Cryptocurrency is one of the worst inventions of the 21st century. I am ashamed to share an industry with this exploitative grift. It has failed to be a useful currency, invented a new class of internet abuse, further enriched the rich, wasted staggering amounts of electricity, hastened climate change, ruined hundreds of otherwise promising projects, provided a climate for hundreds of scams to flourish, created shortages and price hikes for consumer hardware, and injected perverse incentives into technology everywhere. Fuck cryptocurrency.

Drew Devault, Cryptocurrency is an abject disaster

Today, I pulled the trigger and upgraded my iMac to macOS Big Sur 11.3.

The good news? It didn’t take as long as I thought it would.

The not-so-good news? I’m not sure whose benefit most of the changes are for. On balance so far, I get the impression that the majority are for Apple rather than myself.

Mind you, this isn’t a new thing. The last few macOS upgrades have felt like this, lots of new features added, very few of which are of much use to me. And I’ve had similar feelings when using Windows 10.

With the exception of desktop wallpaper, there is very little ability nowadays to make your computer more aesthetically pleasing. Which is a crying shame when you look at how, well, flat both Windows and macOS have become.

When I tried out Linux Mint last year, I was shocked at just how customisable it is! In comparison, Windows and macOS feel like fossils, albeit very shiny ones.

I don’t think it’s a lack of resources or talent, but rather a lack of will on the part of both Microsoft and Apple. The beans have been counted, it appears, and making computers feel personal is clearly not a profitable endeavour.

And that saddens me greatly.

The computer is only ‘personal’ in the sense that there’s a person who bought said computer. But in reality it’s an Apple/Microsoft/Dell/HP/whoever-sold-it-to-you computer, and you’re to use it as they and their partners intend and be duly grateful.

The State of Digital Advertising

Last year PwC investigated where the money goes in digital advertising, at the behest of the Incorporated Society of British Advertisers (ISBA).  This wasn’t an easy task, as a single programmatic ad placement can involve 20 different players, each taking a cut.

PwC found that a whopping half (49%) of digital ad spending is syphoned off before it reaches publishers.  They tracked spending to agencies, demand exchanges, supply exchanges, and a slew of ad tech vendors.  But most alarmingly, 15% of digital ad spending, a third of what gets syphoned off, is a complete mystery.  Even through an audit, PwC couldn’t account for where it went.

This 50/50 split of “non-working” and “working” dollars in digital media echoes the famous observation from 19th century retailer, John Wanamaker: “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.”

And the 51% that actually reaches publishers has its own host of problems, including bot fraud.  The World Federation of Advertisers (WFA) estimates that ad fraud will become the biggest market for organized crime by 2025.

This is totally bonkers, and brings to mind the words of WOPR from the end of the film WarGames: “a strange game … the only winning move is not to play.”

“What if marketers allocated a portion of their media spending directly to publishers… They will run your ads for you — just like in 1995. The marketer could conceivably pay far less overall dollars AND the publisher would definitely get multiples more dollars.”

Augustine Fou

“As we all chased the Holy Grail of digital, self-included, we were relinquishing too much control — blinded by shiny objects, overwhelmed by big data, and ceding power to algorithms.”

Marc Pritchard, CMO of P&G

Hmm, cutting out middlemen… maybe it is time we got back to doing that.

  1. External hard disk that I use for Time Machine backups had stopped backing up, and when I forced it to do a backup was running very slowly. This is why I’m glad that I also backup online to Backblaze! Disk Utility was taking forever to run First Aid on it, which wasn’t promising. In the end, I went for the nuclear option, erased the drive then did a full Time Machine backup.
  2. For some reason, my Microsoft 4000 keyboard was acting up — I couldn’t type anything, and most keyboard shortcuts were failing. I did an SMC reset, and that seems to have fixed things. I’ve no idea what was going on there.
  3. The replacement gas lift cylinder for my office chair arrived today — but the old one absolutely refuses to come out, even with application of WD40.

I’m tired and frustrated, I’m going to listen to music for rest of today and chill the heck out.

The pandemic has been such a force for change and it is up to us to ensure that the change is positive. If all we do is revert to exactly how things were 18 months ago then we’ve really taken a step back, we haven’t learned the lessons that have been right in front of us.

Colin Walker

In the last few days I’ve started getting automated calls to my mobile phone from different numbers, all seemingly on the same network as me. Because I have ‘Silence Unknown Callers’ turned on, my phone doesn’t ring but the call goes to voicemail. When I check my voicemail it’s the same messages every time, a synthetic female voice saying “Stay safe, stay home”.

Doing some searching online revealed that what I’m getting on voicemail is the tail-end of this recorded message. Apparently, this has been doing the rounds in various parts of the world since 2020.

It’s a mild annoyance, but I’m wondering who’s behind it and why my number is being targeted.

I came across this article by Matt Hanson over at TechRadar the other days while searching for something else.

When was the last time you had to enter in your Windows 10 product key? This thought struck me earlier this week when we were talking about building and upgrading PCs.

I realised that on a few of my PCs, I’ve not had to enter in the Windows 10 product key for years, despite numerous upgrades and even fresh installations of Windows 10 itself. Over the years, some of the PCs have been upgraded so many times that one could argue that they are no longer the same machines that Windows 10 was originally installed on. Sort of like the Ship of Theseus that Vision was talking about at the end of WandaVision.

Now, with previous versions of Windows, every time you reinstalled, you’d need to enter in your product key. These days, Windows 10 seems to run perfectly fine without one – except for a watermark encouraging you to activate Windows 10.

And, if you have activated Windows 10 once before with a product key, that seems to be enough, no matter how many times you do fresh reinstall – which completely wipes the hard drive.

So, what’s happening? Has Microsoft come up with a way to tie in the Windows 10 product key with your hardware? I would have thought it would also tie into your Microsoft account, but then I reset a PC and signed in with a local account instead – and Windows 10 was happily activated without an issue.

Or, does Microsoft not really care that much? I suspect it’s a bit of both.

I came across this myself when I recently set up a Windows 10 virtual machine on my Mac — if you ignore Microsoft’s urging and don’t enter a serial number when you do the installation, Windows 10 will run just fine, occasionally nagging on startup. You won’t be able to customise the appearance, but that seems to be the only downside.

But, why wouldn’t Microsoft care? This is, after all, the company that tries to get you to use its Edge browser and Bing search engine at every opportunity – so why would it suddenly become so carefree about Windows 10?

That’s sort of the answer. You see, it’s in Microsoft’s interests to get as many people on Windows 10 as possible for a simple reason: as a trojan horse for Edge and Bing. The amount of valuable ad money and user information Microsoft would get from more people using Edge and Bing is huge, and by getting people onto Windows 10 as quickly as possible – which has both of those deeply integrated – it can help boost the userbase of those services.

And it needs all the help it can get. While the new Chromium-based Edge browser is gaining in popularity – it recently overtook Firefox – it still languishes miles behind Google’s Chrome.

And Bing is doing even worse, with the search engine nowhere near as popular as Google’s… Google.

So, Microsoft will want to get more people using them, and to do that it needs to knock down the biggest barrier to entry: paying for Windows 10.

That’s right. I think Microsoft should give Windows 10 away for free.

Unfortunately, as Matt points out at the end of the article, a ‘free’ Windows 10 would most likely end up infused with advertising and tracking.

Hardware Is Good, Now It’s Software’s Turn

Zach Phillips:

I’ve been fascinated by creative tools of all kinds for my entire life and software is particularly exciting: Someone can make a tool that allows an entirely new means of creation. That tool can then be distributed to anyone else in the world, at scale, and virtually for free.

The person building one of these tools, like an Excel or a JavaScript web framework or Roam Research, are 100% equivalent to the first human to figure out how to use a hammer and nail. Here’s the thing: The world of software tools is still in its terribly awkward adolescence.

Software is somewhere in the summer between sixth and seventh grade, with braces and the start of some bad acne… It’s a real mess, but with so much potential.

In the past, a lot of great software ideas were held back due to the limitations of the available hardware — dial-up access, memory by the megabyte or kilobyte right than gigabyte, low screen resolution, restricted colour palette, etc. Some developers achieved amazing feats in spite of this, but those were the exception rather than the rule.

The old joke about software expanding to use all the extra hardware resources with each upgrade still has some truth to it, although these days that’s less of an issue unless you’re using an older device or limited connectivity.

The big problem right now, as Zach alludes to in his post, is that a lot of the ‘new’ ideas aren’t that new, and in many cases are solutions looking for problems to solve. Virtual reality is a prime example — even with all the advances, there’s no getting away from the fact that people need a good reason to strap on a headset and controllers. Augmented reality has fared better because you can use that today with something you already have in your hands, and not feel like an idiot. It’s a similar story for speech recognition.

Meanwhile, the visual experience has barely moved forward in a decade or more. Tablets and smartphones probably account for most of the progress, but only because they removed keyboards and pointing devices and forced the software to adapt. The web accounts for the rest, but in some respects that progress has been retrograde thanks to the proliferation of dark patterns and a lack of respect for resource constraints.

The next wave of Big Software will be tools that actually benefit people’s lives, not “platforms” that exploit their animal weaknesses. The end of the race to the bottom is nigh. There’s nothing holding us back. We have everything we need, and it’s all pretty good.

Here’s hoping!

I’ve decided to simplify the Blogroll page, displaying just the bloggers that I follow in Inoreader, rather than all the feeds. Thankfully, Inoreader makes it easy to output just the OPML for the ‘Bloggers’ folder, so it was simply a case of replacing the OPML link in the Sync OPML to Blogroll plugin settings, then editing the Blogroll Block to remove categorisation.

At some point in the near future, I’m going to create a Colophon page for all the services and apps I use.

Take your personal website, for example. Your writing might not appeal to others. People might find it irrelevant or even dislike your style or your message, especially if you are writing about something new and unconventional. But if it’s important to you and if it contains a bit of yourself – and it certainly will – whatever you write and publish on your site isn’t wrong. You are free to try out different formats, techniques, and styles. Write about what you think and care about. Find your unique way to express yourself.

Matthias Ott, No Wrong Notes