Twitter: Now what?

AI generated drawing of Elon Musk with a Twitter bird on his shoulder
Apparently Elon Musk officially owns Twitter now.

Twitter’s easily my favorite social network. It’s always fit in with how my mind works (at least when I use it with clients like Tweetbot). I’ve often found community on Twitter, and Twitter is influential and consequential. Revolutions have taken place because of Twitter. Before news is news, it’s often on Twitter.

And now it belongs to rich dipshit Elon Musk. Though if it makes you feel better, he’ll probably become less rich because of this acquisition!

Twitter has been severely mismanaged for its entire existence. They famously procrastinated on a business model until finally settling on “I guess we should put ads in things.” In the early days people almost exclusively used Twitter via mobile apps made by third parties, but then Twitter got increasingly developer hostile and pushed third party apps away, presumably to help make it easier to put ads in things (though they are coming back around lately to third party Twitter experiences). They’ve gotten more and more bloated as a company, and they’ve struggled to articulate a stance on content moderation, though in reality it’s played out as being uncomfortably permissive toward Nazi types.

Twitter’s Future: The Icanthascheezburger Three-Point Plan

Elon’s got his work cut out for him (which is unfortunate given how many CEO jobs he juggles). Even though I really don’t care for him, I do care about Twitter, so the consulting wing of Icanthascheezburger is laying out this simple three-point plan:

Improve the Financials

Twitter bleeds money. They have only turned a profit in two of the last ten years. Musk is quite wealthy on paper but actually isn’t particularly cash-rich and probably will want to get Twitter in the black in the next year or two.

a table of Twitter's net income since 2010. They lost money every year in figures ranging from $67 million to $1.6 billion

And he’s hinted as much; he’s talked a big game about firing as much as 75% of staff, and that’s probably coming from a feeling of sticker shock, but also for Twitter’s size, 4600 employees is a lot and it would make sense to learn the ins and outs of the company and strip down to the bare essentials, then build from there. The strategy worked pretty well for Steve Jobs when he took over Apple. Of course, Steve Jobs was smart enough not to run his mouth with some estimated number of jobs he planned to cut before he even took the wheel.

And as of press time, it seems Musk isn’t troubling himself to learn what teams are doing before firing them wholesale.

Admit What Twitter Is and What It’s Good At

To boil Twitter down to its purest essence would be to describe it as a relatively small, relatively unstructured microblogging platform, where people build up their communities by hand-picking the people they want to follow. It’s a place for information junkies because the content is so concise that it’s almost a stream of consciousness. It’s deeply candid and honest.

And Twitter has spent most of its post-IPO years doing its very best to resist that.

a cringe-worthy screenshot of a Twitter survey asking the reader how they associate a bunch of finance brands with gender equality

I don’t blame them; Twitter’s not a mass market product like Facebook, or most mass media. That’s why so many news sites take a single tweet and turn it into a 500-word article. Twitter is opinionated in how it works, and it caters to those information junkies who want the raw discourse injected right into their veins. Information travels around Twitter before it becomes news. It’s a primary source where you get the word directly from important people, not filtered through a PR person.

This Twitter is extremely valuable (and I think Musk correctly understands that), but it’s not valuable in the sense that Facebook got valuable. Twitter is a tool of massive cultural importance and consequence, but it’s not a network that will have billions of ad revenue-generating users, and for it to become that it would have to become something fundamentally different.

Twitter needs to do what Apple did post-Jobs returning, and what Crocs did a few years back: go back to basics and focus on what it’s best at.

But unlike Apple and Crocs, Twitter has to reckon with the issue that core Twitter was never a financial success, and that has to be solved for. I firmly believe it’s a solvable problem; the world clearly wants a thing like Twitter to exist.

Some ideas for how to accomplish this:

  • Make some staffing cuts, ideally without being a huge dick about it (show gratitude, explain the strategy of righting the ship, and give the departed good severance to show goodwill and ensure you can recruit new people)
  • Investigate how to simplify Twitter from a technical perspective so that it can be maintained with fewer engineers and less infrastructure (rumor has it that Twitter is inefficient in both team size and amount of infrastructure it runs to keep Twitter afloat)
  • Make Twitter apps feel more fast and lightweight, and easier to navigate
  • Invest heavily in Twitter Blue (the paid Twitter experience). I would set a goal to make 10–20% of Twitter’s users paid users, and price it so that paid users’ revenue was enough to keep everything running. Make the features in Twitter Blue super compelling and worth forking over money for. Make Twitter Blue an ad-free experience which is literally the biggest feature people ask for. Add power user features.
  • Monetize Twitter’s API, either charging developers to use it, or having third party apps that end users use also get advertising (for non-paid users). It’ll incentivize Twitter to keep investing in the API, and as the API gets better that will incentivize developers to make more cool new things on Twitter’s platform
  • As a corollary to monetizing the API, do revenue sharing with developers making Twitter apps for users. If you make a 3rd party Twitter client, serve up ads from Twitter and get a cut of that ad revenue, or a cut of the Twitter Blue subscription revenue. This will incentivize more great apps and add more Twitter users.
  • Make more features available through the API. Twitter power users are often using third party clients, and it’s good to give them access to new features.
  • Fix community management and content moderation. It stunts your growth if nobody feels welcome joining Twitter because you were tripping over yourself trying to make sure that assholes and Nazis feel welcome. There isn’t an anti-conservative bias on social networks (if you actually measure it, it’s the opposite). Hire lots of smart humans, build good tools for those humans to work well, and give the humans good, sound policies to enforce.

Build on Initial Success Once It’s Achieved

Twitter’s been trying to build out a bunch of new stuff over the past couple of years in the hopes that one of them will have traction and catch on and presumably make Twitter money. The problem is that new products like Twitter Spaces are the kind of thing you make when you have a successful and profitable core product and you want to expand. Twitter hasn’t yet made its core product profitable.

Musk has hinted that he wants to turn Twitter into an “everything app” like WeChat. That’s a dumb idea. Now, I get why a rich dude might salivate at the idea of making a super monopolistic piece of software that everything else is built on top of and dependent on, but WeChat really only took hold in China because, well, it’s China. Facebook tried doing it with Messenger awhile back and it kind of fizzled out.

But once Twitter finds financial success, then it’s a good time to start experimenting with totally new things. Hopefully these are things that actually build on Twitter’s core, not shitty attempts to make a copy of another social network that’s currently growing.

I can’t really predict what these things might be; Twitter has to figure this shit out for themselves. But the new features need to be Twittery.

I can’t quite define what I mean here, but I’m thinking of things that are lightweight, fast, and concise. They’re things that embrace the open web (like how tweets are accessible via public URLs, making them easy to link to and find and otherwise interact with). Good Twitter features add frictionlessnes to things, like how hashtags made it super easy to quickly jump into public conversations about things, or how quote tweets made it super easy to add some extra perspective to someone else’s thought (or mercilessly roast them). Veer too far from that, and you’re fundamentally making a different product. And it wouldn’t be bad to do that, but don’t do it under the Twitter moniker; spin up a totally new brand and app name, and experiment there.

What About the Rest Of Us?

Yeah, so I really didn’t mean to write this post as an unsolicited advice column for Elon Musk; I just couldn’t help but dig into and enumerate Twitter’s many misgivings.

But what are we to do?

I have severely mixed feelings. I think Twitter was getting short shrift on the public market and theoretically benefits from being private, but I have serious doubts about Elon Musk’s ability to run this company well (and given that Twitter engineers were told yesterday to print out all of their code for Tesla engineers to come review, it’s confirming my suspicions that Musk likes to act before thinking).

But for now, I plan to stick around, assuming nothing super disruptive happens to the way I experience Twitter. I use Tweetbot to scroll through Twitter, and it’s been solidly consistent, always showing me a chronological feed of tweets from exactly the people I follow and no one else. Twitter is special; it’s the only place where I can follow all these specific people I care about following and see what they have to say.

But it’s really important to me to keep investing in communities that use truly open tools.

This blog is itself one such thing; it’s built on the open web and it’s totally under my control. It’s not really much of a community, though.

I’m on, though I’m not that active on there. I’m on Mastodon too, though I’m not that active on there either. I am an ardent RSS user and I follow a ton of blogs, most of which are independent. But I would like to see more people who are less tech-oriented to be making blogs again. And I love the open web because it’s easy to me to make my own little media bubble of exactly the things I care about, free of the bullshit of modern sites.

The problem with apps like Mastodon and (and others like Diaspora and countless other sites that sprung up) is that although they can be drop-in replacements for Twitter from a tech perspective (in the sense that they are apps for short-form microblogging on the web), Twitter isn’t its apps and APIs. The heart and soul of Twitter is the community, and it would be nigh impossible for me to get everyone I follow to move to one of these other sites. It would take a mass migration of some sort, which I don’t see happening unless Twitter really fucks shit up (which they totally could!).

Jack Dorsey has talked about making Twitter a protocol that Twitter is itself a member of, which would be really cool if it actually happened. That would mean I could move to apps run by people who aren’t Twitter while still being able to connect to people on Twitter, and it would be simpler to convince people to migrate off Twitter since they wouldn’t have to lose touch with followers or followees. I’d love to see this, and I actually feel like it’s more possible now than ever before now that Twitter is under private ownership, but I struggle to see how Twitter finds financial success in a world where Twitter is one network of many that are just like it and interoperable with it.

But despite what paperwork may say, Twitter still belongs to the masses, and because Twitter’s financial value hinges on the masses continuing to show up and participate, I don’t feel hopeless.

Keeping My Twitter Receipts in DEVONthink

Previously, I discussed a custom-built app I made called Receipts, which can convert tweets into Markdown files for me to archive and catalog. Now let’s talk about how I use DEVONthink to actually catalog them!

These Markdown files are just files sitting in folders on my Mac (the folders aren’t organized by anything in particular but I do split them up as they get big), and I have DEVONthink set up to index folders on my Mac, as opposed to actually importing them into databases as copied items.

I’m actually quite a big fan of using DEVONthink like this with files. The files themselves are the canonical source of truth, but DEVONthink gives me more organizational power. I can organize and search in DEVONthink, and most importantly, I tag tweets in DEVONthink. An added bonus: because the tweets are just Markdown files on my Mac, when I tag them in DEVONthink, those tags are added to the underlying files and are visible in the Finder too, and vice versa.

Armed with these tools, I tag the shit out of tweets.

Seriously, I have over 1000 tags:

screenshot of Script Debuger app showing that I have 1083 tags in DEVONthink

And they range wildly. I have some highly generic tags like funny or good news, some that are of a more specific genre like called out, and some are oddly specific, like frugal but secretly wealthy (which refer to those “financial advice” articles you always see about how some 25 year old survives NYC on $25k a year and once you dig past the “I don’t have a Netflix subscription” you find the more salient “my parents pay the rent” lede that got buried in there). I have some tags for specific people (the elon musk tag has gotten pretty full).

I save up batches of tweets to tag. That’s partly because I am not very on top of things, but also this ends up working nicely because patterns sometimes emerge in the tweets, especially with breaking events.

Having tags for specific viewpoints or theses is really useful, because the tags become de facto lists of things, and I now have lots of very specific lists of things, like instances of bad takes about covid, or things that aged poorly, or people as things (e.g. Noel Fielding as cakes, Sir Patrick Stewart as Vacuum Cleaners, Tilda Swinton as libraries, etc.)

Some unsolved problems do remain. One thing DEVONthink lacks (that I really miss about Evernote) is the ability to search text in images. A lot of tweets are images of text or at least contain text that’s not otherwise in the tweet (like images of comics). AI text recognition is getting better so I could perhaps update Receipts to include text annotations of images in the tweet file, but I’d like for that to remain either as metadata as opposed to file content, or just be a thing that DEVONthink can natively search. Alas.

Now, the biggest question: Has this actually helped me do what I set out to do?


In reality I don’t talk as much on Twitter as I used to, so I don’t really need to show up with receipts all that often. It’s nice to have them at the ready in private discussions, though.

I’ve been in conversation with friends and they’ll mention that Andrew Cuomo isn’t all that bad, and I can pull up my cuomo is trash tag and very quickly point out years worth of shitty behavior on his part.

One of the first tags I made, Doesn't Violate Community Standards, was me trying to put a name to a pattern I saw a lot on Twitter: when vulnerable people reported people harassing them on social media, the response was often that the person “didn’t violate community standards,” yet conversely vulnerable people would often get punished quickly for small and innocuous infractions. I knew it happened a lot, and even when I favorited tweets talking about it to save for later I’d lose track. Actually creating a named tag and tagging tweets with it now makes it possible for me to show a clearer picture of this issue and be backed by actual instances of this happening.

If I know exact text matches for a tweet I’m trying to remember, it can be super quick to find it in DEVONthink now. It’s not perfect, though! One day I was searching for a very specific tweet and I even knew the specific word being used in the tweet and I failed to find it because it never imported correctly. Luckily, I also remembered who tweeted it so I used Twitter’s advanced search to find the original tweet, and i made sure it imported.

But the actual benefit of keeping receipts on Twitter has been deeper than “let me find this tweet fast”. I found that the ritual of going through the most notable tweets in my timeline and tagging them later is really useful for me. It helps me see connections between things better, and the ritual of tagging gets me in the habit of putting a name to the tweets that have something in common. It helps remind me of recent events. And in many cases I get to enjoy a laugh from earlier in the week once more.

Receipts is also useful as a tweet archive. Tweets can sometimes disappear, and knowing that my computer can instantly archive a tweet to my hard drive is comforting, because sometimes really valuable things get deleted from Twitter for various reasons, from copyright issues to the tweet author growing to regret tweeting the thing.

Once you’ve amassed a big enough collection of this content in DEVONthink, the database becomes sizable enough that it’s its own sizable body of knowledge. It’s something that you can explore and go spelunking in, finding nuggets of information. You can look through tweets that you liked in July of 2021 to see what mood you and the world were in that day. If you were really interested, you could do some analysis on the data and look and see if there are correlations between tags.

I think it’s a really nice reward for what amounts to a handful of minutes of work every week.

Back to the Mac

Five years ago, Apple did something incredibly out of character: it invited a bunch of tech journalists to a round table discussion, admitted to making some serious mistakes, and pre-announced upcoming products.

It was a somewhat bleak time to be a Mac user. While the iPhone was getting yearly improvements, Mac design decisions felt deeply out of touch with people’s needs. The latest MacBook Pros regressed in serious ways, sacrificing useful ports, functionality, and a functioning keyboard for a slightly thinner laptop with a Touch Bar that it turned out nobody actually wanted.

No one really minded Apple’s aggressive minimalism on more consumer-y products; it was even welcomed. The MacBook Air was a successful computer. Pro users, though, were getting less satisfied with what Apple had to offer for them. There were laptops with unusuable keyboards that couldn’t even plug into conference room projectors without an adapter. The Mac Mini had gone years without an update. And most embarrassingly, the Mac Pro, introduced in 2013 by Phil Schiller with the now-infamous line “can’t innovate anymore, my ass”, had not gotten so much as a spec bump in those four years, leaving people to wonder if it was ever getting refreshed at all.

It was feeling like Apple no longer wanted to build computers for demanding pro users. Instead they seemed hell-bent on making a computer that adhered to some sort of minimalistic Platonic ideal; a Mac not only hampered by its hardware, but perhaps soon to have its software get even more restricted until the Mac was less a computer and more an appliance like an iPad. Some even feared that the Mac’s own days were numbered, and that Apple’s future might actually be focused more on the iPhone, which dwarfed the Mac and sales, and frankly, attention from Apple.

In April of 2017, though, Apple brought together a small group of tech journalists to ensure them, and by extension, Mac users, that Apple had not taken its eye off the ball with the Mac. And in this meeting, they laid out a vision for what they were working on for their pro Mac users: specifically, a new Mac Pro, and a new iMac geared toward pro users that would be coming later that year.

They were uncharacteristically candid about some of the troubles they ran into with the 2013 Mac Pro (semi-lovingly referred to as the “trash can” Mac Pro); specifically, they found themselves backed into a “thermal corner”. This Mac Pro had a triangular core that had a CPU and two GPUs. But later GPUs put out a ton of heat, and that design apparently couldn’t move out any more heat than it already was. Apple had no path forward to make faster or better models of the Mac Pro.

Not only that, but pro users really didn’t like the Mac Pro much. It was suitable for some kinds of pro users, like ones who just needed a lot of compute power, but other pro users relied heavily on specialty hardware that would typically be installed in PCI card slots which the 2013 Mac Pro lacked. Apple’s response to this was Thunderbolt 2 but it went over with pros like a lead balloon; it would lead to clunky setups and just overall wasn’t considered suitable.

Apple shared zero specifics about what these new pro Macs would have to offer. There was a fleeting mention of pro users wanting “modularity,” but Apple made no clear commitment to what that actually meant.

So we waited.

As promised, Apple released the iMac Pro later that year, and it was exactly as advertised: an iMac, targeted toward pro customers with more pro-level hardware, but still an iMac at heart.

Later, Apple released a revamped Mac Mini and users rejoiced. There was much concern that this was going to get the same kind of super-minimalist treatment that the MacBook Pro line got, but it didn’t. Instead, the back of a 2018 Mac Mini had ports aplenty (including USB-A as well as USB-C Thunderbolt 3 ports), and could be generously configured. It felt like Apple was finally starting to come correct here. In 2019 they finally updated the aging MacBook Air to have a Retina display, another well-received update.

And at WWDC 2019, we got to see a glimpse of their vision for true pro-level computing: the 2019 Mac Pro.

If you follow my blog you know my deep love for the 2019 Mac Pro. Apple gave pros everything they wanted (provided they were willing to show up with some serious coin to buy the machine). It wasn’t just modular; it was the most upgradeable Mac Apple had released in close to a decade. It doesn’t just have upgradeable RAM, it can be upgraded to up to 1.5 TERABYTES of RAM. It can be configured with up to a staggering 28 cores.

It was a love letter to pro Mac users everywhere, and Apple proudly told the world “the Mac is back” (not that Apple PR would ever admit it was gone in the first place).

Apple has since then continued steadily pushing out a stream of Mac computers that show that they really get what their users want. They finally redesigned their laptops to get rid of the worst laptop keyboard ever, and then in 2020 they started selling computers with their own custom silicon.

Apple is letting the Macs be themselves for the right users once again. The MacBook Air remains light and affordable, but the new 14“ and 16” MacBook Pros are decidedly a little chunkier looking, and they can pack a wollop when it comes to computing power.

And most recently, Apple released the Mac Studio, a desktop computer for demanding studio users that easily dwarfs most Mac Pro configurations in CPU and GPU performance.

You might have guessed this was Apple’s new high end pro desktop, if not for the fact that John Ternus mentioned ever so casually that there still remained one more Mac to transition to Apple Silicon: the Mac Pro.

Over the course of the last five years, Apple executed not just one turnaround, but two: it renewed its commitment to making great and appropriate computers for pro users (with a substantially better understanding of what it means to be a “pro user”), and they once again moved the Mac to a new processor architecture, barely skipping a beat.

Now we need a similar revolution, but for Apple’s software frameworks.

But that’s a topic for another day.


This is longer than a tweet would be so instead of making a Twitter thread that’s super annoying that you have to scroll through, I’ll make an actual blog post like a gentleman.

I have a free idea for Apple: SwiftScript.

It’s the successor to AppleScript. It doesn’t replace Shortcuts, but it’s what you graduate to after you outgrow Shortcuts.

the basics

(note: I’m describing this in present tense like it exist, but it doesn’t. I’m sorry, I don’t mean to get you all excited over nothing; it’s just easier to describe it that way instead of constantly with qualifiers)

It’s an actual programming language. It can look Swift-like. Hell, it could even be Swift. I’m not really digging into details here; I just want to do broad strokes.

AppleScript is an actual programming language too, but SwiftScript drops the cutesy English-like syntax which always sounded great on paper but is a nightmare in practice. Instead, we make SwiftScript really easy and approachable by making everything super discoverable.

Unlike the AppleScript editor which is basically just an empty editor you type text into and click “Run,” hoping for the best, SwiftScript is always meant to be interacted with by offering a REPL. You are constantly expected to dig around with this REPL and figure out what’s what in the language and in the apps you want to automate. Everything you type is very much autocompleted, and things are strongly typed so that the SwiftScript environment can always tell you what a thing is, and what you can do with that thing.

You know how web browsers have inspectors that let you click on any element in a page and see it in the DOM? The SwiftScript inspector can let you do the same, except with all the applications on your device. You can look at the Mail app and click a message in the message list and it’ll tell you about the Message entity, what fields a message has, and what methods you can call on the message. Clicking on the Search box will show you related objects, like an object to construct a search for messages. No guessing at what something is called or poring through docs you don’t quite understand. You see something you want to automate, and SwiftScript will show you what you’re dealing with.

Now, for this to be useful, we have to make apps that have very rich SwiftScript libraries for the scripts to use.

What I mean here is that when an app supports SwiftScript, every single entity in the app exposes a SwiftScript API. Shortcuts has been a cool thing to see in iOS (and now the Mac) but far too often I find myself wanting to automate something only to find that it just can’t be done because there isn’t anything close to resembling an action for it. SwiftScript won’t be limited like that; as a programmer you’ll be able to programmatically do virtually anything you can manually do as a user.

going past just a scripting language

So far, the SwiftScript I’ve described is fundamentally a nicer AppleScript, mostly predicated on the idea that you invoke a script, and then run it.

But SwiftScript can do more. SwiftScript apps can offer hooks throughout the app where SwiftScript scripts you write can act automatically when those hooks happen.

For instance, Mail might offer a hook for a new message coming into the Resumes folder (a folder which gets populated by a filter, perhaps). You might then make a SwiftScript that watches for this event, and then whenever a message of this sort comes in, it searches the message for the resume attachment, saves that file to a designated folder, then creates a to-do item in OmniFocus directing you to review that resume complete with the name of the applicant (from the From field), a link to the file itself, and a link back to the original Mail message.

Then, you might add another script that watches for replies to messages, and if you’re replying to a message in the Resumes folder, and then it will present you with a small GUI that asks you whether you are moving forward with that applicant or not, and based on that response, fills out a message for you with the appropriate details supplied from a template, with fields that you can fill in with the right added information. If we want to get really elaborate, maybe when you email a candidate you want to interview, the email might even include a few options for interview times in the coming days based on your availability in the time you blocked off in the afternoons for interviews.

But SwiftScript goes beyond just the applications’ APIs and the hooks they can provide. SwiftScript also is a powerful general-purpose programing language in its own right, with access to super powerful libraries. So not only can you perform repetitive tasks, the kinds of tasks you can let the computer perform can get increasingly sophisticated.

For instance, you might make a script that fires when you favorite a tweet in Twitter, and then the script will save that tweet’s contents to a database. A lot of tweets’ contents are just an image of text, so your SwiftScript can check to see if the tweet includes images, and if it does, check the image to see if it’s text, and if so, OCR the image and save that text into the database so that it’s easily searchable later.

You could even watch that text for certain key words and then tag that tweet in your database if appropriate.

apple: please take this idea and run with it!

The thing that’s just beautiful about SwiftScript here is that it turns any user into an application developer. But you don’t have to know how to develop a full application yourself; you really just get the power of all the apps you already have, but SwiftScript is there to help you fill in the gaps.

It’s clear that Apple looked at its automation story and saw that although AppleScript is quite powerful and continues to have a cult following (think of how amazing it is that AppleScript actually made the jump from classic MacOS to OS X and it’s still around and even works with Shortcuts), they saw a product that’s too complex, and decided that the future of automation on Apple platforms had to be not just made easier to user, but watered down.

I’m so glad that Shortcuts is a thing, and I’m glad that it’s energizing people about automation on their Macs and iOS devices. But it’s less capable than AppleScript.

SwiftScript tries to fundamentally change what automation means to you as a user. It’s an advanced tool because it’s a programming language but it’s making programming highly approachable by being an exploratory language that you are meant to tinker with at runtime as you build your scripts. It’s still for that sophisticated user, but it has the potential to give that user massive leverage by putting programming-shaped handles on every aspect of their computer. I’d love to live in the alternate universe where Apple built this.

But I guess building a car is cool too.

Photos for iOS: Find All Items From a Specific App

Another little tidbit that I discovered recently: if you are saving a lot of photos or videos to your photo library from a specific app (such as, for instance, TikTok), and you want to collect these images in one place, you can do it pretty easily!

Open one of the photos or videos, then press the Info button. If the item is saved from an app, there will be a button indicating the photo was saved from that app. You can just tap on that, and you’ll then be brought to a search screen that shows images from that app.

I then press Show All, then I will select all the photos and put them into an album.

demonstration of the steps i outline in this post

My life would be simpler if I could just make a smart album based on what app the photo was saved from, but smart albums aren’t able to be created on iOS, and the Mac version of Photos doesn’t seem to keep the metadata about the app a photo was saved from, so for now it has to be done semi-manually.

Space and Rich Dudes

I share a little bit of the bitterness that visiting space has transitioned from being something that countries did, to being a hobby of wealthy people with the funds to end world hunger but instead are like “nah, I want to spend billions on a rocket to send me up into space for a couple minutes.”

Of course, it’s important to watch for those rose colored glasses. Space exploration holds a special place in the heart of many a nerdy type (myself included), and indeed those who were around to see us set foot on the moon remember it as a point of national pride.

Of course, our interest in going to space was mostly a glorified dick measuring contest with the Soviets, and the nobility of our exploration kind of got retconned in there after the fact. And when the narrative we were taught in grade school was being put together, the history lessons left out the fact that it was a number of brilliant black women like Katherine Johnson who were performing important calculations to support NASA’s mission, even though they were treated like second class citizens and their work went unacknowledged for decades.

Exploring space is a worthwhile endeavor, and humankind should be doing it. It’s not inherently bad for someone to be really rich and have the cash to go into space for fun. It will never stop being sad to me that we culturally have set up capitalism so that it is wants so badly for billionaires to be able to exist and go on these adventures that we insist on letting people go without homes, healthcare, and food, and we do it largely on the principle that we want billionaires to become billionaires.


a building with a sign that says 'museum of whimsy'. Never have I been so disappointed for a museum to be closed.

It’s early Friday afternoon and I have an entire weekend ahead of me as I write this but I already feel like I’m at the point where my vacation is winding down and the responsibilities of going back to work are already staring me in the face.

Last week I celebrated two fun milestones: I became fully protected by my COVID vaccines, and I celebrated my birthday. It was a busy work week for me. I decided to schedule some vacation time to celebrate both.

On Friday after work I went and floated in a sensory deprivation tank for 90 minutes, the first time I was able to do so since the initial lockdowns of the pandemic last March. I’m a huge fan of sensory deprivation tanks and I’ll post about it shortly!

On Saturday I had (vaccinated) friends over for a barbecue that also served as a birthday get together. We got to enjoy each other’s company unmasked for the first time in ages, and the experience was therapeutic. We had DQ ice cream cake and I am pleased to say it tastes pretty much just like I remember it as a child (side note: Dunkaroos are also back in stores now and they are similarly amazing).

Since then I’ve spent the week living my best life. I took a couple of road trips: one to Astoria, and another to Eugene. I dined indoors. I did some gardening. I took multiple trips to Home Depot and finally fixed our drip irrigation system. I spent a lot of time outside. I entered a grocery store for the first time since last March. I spent a lot of time purposefully appreciating simple and relaxing moments.

Although I’ve got lots of fun projects I want to do on my computer, I spent surprisingly little time using it. I just wasn’t drawn to it that much. I do have a soldering project that I might do this weekend though.

I accomplished just about all the things I wanted to accomplish, and I still have the weekend ahead of me. I would have liked to have dove back into the habit of practicing learning the piano with my Lumikeys keyboard, but that’s just something to save for the future, I suppose.

I kind of knew in the back of my head that I needed a break. I hadn’t really taken any time off since the holidays, and that break was somewhat dampened by not being able to see family (and also emergency surgery the cat needed). The newfound freedom and vanishing stresses of the pandemic allowed me to properly enjoy this week off. Not only that, but even as this little vacation winds down, it isn’t even Memorial Day yet, and the whole summer is ahead of us.

I knew I needed this time off, but actually experiencing it, I now realize the extent to which I needed it.

Standing for Something

I want to see more companies start to actually take a stand on issues.

That’s one of the things I respected about Basecamp. Until their cofounders kind of revealed themselves to have some serious issues, they had a track record of striving to be good citizens.

For the most part, companies love to seem like they’re taking a stand on issues. They love to put out commercials paying lip service to how they believe immigrants make America great, or they’ll talk about how much they value the LGBT community, only to not really act like it when push comes to shove.

I know plenty of tech companies that love to talk a big game about their values, but their political donations paint a different picture. Plenty of tech companies get the opportunity to stand up for the vulnerable, but they don’t bother.

The businesses that are going to win in the next decade are going to be the ones that take being principled to the next level. These are going to be the businesses that won’t just put out feel-good statements; they’ll have policies both internally and externally facing about what constitutes good conduct. They’ll be proud to be vendors to green energy makers, and they’ll turn down the lucrative contract for the oil company.

These winning businesses will win because they’ll be authentic. And traditional companies will try to brand themselves as authentic, but it won’t work for the same reason that millennials killed Applebee’s; authenticity inherently can’t just be the suit you put on. It has to be who you are.

Walk the Planck

If you know me you know my collection of clicky keyboards has been steadily growing since I bought my first one in April of 2012 (a Das Keyboard, if you were wondering). In recent years, though, I’ve developed an affinity for a specific subgenre of keyboards: keyboards that are 40–50% the keys of a full-sized keyboard that are ortholinear. One of the most popular of these keyboards is the Planck, an absolutely adorable little grid keyboard with a 4×12 arrangement of keys.

When I’m recommending a mechanical keyboard for a friend who is relatively new to the game, I don’t want to throw someone into the deep end with a keyboard that also comes with such a dramatic learning curve; typically I aim to provide a soft landing in the mechanical keyboard world with a pretty standard looking full-size or tenkeyless keyboard that is laid out pretty much like a keyboard your computer might come with. That way, I give them a fair shake at getting to love the much better feel of the mechanical key switches without a ton of frustration at having to re-learn how to type.

But lately I’ve been inclined to push people more toward something like the Planck as their first clicky keyboard.

Just look at it:


It’s cute! It’s just 47 or 48 keys (depending on whether you opt for a double-wide spacebar). That’s super approachable, especially compared to something like the Ergodox, which is full of these clusters of keys of different sizes:

source: ergodox EZ

When you first lay your hands on a Planck you’re going to quickly feel like you have a grip on the keyboard; in the top three rows every single key is can be reached by moving a finger no more than one position from home row. And instead of being overwhelmed, you’re actually likely to be asking “Hey, where are all the keys? Don’t I need more?”

And you don’t! The Planck’s clever firmware makes fantastic use of limited keys by making each key do more. Modifier keys like Shift and CTRL can be dual-purpose; for instance, when I tap my CTRL key quickly, it’s treated as an Escape key, but when I hold it, it’s a Ctrl key.

And, of course, there are the layers. So, while you’ll notice there is now row of number keys, they’re actually right there, in the top row, on a different layer. You hold the key to the right of the spacebar to access this layer:

Layout of planck layer

When you factor in how easy it is to reach each key, you’ll find it actually feels quicker pressing 2 keys to press a number than it would have felt to reach up 2 rows to get to that number row. And because the keys are in a perfect grid, your fingers will love how easy and unambiguous it is which key is which! How often do you hesitate for a split second while you try to guess by feel whether you’re hitting the 2 or the 3 key in a staggered layout? With a grid, it’s never in question!

Your Planck will typically come pre-configured with a standard layout that works quite nicely, but you aren’t forced to live with that. The Planck is a fully programmable keyboard. That means its layout can be changed at the firmware level (which also means you don’t need to install special software or hacks on your computer to customize your keyboard’s layout, and you can plug your keyboard into any computer and it works just as you expect). This is my base layer’s layout (I’m a sucker for arrow keys in an inverted-T layout):

My Planck's base layer layout

The Learning Curve

My first keyboard in this category was a Preonic, which is like a Planck but with an extra row of number keys on top. I thought the extra row would make for a smoother transition, but eventually I realized the layers were plenty powerful and the extra row was an unnecessary crutch, and I rarely am using my Preonic anymore.

As a programmer, I’ve found that if I try to dive face first into a new type of keyboard at work, I will get frustrated really quickly. Instead, I spend time becoming proficient in more conversational typing first. I’ll type text conversations with people on it, or write up some blog posts with mostly prose and not a ton of special characters. Then, when I become proficient, I’ll try to gradually introduce more typing that involves the other characters.

If you choose a Planck EZ, they offer a graphical online layout configurator that also has a training mode, allowing you to see your layout in real time as you are holding different layer keys. I haven’t tried this yet myself (it was added after I was already pretty good with the keyboard) but I really like the idea of this.

And speaking of layout configuration, as you are learning the keyboard’s layout, I encourage you to make layout changes early and often! If you keep mistaking one key for a different one, why not just change the layout so that it matches your expectations? Are you finding that you keep hitting the Enter key in inopportune situations? Move it somewhere else or put it behind a layer to avoid accidentally sending a message prematurely!


If you haven’t already gotten the hint, Plancks love being customized! After all, the whole keyboard design is open-source from the start, so it was made to be tinkered with; it’s not a black box you’re expected to enjoy as-is. Two popular Planck versions (’s and the Planck EZ) have circuit boards where you don’t have to solder the key switches on, meaning you can try out different kinds of key switches to your heart’s content.

Since it’s such a small keyboard, you only have to buy 48 switches to have a full keyboard’s worth, making it cheap to try new kinds out! For the same reason, Plancks also make a great kit (the version is a kit, for instance). Even if you buy a version that needs soldering, soldering a Planck together is not nearly the undertaking that a full-sized keyboard is).

And, of course, you get to enter the world of customizable key caps! Most custom keycap sets offer a variant to make them compatible with the Planck (look for the “ortho” key set). For the most part it’s not too hard to just take some existing key caps from an existing keyboard and put them on your Planck, but for the bottom row you’ll have to get a little creative since most standard keyboards’ bottom rows don’t have 11–12 single width key caps.

A keyboard that is truly yours

Philosophically the Planck warms my heart. The Planck is a community-designed keyboard, and it is open to its core. When you buy one, you aren’t buying from a big, faceless corporation; you are buying from a cottage industry of small keyboard makers. Hell, you don’t even have to buy one from someone else if you don’t want to; you could build one yourself by hand and hand wire it if you wanted.

The keyboard will give you years of service, but it’s also a simple enough product that it is highly repairable. If an individual key switch stops working, you can replace just that switch. If a component on the circuit board fails, you could replace just that, or have a friend with some know-how replace it. It’s a refreshing departure from so many of today’s electronics.

And most importantly, you aren’t stuck choosing an inferior product just to get something built with these values; the Planck is objectively a better keyboard because of its openness, not in spite of it.

A keyboard for all

The Planck’s birth may have been among some passionate keyboard enthusiasts, but I firmly believe that it’s a keyboard suitable for the mass market. As friendly as the keyboard is to being customized and endlessly tinkered with, it’ll serve you just as well if you set it up just the way you like it and never change anything again.

The keyboard is a very intimate part of the computer. It is the most tactile part of it, and it’s the part of the computer you use when you want to precisely express your thoughts. It’s a peripheral that’s essential to people who work at a computer for a living, and if you’re like most computer users you’re just using the one that came with your computer without giving it a second thought. Believe me, it’s worth exploring better options, and a great keyboard is a solid quality of life improvement!

The iPhone 12 belongs to the ages

The last phone I reviewed on here was the iPhone 5 back in 2012. I generally get a new phone each year, but I suppose I’m not religious about posting stuff on here.

Looking back at that review, I remarked primarily on two things: speed, and the transition from the 30-pin connector to Lightning. While it might have seemed silly at the time to spend 928 words on a port transition, Lightning has nonetheless been on every phone since and continues to ship on phones to this day (though there are rumors that its days are numbered). I guess it was time well spent!

I don’t plan to be reviewing every iPhone, but I do think it’s worth taking time to write up thoughts on the iPhones that are particularly distinctive. If I had been patient and bought the iPhone X in 2017 it probably would also have earned a review; it was Apple’s first major rethinking of what the front of the iPhone should look like and it will likely be used for even longer than the original vision that incorporated a home screen button.

The iPhone 12, overall, strikes me as a phone that is teeing Apple up for a new years-long era of design (and 5G).

The Phone

I bought a blue one with 256 gigs of space, on the Verizon network. One note: the blue is not nearly as bright as the marketing pictures would have you think; they’re photographing these in insanely well-lit environments.

Industrial Design

When you pick up the iPhone 12 in your hand, something strikes you about its fit and finish. It’s difficult to rank things on a scale of niceness, but I would have to guess that my iPhone is quite possibly the nicest thing I own. It’s not the most expensive thing I own (that is a recognition my house enjoys), but perhaps with the exception of my Mac Pro, the iPhone 12 is my nicest possession. When you hold it in your hands, it has just a perfect amount of heft to it so that you know it’s substantial. It was built to incredibly tight tolerances. It has just a few buttons, but they each feel a nice satisfying and firm “click” when you press them. It feels like a device that belongs to the ages.

Apple’s industrial design for phones has a few distinct eras:

  • The first three phones, during which Apple was still figuring out how to actually make mass market phones. The very first design was only used for a generation, followed by 2 generations of phones with this rounded plastic shell that was really kind of inelegant
  • The iPhones 4 through 5s (and original SE), which fell into line with the rest of Apple’s hardware design language, primarily incorporating glass and aluminum, and going to flat sides and back
  • The iPhones 6 through 11, when Apple started experimenting with more phone sizes. They made the sides rounded, possibly to make them feel slimmer or easier to hold the larger sized devices. Aluminum remains the primary metal, while going to stainless steel for the more high-end devices

And with the iPhone 12, we enter a fourth era, which looks a lot like a refined version of that second era. We’re returning to flat sides, and the chamfers of the iPhone 5 are instead gently rounded as the sides transition to the front and back. Apple has settled on using glass on the front and back, a trend they moved away from briefly in the third era in an attempt to reduce the amount of material that could shatter, but Apple’s gotten wiser about their glass and shattering is less of a concern that it used to be.

And that to me is really what the iPhone 12 feels like. When Apple released the iPhone 4 there was this sense that the iPhone 4’s overall look and external design was the Platonic ideal of what an iPhone should be. It was flawed (the glass front and back were prone to shattering a ton) and there was demand for phones to start getting bigger. Apple inched in that direction with the iPhone 5 (which also removed the glass back) but when it became clear that Samsung was eating Apple’s lunch with their gargantuan phones, Apple radically changed the industrial design of the iPhone to make bigger phones. And finally, after years of iterating on that general look (and possibly lingering on it a couple years longer than they should have), it feels like Apple is coming home again to a design that is quintessentially classic iPhone, but scales all the way from a mini-sized phone to their biggest phone yet.


The displays in this year’s standard iPhone model got nicer. They’re all OLED (last year, only the Pro models had this distinction), and on the 12, pixel density has been increased. The display looks beautiful.


Another first of this phone that mirrors the iPhone model I last reviewed on here: it is the first to offer 5G support.

Despite rumors to the contrary, every (US-based, at least) iPhone has support for both sub–6GHz and mmWave 5G.

mmWave 5G is insanely fast (like, 2 gigabits per second speeds fast), but it uses very high frequencies to get these speeds, and it thus has very poor range (a closed door might cut off a 5G signal). For cities to be blanketed in mmWave 5G would require enormous investments on their part, buying an order of magnitude more equipment to get the same levels of coverage that would probably only work outdoors. mmWave 5G has its place and could be handy in dense areas like stadiums or crowded urban centers where there are lots of people using up bandwidth, but we’re far more likely to be using sub–6GHz 5G for most part in the near future.

Sub–6GHz 5G is an incremental improvement over LTE. I’ve struggled to actually hear any wireless providers provide actual speed numbers you might be able to expect, and early reviewers say that’s mostly because this 5G is often performing worse than LTE in the same location.

It’s also noteworthy that when LTE was first deployed, not that many people had LTE phones, and if you were one of the few to have one, you’d get incredible speeds of up to 100Mbps, and now that networks are saturated, real-world performance is more like 20–30 Mbps on a good day, and because sub–6GHz 5G is mostly piggybacking off of existing LTE signals to provide slight improvements, while 5G might be faster than LTE today, the speeds you’ll see on it are actually slower than when LTE was new to the scene.

And in reality, this sounds kind of dreary, but it’s not that bad. The speeds we get are really just fine, and although I can no longer get really great numbers running speed tests on my phone, as long as I have a decent signal I can generally do what I need to do. If anything, I think that it’d be nice for wireless providers to look to improve 4G and 5G signals in their existing footprint, and only really worry about mmWave in the most densely packed of areas.


As Apple is wont to do with their trademarks, they have resurrected the MagSafe brand, this time equipping iPhones with a magnetic back (prior art: they repurposed the iBook brand name with their e-book store).

This time, instead of being a clever little laptop connector that won’t send your expensive computer sailing into the air when you trip over the cord, MagSafe refers to an array of magnets embedded in the back of new iPhones, which you can use to connect magnetic charging pucks or other accessories like cases, Popsockets, or even wallets.

Apple loves tactical deployment of magnets in their devices, and this is a great use case. Qi chargers are great, but you have to have them positioned just so for your phone to charge, and it’s really easy for the phone to get jostled out of alignment, causing you to wake up with a dead phone.

I haven’t purchased any MagSafe accessories yet; I’m holding out for the perfect nightstand accessory, but I am excited about this concept and I look forward to seeing what kinds of MagSafe accessories come of this.


This year, Apple’s taken the opportunity to ship fewer things in the box with their devices. This year, the iPhone no longer ships with earpods or a wall charger, and the USB-A to Lightning cable has been replaced with a USB-C to Lightning cable.

The rationale is that most people already have a wall charger, and the amount of material that goes into putting one in every box is substantial. Also, by removing these standard accessories, the iPhone box shrinks and more iPhones can be packed onto airplanes to ship.

That’s all well and good, but the message got muddled by the switch from USB-A to USB-C for the included cable. It’s been awkward that Apple had been for years still shipping iPhones with a USB-A cable, given that none of Apple’s laptops even have a USB-A port, and rumor for years was that Apple was going to start shipping iPhones with a USB-C charger. And while premium models last year did get a USB-C charger, Apple decided to do away with chargers entirely, but people whose old cable was worn out found themselves either needing to buy a new cable too, or needing to buy a new USB-C charger.

The pro-environment message was further muddled by the fact that iPhones this year have an entirely new charging system available in MagSafe, which will surely tempt some people to buy new MagSafe charging accessories.

I suspect that overall this change results in a net savings of materials; I don’t think 100% of iPhone 12 buyers are also buying a USB-C charger or a MagSafe puck; a solid majority are probably going to stick with the charging equipment they have. And I’m sure the percentage of iPhone owners who will be buying some Lightning EarPods with their iPhone 12 is vanishingly small. But of course, Apple mostly comes out of this looking like they’re less altruistic about the environment, and more like they’re nickel and diming. Also worth keeping in mind: this change surely added a much needed reduction to the iPhone’s bill of materials, which increased quite a bit because of the now-standard OLED screen.

Should you buy it?

I didn’t write up a review of this phone in the typical sense of reviewing a phone, where I am trying to give you a recommendation as to whether you should buy it. Apple is solid at pushing out year over year updates; they aren’t likely to be pushing out a dud.

My buying advice: If you are in the market for a new phone, and you have the budget, buy one of the iPhones 12, and pick based on size, or opt for one of the pro models if you are serious about phone photography. If you are more price sensitive, it’s still a fantastic time to buy the new iPhone SE; it contains the very capable A13 chip and sells for half the cost of a 12; it’s an incredible value (and if you’re wearing a face mask, the SE has an advantage over the new phones in that it still has Touch ID).

If you update phones infrequently, this is a good year to make an upgrade. If you are still using an iPhone with a home button and you aren’t ready to make the switch, buy the SE instead; it just came out this year, it rocks a respectable A13 processor and decent camera, and it’s about half the price of an iPhone 12.

Parting thoughts

One of the things that I find most impressive about the iPhone as a piece of hardware is that not only is the iPhone an exquisite piece of kit, these are a truly mass market product.

This is a delicate dance Apple plays when designing its phones. This is the first year Apple switched to OLED screens for all of its phones. Until this year Apple was putting OLEDs in only the more expensive phones because even if they wanted the screens across the lineup, the manufacturing capacity to produce OLED screens that met Apple’s standards for color matching simply didn’t exist.

Apple is quite pragmatic in its industrial design choices; they don’t put out a phone with entirely new external look every year; they repurpose existing tooling to make phones of similar design and size, and they keep around tooling from older models to make budget models like the SE. Even when the iPhone X was released Apple didn’t change too many aspects of it; it still retains the overall shape and rounded edges of its predecessors.

Apple executes incredibly well at a lot of things, and lately there are a lot of things they struggle with. But the iPhone as a physical product stands out to me above all of Apple’s other products. Every year, almost like clockwork (and a little late this year because of COVID), Apple mass produces a new phone that manages to make impressive year-over-year speed and camera improvements over its predecessor, and without fail, the phones manage to be consistently high in physical quality. It shouldn’t come as much of a surprise; it is of course Apple’s largest source of revenue by a long shot, but the sheer consistency and reliability is something to marvel at.