so I like this way of working.

Recommendation to Google

Why not ship Chrome with this setting by default.

iOS users are already accustomed to a world without Flash. Presumably many of us are also Mac users. It's a much more humane way to use the web, without videos starting up automatically while you're doing other stuff. It seems that the human being sitting in front of the computer should decide whether or not they want to watch a movie. I imagine advertisers wouldn't like this. Maybe if you like your users more there will be more of them to see the ads.

How to rebuild journalism

I read Emily Bell's speech and her piece in the Guardian over the weekend. They fairly well reflect what you hear from journalism pundits these days.

I don't think they know how to listen to technology. They of course, being journalists, focus on the money. But there's a lot of open tech available for them to use. They don't look there.

It's like the blind men and the elephants, or Don's Amazing Puzzle (try it!). You see what you expect to see. Journalism is conservative. It wants things to stay the same. Tech is the opposite. It's invested only in upheaval. There's your conflict.

The story of the last 20 years has been the story of the collision of journalism and tech. I've been working on this for my entire 40-plus year career as a software developer and writer -- what happens to story-telling when the tools of publishing are available to everyone.

Journalism stood by while blogging took root. They covered it, but largely dismissed it. They ignored "RSS". They ignored everything, including the threat to their art. I warned them many times, here on, that they would regret letting the tech industry own their distribution system. But that's what happened. Without any resistance whatsoever. Journalism let tech move in and take over.

Yet tech has been a lot more generous than I thought they (we) would be. Perhaps because they understand as little about journalism as journalism understands about tech. Or perhaps because they want journalism to be independent of tech. Hard to know.

The Algorithm

  • Facebook's algorithm is something they don't like. Lots to say about that.
  • 1. Most of them don't use Facebook. Which would be similar to not liking Google if you didn't use Google. Most of them do use Google, so will understand what this means, I hope.
  • 2. The results you get from "the algorithm" is a function of how you trained it. If, on the day of the Ferguson shooting (the canonical example Bell and others cite) you were, like me, a lover of news, your feed would have had lots of stuff about Ferguson in it. (BTW, have you watched the network news shows recently? Lots of YouTube videos and pie-eating contests.)
  • 3. Journalism has an opaque algorithm too. None of its users has any idea how they decide what is and isn't news.
  • 4. Facebook hasn't really gotten into news yet. They are actively developing new technology in this area. To judge it on its ability to deliver news would be like judging the NYC Subway on its ability to deliver news. It's for people, today, more than it is for news. However, expect that to change.
  • 5. I have been listening to Facebook people carefully. Reading the tea leaves, getting to know their developers. I believe they really want to work with you. Yet not very many journalists have expressed much interest. I think this is a big mistake. When someone offers to work with me, my first response is to say yes. I wasn't always this way, I had to train myself to do it, after watching lots of opportunities pass me by because I wasn't ready enough to work with others.
  • 6. One thing you can learn from the process of tech is to study your competition, don't ignore them. Use the software yourself, understand its strengths and weaknesses before you attack. Journalism hasn't done any of this, which is odd, because that's supposed to be their job, understanding things that matter.

How to rebuild

  • 1. If I were running a news organization today, accepting that we let the tech industry own our distribution system, I would first incorporate it into my plans by flowing all my headlines through Twitter and Facebook, and then start to create our own distribution system to stand alongside the tech industry distribution system.
  • 2. The first mover doesn't always win. That's a big lesson. Use what you know about news to build the best news system you can, and then learn from your users, and iterate. My first version of a product usually doesn't work very well. My second one works better. By the time I've done it the third or fourth time I usually hit the mark pretty well.
  • 3. I would not rush to the government and make demands. That is just plain wrong. If your children behaved that way, before trying to work things out with each other, you'd send them back to at least try to find their own peace. You should have enough self-respect to do that yourself. I am sure the Bezos-owned Washington Post will not be seeking government protection from Twitter and Facebook.
  • 4. It's also not right because there's so much potential right now. It's not time to lock it down and regulate. It's time for tech and journalism to behave responsibly and respectfully of themselves and each other.
  • 5. We have enough open formats and protocols to build a dozen news distribution systems with all kinds of algorithms. We have bright-eyed J-school students who are excited about the future of news. Even some graybeards such as myself are still totally excited about the future. Come on, let's use the tools we have. Feed your headlines and stories into Facebook and Twitter, you have to do that -- they exist and billions of people use them -- but also into new systems for news distribution. There is room for lots of different approaches. We're at the beginning of something new, at a time of exciting possibilities. Let that excitement be reflected in your thinking.

My two tech motivations

  1. I want to keep the things that are open open.

  2. I want to make more things that are open.

I need more surface to develop on. I don't at this time work inside a big company. Maybe the only way to play with the good toys is to hook up with one. The more things in #1 keep breaking the harder it is to be independent.

Otherwise when people guess my motivations, and they do often, they err wildly. I'm not "for" or "against" anyone. I am not fighting a moral battle. I don't care if anyone else is good or bad. That's for God to decide.

Think of me as a showrunner or a movie producer. I have shows I want to make. I need good platforms to make them on. I can't afford to worry about anything else, I already have a full plate.

Everything is broken

Remember when Microsoft won

BTW, the same thing happened with Microsoft when they "won" the browser wars. Quality went to hell. It got so bad we all switched to Macs. Think that can't happen again? I hope you're wrong.


I can't copy files from my main Mac to my iPhone so I have to set it up on my laptop which, for some reason, is able to copy files to my iPhone.

I copy some songs over there, but it says it's waiting for something to happen. No problem. I let it have an hour to get 12 songs copied. When I come back, it's still waiting.

Here's the screen.

This is typical. It never works twice the same way. I'm always having to figure out little ways to trick it into COPYING FILES ONTO THE DEVICE. It's not like this is some exotic function, this is what the software was DESIGNED TO DO. I put that in caps to commemorate the many wasted hours I've spent trying to get this expensive shit to do its job.

I really feel like these products are garbage. Junk. Worthless piece of crap.

Thank you for listening.

Little Pork Chop's corner-turn

The transition of Little Pork Chop to a whitelist-based app has been a great success.

Basically people are using it for short-form blogging via Twitter.

I get to learn from watching how they use it. I'm already getting ideas.

Everyone wins. :kiss:

Best geeklove commercial ever

Quick review of Interstellar

I loved Interstellar.

I liked the story, the acting, the visual effects, the role that love and science play in the story, the scale of it. I never rolled my eyes once. I was in the story from beginning to end. All these are unusual for me. Most movies have me snickering at least a little. Not this one. I was really touched by it.

I have also seen 2001 again recently, this summer. This movie is every bit as good as 2001, which was also a lovely movie. But not quite as moving as this one. People who think Interstellar isn't as good might be remembering 2001 as better than it was.

Chrome is dying, day 3

I have been using Chrome 39 on my Mac for a couple of days. At first it looked like the problems with the clipboard had been solved, but it's pretty clear that it's still pretty badly broken. I no longer think there's any chance that it's "just me" -- for a few reasons.

  1. After writing about it publicly, I've heard from lots of other people saying they've been experiencing clipboard errors too.

  2. I got a new computer last week, installed a fresh copy of Chrome, and the problem came with all that change. So if it were my doing, it would have to have survived a lot of changes in environment, including a new version of the operating system.

I have been working on server apps for the last few days so I haven't had a chance yet to try the debugger in the new version, so I have no info to add there.

Google's appalling behavior

I just want to add a note that I totally object to the smearing campaign Google is running against me. I'm a user, blogger and developer, not your enemy. I really only want Google to keep this browser working, so I can get my work done, as well as others, and for the health of the web. I have a lot of experience with big companies, including Google, smearing critics. I think most other people are clued-in too. Please call off your flamers. Thanks.

Stuck in the middle

The latest Uber "scandal" makes a few things clear, to me at least.

  1. The tech industry needs to change, to adjust to the reality that it's no longer a startup industry. Our products are used everywhere. They are infrastructure, culture, part of our work and family lives, our intellectual, financial and emotional lives.

  2. Tech products are utilities, not miracles.

  3. The people who develop the products are creative people, some of them, and some are engineers. We are not gods. Never were. But we used to like to hear that we were.

  4. The press obliged. They love the money. Not because they get the money, they don't. But it's easier to follow the money than it is to understand the technology. So they report the mystique of the genius that creates our gee-whiz tech. That might have made sense in the 70s and 80s, but not now. Tech is the fabric of our civilization. It's not a mystery.

  5. Sources now have the power of the press. There is nothing surprising or wrong with the idea of a tech company investigating reporters. The idea that only reporters have the ability to publish is a 20th century idea. Now anyone who wants to speak can start a blog or a podcast and get up and speak.

  6. What do the reporters fear will be discovered about them? The biggest most obvious truth is that most of them are lazy and report the same story everyone else does. They wait for the press release. How can you tell? Just watch the river. It's amazing how a story "breaks" across all the different tech pubs at the same time. There are only a handful of publications that do real reporting. Most of what we get are repurposed press releases.

  7. So where the tech industry has to grow up, the tech press has to earn its keep. There are plenty of stories that never get covered. Why is Chrome such a buggy slow browser? Maybe the web would do better if someone in tech loved it. Why will Google go to such lengths to smear a blogger (me) who reports on it? The press cares when they get slimed (or potentially get slimed, it was just an idea that the Uber exec uttered, not a plan, or any kind of disclosure). The users know that Google is letting us down with Chrome. Don't the tech reporters use this product? Don't they notice that the quality is slipping? Why not write about it? That's a really good question. If the answer is they fear upsetting people at Google, then it's a much bigger deal than an Uber exec expressing frustration with some very awful reporting they've had to endure.

  8. Yes, Uber is right. Sorry. They have every right to be upset about the "coverage" that Pando is doing. What an embarrassment for the industry. That the tech press is willing to go to war over Pando, just shows how ridiculous the whole thing has gotten. How would you feel if an editorial series blasted you for being an "asshole," literally -- that's the word they used to describe Uber management. Not just in passing, as the key idea in a campaign. If we want the industry to grow up, the press has to grow up too. Name-calling is not something anyone should defend.

  9. We need to be thinking and deciding, and not just for the short-term. Our work is important for the future of our civilization. Let's get serious about what we're doing. It's important. We should have fun, but let's behave like what we do matters, because it does.

Stuck in the middle with you

The title of this piece comes from a Stealers Wheel song from the 1970s.

Clowns to the left, jokers to the right, etc etc.

I'm trying to think but nothing happens!

A museum piece that still works

In March 2007, I was doing a lot of experimenting with Twitter and news. I wanted to see how they fit together. So I hooked up the flow of the NYT to a Twitter channel. It was great!

3/16/2007: "Because Twitter has a public API that allows anyone to add a feature, and because the NY Times offers its content as a set of feeds, I was able to whip up a connection between the two in a few hours. That's the power of open APIs."

It's running again

It kept updating through 2010, when it stopped. I don't know exactly why, but I always wanted to get it going again, and finally it is.

Today I'm using River4 running on Heroku, with a tiny node.js app running on a spare machine in my Manhattan apartment, a short distance from NYT headquarters. It bridges the NYT content flow with Twitter's servers.

It's nice the way small and big systems fit together, still -- in 2014, as they did in 2007. Some things don't change, and that's good!

All the news...

All you'll ever see in this stream are links to stories on the NYT website. I hope they don't mind, this is kind of a museum piece, and it's nice to have it running once again!

It's also a loop back to the beginnings of RSS, which were made possible by the Times, thanks to the trust Martin Nisenholtz had in us. Once again, another dividend of collaborative development.

Chrome is dying, day 2

  1. At the urging of several commenters, I switched back to the normal Chrome build, and trashed the Canary build. However I wasn't running Canary because I wanted to be bleeding edge, quite the opposite. The main Chrome thread has serious breakage in the clipboard and debugger, and as a developer I depend on both. It's been that way since early summer. Switching to Canary was an act of desperation. Using Chrome to develop my software has been a nightmare. Debugging is integral to my workflow.

  2. Once I switched off Canary, the crashing-on-closing-tabs behavior went away. Yes!

  3. However the clipboard is still broken, if anything it's worse than before. I haven't done any development since yesterday so I can't report on the debugger. (I use Safari for debugging, its debugger works perfectly, as Chrome's used to.)

  4. A Google developer advocate contacted me on Twitter. Far from helpful. He wanted to prove something about me, instead of helping with problems with Google's software. Editorial: No company should let themselves be repped that way, ever, under any circumstances, even if the product is free. A lot of users are inclined to believe problems are their fault. I'm no different, except I've been doing this for a long time, and know about this trick.

  5. I am not intimidated. I will keep telling the story. Having been confronted instead of helped by Google only convinces me more that users need to communicate among ourselves.

  6. Firefox is worse, btw. Flaming users is part of their organizational culture. I walked away from Firefox, and I'm not going back. Ugliest company I've ever seen, and they got what they wanted, me not using their product. Win-win.

Demo of the clipboard problem


See the next post in this thread.

Redskins ==> Americans

  1. It seems obvious that the Washington Redskins will change their name sometime in the near future. The name of the team is a disgrace. It's not just relevant to their fans, but should take into account the feelings of everyone who has to listen to sports reports that include this eyesore of a name, every week during the football season.

  2. It's a vestige of previous generations. It's impossible for me to understand how they could choose such a name. Basically, we invade a country, kill off most of the people, move the rest to the worst land on the continent, and that's not enough of a humiliation. We have to name sports teams after them, with disrespectful names.

  3. Imagine they named a team the Phoenix Jew Boys. Or the Seattle Greasers. The Atlanta Honkies. With the appropriate imagery. Even that wouldn't capture the humiliation, because we more or less leave Jews, Italians and other Americans of European descent alone to live in peace. We're not occupying their homeland, after all.

  4. The name is going to change. To think otherwise would be to think that Obamacare is going to disappear, or gay marriage will become illegal once again, or that in a few years marijuana won't be legal everywhere. It's going to change so why not change it now, and avoid the prolonged misery of it?

  5. I propose changing the name to the Washington Americans. It's a good choice for a variety of reasons. The rhythm of the name fits into conversation the same way the old name did. Washington is the nation's capital. The name isn't used for any other major league sports franchise, not that that would be a deal-stopper if it was (the Cardinals, Giants are prior art). Even better, it could be said to be a continuity, after all the Native Americans who the team was named after were before any others, Americans. They are the original Americans. In one move we, all of us, could turn decades of insult into "we get it."

  6. Canadians or Mexicans could conceivably disagree, as they are also Americans. We could ask them not to object, for the sake of undoing an ugly period in United States sports culture.

Chrome is dying

I don't usually like death metaphors for software but it really seems to apply to Chrome on the Mac. It just keeps getting more and more impossible to use.

The latest awfulness

  1. Closing tabs causes the browser to crash. Fairly regularly and reproducibly.

  2. Unfortunately I left a few tabs open with YouTube videos. And some of my normal web pages start playing audio when they are loaded. This is a trick they use, something they sell to advertisers. It's awful-on-awful.

  3. There's the catch. When I relaunch the browser I have to listen to the videos all over again. And eventually I will forget the commandment Thou Shalt Not Close Tabs, and around we go again!

  4. Meanwhile the work I was trying to do when the browser crashed is lost.

It gets worse not better

If this were the only problem in Chrome I'd probably shrug it off, and find a workaround. But it's just one in a series of problems, that as far as I can tell are not getting fixed, that pile up that make the browser more useless than the ones I was using in 1994 when I started using the web (when they had an excuse for being this awful).

Canary is a bad choice of a codename

And yes, I am using Chrome/Canary, after being told that the classic Chrome isn't being maintained. Believe me, this version is no better than the one they have left to die.

PS: I ask you, again -- could this possibly be the browser the people in Google use? If so, get your priorities straight. Before you invent intelligent computers, could you PLEASE make a freaking browser that works.

PPS: When it crashed I was in the process of writing a Stack Overflow question about a security issue with Chrome. Hopefully I will be able to finish it this time.

PPPS: All the crashy awfulness of today's system software is why I'm not looking forward to using the software created by today's Learn To Code And Get Rich kiddies. I'm sure they're teaching them how not to break users. (Sarcasm)

PPPPS: See the next post in this thread. And a third.

She just wants a Grammy!

A smart phone with no phone

I don't want to run "apps" and I don't need a phone. I want a hand held device that has storage, a CPU, a web browser, JavaScript.

No iTunes. Just hook it up via USB and write or read via the file system. Write scripts to automate synchronization or if you don't care, do it by hand.

A net connection via LTE or whatever T-Mobile is selling. No contract. Wifi.

That's it. I don't have to hook it up to Google's or Apple's cloud. I can use it to play music, videos or podcasts. And of course it has a camera, and a microphone, so I can record podcasts and movies to share.

A platform for geeks. A RISC-type approach. I don't like the fragility of the platforms Apple and Google are making. This isn't for a neophyte. It's for pros. People who don't need or want their hands held when using a hand-held.

UserTalk in JavaScript?

Now that I'm pretty comfortable with node.js, I had a thought that it might be fun to write a UserTalk interpreter in JavaScript, and port db.c from Frontier, and run manila.root under node.js. It'd be kind of like running MacWrite in the browser.

You'd have to have been around here a while to understand how weird that would be! In maybe a fun way.

Still diggin!

I'm trying to think but nothing happens!

Manila lives!

Jake Savin was doing some work with Manila, and reached a milestone, where he had it running pretty smoothly in the OPML Editor. Over the last few days we released all the parts, both for manila.root and opml.root and he says Manila runs pretty well, again. Which is great. It's a great piece of software, and part of the lizard brain of the blogosphere, it has been around since 1999, and has been brought up to date.

Jake posted instructions on how to update an existing installation, or create a new one.

The kind of feminism I support

I posted this in a comment in a Facebook thread. I wanted to make it a bit more visible.

Dale, when I see people on the net being gentle and kind and loving in supporting women's rights, I push it with every ounce of flow I have. People don't get inflamed with gentleness, but that's how minds get changed. No one is inspired to creativity by intimidation. I'd like to see the guy express himself, and be happy on such a great day, and have him feel all our support, than see shame. That is such a bug. Men have lots of love to give. Yet that is so unaccepted.

Citizen Omidyar

Today kicks off the Newsgeist unconference in Phoenix. It's been anticipated because First Look founders Glenn Greenwald and Pierre Omidyar will meet face to face for the first time. It really will be their first look (sorry). So you will see a lot of pictures, and they will be a topic of conversation, because the pair made huge headlines last year when they teamed up.

I have to admit I was envious of the people who originally were tapped to be part of the Omidyar news venture. Why? Well he was putting in a huge amount of money, $250 million, signalling he was serious about doing something huge. Also because Omidyar, as founder of eBay, is one of the pioneers of the Internet as a social medium. I figured if anyone believed in the idea of a distributed source-based news system, it would be Omidyar. Just look at eBay for an idea how this might have worked.

Instead Omidyar went with the most elite of the elite in the news world. It was like the scene in Citizen Kane where the character played by Orson Welles hires the entire editorial staff of the leading NY newspaper and installs them in his news venture. The main difference is that in the fictional story it worked. Omidyar's venture is crumbling.

When the reporters went to First Look their output dried up. Maybe they were waiting for software, if so, it should have been great, given Omidyar's background and the resources he threw at it. But there's no visibility there. We have very little idea what happened. But we do know that despite their promises, the Snowden revelations slowed.

They had everything going for them, money, attention, lots of great content, great writers, yet nothing happened? Why? This could be a good story. I hope someone gets it.

Where do you put your curly braces?

Brent doesn't like } else { -- and neither do I. Yuck!

Here's how I do it, illustrated in a screen shot.

A picture named elseBig.GIF

I write code in an outliner. This is the only way it works, from an editing standpoint.