My Body is a Confederate Monument

Opinion | You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body Is a Confederate Monument - The New York Times

I have rape-colored skin. My light-brown-blackness is a living testament to the rules, the practices, the causes of the Old South.
If there are those who want to remember the legacy of the Confederacy, if they want monuments, well, then, my body is a monument. My skin is a monument.

And:

I don’t just come from the South. I come from Confederates. I’ve got rebel-gray blue blood coursing my veins. My great-grandfather Will was raised with the knowledge that Edmund Pettus was his father. Pettus, the storied Confederate general, the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, the man for whom Selma’s Bloody Sunday Bridge is named. So I am not an outsider who makes these demands. I am a great-great-granddaughter.

Wow, this is a tough read, but worth your time.

Is Quibi a Figment of my Imagination?

Is anyone watching Quibi?

Instead, Quibi has foundered. The app’s ranking dropped to No. 284 by mid-June. A handful of shows, such as a reboot of Reno 911!, seem to have found an audience (it’s impossible to know precisely how large an audience, since Quibi, like other streamers, doesn’t release numbers), but critical attention has focused mostly on the flops.

Genuinely, outside of the occasional “Quibi is bad” article, and the couple days I spent trying to watch it when it was new, I see no real evidence that the service actually exists. Past launch day, no one in social media is talking about it and no one in my “real life” has mentioned it even in passing.

Really, did Quibi launch? Is it real? I see a giant pile of money on fire in the distance, but I see no evidence that Quibi is a real thing.

Maybe it’s real, maybe it’s not. At best, it appears to be something that’s cultural influence is exclusively the snarky articles it lets people like me write every once in a while. At worst, it’s a figment of my imagination that I’ve created to add some drama to these quarantine months this summer.

https://twitter.com/mattbirchler/status/1247206935016996864

Ah, that hopeful fool!

Edge is the New Safari is the New IE?

Microsoft is forcing Edge on Windows users with a spyware-like install - The Verge

If I told you that my entire computer screen just got taken over by a new app that I’d never installed or asked for — it just magically appeared on my desktop, my taskbar, and preempted my next website launch — you’d probably tell me to run a virus scanner and stay away from shady websites, no?

This is not a good look for Microsoft, although I’m maybe not going to have the same take as the rest of the Apple fandom…

First off, Edge is the system browser, just like IE before, and just like Safari on macOS and iOS. You couldn’t uninstall IE on Windows before, and you can’t uninstall Safari on iOS or macOS now. Let’s not make this a thing we get upset about.

Second, automatically pinning itself to your taskbar isn’t cool, but again, I got the new Translate app on my iPhone home screen when I upgraded to iOS 14. I get new apps all the time on my home screens on iOS when Apple releases new apps with new iOS releases, so again, not the end of the world.

And third, making you confirm your default browser choice is not cool, but again, this is an interesting take from the Apple fandom. We’ve had 13 years of having zero choice about default browsers, and it’s been annoying for Chrome, Firefox, and yes, even Edge users forever. Also, if you hate this, every time you install a new browser, email client, or basically anything else on Android, it will ask you if you’d like to change your mind on your default.

Anywho, later in the article they get to real conclusion.

Because if I’m being honest, after the initial shock wore off, I found Edge easy enough to ignore. The experience mostly just left a bad taste in my mouth.

So yeah, good to get some hate out there and vent about the company you love to vent about, but it’s actually not a big deal.

I Won’t Do It, but Only Because You Told Me I Should Do It

Opinion | How America Lost the War on Covid-19

And there’s surely something to this. I don’t think any other advanced country (but are we still an advanced country?) has a comparable number of people who respond with rage when asked to wear a mask in a supermarket. There definitely isn’t any other advanced country where demonstrators against public health measures would wave guns around and invade state capitols. And the Republican Party is more or less unique among major Western political parties in its hostility to science in general.
But what strikes me, when looking at America’s extraordinary pandemic failure, is how top-down it all was.

I know some people will take this the wrong way, but I really think there is a contingent of Americans who won’t weak masks exclusively “because you told me to do it”. As pointed out in the article, the fact that the guy at the top talks about it like it’s BS doesn’t help either.

Taking Payments on Your Own in 2020

I know we’ve moved on since WWDC, but I wanted to keep talking about taking payments for your software outside the App Store, and how I think many people have an unfair view of making payments through anyone not named Apple as some sort of security nightmare.

A few weeks ago I wrote about some of the business and technical reasons a merchant may want to handle their own payments and not let Apple do it for them. Today I wanted to dig into what the experience is like for merchants when they decide to do their own payment processing in 2020.

Offloading the Risk

Payment processing is a tricky thing and it’s very technically complex. However, that’s why companies like NMI, Stripe, PayPal, and the rest exist: we let merchants focus on running their business as we take on most of the complexity and risk of processing payments. Major retailers may work directly with a payment platform (First Data, TSYS, etc.) to process payments, but the vast majority will go through a “payment gateway” that simplifies the process and reduces the risk for the merchant. For example, NMI (where I work) integrates to over 100 payment platforms, and we have a unified API and UI for working with each one. You don’t need to know anything about TSYS’s spec to run payments through them, you just need to know ours. If you want to switch to First Data tomorrow, that’s fine, you don’t need to change your workflow.

Risk is another factor, and it’s a big driver of innovation in the payments space right now. Merchants want to make it as easy as possible for customers to pay them, and in 2020 basically no merchant ever wants to have your unencrypted card data touch their environment. Thankfully, nowadays there are plenty of “SAQ-A compliant” solutions out there that allow merchants to deliver their customers good, reliable checkout experiences, in ways that make it so that the merchant never even knows what your card number or CVV even are.

How Do You Get This Card Info Securely?

There are tools out there like Collect.js and Stripe Elements that let merchants insert text fields on their website that look like they’re part of the merchant’s site, can be tabbed through as if they were on the merchant’s site, but in fact they are very much not on the merchant’s site.

For example, here’s a test page I have set up today that uses my company’s Collect.js solution.

There’s no way for you to tell from the screenshot, but the ccnumber, ccexp, and cvv fields on this page are all iframes that are sitting inline on this page to look like the rest of the form. The point of these is that due to the way iframes work across domains, the merchant’s website has zero access to what’s going on in those fields. The tool can send callbacks to the merchant site to tell them that the field is filled out and is valid or invalid, but it will never make it so the merchant can see the card data. This gives merchants the ability to completely control the user flow through their onboarding process, all while offloading the risk of handling the card data themselves.

Another option is to do a full redirect to a hosted payment page managed by your payment provider. You likely know what these look like, as you’ve likely visited a site selling through one of these options yourself. Tapbots uses Stripe for selling Tweetbot for Mac licenses, but there are other options from NMI, PayPal, Amazon, Braintree, etc. These options take control away from the merchant, but they also simplify the integration since they are offloading the UI, UX, and payments API work to the platform. not to mention the customer may see the name of a company they know/trust in the URL and be more comfortable entering their payment details.

After the Purchase

But it's after the initial payment that things get really nice for the merchant. Let's say I have a Mac app someone bought a few minutes ago, they made a mistake, and they contacted me to get a refund. This is what I would do in my UI to issue a refund to them if I was handling the payment myself:

If I was selling through the App Store then I would have to tell the user to ask Apple for a refund and hope that Apple allows it. I'm just not able to take care of my customer as quickly as I could if I controlled the payments more directly.

And this goes for everything after the intial purchase as well. I get dedicated UIs and APIs for accessing my customer list, transaction history, recurring summaries, and more. I can use webhooks to get real-time alerts when things happen on my account, and I can control how my customers in my payment gateway sync up with my list of customers I maintain in a CRM or something like that. You get some of this in the App Store, sure, but it's not nearly as much and is far more limited in scope.

Takeaway

You may like this as a customer since it makes it harder for merchants to reach out to you with promotions, but the downsides are that it can be harder for the merchant to run their business and stay in business in the first place. I'm all for user privacy as well, but we have to consider the challenges things like the App Store present to merchants who are trying to do the right thing as well.

My point in writing these last couple articles is to point out that while there are definite benefits to merchants and customers with selling through the App Store, there are also costs to that system, and I wanted to share a peek into what merchants have access to these days.

The UI Changes Between Catalina and Big Sur

Andrew Denty has a great collection of comparisons between the current and upcoming versions of macOS.

One example from the many on his page.

I have not installed Big Sur yet, mainly because the only Mac in my life is my work Mac, and while it is cleared for betas, I have no interest in risking anything breaking at this early stage in the developer beta. So for me, this comparison was super welcome and really well laid out to show the changes.

My take: I think as a whole, this is an improvement over the Mac's current look. Maybe I'm biased because I prefer the look of iPadOS, and this makes the Mac look a lot more like that, but I really think it's a good step outside of that personal feeling. My big concern is with the removal of colors on icons. I think the new iconography looks better, but taken as a complete package, my brain takes another second to think every time I look at some of these buttons. Here's a good example in Safari preferences:

Say what you will about the aesthetic differences here, but using color, I can more quickly tell where the security or extension settings are on the left than the right.

I'll eventually get Big Sur on my work machine, and I'm sure I'll have more opiniona then, but as of right now, the loss of color is the thing that jumps out to me most as a concern for glancability.

Tom Hanks Ain't Happy Greyhound Won't Be in Theaters

Tom Hanks talking to The Guardian:

But Greyhound has been an especial labour of love for him, one he sweated over for almost a decade, and it is one of those sweeping war movies that really should be seen on the big screen. So the change in plans has been, he says, “an absolute heartbreak. I don’t mean to make angry my Apple overlords, but there is a difference in picture and sound quality.”

I totally get Hanks' sadness around his film not getting the presentation he invisioned for it when it kicked off. I'm a big fan of in-home distribution, and I think it helps more people see more movies they would not have seen otherwise, but I absolutely appreciate filmmakers wanting to give people the option to see their films as intended.

This isn't the worst thing to come of COVID-19, of course, but I sympathize with Hanks on this.

Design is a Series of Overcorrections

I’ve been watching my fair share of WWDC sessions this week and one thing I kept noticing were times Apple engineers explained new features by taking subtle jabs at their old versions of those same features.

A great example of this are the new buttons on watchOS 7 that show up at the top and bottom of scrolling lists. So instead of being in Messages and force pressing the screen to get the “new message” button, they now have a button at the top of your list of conversations. They explained this is more discoverable for users, and that you should really update your app to do this because you’ll have happier customers.

The snarky reading of this is, “Apple is bad and they had a bad UI for years. This is an admission that they were bad all this time.” I don’t think this is a fair complaint.

Design is really just a series of overcorrections until you land on something great. That definitely happens in the design process for each feature/release, as you likely start by looking at the problems with the current solution and then make sweeping changes to those things. Those changes usually get filed down and aren’t quite as extreme when they get released to the public.

But even then, you are likely to overcorrect, or go too far in one direction. That just means you take the good stuff from the current release and, you guessed it, overcorrect back the other way and have to ease up your changes again. You keep doing this until you get to something that strikes a good balance.

And sometimes these changes take place over years, or decades. Look at iOS as a great example. iPhoneOS 1 was the first time most people used a personal touch screen device and lots of things in the UI had to be literally spelled out for you (“Swipe to Unlock”), and to make things feel tactile, rich textures were used, as were lots and lots of visible UI.

After 6 years of that design, iOS 7 switched everything up and ripped away tons of things that helped people get to grips with a touch-based phone. It wasn’t that the early versions of iOS were bad, it was that the needs of the market changed. The early versions of iOS trained people how to use a phone, and once that groundwork was laid (and popular design trends shifted) Apple had to change the look of everything to match people’s new needs. They of course overcorrected and iOS 7 swung too far in the “flat” direction, but they’ve iterated on it a lot and the latest version of iOS is a much more sensible mix of “clean design” and a UI that feels tactile.

Look at a designer’s computer and you’ll find it littered with drafts of designs, most of which are too extreme to ship. Maybe a search box is too large from when you wanted to push search. Maybe the design is too playful, which was a response to users saying your UI was stale. Maybe you stripped away too much UI chrome because your app was cluttered. There are tons of designs that never see the light of day, and most products make it to market with a bunch of overcorrections still in place. And because good design is a moving target in software, what was considered a good design one year could be considered an overcorrection just a year or two later.

My Review of The Last of Us Part 2 (SPOILERS AHEAD)

My Review of The Last of Us Part 2 (SPOILERS AHEAD)

🚨 It’s hard to talk about this game without getting into spoilers, so check out this tweet for my spoiler-free, tweet-length review. This won’t even make sense if you haven’t played the game, so really, bookmark this for later and come back when you’ve finished the game. 🚨

I finished The Last of Us Part 2 yesterday, and I’ve been letting it rattle around in my head for a bit before saying too much about it. You likely already know the deal with this game’s reception: basically the critics largely loved it, and it’s getting review-bombed on places like Metacritic. The actress who played Abby is also getting flooded with death threats for things her character did in the game.

As an…ahem…older gamer, this reminds me quite a bit of the Metal Gear Solid 2 drama that happened way back in 2001. That was another case of gamers getting attached to a grizzled middle-aged main character in an instant classic game, only to have the rug pulled out from under them in the sequel as they unexpectedly had to play as someone else. Kojima pulled off this trick really well in 2001, and I recall no one seeing it coming at the time. As you can guess, fans were outside themselves with rage over this bait-and-switch. In a wave of gamers-being-gamers wave of immaturity, fans were upset you didn’t play that game as Solid Snake, but instead you played as this “effeminate” bleached blonde haired character called Raiden. “I didn’t pay $50 to play as this guy!” was a common outcry then. The narrative structure and complexity was derided at the time as well.

As time has passed, Metal Gear Solid 2 has warmed on the fan base, and it’s generally considered a classic to this day. The character of Raiden is much more loved today and the story about online communication/life is more relevant today than it was 19 years ago when it was created.

Similarly, The Last of Us Part 2 pulls a similar trick, although it goes even further than MGS2. The marketing material made it pretty clear that this was Ellie’s game and that you would be playing from her perspective, so that wasn’t a surprise.

What was a surprise was the fact that not only was Joel not in the story for long, but that he was brutally murdered in the first hour of the game. So no, there’s no going back for a Part 3 game where we go back to Joel, there was no chance of Ellie getting in trouble and you shifting over to Joel to go save here, there was nothing, he was gone.

This is a bold move by Naughty Dog, and a credit to Sony for allowing one of the most iconic main characters from their line of exclusive games to be murdered. Joel is gone, and as a player, it was brutally difficult to watch that scene unfold.

But that’s not where the rug-pulling ends.

Much like MGS2 where you get a perspective shift to a player you didn’t know about before this game, halfway through this game, you switch perspectives to play as Abby, the woman who you watched murder Joel just hours before.

This is where the controversy with this game really gets some gas.

Some complain about having to play as the person who killed Joel. Other complain that you play as her for too long. Yet others will complain that they should have intercut between Abby and Ellie’s timelines throughout the game. If you felt that way, then okay, I can’t force the narrative structure to work for you, but I can tell you how it worked for me.

If I could sum it up concisely, I’d say the first half of this game, where youi play as Ellie, is what I was expecting this game to be. The stakes are higher (I didn’t expect Joel to die), but I got to be an older, more capable Ellie from the first game and I thoroughly enjoyed both the story (a woman’s quest for revenge turning her into a shell of a person) and the gameplay, which was everything the early gameplay reveals promised and more. The second half of the game shocked me in it’s audacity in attempting to reshape my perspective on not only the events in this game, but the events of the last title as well.

Snarky tweets will talk about how when you kill someone in combat someone will yell “they got Tommy!” when they find the body, as a cheap way to get you to realize that the people you’re killing in the game are real people. I think this added some realism to the game and I appreciated it, but this is not the part of the game that I thought made me change my views on the whole series.

The fact that you spend 8+ hours playing as the “enemy” is a shocking, brilliant move, and it’s the only way I think this narrative trick could have worked. By spending hours and hours as Abby, you have time to go from, “this is the bad guy, fuck her” to, “I kind of want to kill Ellie.” I don’t think you get that by intercutting 1 hour gameplay segments between the characters, nor do you get that by just seeing Ellie embrace the darkness from her own perspective.

The Abby segment leads up to a showdown with Ellie in the theater that she’s been using as a base all this time. The game keeps you in Abby’s shoes for the fight with Ellie, and I’d be lying if I said it was anything short of one of the weirdest experiences I’ve ever had playing a video game. I assumed I would confront Abby and get my revenge, but the game turned this around on me. I didn’t necessarily want to kill Ellie, but I definitely thought she needed to be stopped.

After this showdown, which results in both women leaving, with Abby warning, “don’t let me see you again,” we flash forward to a farm where Ellie and Dina have adopted a domestic life that appears peaceful and everything we hoped for these characters in the end. They have a baby, you herd some sheep, and when Tommy comes over with a new revenge proposition, Ellie and Dina send him packing. The screen fades to black here and I thought the game was over. It was a satisfying, happy ending and I was ready to watch the credits roll and feel pretty good about life.

Then the game keeps going.

Ellie is not past this, and she can’t resist getting the revenge she failed to get a few years ago. She throws her entire life away to get the justice she has been obsessing about ever since Joel’s untimely demise. Of all the horrible moments in the game, and there are no shortage of these, the one that hit me hardest was when Ellie told Dina “that’s your choice,” whether she waits for Ellie or leaves her forever as Ellie goes on this revenge journey again. I’m sure people think this decision is unrealistic, and clearly Ellie should stay where she is, but people are not purely logical beings and they make self-destructive decisions every single day.

The final hour or two of the game has you play as Abby and then Ellie again. The tone is different now, and this whole final segment is seeped in a melancholy not present in the rest of the game. The rest of the game shows the horrors of this world and makes you wince at the terrible things people do to survive, but the final hours have a sadness of inevitability to them that I find hard to explain. I would say I had fun during much of this game, even if it was a different sort of fun that I’d get from something like a Doom or Halo game, but this final segment wasn’t fun by any means.

The long story short is that Ellie and Abby fight one more time, and this time you’re doing it from Ellie’s perspective. At this point, I think the game misses an opportunity to embrace the interactive medium that it is. Abby doesn’t want to fight, but Ellie forces her to do so. But I, the player, also didn’t want to fight, and yet the game makes me have a fist fight with Abby. I wish that I had the option to not fight Abby if I didn’t want to. I wish that if we were going to fight, the game played from Abby’s perspective so I was also controlling the player who was in a more relatable mental state for me. There was even a moment in the fight were Abby is on her knees in the water and wants me to stop…I wanted to stop too, but I had to hit the square button to hit her again. This was uncomfortable, and while I get what the story was going for here, but considering that I don’t kill Abby anyway, I wish I had more autonomy over how that scene played out.

But then that fight ends and Abby and Ellie once again go off in their own directions, and the lonely walk back through Ellie and Dina’s previously shared home is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do as a gamer. The loss I felt was immense and even through I knew they were gone, a part of me hoped that Ellie would turn a corner and Dina would be there.

Ellie ends this story alone and unfulfilled. She didn’t get the revenge she wanted so badly. She lost the people she loved along the way, and now she has nothing.

This was a hard ending.

I’m often a fan of stories not taking the easy way out, not giving you the ending you want and instead giving you an ending that makes you uncomfortable, so maybe I was predisposed to like this, but I think that this game will stay with me forever because of how hard it hit me.

I know The Last of Us Part 2 won’t please everyone: people don’t like Abby, they don’t like Joel dying, they don’t like the gay relationship at the center of this story, they don’t like the trans character, they don’t like the violence… For me, this game was hard to play at times, but also had some of the most satisfying combat encounters I’ve played recently and was built on a story and storytelling structure that made to change how I felt about everything in this series. I feel like I’ve been able to say this about so many Sony exclusives in the past couple years, but this game is an absolute achievement.

Gamers Cancelled

Fuck It: Gamers Canceled - Giovanni Colantonio

The Super Smash Bros. community is in shock today after dozens of people came forward with sexual assault and pedophilia allegations against many, high-profile players like — you know what, I’m so tired. Gamers are canceled. All of them. Fuck it.
I mean, Jesus Christ, how many times do I have to write this story this week? It feels like it’s been two years since I reported on the Ubisoft executives who were put on leave due to misconduct accusations. It’s been, like, five days! And that’s barely even a footnote anymore!

Obviously we don't need to "cancel" all video games, but this article did strike a chord with me as gaming is one of my favorite forms of entertainment, but I truly detest much of the popular "gamer culture" out there.

I'd love it if we could have a reset on the whole "gamer" culture, but I'm sure that's as likely to happen as having insecure dudes stop review-bombing The Last of Us Part 2 for making them think about anything from someone else's perspective.