It’s Tuesday, 3 January 2023 in Portland Oregon where the skies are mostly grey and it turns out the Pacific Northwest may not have been the best location to do a little light astronomy.
Some small short things today, I think.
On balance, I do not think it’s great that any single place where I pay for something and opt to receive a receipt by email gets to now email me something like at least once a week. (It started out with a receipt / how did it end up like this? / it was only a receipt / it was only a receipt). I honestly cannot tell if this has resulted in any more purchases or if it’s been a net good use of time for any of the small businesses. Regardless, I also wish there were a way for me to log in to Square, say, and unsubscribe from every single marketing email ever.
Tim Bray has an excellent essay summarizing the state of play around search in Mastodon(sorry), which is to say that search in some cases would be useful, and in many other cases people would really prefer to not turn up in search results (see my earlier notes on indexing and archiving ephemeral, conversational speech).
What I liked about his position is the explicit negotiation around different and conflicting needs, and that Bray gets to the point by calling for some serious work in governance and licensing of content because (repeat after me): this (in this case, search) is not a technology problem.
There’s a particularly interesting comment in Bray’s Mastodon thread about the article from someone working in the area of search at Google that I can effectively summarize as “this is really interesting, can you help me understand it as I don’t understand why people who post things in public have an expectation or belief that what they post won’t get indexed” and oh my gosh really are you kidding me.
I bought a smart light a while ago to see how angry it would make me and then write about it here. It was one of those Alexa nightlights[^alexa], no microphone, controllable only by talking to something that does have a microphone and is backed into Amazon’s billions-of-dollars-a-year-losing smart assistant category and infrastructure.
Reader you will not be surprised to hear that I was indeed angered by the nightlight. Here are some things the nightlight does that you would prefer it not do:
Also it is only controllable from the Alexa app, but I knew that.
The other thing that happened was a nice reminder that all software is terrible these days, that software in production is a nightmare of compatibility and if something is broken and you want it to work you should, I don’t know, just give up, curl into a ball, and hope your walls aren’t smart.
For a period of a few weeks in and around November last year, the Alexa iOS app was broken – on the iPhone 14 series in particular – to the extent that it kept forgetting state and you needed to repeatedly onboard to use any of the communication features like paging or dropping in from one endpoint (e.g. an Echo Mini) to another (e.g. the one in the kitchen or in particular, the Alexa app on my phone). You’d have to onboard the iOS app and then it might work, and then at some point state would be lost and you’d need to re-enable communication again.
This made using an Echo Mini to let a sick kid page your phone if you were, say, downstairs and not reliably able to hear them yelling from their bedroom, completely unreliable to the extent of being not reliable at all and the sort of situation where you just unplug the Echo Mini and curse for a while. Because of course the whole deal is there’s a bug with the iOS app (again, weirdly and specifically on whatever new release of iOS and only on the iPhone 14 series), a bug that had been around since something like September and that there was no sign of immediate resolution. Company support was non-existent or only existent to the extent that having content-free ChatGPT responses to queries in forums would simultaneously be an improvement and yet also not improve matters one jot.
All of this is to say that software is terrible, I have sympathy for the people who make it, and also it is still terrible.