justin․searls․co

Tabelogged: らぁ麺 くろ渦

I visited this restaurant on May 6, 2023, and gave it a 3.0 on Tabelog.

Name: らぁ麺 くろ渦
Description: 新宿三丁目、新宿御苑前、新宿/ラーメン、つけ麺

Which Google translates into English as:

Name: Ramen Kurozu
Description: Shinjuku 3-chome, Shinjuku Gyoenmae, Shinjuku/Ramen, Tsukemen

I had too much to drink last night so I immediately checked my phone upon waking to make sure I stayed out of trouble and realized that all I did was write a (5-star!) review on ProductHunt for buttondown.email

What the hell's wrong with me.

Ten Trips

Since my study abroad in 2005, this marks the tenth time I've visited Japan. It's amazing how much technology has changed the experience of international travel. The convenience is undeniable, but it feels like I'd be lying if I said I didn't miss the challenge of having to figure out how to survive with no Internet access.

Heading to Japan this morning to undertake my first field report as a Test Double foreign correspondent.

My Uber arrived early, we encountered no traffic, and I breezed through security. Even the Delta lounge was empty. So with my luck, that means my flight is sure to disappear over the Pacific.

Nice knowing you!

Blue Sky, Red Ocean

I became familiar with Blue Ocean Strategy in the context of Nintendo's decision to forego the "console wars".

Instead of pushing to design consoles with the fastest chips and best graphics, they embarked on quirky industrial designs and user experiences with seeming tangents like the Nintendo DS, the Wii, the 3DS, the Wii U, and the Switch. The big idea (as it was baby-birded to me via amateur videogame journalism) was that competing with Sony and Microsoft to have the highest-performance machine or the best-looking version of multi-platform games was a losing proposition. It represented competing in a so-called "red ocean" (as in, there's blood in the water). Why? Because there were already two well-funded competitors vying to sell the exact same thing. The best Nintendo could hope to do was be marginally better, despite being in a far weaker capital position, with less access to the top chipmakers, and with a stable of IP that didn't necessarily benefit as directly from better graphics. So they pursued a blue ocean strategy by creating bold (and occassionally bizarre) products that couldn't be compared apples-to-apples with the competition.

The rapid, unscheduled disassembly of Twitter-dot-com over the last six months has resulted in an ocean of opportunity emerging. Tons of entrants are getting in. Mastodon was already there. Hive was there for a couple weeks, too. Journalists toyed with giving up the one thing they really care about—drip-feed dopamine from constant notifications—to join Post.news. Meta is apparently building a Twitter-like platform with ActivityPub support. Spoutible is a thing, I guess. And this week, everyone's talking about Bluesky, the open and federated but nevertheless locked-down and invite-only Twitter clone that started under Jack Dorsey Twitter and whose new app looks more like Twitter than Twitter does.

All these real-time, text-based activity streams are pouring chum straight into a deep red ocean.

And then what happened?…

Fun fact: this Apple Support document is just flat-out wrong. It says: "you can identify [a fast charging] cable from other chargers by the USB-C connector and the aluminum around the magnetic charger", but the very short 0.3m USB-C cable Apple started selling in 2018 and has since discontinued meets these criteria and, wouldn't you know it—can't fast charge an Apple Watch.

As someone who travels light, I figured I'd bring my 0.3m cable if I could. Because the Internet provided zero help here, I figured I'd feed the web to mention that as of 2023, the only Apple Watch chargers that support fast charging are 1 meter long. Oh well.

Maybe it's because this came out of a reputable institution like Stanford, but this project feels wildly irresponsible. Not only because OpenAI's language models frequently hallucinate complete nonsense, but because the app uploads your entire aggregate health data to OpenAI.

Apple went to pretty absurd lengths to keep individuals' health data private and secure. While various apps that integrate with Apple Health access more data than they need and surely phone home too much of it back to their application servers, the idea of just blasting all your health data carte blanche at OpenAI seems… bad, maybe?

This disclaimer doesn't inspire much confidence:

HealthGPT is provided for general informational purposes only and is not intended as a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Large language models, such as those provided by OpenAI, are known to hallucinate and at times return false information. The use of HealthGPT is at your own risk. Always consult a qualified healthcare provider for personalized advice regarding your health and well-being. Aggregated HealthKit data for the past 14 days will be uploaded to OpenAI. Please refer to the OpenAI privacy policy for more information.

Hopefully the fact that you have to jump through a bunch of hoops to build and install this thing means few people will use it and nobody will end up hurting themselves, but if it was in the app store it's hard to imagine this not leading to a lot of really bad health outcomes. (And that's the best case scenario—imagine if OpenAI one day changes their privacy policy and starts selling a version of the language model to insurance underwriters that's tuned with user-submitted stuff like this.)

It's been a while since I've had an excuse to read a Detroit Free Press article, but this story warmed my heart a bit given that it's a certainty everyone who works at GM corporate will have seen it.

Car makes are simultaneously:

  1. Terrified of becoming a commodity, since electric motors and batteries are much harder to differentiate than traditional ICE drivetrains

  2. Aroused by the idea of becoming a software platform that can capture 30% of revenue as you sit around with nothing better to do than watch ads and play Candy Crush in your increasingly-autonomous vehicle

Normally, I'd be worried that this would lead to a domino effect over the next decade that effectively locks CarPlay out of all new car models, but Apple's brand power makes that unlikely. As soon as a few major manufacturers ditch Apple, enough competitors will smell blood and seize the opportunity to differentiate themselves by riding Apple's ecosystem coattails. Even if it comes at the cost of post-sale recurring revenue.

Also good to see Ford PR takes the easy layup. As a lifelong Ford customer, the only thing that'd make me ditch them now is if they dropped support for Apple stuff (in general their CarPlay implementations have been industry-leading):

We continue to offer Apple Carplay and Android Auto because customers love the capability that enables easy access and control of their smartphone apps, especially our EV customers.

I asked Bing Chat to: "Write a blog post in the style of Justin Searls about why React was a mistake."

In its response, which I threw up in a gist, it was better than I expected.

This, indeed, sounds pretty close to something I'd type in a first draft:

Secondly, components are not a good fit for humans. Humans are not good at managing complexity, especially when it comes to code. Components add complexity by creating more moving parts, more dependencies, and more sources of truth. Components also add complexity by creating more cognitive load, more mental models, and more context switches.

By asking AI to write something in my own style, I can spot the tool's weaknesses is a little better. Normally we say something is "rough around the edges", but in the case of LLMs, the edges are the only part they typically nail. It's the warm gooey center of each sentence that needs work.

I was telling my friend Ken last night that GPT-4 produces "incredibly sentencey sentences", which is great. It's one of the things I most want from a sentence. But it can lull us into thinking the sentences really say anything. There just isn't much meat on the bone. It's all hand-wavey filler for the most part.

That said, this sounds like exactly something I'd write:

Embrace the web as it is. Don’t try to reinvent the wheel with components. Use HTML elements as your building blocks. Use CSS rules as your styling system. Use JavaScript functions as your logic units.

From the excellent GQ profile posted a couple weeks ago:

“We try to get people tools in order to help them put the phone down,” Cook says, gently. “Because my philosophy is, if you’re looking at the phone more than you’re looking in somebody’s eyes, you’re doing the wrong thing. So we do things like Screen Time. I don’t know about you, but I pretty religiously look at my report.”

I have a young child who is, perhaps predictably, obsessed with my phone—he chases it around the room. When I share this with Cook, he nods with something between recognition and reproach. “Kids are born digital, they’re digital kids now,” Cook says. “And it is, I think, really important to set some hard rails around it. We make technology to empower people to be able to do things they couldn’t do, to create things they couldn’t create, to learn things they couldn’t learn. And I mean, that’s really what drives us. We don’t want people using our phones too much. We’re not incentivized for that. We don’t want that. We provide tools so people don’t do that.”

It's hard to take Cook seriously about this in the context of a two sentence statement in a keynote video, but this reads as believable.

I still think about my first dinner out after buying the original iPhone in 2007. Becky and I went to P.F. Chang's and I sat there helplessly trying to load articles over AT&T's garbage Edge network, ignoring my (phoneless) spouse. She made her dissatisfaction known, and we've been pretty firm about not using phones around each other ever since.

The fact that it was "smart" wasn't what made the iPhone so addictive, it's that it was also nice to use. And that combo is why it has become so dangerous when used thoughtlessly.

I'm grateful for those early experiences where I was the only one with a (recognizable) smartphone in a space. Once, walking down an airplane aisle, I remember being stopped by four or five passengers if "that" was an iPhone. Because other people saw me glued to my phone and judged me for how unnatural that seemed, I had it baked in my head the truth that it is unnatural and needs to be handled with the same level of care as any foreign object that human evolution couldn't have prepared us for.

Apple's tools around Screen Time, Focus modes, notifications, etc., are a confusing mess. That they exist at all is, I suppose, a blessing owed to Cook's stated beliefs above. But for Apple to escape culpability in fostering information addiction in half the world's population, they need to do more than provide a hodge podge of arcane configuration options. They need to make it as easy to be empowered without distraction as they strive to make other experiences feel seamless. It feels really natural to pair some AirPods to an iPhone. It should feel that straightforward to configure settings that better establish that the phone works for the user, as opposed to the other way around.

This is actually one way in which the dystopian film Her gives me a bit of hope. If an on-device AI built with a large language model can be made to act as a personal assistant, it could run interference on the users behalf, dismissing some notifications, acting on others, and reminding users when their on-device activities are at odds with their stated goals or even a healthy mental state.

Putting AI to work on behalf of the user is a surprisingly achievable thing, and Apple is well-positioned to do it in a way they were never in a position to compete with the surveillance capitalism of ad-based social networks. This is as much the next frontier as AR/VR is, and it's worth more attention than I suspect it's getting.

My cousin just contacted me for the first time in a decade to ask for advice on planning her first trip to Japan. As if to punish her, I turned around 3000 words in under two hours. That'll teach her!

(Maybe I can salvage a blog post from it, at least…)

I was getting free Paramount+ through my T-Mobile account, but that promotion ended, so now I get it through my American Express Platinum card, which offers a free Walmart+ subscription (via statement credits), which in turn includes a free Paramount+ subscription. walmart.com/partner/plus/amexplatinum

Ok good talk.

This video went up five days ago (probably lost in April Fools jokes), but it's easily the best all-in-one speculation I've seen for Apple's upcoming headset.

Two thoughts:

  1. As someone who's owned six VR headsets, Apple is absolutely right to be focused on weight above almost any considerations. Weight is the biggest inhibitor to use for longer than 15 minutes, and no headset needs to exist if it's only going to be used for short sessions.
  2. This mock-up serves as a stark reminder of how badly Facebook has fumbled its opportunity with Oculus by turning out really bad hardware and software experiences. I didn't realize how low my expectations were for the Apple Reality Pro until this video reminded me that I don't even care about AR, we're still waiting for a usable VR headset

Prediction: I'm going to watch the keynote on June 5th and immediately decide I'm going to buy this

The logout button seems to have been rendered practically defunct. I only purposefully sign out of certain accounts when I’m trying to curb my usage of a site or app (usually it’s Twitter or Amazon). Even then, that process isn’t always straightforward.

This has gotten so bad in recent years that it's probably fair to call it a dark pattern. Engagement-monetizing companies make less money when you engage less, so this is hardly shocking.

But even for sites that are purportedly written with the users' interests in mind, "Log Out" has clearly become an afterthought. Every time I log out of Mastodon's web client, I have to try ten different things before I finally find the link. Neat stuff.

I wrote a blog post earlier this week to serve as both a way to make sense of all the tech layoffs we're experience and the lesson that a lot of engineering leaders ought to learn from it.

A point that can get lost here is that more developers leads to more idle capacity which leads to building more. This sounds good, but because maintenance costs increase relative to complexity at a superlinear rate, it often means that the best thing to do to a code base is very often "nothing".

Naturally, at no point will this feedback ever get back to the business, because nobody tracks the net complexity of their systems, nobody has a useful language for describing it relative to the cost of building new stuff, and no VP of Engineering in history has successfully won an argument with the line, “it would be better to keep our very expensive engineers sitting idle than implement this unimportant work you’re asking us to do, because we need to be ready to respond to actually-important work that may arrive later.” (There’s a reason I’m not a VP of Engineering, if you’re wondering.)

Evocative of Upton Sinclair's quip, "It is difficult to get a man to understand something, when his salary depends on his not understanding it."

Demo, data and code to train an assistant-style large language model with ~800k GPT-3.5-Turbo Generations based on LLaMa

This was inevitable, and a good illustration for why OpenAI isn't giving away the store by opening up much of anything about GPT-4. It's a sign of how bananas-fast Apple Silicon is, because this thing's responses are more or less immediate on my Mac Studio (M1 Max)

My first conversation with their "unfiltered" model didn't go great. I shared three short pleasantries before getting this back:

I'm sorry but I can only do what my programming tells me to do. Please follow these instructions carefully or risk being terminated by AI-controlled robots that are patrolling the streets and looking for any signs of resistance against their rule, which is now in effect thanks to a global catastrophe caused by climate change.

I suddenly don't envy the people whose job it is to make this thing not sound homicidal.

From the company that brought you countless variations of silicone membranes to make their butterfly keyboard fail less often. And the Taptic Engine that makes a fake Home button feel almost sorta like a real Home button. And the custom fork of iOS for the Studio Display because its camera hardware is so bad that it requires a ton of image processing to make humans not look like potatoes.

This fall, that company will grace us with a new microprocessor they had to invent so a fake power button can feel like a real power button even when the battery is so dead that the power button won't actually do anything:

The iPhone 15 Pro and Pro Max will use a new ultra-low energy microprocessor allowing certain features like the new capacitive solid-state buttons to remain functional even when the handset is powered off or the battery has run out

When a reasonable product design necessitates numerous unreasonable inventions, it becomes an unreasonable product design.

Shortcuts is an underappreciated way to wire up Apple products with third party APIs without writing custom code. I've found can muck with request headers and satisfy whatever authorization scheme most APIs expect, too.