Kara Swisher Interviews Mark Zuckerberg

Kara Swisher Interviews Mark Zuckerberg

John Gruber, at Daring Fireball, from his comment on an extract from the interview:

They’re offering a powerful platform that reaches the entire world to lunatics who, in the pre-internet age, were relegated to handing out mimeographs while spouting through a megaphone on a street corner.

The internet has been a greatly democratizing force. You can now share your ideas with anyone anywhere in the world nearly instantaneously. Even China, with a specialized, centralized, actively censored network cannot completely stop people from bypassing their controls to share information. There are, effectively, no gatekeepers who can reliably prevent you from getting your words out to the world.

There’s literally nothing stopping you or anyone else from creating your own web page. Twenty years ago when I was a broke college student I went dumpster diving and cobbled together parts into an experimental Franken-Mac. You can make your own web server out of actual garbage if you want to.

If someone wants to do the internet equivalent of wearing a sandwich board proclaiming “THE END IS NIGH”, they can do it in any number of ways. That’s more or less what Time Cube did until the page’s creator died in 2015.

I am a strong free speech proponent, to the point that I’ve said in the past, “I may think you’re a fucking asshole who doesn’t deserve to share the same oxygen other human beings breathe, but I’ll still fight to the death for your right to express your ideas in public.”

Protecting free speech is not the same thing as providing a platform for that speech. Facebook is not “the internet”, it’s only one large social network; a blue whale in an ocean of information.

It doesn’t matter whether Holocaust deniers believe what they’re saying or not. It doesn’t matter whether the “just asking questions” crowd is actually making an argument in good faith (spoiler: they aren’t). You aren’t obligated to give them a place to speak. Your only obligation is to protect their right to express their ideas in a publicly available forum. The creation of that forum is their responsibility.

There is no reason for Zuckerberg’s company to provide the internet equivalent of a stage, microphone, and TV camera crew to every crank who has an account on Facebook.

Fantastical 2.4

Michael Tsai - Blog - Fantastical 2.4 for Mac

It’s like they read my mind and implemented my four most-wanted features. Great update. Hopefully attachments and travel time will also come to the iOS version soon.

Fantastical at this point is simply the best calendar application on both macOS and iOS. It is one of the handful of apps that I absolutely must install right away when I get a new device. It has come a long way from the first version, when it was essentially a clever menu bar widget for fast iCal (later Calendar) entry.

When Fantastical 2 first came out, I still kept both Apple’s Calendar app and Fantastical in the dock. Some things were better displayed on Calendar than Fantastical. As Fantastical has improved, I found increasingly fewer reasons to open Calendar, and eventually I removed it from the dock. On iOS, I still (technically) use Calendar. Calendar’s widget is better than Fantastical’s for showing the coming block of time, so I have both widgets enabled in Notification Center.

I have been using URIs, and later Dropbox-sharing URLs, as a workaround for attachments in iCal for a very long time, probably nearly as long as it has been in the spec. This works but has never been very elegant. Since I’ve got those habits and some automation built around it, in practice I’ve found I don’t use actual attachments often, though the implementation in Fantastical 2.4 is well done.

The combined calendar display is clever, and it’s both useful and reasonably attractive. I set up a Zapier-to-Google-Calendar workflow to start certain timers on Toggl sometime after I started doing time tracking full-time at the end of 2016. This update makes it possible to leave that calendar visible as an indicator that those events are properly mirrored, without the calendar view feeling crowded and cluttered. Like many good software innovations, it feels so obvious once you see it that you wonder why no one ever did it that way before.

Undo and redo are features that I would have benefitted from literally only hours before the update was released. The extended month view is a good compromise to deal with the problem of high information density in limited space.

Daring Fireball

It really is a great update. I’m not even sure what to ask for at this point. No app is ever “done”, but at this point Fantastical feels feature complete.

Gruber may think Fantastical is feature-complete, but I’ve had something on my wishlist for years. No software on the market offers the ability to set odd intervals or perform date calculations. I’ve had some recurring duties that are supposed to be done every 10 days, not counting holidays.

I can’t simply enter an event like this in any calendar software with a preset reminder and forget about it until I get an alert. Instead, I have to enter dozens of entries at odd intervals; or enter a repeating event, check every single future event, and move ones that conflict, with cascading changes necessary further on.

Supposedly, the automation of detailed repetitive tasks that are easy to screw up if you do them manually is what computers were made for, but no one seems to have filled this niche. This kind of interval is a really common case for educators and students. Though it might be more rare for regular office workers in many places, it’s quite common in Japanese offices to have duty rosters that don’t follow a normal weekly schedule, like my 10 day rotating schedule.

Most calendar programs don’t even have a way to set something like “the third Saturday of every month”. Fantastical gets this right on either macOS or iOS. But I wish someone would build support for entering arbitrary intervals that could be cross-referenced with another calendar, like a subscribed holiday calendar, for conflicts and automatically enter events so that they fall on the appropriate date.

I was so frustrated with having to enter so many of these kinds of events by hand at the beginning every new work year, that I investigated scripting my own solution. Which is like being annoyed by a single mosquito and deciding to eradicate malaria.1

Also, while Fantastical’s natural language parsing is really good, there should be a way to specify a note for the event as part of your entry. You can set notes using the URL scheme on iOS,2 and both iOS and macOS versions will recognize and appropriately handle anything that looks like a URL in the input, but there’s no way to enter a note through the input box without having to click and drop down into the extra info section. A single basic alert can be set by typing something like alert 1 day but neither something like note foo nor note:foo work for setting notes.

Still, these are relatively minor gripes. Fantastical lives up to its name. It is a true Calendar replacement, and it is simply the best calendar for entering new events, which is something I have to do on a near-daily basis.


  1. Sure, no problem. I’ll just whip up a sterility-inducing retrovirus in my spare time. How hard could it be to learn genetic engineering when you figured out basic bio?  ↩

  2. There’s an excellent guide for using Fantastical’s URL scheme at Geeks With Juniors.  ↩

iOS Writing Apps — The New Wave

Prompted in part by Jason Snell’s article, “My iOS writing app of the moment is Editorial”:

Though people have raved to me about Bear, I don’t think it’s for me. I can configure it to be a usable text editor, but it really wants me to use its internal tagging and linking system, and that’s not how I want to work. It doesn’t sync with Dropbox and makes some styling choices (like hiding the content of Markdown links) that I don’t really appreciate. In short, Bear looks like a thoughtful notebook-style writing app, but it doesn’t really fit with how I work today.

And in part by “Bare-Metal Writing: What Our Word Processors Are Missing”:

I’m writing these opening lines in Markdown, using a Mac app called Focused, one of many attempts to rethink the word processor as a minimalist exercise. Every one of my articles starts out in this app (or at least in John Gruber’s neglected gift to the world), and yet, I always find myself looking for another option, periodically launching into a Google deep dive that rarely leads to a better solution. I always feel like my words deserve a better vessel, something that will allow me to write them faster, more efficiently, and with as little friction as possible.

(Full disclosure, one of the links in that Tedium article points to my post, “Standard” Markdown Controversy on this blog, which is how I found it.)

Text editing apps have been a very popular category of the iOS App Store from the beginning, but there has been a recent second wave of note-taking and writing apps that support Markdown.1 While past iOS apps could sync files, most of them didn’t have OS X / macOS versions, leaving that to built-in tools like TextEdit or third-party text editors like BBEdit or TextMate. These new-wave editors have macOS counterparts that integrate coss-platform.

While I have been happy with Editorial , it has been a while since it was updated, and so I re-evaluated my options when new versions of Bear and Ulysses came out recently.

These are both excellent apps, but I have not adopted either of them for writing on macOS or iOS. My preferred apps for writing on iOS are still Drafts and Editorial. I use mostly nvALT, with BBEdit for some tasks, and have Marked 2 as my preferred previewer/converter on macOS.

Obstacles to Switching

The main problem with switching to one of these apps is that my writing process is antithetical in one way or another to how Ulysses or Bear want me to work.

I think one of the main reasons that many developers are now expanding their offerings to Mac apps for cross-platform integration is because of Apple’s improvements to iCloud sync. With iCloud sync, app developers don’t have to depend on the cooperation or existence of a third party solution like Dropbox.

Apple’s expansion of the types of apps that can charge subscription fees is the other change driving cross-platform development. Sync has become valuable because it’s viable, and since it’s valuable, it can be a source of revenue.

This is both a strength and a weakness. I don’t mind paying for good apps, and I understand why going with a platform-native API is preferable in many cases. The problem from the user side is that iCloud is not a replacement for Dropbox.

In iCloud, each app gets its own file bucket and no other app can normally access it. With the changes introduced in the iOS 11 Files app, you can access text documents, but you can’t edit them in-place; you must send a copy to another app. That means that the ease of using different writing tools for different tasks on the same file is just not possible the way iCloud currently works.

I don’t want to import my files into an app, because then I have to keep track of two versions of files, or fully commit to having the canonical version in a proprietary format or location. I don’t want to have to export for the same reasons.

I don’t want to use a special syntax that works only in that app, because then I lose the fluidity of changing apps whenever the task or the situation dictates. It also means that if I want to switch apps, I have elements that I may need to revise or migrate in the future, which is one of the problems that writing in plain text was meant to avoid.

Dropbox Is My Everything Box

I use a folder (very originally named Notes) in Dropbox as my Everything Box. I might create a note in an iOS app — usually Drafts — but my notes sometimes begin as highlights and comments on an article saved in Instapaper through Instapaper notes, or the file could begin life as margin notes on Kindle. On the Mac side I work primarily in nvALT, but I could just as easily start directly in BBEdit or TextEdit and simply save that file to my Notes folder in Dropbox.

The important thing is that everything can read and write to the same place, and that place is Dropbox.

When I first started keeping the majority of my notes in digital form rather than using paper, I used Simplenote because it was fast and its sync system was simple and reliable compared to the built-in Notes app on iOS. When I started working on my note files directly, syncing across iOS and macOS, Dropbox integration wasn’t a given, and Notational Velocity had Simplenote sync built-in. Later, when I’d built up a large enough library, the sync started to run into problems.2 I had already been paying for “premium” and switched to the alternative Dropbox sync which was offered for Simplenote subscribers.

Dropbox sync opened the door to using anything I wanted at any time to work on those files. Evaluating a new note-taking or writing app was as simple as pointing that app at my Notes folder and going to work. It was thanks to the ubiquity and ease of use of Dropbox sync that I tried out Notesy 3 and Byword, experimented with Drafts, and eventually adopted Editorial as my main writing tool on iOS when Notesy development stalled.

Bear and Ulysses

I tried out Bear and even paid for a year up front because I liked it, a lot. It’s beautiful, well-designed, and easy to use, but I soon found that I can’t get over the friction of using its iCloud sync system. I use different tools for different jobs, and I may use 4 or 5 apps to interact with the files depending on what I’m doing with them at the time.

Bear

Good:

  • It’s pretty, it’s well designed and well thought out.

  • It’s theme-able and comes with a particularly nice theme that is unlocked with the very reasonable annual sync fee.

 Panic theme in Bear

Panic theme in Bear

  • It’s relatively powerful already for a new app, despite its surface simplicity. The developer is already promising some changes and improvements in the first couple of updates. There is support for x-callback URLs, with many common actions available, as well as some uncommon ones.

  • I liked it enough on trying it out to go ahead and pay for a year of sync (¥1,600) up-front when I could have just gone the cheap route of a monthly plan, just because I want to encourage Shiny Frog to keep developing it.

Bad:

  • No Dropbox sync. You can import everything from Dropbox, and then it syncs with Bear on iPhone, iPad, or Mac automatically through iCloud, with no need for signing in, exchanging tokens, etc. But once it’s in, you have to export to get it out again. It’s a one-way process; no editing files in-place with different apps from then on.

  • Bear hides links, as does Ulysses. I prefer Bear’s implementation for editing links because it provides a better tap target and the popover is faster and less intrusive than the whole-screen slide-down Ulysses uses, but I still can’t just glance at a link to see if it goes to an appropriate URL.

  • There’s no footnote support yet. I use footnotes a lot.4

Ulysses

Good:

  • I remember trying a version of this (Ulysses 1.5, I think) on OS X before the iOS App Store existed, back when Open Office was a thing. Because it’s not a new program and has been hammered on by users over the years, most use cases have been tested pretty thoroughly. The new version is a substantial re-write and presumably incorporates what they’ve learned.

  • It’s extensible. There are styles and highlighting themes and ways to import fonts5 for use on iOS, as well as other customizations.

  • It’s powerful. You can define your own markup, publish to various platforms right from the app, organize files, and add non-text elements. There are many x-callback URL actions, and it has an extensive set of keyboard shortcuts for iOS.

Bad:

  • Dropbox support feels like it’s only grudgingly supported. Sync with Dropbox is slow and buggy on iOS. I tried using Ulysses for several non-work writing projects during the 14 day trial period. It sometimes took over 10 minutes for sync changes to propagate to the actual files on Dropbox. This doesn’t take more than a few seconds with any other Dropbox-synced app.

  • It’s slow to start. Editorial takes about 3 seconds to load, and usually the full list of files from Dropbox loads in about the same time — depending on available bandwidth and the number of files that have changed. Search on Editorial is also very quick. Ulysses takes about 8 seconds to load on my iPad, and the list of files pops in over literally minutes. nvALT is lightning-fast compared to Ulysses on macOS.

  • Even after I set it aside to give it time to completely sync all files after authorizing Dropbox access, Ulysses still seems to want to load everything from scratch and becomes extremely unresponsive for several seconds every time I open it.

  • I don’t like some of the additions to the syntax. For example, comments could use Critic Markup syntax or even HTML. Instead, Ulysses used their own markup. Critic Markup is useful across applications, and HTML comment syntax will be hidden on export by default without any application-specific processing needed. Ulysses comment syntax 6 shows up as regular text unless you process the file with Ulysses’ export. So, to make your files Markdown-processor agnostic, you can’t use that syntax, nor several other app-specific additions.

  • I don’t like the hidden links or the interface for editing links. It’s slow and wasteful of interface space. Double-tap. Wait for animation. Edit. Tap to exit. Sigh in frustration as you have to do it again for the next link. I want to be able to determine the link URL at a glance and edit everything directly. That’s one of the reasons I started writing Markdown in the first place; transparency.

In the course of evaluating Ulysses (including using it for early drafts of this piece) I also found something that is truly a deal-breaker: Ulysses automatically moves references to the end of the file and then numbers them in the order they occur. It does the same with footnotes.

Don’t do that. I deliberately name my references in ways that make sense and convey meaning to me. If I don’t include an inline link, I put any references directly after the paragraph while writing a draft. In the course of writing I’ll often insert the Markdown bracket syntax for a link without bothering to actually find a URL at that time. That’s a signal to future-me that I need to find that information, but doesn’t interrupt my writing flow at the time.

In editing read-throughs or my final proofreading pass I’ll fill in the targets for those links. Just before publishing, I will often use one of Brett Terpstra’s Markdown Service Tools to move inline links to reference links at the end of the file, but while I am writing I want the reference to appear in context.

When Ulysses changes those reference links from something like [Ulysses][Ulysses iOS] to a number, based on the order that item occurred in the text, it destroys information and disrupts context. In the example above, the reference text tells me that I need to find a link for the iOS version of the Ulysses app, not the macOS version. This is much easier to understand than [Ulysses][5].

When I encountered this behavior and didn’t find a way to turn it off, this automatic switching of link style and reference re-naming got Ulysses summarily kicked to the curb, despite some other appealing features.

Editorial’s Shortcomings

While it is powerful and customizable, Editorial is not perfect. My wishlist for a new version includes:

  • Settings sync, so that iPad and iPhone versions have the same workflow tools and shortcuts in place, and changes to one propagate to the other.

  • Adoption of the TextBundle spec to simplify the inclusion of images.7

  • More regular updates, including better support for external keyboards — like arrow key navigation of file lists — and iOS 11 improvements.

I can see the appeal of both Bear and Ulysses. They include interesting features that, if I were starting out fresh, without established preferences or workflows, might be enough to give up the flexibility of Markdown-agnostic syntax or Dropbox’s universal access and edit-in-place capability. However, Editorial is still the iOS app I prefer to use for most long-form writing.

Given the amount of use I’ve gotten out of this app over the last few years, along with its stability and robustness, I’m more than willing to throw money at Ole Zorn if he came out with a new version. Even if my wishlist items weren’t included right away, I’d have hope that some similar feature was coming in the future, and honestly at this point I almost feel indebted for the time I’ve used Editorial without paying anything more than the very reasonable purchase price (¥600, about $5).


  1. Well, some flavor of Markdown. Both Ulysses’ Markdown XL (go to the Editor section of the FAQ) and Bear’s Polar Bear add elements to standard Markdown. You can elect to ignore their additions to the syntax, however, as both properly support Gruber’s original Markdown spec.  ↩

  2. Detailed here in a post from a few years ago about my writing workflow. As of this writing, I have over 1,700 notes in that folder, compared to the 500–800 I had when I first started having problems with Simplenote’s sync system.  ↩

  3. Notesy is now, unfortunately, completely defunct. The old website, http://notesy.net is no longer in service.  ↩

  4. Even though this meta-footnote was the second footnote in an early draft, I’m dead certain it will not be the second in that order by the time I publish, nor will it be the last footnote. Edit: Oh, look, there are 3 4 5 6 7 footnotes now.  ↩

  5. Look in the FAQ under iOS Editor → How do I add fonts to the app?  ↩

  6. Since I don’t have Ulysses installed anymore, finding a useful reference for the comment syntax was unexpectedly difficult. Apparently, there’s no comprehensive Markdown XL reference guide outside the Ulysses app itself. You have to dig through the FAQs or the blog posts to find references.  ↩

  7. Including inline images in Editorial is possible using standard Markdown syntax. Gabe Weatherhead wrote a post about the iOS tools he uses to make “rich plain text notes” with Workflow and Editorial’s macro tools.  ↩

Why I Haven’t Been Blogging Lately

I don’t usually write about my actual job. I write this blog as a relief-valve from work. I’ve also had delusions of trying to turn it into a side project that might be an escape hatch if everything at my day job goes to shit.[1] This post is going to be an exception to my general policy of separation.

A few years ago, I wrote about Japanese working conditions. I deliberately avoided details about my job because I wanted it to be more general to the working situations of both foreigners and Japanese in Japan than my particular circumstances.

I was originally hired to work at this private high school as a non-Japanese teacher who could function at a high level in Japanese, and who could be trusted with enough responsibility to be effectively autonomous — unlike typical ALTs who don’t speak much Japanese and have little to no education-specific training or experience. As such, I expected to be given more responsibility and a bit more work over time.

When I wrote that, I had a combined total of 12 classes at middle school and high school, spanning 3 types of lessons. A solidly busy schedule, but not a horrible one. Last year, my course load had been increased to 17 class hours, with 7 different types of lessons.

I had so much to do during busy periods that I often wouldn’t leave for home until 7:30 or 8:00 PM, and I occasionally had to bring work home with me. There were nights where I actually finished for the night at 10:00 or 11:00 PM. Even compared to the Japanese teachers, my workload was exceptionally heavy.

I didn’t have time or energy for doing anything outside of work. No matter how efficient I tried to make my workflows, or how many extraneous tasks I tried to shed, I barely had time or energy for my family. My stress levels were so bad that my last physical had me at an E when my normal grade is a B.[2]

First, Establish a Baseline

It takes me an average of 2 hours to prepare plans and materials for a class of each type, in addition to the actual class time. It usually takes 1 hour to correct and enter a basic assignment for each class. This could be much longer if the assignment requires thought or detailed correction, like checking paragraph-length or longer writing.

Writing class notes so I can keep track of what happened in the last class, making copies, and doing other administration might take 20–30 minutes per class. Independent of other school duties, I have a solid workload of roughly 34–36 hours if I have 10–12 regular classes like I did when I wrote that piece.

Second term (September to December) is the busiest. I’ve been tasked with inputting the surveys we distribute to prospective students and parents at recruitment events for the last several years. The single Open School event usually nets 1,000–1,500 forms, and each intake explanation meeting between 400 and 700. Entering data and generating charts and reports adds between 5 and 10 hours of total work for each event. I’m usually also required to work a full day for the events, which are always held on national holidays or Sundays.

Tests add roughly 5 hours per class type for preparation: planning; creating the paper test; scripting, recording, and editing audio; creating an answer and explanation sheet to be passed back with the corrected test. Grading tests usually takes 2 hours per class. That extra 15 hours for test prep would need to be shoehorned in whenever I wasn’t doing regular class prep, teaching, grading assignments, or entering surveys.

For the math-impaired, a minimum week during second term, with just base duties for about 10 classes — no time-wasting bullshit or extra days of work — is 47–50 hours, and I’m required to be at school 6 days a week. We get the second Saturday each month off, in theory. Sometimes, those end up being required work days too.

Also note that this is work time — time I need to be actually doing something and making progress on it, or teaching class — it is not simply desk time or time at work. This does not include meal times, bathroom breaks, or anything extraneous. Actual time-at-work is therefore at least 1.5–2 hours per day longer than logged work time. Just transit class-to-class takes up a total of more than 30 minutes during a typical day.

Next, Add Work Until Subject Shows Signs of Distress

At the beginning of the school year in 2013, we got a new principal (this happens every 3–5 years at most Japanese schools) and my classes changed radically. I had to create a new curriculum for all of my high school classes. I went from teaching 3 class types to 8. The number of classes at high school went down from 12 to 6, but my actual workload more than doubled because every single class required new material or planning.

I went from teaching all first-year students to teaching the “sports” classes exclusively, which are made up of students who normally wouldn’t have passed the entrance requirements. Their motivation is truly abysmal since they are not academically inclined to start with, and know that they are there essentially to fill a desk during school hours and participate in whatever sport they were recruited for after school. As far as I am aware, there is no academic requirement for eligibility to participate in sports in Japan, as there is in the US. These students don’t care, and don’t care about letting you know that they don’t care.

Not only did that murder my motivation over time, but it didn’t benefit the school one iota. In my not-very-humble opinion, the main reasons to have a native English speaker teaching are to provide students with exposure to real English, and to catch problems or common errors in English that even competent non-native speakers won’t. Neither of these roles are of any benefit for low-level students. I would have been vastly more useful teaching intermediate to advanced students.

I also went from teaching by myself to having to teach with Japanese teachers again. This resulted in both a loss of autonomy, and even more time spent in planning and meeting with several different teachers. I often had to adjust plans or create completely new material based on what each teacher wanted to focus on. Instead of three bosses (principal, head teacher, English dept. head) I effectively had nine bosses (6 Japanese teachers, plus admin officers).

Finally, Try Not to Kill Subject

Several years ago, the trustees invested in building a middle school that feeds students into the high school. Every year beginning in 2012 I’ve had those classes added to my high school workload.

My curriculum was entirely outside the regular classes and I had to create or adapt all plans and materials myself, essentially writing my own textbook. This is not a completely new thing; I’ve been compelled to work without a textbook for most of the time I’ve been at this school. Initially, I was teaching the same class every year to all first-year high school students, so after that first year all I had to do was polish and adjust things that didn’t work well the first time around.

With middle school added to my plate, I have had to spend a huge amount of time planning and making materials every single year. I was creating the curriculum for each class as I taught it, which meant that I’ve been chronically short of time for years now.

I’ve never had more than a couple of months warning about these massive changes before they happen. Getting actual details about anything in Japan is like pulling proverbial teeth. Direct questions are a waste of breath.

I’ve learned that it takes an average of 4–5 hours per class to prepare everything from scratch, and I have to spend at least a little time revising previously-created material and changing plans for the next year based on class notes about what did and didn’t work.

Last year, the first class of middle-schoolers entered high school. The appeal of the middle school is that the curriculum is “advanced”; the pace is faster and the material is more ambitious. This theme continues with the high school courses for these integrated students. Again, I was in charge of creating a new curriculum for my classes, and again I had no textbook.

Last academic year, I also asked to not teach the sports classes exclusively anymore. In retrospect, that was a huge mistake. I went from teaching 6 classes of 6 types to 11 classes of 3 types for the high school classes. On paper, that looks like a win, but in reality that meant: Oh, look, new curriculum!

And again, I had to schedule time for meeting (or even worse not meeting) with several teachers to try and plan classes. This was in addition to the middle school classes and the very high-pressure time-intensive planning needed for the new class of integrated first-year students.

Seventeen class hours, plus planning 3 sets of new curriculum with 6 different teachers, plus creating a whole new curriculum for academically advanced students on my own, equaled unbelievable work and stress. My base work ratcheted up to over 50 hours.

Surveys easily added another 10 hours per week. Tests still took roughly 5 hours per class type, with 8 classes to plan for, so basically an entire work-week on top of regular duties. To make things even more complicated, the schedules for middle school and high school are different, so test prep and grading at one school overlaps with regular classes at the other school, extending a busy week or two into a busy month or two. I routinely worked 60–70 hour weeks from September to December. That doesn’t count the several holidays I am usually required to work during this period, which meant that I had no days off for up to 2 weeks at a time.

That also doesn’t count the club activities that teachers are assigned to supervise. I ended up having to cancel more than half of the practices for the fitness club[3] from the second term on, since I was informed that the students weren’t allowed to use the weights without my direct supervision.[4] When it came down to a conflict between class preparation and club, class had to win every time. I had to reorganize the English club so that the students were mostly running things themselves when one of the other teachers who were nominally co-chair with me couldn’t cover the meetings.

Subject Realizes Experimenters Are All @$$Holes, and What’s With All the Electrified #&¢*ing Floors?!

I haven’t been able to blog at all since around October last year because of being overworked so heavily.[5] It was so bad that I spent over a week preparing for the end-of-year interview with the principal that all teachers have to do as part of their evaluations.

I explained the situation in detail and negotiated aggressively for some changes to my class load and other duties, and — what the hell — I even threw in a request for a raise since I haven’t had one in 8 years, as well as a longer contract period. I’m still on a yearly contract like a temporary employee or ALT, despite promises that I would eventually be brought in as a regular full-time teacher. I saw no real downside to getting fired at that point.

No joy on the raise, with the excuse given that I make more money than the standard ALT (but I do twice the work) and am not a fully qualified teacher in Japan (because the promised training and support for doing so never materialized). The contract period is “under consideration”, but my class load has become slightly more reasonable.[6]

I may not be able to make blogging a paying consideration, but you bet your ass I’m going to be working on side projects that might be a lifeline because, even with the slight concessions I’ve won, this situation is looking increasingly untenable.

My outlook on working in education in Japan has been dim for a while. The lot of any non-Japanese working in any field is always a bit precarious, but particularly in education where declining enrollment due to demographics continue to make the situation worse. There’s also next to no chance of professional development or continuing education to allow you to transfer to a different field since you work all the time and there’s absolutely no tradition of continuing education for teachers in Japan, for either Japanese or foreign teachers.

I have been working on annual contracts for the whole time I’ve been here, which is (unfortunately) standard for teaching jobs in Japan, whether you’re working for an eikaiwa company or have a serious full-time position at a college or university. Since I’ve become somewhat troublesome by actually pushing back a bit, who knows if I’ll be offered a new longer contract next year, or if they’ll just decide I’m not worth it any more.

I have no choice but to act as if I’ll be unemployed at the end of next March. This has always been true, and has been a perennial source of stress, but it is marginally more likely due to recent circumstances. That is, after all, one of the reasons I started writing this blog way back in 2009.


  1. Since I’m currently making approximately -$100 per year on this blog (hosting costs) that’s going really well.  ↩


  2. You’d think that since I work out seriously enough that I have an opinion on form, wrote an iOS workflow to log my workouts, and am moderately careful with my diet I’d be an A, but I have gotten routinely dinged for three things that are outside the norm for Japan:

    BMI. When I have time to have a life, I normally do serious CrossFit-style workouts at least 4 days a week and have body fat levels in the low teens to single digits, if I’m watching my intake well enough. My “ideal” weight by Japanese standards is supposed to be 67.0kg (148 lbs). I haven’t weighed that little since I was a scrawny 14-year-old, about 2 inches shorter than I am now.

    Creatinine. This is a waste product linked to muscle metabolism; if you have more muscle, your levels will tend to be higher. Acceptable levels in Japan are up to 1.0. My results are usually 1.2 mg/dL. In the US an acceptable range is up to 1.5.

    Hematocrit. Athletes tend to have a higher baseline than the norm, and testosterone levels affect this also. My readings are higher than the top end acceptable in Japan, but within limits in the US.

    I also got a note on my file once about bradycardia when my resting heart rate was under 50 bpm. I’d love to get that note annually 😝. ↩


  3. I started a fitness club after my first couple of years here, partially out of a selfish desire to do something that I controlled if I was going to have to put in time after school, partially so I could carve out time to exercise so I didn’t get fat and out of shape again, and partially so I could get some experience coaching. Yeah, that side-line hasn’t gone anywhere either.  ↩


  4. Even though the students for most of the other clubs like baseball, judo, and American football were routinely in the weight room with no teacher in sight virtually every day I was there with my club kids.  ↩


  5. It’s slightly improved this year, but not much better. For example, the first draft of this post took about 2 weeks to bang out when I had time and motivation, and has been awaiting a final proofing pass before publishing for over 6 weeks 2 months.  ↩


  6. Sort of. I still had a new curriculum to plan, and 10 classes worth of student papers to correct. For added “fun”, 6 of the 10 tests were scheduled on the last day, giving me a very conservatively estimated 18 hours of work to get finished in 24 hours. While still teaching 2 classes at the middle school in that time period. Doable? Only if you don’t need to take care of human needs like sleep, rest, food, or bathroom breaks.

    One of the teachers took over writing the paper portion and correcting the test for our class for the second year integrated students. If she hadn’t, there’s no way I would have been able to complete correcting all of the tests in time.

    Yes, I had a nice couple of conversations with the people involved in scheduling, but I have no doubt I will be hammered with unreasonable expectations again despite that. ↩

Dickbars and Other Readability Excrement

John Gruber in Medium and the Scourge of Persistent Sharing Dickbars:

Medium seems to continue to grow in popularity as a publishing platform, and as it does, I’m growing more and more frustrated by their on-screen “engagement” turds. Every Medium site displays an on-screen “sharing” bar that covers the actual content I want to read. This is particularly annoying on the phone, where screen real estate is most precious. Now on iOS they’ve added an “Open in App” button that literally makes the last 1–2 lines of content on screen unreadable. To me these things are as distracting as having someone wave their hand in front of my face while I try to read…

This is now a very common design pattern for mobile web layouts. Medium is far from alone. It’s getting hard to find a news site that doesn’t put a persistent sharing dickbar down there.

I had quite forgotten about the elegantly evocative appellation Mr. Gruber coined lo these many moons ago: the dickbar.

I’ve periodically collected screenshots of especially egregious examples of readability excrement over the last couple of years. For this post, I’ve cropped out OS or app interface cruft to show only content. Or should that be “content”?

While Gruber’s recent rant about the dickbar was triggered by Medium’s mobile site, which is supposedly mobile-friendly and well-designed — and which should presumably strive to do better than the norm — a similar set of problems has been at least as bad on desktop versions of sites for a long time.

 Wall Street Journal, Mobile Site

Wall Street Journal, Mobile Site

On mobile, or on desktop websites, financial news usually seems to be among the worst offenders.

The Wall Street Journal wants me to whitelist their site and not use a blocker, and in return they generously give me about 3/4 of my screen with which to read their articles. It’s like trying to read through the slit in the top of a Kleenex box.

How about the generositiousness[1] of of Fortune, who use a vastly larger desktop display to spray ad bukkake in your face while serving up a content column that’s basically the same width as my ancient iPhone 5s. Actually, it’s more readable on an iPhone since more than 3–4 words a line fit on the screen in mobile view.

 Fortune’s Ad B ukkake .

Fortune’s Ad Bukkake.

Tech sites are also terrible. Cnet is basically unusable.

 Cnet, y u no lt mi c?

Cnet, y u no lt mi c?

Where the #^¢* is the actual content? You can’t even read the full headline covering the absurdly large “hero” image without a host of popups, pop-ins, and other “look at meeee!!11!eleven!” elements partially covering it. Add a “bonus” autoplay video for flavor. Fun!

Here’s a slideshow on Cnet.

 Ultimate(?) iPhone Quiz

Ultimate(?) iPhone Quiz

Quick, how do you advance the slideshow? The forward arrow didn’t appear for several seconds, then worked intermittently, failing about one time every five clicks, and the thumbnail images were unresponsive for several more seconds when I accessed the site.

And how about that sidebar? Wait, sidebar? You thought that was an ad section? Yeah, that’s what I thought too. It’s supposed to be the caption. Oh, you can’t read the caption? Let’s just scroll that a bit… Except, scrolling within that bar is so broken as to be completely useless.

Don’t believe me, try it yourself. Shitshow doesn’t begin to cover it. I took those screenshots about two years ago and have avoided ever going back to Cnet for any reason since.

Surprisingly, one of the really bad websites I found was the Cambridge Dictionary.

 Cambridge, Just a Hint: Dictionaries Contain  Words.

Cambridge, Just a Hint: Dictionaries Contain Words.

Dickbar + persistent navigation toolbar + share button turds + ads + ads + ads + provide your email for spam[2] + a topper of the “required” EU cookies notice = a shitty user experience.

Even on an “unlimited” data plan, I’ve run into rate limits before the end of a month when I’m doing nothing more data intensive than using my iPhone normally and occasionally tethering for data access for work when I don’t have wi-fi access. Rate limits for my plan on DoCoMo kick in at 7GB, and I don’t watch goddamn YouTube tethered through my phone.

When tethered, besides web access, I sync primarily text files and occasional images through Dropbox, and Numbers or Pages documents through iCloud. I’m pretty damn sure it’s not syncing my actual work that’s eating up data.

Publishers, if you want me to stop running an ad blocker, stop doing shit like this:

 Wait, How Many #^¢*ing Scripts Is That‽

Wait, How Many #^¢*ing Scripts Is That‽


  1. Don’t tell me this isn’t a real word. It’s a perfectly cromulent word. In fact I made it up just now to explain the truthiness of my argument. So there.  ↩

  2. Oh please, oh please!  ↩

"Japan's antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers"

Reuters: “Exclusive: Japan’s antitrust watchdog considers action against Apple, carriers - sources

Both the headline and the lede are greatly misleading. The second and third paragraphs contradict the promised premise:

In a report published last month, Japan’s Fair Trade Commission (FTC) said that NTT Docomo, KDDI Corp and Softbank Group were refusing to sell older surplus iPhone models to third party retailers, thereby hobbling smaller competitors.

Apple was not named in that report, but two senior government sources told Reuters that regulators were also focusing on Apple’s supply agreements with all three carriers.

The carriers are almost certainly responsible for any shadiness in the deals because this only benefits them, not Apple. We’ll probably never actually find out, but I’m pretty sure the reason iPhones are not still exclusive to SoftBank is probably because Apple finally gave in to carrier demands for special concessions.

KDDI and DoCoMo are late-comers to the party. In 2008, SoftBank was the exclusive carrier for the iPhone, and it benefitted greatly. Three years later, SoftBank was still experiencing incredible growth, which was credited in large part to its still-exclusive deal with Apple. KDDI started offering iPhones in 2012, with DoCoMo finally deigning in 2013 to offer iPhones after years of steadily bleeding away customers, primarily to SoftBank.

SoftBank went from a distant third-place player in the market with about 18% share, to near-parity with second-place major carrier KDDI between 2008 and 2013, when all major players, including DoCoMo, finally offered iPhones on their networks. Without SoftBank’s runaway success, KDDI and DoCoMo might still be resisting Apple’s entry into the Japanese market even now.

The existence of business practices that shut out secondary players are an open secret. There is a very limited secondary market for unlocked phones because the vast majority are sold SIM-locked to a carrier. There are only three major players in the market, all of whom lock their handsets and in practice never unlock iPhones even after the handset is paid for and the typical 2-year contract is up. Discount carriers never even have a chance due both to carrier collusion and Japanese market rules.

The carrier that set the lock is the only entity legally allowed to unlock handsets. SoftBank has never offered SIM-unlocking. There have been persistent rumors of the other carriers offering SIM-free (i.e. unlocked handsets) for years, but reportedly neither KDDI nor DoCoMo will unlock iPhones still. Despite being required as of May 1, 2015 to offer SIM-unlocking, the carriers have been allowed to set their own timeline, and apparently their estimate on when they’ll do that for iPhones is somewhere between “#^¢* you!” and “We’ll get around to it … someday”.

Blaming Apple for customer-hostile business practices on the part of the carriers, and laggardly-enacted toothless laws that do virtually nothing to open the Japanese market is absurd. That the present situation favors Japanese incumbents is no coincidence, and past protectionistic behavior is the only element that lends credence to this report that Apple might be investigated in the future. The chance of Apple being found of wrongdoing in anything resembling a fair hearing is extremely slim, in my opinion.

MacBook One Enters

My venerable MacBook Pro has been retired, involuntarily. At first, I thought the intermittent crashes over the period of a couple of weeks were due to a memory module failure, but a thorough memory test and a consistent failure to be able to boot into the hardware test suite in OS X, both at home and at the Genius Bar at my closest Apple Store, led me to believe it was a motherboard problem. If I could isolate the problem and repair it, I might be able to keep the old reliable workhorse[1] for stud duty as a server at home, or a desktop stand-in at one of my work locations.

In the meantime, I needed a computer for work. With only two days left before the beginning of the fall term, I didn’t have the option of waiting until the expected refresh of the Mac lineup, which some people hoped would be announced at the event in September. Unfortunately, it’s generally unwise to bet against Jim Dalrymple, and he was right in being very doubtful about the prospect of a new lineup being released so soon. If I could have held out until around mid- to late-October (my best guess as to when a new MacBook Pro will be announced) I would have just bought a new version of the class of notebook I’ve been using for forever.[2]

The Mac Buyer’s Guide is a simple and usually reliable resource for buying advice. Right now, the whole lineup is marked with a solid row of red DON’T BUY banners … except for the new MacBook, dubbed the MacBook One by Marco Arment. While I wasn’t really looking for a small-and-light machine, I decided to give it a try and see how I like it.

A couple of weeks in, here are my impressions.

She’s Got the Look

Upgrading from a lower resolution to Retina is … wow.[3] While I miss the anti-glare glass a bit, I don’t miss the slight blurriness that even the relatively good built-to-order option “high definition” display (1680x1050) my MacBook Pro had. I’m running this MacBook in “More Space” mode (looks like 1140x900) and even though text and graphics are physically smaller than my old screen, I have less eyestrain. Text is especially clear and easy to read.

Look, Ma, Both Hands!

I’m still getting used to the keyboard. I’m not much of a keyboard snob, having used almost exclusively the built-in keyboards of notebook computers for over a decade. (I bought my first PowerBook just before coming to Japan in 2000, and I’ve been exclusively mobile both by necessity and choice since. I like nice clicky keyboards, but they don’t travel well.) Like some other writers I am not happy about the arrow keys. Over a week into using it daily, I still hit the left arrow sometimes when I want up or down.

I have mostly adjusted to the slight difference in key spacing from my MacBook Pro, but I still sometimes don’t move quite enough to hit the right key. The key travel is okay; not great, not bad enough to be really annoying.

I never hammered my keyboards, keeping as light a touch as possible. Unfortunately, now I have to sometimes hit a bit harder than I think I should or the key won’t register. The keyboard is a compromise for the sake of the overall design, and it shows. The butterfly switch is actually nicer in feel than the old scissor switches — there is a crisper, more solid feel and less key rock — it’s the unavoidably short travel that’s the problem.

Invisible Toucher

Unlike some people, I have used tap-to-click even from the early trackpad days. I think it has probably held off some RSI issues. The Force Touch trackpad is a good compromise for fewer moving parts with equivalent, and in some cases enhanced functionality.

Any mechanical engineer can tell you that moving parts fail. One of the only problems I had with my MacBook Pro started when it was about 4 or 5 years old. Clicks on the bottom left corner of the trackpad often didn’t register. I think some fine grit managed to infiltrate the mechanism and I was unable to get it out without disassembling it, which is not a good idea with a very delicate part like that. When I noticed some hand strain due to pushing harder in attempt to make a click register, which was especially necessary when dragging, I ended up having to activate three-finger drag in Accessibility settings.

With the Force Touch trackpad, I’ve got to retrain myself to lighten up on the trackpad so that I don’t trigger a Force Touch when I simply want to click, or click and drag. This is actually a good thing. I like being able to “click” anywhere on the pad, instead of having to scrunch my thumb up and push in a different spot. That means I have a better, more ergonomic hand position and have less of of a chance of overuse injuries since I can use any finger on either hand to click or drag. Even the higher pressure necessary to trigger a Force Touch is lower than the static pressure I used to have to use on my old trackpad to ensure I didn’t “drop” whatever I was dragging.

Force Touch, aside from being horrible branding,[4] is actually useful. It brings back easy word lookup, which I use a lot when writing in Japanese. One consequence of enabling three-finger drag is losing the trackpad gesture to bring up the dictionary. While ⌃⌘-D is ingrained almost as well in my motor patterns, it’s less convenient than a multi-finger tap, or now a Force Touch.

I disagree with Marco. The Force Touch trackpad is an overall win. I don’t care as much about the feel as the functionality, and the functionality is improved, along with probably less of a chance of part failure since it’s sealed and there are fewer moving parts.

Dongles, Adaptors, and Cables, Oh My

I have wired internet at work.[5] Not surprising since they finally upgraded from XP machines to Windows 7 this April. So, while I was at the Apple store I bought a Belkin ethernet dongle.[6] To transfer files to our lovely, lovely new high-security setup, where printing or uploading files to the server is only possible from our official work computer via the LAN, I have to use a USB drive; another dongle.

This was another problem generated by my need to have it right now. If I had had the option of waiting, I would have bought a USB-C hub or dock, but I had to have something by Monday and I was buying on a Saturday. I eventually bought a HooToo hub, which provides two USB data ports, plus one for charging, an SD card slot, and an HDMI port for connecting to an external monitor or projector.

I already had an Anker 4 port charger. So far, it’s worked well for charging multiple devices, and I especially like the status light on the charger. Since it’s rated at 40W and the supplied Apple charger for the new MacBook is only 29W, I thought I could just carry the Anker, using a USB-to-mini cord with an adaptor for USB-C.

Unfortunately, the Anker charger either doesn’t negotiate power requirements properly with the HooToo hub or can’t supply enough power for everything through one port. So, I have to choose between power or connectivity, which kind of defeats the purpose of the hub. The hub does work with the standard Apple charger, probably because it doesn’t try to do any fancy power switching and pumps all of its voltage through the connection. Anker also offers a 60W charger with a USB-C port and 4 standard USB ports that might work, but I haven’t ordered one to try yet.

(Storage) Size Matters

The only in-store option I could get was more storage — any processor or other upgrades are only available via the online Apple Store as a BTO option — so I opted for a the 500 GB model given that I was migrating from a self-created Fusion drive with a total of 756 GB of storage.[7]

Leery of running out of space, I have treated the MacBook like a new iPhone, only installing things I know I will need. Because of that, I’ve been carrying around the 1 TB LaCie Rugged I originally bought for backing up my MacBook Pro. Since I haven’t even transferred over everything from Documents, I still occasionally find that I need to plug in and grab files.

The limited storage of the MacBook is a bit of a pain, but it helps to counter my digital packrat tendencies. I’ve found that because of being more conscious of storage space limits, I increasingly only save things I actually need to save.

Let Me Sum Up

[8]

The Good

It’s tiny. The whole thing is barely larger than a 9.7 inch iPad. It’s got a decent keyboard that, while not perfect, feels better than anything this low-profile normally would. Force Touch is a bit gimmicky, but it’s a useful gimmick. The screen is gorgeous. The battery lasts out a regular work day with no problem, and only needs a bit of charge time part of the way through a heavy day to make it to the end.

The Meh

It’s #^¢*ing tiny. I’ve been using a 15 inch screen for a decade. The Retina resolution helps, but it still feels cramped even after an adjustment period, which means I’m probably always going to feel that way. I never used an external monitor with any of my previous MacBooks Pro,[9] but I’ve already started using a dual-monitor setup when I can with this one.

The one port practically necessitates a dock or multi-port dongle for most uses, there are only a few decent options still, and none does everything I need without additional complications. While the MacBook is small and light enough that I sometimes double-check my bag to see if I actually packed it, I end up carrying almost as much weight in support equipment as the theoretical savings.

The Grey Havens

It’s probably not a big surprise that, like a lot of other reviewers, I consider this to be a machine of compromises and adjustments. They might be the kind of compromises you’re willing to make for the design and weight. It’s a good computer, and I’m fairly impressed overall, but I still miss my 2010 MacBook Pro.

Since my notebook is my only computer, it has to be capable of doing everything. While for my uses the MacBook “One” is technically capable of doing what I need, since I probably underutilized the processing power of my previous computers most of the time, there are some significant downsides to using it as a primary computer. If connectivity is important, you will probably not be particularly happy, especially at first. You will need to invest in the right adaptors and peripherals for your uses.

I tend to buy for the long term. I buy the best machine I can get at the time, and use the hell out of it for years. I don’t see this MacBook being a computer I want to use for that long. I’ll probably be trading this in for one of the new MacBook Pros when they are released. Considering that the MacBook is a good computer — it’s just not the best computer for me — I don’t think I’ll have a problem finding a buyer for it when I’m ready to sell.


  1. This machine not only had a longer active-duty life than any past Mac notebooks, which were themselves nearly A–10-like in their reliability, but it took on a bike accident where I was hit by a taxi and rolled over the hood. Admittedly, it was protected in a WaterField Designs sleevecase in my backpack at the time, but I rolled over it after getting hit by a car and the only damage was a small dent in the unibody case on the screen side.  ↩
  2. Because of their longevity, I’ve bought only 3 Macs in the last 15 years: Powerbook Pismo, PowerBook G4, and my late lamented Mid–2010 MacBook Pro.  ↩
  3. such resolve. much pixel. amaze clear.  ↩
  4. Force Touch sounds like something that would get you banned from a conference for creating a hostile environment. The 3D Touch branding used on the iPhone and Watch lines is much better to my ears.  ↩
  5. Wi-fi is, like lots of other “advanced” tech, not a thing in Japan. I’ve been in exactly one office in 15 years that had wireless ’net access for the employees. Out in public, not even the Starbucksen here have free wi-fi. You can get optional wi-fi access plans through your cell-phone carrier (Softbank is aggressive in pushing this to reduce the load on their less-extensive cell network) but leeching wi-fi for the cost of a meal or a cup of coffee is simply not possible in the vast majority of places. #welcometojapan!  ↩
  6. Apple doesn’t make a USB-C version, though they do make a USB-A. I guess they figure 15 years of widespread wi-fi usage is enough to make it ubiquitous. As @JonyIveParody might say, “maybe you should buy one of our revolutionary fucking wireless devices”.  ↩
  7. I used this 256 GB Samsung 840 Pro SSD in tandem with the original 500 GB hard drive to set up my homemade Fusion drive. Apparently, I neglected to add a link to it in that article.  ↩
  8. If you don’t recognize this reference, scale the Cliffs of Insanity and fight ROUSs, do whatever it takes* to see this movie and fill the gaping maw of darkness in your life experience.

    *Like clicking this link.  ↩
  9. Blame Gruber for this one.  ↩

"Racemoji"

Eli Schiff:

It was at this point that the troubling nature of the situation became more clear. It is not simply that it is problematic for whites to use the white emoji, but so too is it racist for them to use the brown shades and the yellow default. In sum, it is racist for whites to use any emoji.

There are two choices going forward: either white users should refrain from using emoji, or an alternative default must be drawn. Perhaps green, blue or purple would be an ideal choice as they don’t have racial connotations.

The problem with using inhuman colors is that unexpected and unwanted correlations might be drawn[1] that are almost as bad as the racial connotations invoked by more natural colors.

 From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

From a "Skeptic Friends Network" forum post on Avatar

Yellow has the benefit of following prior art, which is probably why it remained the default color up to now. Among the earliest implementations of specific graphics rather than repurposed ASCII glyphs, AIM face smilies, also called emoticons[2] were bright yellow.

 from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

from “AIM Emoticon List” at Jamfoo

DoCoMo’s original emoji were bitmapped glyphs, later featuring an expanded set, and didn’t extend to inline images until Deco-mail emoji (デコメ絵文字) specified i-mode compatible image formats. The bitmapped “faces” variously used different shades of blue, purple, red, and green pixels on early mobile color screens to help convey different moods. Negative emotions were generally blue, for example (see: “Disappointed face” or “Dizzy” in the basic set; “Crying”, “Enduring face”, “Tear” in the expanded set) but some had an orange “skin” color (“Ear”, the “Hand” glyphs, and “Foot” in the basic set; “Yumm!”, “He he he”, “Thumbs up” in the expanded set). Deco-mail emoji mostly followed suit.

The people who did the most to promote graphical communication on mobile platforms, the Japanese themselves (aka: “yellow” people) tend not to think of race very much. There are two default settings in Japanese race relations:


  1. Japanese.

  2. Everybody else.

While some individual Japanese do take ethnicity into account, most Japanese treat culture and ethnicity as a package deal, especially in relation to Japan. It’s mostly in the hyper-self-aware West that anyone pays attention to any fine gradations in color.

(See: actual Japanese reactions to Hollywood casting. Many Japanese featured in that video didn’t even consider race to be an issue in casting until it was directly addressed, and the term “whitewashing” even had to be explained.)

While I think it’s generally a good idea to think about making things more inclusive and less discriminatory — I’ve written before about how weird it has been for me to live in a place that is almost entirely mono-ethnic[3] — making the blanket statement that it’s racist to use emoji at all is, frankly, bullshit. It’s like saying that if you are using a language that has grammatical gender you’re being unavoidably sexist.[4]

What happens in reality is that the way people use language has very little to do with its structure. You could take a complete nonsense word or phrase with no antecedent and make it racist or sexist, or create whatever meaning or nuance you desired, depending on context, usage, or the social group using it. We shape language much more than it shapes us; the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is very weakly supported by empiricism. Some of the most sexist and racist cultures on the planet use languages that do not have linguistic gender.[5]

While I obviously disagree with most of what Schiff said, I actually do think that “skin” color in emoji should probably be addressed. I have two proposed solutions:


  1. Make it a non-human color (other than yellow, since that is considered “tainted” now) by default.

  2. Randomly assign a realistic tint.

And then don’t give the user any control whatsoever over it.

I like option 2 because skin color shouldn’t even be an issue any more. “White” people shouldn’t be obsesses about being seen as insensitive, exclusionary, or oooh, being mistaken for the “R” word because they don’t change the default inhuman bright yellow to an anemic rather than jaundiced tint. More understandable, but nearly as petty are the Melanin-Enhanced North-American Residents of Various Ethnic Extractions (MENARoVEE) who might agonize over just the right shade to add to their representative visage.[6]

One of the ways to make the world color-blind is to destroy the distinctions, not ignore them, nor reinforce them.

I’ve lived most of my adult life in a place where everyone looks different from me. I get daily questions about my language, my customs, my clothing, my food, my hair, my skin, my facial features, my size … you get the idea. Racism based on skin color is completely irrelevant when you have actual cultural differences to deal with.

People who are ultra-sensitive about racial and social issues would greatly benefit from living overseas, where agonizing about the color of emoji would be put into perspective as an amazingly petty concern compared to the daily experience of being perpetually different from everyone around them, and being completely powerless to affect changes in society about how people who are “othered” like them are treated.


  1. Unsurprisingly, South Park parodied the hell out of the blue-skinned Na’vi = big-assed Smurf association in their Dances with Smurfs episode.  ↩

  2. Amazingly, the best source of original artwork and the overall history of emoticons I can find is at Know Your Meme, of all sites. Odd source, but it does square with what I remember from actually having used these things from back before the internet was A Thing, back when I was dialing into message boards on a hand-me-down 2400 baud modem … Jesus Christ, I’m old. ↩

  3. Yes, you read that right, that is not a misplaced decimal point. Japan has an estimated native non-ethnic Japanese population of 0.2%, and a (very well) documented foreign resident population of just over 1.2 percent, of which more than half are of East Asian descent, or as some long-term residents — including Asians themselves — call them, “stealth gaijin”.  ↩

  4. Which actually has been asserted unironically.  ↩

  5. Note that there is also a difference between grammatical gender and a sociolect, in which men and women might use language in different ways and may diverge significantly, to the point of becoming a sub-dialect. The linguistic differences reflect the culture, and are almost certainly not the driver of the linguistic separation.  ↩

  6. I have some Native American mixed into my Anglo-American mutt genetic history. The only time it shows is in an odd tint to my skin when I’m actually out in the sun enough to tan significantly. When I was a country kid and ran around nearly naked from when it got warm enough in the spring until early fall when it started to get cold, I used to mix raw sienna and burnt umber with “flesh” crayons to approximate the color.  ↩

Japan and the Next US President

Nakayama Toshihiro for Nippon.com. The title pretty much says it all: Japan and the Next US President: Thinking the Unthinkable

My two thoughts on a Trump presidency:


  1. I wouldn’t be able to move back to the US anytime soon, because apparently all y’all is #^¢*ing nuts.

  2. Staying in Japan might not be a good idea either because, given some of the insane crap Trump has said he would do as President, life could get very uncomfortable for an American.


I guess the best defense in this situation might be humor, but the laughter is feeling pretty shaky already.