WWDC 2021 Keynote – Impressions

an overhead view of an iPad running iPadOS 15 from Apple's WWDC keynote
This keynote weighed in at just under an hour and 45 minutes, but by being pre-recorded, it was a tight keynote, jam packed with announcements.

I think my wish list was too highly focused on a couple small areas and not thinking broadly enough about the vast array of things Apple makes and could have added new features to. It probably is also a sign that I’m a little too focused on my own use cases and feature requests and not thinking quite enough of the big picture. Overall, 5 out of the 32 bullet points in my wish list were announced in the keynote (it’s possible a few other wishes came true but weren’t announced; I asked for a few bug fixes that I haven’t been able to test yet). However, there were a number of things announced that I didn’t know I wanted.

Hardware

There wasn’t any! Developers are super eager for some so that’s a bummer, but also I’m guessing that these pro-level Apple Silicon chips are taking longer to get to market because they have really different characteristics from the M1 chip. It’ll need to support more RAM and larger SSDs for one, and also offer support for more high-speed ports.

Whenever Apple does release these higher end laptops, they’re going to sell like gangbusters.

iOS

I didn’t get the things I wanted most, which were a split view version of PIP instead of a floating PIP window, and revamped view of Messages app history (unless Apple silently made it work better and it didn’t get an announcement). Some changes were announced around showing things that were shared with you and surfacing them in other apps, but my much more common use case is one where my fiancé tells me he shared a link with me two weeks ago, and I need to dig to find it because our message history is huge.

FaceTime is getting some welcome quality of life improvements. The spatial audio changes coming to FaceTime sound particularly Apple-like, and I have a feeling that when you hear a call with these audio improvements it’ll just have a certain je ne sais quoi that will lead people to just feel like the quality is better, even if the bitrate is the same. These are exactly the kinds of details Apple loves to obsess over, and it makes a difference.

FaceTime is also catching up to Zoom with a couple features like grid view, the ability to blur your background, and the ability to share links to a call. Also, it’ll finally be possible to have a FaceTime call with someone on a non-Apple platform.

One wish I didn’t expect to see fulfilled but it was: relay servers via iCloud+. That wish was really a long shot for me, but I think it’s a great feature for Apple to be offering. I’m also glad to see that iOS will show you exactly what domains your apps are talking to; it’s reminiscent of Little Snitch and I think it’s a tool with more teeth than just asking the app not to track you.

Wallet

I was excited to see that you can now put your ID card into your Wallet app. Apple was pretty hush hush about which US states are supporting this, so I’m guessing the details are yet to be hashed out.

Support for unlocking your home’s doors looks exciting. I currently use a keypad but I’d love to see a world where I can swipe my Apple Watch or phone to the door to unlock.

iPadOS

The most important thing I wanted to see from iPadOS was for it to replace its current clunky multitasking model with a new one that is consistent, doesn’t require guessing, and where the various bits of functionality are composable with one another. Honestly, I think the end game for this will be for iPadOS to support app windows, but Apple apparently wasn’t willing to go quite so far this year. But they are making some nice improvements to the interface to using the existing multitasking support, and that is welcome. I find split screens to be really inflexible personally (it’s so annoying that if you have a split screen and you want a third app you literally have to cover one of the split screens up), but it’s something.

When iPadOS didn’t get widgets or App Library support last year, I assumed it was because Apple had something bigger in store for iPadOS. Turns out, they didn’t, and they just released those features a year late for iPad. Those should have been added in an iOS 14 point update.

The Files app and underlying APIs didn’t really get any mentions, but I hope they improved this year. The Files app is flirting with being completely unusable.

There was no word about multi-monitor support on iPadOS. I’m guessing we aren’t seeing this for the same reason iPadOS isn’t switching to full-blown windows as its multitasking model–it’s a lot of work to implement.

The least Apple could do is throw in Thunderbolt Target Display Mode on iPad so the Thunderbolt port doesn’t completely go to waste. I would love for my iPad to double as a high quality portable Thunderbolt display when I’m on the road, and Sidecar doesn’t cut it (seriously, for all the finicky things Apple goes to great lengths to get right, I can’t believe they are okay with the kinds of washed out colors and compression you get from having your Sidecar display be an H.265 stream).

iPadOS is a decade old now and frankly, it has little to show for it. Most of iPadOS is just riding on iOS’s coattails. Especially now that iPadOS is its own separate thing, I expect to see it make major progress each year to becoming its own computing platform. The first two years brought a handful of features each, and this year we’re getting something a little more substantial (and in total fairness Apple added cursor support last spring in a point update which was huge), but will we see another leap next year? In five years I hope to see iPadOS living up to the ambitions that the iPad’s hardware designers clearly have for it.

watchOS

I’m not usually wanting for new watchOS features. I mostly just want every interaction on watchOS to become faster and I’d be happy (and I’m not sure if there are any improvements on that front but if there are, they weren’t mentioned).

I was particularly interested in the HomeKit doorbell integration. If I can’t get this working with my Ring doorbell via HomeBridge I can see myself trying out a competitor’s doorbell just for the ability to see a live video feed on my watch (and given that I used to work for Ring and love their products, that’s saying something).

macOS

In past WWDC keynotes macOS would be the first thing talked about so I had kind of forgotten about it when Craig brought it up near the end of the keynote.

Much like watchOS, with macOS I wasn’t expecting much. I really just wanted bug fixes more than anything (Big Sur left a lot of new bugs in its wake), but Apple had some surprises up its sleeve.

I have been pining for something like Universal Control lately. I used to use apps like Teleport and Synergy to be able to control other computers on my desk with a single mouse and keyboard, but Teleport got discontinued while Synergy’s developers seem not to give a crap about a usable UI. But Universal Control doesn’t just let me control two Macs with one keyboard and mouse at my desk, I can even control an iPad. That looked pretty awesome and it was a delightful surprise. Similarly delightful is the fact that Macs can now be an AirPlay target.

Automator is now retired and is being replaced by a macOS version of Shortcuts. I haven’t dug much into that but I’m hoping that it brings new capabilities. I’ve never found Automator style shortcuts to be that useful to me (and the same applies to the Shortcuts app on iOS; it’s always felt to me like die hard iOS users just make them because they can).

Safari

Safari on macOS got a really neat looking makeover! I keep finding myself on the verge of making Safari my main browser and I think it could happen one of these days.

I am particularly excited to hear that WebExtensions API extensions will be supported on all versions of Safari. Long term I look forward to a day when I can switch freely between browsers and not worry that I’m going to lose an essential extension. And given that Apple has formed a consortium with other browser vendors to move the WebExtensions API standard forward and ensure interoperability.

Parting Thoughts

This keynote was a stark reminder of the sheer breadth of OSes and services Apple is actively managing. I didn’t even get into other stuff like Health app improvements or App Store changes. But also, the Venn diagram of my wish list versus what was announced was kind of odd to see; I’ve been focused lately on a lot of pain points and bugs because these are mature platforms and I mostly have the features I love, but I need them to be reliable.

As with last year, this year’s WWDC comes on the tail end of a lot of bad developer relations PR. I didn’t expect Apple to address that stuff head on; they always prefer to address that in WWDC by showing us all the cool stuff they’ve built for developers, but one slide stands out to me: the slide that says Apple has paid out $230 billion total to developers.

Setting aside that this also means developers paid Apple 30% of that over the years, that number bothers me because Apple just tries to show us that as a big number that’s supposed to amaze us, but $230 billion is the total amount of money Apple has paid out to all of the hundreds of thousands of developers since 2008, But in just the last three quarters, Apple took in $265 billion in revenue. I bet if you subtract out the money paid out to Candy Crush-type game developers for in-app purchases, the picture looks even bleaker. That size differential can’t possibly mean a healthy relationship between Apple and the developers dependent on Apple. And as Apple’s gotten bigger, growth has been getting harder and harder to find; Apple’s saturated the market with iPhones and other devices so we’re past the days of explosive hardware growth. And at Apple’s size, it has to grow revenue a ton just to keep the healthy growth percentages that investors expect. It’s pushed Apple in recent years into pursuing services revenue, which includes App Store revenues and other subscriptions Apple sells, and this Apple looks different.

Overall, though, these are going to be some great new OS releases this fall.

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Apple: Working remote, or remotely working?

a desk with a mouse and keyboard on it
I’m glad to see that Apple employees are speaking up and pushing on Apple to embrace a more remote-friendly environment.

Apple absolutely has a culture that has enabled them to create incredible products over the years, but being colocated to get work done isn’t one of those things.

Executives love coming back to the office because they spend their time in meetings most of the day and remote meetings kind of suck in some ways. When it comes to focused work, though, a sizeable chunk of Apple’s team can benefit immensely from the flexibility afforded by remote work. Running a remote company lets you have team members from everywhere. It makes possible a more accommodating workspace for a wide range of people, from parents to people who are neurodivergent and find an open office to be a torrent of stimuli.

It’s really frustrating to watch a bunch of Apple bloggers who have never worked at Apple maintain this “how dare they” attitude toward Apple employees, sometimes implying that these employees don’t get Apple culture if they’re asking for this.

I’ve reported dozens of bugs to Apple over the years and I run into dozens more that I couldn’t even report. A tiny fraction of them ever get fixed. Apple is one of the most valuable companies in the world, and they have more cash on hand than any other company in the world, and they can’t fix their bugs. Hiring and retaining talent is a huge challenge for Apple, and if employees are speaking up and giving Apple a clear way they can better retain talented people, Apple ought to be listening.

There’s a quote attributed to Steve Jobs: “It doesn’t make sense to hire smart people and tell them what to do. We hire smart people so they can tell us what to do.” Now I know for a fact Steve didn’t live up to this himself (he kept engineers working over the holidays so he could demo custom wallpaper on the iPad), but it would be nice to see the Apple community at least aim to live up to that standard. There are smart people at Apple telling leadership that there is a better way to do things.

Remote work works. People are equally or more productive when remote. The best defense of staying colocated is usually the same type of fuzzy feel-good argument that brought us such hits as “open offices make us more productive because they create serendipity.” Executives love onsite work for the same reason they love the open office: they love that feeling of power of watching all the worker bees together in the same place working on something, and actually saying that out loud would sound callous, so they come up with other excuses as to why it’s better.

Remote work saved our asses when pandemic struck. It kept the economy from grinding to a halt while keeping millions safely in their homes. And not only did we get to enjoy the perk of “being able to keep your job in a pandemic,” we also got to experience the other advantages: losing the commute, ability to set up a private workspace (space at home permitting) and not being coupled to being in a certain city or location to get work done. We don’t need the threat of a deadly virus to keep reaping those benfits; people can do great work remotely when well-supported, and the fact that executives have been saying for years that it can’t be done only for us to have done it this past year shows that maybe we should be a little skeptical when these same executives tell us that we really need to get back into the office.

As for me, I was working remotely before the pandemic. I had to leave my last job because my boyfriend and I bought a house in another city and my company didn’t do remote work. And after doing it full time for awhile, I’ll be sticking with remote work for the foreseeable future.

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WWDC 2019

a picturesque scene from a little hotel in Ashland

With WWDC coming up in just a few days, I’ve been reflecting a little on WWDCs of years past.

Quite possibly my favorite WWDC ever is the one from 2019. WWDCs as of late have been pretty damn impressive and although this one isn’t the one with the most surprises (that’s the one I’d have to give to WWDC 2014 when Swift got introduced), 2019’s announcements were incredible.

But I’m not necessarily sure WWDC 2019 is my favorite just because of what was unveiled; it also occurred at somewhat of a crossroads in my life, and it’s left me with a lot of happy nostalgia.

A few days prior to this WWDC I had driven up to Portland to take ownership of the house my fiancé (then boyfriend) and I had recently closed on.

As exciting as it was, to be honest it felt kind of weird being up there in that house all by myself. It was kind of lonely, and I had that realization that we were kind of dismantling our lives in a very short time. I just left a job that I really loved, and I was about to start a job at GitHub, which intimidated the hell out of me. Above all, I knew cognitively the house was ours and we’d soon be calling it home, but it just didn’t feel like home. It was kind of weird.

I took care of a couple things around the house that weekend. Most importantly, I got our fiber internet set up (you wouldn’t move into a house before the electricity is on, why move into one without internet?), and I also bought some supplies and took care of a couple things the insurance company was bugging me about. It was a late Sunday afternoon when I locked up the mostly empty house and headed toward San Francisco to onboard at GitHub.

I overnighted in Ashland, a beautiful little town in southern Oregon.

After breakfast the next morning I went to work out and watch the WWDC livestream. It started off with some neat enough announcements (like Xbox controller support for iOS and Apple TV) as well as some interesting trailers for some of the shows Apple was making. I kept the stream running as I showered and packed up and headed out into my car, and I just sat in my car in the parking lot to finish out the keynote.

Thinking back, the 2019 keynote was full of some amazing announcements. I believe Catalyst finally got a name and was announced. Apple also announced a whole new next-generation UI framework, SwiftUI. When Swift first came out I could see its potential but it was clearly held back by its need for interoperability with all of the existing frameworks that were built around Objective-C. When Swift was first announced I wondered “what will brand new, Swift-only APIs end up looking and feeling like?” SwiftUI was the answer to that. Even a couple years later SwiftUI is still very young, but it’s super elegant and exciting.

But whenever I think about WWDC 2019 I’m always taken back to that moment in my car when Apple started showing off the Mac Pro. It had everything we wanted and more (and appropriately, its price tag was everything we expected and more).

Apple didn’t fuck around with the Mac Pro. Pro users would have been content if Apple had just brought back the pre–2013 style tower and changed nothing else, but Apple’s too proud to do something that straightforward. They thought of everything. They famously said they had designed themselves into a bit of a thermal corner with the 2013 Mac Pro, and apparently when Apple finds itself backed into a corner (thermal or otherwise), they come out swinging, and in this case they came out swinging with a case design that would be the envy of most any nerd.

Apple’s 2013 Mac Pro was opinionated and had a specific vision in mind about pro users’ needs, opting for I/O ports instead of expansion cards (not a great move), and pretty severely limiting graphics expansion capability (and really, all expansion capability). The 2019 Mac Pro was a total 180 in exactly the way it needed to be. “Holy fuck,” I kept finding myself saying as I sat alone in my car marveling at everything they did.

It was such an exciting announcement. It showed us, above all, that the Mac was back, and Apple wanted to do things right with it (even if their laptops were still a fucking mess with shitty keyboards). Apple was again thinking about all different Mac users, all the way to the highest end and most demanding ones.

And of course, when it comes to WWDC fun, the keynote itself is just the beginning! I had an entire week of episodes from my favorite podcasts ahead of me, and after days of socializing with my new GitHub coworkers, it was a delight to go back to my hotel, head to the fitness center, and just introvert out while listening to some of my favorite podcasters discussing the event (Accidental Tech Podcast’s WWDC episodes are always a hoot, and 2019 was absolutely no exception given that John Siracusa had been using his Mac Pro for a decade at that point holding out for the new one). I guess since I was in SF I probably could have actually gone to some of the events (after all, there wasn’t an active pandemic at the time), but I was just as happy listening to some podcasts.

It was a super fun week, and that tail end of the WWDC keynote was the hour that my trepidation turned into a feeling that everything’s going to be all right after all.

I did my week of onboarding at GitHub, exploring their San Francisco headquarters, and getting to meet my teammates. On Friday afternoon I drove back home to Santa Monica, only to fly out again a day or two later to the midwest. At that point, Santa Monica still felt like my home base for the next month and a half, even though there was a whirlwind of travel and packing up. And when my man and I both came back up to Portland together for the Fourth of July week to start prepping the house for the move and get a lay of the land, those panicked feelings were gone.

It’s funny how WWDC is kind of an event for me even though I have never actually attended one in person, and even though I’ve only spent a tiny portion of my career developing for Apple platforms.

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WWDC 2021 wish list

To an Apple nerd like me, the WWDC keynote day is kind of my Christmas. Pound for pound, the WWDC keynote contains the largest number of interesting announcements and since they have such a huge software focus, they have a tendency to be very surprising since there aren’t any supply chain leaks.

I thought I’d share a little mind dump of things I’m hoping to see this year. With the exception of iPadOS, all of Apple’s platforms are quite mature and so my feature requests are getting kind of boring and specific. But at the same time, this platform maturity is a real opportunity for Apple to polish the shit out of its OSes, which there is absolutely room for them to do.

Hardware:

WWDC is mostly about software and developers, but Apple has a tendency to release new hardware at these events. Here’s what I’m hoping to see:

  • At least one Pro Apple Silicon Mac! Probably the MacBook Pro. It seems like Apple will settle on having 2 different Mac chips, an entry level one, and a pro-level one. Given that the M1 is so tightly integrated and similar in architecture to iPhones and iPads, I really am interested to see how similar the pro SoC is architecturally.
  • I want Apple to get back into the market of making its own displays. Apple is the only computer maker where 5K displays are commonplace, and they recently went into making a 6K display with the Pro Display XDR. I love the idea of that much screen real estate, but I don’t need the XDR tech. The display I most want to see is a non-XDR version of Apple’s $5000 Pro Display XDR. Ideally it comes in sizes of up to 32 inches with the same pixel density as the XDR display. 27 inches has been the upper bound for awhile; it’s time the biggest display got bigger. Ideally this “mass market” version of the display brings back features like a built in webcam (the XDR display doesn’t have one because the pros that would primarily need these displays actually can’t have a built-in webcam)
  • I think it’d be cool to see Apple drop a completely unexpected device! Before HomePod was released people speculated that Apple might be making a home assistant with a built-in screen which would have been much less underwhelming than the HomePod that Apple actually released. And with the core technologies Apple has at its disposal, it would be relatively easy for them to spin up a new specialized iOS variant made specifically for a home assistant like this.

iOS:

  • on iPhone, PIP should have the option of a vertical split view where the video is on the top part of the screen and the rest of the UI slides down and is shortened. It’s a really specific feature but a floating PIP window is kind of useless on an iPhone and this is a really simple way to solve that.
  • Make Messages history search actually work, especially now that we lost Chatology on the Mac. Seriously, have you ever tried scrolling back through one of your conversations with someone to find a thing you talked about a few weeks ago? It’s maddening.
  • Fix that bug where I often can’t react to a message when I pull down the notification; it’s so annoying!
  • ramp up privacy features in Safari. Make things work damn well with password managers. Put the neural engine in the iPhone to use with an AI-powered Reader mode that is uncannily smart at de-cluttering web pages
  • A lot of advertisers will track your activity across multiple apps because they’ll see you’re using the same internet connection. iOS should allow you to direct all of a particular app’s network traffic through a VPN or proxy of sorts (iOS could let you do the same with private mode tabs, or automatically mark specific domains as getting this treatment). Bonus points if Apple offered their own free proxy that ran super fast in their cloud and worked transparently with the OS. This would severely limit advertisers’ ability to track you across different apps just because you share a network connection.
  • In light of all the work Apple is doing to limit tracking and the ecosystem around that, I’d like to see Apple bake in support for something like Scroll but on a wider scale. Scroll (recently acquired by Twitter) is a subscription service that lets you pay a monthly fee to eliminate ads on dozens of web sites, and the web sites get money directly from you in lieu of the ad revenue.

iPadOS:

I mentioned iPadOS as the one platform of Apple’s that isn’t mature, and that’s kind of a half truth; iPadOS and iOS are basically the same OS, but it appears to me that when Apple announced iPadOS forking from iOS in 2019, it was because Apple’s intent is for iPadOS to seriously start diverging from iOS, and I am seriously hoping that 2021 is the year that we start to see this separation bear fruit.

  • Completely rethink drag and drop. Literally 90% of the time I invoke drag and drop on my iPad it’s accidental. When I intentionally invoke it the other 10% of the time, the drag and drop succeeds maybe 25% of the time. It’s abysmal.
  • Take major UI elements that used to be exclusive to desktop and bring them to iPadOS, in a way that’s touch optimized. Some want full macOS on their iPads. I don’t necessarily want that; macOS has too much UI baggage. Instead, I want iPadOS to gain UI elements like windows that can be arbitrary sizes and positions and can overlap. I want app menus. I want standardized interfaces/conventions that make things like context menus accessible. These would all of course be touch-first, but the mouse and keyboard would also have first class support as an optional way to use things more efficiently.
  • Replace the springboard with something new. Given that iPadOS didn’t get the App Library last year that iOS got, I’m guessing this was because Apple had bigger things in store for the iPad, and wasn’t just a side effect of iPadOS forking off of iOS.
  • Proper multi-monitor support is long due on iPad, especially now that you can buy an iPad Pro with a Thunderbolt port
  • A target display mode that works over the Thunderbolt port. This is a nitpick on my part but if you’ve ever used Sidecar you’ll notice that your iPad’s rendering your Mac’s screen as an H.264 stream. Even with a cable it looks atrocious. There’s no way that this isn’t a bee in some Apple engineer’s bonnet, and I hope that engineer took a chance to throw this feature in.
  • a Terminal app that uses containers/virtualization for developers. Ideally the containers can be shared or be accessed with multiple shells, and ideally these containers are accessible to apps. This could allow for someone, for instance, to make a programming text editor for iPad that has integrated terminals that let you run your code, and also would allow you to run servers and other background stuff. Bonus points if we can lock these containers to only run on the efficiency cores. Because all these UNIX-y things would be running inside of containers, they’d be safely sandboxed off and isolated from the rest of the OS, and you’d be able to do pretty much anything you want inside the containers.
  • I want enough APIs to exist that a tool like Alfred could exist on iPad. That would include things like global keyboard shortcuts, ability to bring up floating panels, an app having the ability to index a bunch of things in the background, and ability to run certain scripts that kick off automations of stuff.
  • Make Files app actually work, make it closer to a Finder app for iPadOS. I recently was trying to do some work with the Files app and it’s just pathetic. It makes me seriously question people like Federico Viticci who use iPad as their full-time computing platform; it’s just terrible to use and it’s really only useful to grab a single file quick.

watchOS:

  • Add ability to have workouts based on sustaining target heart rate for a period of time
  • Apple Workouts app should add workouts for elliptical
  • Ability to launch shortcuts from the watch by holding it up to an NFC tag
  • Keep speeding things up! Some things I know are just slow because the transition animations are purposefully slow. I think a lot of those nowadays can probably be eliminated.
  • Complications that can update reliably! Right now it’s a total crapshoot and if you have complications that are meant to display important and current information (like your blood glucose) you can’t glance at the complication and count on it being current.
  • APIs for custom watch faces. Come on, it’s time.

macOS:

  • Above all I hope that engineers have swept through and just fixed a ton of bugs. I have personally reported several Big Sur bugs that haven’t been touched as of 11.4.
  • make the PIP window have buttons to skip ahead and backwards, giving it feature parity with the iOS PIP window
  • Streamline the security permissions dialog system. The current system makes it cumbersome to give apps necessary permissions to do things. I get why they do this, but when I’m walking a non-expert Mac user through this process I cringe.
  • macOS apps are full of permission dialogs that prompt you for your password, but aren’t ones that I trust. I think some actually might be capturing my login password from me and storing it without me knowing, instead of actually using the appropriate APIs to request an escalation of privileges. That, to me, is a huge security issue. There should be system-backed passwordless dialogs that can only come from macOS and that can’t be faked.

APIs/Services/Cross Platform

  • let merchants send the receipt to your Apple Card without the need to know who you are
  • Solution to let you put your ID/drivers license in Wallet app
  • I want to see better background APIs for iOS and iPadOS. Support for apps to do arbitrary things in the background has been around for years but when that happened, iPhones were substantially less powerful and as of right now I don’t think I know of a single third party app that is using background APIs to load things in the background and doing it well. I want to see newer, more robust versions of these APIs that can make better use of more powerful hardware but without being huge resource drains (for instance, maybe making use of efficiency cores)
  • Streaming video push notifications for security devices. My Ring notifications would be 100x more useful if I could just swipe down and immediately see a preview of the motion event inline
  • iCloud data should become fully end-to-end encrypted. Frankly, it’s ridiculous how hard Apple is beating the privacy drums of things like iMessages knowing full well that it doesn’t matter since your iCloud backup likely contains a lot of that same data and is fully accessible to Apple.

To be clear, these aren’t predictions, they’re just a wish list. If 30% of these come true on Monday, I’ll be pretty delighted. If over 2/3 of these come true, you might say I’ll be on iCloud nine.

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Reflections From the Void

When I moved to Portland, I developed a new hobby.

Before the big move, Ben and I came up to visit our new empty house for a few days around the 4th of July to scope it out and just get a few preparation things done. I randomly encountered an ad for some chair that marketed itself as being made to feel like floating on water in a sensory deprivation tank. I found this claim to be kind of dubious and then, feeling prone to distraction, I decided I’d like to actually try out using a sensory deprivation tank. After all, sensory deprivation tanks are exactly the kind of weird thing you would expect to find in Portland, right?

And in fact, you sure can! I found a little place called Float On, not far from our house, and I decided to book myself a session.

(side note: I never did try this bean bag chair thing but I can pretty well guarantee you that it does not provide an experience comparable to using a sensory deprivation tank)

Stepping inside the building, I immediately got relaxing vibes. It was spa-like. Quiet and peaceful, with a lobby full of comfy furniture. When it was my turn, one of the staffers walked me into the room. The room was very warm and had a blue color to the lighting. The staffer walked me through what to expect and how to prepare myself, and left.

I got undressed, showered, then climbed into the tank, closed the door, and shut the light off.

For the first few minutes, my sentiment was “okay, now what?” I was literally lying in a tank of water saturated with epsom salt, kept at a temperature of about 93 degrees Fahrenheit. Initially my back muscles felt kind of tense, like when I first get into bed, but gradually my muscles felt completely relaxed. After that happened, my mind started to relax too.

I’ve come to realize that the trick to having a good float is not to try to have a good float. I had heard stories of people starting to visually hallucinate things in the tank, or getting into these deep states of relaxation or meditation, and of course I wanted to experience that too.

But you can’t just make yourself experience that. It’s meditation-like (and in fact, if you want to start a meditation practice, floating would be a perfect way to get into it since it forces all other environmental distractions out). I’ve had good float sessions and bad ones. The bad ones for me are the ones where I feel too antsy to properly relax. When I’m having a good float, my mind just gets away from me. I don’t think I’ve fallen asleep floating, but I will often end up in a state close to it. My thoughts will start to wander aimlessly and 10 or 15 minutes later I’ll catch myself.

I floated most recently last Friday. Last year I had gotten in one last float in March, then a few days later Float On announced they were closing indefinitely. When I first got my vaccine appointment, I knew one of the very first things I wanted to do once I was fully protected by the vaccine was go for a float. It was the self-care I knew I needed.

When I went to float last Friday, I resolved to not expect anything of myself while floating. I knew I’d probably be kind of excited, and I didn’t want to build up the experience in my head and then just find myself bored half way through. I told myself that if my mind kept racing the whole time, that would be just fine. If nothing else, my muscles would be getting great relaxation from a long epsom salt soak. And by not putting that pressure on myself, the float was great and I was surprised when my 90 minutes were up and the music started to gently play to indicate it was time for me to get out.

Sensory deprivation tanks are pretty popular; if you live in a decent sized city you probably have a place available near you. My local floating place has six different rooms, each with different kinds of tanks in them. If you’re the claustrophobic type, this probably isn’t going to be a good experience for you. But it’s one of my favorite things to do regularly, and when I come out of it, I feel a level of relaxation that nothing compares to.

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Vacation

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.

100 Posts for 2021

I am happy to say that as of yesterday, I am back on schedule to have published 100 posts by the end of this year.

The hiatus of posts earlier in the year wasn’t from me not writing anything; in fact, I was writing a lot! But most of the posts were in the My Sweet Setup series, and I had unresolved Mac Pro issues, and it didn’t feel right to post that series until I had that issue resolved (since I consider my Mac Pro to be the lynchpin of my setup).

I’ve had a solid posting streak recently as well! This marks either 20 or 21 days of at least one post per day.

I’ve also pushed myself to publish more things, and hit that Post (or schedule) button more quickly without trying to polish each post to within an inch of its life.

I’m also just trying to post more random stuff that comes to my head. Not everything I post has to be a life-changing epiphany, and if I always hold back on posting stuff because I’m waiting for the perfect thing, I won’t be refining my own writing skills in the meantime.

Anyway, I hope this has been engaging filler content, and this gets me 1% closer to my goal, and it keeps my writing streak going!

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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.

April 28, 1995

homer simpson sitting on the hood of his car staring at the stars
Today marks 26 years since I said goodbye to my mom for the last time as I walked out the door to wait for the bus. Later that day, she and my brother Brandon died in a car accident on the way to go shopping.

It’s so weird, too. With every year that passes, the memories grow increasingly distant overall, but it’s interesting what sticks.

Her name was Shelly, and we were very close. I was kind of atypical as a kid, not into sports, more into reading books and playing indoors, and she understood me.

My memories are of oddly specific things. When she would chat on the phone she would always twirl her hair in her finger, something I later did in grade school (my dad insists that she actually would idly tie her hair in a slip knot with her fingers while talking on the phone and that he once snuck up to her and pulled it down into a knot). Before I was in school we’d watch daytime TV together, like talk shows and The Golden Girls. Maybe some occasional Supermarket Sweep in there too.

I remember her playing a Tetris clone called Emlith on our Windows 3.1 computer back in the day.

The memories are all unique and special to me, but inconsequential. I think I remember what her voice sounded like, but I’m less and less confident (I can remember what her yelling voice sounded like for sure; she was routinely yelling at either me or more likely my brother).

I can’t even imagine what life would be like if she hadn’t died anymore; it’s kind of impossible. I’m not sure I’d even be able to recognize that life. I don’t know if that would be a better or worse life than I have right now, but it would have been the life where I would still have my mom, and it was stolen.

Sometimes I wish I could take a glimpse at what that life would have been. Just a glimpse, though. I don’t want to trade realities because that would probably force me to trade most of my friends and loved ones I have today.

If you’re wondering about the Simpsons image, it’s from the end of the episode Mother Simpson, after Homer is forced to say goodbye to his mother again. Instead of fading to black, the episode ends with Homer sitting on the hood of his car, looking off into the distance as the sun sets, and the music that plays is just perfect for the moment.

You don’t see Homer’s face, and he doesn’t say anything, but every time I watch this episode I know exactly how he’s feeling. It’s impossible for me to watch without getting a little teary-eyed.

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Basecamp and Leadership

So, Basecamp announced some internal changes this week for how they are going to run their company.

Over the years, Basecamp has built up a reputation for resisting some of the hustle culture associated with so many startups, and for working smarter, not harder. Among other things, they invented Ruby on Rails, they have been big proponents of remote work since long before the COVID pandemic, and being incredibly transparent with the world about how they operate, selling books and workshops about how they work, and even sharing policy changes on their blogs.

Which brings us to Jason’s post this week.

His bullet points (parenthesized parts are mine):

  • No more societal and political discussions on our company Basecamp account
  • No more paternalistic benefits (referring to some of the allowances they offered for fitness and wellness and buying from farmer’s markets)
  • No more committees (which includes shuttering a recently spun-up DEI committee)
  • No more lingering or dwelling on past decisions
  • No more 360 reviews
  • No forgetting what we do here

It gives off some serious white dude entrepreneur energy.

These are fucking stupid decisions. Some are even contradictory. For instance, if you’re getting rid of benefits because they’re paternalistic, why would you add a policy as paternalistic as “you can’t talk politics at work”?

Twitter has weighed in on these and has articulated the issues better than I could have:

This has prompted Basecamp employees to speak up as well. Jane Yang posted about the struggles of David and Jason’s reluctance to get on board with protecting Basecamp’s most vulnerable users, and their disappointing retreat into making decisions unilaterally for the entire company. The employees that put on Basecamp’s Rework podcast put out a somber message announcing they are putting the podcast on hiatus (a disappointment given that Rework routinely features businesses that are challenging the status quo of traditional ways businesses are run and govern themselves).

Ironically, if Jason and David had a committee filled with diverse people who were empowered with making decisions of this nature for the company, this committee likely would have pushed them to understand the folly of their reasoning.

Instead, they have doubled down on this decision. DHH posted a follow-up of sorts that seems to imply that the issue isn’t that his decision is bad, but that there was nuance to how it was announced that we must have missed out on.

And I’m sure there are plenty of other white dudes that feel that Jason and David should stay the course (case in point), and plenty are likening this to a Twitter mob to try to paint it as a frivolous thing that the public gets up in arms over for a minute (another case in point, also from John Gruber). This isn’t a Twitter “hate machine;” it’s the public very quickly coming to terms with the fact that two revered leaders in the community have revealed themselves to have some really toxic characteristics and they’re holding Jason and David accountable for it.

This is where I had several paragraphs about how its time for companies to start being leaders and start actually taking stances on social issues (I’ll write about that later I guess!) but actually, it turned out there was more to this story: these policy changes appear to be in response to a lot of internal push from employees after it was discovered that employees were circulating a list of customer names they thought were funny (source: The Verge).

And that’s where the decision went from seeming somewhat boneheaded to demonstrating full-on terrible leadership on Jason and David’s part, and this is being confirmed by multiple Basecamp employees. The sting is greater given how Basecamp have painted themselves as leaders in terms of how they run their business. David especially has been a vocal critic of Big Tech, even going so far as to publicly decry Jeff Bezos, who actually co-owns Basecamp with them.

But now that the shoe’s on the other foot, David and Jason are behaving pretty much exactly like the kinds of people they insisted they didn’t want to be.

I’m pretty sure Jason and David might be too far gone at this point on the matter, and they seem to want to keep digging their heels on the issue. To that effect, I feel for the Basecamp employees that are probably having a really bad week at work and are faced with a pretty ugly decision.

Bring this up in your next 1–1 with your boss. Let them know this isn’t acceptable and that you expect far better from your company. Make sure your boss understands the importance of meaningfully being able to bring your whole self to work, and make sure your boss understands the weight that comes with a white founder weighing in on a serious issue and being dismissive of the idea that there might be some racism behind it.

And although the overwhelming sentiment on my Twitter feed is one of disappointment toward Basecamp’s founders, I’m keeping a close eye on the people who quietly (or not-so-quietly) are cheering on this decision and think it’s a refreshing change of pace. Because I’m seriously worried that the people in tech with power are walking away from this incident with the entirely wrong message.

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