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.
I’ve been in self-isolation for seven weeks now.
I’ve been keeping busy - working from home, trying to keep up the children’s education, doing repairs in my attic, putting in new drywall, and wondering if I’ll know it when I go insane, or if it’ll just happen so gradually that I won’t even notice.
There is, however, an end in sight. After months of hunkering down, the people of planet Earth are slowly beating the virus - and paying the cost. Yet, although a lot of money, jobs, businesses, and relationships have been lost - lives have been saved. And that’s always a good thing.
In the meantime, wild animals are roaming empty city streets, air pollution has been reduced to record lows, and oil is worth less than zero. This accidental experiment in lowering carbon emissions has given us incontrovertible proof that humans are killing our planet. It has also shown us that the financial system really is rigged toward padding the pockets of the one percent. If oil is worth less than nothing, shouldn’t gas stations be paying us to fill our tanks?
Anyway, not to get all preachy, but there is a lot we can learn from this.
Speaking of learning, how in the seven hells of Hades are parents supposed to oversee their kids’ education and work from home at the same time? Especially when there is only one of you because the other parent has to go into work? This diabolical conundrum is the situation I’m in. The teachers are doing their best, but parents worldwide are losing their minds.
Let’s be honest, with all the layoffs and pay cuts going around, you’d be a fool not to give 100 percent to your work right now. And I’ve been working my ass off. Which means my “lesson plan” mostly involves handing over an iPad to each kid and threatening no ice cream for dessert a little too often.
For those who are following a similar hands-off philosophy, I’ll be giving you a list of resources (at the end of this post) you can 100 percent do on an iPad. There are plenty of well-meaning people out there who are suggesting vague activities such as “make a book together”, which is lovely if you’re an actual stay-at-home parent, but useless for the working-at-home stiffs.
In January, I said that 2020 was “going to be one heck of a year”, but…
Needless to say, the struggle to contain the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) pandemic has put a strain on all areas of life. As I write this, Canada is in the thick of it - with playgrounds, schools, restaurants, unessential services, conferences, and even international borders closed.
This is the worst public health crisis I’ve personally ever seen.
Any gathering of more than 50 people is prohibited. We are all working from home (I’ve been out of the office for two solid weeks now) and there is no more toilet paper. We have not, however, been issued a shelter-in-place order (as in California) that prohibits people from going outside.
In Vancouver, there are plenty of people enjoying the spring sunshine on the beach - and they’re not staying six feet apart. I’m sure our Provincial Health Officer has cocked her eyebrow at these non-social-distancing hedonists and has her finger on the stay-at-home trigger.
The resulting economic slowdown from all this, while arguably not as serious as the death toll, has nonetheless triggered a terrible domino effect of temporary layoffs, a ravaged stock market, and personal hardship.
This is not the 2020 we were hoping for.
I am, however, encouraged by the proactive measures we’re taking as a society to curb this deadly flu. Let’s not forget that the first appearance of the H1N1 strain in 1918 killed up to fifty million people. We’re doing a good thing here. The “curve” has already “flattened” in Asia, so I’m optimistic that the societal shutdown over here will be brief, but memorable.
Last month I took stock at the start of a new decade and had some fun thinking about both the previous and the next ten years in tech. Because it was so much fun, I’d like to continue on from last month’s theme and go a bit deeper on the tech retrospective.
I looked back on some old blog posts from the last decade where I made some sort of prediction to see if I got anything right. I mostly didn’t. Being a soothsayer is, quite frankly, really hard.
So, instead, here are some predictions I got wrong.
The fun part of starting a new decade is looking back at how much has changed since 2010 and also imagining what life will be like a decade from now in 2030. Covering it all would take several pages, so I’ll just focus on one or two things.
But firstly, in the spirit of “living in the now” (party on Wayne and Garth), I’d like to express my deep appreciation of living in the year 2020.
We are living in the future - and the future is now. These are remarkable times on cultural, political, and technological fronts - and I wouldn’t want to be anywhere else (chronologically speaking). So here’s to 2020 - it’s going to be one heck of a year.
Ten years ago, I was newly married, childless, and just starting out in my Technical Writing career. Now I’m a grizzled father with grey in my beard and metaphorically-calloused hands that rest confidently on the helm of my writing career. I’m not quite a seasoned Information Developer, but I’m getting there.
In 2010, wordbit.com was only three years old and was still the top hit when you googled “wordbit”. Now you’d be lucky to find my site on page two of the search results. A two-bit Android app for learning languages has usurped my brand, but there’s not much I can do about it. My site, however, is still the top hit on DuckDuckGo - so thanks for that you wonderfully obscure privacy-focused search engine that everyone should use but nobody does.
It’s already time for a year-end wrap up. Not that I’ve ever done a year-end wrap up. But I intend to remedy this oversight; it’s clichéd, easy, and fun - so why the hell not?
There are plenty of important, serious topics that dominated the conversation in 2019. But I’m not going to talk about any of them.
Instead, I’m going to talk about foldable phones, fake airpods, and cybertrucks - three uniquely 2019 ways for the important man to cultivate an air of swaggering braggadocio. Ladies and gentleman, this is how you flex in 2019.
And then I’ll wrap up by discussing the best game, book, and movie I played, read, and watched this year. To be clear, my faves may not have hit the shelves in 2019, but they’re new for me - and these top picks get my thumbs up for a high enjoyment factor at any time.
Sound good? Let’s get started.
I got a new bike! It’s a nice upgrade from my extremely old and now-broken Norco mountain bike. This time around, I looked for a decent hybrid bike and my local bike shop recommended the Reid City 3.
I didn’t want a cheap Canadian Tire or Sportchek bike with a short life and flimsy no-name components, nor did I want to pay a premium for a well-known brand such as Trek or Giant. And although you can definitely save money going for a well-serviced used bike, I opted for new because I tend to keep my stuff for a long time. So, I decided to go with Reid - a promising newcomer.
Reid is an Australian company and they’ve only recently introduced their bikes to Canada. They’re decently priced ($570 CAD retail, but it’s the end of the season, so I got 20 percent off that). But the most important thing is that they have a lifetime warranty on the frame, so they’re not messing around. The City 3 comes with decent Shimano, Suntour, and Tektro components as well as Kenda tires. And if I wanted to, upgrading the components wouldn’t be a problem with the hydroformed aluminum frame serving as a solid base to work with.
The City 3 can be classified as a dual-sport hybrid because it has a slightly thicker tire and a suspension fork, which traditional hybrids don’t have. It’s great for constantly switching between gravel trails and paved roads, which is pretty much all we have around here in the Vancouver suburbs.
When compared to other dual-sport hybrids on the market, the City 3 holds up really well on paper. To get a specific idea of what that means, let’s do a spec comparison between the City 3 and the Trek Dual Sport 1, another entry-level hybrid on the market from a more well-known brand.
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.
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.