Twitter's dark mode needs some major fixing

Apr 16, 2019

An increasing number of apps and websites have been introducing dark modes to their interfaces, and I greatly appreciate this. It's better for your eyes, and uses less battery too. However, Twitter's implementation has some serious flaws which need to be fixed ASAP.

Below is an image consisting of screenshots of various elements from the website when in dark mode. Note that the color composition hasn't been edited in any manner, and neither has the scaling.

 

 

Do you see the problem? The elements aren't visible properly, and it's impossible to tell when something is clickable or not. I have normal vision, and even I have a hard time using this website. I can't imaging how much harder it is for someone with vision impairments.

I've tested on both Firefox and Chrome, and the issue persists.

Dark mode is supposed to be easy on the eyes - but Twitter's is anything but.

 


 

Here are some screenshots with context. Try figuring out what is clickable and what isn't without looking at the graphic above.

 

The Easiest Way to Create a Bootable Windows To Go Drive

Apr 07, 2019

So, I've been having some trouble creating Windows To Go drives lately. Firstly, the built-in creator is present only on enterprise editions of Windows, and worse still, it only works with very few drives.

Secondly, while Rufus has an option to create Windows To Go drives, it refuses to do so if your drive doesn't have the "fixed" attribute set - although in my experience, this isn't required at all for a functioning Windows To Go install.

Lastly, while a manual method does exist, it's way too cumbersome for me.

So, I've created a tiny script called wtg-create to automate the process. Here's how it works:

  1. Download the script files from here (github mirror), and extract them.
  2. Rename your windows iso to windows.iso and place it in the same directory as the script and all the files that come with it.
  3. Even if you don't have the entire ISO, the script will work just fine with an install.wim image which is typically found in the sources directory of Windows ISOs (or any other WIM image, actually). 
  4. Next, simply run wtg-create.cmd as an administrator and follow the onscreen instructions.
  5. That's it! Now you can boot from the drive and use it as a portable Windows install.

The script makes use of 7-zip and the ImageX utility from the Windows ADK. The default download contains the x86 version of both, which should work on most systems, but you can swap these executables out for different versions as per your requirements. If you don't wish to download the entire ADK, I've made the ImageX executables available for download here.

 

Note that Windows To Go works only with Windows 8 or newer. An ISO of any edition (home, professional, etc.) will work. You can use this tool with modified .wim files too!

The script is licensed under the MIT license, and the code is available on Github. It's been tested on Windows 10. Enjoy :)

 

Update (April 30, 2019): Minor bugfixes

Why “Rotten Tomatoes” for News is a Terrible Idea

Mar 25, 2019

I just read an article about Credder, an organisation that wants to create an equivalent to “Rotten Tomatoes” for news. This a bad, bad idea. I can't stress this enough. Let me explain.

 

Flaw #1: Credibility (or lack thereof)

 

The first most glaring flaw that stands out to me is that Credder is a for-profit company that is not accountable to the public. If they manipulate ratings or have biases, there's almost no way for us to find out. And even if we do, what can we do? It's not like they're going to say in their TOS that their ratings are accurate. They'll have all sorts of legal notices and disclaimers protecting them. So what's to say that they won't mess with the system? Nothing. Sure, you could "trust" them, but look where trusting tech companies in the past has brought us. 

The fact that Credder is a for-profit which also aims to become a news platformi tself only further complicates the matter. Here's a quote from the aforementioned article:

...the startup wants to develop a sponsored-articles system in which an author writing on a specific field will be able to push a piece to a precise segment of readers. The platform will have to build an auction system that writers will use to reach the desired audience.

So... the ones with the most money get to reach a wide audience and spread their narrative? Does anyone else see the problem with that? This is definitely not a task for a for-profit company.

And here are a bunch of quotes from their TOS:

THE SITE IS MADE AVAILABLE TO YOU ON AN "AS IS", "WITH ALL FAULTS" AND "AS AVAILABLE" BASIS, WITH THE EXPRESS UNDERSTANDING THAT THE CREDDER ENTITIES MAY NOT MONITOR, CONTROL, OR VET USER CONTENT. AS SUCH, YOUR USE OF THE SITE IS AT YOUR OWN DISCRETION AND RISK. THE CREDDER ENTITIES MAKE NO CLAIMS OR PROMISES ABOUT THE QUALITY, ACCURACY, OR RELIABILITY OF THE SITE, ITS SAFETY OR SECURITY, OR THE SITE CONTENT.

 

We grant you permission to use the Site subject to the restrictions in these Terms. Your use of the Site is at your own risk, including the risk that you might be exposed to Content that is offensive, indecent, inaccurate, objectionable, or otherwise inappropriate.

(emphasis mine on the second quote)

Now, this is, of course, expected. But if I company isn't willing to take the liability and say that all content on their platform is accurate, how can we trust them to rate the credibility of our news sources?

If you are taking on such a significant task and making a system which people from around the world are supposed to rely on, surely you're responsible for making sure that such ratings are accurate and actually reflect upon the publication/publisher which you're judging? How can you say "Here, this rating is to tell you whether or not a news publication is trustworthy." and at the same time say that... your rating itself may not be trustworthy? 

 

Flaw #2: There's not much that you can rate about news

 

News should ideally by as objective as possible. The only thing you can possibly do is fact-check it (and not even that in some cases - more on this later). But Credder doesn't say it's a fact checking service. It says it's a news "rating" service. But what is there to rate besides the accuracy of a news piece?

Here's a quote from their about page:

Credder doesn't tell you who to trust. In the same way, Yelp doesn't tell you where to eat and Rotten Tomatoes doesn't tell you what to watch. It is Credder's job to gather news consumers' feedback, hold the articles, authors, and outlets accountable with ratings, and try to be a delightful place to get your news.

In the aforementioned article it is even stated that the Credder team drew its inspiration from Rotten Tomatoes and its “Tomatometer”. But the comparison with Yelp or Rotten Tomatoes is... pointless. Whether or not food tastes good is highly subjective. Movies even more so. You can like or dislike a dish or a movie. But with news, it doesn't matter how you feel about it, all that matters is whether or not it is true.

Credder says it takes into account "news consumers' feedback" but what would they possibly say about a news piece? If they don't like it, if it's against the values they stand for, or if they feel threatened by it, they'll simple give it a poor "rating". If they like it or if it makes them happy, they'll give it a good one. That's the truth. They won't care whether or not the news is factual. But as I said previously, news cannot be "rated" or judged in accordance with how it makes you feel.

They say that they "hold the articles, authors, and outlets accountable with ratings", but these ratings will almost certainly always be subjective, and thus meaningless.

 

Flaw #3: Journalists aren't all that great either

 

From the article:

Like in RT, reviewers will be split between professionals and the general public.

But it's not unheard of for journalists to take sides, be biased, or be proponents and spreaders of false news. This is just one of many examples, but right-wing journalists in the US will always rate left-wing news agencies and their work poorly, and vice-versa. If you think otherwise, you're clearly not in touch with reality.

Only one of them spreads false information on a large scale, but the ratings of both will suffer. That's just how it is. Having journalists rate other journalists just as poor filter for quality as having the public rate them.

Now, you might (reasonably) ask why we can't just exclude right-wing news outlets from the rating process. Well, as the article correctly points out:

The diversity of the reviewers is also a big issue. Theoretically, it should represent a cross-section of the population.

You can't just exclude reviewers from one side of the political spectrum. That in itself would make the system partial and biased. And keep in mind, politics is only one of many issues where this applies.

I'd say that only a fraction of outlets and journalist have to be partisan for the system to fail. Credder claims that they evaluate the overall "rating" of a news piece after just taking 7 reviews. What if, instead of judging the news piece honestly, even two of those say that the news article is not trustworthy because it is not accordance with their personal views and doesn't validate these pre-existing notions? That comes out to trusted by around 71%. Would you want to read a news article that's apparently trusted by only 71% of journalists? Of course not. Journalism must be held to a higher standard.

 

Flaw #4: The system in itself is based on fallacious and erroneous assumptions

 

The same ones that I keep bringing up: that news is subjective, or that anyone will rate it properly. You can't trust humans to rate anything fairly, much less news.

Just take a look at their "notation system":

Do you see what the first thing they ask is what someone "thinks" of an article? How does it matter what I or anyone else thinks of it? ALL THAT MATTERS IS ITS ACCURACY.

Can you see anyone from one side of the political spectrum rate an article which says something bad about the parties they support fairly? Of course not. They'll say it's anything but trustworthy - illogical or biased or filled with mistakes or non-factual. They'll say it's sensationalist or satirical. They'll say that it's not credible, or that it lacks reliable sources. Now look at the screenshot again. Do you see the problem? This will happen with every topic out there that's even slightly controversial. It does not matter how many journalists or people are part of this system or how experienced they are. This problem won't go away.

 

Flaw #5: There's stuff that you can't even fact check, let alone rate

 

Here's some more food for thought. What if the news source is protecting a confidential source or insider? Of course they won't have reliable sources which they can disclose. Of course they can't be fact checked. Does that mean that they shouldn't publish such news?

What if it's an opinion piece? Opinion pieces aren't news, but it's widely accepted that news sources publish them. And for a reason. Opinion pieces can be important to inform public opinion. It can expose them to the thinking of experts and specialists in a field. But these are largely subjective. So you can't trust another human to honestly and truly "rate" these either.

When the New York Times first started publishing op-eds in 1970, this is what they said about them:

The objective is rather to afford greater opportunity for exploration of issues and presentation of new insights and new ideas by writers and thinkers who have no institutional connection with The Times and whose views will very frequently be completely divergent from our own.

Clearly, they are important, and can't just be done away with. But how do you rate an opinion piece?

 

Flaw #6: Humans are the weakest link

 

Here's another quote from the article:

The key question to how to prime the pump: growing an initial base of casual users, recruiting certified journalists and incentivizing them to review articles. Credder will rely on traffic sent by publishers page and platforms who should be happy to insert a badge in exchange on data relevant to their production. “Pros” reviewers will benefit from a boost of their social footprint for each contribution.

What's to say that this won't lead to an underground industry of paying off these "pro" reviewers to favorably publish and/or rate articles that portray a person or organisation in better light? What's to say that they can't be blackmailed if a news agency can go as far as to apparently blackmail the richest person in the world? There will undoubtedly be many determined to game the system, and you can't fight them all.

All in all, while what Credder is trying to do is admirable, in the end it's just a very unpractical and flawed system.

This is not to say, however, that something like AI would do a better job of "rating" news articles. It would probably do even worse. And it's not just that Credder's plan has major flaws - this is quite simply something that cannot be done. You just can't "rate" news organisations and pieces - at least, not in the manner in which Credder is approaching the problem.

You can't trust the public or other journalists to fairly and honestly judge a news source in an unbiased manner. However, I believe that a non-profit, audited, transparent and independent organisation (something along the lines of Media Bias/Fact Check, Politifact or Snopes) can fact-check news sources and measure their credibility in a manner which helps the general public.

People don't care about their privacy. Apple can change that.

Feb 16, 2019

People just don't seem to care about their online privacy.

...even if they used to, they've just given up at this point.

This is scary. But you also can't blame them. Your privacy is not something that you should have to fight for. 

Last week I was sitting next to someone in class when I saw them use Facebook Messenger. I pointed out that Facebook doesn't respect your privacy[1][2] and tracks you, to which they replied "Yeah, but so does everyone else".

And that's not something that I can argue with. 

Everything tracks you. Your phone, the apps you use, the ads you see, the websites you visit, the "smart" devices in your home...

However, it's not too late to fix this. The reason people don't appear to care about their online privacy anymore is because they don't expect to have any in the first place.

In my opinion, if you want people to care about their privacy, you make them realize that it's something that they already have, but are rapidly losing. You make them value it. And then no one will be able to take it away.

I'd argue that for this to ever happen, you need a company that respects the privacy of their consumers, and also has an incredible amount of influence, both on people and the tech industry in general.

 

...That's right. Apple.

 

Now there's quite a bit that I don't like about Apple as a company. But no one can deny that they're incredibly committed to their users' privacy[1][2][3][4]. More so than pretty much any other large tech company.

They can use this to bring about a revolution. Their commitment to user privacy is one aspect of their devices and products that they should really advertise. Make noise about it. Shout it out from the rooftops. They want to sell you their hardware, so it's a great marketing pitch for them in any case.

Undoubtedly, other companies will follow suit. They almost always do, when it comes to copying Apple[1][2]. They too would work towards more secure devices that respect the fundamental rights of their consumers, because that's what the consumers will want and demand.

And boom. It'll be the start of an era. One where privacy matters, and is something that masses care about. What I'm basically saying here is that Apple is the best company to (and possibly only that can) kick it off.

And I get that this perhaps comes off as overly optimistic, but we can't give up hope, right?

Reddit memes are defeating anti-vaxxers

Feb 03, 2019

Observations:

  1. Reddit has been flooded with memes making fun of anti-vaxxers over the past couple months of so. (see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ...)
  2. We see a spike in the number of teens who've been asking on subreddits like /r/legaladvice about getting vaccinated against their parents' wishes (see: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, ...)

 

Here's what's happening here: the aforementioned memes from Reddit frequently get posted to other social networks (most notably Instagram), where they're seen by millions of teens. Combined with the huge number of teenagers on Reddit itself, these memes have massive influence and reach. 

As an increasing number of unvaccinated teens see these, more and more seek out ways in which they can get vaccinated against their parents' wishes. I'd say that the dark nature of these memes also plays an important role here in conveying the gravity of the situation. Many of these teens seeking help on reddit specifically mention the memes as a reason why they're looking for ways to get vaccinated unbeknownst to their guardians.

This is amazing. This is incredible.

Because although in most places plagued by the anti-vaxx movement it's really hard for teens to get vaccinated, I'd be willing to bet that these teens will be among the first to get vaccinated as soon as they turn 18, and that the number of anti-vaxxers will go down soon.

There have been outbreaks of very preventable diseases like measles in some of the most developed parts of the world recently as a result of anti-vaxx movements. This is terrible. And while it's very hard to change the minds of adult anti-vaxxers, memes, of all things, are playing a major part in ensuring that the younger generation is aware of how ridiculous the whole ordeal is.

This just goes to shows how powerful memes can be in generating awareness and influencing the youth.

 

My music

Jan 28, 2019

As a (younger) kid, I learnt to play the Piano and Violin off and on over the years.

After a gap of a couple years, I picked up music again last summer, and have been (re-)learning to play the piano and keyboard, and also been experimenting with some digital stuff.

Most of my stuff is on my SoundCloud profile. If you're going to check it out, I recommend starting here: