Thoughts on Brexit

I was going to write a series of articles on the UK referendum, but as both sides belch ludicrous statements and the UK reveals itself to be significantly more xenophobic than I’d ever feared, I can’t stomach writing more than one.

If nothing else, this referendum has split the nation on what it means to be ‘British’. At one extreme are people who seem to think you’re a traitor for accepting the notion of being a part of something bigger than ourselves. At the other, people warn of a breakdown of the entire continent as the result of the UK leaving the EU.

Anyone who follows me on social media knows I am firmly in the Remain camp, despite my distaste at the way Cameron has conducted his campaign. Here’s a grab-bag of thoughts and proto-articles I was inning, which helped me inform my decision.


Anti-German sentiment is becoming commonplace. This seems deep-rooted in the British psyche. Some people in our country apparently will never come to terms with peacetime. This manifests in outright xenophobia, but also a distrust about the Germans ‘taking over’ the EU. In reality, the Germans would probably like nothing more than for the UK to take a much more active role. Instead, we elect MEPs who specifically try to disrupt and harm rather than make things better.


Racism and xenophobia have become cornerstones of this debate, sometimes hidden under the guise of ‘immigration’ and ‘strains on public services’. Mostly, there’s a depressingly English mentality of ‘things would be better without all those FOREIGNS, messing everything up’. It’s repugnant and demonstrably false; moreover, if people want someone to blame for the country’s ills, perhaps they should look first to the government, what it chooses to fund, and who it chooses to tax.


Survival is a word I’ve heard frequently. “Don’t you think the UK can survive outside of the EU?” Of course it can, but that’s a bare minimum. I want my country to thrive. I’ve seen no arguments suggesting cutting ourselves off from the EU will achieve this.


Freedom of movement is something few British people consider, or they think it’s their God-given right, but that it shouldn’t be reciprocated. The UK complains about perceived problems, yet forgets the benefits, from skills gaps being filled through to the basic conveniences of Brits being able to move, study and live in any EEA country, without first having to secure employment. And many do — more Brits live overseas than the citizens of most other countries in or associated with the union.


Right to reside is something that appears to have been glossed over in this campaign. Despite lawyers screaming for months that the Vienna Convention is essentially meaningless when it comes to an individual’s residency rights, there is an assumption that Brits overseas and EEA nationals already in the UK will be able to stay indefinitely. (Boris Johnson has himself said this will be the case, but it’s hard to trust a man whose convictions are so flimsy, given that he was speaking and writing about the benefits of the EU not long before deciding to switch sides.) But what rights will these people have? And how will this be policed? Say someone from Italy rocks up at Gatwick. How will customs and immigration differentiate between someone with the right to reside and someone entering the country? At the very least, we can look forward to enjoying the introduction of a colossally expensive system (in terms of time and money) to administer this.


Facts are now irrelevant in the debate about the EU, and this is a criticism levelled at both sides. Leave drives round in a bus with outright fiction splashed across it, seems to have no understanding of the finite nature of money, and bangs on about Turkey joining the EU; Remain seems to think Brexit would mean the end of pensions and the beginnings of war. Remain comes off slightly better, if only because it has a tendency to source some of its arguments. But it’s deeply worrying that this could be the future for British politics — moving even deeper into Trump-style ‘repeat it enough and people will believe it’ garbage. As long as your surface argument is optimistic, it seems many people won’t dig deeper. Too often, Brexit feels like climate-change denial or anti-vaccination. That’s not a good place to be. (And if you think this hyperbole, The Sun’s front page earlier this week referred to Turkey being an issue that’s really hit home with voters, despite Turkey’s chances of joining the EU any time soon being nil.)


Experts are now irrelevant too, at least when it comes to the Leave. Gove has gleefully noted he’s on the opposite side of experts. Experts, apparently, are all under the command of puppet master David Cameron. So as UK scientists say Brexit will wreck the UK’s standing in the field, Leave says UK scientists don’t understand how science works in the UK. As the head of the NHS and countless staff fret about what Brexit means for the service, Leave says the people within the NHS have no idea about the NHS. And so on. It’s Michael Gove vs The Aliens on the big stage; and given that we already have a government big on opinion and often not interested in evidence, this is a bad and deeply worrying development.


The destruction of the Tories is a leftie argument I’ve seen for Brexit. The idea is the party is torn apart by infighting, resulting in a snap election and PM Corbyn by Christmas. This strikes me as insane. Conservatives will rapidly fall into line, because that’s what they do. And given that UK voters freaked out in 2015 about the prospect of Miliband’s Labour doing a deal with the SNP, I can’t see matters having changed significantly a year later. Corbyn or or more left-leaning Labour might have some kind of chance of an election victory in 2020, but Brexit won’t provide a shortcut.


EU grants and funding for UK cities are themes finally starting to make an appearance on social media. I’m seeing people from Liverpool and Manchester point out that it was EU money that revived their cities. The counter argument is this was money the UK paid into the EU coffers anyway, and so the UK could have funded these things itself. The counter to that is: would it? UK politics remains London-centric, and regeneration of communities elsewhere is not a priority.


Could and will are regularly being conflated. Both sides are using this kind of weasel language, most notably Leave’s suggestions of what it could do with ‘savings’ that come from leaving the EU. It could provide extra funding for the NHS. It could drop VAT on fuel. But the savings aren’t huge in the scheme of things (EU expenditure is, according to most figures, about one per cent), and Leave knows what will be done is little or nothing — hence the language being very careful. If Brexit wins, this will be the excuse later on. (Also, any notion people like Gove, Johnson, IDS and Farage give a hoot about the NHS or social justice is laughable. These people have all been gung-ho about eradicating such things. They are not on the side of people who wish the UK to retain them.)


The establishment is, we’re told, Remain. And this is to some extent true. Captains of industry, economists, and the vast majority of politicians are pro-Remain. But if you don’t think the likes of Boris Johnson are establishment, too, you’re delusional. He’s not a ‘typical bloke down the pub’. He’s a man who referred to a £250,000 income he received from his second salary as a columnist as “chicken feed”. When pressed, he said he was being “frivolous” and often gave to charity. The initial response, however, was telling. (And then you have people like Dyson, championed as being ‘for the UK people’ by plumping for Leave, despite moving manufacturing overseas. Similar figures arguing for Remain, though, are somehow ‘self serving’.)


On the subject of allies, it’s curious how aggressive Leave has been. Quitting the EU will anger the organisation. It remains to be seen to what level, but the response is always ‘we don’t need them’. So then the US President notes the USA wants the UK to remain in the EU, as do the leaders of many other allies. Always the response is we don’t need those countries, or that we won’t be bullied. Sooner or later, we’ll run out of countries to gripe about. (And, indeed, I’ve noted a recent Brexit argument being that the UK ‘doesn’t need anyone’. I’m not sure a North European North Korea ruled by Kim Jong-Johnson is the way forward, but there you go.)


Arrogance, hubris and division are what we’ve ended up with, and that stink will remain whatever the decision. It’s depressing that a country that has long been a hub and a melting pot thinks it’s above the world. Sure, the UK often punches above its weight as a medium-sized country, but it does so through building bridges, not erecting walls. To think we can continue by slamming the door in everyone’s face is astonishing. And that sense of division will continue for years, between those who want a progressive UK integrated into the EU and those who want the UK to go it alone.

I feel the latter group remembers a Britain that never was (a point made by AA Gill). They forget that before EU entry, the UK was struggling, and it was in part the EU that enabled the UK to become the modern power it is today. They forget that once British people flocked to other countries, to the point a TV series was made about the phenomenon.

But it’s clear this view isn’t nearly ubiquitous and, if recent polling is to be believed, may not even be the majority. Like I’ve said, I have no reason to believe the UK won’t survive Brexit, but I do suspect a lot of people will be in for a nasty surprise if that’s the option chosen.

It’s hard to know what shape said surprise will take — be it major repercussions like the UK having to plump for a Norway-style deal, or relatively small niggles, such as the Daily Mail suddenly realising Brits no longer have the right to retire to Spain (which will presumably be blamed on the EU and not the UK’s decision to leave) — but I’ll be amazed if there isn’t a shock or series of shocks in some form.

It’s notable that Leave doesn’t really have any coherent vision of the future, merely hand-waving away concerns and saying everything will be all right because GOD SAVE THE QUEEN and CRICKET and RULE BRITANNIA! Yet even The Telegraph has noted investors are now pulling funds out of the UK at an alarming rate not seen since the banking crisis. The ‘value’ of the UK is rapidly falling on the possibility of Brexit. When Brexit actually happens, who knows how bad things will get?

Of course, by June 24 it’ll be too late to do anything about it. You can’t vote out Brexit in five years’ time.

June 16, 2016. Read more in: Opinions, Politics

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Reduce Motion coming to ‘OS X’, in macOS Sierra

I’ve been regularly writing about motion sickness and vestibular issues in computing for years now, on this blog and elsewhere. The problem is poorly understood and broadly ignored by designers and engineers alike, who thrill at the prospect of infusing interfaces with dynamic movement, without pausing to consider how this affects a sizeable proportion of the population.

Apple’s response has been better than most, but still half-hearted at times. iOS is an exception. Although niggles remain, Apple’s iOS team has clearly worked very hard to ensure the iPhone and iPad interfaces are truly usable for all. But on tvOS, Reduce Motion does relatively little, and on the Mac, the system does not exist at all. This is something I find maddening, given how prominent animation is within OS X, how long Apple’s had to fix the problem, and the fact underlying settings have existed for years — but clearly in a half-finished state that users could not easily access.

Last October, I posted the following on Twitter:


Hey, Apple: this —
☑️ Reduce Motion
— would fit almost perfectly in the area I’ve outlined in red.

System Preferences pane with area marked out where Reduce Motion setting could go


It turns out all I got wrong was the placement. At WWDC 2016’s keynote yesterday, while no mention was made of Reduce Motion in macOS Sierra, I’m informed it’s coming. In fact, I was sent the following image:

Reduce Motion checkbox in macOS Sierra

I’m told when this box is checked, major system animations switch to crossfades, much like on iOS. This includes entry/exit animations for Mission Control, Launchpad and full-screen apps, along with swiping between spaces. I’ve no idea whether other integrated and problematic animations are also affected (such as full-page swipes in Safari and Preview), but there’s a checkbox there. It’s a start. It’s something to build on. It’s something to report feedback on regarding improvements rather than it’s very existence. And I’m delighted.

As much as it might irritate John Gruber, I really think this one merits a finally.

June 14, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Design, Technology

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What’s more important in UI: what you tap or what you see?

Daring Fireball recently linked to Maps Plus. The app uses Google Maps data but filters it through an Apple-style interface. John Gruber says:

It’s close to what you’d get if Google Maps were still providing the data for Apple Maps.

And this is true. It even has Street View. It doesn’t, though, have turn-by-turn, and there is, to me, a worse problem: the roads are the wrong colour. This is because when Google shifted its system to a faster vector-based approach, it dispensed with varying road colours individual nations used, preferring US ones worldwide. Instead of blue motorways, green A roads and yellow B roads, UK motorways became orange, A roads were coloured yellow, and B roads were white, not differentiated from smaller roads. Motorways and A roads since received correctly coloured markers, but that only helps when one is in the viewing area. Otherwise, at a glance, the M3 diagonally crossing the screen looks at a glance like an A road.

Apple Maps got this right in iOS 7b4. This means in the UK, you can more easily spot the roads you need, just by what colour they are. By contrast, Maps Plus loses this, through working with Google’s mapping system. So you end up with a user interface that’s more suited to iOS, but content where its ‘user interface’ is far worse. Complicating matters further, Google remains far superior to Apple when it comes to points of interest and with Street View versus the oddball Flyover. So either Apple needs to get way better with POI or Google needs to get over itself and start recognising everywhere isn’t the USA. Usually, I’d suggest there’d be no chance of Apple winning such a race, but Google doesn’t seem to want to budge on this one.

 

 

June 6, 2016. Read more in: Apps, Design

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The subtle march of bad posture — how I got new RSI from the iPhone 6s

I’ve had RSI in various forms since the late 1990s. Much of this arose from truly appalling working conditions at my first proper job, where managers seemed to think it was perfectly acceptable to give everyone a crap chair and a tiny desk, the latter of which in my case had two towers and a CRT monitor on top of it. Things gradually changed, but not before I ended up with regular shooting pains up my back and along the length of my arm.

Since then, I’ve become wise to such problems, and attempt to stave off potential issues. My home office set-up includes a decent chair, very carefully positioned, a large screen at the optimum height, a trackpad as a pointer, and also a stylus touchpad for when I need precision pointer control. The mouse is banished.

The problem, though, is that although you do get a very abrupt message when old issues flare up, new ones take a lot longer to bed in. This past week, I’d noticed an issue with the little finger on my left hand. It often feels slightly numb or painful. At times, it feels like it’s been wrenched back, as if I’ve been playing baseball or cricket and messed up a catch. Of course, it’s all down to the iPhone.

My current iPhone is a 6s. I’d previously been using the 5s, and have the habit of, for the most part, using the device in one hand. But the 6s is much larger, and therefore ends up sitting differently in my hand. I quite often, as it turns out, use my little finger to balance and stabilise the iPhone, but since the device sits quite low (in order for me to reach enough of the screen easily), my finger gets stressed and stretched, but so slowly it’s difficult to notice it happening.

I’m fortunate at least to realise this now, and I can take appropriate action. One wily editor suggested “a lawsuit”. But this is Britain, and so the reality will be inwardly tutting, grumbling about the weather (even though that’s entirely unrelated to the issue at hand), and then using the iPhone a little differently. Still, it’s always a good time to take stock of these things. How often are you using electronic devices, desktop computers and notebooks? When did you last think about your own set-up in front of them, rather than just the set-up inside the machines? If you can’t remember, perhaps today’s a good day to start thinking differently about ergonomic and posture yourself.

June 1, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Technology

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App Store review guidelines

In light of Apple’s recent about-face on Liyla and the Shadows of War, it’s interesting to look at Apple’s App Store review guidelines. One of the statements is:

If your App is rejected, we have a Review Board that you can appeal to. If you run to the press and trash us, it never helps.

The wording here is pure Jobs, but the thing that gets me is this statement is flat-out wrong. Most developers don’t have the contacts or a subject that results in a load of press. Generally, though, those who have ‘run to the press’ have found bizarre decisions Apple made about an app rapidly overturned. Perhaps the ‘and trash us’ bit is key. But certainly running to the press can help.

It’s also interesting looking at Apple’s other so-called ‘broader themes’:

We have lots of kids downloading lots of Apps. Parental controls work great to protect kids, but you have to do your part too. So know that we’re keeping an eye out for the kids.

This, I think, governs an awful lot of what Apple deems acceptable regarding app and game content, but the App Store has age gating. On that basis, I still find the following baffling:

We view Apps different than books or songs, which we do not curate. If you want to criticize a religion, write a book. If you want to describe sex, write a book or a song, or create a medical App.

Clearly, Apple isn’t really budging much on this, but it makes no sense to consider interactive content somehow ‘lesser’ than books or music when it comes to self expression. I recall during my fine arts degree that it was innovative for people to be creating interactive art, but that was during the 1990s. Now, apps and games are just another medium for working within. Treating them with kid gloves helps no-one.

We have over a million Apps in the App Store. If your App doesn’t do something useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment, or if your app is plain creepy, it may not be accepted.

I actually like this one’s ‘plain creepy’ remark, although as ever with Apple, it’s almost like the vague language that politicians use, meaning you can apply all sorts of content to that rule if you want to kick out an app. As for ‘useful, unique or provide some form of lasting entertainment’, plenty of apps in the store arguably fail that test.

If your App looks like it was cobbled together in a few days, or you’re trying to get your first practice App into the store to impress your friends, please brace yourself for rejection. We have lots of serious developers who don’t want their quality Apps to be surrounded by amateur hour.

This is the other rule that really gets me. Amateur hour is everywhere on the App Store. There are thousands of truly terrible apps and games that are devoid of quality. I suppose it’s still helpful for Apple to argue people should aim higher, but it strikes me this rule has never been seriously adhered to.

We will reject Apps for any content or behavior that we believe is over the line. What line, you ask? Well, as a Supreme Court Justice once said, “I’ll know it when I see it”. And we think that you will also know it when you cross it.

“We won’t tell you what the rules are and can change them whenever we see fit.” It’s this kind of thing that is slowly putting off developers from creating innovative content for iOS. And times are changing.

I recall chatting to a lot of game devs at an event five or six years ago, and without exception they were thrilled about the platform. As they saw it, Apple was a major step up from existing players, who too often made onerous demands on developers. There was a kind of hands-off freedom in developing for iOS. But goodwill continues to be chipped away as developers almost randomly find apps and games blocked for no obvious reason. (And then, worse, you see other apps of the same kind approved, and the original sometimes making its way to the store many months later, far too late to make an impact or any money.)

But hey, at least Apple points out your app could trigger a bout of craziness:

This is a living document, and new Apps presenting new questions may result in new rules at any time. Perhaps your App will trigger this.

‘Boom’.

 

May 23, 2016. Read more in: Apple, Apps, Opinions, Technology

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