Seeing The Matrix for the First Time in 2015

Some interesting thoughts and observations, such as

I like that the year 1999 was posited as the peak of human civilization in the world of the movie. I think there are probably a lot of people alive today who still believe 1999 was the peak of human civilization. I almost believe it myself, some days.

I guess I could easily believe that 1999 was the peak of human civilization on a day when I forget that iPhones, Netflix and pervasive broadband connectivity weren’t yet around back then.


An appreciation of cheap, off-brand smartphones and electronics:

I’ve been living happily in an electronics shitworld long enough that I’ve begun evangelizing for it. My last television, a Hisense pulled from the storeroom of a North Carolina Walmart by an employee who didn’t know it was there, is a simple and vibrant LED TV with bad sound. My stereo is built around an Insignia receiver (Best Buy house label) that powers speakers from a company called Micca ($55.60, 347 customer reviews, 4.7 stars) and it sounds… pretty good! My router is made by TP-LINK ($18.99, 575 customer reviews, 4.3 stars), and keeps me online about as reliably as my Netgear did. I bought my mother a neat little Baytek Bluetooth speaker for $26.99 (54 customer reviews, 4.6 stars), which she loves, even if its programmed voice draws out the “ess” in “Connected SuccESSSfully” in a way that suggests a strictly mechanical familiarity with English. I impulse-buy off-brand earbuds with mixed results and derive great satisfaction from discovering good ones.

Shitphone: A Love Story by John Herrman.

I’m not quite ready to ditch the iPhone for a Shitphone, but the thought has at least already crossed my mind. And I definitely do that cheap earbuds thing, I lose them too often to spend much. There’s a peculiar quality in disposable things.

Thoughts on the Apple Spring Forward Event

  • I stand by my initial impression of the Apple Watch: Shiny, but I don’t see how it would be useful to me. Poor battery life remains a dealbreaker, and in that regard I’m far more impressed by the new Pebble Time, with its color e-ink screen. I’ll take another look at the Apple Watch when they release version two some time in 2016.
  • The one thing that got me most excited at the initial Apple Watch reveal last year was force touch – pressure sensitive touch interactions which could expand the ways of interacting with touch screens. Back then I was already wondering whether we would see force touch coming to iPhones and iPads. Now that there’s a new Macbook with a force touch trackpad, as well as added support in the existing Macbook Pro line, I guess it’s safe to assume that force touch will also arrive on iPhone and iPad this year.
  • Every once in a while, Apple introduces a new computer that seems like it comes from the future. Hugely impractical given the demands of our current times, but an early manifestation of what computers will inevitably look like in a few years time. The iMac was such a computer. The original Macbook Air was such a computer. The first Retina Macbook Pro was such a computer. The new Macbook, again, is such a computer. Using a laptop with just one USB port (a new kind of USB port that’s barely in use right now at that) seems like an exercise in frustration. You won’t be able to use your USB sticks, external harddrives, external displays, SD cards etc. without using a rather ridiculous (and rather expensive) adapter. I couldn’t imagine getting any work done on this machine. And yet, it’s easy to see where they are going with this. This isn’t a laptop for geeks or power users, but I believe it is meant for personal use: The kind of laptop that follows you to your couch, your kitchen table, your bed. The kind of laptop you use for Youtube and Facebook and maybe writing a paper for college once in a while. And for that kind of usage, its lack of ports matters very little. Sure, it will still prove frustrating and unnecessarily limiting from time to time, but in due time there will be plenty of USB Type C peripherals and infrastructure, and that’s probably when I will pick one up as well. Besides, I would be very surprised if the next iteration of the new Macbook won’t come with at least two USB Type C connectors. Until then I’ll make do with my Macbook Air just fine.
  • Finally, that Apple TV announcement – rather disappointing, right? It almost seemed to me that they were teasing things to come, why else would they drag that HBO announcement into their big Apple Watch reveal? Maybe they didn’t get new hardware finished in time? Maybe the price drop is to clear inventory? We will see.

Twitter text shots, and what design wants

There is now a very real chance that most of our Twitter timelines will become nothing but screenshots of Medium articles that no one reads.

Rian van der Merwe.

I’m not even arguing for increasing the 140 character limit, but if it’s possible to attach pictures and video, I don’t understand why you can’t attach text to a tweet.

Legitimacy of Media

Bethany Mota, Glozell Green and Hank Green, three popular Youtube stars whose channels have collectively more than 13 million subscribers, had the opportunity to interview President Obama after the 2015 State of the Union address. Many traditional media channels reacted negatively and often in a derogatory fashion, which prompted Hank Green to share his thoughts on this media reaction, capturing astutely the strenuous relationship between mainstream media and personal publishing:

There is nothing actually legitimate about Fox News (or MSNBC for that matter) and young people know this. They don’t trust news organizations because news organizations have given them no reason to be trusting. These channels exist not to inform but to uphold the biases and values of particular ideologies. Ideologies and values, by the way, that very few young people embody. Even when they try to strike a balance, they do it by pitting different perspectives against each other in staged arguments. But neither perspective looks familiar to most people under the age of 40, so they just tune out.

And further:

The source of our legitimacy is the very different from their coiffed, Armani institutions. It springs instead (and I’m aware that I’m abandoning any modicum of modesty here) from honesty. In new media this is often called “authenticity” because our culture is too jaded to use a big fat word like “honesty” without our gallbladders clogging up, but that’s really what it is.

Glozell, Bethany and I don’t sit in fancy news studios surrounded by fifty thousand dollar cameras and polished metal and glass backdrops with inlayed 90-inch LCD screens. People trust us because we’ve spent years developing a relationship with them. We have been scrutinized and found not evil. Our legitimacy comes from honesty, not from cultural signals or institutions.

Valentine’s Day Reading (Heavy on Bots)

Invisible Boyfriend is an online service that provides “real-world and social proof that you’re in a relationship – even if you’re not – so you can get back to living life on your own terms” for $25 a month. Caitlin Dewey tried the service for the Washington Post. Unsurprisingly the service launched shortly before Valentine’s Day, which is of course by far the best time of the year to launch a service like this. There’s also a service for Invisible Girlfriends.

Justin Long has automated Tinder with Eigenfaces. The bot does all the swiping based on facial recognition training and even autonomously initiates and pursues conversations to a point were strong interest is indicated. In 48 hours the bot found 21 matches and made 4 extended conversations. Source on GitHub.

More on Tinder bots, this time of the spam variety.

How to fall in love with anyone, in 36 easy steps. There’s even an app for that (only works on mobile).

The Guardian put Google Glass on a couple of couples and watched them date. Strangely compelling.

What I imagine my boyfriend’s ex-girlfriends are doing right now“. And I thought I was driving myself crazy sometimes.

How to lose weight in 4 easy steps. Number 3 is really hard, but I can vouch that it works.

And finally, because the movie is currently tearing up the box office (I’ve already done my part contributing to its success), 50 Shades of Disney, courtesy of Cosmopolitan. Probably not quite safe for work.

Phorm: Tactile Keyboard iPad Case

The Phorm iPad mini case adds tactile feedback to your iPad’s virtual onscreen keyboard and can be turned on and off with a simple switch:

It’s impossible to tell how well this works without having tried it, but it looks intriguing nonetheless. Bringing tactile feedback to touchscreens used to be a rather popular topic in HCI research a few years back. Reminds me of Chris Harrison’s pneumatically actuated buttons.

Apple’s Doom is grossly overstated

Ben Thompson:

[T]he perception that Apple is somehow hanging on by the skin of their teeth persists. I was speaking to someone about Apple’s particularly excellent China results this afternoon, and was struck at how their questions were so focused on threats to Apple – “How will Apple respond to Xiaomi” for example. This is in stark contrast to the way most think about a company like Google, where their dominance in whatever field they choose to enter is assumed, just as Microsoft’s was a decade ago. Apple, though, is always a step away from catastrophe.

It’s difficult to overstate just how absurd this is, but here’s my best attempt: last quarter Apple’s revenue was downright decimated by the strengthening U.S. dollar; currency fluctuations reduced Apple’s revenue by 5% – a cool $3.73 billion dollars. That, though, is more than Google made in profit last quarter ($2.83 billion). Apple lost more money to currency fluctuations than Google makes in a quarter. And yet it’s Google that is feared, and Apple that is feared for.

Bad Assumptions | stratechery by Ben Thompson

Emphasize mine. The way Apple is represented in the media, both as being existentially threatened but also how it retained its scrappy underdog status, is truly ridiculous.

Eye Tracking in Video Games

Ubisoft just announced Assassin’s Creed: Rogue for PC, and as far as I know, this is the first video game that supports eye tracking as an input mechanism: you basically just look at a point on the screen to focus your camera there. I’m not entirely sure how well that works when you start looking at the HUD elements, which are usually located at the corners and edges of the screen and would thus result in rather extreme, unwanted camera movements, but I suppose a small camera delay as well as a no-focus dead-zone around HUD elements could probably take care of that problem.

Sony also experimented with this same idea almost a year ago, but as far as I know their efforts never materialized in a commercial product: