Google Home is Canada’s first official smart speaker, so I couldn’t resist pre-ordering one when it landed in the True North. Being an early adopter is definitely out of character for me - I think this is the first product I’ve ever pre-ordered. Anyway, I’ve been using it for a few months now. Here are my thoughts so far.
The main draw of the Google Home is the ability to converse with the Google Assistant. Ambient computing, as it is called by some, is a cool sci-fi concept and, along with the flip phone and the tablet, is another Star Trek crossover from fantasy into reality. A lots of geeks out there love the idea of leaning back in their captain’s chair with a cup of Earl Grey and barking out “computer!” to chat with an AI.
The problem is, in real life, you aren’t running a starship. And to run your household seamlessly through voice control, the Internet of Things (IoT) needs to catch up to the future. Right now it is a tangled mess of incompatible competing platforms. A case in point - Siri doesn’t seem to have a problem controlling my Philips Hue smart bulbs, but Google does. The Google Assistant cheerily assures me the lights are off, but they stubbornly stay on, proving that even an artificial intelligence can lie.
Although I deal more in words than aesthetics, I have a deep appreciation of design - especially architectural, industrial, and UI design.
I have an extra appreciation for a fully-realized and well-documented design language. When I was tasked to design a user interface, for example, I found that Google’s documentation for their Material Design to be an invaluable resource.
I recently upgraded to Windows 10 on my work machine and I am enjoying the fresh coat of “Metro” paint. But I have to say that Microsoft’s newly-announced Fluent Design feels far more like the future. And I mean that literally, because the future of computing may very well take place in augmented reality, or mixed reality as some now prefer to call it.
If there is a counterpoint to the so-called ambient computing environment (presided over by virtual assistants such as the Amazon Echo’s Alexa), then this is it. Or maybe we are moving toward a fusion of these two UI paradigms?
Fluent Design is clearly an attempt to establish some design fundamentals in a 3D environment. But, there is also a sparse Desktop concept floating out there that looks amazing. I’m looking forward to a more defined design language as Fluent Design moves out of the concept and into the implementation phase.
Having said that, is it time for the pendulum to swing away from the clean, minimalist trend of the past decade and back toward colour and chaos?
About twenty years ago, when I was a student, I lived in an old apartment building on a busy main street. It wasn’t in a good neighbourhood. The dudes in the building across from us appeared to be drug dealers and would beg us for smokes every time we went on the balcony - even though we never had any damn smokes.
But the rent was cheap. I had a roommate, and each of us chipped in less than $300 a month.
That summer was the worst. The building was a rotting carcass that smelled sickening when the sun baked its cracked wooden siding. And even with the windows closed - which only made the smell worse - the noise from the traffic roaring by never ceased.
I had an early bedtime that summer because I was working at the Canadian Tire warehouse and had to wake up at 5 AM to make the bus on time.
But I didn’t get much sleep.
Ten years ago today, wordbit joined the blogosphere. A few years after that, the term blogosphere joined other buzzwords such as web 2.0 in the internet fad graveyard. I’m hoping social media will be joining them at some point.
But ten years ago, social media was still fun and innocent. Heck - ten years ago, there were no smartphones. The iPhone was to debut about four months later in a defining moment that changed the trajectory of the internet forever. Three years later, in 2010, Wired Magazine declared that “the Web is dead”. The Web, in case you didn’t know, meaning the World Wide Web (WWW) - a collection of html pages served up in desktop browsers. The Web’s death was greatly exaggerated of course - you can thank responsive web design for that.
Then again, there are millions of people who use Facebook but have no idea that Facebook exists on the Internet. Zuckerberg hooked even the most technophobic on the Internet without them even knowing it.
Yes, the world is a different place - but where does that leave the humble blog?
Shelling out for a fitness tracker in January seems like a cliché. Yet, here I am - shelling out for a fitness tracker. I don’t have a New Year’s resolution to get in shape, and I’m not planning on buying one of those ill-fated gym memberships that everybody regrets signing up for after one too many holiday pig-outs.
It is true though that I haven’t gone running for a while. I entirely blame the anomalous snowy weather we’ve been having on the West Coast for that. I also know that a fitness tracker won’t work miracles in getting my butt off the couch - only good old-fashioned discipline can do that.
I guess buying my first fitness tracker just kind of happened.
About that MacBook Pro I had my eye on. I couldn’t wait. As much as I appreciate all my iMac has done for me, I just couldn’t listen to the endless spinning and chirping of that dreadful hard drive for another year without going insane.
I’ll admit, I was hoodwinked at first by the narrative spun by a few entitled tech journalists. It had been two years since the MacBook Pro was last updated in early 2015. People were hungry for a new mac. That is why the general disappointment was all the more compounded when the new MacBook Pros were released recently.
Professionals bemoaned the lack of bleeding edge CPUs and a limit of 16GB of RAM, because they all of course need at least 32GB (dude, please). And recreational users (like me) winced hard at the sky-high price increase. An increase, no doubt, resulting from the addition of a questionable touch bar added to replace the function keys.
But I came to another realization. A realization that perhaps did not enter the minds of most tech pundits who begrudge the steep price for being an early adopter, but then pay it anyway.
Well, well, well. A lot has happened since I last posted here. In short, the world has become a darker place.
The gentle rustle of leaves swaying in the summer breeze has been replaced with the dry death rattle of winter winds. Leonard Cohen released his final magnificent album and then breathed his last breath. America had a trainwreck of an election.
And I haven’t even got to Apple’s disappointing MacBook Pros yet.
That was a bad joke by the way. Or maybe it wasn’t.
On a personal note, I failed to post anything in September or October - thus betraying the promise (well, more of a mild-mannered suggestion really) to you of at least a monthly post. In my defense, I’ve been stressed out with moving. And with the kids starting new school and daycare schedules. Also, I turned 40 and became an old crotchety man overnight. The motivation to write is pretty low right now.
Just getting this far feels like jerking one clunky wooden leg in front of the other and breathing hard. Hard.
All you savvy investors out there must know by now that you can make ridiculous amounts of money in Vancouver real estate. Those who bought a few years ago are doing VERY well for themselves. We thought this wild ride couldn’t last, but prices keep going up and up and up, with no end to the gravy train in sight.
Well, that’s not really true - there have been rumblings in the media about bubbles popping, or some such nonsense, but let me assure you: there is still money to be made. Even for all you foreign investors saddled with that 15 percent tax… My advice is - ignore the tax, my friends. 15 percent is nothing, NOTHING, compared to the gains you will make in the next decade.
Let me tell you why.
It’s a beautiful Sunday afternoon in the middle of July - a pleasant breeze blows and it isn’t sweltering like it was last summer. I’m leaning up against a log on the south side of Queen’s Park and writing this post on my iPad. The Patullo Bridge is closed this weekend for seismic upgrades, so this area of the park is unusually serene - the drone of traffic crossing the bridge into Surrey is delightfully absent.
The groundskeepers tend to ignore this part of the park because it is seldom frequented. It has a slightly unkempt, natural look - unlike the manicured gardens to the North where happy young couples take wedding pictures in the rose garden. I like it.
There’s nothing like sitting quietly in nature. I feel rejuvenated and at peace. Green spaces quench the thirsty soul and wash away the thick stench of the city. I couldn’t imagine how unhappy I’d feel if I lived in the middle of an urban wasteland. A concrete prison with an apartment window looking at a brick wall and a cubicle at work with no windows at all. I guess a lot of people live that way, which explains a lot about all the aggression and stress in this world.
Unlike Google and the other guys, there was no talk of AI or bots at Apple’s software showcase this year. Instead, Apple was true to form, highlighting aspects like “differential privacy” and “continuity” - features that keep you locked into their ecosystem.
Overall, the event was fairly low key with Apple focused on improving and polishing rather than innovating (I think it was the announcement of universal cut and paste that got the biggest round of applause).
Still, I always enjoy sitting down to watch the two-hour infomercial that is the keynote - if only to see what free stuff I’m going to get. Remember when Apple actually charged for software upgrades? It’s way more fun to watch these things after you’ve sold your kidney for Apple hardware. There is no angst at WWDC - only benefits for those who have already paid the Apple tax.
Since the keynote was divided into four software platforms, I’ll do the same and comment on each one individually.