Being in indefinite lockdown is turning me into a wild-eyed, bearded, slipper-enthusiast hermit. Or, couched in more positive terms - a rugged mountain man with a laptop and Gotland wool on his feet.
I’m sure all of us are digging deep in the final stretch - even introverts need some semblance of society after all. Yet, although there’s plenty to worry about, I’d like to keep the vibe upbeat around here.
I’m driving all over the road on this one. So buckle up and prepare for some whiplash - it’s a grab-bag post. The real writing trick here is in smooth transitions to make the randomness seamless - so watch out for those.
With lockdown still in effect, cabin fever is the real deal for everybody right now. We are all yearning for some travel, exploration, and adventure (hence the recent sea-shanty craze). So, it makes perfect sense that one of the highlights of this month was the successful landing of NASA’s Mars Perseverance Rover (we’re expanding from sea-faring ships to spaceships in our collective imagination).
If you haven’t done so, watch the landing video to see the sort of awe-inspiring high-res footage of the red planet you’d expect from an interplanetary mission in the 21st century. There’s even a secret message coded into the rover’s parachute.
Elon Musk approves. With a Mars colony as his end-game, everything Musk does is in service of his ultimate goal. His satellite-based internet service, Starlink, will one day encircle Mars in a high-speed communication bubble. But, for those of us on Earth, Starlink offers some intriguing possibilities for the future.
My prediction is that the increase in remote work positions, coupled with Starlink bringing fast internet to rural areas, will allow white-collar workers to buy up cheap acreage in pristine wilderness while continuing to work online.
In rural Canada, internet speeds are atrocious, but Starlink is changing that. The second-largest country in the world just became the new frontier for high-tech workers looking to escape the urban dystopia. You don’t even have to drive a tractor - but it would be cooler if you did.
When I was studying Anthropology a few decades ago, I would often come across the concept of liminality. It is a fascinating concept that runs parallel to ideas of limbo or purgatory, but with perhaps a more academic context.
As liminality has both spatial and temporal dimensions, it is not surprising that moody millennials have adopted the idea of liminal spaces as an aesthetic style. But it is the temporal dimension - a rite of passage - that is particularly resonant when applied to our current shared liminal experience as a society.
It is this unsettling transition that has overshadowed the birth of 2021 with a sense of foreboding as we cradle this fragile newborn year and wonder if it will grow into a beautiful little being, or a grotesque and misshapen infant.
But it is the jarring juxtaposition that troubles me, like golden sunshine on a killing field, of a current state of affairs that seems… really good.
It’s been five years since the release of the first Apple Watch and I’ve held off on getting one until now. I’m glad I waited.
In September, I wrote that the Apple Watch Series 6 release was decidedly mundane. Yet, it is precisely its mediocrity that convinced me to get one. When new functionality and design changes start to taper off, you know that all the low-hanging fruit has been picked. This plateau is a strong sign that a product has reached its peak.
That’s not to say that there aren’t any more wearable innovations to be had - only that future innovations will be slow and hard won.
As always, these are my thoughts and impressions, pros and cons. This is not really a thorough review - there are many writers out there who are paid to rigorously test and evaluate tech products. If you’re looking to make a purchase decision, you should go and read those. I’m just a guy who writes a blog for fun.
Most times what I write will be boring to you, sometimes it won’t be. But if you’re interested in the Apple Watch Series 6 at all, read on.
It’s been about eight months since this pandemic started and I’m still working at home. I’m not sure why I said there was a second wave starting back in August, cause the real Second Wave is upon us now. Second Wave as in 1000-new-cases-a-day-in-BC Second Wave - eclipsing the paltry 30 cases a day that people were freaking out about back in March.
And yet, despite the vaccine slated for arrival early next year, it seems that a lot of people just don’t trust it. Granted, this is just the impression I get anecdotally and in the comments section on CBC articles, which isn’t very scientific. In other words, my data gathering has been far more qualitative instead of quantitative.
Incidentally, I was asked to define the difference between qualitative and quantitative data in a job interview once. I think I flubbed the answer. Kids - don’t throw away your notes from your college Sociology courses.
So anyway, although I’m no longer frantically refreshing the Johns Hopkins COVID-19 tracker map, I’m not attending illegal parties either. People, especially younger people, are worn out from the war of attrition with a tireless opponent who will never get angry, depressed, or defiant.
Also, mandatory orders about who you can or can’t invite into your home is starting to rankle even the most left-wing Bonnie Henry supporters, with that “C” word being floated around in public discourse. That’s “C” for Communism, by the way, in case your mind went somewhere else.
Unfortunately, it’s not the virus who is marching zombie troops onto the field - our greatest enemy is ourselves. And by “ourselves”, I mean our sociopolitical context.
With that “editorial” out the way, let’s turn our attention to the safer subject of this blog post: the one tool that every writer who works from home needs. It is, in fact, the most important tool for every bonafide writer and lover of fine things:
The mechanical keyboard.
Do you need to spend a lot of time and money on this cultish hobby, shipping in artisan keycaps from Japan, geeking out on DIY forums, and building it from the PCB up?
This year, Apple is releasing four iPhone twelves: the iPhone 12 mini, the iPhone 12, the iPhone 12 Pro, and the iPhone 12 Pro Max. Under Tim Cook’s reign, the sparse product lines of the Steve-Job era are truly gone.
There used to be only one choice - the iPhone. Gruber’s favourite Andy Warhol quote comes to mind here. The iPhone has always been an expensive object, but there was only one choice. At least you knew - whether rich or poor - everybody had the same one as you (the very best one). You could save up for it and feel really good about getting one.
Now, if you want the “halo” device (the very best, the most prestigious, the most capable), you’ll have to throw down an extremely eye-watering $2194 CAD after tax. That is quite simply, sad. And out of reach for most people.
The confusion over an expanding product line (I wouldn’t call it bloated just yet, but it’s on the way), is compounded by the muddled differences between models. If it were simply a difference in size, that would be easy enough to understand. But the differences here are more niggling, even esoteric.What exactly is the real-world consequence of upgrading to a 2.5× ƒ/2.2 lens instead of a 2× ƒ/2.0 lens? Or recording in Dolby Vision 4K at 30fps versus 60fps?
I’m not even going to try and parse it all. But if you held a gun to my head today and forced me to click the “Buy” button, I would get the iPhone 12 Pro. Not because I fully appreciate the long spec sheet. No, I just think that “Pacific Blue” colour is particularly fetching.
So I’m not even going to mention that thing by name, because we’re all pretty sick of it. Yes, that thing is still going on and I’m still working from home. Now that the kids are back at school, life is a lot quieter and more introspective. Definitely feels like autumn. It’s good. Life is good and I’m grateful.
Look, I’m not going to pretend that there isn’t a huge mental health crisis going on right now. A rise in things like domestic violence and substance abuse is alarming and disheartening. But for introverts, the prolonged abstention from social events can be rejuvenating. Perhaps these times will kickstart a wave of innovation from all the cloistered deep thinkers in the world.
One personal change I’m not so sure about: at some point this year, I switched from being a diehard tea drinker to a coffee drinker. It just kind of happened without me even noticing. But the coffee is so good. And I don’t think I could handle the caffeine downgrade to tea right now.
Normally we’d be talking about the new iPhones at the end of September. But, unsurprisingly, they’ve been delayed by a month or so this year. That doesn’t mean there’s no new tech to talk about - far from it. From the insane to the mundane, this month had it all.
The “insane” category is almost too easy - if you hate living in the future, then you’re really going to hate Ring’s new sentinel drone. I still can’t stop laughing at the promo video where a bungling burglar who breaks into a home is chased off by the drone that comes to investigate. The dude looks like he’s auditioning for a bad Home Alone reboot.
Ring’s security drone hasn’t been released yet, so my many questions about this thing won’t be answered for a while yet. Autonomous security drones are so ubiquitous in science fiction, I hadn’t even fully realized we don’t have them IRL yet. And now they’re coming, so maybe the idea isn’t so insane after all. Let’s be honest - it won’t be long before somebody slaps a taser on this puppy.
If you want my opinion, I think that security guards should start working on their résumés.
Well, I’ve been in isolation and working at home for six months now, and it isn’t feeling like a temporary thing anymore. Also, a second wave of covid is starting to build - just in case, you know, anybody thought it was over.
When I first started working from home, I missed my dual screens, my co-workers, and the free coffee. Now I’m like “you can’t chain me to the office, man”.
I’ve also started dreaming more about travelling - probably because, let’s be honest, people always want what they can’t have. Sure, the “dreaming” is more like clicking through YouTube videos on top ten terrifying swimming pools and twelve hidden secrets in Central Park, but please don’t judge.
From Krasnoyarsk, Siberia to Fukuoka,Japan - I’ve become easily fascinated by the mesmerizing drone footage that can make anywhere but here look amazing.
International travel is a great way to destroy your routine, reboot your expectations, and sway your perspectives. Our lives become smaller when concerns become hyperlocal.
I have, for example, been disturbingly obsessed with random small things like how all apples just taste bad right now. Where’s ‘dem sweet apples? Before now, I’ve never even thought about there being a bad apple season. Is Fall a better time for apples?
So, this last month - in lieu of actual travel - I’ve time travelled back to the year 2000. Twenty years ago, I backpacked alone through Zimbabwe for a couple of weeks. It was a trip I’ll never forget. But what’s even better is that I took two rolls of film (kids, I’d love to explain all about analog life before digital photography, but I don’t have the patience) and a dog-eared journal with me.
To bring this content into the digital fold, I painstakingly transcribed the journal entries and scanned the pictures. These transcribed entries have now become the oldest entries in this blog.
Okay, week 21 of working from home (WFH) and trying to stay clear of hugs, high fives, sneezing non-mask wearers and large groups. As I write this, COVID-19 cases in BC have started climbing again - not unexpected after easing off on restrictions.
I’ve been keeping busy with work - doing a lot more Microsoft Teams meetings and creating fillable PDFs for an influx of paperless admin procedures. The projects and deadlines are not slowing down, but a general slowdown in the economy is something everyone has to grapple with.
Fortunately, I finally figured out how to use my mid-2010 iMac as an external monitor for my Windows work laptop. I was really missing the two external monitors I had in the office. But all it took was a $25 Thunderbolt 3 to Mini DisplayPort cable to get a glorious 27 inches of extra screen real estate.
But damn, does my iMac run hot through. The thermals in this thing are ridiculous - the feeble airflow coming out of the 3-mm vent at the top does nothing to stop it from becoming a space heater. Putting a fan on it helps a bit, especially in the summer heat.
Not that we’ve been getting much summer heat. We’ve only just started hitting the 25-degree mark - in late July. That’s the latest start to summer in the last 40 years. Lots of lingering dreary rain has also prompted the depressing Jun-uary joke to morph into the even-more depressing Jul-uary joke. This has been an anomaly year in more ways than one.
Good that we got the weather talk out of the way, cause we have lots to talk about, right? Er, no, not quite. There is nothing to talk about (hence the work and weather talk). I had some ideas for blog posts (such as: tech we were promised, but never got), but my heart just isn’t in it - maybe another time.
I’ve been playing a lot of games and watching a lot of Netflix though - let’s talk about that this month! And I bought a new pair of budget headphones, so I’ll throw in my thoughts on those too.
Ah, the joys of a personal blog - full of whimsy and vinegar. Dead and unread but still a delight - what a paradox.
It’s now week 16 of whatever this is - not exactly self-isolation, but still working from home, despite getting a haircut and going to the dentist. Which is probably the most I’ll be going out this Summer.
One of the highlights in June is WWDC, which for the first time ever, was an online-only event this year. I really liked the format - the production values were slick and the editing in post really helped the pace. A free, online event is the great equalizer - instead of playing to a privileged audience of VIPs and lottery-ticket winners at the Steve Jobs theatre, this WWDC truly was for everyone.
Laughably out-of-touch announcements like the $1000 monitor stand from last year’s WWDC were absent this time around. In contrast we got a more approachable and down-to-earth presentation.
In the traditional preview of upcoming software, there were some cool surprises, despite a few scattered leaks. In some ways, WWDC is more fun than the September hardware event. The absence of a supply chain makes it a lot harder to leak software than hardware.
Apple’s engineers are on top of their game with outstanding optical recognition making Apple Pencil useful across the platform. Handwritten text that can be copied, moved, searched, converted, and used in any text field is a smart upgrade to an old-school input method.
I was also impressed by “spatial audio” where the Airpods Pro get full surround sound purely through a software algorithm that tracks the exact position of your head and your device. And automatic audio switching between devices fixes a huge problem that plagues all Bluetooth headphones.
These are the sorts of clever hardware-software integrations that only Apple can pull off. The biggest announcement in this vein was the switch from Intel to ARM processors in future Macs. I’m definitely curious to see how the complete end-to-end control that juiced the iPhone will measure up when applied to Macs.
I’m not so sure about that macOS 11 UI redesign though - apparently neumorphism is a thing in design circles now? Those new icons look pretty bad - I’m not ready to let go of the clean look of flat icon design just yet.
But the iPhone is still Apple’s breadwinner and the changes coming in iOS 14 are most interesting…even though we’ve seen them all before.
Self-isolation week 11.
We are entering “Phase 2” - a gradual reopening of services and return to societal norms. It will, however, take a long time for everything to return to the way it was. After so many weeks, we are now habituated to physical distancing and it will be hard to just stop.
This is the new reality: Zoom is now worth more than the world’s seven biggest airlines - combined. If you were reading this six months ago, you’d ask what the heck Zoom is.
All too often, it feels like we’ve travelled down the wrong timeline - as if we weren’t supposed to wonder into this mildly dystopian future. I’ll admit that this perspective has been tainted by the book I’m currently reading - Gone World by Tom Sweterlitsch.
The time-travel concept in this novel is brilliant: the past cannot be altered, and the present (called “terra firma” ) is the only true reality. You can travel into the future, but will be flung randomly into an infinite number of possible future timelines.
So, you can’t return to the present and win the lottery - the numbers will be different in every IFT (inadmissible future trajectory). “Inadmissible” because you can’t arrest somebody Minority-Report style for a crime they haven’t committed yet. Anyway, definitely read the book if you love the time-travel genre as much as I do - it’s great.
For me, this feeling of dissonance with the current reality has kindled a nostalgia for the past. I don’t want to live in the past - I would miss things like document auto-save and a little thing called “the internet”. But I understand why people often say that the past seems like a simpler time…
Let’s be honest, any time before COVID-19 seems like “a simpler time”. Having said that, there is one particular decade that everybody has a thing for. And a nostalgia trip to this decade is just the distraction we all need in these troubled times.