inessential by Brent Simmons

April 2021

The lack of a price tag seems almost criminal

It was really cool to see NetNewsWire in British GQ’s list of top iOS apps — and awesome to be in the company of Fantastical (cousin Michael’s app), Widgetsmith, Linea Sketch, Halide, Overcast, and other great apps.

One part stood out to me, though: the blurb ends with “The lack of a price tag seems almost criminal” — and this isn’t the first time price has been brought up. Often the sentiment is something like “I’m surprised how good this app is, given that it’s free.”

I should explain: the app is better — much better — than it would be if it were a for-pay app. If it were a for-pay app, it would be just me working on it instead of this great team of volunteers. There probably wouldn’t be an iOS version at all: it would be Mac-only. The kind of features I don’t enjoy doing, such as the Twitter and Reddit integration (and others), wouldn’t even exist.

And it would be slow going. NetNewsWire 5 would have shipped much later than it did, and NetNewsWire 6 would not have shipped until next year, probably.

Instead, because it’s open source, we have this amazing team of people willing to work on it in their spare time. During a pandemic and everything. They’re bringing you something great out of love, with the goal of writing an app of the highest quality.

We don’t have to rush and Ship Right Now in order to make our revenue numbers. We don’t have to pick feature X over feature Y because we think it will bring in more conversions. We can care about performance and efficiency; we can say no to things that might have made money but that are outside our vision.

There’s nothing wrong with commercial software — NetNewsWire was commercial software for many, many years — but it’s also a great freedom to us that it’s not. And it allows us to make something much greater than I would have made all on my own.

(Why all on my own? Because, these days, a Mac and iOS RSS reader is not going to bring in enough revenue to pay for a team greater than one. And even paying one full salary plus health insurance would have been a hell of a longshot.)

PS Here’s how to support NetNewsWire. (Don’t send money!)

I’m Still Living with the Longterm Effects of a Disease that Now Has a Vaccine

I was in third grade when I got a severe case of chicken pox. This was in the days before there was a vaccine for it. When I returned to school, I found I couldn’t read the blackboard anymore, and I had to get glasses.

My eyesight kept getting worse in the years since, and it’s the worst that I know of among friends and family. With my contacts out, I can’t see my feet. I could trip over anything on the floor because I can’t actually see that far away.

I wear contacts instead of glasses because of the lack of peripheral vision. (These days I wear contacts and reading glasses when I’m at my computer or reading.)

I wish there had been a vaccine! I would have gladly had the better life with only normally impaired vision instead of extremely impaired.

Let me tell you how it was almost worse, though

We lived at the bottom of a quarter-mile-long hill. When it snowed, everyone parked their cars at the top of the hill, next to the highway.

I don’t remember the blizzard of ’78 at all because that’s when I had chicken pox. I had it so bad that it wasn’t just on my outside: it was inside. Eventually I couldn’t keep anything down — even the smallest sip of water would make me throw up.

But could I go to the hospital? My parents would have had to bundle me up, put me on a sled, and pull me up that hill, in the cold wind, with the road covered in deep snow, to get me to the car, to get me to the hospital. Would I have survived the trip? Unknown. I was weak and severely dehydrated. (I’ve never been as sick since. Not nearly.)

Long story short — we didn’t have to attempt the trip once I was able to hold down some cherry Jello. 🐣

But was this all better than getting a vaccine would have been? I could have died, and I’m still living with the effects. In a heartbeat I’d swap that experience for having had the vaccine.

When it’s your turn — it’ll be mine in a couple weeks — get the coronavirus vaccine! Don’t let this thing kill you or fuck you up forever.

The Perfect To-Do System Is Not Just Around the Corner

Sometimes it’s as if you can almost sense its nearness — that perfect to-do system, built on OmniFocus, Things, Asana, Todoist, or one of the many others. It’ll take just a little more thinking and tweaking. Rationalize your tagging system, change how you think about due dates, maybe write some scripts or create more templates, and you’ll have it.

And it will be so glorious! And you’ll never have to deal with this again. (You swear you’re not one of those people who futz with their to-do thing just because it’s fun.)

But Nope

Here’s what you need to know: it’s a mirage.

I know, I know. How can that be, when it feels so damn near? We’re just talking about lists and a few ways — time and tags, for instance — of slicing them up. I know perfection is right here. Give me another day! I’ve so got this!

But it’s not around the corner. It’s really not. There’s no perfect system for anybody. All of these apps are pretty good, and you may find one fits you better than another, but you’re not ever going to make it the perfect system for you. Even if you started from scratch and wrote your own, you’re not getting the perfect system.

There’s no getting out of this fact: these apps are all going to take more constant input from you than you’d wish for. They don’t take away the need for some amount of self-discipline to use them effectively.

I’m so very, very sorry.