Sun Feb 28, 2021
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.
Speaking of scratching around in the dirt, if you scratch around for any major-league holidays in February, you’ll come up short. What we have instead is Valentine’s Day, or Galentine’s Day, or Guyentine’s Day, or Family Day, or some other altruistic day. It doesn’t matter who you are, where you live, or whether you’re in a relationship or not - your money is accepted everywhere. It’s easy to be cynical about the consumerism of it all and the flood of junk mail implying that you’re a cheapskate if you don’t buy your loved ones diamond jewelry, a pink ferrari, or a new laptop.
Schools make a big deal about it these days. In my day, an anonymous rose or two would get handed out at school. But now kids are obligated to exchange cards, erasers, pencils, and stickers, etc. with everybody in the class. Yes, it is a much more inclusive - and expensive - affair.
We went snowshoeing on Valentine’s Day and it was delightfully…Christmassy. There’s nothing better than going for a hike when it’s snowing, especially when it isn’t snowing at lower elevations. I haven’t had to shovel once this winter - the real boon of living on the wet coast.
So, no complaints from me - I even got my limited edition Heart Month Challenge award on my Apple Watch. I’m staying on top of those limited Apple Watch awards all while keeping up with my Netflix queue - no easy feat, as being a fit couch potato takes a lot of work.
One of the shows in my Netflix queue that I finally got around to watching is the excellent Halt and Catch Fire. Major respect to AMC for renewing the show for four seasons, despite the terrible viewership numbers. It takes an investment - only once you watch the show in its entirety do you appreciate how criminally underrated the show is. The threat of cancellation pushed the writers, in their first gig by the way, to re-invent the show every season while pushing the characters into painful arcs of failure, growth, and redemption.
The show is primarily about failure - how transience in life is inevitable. It is about how technological innovation isn’t really about building tangible objects - it’s about intangible relationships with people. It is love, conflict, betrayal, jealously, friendship, and respect that drives the birth of a new computer in 1980s Texas, or a search engine in 1990s Silicon Valley.
If you’re working from home and need a reminder why you need like-minded peers around you to thrive, watch Halt and Catch Fire.
On the other hand, if you want evidence that you shouldn’t believe anything that you watch, check out these deepfake videos of Tom Cruise. These are the most convincing deepfakes I’ve ever seen - the computer-generated Tom Cruise is virtually indistinguishable from the real deal. Now, these videos are on TikTok, which I don’t use at all, although I hear the kids are really into it. But after watching these, I’m 100-percent onboard with ramping up deepfake detection on all social media platforms.
Apple needs to seriously ramp up it’s AI efforts if it wants to stay at the forefront of privacy and security concerns. Deepfakes are just one example of the sort of sophisticated deceptions that will be used in future scams and extortions. How are we to truly know that it isn’t a loved one facetiming us from a Mexican prison and asking for bail money?
Another area where Apple’s lacklustre AI chops seem poorly suited is the car industry. Recent rumours about an “Apple Car” have resurfaced but the concept doesn’t seem to play to Apple’s strengths. Self-driving cars require very strong spatial-mapping skills and obstacle-avoidance algorithms that just aren’t in the realm of anything Apple does. I’m not sure what’s going on there - it might just be R&D that will be shelved away and nothing more.
Also, building a car seems a lot more complicated than eliminating a notch, and they haven’t even solved that small problem yet.
Yes, Notch Watch is back baby. In this installment, check out what ZTE has come up with to allow under-the-display facial recognition. ZTE was the first to market with an under-the-display camera, and although it was a very first-gen implementation, the underlying technology seems sound. They’re taking another step here to prove that even more sensors can be crammed under the display.
I’m sure Apple are taking notes, but the notch - and Notch Watch - will remain for a while yet.
No matter what happens this year, my 6S is on its swan song.
We were up on the mountain skiing the other day. There was a moment where we had just scrambled off the chair lift on the mountain peak and were presented with the perfect scene. The sun was setting, there was a hint of haze, and the snow, the trees, the sparkle, were all held in perfect symmetry.
I whipped out my 6S and smashed that camera button. Nothing happened. The damn thing just froze up. Then it shut down. Another skier pulled up alongside me and took a few snaps on his phone. “Gorgeous, isn’t it?” he said.
“Beautiful,” I replied, but with a note of sadness in my voice as I would have to rely on the image burning itself into my memory, instead of being recorded for prosperity. You’ll just have to trust me - it was hard to describe how utterly stunning that visage was.
It’s also hard to describe how much I longed in that moment for a better camera. So that’s something to really look forward to this year, among many other good things.
Thanks for joining me on the ride.