Recent Posts

    Google I/O - a lot cooking, but not much to eat

    Fri, May 27, 2022

    At Google I/O ten years ago Sergey Brin dropped into a Google Hangout with a gang of daredevil skydivers wearing Google Glass. The demo was messy, chaotic and infused with pure hubris.

    Both Google Hangouts and Glass are now discontinued. But the 2012 Google I/O is still the most memorable one, if only for its overreaching ambition.

    This year’s I/O felt very similar to ones from the last few years - measured, academic, and forgetful. It was only at the end when a glimmer of excitement made me sit up straighter in my chair.

    Google Glass had returned.

    Well… not exactly. The ever-respectable and approachable Sundar Pichai, waxing on about the possibilities of AR, dropped a video showing a prototype of smart glasses stripped of everything - including the “glasshole” camera - that only performed one function: real-time language translation.

    Google is onto something here. Single-purpose gadgets can become great products precisely because they are born out of constraint to become focused tools. It’s the natural evolution of product design that precedes the all-purpose “one device”. You simply cannot converge into a compelling device that “does everything” before the technology is ready.

    I only hope that Google stays the course with this - not unlike many other dreamers I know, they’re just really bad at finishing what they started. One thing’s for sure though - nobody is going to be calling an Asian grandmother struggling to understand English a “glasshole”. Google’s scaled-back approach is definitely devoid of any hubris this time.

    What happened to Julie?

    Thu, Apr 28, 2022

    I was starting to wonder if I’m the only human on planet Earth who still writes blog posts anymore. I’m not going to lie - now that social media is entrenched into the fabric of the 21st century, blog posts seem retro and anachronistic - even to an old man like me.

    And then I came across Matt Gemmell’s brilliant insight on the rhetoric of writing in these dark times, giving much-needed context to my thoughts. He’s right - words matter. Gemmell sees “a worrying trend towards trivialisation amongst those who make things on their own”.

    I found his disassembly of the phrase “blog post” particularly insightful.

    He points out that the word “blog” has “connotations of the ramblings of some random person, without authority or polish”.

    And here is his take on the word “post”:

    It focuses on the mechanic of putting-up, making the actual published material almost irrelevant. It’s an emission; it’s another chunk. That’s minimising, and trivialising. It’s insulting.

    Gemmell brings it home by calling out “content” as the most hideous word out there: “content is fungible, space-filling, placeholder-replacing stuff, and that’s not even its most offensive connotation,” he argues.

    Read the rest of his piece to see how the offense escalates.

    So, perhaps I won’t call my longform pieces “blog posts” anymore. To counterbalance the insidious narrative, writers need to re-frame what we do. If blogging is dead, then it is us who should wield the knife.

    And needless to say, I’ll be calling myself a “writer” until the day I die - never a “content creator”. It’s no wonder that such a demeaning job title asks for so little pay. It really is depressing how far the monetary value of the written word has plummeted. And how so many writers are complicit because they have been beaten into submission and have lost all confidence in their craft and talents.

    Peek Performance impressions

    Thu, Mar 24, 2022

    Thank you, Apple, for giving me something to write about besides from today’s unholy trinity of war, disease, and inflation.

    Perhaps not as flashy as last year’s Spring Loaded digital event, Peek Performance was nonetheless a nice, mellow start to the 2022 Apple news cycle. And was also another opportunity for Apple’s chip team to flex hard.

    This presentation was a no-nonsense, all-business affair. Given the complete lack of levity, especially from a dead-eyed Tim Cook, you get the feeling Apple is ready to move on from pre-recorded video and return to in-person events.

    I have to give Apple inclusivity credit though - most of the presenters were women this time and they were all lively and engaging.

    So, I’m going to continue a tradition here and give my “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” impressions of each announcement as I did in last year’s Spring event.

    Here we go.

    The February doldrums + some advice

    Mon, Feb 28, 2022

    There’s normally nothing tech-related to write about in February - this month is no exception. And this February in particular, there really is nothing fun to write about.

    I could get into all sorts of controversial topics, but that’s not what we do here. If you’re a future historian combing old web archives, just look February 2022 up and you’ll have more than enough to write ten research papers. You’ve got everything from trucker protests to Russia invading Ukraine.

    On a personal note, I was out of commission for a while earlier this month with COVID. Getting “the rona” was an inevitable development, but I made it through more-or-less intact, which is about the best outcome one could hope for. And the latest Omicron variant turned out to be more like a bad flu than the more aggressive variants that came before.

    So, anyway, I promised some advice before I sign off.

    Why OLED is winning (for now)

    Wed, Jan 26, 2022

    Most people love colour.

    We personalize our clothes, decorate our homes, and choose our foods based on colour. Right from the start of life, every kid has a favourite colour. Colour even affects our moods.

    In nature, colour serves a biological purpose - whether it serves as camouflage, a warning (don’t eat me!), or as an advertisement to the opposite sex.

    In art, we try to mimic nature. Pigments mixed to the precise hue and saturation of a myriad of colours bring a painting to startling life.

    In technology, we try to mimic art. Only bright displays with a wide colour gamut are likely to dazzle shoppers strolling through the TV gallery at Best Buy.

    At its essence, colour is light. Or more precisely, colours are light waves reflected off an object into the optic nerves of our eyes.

    The opposite of light is, of course, darkness. A lot of people are scared of the dark. There is also a biological reason for this: The most dangerous predators are nocturnal (it’s hard to erase a few millions years of evolution). Complete darkness, as you would find deep in a cave underground, is truly black.

    Black is the absence of colour. It is not celebrated. Only weird Goths or funeral attendees dress all in black; only serial killers and Marilyn Manson paint their walls black. It’s safe to say that black gets a bad rap (except when I was ten years old and everybody switched their favourite colour to black because of KITT from Knight Rider).

    But as a counterpoint to colour, black is essential.

    So this is Christmas

    Thu, Dec 23, 2021

    Before you continue reading, I should warn you that this post is a bit of a bummer. So, if you’re hoping to get into the Christmas spirit, click away and have a laugh at TikTok or whatever the kids do these days.

    I’ll try end on a positive note, although I haven’t gotten there yet obviously as I’ve just started writing and I don’t know where I’m going with this yet. Everywhere and nowhere, most likely, is where all flows of consciousness tend to go.

    So, if you’re a jaded middle-aged adult like me, you’ve probably come to the realization that Christmas is about shielding the horrid state of the world from your kids. It’s about furtive doom scrolling bathed in the glow of the Christmas tree. It’s maintaining a fantasy, crafting myth and mystery, an antidote against the literal darkest month of the year, knowing all the while it is simply a placebo.

    It’s exhausting. And we’re the lucky ones. For those in the cold, without family, food, or a place to sleep, it’s absolutely the worst time of year. The best of times and the worst of times - the border between these two extremes has become very porous this year.

    The seven-year itch

    Fri, Nov 12, 2021

    I was pretty excited when I found out my iPhone 6S would get an incredible of seven years of software support (up to at least the end of 2022). In fact, if you’re a regular reader of this blog, you’re probably sick of me crowing about how my 6S marches on when Android equivalents lie long dead in the grave.

    Which is why I feel terrible about this.

    6S, I’m ditching you.

    Actually, I don’t feel that terrible. I guess I could stick it out it until the bitter end, but the truth is that the end-of-life stage is never pretty. The performance of my 6S is really choking, especially when it comes to the shutter speed on the camera. It’s a familiar sign of old age - when it takes a few seconds to snap one picture, you know the end is near.

    The battery life is even worse, as to be expected on the second-thinnest iPhone ever made (the iPhone 6 is the thinnest). I’m used to plugging in my 6S every couple of hours, but that’s no way to live.

    Admittedly, this drop in performance is typical of any new iOS version, which typically gets a lot better after a few iterations - iOS 15 is no exception. But man, I just can’t stomach the thought of spending a seventh year with the 6S - life’s just too short.

    So, having made that decision - what’s My Next?

    Most advanced connectivity ever

    Sat, Oct 23, 2021

    Irony or hubris, I can’t decide.

    In 2016, Apple removed all the ports from the MacBook Pro (including the beloved MagSafe power connector) and replaced them with a couple of USB-C ports. It was the port cull that birthed the infamous “dongle life” generation.

    In 2021, at their recent Unleashed online event, Apple brought all the old ports back to the MacBook Pro. They - this is just incredible - had the audacity to show this slide:

    So, irony or hubris? Obviously both, and I just can’t stop laughing. 😂

    Fitter, happier, more productive

    Fri, Sep 17, 2021

    Apple’s California Streaming event will probably achieve the one thing that most benefits this overtaxed planet - slowing down the upgrade cycle.

    Apple’s marketing guys tried their level best to feed the hype machine. They put together a slick online presentation that included musical performances, famous directors making movies with iPhones, and over-the-top, bombastic animations ill-suited to the iterative stature of each feature being illustrated.

    A case in point: this animation of a massive avalanche pelting huge boulders down onto the new Apple Watch screen to illustrate… an IP6X certification (dust resistance).

    With no new sensors, no new design (despite the erroneous rumours of a square chassis), and not even a new chipset, the only thing going for the Apple Watch Series 7 is a screen with 1mm shaved off the bezels and slightly faster charging. Oh, and improved dust resistance of course. Such feature paucity makes me feel good about getting the Series 6 last year: my analysis back then was spot on - the Apple Watch reached it’s peak in 2020.

    Apple’s crack marketing team also decided to inflate the importance of this year’s iPhone upgrade by calling it the iPhone 13 instead of the iPhone 12S. I totally get it - “S” year upgrades (same external design with updated internals) don’t sound as exciting. But in cold hard reality, that is exactly what the iPhone 13 is - an “S” year upgrade.

    That’s not to say that “S” year upgrades are bad - many tech enthusiasts actually prefer the refinements offered on a time-tested design rather than the riskier early adoption of a new design. I went with the 6S partly for this reason, and it has indisputably stood the test of time.

    August and everything after

    Tue, Aug 31, 2021

    So there we were - violently donkey kicking the flat tire in turns like a gang of crazed soccer hooligans. Rust, dirt, and mother nature’s malice had fused the tire rim onto the wheel hub and it wasn’t coming off.

    We were in Port Renfrew. If you don’t know Port Renfrew then let me explain: with two restaurants and about a hundred residents, there isn’t much else to it. True to its name, there is a port. But certainly no auto repair shops. And most tragically - no cell service or internet.

    We had no other option than to bruise that tire.

    Then, humanity shone through. One after another, people stopped to help. One guy bent his piece of rebar trying to pry it off. Another shirtless, barefoot guy borrowed my shoes and taught us the donkey-kicking technique. Another suggested we lower the tire back down with the jack to loosen it with the car’s weight. Another clean-cut young man used his satellite internet to look up the problem. He wasn’t much help but his heart was in the right place.

    Incredibly, they kept on coming. And each one contributed to cracking that bad boy off, taking a turn to kick when we were too tired to kick anymore. Eventually a grizzled Hulk-Hogan lookalike picked out a piece of wood and a rock from the roadside and hammered that tire off like Thor swinging Mjölnir in the heat of battle.

    It was a glorious, heart-warming, fitting end to the summer.