Against my better judgement, I’m going to write about the iPad. It’s been long enough that everyone’s already formed an opinion, I suspect; I’m going to start off by throwing a bit of cold water on some of the opinions I’ve been seeing.( Then, I'm going to get distressingly non-skeptical at you. )
Work has calmed down, to the degree that the SaaS project I’ve been working on passed its demo milestone and indeed its first demo. This doesn’t mean things stop, not by any stretch, but it does mean that I have a chance to catch my breath.
The first three days of this week were a highwater mark of suck for me, at least for the last 12 months or so. I wouldn’t think I’d miss the lonely melancholia of my last journal entry, but the combination of hair-pulling bugs the first two days with a traffic ticket on Wednesday (for an “unsafe lane change,” a subjective charge I don’t agree with, but never mind) had me nearly in tears by Wednesday afternoon. Wednesday evening was one of the few times I can remember drinking with the hopes of getting sufficiently tipsy to destress, a success achieved with a mai tai, a rye and soda and a Kahlua-spiked coffee. Are two strong drinks and a nightcap all that’s necessary to get me tipsy? That night, apparently, even though I’ve had more alcohol at other points to less effect. I’ll chalk that up to stress as well.
Yesterday, Thursday, was better; work was essentially stone quiet for me, the product demo went off apparently with no significant glitches elsewhere, a restaurant I’d been waiting for months to open (the Oaxacan Kitchen in Palo Alto) was yesterday, and I bought two expensive things: a Canon PowerShot G9 and a bottle of Laphroaig 10 Year “Cask Strength” single malt whisky. I’m somewhat worried that both of these purchases were a response to stress, but I’ve actually been thinking about the G9 for months specifically for the upcoming trip, and “learn about single malt” has been a low-level to do item for years. (Although honestly, the choice to learn about single malt this week? Yeah, stress response.)
Today also promises to be quiet. I’ve decided to try and update my personal website, making it something more of a project showcase than it is, and likely putting more stories online there. This raises some interesting issues to chew on with respect to making “in print” stories available for free online; while my first instinct has always been that you don’t put stuff you still want to be able to sell up on web sites, there’s a lot of evidence to the contrary, from the Baen Free Library to everything Cory Doctorow does to haikujaguar’s writing experiments right here on LiveJournal. My growing suspicion is that putting a good chunk of Why Coyotes Howl online, for instance, is going to either have no effect on book sales or slightly increase it, and that having a three-month “exclusive window” for stories that get publication in periodicals is, barring contractual obligations, sufficient. Of course, I still want the print work to sell and my gut feeling is that “but it’s print! dude!” isn’t in and of itself sufficient for most buyers, so I’ll be chewing on that, too.
I’d like to have that website updated before the Eurofurence trip, but I don’t know how likely that is, because it’s occurring to me that said trip is in just over two weeks and it will behoove me to have some idea what the hell I’m going to do for an author reading. If anybody has any “you should read that story” suggestions, I’m open.
Yes, I’m still here!
Work is going reasonably well; not much to write about it. Things are likely to get busier as the project I’ve been working on starts getting actively beat on by other people. I’ve decided that the web framework I’m using really isn’t particularly testable in its stable version, and when I try to transfer it to its beta version, it segfaults Apache. Yes. But only when—wait for it—the debug mode is turned on. While I presume this is something peculiar about my code, I can’t imagine just what it is in my code that does this, and it happens on two different installations. Part of me wants to lock myself in a closet for a week, with nothing but the computer and an unlimited supply of nachos and margaritas, and rewrite the entire thing in Django or Rails. But I shall not.
Writing is also going reasonably well; I have about 9700 words written on the new “Gift of Fire.” This is remarkable, given that the old one was about 24,000 words, and I am not 40% through it, but more like 30%. (I think.) I’m writing in fits and starts rather than consistently; I tell myself I should write in the mornings, but my oft-griped-about problem with getting up early has been particularly bad the last month and the time change surely isn’t going to help. I should note that I usually wake up of my own volition by 9 a.m. so we’re not actually talking late, but since I should be leaving for work around 8:30 a.m. or so, to actually get a reasonable amount of work done I’d need to be sitting at the computer, coffee in hand and brain in gear, by 7 a.m. and this should not be as hard as it keeps being.
I have been feeling a little bit of pain in the wrists occasionally again recently, and so I have looked around for a truly ergonomic keyboard. No, no, not one of those dopey curved things. I mean one of these:
Yes, that’s the modern descendant of the old “Model M” IBM keyboards, the ones with the buckling spring switches and are really remarkably loud. This one is made by Unicomp, and it looks, well, pretty much like it always did—except that now it has the Windows keys and is USB. I also discovered, as a minor but pleasant surprise, that OS X Leopard has improved slightly on the modifier key remapping introduced in the previous version: now not only can I flip the Windows and Alt key mapping (Alt sends the keycode for Option and Windows for Command, but they’re in the reverse positions that they would be on a Mac), but I can do that on a per-device basis, so when I’m using the laptop’s internal keyboard or a Mac external keyboard, the remapping doesn’t happen.
Anyway, at the moment I’m just back from a trip to Forbidden Island and then Buffalo Bill’s Brewpub with dracosphynx to meet gatcat and a bunch of other people with him whose names I’ve already mostly forgotten because I suck. While I don’t feel tipsy, I feel tired, so maybe going to bed at a
rational early time is in order.
It’s about ten before nine as I start writing this, and I’m not in traffic this morning; instead I’m sitting in the Millbrae Panera, about 10 miles from the house, with a bagel and cream cheese and a cup of coffee. Yes, it’s a holiday, and one that I’d almost forgotten about having off—it was only as I was leaving the office and called “see you Monday” to a coworker that I got back, “Oh, Monday’s a day off. See you Tuesday.”
The power at the apartment went out this morning, just after seven, and as far as I can tell it’s still out. This means that my web sites and the Excursion Society MUCK are down, as well as haikujaguar’s Stardancer. I did learn, at least, that the UPS monitoring daemon in OS X actually works now, as after about five minutes Parmesan (my PowerMac G5) shut down gracefully. Unfortunately, Agii (the web server) didn’t have that enabled, so hopefully it’ll all come back up without undue stress. (In theory, I back up my home directory to Parmesan via rsync every night, and I back up Parmesan to an external drive… somewhat less frequently than I honestly should. Parmesan is actually due for an internal hard drive replacement given its age, but I’m still debating replacing Parmesan itself. That’s another post, though.)
(Note: around 9:20 or so, Agii came back online. I haven’t reconnected to it to check on my own various web services, but I shall before I leave Panera.)
So what do I plan to do with my day off, you ask? In theory, write. I haven’t done anything on “Gift of Fire” since last weekend. I’ve been having trouble dragging myself out of bed early enough to get in writing in the morning, and both of the weekend days were largely committed—Saturday to a somewhat roundabout trip to Santa Cruz, and Sunday to a large block of role-playing on the Excursion Society, kicking off a long-delayed trip and some of the first interaction that hasn’t been characters sitting around hoping something would happen in months.
In practice, I don’t think I want to sit here at Panera the whole day trying to write, though. The atmosphere’s still pleasant enough in its own way but perhaps it’s become a little too sterile, or perhaps I’m anticipating the inevitable lunch rush with dread. (They’ve also taken to shutting off your wifi if you’re on it for more than 30 minutes between 11 a.m. and 2 p.m., precisely because of said lunch rush—an understandable business decision but not one that fills me with joy, even though if I’m writing I shouldn’t be on the damn network anyway.) I’m contemplating heading up into San Francisco to check out Ritual Coffee Roasters, which I’ve been to once before, many months ago, and see if I can write there. Will it be magically more inspiring? Maybe. Maybe it’ll just be a waste of time, of course.
I’ve also brought my camera with me. I have a Nikon D70; last week I became a bit technolusty after one of the newer Nikons, the D300. (For those not up on the model line, the D70 was replaced by the D70s and then the D80; Nikon’s newest cameras are the Serious Pro Level D3 and its less buff cousin, the D300, which is nonetheless a serious leap up from the D80.) But, I didn’t use it very much at all last year; if I want to re-engage my shutterbug a little, I need to get re-engaged with the tools I have before buying new ones. And, of course, if I bought a new gadget sometime for the D70—a new lens, a tripod, an external flash—it would transfer to any newer camera body. But the point is to retrain myself to get out there and start taking photos again.
Thinking about computers and camera gear also, not unsurprisingly, makes me think about finances. That too could be another post, but the short form is that on Friday, I got my first direct deposit paycheck. Regular pay means I can put into effect a regular transfer into savings, something I haven’t done since… well, I’m not sure I’ve done it this decade. Last year on contract, I did put money into savings irregularly, but most “savings” actually went to debt payment. At the end of 2006 I paid off my car, leaving just a credit card debt that was, if I recall right, about $10K. I paid that off by the end of 2007. Given the bleak economic outlook for 2008, this is probably an excellent time to not have debt. I now might have the stability to start (gasp) buying stocks and bonds—which at first glance seems odd to think about given that just-mentioned economic outlook, but over the long-term, it’s nearly always a good bet. I’m still doing my research on that.
At any rate, even if I don’t know what I’m going to do yet, it’s definitely time to do something. Upward and onward.
I’m making final prep for what’s undoubtedly one of the slower, more sedate moves that I’ve made. What’s left to move is mostly furniture (bed, computer desk and chair, and a baker’s table that I’ll likely press into service as a bar), clothes, and kitchen utensils and gadgets that I purchased or unpacked here and haven’t figured out how to repack yet: martini glasses, margarita glasses, wine glasses (sensing a theme?) and some other odds and ends.
The plan is to borrow bigtig’s minivan on Saturday and move the furniture, then run to the Pier 1 by the apartment to pick up my new dresser and move that, then, well, return the minivan and head back up the road with at least some of the clothes and odds-and-ends. Then push my bedroom into good enough condition to sleep there. I’ll be attempting to bring at least one friend with me to help with the moving during this process—it’s going to be a two-person job, at least, to unload the big furniture pieces, even though there’s not many of them; there may be many trips up and down the road between the apartment and Tugrik’s. (It’s 35 miles each way, which isn’t too bad in and of itself but gets tiring in repetition.) Sunday will be a return to Tugrik’s to clean the room, which I’m sure has dustbunnies the size of cats in it, and picking up still more odds and ends.
I suspect I’ll have a lot to do on Saturday morning, from still more laundry to computer moving/dismantling, but hopefully I’ll get a head start on that tonight. At least, disconnecting things and clearing off surfaces. Ironically, the boxes I’ll need to pack things are mostly at the new place, so I’ll need to bring a load back, as well as some packing peanuts to protect the glassware.
The holidays are a strange time of year to be moving; it makes me feel… selfish. Instead of thinking about gifts to buy others, I’m thinking about furnishings. Bookshelves for the living room. Shelves for my closet. Filling in missing kitchen utensils. (Buying a non-assful knife set.) Stocking “pantry” dry goods and spices. You’d think this would at least be an excellent opportunity to put together a wish list, but even that’s easier said than done: I won’t have a full idea of what I need until after I move. And flying back from Florida with the knife set might be problematic anyway.
In any case. Before I leave this morning, I’ll turn off the G5’s backup scheduler to the house NAS and start a final “manual” backup of it to an external hard drive. Then I’ll head back into the office, stopping by the Los Gatos Peet’s for coffee—it’ll be the last time I take this route, at least to work. (Memo to self: find Peet’s closest to new apartment.)
I’m approaching the end of my fifth year in California. It’s a few months off, but I imagine I’ll write about that more soon. It comes close to coinciding with an arbitrarily momentous birthday.
I’ve been working on fiction writing again, a little, and playing around with Yet Another Strange Writing Tool: this one is Scrivener, which is sort of a mix of editor, outliner, and database. I’m going to try and draft a complete new story in it; I’ll report back on how it goes. (It’s really intended for doing drafts, and exporting those drafts to a word processor for final assembly.)
It’s about time to get to the office, so I’ll wrap this up, even though it’s a bit short. I’m going to be trying yet again to start getting up earlier to see if I can set aside a full hour every morning for writing; as anyone who’s read my journal for a while knows, my track record on this is pretty dismal. But hey, maybe twelfth time’s the charm. (I know my point of failure is not getting to bed at an early enough time to pull this off; I just don’t do well with less than seven hours of sleep.)
When I moved out to California, I didn’t bring any computer monitors with me; at the time I was only using my laptop. When I got a desktop again, I borrowed one of revar’s old monitors and it’s been with me since.
Of course, the monitor world has moved on since then; LCDs are, well, a lot sharper than CRTs, particularly CRTs that are seven or eight years old, with slight coloration issues that resist degaussing and straight lines that you can never quite get truly straight no matter how much you fiddle around with the settings. Buying a new monitor has been on my “things to eventually do” list for a year, particularly after being spoiled by the 1600×1200 monitor that I have at work. The CRT can go to 1600×1200, too, but doing so exacerbates the fuzziness issue, brings down the refresh rate just enough that I’ll eventually get a headache, and so forth. I’m finding this all out because I’m (re-re-)rediscovering the value of having a work desk, even though I do actually connect up my laptop to the monitor and the keyboard, leaving the desktop headless.
Yesterday, I decided to move “eventually” up to “how about now.”
The new monitor that should be on its way is a Dell 2407WFP-HC. Yes, being a Mac guy, I was tempted by the comparable Cinema Display, but Apple can’t even pretend to be competitive on monitors. The Cinema ones look cool, they may have slightly better build quality, but I didn’t pay the $150 goth tax for the black MacBook over the white one and I’m not going to pay the $300 ZOMG brushed metal! tax for the monitor. And while I’d thought some of Dell’s features in the monitor were weird—who’d use a Compact Flash reader built into the side of the display?—I realized, hey, actually I would.
So I’ll report back later for the morbidly interested. This does leave me wondering if I should actually ditch the desktop—it’s increasingly just being used as a server—but I think I’ll hang onto it for now. Those are musings for another post, anyway.
The weekend before this, we obtained an ice cream maker, and I’ve been engaging in the art—as yet not fine—of making ice creams. Well, four ice creams—three of them vanilla, and all different kinds!—along with an apple sorbet and a raspberry frozen yogurt. I’ve managed to botch the recipe on several of the ones I made, yet all of them have come out well in spite of me. The yogurt is extraordinary, despite needing somewhat more “punch” in its berry-ness; all of the vanilla ice creams have been good. (I have a fourth version to make soon, which requires vanilla sugar—which requires time to make!) I also made a peach ice cream, with a few fresh peaches from Andy’s Orchard; the texture didn’t strike me as quite “right,” but the flavor was fine. I’ll probably start trying stranger concoctions soon, but I figure I need to get the hang of the basics first.
Beyond that, things have been… quiet since I last wrote, albeit not in a bad way. The current iteration of the project I’m working on at the office is wrapping up, but there are future iterations already being talked about, and there’s at least one project that was put on hold for this one. So I’m not worried about the contract ending any time soon. I do have to worry about getting new medical insurance shortly, as all this time I’ve been on COBRA from my time with the Armada Group (the contract at Cisco), and those benefits end next month.
My desire to work on my own projects seems to wax and wane, and right now it’s waxing—yet for programming, I’m finding myself starting to work with PHP again rather than jumping into Ruby on Rails. I’m not entirely sure why, save the computer variant of “write what you know.” At work I’ve been using a Rails-ish framework for PHP called CakePHP, which is a mix of good ideas and frustrating implementation. What I’m poking with is taking some of the former, with a new implementation. The only drawback to this is, of course, that it’s absolutely nuts. So we’ll see.
Writing projects, you say? Well, I’m likely to end up with more writing tools—Nisus recently introduced Nisus Writer Pro, an upgrade to a word processor I already own (and reviewed a few years ago), so I’ll probably upgrade, although truth to tell I’ve found myself doing more and more of my writing in TextMate these days. I used to mock the idea of using a text editor for writing prose (“I don’t do that for the same reason you don’t write C in WordPerfect”), but there’s always been truth in the idea that editing and formatting are two vastly different functions—I don’t need what’s on the screen when I’m typing to look like a manuscript, and Markdown removes my long-standing objection that I do actually need some formatting tools (italics, at the least) when typing.
While I’ve been using an odd digital notebook program called Mori for years, I’m considering switching to VoodooPad unless Mori’s new owner shows visible signs of
life development soon. I may upgrade my old copy of Dramatica Pro to one that will run on my notebook, although it’s galling that the only change between the version I have (4.0) and the current 4.1 is OS X compatibility—they haven’t even made an Intel version of the damn thing yet.
Oh, you say writing tools ≠ writing projects. Okay, you got me. I still have a few of those, too, but they’ve definitely been stalled. The tools do sometimes kick my muse in the butt to get things going, which is why I’m contemplating the Dramatica upgrade (it’s a quirky program, but muse-kicking is its entire point).
At any rate, I’ve actually been writing this fairly short entry for days, writing the second half before leaving for work this morning—without having time to post it. Now a quick post (I’m actually working, really), and off to lunch.
As tugrik mentioned, I did indeed get an iPhone.
It’s almost superfluous at this point to describe it, in part because so many people had their minds made up about the thing before it shipped. The best comment I’ve seen was this, from Michael Mulvey:
Why there’s an iPhone craze:
This is real simple and doesn’t require a long-winded explanation.
The iPhone is the floating car we imagined we’d be driving in the future.
The Jetsons, Star Wars, Blade Runner, Minority Report …the iPhone is that touchscreen gadget they all used (metaphorically speaking) to communicate with. As John Gruber points out (so obvious we all didn’t catch it), the iPhone is the first mobile device being promoted for its interface, not hardware.
Either that makes perfect sense to you, or it sounds nuts. Some people in the latter camp have moved to the former camp by actually using one. (I’ve heard from more than one person who really wasn’t interested in an iPhone until they had some time to play with it.)
I will tell you the most valid criticism, which contains many problems rolled into one observation: this is a version 1.0 product. It could be faster and cheaper, it could do more, it could do what it does better. There are a handful of poor design decisions, and a few long-solved problems have become unsolved by the new UI.
I will tell you the least valid criticism, too, because it is true yet misses the point entirely: there’s nothing the iPhone does that hasn’t been done by something else. The point is that there’s nothing else that does anything how the iPhone does it, and that’s been the focus all along.
I have an old smart phone and an old iPod and have been thinking about upgrading both of them as it is. For me, there wasn’t a lot of downside, save the timing financially. (It’s a fair amount of money to drop just before a convention.) But the price isn’t so out-of-line with getting a new iPod and a new smart phone.
tugrik also mentioned I had some activation problems. When I first tried to activate the gadget, it told me, essentially, that with my credit approval I needed to go down to AT&T and pay a deposit. I went down to AT&T, where I was told the deposit was: $0. They had no idea why it didn’t go through.
There are a lot of news stories floating about right now talking about widespread activation problems. The thing is, AT&T’s credit process, transferring phone numbers, and the other minutae of activation doesn’t magically change with the “i”; 5% of activations are probably always harder to work through than usual. What’s changed is the method, sheer volume, and particularly media attention focused on these activations. It’d have been great if it’d all worked flawlessly, but that doesn’t happen much on this planet.
Oh yes: Twitter Twitter Twitter. Thank you. (The iPhone doesn’t have instant messaging, but reading/sending “tweets” is very easy. Again, I’m “chipotlecoyote” there.)
So what’s really interesting about the iPhone, at this point, isn’t the phone as much as the reactions to the phone. There may never have been a product before about which so many confident predictions of success or failure have been made before all but a few people have ever seen the damn thing in person. And there may never have been a product in consumer electronics before that’s making this big an entrance. Sony, Microsoft and Nintendo wish they could have gotten this kind of buzz.
This doesn’t mean that there’s not a lot of slamming going on. Daring Fireball’s John Gruber has all but been making a sport of tracking “iPhone Doubters,” most recently deconstructing a New York Times piece. The explanations for why the phone is sure to fail are predictable enough that most observers could have written half of them before the device was even announced: it’s too high-priced, it doesn’t do anything that other phones don’t already do, Apple has no experience in this market, the touch screen is a stupid idea for [pick one of a half-dozen reasons], the battery life will be terrible, the data speed is too slow. Only the wildly Apple-obsessive are going to go out and buy this when it’s first available and, well, nobody else will.
Other than the gratuitous Apple fan bashing (the psychology of that is best left for another post), most of those points are reasonable. It is a damn high price, you can get other devices (for less) that match the iPhone feature for feature or surpass it, the touch screen keyboard is a big unknown at best, and the cell data standard the iPhone uses is slow. What with all this common sense antidote to irrational iPhone hype, you’ve gotta wonder just what AT&T is thinking by telling their stores to beef up security and crowd control on June 29th. And what Sprint is thinking when they tell their staffers to expect up to 6% of their smart phone customers to abandon them immediately. What industry analysts are thinking when they write that the iPhone may capture 26% of the smart phone market. What financial analysts are thinking when they keep listing Apple’s stock as “outperform.”
Well, no, we don’t have to wonder what they’re thinking. They’re thinking the iPhone is going to be liquid money. Executives at the carriers who refused to deal with Apple are, at this moment, preparing their résumés.
So what does the iPhone actually have going for it?
Let’s look at the price a moment: $500 or $600, depending on whether the iPod is a 4G or 8G version. That is damn expensive for a smart phone, let’s face it. But think about it as an iPod alone for a moment: if you removed the phone part and just had this be a wide-screen iPod with the touch-screen UI they’ve demonstrated, you’d have a unit that Apple could probably get away with selling for $300 or more. This is arguably the best video iPod ever, not a phone that does MP3s as an afterthought. Is this $300 worth of iPod and $300 worth of phone? Before you write that off as completely irrational, ask how many people out there have spent more than $500 total on both an iPod and a smart phone already. Big number, right? That’s what Apple is betting the potential market is here, and on that point, I don’t think I’d bet against them.
But, okay. Is it really that good a smart phone, given what we know about it and what we know about smart phones on the market now? If I compare it to a Sidekick III, the iPhone seemingly gets its ass handed to it: the Sidekick has a web browser and e-mail client and SMS and camera and all those things, plus a real keyboard, plus an integrated SMS client, plus a large library of third-party applications you can get delivered to it over the air.
Of course, to actually make a phone call on the Sidekick, the process is something like: click the phone app, scroll to “look up contacts” and click, scroll down the contacts and click. In a phone call, you can mute it by, um, pressing the menu button and finding mute. I think. I’m sure there’s a way to do a conference call on it, but fuck if I know.
The takeaway point here is that the Sidekick is regarded—correctly—as having one of the good user interfaces for a smart phone. But from a usability standpoint, the iPhone kicks its ass.
I’m not going to wax rhapsodic and proclaim that the iPhone is a revolutionary reinvention of the mobile phone. The truth is, though, that a lot of consumer electronics products—car radios, video players, and definitely cell phones—have terrible human engineering. There’s little to no thought given to how self-evident a function is or how easy it is to access it relative to how often the function will be used.
And if there’s one thing that Apple is (usually) good at, it’s human engineering. The UI differentiated the iPod from its competitors; there were always MP3 players with more features, but it was just easier to use, and iTunes was easier to use library management software. At risk of linking to John Gruber again, he’s one of the people who’s gotten what the iPhone’s “killer app” is: it’s the interface, stupid.
The iPod is illustrative here. Some pundits and technophiles still don’t get why someone would “put up” with a device that has fewer features and costs more, and figure it must just be because they’re uninformed fashion-conscious sheep. In some cases, that’s probably true, and of course now the iTunes Store has the network effect going for it (which also applies to the iPhone, of course). But the idea that people might be choosing to buy iPods because they don’t want to “put up” with a device whose multitude of features are painful to use seems to be off the radar. It shouldn’t be.
So will I, your humble coyote, be in line to get an iPhone, to pony up $600 initially and $70 a month onward? (Not much more than I’m paying now, mind you, but even so.) I don’t know. I won’t say I’m not tempted, although I won’t say that I don’t have reservations, either. I trust folks who’ve actually used the iPhone, like Andy Ihnatko, who’ve said that the touch-screen keyboard works surprisingly well, but I’ve been known to hit 100 wpm on a normal keyboard and upwards of 30 wpm on a thumb board, and I just don’t see that happening without tactile feedback. (I suspect my Sidekick has also given me first stage RSI, so I’m not sure slowing me down wouldn’t have positive side effects.) I use my Sidekick a lot for IM.
And certainly not least, there’s an inherent risk in being an early adapter. A lot of the iPhone will crash and burn! articles are based on facts not in evidence or projection (“I’m not interested in an iPhone, so it can’t have that big a market”), but the million-dollar question is how well the iPhone’s been executed. The advance reviews are starting to pop up now, of course, and so far they've been pretty good, although not without criticisms.
But whether or not I’m actually in line on Friday (no, I’m not definitively ruling it out), I’m definitely going to be watching.
I described Twitter in an earlier post as “micro-blogging,” which it is, sort of. If you go to the site and register, you will see a text field labeled:
What are you doing?
and an input box of 140 characters total. No more. Type something there, and it’s immediately posted on your Twitter page.
“And that’s it?”
Well, mostly. You can send these little “tweet” updates from an IM client, or a mobile phone. You can subscribe to someone’s Twitter “presence” as an RSS feed. The home page acts like a LiveJournal Friends page when you’re connected, showing the last “tweets” that people you’re following have sent. It can track conversations. And there are clients out there like Twitterrific which talk to the Twitter API.
“And… that’s it?”
Well, yeah, pretty much.
There are other Twitter-like services, most notably Jaiku, which lets you interconnect other “networking” sites in with your Jaiku presence page. Posts to my (somewhat neglected) tumbleblog or even this journal could show up in Jaiku if I wanted them to.
“And the point is what, exactly?”
That’s what I’ve been wondering for months, until just the other day. This is what occurred to me.
Futurists and technology pundits and sci-fi authors and fans have, for the past two decades or so, envisioned a highly-networked future—and we’ve mostly envisioned it as the “metaverse,” a virtual reality a la Snow Crash and Neuromancer. And each new lurch in technology in that direction gets examined in light of these fictional standard-bearers. Conversation? Check. A sense of place distinct from the real world? Check. Total immersion? Not so much. Yet Second Life is not only largely constructed by its inhabitants, it has a real economy, complete with currency exchange, property rights and rent; despite its crappy implementation, this is some serious virtual trailblazing. Futurists may have been mostly on the money with what Second Life represents; what Twitter represents, though, wasn’t even much on the radar.
Twitter—and understand that from this point on, I’m talking about the concepts it and Jaiku et. al. implement—is tying together the technologies that have been cascading down around us for the last decade. Ubiquitous computing is mostly here, and the aspect of that which I don’t think futurists who coined the phrase saw coming is ubiquitous presence. We are creating what amounts to opt-in telepathy: you can know what all your friends around the world are doing or thinking at any given time, and have a persistent (albeit not necessarily permanent) record: on this day at that time my friend told me this. And the records we’re creating can be automatically cross-referenced, hyperlinked, tagged and categorized.
When ideas like this have been written about in the past, it’s usually with a dystopic cast to them: your thoughts and actions and movements can be recorded and tracked without your consent, used for nefarious purposes by Big Government, Big Corporation, or whatever other Big Nasty you imagine. Britain’s proliferation of security cameras in public areas is the most oft-cited harbinger of this in the real world. (Out of all the tracking methods available to Big Siblings, those are actually among the least nefarious—but that’s another post.)
But Twitter is a completely different animal, one I don’t think any of us saw coming: millions and millions of people choosing to be tracked. Instead of bits of information about us that the observers choose to record, we are publishing as much information about ourselves as we choose to share. This is not journaling, pausing occasionally to share diary entries or mini-essays like this one. It’s immediate stream-of-consciousness, where am I and what am I thinking stuff. What’s John Gruber of Daring Fireball been thinking about? I can check. You can check. Hell, we can subscribe to an RSS feed of all of his friends’ tweets. And Leo Laporte, late of “The Screen Savers” and now running the TWiT podcasting empire, pretty much lives his life online.
The granularity of who can access that information is coarse: generally, either a white list (only those we designate as “friends”) or everyone. But many of us are, apparently, perfectly willing to share stuff with complete strangers as long as we’re the ones in control. We’re choosing what to share and what not to share. This can be weird stuff to people in my generation or older, but to people under, say, 20, this—not Twitter specifically, but the concept of ubiquitous presence—is just a part of life. You can choose to opt out, but it’d be a little weird, like admitting to your friends that you listen to classical music and don’t know any popular rock bands.
Again, this isn’t about the specific services and brands popular right now; it doesn’t matter if Twitter and Bebo and Facebook are also-rans in a year. This kind of interaction simply didn’t exist a decade ago, yet the foundational technologies—the Web, cell phones, and text messaging (IM or SMS)—are already deeply woven into our culture. All of these are fundamentally disruptive technologies. By blending them together, what’s being created is something new: the cyberpunk metaverse not as a separate entity, but as an overlay.
If this is a trend rather than a fad—and I’m pretty sure it’s a trend—there are far-reaching implications. Accessibility, privacy, and social interaction offline as well as online can be affected. To me, this is neither fantastic nor forbidding—but it’s fascinating. And, for all of the many jokes to be made about “Web 2.0,” I think it’s going to prove very important in the next decade or two.
I was, past tense, making an effort earlier this month to start getting up at 6:30—or at least, to start having my alarm go off then, so I could manage to get out of bed by 7. What happened in the interim? Getting sick, just in time for twentythoughts’ visit here. There was a sense of inevitability about this particular illness: everyone else in the household has had it, and it’s surprising that my immune system held out this long. I was laid out Sunday and Monday, but I’ve been getting incrementally better each day since. Today I’m still coughing but I don’t sound like I’m going to eject a lung.
Naturally, this has slowed down… everything. The personal coding project I was working on came to a dead stop, and I have yet more essay-ish LJ entries that are just a paragraph or two and “insert actual thought here.” The point of getting up early was to see if I could carve an hour or so out of the day for my own stuff; it’s difficult to do that in the evenings without seeming anti-social, and like it or not, my brain seems to be in higher gear in the mornings anyway. (At least, mornings when my head isn’t full of cold germs.)
Even so, I’m making slight progress. After getting the new laptop I decided I shouldn’t hunt for more excuses not to try using it as the desktop at home, too: it’s just a matter of unplugging a few cables from the G5 and finding a place to stick the laptop, after all. So I’m doing that, and just leaving Parmesan “headless,” connecting to it with VNC when I check things on it. (It’s still the iPod sync machine, and a couple of my older mail accounts are only checked by it, not by the laptop.) I’d still like to upgrade the display at home, but that’s going to wait a few paychecks, I think, given upcoming travel.
And speaking of upcoming gadgets and paychecks, there’s the iPhone. Am I going to get one? I’m weighing it, but I gotta tell you, watching reactions to the thing is vastly more entertaining than owning one could actually ever be. I’m not sure there’s been another product in the history of consumer electronics which has generated so much attention. Which means, of course, many confident predictions of success or failure from people who, to date, have seen nothing but photographs of the damn thing.
I have my opinions on that I might foist off on you another time, but the real question for me is whether I want to buy both a new phone and a new iPod together. I’ve been looking for a new phone, and the iPhone will meet or exceed what I need to varying degrees (not without downsides, but even so). My 4G iPod mini does fine, mostly. The times I’ve considered replacing it, I’ve considered one of the hard drive models, so I could just sync everything.
At any rate, it’s time to shut down here, take my various pills (yay), and get into the office. Hopefully I’ll be able to start ramping up my online presence a little again. (I may talk about Twitter soon, too—I’m guessing from the crickets greeting my last post that, in fact, none of you are on it.)
When I moved out to California, I had two computers: a PowerBook G4 laptop, and a Celeron 433. (Yes, for those of you who thought I only used Macs, it’s true—I was a PC user for much longer, although half the time I wasn’t running Windows.) Even in 2002, the Celeron was showing its age, of course, and I don’t think I actually even turned it on out here except to verify that it still worked. In October 2003, I bought a PowerMac G5 desktop, and have had it since.
Since I bought it, though, my working style has changed—I’m on laptops almost exclusively. My personal laptop is also my work “desktop” these days just by bringing it into the office and hooking up the external monitor and keyboard. The desktop machine still gets used every day, but it gets used as a remote server via SSH and a jukebox. The only advantages it has over the laptop are a bigger monitor and a better graphics card.
Of course, computers go out of fashion fast these days, and with the switch from PowerPC to Intel, Macs shifted faster than most.1 The G5 isn’t as outdated as the Celeron, to be sure, but it has only 512M of RAM—these days it needs 2G to be useful—and its graphics card is, in retrospect, pretty anemic (and there aren’t many choices for replacing it). So there’s not much that it does that the laptop doesn’t—and it’s rather inconvenient to use, bhy comparison.
Last year I bought a MacBook shortly after it started shipping and I’ve liked it—but its graphics, from the integrated GMA950 chip, are even more anemic than the G5’s. I kept thinking about upgrading the desktop so I could use it at home; there are ergonomic advantages to it, after all. And the one complaint I’ve started to have about the laptop is its comparatively small screen. (Using it with the external LCD at work makes programming a lot easier.)
Upgrading would involve getting a new monitor, more than likely, to replace the huge CRT. But it would almost definitely involve getting more RAM. And it would involve getting a better graphics card.
These thoughts made me consider just getting a new desktop, period. But the thought of getting an über-laptop did occur to me, and kept sticking in the back of my mind. Keep the G5 in its current role indefinitely, and get a new machine that consolidated all my work, with a bigger screen and better GPU. Perhaps if an upgrade came out to the MacBook Pro line…
Well, yesterday, one did, and yes, I’m afraid I ran out and bought one.
This still doesn’t solve the monitor problem, but one big expense at a time.
I’ll be selling the original MacBook, once I make sure everything I need is off of it and find all the appropriate niggly bits.
Oh. I’m not sure what to call the new computer; my line of Macs so far have been named after appearance, roughly speaking (“habanero” for an orange iBook, “parmesan” for the G5 with its grater-like front). It’s tentatively “tincan,” but I’m open to suggestions.
1. One of the many peculiar pissing matches PC and Mac people get into is over “lifespan” of the computers, with partisans pulling out software written twenty years ago and claiming they can still run it so can you top that fanboy. Reality check: nobody runs 20-year-old PC and Mac software except in fits of nostalgia, or to prove that they can. (N.B.: do not start a pissing match here.)
I’m still about and obviously back to not keeping up my journal as well as I should. I have a few things I’d like to write about, in no particular order, though, and hopefully a couple things will fall out shortly.
My mother’s visit around Mother’s Day went quite well, I think. The dinner at Manresa was quite an experience, and it was nice to show her around the local area here rather than going off somewhere else. We talked about housing (which will be the subject of another journal post) and Northern California, and what she’ll do when she retires, which will be within a year.
Work for me has momentarily slowed, although it’s going to pick up again after Memorial Day, I think. (Nothing has actually come to an end, it’s just one of those weeks that’s a bit of a lull for various reasons.) I’m thinking about other projects and starting to putter around with actual code for a Rails-based publishing system, which may be first used as a sort of “group blog” engine and then adapted for Claw & Quill.
More later, but not too later, I hope.
I’m currently on the free wifi of the 21st Amendment Brewpub in San Francisco, where MacBreak Weekly was actually being taped at. No, not at the Apple Store. Ha-ha! It was nonetheless a fine show, although as the mezzanine filled up—and kept filling and kept filling—I started to get somewhat claustrophobic. And, as the show ran on for two hours instead of its normal one (!), I became a bit faint from hunger, which I’m sure didn’t help the claustrophobia. I did get to “re-introduce” myself to Merlin before the show but we didn’t really talk afterward; I’d gone down to the street level again by then to order dinner.
The table next to me turned out to also be MacWorld attendees, one of whom was fairly local (the Berkeley area), so we talked a bit off and on. For the record, while the 21st Amendment does have good beer, they have great food—well, at least a great jerk roast chicken. And a pretty good sundae. Even pretty good coffee.
Speaking of good coffee, I have another coffee machine arriving tomorrow, but that’s a different post. Time to walk back to the BART station and ride back to the car!
I’m sitting in Microsoft’s “Blogger Lounge” at the MacWorld Expo, ganking their free power and ethernet. Since I’ve claimed to be a blogger to get in here (you’re soaking in it!), I figured I might as well, you know, blog a little.
So the big story that’s going about is, of course, the iPhone. Yeah, I’m pretty impressed by it. Everyone else will talk about it at much greather length so, you know, go read what they have to say. What’s most intriguing about it to me is the claim that it’s running OS X, though—that means that Apple has an embedded version of the OS, comparable to Windows Mobile (or WinCE or whatever it’s been renamed this week).
Here’s a little Mac story that seemed to have quietly slipped through the cracks: the AirPort Extreme is now an 802.11n base station, and Apple seems to have confirmed the speculation that most of the Intel Macs already support it.
The stuff that I’m really interested isn’t being announced at all, though—I want to know if iWork is going to get a spreadsheet (not mentioned yet, if it is); I want OS X 10.5 “Leopard” now, darnit; I want to know, just for the record, if they’re going to ship a thin 12” MacBook Pro; I want to know if they’re going to be producing an Apple-branded flat-panel TV. And, yes, I think the last one is pretty likely: the announcements today don’t dissuade me from my belief that Apple really isn’t gunning for Microsoft at all, they’re gunning for Sony.
At any rate, it’s approaching time to do some floor-wandering again, I think. I have one whole hall to wander, apparently—MacWorld is a lot bigger this year than it was the last time I attended in 2003. And later today I’m going to make the attempt to get to the Apple Store for MacBreak Weekly, as previously written.
So I’ve been back at work and starting on a new project—actually, a re-implementation of an old one—for which I’m exploring CakePHP, a “rapid development framework” which is, shall we say, heavily inspired by Rails. Why not just use Rails, you may ask? Well, mostly because I’m the only person at the company who knows Ruby and I don’t know it all that well. (On the flip side, CakePHP’s documentation isn’t as good as Rails’ is.) Also, as many Hipster Points as Rails garners, it is neither easy to deploy nor lightweight when it’s running. (The currently-preferred method of running it is with a hybrid mostly-Ruby web server called “Mongrel,” which in practice tends to run in addition to a standard web server on a box. bigtig asked the reasonable question the other day of why it isn’t deployed with Apache and mod_ruby; AFAIK, it’s because mod_ruby used to have performance problems and a tendency to lose its brain if you ran more than one Rails application at a time with it, but I think those have been solved now.)
Cake does look like a well-designed system, although it’s occasionally an inadvertent demonstration that Ruby really is a more elegant language. (A language more elegant than PHP? Say it isn’t so!) To try to make sure what Ruby I’ve learned doesn’t get too fallow, I’m writing the script to convert from the old database format to the new one in Ruby; it’s not a straight one-for-one mapping, since I’m not only using column names Cake (or Rails) will like, I’m doing a bit of database normalization along the way, giving some data fields their own tables and index keys. So the script will have to build those tables and the relations. Not a huge thing, of course—just enough to remind me how much Ruby I’ve forgotten.
Also on the geek front, I’m taking Tuesday off next week to go to MacWorld, even though just to the exhibition hall, not the keynote. (I have a free floor pass.) In theory after that I’ll be trying to get to the Apple Store in San Francisco for a taping of MacBreak Weekly, hosted by former TechTV guy Leo Laporte and former friendly college acquaintance of mine Merlin Mann, who is one of the only people I’m aware of who seem to have made a career out of being an internet personality.
Meanwhile, Panera Bread marches ever closer to the house—they’ve opened a new location just across from the closest Fry’s Electronics, so I’m sitting here with a cup of coffee on their free wi-fi. In theory, though, I’ve come here to see if I can get some writing done on things other than journals (and Ruby code for work).
It’s been another long time since I’ve updated, at least in a relative sense. I’m not consciously trying to stay under the radar; I suppose I’ve been busy enough that I haven’t had my typical time for leisurely navel-gazing.
Work continues apace. A deadline is coming up in two days—yes, Friday the 13th—and another one follows two weeks after that. The previously-mentioned office move sounds like it’s set for mid-November. I suspect as a sanity measure, I’m going to put off thoughts of any personal moves until the new year.
My Acura RSX is now five years old and has 125,000 miles on it—yes, I do drive a lot, why do you ask?—and, as of last month, was completely paid off. I’m expecting to take this sucker to 200,000 miles, because dammit, I want several years with no car payments.
This doesn’t mean I’m going to stop putting money into it, of course, even discounting repairs: I just bought a new car stereo. I know, I know. But I listen to XM radio more than I listen to FM and listen to my iPod more than XM, and my current setup is a hodgepodge of cables and low-power FM transmitters. The new system I’m buying, a Pioneer DEH-4800MP, comes with an (optional) iPod controller and (optional) XM receiver so everything will go through Just One Box Dammit. The sound quality from both XM and iPod should improve noticeably, and no more fumbling around with the iPod control wheel while driving. (Instead I can just fumble with the deck’s control wheel.) They get installed tomorrow at a Best Buy about a mile from the office, so tomorrow morning I get to see if I can actually walk the path between here and there. (There does seem to be a sidewalk the whole way, at least.)
I’d like to say that I’ve been creative and productive and all that, but outside of work, that hasn’t been the case. There’s nothing particularly angstful implied there, though. It’s not that I feel that all my energy has been sapped away by work (the opposite, to some degree). It may be simple writer’s block, possibly caused by too many things that I want to work on and not enough patience to prioritize them.
Anyway, it’s about time to shut down here—despite the brevity of this update—and head out to meet friends for dinner.
A few months ago I wrote about having picked up the book Getting Things Done. Since I don’t have the excuse of no free time now, I spent the last couple of days using a GTD plugin for Mori, a strange notebook/outliner program I have.
Does “GTD” work? It has a strong geek following: it’s an engineering approach to task management, built on the premise that what we actually manage isn’t time or projects but rather actions. The Excursion Society MUCK is a project of mine, but the individual actions I need to take for it involve better testing of the web interface, beating old Bandari players into getting onto ESM, beating myself into finishing porting pieces of Bandari over to ESM, etc. GTD is a formalization of the common sense notion that you get things done by breaking them down into small concrete steps and taking them one at a time—it’s a guide to turning your projects into actions, and then managing those actions. The idea is to get things “captured” on paper and thus out of your head, breaking the worry loop cycle. (There’s an explicitly acknowledged Zen component to the GTD approach: “mind like water” is the mental state you manage for. That also appealed to me.)
All well and good, but does “GTD” work for me? Outlook hazy. Ask again later. If I manage to make checking my “next action list” a habit, and make a habit of sticking everything I need to do, want to do, or think might be something to look at doing into my GTD notebook, I’ll have a good test for it. For the whole three days I’ve been doing this, it’s been working. I’m feeling some mild sense of accomplishment, which is definitely a positive thing.
I really am planning to advertise ESM, but that’ll be in its own forthcoming message. (Initially I’m just going to “advertise” here on my own journal.) One of my hopes for GTD is that it’ll clear enough mental underbrush away that I’ll be able to focus on my other projects better. Famous last words, I suppose. Even so, some little things that I’ve been failing to get done for months have been done now, and other ones are being captured.
In other news: a “next action” for today—now completed—was getting a writing sample together for an interview tomorrow. It sounds like this is with a company looking for ad hoc, project-based technical writing, not an offer of steady work, but I’ll see. I’ve also gotten a contact from someone at the company I did the 15-month contract for that took up all of 2005 and more, although my impression from the job description is that they’re looking for someone who’ll have specific technical skills I lack. Even so, I’ll review it and probably send a résumé.
My lost paychecks still haven’t arrived; in theory they’ll be sent to the personnel company’s office and I’ll pick them up directly Monday or Tuesday. I’m hoping I’ll hear from the unemployment office next week, too. In the interim, I’ve been doing the equivalent of looking for lost coins under the sofa. The little ad hoc subcontract I’d been working on is finished, from what I can tell, with just 15 billable hours. But I suspect I could probably make a living wage with just 15-20 hours a week if the rates were high enough (these weren’t, quite).
Final odd toy of the moment: I’m also playing with WriteRoom, a freeware program from Mori’s creator. It’s a simple fullscreen text editor, whose premise is “writing without distraction.” I’m not convinced that this sort of thing is necessary—one can, after all, hide the windows one isn’t writing in, and turn off e-mail and instant messaging programs—but this is an elegant implementation of the idea. I have to say that there is something focusing about having nothing but text in front of me. I frequently stop when writing to collect my thoughts, and I don’t have the opportunity to be distracted by anything else on the computer. There may be something to be said for that.
I’m skimming through my LiveJournal entries over the last few years and there’s a recurring pattern there, which goes something like this:
- I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.
- Hmm, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate my life and figure out what I want to do, and—
- Look, an IT job! This could lead somewhere good! Let’s take it.
- I’ve lost my IT job. Crap.
It’d be nice if, instead of just telling me I’m heading the wrong way every few months, fate would consider giving me better directions.
You know, I didn’t wake up one day in high school or college and say, “Hey, wouldn’t it be great if I had trouble ever holding a job for more than a couple years? And wouldn’t it be especially wonderful if those positions were just contract work with no chance of permanence? It’d be just great if, twenty years after I graduate high school, I could be one of those statistics in newspaper articles about people with a negative net worth!” Twenty years ago I didn’t even expect to be working in the technology field, despite having been a computer nerd from a very early age. It’s not what I failed to get my degree for.
If I’m frustrated, it’s in part because I’m surrounded by people who came from very similar places to me and have done a lot better. The wall I run into is often less a lack of degree than a lack of portfolio. I have very little I can point to as examples of my past work; what I’ve done has usually been proprietary manuals or UIs I haven’t been able to keep samples of.
I feel like I’ve spent the last few years in particular stuck with most of the drawbacks of a tumbleweed existence, but few of the benefits. If I was able to roll around the country in a VW conversion van doing odd jobs—or if I wanted to be a 21st century bum, doing just enough freelance web work by remote to pay for wireless internet along with gas and food!—for a couple years, that’d be absolutely terrific, but that’s not what’s happened.
So what if I pick up on my idea of going back to school and pursuing something completely different? I don’t know. At this point I’m having trouble seeing how to get off the hamster wheel without, well, a lot of money I keep failing to secure. What I’d really like, I think, is a short-term contract that would pay me an ungodly hourly rate through the end of this year, so I’d be in a better position next year to go back to school, move anywhere, what have you.
Could I just move back home for college? Yeah, and I might, even though the idea of moving back in with mom at my age is a bit wince-inducing. Yet now I’m a California resident, rather than a Florida one, so I would pay in-state tuition rates here and out-of-state rates there. Pasco-Hernando Community College’s’s costs for me would be over $200 per credit hour, for instance; Foothill or De Anza’s cost would be about $20 per credit hour. Even so, if I’m not paying rent there and I am paying it here, the finances still marginally tip in favor of such a move.
But hold on, my spreadsheet says: working part-time retail won’t pay for tuition, expenses and debt reduction in either place. If I got 10-15 hours of work a week at consulting rates, it’d work out, but I haven’t had much luck pursuing that approach in the past.
And, of course, if I got an AA in English, say, what could I do with it? Go on to get a BA in English. (In Florida, you’re automatically accepted at a state university with an associate degree awarded from a state community college; in California it’s not automatic, but it is more likely.) Or not. Then what? Journalist? Staff writer… somewhere?
I could do that, of course. I might like it more, in the long run. Computers are in my blood at this point, but maybe taking on an open source project or two would be sufficient for that. (I have a perverse temptation to implement a generalized version of the document management system I’d started to design for the company I was just let go from, although on a practical level I should only do that if I can apply the lessons from it to other personal projects like Claw & Quill.)
I am, in any case, starting to wonder if my California adventure is coming to a close. I haven’t been a miserable failure out here; I’ve transitioned to technical writing successfully, I’ve worked for some interesting companies, and I’ve grown to really love the area. But I’ve barely been keeping my head above water. Every job has managed to leave me in a slightly worse financial position than when I started. And it looks like I may end up having to fight to get the last 6-7 days of pay for the most recent contract.
If I can get support to stay out here and go to school, I may very well do that. And, if one of those high-dollar contracts really does happen, terrific. This upcoming week I’m likely to talk to a college or two near here, and I’m going to be dusting off the resume and getting myself back in circulation. My experiences in March were fairly encouraging in terms of my “marketability” now.
If, however, I’m still writing emo journal entries this time next month, it may be time to cut my losses and hit the road again.