With the Facebook scandal casting a shadow on anything even remotely tech related, we're not short on opinion. What's surprised me most about the whole situation, is that anyone should be surprised at all. What's more, I can't see how the proposed changes will do much. The most expedient thing right now would seem to be sharing information like this from the Electronic Frontier Foundation. Locking your profile down, insofar as it can be locked down. While you defintely should — lock it down — sadly the horse has bolted, and with your data.
Over the weekend, it became clear that Cambridge Analytica, a data analytics company, got access to more than 50 million Facebook users' data in 2014. The data was overwhelmingly collected, shared, and stored without user consent. The scale of this violation of user privacy reflects how Facebook's terms of service and API were structured at the time. Make no mistake: this was not a data breach. This was exactly how Facebook's infrastructure was designed to work.
My point exactly, this is how it was designed to work. Nobody should be the least bit surprised at this situation. If you’re similarly cynical about the efficacy of the plan to address the situation, and at the same time caught in a bind like most people on the question of whether to keep using the service. The minimum requirement is another look over those settings.
You shouldn't have to do this. You shouldn't have to wade through complicated privacy settings in order to ensure that the companies with which you've entrusted your personal information are making reasonable, legal efforts to protect it. But Facebook has allowed third parties to violate user privacy on an unprecedented scale, and, while legislators and regulators scramble to understand the implications and put limits in place, users are left with the responsibility to make sure their profiles are properly configured.
Not only should you not have to do it, but you shouldn’t expect that settings will routinely change to such a degree that maintaining the level of privacy you desire requires you to check over it every time Facebook rearranges the furniture.
Alphabet's ‘Outline' looks an interesting project. I want to revisit some of the security/privacy recommendations on this site, my own perspective on private VPN companies has shifted since I last wrote about one in particular. I would agree this is not a ‘privacy panacea’, but have every intention of seeing if I can break it.
Jigsaw, the Alphabet-owned Google sibling that serves as a human rights-focused tech incubator, will now offer VPN software that you can easily set up on your own server—or at least, one you set up yourself, and control in the cloud. And unlike older homebrew VPN code, Jigsaw says it's focused on making the setup and hosting of that server simple enough that even small, less savvy organizations or even individual users can do it in minutes
Study sociology long enough, not only does the world look different, but you’ll start to forget it does. This is lightweight from Wired, naturally, but this is something the tech world has become very good at. Abstraction of value from labour in its myriad forms.
One pair of sociologists recently examined hackathons and emerged with troubling conclusions. Sharon Zukin, professor of sociology at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, spent a year observing seven hackathons, mostly sponsored by corporations, in New York City, interviewing participants, organizers, and sponsors. In a study called “Hackathons As Co-optation Ritual: Socializing Workers and Institutionalizing Innovation in the ‘New’ Economy,” she and co-author Max Papadantonakis argue that hackathons create “fictional expectations of innovation that benefits all,” which Zukin writes is a “powerful strategy for manufacturing workers’ consent in the ‘new’ economy.” In other words, institutions use the allure of hackathons, with sponsors, prizes, snacks, and potential for career advancement, to get people to work for free.
This is not unique to the collective wager of hackathons, there are mundane examples everywhere. For instance, I very casually check-in on a discussion group for a popular ‘tech’ podcast hosted on a major social media platform. The forum is run by listeners, who volunteer time — in some cases, a seemingly inordinate amount of it. Listeners are generating content, giving product recommendations that are turned into affiliate links on the show, and so on. Like I said, mundane. An yet, if you are going to talk about the so-called ‘new’ economy 1, like everything you have to consider how it scales. The underlying economic socialisation equates to the same thing.
I’ve never enjoyed preparing slides for presentation. Even allowing for the improvements of Keynote over PowerPoint isn’t enough to make me enthusiastic. Deckset, however, is an all together different proposition. If you write in Markdown, and want to simplify your presentation workflow, trust me this is for you.
With the new release, Deckset has also gone sans App Store, which means it now has an education discount. 1
The main reason for us to leave the App Store is greater flexibility in pricing. For example, we are now able to offer a 50% discount to students, teachers and other members of educational institutions. That is something we simply couldn’t do before, and we feel it’s essential to reflect the realities of how and why people use Deckset.
Time willing, a full review is in the works.
Incidentally, as if the 30% tax isn’t obscene enough, it is absurd that Apple doesn’t facilitate this. ↩
The Atlantic For all those people abandoning Twitter, I am preparing to share some thoughts on micro.blog. In the meantime, here is a modest proposal for those of you holding on to the bow.
Somewhere along the line, the whole system started to go haywire. Twitter began to feel frenetic, unhinged, and—all too often—angry. Some people quit. Others, like Schulz, cut way back. I felt the same urge, but I wanted to do something less extreme, something that would allow me to keep the baby, even as I drained the bathwater. So I began to take note each time I experienced a little hit of outrage or condescension or envy during a Twitter session. What I found was that nearly every time I felt one of these negative emotions, it was triggered by a retweet.
The Laptop Locator You Probably Didn't Know About Could Save You – Something I haven’t spent enough time on here is the other kind of security, backups. If you’ve never needed anything from a backup you might not fully grok their value, let alone the peace of mind. It only takes one failure. Given the realtime backup capabilities of Backblaze, anything else is a bonus. But as far as bonus features go, you would be hard pressed to find a better one than the Backblaze Locate my Computer feature. This post from their blog highlights a few of the success stories. Where Find my Mac failed, Backblaze was still able to help. 1
While we kept hearing praise and thanks from our customers who were able to recover their data and find their computers, a little while passed before we would hear a story that was as incredible as the ones above. In July of 2016, we received an email from Una who told us one of the most amazing stories of perseverance that we’d ever heard. With the help of Backblaze and a sympathetic constable in Australia, Una tracked her stolen computer’s journey across 6 countries. She got her computer back and we wrote up the whole story: How Una Found Her Stolen Laptop.
Backblaze offers a 15-day free trial, then unlimited backup storage for US$5 per month.
The location map is also encrypted with your private key, so there are no privacy issues either. ↩
It's a tough call; you want your favorite websites to survive, yet they hit you with an advertising sledgehammer. As someone who earns a living from writing content for publications, it hurts me to use an ad blocker, but it's necessary. What really irks me is that websites I subscribe to — newspapers and magazines — often still show me ads. When websites decide to tone down the ads, I'll whitelist them; but, they should be rewarding me for paying for their content.
point of which is distilled in the premise that banning Nazis from Twitter shouldn’t be difficult,
I think that a better start would be to ban Nazis. I mean that literally. Flag any account where its name, handle, location, bio, or recent tweets contain allusions to Hitler normally used by white supremacist groups: “1488”, “HH”, “14 words”, and other hate symbols in context. That gives human operators the ability to sift through heaps of these accounts and ban the ones that are clearly and obviously Nazis, of which there are frighteningly many. This isn’t a perfect solution; it’s barely scratching the surface. But it would be a material change in how Twitter operates and a clear line as to what they do not tolerate. “No Nazis” should not be a controversial point of view.
If It's Broke, Don't Fix It | Welcome to Macintosh – This was a wonderfully refreshing listen. So many of the ‘tech’ podcasts I have tried listening to are borderline infomercials for Apple. Or if not, their idea of being critical has nothing to do with the world at large, and everything to do with superficial details. The blind defence of Apple from some quarters can be mind blowing. Apple Fans in general could learn a lot from this, being able to confess your concerns about profound global issues, while confessing an uncritical history of fandom is exactly the kind of wake up that is needed for users to demand more of this mega-giant. Image is everything to them, so let them know you can see through it.
With all the attention being lavished on Things 3, it's easy to forget there are other excellent task managers out there. One such app is the wonderfully powerful, and endlessly customisable 2Do. In my humble opinion, 2Do is one of the highlights in the Setapp collection, but it’s also available as a standalone purchase via the App Store. If you have been thinking of picking up a copy, there is no time like the present. The developer has been running a sale, which ends today.
Everybody’s talking about Things 3. Now that I’m on the bandwagon, here is my take on what makes it presently the best task manager for macOS and iOS — for me at least. Inevitably this mean comparison with what I turned over along the way. Running pathological optimism means I’ve tried them all, but Todoist got left behind this time round. I’m not here to run that app down, it remains excellent for many reasons — maybe even better in ways that don’t matter to my workflow. But, should you be wondering, is Things 3 better than Todoist, perhaps this will be useful.
Todoist or not Todoist
I‘ve only been using Things 3 for a few months. In truth, I’m generally suspicious of trends, so I tried to avoid it while I still had good reason to. Even if I’m only making excuses, I need more than new and shiny. Thankfully, a genuine reason presented itself when my Todoist subscription was up for renewal. The cost of renewing that sub wasn’t much less than buying the Things 3 suite outright. Between the annually recurrent cost, and various Todoist annoyances, it was worth kicking the tyres. As it turned out, a trial on macOS convinced me to jump.
Initially there were two features I missed from Todoist. I’m over them both already. First, the API allowed me to use Zapier, and/or IFTTT for various automations. Second is the natural language parsing for task entry. At least I missed that until I realised it’s either a bonhomie for laziness, or an easy way to fill up a task list with lots of nonsense you’ll never do. Never mind that with a keyboard the difference in keystrokes is minimal. I’m not saying I wouldn’t like to see better natural language support added to Things 3 — it does include some basic date parsing abilities — but it doesn’t come close to being the show stopper I thought it might. If anything, the relative slowdown — minimal as it is — helps add a little more deliberation into the process.
To the first point, with native automation Cultured Code has made significant inroads to mitigate some of the abilities lost by not having an API. By all accounts, the recent addition of a deep, and flexible URL scheme is just the beginning, with other innovations on the way.I would argue that inter-app automation is not just as useful, but in some ways more relevant. The automation I used most would automatically copy editorial tasks to Trello. I was able to create an analogue of that on iOS, using Workflow. Anyone who complains about the ‘extra step’ of pushing a button could look out the window once in a while.
Native inter-app automation breaks dependence on the web. In the process it cuts back the surface area of data-sharing with third-parties. More than that, there is an immediacy to working locally that allows for sharing rich data. Being able to delineate notes, mind maps, or outlines into actions opens up all kinds of possibility for continuity. Particularly for a writing workflow. This makes a lot of sense for academic work, research, and writing. Or for any other kind of work that includes creative planning.
It’s true the barrier to entry for URL based automation is a little higher than web automation. It’s not that it’s difficult to grasp, more that building the links themselves can be tedious. Cultured Code appear wise to this, having created a link building tool on their website. With nothing left to miss, one can enjoy all the benefits delivered by clever design choices, and opinionated simplicity. Ironically, my biggest concern over both those features was the possibility for double handling and time wasting. And yet, Things 3 is both an app I would rather spend time using, and one I don’t have to.
While these new automation features are getting all the attention right now, it’s a couple of subtle, but significant design choices that make Things 3 so effective. I found the flexibility of Todoist equal parts powerful and beguiling. Getting the most from it requires one to configure projects, labels, and priorities to facilitate query filters built around those different pieces of metadata. If you get it right you can contextualise your workload with extremely specific queries. This is a major strength if you need that kind of detail, however, with so much configuring, and fiddling to get it right, it can also be a headache. I never felt like I had it configured very well, so the temptation to reconfigure always hovered.
Things 3 is completely different. I'm not going to run through all of its features, there are better places for that. For my money, what makes Things 3 worth recommending is a couple of subtleties that mean I spend less time managing my task list.
The first touch is indicative of the user experience in general. The way Things 3 handles the inbox. Processing is simple, a task only requires one touch for removal from view. If all you ever want to do is put due dates on your tasks, Things 3 will consider them processed and essentially remove them from view, until the day they require actioning. If you’re wired to slowly disintegrate when faced with growing clutter, this is priceless. Most task mangers have some kind of filtered view to show you only the tasks you need to see, but they all require a lot more interaction. Things 3 is designed to cut back on over-processing by making it extremely simple to get a hold on what needs doing. In that way it’s the opposite of Todoist, but that doesn’t mean it is without flexibility.
The emphasis in the Things 3 user experience is on aesthetics. As a method for task management, it leans on visual organisation. Elements like headings, tags, and manual ordering, can be employed in the myriad ways. They can even constitute productivity systems favoured by nerds. On the flipside, Things offers enough customisation to avoid forcing users into an inflexible, or totalising system. Configuration requires little fuss if simplicity is your thing. Or, the various organisational delimiters apply to whatever bespoke version of getting things done you run with.
With this app being written about so much, I might surprised to have hardly seen security mentioned, if it weren’t for the fact this is an area that very little light is shined on in general with task managers. Given I was using Todoist, it would be a little rich to take Things 3 to task over security holes. I would argue that Todoist does the minimum required for data security; they could do more. While the mechanics are similar, it's a fact that Things 3 is better than Todoist on security. Cultured Code use better encryption, and provide better insight into what they are doing. Nonetheless, the proprietary syncing would be dramatically improved with client side encryption.
From a personal point of view — and this was the same stance I had with Todoist — should anyone hack them, my own task list would not be the most exciting or revelatory reading. Unfortunately, in taking this stance I’m part of the problem, as it overlooks the importance of data security in general. Users so commonly make these kinds of compromises, we excuse developers from making improvements. Who can blame them for focusing on the squeeky door? A little more noise would go a long way to ensuring security standards are improved more generally.
Cultured Code suggests they may add client side encryption ‘at a later time’, I would add that it is on users to ensure they do that by making clear it is necessary. This remains an opportunity for them, especially considering the OmniGroup are setting the standard for end-to-end encryption in their software. Which means, if you cannot afford to compromise on security at all, I would recommend using OmniFocus. With all the changes coming this year, OmniFocus is worth keeping an eye on. Should they drastically improve the user experience, the security factor will have me sorely tempted to jump again. In the meantime, if you’re using Things 3, know that your data is pretty secure, but not that secure.
Is Things the best Task Manager for macOS and iOS?
That seems to be the question everyone wants answered, but changing your task manager for the sake of it is madness. Unless it’s your hobby, in which case I can’t help you. 1 If you have something that is working well for you nEverybody’s talking about Things 3. Now that I’m on the bandwagon, here is my take on what makes it presently the best task manager for macOS and iOSow, I’m an advocate for the ‘ain’t broke, don’t fix it’ adage. On the other hand, if you’re struggling with an unnecessarily complex setup, or software that ends up being another thing to manage, you could do a lot worse than give Things 3 a look. It is being talked about with good reason. 2 If you have never used a task manager before, choosing the right one can be confusing, but I wouldn’t hesitate to recommend this to new users.
For my own purposes, right now Things 3 is the best task manager for macOS and iOS. While not perfect by any means, it manages to walk the fine line between simplicity, and customisation. Again, my aim is not to deride Todoist, nothing has stopped it bearing the standard for cross platform support, collaboration, and web automation. But, if you’re already half way out the door, in many ways I have found Things 3 better than Todoist.
For macOS users, a free trial for Things 3 is available, or you can pick it up on the Mac App Store. Unfortunately, the iOS app is not universal, so you do have to buy seperate apps for iPhone and iPad. Although, that does mean if you want to try it out on iOS without going all in, you can purchase the cheaper iPhone version to get started.
A Case Study in Phishing | MacSparky — While this is a great example of how sophisticated phishing scams can look on the surface, just beneath the veneer are all the crude signs that scream scam. Perhaps the crudest is how greedy these scammers are, you might think they’d look up the subscription prices before trying to ape them.
The first tool you need in fighting Spam is common sense. YouTube Red does not cost $149.99/month, and a simple search will tell you that. If there is any question, also take a closer look at the details. The sender lists their name as “App Store” but disclosing the actual email address; it’s “email@example.com”. Does that really sound like an address Apple would send you to confirm a subscription? Also, it lists “Payment Method” as “By Card”, not the usual xxxx-xxxx-1234 you usually see. It also creates this sense of urgency, explaining I'm on a free trial but I will be charged $150 in just two days if I don't act. While I can see how this email may fool some people, on the barest scrutiny, it starts looking shady.