Recent Posts

    And so the leaves fall

    Thu, Oct 31, 2019

    Before we get into it, let’s take a moment to acknowledge that America’s nukes will no longer run on giant floppy disks. Should we feel safer, now that a nuclear apocalypse no longer depends on a computer introduced in 1976? Not necessarily.

    The military needs to rewatch Battlestar Galactica. The major benefit of using archaic offline technology is that it can’t be hacked. Indeed, the Galactica’s ban on newer networked computers was a key defence against the Cylons.

    But change is inevitable. Maintaining an old system becomes more burdensome than embracing the new. I’ll admit, I’m too obsessed with getting the latest and greatest. Which is why I’m a bit jarred when I come across people who cling to the old and familiar.

    For example, Microsoft is ending support for Windows 7 at the end of this year, and oh boy, is it causing problems. I was casually asked by a Windows 7 stalwart how long it will keep working for. Another year? Another five years? Honestly, I didn’t know how to answer. At work, some of our customers in the fishing industry are so fed up with having to use Windows machines that they’re asking us to bring back analog tech from the early 90s.

    I can’t say I blame anyone for wanting to stick with what works, but Microsoft should really make the Windows 10 upgrade free again if they want to convert the last stubborn holdouts.

    Still, there’s a lesson for me to learn here - I need to pump the brakes because new isn’t always better. For instance, I’ve recently been bitten hard by Apple with their disastrously buggy iOS 13 and Catalina software updates.

    Thank you Jony Ive

    Sat, Jul 20, 2019

    Unless you move in astoundingly different circles than I do, you will have heard by now that Jonathan Ive is leaving Apple. I must admit, the news took me by surprise. I’ve long taken it for granted that Apple’s products were essentially Jony’s products - meticulously fussed over and shepherded into existence by one of the greatest - if not the greatest - industrial designers of our time.

    In their press release, Apple emphasized that he’ll still be working with Apple as an independent consultant. But, given Apple’s closed-off monastic work culture, this overture seems nothing more than an empty gesture to appease the stock market.

    The reality is, after a 27-year tenure, Ive is out. He is gracefully leaving Apple behind and handing the reins of design-team leadership to others.

    The ripples from Ive’s decision surfaced some predictably snarky reporting, but I don’t really want to get into it. For a more measure take on Jony’s departure, check out Mathew Panzarino’s piece.

    Far from being a deity, Jony is a flawed human being, just like all of us, and certainly just as Steve Jobs was. I may, for instance, never forgive a snobbish Jony for calling my Toyota Echo “baffling” and “insipid”. But I’ll never cease to be amazed by his focus and his commitment to the design process.

    If there is one trait that exemplifies not only Jony’s design philosophy, but his entire life, it is this: perseverance.

    The darkest timeline - part four

    Mon, Jul 8, 2019

    The overwhelming stench of rotting garbage and vomit pulled Nathan out of his stupor. His dream, half-remembered, lingered blue and sparkling — like the shimmer of the ocean. The dream left him with a vague sense of joy, dissipating quickly as he opened his eyes.

    His tangled dirt-caked hair was covering his face; he clumsily smoothed it away. He was lying in a dumpster on a putrid bed of refuse. Must have passed out here last night, he thought.

    Scrambling out of the bin, Nathan headed down an alley to the street corner. It was bitterly cold and he was starving. People were bustling to and fro, the soft light of their holographic heads-up displays lending a demonic red hue to their faces.

    Although the building walls were nothing more than blank slabs of dirty concrete in reality, he knew that the ubiquitous heads-up display worn by every passerby projected the bright lights and festive decorations of virtual store windows to everybody except him. The projections were part of an exclusive fantasy world he was no longer a part of.

    The only real-life clue that it was the holiday season was a morose Salvation-Army Santa droid standing on the corner ringing a bell and soliciting donations.

    The flub at Dub Dub

    Sat, Jun 15, 2019

    Every June, like clockwork, along comes allergies and WWDC (colloquially known as “Dud Dub” in Apple parlance - a horrible moniker which reminds of George W. Bush).

    If you’re jaded and don’t care anymore - I get it, but I always look forward to seeing what’s coming up on the software roadmap. It’s easy to forget that Apple used to charge for software updates on the Mac and even on the iPod. Free updates are always welcome, and despite the conspiracy theories, I don’t believe Apple ever willfully intends to slow down the hardware with them.

    There was a lot crammed into the keynote - with an expanding portfolio of devices, Apple didn’t want to leave any product out. As a result, there wasn’t an overarching theme - just a barrage of software improvements, many weirdly addressing, point-by-point, criticisms from product reviews on major tech sites such as The Verge.

    There was also a big product reveal - the new Mac Pro, a ridiculous beast of a machine for…who exactly? Who actually needs a 28-core CPU and 1.5 terabytes of RAM?

    Not anyone who is starting a home business and needs to get up and running on a shoestring. Not even the hobbyists who like to build overclocked PCs and brag about their liquid-nitrogen cooling systems. No, the Mac Pro is for the major players - such as an established video production company with a bottomless IT budget.

    Nothing epitomizes this divide more than that infamous moment when Apple lost the crowd and sparked off an unfortunate wave of media coverage that somewhat overshadowed an otherwise excellent keynote.

    Five random things

    Mon, May 20, 2019

    Hey there dear reader - thanks for stopping by! We’re already five months into 2019, but this is the first blog post of the year, so I’m here to regale you with some delightfully random topics of interest. After all, we’re both here for a bit of entertainment aren’t we? A break from the relentless flow of our lives. Time never slows, and there are things in this world we should talk about.

    Before we jump into it, I’d like to assure you that I’m alive and well, despite once again failing to keep up my end of the post-once-a-month bargain. I will also assure you that I will never mention this particular failing again, lest every post begins with another lame apology and an empty promise.

    Having said that, my focus this year has been on developing some healthy fitness and eating habits. And, despite a setback every now and then, I’ve stuck with it since January. I know it’s working because the notch progression on my belt has reversed direction and my pants now look scrunched up at the waist and ridiculous.

    A few years ago, my previous doctor told me to drink more red wine. I ignored him. And then my next doctor also told me to drink red wine - and eat unsalted almonds - or he would put me on cholesterol-lowering medication. He gave me until December to turn the ship around. Well, I don’t want to go on meds, but I don’t want to start a drinking habit either. So I eat lots of almonds now. And less chips and chocolate.

    I’ll blame my high bad cholesterol / low good cholesterol as the impetus for my recent lifestyle changes, but the truth is - I’m getting old folks. And writers have the most sedentary lifestyle of all. We don’t even get up very often to go into meetings.

    Anyway, enough idle chatter - I’ve put together a few random things you should know about in 2019 - after the break.

    My first VR experience

    Tue, Dec 4, 2018

    It was a cold, grey day in November. We huddled in our coats as we scuttled past the empty loading bays of an industrial area. Two men smoking outside the entrance to a seedy pool hall stared at us with open suspicion as we searched for a sign we were in the right place.

    The VR lounge was hard to find, but we eventually found the entrance nested within a cluster of Chinese businesses. It was beside an extraordinarily picturesque reflexology foot spa filled with intricate wooden carvings and an actual Buddhist temple that had been miniaturized to fit in the space.

    The soothing sound of running water faded away quickly as we were ushered into a den of gaming iniquity.

    I was immediately reminded of the Internet cafés I used to frequent in the 90s. Except that nobody in here was checking email. It was grimy, dark, and reminiscent of one of those sci-fi movies where the protagonist stumbles into a room of bodies hooked into the matrix or the inception dream world or whatever.

    We shelled out some serious dough for a one-hour VR session.

    We were shown to some empty cubicles in the back, with nothing but HTC Vive headsets hanging down by their umbilicals from the ceiling. A taciturn attendant briskly strapped on the headset and placed the controllers in my hands. Another helped my wife get set up. I heard him ask, “We doing the tutorial?” The other guy answered: “Yep”.

    Then he said “Look to your right” and just like that, I was floating in a white room with a droid walking me through the mechanics of virtual reality.

    At least I am not George RR Martin

    Tue, Nov 6, 2018

    I can’t believe six months have flown by since my last post. I’ve experienced some shame over this state of affairs, I’ll admit. But beneath the shame lies… ambivalence.

    And lack of time, I suppose. A flimsy excuse, I know, as I could make more time to tap away on my beautiful underused MacBook Pro instead of fruitlessly trying to catch up on an endless and ever-expanding Netflix queue.

    And yet - I’m trying not to feel bad about it. It’s okay to take care of your life before you take care of your writing. It’s okay to take care of your children, your mental health, or whatever your responsibilities and obligations to yourself and others are. We both know that. Of course nobody is cracking a whip here, least of all you, gentle reader.

    At the same time, I do think that it’s beneficial to stretch those blogging muscles at least once a month, so I’ll try make more of an effort, or risk stagnation of what I consider a core skill of mine.

    It’s time to get those creative juices flowing - to go ahead and try - even if it hurts and the results are terrible. Just starting is the hard part. I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve tried to start writing a post then just given up in a fit of despair. Sounds dramatic, but then, how else do you describe a “fit of despair”?

    Google Duplex

    Tue, May 15, 2018

    I’ll admit it - I haven’t been following the tech industry as zealously as I used to. Scanning through every tech headline in the news has only led to a vague sense of listlessness, followed by disappointment, and ending with boredom.

    That hunger for “the next big thing” can’t really be satisfied by snacking on my RSS feed. Deep dives into emerging tech are more satisfying, but I don’t really have the time to read Wired Magazine from cover to cover anymore.

    Look, I’m not about to go on one of those tech detox programs where you whine about smartphone addiction and proselytize over the benefits of a tech-free life from your surfboard.

    But there’s only so long I can think about the notch, especially now that they are popping up on Android phones as well (get back to me when there are no more notches on any more phones, and we’ll talk).

    There’s only so long I can shake my head at Facebook as they sell our online identities to nefarious third parties on one day, then announce a goddamn dating service on the next.

    There’s only so long I can listen to Elon Musk prattle on about going to Mars while failing to deliver on the Model 3.

    In short, there isn’t a lot to be enthusiastic about in 2018 so far.

    But then Sundar Pichai stood on up on the amphitheatre stage at a Google I/O and blew my mind.

    The darkest timeline - part three

    Tue, Mar 27, 2018

    Victor had sworn to himself that he wasn’t going to watch her again. But he couldn’t bear to sit in that soulless hotel room for one more night, agonizing over the life that was stolen from him.

    So here he sits, on a bench across the street from the house he knows so well, watching his wife kiss another man - a stranger he’s never seen before. After their embrace ends, they clink their wine glasses and toast to some special event. Their anniversary perhaps?

    Marcy looks stunning in a black dress he’s never seen before, her hair done up on the top of her head. Now in her fifties, she’s always looked beautiful to him, but something was different about her. She looked healthier, more trim, and more relaxed than he’d ever seen her. His jealousy welled up in him and threatened to choke him in a hot, simmering wave. Was she happier with this other man than she was ever with him?

    The micro-blog: a reappropriation

    Tue, Dec 26, 2017

    A decade ago, there was a naïve delight in posting on Facebook or Twitter. Social media hadn’t yet evolved into the complex, anxiety-producing system of social currency it is today. Status updates were simply that - status updates.

    In fact, when Facebook opened up in 2007, you were forced to write them in the third-person: “John is baking cookies today.”

    There was no pressure to be culturally savvy or sarcastic or applause-worthy. You could be authentic, sincere, or boring if you wanted to because it all started out as a friendly little experiment. In the beginning, there were no “likes”. Can you even imagine social media without a heart or a thumbs up moderating every online interaction?

    So, when I came across this article about Mastodon on the Outline, I was intrigued. I’d forgotten that microblogging used to be fun. I’d also totally forgotten about Mastodon, which arrived on the scene in 2016 and seemed as doomed to fail as app.net or ello. But how could you not feel the nostalgic, warm-and-fuzzy appeal of “a nicer version of Twitter” that “makes the internet feel like home again”? And sometimes open-source initiatives in the decentralized web can flourish - just look at where Bitcoin is going these days.

    Unfortunately, although the people who hang out in Mastodon instances seem just lovely (depending on the instance), the Mastodon front-end user interface is just horrible.