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It’s Time To Talk About The Sandwich

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Maybe you’ve heard of it.

You take some bread.

You spread some peanut butter on it.

You put some pickles on it.

You smash that motherfucker together.

And now it’s a sandwich and you eat it.

You’re thinking, as I thought: well, that’s fucking gross.

I mean, shit, I like pickles. I like peanut butter. I am nothing if not a fanboy for bread. But my brain could not get around globbing these things together into a single Combiner Transformer in order to eat it. It seemed like some kind of heresy.

Let’s rewind a little.

The PB & Pickle sandwich got some love thanks to a recent NYT appearance. And initially, I assumed the NYT was just being the NYT, which meant it was offering treasonous nightmare opinions, probably either to troll us or to ruin democracy. And this sandwich definitely felt like a democracy-ruiner.

Just the same, I am wont to chastise my child — you can’t say you don’t like something without first trying it. And in the last ten years, I’ve come happily to terms that most of the things I feared were gross were… nnyeah, actually pretty dang tasty. Sweetbreads? (Spoiler: not actually bread.) Delicious. Spam? Amazing. Sushi? What the fuck was I thinking not eating sushi? Bugs? Hell yeah I’ll eat bugs. I ate a chapulines taco and it was legit wonderful.

Pineapple lumps? SURE.

So, I thought, I can eat this fucking sandwich, and it’ll be weird, and I can tweet about it, and my Twitter feed for five minutes will be a hilarious respite from the neverending DIPSHIT WATERGATE that is the true Infinity War.

I made one:

You can see what pickles and PB I used — the bread was a sourdough.

I made it.

I took a bite.

And whoa wait what the fuck.

It was good.

No — it was actually pretty great.

Here’s why it’s great — first, it does the thing that you might find in, say, Thai food, or some Vietnamese food — you’ve got sour and savory, plus the fattiness of the peanut butter (not to mention the salt), and the pickles bring some nice crunch. It’s eerily satisfying. And it helps then too to decouple your assumption that PEANUT BUTTER = SWEET, because it ain’t. Think satay. Normal peanut butter is savory as shit, we just happen to use it a lot with sweet things, combining it with jelly or chocolate or honey or whatever.

So, then authors-extraordinaire Kevin Hearne and Adam Rakunas said, no no no, you need food lube for that sandwich, and they said the true magic is adding in mayo to that motherfucker —

*record scratch*

What ha ha no, that’s a bad idea, don’t do that, don’t add mayo. Like, what? Who hurt you? How did you get this way? I’m not a mayo-hater, I mean, I’m a white guy, it’s literally in my blood, but at the same time, I’m not cuckoo bananapants. I’m not putting that goop on this already-wonderful sandwich and OH FINE FUCK IT I decided to try it.

Duke’s mayo, of course —

And whoa wait WHAT FOOD FUCKERY IS THIS because…

…because it also was great. Maybe even better.

The mayo was food lube. It made the sandwich even more sandwichy.

So, a week or so later, I ran a couple miles, felt pretty good, decided to have a treat, and weirdly, my mind ran to this sandwich. As a reward. I had been reprogrammed — brainwashed! — by this sandwich to consider it a trophy. My brain said, “That sounds like a way to treat yourself.” So I decided to make one. Except… oh, hey, what’s this? I have some extra bacon in the fridge? Ha ha, okay, listen, I am generally of the belief that bacon is an overdone food fad. “Put bacon in it” is a lazy way of making something hipstery and salty and meaty, and generally a good way to overpower a thing with little nuance. At the same time, it’s… also tasty. Bacon is nummy. I like bacon. And I figured I’d slap some bacon on this mad motherfucker of a sandwich —

And by all the saints and all the sinners, all the gods and all the devils, this is a truly sublime sandwich. It is satisfying on a deeply primal, weird level I can barely begin to describe — salty, crunchy, a bit sweet, a lot sour, it’s like a FLAVOR PINBALL going full-tilt in your happy mouth.

Since then, others have hit me up on Twitter with their attempts at making one of these bastard sandwiches and then eating it — and I’d say 90% of the time, people expected to be revolted, but actually really dug it. A lot of folks also added their own delightful ingredients, too: Spam, bacon-flavored Spam, turkey bacon, other pickled veggies, Miracle Whip, jelly, bologna. And it’s versatile, as well — you can go from sweet to dill, you can use all kinds of different bread choices, different meat, different kinds of peanut or nut butters.

It’s great.

And you have to try it.

You don’t get to say it’s gross until you try it.

Because that’s a lesson even my soon-to-be-seven-year-old knows: you can dislike something after you’ve tried it, but not before. Because a lot of foods in particular seem pretty gross. I mean, cheese? Cheese, if you have never before beheld it, is nasty. My understanding is that some cultures view our consumption of cheese the same way we view the consumption of bugs, or stinky tofu, or rotten fish — I mean, cheese is like, THERE’S A BIG LUMBERING ANIMAL, GO SQUEEZE ITS TEATS, GET THE LIQUID, BUT THEN YOU WANNA CURDLE IT WITH ACID, AND THEN YOU WANNA LET IT SIT WHERE IT’LL GET SOUR AND WEIRD, AND SOMETIMES YOU REALLY WANT SOME MOLD TO GROW ON IT, OR EVEN THROUGH IT, AND SOMETIMES IT SMELLS LIKE A DEAD GUY’S FEET BUT HERE, EAT SOME.

Fish sauce is basically, hey, let fish get so rotten that they liquefy, now, put that rotten fish liquor on some rice, mmm.

Meat is, hey, kill that thing, bleed it out, then press fire to its carcass, then eat its carcass.

Eggs: “Hey, this oblong object fell out of that chicken’s nebulous under-hole, maybe it’s a baby, maybe it’s not a baby, but I’m gonna go ahead and open it up and pour the bird-snot I find inside into a hot pan, get it sizzlin’, see what happens.”


So, food is fucking weird.

Get past that.

Make the sandwich.

Try the sandwich.

I’ll wait here. Report back.

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258 days ago
St Louis, MO
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4 public comments
253 days ago
White Folks Love Mayo
Bend, Oregon
254 days ago
Missing bananas. Elvis is sad.
258 days ago
I've been eating peanut butter and mayo sandwiches since I was a kid, but I'm not sure about adding pickles to the mix.
Overland Park, KS
258 days ago
Re-shared for the writing, Saved for the fucking amazingness that is the bacon pickle mayo peanut butter sandwich on homemade sourdough. Although, and you'll hate me, variations include Sriracha or Pineapple.
Cary, NC
257 days ago
Sriracha? Nothing but love man.

The Search of Trump Lawyer Michael Cohen's Office: What We Can Infer Immediately

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The Very Big News of the day: FBI Agents raided the law office of Michael Cohen, President Trump's lawyer who was involved in payment of $130,000 to adult performer "Stormy Daniels" for a nondisclosure agreement.

Recently I've been listening to the Podcast "Slow Burn," about Watergate. There's a fascinating theme throughout it: when you're living a historical event, how do you know? How can you tell when a development is a Big Deal?

This is a big deal. It's very early on, but here's some things we can already tell.

1. According to Cohen's own lawyer, the U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York (widely regarded within itself as being the most important and prestigious U.S. Attorney's Office in the country) secured the search warrants for the FBI. Assuming this report is correct, that means that a very mainstream U.S. Attorney's Office — not just Special Counsel Robert Mueller's office — thought that there was enough for a search warrant here.

2. Moreover, it's not just that the office thought that there was enough for a search warrant. They thought there was enough for a search warrant of an attorney's office for that attorney's client communications. That's a very fraught and extraordinary move that requires multiple levels of authorization within the Department of Justice. The U.S. Attorney's Manual — at Section 9-13.320 — contains the relevant policies and procedures. The highlights:

The feds are only supposed to raid a law firm if less intrusive measures won't work. As the USAM puts it:

In order to avoid impinging on valid attorney-client relationships, prosecutors are expected to take the least intrusive approach consistent with vigorous and effective law enforcement when evidence is sought from an attorney actively engaged in the practice of law. Consideration should be given to obtaining information from other sources or through the use of a subpoena, unless such efforts could compromise the criminal investigation or prosecution, or could result in the obstruction or destruction of evidence, or would otherwise be ineffective.

Such a search requires high-level approval. The USAM requires such a search warrant to be approved by the U.S. Attorney — the head of the office, a Presidential appointee — and requires "consultation" with the Criminal Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. This is not a couple of rogue AUSAs sneaking in a warrant.

Such a search requires an elaborate review process. The basic rule is that the government may not deliberately seize, or review, attorney-client communications. The USAM — and relevant caselaw — therefore require the feds to set up a review process. That process might involve a judge reviewing the materials to separate out what is privileged (or what might fall within an exception to the privilege), or else set up a "dirty team" that does the review but is insulated from the "clean team" running the investigation. Another option is a "special master," an experienced and qualified third-party attorney to do the review. Sometimes the reviewing team will only be identifying and protecting privileged material. Sometimes the reviewing team will be preparing to seek, or to implement, a court ruling that the documents are not privileged. (Robert Mueller is aggressive on this sort of thing; he already sought and obtained a court ruling that some of Paul Manafort's communications with his lawyers were not privileged because they were undertaken for the purpose of fraud — the so-called "crime-fraud exception" to the attorney-client privilege.

3. A Magistrate Judge signed off on this. Federal magistrate judges (appointed by local district judges, not by the President) review search warrant applications. A Magistrate Judge therefore reviewed this application and found probable cause — that is, probable cause to believe that the subject premises (Cohen's office) contains specified evidence of a specified federal crime. Now, Magistrate Judges sometimes are a little too rubber-stampy for my taste. But here, where the Magistrate Judge knew that this would become one of the most scrutinized search warrant applications ever, and because the nature of the warrant of an attorney's office is unusual, you can expect that the Magistrate Judge felt pretty confident that there was enough there.

4. The search warrant application (the lengthy narrative from the FBI agent setting for the evidence) is almost certainly still under seal, and even Michael Cohen doesn't get to see it [yet]. But the FBI would have left the warrant itself — and that shows (1) the federal criminal statutes they were investigating, and (2) the list of items they wanted to seize. Much can be learned for those. Assuming Michael Cohen doesn't release it, watch for it to be leaked.

Again: this is a Big Deal.

I'll follow up with more as it becomes available.

Copyright 2017 by the named Popehat author.
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286 days ago
St Louis, MO
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286 days ago

Merry Last Christmas, Jack Dorsey.

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Mike Monteiro:

Jack, and to an extent Twitter’s pet porg Biz Stone, have always believed that absolute free speech is the answer. They’re blind to the voices silenced by hate and intimidation. The voices that need to be protected.

There’s this photo, in a children’s doctors office I saw once, where it said “equal”. The image for equal was three kids of very different heights looking at a baseball game from the back of the stands. All of them standing on, say, a one foot tall step. Only the tallest kid could see perfectly, the middle somewhat, and the shortest not at all. And yet, this is equality, one foot for all.

Next to this image is another frame titled “fair”. In this frame the tallest kid still has the one foot step, the middle a two foot step, and the shortest a three foot step. This is inequality, as the shortest gets more help, but we all agree this is fair, because the one who needs less help, gets less help, and the one who needs more help gets more help.

What’s equal is not often what’s fair. These words are not the same, and too often companies hide behind the guise of “equal” and pretend that this means fair. That’s bullshit.

Twitter, Facebook, and other social networks believe in equality above all else because it’s the easiest way to cop out. You can’t be wrong if you treat everyone the same, right? This is ideal, but not reality. The reality is that there are some who need more help at times than others.

How users are treated in social networks generally gives the taller set of steps to the biggest users, the very users who do not need the help. While at the same time digging a hole for those who do need steps. This is the problem with a business needing “attention” and “engagement”, above all else, because they are not motivated to make the system a good system for users and the world. They are motivated to do what they need to do to make money, they would argue to stay in business, to later change the world.


Don’t trust any of them, they have every intention to do something world changing later, without realizing they’ve already fucked the world now. And all the while, no idea what or how they will change the world later. Sounds cool, bro, but maybe fix what you’ve already done?

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389 days ago
St Louis, MO
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★ The iPhone X

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The more popular a computer platform becomes, the more of a bind in which it inevitably finds itself. A platform is only “finished” when it is abandoned. It needs to evolve to remain relevant, but it’s difficult to change in unfamiliar ways without angering the base of active users. Adding new features on top of the familiar foundation only gets you so far — eventually things grow too complex, especially when what’s needed now is in conflict with a design decision that made sense a decade (or more) prior.

Eventually, inevitably, incremental improvements paint a platform into a corner. Something has to give.

This happened to the classic Mac OS in the mid-90s, when certain technical constraints of the OS made the platform seem anachronistic. The classic Mac OS had no protected memory and used cooperative, rather than preemptive, multitasking. No protected memory meant that every process on the system could read and write anywhere in RAM — both the memory of other processes and the memory of the OS itself. Cooperative multitasking meant that each app decided when to give up the CPU to other processes. If an app wanted to use the entire CPU, it could. In a sense, from today’s perspective, the original Mac was effectively just one process, and apps were more akin to plugins running within that process. In 1984, these were utterly reasonable design decisions. Protected memory, pre-emptive multitasking, and a powerful OS kernel just weren’t feasible on a computer with an 8 Mhz CPU and 128 kilobytes (kilobytes!) of RAM. In fact, there was no multitasking at all on the original Mac until Andy Hertzfeld released Switcher in April 1985 — the forerunner of MultiFinder.1

The problem mid-90s Apple faced is that the Mac was popular because of its thriving library of excellent third-party software, but in trouble because of the creakiness of its underlying OS. But Apple couldn’t truly modernize the OS without breaking the application software — which is exactly what happened with Mac OS X. Old software ran in a virtual “Classic” environment — essentially, a virtualized version of the old classic Mac OS running within the modern Mac OS X. New software — apps that took advantage of Mac OS X’s modern APIs, new features, and new look-and-feel — needed to be written using different (Cocoa) or updated (Carbon) APIs. The transition worked, as evidenced by the Mac’s continued success today, but it took years — arguably close to a decade. And it was a painful, jarring transition for everyone involved: users, developers, and Apple itself.

With the iPhone X, Apple is attempting something I believe to be unprecedented — a complete ground-up rethinking of a fabulously popular and successful platform, without a disruptive, painful transition.

There are several parallels between the original 2007 iPhone and the original 1984 Macintosh. Both introduced new fundamental paradigms that quickly became the standards on competing platforms — the GUI in 1984, multitouch in 2007. Both were created by relatively small teams, led by Steve Jobs. But the biggest similarity — or at least the one most salient to this discussion — is that both were burdened at the outset by severe technical limitations. An 8 Mhz CPU, 128 KB of RAM, and 400 KB floppy disks (the original Mac’s only form of storage) were not enough. Likewise, the original iPhone’s CPU, 128 MB of RAM, and EDGE-based cellular networking were not enough. That both products succeeded — and became downright beloved, despite their technical limits — is testimony to the genius and talent of the designers and engineers who brought them to life.

There is a fundamental difference: the barrier the iPhone ran up against a decade into life wasn’t technical (as with the aforementioned architectural shortcomings of the classic Mac OS2), but rather conceptual. Here are some of the landmark changes to the iPhone as a platform over its decade of existence:

  • iPhone 4 (2010): Retina display.
  • iPhone 5 (2012): Aspect ratio changes from 3:2 to 16:9.
  • iPhone 5S (2013): Touch ID.
  • iOS 7 (2013): Cosmetic reboot of user interface.
  • iPhone 6 and 6 Plus (2014): Larger screens.

Ultimately these were all evolutions of the original iPhone, though. There is a clear evolutionary path from 2007’s original iPhone to 2017’s iPad Pro and iPhone 8 models. The home button gained a superpower with the iPhone 5S — the ability to authenticate your identity by fingerprint — but only in addition to everything it did before. There were always two things and only two things on the front face of an iOS device — the touchscreen display and the home button. In fact, the iPhone X changes iOS in more fundamental ways than even the iPad did. In terms of the role between the display and the home button, the iPad really was — and remains today — “just a big iPhone”.

The iPhone X, however, creates a schism, akin to a reboot of the franchise.

Apple hasn’t called attention to this, but effectively there are two versions of iOS 11 — I’ll call them “iOS 11 X”, which runs only on iPhone X, and “iOS 11 Classic”, which runs on everything else.

The fundamental premise of iOS Classic is that a running app gets the entire display, and the home button is how you interact with the system to get out of the current app and into another. Before Touch ID, the home button was even labeled with a generic empty “app” icon, an iconographic touch of brilliance.3

Over time, the home button’s responsibilities grew to encompass these essential roles:

  • Single-click with display off: wakes the device.
  • Single-click with display on: takes you to home screen.
  • Double-click: takes you to multitasking switcher.
  • Triple-click: configurable accessibility shortcut.
  • Rest finger: authenticate with Touch ID.
  • Double-tap (without clicking): invoke Reachability.
  • Press-and-hold: invoke Siri.

In iOS 11 X, almost every role of the home button has been subsumed by the display, with the remainder reassigned to the side button:

  • Wake the device: tap the display.
  • Go to the home screen: short swipe up from the bottom of display.
  • Go to the multitasking switcher: longer swipe up from the bottom.
  • Even better way to multitask: just swipe sideways on the home indicator.
  • Accessibility shortcut: triple-click the side button.
  • Authenticate: just look at the display.
  • Reachability: swipe down on the bottom edge of display.
  • Siri: press-and-hold side button.

The first few days using an iPhone X were rocky for me. My thumb kept reaching for the home button that wasn’t there, particularly for multitasking. After a week, it started feeling normal. Today, on the cusp of two months of use, I’m like “What’s a home button?” In fact, my acclimation to the iPhone X has made using an iPad feel anachronistic — I want to swipe up from the bottom to go home there too.

In short, with the iPhone X Apple took a platform with two primary means of interacting with the apps — a touchscreen and a home button — removed one of them, and created a better, more integrated, more organic experience.

One of the things Apple created to enable this has gotten a lot of attention: Face ID. But a few of the other things they’ve done to enable this have gone largely under the radar. Tapping anywhere on the display to wake it is so natural, it makes me wonder how we did without it for so long. (This is another frustration I have trying to use an iPad now — I tap the screen expecting it to wake up. It seems silly that I need to press a button.) The iPhone X display does not, alas, offer the ProMotion feature introduced with the latest iPad Pros, which allows for dynamic screen refresh rates of up to 120 Hz. But it does track touch input at 120 Hz, double the rate of all other iPhones. The result of this is that the animations for gestures track your finger better. It feels less like an animation that is playing in response to your touch and more like your finger is actually manipulating and moving things on screen as though they are real objects. Of the numerous new technologies embedded in the iPhone X, the 120 Hz refresh rate for touch tracking is almost certainly the least important, but it really does contribute to making gestures feel like the one true way to interact with the system.

Tapping the display to wake the device, seeing a list of truncated notifications on the lock screen, and then seeing those notifications expand to preview their content once you’re recognized by Face ID — this just makes the iPhone X feel alive in a way that no other device does. You tap it to get its attention, and it recognizes that you are you.

The lock screen is far more useful now: you can just tap any notification to jump to it. With Touch ID, after you tap a particular notification in the middle of the display, you then must move your finger down to the home button to authenticate. I always found that annoying. Now that I’m used to the iPhone X, I find it to be intolerable.

Face ID is not a win versus Touch ID in every single way. There are trade-offs, primarily scenarios where Face ID fails. (It does seem to work with most sunglasses, for example, but not with Ray Bans, which, alas, happen to be my preferred brand.)

Consider the aforementioned process of opening a notification from the lock screen. Touch ID adds an extra step, every time, even when it works perfectly. Face ID is not perfect — it’s true that I wind up either authenticating a second time or resorting to entering my PIN more often than with Touch ID — but it only adds these extra steps when it fails for some reason. When it works perfectly, which for me is the vast majority of the time, the effect is sublime. It really does feel like my iPhone has no passcode protecting it. That was never true for Touch ID. Touch ID feels like a better way to unlock your device. Face ID feels like your device isn’t even locked.

This was the way the iPhone was meant to be used. When Steve Jobs demoed the original iPhone on stage at Macworld Expo in January 2007, it was just “slide to unlock”. There was no PIN. One of the ways the world has changed in the last decade is that we’re no longer naive about device security. I’m pretty sure I used my iPhones with no PIN code for a few years. Slide to unlock was fun. Entering a PIN is no fun.

Thanks to Face ID, no-PIN “slide to unlock” is back. This, to me, epitomizes the iPhone X. In ways small and large, it changes fundamental aspects of using an iPhone. But it does so in ways that are faithful to the spirit of the original iPhone.

It’s the big picture that interests me most about the iPhone X. Not this device, in particular, with this particular display (which is terrific), this particular camera system (which is terrific), etc. — but the ways it changes fundamental aspects of the platform, laying the groundwork for the next decade of iterative year-over-year improvements. But some particular details of this device are worth calling attention to:

  • Apple Pay moving to Face ID has been a win for me. You now trigger it by double-clicking the side button. One of the things I find interesting about this change is that while it breaks from how Apple Pay works on other iPhones, it is consistent with how you invoke Apple Pay on Apple Watch. Same thing with being able to tap the display to wake it up — it’s now the same as on Apple Watch.

  • The camera bump is bigger and more prominent than on any other iPhone, but somehow, to me, that makes it less objectionable. It’s a thing now. Whereas the first bumps, on the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus, were like blemishes. If you’re going to have a bump, have a fucking bump. I also like that the sides of the iPhone X camera bump are perpendicular to the back of the phone, not sloped. It looks less like a mere lens on the back of the phone and more like a whole camera on the back of the phone.

  • After a few weeks, I became annoyed by the home indicator. Making it completely white or black is perhaps a good idea for new users, to make the affordance as visually prominent as possible. But once you get used to it, its extreme visual prominence gets in the way. I wish that it were more subtle, probably translucent. I expect the home indicator to become more subtle in future versions of iOS.4

  • When an alarm from the built-in Clock app fires, it fades out in volume as soon as you look at the display. This is utterly charming.

  • The hardware mute switch remains. If ever there were a time when Apple might get rid of it, iPhone X would have been it. That it remains on iPhone X suggests to me that Apple sees it as here to stay, at least for the foreseeable future. If, like me, you love the mute switch, you might be thinking “Well of course they kept the mute switch, it would be terrible if they got rid of it.” But they removed it from the iPad a few years ago, and Apple is famously averse to physical buttons (cf. the Touch Bar on the new MacBook Pros). And for reasons I’ve never been able to understand, Android handset makers seem willing to copy everything and anything from Apple they can get away with (and even things they can’t get away with), but almost none have copied the iPhone’s mute switch, despite the fact that it’s extremely useful.

  • Stainless steel looks and feels so much more luxurious than aluminum. The iPhone X doesn’t feel bigger than an iPhone 7 or 8 in my hand or pocket, but it does feel heavier and more serious.

  • True Tone epitomizes the sort of feature that you stop noticing on the devices that have it, but which ruins you for devices that don’t. Retina resolution was like this, too. Since switching to the iPhone X, I’ve gone entire weeks without once thinking about True Tone at all. But if I pick up or glance at an iPhone without it, I’m skeeved out.

  • One of the best ways to judge iPhone X after using it for a few weeks is to go back to an iPhone 7 (or any other previous iPhone). Things I notice instantly: the display looks very small, the colors look too cool at night (because of the aforementioned lack of True Tone), and the perfectly square corners of the display seem downright crude. The round display corners seemed like something that might feel gimmicky, but in practice, they feel organic and refined. As a wise man once pointed out, rectangles with round corners are everywhere. As with True Tone, I stopped noticing the round corners on the iPhone X, but started noticing and being annoyed by the square corners on other iOS devices.

  • I don’t notice the notch when using the phone in portrait orientation, and I only hold the phone in landscape when watching video, using the camera, or playing a game. And I don’t play many games. But Apple really should hide the notch in landscape (which, in fact, they do for the Camera app). Last week I was playing Desert Golfing5 — a game that’s been updated to embrace the notch — and on one hole my ball went to the edge of the display and was hidden by the notch. I “fixed” it by rotating the phone 180 degrees to put the notch on the other side, but that’s ridiculous.

  • The chins and foreheads on other iPhones now stick out to me far more than the notch on the X. They just scream “Wasted space!” to me.

  • On the iPhone X, iOS 11 now uses small colored pill-shaped indicators in the top left “ear” when the phone is hosting an active hotspot session (blue), there’s an active mapping navigation session (blue), there’s a phone call in the background (green), or the screen is being recorded (red). With iOS Classic, these indicators use the same colors, but they take up the entirety of the status bar. The old design for these indicators gave them too much visual prominence, and completely prevented you from tapping the status bar to scroll the current view to the top. It never made any sense that you couldn’t use the scroll-to-top shortcut just because one of these indicators was active — every time I ran into that, it would occur to me that it was a clumsy design. On iPhone X these indicators finally feel like they have a proper home.

  • The new status bar no longer has room for the numeric battery percentage. You can see the numeric percentage in Control Center, and on the lock screen while the device is charging, but there is no option for an always-on numeric battery percentage. I’ve never been a fan of the numeric battery percentage — to me, all it does is induce anxiety. The approximation of remaining battery life gleanable from the icon is all you need most of the time, I say. But, some people disagree. If this remains controversial, Apple should consider letting people choose between the icon and the numeric percentage.

  • The new status bar design also gets the name of your carrier off the screen most of the time. (It’s still visible from the lock screen and from Control Center.) The carrier string in the status bar has always irritated me — it’s like they were getting an ad on my screen, even though I’m the one paying them.

  • The glass back of the iPhone X does not pick up scratches or “micro-abrasions” like the jet black iPhone 7 does. I see two small, very fine micro-abrasions on mine (a space gray model), which I’ve been using for well over a month without any sort of case. My wife’s (a white model) has a few too. You have to look hard to see them, though.

  • I still think iPhone X is too big to be the smallest iPhone. The device doesn’t feel too big in hand or pocket. As someone who has carried a 4.7-inch iPhone ever since the iPhone 6 three years ago, the iPhone X really does feel the same size, as a device. But the extra screen size from the edge-to-edge display puts a serious crimp in one-handed reachability. In addition to an even bigger Plus-sized version of iPhone X next year, I would love to see Apple introduce a smaller iPhone SE-sized phone with all the same features and design elements. I’m not holding my breath, but I’d love to see it. I’m not even saying I personally would prefer it (but I’d give it a try) — but it would be great for people who value one-handed reachability.

  • Is the higher price of the iPhone X over the iPhones 8 justified? The 64 and 256 GB iPhone X models cost $999 and $1149, respectively. That’s $300 more than the equivalent iPhone 8, and $200 than an iPhone 8 Plus. For that premium, you get a better camera, stainless steel (rather than aluminum) frame, an edge-to-edge OLED display with True Tone, and Face ID. But you also get something you can’t compare in a checkmark comparison — a sort of joie de vivre. Critics of the iPhone X’s higher prices seem to me to be arguing not that this phone shouldn’t cost so much, but rather that no phone should. As I argued earlier this year, if we have laptops and tablets that cost more than $1000, why not phones too? Especially considering that for many, the phone is the most-used, most-important device in either or both their personal and professional lives.

I don’t recall a single review of the iPhones 8 that didn’t mention the much-more-highly-anticipated iPhone X (including my own review). But you can’t understand iPhone X without mentioning iPhone 8, either. A few months after the iPad debuted in 2010, I wrote — trying to assuage the fears of those who saw the iPad as the end of the Mac — that the heaviness of the Mac allows iOS to remain conceptually light. In a similar vein, the familiarity of iPhone 8 allows iPhone X to reinvent anything, to break the platform’s foundational conventions.

No one is being forced to adapt to the changes of iPhone X. If you want a new iPhone that is familiar, you can get an iPhone 8 or 8 Plus with the same A11 “Bionic” system on a chip, a camera that is almost as good, a display that is almost as good, the tried and true Touch ID, and even new (to the iPhone platform) features like inductive charging — and you’ll save a few hundred dollars.

In the short term this fork in the platform is a hit to consistency. Unlocking the phone, going to the home screen, switching between apps, authenticating via biometrics, invoking Siri, taking screenshots, powering down the device — all of these tasks are accomplished in completely different ways on the iPhone X than any other iPhone to date, including the iPhones 8.

It’s unique in Apple history — if not all of consumer computing history — for the same version of the OS to present two distinct interfaces that are so markedly different, based solely on which hardware the OS is running. From a developer standpoint, iOS 11 is one OS with various different sizes (SE, regular, Plus, X, iPad, iPad Pro) and layouts. From a user perspective, though, the “OS” is how you interact with the system. Again, it’s as though there are two very different versions of iOS 11 — and I can’t stop thinking about how weird that is.

It’s nowhere near as different switching from an older iPhone to an iPhone X as it is switching from an iPhone to any Android device, for example. But it is different, at a fundamental level.

Why not bring more of what’s different on iPhone X to the other iPhones running iOS 11? iPhone X needs these gestures because it doesn’t have a home button. Classic iPhones could have supported them though — there’s no reason Apple couldn’t have added the swipe-up-from-bottom-to-go-home gesture to all iOS devices. And they could have then moved Control Center to a swipe down from the top right corner on all devices, too. I think they didn’t because they wanted a clean break, a clear division between the old and the new, the familiar and the novel.

And some aspects of the iPhone X experience wouldn’t work on older devices. You could in theory swipe up from the bottom to go home on a non-X iPhone, but you couldn’t swipe-up-from-the-bottom to unlock the lock screen, because that requires Face ID. Conversely, there is no room in the iPhone X experience for Touch ID. There is no “rest your finger here” in the experience. It wouldn’t matter if the fingerprint scanner were at the bottom of the display or on the back of the device — it would be incongruous.

What we’re left with, though, is truly a unique situation. Apple is attempting to move away from iOS’s historical interface one device at a time. Just the iPhone X this year. Maybe a few iPhone models next year. iPad Pros soon, too?6 But next thing you know, all new iOS devices will be using this, and within a few years after that, most iPhones in active use will be using it — without ever once having a single dramatic (or if you prefer, traumatic) platform-wide change.

The iPhone X is not the work of an overcautious company. It’s a risk to so fundamentally change the most profitable platform in the world. But Apple is gambling on the taste of the team who lived with the iPhone X during its development. Ossification is a risk with a platform as popular and successful as the iPhone — fear of making unpopular changes can lead a platform vendor to make no significant changes. Another risk, though, is hubris — making changes just for the sake of making changes that show off how clever the folks at Apple still are.

After two months using an iPhone X, I’m convinced Apple succeeded. The iPhone X is a triumph, a delightful conceptual modernization of a ten-year-old platform that, prior to using the iPhone X, I didn’t think needed a modernization. Almost nothing7 about the iPhone X calls undue attention to its cleverness. It all just seems like the new normal, and it’s a lot of fun.

  1. How multitasking came to be on the original Mac is a great story. Long story short, Andy Hertzfeld single-handedly created Switcher while on a leave of absence from Apple. It just goes to show how insanely primitive the original Mac OS was that something like multitasking — even if it was, technically, more like the illusion of multitasking — could be added by a third-party system extension. ↩︎

  2. Dating back to the NeXT era, Apple’s OS and API framework teams have proven themselves to be really good at building systems that, in their early days, push the limits of what is technically possible on the era’s hardware, but do so in ways that lay a solid foundation that scales for decades to come. It’s really quite remarkable the original 2007 iPhone’s OS and framework underpinnings could be traced back directly to a 1989 Unix workstation system. The same system now runs on wristwatches. ↩︎︎

  3. I find it hard to consider a world where that button was marked by an icon that looked like a house (the overwhelmingly common choice for a “home” icon) or printed with the word “HOME” (the way iPods had a “MENU” button). Early iPhone prototypes did, in fact, have a “MENU” label on the button.

    I truly consider the iPhone home button icon the single best icon ever. It perfectly represented anything and everything apps could be — it was iconic in every sense of the word. ↩︎︎

  4. Apple added a similar indicator under the cellular/Wi-Fi/battery icons in iOS 11.2, as an affordance to suggest where you go to invoke Control Center. Rather than solid black or white, though, it is translucent. This is exactly what I’d like to see Apple do with the home indicator. ↩︎︎

  5. My score to date: 4,134 strokes through 1,575 holes. ↩︎︎

  6. As for how the iPhone X-style Face ID/no-home-button experience will work on iPad, it’s unclear to me whether Apple has already thought this all the way through. Why, for example, did Apple just this year introduce a new small-swipe-up-from-the-bottom gesture for the iPad to show the new Dock, when the iPhone X suggests that a small swipe up from the bottom is the future of getting back to the home screen? ↩︎︎

  7. The way Apple wants software to handle the notch, in landscape orientation, is the one exception that springs to mind. ↩︎︎

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389 days ago
St Louis, MO
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On That GOP Health Care Bill, and Tax Breaks

3 Comments and 13 Shares

First, my initial thoughts, as rendered on Twitter.

Now, let me talk a little bit more about the part where I say “rich people don’t miss their taxes,” since I think there are people who may be reasonably skeptical about this. Warning: I’m going to talk about my money. Then I’m going to talk about other people’s money.

To begin: I pay taxes on a quarterly basis, because I’m self-employed and the IRS, alas not entirely unreasonably, questions whether self-employed people will keep track of their money for a full year in order to pay off one big tax bill. So every quarter, I pay taxes. And in each of those quarterly tax payments, I pay in taxes roughly what I grossed (and definitely more than I netted) in income from the entire four-and-half years of my first job out of college, working for a newspaper. Add up my yearly tax bill, and it’s close to what I grossed my first ten years of being a professional writer — and there was never a time in there I didn’t do okay; it was a solid continuous progression up the middle-class income ladder.

So these days, whenever I see how much I pay in taxes annually, my first thought is always something like HOLY CRAP that’s a lot of money. I could totally use that! As someone who grew up poor and has worked his way steadily up the income ladder, it’s a freakin’ huge amount in terms of the raw dollars.

And then I pay my taxes and I discover that anything I would have used that ridiculous wad of tax money for, I still have enough in my net income for. I literally cannot think of a thing I want — or need — that my post-tax income can’t handle. Because as it happens, even with federal, state and local taxes, my tax burden is reasonable. I don’t pay taxes in 1980, when the highest marginal federal income tax rate was 70%; I pay taxes in 2017, where top federal tax bracket maxes out at just under 40%. With state and local taxes, I have to break a sweat to have a total top marginal tax rate of 50% — and my real world taxes indebtedness doesn’t come anywhere near half my income, because of how marginal tax rates work and because like lots of people in my position I have a very smart accountant who finds me lots of deductions.

So even with literally the full (pre-deduction) tax burden someone in Ohio can pay — we max out all the marginal rates — there is more than enough left over for pretty much anything that we want to do, individually, as a couple or as a family. We save a lot, invest a bunch, and thus take that money out of the short-term income pool we use for bills, household spending and, uh, “consumer activity,” and we’re still just fine, thanks. I suppose it’s possible that we could spend so much of our post-tax income that we’re left with little or nothing and thus would wish we had some of the money that we paid in taxes back into our hands, but speaking from experience, this takes effort, and some willful stupidity about your money. Yes, I’m looking at you, Nick Cage and Johnny Depp. But if you’re not the sort of person who spends $30,000 a month on wine, you’re probably going to be fine.

We do just fine. The other people I know who have similar or better incomes than we have also do just fine. The ones I know with substantially better incomes than we have are also doing just fine. No one at my income level or better actively misses the money they spend on taxes, because they’re still rich after they pay taxes.

Would I like to pay less in taxes? When I look at the raw number of dollars I send to the IRS, sure. When I think about the actual impact on my day-to-day life having that money would make, versus the actual and positive impact on the day-to-day life of millions of other people, when people like me pay our taxes? Nope. I have certain (in more than one sense of that word) opinions about how those taxes I pay in should be used, and whether they are being used effectively, and whether I’m getting value for what I pay, to be sure. Those are different issues, however.

Cratering health care for millions in the United States (and crippling Medicaid in the bargain) in order to give people like me a tax cut means that we are taking something from people who need it, often desperately, to give something to people who don’t need it and may not even notice it in any substantial way. In the House version of this legislation, you have to make more than $200k to get any tax benefit from it; people with incomes between $200k and $500k a year would get a tax break of $510 on average. $510 is not a lot to get in return for asking millions of other Americans to be potentially priced out of health coverage, have lifetime insurance caps reinstituted, be denied for pre-existing conditions, get sicker and die earlier. And the roughly 95% of Americans who don’t make $200,000 a year won’t even get that.

Rich people don’t need any more tax cuts. They’re doing just fine. They will continue to do just fine. And no, their tax burden isn’t onerous. Trust me, I know. I live that tax burden daily. It doesn’t hurt. What does hurt is knowing that people I know and care for will likely die sooner and sicker than they should just so someone like me gets back a few more dollars they won’t notice. Don’t come at me with “but the rich earned those dollars.” Dude, I earned my dollars, too. I earned them in a country that helped me get where I am in part through taxes. I earned them understanding that getting rich came with an obligation to the society I live in and benefit from, an obligation discharged, in part, by paying a perfectly reasonable amount of taxes.

The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.” It was, and should have remained, “E Pluribus Unum” — out of many, one. We’re all Americans. We all deserve the blessings this country can provide. This one is willing to pay his taxes for the benefit of the many.

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575 days ago
"The motto of the United States is not, in fact, “Fuck you, I got mine.”"
St Louis, MO
575 days ago
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2 public comments
570 days ago
Well put, another good American ...
Kennewick, WA
576 days ago
Not for the first time, I wonder how much of this goes back to the country being run by a lot of old people who never internalized that the tax situation has changed dramatically since the 1970s, not to mention the costs of things like healthcare, housing, and education.
Washington, DC


4 Comments and 18 Shares

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715 days ago
Alternately... I have a kid. But she's fairly self reliant, and can handle herself if I sleep in.
St Louis, MO
715 days ago
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3 public comments
715 days ago
Who wants my fucking kids
Philadelphia, PA, USA
715 days ago
True... But then again this attitude is an evolutionary dead end.
715 days ago

This was actually my same train of thought this morning, when I slept until 11am.
Richmond, VA
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