Five Things

Another Sunday means it's time for another list. The last couple of days have seen a ridiculous amount of negativity projected my way, which has certainly taken its toll on my patience, but August was a pretty good month overall. The boy is starting to read more. Projects at the day job are moving forward. The summer heat and humidity has been replaced with some cooler temperatures with intermittent storms. All of these things are positive and each is worthy of a celebration … some more than others, of course. September is shaping up to have a bunch of positive events take place, too, and I'm looking forward to each one of these.

A Week Off … for Training

The last week of September will involve a solid week of Mulesoft training through an all-day intensive course. There will be a great deal of learning and a great deal of Java. Once complete, there will be a closed-book exam where I get to put the skills to use an earn certification for the technology, which will get put to use almost immediately with some upcoming projects at the day job. An added bonus of the training is that I'll need a new computer, and I've managed to convince the day job to provide a 15" MacBook Pro with 32GB RAM, as the 13" MacBook Pro I've been using for the last few years is simply not up to the task of dealing with AnyPoint Studio, the IDE used for Mulesoft development.

A New MacBook

Yes, this was mentioned in the previous point, but it's still something positive to look forward to … even if this is potentially coming a mere couple of weeks before Apple releases the fabled 16" MacBook Pro with the older-style butterfly keyboard, which is the same style that I've enjoyed since 2012. With 32GB of RAM and a dedicated video card, a number of the heat problems that I've been struggling with lately should be drastically minimized. It will also be feasible to do some of the more computationally demanding tasks that colleagues have been asking for help with. If the keyboards on the current 15" devices are as problematic as posts on the web make them out to be, then I'll attach an external keyboard and use the device that way. There's still a whole lot of positive with this hardware acquisition.

Reiko's Birthday

While she doesn't really like birthdays anymore, this annual celebration is a perfect excuse for the boy to make something nice for his mum. Last year involved a great deal of work on my part, as he was just one year old at the time. This year he'll get to help in the kitchen to make something nice. There will also be cards, flowers, and — possibly — something akin to a cake that is not a cake1

Cooler Temperatures

September is here, which means the summer heat is about to give way to a series of typhoons that will cool the country down and bring in the short, two-week autumn period where everybody wants to be outside before five months of winter hit. For me, this entire cycle is a positive as it means that the stupid mosquitoes that bother me at every opportunity will disappear for a short while. This is, of course, one of the many reasons that winter is my favourite season.

And finally …

Reading List Zero

For the vast majority of this year, the reading list has been sitting at about a dozen books to read. Some of these were the result of recommendations from authors of other books, and a couple were even picked up because I strongly disagreed with the author's stance on a subject but wanted to read a coherent argument about why they felt they were right. All in all, it's been a challenging reading year as I've managed to read just one work of fiction and 82 books that cover topics such as modern religion, historic events, sociology, education, child rearing, technology, and even a biography2. Rarely is the list shorter than a three or four books, but I've not had any new recommendations from other readers or authors for a number of months. If I do get down to zero, then I might just use the rest of the year for some science fiction, as the year of "real stuff" has been a bit much at times … particularly when reading something from someone I might slap in the face3.

September has just begun and I plan on making sure it's a positive one.

  1. Reiko doesn't like cake.

  2. Finally got around to reading Walter Isaacson's book on Steve Jobs a few months back. It has been sitting in the Reading List for 4 years.

  3. I read things from people I strongly disagree with, like Milo Yiannopoulos, in order to have a better understanding of their arguments. This allows me to construct better arguments for why their stance on a topic may be incorrect. Not exposing myself to ideas I detest is not exactly the best way to go through life.

Five Things

Another week is about to begin and, as one would expect, this means the weather is about to become lovely. For some peculiar reason, the best weather always seems to happen between Monday and Friday. One might argue that this is the result of a very selective memory, but I’m inclined to think that the universe likes to tempt people into skipping work.

This is why we have “sick days”, right?

Sunglasses at Light

After going without for more than a decade, I finally have a pair of prescription sunglasses to use when out and about in the sun. One of the last big purchases I made before leaving Canada back in 2007 was a $890 pair of frameless glasses that could transition from completely transparent to decently grey with UV light. These broke a few years later and, being rather financially constrained at the time, I picked up a simple pair of regular glasses that would get the job done. This is the same pair I use today.

There are a couple of things I like about having a dedicated pair of prescription sunglasses. Not only is it easier to look at things outside during the daylight hours, but these can act as an auxiliary pair should anything happen to my indoor glasses. Until now, I’ve been extremely careful to ensure the boy doesn’t damage my eyewear. Now, while I plan on remaining vigilant, there is less at stake from little fingers creating big problems.

Unhelpful Rhetoric

This week I was chatting with a couple of neighbours when we heard a fire truck followed by an ambulance race down a nearby street, sirens and PA speakers blaring. One of the men stated that the fire and police have been a lot busier in the area lately, to which another said — and I am quoting in English despite the Japanese that was used — “The change happened about the same time the last group of foreigners moved into town.”

I couldn’t resist. I had to ask how often the cops or fire department had been to my house in the last 14 months.

“Oh, you’re fine,” the neighbour quickly said as though trying to backpedal. “The problem is all the Brazilians.”

To which I quickly rattled off a bunch of high profile crimes that have been in the news over the last two weeks, all of which have been conducted by Japanese people. Legal immigrants to Japan generally try to follow they rules because the consequences of causing trouble is too great a cost. I’ll admit that my attitude towards immigrants in Canada when I was young and stupid was unfair1, but I will do what I can to help people understand that people who willingly choose to live and work in Japan are generally hard-working, law-abiding residents.

10,000 a Day

In the month of May my average daily step count was 10,005. The last time I saw this sort of number was when I was still very much into the idea of Quantified Self, which I had to abandon after the boy was born due to the over-complexities of recording activities that are interrupted thrice at a minimum2. That said, both the boy and Nozomi have been insistent this month that they have more time outside, and I am quick to support any reason to get some fresh air and sunshine. It’s nice to see a 5-digit number again.

The Mazda is Back

Last week the Mazda was returned with a new transmission and two new associated computers. Before the car had problems, I thought the vehicle was smooth. After feeling how the car accelerated and maintains speed now, colour me surprised. I’ve not enjoyed a ride this smooth in years. The car feels brand new.


As I eluded to earlier, I’ve recently started to track some of my numbers again. For the moment, tracking will be kept relatively simple with steps, heart rate at the time I wake up, sleep patterns, and body weight. A lot of this is quite automated, which makes it easier to get back into the swing. One thing I am looking forward to, though, is picking up an ᴡᴀᴛᴄʜ at some point to better track my pulse and other metrics. If I plan the budget just right, Santa might place one of these devices under the tree this year. Two would be better, but likely isn’t in the cards for this year.

  1. I didn’t mind that people came from other countries. What frustrates me was the communication barrier, as not everyone was fluent in English or Québécois. I used to ask “If you can’t speak either of the languages, why are you here?” It was an idiotic and unfair question. As a settled immigrant in a historically homogenous nation, I understand the challenges that come with moving across the planet.

  2. This is why I had to give up tracking my sleep. I would be woken up at least twice every night, and three times on average. Try recording that into a phone application that expects a person to go to bed just once per night.

Five Things

Nineteen years ago the Nuwaubian Nation expected that the planetary lineup in our solar system would cause a "star holocaust", pulling all of the planets toward the Sun, incinerating everything, and ruining an otherwise lovely day. I remember hearing about this on a nighttime documentary discussing Nostradamus and other "doomsday" predictions some time around '93 or '941. This memory has persisted a little more stubbornly than others from that time period, probably as a reminder that the end of the world will not be foreseen by fringe religious groups.

That said, it's time for another list …

Irregular Heartbeats

Reiko and I both suffer from occasional palpitations and, while these do not happen with enough regularity to make wearing a medical heart monitor worthwhile2, their frequency does seem to be increasing. I've done a little bit of digging around online to see what sort of options are available for us to monitor ourselves and it seems the most recent Apple Watch3 has the simplest, most comprehensive heart monitoring software for the price. While I've not seriously considered an Apple Watch before, being able to show a doctor a series of ECG charts to aid in a diagnosis could very well mitigate future problems.

More research is required.

Green Fingers

Earlier today I was out in the yard, pulling weeds from the ground, and thinking about what sorts of plants I'd like to see added this year. Both Reiko and I agree that we'd like to have a tree, though it's location is still a topic of debate, and we'd like to have a small vegetable garden. What struck me today was how much I enjoyed being down at ground level to make the small plot of land around our house a little more presentable. While I don't know anything about taking care of flowers, bushes, and trees4, I would be interested in learning. Heck, this might be a good excuse to learn a new set of Japanese words. My speaking ability has seriously degraded over the last year or so as a result of working from home.

Pulled Strings

Last week the Mazda broke down and we were told to go rent a car5 for the month or so that the vehicle would be in the shop, awaiting a new transmission and ECU from Hiroshima. The best deal I could find for a month-long rental was about $32006, which is simply out of the question given that most non-commercial vehicles sit parked for the vast majority of every day. As a result, the family and I have resorted to using the bus when travelling more than 3km. This isn't impossible, though it does increase complexity when trying to plan around bus schedules and walking speeds.

Imagine my surprise when we received an email on Friday saying that a courtesy vehicle has been found and that we can use it for a couple of weeks. Last night around 9:00pm we received a "Plain Jane" Mazda Flair. This is very much appreciated, as it gives Reiko something to drive to work.

Excessive Footnotes

Sometimes when I see the number of footnotes at the end of my blog posts7, I wonder why I don't just write "mini-posts" that say the same thing as the footnote (with more detail and perhaps some pictures), and link to that. Occasionally these annotations are little more than digressions, but sometimes these could be expanded out into a post of their own. By going the route of having a series of detailed mini-posts, it becomes possible to have multiple blog posts pointing to the same reference point without there being a need for copy/paste. More than this, any update to the mini-post would benefit any future reader who might follow the link.

But then a blog might become a …

Personal Wiki

There are almost 100,000 items on going back to 20068, when I actually thought that a Synology box sitting on top of my fridge would be sufficient to run a website. A lot of blog posts have links to previous articles. Some social posts link to blog posts. Many social posts link to other posts across the system. The more I think about it, the more I wonder when a personal website tips the scale from being a traditional blog, to a non-collaborative -- or semi-collaborative -- wiki. Properly structured, a wiki would be an interesting way to catalogue a life.

This concept will need just a little more thought to organize.

  1. Not sure why, but documentaries on Nostradamus and future predictions always fascinated me as a kid.

  2. These are generally worn for 24~36 hours and not much longer. Hospitals can't just hand heart monitors out like they do prescriptions.

  3. The Series 4 Apple Watch is the most recent model as of the time of this post.

  4. I grew up on a vegetable farm, so know how to work with all the standard veggies one might find in a North American house. We had pine, maple, and willow trees across the property, but these were either for decoration or have been growing since before Canada was a country. My mum did try to have flowers a couple of times, but they tended to get lost in the weeds pretty quick.

  5. Generally people get discounted rates through their auto insurance provider if they signed up for this benefit, which increases the cost of insurance by about $60 a year. We chose to not get the coverage given that the car was essentially new and that car problems generally don't result in being without a vehicle for 30+ days. Oops.

  6. The estimate was 363,500円 for the smallest car with zero features.

  7. I say this knowing full well that this blog post has an arguably excessive number of footnotes as well.

  8. I don't count the very first chronological post as a start date for anything but my life outside the womb.

Right to Repair

Early this morning Joe shared a link to a Motherboard article describing how Apple has effectively killed another attempt to pass "right to repair" legislation by suggesting people will injure themselves when working with the intricate components that are part of the phones, tablets, and other devices we buy. As someone who could never build a computer from scratch in the 90s without cutting my hands at least once inside the case, I can certainly see the logic of the argument. While the Motherboard article clearly calls out the dangers of puncturing a modern battery, the number of phones with shattered screens that one can observe being used on public transit in this country is nothing short of amazing and it's bound to be the same elsewhere. For an inexperienced person to replace the shattered glass on an iPhone or iPad, there will almost certainly be a price to pay in blood.

A few hours after Joe's initial post, Robert followed up with this:

But if one makes the assumption that regular people either can or want to repair their devices, we are nothing short of delusional. Most people only what something that works, they don’t want to fuck around with it. Modern electronics are painfully integrated, components are few and specialized on a tiny PCB. Does the average person even know what they are looking at if they were to open the case of any contemporary device? […] Those of us who so loudly demand the right to repair, which is a broken term in and of itself, need to understand that we are the edge case and not the standard.

Indeed. Edge cases are consistently hard to please. I consider myself to be firmly in this category, hence the preference for certain types of less popular hardware and software. However, Robert goes on to make a recommendation on how a "Right to Repair" mechanism might work to the benefit of manufacturers and customers:

If one were so concerned about regular people cracking open their wares and potentially injuring themselves, there are better solutions. Perhaps a course that people could take, educating on the ways of the electronics and giving spare part access to those who pass a test or something along those lines. […] Think; certification for individuals to perform repairs.

This is an interesting idea. While it will not please everyone, it will please some of the more technically inclined who might want to run a small business fixing people's devices. A high school student with certification and access to fairly-priced replacement parts could earn a pretty respectable living and reduce the number of cracked screens in their school, thereby saving fingers from being sliced open before a screen protector can be applied. The same can be said for people in poorer neighbourhoods who might want to help their community get more value from their technology investments. Offering a certification program is no panacea, and it would undoubtedly ruffle a bunch of feathers like Robert said in his original post, but it would make an interesting solution for companies who claim they care about the health and well-being of their customers, as well as the environment. Repairing is better for the planet than replacing.

Personally, I doubt there will be much people-friendly movement from companies on giving people the ability to repair (or easily upgrade) their products. Systems have become so incredibly complex in both hardware and software that only a small segment of the population could actually stand a chance in repairing a broken device. Take apart a "smart speaker" and see just how easy it is to replace a burned out capacitor. Most people just want things to work and don't really care to invest the time in understanding the how or why, which is fine. That said, there will generally always be options available to people who want a greater degree of control and freedom over their technology. It may not always look as pretty or be as popular, but options will exist.

Comparing Apples to Apples

This morning I awoke to discover that Apple had released the iMac Pro to the world. Product leaks and rumours aplenty let me know generally what would be offered under the hood, but I was more interested in what a decently-configured machine might actually cost. My next machine will most likely be a desktop1 and, while the purchase of a new machine isn't something I can afford right away given the recent mortgage, having a general idea of how much one needs to save is a good idea.

That said, the sticker price was just a bit higher than I was expecting.

Apples to Apples

On the left is a really nice iMac, and on the right is a decently mid-level iMac Pro. Both of these units are way out of my price range, and one just hurts to look at. It's true that the iMac is using consumer-grade notebook components behind the glass compared to the mobile workstation-class hardware that powers the more professional device, but I wonder if I would ever really need that sort of power. All of my notebooks since 2010 have been powered by Core i5 processors aside from a Lenovo supplied by the day job. While these machines are not the fastest, they can typically keep up with me without breaking a sweat … which means I actually have a good idea of what sort of machine I will not be considering for my next computer purchase. And this is a good thing.

The iMac Pro is certainly an exciting bit of kit, and it would likely last a good seven or eight years before feeling long in the tooth. My current MacBook Pro is reaching 3 years2 in its five year expected cycle. A regular iMac should be sufficient. The model in the picture above is certainly nice but, if I'm completely honest with myself, I could be quite content with something simpler.

Something Simpler

Something like this, with it's ample memory and a decent amount of local storage, would give me at least half a decade. Heck, even at the day job I'd be content with a humbler iMac over the Pro. There are likely a lot of other people who could make better use of a Xeon processor and ECC RAM than I.

  1. Yes, I understand that the iMac uses notebook-grade equipment. As I've been using notebooks almost exclusively since 2002, this is not something I'm particularly concerned about.

  2. Time flies …

Five Years Since the Switch

Five years ago today I made the switch from Windows to OS X and, while I've not stuck with Apple's preferred OS on my hardware for the entire duration, the move has been incredibly illuminating. It's been said on numerous occasions on this site, but the first computer I could call my own was an ancient off-brand 8088 back in 1994. It was on that machine that I learned how to program in Turbo Pascal and Watcom though a pair of books that were instrumental to my understanding of software development. From 1994 through to 2012 the core ideas in those books were used over and over and over again across thousands of projects, evolving as the field developed new processes and techniques. Core to the understanding, though, was that software should be written for the lowest-grade of hardware whenever possible. We can't assume everyone has the latest and greatest computer on their desk, nor should we make people suffer for our own impatience at finding the most efficient means to solve a problem. While I still very much stick to this core idea as much as possible, the platform switch in 2012 brought about a slightly different area of focus when designing digital solutions, and it's one I'm still actively learning about today.

For the first eighteen years, my primary goal was to create great software that would solve the problem at hand as efficiently as possible. The interface that people would see was often an afterthought, though I always tried to make the various elements line up and look good. After using iOS for a bit and seeing just how important interface design can be, I started to take it much more seriously.

Design is a funny word. Some people think design means how it looks. But of course, if you dig deeper, it's really how it works. — Steve Jobs

While watching parts of Apple's big hardware release a few weeks back, they played an audio snippet with the above quote from the late Steve Jobs. A lot of people have heard this quote, but I wonder how many people think about it.

At the day job I've been working on a project for almost two years1 where I've tried very hard to think more about how the software is supposed to work rather than how "tight" the code is or slick the interface might be. When designing new functions and features, I try to collect as much information as I can from the people who will wind up using that part of the system because, at the end of the day, they are my customer. The software is used by people across the organization with very different sets of goals so, sometimes, the best solution is to write two or more interfaces that draw from the same source of data, but display the information differently. Sure, everything would work if I were to just make a single, unified view that people could then selectively ignore. But I want the software to actually work … so I ask questions. Lots of them.

Despite working with software for almost a quarter century, I still feel there is a lot left to learn. Every platform has taught me something valuable that is just as relevant today as it was days, weeks, months, or years ago when I would heavily lean on them. DOS taught me the importance of efficiency. Windows taught me the importance of object oriented coding. PalmOS taught me the importance of resource management. Linux taught me the importance of community building. iOS/OS X taught me the importance of designing tools rather than solutions. The web taught me the importance of picking a standard2 and sticking to it. The next area I expect to work in will involve a great deal of voice interaction, and I look forward to the evolution in thinking that move will bring.

  1. it's really hard to believe this much time has passed already

  2. there's an XKCD joke in here …

What's the Alternative?

John Gordon recently wrote a short blog post explaining that he can no longer recommend people make the switch from Windows to macOS when shopping around for a new computer. The reasons he cites are quite valid, from Apple's recent abandoning sprees on software, hardware, and business sense, to the high cost of entry for machines that have arguably mid-range specs. While I can agree that the average person may not be willing to invest a grand or two in hardware before investing even more money in applications that may or may not work as the operating system evolves year over year, it's important to ask one question: what's the alternative?

After months of investigation, I settled on picking up a 2015-era MacBook Pro and replacing OS X — as it was known at the time — with Ubuntu. I've been happy with this decision for the most part and have even gone so far as to contribute updates to drivers that allow people to get better performance out of their Bluetooth radio. I chose the MacBook Pro not because I wanted a quick way to jump back to the safe confines of Apple's ecosystem, but because the alternatives were just not worth the money.

When it comes to buying a computer, a person really needs to consider how they'll be using the machine. Will it be something you're looking at for more than an hour or two a day? Then it simply cannot have a low-resolution screen. Will it be something you'll type on a lot? Then the keyboard needs to match your hands just right. Will it be something you'll carry from place to place? Then it had better have a really good battery, or be light enough that carrying the ridiculously bulky charging adapter is slightly more bearable. Then there's the problem of the hideously awful touchpads that seem to exist on every notebook not designed in Cupertino and manufactured in China. I spent months looking for a good-quality notebook that met these 4 criteria and a few other details and always came away disappointed.

You can have a good keyboard or a good screen, not both. You can have decent expandability or good battery life, not both. You can have a fast processor or a thin formfactor, not both. Buying just about any product will require a person to prioritise certain features, but one expects the decision to be less painful the higher up you go in the product line.

The HP Spectre 13 x360 came very close to what I was looking for in terms of hardware, but was limited by 8GB of RAM and a keyboard that just didn't feel very good. Lenovo's T450s was also close, as it allowed for hardware swapping along with a mostly-acceptable battery life and decently-comfortable keyboard, but was limited by the screen's awful pixellation and colour fade.

As a person who looks at a glowing screen for 10+ hours a day and interacts with the keyboard almost exclusively1, any machine that cannot offer both solid typing and crisp text2 simply cannot become a tool I rely on.

So what are the options?

Dell does have some decent machines, yes. The screen's aren't all that great, and the keyboards feel cheap, but they'll do. The same can be said for HP, Lenovo, Mouse, and System76. Nothing from any Japanese manufacturer is even worth mentioning anymore, as it's all lowest-quality-highest-price plastic crap. Even Sony, once the pinnacle of amazing-screens everywhere, is barely worth a cursory glance at an electronics shop. Try as I might, there just hasn't been a compelling notebook from any manufacturer in the last five years — if not longer — that comes anywhere near what a MacBook Pro can offer in terms of screen quality, keyboard usability, battery longevity, and overall build quality. Yes, a person needs to resign themselves to the fact that the unit is ultimately a non-upgradeable appliance, but it's still the best-made appliance out there. And, if you're willing to go with a store model to save a few hundred dollars, you'll wind up paying the same as you would for a top-of-the-line HP or Dell that comes with an infuriating touchpad that you leave disabled 90% of the time.

When people ask me for advice on what computer they should buy next, I still ask the basic questions. What's the main purpose? How long will it be used for every day3? Who will be the main person using it? And then I make a recommendation. Sometimes it's for a tablet. Sometimes it's for a notebook. And in those instances where somebody is looking for a decent quality notebook, I'll recommend either a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro … which then has its operating system replaced with whatever the buyer is most comfortable with soon after getting it home.

Ideal? Maybe not. But it's better than the alternatives.

  1. I have not used a mouse in over five years, and I have no plans on ever going back to those horrible things.

  2. Crisp Japanese text. Roman characters are tolerable with awful pixellation some of the time, but it's brutal when trying to read complex kanji consisting of 12 or more strokes.

  3. then multiply this number by at least two

Indistinguishable from Magic

Earlier today Matt Gemmell wrote an impassioned article on his website where he decried the current state of Apple's software and how it makes very expensive electronics horribly frustrating to use, and even harder to justify buying. The post has been taken down1 but, in the short time that it was available, people from across the planet wanted to weigh in with their opinions about how "Apple is doomed", offer technical support, or otherwise openly mock this person who has clearly invested a great deal of time, money, and effort into this wholly artificial realm we refer to as the Apple Ecosystem. Like Mr. Gemmell, I have also invested a great deal into Apple's hardware and software over the years. I came in just as it seemed that everything Apple touched turned to gold, and I left when my rose-coloured glasses eroded, revealing that Apple's world was just as incomplete and prone to error as any other platform a person might choose.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology …

One of the many things I like about modern hardware is just how sleek everything has become. Smooth lines with seamless transitions between metal and glass abound. Processors thousands of times faster than anything we might have used while growing up can now be found in a wristwatch. Batteries can go on and on. And the screen resolutions available today are really nothing short of breathtaking. Our modern consumer electronics today are light years ahead of what we could have imagined 15 years ago. Looking at the sorts of complaints people have with our current range of devices, I wonder if this isn't the actual problem that we're facing: we've benefitted so much from so little in such a short amount of time that we don't realize just how much "more" we're expecting from electronics manufacturers, and these vendors are simply unable to keep up with our laundry list of expectations.

It's Time We Slow Down

When I first entered the world of Apple software, I was pretty fortunate. The iPod Touch, though a marvel of engineering, was a relatively simple device running simple software and performing simple tasks. The first version of OS X I used was 10.6 Snow Leopard, arguably one of the most refined versions of the operating system given that there were zero new features and a slew of fixes that resulted in standing ovations at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference all those years ago. Coming from Windows, the Apple world just felt so much more cohesive because updates rolled out at a slower pace than those from Microsoft. With more time between releases, new updates and features could be more thoroughly tested and refined, meaning that the majority of the bugs reported from people would — ideally — be more of an edge case than the rule. This is clearly not the case anymore, and not a week goes by where a semi-popular web personality doesn't lament Apple's declining software quality or lack of cloud infrastructure skill.

One might suggest that people who aren't happy with Apple should move to another ecosystem that is more in line with their values, but this isn't always realistic. One cannot simply swap out Google for Apple or Oracle for Microsoft. These sorts of migrations often take a great deal of time, planning, and money. More than this, people shouldn't be expected to always vote with their wallets. Moving from one platform to another 10 is not a feat that can be completed in a weekend nor is it an effective way to send a message. At the end of the day, the best way to send a message is to openly communicate, and I say it's time people stop demanding so much pseudo-innovation from their electronics and instead ask companies to slow down and release their hardware and software products when they're ready and not a minute before.

Traditional computers such as desktops and notebooks do not need to be replaced every year, so companies should focus on building machines to last 5+ years. Cell phones do not need to be replaced every year, either, so why push out an update that appears to be little more than an incremental update over last year's model but with a substantial price tag? Tablets and watches are in the same boat. Heck, just about every electronic device we use on a regular basis could likely switch to release a new model every three years with minor revisions to accommodate problems during the intervening months. Many people will undoubtedly disagree, but today's hardware is good enough for the vast majority of what we want to do. Why must we continually push the envelope?

With a slower hardware release cycle, software developers will have more time to focus on the less-tangible aspects of our systems and strive to make improvements. Some new things could certainly be introduced during this time, but this in-between time would really be the time for the devices to be polished and refined while people also become more accustomed to using the tools they already have.

The amount of change that we've all seen in the last fifteen years has been nothing short of amazing, and this change has resulted in some phenomenal effects on societies around the world. By slowing down we won't diminish anything that's happened thus far and we stand to gain greater benefits if the functional lifespan of our difficult-to-recycle electronics is extended thanks to a slower release schedule. Will this hurt the bottom line for a number of people who are already wealthy? No doubt. But we cannot expect our tools to continue their evolution at such a breakneck speed. We're seeing the faults and cracks in our systems already, but it's not too late to do something about it.

A three year hardware release cycle with a longer software cycle would go a long way to changing our perceptions of modern electronics from being the occasionally frustrating objects they are to devices indistinguishable from magic.

  1. Though intrepid investigators may have some luck in finding a cached version of his article, titled A Declining Trajectory.

Lengthening Upgrade Cycles

Bryan Clark over at The Next Web seems to have a beef with the relative age of the current-selling MacBook Pro, saying that the machine hasn't been updated by Apple because the company has "forgotten what a computer is." This is an interesting hypothesis, but not one that I'm willing to entertain. Instead, I'll posit my own theory for why Apple isn't updating any of their computers on a regular 6 ~ 12 month cycle anymore: it's 2016.

Intel's Legendary 486 DX2/66

Twenty years ago when I first started to deep-dive into the world of technology, I would buy a copy of Windows Magazine from the Avondale near my high school and read it cover-to-cover and absorb the information like a sponge. Later, I'd go through the advertisements and watch as the processors described as "speed demons" just six months before were being replaced by faster, more capable CPUs at an ever faster rate. When Intel released the Pentium-branded chips, the MHz race was on and we quickly jumped from 200 to 450 in the space of a summer, then up to 800 before the next spring, and finally hitting the blazing fast 1.0GHz by the start of 2000. Anybody who had actively tried to keep up with the speed of technology at this time was investing close to $600 a month in upgrades … and I was one of those suckers.

This was how technology (and marketing) seemed to go for well over a decade. The "l33t hotness" today would be considered obsolete by geeky peers less than 180 days later, and people would be openly mocked online as a result. This started to change for most people around 2008, though, as technology and software had mostly started to reach the "good enough" point where people were comfortable using a computer for longer than 18 months without complaints. Operating systems had become much more reliable by then, as well, meaning that wiping the hard drive and re-installing everything from scratch became a rare nuisance rather than a twice-annual happenstance. By 2012, a lot of non-gaming geeks also found that any hardware they had was good enough for at least four years. Batteries were lasting longer. Processors could keep up with 90% of the work we'd throw at them. Software crashed a lot less.

Now, there's a very real "problem" that arises when people don't have a problem with a product they own: the idea of replacing the item never enters their mind.

How often do people buy new appliances for their home? Washing machines, refrigerators, and microwaves are typically replaced once a decade if that. Many people are able to get fifteen years or more from these machines. As a result, manufacturers have a slower product refresh cycle. Does Maytag or Toshiba really need to put out a new front-load washer every 8 months in order to appear relevant? No. Having worked in the appliance industry for many years¹, I can tell you that most appliance manufacturers have refresh cycles similar to auto manufacturers. There are minor cosmetic changes every spring, maybe a new software update on the higher-end models, but the underlying hardware stays the same for a number of years.

While most manufacturers of cheap, plastic computers churn out an endless array of crap every 6 months, the companies that produce the better, more reliable hardware have slowed down. They choose to invest their time in designing better devices that they can then charge a premium for. Compare any "brand new" Toshiba, Sony, Samsung, Lenovo, HP, or Acer computer that sells for less than $1500 USD to a 440 day old MacBook Pro and tell me how they're better in any 3 measures. I guarantee you can't do it. I tried for 8 months to find a better notebook and failed miserably. As a result, I bought a MacBook Pro and soon replaced the default OS X installation with Ubuntu MATE 16.04 and haven't (often) looked back.

The current MacBook Pro line ships with the 5th Generation Intel Core processors. The 6th Generation is out with reduced power consumption and generally reduced clock rates, but does it make sense to update a whole line of professional-grade notebooks to get another few hours out of a notebook that already provides 12+ hours of life for most people? Heck, according to CPU Boss, going with a 6th Generation processor would be a step down in terms of processing speed. Given that OS X's performance problems are a direct result of the file system² and not the hardware, I'd say a MacBook Pro refresh would be a bad thing.

But what do I know? I'm just a person who uses his MacBook Pro running Ubuntu for 14+ hours a day, 7 days a week. The battery is being used for ten-to-twelve hours most of these days, and this machine is still the fastest non-server-grade computer I've ever used. Would I like a little more battery life? Sure. But I won't accept it at the cost of raw throughput. I won't pretend to know how Bryan uses his computer and what he might want a refreshed Pro line for, but as a person who spends his days programming for multiple platforms, running Virtual Machines, podcasting, and just about anything else aside from gaming, I can tell you that the most recent MacBook Pro line can likely go another 440 days before a refresh is honestly necessary.

  1. Many years ago, I might add …
  2. Don't believe me? Put Ubuntu on a MacBook Pro and tell me it doesn't feel faster. Heck, put Windows on a MacBook Pro and compare it to an equivalently-spec'd Sony or Dell and tell me that it doesn't perform drastically better. Apple's hardware is incredibly capable. Their problems are all in the software.

iOS Is Not An Enterprise Answer

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDNet has joined in the fray to ask the uninspired question "Are businesses ready to replace Windows with iOS?". This meandering piece of clickbait caught my attention when a friend passed it on saying that it was just a matter of time before iPads replaced computers at the office. While tablets do certainly have their role in the workplace and they have the processing capacity to do a lot of the tasks we currently do on notebooks and desktops, companies would be stupid to ditch their fleet of Windows-powered computers for iPads.

Using the iPad at Work

When one looks at the role of technology in the workplace, it's easy to say that one tool can easily replace another, especially when we're completely unaware of how some people do their jobs. I've invested years into studying how people work and, as a result, I can tell you that no two individuals will do the same thing the same way. People with varying degrees of technological savviness will accomplish their tasks in ways that would leave a so-called "power user" scratching their head. I see this all the time when people prefer to move their right hand to use a mouse for 0.5 seconds rather than simply tap a [tab] key or hit [Enter] to execute a command, even when they're well aware of the benefits of using various keyboard shortcuts. People want to do things in their own way, and that's perfectly fine.

Another fallacy in a lot of the "iOS is ready for the Enterprise" argument is the over-simplification of people's jobs. Where are documents kept at the office? Only on personal computers? Perhaps. In the Enterprise, documents may be kept on a network store or only accessible through various proprietary tools for "security" reasons. Try opening a file that's located on a network share with your iPad and tell me you don't want to throw the thin computer through a wall. It's incredibly frustrating because that's not how any software on Apple devices are designed. Should IT departments forgo their complex directory structures and dump everything into a big, single folder for every iPad to connect to? Maybe. It's not very realistic, though.

Search on iOS is not very useful when you're looking for things that are not on the device. Sure, extensions can be written to look at the NAS or SAN or some web service, but people will need to be prepared to wait … and wait … and wait. It's not a good experience.

Then there's the problem with all the custom software that runs in the background. Time trackers, security monitors, network tools, and the like. How about all the Windows-only software that the company has had created just for them over the last decade or so? Will someone sit down and redesign everything from the ground up to be finger-friendly and optimized for a smaller, 4:3 screen? Who will pay for that?

When it comes to software for use in the office, we are seriously bad at making it. Does anybody really like the software we use every day at the office? Anybody at all? And people like Adrian Kingsley-Hughes think that by using iOS all our interface and software problems will magically disappear?


And then there's the sheer cost of using iOS. Let's take a role that no "serious tech person" thinks about: the receptionist. People look at receptionists as having just one job, and those people are sorely incorrect. The person who works at the front desk not only answers phones, but they greet guests, arrange schedules, deal with packages, and have a whole host of other tasks that most people never realize until the desk is empty. The role varies from company to company, but that's neither here nor there for this little thought experiment. These people generally work just as much as anyone else in the office, except they're expected to do it with a smile at all times.

So let's look at what it would cost for a receptionist to move to iOS. First, they'll need an iPad. Not a tiny one, either. The screen on the Mini would give people eye strain after a few hours. So let's go with a still-small iPad Air 2. Because companies always get the lowest model anything, this will be a white iPad Air 2 with 16GB of storage. As of this moment the WiFi-only models sell for $399.

Next we'll need to supply a keyboard, because having 50% of the screen disappear for an on-screen keyboard would be infuriating. So it only makes sense to go with a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. There are plenty of 3rd-party keyboards that sell for as little as $20, but we'll stick with the products in the Apple Store and go for a red Logitech Canvas Keyboard Case. This will also allow the iPad to sit on an angle so that a separate stand is not required on the desk.

Some people will undoubtedly need a larger screen, too, so let's pick up a Lightning Digital AV Adapter for $49, too. This will allow an HDMI monitor (or TV) to be used with the iPad, which will definitely come in handy at some point.

For mail the receptionist can use the built-in application, and Office for iOS can be installed from the company's pool of licenses. The browser can be used for whatever internal, online software the company might use, and the receptionist will just have to get used to the fact that sometimes the browser will refresh while they're app-switching because the people who write the corporate software thought it would be cool to use a massive JavaScript library that consumes every last bit of RAM on the tablet. The receptionist will get very good at saying "Just one moment, please" because of this.

iPad Prices as on

All in all, according to today's prices, the company will spend $547.95 every five years or so to get a laptop that isn't actually a laptop and, like many corporate computers, the device will probably be chained to a desk and never actually be used as a portable device. The battery will suck in less than a year and the smudges on the screen from all the finger-touching will just be an eyesore.

I wonder. How much does a basic Dell with Windows cost?

Dell PCs

Those Dells come with a keyboard and mouse, too.

Apple is not in the business of Enterprise and, from what I've seen after nearly three years of Apple devices being used at the day job, Apple won't seriously be in the business of Enterprise until the product goes from being an individual's device to a generic tool that anybody and everybody can use and swap out. Having sleek devices in the office might look cool, and it might sound great when meeting with clients, but it won't actually enable more work to get done. Aside from cost, this is all any corporate IT department cares about.

Will the machine do what it needs to do?

iOS can do a lot for many people but, until corporate software catches up and we spend less time thinking about the technology as the centre of our business, it's just a silly thing for companies to boast about.