Temporary stuff

It dawned on me recently that mst media I now purchase is temporary and that a lot of it is in a place I am unaware of.
For example, when I purchase films they sit on an iTunes server, or an Amazon server, or a Google server. I don’t know where half of them are, but I have the complete West Wing purchased which required me to plug in the Apple TV to watch the episodes. Most of the time I have the Roku plugged and I have found myself looking through various devices many times to find the film I want to watch.
It isn’t actually there in a physical sense, but I can access each film with the right device. The question is for how long?
Amazon, Apple and Google are huge and secure brands, but so were Woolworths, Our Price and so many companies that no longer exist. This makes my purchases temporary from the moment I buy them because they are tied to the seller. When I buy a DVD (I never do) it is not tied to anything. I can just pick it up and play it, and of course the same applies to CDs and vinyl.
Does it worry you that your purchases could one day be inaccessible? That you have no way to physically save them and that we may end up in a time when everything (films, TV shows, music) is streamed through monthly subscriptions? When that happens, even the word ‘temporary’ offers too much longevity.

The filter bubble


Any technology is in itself neutral. With the possible exception of what artificial intelligence will become. Bob

I think that there is a degree of nuance here, and a need to be slightly careful in referring to technology as “neutral”.

If I understand Bob’s stance correctly, it is that most technologies are capable of being used in different ways, and that a user of the technology can determine whether to use it in a way regarded as good or beneficial, or in a way which is considered nefarious or harmful. This is, I think Bob is saying, a decision of the user, and not of the technology itself.

I’d support this, to an extent, but I don’t think that this is quite the same as technology being “neutral’, and I think we are only just scratching the surface of the issue of technological / algorithmic neutrality, or its lack.

When people design things, or program things, they make conscious design decisions – that the communications mechanism should be anonymous or traceable, for example, or end to end encrypted or not encrypted, or that content should capable of moderation or not. These design decisions both influence the way that technology is used, and also control it (Lessig’s notion of “code as regulation”). So while a company may not state expressly “we want our product to be used for purposes x, y and z”, how they program it and how they position is likely to be a major factor in how it is used.

In some cases, the use case may indeed be nefarious in itself. If someone puts out a tool with the aim of it being used for something malicious, can that technology really be said to be “neutral”? One might distinguish this from tools which have obvious legitimate and nefarious uses: computer security testing tools and hacking tools are pretty much one and the same.

Sometimes, conscious design choices will result in non-neutral outcomes which might not be visible to users of the technology. A common example of this is whether a search engine’s site ranking system is, or should be, “neutral”. Can, or should, a search engines program its system in such a way that it promotes some sites over others, based on invisible, unexpected criteria? There is a difference between not understanding why one site is ranked higher than another but accepting the neutrality of the algorithm, and a site being ranked more highly because it forms part of the corporate group of the search engine operator and the operator wants to promote it. If this is not a visible, notified interference, this would seem to violate a (false) expectation of algorithmic neutrality.

Sophisticated readers or viewers are used to accepting that their preferred news source is not “neutral”, and that what is presented, the angle taken, and so on is determined by the provider. Less sophisticated consumers may not appreciate that they are receiving just one, partisan, worldview, and that what they are being given is the objective truth, rather than something decidedly non-neutral. As services attempt increasingly to learn user preferences, and to tailor content to viewers, we run a risk – unless we attempt to avoid it consciously – of being stuck in an increasingly non-neutral environment, with content providers trying to show us what they think we want to read, to keep our attention and our clicks.

That probably means things we are likely to agree with, or stories positioned in a certain way. If we are aware of this “filter bubble”, we may be able to mitigate its effects, and actively seek out alternative world views and positions, although I am sceptical that many will do so, even if they have the intent or desire. But what about those who are not aware of increasingly tailoring of content? Even if you appreciated, for example, that your favourite news site had a particular leaning, would you still assume that, like a newspaper, in which everyone who reads the same paper will see the same content, everyone who reads the same news site as you sees the same stories with the same content? Or will whatever neutrality a news site might have retained now be removed, with news just being about what the site wants to promote to you, for whatever reason? Who controls those alogorithms or sets their agenda? Will users know that something which they might regard as neutral to a greater or lesser extent is, in fact, not neutral at all?

Last, we should also be mindful of unconscious bias and its impact on algorithmic and technological neutrality. I may intend for my algorithm to be neutral, but is my idea of what “neutral” means and looks like actually influenced by who I am, my experiences, my upbringing and so on. My idea of neutrality, and my algorithmic implementation, may look hugely different to, and result in substantially different outcomes to, something written by someone with a different background.

With further diversification of those who write code and those who run companies which make products, perhaps we will see continued exploration of what neutrality means: for the time being, “neutrality” is probably defined by a reasonably affluent, probably white, most likely male, programmer, even if they are attempting to make a conscious effort to avoid bias and make their code “neutral”. Neil

I have always been proud that the comments on Lost In Mobile are rarely spiteful and are often highly intelligent. Neil exemplifies that above.

AirPods vs Apple Watch (again)


I’ll bet that AirPods were designed by a small team whereas the watch always felt like design by committee. Certainly one possible reason why there was such a major change in WatchOS 3.

AirPods don’t have the range of functions and are, in fact, very focused, making it easier to hide any complexities. The iPhone does the same by being mainly a phone until the user decides what else they want to do. And both can be marketed that way. Sure they do all sorts of other neat stuff, but that’s the focus. With the watch, there never was a focus on “it tells the time” and oh yes, it can do a bunch of other things. It was always about all the other things. It was marketed that way, and originally designed, the hardware and software, that way. Of course, there were already devices that told you the time and many other things, so how to differentiate. Apple chose to push the complexity or the number of different things.

I own an Apple Watch, a gift from my wife. I like it. But I don’t use it for lots of different things. It tells me time and date. I can get a simple view of upcoming weather, very important in Canada. And it reminds me of things in two ways. First the tap tap when I get a rare text or when an appointment is due. It also allows me to view my to do list, which can include a shopping list. I find that very handy. While I probably wouldn’t have bought it on my own, as I do find the prices rather high, I’m glad I have it. But I don’t try to do very much with it.

Another example of a great comment, this time from Bob. I post the best ones on the main page just in case some of you do not see them.

What is innovation?

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Arguing with my sparring partner, we got to think about what innovation is, like the iPhone launch – if it was more the thunderbolt of a new idea, or incremental progress suddenly revealed. I think it’s both – someone high up gets a vision of “hey maybe we could do this if we have the tech” and then a team has to put in the hard, slow trudge of all the steps to make that happen. (Or maybe, someone in the middle-to-high level gets the idea and pitches it to the very highest, even ruffling some peer’s feathers – the process that this article says might be breaking at Apple)

I think usually that vision takes the form of a new interaction, something that wasn’t possible with the current configuration of stuff.

I think some of the current state of Apple is the lack of a big idea. Look at Jobs’ last big 3: iMac was a matter of presentation and wrapping – actually a freshening of the very original information appliance concept, but redone beautifully. iPod’s innovation was the clickwheel – and it was a great one. iPhone’s interaction innovation was putting the new type of touch sensitivity (already used in say laptop trackpads) and putting it behind glass. (And visual voicemail )

In this view, iPad really didn’t represent interaction innovation (to be fair, it represents the innovation that then got diverted into the iPhone, so by the time it came around it was kind of ho-hum, just larger) And the same for the Apple Watch. The interaction of “smaller and on your wrist instead of your pocket” doesn’t involve all that many new forms of interaction. What will the next interaction innovation be? Well if i could say for sure I might be rich. It might be in voice assist, where Apple seems to be lagging on execution a bit (some argue it’s because they’re more privacy conscious than their rivals?). Random pipe dream: what if clear touchscreens could remold themselves slight to provide tactile bumps? Like tell your thumb where the virtual cross pad was, or have faux physical slider points… no idea if the supporting tech for that is even on the horizon, but it certainly sounds cooler than edge to edge curved screens, doesn’t it?

So we turn to Microsoft. They made a bet that the future of laptops and tablets might be doable with one OS. And they paid the price for that, some of their earlier attempts were really painful to use, and even now the legacy aspect they lug along is offputting for some. But now there is some exciting interaction innovation; giant, desktop workspace touchscreens and intriguing tactile physical dials are making a hard press for “creatives” – it’s a historical shame Apple is falling behind supporting that group. (Compare to the iPad Pro message, where Apple is saying “you can do all your pro work without a real filesystem” which honestly I’m not sure I believe.)

If I thought Window was anywhere near as acceptable as MacOS I might be tempted to swapback, but I’m not willing to gamble 800 bucks and find out its not. (And that’s another way Windows might suffer from people like me who could potentially be persuaded to “switch back” – I tend to compare the hardware on my mom’s $250 cheapie Windows box to the $1000 hardware of my Macbook Air, and that’s clearly not fair.)

Sorry, a bit long winded there 😀 Kirk

You guys are the best!

Don’t Leave it!


Stop leaving your personal items behind! Don’t Leave It! is the patent pending app that reminds you not to leave your location without bringing your personal items with you. No extra hardware required. The first app of its kind… More here.

This sounds like such a first world problem to solve, but how many times have you forgotten something you need to take to work or seen others do it? It happens all of the time.

60 years back, 50 years forward

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One of the most recognizable, classic, 1950s-Mad Men era wristwatches ever made is the Longines Flagship, which is as solid a representation of the iconic notion of a “men’s dress watch” and/or “a good Swiss watch” as anyone has ever seen (all that buy-in to the latter concept contributed in no small part to the demise of the American watch industry, but that’s a story for another day). It was 1957 when the first Flagship came out and these three new commemorative versions are about as picture-perfect as a vintage watch homage gets.

There will be three versions offered: steel, yellow gold (not gold plate), and rose gold (ditto). All are powered by the caliber L609 (derived from the ETA 2892) and the gold models will be produced in a run of 60 watches each, while there will be 1957 steel watches made. We don’t have caseback shots yet, but the engraving of a caravel (a 16th-17th century sailing ship used by the Portuguese and Spanish for trade and exploration) will be on the back as well… More at Hodinkee.

The Longines Flagship Heritage 60th Anniversary 1957-2017 (long name!) is a stunning watch that takes us back to a time when watches were subtle, small and on your wrist to simply tell the time. Not cheap, but value for money in the wider watch world and something you would enjoy being with every single day.

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The Panerai Lab-ID Luminor 1950 Carbotech 3 Days (long name!) is a stunning watch for another reason. As with most Panerais it looks stupid, just my opinion, but a 50 year guarantee is included! Hodinkee explains how this is possible below-

The most impressive thing about the Lab-ID however, is that there are no traditional oils or greases used anywhere in the watch, which is what allows Panerai to offer a 50 year warranty. The new caliber P.3001/C has bridges and mainplates made from a tantalum-based ceramic, which contains a high percentage of carbon making lubrication of the gear train pivots unnecessary. Additionally, the lever and escape wheel are made of DLC-coated silicon, eliminating the need for oil on the escape wheel teeth.