Mark Smith’s Newsletter - Saturday 24th April, 2021

Apple, audio hotness, FLoC, regulations, NodeJS16, Linux controversy, future of AR/VR & AI, Next.js, Netbooks, weird podcasts, and so much more

Hello and welcome to my newsletter!

Another season 2 instalment…

Let’s get straight into it this week…


Hardware rules

There was an Apple event on Tuesday with several announcements, the beginning of the week was thus dominated by that. New M1 chip iPad Proscolourful M1 chip iMacs, and an Apple TV 4K among others. It’s good to see the new chips being steadily introduced into the product catalogue. There’s been a lot of movement in the chip space from Intel, Nvidia, ARM and TSMC over the past few weeks, and Apple’s new M1 chip technology has added to that, with people starting to wonder what would happen if China invaded Taiwan. The changes in the chip manufacturing industry could affect the world geopolitically.

Although strictly speaking not news, there were a couple of great articles with a historical slant that complimented Apple’s announcements. First was a piece taking us back to the late 2000s, covering the era of the netbook, which led directly to the iPad and Chromebooks. The other takes us back even further to the 1970s with a look at the PiDP-11, which is a modern replica of the PDP-11 minicomputer running on a Raspberry Pi. The PDP-11 was extremely influential in hardware, leading to Intel x86 microprocessors, but also in software with both MS-DOS and Unix emerging, which ultimately led to the Windows and MacOS operating systems.

Both worth the time to read to get some nice perspective on our modern technology focussed world.

Audio is hot

There has been a rise in interest around audio tools in recent weeks. The most obvious has been Clubhouse, that brought to the fore a new way to think about audio meetings, building tools around the idea of having a ‘virtual stage’, and is seeing a big surge in popularity. Seeing that the space is hot, many big tech companies as rushing to release their own versions. Twitter Spaces for example. 

This week Facebook announced it is planning a whole suite of audio tools and Reddit announced plans to build and launch Reddit Talk. Developers have noticed the trend and are experimenting with various formats including Hacker News Audio Discussions.

The wider world of audio on the web includes podcasting. That space has been steadily increasing in popularity since its inception back in the early 2000s. The industry is now attracting big talent, advertisers and we’ve seen several months of consolidation via acquisitions. With that backdrop it was super interesting to see Apple announcing paid podcasts at it’s event earlier in the week. They integrated podcasts into iTunes back in 2005, and ran the de facto podcast directory since then in a very hands-off way, which has enabled the industry to evolve and flourish. Lots of industry people are wondering what that means for the future of podcasting, the best analysis I read was from Ben Thompson, his piece about the past, present and future of podcasting is a must read. As I write this there’s been an announcement that Spotify, the other big player in the space, is to release a competing product which looks to have better pricing for creators. Interesting times to be running or listening to podcasts.


There were some rather huge security incidents announced and discussed last week. Both Facebook and LinkedIn had incidents that affected 500 million users a piece. This week the GCHQ chief warned that western countries needed to step up their cybersecurity defences as we enter a new era where future technologies might no longer be shaped and controlled in the west.

There’s also been a lot of security related changes the Ad Tech industry recently, with moves to enhance user privacy from browser makers, led primarily by Apple and its Safari browser. Google has followed suit with a new technology called FLoC, which aims to provide better user privacy in its Chrome browser, while still allowing advertisers to monitor user activity. Many have pointed out the inherent conflict of interests given Google’s advertising-centric business model and Wordpress has announced that going forward it will be treating FLoC as a security concern. It’s a big deal because almost half of websites on the web are powered by Wordpress’ open source software.

The other security related thing that caught my eye was an Edward Snowden NFT that sold for $5.4 million. The proceeds from the piece, which combines an image with a court ruling and is called “Stay free”, will be donated to the Freedom of the Press Foundation. No doubt a poignant reminder of something important, but I have to finish writing this newsletter, and so far I got nothing on the matter.

Developer & Governance

There’s a new Linux release on the way and since it’s open source we get a bit of a window into how that is going. I still find that cool even though it’s usually on some super old school threaded email message board thingy. In fact that’s kind of part of the coolness IMO. Not everything has to be modern. Anyway lots of new features and a bit too many release candidates. It’s nice to be able to catch-up on that asynchronously.

NodeJS 16 is being released, with an upgraded javascript engine, prebuilt binaries for Apple silicon and new stable APIs. I’m still so impressed by the NodeJS release cycle, it just keeps going like a well oiled machine.

There was some controversy in the Linux community as it was revealed that the University of Minnesota was submitting buggy kernel patches on purpose, in the name of research. They got banned. There has been a lot of reactions in various forums.

Tech Regulations

Government  around the world continue to push for new regulations in the tech sector, with an Apple anti-trust hearing, and the EU looking at AI regulations, which has had some initial reactions from Mozilla, but more sure to follow from others.

AR/VR, AI and the future of tech

Two weeks ago I wrote in the “AR/VR is heating up” intro section about the wave that was starting in the AR/VR space. It’s an exciting new space in tech, but it’s weird compared to web development. 

So how weird could it get? That’s what I’ve been wondering. The pace of technology is accelerating fast. In a lot of ways it’s always been like that. The older generations have had troubles adapting to the new technologies. What will it be like when my generation is the old generation? I don’t have the answers, but I went on a bit of a journey, and I have a better sense of what might be ahead of us. It’s pretty weird.

I’m not recommending you re-enact my journey, but I’m also not not recommending you re-enact my journey. The journey definitely has the potential to knock you off track, but there’s no doubt that there’s some interesting perspective. Anyhow it’s just 2 podcasts.

The first is an interview of Nick Hinton on the Duncan Trussell Family Hour Podcast. Too dangerous to summarise, I wouldn’t dare, it’s a bit like if the Dalai Lama, Rick & Morty and Socrates went on a rollercoaster ride through hell with a pit stop in the Twilight Zone. It’s not for everyone, but they do have a very interesting discussion about AR/VR and AI.

The other podcast is a totally different vibe, and I imagine would be a great second course to the spicy entré above. It’s an interview with Shadi Bartsch on the Classics and China from the Conversations With Tyler Podcast. Shadi’s enthusiasm for her passion shines through so well in this interview, that it’s simply a pleasure to listen to. Tyler’s questions and pacing reminds me of a perfectly written and optimised NodeJS web application. I’ve never been very into classic literature, but after listening to this I was wondering how great it would be to speak Latin. The discussion about China is very relevant to anyone working in tech.

I found the juxtaposition of these two episodes to be incredibly interesting. One is fire, the other is calmness, but in a lot of ways they are both very thorough multi-level explorations into reality on earth, and perhaps beyond, heady stuff though.




As usual all the articles from the linkblog in chronological order are included below, which is also a good way to explore, there are some pieces there amongst the main summary items that didn’t make it into the main themes, but these are interesting in their own right, and often end up developing into something more substantial further down the line.

That’s all from me this week…

I hope you enjoy the links!

Special mentions

Stuff from me

Nothing from me this week :(

Stuff from around the web


The Media Treadmill - Great write-up from Jeff Mayerson the host of Software Engineering Daily, where he reflects on the past few years building projects while also running a media business, lessons learnt, and a description of the grind of producing quality media on a daily basis #

Thoughtworks Technology Radar 24 (Latest issue) - I haven’t had a chance to fully read through this yet but skimming through it, I really like how it’s structured, listing trends, technologies, techniques, languages and more in software development #

Introducing OpenSearch - a community-driven, open source fork of Elasticsearch and Kibana #

HTTP SEARCH is a new HTTP method, for safe requests that include a request body - Additions to the HTTP methods is super rare, but as outlined in this write-up, search could be really useful, though there are still a few details to get right #

Why some developers are avoiding app store headaches by going web-only #

Some Vanilla JS libraries you must try #

Treat FLoC as a security concern #

Facebook plans to go after Clubhouse and podcasts with a suite of new audio products - Several products are apparently in the pipeline including an audio only version of Rooms, a Clubhouse-style product where users can interact on a virtual stage, a short audio message product for posting to your timeline, and a podcast discovery product that integrates with Spotify #

Show HN: turns HN posts into live audio discussions - Not sure how practical this is for discussions but it’s an Interesting experiment, I’m liking all the developments in the audio space at the minute #

Edward Snowden NFT Sells for $5.4 Million in Ethereum - I’m slowly cooling to the crypto space given that Coinbase is excluding me from their service, I’ve noticed that I’ve started to skip over crypto stories, anyway this one looks newsworthy though I didn’t manage to read through the whole thing #

Linus Torvalds reluctantly issues one more release candidate for Linux kernel 5.12 - “The new version of the kernel will add the ability to run Linux as root partition under Hyper-V, support for the Snapdragon 888, mainlining support for RISC-V boards from SiFive, plus more of Intel’s IOT-centric ACRN hypervisor.” #

A look back at the era when netbooks were introduced in the late 2000s which led to the iPad and Chromebooks - The article makes the claim that all laptops these days are netbooks, that might be the case, I hadn’t realised, I still thought netbooks and laptops were distinct, but I don’t follow that scene so closely, I remember that time though, they were really popular, I never did get one at the time, I’d really like to have one now though, portability is a massive plus #

Sonantic - Audio editing software for creating scripted dialogue using AI, impressive demo video, and has an API and CLI tool so you can create edits programmatically, very fine grained control of generated voice emotion and tone, I wonder where in the production pipeline production teams are using this software, lots of cool audio tools being developed at the minute #

Why a Chinese invasion of Taiwan would be a catastrophe for China and the world - Pretty good writeup of a worse case scenario for tech, seems like it would be a good idea to have a software development plan for a scenario where there will be no new chips for say 10 years, we’d have to go on a very serious software diet, minimalist apps would become very fashionable #

Reddit Talk is the latest to jump on the Clubhouse train - Hopefully it will be better than their support department #

PiDP-11 is a modern replica of Digital Equipment Corporation’s influential PDP-11 minicomputer - I remember reading much about these ancient and very large pieces of kit in Steven Levy’s classic book Hackers: Heroes of the Computer Revolution, which goes into details about the culture and ethics of the hacker community from the 1970s onwards, it’s awesome that you can now have your own PDP-11 on a Raspberry Pi, what a great accompaniment to the book #

minimaxir/hacker-news-undocumented - Some of the hidden norms about Hacker News not otherwise covered in the Guidelines and the FAQ #

The Endless Acid Banger - Algorithmic self-composing acid techno music #

Watch the first footage of a helicopter on Mars #

Apple announces new iPad Pro with M1 chip, Thunderbolt, 5G, XDR display #

Apple Launches New Colorful iMac With Powerful M1 Chip And 24-Inch 4.5K Display #

Apple announces new Apple TV 4K #

Apple introduces Podcasts Subscriptions to pay creators for content in redesigned app #

Node.js 16 Available Now - The biggest new features is probably the Promises based timer API, which works nicely with top level async/await, I’m linking to the HN which includes a discussion of the possibility of the Node team releasing a set of optional core standard libraries which I found interesting to think about, also lots of commenters working for big tech companies reporting that they use NodeJS in production mission critical applications and are very happy with the performance and developer experience #

How I Built My Blog - Awesome write-up from Josh Commeau about how he’s built his blog, I’ve always been impressed by the clarity and readability of his blog, in this post he covers the stack, which is Next.js hosted on Vercel, uses both static and dynamic page rendering, with API integrations and interestingly makes use of mdx to embed React components directly in posts, which then can be unique and have cool functionality #

kentcdodds/mdx-bundler - 🦤 Give me MDX/TSX strings and I'll give you back a component you can render - Supports imports! #

Linux bans University of Minnesota for sending buggy patches in name of research (HN Thread) - I’d quite like to hear what Linus Torvalds thinks about this matter #

Apple antitrust hearing - Tile likens Find My network to a ‘hostage’ program, App Store scam apps, more #

This has just become a big week for AI regulation - Laws being considered by the EU Commission and the FTC #

Podcast Subscriptions vs. the App Store - Some excellent analysis of Apple’s paid Podcast subscriptions announcement yesterday, looking back at how difficult it was to listen to podcasts in the early days (I remember it well!), the introduction of the iPod, iPhone and Podcast support in iTunes, the current podcast landscape, how paid subscriptions fit in for users and creators, it’s a really great piece worth reading if you are at all interested in audio on the web #

Google’s main page logo today is pretty cool - Earth Day 2021 Doodle #

How to navigate directories faster with bash - Some useful tips including dot aliases for quickly going up, pushd/popd, and CDPATH #

Tiny Container Challenge - Building a 6kB Containerized HTTP Server! #

Mozilla reacts to publication of EU’s draft regulation on AI - It isn’t much of a reaction, but it’s good to see that it’s on their radar #

GCHQ Chief - West faces ‘moment of reckoning’ over cybersecurity #

A Complete Guide To Incremental Static Regeneration (ISR) With Next.js - Uses caching cleverly to only build changed pages rather than rebuild an entire site, I like the functionality but it still seems overly complex to me, personally I’d like a solution that doesn’t use caching, that has a way to run a build via cli but specify which pages to build #

Mongoose Internals - Schemas, Schema Options, and Models - First part in a tutorial series that looks at Mongoose intervals aimed at getting contributors up to speed in the codebase, I’ve used Mongoose in many projects, it’s good to read docs like this, I think there are many large open source codebases that would benefit from such articles, it’s not always obvious where to find such material #

sindresorhus/terminal-link - Create clickable links in the terminal - Useful for when building Bash/Shell CLI tools #


Duncan Trussell Family Hour Podcast - Interview with Nick Hinton - Word of warning this podcast is way way out there, but I think they have an interesting discussion about AR/VR, and the reality is that we live in a world with religion and conspiracy theories, the things we build get consumed and remixed at this level too, so perhaps it’s worth being aware of that? I don’t have the resources and increasingly autonomy at the minute to spend weaving this into a narrative, it’s unlikely to make it into the newsletter, maybe someone else can have a go? Mostly linking just so I can get it out if my thought process, just to note that it exists and worthy of consideration #

Conversations with Tyler Podcast - Shadi Bartsch on the Classics and China - I found this super interesting, though it’s not directly tech related it looks at the relationship between the west and China in the context of classic literature, and I think it could be valuable context as we navigate through rapid tech evolution on the planet #


Thanks for reading!


Mark Smith‘s Newsletter is a weekly roundup of some of the best javascript, tech and web development links published to my daily linkblog.

If you liked this newsletter you might like my blogdaily linkblog or experimental podcast :)

I’m a freelance web developer, consultant and automation engineer, consider hiring me!

Have a great weekend and a fantastic next week!