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If being a parent and gamer has taught me anything, it’s how critically important it is to start working on those platformer skills early.

It’s a shame I accidentally cut this off just as she was asking if Carter wanted to give it a try.

Toque!

Maya tried to change what my Gameboy was doing today by flicking her finger across the screen. She’s already figured out how to use my iPhone and keyboard, though for relatively marginal and sporadically destructive things, but it turns out there’s enough keyboard shortcuts on this thing that she inevitably finds a few of them. Sometimes they’re even things I’ve never seen before and don’t know how to undo, which is exciting.

Maya, six weeks ago I showed you how to climb stairs, one leg at a time. For a month now that’s been easy for you. You’ve already fallen down some stairs too, but a few moments of fussing and you were back to yourself; five minutes later you tried again. It looks like you’ve inherited the stubborn streak both your parents have, which will serve you very well most of the time and extraordinarily poorly at least once or twice.

A few weeks ago after I put you to bed, I spoke to my parents; you’d think this is no big deal, and you’d almost be right, but I spoke to them via Skype, that my mom runs off her iPod and the hotel’s free wifi in Peru. A phone wasn’t even part of the equation. But hey, nothing to it, right? (Is actual external hardware and wifi kind of gross, by the time you can read this? It’s hard to tell.) I probably spent more money on long distance phone calls (audio only, naturally) during university than clothes; these days, having breakfast with your grandmother 500 miles away via video call is something we do three times a week.

The thing that is just killing me here is that by the time you’re eight years old all of this stuff will be so antiquated it might as well be powered by coal. You will take it completely and utterly for granted; pervasive global communication will have been freely available at very nearly no cost for the entirety of your existence.

I think the thing that shocks me the most is that you’ll be entirely in the right.

Hello?

Your dad might be flattering himself here but he secretly suspects that he’s somewhere up in the top tenth of a percent of the world in terms of understanding how this stuff works, six or seven standard deviations away from your guy in the street, and in truth he’s probably not far wrong. It’s some pretty rarefied air up here. But at some point he will still be struggling to explain to you how miraculous this stuff you’re bored of or annoyed with is.

When I was your age, young lady, when I was your age, the stuff you take completely and utterly for granted wasn’t even science fiction yet. But that doesn’t matter, and it will probably be true for your kids too, and that won’t matter either as long as you can stay on top of it. And that’s really what I want for you, is that you keep climbing.

The Lip

Have you noticed that when some Person A endorses some notion they can’t really articulate, and person B enthusiastically supports that half-formed idea with arguments they really haven’t thought through, both of them will inevitably say that the other person “gets it”?

So about that iPad.

I appear to be in the minority of my nerd colleagues when I say that I covet this new iPad widget. It may just be the reflexive Shiny Technology Acquisition Reflex we nerds suffer from, but can I justify it by saying that I don’t want one for the same reason other people do? Let’s find out.

This is a difficult position, because a number of the people I know who’ve declared the iPad a waste of time are highly technical people I quite respect, and unfortunately a number of those most vocally in favor of it are idiots. To be clear I don’t think the world is divided into those two categories; it’s just that apropos the iPad, there’s this bright line cut down the middle of my newsfeed aggregator.

So, let me enumerate a few points, just to clarify my position. The iPad is a number of quite polarizing things, and among them are:

  1. A device with a hypermodern, visually minimalist UI that marginalizes or discards thirty years of convention in favor of doing its own thing.
  2. A physical artefact which, in terms of both its form and interactivity, is by the standards of modern computery things shockingly elegant.
  3. A portable device with (apparently) virtually zero physical extensibility. Modulo the docking station & keyboard, it’s basically atomic. Relatedly, it is also
  4. A computer that’s very nearly impenetrable as far as software exposure or modification goes, even from with within the system itself; it is designed (well) and implemented (well) to completely obscure the implementation details within the system. The details of the technology inside it are as close to invisible and unexaminable as they can be made to be.
  5. Another conduit to Apple’s App Store, which via iTunes (again, this is not confirmed but is extremely likely) is expected to be the only way to get software onto the device at all. Software that Apple has not preapproved will simply not be available.

I’ve tried, and somewhat failed, to keep my phrasing relatively neutral there but these are the salient facts.

On the first point, I am wholly in favor. These aspects of the iPad, including jettisoning old UI ideas, experimenting with new interfaces, multitouch, minimalism, and the push towards the style of application that this sort of experimental UI canvas lets the industry take, they’re great. It’s really a shame that nobody else in the industry is willing to make these kind of big pushes forward. And maybe more importantly, nobody else is so merciless about throwing stuff overboard once it’s outlived its usefulness.

I think there’s a certain blindness on the part of the technically inclined to the elegance of invisibility, though it’s completely understandable; when the implementation details disappear it becomes difficult or impossible for us to pursue our jobs or hobbies, because our jobs are the technical details. When they disappear and, worse, when they disappear and that seems to actually work right we get skittish indeed.

“The major difference between a thing that might go wrong and a thing that cannot possibly go wrong is that when a thing that cannot possibly go wrong goes wrong it usually turns out to be impossible to get at or repair.” – Douglas Adams

I think technology whenever possible should be at least translucent, at best invisible. Not everyone thinks so, and some days I agree with them; my fellow nerds have had the same bad days I’ve had when somebody’s tried to hide some implementation details and then gone and fucked it up anyway. It’s no fun at all having to get out from under that sort of thing, and we’ve all been burned by it at some point. But for most people, most of the time, that’s a huge feature, not a bug at all.

Physically it is clearly beautiful, in that brushed-aluminum zen way that’s become Jonathan Ive‘s signature fit-and-finishing move. I wish somebody else would start making hardware that is even fractionally able to compete in this space, but alas.

I’m going to digress for a moment here, about two things: grandparents and open systems.

Digression the first: to every tech writer who feels like pointing out how some technology is not for geeks, but for somebody’s hypothetical grandmother: Maya’s grandmother shows her friends videos of her granddaughter learning to crawl on her iTouch. You, on the other hand, are using dated, decades-old tropes to fluff out crappy writing; you are a lazy slob of a writer using a stereotype as a crutch. Honestly, the only person hanging on to crusty old tools here is you.

Digression the second, in an article on (gag) LifeHacker about the the problems with the iPad, Adam Pash writes:

“To say that “either a device is user friendly or it’s open” is a false dichotomy.”

Ignoring that Pash’s abysmal idea of “openness” is “includes a terminal app and shows you the filesystem”, you’d think that would be true. But shit, guys, prove it! Show us! Ship something that isn’t some bullshit one-off debian/busybox recompile in a crappy plastic box with a half-assed one-off UI and a bunch of proprietary goop on top of it! Because as far as I can tell, Apple is the only company that is successful at both shipping their own hardware and treating usability as something deeper than a coat of spraypaint.

That little rant lets me segue back into the last three points, being very much related. And I’m very ambivalent about them. For a user to install arbitrary hardware means the user needs to be able to install arbitrary drivers, and I’m betting the #1 reason, above even it’s driven minimalism, that the iPad’s hardware is so thoroughly closed is so that the software can stay just as closed. (Dispute that if you like, but take a moment to divide the number of different ways you can extend the functionality of an iPod Touch via the dock or Bluetooth by the number of things you can plug into a MacBook’s USB port; not quite zero, but awfully close.)

I can, I have to say, kind of understand that. Between denying arbitrary third-party drivers and killing Flash, Apple has certainly done great things for the stability and manageability of the iPhoneOS product lines.

But to customers and developers alike, there’s this huge, huge downside. This is arguably the most pernicious elements of the App Store and its approval process, and more generally of Apple’s having complete control over the platform; that nobody can sell you, or even just give you for free, anything that Apple finds inconvenient. That’s why you can’t hook a bluetooth keyboard up to an iPhone, for example, and why you can’t use Firefox or Chrome on it. Mobile Safari might suck, but there’s nothing you can do about it and no way to vote with your feet. “Duplicating existing functionality”, even if the existing functionality sucks and the new idea is better, is out of the question.

And for developers it’s worse. Users just can’t buy the product; developers can’t get back the months of their lives they spent creating it, should they end up butting heads against the perniciously arbitrary App Store approval process. And worse, I’ve heard rumors (just rumors, but serious rumors from serious people) that a careful reading of the App Store developer agreements might imply that Apple actually owns the software you sell through the App Store. Certainly the fact you’re prohibited, under NDA, from even publishing why your apps have been rejected (and, in some high profile cases, it wouldn’t matter if you do because Apple will just lie about it anyway) should be a deal breaker. But with everyone busily keeping their eyes on this Scrooge-McDuck-style bathtub of money, who has time to fret about little things like digital freedoms, competitive marketplaces, conflicts of interest, or actually owning things you’ve paid for?

The App Store business model is classic robber-barony for this shiny new digital age, in short. Sadly, all that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to be unable to design their way out of a wet cardboard box and ship a competing product.

Did I say that I still want an iPad? Yeah, I’ve been wavering about that.

But the rest of the portable-device field right now is so very, very thin. Nobody else seems like they’re able to pull all these disparate parts (hardware, software, online services, service and marketing, etc…) together in any way that is getting any kind of traction. Despite RIM’s market share, nobody gives a shit about RIM’s store, for example. It’s worth mentioning the context in which the iPad and the App Store exist, which appears to be this huge gaping void in the market that they can pour a basically unlimited number of devices into. Their only reasonable competitor in this space, Google, only just decided to turn on multitouch support on their Android phones a few days ago, and hasn’t yet shipped their presumed future minicomputer based on ChromeOS.

Digressions three and four, here: Boy, ChromeOS (and, indeed, Android) has a rocky future ahead of it. Just recently, Google pulled out their increasingly dog-eared copy of the Classic Microsoft playbook and started putting the screws to their Android clients in a move seasoned veterans of the Microsoft desktop space will find immediately familiar. “We have no intention of developing a competing product. Please, use our OS. Go right ahead, we have no intention of developing a competing product. None. Did I mention we’re not going to sell a phone? Use Android, love Android, let us help you use Android and love Android. Invest heavily in Android. Oh, you did? Great! Check out the new Google Phone! Isn’t it awesome?”

Good luck finding people to work with you on ChromeOS, Google!

The final digression: have I mentioned how consistently shocked I am that Microsoft is completely irrelevant in the portable space? Their mobile OS team has been fucking the dog for at least five years now, and thanks to a CEO who’s got the strategic vision of a stop sign in a parking lot they now have at least three separate mobile strategies that might be conflicting if anyone knew what the hell any of them were doing. It’s really stunning. I mean, honestly guys, “Surface”? You took all those great ideas and decided to make furniture? I can remember companies being afraid to compete with Microsoft. Now, not so much.

And finally, there are some odd hiccups to the iPad launch that I don’t quite understand. And they really didn’t sell the product at the public demo. Unless you looked only at the physical interface part of it, that was a crappy keynote, and the haste with which people like John Gruber have fired up their sneers and leapt snidely to Apple’s defence has read an awful lot more like Stockholm Syndrome than regular old Reality Distortion this time around.

Still, people who’ve actually held one seem to think they’re great. But none of those people will be developers; as far as I can tell, no developers will have actually tested their apps on a real iPad on launch day, because Apple isn’t seeding developers with them at all. And you can expect one, maybe two more major announcements about the iPad before it’s released, possibly with respect to the hardware but likely with with regards to ebooks available through iTunes. So I won’t be picking one up on the first day, but I’ll be paying close attention to it; it will be interesting to see what 3G options in Canada look like.

Which is all to say, right now it looks to me like the iPad is going to be an excellent second computer, maybe the best out there even for people who do some heavy lifting on their primary. Because despite the evils of the App Store, it is just mind-blowingly convenient, a hugely better purchase-through-install experience than anyone else offers. And as far as I can tell, there’s no way I can vote with my dollars for better interfaces, experimental new UIs and more elegant hardware, without also voting for the App Store and all of it’s baggage, but I’m willing to be disciplined about keeping my data backed up and in open formats, and until Nokia buys Palm and ships something they can both be proud of, that will have to be enough.

As you might see below, I now take pictures of stuff. I’m going on a trip in a few weeks, so I decided that now is as good a time as any to gear up and buy a decent camera and after I did a little research, got what has proven to be extremely good advice from Kev, I found a good camera store in my area and picked a moment they were having a decent sale. Cameras, like a lot of things now, are at a point where the stuff that’s a generation back and very reasonably sale-priced can still be pretty shockingly awesome. As a result I’m very happily set up right now, as follows:

  • One Nikon D40 camera body,
  • The standard 18-55mm autofocus-and-kind-of-zoomy lens. The documentation, for reasons I am not privy to, doesn’t describe it as standard-issue autofocus-and-kind-of-zoomy, but documentation has always been a weak spot for the technically inclined.
  • An extremely entertaining 1.8f 50mm fixed lens, and
  • One Nikon P5100.

The D40 is a fantastic camera. Especially at night; everything comes out looking like HDR photos even though I’ve barely figured out how to turn off the flash. Light just seems to fall into the lens. The only problem I’m having is that my hands aren’t steady enough to take decent night shots so I usually end up propping the camera on whatever’s around for long exposures; a tripod might be the next order of business.

The 50mm lens is a bit tricky, but much less so than I thought it would be – it’s manual focus, but the camera’s smart enough to know when the images is in focus even if it can’t control it and tells you with a little indicator. This is the lens that gives you that very short depth-of-field that has one thing in focus and softy-blurred backgrounds, very artistic. Hard to work with if you’ll be shooting anything that moves, but since once you’ve got the gear photography is basically free now, the cost of screwing up a few hundred pictures figuring things out is pretty much exactly zero. Add to that the fact that a two-gig SD card is within a couple of dollars of also being free and happily holds more than six hundred pictures, and all I really need to worry about is making sure that the good ones are filtered out every couple of days.

The p5100 has excelled in its role as being as small camera to take pictures fast, and it hangs off the side of whatever bag I’m carrying now. It’s got great rubberized grips and a very solid feel, and like its big brother seems to pull in light that´s only barely there. doing a terrific job as a quick-draw, point-and-shoot workhorse. Not small enough to be pocketable, but totally serviceable nonetheless. It feels very nice in my fat hands, and like its big brother the automatic modes are way smarter than I am, smart enough that almost everything comes out looking at least competent.

Sadly, this little shopping spree has pretty much blown the doors off my widget-parity agreement with my wife, so no more toys for me for the foreseeable future. If these did not make me so happy, that would definitely make me sad.

Exhibit 1: CNN

(AP) — Newly released documents regarding crimes committed by U.S. troops against civilians in Iraq and Afghanistan detail a pattern of troops failing to understand and follow the rules that govern interrogations and deadly actions. [...] They show repeated examples of troops believing they were within the law when they killed local citizens. [...] In the suffocation, soldiers covered the man’s head with a sleeping bag, then wrapped his neck with an electrical cord for a “stress position” they insisted was an approved technique.

Exhibit 2: The Geneva Conventions, Article 3

“To this end the following acts are and shall remain prohibited at any time and in any place whatsoever with respect to the above-mentioned persons: (a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture; (b) taking of hostages; (c) outrages upon personal dignity, in particular, humiliating and degrading treatment; (d) the passing of sentences and the carrying out of executions without previous judgment pronounced by a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples.”

Exhibit 3: U.S. Department of Defense Detainee Program

It is DoD policy that:

4.1. All detainees shall be treated humanely and in accordance with U.S. law, the law of war, and applicable U.S. policy.

4.2. All persons subject to this Directive shall observe the requirements of the law of war and shall apply, without regard to a detainee’s legal status, at a minimum the standards articulated in Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 [...] as construed and applied by U.S. law, and those found in Enclosure 4, in the treatment of all detainees, until their final release, transfer out of DoD control, or repatriation.

Apparently you go to war with the army you have, not the America you know.

So, even though I ask them (every few weeks, it turns out) to not mail me things or contact me outside of the usual monthly bill, I got robocalled by Rogers earlier today, for a “customer satisfaction survey”. I’ve told them a couple of times now that one way to satisfy me as a customer is to, say, not robocall me, but let’s ignore that for a minute.

So, I told the person at the other end of the line that Rogers’ prices aren’t particularly competitive, and that I’m planning on switching to another ISP and phone provider, at which time I was promptly berated, and told that if you compare apples to apples, sir, I believe they’re quite competitive, and I think that if you did your research you’d find that to be true.

She actually said that: “your research”.

She went on to suggest that I should call back with the results of my research, maybe Rogers could give me “special pricing”. I asked her why I had to do that? Why should I, as a longstanding customer, not simply expect that I would be offered this new better price should it become available?

“We can’t give everyone special pricing, sir. If we did, it wouldn’t be special.”

Those were, literally, her exact words. Which really cemented the deal, so I ended the conversation there.

I don’t know if anyone who manages a telco reads this but in case it’s not totally clear, this sort of thing is why virtually everyone hates you.

“Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has called for urgent action against the threat of climate change, while speaking in Tromso, the largest city north of the Arctic Circle.”

A key point:

“The service ended in a procession to the Arctic shore, where Russian
Orthodox Archbishop Simon of Murmansk blessed the ocean.”

So the reason that there are no more vampires in the world is that the ocean has been blessed, effectively making all the water in the world holy water.

Discuss.

Via Warren Ellis, I see that Uncov is putting the boots to Robert Scoble, who seems to have mistaken self-importance for significance with his usual industry.

His videos might work for you; I can’t watch them. They crashed my browser out, but hey, brittle, unreliable technology is just a symptom of the future, right? Right? Eh? Eh?

This is all to call your attention away from his bullshit and towards something unquestionably great; the definitive last word on audioblogging and videoblogging was written three years ago now, by Maciej Cegłowski, at Idle Words. It is here, and a very good listen indeed, but if you’re interested in reading it, you’ll find it here.

The TCP/IP Model
is a practical way of dividing up bits of your networking setup
into five different levels of abstraction, so that getting from “a box
that sucks electrons out of your wall” to “im in ur intertubes, mailin ur lolcats” is marginally less of a big stupid mess. Got a problem with your lolcat-mailings on the intertubes? Here’s what you need to know about your network problems,
from the ground up. And, as a public service, the background music you
should be listening to while you deal with it.

  1. The Physical Layer.

    The wires going from your computer into your wall socket. Relevant questions
    include: is there electricity in my house? Is my computer plugged in? Is
    turned on? How about my network cable? If the answer to all of these is yes, go to layer two! If it is not, congratulations, You Are Here. Solve these problems.

    Music: Firewater – Dark Days Indeed

  2. The Data Layer.

    This is basically your network cable. If you live in the future, it’s your wireless connection, and if you live in the bronze age it’s your telephone cable, your wizened and bespectacled little man hunched over his telegraph key, the string between your two tin cans or your smoke signal or something, Christ, I don’t know, I’m not some rusted-out freaking relic over here, ok? Relevant questions continue to be “is it plugged in”, but now involve the small blinky lights on the box rather than the hundred-watt bulb in the ceiling. Are your tiny lights
    blinky? Does your modem screech? Is your employee tapping away fiercely? If yes, proceed. If not, you’ve got a hardware problem. Try replacing the cable, but I don’t know what you’re going to do about morse code guy.

    Music: Jello Biafra & Mojo Nixon – Plastic Jesus

  3. The Network Layer.

    In dimly remembered frontier days long past, when big- and little-endians were made to drink at separate fountains and the love affair between gallium and arsenic was still flush with the passions of spring, this third layer was a fractured and difficult land, of many schools of thought and much protracted, fiery debate. Nowadays, it pretty much means “I have an IP address”. If so, proceed!

    Music: Tom Waits – Telephone Call From Istanbul (live)

  4. The Transport Layer.

    I’m pretty much spent from coming up with that protracted metaphor up
    in layer three, so try and imagine the same sort of thing here except
    with a lot less people caring that much about it. In place of debates
    of the form “Ali In His Prime Vs. Tyson?” or “Gretzky or Howe?”,
    imagine instead “A Young Mike Tyson Vs. A Slightly Overcooked Steak”,
    or perhaps the subtler “Gretzky Vs. Hoye?” Can you ping Google? If so,
    move ahead one square.

    Music: The Blue Man Group – White Rabbit

  5. The Application Layer.

    This is the place where things that you actually want to get done on the
    interwebs get their doing. Email, Firefox, BitTorrent, you name it –
    if you’re driving a truck through your series of tubes, this is where it
    happens. If you’re here, and everything works, you didn’t have a problem
    in the first place. But since you’ve walked past all the rest of it,
    this must be where your problem lies, and good luck to you.

    Music: The Epoxies, “Everything Looks Beautiful On Video”.

Good night, internet, and good luck.

The expression “a picture is worth a thousand words”, was first uttered by Fred Barnard in 1921, a dimly-remembered age when a soda cost a nickel and steam-powered kinetoscopes were a plausible technology.

Let us assume, for the sake of argument, that this claim is accurate.

It’s difficult to directly evaluate the picture/word exchange rate, but by the beginning of the Second World War, Heinlein was being paid a penny a word and a 5×7 film plate cost between $2.75 and $4.00. If we posit an average three hundred and thirty words per picture, this represents an inflation-adjusted devaluation of approximately fifty percent.

Curiously, using various comparative metrics the picture-to-word exchange rate was reasonably stable over the course of the next few decades. While first color 35mm film was introduced in 1950, the addition of colour-adjectives did not represent a significant increase in the picture-related word supply, certainly not enough to offset the reduced costs achieved through streamlined manufacturing processes. The well-known volatility of the silver market in the late seventies and early eighties had yet to set in, and though the cost of pictures declined slowly (adjusted for inflation), the relative cost of words declined comparably, lending stability to that market. (Silver nitrate is a critical element of the photographic process, and until recently Eastman Kodak was the world’s largest corporate consumer of silver.)

In the early 80’s the picture-word exchange rate shifted dramatically in what is widely regarded as a “perfect storm” of completely unrelated events – Nelson Hunt’s efforts to corner the silver market and the beginnings of the consolidation of the media by large corporations drove up the cost of silver substantially, while the real value of words dropped dramatically. Pictures were briefly expensive but talk was, more than ever, cheap.

This might be the high-water mark of the picture’s worth in words. Not long after Hunt was bankrupted and convicted for his attempt to corner the silver market, the renormalized price of silver and the introduction of affordable autofocus cameras made photography much more accessible to the wider public. The resulting increase in the picture supply more overcame the imbalances of the still-soft word market, and the per-word value of pictures continued its downward trend.

Fluctuations in the both supply and demand for pictures and words would remain relatively modest for another ten years until a pair of technologies would cause the most significant value-shift to date – namely, the introduction of affordable digital cameras and the explosive growth of the internet. A sudden glut of pictures should have been accompanied by a comparable increase in words, but the low relative quality of those words, the advent of instant messaging and SMS, down-rezzing and idiosyncratic abbreviations made the market difficult to evaluate.

In reality the problem turned out to be one of calibration;with the new irrelevance of the admittedly problematic silver-cost metric and both pictures and words themselves now worth very close to nothing in real terms, how does one correctly evaluate them on a comparative basis? The answer turned out to be simpler than expected: combine the two. In early 2006 the idea that later became known as LOLcats began to take hold, clearly fixing per-image word-value by embedding verbiage in the image itself. Fixed-word values are of course variable, some as low as one and as high as twelve, with very little consistency from one example to the next. Fortunately, over a sufficiently large sample set, it is now possible to directly evaluate the picture/word exchange rate to with a reasonable degree of precision.

So, although it represents a significant devaluation from the 1921 value, in Q3 2007 a picture is on average worth between four and seven words, two of which are misspelled.