6/9/2022

Brazil Government Forbids Apple From Selling iPhone In The Country

Brazil’s Ministry of Justice forbid Apple from selling iPhones in the country due to the lack of wall charger in the phone’s box and fined the company in BRL 12 million (~USD 2,3 million).

Senacon, a consumer secretary of Ministry of Justice, said on its decision, published this Tuesday (Sep. 6th), that Apple infringed consumer laws when it removed the wall charger from iPhone 12 onwards, starting in 2020.

All iPhone models are forbidden to be sold in Brazil. Senacon also asked Anatel, Brazilian communications regulatory agency, to cancel all iPhone models certifications of conformity in the country.

Senacon also asked for help of Ministry of Foreign Affairs to broadcast today’s decision to European Union, United States, and other countries of South America.

Read the decision here (in Portuguese).

3/9/2022

The cost of “progress” for Apple's phones and laptops is paid (by you) in accessories

People say that “early adopters”, those consumers willing to be the first to buy or try a new product, only get screwed. By submitting themselves to things not yet tested by more people, they are exposed to the risk of design errors, failures in the manufacturing process, high costs etc.

Such cases are so frequent in the industry that waiting is considered good practice. Instead of buying at launch, wait. In the worst case scenario, you can avoid walking around with a phone-shaped bomb in your pocket, as happened to the early adopters of Samsung’s Galaxy Note 7 in 2016.

Some changes, however, reach all adopters, early or late, those who wait for the trendiest product to become obsolete. Take my case: seven years after Apple retired the diversity of ports on its laptops, replacing them with just one type — the USB-C/Thunderbolt —, I felt the impact of this “evolution” on my skin, or rather, in my pocket.

An evolution, I must say, that has already been reversed in the company’s most expensive line of laptops. The 2021 MacBook Pro brought back the MagSafe connector, the HDMI port, and the SD card slot. On its cheaper models, we still have to make deal with a few USB-C/Thunderbolt ports and countless adapters.

I’m not saying that USB-C/Thunderbold is bad. It is actually quite handy to plug and unplug just one cable on my desk when switching between “laptop” and “workstation” modes. To the USB-C hub I connect keyboard, mouse, and monitor — sometimes my headphones, a pen drive, a Yubikey, and a SD card, none of them having a USB-C plug. Before, there were at least three cables that I had to plug and unplug all the time; now it’s just one.

But these things doesn’t need to be mutually exclusive. Apple could, for instance, keep a USB-A port next to the USB-C ones, which would save me from having to carry an adapter for when, in “laptop mode,” I need to use a flash drive or my Yubikey

(Note, by the way, that even the 2021 MacBook Pro full of ports doesn’t have a USB-A, a format sentenced to death by Apple, but still widely used.)

A wall charger from Baseus on a blank surface, with a partial book on the left and an out of focus plant on the right.

With phones, the drama was similar. Under the pretext of “saving the environment,” as if there was nothing better to be done in this regard, in 2020 Apple removed the wall charger from the boxes of the iPhone.

In the company’s official store, that 5W charger that used to be “free” is sold for USD 19. Interestingly, the 20W USB-C model comes out at the same price.

I opted for an alternative, from a brand called Baseus, which comes with a Lightning cable, at a lower price than Apple’s solo charger.

Alongside a few others brands, such as Ugreen and Anker, these Chinese companies have been filling the gaps created by Apple and followed, in parts, by other manufacturers — it’s starting to get hard to find chargers inside Android phone boxes.

The cost-effectiveness of alternative brand accessories is great not because they are the cheapest (they are not), but because they are cheaper than the official ones and often better.

A picture from above of a USB-C hub filled with cables.

Apple’s “multi-port adapter” costs USD 69 at its official store and expands a USB-C to a trio of ports — USB-C, HDMI and USB-A. For 1/3 of this price I bought a USB-C hub from Ugreen without USB-C, but with two USB-A ports, HDMI, RJ-45, and SD and microSD card readers.

In any case, I would rather not to have to deal with it. It’s not an unreasonable wish. The laptop I bought in 2015 and the phone of 2017 were “self-contained,” they both came with all the ports and essential accessories out of the boxes.

Too often companies sell ideas of “progress” that are actually setbacks, but with such good marketing that they pass as such. For these two cases, the laptop without ports/connections and the phone without charger in the box, there is no explanation, fanciful or otherwise, that is at least convincing.

Discuss @ Hacker News.

24/8/2022

The “second act” of Neeraj Arora (former WhatsApp CBO)

In May, a post by Neeraj Arora went viral on Twitter. In that thread, he told how he was duped by Mark Zuckerberg in 2014, when the then Facebook bought WhatsApp for USD 22 billion. Neeraj was the chief business officer of the messaging startup and was directly involved in the sale to Facebook.

The unfolding of that story is known by now: Zuckerberg violated some of the commitments he made in 2014 to WhatsApp’s founders, such as not cross-referencing WhatsApp users’ data with that of other properties, and the founders eventually left the company while WhatsApp continued to grow into one of humanity’s leading communication engines.

Neeraj hasn’t given up on his dream of creating a better app, however. In that Twitter thread, he said that WhatsApp has become “a shadow of the product we poured our hearts into, and wanted to build for the world.” Today, he is focused on HalloApp, a sort of “second act” — this time, proofed against multibillion-dollar takeovers by companies of questionable reputation.

Origins

HalloApp was launched in November 2020, almost a year after the startup was founded by Neeraj and Michael Donohue, another former WhatsApp employee.

The app is free and available for Android and iOS. Neeraj promises that it will never have ads, algorithms, bots, or influencers. (In his Twitter photo, he wears a T-shirt with a forbidden sign over the word “algorithm”.)

A picture of Neeraj Arora wearing a T-shirt with a forbidden sign over the word “algorithm”.

HalloApp defines itself as “the first real relationship network.” I asked, in an email interview, what that means — after all, it’s not like we’re talking (only) to robots, influencers, or the wall on Twitter or Instagram.

“HalloApp was built with the purpose of connecting you with people you actually know in your life — hence we used the phone’s address book to get started,” he explained. “On other social apps, you see ads, sponsored content, friend requests from people you don’t know, and other content you usually see in a magazine or TV.”

How does it work?

Using orange as its main color and a simple interface based on four tabs and a big button for posting content, HalloApp is really a mixture of WhatsApp and Instagram.

In the WhatsApp-like realm, there are one-on-one and group chats, standard and mandatory end-to-end encryption, audio and video calls and audio messages.

In the feed, the part that resembles Instagram, one can post photos, videos, text messages, audios and, a recent addition, “moments”, photos that disappear within 24 hours and can only be seen by contacts once.

Posts on the HalloApp feed expire after 30 days, when they go into an “archive” accessible only by the author.

Contacts? Only those in your phone’s address book — that’s the only kind of data HalloApp collects, Neeraj points out. “The world is moving towards a place where the users are surveillance free and are not tracked all the time to be able to target them ads”, he says.

The focus and incentives that are more aligned with the well being of users than advertisers are felt in the app. It is very light and has few settings, all of them clear and straightforward, a sharp contrast to the endless mazes that ad-dependent networks like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter call “settings”.

Overall, it’s a very nice experience, but what are the chances of something like this taking hold in 2022?

No rivalry

When I asked Neeraj this question, I mentioned HalloApp’s obvious rivals: WhatsApp and Instagram. He dismissed the issue, saying that “we didn’t create HalloApp to rival some other app. We just want to create an experience that is new, private and clutter free”.

The last part draws attention in light of the national elections across the world and the recurring and serious troubles other social platforms get involved regarding misinformation, hate speech, and other speech issues.

“We have some inherent benefits because of the way HalloApp is built”, says Neeraj after I ask if HalloApp is prepared for these challenges.

“We don’t have a concept of a public post that can be sent or viewed by millions of people. So this minimizes the chances of spreading misinformation. Secondly, we don’t allow for searching a profile and sending them friend requests, so this adds to the safety on the network. It is tough to prevent bad behaviour on any product, but we can always build products that are safe and responsible.”

We had our first conversation in February. At some point since then, HalloApp got a feature that allows you to expose content to third parties — a share with the outside world (example).

When I resumed my conversation with Neeraj at the end of July, Instagram was under heavy criticism due to its “tiktokzation” process. I then asked him if he saw this event as an opportunity to promote HalloApp.

Again, the answer was “no”: “We want to focus on our own values — that is to help you stay in touch with people that you care about in an authentic and private experience.”

Business model and global scale

Neeraj utters strong words when talking about Meta, the fate of WhatsApp, and the virtues of HalloApp, but is that enough to trust this new, cool app?

Despite the distinctions and the aspiration to become a global app, in business terms HalloApp is quite conventional: it’s funded by venture capital and its apps and server code are both proprietary.

Asked whether the absence of the apps’ source code availability might be a loophole in HalloApp promise of privacy, Neeraj confessed that he hadn’t thought about it, but didn’t rule out opening it up in the future.

As for the business model, HalloApp knows what it doesn’t want (ads) and what it does want — in this case, paid features.

The first trials should start in early 2023. In our conversation, Neeraj didn’t reveal details, but in an interview with Protocol in May, he referred to WhatsApp’s original business model as “a taste” of alternative methods to generate revenue in this space.

In case you don’t remember, WhatsApp used to charge a USD 1 annual fee from users in the United States and a few European countries. From the Protocol interview, Neeraj’s words:

In users’ mindset, they don’t mind paying for products that they love if it is nominal and it serves the needs they have. We haven’t really pinpointed exactly how our subscriptions will work, but broadly, we are thinking of having a product which will be free for everyone to use and then we will build a set of premium features on top and you can upgrade to a subscription, a monthly subscription, and pay for this.

It’s a model that other social networks and messaging apps, such as Snapchat, Twitter and Telegram, are already experimenting with.

Neeraj won’t give HalloApp’s numbers, only that there are 15 people working on the startup.

The goal is to gain scale and become a global app, such as WhatsApp already is, and although HalloApp is slowly but steadily releasing new features, it is hard to see it gaining traction anytime soon. According to consulting firm Sensortower, in July HalloApp had 100,000 downloads for Android and less than 5,000 for iOS.

18/8/2022

WordPress's Uncertain Future and the Promise of ClassicPress

Almost a decade ago, I launched a tech blog in Brazil called Manual do Usuário (“User’s Guide” in Portuguese). Since its inception, it is published with WordPress, one of the oldest CMS — a content management system — and by far the most popular on the web today: it’s estimated that 40% of active websites use it nowadays. WordPress is open source, works well, there’s almost nothing to complain about.

In December 2018, Automattic, the company behind WordPress, released version 5.0 with big fanfare and a radical change: Gutenberg, a new, very visual post editor based on content blocks instead of text.

Gutenberg changes the writing process a lot. If before I was presented with a text area with some formatting buttons at the top when writing some post — a kind of simplified Word —, now it was possible to manipulate the whole appearance of the content using these blocks.

This was not a very well received change. To this day, the Classic Editor plugin, which restores the Word-style editor used until WordPress 4.9, is one of the most popular on the platform, with +5 million active installations and a five-star (top) rating.

Automattic doubled down on Gutenberg in early 2022 by bringing to WordPress 6.0 a thing called Full Site Editor: now, in addition to posts, someone could design the entire site with blocks/Gutenberg. WordPress moved even further away from being a mere blog or text-based publishing tool to become… I don’t know, anything other than that.

With Gutenberg, Automattic — which, it should be mentioned, runs a commercial operation based on WordPress, WordPress.com — decided to pick a fight with DIY and more modern rivals, notably Squarespace and Wix. Not by chance: these have achieved great recognition and a lot of users (and money) in recent years, because they are easier to handle for non-programmers.

And it is indeed easier to make a custom site with Gutenberg, but at what cost? For me (a person who can’t code, but can deal with simple HTML and CSS, by the way), the biggest hurdles are the added complexity when writing anything with blocks and the “dirty” code Gutenberg generates when displaying the site to visitors. (I care a lot about this “invisible” part of the site. I’m not the only one).

WordPress’ new direction alienates a significant portion of its user base. At the very least, those 5 million who use Classic Editor by this day. Maybe we aren’t the most profitable users, but we’re a crowd that, in many cases, has relied on this tool for a very long time to earn our living or just to maintain sites that are doing just fine without Gutenberg, thank you. This is my case: Manual do Usuário has been around for almost a decade.

At the moment, WordPress meets the needs of a site like mine because it is still possible to neutralize much of the excesses that Gutenberg brings to the system using a lot of workarounds in functions.php. Until when? I don’t know.

All WordPress development is dictated by Gutenberg, both within Automattic and in the ecosystem, by third-party developers of plugins, themes, and solutions. This creates apprehension in those who don’t get along with the blocks and would rather do without them. WordPress community support has always been stellar, but it started to fade into something sparse for those out of the blocks train.

The Classic Editor, for example, was supposed to be discontinued at the end of 2021. It got an extra year of support due to its popularity. At the end of 2022, will it be abandoned? I don’t know.

Even a simple site like Manual do Usuário has several dependencies with the chosen CMS. After all, it’s a huge archive that was published on the features, limitations and possibilities of WordPress. Migrating to another tool is always an option, not infrequently a traumatic one that leaves after-effects.

That’s why I’ve been looking fondly at ClassicPress. In 2019, shortly after WordPress 5.0 was released, a group of developers decided to stay in version 4.9, forking the main WordPress into something new. ClassicPress was born.

In three years, however, progress has been slow. Making matters worse, the bureaucratic part and the internal dramas of ClassicPress’ project continue to distract everyone from what matters, from writing code.

At the end of June, the two developers leading the ClassicPress Initiative, the non-profit company responsible for the project, left under heavy criticism. A new group took over with the mission to regain enthusiasm and move the project forward.

It’s not an easy job. Automattic’s structure (and money) are on another scale of magnitude. ClassicPress Initiative is still counting the pennies to pay operating expenses. On exit, the former directors said there was USD 352 left in the company’s bank account.

Even in this not-so-promising scenario, it would be great if ClassicPress thrived. The new management has opened a crowdfunding initiative to cover expenses. Manual do Usuário, in my capacity, has become an early supporter.

It is not yet time to migrate my site to ClassicPress, however. The project is too raw for my needs and current dependencies, and ClassicPress new board still has to figure out fundamental issues, such as deciding to maintain compatibility with WordPress plugins or going for a complete break.

One day, if things go well, I’ll migrate. My fear, however, is that that day will come before rough edges are polished, when WordPress becomes something incompatible with Manual do Usuário, with what it was at the beginning until the fateful version 5.0 at the end of 2018.

13/8/2022

A basic property on the outskirts of the metaverse and other cool links

Every Saturday, I publish a list of cool, interesting, or funny links I gathered through the week. If you enjoy it, please subscribe to the newsletter. Thanks!


— Rita Wu, a Brazilian futurist, talking on TV about getting married and buying a small property on the outskirts of the metaverse for USD 5k (in Portuguese). This could be a skit on The Office show.

— A robot gymnast really good on the fixed bar. (The video is from 2015.) Rebeca Andrade, beware!

SpongeBob’s computer based on Raspberry Pi. H/t Cesar Cardoso.

— Lucas Pope, the creator and solo developer of Papers, Please, tells the meticulous process of adapting the game for tiny screens.

— Crisis in high society: almost every Ferrari manufactured since 2005 will have to undergo a recall due to a defect in the brake fluid reservoir.

— We are fools and Google knows it: search for “dog” or “cat” and click on the paw print on the right panel to be surprised.

Apps and sites

FreeTube is a good way to watch YouTube videos withought having to deal with YouTube’s official apps or site. Free and open source, for various platforms. H/t Ricardo Silvério.

— A bunch of services and tools for early stage startups.

Fockups is a site with templates for mockups in adverse conditions. Because the world isn’t as perfect as many mockups pretend.”

— Microsoft has opened up its set of 3D emojis. On GitHub and Figma.

ExplorerPatcher is one of those utilities that profoundly changes Windows (“debloater”). Its distinguishing feature is that it works on Windows 11. Use at your own risk!

Batteries for Mac app displays in the menubar and widgets the real-time status of your Apple and Beats devices’ batteries. USD 9, for macOS.

Organic Maps is an offline map app based on OpenStreetMap data. Free, for Android and iOS.

U1KE is a digital ukulele made of 1 KB of JavaScript.

10/8/2022

I went all in spreadsheets for personal finance

The obscure, weird app that I had been using for five years to record my financial transactions failed to import data from the old phone to the new one. I took this as sign: it was time to move onto a better solution.

Personal finance doesn’t need to be complex, yet it’s only useful with a pinch of automated calculations, consolidations, and charts. I started researching for a new app with low requirements: something simple, that allowed me to enter my transactions (expenses and income) and review them at the end of each month or specific period.

I downloaded almost every app of this kind available in the App Store. I didn’t like any of them*.

Then I remembered the good’n old spreadsheet, the software that keeps the corporate world running. Why not give it a shot?

Sometimes an advantage, sometimes a nuisance, the fact is that spreadsheets are super malleable, unlike personal finance apps. One frustration I had with the app I used to use, for instance, was the absence of a filter monthly expenses of only one category. On the other hand, the unlimited possibilities of spreadsheets can be paralyzing and, for those who are not familiar with its formulas and functions (which is my case), intimidating.

A little skeptical, I created a new spreadsheet and started recording transactions of the current month, one by one, row by row, in five columns: date, account (savings, wallet, credit card etc.), category, to/from, amount, and comment (optional).

Once this was done, I started messing around with pivot tables. In a few clicks and with some look ups at the documentation and YouTube tutorials, I had in front of me consolidated data of the month’s expenses, divided by category, all pretty, exactly the way I always wanted. Also, I found the function SUMIFS, which helps to make more specific, permanent filters, very cool.

Filters are also nice. When in the future, inevitably, I have to complain about wrong invoices and undue charges with the phone company, for example, I can quickly create a filter with its name in the to/from column to see, there, all the history of payments made.

Charts? Nothing too difficult. Finally I have at my disposal the evolution of expenses in a single category, which I missed in the weird app I used before. It allowed me to see the damage that going out to eat a lot in February caused to my budget and that, despite the incessant food inflation in Brazil in 2022, we have been able to maneuver the groceries (“Mercado”) list and keep this budget more or less stable.

Chart of groceries and eating out expenses in 2022.

I have already transferred all the data from this year to the spreadsheet and will do the same with previous years, bit by bit. Could I try a direct import? Yes, but I am taking advantage of the manual work to recategorize transactions in a simpler structure.

Restaurant expenses, for example, I used to split it into three categories: “Eating out”, “Delivery”, and “Cafes”. Now I have consolidated them all into “Restaurants”. I think it is important to adjust the detailing to keep it useful without making the work of recording overwhelming.

I’ve flirted before with the idea of recording expenses in a spreadsheet. That time, I failed. This time, it looks like I’ll succeed. I attribute the success of my last attempt to this article by Denisa Blackwood, a data scientist who is not a fan of spreadsheets and who only made peace with them when using Numbers, the “Apple’s Excel”. It’s nicer indeed, but Excel would do just as well — and is probably more powerful than Numbers.

It wasn’t for Numbers, specifically, but the approach, which she calls “minimalist” — and I, less controlling —, that I succeeded this time. A big hindrance in the previous one was that I, used to the workings of that old app, was trying to reconcile my spreadsheet balance with the actual ones, manually.

Not that it is impossible, but reconciliation makes the work much more difficult and prone to errors. On any given day, that monthly dollar bill that changed a few cents due to exchange variation throughout the day generates a misalignment that may be really hard to find and fix. It was always maddening when something like this happened; most of the times, I recorded a transaction called “Adjustment” with the amount difference and that was it.

In the new spreadsheet, with Denisa’s approach, I only control expenses. The consolidation I leave aside, using another spreadsheet I created for tracking my assets monthly. They are related things, but not necessarily inseparable — at least I think so.

As a side effect, I was able to uninstall the finance app of my phone and protect the spreadsheet with a miles long password. I don’t do as many transactions per month (less than a hundred) and I am in front of a computer almost every day, so it is feasible to leave it to those times.


* Actually, I quite enjoyed GreenBooks and ended up having to decide between this app and spreadsheets. Decided to go with spreadsheets, but… maybe an app in the future?

Discuss @ Hacker News.

« Previous 12 of 14 Next »