Thoughts on Google I/O 2013
There were no skydivers at this year’s Google I/O keynote. Nor were there any hardware announcements really, or even a new version of Android. Yet, despite a more subdued vibe, this year’s I/O was more grounded. Rich with developer tools and APIs, this year was a call to action for developers. A smart move. Google played to its strengths today: big data. And what better way to coral the developer community than handing them the keys to it. It was great to see continuing innovations on the UX side as well. Zero-touch natural language search is definitely taking off in a Star Trek kind of way.
And to top it off – a great Q&A session with Larry Page where he riffed on his “Don’t be evil” philosophy and reminded us what a forward-thinking founder he is. I’m not sure if his idealism is trickling down to the rest of the company though. *cough* google reader *cough*
So, overall, really cool – but, here’s my wish list for further improvements I’d like to see:
- Google needs more hardware partners willing to put stock Android on their flagship phones. It’s great that Samsung is releasing a de-skinned Galaxy S4. Now, how about a stock Android HTC One? That would be incredible.
- We need a bigger push in location services (with strict privacy controls of course). I want to be able to say “Google, where is my wife?” and see where she is in Google Maps.
- The Google Now experience in my car is, frankly, dismal. There is a major bug with Bluetooth connectivity to a third-party car speaker that Google has yet to fix. But more than that, Google Now should sense when you are in “driving mode” and adjust the UX accordingly.
- Similar to the above, I want my phone to detect when I am going for a run and launch a running playlist and fitness tracking app.
- We need even tighter integration with Google’s services – ideally to the point where there is only one access point. It’s confusing that the Chrome browser, google’s website, and Google Now are all separate. I want to be able to type in “Remind me to call Bob when I get home” in google’s search bar in my browser and have that command sync with my phone.
- Likewise, new services like Google Play Music All Access should be integrated from the moment of release by default. I should be able to search for bands on google.com and listen to them instantly.
Overall, Google should keep on this path of improving their data-crunching algorithms and propagating it to all software platforms. I think they’ve realized that reserving features exclusively for Android is a bad idea. Android serves the low-end of the market as well as a segment of users who like to tweak and customize. But let’s not kid ourselves – Apple has nailed the “clean and simple” experience with their religious integration of hardware and software. It’s wise to court this user base too.
Becoming a “better” writer
I’ve been trying to articulate to myself why most writing on the internet leaves me feeling hollow – my own writing included. In doing so, I’ve had to look beyond the mechanics of writing. Certainly, good writers use words judiciously and move beyond pure grammatical correctness to craft a personal style and weave a sense of play into their prose. But what’s missing is a piece of the soul.
I don’t mean soul in the spiritual sense, although there is certainly a place for that in the literary ethos. When we say writing is “raw” and “uncensored”, I think we’re getting closer. To be raw is to be naked in a sense – to be vulnerable. To expose the human part of yourself is to invite criticism and also pain. I think – I know – most writers are afraid to do this, but we are all left bereft as a result. The top-ranking blogs today feed us with endless rumours and breaking news in a sparse journalistic style easily digested. But news junkies are never fully satiated. We joke at the sort of banality rampant in those “what I ate for lunch” tweets, but them tweet the same after we realize Twitter is too shallow a medium to do say much else. Thoughtful analysis is reserved for long-form magazine pieces, but even this art eschews the personality of the author.
Perhaps I am lamenting the demise of the personal blog. I think that is partly right. But I also hope that the internet will foster more creativity, rather than submit to the lowest common denominator. There is hope in sites like Medium and Wattpad, and I am also surprised in how insightful Quora can be. But I’m concerned at how top-heavy these sites are becoming, with well-established players being promoted to the top and simply publishing free content as a marketing ploy rather than a true attempt to connect with a readership.
I guess the question now is, can I become more real in my writing, and in doing so become a “better” writer? The truth is, I don’t know. To write is more of a struggle for writers than for anybody. And I struggle a lot. Maybe the only way to find out is to just keep putting one word in front of another.
Why I don’t want Facebook Home
In case you haven’t heard: Facebook Home displays pictures from your timeline in full-screen on your Android homescreen. But, there’s a small problem with this. I think The Verge said it best: Facebook Home is beautiful, but what if your friends aren’t? The official marketing materials include sublime pics like this one:
Wow, gorgeous! But a quick perusal of my Facebook feed is enough to convince me that the possibility of such artful photography appearing on a regular basis is despairingly slim. This is what I’d see:
No thanks. I’ll stick with my boring austere homescreen. I think the problem here is a classic one: wrong audience.
When I was a kid…
This has been going around the internet. I have no idea who the source is, although they could ease up on the exclamation marks. It’s all spot on though – especially the part about playing Asteroids and Space Invaders. After the Atari 2600 came our first PC, running at 1 MHz and sporting a two-colour CGA monitor (orange and black). My brother and I begged and begged my Dad for a colour monitor and when that day finally came it blew our minds. So yeah, kids are definitely spoiled these days…
If you are 36, or older, you might think this is hilarious!
When I was a kid, adults used to bore me to tears with their tedious diatribes about how hard things were. When they were growing up; what with walking twenty-five miles to school every morning…. Uphill… Barefoot… BOTH ways…yadda, yadda, yadda
And I remember promising myself that when I grew up, there was no way in hell I was going to lay a bunch of crap like that on my kids about how hard I had it and how easy they’ve got it!
But now that I’m over the ripe old age of forty, I can’t help but look around and notice the youth of today. You’ve got it so easy! I mean, compared to my childhood, you live in a damn Utopia! And I hate to say it, but you kids today, you don’t know how good you’ve got it!
1) I mean, when I was a kid we didn’t have the Internet. If we wanted to know something, we had to go to the damn library and look it up ourselves, in the card catalog!!
2) There was no email!! We had to actually write somebody a letter – with a pen! Then you had to walk all the way across the street and put it in the mailbox, and it would take like a week to get there! Stamps were 10 cents!
3) Child Protective Services didn’t care if our parents beat us. As a matter of fact, the parents of all my friends also had permission to kick our ass! Nowhere was safe!
4) There were no MP3′s or Napsters or iTunes! If you wanted to steal music, you had to hitchhike to the record store and shoplift it yourself!
5) Or you had to wait around all day to tape it off the radio, and the DJ would usually talk over the beginning and @#*% it all up! There were no CD players! We had tape decks in our car. We’d play our favorite tape and “eject” it when finished, and then the tape would come undone rendering it useless. Cause, hey, that’s how we rolled, Baby! Dig?
6) We didn’t have fancy crap like Call Waiting! If you were on the phone and somebody else called, they got a busy signal, that’s it!
7) There weren’t any freakin’ cell phones either. If you left the house, you just didn’t make a damn call or receive one. You actually had to be out of touch with your “friends”. OH MY GOSH !!! Think of the horror… not being in touch with someone 24/7!!! And then there’s TEXTING. Yeah, right. Please! You kids have no idea how annoying you are.
8) And we didn’t have fancy Caller ID either! When the phone rang, you had no idea who it was! It could be your school, your parents, your boss, your bookie, your drug dealer, the collection agent… you just didn’t know!!! You had to pick it up and take your chances, mister!
9) We didn’t have any fancy PlayStation or Xbox video games with high-resolution 3-D graphics! We had the Atari 2600! With games like ‘Space Invaders’ and ‘Asteroids’. Your screen guy was a little square! You actually had to use your imagination!!! And there were no multiple levels or screens, it was just one screen.. Forever! And you could never win. The game just kept getting harder and harder and faster and faster until you died! Just like LIFE!
10) You had to use a little book called a TV Guide to find out what was on! You were screwed when it came to channel surfing! You had to get off your ass and walk over to the TV to change the channel!!! NO REMOTES!!! Oh, no, what’s the world coming to?!?!
11) There was no Cartoon Network either! You could only get cartoons on Saturday Morning. Do you hear what I’m saying? We had to wait ALL WEEK for cartoons, you spoiled little rat-bastards!
12) And we didn’t have microwaves. If we wanted to heat something up, we had to use the stove! Imagine that!
13) And our parents told us to stay outside and play… all day long. Oh, no, no electronics to soothe and comfort. And if you came back inside… you were doing chores!
14) And car seats – oh, please! Mom threw you in the back seat and you hung on. If you were lucky, you got the “safety arm” across the chest at the last moment if she had to stop suddenly, and if your head hit the dashboard, well that was your fault for calling “shot gun” in the first place!
See! That’s exactly what I’m talking about! You kids today have got it too easy. You’re spoiled rotten! You guys wouldn’t have lasted five minutes back in 1970 or any time before!
The Over 40 Crowd
The Facebook hegemony
Mark Zuckerberg famously quipped that “a squirrel dying in front of your house may be more relevant to your interests right now than people dying in Africa.” Except that this statement was no quip. Zuckerberg was quite serious – and it is precisely this blithe sentiment that underpins the real problem with Facebook. But when one becomes the world’s youngest billionaire you hardly identify with the proletariat anymore, do you? Heck, he doesn’t even fit in with the crusty 1 percent. He’s an outlier – a Kurt Kobain of the tech world – who probably has as much furtive distrust of his legion of “fans” as the father of grunge did.
Facebook. Where each narcissistic post about vacations, promotions and new babies is endorsed by the replies and “likes” of sycophantic followers eager to generate social currency. Obvious conceits such as the absence of a “dislike” button, drive Zuckerberg’s agenda to perpetuate endless promotion and fakery at the expense of realness. Is he trying to engender such superficial discourse because he envisions his users, no, his audience, as the fickle hordes of frat boys and “yay” girls from his tormented college years? Whatever his motivations, the laugh is on us, as he sells you and me to advertisers salivating at the thought of converting all this data into hard currency.
If I sound vitriolic then it’s not because of some deep-seated misanthropy. It’s because I place a high value the social web. Because there are still those who try to engage in meaningful dialog (that is, if Facebook’s what’s-hot-and-what’s-not algorithm doesn’t push it to the bottom of the news feed). And when I see the world’s most popular social network, with its dodgy privacy policies and obvious mandate to pander to its newly acquired investors at the expense of the user, I get a little frustrated. Because Zuckerberg’s ideals about a connected internet just don’t jive with his pocketbook, and never will. Take his latest venture, Facebook Home – the trojan-horse android launcher he hopes will propagate throughout the mobile space. He’s basically embedding a walled-garden on an open platform so he can feed us tailored full-screen advertisements. Where is the trust here, the respect?
When the industrial age was in full swing, people started feeling anomie – a disconnect from society in a way that had never happened before. Their social identities began to fracture – they began to feel like cogs in a machine. This same phenomenon is happening now on Facebook. People are withdrawing from full disclosure – they are mistrustful, hesitant to share, unsure of the contradictory social norms that now exist. We need to free social media from the Facebook hegemony – we need to define our own voices or ultimately, somebody else will do it for us. Somebody like Zuckerberg, who clearly is the most disconnected of us all.
Wise words, indeed
Justin Freeman answers the question: What are the top 10 things that we should be informed about, in life?
1) Realize that nobody cares, and if they do, you shouldn’t care that they care. Got a new car? Nobody cares. You’ll get some gawkers for a couple of weeks—they don’t care. They’re curious. Three weeks in it’ll be just another shiny blob among all the thousands of others crawling down the freeway and sitting in garages and driveways up and down your street. People will care about your car just as much as you care about all of those. Got a new gewgaw? New wardrobe? Went to a swanky restaurant? Exotic vacation? Nobody cares. Don’t base your happiness on people caring, because they won’t. And if they do, they either want your stuff or hate you for it.
2) Some rulebreakers will break rule number one. Occasionally, people in your life will defy the odds and actually care about you. Still not your stuff, sorry. But if they value you, they’ll value that you value it, and they’ll listen. When you talk about all of those things that nobody else cares about, they will look into your eyes and consume your words, and in that moment you will know that every part of them is there with you.
3) Spend your life with rulebreakers. Marry them. Befriend them. Work with them. Spend weekends with them. No matter how much power you become possessed of, you’ll never be able to make someone care—so gather close the caring.
4) Money is cheap. I mean, there’s a lot of it—about forty thousand billion dollars floating around the world, largely made up of cash whose value is made up and ascribed to it, anyway. Don’t engineer your life around getting a slightly less tiny portion of this pile, and make your spirit of generosity reflect this principle. I knew a man who became driven by the desire to amass six figures in savings, so he worked and scrimped and sacrificed to get there. And he did… right before he died of cancer. I’m sure his wife’s new husband appreciated his diligence.
5) Money is expensive. I mean, it’s difficult to get your hands on sometimes—and you never know when someone’s going to pull the floorboards out from under you—so don’t be stupid with it. Avoid debt on depreciating assets, and never incur debt in order to assuage your vanity (see rule number one). Debt has become normative, but don’t blithely accept it as a rite of passage into adulthood—debt represents imbalance and, in some sense, often a resignation of control. Student loan debt isn’t always unavoidable, but it isn’t a given—my wife and I completed a combined ten years of college with zero debt between us. If you can’t avoid it, though, make sure that your degree is an investment rather than a liability—I mourn a bit for all of the people going tens of thousands of dollars in debt in pursuit of vague liberal arts degrees with no idea of what they want out of life. If you’re just dropping tuition dollars for lack of a better idea at the moment, just withdraw and go wander around Europe for a few weeks—I guarantee you’ll spend less and learn more in the process.
6) Learn the ancient art of rhetoric. The elements of rhetoric, in all of their forms, are what make the world go around—because they are what prompt the decisions people make. If you develop an understanding of how they work, while everyone else is frightened by flames and booming voices, you will be able to see behind veils of communication and see what levers little men are pulling. Not only will you develop immunity from all manner of commercials, marketing, hucksters and salesmen, to the beautiful speeches of liars and thieves, you’ll also find yourself able to craft your speech in ways that influence people. When you know how to speak in order to change someone’s mind, to instill confidence in someone, to quiet the fears of a child, then you will know this power firsthand. However, bear in mind as you use it that your opponent in any debate is not the other person, but ignorance.
7) You are responsible to everyone, but you’re responsible for yourself. I believe we’re responsible to everyone for something, even if it’s something as basic as an affirmation of their humanity. However, it should most often go far beyond that and manifest itself in service to others, to being a voice for the voiceless. If you’re reading this, there are those around you who toil under burdens larger than yours, who stand in need of touch and respect and chances. Conversely, though, you’re responsible for yourself. Nobody else is going to find success for you, and nobody else is going to instill happiness into you from the outside. That’s on you.
8) Learn to see reality in terms of systems. When you understand the world around you as a massive web of interconnected, largely interdependent systems, things get much less mystifying—and the less we either ascribe to magic or allow to exist behind a fog, the less susceptible we’ll be to all manner of being taken advantage of. However:
9) Account for the threat of black swan events. Sometimes chaos consumes the most meticulous of plans, and if you live life with no margins in a financial, emotional, or any other sense, you will be subject to its whims. Take risks, but backstop them with something—I strongly suspect these people who say having a Plan B is a sign of weak commitment aren’t living hand to mouth. Do what you need to in order to keep your footing.
10) You both need and don’t need other people. You need others in a sense that you need to be part of a community—there’s a reason we reflexively pity hermits. Regardless of your theory of anthropogenesis, it’s hard to deny that we are built for community, and that ‘we’ is always more than ‘me.’ However, you don’t need another person in order for your life to have meaning—this idea that Disney has shoved through our eyeballs, that there’s someone out there for all of us if we’ll just believe hard enough and never stop searching, is hokum… because of arithmetic, if nothing else. Establish your own life—then, if there’s a particular person that you can’t help but integrate, believe me, you’ll know.
11) Always give more than is required of you.
Source: I found this over on Quora.
Maui of the mind
I recently read a newsletter from a writer who flew off to this tropical paradise to relax and soak up some sun. She claimed that this getaway really helped her writing – whenever it rains (and in Vancouver, it does – a lot), she closes her eyes and remembers the warmth of the sun on her face. Energized, she then writes with new vigour.
Great idea, but what if you can’t afford it? How do you get to the “happy place” in your mind? What does it look like? It’s all a matter of perspective. When I was in Costa Rica a long while back, I met this young guy who said he wanted to move to Canada because there was too much sand in Costa Rica. Too much sand. It gets into everything, you know.
And if you’re stressed out, I find that conjuring up some mirage of paradise doesn’t really help. Dreaming about an empty beach works for a few seconds, but if you think about it, your happiest memories probably weren’t on that beach.
When I tried out a yoga class once (my work was offering it, so I gave it a shot), I didn’t find the downward dogs or whatever that transformative. But at one point, our instructor had us curled up in a foetal position on our yoga mats and she told us to close our eyes and think about a time when we had a good laugh with a loved one. The thought of that human moment was more invigorating than our awkward posing.
Also, I kind of like the rain.
Geeky colour co-ordination
So, I installed Nova Launcher Pro on my HTC One S and updated the colour scheme to match the hardware. I also have matching headphones – the NuForce NE-600x. Sometimes, it’s the small pleasures in life.
My grandfather never read fiction
I’m currently reading the excellent book Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card. In case you haven’t read it, the speaker investigates a deceased person’s life and then delivers a true account of the person – a sort of honest eulogy if you will – where the truth is told in place of polite praise, even if it hurts.
Anyway, this idea got me thinking about my grandfather. I remember the moment clearly. We were sitting on an outdoor deck watching eagles circling through the blue sky. At the time I was reading a lot. Mostly as an escape – you know, a pleasant diversion – the reason most people read books. I asked him about what sort of books he liked to read and he told me that he had never read a work of fiction. I don’t remember the next part exactly, except for the fact I was quite startled. As if he had just told me he had never eaten food or bothered to take a breath.
But that was the kind of man he was. He was rooted in reality. He’d built his own car from scratch. He faked his age so he could run away and join the navy before he turned 16. I even recall an old picture of him taming a lion with a whip. He was spartan and didn’t believe in embellishment, or in people’s imaginings. For my birthday, he couldn’t stand buying Hallmark cards with fanciful words written in them, so he’d cut out a picture of an animal on a cereal box and paste in on an envelope. He did this for every birthday that I remember.
But, he also loved to dance. And I think that’s where I can start to comprehend how he’d never read a novel. He couldn’t care less about carefully orchestrated words on a page, but orchestrations of two bodies gliding through space – that was his escape. He danced a lot. I’m not trying to speak for the dead – I just think that it’s odd, the sort of things we remember.
I do think everybody deserves to have something real written about them though. Not some generic fluff about how wonderful a person was.
Tearing down the house
You have to destroy to re-build. So, once again, wordbit.com gets a makeover.
For a long time, wordbit.com pointed to my tumblr blog. But, I’ve since found that tumblr isn’t for me. Total respect for the platform and the people on it, but I found that longish text entries were passed over in favour of animated gifs and youtube videos. I do love these things, but I’m also a writer, and need a place to express myself outside of any constraint or cultural influence. In short, I found myself longing for the freedom of WordPress. So, I’ve decided to come home.
But, it wasn’t enough to return to the old ways. The aesthetic that appeals to me now is clean and uncluttered. I’m putting the focus squarely on the words, the typography, the text. So, I’ve stripped away anything superfluous. Say goodbye to comments, categories, tags, blogrolls, about me pages, and meta this and that and so on. And what a relief to just write without worrying about these trappings. Because that’s what they are – just distractions that take you away from the communication experience. Mmmmm…. I like that. Communication experience – the unfiltered thought transference between writer and reader – that somewhat sacred exchange only fully realized today in good old-fashioned paper novels.
So, here we are – kicking it old school, like a stripped-down livejournal. Back to just good old writing – pouring it all out for whoever is interested. No Twitter. No Facebook. No social anything. Just you and me. I love it. And dear reader, I hope you do too.