Thursday, March 5, 2015

The ugly afterlife of crowdfunding projects that never ship and never end   


Casey Johnston writing for Ars Technica:

The public life-cycle of a Kickstarter rarely ends in tragedy. Often, if a Kickstarter manages to get covered by the media before its funding round end, or even starts, it can meet its goal within days, and superfluous funds continue to roll in over the next few weeks. By the time its crowdfunding stage closes, the creators, backers, and media alike are excited and proud to have ushered this new project so quickly to a place of prosperity, eager for it to continue to grow.

Plenty of projects manage to deliver the goods, even if the timeline slides a bit. That was the case with Tim Schafer’s Kickstarter game Broken Age. If creators miss deadlines, backers typically continue to receive updates via e-mail and the Kickstarter page. But sometimes the end of funding is the beginning of a slide into radio silence, which ultimately turns into few or no backer orders fulfilled, and no satisfactory explanation for why the project didn’t pan out according to the orderly delivery schedule the creators promised.

Fix the Home and End keys on Mac OS X   


Matthew Holt:

If you use a keyboard that’s not designed specifically for Macs, you probably are familiar with the annoying mapping of the Home and End keys: they scroll to the beginning or end of an entire document, with no regard to the cursor’s location.

Fortunately it’s an easy fix.

After purchasing a new Mac, this was one of the first tweaks I made.

A Spreadsheet Way of Knowledge   


Steven Levy, republishing a piece he originally wrote for the November 1984 issue of Harper’s:

The problem with ledger sheets was that if one monthly expense went up or down, everything – everything – had to be recalculated. It was a tedious task, and few people who earned their MBAs at Harvard expected to work with spreadsheets very much. Making spreadsheets, however necessary, was a dull chore best left to accountants, junior analysts, or secretaries. As for sophisticated “modeling” tasks – which, among other things, enable executives to project costs for their companies – these tasks could be done only on big mainframe computers by the data-processing people who worked for the companies Harvard MBAs managed.

Bricklin knew all this, but he also knew that spreadsheets were needed for the exercise; he wanted an easier way to do them. It occurred to him: why not create the spreadsheets on a microcomputer?

I can’t think of another invention that has done more for office worker productivity in the last half-century. With a few key presses, I can accomplish in a matter of minutes what would take an entire department weeks to accomplish in the late 1970s. And yet, it’s quite amazing how little the ‘electronic spreadsheet’ has changed over the years, with the main interface – a simple grid of rows and columns – essentially unchanged.

(Via Planet Money)

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Supreme Court rules Canadians have right to doctor-assisted suicide   


Sean Fine, reporting for The Globe and Mail:

Canadian adults in grievous, unending pain have a right to end their life with a doctor’s help, the Supreme Court ruled on Friday.

The unanimous ruling, by establishing that the “sanctity of life” also includes the “passage into death,” extends constitutional rights into a new realm. The courts have used the 1982 Charter of Rights to establish gay marriage and to strike down a federal abortion law. The new ruling will change the way some Canadians are permitted to die.

I could express my reasons for supporting doctor-assisted suicide, but I think the opening paragraph of Court’s ruling says it best:

It is a crime in Canada to assist another person in ending her own life. As a result, people who are grievously and irremediably ill cannot seek a physician’s assistance in dying and may be condemned to a life of severe and intolerable suffering. A person facing this prospect has two options: she can take her own life prematurely, often by violent or dangerous means, or she can suffer until she dies from natural causes. The choice is cruel.

First look: Photos for OS X   


Christopher Breen, writing for Macworld:

Last June, Apple announced that it would stop development of its Aperture and iPhoto apps and offer a single photo app in their place—Photos for OS X. Today, developers are getting their first glimpse of Photos, as it’s bundled with the beta version of OS X 10.10.3.

Providing many of the features found in its mobile sibling, the Yosemite-only Photos for OS X offers an interface less cluttered than iPhoto, improved navigation, simpler yet more powerful editing tools, the ability to sync all your images to iCloud (though it doesn’t require you to), and new options for creating books, cards, slideshows, calendars, and prints. I’ve had the opportunity to take an early look at Photos, and this is what I’ve found.

There are several early reviews of Photos for OS X but I found this one the most detailed and informative. Sounds like Photos will be a decent upgrade for those migrating from iPhoto but will certainly be a step down for Aperture users. It isn’t nearly as bad as I feared, nor is it anywhere near what I hoped for. Ideally some additional features – geotagging, star ratings, and stacks to name a few – will find their way into the app before it officially launches. I’d also like to hear that extensions – third-party add-ons available for the iOS version of Photos – will also be available on the Mac.

Thursday, January 29, 2015

Delete2Archive for OS X 10.10.2


Apple has released OS X 10.10.2, the second major update to Yosemite.

As was done for prior versions of the operating system, I’ve released a new version of Delete2Archive that is compatible with the latest update. Follow the installation instructions and download the new version of the plugin from the Delete2Archive page.

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

The Horror of a ‘Secure Golden Key’   


Chris Coyne explains why there can be no compromise on end-to-end encryption:

This week, the Washington Post’s editorial board, in a widely circulated call for “compromise” on encryption, proposed that while our data should be off-limits to hackers and other bad actors, “perhaps Apple and Google could invent a kind of secure golden key” so that the good guys could get to it if necessary.

This theoretical “secure golden key” would protect privacy while allowing privileged access in cases of legal or state-security emergency. Kidnappers and terrorists are exposed, and the rest of us are safe. Sounds nice. But this proposal is nonsense, and, given the sensitivity of the issue, highly dangerous. Here’s why.

A great explanation of why it doesn’t make sense to give trusted entities the ability to intercept encrypted communications. Too bad the U.K. Prime Minister and his advisors didn’t read this prior to announcing new anti-terror policies.

WhatsApp and iMessage could be banned under new surveillance plans   


Andrew Griffin, reporting for The Independent earlier this month:

David Cameron could block WhatsApp and Snapchat if he wins the next election, as part of his plans for new surveillance powers announced in the wake of the shootings in Paris.

The Prime Minister said today that he would stop the use of methods of communication that cannot be read by the security services even if they have a warrant. But that could include popular chat and social apps that encrypt their data, such as WhatsApp.

Apple’s iMessage and FaceTime also encrypt their data, and could fall under the ban along with other encrypted chat apps like Telegram.

The British Prime Minister proposes a system where trusted entities gain the ability to intercept communications when they have a legal reason to do so. In theory this sounds rational, especially when compared to the alternative – violent crimes like the events that took place in Paris.

Realistically, such a policy is terrible:

  • Who decides which trusted entities have access to your communications?
  • What happens if an untrusted entity gains access to your information through a hack or by exploiting a software bug?
  • How can you be assured that the trusted entities won’t abuse their power?
  • And what’s stopping bad actors from simply creating their own private applications with full end-to-end encryption?

A knee-jerk legislative reaction to tragic events could unfortunately lead to controversy and regrets.

(Via Daring Fireball)

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Top 10 Films of 2014


The Oscar nominations have been announced and all the critic groups have announced their best of 2014 lists. There has definitely been a bit of a general consensus around a few key films this year, some of which will appear on my list. I am not a film critic so my list includes some of my favourite quotes from some of my favourite critics, describing my top 10 films of 2014. There were several others films that I loved but I just couldn’t squeeze into my top 10 list, including The Grand Budapest Hotel, Birdman, Ida, and Nightcrawler.

Here are my top 10 films of 2014:

1. Boyhood

Director: Richard Linklater

Ann Hornaday, writing for The Washington Post:

What makes Linklater great is that he possesses the modesty and confidence to simply observe banal, otherwise forgettable non-events, then invest them with scale and sweep and deep significance. As a film that dares to honor small moments and the life they add up to, “Boyhood” isn’t just a masterpiece. It’s a miracle.

2. Under the Skin

Director: Jonathan Glazer

Matt Zoller Seitz, writing for

Movies like this don’t find their way into commercial cinemas very often. When they do, they don’t tend to star anyone you’ve heard of. When a film comes along that doesn’t fit the usual marketplace paradigms, such as “The Tree of Life” or “Upstream Color” or “Spring Breakers,” you take notice. “Under the Skin” is a film in that vein.

Is it perfect? Probably not. It might be too much of something, or too little of something else. Time will sort out the particulars. But I do know that the movie’s sensibility is as distinctive as any I’ve seen. “Under the Skin” is hideously beautiful. Its life force is overwhelming.

3. Mommy

Director: Xavier Dolan

Peter Howell, writing for The Toronto Star:

Xavier Dolan’s Mommy is defiantly a movie for the here and now, something so immediate, its very form resembles Instagram photos or smartphone videos.This fifth (and best) feature by the 25-year-old Quebec auteur demonstrates a mastery of the lens that would be remarkable at any age. Dolan and cinematographer André Turpin place each volatile image within a square 1:1 format, making the energy within it all the more intense.

4. Whiplash

Director: Damien Chazelle

Michael Phillips, writing for The Chicago Tribune:

“Whiplash” is true to its title. It throws you around with impunity, yet Chazelle exerts tight, exacting control over his increasingly feverish and often weirdly comic melodrama. (At times the intensity rivals Darren Aronofsky’s ballet nightmare, “Black Swan.”

5. Gone Girl

Director: David Fincher

Justin Chang, writing for Variety:

Surgically precise, grimly funny and entirely mesmerizing over the course of its swift 149-minute running time, this taut yet expansive psychological thriller represents an exceptional pairing of filmmaker and material, fully expressing Fincher’s cynicism about the information age and his abiding fascination with the terror and violence lurking beneath the surfaces of contemporary American life.

6. Selma

Director: Ava Duvernay

A.O. Scott, writing for The New York Times:

Ms. DuVernay, in her third feature (after “I Will Follow” and “Middle of Nowhere”), writes history with passionate clarity and blazing conviction. (The cinematographer, Bradford Young, captures its shadows and its glow.) Even if you think you know what’s coming, “Selma” hums with suspense and surprise. Packed with incident and overflowing with fascinating characters, it is a triumph of efficient, emphatic cinematic storytelling.

7. Interstellar

Director: Christopher Nolan

Kenneth Turan, writing for LA Times:

But though it’s a big studio blockbuster with all the traditional plot elements the term implies, “Interstellar” turns out to be the rarest beast in the Hollywood jungle. It’s a mass audience picture that’s intelligent as well as epic, with a sophisticated script that’s as interested in emotional moments as immersive visuals. Which is saying a lot.

8. Blue Ruin

Director: Jeremy Saulnier

Andrew O’Heheir, writing for Salon:

It’s a brilliant, slow-burning American revenge thriller that hardly puts a foot wrong, a work of startling violence and profound conscience that announces the arrival of an exciting young director.

9. Snowpiercer

Director: Bong Joon-ho

Patrick Gamble, writing for CineVue:

Seamlessly entwining the dramatic tensions and linear narratives of western cinema with the stylised violence and absurdity of its Asian counterparts, Snowpiercer is a genuinely global film – a rich hybrid of styles that breaks through cultural and political boundaries. The performances are equally as diverse. While Swinton’s Thatcher-esque fundamentalist steals the limelight, but the entire cast from Jamie Bell and Evans to Kang-ho and Ko Ah-sung all bring something fresh to the fore. And yet, it’s the depiction of class warfare and the rise of the proletariat that makes Bong’s triumph more that just a runaway actioner. The intelligent scrutiny of neoliberal ideals makes for a wonderfully reflective, spectacular think piece on social irresponsibility and individualism.

10. Citizenfour

Director: Laura Poitras

Matt Patches, writing for HitFix:

That’s the paranoid exhilaration of “CITZENFOUR,” Laura Poitras’ inside look into the 2013 global surveillance disclosures and the man who blew the NSA whistle: Edward Snowden. Actually, “inside” doesn’t do the film justice; Poitras isn’t picking the brains of experts and beginning her investigation after the fact. As Snowden and Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald sift through a cache of confidential documents to decide where to strike first, Poitros is there rolling camera, rubbing shoulders with a man whose media profile would explode only a week after their first face-to-face meeting. A reminder of the NSA’s infractions, an indictment of American bullying tactics and a powerful character study of the down-to-Earth Snowden, “CITIZENFOUR” is an expertly crafted expose with unprecedented urgency.