Recent Posts

    Halloween Special

    Fri, Oct 27, 2023

    I’m not really into Halloween, largely because it was never part of my childhood. In South Africa, we celebrated Guy Fawkes Day, where we burned an effigy and set off fireworks. Celebrating the failed attempt of a group of Catholics to blow up the Protestant King of England is a far cry from celebrating the pagan ritual of wearing costumes to ward off ghosts.

    To be honest, it’s hard to identify with either of these celebrations.

    Of course, I would have loved to go trick-or-treating as a child. But in South Africa, it would be unthinkable to go door to door around your neighbourhood. Even if you could somehow circumvent the barbed-wire fences and guard dogs, you would likely be shot before reaching the front door.

    When I came to Canada as a young adult, I attended a few Halloween parties over the years. But, every single one of them was absolutely awful. Some of these parties even started off as disappointing and ended up as traumatizing. I won’t get into it.

    Fortunately, as a parent, I’ve greatly enjoyed seeing the wild delight on my kids’ faces as they dress up and stuff their pumpkin-shaped buckets with candy. Experiencing Halloween vicariously through them has saved this North American tradition for me.

    However, the fact that I’m writing a Halloween Special is evidence that I’ve completely run out of other ideas for this month’s post. So, I’ll just go with it -

    To mark the occasion where ghosts and ghouls rule the night, here are some scary things

    The fifteens

    Fri, Sep 29, 2023

    I’m a big fan of titanium. It’s much stronger than aluminum and is far more resistant to corrosion. It is heavier than aluminum, but, as you need less of it to achieve comparable strength, titanium parts actually end up being much lighter. For this reason, it’s used in aircraft jet engines, spaceships, and subsea equipment. Basically, titanium is perfect for extreme environments.

    Titanium is also one of the only visible changes to the flagship iPhone 15 pro when compared to last year’s iPhone 14 pro. It would be a mistake, however, to claim that the iPhone 15 pro has a titanium body. Only the rails around the edge are titanium. The back is still glass, and will instantly break when dropped onto concrete at waist level.

    The only benefit of using titanium, therefore, is weight reduction. Considering how heavy the stainless-steel bands of previous Pro iPhones are, this isn’t a bad thing. It’s just that it’s the only thing I can think of to talk about, and even I’ll admit that a discussion on the physical properties of metals isn’t exactly riveting reading material.

    Without poring over the spec sheet, I’d be hard-pressed to come up with any other outrageous differences between this year and last year’s flagship iPhones. Besides from the usual - a faster CPU and better cameras, which Apple introduces every year like clockwork.

    Okay, fine. I guess this will be a very short post if I don’t look into it some more.

    (pores over spec sheet)

    Summer of smoke and bone

    Thu, Aug 31, 2023

    It seems that there is some sort of natural disaster every year now, which makes it really hard to write an upbeat August post. BC is currently going through a brutal wildfire season, especially in the interior. Even far up in the Northwest Territories, where you’d think it would be chilly all year round, a large wildfire caused the entire city of Yellowknife to be evacuated. Unbelievable.

    With family on the verge of being evacuated, it’s been stressful on a personal level. But fortunately, besides from suffering through terrible air quality, no family has lost their homes yet. And with the cooler temperatures and rains of fall approaching, the end is in sight.

    What is disappointing and disheartening isn’t even the actual natural disasters - it is the societal response to it. While there are plenty who pitch in to help, there are always bad apples that bob to the surface.

    I recently watched the mini-series Five Days at Memorial on Apple TV about what happened at a hospital during the Hurricane Katrina disaster. Wow, talk about a fetid mix of corporate mismanagement, zero quality control, looting, racism, wild rumours, miscommunication, no evacuation plan, euthanasia without consent, finger pointing, lawsuits, and total lack of action or accountability from the Bush administration.

    It’s a hard watch, but I recommend it, if only as a great real-world example that nothing is black and white - it’s shades of grey all the way down.

    An island life for all

    Thu, Jul 27, 2023

    Last summer, I mentioned that we tried marine camping on our paddleboards. On the plus side, we were able to escape the summertime crowds, halt the bleeding of our bank account, and circumvent the impossible camping reservation system. Minuses included swarms of mosquitoes, a leaking paddleboard, and mistiming the tides, resulting in a really rough paddle back to shore. Even the group of seals that were tailing us were wondering what the hell we were doing out on the open ocean in an inflatable.

    At this point in my story, Let me issue a standard warning that paddling on the open ocean in an inflatable paddleboard is dangerous. Even the paddleboard user manual has a warning unequivocally stating that you should not use this product on the ocean.

    Being a technical writer, I know that this warning is only included for legal reasons. But such warnings have obviously has not stopped a flood of people taking to the ocean in paddleboards. I’ve seen it all - yoga on paddleboards, cats riding paddleboards, and just yesterday - river rafting on a paddleboard. Seriously, don’t be an idiot. Ocean paddleboarding is for the experienced only. The ocean is merciless and can turn ugly fast. Studying the trip reports, tides, offshore currents, and nautical distances is important. Even more important is knowing your physical capability and only paddling in extremely calm conditions.

    I also recommend buying the loudest air horn you can find. Most boaters follow marine protocol. But unfortunately, the bigger and more expensive the boat, the more likely they won’t think twice about pushing the throttle to full speed and swamping a tiny paddleboard in their wake. Or even worse, come right at you as if you were invisible.

    Despite this, or perhaps because of this, I believe that beautiful islands should be accessible to more people. In my previous summertime post, I wrote that “intruding on an area previously reserved for wealthy, old, retired snobs in luxury yachts is especially gratifying.”

    Well, dear reader, it remains extremely gratifying to cruise into a “secret” sheltered cove and remind the rich that money can’t always buy you an island all to yourself. Release the desperate masses onto them, I say. For this reason, I’m starting this new summertime series on so-called “boat only” islands that are completely accessible by cheap paddleboards. You don’t need a mega-yacht to get there, only an Amazon account and some gumption.

    Apple Vision Pro

    Fri, Jun 30, 2023

    It’s the year 2063 and you’re not as spry as you used to be. You’re getting tired of listlessly gazing at the bio-engineered animatronic budgie in its cage, chirping loudly at every passing grey-haired resident in the care home. So, you decide to lie down for a bit.

    Shuffling past the rec room, you shake your head. The rec-room holo-TV is playing an excruciatingly bad violin concerto on an infinite loop. A few drooling watchers rock back and forth in their wheelchairs as they stare with dull eyes at a 3D hologram of an energetic violinist.

    As you approach your room - which you share with Bob - you hear loud voices. Looks like Bob’s family is visiting from Texas. Damn, you were hoping for some piece and quiet. No matter - you’ll soon erase them from reality.

    You lie down and your bed automatically adjusts its memory-foam frame to cradle you so that it feels like you’re floating on air. You smile as think about your dear granddaughter, Ellie. She recently gifted you with a new Apple Vision Pro 40. All you have to do is tap your hearing aid to start it up.

    Having already installed the ocular implants, all you need to do is sit back while the care home around you fades away. An instant later, you’ve been transported to a beautiful mountain vista. You’re sitting on the deck of your virtual cabin, sipping a coffee. Your olfactory sensory-neuron implants replace the smell of Bob’s diaper with the aroma of the rich, steaming brew.

    Thinking back to WWDC 2023, you chuckle at the debut of the primitive AR headset forty years ago. If only Tim Cook had been more confident in his vision back then. As you recall, he even refused to wear it for photos. Maybe you’ll ask him about it when you chat with his AI alter ego later.

    For now though, you feel like participating in Avatar 26 - Paradise in Pandora, an immersive experience where you get to actually be a Na’vi and interact with the actors in the movie. Your banshee is waiting.

    You know, retirement isn’t so bad with the Apple Vision Pro 40. Too bad it took so long for Apple to make it this good.

    Can you guess what Google I/O was about?

    Wed, May 31, 2023

    At the Google I/O keynote this year, “AI” was mentioned 143 times. AI everything. Even the Pixel’s development was shamelessly retconned so that “from the beginning, Pixel was conceived as an AI-first mobile computer”.

    However, the AI-stuffed presentation didn’t seem like a desperate defense against the encroachment of Microsoft and ChatGPT onto its turf. Instead, we saw Google at their most confident. This was Google’s time to shine.

    Looking back at previous Google I/O keynotes, they have every right to puff out their chests. Google talks about AI year after year. It was usually the part in I/O where everybody fell asleep as Google droned on about AI research, theory, and language models. But despite the annual show-and-tell, they never released any AI products.

    And why would they when Google Search is their raison d’être, their bread and butter, their holy cow? Upsetting their extremely profitable business model is the last thing they’d want to do. So Microsoft saw their chance and took it - instead of typing in search queries, chat with Bing. Chat with Bing - a fundamental shift away from the link economy, which is how the World Wide Web has always functioned.

    But when you take the fight to Sundar, Sundar will calmly and responsibly slap you down.

    Business or pleasure? How about both

    Fri, Apr 28, 2023

    I hate to whip out my nerd glasses right off the bat, but putting this post together has been harder this month. Forestry, the headless CMS I’ve been using for years, has shut down. So here I am, rawdogging this post in a Notepad++ text file. I’m not ready to commit to another CMS just yet, especially since the process isn’t exactly straightforward. Shockingly, not everything in technology has gotten easier.

    It’s the end of April already - that’s wild. The transition of spring can be unsettling - hailstones one minute and searing sunshine the next. If winter is all business, the summer is for pleasure. But spring is just a heady mix of noncommittal unpredictability. So, in honour of flighty spring, I’m going to talk both business and pleasure in this post.

    I’ve written a lot on AI already, and I’m sort of ready to move on, assuming the zeitgeist will let me. But I have a few more things to say - that will be today’s business. For pleasure, I’m going to highlight some great free entertainment I’ve been enjoying lately. In these times of rampant rising costs and inflation, you don’t have to spend a cent to have fun.

    Beware the AIs of March

    Thu, Mar 30, 2023

    The great AI Gold Rush has begun.

    Given the constant hype, it’s tempting to dismiss the constant flow of Twitter posts on “Ten ChatGPT prompts that will blow your mind 🤯”, the thousands of shoddy AI start-ups flooding the app store, and the usual assortment of blustering, opportunistic idiots who have scratched “AR” or “NFTs” out of their bios to replace it with “AI all the time, every time”.

    But, there are actual concrete products - not just vapourware - emerging out of the hype.

    Microsoft, for example, is aggressively embedding AI into all their core Office products with a supercharged successor to Clippy they call “Co-Pilot”. They promise to eliminate the drudgery of office work. They’re probably not wrong (although they may also eliminate working-class, admin-focused office worker jobs at the same time).

    Numerous other high-profile companies, from Duolingo to Expedia, are integrating ChatGPT plugins into their products, bringing AI to the mainstream.

    In a rare display of enthusiasm, even Bill Gates has declared that “The Age of AI has begun” (the title of his latest blog post). But, when discussing the risks and problems with AI, he says this:

    Then there’s the possibility that AIs will run out of control. Could a machine decide that humans are a threat, conclude that its interests are different from ours, or simply stop caring about us? Possibly, but this problem is no more urgent today than it was before the AI developments of the past few months.

    Wait, what?

    I need a time machine

    Thu, Feb 23, 2023

    So, 2023 launched like a rocket ship with an extremely busy January and even busier February. And even though I could have asked ChatGPT to fill in for me for January, I swallowed my pride and allowed my streak to break.

    I’ve been putting out a post every month since 2020, but I’m no robot, merely an imperfect human. Thus, January has come and gone without a post. If I had a time machine, I’d go back and write one, but regretfully, I don’t.

    Since nobody human actually visits this site, I’m sure the AI robots trawling this site for data will forgive me. I will forgive myself too, which is arguably more important.

    How do you know?

    Tue, Dec 20, 2022

    How do you know I’m real?

    I didn’t think we’d get here so quickly. ChatGPT has revealed itself as the uncanny villain to writers everywhere. Writing on any generic topic has become meaningless overnight, because the AI can probably do it better.

    So, I ask you again, how do you know I’m real?

    Well, when I was in first grade, I threw up on a girl in reading circle and made her cry. I hate eating raw onions and cooked apple pie. I think Country music is the worst, but I love a good Western. On a trip to Europe with my best friend, we got into an argument. Then we just sat on a stairway in Florence for eight hours straight, refusing to speak to each other. I’ve never tried bungie jumping, nor do I plan to. Trust me - I’m human.

    But isn’t that what an AI would say to convince you it’s human? 🤔

    People have been using ChatGPT to write everything from college essays, to legal documents (saving them thousands of dollars no doubt), to their wedding vows (come on dude, so not worth it). ChatGPT can even write pretty good code.

    I can promise you, however, that I have no plans to hand off my writing duties to an AI anytime soon and won’t even attempt the in-vogue party trick of asking ChatGPT to write a post and pass it off as my own writing.

    There are of course problems with ChatGPT, the most troubling being that it states facts so confidently and eloquently, you’d assume those facts are true (they are often not). Don’t believe what you read, indeed.

    But nobody can deny that how we think of the written word has forever changed, especially if you’re a writer.