Emperor of the Renaud Empire (population 6). Print/interactive designer for StL Post-Dispatch. Lover of new tech, Rememberer of old tech. Texan in exile.
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Obsessive Astros Fans Documented Their 2017 Cheating

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Tony Adams:

My name is Tony Adams. I’m an Astros fan. In November 2019, when the videos of the banging during some Astros 2017 games came out, I was horrified. It was clear within a minute of watching it was true — my team had cheated. To understand the scope of the cheating and the players involved, I decided to look at each home game from that season and determine any audio indicators of the sign stealing.

I wrote an application that downloaded the pitch data from MLB’s Statcast. This data has a timestamp for every pitch. I then downloaded the videos from YouTube and, using the timestamp, created a spectrogram for every pitch. A spectrogram is a visual representation of the spectrum of frequencies in an audio file. I could then playback the video of the pitches and, helped by the visual of the spectrogram, determine if there was any banging before the pitch.

I initially thought it would be quick work, and the application did make it pretty straightforward, but there are a lot of pitches in an MLB season. I ended up watching and logging over 8,200 pitches. And some more than once to be sure I was as accurate as possible.

I love everything about this. The obsession, the presentation of the data, and most of all, the fact that Adams is an Astros fan, and rather than make excuses for his team’s cheating, he’s upset by it.

One bit that came of this. David Spampinato:

On August 4th, the game with the most trash can bangs, the Astros scored 16 earned runs. Mike Bolsinger, a Blue Jays reliever, allowed 4 earned runs in 0.1 IP. He never pitched in the big leagues again.

What a disgrace. MLB should strip the Astros of their World Series title.

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Kirkman
64 days ago
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Love this data presentation.
Ferguson, MO, USA
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‘Tank’

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If you’ve got a soft spot for vintage ’80s vector-graphic video games like Star Wars and Battlezone, you’re going to love this new short film by Stu Maschwitz. So great. Also, a fantastic 20-minute video on how it was made.

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Kirkman
681 days ago
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Awesome short film.
Ferguson, MO, USA
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New parallax ANSImation: Millennium Falcon dodging asteroids

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I want to push boundaries. That’s what the original Star Wars films did. Industrial Light & Magic revolutionized special effects with novel new techniques for motion control and amazing model work. When I work on ANSI projects now, I try to think about ways to do things in ANSI that weren’t possible in the 1990s […]
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Kirkman
1044 days ago
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Hope folks might get a kick out of this. Star Wars 40th anniversary + ANSI artists = awesome
Ferguson, MO, USA
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★ Safari vs. Chrome on the Mac

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Eric Petitt, writing for The Official Unofficial Firefox Blog yesterday:

I head up Firefox marketing, but I use Chrome every day. Works fine. Easy to use. Like most of us who spend too much time in front of a laptop, I have two browsers open; Firefox for work, Chrome for play, customized settings for each. There are multiple things that bug me about the Chrome product, for sure, but I‘m OK with Chrome. I just don’t like only being on Chrome. […]

But talking to friends, it sounds more and more like living on Chrome has started to feel like their only option. Edge is broken. Safari and Internet Explorer are just plain bad. And unfortunately, too many people think Firefox isn’t a modern alternative.

In an update posted today, he walked that back:

In my original post I made a personal dig about Edge, IE and Safari: “Edge is broken. Safari and Internet Explorer are just plain bad.” I’ve since deleted that sentence.

It’s true, I personally don’t like those products, they just don’t work for me. But that was probably a bit too flip. And, if it wasn’t obvious that those were my personal opinions as a user, not those of the good folks at Firefox and Mozilla, then please accept my apology.

It’s easy when making an aside — and it’s clear that the central premise of this piece is about positioning Chrome as the Goliath to Firefox’s David, so references to Safari and IE are clearly asides — to conflate “I don’t like X” with “X is bad”. So I say we let it slide.1

But I’ve been meaning to write about Safari vs. Chrome for a while, and Petitt’s jab, even retracted, makes for a good excuse.

I think Safari is a terrific browser. It remains the one and only browser for the Mac that behaves like a native Mac app through and through. It may not be the fastest browser but it is fast. And its energy performance puts Chrome to shame. If you use a Mac laptop, using Chrome instead of Safari can cost you an hour or more of battery life per day.2

But Chrome is a terrific browser, too. It’s clearly the second-most-Mac-like browser for MacOS. It almost inarguably has the widest and deepest extension ecosystem. It has good web developer tools, and Chrome adopts new web development technologies faster than Safari does.

But Safari’s extension model is more privacy-conscious. For many people on MacOS, the decision between Safari and Chrome probably comes down which ecosystem you’re more invested in — iCloud or Google — for things like tab, bookmark, and history syncing. Me, personally, I’d feel lost without the ability to send tabs between my Macs and iPhone via Continuity.

In short, Safari closely reflects Apple’s institutional priorities (privacy, energy efficiency, the niceness of the native UI, support for MacOS and iCloud technologies) and Chrome closely reflects Google’s priorities (speed, convenience, a web-centric rather than native-app-centric concept of desktop computing, integration with Google web properties). Safari is Apple’s browser for Apple devices. Chrome is Google’s browser for all devices.

I personally prefer Safari, but I can totally see why others — especially those who work on desktop machines or MacBooks that are usually plugged into power — prefer Chrome. DF readers agree. Looking at my web stats, over the last 30 days, 69 percent of Mac users visiting DF used Safari, but a sizable 28 percent used Chrome. (Firefox came in at 3 percent, and everything else was under 1 percent.)3

As someone who’s been a Mac user long enough to remember when there were no good web browsers for the Mac, having both Safari and Chrome feels downright bountiful, and the competition is making both of them better.


  1. What really struck me about Petitt’s piece wasn’t the unfounded (to my eyes) dismissal of Safari, but rather his admission that he uses “Firefox for work, Chrome for play”. I really doubt the marketing managers for Chrome or Safari spend their days with a rival browser open for “play”, and even if they did, I expect they’d have the common sense not to admit so publicly, and especially not in the opening paragraph of a piece arguing that their own browser is a viable alternative to the rival one. ↩︎

  2. Back in December, when Consumer Reports rushed out their sensational report claiming bizarrely erratic battery life on the then-new MacBook Pros (which was eventually determined to be caused by a bug in Safari that Apple soon fixed), I decided to try to loosely replicate their test on the MacBook Pro review units I had from Apple. Consumer Reports doesn’t reveal the exact details of their testing, but they do describe it in general. They set the laptop brightness to a certain brightness value, then load a list of web pages repeatedly until the battery runs out. Presumably they automate this with a script of some sort, but they don’t say.

    That’s pretty easy to replicate in AppleScript. I used that day’s leading stories on TechMeme as my source for URLs to load — 26 URLs total. When a page loads, my script waits 5 seconds, and then scrolls down (simulating the Page Down key), waits another 5 seconds and pages down again, and then waits another 5 seconds before paging down one last time. This is a simple simulation of a person actually reading a web page. While running through the list of URLs, my script leaves each URL open in a tab. At the end of the list, it closes all tabs and then starts all over again. Each time through the loop the elapsed time and remaining battery life are logged to a file. (I also logged results as updates via messages sent to myself via iMessage, so I could monitor the progress of the hours-long test runs from my phone. No apps were running during the tests other than Safari, Script Editor, Finder, and Messages.)

    I set the display brightness at exactly 68.75 percent for each test (11/16 clicks on the brightness meter when using the function key buttons to adjust), a value I chose arbitrarily as a reasonable balance for someone running on battery power.

    Averaged (and rounded) across several runs, I got the following results:

    • 15-inch MacBook Pro With Touch Bar: 6h:50m
    • 13-inch MacBook Pro With Touch Bar: 5h:30m
    • 13-inch MacBook Pro (2014): 5h:10m
    • 11-inch MacBook Air (2011): 2h:15m

    I no longer had a new 13-inch MacBook Pro without the Touch Bar (a.k.a. the “MacBook Esc”) — I’d sent it back to Apple. I included my own personal 2014 13-inch MacBook Pro and my old 2011 MacBook Air just as points of reference. I think the Air did poorly just because it was so old and so well-used. It still has its original battery.

    I saw no erratic fluctuations in battery life across runs of the test. I procrastinated on publishing the results, though, and within a few weeks the whole thing was written off with a “never mind!” when Apple fixed the bug in Safari that was causing Consumer Reports’s erratic results.

    Anyway, the whole point of including these results in this footnote is that I also ran the exact same test with Chrome on the 13-inch MacBook Pro With Touch Bar. The average result: 3h:40m. That’s 1h:50m difference. On the exact same machine running the exact same test with the exact same list of URLs, the battery lasted almost exactly 1.5 times as long using Safari than Chrome.

    My test was in no way meant to simulate real-world usage. You’d have to be fueled up on some serious stimulants to read a new web page every 15 seconds non-stop for hours on end. But the results were striking. If you place a high priority on your MacBook’s battery life, you should use Safari instead of Chrome.

    If you’re interested, I’ve posted my battery testing scripts for Safari and Chrome↩︎︎

  3. If anyone has a good source for browser usage by MacOS users from a general purpose website like The New York Times or CNN, let me know. I honestly don’t know whether to expect that the split among DF readers is biased in favor of Safari because DF readers are more likely to care about the advantages of a native app, or biased in favor of Chrome because so many of you are web developers or even just nerdy enough to install a third-party browser in the first place. Wikimedia used to publish stats like that, but alas, ceased in 2015↩︎︎

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Kirkman
1046 days ago
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I want use Safari on the Mac as my go-to browser, since it obviously syncs with my phone, etc. But I keep running into issues where Safari will freeze and the entire Mac becomes unresponses, forcing me to power it off and restart. So frustrating. But Chrome never does that. It can only crash itself.
Ferguson, MO, USA
acdha
1046 days ago
Do you have any extensions installed? Since dropping Flash support years ago, that doesn't normally happen in fairly heavy use for me with no extensions other than 1 Password
njr
1046 days ago
Weird. Safari shouldn't be able to do that, either — it does use some private APIs but doesn't have any special privileges. Any user-mode app that can crash macOS is fundamentally a macOS bug, though it sounds like this one might be hard to isolate.
acdha
1046 days ago
I've seen that kind of behaviour in two cases – video driver issues tend to be obvious but I've also seen it in cases where apps start rapidly leaking memory and the system becomes unresponsive until the swap file fills up and the app crashes
Kirkman
1046 days ago
Pretty good description of the problem I'm describing here: https://discussions.apple.com/thread/7687562. I'm trying one of the recommended solutions.
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2 public comments
samuel
1045 days ago
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Safari, baby. Used it to build NewsBlur and still use it everyday.
Cambridge, Massachusetts
satadru
1046 days ago
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Firefox on Android allows you to use ublock origin, whereas Chrome on android doesn't... so Firefox on Android has become my default browser on there, but Chrome stays as default for me on macos.
New York, NY
jepler
1046 days ago
yeah as mediocre as FF-on-android is, the ability to install extensions is the reason I use it.

Pinterest Acquires Instapaper

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Instapaper CEO Brian Donohue, on Hacker News:

Based on the comments I’ve read below the main concerns seem to be that Instapaper will either be shutdown or materially changed in a way that effects the end-user experience. I can tell you that neither of those are the plan for the short-term or long-term of the product, and I am personally looking forward to providing you with the same great service under a new owner.

We’ll see. Pinboard developer Maciej Ceglowski:

The “we sold to Pinterest but nothing is changing” email is Instapaper’s equivalent of reassuring grandma about her move to a nursing home.

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Kirkman
1319 days ago
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Earlier this year I wrote an app for a friend with low vision that used Instapaper's new "instaparser" API to extract content from news sites, and read that content aloud. Now the API is being shut down and who knows if Instaparser itself will continue.
Ferguson, MO, USA
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1 public comment
ninthart
1320 days ago
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I'm kind of glad I went mostly all-in on Pocket now. I hope Instapaper stays as it is (and I'll continue to pay for it), but I can't really see it long-term.
Littlehampton, UK
gyaresu
1319 days ago
Do you use the paid version of Pocket? I've been saving things to pocket for... years(?) and have yet to use it like I used del.icio.us before Yahoo ruined it. Maybe I'm not using Pocket corrextly but there's not much of a UI and doesn't give me good results unless I've tagged everything (which is probably fair enough).

How Symphony Works

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Here’s a better story on Symphony, by Brade Dale for The Observer:

For the privacy-conscious, Symphony’s app isn’t hidden inside other apps with permissions buried in user agreements no one reads.

Symphony asks those who opt in to load Symphony-branded apps onto their personal devices, apps that use microphones to listen to what’s going on in the background. With technology from Gracenote, the app can hear the show playing and identify it using its unique sound signature (the same way Shazam identifies a song playing over someone else’s speakers). Doing it that way allows the company to gather data on viewing of sites like Netflix and Hulu, whether the companies like it or not. (Netflix likes data)

It uses specific marketing to recruit “media insiders” into its system, who then download its app (there’s no way for consumers to get it without going through this process). In exchange, it pays consumers $5 in gift cards (and up) per month, depending on the number of devices he or she authorizes.

Potential insiders go through an online sign up process that asks them a bunch of questions about their media habits. So Symphony knows a bit more about them.

Still not clear to me if the app is listening to the microphone all the time, even in the background, or if users have to launch the app manually every time they watch TV. If you’re asking yourself how an app like this ever got into Apple’s App Store, the answer is it didn’t. Users have to install it manually with a custom certificate, like a beta.

I think it’s a creepy app, and anyone who would do this for a measly $5 per month is a fool. I also highly doubt that their pool of participants is representative of the general audience.

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Kirkman
1536 days ago
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This sounds really similar to Nielsen. We were a Nielsen family briefly about 10 years ago and they physically modified the inside of our VCR so they could monitor which over the air shows we watched. Got paid $5 per month as well.
Ferguson, MO, USA
aaronwe
1531 days ago
Exactly. This is the Nielsen/Arbitron model to a T. It's not anywhere close to the quality of actual performance metrics, but it's as good as it's ever gotten for TV and radio ratings.
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3 public comments
skittone
1535 days ago
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"I think it’s a creepy app, and anyone who would do this for a measly $5 per month is a fool. I also highly doubt that their pool of participants is representative of the general audience."

Yes, on all counts.
JayM
1536 days ago
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.
Atlanta, GA
sulrich
1536 days ago
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given the economic state of much of the country, it doesn't strike me as particularly odd that there's a non-trivial hunk of the populace that is simply interested in the $5 / month and not particularly concerned about the privacy implications associated with this.

$5 is basically the cost of a pack of smokes in some states and better than half the monthly cost of a netflix streaming-only account.
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