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The Man Behind iBeer

Steve Sheraton went from making a silly video online where he was drinking a beer with his iPhone into a full-fledged app, which then became a breakout star when the App Store launched.

Quinn Myers writing for MEL Magazine:

Before the App Store was even a concept, Sheraton started selling the beer-drinking video file for $2.99. “It was just a little video file that people had to hardwire in and download via iTunes,” he says. “But I probably made around $2,000 a day for the longest time from that.”

By the time Apple came knocking, Sheraton knew he was onto something — he just needed to figure out how to code the video to Apple’s new device. “I have a lot of experience in film and photography, and I wanted to make the beer look as realistic as possible,” he explains. “So rather than doing animation, I chose to make assets from looped videos and image sequences — that’s why the foam looks so real.”

Sheraton then programmed the looped videos and image sequence to interact with the iPhone’s accelerometer. “The accelerometer is constantly measuring the phone’s angle versus the horizon, so by tethering the line between the liquid and the foam to the horizon, you can move your phone in any direction and it looks like it’s filled with liquid,” he tells me. “From there, the rest is just a series of ‘if statements,’ so ‘if the tilt of the phone goes beyond X,’ then the program should switch to different loops of foam and liquid that make it look like the phone is emptying.”

Sheraton called it iBeer, developed under the name of his company Hottrix, and priced it again at $2.99. “We shot to first place [in the App Store] on the very first day and stayed there for about a year,” he says. “Apart from its visual humor and sort of appealing to the lowest common denominator, iBeer was a large success because it allowed people to show their friends what the phone was capable of.

Without spoiling it, Myers goes more in-depth about what happens to Sheraton after iBeer’s success.

If you read the MEL article and find that interesting, Sheraton recently did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) on Reddit where he talks more about iBeer’s success, what he is doing now, and his feelings on developing apps out today.

Substack, The New York Times, and Nuance

While everyone has been up in arms about Elon Musk and the Twitter takeover, I wanted to talk about something else from this past week.

I have been reading up on a new tiff between Substack and The New York Times that I feel essentially is a tit for tat shouting match. However, this quarrel has made me think about nuance, publications, and whether I am part of the problem or not.

The Article

Tiffany Hsu, a writer for The New York Times, wrote an article that many called a “hit piece,” claiming Substack is dealing with “growing pains” in gaining new streams of revenue and an “exodus” of writers leaving amid controversies. By recruiting writers from major publications, expressing a primarily hands-off approach to content moderation, and expanding to the podcasting space, Substack has made waves. Yet, I don’t think this is inherently a Substack problem.

Hsu, who has written for the LA Times, wrote a piece about Substack portrayed as objective reporting while peppering in many subjective things. For one thing, Hsu alluded to Substack allowing for transphobic and COVID misinformation to be a part of the success of Substack.

Critics say the platform recruits (and therefore endorses) culture war provocateurs and is a hotbed for hate speech and misinformation. Last year, many writers abandoned Substack over its inaction on transphobic content. This year, The Center for Countering Digital Hate said anti-vaccine newsletters on Substack generate at least $2.5 million in annual revenue. The technology writer Charlie Warzel, who left a job at The New York Times to write a Substack newsletter, described the platform as a place for “internecine internet beefs.”

While I agree that controversy gets clicks on Substack, I think Hsu misses the mark here. This story is less about Substack and more about nuance in media. Substack isn’t the only publishing platform that allows for hateful and hurtful rhetoric on their platform. Just visit any Facebook group that unironically uses a Gadsden flag as their profile pic.

In fact, Lulu Cheng Meservey, Vice-President of Communications (VP Comms) at Substack, shared a Twitter thread that I felt gave a fair and honest retort to Hsu’s piece. I also feel like the examples given are worth looking at here.

I don’t think that Hsu wrote a fair assessment of Substack, nor did she fairly represent the direct competition The New York Times has with it. I think she erred on the side of The Times rather than offer a fair balance between the two.

Moderating content is complex; that isn’t something anyone can argue. I don’t envy anyone who creates a publishing platform on the internet today. The responsibilities, politics, and more would make me permanently disassociate from reality.

I am not here to say that all content should be allowed online. There are obvious things you should not allow on your platform, but it is a lot less than what some may want to see. Of course, not everyone will agree with me on that belief, and you know what: that’s okay.

It is okay to be offended.

I don’t enjoy seeing pieces written on Substack that bring COVID misinformation, transphobic rhetoric, or hate of any kind (except hatred towards nazis, because duh). I am not that kind of person, and I try to show that publicly and privately. I am not perfect, though. I occasionally need to be explained things when I don’t understand them fully. I have also found myself asking people who are more attune to the LGBT+ community if I am being insensitive. Again, I try my best, but that isn’t always good enough without guidance from friends and family.

As a cis white male, I feel it is my responsibility to educate other cis people and share my experiences in hopes that I can dissuade anyone from choosing malice over acceptance. That being said, I wholeheartedly believe that someone who disagrees with my political, social, and economic beliefs has the same right as me to express their beliefs. My only caveat is that they do so in a civil, respectful way.

Civil discourse is something I believe is healthy and helpful for both sides. There are many things happening in the world that I disagree with, and I know there is an entire side of the aisle that hates how I feel about things. Someone with differing views from mine could say the same. The problem is that it is effortless for us to isolate ourselves from the challenging articles and rhetoric and only consume the things that align with our points of view. It is also hard to have anything civil nowadays as things have become significantly more partisan and divided.

Now, I am not saying that every liberal person needs to watch Fox News every day or that conservatives should be watching MSNBC. However, finding and reading content that doesn’t align with your views isn’t a bad thing, and I believe it’s now being viewed as such.

I am not saying that “cancel culture” is wrong; there is a time and a place for the pitchforks and torches to come out. There are many people from the Me Too movement that I felt deserved to have their lives turned upside down. They were monsters who did monstrous things. But that shouldn’t be the status quo.

Am I Part of the Problem?

As someone that does not individually condone hate speech of any kind, it does affect me to see posts on other Substacks with that kind of speech. I don’t stand for it, I don’t condone it, and I certainly don’t want to read it.

When I am on a platform that anyone can join, I have to acknowledge that there will be people that present their side of the argument here.

Let me be clear; Substack profits from sensationalized, fake news, and hateful speech. I am sure you have seen a headline or two on a Substack that made you cringe. It’s almost a given that you will find the latest sensational and over-the-top conservative opinion piece from a Substack. It is one of the few places they have left after the mass banning on Facebook, Twitter, and Reddit. But, Substack also makes money from good journalism, reporting like no other, voices that otherwise wouldn’t be heard, and creators making money from their hard work independently.

Does having a Substack automatically endorse the sleaze bags on Substack? This has been a struggle I have dealt with as I continue researching more and more about this issue. There have been things I’ve read on Substack that made me wince with discouragement and disbelief. I won’t be sharing the articles here, but you can probably find them if you look for yourself; there are plenty to choose from.

So am I endorsing this profiting by being on Substack? My answer is no.

I can still be a creator here without endorsing that kind of content. I will continue to assess Substack and where they stand, and I will still support writers on the platform. I can’t entirely agree with every user on this platform, but that is the same on all social media. Once enough people start sharing their beliefs and values on a platform, it is an inherent problem.

I have since moved to Ghost, but now because of Substack’s politics or views on free speech. I move to Ghost because I felt that blogging was something more my speed and I wanted a god-honest blog rather than something hybrid like what Substack gives you.

I love the newsletter format, and I want to continue with it, which is why you can subscribe to the newsletter version of Clicked and get all of the articles I write in the week, plus extra goodies like links to stories and websites I didn’t feature, and good Tweets.

For now, I acknowledge that those who have left have valid reasons for leaving, but it is also not the only option you have to show Substack that you aren’t pleased with their actions/inactions. Being critical of a platform whilst still on it isn’t hypocritical, it is necessary to keep checks and balances.

The Attention Economy and this Newsletter

I have a Bachelor’s degree in communication. Specifically, I majored in broadcasting. I have been doing production in television in some capacity since I was a junior in high school. I love my job, but I don’t always enjoy how the news is entangled with the Attention Economy.

I feel the same way about this newsletter. I have this need to share cool things I find online and semi-regularly write original essays about things I am passionate about. I always worry whether what I have to say is worth your time. I often battle with my negative thoughts to justify hitting publish with each newsletter, blog post, or podcast I create. I don’t want to be yet another lousy website writing about something in the news in hopes I can get a fraction of the traffic on my site. As a creator online, I am part of the Attention Economy, but I think this newsletter and the format I write will help thwart any bad things I fear when hitting publish.

To explain the Attention Economy, I defer to Michael Ashley, who wrote a piece about it in Forbes back in 2019.

“Facebook is free and always will be,” was Facebook’s slogan. Yet in recent years, books like Shoshana Zuboff’s The Age of Surveillance Capitalism and movies such as The Great Hack have shown this slogan’s hollowness. The internet is pay-for-play and always has been. Or as media theorist Douglas Rushkoff says: “On Facebook, we’re not the customers. We are the product.”

But it’s not just Facebook commoditizing the web; it’s most every site you visit, whether it be Instagram, Amazon, or Google. Also, the public isn’t just the product, we’re customers, too. We’re all participating in a cleverly orchestrated, capitalistic symphony, shrink-wrapped in the feel-good rhetoric of something called “The Attention Economy.”

Substack recently showcased a piece by Kate Lindsay, writer of Embedded, that struck a chord with me as I thought about the Attention Economy and my place in it.

At my first writing job, I wrote seven stories a day, sometimes waking up as early as 6 a.m. to fit it all in. By the time I’d worked at a few different publications, I could tell when an article was actually an SEO grab masquerading as a legitimate piece of writing, or a piece of clickbait meant to make people mad, and I wasn’t interested in feeding the machine with my own reading habits.

While I’d like to think this particular era of digital media is on its way out, you still see shades of it when the latest viral moment prompts every outlet to scramble for its own unique take. So many websites are writing the same thing. This can be helpful: When Yellowjackets was airing, I was so deep in the show and its fan theories that I read every perspective I could find in hopes of getting all the crumbs. But this strategy doesn’t work universally. For instance, I similarly consumed Covid-19 content in the first year of the pandemic, but I realized that this wasn’t actually reading—it was anxiety-spiraling.

All this is to say, I’m somewhat precious with what I consume, and definitely read a lot less than perhaps you’d think for someone who calls themselves “chronically online.” I like pieces that work to clarify a moment with reason rather than drum up anxiety for clicks, and I have a natural aversion to reading whatever piece has my Twitter timeline in an uproar—because it was probably designed to do just that.

To further add to this, I present Nilay Patel, Editor-in-chief of The Verge.

I hate being made into a product just as much as the next person, and I often think about this as a creator myself. The last thing I want is to churn out content for the sake of content. You are not a commodity or asset I want to exploit for internet fame or money.

Aside from creating something worth your time, I promise that I won’t be using gimmicks like SEO marketing, clickbait titles, or writing about something just because I want it to gain attention and grow my audience.

I will be writing about things that follow the following criteria:

  • It is something that I feel confident in talking about
  • The content I make adds value to you, the reader
  • It either provides depth, or a new perspective, to an established topic or story

I hope to use this list as my North Star guiding me to write about things that provide value to you and provide a meaningful dialogue to the topics themselves.

My hope in every issue of Clicked I send is that you walk away having learned something or gained a new perspective that you didn’t otherwise consider. Those two things can come from an original piece I write or something I link to in the newsletter itself.

Bottom line, I don’t want to waste your time, and I hope that becomes apparent in every issue and post of Clicked going forward.

Success and Failure at Pebble

Eric Migicovsky, the former CEO of Pebble, wrote a post recently detailing why the smartwatch company failed.

In the days after our Kickstarter campaign, it was easy for me as the CEO to explain what our goal was. Ship the best damn smartwatch that we ourselves wanted to use. Over the years, I tried several times to reposition the product and company onto a variety of new tracks, but none were based on a strong long term vision.

Startup founder lesson learned — never forget to define and talk about your long term vision for the future. When things are going well, it’s easy to get caught up in growth. But you need this to carry your company through hard times.

Looking back with hindsight, I should not have aggressively grown the company without a stronger plan. We should have just stuck to what we knew best and continued to build quirky, fun smartwatches for hackers. Pebble, the product, was and still is awesome.

The whole article is worth the read if you want to dive deep into the details behind Pebble’s start, rise, losses, and eventual acquisition.

My thanks to Matt Birchler for initially linking this article to his blog.

If you want some supplemental reading, there is an article from Wired back in 2016 after the announcement of the Fitbit acquisition.

Mike Tyson Can’t Sell His Weed Gummies in Colorado

Mike Tyson, who famously bit Evander Holyfield’s ear, is now selling THC edibles in the shape of the mangled ear. The name of those gummies: Mike Bites.

ItsTyson20/Instagram

The kicker is he can’t sell them in the US weed capital of Colorado due to a 2016 state law that “prohibits marijuana edibles from being shaped like humans, animals, fruit or other objects that could attract children.”

It turns out the ear-shaped gummy indeed falls under that description. I don’t know about you, but a disfigured ear isn’t exactly the most attractive-looking gummy to eat. Nonetheless the law is the law, and Tyson can’t sell his gummies in the Centennial state. However, if you do want to give them a go, the edibles are currently sold in California with future plans to be sold in more states across the US.

The Good from Comic Sans

David Hoang shared an article from The Cut about the font Comic Sans and it raised my eyebrows to learn how accessible this abhorrent font is.

Recently, Instagram added to its Stories an option that looks a lot like Comic Sans, a font design people have long derided. A campaign to ban the font has been afoot online since 1999.

[…]

But, as Lauren Hudgins argues for the Establishment, the agreed-upon hatred of Comic Sans reflects a certain navel-gazing, since it’s one of the best fonts for people with dyslexia, including an estimated 15 percent of Americans.

[…]

Interestingly, it’s the idiosyncrasy of Comic Sans that makes it accessible. “The irregular shapes of the letters in Comic Sans allow her to focus on the individual parts of words,” Hudgins writes. “While many fonts use repeated shapes to create different letters, such as a ‘p’ rotated to made a ‘q,’ Comic Sans uses few repeated shapes, creating distinct letters (although it does have a mirrored ‘b’ and ‘d’).” The ubiquitous Times New Roman, with all its serifs, is often illegible.

I love the internet because even something as mundane as hating a silly font can have a “turns-out” moment where that same childish font can be helpful for those with different needs.

In fact, I went down a bit of a rabbit hole with this because I remembered there was something one of my favorite apps, Reeder, does that had some connection to dyslexia, but I couldn’t remember what it was.

After some digging, I figured out it was something called Bionic Reading. According to their website, Bionic Reading’s goal is “a reading system that supports the reading flow. The eye is guided through the text by means of typographic highlights.”

To explain what it does, they say that it “revises texts so that the most concise parts of words are highlighted. This guides the eye over the text, and the brain remembers previously learned words more quickly.”

Where Dyslexia comes involved is further down on their site. It shows that those afflicted with the disability sharing that their experiences with Bionic Reading helped them read more effectively.

10% of the population has great difficulty reading and understanding texts (dyslexia). We have received feedback from those affected that thanks to Bionic Reading they immediately understood the content of various texts the first time they read them, which was impossible without Bionic Reading. This is pure motivation and also a responsibility towards society, which we are happy to fulfill.

If you think this may help you improve your reading, regardless if you have dyslexia or not, give Bionic Reading or Reeder a try today.

The Elephant in the Room

I wanted to kick this week off with something light and fun, but if we are being honest here—I like to think this is a safe space—this week has been a lot to handle as an “Apple enthusiast.”

I have been reading so many different news stories, opinion articles, and comments about the recent announcement from Apple regarding the future scanning of iCloud Photos. I don’t want to explain the details about what is happening, you can find more about the announcement explained by The Verge or this more detailed FAQ from TidBits.

I will say here that this isn’t Apple getting unfettered access to your entire iCloud Photo library, they are specifically looking for child sexual abuse material (CSAM) that matches a hash in a database of known CSAM. That said, there are several people and organizations sharing concerns regarding loss of privacy to users, possible political exploitation, and overall creepiness that Apple can now have backdoor access your photos in iCloud. There are arguments saying this is a slippery-slope for Apple, others say that it is only a matter of time before it affects other types of content.

I am not here to add to the pile of people looking to share their opinion on this matter. I am not an expert in privacy, CSAM, or the legality of photos in the cloud. There have been great arguments that I will encourage people to read. The first being John Gruber’s take on Daring Fireball, second is an open letter to Apple signed by over 5,000 people including Edward Snowden, and finally Casey Newton’s article from Platformer. All of these have great explanations for their arguments and they fall on different spots of the spectrum as far as their privacy concerns.

The main point I want to make here is that Apple is a big tech company, and the changes they make aren’t always going to be fun or simple to talk about.

The reason I love talking about hardware, software, UI design, and the overall experience in using computers is because I love what people can make with it. I didn’t get into writing about Apple to dive deep into the political ramifications these companies make. That isn’t what revs my engine, in fact it is the kill switch to my enthusiasm. To put it bluntly, the less I have to think about those kinds of things the better. Yet, today, and this past week really, isn’t one of those times.

This isn’t to say that what is happening isn’t important. In fact, I think it is a pivotal moment in the ongoing concerns about privacy. Still, for right now, writing about Apple isn’t fun for me, and I am having a hard time to get past the concerns so many people knowledgeable about the situation have raised. Apple has always been the privacy-focused company but now it seems that things are changing on that front.

Instead, I took the time I usually spend writing this newsletter to escape from this ongoing debate. I listened to podcasts like Do By Friday and The Dollop. I played Mass Effect Legendary Edition on my Xbox, and started watching To Obsidian and Beyond, a new course by The Sweet Setup. All of these things have been great distractions for me, and a much-needed mental health break.

Can we talk about the Kanye and Drake album covers?

Kanye West and Drake both have released new albums and I can’t help but enjoy them both. I have been listening to Donda since its release only to take a break from it to listen to Certified Lover Boy after its release.

Both albums sound great, but I want to take a moment and talk a little bit about both album covers.

Personally, I hate the all black cover from Donda. I wanted the album cover to be the one shown back in June, which was a cropped version of art piece FEMME (2007) by artist Louise Bourgeois.

Given that Bourgeois used art as a way to cope with emotion, including the loss of her mother, I thought it was fitting for Kanye to use it as the cover for an album named after his late mother. However, it is reported that West used this art at listening sessions without permission, and once the copyright holders did call they were not pleased.

Still, the backup option was to just have an entirely black album cover? It’s too on the nose as a This is Spinal Tap parody if you ask me. To me, that seems like such a bad call. There were much better possibilities with this album cover, and I wish West did better by the artist instead of “treating it like a sample.”

That being said, I am writing about it and thinking about this album cover more than any other album cover Kanye has released, which could be the point as well.

As for Certified Lover Boy, this is an album cover made by Damien Hirst, but it isn’t a piece that is controversial like throwing a dead shark into formaldehyde. In fact, it seems more of an intentional meme than anything, and I’m not the only one feeling this.

Nadja Sayej writing for Forbes:

The 12 women holding their babies could tie into the fact that Drake’s album was delayed by nine months. Some have criticized the cover for not having a red-haired woman represented in the piece.

But for Drake, who has an art collection that includes artists like Andy Warhol, KAWS and Takashi Murakami, this is just a piece of pop art for the meme-baited public, no less. Plain and simple.

For me, at least Certified Lover Boy has something to look at instead of being a single black void.

All this being said, the music these two artists produced are fantastic and I couldn’t be more excited to listen to them more as the Summer turns to Autumn.

Sticker Doodle makes messaging fun again

Chad Etzel, who recently went independent, released one of the most fun apps for the iPhone this year.

If you like to have stickers in messages but always wanted to make your own you are now able to with a few taps and swipes. You can use your camera, saved photos, or draw your own! This is honestly the first app that had made stickers fun for me since it was released on iOS.

Best part? You can share the stickers you make within the app.

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