Weeknote: 13 April 2024 – Things that matter

Dead hard drive in old-school Mac style, Amstrad CPC, and an RGB30.

Published stuff

For Stuff this week, I wrote about the Amstrad CPC’s 40th anniversary. I don’t think anything else I’ve ever posted to LinkedIn has got so much traction. Mastodon and Bluesky users shared the piece a lot too. But not Threads users. Maybe those guys are Oric fans.

My column this week is: Apple, Google and others don’t care about your data and photos – but you should. It’s a tale of woe and data loss – and also how safeguarding all your data is becoming increasingly tricky. 

Just one piece for TapSmart this week, looking into gardening and plant care apps for iPhone. Sneakily, one of them is actually a game.

Upcoming stuff

Summer holidays are on the horizon, and so I’m starting to look into apps for use at airports and when on a plane. I do wonder when ‘download everything for offline use’ will seem as archaic as stuffing a backpack full of books. Or perhaps in-flight Wi-Fi will always remain rubbish and expensive. Who knows?

More retro stuff is on the way too. A couple of interviews looking into lesser-known games. And also some ‘modern retro’, exploring Pico-8.

Other stuff

I broke and bought an RGB30. Because I didn’t already have enough little consoles. And it’s everything I expected: not-great D-pad; cheap feel; finicky charging; but fantastic for Pico-8 because of the unconventional 1:1 aspect 720p display. I’m also enjoying using it for vertical arcade games.

I recently spotted my Duolingo icon looked haggard and old. Turns out this was the icon equivalent of clickbait. It’s been a big win from a business perspective, bringing people back to the app. But I question it in other ways. I cannot override this icon, despite being a paying Duolingo user. And lapsed users returning don’t see the icon change once they start learning again. I’ve also seen folks suggest it could be seen as poor framing from a mental health issue. Personally, my main takeaway is that I hate the idea clickbait has now reached home screens.

Finally, AI sucks, part 431,876. I spotted a dodgy eBay listing, looking to charge a huge sum of money for a Kickstarter the seller isn’t anything to do with and that’s not due for over a year. That annoyed me, because I care very much about the success of this particular kickstarter. So I reported it. eBay’s response: “We looked into your report and didn’t find the listing to be in violation of our policy. This determination was made using automation or artificial intelligence.” Last time I bother doing that, then.

April 13, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 6 April 2024 – death is not the end

Published stuff

My Stuff column this week is: Google Podcasts is dead – as is my trust in the survival of any Google service. Not that I’ve trusted Google for years at this point. I don’t think anything is truly safe – and, yes, that includes Gmail, YouTube and Docs. (Also, I do hope people enjoy the pictures I made for this one.)

A busy week over at TapSmart, where I explored ways Apple could shake up iPhone home screens, built a social media toolkit, and added excellent podcasting app Ferrite to my classic app series.

Upcoming stuff

Having recently filed a piece on Sinclair, I’m now writing about Commodore. And the CPC’s 40th is on its way too, and so I’ll be writing about that for sure.

Other stuff

Graham Cluley discovered what can happen when Amazon claims it’s delivered an expensive item but hasn’t, decides it has and refuses to do anything about it. Honestly, I find it surprising this doesn’t happen more. Locally, most couriers now abandon packages regardless of provided instructions. But quite how Amazon can avoid refunding someone when a signed-for package was not signed for, I have no idea. I imagine it’s all explained in line 24,467 of the terms and conditions, which state “we can do whatever we please”.

More App Store changes are on the way. The latest is a long-time personal bugbear of mine: blocking emulation. As 9to5Mac reports, game emulators will now be permissible. I look forward to certain US commentators now deciding emulation is evil, that the EU forced Apple to allow emulators on to the App Store (it didn’t) and predicting this will destroy the games industry (it won’t). What it will do is fill a hole in the iPhone’s gaming arsenal.

Note: I’m aware emulators have long existed on the App Store in strictly limited fashion. But Apple long ago blocked being able to load anything into them. So every emulator, such as this lovely ZX81 one, has had to bundle the titles you can play on it. Which is a bit like allowing music players – but only if they pre-load every album you can listen to.

April 6, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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Weeknote: 30 March 2024 – the fight to save old games

Published stuff

My Stuff column this week explores the new Atari 400 Mini from multiple angles – including that of 1970s home decor: The Atari 400 Mini is now my favourite mini-console for scratching my retro-gaming itch.

For this blog, I wrote To Affinity and beyond: what does the Canva buyout means for the future of Serif? Canva has since pledged to not wreck what people love about Affinity. A positive move, and although there’s wiggle room in the language, there’s far less than there was before. Not that any pledge would stop a company later saying it had to make a “difficult choice”, natch.

Over at TapSmart, I explored Messages alternatives for iPhone. Issue 298 of iPhone sister magazine, Swipe is available now too, if you’d like to support our little indie mag with actual cash.

Upcoming stuff

Hilariously, I’m about to dig (pun possibly intended) into gardening apps. A joke because the UK weather has more or less turned our garden into a swamp.

I’ve also signed back up to Amazon Prime for precisely one month, in order to write about it and doubtless grumble about the new, ridiculous ads tier.

Beyond that, I’ve been commissioned to mull over what Apple will look like in 2030. Quite the ask, given that right now various legislators are creating conditions that make it hard to predict what Apple will even look like in 2024.

Other stuff

On Threads, Joan Westernberg said AI is not democratising film making. I largely agree. Some folks countered that gen-AI is “just a tool”. But that’s not how it’s being pitched. Tech bros are arguing that now anyone with half an idea can churn out a film, album, book or essay from a text prompt. But without having expertise in a field, how can you really know whether what you’re creating does the job? (Note, I am not talking about people being paid to be a film-maker, or whatever. I’m talking about anyone who has taken the time and made the effort to gain a skill.)

On Mastodon, Scott Jenson’s post on writing without worrying about traffic really clicked with me. My approach has always been that you have to write for yourself, because when you don’t, you may skew what makes you you. But also: numbers don’t tell the whole story.

I’ve always joked that ‘literally several people’ read this blog. It’s never been – and never will be – a Six Colors or a Daring Fireball. And that’s OK. Because you never know who will be reading. For me, that’s always been way more important than raw numbers.

Over the years, I’ve made a number of contacts through this blog, through interesting folks presumably landing here by chance and sticking around. The most notable example got me my gig at Stuff.

I received an email out of the blue from the publisher, inviting me to the then Stuff HQ. I soon learned the editor was a fan and had recommended me. I’ve been a regular contributor ever since. 

And that links back to the first point. Because I’ll bet if I’d not been writing for me and having fun with my personal blog, it wouldn’t have kept the attention of that editor in the first place.

Finally, I have a lot of time for The Verge, but the publication managed to set my teeth on edge with The fight to save old games. That podcast episode looked into the murky world of game preservation and emulation, and had a lot of good stuff to say.

But. Along with at one point saying ROMs are illegal (without any qualifier or nuance), the podcast hosts banged on for a big chunk of runtime about how they wished a Spotify or Netflix for old games existed, but how that would be impossible – due to rights issues – or simply non-viable. I was stomping along on my morning walking loudly muttering “Antstream”, which I’m sure endeared me to anyone in earshot.

And, yes, Antstream has its issues. The streaming can be glitchy, and its catalogue of 1300 games is a small slice of gaming history. But that slice includes many classic arcade games and a slew of curiosities from the dawn of home gaming. Moreover, it exists. So it isn’t impossible. And given that it’s not dead, it’s viable too. 

It certainly warranted a mention in the podcast – unlike the suggestion that the best bet for most folks wanting to play old games is to buy a knock-off hard drive stuffed full of dodgy ROMs from Amazon. (Don’t do that. There are far better options.)

March 30, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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To Affinity and beyond: what does the Canva buyout means for the future of Serif?

Australian Financial Review yesterday got the scoop that Canva had eaten Serif. Today, the news was confirmed. Wisely, Serif’s CEO then attempted to reassure the community that all was good, actually.

Although the press has in recent years often positioned Serif as a kind of scrappy underdog newcomer, the company has a long history. It was founded in 1987, which makes it only five years younger than Adobe. Most of its recent history has been tied up in becoming a direct competitor to Adobe – and also a direct competitor to Adobe’s business model. Through its Affinity suite, Serif offered an alternative: buy-once apps rather than subscriptions. And although I can’t imagine Serif makes anything other than a minority of its sales on iPad, the company’s superb Affinity apps for Apple’s tablet – compared to Adobe’s comparatively stumbling efforts – haven’t hurt the company’s reputation any.

Which brings us to today’s announcement. Canva now owns Serif. According to Serif’s CEO, not much will change. He claims Canva is a kindred spirit – that Canva and Serif have complementary products, hence the buyout making sense. He says the Affinity brand will continue, the apps will be developed by the same British team, and that no changes to the pricing model are planned “at this time”. But then he would say that, wouldn’t he?

I very much hope this British success story doesn’t get crushed under the weight of a comparative giant. Canva imposing its will on opinionated software with a business model that people love would be a big risk. While Affinity users might love the interface and feature set, a large number of them were drawn – and remain loyal – to the product primarily because of the business model. That’s where much of the goodwill lies. Any switch to a subscription could fatally damage the brand. I suspect Adobe would be quick to counter by unveiling a ‘designer’ Creative Cloud tier comprising Photoshop, Illustrator and InDesign that just happened to be priced competitively, in an attempt to win people back.

Version 3 of the Affinity suite will probably be the moment we’ll know. You can already picture a press release stating that Canva has made the “difficult decision” to move Affinity apps to subscriptions, and a “hard choice” to move development from Nottingham to Canva HQ in Australia. I hope this won’t be the case, but we’ve seen this scenario play out so many times before. We’ll find out for sure one way or another within a year or two, and I do hope that in the same way Affinity bucked the trend with modern software, Serif bucks the trend when it comes to modern buyouts.

March 26, 2024. Read more in: Opinions, Technology

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Weeknote: 23 March 2024 – tech fights, AI and 1970s wallpaper

Published stuff

For TapSmart this week, I outlined why it doesn’t matter there are no folding iPhones and iPads yet. Naturally, lots of folks think Apple is behind the curve, but I’m not sure it is. These devices are fragile and insanely expensive. They might be the future – or at least a future – but right now I don’t think Apple desperately needs to enter the folding device market. Also for TapSmart this week, my lightning fast Mac buyer’s guide 2024.

Over at Stuff, I ask: Would a Gemini AI iPhone 16 be Awfully Impressive or Annoyingly Insidious? As ever, this is a meticulously researched, very grounded, and entirely sensible take on the subject. Cough.

Also for Stuff, I explore a Dungeons & Dragons Lego set you need a dragon’s hoard to afford, along with remembering the excellent Nokia 3210 at 25.

Finally, something a bit more serious for this blog: some brief personal thoughts on Apple and regulatory fights.

Upcoming stuff

A couple of goodies arrived this week for articles I’m working on. One was a GameSir G8, which is reportedly the best stretchy controller for mobile. I’ll be digging into that for a piece on AAA mobile gaming. 

I also received an Atari 400 Mini, in a rather lovely box. It recalled 1970s wallpaper, but unfortunately had the weakest magnetic catch ever. So the first thing my review unit did was tumble out of said box, skid across the floor and end up under some shelves. Fortunately, these mini consoles are bulletproof, and so I’ll be exploring this one for my Stuff column next weekend. 

Other stuff

My social feeds have been full of people grumbling about daylight savings, and that’s set to kick off again next week when UK clocks change. But I love it. (The clocks changing – not the grumbling.) In an instant, we’ll go from sunset around 18:30 to 19:30, meaning I’ll be able to start playing football in the street with my daughter after dinner again. I’m half surprised the Brexit mob didn’t force us on to GMT all year, but that possible future still nags at me, not least because DST is being attacked everywhere. Hopefully it will never happen.

Political commentator Ian Dunt recently wrote about writing. It’s an interesting piece, which itself remarks that everything is interesting. And also that writing is weird. Good points.

I’ve been writing professionally for almost 25 years. I’ve written for newspapers, magazines, corporates and book publishers. And while it’s something that can come naturally, the act of writing ranges from effortless to the typing equivalent of pulling teeth. And you never quite know what you’re going to face.

Ian offers interesting tips, not least the importance of curiosity and boredom. If you’re bored writing, your audience will feel that. So find what’s in your subject that sparks curiosity. I also commented on the piece to add a few things I’ve found useful in my own writing, which I’ll share here. (Hopefully you’re at this point still curious rather than bored to the point of slapping yourself repeatedly, to stay awake.)

First, making no assumptions can be beneficial. It doesn’t hurt to add brief notes or outward links to get a reader up to speed on a subject. But omit those vital sentences and your work might be impenetrable – or at least harder to read than it should have been.

Next, find what you love and do as much of that as you can, because your passion will shine through. For me, that’s storytelling. If I could, I’d spend my work life interviewing people, especially in the world of apps and video games, to make sure creators’ stories aren’t lost. Alas, few pay for that. But when they do, I’m very happy.

Finally, don’t allow anyone to tell you how you should write. Advice and ideas are fine, but being prescriptive is not. I once had someone sternly argue that you should always write an entire piece from start to finish, and only then go back and edit, as if writing tools have never moved beyond the typewriter. They believed this helped avoid distraction. That’s great if it works for you. My writing style is more like sculpture – I often start with a big mess of words, ideas and research I smash into shape in Scrivener or iA Writer, shifting things around, hacking off chunks that don’t work, and hopefully ending up with something suitable for the words equivalent of an art gallery. Or at least not a skip.

Sometimes, people even read my stuff too. If you’re one of them, thanks for stopping by. This blog’s never exactly been high traffic, but I do appreciate each and every person spending some of their time here.

March 23, 2024. Read more in: Weeknotes

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