‘Smart’ home appliances are cheaper, better, and creepier. There’s only one company that might think different.

Remember when your television didn’t spy on you? Technologist and Glitch CEO Anil Dash suggested a while back that there must be some big market out there for “dumb” appliances:

Dash’s pitch is certainly appealing to those of us who don’t like giving up any notion of privacy, but unfortunately, the market for such retrograde appliances is a lot closer to zero dollars than a billion.

I’m going to explain why you don’t actually want dumb devices, why smart devices are cheap and creepy, and suggest that there’s one company that could get away with it.


Thoughts about a new direction for desktop UI

Just contemplating some Serious Business before hitting the tennis court. From “Macintosh” (1984) by Apple Computer.

The long-lived “desktop” operating system has been with us for almost 40 years. Although some of the mechanics have proven remarkably durable, contemporary computer usage is very different from the context these were born in, and it’s time to do some rethinking.

I’m going to outline the original idea, illustrate some changes in computer use, and suggest some new ways of thinking.

(I’m a longtime Mac user, so my experience and examples are specific to that platform. Maybe Windows is awesome now, I don’t know, my last real exposure was with XP when I worked at Microsoft.)


A Detailed & Illustrated Compendium of Recent Designs (1921-present)

The Cable Car Museum’s gift shop, wall full of decommissioned signs, c. 2019.

San Francisco’s signature street signs have gone through a number of subtle revisions in design and typography. I’ve written at length about the complete history of street signage in the city going all the way back to the Gold Rush era, and even created a font based on my favorite sign lettering style.

In this article, I’m going to go into a bit more detail on just the variants of signage and typography. To make the comparisons clear, I’m going to use the examples of signage taken from just one street…


Some of the art works chosen in the 1990 heist have puzzled analysts. The Museum’s own self-published Guide offers some uncanny clues to the haul.

When I was a kid growing up in the Boston suburbs, we lived next door to the family of would-be art thief Brian McDevitt. He was briefly a suspect in arguably the most spectacular modern art heist: the overnight robbery of Boston’s Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in March of 1990. McDevitt almost certainly wasn’t involved, but even as a kid we heard whispers about it. The caper was a big deal.

The theft of thirteen…


Want to recap an original Naim NAIT? Here’s what the authorized shops use.

A Naim Audio NAIT (1983) integrated amplifier, after a Naim-authorized service.

Warning: extremely niche-audience post ahead.

I’ve recently had the opportiunity to perform a service and calibration on an original Naim NAIT integrated amplifier (new capacitors and bias adjustment). Fortunately I have also been able to look inside an identical model that had a dealer service and recap in 2018, so I could see what was used then.

I based my service component choices off of the dealer-serviced model and also off of the incredibly detailed post on Hi-Fi AF about recapping the very similar NAIT 2 (1988)…


If you’re eligible for the shot, just go ahead and take it.

Over the past month, I’ve spoken to more than one friend who has become eligible for the covid vaccine, signed up to get it, and then come down with a case of ethical self-doubt. These friends are what you would describe as generally healthy middle-aged people, and not directly in the line of medical fire. But for various reasons (the nature of their employer, body mass index, etc) they have become eligible. …


Digital art and collectibles are a rich vein of opportunity, but this isn’t the way.

I don’t live under a rock, but I’d never even heard of “NFTs” until about a month ago, and now they are absolutely everywhere. Mainstream artists and pop acts are “minting” digital collectibles, artists are auctioning off image files for tens of millions of dollars. Very few trends emerge so widely this without pointing toward some problem that wanted solving. But the current ecosytem springing up around NFTs is a confusing mess, slow and expensive.

This is an NFT that I made. It’s a image of floppy disk magnetic flux. It’s art! It’s tech! It’s research!

I spent some time as a total normie trying to…


San Francisco streetscapes feel fun and weird and creative and human now

Parklets and a weekend street closure at Hayes and Gough. Photo: Ben Zotto

Sometimes good things don’t require a decades-long policy process. Most good things, I’d venture. The Covid-19 pandemic upset business-as-usual everywhere, and San Francisco’s bureaucracy was no exception. The city fast-tracked temporary dining parklets and an aggressive “Shared Spaces” program (weekend street closures for pedestrians) breezily, reallocating chunks of public space away from cars and in turn hugely improving civic life.

Who knew people like eating and hanging out outdoors?

It’s crucial now to recognize that although these programs (and others like them) were created to be nominally temporary, San Francisco should embrace the deep good in what it’s managed to…


Designer Jerry Manock clarifies the Apple II’s color and production history.

A decade of beige. Photos: Bilby/Wikimedia (Apple II and III), All About Apple (Mac). All images CC BY 3.0.

I recently published a fairly well-circulated investigation on the origins and specific color known as “Apple Beige,” based on a surviving jar of original touch-up paint from the 1970s. This was the shade of the first Apple computer to have a case.

My conclusions, based on available written sources, were wrong. Or, in any case, incomplete. Jerry Manock, the original designer of the iconic cases and the person most closely associated with Apple Beige, was kind enough to respond in detail to my inquiries following the article. …


.rgba is the dumbest possible image interchange format, for your programming pleasure.

So simple it fits on the back of an envelope.

TL;DR

Join me in supporting this dumbest of all possible bitmap image formats to make writing little tools and programs with images easier for everyone. It’s called RGBA and it stores your RGBA data. Here’s some free code if you want some, but the whole spec is up there in the scribble. Have at it.

Why this revolutionary idea?! and why now?

It’s time for a bitmap image interchange format that you can read and write comprehensively with the barest minimum of code and zero edge cases. The RGBA format I am proposing here is the…

Ben Zotto

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