Pockets of Blue

musings of my mind

Category: Rants

Goodbye, Personal Computer

I spent a couple hours procrastinating today, and, as is often the case, started surfing the web.  Mainly Hacker News as it’s pretty much replaced every other news source in my life. (Crowd-sourced technology-centric news, with brilliant, engaging discourse on each item?  Yes please!)  Today brought me to an article by Max Klein, originally about his wondering what do with $24k made in a single month on the iPhone App Store, then to an interesting suggestion to Apple about their flagship iPhone.  Basically, add a mini-DVI (or mini-DisplayPort, whatever) output so you can view your phone on your giant 24″ computer monitor.  Applications would have two interfaces — one for the phone, and another scaled-up for an external monitor.

While thinking about a world where this was possible, my imagination took over:

  1. Having two interfaces is inherently awkward, especially when one is on a touch-screen and the other controlled with a mouse and keyboard.  I learned this the hard way while trying to “fix” a simple website to work properly on iOS. A shared, alternative input method (voice recognition?  Neuron readings? I digress) would help.  Or why not just have cheaper, largish (by today’s standards) multi-touch-capable monitors?
  2. What about a pocket-sized projector that plugs into your phone?  Then, you have the processor (the “brain”) and a large display, both of which are completely portable.  Perhaps we’ll have white 4×4 squares painted every 100 yards on every building, wall and home to facilitate projection.  Applications these days are increasingly “cloud-based,” meaning they live on servers rather than on the devices themselves, so as long as there’s connectivity, the functionality will be (already is) there.  The only thing missing is the transformative input device, as keyboards and mice obviously won’t work (and when you think about it, are laughably outdated).
  3. It would pretty much make the personal computer obsolete.  I’m not saying nobody would sell PCs anymore, but for most users, those who just use the web and email, there’s really no point in having an electronic device other than your “smartphone” (which, in this case, would desperately require a new name).  We’re already seeing this with the iPad.  Current laptops may be the hardest hit, as the only real use for a separate device is for “work” purposes (photo/film/media creation, design, programming, etc.), and you might as well have some beefy hardware (think towers) for power and speed.  With further hardware advancements, even phones as we know them will be capable of performing “real work.”

Realistically, personal computers and laptops will still have their place for a few years to come, but their market share will dwindle drastically as smartphones become ubiquitous. This will be especially true in poorer countries (which have effectively already skipped the personal computer era).  It seems that the next big technology disruptions will be enabled from two things:  improved batteries and an intuitive, portable input device.

It’s really not about you. Sorry.

Today I stumbled upon another fantastic blog post by the inimitable Kathy Sierra. It may contain the single best piece of advice for teachers of any kind: center the experience around the students, not yourself. Check it out.

But the concept doesn’t just apply to teaching. I often find myself, likely due to my personality, in situations where I’m thinking “are you really still talking about that? This conversation should’ve ended 15 minutes ago.” This is especially apparent in business settings, where underlying political agendas can so easily derail (or make interminable) the original topic of discussion. Does what so-and-so said really need to be repeated slightly paraphrased by half the meeting’s participants? What benefit is your contribution providing to your audience? Why should anyone care? Everybody’s busy. Perhaps the most effective means of paying respect is by respecting one’s time.

Why stop with teaching and conversing? The best writing employs the same techniques: conciseness and a central focus on a target audience. This blog is probably not the best example, since it was originally a way to let people know of my travels abroad. It’s since had to morph into something different, but I’ve been noticing recently an inverse relationship between a post’s popularity and how much it’s about me. Shouldn’t have really come as a surprise, but strangely, it did. Not that I’ll stop discussing my adventures, of course, but I’ll try to make each more relevant to my (miniscule) audience.

Paying close attention to your audience and their desires is essential. It’s not about you. It’s about them.

The Quarterlife Crisis

Really? Seriously? Give me a break.

I stumbled upon this article the other day. It’s a fairly in-depth definition of the “quarterlife crisis,” or to put it more bluntly, the “plight of the white middle-class well-educated twenty-something.”

Let’s take a step back and look at this from another perspective. It’s 2009. We have experienced six decades of exponential economic and cultural growth, reaching a level of wealth never before seen on this planet. We’re still mired in a fairly deep recession but the bottom has clearly been reached and we’ll soon be rallying back. Opportunities abound: you’re in your twenties, well-educated, and socially adept; not to mention a native speaker of the bona fide lingua franca of the world. You could live anywhere on the planet and prosper immediately. Travel is cheap and your currency is the world’s standard.

Quarterlife crisis? Get real. It’s another feel-good term for the mopey, spoiled, urban, white-collar twenty-something struggling with their own identity. Spend some time alone for once. Reconnect with yourself. Stop feeling sorry for yourself, for God’s sake. You are blessed and lucky beyond all imagination. Your problems are dwarfed by those of the vast majority of the developing world. Your family and friends love you and will stand by your every decision, good or bad.

Cheer yourself up. Think positive. Stop absorbing whiny existential ramblings online, go outside, take a deep breath and soak in the sunshine. The world is your oyster. Go get it!

Rotten Apples

I’ve been typing on an Apple-branded keyboard since I was 11 years old. For ten years I sang the praises of the technically superior Mac OS, the elegant hardware of the iMac, and the flawlessly user-centric iPod. I owned an iMac, iBook, and three iPods. I was an Apple fanboy.

The mind-opening experiment we call ‘going to college’ started to change all that. As a junior I had an internship at Kodak testing digital cameras, and one of my co-workers had a sister who worked for Apple. I was rather impressed (she was pretty cute too) and longed for a position at my beloved Apple. Yet this was when DRM was becoming the norm in the downloadable music industry, spearheaded by Apple’s agreement with the Big Five record companies to enable the iTunes Music Store. I mentioned my disapproval of all things DRM and her response was something like “well, yeah, but that’s the only way they could come to an agreement with the record companies.”

Sorry, but that doesn’t cut it. Four years ago I agreed, but there’s a lot more to it than that. How long did it take for the record companies to reneg on that previously unalterable agreement? Less than three years. Jobs still held the cards and could’ve bargained for the right to sell plain ol’ DRM-free MP3s in the first iteration of the iTunes Store. But now, Apple’s success has rendered it the single (successful) gatekeeper to legal downloadable music over the thousands of traditional record companies of yesteryear.

And how about the iPhone? Sweet device, yes. Remarkably marketed, yes. A digital Alcatraz? Oh, yes. The first iteration was glaringly lacking any sort of SDK for third-party applications developers to use. It was like Microsoft releasing a version of Windows that runs Office and nothing else. Sure, Apple has rectified that situation with its own SDK, but with loads of further restrictions unheard of on any other popular development platform.

What really kicked off this tirade, though, was viewing Apple’s latest TV ad. Is it just me, or has the company hired advertising executives directly from the Republican Party? It’s a classic smear, straight from the stagnant strategies of modern presidential politics. This has been going on for years, with most of the ads not even offering a shred of evidence concerning the actual features of the Macintosh.

Are we witnessing the rise of the next Microsoft?

Guitar Tabs are EVIL

…or so says the gigantic music publishing conglomerate that is determined to stifle any musical inspiration in this country.  How?  Well, this link sums it up pretty well.  If you don’t know anything about guitar tabs, then check out the linked article before proceeding…

I must say that I only realized how bad the situation had become after doing a thorough search for Pearl Jam’s "Animal" guitar tab.  Four years ago I viewed the tab easily through my favorite tab search engine, Guitar Tab Universe, but tonight couldn’t find it anywhere.  That is, anywhere except Ultimate-Guitar.com, which didn’t include the solo (which happened to be exactly what I was looking for, the rest of the song is trivial).  It turns out that this site is one of a very few sites offering tablature for viewing these days.  Unfortunately a great internet democracy has turned into an authoritarian state where choice doesn’t exist and servers are located in Russia to avoid legal threats from entities such as the NMPA and MPA, who make peanuts (and always have) from selling overpriced guitar sheet music for mainstream artists.

The battle is much like the peer-to-peer file sharing battle of years past.  The RIAA and MPAA have largely won this battle [save the fantastic thepiratebay.org, located in Stockholm], but at what cost?  Conglomerate radio now spews a pathetic selection of mainstream crap to its audiences while record sales, well, haven’t really changed at all.  Several studies have proven this; simply do a Google search on "record sales" and see for yourself.  There is so little worthwhile music on mainstream radio that everyone with the least bit of musical knowledge turns elsewhere for creative inspiration.  This hurts everyone, and eventually, the music industry will feel it itself when the eventual backlash occurs.

This particular battle is an egregious trouncing of Amendment Number One.   A musician’s interpretation of a song is just that, an interpretation, and should be the sole property of the transcriber.  People shouldn’t be forced to buy published transcriptions of their favorite songs, especially when (in my case) such transcriptions don’t exist.

Chew Toy

Ever get the feeling that you’re turning into someone’s chew toy?  Well, before this month, I hadn’t.

Last monday my employer informed me that I would be no longer employed after two weeks.  This was a bit of surprise, but I guess it shouldn’t have been since I hadn’t had any real work for several weeks and was spending each day working on a personal web site.  Anyway, "employed" isn’t really correct since I am technically a contractor (more like a glorified co-op).  They had offered me employment at the end of the summer but I turned it down because I didn’t want to make the commitment.  (Looking back, I doubt anything would have been different had I come one as en employee anyway.)

So over the past few days I’ve been probing various colleagues about the cause for all the layoffs (at least 4 people in Rochester and 2 elsewhere were being canned).  Apparently one of our customers cancelled a service contract with us and it was a pretty big hit, so they couldn’t afford to pay so many people anymore.  But the unique thing about this company is its size (60-70 people).  Most of the time when large companies do layoffs their oldest, most expensive employees are the first to go.  In this case they are just getting rid of all the contractors and one new hire (who was a rather sub-par developer anyway), while all the oldest, more experienced people will stay.  My reasoning for this is that the company is only 3-4 years old; I doubt the most senior developers are making much more than the newbies. 

Another problem involved project management.  In my case, I was one of three developers who rolled out the first version of one of our web apps.  This was finished by late October, the next few weeks were just bug fixes and minor adjustments due to requirements changes.  After that, there was supposed to be a rather large "phase II" to the project, but nobody could agree on the details of the requirements so I just sat by idly.  Finally, yesterday my boss handed me the requirements for this next phase of the app.  I sarcastically informed him of my being canned in three days and he responded with a "well, we can keep you on for another week if that’s ok with you."  By that point I had very much accepted my situation and responded with a "yeah, ok, whatever."  So I am employed until the 22nd, which isn’t bad timing for the pending holidays.

So what’s next?  Well, I might take some time off, but it’s too early to tell where I’ll be next so I won’t speculate.  I’m looking forward to a healthy raise wherever I end up.

But for now I’d better go clean up all this saliva and teeth marks…

World Cup wrap-up

The world cup final was today, concluding five weeks of world-class football.  I would say that I have watched about a third of the matches, which is saying something considering about 90% of them have taken place during work hours.  Four years ago I saw maybe 5 matches total, mostly because we didn’t have cable at home.  I live here in a house with four foreigners, and while none of them are European (Turkey doesn’t count), they have shown remarkable interest in the games even though none of their countries were represented.  We ordered satellite TV within the first week of action just so we could see the games.  ESPN classic bailed me out by showing replays of one of the day’s games at 5 PM each workday.  This is how I caught most of the games, the rest being viewed in a horizontal position for hours on end during weekends. 

It was a thoroughly entertaining world cup, with many spectacular goals and team play.  However, there were many times when I was thoroughly disgusted in what I was seeing.

The latter reaction was mostly from witnessing some player’s confusion over their preferred career choice: footballing, or acting?  The first goal in today’s final was a result of a well-executed dive.  A large amount of the referree controversy throughout the tournament was caused by diving and acting.  Refs have a hard enough time calling an accurate game, and theatrical tumbles and spills by each player on the pitch don’t help.  I believe acting is the single biggest detriment to the game today.  It seems like every time there is even minimal contact in a high-stakes game (each in the WC), one or more players end up on the ground, grimacing and clutching their ankles as if someone took a hacksaw to their limbs.  Please.  From Malouda’s (France) wild flailing in the box from a supposed Italian sandwich manuever to Materazzi’s (Italy) recreation of a massive chest wound (both in the final), there was just too much acting.  Yes, Zidane’s egregious head-butt was cause for concern, but not because of the supposed injury it caused.  (On a side note, I enjoyed this article‘s reminder that neither Zidane, nor any football player, are or ever should be deities)

Admittedly, the final was not a fitting end to an otherwise awesome world cup.  Argentina’s second goal against Serbia and Montenegro was the most awe-inspiring I’ve ever seen.  Ridiculous vollies and long distance goals from Maxi Rodriguez (Argentina), Torsten Frings (Germany), Joe Cole (England), and Tomas Rosicky (Czech Republic), to name but a few, were more the norm than the exception.  Germany’s games against Argentina and Italy were awesome: skillful and highly dramatic.

The US team played with little confidence throughout, and had their best showing against the world champion Italians.  Our goal was highly undeserved, as was McBride’s vicious elbow to the face, but we pulled off the draw nonetheless.  Nobody really expected us to go through (even fewer than four years ago), and the best teams from group E did advance.  Ghana was fantastic, anybody who saw them (out)play Brazil would agree that that game’s scoreline was extremely unfair.  Which brings us to the Germans.  Only seven percent of them had faith in their country making it into the final rounds (even with home field advantage, mind you), yet they made it to the semifinals confidently.  Jürgen Klinsmann was hilariously animated, doing his best to squash that old German stereotype.

I guess it goes without saying that if I had stayed in Germany for the summer semester, my GPA would have ended up right around the number of goals Switzerland conceded this tournament…

Shut the Hell Up and Play the Game

Time for a good ol’ rant…

I was watching highlights from the English Premier League matches on Boxing Day (today) and was very entertained with the exciting football that had taken place.  However, I was sorely disappointed with the emphasis on officiating placed throughout the show.  During an hour and a half of highlights the commentators managed to criticize a referee’s decision for just about every game.  Yeah, handballs happen, as do controversial tackles in the box and not-so-innocent nudges during cornerkicks, but remember that the referees are at just as high a skill level (in what they’re doing) as the players are.  Referee decisions are a part of every sport, and in the long run, these decisions always even out for any team.  What pisses me off is the constant complaining by players and managers alike.  During the highlight shows, for instance, after each match is a short interview with each team’s manager, no more than 20-30 seconds.  Yet somehow, the managers always focus this valuable time on criticising the referee rather than commenting on his team’s progress or performance.  For instance, after the Aston Villa/Everton match (in which Everton were thromped 4-0) the Everton manager spent his entire interview bitching about how the first goal should have been disallowed because it was a handball (it grazed Milon Baros’s arm), blah blah the first goal is very important in a game, yadda yadda it was the worst decision I have ever seen in my 40 years of managing etc etc…well maybe you should shut the hell up, and realizing how your team got it’s ass whooped, comment on your team’s atrocious defending instead of whining like a little girl.

This isn’t even mentioning how in all professional sports (footballers are especially guilty) athletes routinely criticize every decision by an umpire, referee, linesman, or whoever.  A typical sequence of events might be…

1. midfielder plays a thru-ball up to a forward, who controls it in mid-stride, fires and scores, then goes wild in celebration
2. linesman raises his flag, indicating the forward was offside, as agrees the referee
3. player runs over to the referee, shouting obscenities in a tantrum and carrying on like a three-year-old
4. referee calmy explains why he was offside
5. player continues whining like a little bitch, manager goes hoarse yelling obscenities
6. player throws the ball or kicks something/someone
7. referee awards player a yellow card
8. (repeat steps 3-5 until player walks away or is ejected)

Post-game whining is simply an excuse for a (player’s, team’s) performance that could’ve been better.   An extra effort on a midfield run to reach that low-crossed ball at the goal mouth, a lapse of concentration in the penalty box allowing an attacker to slip behind, a misplaced shot, poor defensive communication; these decisions and performances will decide the result of any given game, not a single refereeing decision.  So shut up already.

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