Jared White
Writer. Musician. Open Web Advocate. Programmer. Designer. Sci-Fi Nerd. Family Man.

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Jared White

Tears ‘R’ Us: The World’s Biggest Toy Store Didn’t Have to Die

Private equity firms Bain Capital LP and KKR & Co., along with Vornado Realty Trust, took over the company in a $7.5 billion leveraged buyout in 2005. For the next 13 years the owners would watch a succession of executives try to halt the steady slide of Toys “R” Us amid a recession and retail upheaval. As the last big toy store chain, Toys “R” Us had a captive audience. Kids could reasonably be counted on to badger, drag, or otherwise persuade adults to bring them to toy stores, especially if they were fun and hands-on. Those adults would more readily acquiesce if the stores were well organized and the toys competitively priced. There could have been an alternate ending for Toys “R” Us.

As a kid growing up in the 80s and early 90s, a family expedition to Toys “R” Us was like going to Disneyland. The store felt impossibly huge, the selection endless. Magic lurked around every corner. My dad had gotten us hooked on HO model trains, so every time we went on a trip there we returned with a new train car, or additional track, or a landscaping bundle. I have a whole collection of Matchbox & Hot Wheels cars, most of which I got from Toys “R” Us.

Fast forward to my now life as an adult and a father: taking my own kids to Toys “R” Us within the past few years, I was rather stunned by how shabby and unmagical everything seemed. At first I simply shrugged it off, figureing my favorable recollections were simply due to my childish enthusiasm for toys. But then when I caught wind of the news about Toys “R” Us being on the brink of bankruptcy, I realized that the stores really had gone down the tubes since my childhood.

It’s a shame. I’m sorry my kids won’t get to have the same epic experiences I once did. And it sucks that the only big box toy retailer in America has gone extinct. Having only Target and Walmart there to fill in the gaps is not an appetizing thought.

Jared White

Merged! Microsoft's $7.5 Billion Pull Request for GitHub

The acquisition provides a way forward for San Francisco-based GitHub, which has been trying for nine months to find a new chief executive officer and has yet to make a profit from its popular service that allows coders to share and collaborate on their work. It also helps Microsoft, which is increasingly relying on open-source software, to add programming tools and tie up with a company that has become a key part of the way Microsoft writes its own software.

So many conflicting emotions! A lot of developers are shell shocked at this news, although there’s nothing really shocking about the announcement. Microsoft has gone through a huge cultural shift over the past decade, from a company with a famously antagonistic attitude towards open source software to a company that’s a leading contributor and supporter of open source. It makes a heck of a lot of sense for Microsoft to aquire the platform that powers modern code collaboration. And financially, it’s certainly a big win for GitHub. The problem here is that is been bad enough that so many open source repositories and development workflows have been built around a proprietary, commerical entity. Now that entity will be Microsoft. It’s not hard to speculate that a lot of open source software teams and proponents of free (aka libre) software principles will be seriously reconsidering the tools they’re using in light of this acquisition.

Jared White

Facebook wants to become your internet service provider

Facebook and Qualcomm are working together to provide high-speed connectivity to urban areas. The goal is to provide multi-gigabytes per second speed at a lower cost. Terragraph will use Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) to replace cable or fiber connections. Subscribers will have a home access point that then broadcasts Wi-Fi to a Mac, iPad, etc. “With Terragraph, our goal is to enable people living in urban areas to access high-quality connectivity that can help create new opportunities and strengthen communities,” Yael Maguire, vice president of connectivity, Facebook.

Facebook’s working on several significant internet connectivity solutions right now. Terragraph is their newest experiment. My simple take on these initiatives is this: as long as #Facebook ensures their ISP division only provides a “dumb pipe” that allows all internet traffic through without modification or prioritization, then I think their efforts are a good thing. But somehow I suspect what we’ll really get is internet that’s free because it’s subsidized by Facebook ad tech and prioritizes fast access to Facebook.

Jared White

Jekyll’s Hidden Depths

As anyone who has used Jekyll for a while knows, it’s capable of so much more than first meets the eye. Jekyll is an amazingly powerful content system right out of the box. But with a few added plugins or creative uses of existing features, it can do almost anything imaginable. I’ve built a wide variety of websites on top of Jekyll over the last couple of years and I still feel like I’m learning new tricks every day.

If you’re curious about the technical aspects of how I used #Jekyll to build this #website, you’ll want to read this article.

Jared White

As easy as 1,2,3…

In every day life we all do our calculations, whether for the taxman, our purchases, paying the household bills or in some academic discipline, using the place value decimal number system. It consists of just ten symbols (numerals) – 1,2,3,4,5,6,7,8,9,0 – with which we can express any number, of any size that we may require. The value of the symbol changes according to its position – place – within the number that we write. This is an incredibly powerful and efficient method of writing numbers and the algorithms that it uses also make it a very efficient system for conducting calculations.

What a facinating read about the history of our number writing system! It’s so easy to take how we represent numeric values and how we do even basic math for granted; we forget that this was all invented at certain times by certain people hundreds or thousands of years ago.

Jared White

GitHub offices redesigned

Rapt Studio’s architects jettisoned the space’s man-cave décor and replaced it with an eclectic mix of modern furniture. In lieu of the trendy shipping-container cubicles that had been there since 2015, there are now cozy spaces designed like residential living rooms. They’ve also built a room for nursing mothers, a prayer room, and gender-inclusive bathrooms. In the library, there are even sculptures of female trailblazers in computing. While GitHub’s workforce is still predominantly male, the redesign reflects CEO and co-founder Chris Wanstrath’s ambition to foster a more inclusive workforce.

My god, the ergonomics of these newly designed spaces look absolutely terrible. We’ve known for decades now that having a small screen and keyboard on a table where you have to crane your neck down all the time (aka how most people use laptops in open offices and cafés) promotes a horrible posture and will cause major structural problems over time. Those weird bed/pod things litterly make my spine hurt just looking at them.

Where the hell can you just sit at a desk, look at a big screen directly in front of you (let’s say an nice Retina iMac), have a decent keyboard try at elbow level, and use a chair that allows for proper setup of lumbar support, arm rests, mesh back for muscle cooling, etc.? I would never work full-time in a place like this. Never.

Here’s a basic article on correct posture sitting at a computer workstation — this is not rocket science folks!

Jared White

I’m Sorry I Criticized You, Apple. You Win

This is a time when an entire driverless car industry is trying to convince the world that its products are safe before it can even come up with convincing stats — or prevent deadly accidents like the one in Tempe, Arizona, earlier this year. This is a time when Google is trying to subvert new privacy regulations to turn them against content producers. A time when Facebook, blasted by media and regulators for ignoring people’s privacy concerns, starts a dating service which will collect people’s most intimate data.

This is a time when companies whose innovations are more intrusive than useful, more gimmicky than problem-solving, operate with business models that either burn investors’ cash or turn the users into products.

At a time like this, Apple is a rock of common sense, sobriety, dignified engineering supremacy, prudent financial and supply chain management, effective marketing, and customer-oriented retailing. It’s a traditional business that does most things well, demands a high price for it, and receives that high price. With Apple, what you see is largely what you get, and when it’s not, the company will not just apologize but offer a fix.

While I think Leonid Bershidsky is overblowing the “boring maturity” angle here, there’s a valid point to be made. #Apple is taking its role of being a primary purveyor of computing devices and online services seriously, and is doing its utmost to design products that provide top-of-the-line performance, usability, security, and #privacy — which is what users actually want. So much of what many other tech companies put their efforts into is not what users want…it’s what those companies and their investors want. It’s definitely time we as consumers stopped accepting whatever it is that Silicon Valley hands to us, and maintain a more critical eye towards whatever the Next Big Thing is that somebody’s peddling.

Jared White

How Can a Marriage Work if No One is in Charge?

[While talking with] an acquaintance of mine…he said that, generally, in his marriage, decisions are made together. But if ever there is an important decision they can’t agree on, he makes the final call as leader of the household. His examples of situations where this rule might apply were, “which house to buy, what city to live in, or how many children to have.” I was flabbergasted. He was actually saying that if his wife disagreed with him on which house to live in or how many children they should have, that he would get the final say. This was a much bigger deal than pepperoni or pineapple on your pizza. These were life altering decisions that he would make, knowingly going against his wife’s wishes, because he is a man, and gets the final say.

In some circles within Evangelical Christianity, there exists an ideology known as complementarianism, which claims that in both church and home contexts, God’s will for men and women is that they have different and distinct roles that are “complementary” with each other. This view results in the troubling endorsement of patriarchy—that is, men are to lead and women are to follow their leading.

I appreciated reading this article by Kelly Ladd Bishop because she did an excellent job illustrating just how absurd and offensive this position is to those of us who are egalitarians. Not only do we endorse egalitarianism in marriage, church, and life—we can’t even fathom how to do it any other way. I couldn’t possibly imagine overruling my wife in any sort of important matter. Why in God’s name would I want to? Either we’re a team or we’re not. We do the hard work of building towards consensus in order to move forward (or not) on something vital. It’s not about who’s going to win and who’s going to lose. That’s a sad, sad perspective and simply not a valid portrayal of the deeply relational character of God and of Christ.

#marriage #ecclesiology

Jared White

Review: Season 4 of Amazon’s Unstoppable Cop Drama “Bosch”

In its fourth season, “Bosch” remains as good and solid as its namesake hero. The creation of author Michael Connelly, good ol’ Det. Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch (Titus Welliver) is a no-excuses cop who is haunted by his past, but you wouldn’t know it because he’s also incredibly businesslike. He’s not crippled by his obsessions nor addictions, he’s not a quirky savant with exceptional detecting skills, and he’s not in any way an obnoxious attention seeker.

Instead, his appeal is that he does his job without fanfare and as honestly and implacably as possible, while occasionally overextending himself. And so too does “Bosch” the series. It’s why it was Amazon’s top-watched original series for several years until “Sneaky Pete” sneaked in: “Bosch” is so reliable in how pure and straightforward it is that a series-altering event in the first half of the season is actually shocking when it happens. More on this later, but we promise no spoilers.

This show is hands down my favorite “nitty-gritty” detective show. I’ve enjoyed the past three seasons considerably, but this one that just dropped is not only equal in quality to its predecessors but exhibits some of the most compelling acting from its lead characters to date.

One of the best aspects of the show is the father-daughter relationship between “Harry” Bosch and Maddie, now an adult of 18 years. The basic goodness of their rapport and the depth of care they have for each another is a rare gem in TV storytelling. The Bosch duo is the heart of the show and a light that remains even in the midst of crime, corruption, and darkness.

Jared White

Handwritten Score from Handel’s Messiah

The notes on these pages show Handel hastily adapting an aria in his most famous oratorio. He conducted performances from this score, including the first (in Dublin, 13 April 1742). It was copied from Handel’s original manuscript by his amanuensis, John Christopher Smith the Elder, but these two pages are wholly in the hand of the composer. Handel often altered the score to suit each performance, adding names of singers and new versions of some sections.

Seeing an actual manuscript by Handel to one of the most incredible pieces of music ever written is something truly special (even if it’s only in digital form).

Jared White

Why City Accents Are Fading in the Midwest

There aren’t too many places in Chicago where you can still hear the accent parodied on Saturday Night Live’s early 1990s “Bill Swerski’s Super Fans” sketches, but a sports bar in an ethnic neighborhood is one. So is a fire station. Or on an emergency call to a plumber. The “classic Chicago” accent, with its elongated vowels and its tendency to substitute “dese, dem, and dose” for “these, them, and those,” or “chree” for “three,” was the voice of the city’s white working class.

More and more it seems like regional accents around the U.S. are collapsing inward toward a more homogenous national accent—at least among whites. I’m not sure how I feel about this. On the one hand, it may make it easier for people to get better jobs in more advantageous neighborhods and avoid discrimination. On the other hand, American culture is already too homogenous in my opinion. We should be celebrating regional diversity of language, art, architecture—not fighting it. But accent trends over time belong in that category of cultural development where, by and large, all you can do is measure those changes after the fact.

(By the way, that SNL skit was hilarious—one of my all-time favorites. I’ve often had da bearsss…da bullsss… running through my head at odd times.)

Jared White

Instagram Will Soon Let You Download a Copy of Your Data

The new data portability tool could make it much easier for users to leave Instagram and go to a competing image social network. It will also help the site comply with the upcoming European GDPR privacy law that requires data portability, assuming the feature launches before May 25th.

One significant thing that #Facebook did right is to allow users to download an archive of everything they posted on the network. I feel like the format of the data export is rather poor and in some cases hard for software to parse for interesting analysis, but it’s certainly better than nothing. I’m glad to hear #Instagram (which is owned by Facebook) is following suit. However, I generally don’t post anything to Instagram myself that’s not already in my #iPhone’s photo library, and I suspect that might be the case for a lot of Instagram users, so I’m curious what besides the photos & videos themselves will be included in the archive.

Jared White

The Minimalists Interview Derek Sivers

In this episode of The Minimalists Podcast, Joshua & Ryan chat with Derek Sivers about simplicity, complexity, parenting, creativity, and saying “no” to almost everything, and they answer the following questions:

  • How do I prioritize the most important things in my life once I’ve eliminated the clutter?
  • How do I say ‘no’ to gifts and donations from my loved ones for my newborn without looking like an unappreciative jerk?
  • How do I stay present with my loved ones when there are so many pressing demands on my time from my professional life?
  • How do I ensure I stay committed to my minimalism journey?

Derek Sivers is perhaps best known for starting CDBaby and being a big part of the independent music scene in the early days of the web, but he’s written and presented a lot since then on topics related to creativity, entrepreneurship, and leadership. Always a treat hearing him speak. (There’s a fair bit of preamble in this episode so you may want to skip to the 18:00 mark to get to the interview.) #minimalism

Jared White

(PRODUCT)RED Edition of iPhone 8 and 8 Plus

Cupertino, California — Apple today announced iPhone 8 and iPhone 8 Plus (PRODUCT)RED Special Edition, the new generation of iPhone in a stunning red finish. Both phones sport a beautiful glass enclosure, now in red, with a matching aluminum band and a sleek black front. The special edition (PRODUCT)RED iPhone will be available to order online in select countries and regions tomorrow and in stores beginning Friday, April 13.

iPhone 8 Plus RED

I’m still a huge fan of the iPhone 7/8 form factor, and oh wow that looks incredible. Remember how the previous RED edition fronts were white, and what everyone was actually drooling over were some mockups floating around that had a black front instead? I’m so glad #Apple listened to that feedback. As cool as the iPhone X is, this in my opinion is the most stunning #iPhone they’ve ever made.

Jared White

Interview with Dave Winer on the Open Web, Blogging, and More

Dave Winer has been called the godfather of a lot of things. The godfather of blogging. The Godfather of Podcasting. One of the key people involved in the development of RSS. But as you’ll hear in this great and wide ranging chat, Dave Winer is just a software developer who has never stopped tinkering, never lost his interest in coming up with new tools and new technologies.

If you’re around web publishing or general online news or blog-related tech long enough, Dave Winer is a name that keeps popping up. He’s been a strong proponent of the #openweb and highly skeptical of proprietary networks such as #Facebook long before it became fashionable to do so (like right now, apparently). I think a few years from now when we look back at the evolution of news and of the web, we’ll realize that the concepts underlying RSS (and hence blogging and podcasting ) were far more powerful, more useful, and more resiliant to commercial attacks than we’ve given them credit for.

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