I don’t know what those Googlers have been smoking these days, but Google I/O this year was just trippy.
It started out with a bunch of colourful, psychedelic slug-like blobs singing opera. Whether a machine-learning experiment or an acid trip, the effect was the same. We were also treated to a bizarre AI-generated conversation with an anthropomorphized Pluto and… a talking paper airplane?
And just when you thought your head would explode after picturing error-corrected logical qubits wrapped up in a “colder than Canada” Bob Ross painting, Google brought back all the gross greens and oranges back from the 70s in a demo for Android’s “new” UI design.
It was a wild, heady, exhausting ride. But now that the I/O-induced haze has dissipated, there are a few interesting nuggets and tidbits I’d like to talk about.
In Apple’s recent Spring Loaded event, the landscaping at Apple Park was on point. The path sightlines, the balance of trees and shrubbery, the striking wooden decks - even the mulch - was all so pleasant to look at in its verdant splendour.
As Tim Cook strolled through the starkly empty courtyard grounds, around the shallow pool with its form-fitting crescent-shaped bench, in front of the rainbow arches, it became abundantly clear that working at the richest company on Planet Earth has its perks.
Criticize Apple all you want for creating a suburban oasis instead of a practical urban headquarters with better public transit options. But if you had the choice of spending your working days inside a grungy city office building or outdoors on a sunny California patio with views straight out of a manicured Airbnb listing, which would you pick?
I’m enjoying these polished online presentations - hopefully they don’t go away completely when traditional in-person events come back. I will miss strolling through Apple Park with Tim.
True to the event name, a plethora of product announcements were crammed into the hour. These were a mixed bag, from credit card improvements, to podcast subscriptions, to purple iPhones, to a Ted Lasso trailer. Fairly minor stuff. If I were forced to come up with a theme, however, I’d say the common thread - with one exception - was a focus on the average (non-nerdy) consumer.
Spring has arrived in full force. The temperature magically jumped up ten degrees in the past week. One day you’re huddling inside sipping Coffee in the gloom in Gotland-wool slippers, and the next you’re paddling on the lake in boardshorts and bare feet. Incredible.
It’s enough to make you forget that the variants are also out in full force. And yet, as the blazing Spring sun has burned away the darkness, there is also hope that the vaccination rollout will continue to curb the rising covid tide. Today I registered my interest in receiving the vaccine on the government website, so that’s a small win I guess.
I don’t mind the Winter too much because I like cozy blankets, hot chocolate, and Netflix. I don’t particularly like sunscreen, allergies, and mowing the lawn. But I’d forgotten how good warm sun feels on bare skin. The colourization of the landscape as it transforms from brown to vivid green is a real mood booster too.
With the warm weather breathing new life into the land, my mind has turned to Spring-cleaning projects - this blog being no exception. It’s time to get meta.
This month marks the one-year anniversary of going into lockdown, restricted gatherings, working from home, and so on. We’re at almost three million deaths so far from COVID-19, a number that undoubtedly would be a lot higher without the drastic global action taken this past year.
This one-year period has fomented a significant societal shift, and I can’t even guess what the long-term consequences may be. But if I were to hazard a guess, I’d say that, in general, people have become more suspicious, less open, and psychologically overburdened with either a well of anger or of loneliness seething beneath the surface.
Also like Batman, more prone to hiding in dark caves and staring at a glowing bank of screens. However, we’ve also become smarter about the way we work, travel, and communicate. Some humanity lost, but some efficiency gained.
Perhaps we will start hugging each other again someday, and perhaps we’ll rip the Bane masks off and see each other’s smiles again, and regain some of that humanity. Vaccines are aggressively rolling out as I write this, with politicians promising a much brighter summer.
If you’re relying on the promises of politicians for your future happiness, however, you may just be disappointed.
Now is a great time to reflect and re-evaluate your priorities. You could sit with remorse and regret every day (about how you failed to invest in Bitcoin or NFTs earlier, for example), or you could take a look at your life (not a hard look, mind you, more like a gentle gaze). Congratulate yourself on your achievements. Or decide to make some small, incremental, positive changes.
But wherever you’re at, cut yourself some slack - it’s been a bruiser of a year.
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.