Slate’s Russell Jacobs looks at the end of Dark Sky, a popular weather app that is shutting down and will no longer be supported after today. Apple bought it in 2020 and has since folded many of its features into the default weather app. While it had its devotees (it was never available in Canada, so I couldn’t use it), it was, at best, “sometimes accurate”: Jacob enumerates plenty of cases where Dark Sky’s forecast failed him in one way or another. (Predicted storms failing to appear is one thing; the opposite is much worse.) It turns out that their forecasts were based not on meteorological modelling but on image processing: it treated the weather systems on radar maps as shapes. Jacobs: “Dark Sky simply monitored changes to the shape, size, speed, and direction of shapes on a radar map and fast-forwarded those images. ‘It wasn’t meteorology,’ Blum said. ‘It was just graphics practice.’” My father the retired meteorologist is no doubt twitching as he reads this.
‘Instagram Is Dead’
Om Malik on what Instagram has become: “What’s left is a constantly mutating product that copies features from ‘whomever is popular now’ service—Snapchat, TikTok, or whatever. It is all about marketing and selling substandard products and mediocre services by influencers with less depth than a sheet of paper. ¶ It has become QVC 2.0.” The online world is run by people who actually think that what we really want to do is watch marketing videos interrupted by commercials.
Bartosz Ciechanowski writes long, detailed explanatory articles about physics, math and engineering that are full of interactive, animated diagrams. His latest is about mechanical watches, which I found profoundly interesting (not least because the fundamentals of watches—mainsprings, escapements—also apply to manual typewriters, which are basically heavily modified clocks) and engrossing: there is a lot of material here.
‘Twitter Is the Worst Reader’
Having been on the receiving end of Twitter vitriol half a dozen times, sf writer Fonda Lee has some thoughts about being in the crosshairs of the rage machine. “Twitter removes the trust between writer and reader by flattening meaning to the single most offensive understanding and proliferating that version alone. […] For the most part, we authors write for a receptive, open-minded audience, an audience that has paid money for our work and wants to trust us. Twitter is the opposite of that, a twisted looking-glass version of reality in which the readership beyond our immediate circle is poised with hostile scrutiny.”
iPhone Migration Notes (for Future Reference)
It’s about to be new iPhone time for us, but in the five-plus years since we last bought phones—Jen’s still using a first-generation iPhone SE, I’m on an iPhone 7—the migration process seems to have changed somewhat, especially now that iPhones have been disentangled from syncing and backing up to a computer. We could set up our new phones from an iCloud backup, but that won’t copy over all our media files; for that there is now the Quick Start method, which transfers data directly from the old device to the new one. It’s done wirelessly; Apple used to describe a faster wired method involving a Lightning cable and a camera adapter, but they removed that from the support page when they updated it last month, so who knows if it still works. Another critical-but-not-straightforward task is moving over all my Google Authenticator two-step verification codes. There’s a process for that, too, and it involves using the app to scan, with the new phone, a QR code generated by the app on the old phone.
Goodreads Is a Cesspool
Time sheds light on the toxic cesspool that Goodreads has become: “Scammers and cyberstalkers are increasingly using the Goodreads platform to extort authors with threats of ‘review bombing’ their work–and they are frequently targeting authors from marginalized communities who have spoken out on topics ranging from controversies within the industry to larger social issues on social media.” Social spaces need moderation, in which Goodreads is woefully deficient. Platforms become vectors for bad behaviour not because they’re popular, but because they’re vulnerable.1 Combine that with authors feeling that they have no choice but to have a Goodreads presence (or a social media presence in general), and this is what you get.
TimeMachineEditor is a small Mac app that enables you to schedule Time Machine backups at intervals of your choosing. This solves a very particular problem: your choices with Time Machine are hourly backups or initiating them manually, and hourly can be a problem when Time Machine backups take the better part of an hour to complete. Because of this I’ve been backing up at the end of each evening, which actually works well for me, but it’s good to know that an automated option still exists.
Surprise! FeedBurner Is Not Being Shut Down
Those of us who use FeedBurner—Google’s RSS feed management service—have been expecting Google to close it down at any moment for about a decade now: in 2012 they shut down the APIs and terminated in-feed advertising; since then it’s lain fallow with next to no news and zero changes. Today FeedBurner announced that rather than being closed down, it’s being moved to new infrastructure, where fewer features will be available. “Core feed management functionality will continue to be supported, such as the ability to change the URL, source feed, title, and podcast metadata of your feed. Basic analytics on feed requests and the ability to create enclosure tags for MP3 files will also continue to be supported.” But email subscriptions in particular are being discontinued. Which is a bummer: FeedBurner was one of the few ways to auto-generate a daily email digest of blog posts, and possibly the only free one. (The Map Room uses it; I’ll have to switch to another service.)
The Controversy Over Upscaling Old Films to 4K
Wired UK on the controversial process of upscaling old films to 4K resolution: “Digital upscalers and the millions who’ve watched their work on YouTube say they’re making the past relatable for viewers in 2020, but for some historians of art and image-making, modernising century-old archives brings a host of problems.” The process involves machine learning and readily available algorithms that clean and stabilize old film, colourize it, and upscale it to 4K and 60 fps. It adds material that isn’t in the original, which is what these historians object to. I’d argue that these videos operate in the same space as historical fiction: they make the past feel more real to the audience, but the audience can’t always separate fact from fiction. Somehow I doubt historians want to stop novels set in the past, though. [MetaFilter]
How Mission Control’s Giant Displays Worked
In a 19-minute YouTube video, Fran Blanche explains how those big screens at Mission Control worked during the Apollo era. Stop and think about it: they were displaying information in ways that computers wouldn’t be able to do for decades. The displays were produced mechanically, by multiple projectors using glass slides to project images on the screen. The projectors could move spaceship icons across the screen like a graphical sprite, or use plotters to scratch a flight path across a slide to represent a flight path, using telemetry data processed in real time by mainframe computers. [Boing Boing]