Apple Arcade: Games That Won’t Piss You Off

This hol­i­day I’ve been trav­el­ing to spend the week vis­it­ing some of my fam­i­ly, includ­ing four of my nieces and nephews. My youngest niece is 10 and I thought she’d like sit­ting on the couch solv­ing some kind of puzzle‑y iPad game with me. I went to Apple Arcade and down­loaded Tint, which I’d nev­er played before.

The expe­ri­ence of play­ing Tint real­ly made appar­ent the dif­fer­ence in play­ing an Apple Arcade game ver­sus vir­tu­al­ly any oth­er game on the App Store. Play­ing it was almost uncan­ny — the genre it rep­re­sents as a geom­e­try-based puz­zle game is the kind of thing that absolute­ly floods the App Store and shows you unskip­pable 30-sec­ond ads for tow­er defense games between lev­els. Even games with­in this genre that do cost a buck or two up front will like­ly have some forms of in-app pur­chas­es, for rubies, gems, in-game hints, extra lev­els, etc. I kept expect­ing the game­play to be inter­rupt­ed by some­thing ugly, loud, or obnox­ious, but it nev­er hap­pened.

There are plen­ty of poor Apple Arcade games, but they’re poor in ways that oth­er games in the App Store aren’t — in a short­com­ing of game­play design, art­work, or exe­cu­tion, rather than in a dis­re­spect for the val­ue of cus­tomers’ time and mon­ey. These games feel as though they were made by peo­ple, not by cheap puz­zle-gen­er­at­ing algo­rithms, copy­cats, or fly-by-night App Store flood­ing.

No, your iPhone is not listening to you

There’s a lot of FUD going around about your phone lis­ten­ing to every­thing you say and sell­ing that data to adver­tis­ers. This is wild­ly and irre­spon­si­bly mis­lead­ing.

I can’t speak for Android phones because those things are the Wild West of APIs and out­dat­ed OSes and mal­ware, so use Android phones at your own risk.

Here is the claim being made, in short:

Any third-par­ty (non-Apple) app you have installed on your iPhone can record and remote­ly save con­ver­sa­tions tak­ing place with­in earshot of your iPhone, even when the app isn’t run­ning (in the fore­ground or in the back­ground), and even when the phone is sleep­ing.

This is patent­ly false. Third-par­ty iOS apps can only record audio when they are run­ning in the fore­ground or run­ning in the back­ground, and only if you have giv­en them per­mis­sion to do so. And even if you have grant­ed micro­phone access to the Face­book app, for instance, if you “kill” Face­book by swip­ing up on it in the app switch­er, Face­book is quit and can no longer access the micro­phone in any way.

Fur­ther, when third-par­ty apps are using the micro­phone, there is a big red bar with a micro­phone icon at the top of the screen of your phone in the sta­tus bar. There is as far as I know no way for devel­op­ers to pre­vent this from appear­ing.

In oth­er words, in order for any third-par­ty app to “lis­ten to you” through your iPhone:

  1. That app must be run­ning, either in the fore­ground or the back­ground.
  2. You must have explic­it­ly grant­ed that app per­mis­sion to access your micro­phone.
  3. There will be a red micro­phone icon at the top of your screen.

If any of those three things haven’t hap­pened or aren’t hap­pen­ing, then that app is not lis­ten­ing to you.


How do I explain, then, all the anec­do­tal evi­dence that ads for cer­tain prod­ucts show up after peo­ple start shout­ing about mat­tress­es into their phones?

First, this is anec­do­tal and can­not be trust­ed. Nobody behind these arti­cles has even tried to mon­i­tor what domains are being pinged by their router in an attempt to deter­mine where all these record­ings are secret­ly being sent.

Sec­ond, if you come up with a ran­dom prod­uct cat­e­go­ry, and espe­cial­ly if that cat­e­go­ry is mat­tress­es (!!! The most adver­tised inter­net thing there is!), and you only start to notice ads for that prod­uct cat­e­go­ry after you’ve begun whis­per­ing the phrase, then this is like­ly a fail­ing of your per­cep­tion. We are all way, way more blind than we real­ize and fil­ter out 99% of our sur­round­ings. If you say “I swear I nev­er saw an ad for t‑shirts before this!,” that is a com­plete­ly unre­li­able claim.

Third, adver­tis­ers already know tons and tons about you just from your brows­ing habits. They don’t need to lis­ten through your phone’s micro­phone. Face­book and Google already know every site you vis­it as well as in what things the peo­ple in your demo­graph­ic are inter­est­ed and prob­a­bly talk­ing about with you and your friends.

All this anec­do­tal evi­dence is coin­ci­den­tal.

The typography of Sacha Baron Cohen’s “Who Is America?”

I could­n’t help but notice how jar­ring the titles for Show­time’s “Who Is Amer­i­ca?” are, but I could­n’t put my fin­ger on why. It’s clear­ly some con­densed extra bold, which are often pret­ty ungain­ly, with some excep­tions (Futu­ra Bold Codensed, of Nike fame). My first thought was that it might be some­thing like Cal­ib­ri or Tahoma, some unsight­ly human­ist sans that was even pos­si­bly man­u­al­ly stretched.

I Googled around for a screen­shot of the titles, and what I found instead was a lot of pro­mo­tion­al mate­r­i­al that pri­mar­i­ly does use Futu­ra Bold Con­densed:

(And Ari­al Bold, unfor­tu­nate­ly.)

I can’t help but won­der if the design­ers behind the titles in the aired show were try­ing to mim­ic Futu­ra Bold Con­densed, but either weren’t able to or did­n’t know they weren’t using the same type­face.

I admit I had to look it up, but the type­face they are using is Aba­di Con­densed Extra Bold. Why this type­face? After a lit­tle more Googling I learned that Aba­di is includ­ed in sev­er­al Microsoft prod­ucts.

What isn’t includ­ed in most Microsoft prod­ucts? Futu­ra Bold Con­densed.

That’s just not what “is the new” means

I know I’m the last and prob­a­bly least sig­nif­i­cant per­son to weigh in on this, but this “Safari is the New IE” arti­cle that I did­n’t read when it came out three months ago has been tucked away in the back of my mind since then, and I’ve final­ly put my fin­ger on the sim­ple rea­son it both­ers me.

[M]y point was to com­pare Safari to IE in terms of 1) not keep­ing up with new stan­dards, 2) main­tain­ing a cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy, and 3) play­ing a monop­o­lis­tic role, by not allow­ing oth­er ren­der­ing engines on iOS. Those accu­sa­tions are pret­ty unde­ni­able.

[…]

Per­son­al­ly what I want out of this whole debate is for Apple to real­ize that the web is start­ing to move on with­out them, and that their weird iso­la­tion­ism and glacial release cycle are not going to win them any favors in this new, dynam­ic web com­mu­ni­ty.

First of all, what does it mean to “be an Inter­net Explor­er”? What did Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent? A monop­oly, sure, to con­sumers and cor­po­rate attor­neys from the 1990s. “A cul­ture of rel­a­tive secre­cy”? Maybe, though that’s not what comes to my mind. It also had a blue icon and a six-syl­la­ble name, but these are acci­dents — they’re not what Inter­net Explor­er was.

What Inter­net Explor­er rep­re­sent­ed to web devel­op­ers, the bulk of that arti­cle’s audi­ence, is not a pop­u­lar brows­er lag­ging behind mod­ern stan­dards, but a pop­u­lar brows­er egre­gious­ly dis­obey­ing estab­lished stan­dards. There is no Safari equiv­a­lent (that I know of, and almost cer­tain­ly not as sig­nif­i­cant) as, say, IE’s dou­ble-mar­gin bug. Every web devel­op­er who’s wres­tled with IE has tear­ful­ly ref­er­enced Explor­er Exposed! and QuirksMode for the sixth time in a week, their links in Google’s results seem­ing an even deep­er pur­ple than oth­ers. Every web devel­op­er has har­bored a sense of loom­ing dread as they glee­ful­ly devel­op in Chrome and Fire­fox, know­ing that there will soon be the reck­on­ing of hav­ing to fix what­ev­er IE bugs they’re will­ful­ly ignor­ing, but for right now it feels so good not to have to write ter­ri­ble, hacky code to sup­port a ten-year-old brows­er, and maybe my boss will announce tomor­row that we offi­cial­ly don’t sup­port IE 6 any­more?

This, I think, is where the back­lash comes from. “Devel­op­ing for Safari” is bare­ly a thing. “Devel­op­ing for IE” was hell. To see the two com­pared in — yes — a click­baity way is mad­den­ing.

Chris Coyi­er on PostC­SS:

We know that specs change. It hap­pens all the time. Seems weird to base a syn­tax on a non-final spec. What hap­pens when the spec changes? Do you change the lan­guage and let exist­ing code break? How is that future-proof? Or sup­port all past for­mats? Mean­ing the lan­guage isn’t real­ly based on future CSS, it’s based on any exper­i­men­tal idea that was con­sid­ered?

These have been exact­ly my thoughts since hear­ing about CSS post-proces­sors. How can peo­ple hon­est­ly believe that the code they’re writ­ing is future-proof? Sass source files cer­tain­ly are prone to “spec rot”, but the CSS they gen­er­ate isn’t (at least, inso­far as any­thing can be immune to it).

On writ­ing real CSS (again) | CSS-Tricks

Understanding GNU Screen’s hardstatus strings

My cur­rent devel­op­ment set­up revolves main­ly around Vim and GNU Screen. I use Screen only to keep ses­sions run­ning between work days or in case I get dis­con­nect­ed, but late­ly I’ve been tempt­ed to try using dif­fer­ent win­dows inside Screen. In order to make this eas­i­er, I want­ed one of those sta­tus lines that shows you all your win­dows as “tabs”.

Con­fig­ur­ing this sta­tus line (the “hard­ware sta­tus line” or, as I’ll call it, “hard­sta­tus”) is done with a sin­gle, often long string of char­ac­ters in ~/.screenrc that at first can look entire­ly baf­fling:

hardstatus string "%{= KW} %H [%`] %{= Kw}|%{-} %-Lw%{= bW}%n%f %t%{-}%+Lw %=%C%a %Y-%M-%d"

Exact­ly.

To my dis­may, almost every­thing I can find about hard­sta­tus through Google are just dumps of oth­er people’s strings, with lit­tle to no expla­na­tion about why they do what they do – it’s easy to imag­ine that the peo­ple who post them hard­ly know why they do what they do, either. GNU’s offi­cial doc­u­men­ta­tion isn’t ter­ri­bly help­ful.

After final­ly deci­pher­ing a lot of what goes on in these strings, I want­ed to spell it out to any­body else who might be hunt­ing around for half a clue about this voodoo. There are (more than?) a few things I haven’t cov­ered here, of course – trun­ca­tion and con­di­tion­als, name­ly – but this should be enough to get you start­ed.

Con­tin­ue →

A fairer, more conscientious alternative to AdBlock Plus

Hav­ing just stum­bled across an arti­cle advo­cat­ing against AdBlock Plus (via Lea Ver­ou), I decid­ed to revis­it my set­tings for rel­a­tive­ly nui­sance-free brows­ing in Fire­fox.

For a long time I’ve done devel­op­ment work and writ­ing for a site that keeps its lights on through adver­tis­ing, so I sym­pa­thize with con­tent-cre­ators’ need for (and frus­tra­tion with) ads. It’s a nec­es­sary evil, and I’ve always found it a bit dis­heart­en­ing to see AdBlock Plus at the top of every “Pop­u­lar Plu­g­ins” list (whether for Chrome, Fire­fox, or Safari). Worse, there seems to be a sense of enti­tle­ment among savvy inter­net users, telling them that they should­n’t have to endure ads. Com­mon­ly this might be veiled as being “anti-cor­po­rate” or some oth­er such vague excuse, but the real rea­sons are usu­al­ly the same as those behind pira­cy: it’s just nice not to have to pay for things, whether through eye­balls, band­width, or dol­lars.

(None of this is to say that I am entire­ly inno­cent on these points.)

Still, there are some trou­bling com­mon prac­tices among the more insid­i­ous of these JavaScript embeds, and I think there is some jus­ti­fi­ca­tion in cir­cum­vent­ing them. But one does­n’t need to block every adver­tise­ment to severe­ly dimin­ish adver­tis­ers’ abil­i­ty to, say, keep track of one’s brows­ing habits.

Here are the things you can do to make your brows­ing a lit­tle more pri­vate and safe, while still (most­ly) allow­ing the sites you love to pay their bills. These tips will be writ­ten for Fire­fox users (though the equiv­a­lent plu­g­ins are read­i­ly avail­able in Chrome and Safari), and won’t include things that read­ers of this site will prob­a­bly already know about (e.g., avoid­ing “watch movies free” sites and their ilk, and dis­abling pop-ups).

Con­tin­ue →