Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Freeze Dried 

image via the New Yorker

It’s been a weird March right? Remember that whole eclipse, vernal equinox and super moon day thing? In like a lamb, out like a lion? More like in like a frozen bag of rocks, out like a frozen bag of rocks that fell on you from a considerable height. I've wondered if I'm the only person experiencing a disconnect between the weather and our point around the sun. Here we are in late March and in Toronto we had an extreme cold weather alert Saturday morning which was later canceled because the temperature went above -16°C. By noon it was up to -12°C, maybe in the sun. That was March 28 . If ever there was a time to exclaim WTF this is it (there are probably other times too).

The strangest thing has been how I feel that intuitively, my body knows that this situation is not right. I always think that the reptilian part of our brains knows from the angle of the sun the time of day, where we are on the planet, and where the planet is in the universe. I don't mean in a precise way, just in a sort of general way. Like when you've overslept and awake knowing it's too bright for the time it should be or how you may have a moment of thinking you have to go to work then realize with some certainty that it is, in fact, Saturday. The sun being where it is and as strong as it has been makes no sense. How is it so incredibly cold. Maybe it would make sense in Nunavut or I don't know Helsinki but not here. That's why when I had lunch at Fusaro’s, I picked a seat by the window heated by the afternoon sun so I could pretend Spring was here and not a thousand miles to the south.

But there was no fooling myself. It was still freezing cold and it was still March. It was especially cold on the bike. At least it’s been dry. It’s okay if it’s freezing because it’s a dry freeze. Nope that doesn’t make it any better.

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Thursday, March 12, 2015

My Very Well Explained Dislike of Instagram 

I think I’ve been using the Instagram mobile app long enough to articulate some very basic problems with the experience. I’m also currently be nagged to re-up my Flickr Pro account in a time when you have to ask, “Do you need a Flickr Pro account in 2015?” I’m starting to think you do, especially given the following reasons that Instagram is, for me, Instabad. Read more »


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Mr. Clean 

I’ve reached a point in my life where I want to own less stuff. I’ve sometimes fantasized about a fire claiming everything I have, just so I could start over, but with much less stuff. I’ve fantasized about having some estate agency selling off everything save a handful of books, a bicycle (two of the three I own are less loved) and a couple of irreplaceable wool sweaters. Despite all of those monastic aspirations I somehow own three vacuum cleaners. As a point of order, I own two Roomba robotic vacuum cleaners and one Dyson (compact) vacuum. A man should never have the same number of vacuums as bicycles if the number of bicycles exceeds one. I don’t even own a car. If you know how expensive the Roombas can be, let me assure you they were purchased at great discount from Canadian Tire, whose yearly Autumn sale includes the previous year’s Roomba models.
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Sunday, March 08, 2015

Seen in February 

scene from Blue is the Warmest Colour
Blue is the Warmest Colour

It seems I keep posting these later and later… by May, I'll be posting in August. For whatever reason, I didn't see as many films this February, probably because it was the coldest February in Toronto on record so you could understand simply wanting to stay home and put my head under the sheets.

Oscar Animated Shorts
A program that assembles the five Oscar nominated short films as well as a few other honourable mentions. It seemed obvious that the Disney short "Feast" would win as it was cute, short, expertly animated and sentimentally emotional. The Canadian nominee Me and My Moulton while very accomplished was probably too simple and modest a story to win. Other worthy nominees were presumably unseen by the Academy.

Pride & Prejudice
After reading the Jane Austen classic I had to watch this definitive BBC six-part version. Colin Firth’s career has been both defined and formed by his role as Mr. Darcy, the stubbornly distant and refined wealthy snob who descends his lofty perch for the woman he loves. It should be said, his initial proposal to the beautiful Ms. Elizabeth Bennet (played by Jennifer Ehle) is probably the worst marriage proposal in the history of English literature. The only shame of this series is that having been broadcast in the early 90s, it is pretty lo-fi, standard definition. I think it would be worth it to take the original film and re-master it in higher-resolution digital format if possible. It was clearly lovingly filmed in exquisite and lush sets, costumes and locations and it’s too bad to see it in a 4:3 ratio on a screen where so much more is possible.
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Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Unbearable Wearables

Steve Mann's early wearable computer prototype

In this episode of the NPR podcast Invisibilia, the hosts interview early wearables creators from MIT’s media lab and ask if technology is changing us. Of course, those super-nerds believe that wearing reality-augmenting tech like Google Glass only helps us be better versions of ourselves and don’t understand why people would question one form of technology over another, like say, eye glasses or shoes.

Here I got a little angry. The very pleasant hosts and creators of Invisibilia are not about challenging their interviewees as much as continuing a conversation. So I’ll challenge them instead. There is a vast and profound difference between Internet connected technology and technology that is clothing. The conversation continues that Plato argued against writing the way we do about mobile phones today, except Plato’s speculations, while somewhat true, have failed to end civilization the way fears around mobile phones are still forming.

Technology obviously changes us. Sometimes for better, sometimes for worse. At its worse, technology does break connections to other people (those in the room as opposed to strangers on the other side of the planet). It affects our “presence”. When drivers use their mobile devices, they aren’t distracted as much by pretty colours as they are by speaking to someone while they are driving. The driver’s brain is doing too much work imagining the speaker on the other end of the call to be present enough to drive a car. Drivers not on the mobile phones are encased in a bubble of glass, steel and plastic and as such are disconnected from people walking on the street. Drivers stop seeing pedestrians as vulnerable people, but more as objects through a screen on the road (if they see pedestrians at all). I think people drive worse when their windows are up because they are completely and physically separated from the world outside the vehicle. Have you ever talked to someone who keeps both earbuds in while they talk to you? Are they listening to you, or to another caller or to a song? Are they present at all or are they in their own audio bubble? Talking to someone tapping out a message on a mobile phone or laptop is equalling disconcerting. I’ve not spoken to someone reading their e-mail on Google Glass but my guess is why bother? They aren’t really there anyway. They are in another space of textual communication rather than a verbal one. Their nonverbal cues point to their focus being elsewhere.

Technology sometimes makes us break social interaction and nonverbal communication. This isn’t too dissimilar from someone with Asberger Syndrome. It's not hard to imagine that the scientists of MIT or early adopters of Google Glass were never really that good at social interaction or nonverbal communication to begin with. The reason someone coined the term “Glasshole” is because the wearer of the technology was too distracted to know they were being a-holes to begin with.

As designers we often aspire to be technology optimists, but in the area of wearables we should keep in mind not just the experience of the person using the technology but also the experience of others interacting with the wearer. It may take time for wearable etiquette to form but that doesn’t excuse us from ignoring it.

It’s a little like smoking. If you smoke, I don’t really care if your habit is killing you, just don’t take me down with you. E-cigarettes or “vaping” on the other hand may turn out to be even less healthy than smoking (hard to believe) but, so far, it seems to be pretty benign to bystanders. Google Glass will eventually be invaluable to professional users such as pilots, surgeons, forklift drivers, or film directors but because it draws attention of the eye, thus the gaze of the user stares nowhere in particular, it will always be intrusive to face-to-face conversation (oh, sorry, “F2F interaction”).

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Monday, March 02, 2015

We Are Not Alone 

Twenty-four hours ago I was sunning myself on a walk from a hotel to a coffee shop in San Francisco. It was cool by California standards, balmy by Toronto ones. March is especially cruel as Spring begins to appear in many locales south of the 49th parallel. Even though Spring may begin in March (the vernal equinox will be Friday, March 20, 6:45PM EDT), it's really Winter's epilogue (or epi-slog if you will). Whether it comes in as a lion, or out like a lamb, you can bet it will involve snow, freezing rain, blistering winds and general misery. At least it is a shared misery as this video of New Yorkers and their tiny, pram-driven dogs can attest.

Misery loves company, right?


Sunday, March 01, 2015

Another Year's Orbit 

I don't care for the “selfie” genre but this accomplishment seemed to call for it.

Today I completed a couple of trips. One around the sun and another around San Francisco Bay. I’m westward in California for work this week. Going west seems like putting off the inevitable by delaying my celestial loop by three hours. As a little gift to myself I rented a bike and rode north of the city through Mill Valley (dying to use a MILF Valley pun somewhere) up to Mount Tamalpais (Mt. Tam to locals where it is a mountain biker Mecca), then down through Muir Woods and back through Sausalito to San Francisco. It wasn’t a long ride at around 65 KM but full of steep climbs and wild chicanes. Every time I glanced at my heart rate it was well into the 150s or 160s and I limped back through Canary Wharf with a cramped thigh and pretty well spent. My legs were fried on the climbs with even my triceps strained from pulling hard on the handlebars. Even my hands were sore from squeezing the brake levers to keep my speed to something controllable as I zig-zagged descents like an alpine skier. I never would’ve made the original 90 KM I had planned on doing. Despite my completely inadequate fitness I pushed on and it was one of the most satisfying and beautiful rides I’ve ever been on.

In some odd way, it made me think of my father. Not just how different we were but also how similar. I would have been 12 or 13 when my dad was the age I am now so I remember him vividly from that time. I’m certainly thinner and fitter than he was but I’m more vain too. What I wouldn’t do for a fuller head of hair like he had. If he ever had a thought about clothes, they were definitely wrong. But today I think I behaved as he would have. Stubbornly persistent and maybe even showing a bit of toughness. The only thing that got me through that ride today was determination. How many other riders passed me? Easily, I might add. Or how many asked where I had gone and said, “That’s a nice ride – with some decent climbs.” Decent? Ugh. I will add that for the most part I did not use my GPS-enabled smartphone for navigation but simply followed Dirk Gently's Zen Navigation and followed cyclists who looked like they knew where they were going. You won't end up where you were intending on going but you'll often wind up somewhere you needed to be. This led to my meeting two older guys at a 7-11 quaffing energy drinks and bananas. It turns out they lived in Berkley but were from Boston originally where they "didn't miss having 8-f**king-feet of snow." At least the mechanic at the bike shop where I rented my bike seemed mildly impressed, saying simply, “Dood… that’s a good ride, my man.” I suppose my comportment did not indicate someone set to tackle a “decent climb”.

It's remarkable what phones can do these days - though capturing this vista of the Yerba Buena Gardens and Center at night isn't one of them. The coloured lights were like a gaudy stage set beneath a turbulent early evening sky.

A benefit of a 1400-Cal workout is you can fully justify a 1400-Cal meal afterward. I had intended to go to a Mexican restaurant near Yerba Buena Gardens but it had a huge queue and I was red-lining pretty fast. Instead I went to some posh burger place which in true California fashion required a pager to let you know when your order was ready. Admittedly it was better than I had expected and they had these great in-house pickles but alas no cake. There should always be cake. So it was I was left to buy a brownie from a nearby Starbucks and retire to my room to contemplate another year’s orbit – I was so close to typing “obit” there but I’ll happily leave that for another time in the faraway future I hope.

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