Rumination No. 39: Behold the Catapostrophe!

Back in March, I had a big whinge about how people misuse (or rather, don’t use) hyphens. Whilst it was frustrating to view these cases at Aldi in person, it was good fun to write that piece.

It may seem strange to you that I haven’t complained yet about what is possibly the most misunderstood punctuation mark of all: the apostrophe.

Frankly, I thought that it would be a bit tiresome to carry on about the apostrophe, since so many grammarians already complain about it, whether in cases of contraction or possession. Many of these errors are seen on café blackboards or signs at fruit shops, for example, ‘scrambled egg’s on toast’ or ‘fresh tomato’s’. They’re just horrid to read, aren’t they?

Of course, this topic just had to creep up on me in an unexpected way, so here we are. I just couldn’t resist drawing your attention to what is quite possibly the most ridiculous misuse of the apostrophe that I have ever witnessed.

I present to you: the ‘catapostrophe’ of local takeaway food shop, Figgy Kebabs…

What you see here on this white sign is truly baffling. In the word ‘today’s’, we see the correct use of a possessive apostrophe. About whose specials are we talking? We are talking about today’s specials.

Move your eyes to the next line and you’ll see an apostrophe included incorrectly in what should just be the word ‘specials’. Are we meant to believe that this apostrophe makes the word possessive, which means that we still don’t know what today’s special actually owns? It’s unfinished!

Otherwise, are we meant to think that it’s an incomplete sentence with a contraction? That would make it: ‘Today’s special is…’. or the even more nonsensical ‘Today is special is…’. What is today’s special then?! What is with all the ‘is’es?! Nothing is complete!

The icing on the cake is that the name of this shop, Figgy Kebabs, shows the correct use of a plural. Do you see an apostrophe in the word ‘kebabs’? No, you don’t.

This, my friends, is a true catapostrophe.

Not to mention, their choice of typeface for the sign is dreadful. All hope is lost.

macOS ‘About’ Boxes

There’s been a lot discussion recently about the state of Mac apps, particularly on what the future holds with Marzipan bringing iOS apps (and their design language) to macOS.

Naturally, many Mac enthusiasts have been concerned about how Marzipan could corrupt the look and feel of macOS—look no further than Mojave’s additions of Home, Stocks, Voice Memos and News last year for noisy complaints.

These apps are early demonstrations of what will be possible from WWDC this year and most notably, Steve Troughton-Smith has been reassuring users of the positive aspects of such a transition, both with his tool Marzipanify and recent videos on Twitter, showing the last major transition from classic Mac OS to Mac OS X. People should calm down—we’ve been through this before and some degree of inconsistency has always been present in macOS. (Just look at the three different ways that I had to write the name of the operating system in this paragraph… Apple has changed its mind over time too.)

With Apple set to make a massive cross-platform effort, the company and its third-party developers can only work to improve the experience in the system.

A great example of the current inconsistency in macOS is the variety of ‘About’ boxes in default and third-party apps. Sometimes this variation can be frustrating; other times it can add personality. Let’s look at a few examples.

The default ‘About’ box generally looks something like Safari’s below.

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Top-quality macOS citizens, such as Pixelmator Pro and Ulysses for Mac follow Safari’s simple, default design.

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.20.47 pmScreen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.21.08 pm

Of course, iTunes does its own thing.

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.22.38 pm

Slack, as a somewhat controversial Electron app, still manages to keep consistent with this design, however it does not honour the activation of dark mode in Mojave.

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.21.31 pm

Reeder 4 for Mac, whilst an entirely new app that respects Mac conventions like keyboard shortcuts, has its own ‘About’ box design which is completely inconsistent with other apps. That being said, it is clean and includes nice credits to the creators of the app.

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.21.47 pm

Pastebot also includes a different type of ‘About’ box and is yet to support dark mode on Mojave, however, like Reeder 4, it also includes a nice list of credits.

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.22.22 pm

Mactracker takes its focus on Apple history seriously and even extends this philosophy to its own ‘About’ box, going into more detail about the make-up of the app.

Screen Shot 2019-05-28 at 5.22.55 pm

Perhaps the worst example that I have ever seen, Microsoft Teams, (an Electron app like Slack) opens a line of descriptive text within the app window rather than as a separate window. In fact, the app doesn’t even support multiple windows, which is dreadful in macOS.

Whilst other inconsistent ‘About’ boxes may be frustrating or out-of-date to some, at least they can be interesting or offer some personality and variety to the interface. Teams flies in the face of macOS design sensibility and convention.

The lesson to take from this is that design consistency, whilst aesthetically pleasing and particularly great for accessibility, can be bent a little bit in macOS to add variety and personality. With the exception of Teams, which disrupts the macOS norm, each of these developers can their own special something to their ’About’ boxes, along with the design of their apps.

As we approach the era of Marzipan and truly cross-platform apps for macOS and iOS, we should be positive and enthusiastic about the change that is coming. Apps will look different; their ‘About’ boxes will certainly be different… but new and perhaps even better ideas about interface design should rise to the top.

Furthermore, with easier development tools from UIKit, we will hopefully see more developers keen to develop for the Mac platform. In an ideal world, we’ll all receive great, new interfaces over time that are consistent overall, yet still bring their own special something.

If you’re still not convinced by this and fear a horribly inconsistent design future for the Mac, check out this interesting piece by writer Riccardo Mori on the history of vintage Mac ‘About’ boxes. Things have always been a little different and there’s certainly nothing to fear.

Rumination No. 38: Dining in with Takeaway

I’m assuming that you, dear reader, have visited restaurants and cafés before. You know the drill: you walk in, find a seat, order some food and/or drinks and then consume your chosen items around the table. If you’re with friends or family, then you may even engage in some enjoyable banter.

Natasha and I went out for breakfast to one of our favourite cafés in Audley, which is in Royal National Park, north of Wollongong. We followed the general process that I outlined above and were enjoying some delicious pancakes for breakfast. We observed something at a nearby table, however, which did not gel with the natural order of things…

Another young couple had walked into the café, placed an order at the counter, then sat down at a table for a few minutes. Rather than receiving food at their table, their order was called and they went to retrieve two takeaway coffees. ‘Ahhh…’, you must be thinking, ‘They were just waiting to receive their takeaway coffees before venturing out again’. Incorrect—they sat back down at the same table with their paper coffee cups.

I have two major issues with this. First of all, the café offers ceramic cups for indoor consumption of hot beverages. Why on Earth did these people think that it was appropriate to use disposable resources that can’t be recycled entirely (such cups are laminated), when a reusable alternative was present and much more appropriate for the dine-in context?

Second, this couple sat at a table and benches that could comfortably fit six people and for a good deal of time, they just stared at their phones.

This is a perfect (yet all too common and mundane) example of the arrogant, self-centred behaviour that is prevalent in modern society. It’s similar to waiting until the last few metres of an ending freeway lane to merge into the next one, leaving unwanted grocery items in the wrong aisle, tossing a cigarette in the street or stopping in the middle of a busy pathway to take a selfie. Why is it so hard for people to be considerate of others and the environment around themselves?

Let’s be frank: it’s just easier to sit down, block out the real world and monitor your likes on Instagram.

Rumination No. 37: LinkedIn Tales of Love and Adversity

Back in March, I ruminated about the horrendously boring meme culture on LinkedIn in a piece called Key Leadership ‘Learnings’ of Collaborative Synergy and Digital Disruption #AI #blockchain. I felt that summed up things nicely.

In that piece, I made a brief reference to the prevalence of ‘broems’ on the site. I’d like to revisit that particular topic now. Quite simply, they are poems by bros (‘broetry’, if you will)—these elongated, one-line-at-a-time tales of corporate success and revelation are some of the most pointless pieces of text that you’ll find on the Web.

Generally, they will deal with topics such as making the most amazing, unexpected hire (a unicorn!) or how having a latte with that one special suit changed one’s life forever, leading to a rewarding career journey of unimaginable heights and KPI-fulfilment. Their stretched-out presentation suck you right in and before you know it, you’ve clicked on the ‘See More’ button and you’re scrolling to get to the end in the hope that it will be worth it.

Well, I think that I’ve found the most pointless broem ever. It is so devoid of any detail or storytelling, that I’m completely baffled by the number of reactions that it has received. Surprisingly, it’s also a short one.

OVER 73,00 REACTIONS

MORE THAN 2000 COMMENTS

Apparently, all that you need to do to be successful is inhale and exhale, then repeat this process consistently until your particular moment of adversity has passed.

Now, I chose not to include the name of this person in the screenshot because that would have been unfair. I have no doubt that this person and his wife did in fact have to deal with hardship at some point. Unemployment is extremely difficult and they were obviously in a difficult situation.

Where is the story though? How can we appreciate this tale of triumph if the author can barely be bothered to share it properly? How can people out there, who may be looking for guidance through similar issues, possibly take anything from this? Why not offer something that’s genuinely helpful?

Somehow, sites like LinkedIn have become hubs for the production and consumption of pure mediocrity such as these broems… and people are rewarded for it with virtually meaningless likes and shares.

The next time that you see something like this online, don’t enable it. Let’s strive for a higher quality of writing in this amazing place called the Web.

Rumination No. 36: Advance Australia… Yeah, Nah…

During this weekend’s federal election, Australia showed that it is a nation divided, indeed, a nation of great contradictions.

I believe that Australia generally sees itself as a forward-thinking nation—one of progressive ideas, innovation and the ‘fair go’. We apparently value equality and are early adopters of numerous consumer technologies.

Yet, when it comes to our politics, with the re-election of the Liberal-National Coalition, Australia has really shown the total opposite. Rather than choosing to wind down negative gearing and franking credits, in order create a more stable and equal housing market, Australia chose to maintain the status quo.

Instead of choosing parties such as Labor or the Greens, which trumpeted a clearer commitment to renewable technologies and electric vehicles, voters kept a man in office who once entered the House of Representatives carrying a piece of coal as a prop for Question Time.

Furthermore, Australia would like to consider itself to be a politically stable, developed nation, yet a government that has suffered the turmoil of three different prime ministerships has just been re-elected. Disunity apparently isn’t death, but in fact a benefit.

I am by no means a full-blown supporter of any given party, however I believe that this weekend’s election result is an embarrassment. Australia had the chance to start afresh with an entirely new government. Rather than progressive ideas and positive messaging, Australia fell for a scare-campaign from the right.

Somehow, with the constant carry-on from the Coalition and policy-free outfits such as Palmer’s United Australia Party, the nation has fallen for the idea that any investment in services, whether education, health or energy, comes at the expense of the economy. Surpluses are all that matter and any kind of spending is to be questioned. This may come as a surprise to some, but economic growth and new jobs can arise from investment in people.

I’m not sure how long it will take for Australia to get over this economic obsession. Let’s see where the next three years will take us.

Accessibility for Everyone

Image source: Apple (2019)
Image source: Apple (2019)

Apple has been at the forefront of accessible hardware and software design for years with both macOS and iOS. Whilst numerous features (particularly in iOS) were included from the beginning, many new ones have been added over time, in response to the needs of an ever-expanding user base.

To highlight the company’s efforts, Apple Australia’s home page is currently linking to a comprehensive section on accessibility, with the heading: Technology is most powerful when it empowers everyone. This is in celebration of Global Accessibility Awareness Day.

Whilst accessibility features are tremendously useful for people with disabilities, medical conditions or special needs, I could not agree more with this key term in the heading: everyone. When I read down this page, I see features that I use all the time:

  • The speak-screen function, whilst useful for the visually impaired, has been a great language-learning tool for me, as I highlight articles in German to be read out through my AirPods at whatever speed that I want;
  • Safari Reader, as a tool for improving legibility with larger, sans serif San Francisco, has been a great way of cutting out advertisements and reducing strain on my eyes while browsing the Web at night;
  • Siri, although a tool for people who may not be able to touch a display or use other input mechanisms, frequently enables me to interact with devices when my hands are full, whether on iPad Apple Watch or HomePods;
  • Type to Siri lets me define words or make calculations quickly in public with my iPhone, if I don’t want to speak aloud; and
  • The system zoom and dynamic type functions have obvious use cases, however I’ve found them to be genuinely useful for expanding parts of interfaces that cannot be adjusted with the pinch-to-zoom feature.

I could go on but I’ll stop there.

Why am I carrying on about this? It’s rather simple: when we design for the majority, we actually miss really important things. It takes a willingness to listen to the needs of minorities and the marginalised to make technology accessible. Features that may seem niche, obscure or even useless, once baked into the operating system, can have enormously positive consequences for all users.

The term ‘diversity’ is thrown around a lot these days, particularly by organisations that are looking to reassure customers and shareholders of their corporate social responsibility. When we push past this though, we realise that diversity is not just about gender or cultural background. Diversity, in its modern usage, is about different ways of thinking and approaching problems. People with different skills, circumstances and abilities can bring new things to the table and address issues that no one else might have considered.

Looking at this accessibility page, I’m grateful for these technological enhancements and thank the people out there who advocated for such improvements. With their creativity, contributions and feedback, everyone can benefit.

As long as Apple continues to look beyond the majority, the tools that we use every day will only improve.

The Royal Spotlight on Apple News

When Apple News first launched with iOS 9 in 2015, I was enthusiastic about its potential to deliver a variety of high-quality news sources and stories, in contrast to the algorithmic, sensationalist tripe that is surfaced by Facebook, Twitter and other social networks.

Key to Apple News’s strength, supposedly, has been the focus on human curation in its Spotlight section. For some time, I used the app to follow various Australian and foreign news sites. I enjoyed it and admired the idea of human curation. Sure, it couldn’t be perfect, however it did sound great that someone—a real person—would be ensuring that people are exposed to diverse stories and views.

More recently, after Apple’s albeit impressive services event, I have been less enthusiastic about Apple News. The focus on News-app-specific addresses, rather than URLs on the open Web, has made me less comfortable with it. I’ve now moved to the new Reeder 4, relying on open RSS feeds. Consequently, News has been sitting in a folder for some time now.

Still, wanting to keep an open mind, recently I thought that I should open it to see what was happening in Spotlight. I had forgotten that everyone was in the grip of ROYAL BABY FEVER. Here are a few screenshots from Spotlight on one day last week.

Apple’s editorial team took the term ‘spotlight’ way too seriously. I have absolutely zero interest in the royal baby and the monarchy that continues to rule (technically) over Australia. Now, I understand that this may seem to be an issue of subjectivity—many people are indeed interested in the royal baby.

However this is just one baby on our planet. How many other children were born on that same day? For that matter, how many died from poverty around the world? Is this really news or is it a tacky human-interest story, swept up in romantic, monarchistic ideals from centuries past?

Of course, you may be thinking, ‘…but Martin, this is the point: it wasn’t algorithmically personalised, so you just shouldn’t tap on it if you’re not interested’. I think that’s besides the point. If this is the standard of news presentation and journalistic ‘curation’ that Apple envisages for its News service, as thousands of arguably more important stories swirl around the globe, then that’s a concern to me. Apple shouldn’t want its Spotlight section to morph into Women’s Weekly.

I’m sure that Apple was serious when it first asserted its passion for journalistic integrity, however with the recent announcement of Apple News+, which is a paid service, I am unsure of the company’s ability to uphold this ideal. Unlike podcasts, which until now have remained a relatively open media space, Apple is looking to increase its services revenue in the news space. Can a company that is driven to attract eyeballs and dollars to its News app fulfil its promise to provide diverse, high-quality content? When Apple News+ rolls around to Australia, I may still try it, but at this point I’m not so sure.