We Never Awoke

In the beginning there was nothing. And then, a spark.

Dust and heat swelled to form great clouds of galaxies, planets, and stars.

When the planets cooled, rocks piled to become mountains, rains pooled to become oceans, and life was born.

Over time, life moved from the seas to the land as plants and animals learned to live in the light of sun.

When the skies stretched to illuminate the beauty of creation, women stood proudly, the origin of form. Inside of those women, a rhythm was heard. Children born from that rhythm grew to become our people.

For a time we existed.

Then came sorrow. Our people were cold and alone. We forgot about the beauty of worlds and found greed in our dreams and our desperation. 

Because of that greed, we consumed and enslaved one another.  

Because of those dreams, we never awoke. 

Our minds wandered in separate directions. We imagined artificial pleasures and selfish intention.

Over time, the rhythm of our people was silenced and forgotten.

Oceans returned to cover the land. 

When the suns grew old and fat the planets were turned by heat and exposure. The shale was like rain, and life was gone.

Our memories were embers in space.

In the end there was nothing.

The Force Awakens?

— Contains Spoilers? —

Here's the thing I don't understand about Star Wars titles, are they like...questions? I feel like you can drop a question mark at the end of any one of them and they suddenly become much more articulate descriptions of the films.

Mostly, that's what I'm left with at the end of this film. Questions?

Of J. J.'s direction I'll say that he did a decent job editing himself. And thanks for that. My biggest concern was that he'd do a poor job handling the villian in this film, as is typical Abrams folly. Lucky for us he spent his 'stupid archetype' chips on Star Killer base rather than Kylo Ren, and I think we're much better as an audience for it.

Stuff that bothered me: 

  • Watching Ren and Rey battle through the same topography on two different planets was painful. Wasn't the budget on this film whatever? I wanna strangle the production designer.
  • I feel like Caverns, Ditches, and Hallways? was the visual and metaphorical constraining theme for this movie. Halfway through, inner me was screaming "Stop it!" 
  • The design of the Stormtroopers, shesanogood. They truly do look like a Jony Ive Joint and I really miss the look and the flair of the 70s. 
  • I can think of 5 other films where Andy Serkis looks better in CG than a zillion dollar film that was made yesterday. 

Stuff that I loved: 

  • The first shot of this film. J. J. didn't best Kubrick, but he might have bested Lucas. And it's especially great in 3D, which is something.
  • First flight of the Falcon was nail-biter, sunk in your seat, prayer cinema.
  • Chewie's character is massively advanced by this film. 
  • BB-8 isn't a replacement for R2, he's Disney's Mickey toehold in the Star Wars universe. 
  • No hands were severed in the viewing of this movie.
  • Watching J.J. (metaphorically) blow the shit out of the Prequel Trilogy with Star Killer base.
  • Somebody went out of their way to evoke that original Jizz-Wailer sound at Maz's bar.

If I could only make one interesting observation about this film though, I would say that it feels like there are a lot of scenes on the committee, cutting room floor. I expect many of those scenes to return at a later date.

Overall, I liked it?

I’m Gonna Go with the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case

Let’s get real about the design of battery cases for a sec.* They are all bulky wrappers that make your phone feel heavy and look like shit. No delusions. No mophieing about.

And that's exactly why the LinkedIn profile patent memo for one of Cupertino’s finest will probably read like: 

“Designed a squishy method for backpacking an extra battery onto an iPhone” 

Personally, I’m all in. I’m gonna use it when I travel and have battery needs that exist beyond my normal day-to-day routine. I think I’ll appreciate being able to charge the phone and the case simultaneously from a single cable. And, I think it’ll be super useful to see battery indicators for the case and phone from within iOS. If the case itself feels a bit more Apple-like because…elastomer, or because it’s Designed by Apple in California, great.

* No surprise that the armchair, tech punditry is up in arms and out in droves about the design of the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case, as the opportunity for rhetoric abounds in a conversation that is barely about design at all.

Dear Apple or somebody else awesome,

I saw a reflection of birds flying by on my screen just now, and for a second I wondered...what would it be like for the landscape of my desktop to truly be alive? Not something stupid like looping, underwater cartoon fish. More like...a squirrel rustling beneath the branches of massive pines, the swelling of clouds against the cliffs of a mountain, and the bold light of the sun streaming in. 

Cordially,

Stephen

Witness Accounts from the NY Times Live Reporting on the San Bernardino Shooting: 

Gabriel Torres, 38, from Colton, Calif., said his wife, Carina, is a social worker who was on the second floor of the building at the time of the shooting. After her boss told her to take cover, she hid under her desk for 30 to 40 minutes, speaking on the phone with her husband the entire time.

She was terrified, Mr. Torres said, speaking in a “whispered crying and screaming.” She told him that he should make sure that he took care of their four daughters, ages 10 to 24. He had been at lunch at the time, he said.

Absolutely breaks my heart.

The Future of Future Computing...and the iPad Pro

There is no shortage of Apple love in my corner of the universe. The iPad Pro, Smart Keyboard, and Apple Pencil have been the topic of conversation among friends and family for days. Everybody wants to try it. Everybody wants to know what it's like. My honest assessment of the device is that OS aside, the combination of largish iPad, pencil, and keyboard feels like the ideal way to outfit someone for college.** It truly is a remarkable fusion of liberal arts and technology, and I hope it only gets better. I may even purchase the setup for my daughter next fall when she leaves home for her first semester.

But a few nights ago I was having a conversation with a talented engineering friend, Doug Jones, who mentioned that the more reviews he reads about the iPad Pro being the future of computing, the more he feels that we’ve lost.

That's sad.

Lost what, I thought? It’s just a computer. Isn’t creating new computers what we expect Apple to do?

Asked what he meant, Doug made the point (shared by many) that because the App Store is a closed environment, Apple ultimately has final say on the software the makes it onto iOS devices. If the iPad Pro really is the future of computing, then we (the developers building software for Apple products, and the customers using those products) concede even greater control to Apple.

He’s right, but the argument is passé.

If you don’t like the way something is, change it.

The first post on this site links to a Finnish company, Solu. Solu aims to create a new type of “social computer” that does away with the notion of applications, organizes everything into projects, runs against the cloud, and requires only a single device to function both as mobile and desktop computer. It’s a wildly ambitious project that will require a remarkable streak of good fortune to find even modest success in its first iteration. But I have tons of respect for the idea and the vision. Solu is creating a new computing model that challenges current perception on so many levels. 

Solu challenges the idea of abstracting both file and the application required to execute that file. Solu challenges current models of software development and distribution. Solu challenges the ideas of social connectedness, cloud computing, and ownership. Solu even challenges the idea of needing multiple devices to facilitate the mobile and desktop computing experience. Add to that a list of new approaches to the user interface, and the message from Solu is clear:

Fuck the status quo. 

Say what you will about the execution. Most people will probably laugh at Solu’s ambition, and it’s weird quasi-future UI. Most people will probably find the idea of everyone needing a Solu computer and a subscription to its cloud service a ridiculous proposition. And most people will be probably be right.

But right there in Helsinki, a small group of people have raised pirate flag and middle finger with clarion ambition to “think different” in the world of computing.

It’s hard to listen to really new ideas within an echo chamber of comfort. 

Right now, most of us are pretty comfortable developing within the confines of the computing platforms created for us by companies like Apple. Why shouldn’t we be? The products are so great. The users are so many. Our biggest concern these days is that we get featured on the App Store and achieve sustainable subscription models. The platform is a set of tools and a marketplace. We’re more than happy letting Apple do the hard work of creating new hardware and opportunities where we might thrive.             

The iPad Pro is absolutely that amazing new product and opportunity, but it’s important to remember that Apple is on an iterative path to its own destiny. Our agreement to join them on that path — as developer and as customer — comes with the caveat that we not lose scope and become complacent about our role in the future of computing. If new approaches like Solu point to anything, it's that we still have a long way to go.

The thing I said to Doug is that the future is still anybody’s game.

It may mean stepping outside the bounds of relative comfort and putting a pause on development of the next alcohol delivery app, or even the next Uber. But, if you’re unsatisfied with the outlook of operating within the current environment, don’t wait for Apple to define the future. Go build something new.

** God, Bill Gates might have been right.

hear, hear 

Michael Heilemann on the Apple Pencil:

The Pencil is often talked about as if it was somehow only relevant to ‘creatives’, which is a strange typecasting to put on it right out of the gate. More importantly, it’s a damn pencil. It’s relevant to anyone who likes the flexibility of, oh, you know, a pencil.

Or as Jony Ive so eloquently put it, it’s for ‘making marks’, be they writing or drawing, or best of all, both of them together.

Put It In Your Mouth

People expect the Apple Pencil to be a stylus. They hold it like a magic wand, thinking that it will spill out digital ink all over the page. They expect it to be as alien as everything that came before it.

I tell people all the time, "just treat it like a pencil." Let your palm rest on the iPad Pro like paper, focus at a small scale like you would with really sharp lead, apply pressure, and hold it like a knife to shade. 

Perception is a funny thing, and it's tricky to convince someone that you can treat a $100 pencil the way you would a $0.30 pencil. But the basic promise and behavior of an ordinary, number 2 pencil changes everything.

Hand someone the Apple Pencil and tell them to put it behind their ear (even though it's a little heavy). Then, tell them to remove it from behind their ear, turn it sideways, and put it in their mouth.

Just like a pencil.

Saving The iPad, for Pros? 

Jared Sinclair, writing on his blog:

iOS user interface paradigms are not suited to using more than one app at a time. iOS was designed almost a decade ago for a phone whose screen is smaller than the gap between the iPad Pro’s app icons. Recent additions like iOS 8’s app extensions or iOS 9’s split-screen multi-tasking are essentially bolted-on, aftermarket parts.

Lot of good lines in Jared's post. And, you can definitely argue that iOS has been around for a while. But a completely new iPad Pro, Pencil, and Smart Keyboard just got here. Let's give it a little time before we decide that the paradigm is faulty. 

Fired Up 

Eli Schiff, on Mike Monteiro's Interaction 15 talk:

Picture yourself in that auditorium, being confronted by Monteiro’s disparagement of aesthetics, on the basis that, “you’re not an artist.” Or take his argument that saying “‘it looks good’ is not a rationale, it’s a red flag” and indeed a fireable offense at that. All as if aesthetics plays no part in selling clients on design.

It's the last line there that really grabs me. We all want to believe that the work we're doing is based in solid, sellable reasoning. But in my experience, quality aesthetic is what actually closes the deal, time and time again.

Depth of Sound: More Thoughts on the New Apple TV

There is a lot of talk about the visual depth and language of the new Apple TV this week, but one of the things that I find to be most present about the design is the use of sound throughout the UI. Beyond the creation of ambiance or a sense of tonal haptic response, sound actually aids usability.

Larger objects like tiles are generally associated with a lower pitch, and smaller objects like buttons or keys are associated with a higher pitch. This means that on a visually busy screen (like say...an iTunes movie purchase screen with a less than ideal contrasting background) even before your eye recognizes that you've passed the Preview or Purchase button and landed on a "similar films" tile, your ear recognizes that you've traveled too far. Swiping left and right through a row of objects with any great amount of force will enlist surround sound to connote a sense of direction. And, chords are used with great effect to communicate movement between the home screen and apps. 

These are small touches that exist within the design of a larger system. But it's also Apple at its best. It's nice to know that an additional level of sensory depth made its way into the system.