Places I slept, 2015

San Francisco, CA Santa Monica, CA Dongguan, China Kwun Tong, Hong Kong Portland, OR Shanghai, China Mong Kok, Hong Kong Las Vegas, NV Davis, CA Saguaro Lake, AZ 11th arrondissement Paris, France Bella Center, Copenhagen, Denmark Copenhagen, Denmark Halmstad, Sweden Oslo, Norway Øvre Eidfjord, Norway Near Tysevær, Norway Stavenger, Norway Harrow, London, UK Albuquerque, NM Point Reyes Station, CA San Diego, CA Brooklyn, NY Prattsville, NY Cherry Hill, NJ Salisbury Mills, NY Morgan Hill, CA Incline Village, NV Tacoma, WA Malibu, CA Wuzhen, China Chicago, IL Union Pier, MI New York City, NY

What a long list. Depending on the exact methods used to count multiple beds in Shanghai, the most ever, breaking 2013′s record. But even without that, an intense, overwhelming amount of travel. I made seven trips to China, adding up to more than 9 weeks on the ground there, and most of a month jet lagged upon returning home.

Twenty fifteen was a strange year. We went to four weddings and finally, healed enough to adventure, on a honeymoon. We saw new places: Paris, Sweden, Norway, parts of Upstate NY, Michigan, Arizona, and New Mexico for myself and Copenhagen, Sweden, Norway, and Korea for Tara. We were healthy enough to both play the full club ultimate season, which resulted in most of the California locations. And we saw many, many dear friends on trips to New York, Portland, LA, Chicago, Las Vegas, and Colorado (Tara). Being healthy enough to travel, to play, and to once again do small physical tasks without hesitation was a wonderful gift. We appreciate our mobility more than ever.

Mostly we worked, with the all-consuming dedication familiar to the Bay Area. As we look into twenty sixteen, the question of sustainability reappears, and how we answer it will determine much of not only the coming year, but our future in California. I’m excited to see where the future leads.

As for Mr. Squish, he took it easy this year, spending almost all of it in our San Francisco apartment. His main adventure? Coming to work with me, where he spent almost every Friday wandering the office, surprising and delighting my coworkers.

Previous year’s lists can be found below.

2014 2013 2012 2011 2010 2009

Places I slept, 2014

Richmond, San Francisco, CA Santa Monica, CA Malibu, CA Mission, San Francisco, CA Brooklyn, NY Manhattan, NY Somewhere between Albany, NY and Chicago, IL Somewhere between Lincoln, NE and Denver, CO Elko, NV Ft. Collins, CO Santa Cruz, CA Nice, CA Kowloon, Hong Kong Dongguan, China Shanghai, China Mong Kok, Hong Kong Sheung Wan, Hong Kong Wan Chai, Hong Kong Guerneville, CA San Diego, CA Las Vegas, NV Yosemite, CA Makati, Manila, Philippines Alabang, Manila, Philippines Bohol, Philippines Ebisu, Tokyo, Japan Itabashi, Tokyo, Japan Timber Cove, CA Walden, CO

In many ways 2014 was the best year ever. After getting engaged in Japan in 2013 we got married in Colorado in April, surrounded by friends from all over the world. We saw Japan again, and the Philippines. We took a train across the US. We moved in SF, to an apartment with better light near the train. I got a wonderful new job and did an amazing amount of travel. I didn’t quite reach as many different places slept as 2013, which is fine, I hope it remains a record for some time. More than 2012, 2011, 2010, or 2009, when I first began to keep track.

In many ways 2014 was the worst year ever. After hurting myself worse than ever before I spent two weeks in hospitals in New York, and required a train ride across the country to get home. I missed a month of work. Doctor’s visits, physical therapy, and a slow return to normal activity followed. I didn’t get to play any ultimate at all. Tara had knee surgery in July. We spent much of the year indoors, unable to adventure. We had to cancel our honeymoon.

And yet, looking back at how many adventures we still managed, I can only laugh. We went to four weddings, not counting our own. We saw new places (Dongguan for me, Hong Kong for Tara, and Yosemite, Bohol, and the cross country train for both of us) and so many old friends. If 2014 was the worst, it was also a reminder how lucky we are.

Here’s to the next.

Also, Mr. Squish’s list for 2014, for those requesting:

Richmond, San Francisco, CA Mission, San Francisco, CA Ft. Collins, CO Petaluma, CA Walden, CO

He is still a traveling cat, albeit one currently curled on my feet, asleep.

The future in 2G

A lot of my job is done abroad. This year I spent almost two and a half months abroad, 73 days all told. Being out of the States so often and for so long, cumulatively, gives me many opprotunities to learn and to remember things I’ve forgotten since moving back to the US in 2008. I really appreciate these chances, even if some of them are lonely, or represent significant challenges at work. Enough are interesting and for personal adventure to keep me happy, and keep me traveling.

2014 brought one specific change to my travel methods, and because of that an experience I wanted to share. I no longer use local SIMs, save in extraordinary situations. In October of 2013, T-Mobile, an American mobile phone company, launched free international data roaming. Even now, more than a year later, typing those words feels amazing. Free international data. To give context, previous international data deals available in the US ran something in the realm of $30 USD for 50 megabytes of international roaming data. Thirty dollars for fifty megabytes. It’s easy to see why I switched to T-Mobile.

The catch, because of course there is one, is that this free and unlimited data comes down from the tower at 2G speeds.

So I spent one fifth of 2014 on 2G, and the remaining four fifths on LTE. Or with no service in the wilder parts of the US, specifically northern California, north western Colorado, and a lot of the cross-country train ride. That is another trade-off that comes with chosing T-Mobile. It’s an easy choice for me, being primarily a city person.

Having free international data and spending so much time on the road, be it in the trains of Hong Kong, Shanghai, and Tokyo, or the traffic of Manila and Shenzhen, not to mention factories, restaurants, and hotels, means a lot of phone time. A lot of email. A lot of Twitter. A lot of web. And that leads to the point. In 2014, the web is hard on 2G. Sites load slowly, first displaying banner ads and only then, tens of seconds later, the all-text content of the article. Mastheads take dozens of seconds to load, complex drop down menus and high-resolution logos. Analytics packages. And ads. Some activities and apps simply don’t scale well to 2G. Instagram, for example, is an exercise in patience, but a worthwhile one. And Google Maps, well…

In 2014 it feels like the network is finally everywhere, or almost. And it feels like the future. Being able to turn on my phone in any country on landing and check on my cat, at home in San Francisco, will probably still feel surprisingly wonderful for another couple of years. And 2G isn’t bad for most things. Despite how it probably sounds, this post is not meant as a complaint. It’s meant as a note, a reminder, and a future consideration. For example, loading time for maps matter. More than anything, maps are used when in unfamiliar locations, and often those are situations without great network access. Be it hotel wifi, 2G cell network, or just the slow connections of many smaller cities, maps are most necessary on the fringes, out of our comfort zone, and often in something of a hurry. Yes, most of the places I’ve been have faster networks. Hong Kong has excellent service, faster than the US in many cases. But not every place does. Not every city has LTE, nor every carrier, and that’s the point.

I view these 73 days on 2G as a test of how we interact with networks, and as a challenge for service design. Twitter as it used to be, all text 140 characters or less, was the perfect low-bandwidth mobile-first service. Modern Twitter, with video, photos, expanded links, and soundcloud embedded, is increasingly something built for fast networks, for always-on connections. Not necessarily a bad set of decisions, but a definite shift from a service originally built on SMS, built for the mobile networks we used to have and that many still do.

Of course not all things are built for slow mobile networks, and that’s fine. Heck, Tumblr is one of them, image heavy and full of .gifs. Oh god, .gifs on 2G. If ever a format’s resurgence has come without consideration of bandwith, .gif is it.

Overall I think a few weeks on 2G is something product teams should experience, and consider, not just today or this year, but well into the future. There will be people on slower networks and with worse connections for much longer than San Francisco, which had quite poor cell networks just a handfull of years ago. If a service is designed to change the world” it needs to be usable out in that world.

Apple Maps, China, and iOS 8

Since iOS 6, Apple Maps has always displayed different mapping information for China depending on the user’s location. In China, Maps displayed data from AutoNavi, which was quite good but tile based rather than vector based. Users outside of China see very bad (incomplete) vector maps similar to Apple’s US information, though with such low quality that cities, rivers, and other basic geographical features are missing, making the maps unusable.

In iOS 8, Apple claimed they were delivering better China maps, including vector-based design. They did this, and the maps are much better. Geographical features, locations, cities, roads are all rendered quite well, or at least quite well in my limited testing (Beijing, Shanghai, Changsha, Dongguan/Shenzhen, and a couple other cities). Unfortunately, these maps display strange data for the rest of the world. Hong Kong, for example, has good mapping info when viewed from the US or Hong Kong, but horrible data when viewed from within China. San Francisco’s data, viewed from within China, is much worse than when viewed from the US.

Below is an example of Lujiazui in Shanghai in iOS 8, served from China. My earlier post, here, shows what the maps look like when viewed from outside of China.

Unfortunately, users outside of China see the same awful maps as before. For example Shanghai has no river, and the area between Shenzhen and Guangzhou is a blank section of map. Most of China is a blank section of map, including urban areas.

So here’s my question. How do we get Apple to serve us the best maps for each location, regardless of where the request comes from? I work in China frequently, and live in the US, and would like the best info for both. I’m sure others would as well, and unifying the maps would definitely make Apple’s Maps more competitive with Google, which serves better info for both places regardless of the request’s origination point.

Picharpak Travel Wallet thoughts, part 1

I’ve been looking for a travel wallet lately. I’d like something that will hold a passport, a couple of different transit cards, money, maybe a spare SIM, a couple of business cards, and still fit in a back pocket. Over the past year or two I’ve started traveling with my passport tucked behind my wallet in my back pocket, so I know a wallet sized for the passport would fit my use cases. What I didn’t know was how well, or where to get one. Money too has been a problem, as most US-made wallets don’t gracefully hold larger bills. As someone who spends a lot of time in China, where the 100 RMB notes are large, this is an annoyance that grates. So I was looking for a wallet that fit a passport, fit in a back pocket, held Chinese currency, and possibly had a SIM slot.

While there are plenty of blogs devoted to frequent fliers, milage points, hotel reviews, two week camping trips, and non-tent sleeping options, the parts of travel that matter to me are surprisingly lightly covered. Traveling light but not backpacking, carrying as little as possible, carrying it in a way that allows for inconvenient travel methods and locations, and yet still being presentable for business meetings seems to be an under-served market. Or just a small one.

The only wallet I found that seemed designed around my needs was Bellroy’s Travel Wallet. At $120, it’s still on my shopping list, or Christmas list. The video though perfectly encapsulated my use cases. I don’t particularly care about the pen, as I have a favorite cheap pen on hand at all times, but the rest? It’s got a SIM slot, a passport slot, spare card slots for transit cards, and is big enough to hold boarding passes! If that doesn’t sound exciting, I’ve proven how specific the use case is.

For the last two years I’ve carried a Yasutomo 2020 wa-ben cuben fiber wallet. Like so many people, this was inspired by William Gibson’s interview. As someone who spends a lot of time looking at outdoor gear, fibers, bags, and clothing, I have been talking to and watching Jason’s company, now Picharpak Workshop, ever since. He’s been building a broader product base, and during a conversation one night in Hong Kong, I offered to test new products. For Christmas I bought my fiancée one of his limited edition hybrid wallets. To my my surprise an early sample of a travel wallet showed up in the package!

Built on the same idea as Bellroy’s, Picharpak’s travel wallet features a couple of extra card slots in the back and two spare SIM slots on the passport sleeve. It also has an extra slot for a touch pay transit card behind the normal card slots. Otherwise it resembles the wa-ben, with the same two slots for bills or receipts and the same cuben fiber construction. Like my original wa-ben, the travel wallet prototype is made of CT9.5, and so won’t offer good abrasion resistance. Jason’s newer hybrid wallets have different outermost layers and offer much better abrasion resistance. From the turfed-up photos of my 2 year old wallet it’s clear this is a serious design improvement. Along with the limited hybrid, I ordered one of the newer woven fiber cuben hybrids, to possibly replace my old wa-ben and to check whether the transparent options had been improved as well. They have, and the new woven cuben hybrid retains the old look while offering a smother and more durable outer shell. I’m all for it.

Testing has taken some time. A couple of day trips to Mexico in January provided the first opportunity. The wallet was a relief from carrying passport and wallet in the same pocket, l as I’d supposed, convenient and simple. Swapping wallets prior to travel was the only obstacle. After the second trip I considered carrying the travel wallet as my regular wallet. However on the second trip I learned that the slick CT9.5 slips out of pants with stretch. Not ideal, but I’d expect a full version to feature the hybrid construction. At this point I also switched full time to the hybrid wallet, and now can’t see myself returning to the CT9.5 construction full time. One of the early concerns, that the SIM card would slip out its holder, proved unfounded. My China Unicom SIM, seen in the photos, has been secure for the past three months.

Travel wallets like this may be a small market, but they’re an excellent idea. For those of us who travel lightly, frequently, and yet for work, the simplification is worth the wallet-swapping. I can’t wait for a finished version.

Places I slept, 2013

San Francisco, CA Santa Monica, CA Cherry Hill, NJ Manhattan, NY Brooklyn, NY Danbury, CT Toronto, Canada Green Bay, WI Las Vegas, NV Shanghai, China Yangzhou, China Shenzhen, China Kowloon, Hong Kong Miami, FL El Paso, TX Hamamatsucho, Tokyo Harajuku, Tokyo Yanasegawa, Saitama Fukuoka, Japan Kagoshima, Japan Osaka, Japan Santa Cruz, CA Belden Town, CA Guerneville, CA Salt Lake City, UT Portland, OR Chico, CA Ciudad Juarez, Mexico Scottsdale, AZ Itabashi, Tokyo Malibu, CA Fort Collins, CO Wan Chai, Hong Kong Trinidad, CA Moss Beach, CA

In so many ways 2013 was an excessive year. This list, at 35 separate zip codes, reflects that excess. An average of one new zip code slept in every 10.7 days. More than 2012, 2011, 2010, and 2009. And many of these multiple times, on multiple trips. 4 different beds in Shanghai alone that are here listed as one location. 2 different beds in Santa Monica. Twice to the same hotel in Tokyo, the same apartments in New York and La Quinta in El Paso. For the first time ever, Las Vegas, Fukuoka, Idabashi, Shenzhen, Malibu, and Kagoshima, a city I’ve wanted to visit since first reading Number9dream in 2002

And yet more and more this list is a reflection of exhaustion and a nebulous toll on our environment. 2013 also marked the first year I considered giving up flying.

2013 was also filled with amazing things. From Tara asking me to marry her and me vice versa in Japan in May to winning the Hong Kong Ultimate tournament with old friends and new in October, it was a year that saw adventures I’d never imagined.

Here’s to 2014. May it bring more adventures for all of us, though perhaps not one every 10 days. I’d like to spend a bit more time with my cat.

Then again, he’s been traveling too. His list for 2013:

San Francisco, CA Fort Collins, CO Petaluma, CA Malibu, CA

Impressive, no?

GR1 thoughts, part 1

The GR1 was a Christmas present last year, 2012. As the number of day trips I make to factories increases, I was looking for a single backpack to carry clothes, samples, and a laptop into strange environments. I needed a backpack because of the walking, and a single bag because of the flights, cars, busses, and hassle of travel. Because these trips are usually only for a couple of days, I didn’t need that much space. The last two years of repeated packing have made me a more economical traveler, and I started as a minimalist with regards to things.

I did about thirty hours of reading before putting the GR1 on my Christmas list. I already have a couple of really wonderful bags, including a custom-built R.E.Load Civilian messenger, a Tom Bihn ID briefcase, and a Timbuk2 Q backpack. For work I’d been using the Q, as carrying a laptop, samples, and notebook on one shoulder had gotten painful. Backpacks and dress clothes will never meld perfectly, but for frequent travel they’re far superior. The Q has wonderful pockets and access points, and remains one of my favorite bags, but it was stretched to capacity with clothing, and simply couldn’t handle a spare pair of shoes. In many ways the GR1 was simply a step up from the Q, with similar intentions and a larger carrying capacity.

As an operations and manufacturing person, the US-made nature of all of these bags is important. While the Q is imported, many of Timbuk2’s bags are made in the US and the R.E.Load, Tom Bihn, and Goruck bags are entirely US-made. Manufacturing will only come back to the US if the end customers care, and I do. Money before words.

How then has the last year been, traveling with the GR1? How has it weathered Mexican factories, Chinese ferries, Japanese business meetings and dozens upon dozens of airports, sports fields, and shopping trips? Are the straps really better for their width, and the laptop slot better for the curved zipper? Is the ability to pack it flat really better than a top-loading style bag, and is the minimal aesthetic in terms of pockets really more customizable with additional smaller pockets or pack-it cubes? These were some of my questions, especially given the price, and some of the things I wanted to answer publicly, to help those doing similar research.

First, a sketch from months ago outlining some of my thoughts at the time:

image

The notes from 8 months in hold true at 12, with a few changes.

Best parts of the GR1:

  • It rarely looks dirty, and cleans easily.
  • It’s always big enough for one more thing, which is usually my hat or jacket when the sun comes out.
  • It’s sturdy enough that I can pick it up from any reachable part, even fully loaded.
  • It stows cleanly because there are few dangling pieces to catch in doors and overhead bins, or on branches and other people, like in a crowded bus or subway.

Worst parts:

  • There’s no side handle, which the Q has, so sometimes it’s hard to get a grip on.
  • Because the zipper on the laptop slot wraps from side to top, it hampers me in two ways:
    • The zipper dangles down into my back, rather than off the side of the bag
    • It’s very hard to take the laptop out without taking the bag off, a useful ability in airport security lines. The Q backpack laptop compartment is incredibly easy to access one handed while wearing the bag. The curved zipper design on the laptop/hydration pocket is the biggest drawback of the GR1, and something I’d really like to see changed. Maybe it’s different with a hydration bladder, which I never use. It’s hard for me to see how, given that the zipper would still hang down into the wearer’s back even if the access isn’t an issue.
  • The straps are set a little wide for a 5’9″ guy, especially when first purchased, as they’re very stiff to begin with. 12 months later this bothers me less than it did at 8 months.

What then are my thoughts on this bag, three hundred dollars and three hundred and sixty five days later? It’s a very good backpack, built in the US for people who move and travel in much the same way I do. In the same year I’ve owned it, Jorve has also carried one every day, and Seth has purchased a GR2 and dragged it to Myanmar and back a few times, as well as around Asia and up through the New England coast to Maine. The Goruck bags are good bags. If the money makes sense, and the use that’s outlined above, in other reviews, and on their site sounds like yours, then yes, the gear’s good.

Finding Marun

There’s an amazing feature on eBay, something probably well known by frequent users but a new find for me: saved searches. After finding the name of the shoe, a lengthy process outlined here, I set one up for the Marun.

Amazingly, it works. I get about two hits a year, for pairs of Marun in varying sizes and conditions.

Luckily I’m a very central size, being able to wear both adidas 9 and 9.5, so the searches come up relevant more often than they might for someone else.

Two years later, the results are good. My first pair is lightly used, size 9:

Adidas Marun in black, gray, and white

And, as just posted below, yesterday Tara found me a brand new, still in box pair, 9.5 and wonderfully colored.

So, despite fears of replaceability in the world of modern manufacturing, the items we once loved are out there, somewhere.

Or so we can keep hoping.

Back to the Mac, part 2

Another week has gone by, and I’ve been forced to install Flash. For work. Our primary freight company’s online shipment request form is entirely Flash.

There’s an iPhone and iOS app to do the exact same thing, but the web version is Flash-based. Strange decisions there.

Along with Flash I installed the useful but horribly spelled Safari extension ClickToFlash, to stop auto-play video/ad sites. Highly recommended, especially because it forces sites to serve HTML5 videos instead of Flash if possible (useful on Youtube and assorted other sites like the Daily Show, etc, that use Flash on the desktop but support HTML5 video players for iPad and other mobile browsers).

So the current additions:

  1. Flash

  2. ClickToFlash

  3. Skype (yes, owned by Microsoft, no, doesn’t interoperate with Lync, yes, necessary for business in Asia)

Also, I’ve been asked about 1Password and Fantastical and the upcoming OS X Mavericks. I always hope the next OS will obsolete a few of my productivity” apps. Growl left with Notifications. LaunchBar is tested by Spotlight. Messages replaced Adium, and before those there were others. Developers have great ideas, and those that should be adopted are. I’m all for it.

Back to the Mac, part 1

Two weeks ago I switched back to a Mac (MacBook Air 2013 13 inch) at work. I tweeted as much and was asked for my install checklist for a new Mac. As the IT support for my office (and home), documenting my steps and thinking is a good idea.

First, I am firmly of the lighter is better” category in terms of software installs, preference tweaks, and other edits. My feeling is the less tweaking I do, the fewer conflicts I’ll introduce, and more importantly the less I’ll have to remember. Also, although it’s not an every day scenario, the faster I can get a new machine up and running the better. So each new install is an opportunity to test how much I really need any single piece of software. As I don’t get new computers (at home) that often, this is also my chance to evaluate whether OS updates have made 3rd party software redundant.

As a result of this type of testing I don’t change the OS X defaults for scroll direction, button colors, or menu bar transparency. I’ve gotten used to them all in previous updates, making for fewer settings to flip. The only customization I do is to Safari tabs, using Keyboard Preferences to set Command-Option-Right and Command-Option-Left to Next Tab and Previous Tab respectively. The defaults don’t work for my fingers. I also use the text line selection shortcuts (Command-Shift-L/R) all the time, and the two integrate well.

To start with I have two accounts logged in with System Preferences: Exchange (work) and Gmail (personal). Everything else can wait. To avoid one extra install I’m trying to use Mail, Calendar, and Reminders instead of Outlook. One less app to manage, and Outlook’s crashing was one of the big reasons I ditched the PC at work (having always had a Mac at home).

As a result of the above, my day one install list was incredibly minimal:

  1. Dropbox - gets installed first because it holds my 1Password backup

  2. 1Password - access to everything

  3. Little Snitch - inbound & outbound traffic monitor

  4. Office - Excel alone is probably enough for me

And that was it. I used the computer for two days this way, at work and at home, trying to see what else I needed for work to integrate with the all-Windows environment there. On the personal end, I was holding off on everything as this is a work-first machine. At this point I had neither Flash nor Java installed, and hadn’t launched iTunes.

So here’s my added install for work, with Office already on the machine:

  1. Windows Server Launchpad - to connect with Small Business Server Essentials 2011, works flawlessly on OS X

  2. Microsoft Lync - Hopefully Microsoft continues to unify products and Skype becomes the default MS messaging client soon

  3. Chrome - for Flash player

  4. GoToMeeting client - poorly named but functional

Two more days and it was weekend time. I’d gotten into a pretty good routine at work, using two monitors, Mail, Lync, Excel, Safari, and Calendar relentlessly. So far the Mac transition has been all upside, with faster boot in the morning and less time relaunching Outlook.

For personal use what did I miss? Surprisingly little. But after four days, I was done testing Spotlight. It’s better than the last time I’d tried (Lion) but I want something that remembers my search terms and allows me to Google from the keyboard.

Final personal use installs:

  1. Amazon MP3 Downloader - I buy almost all my music from Amazon and then match it into iTunes with iTunes Match for cloud sync

  2. LaunchBar - This is usually the first Mac app I install, and it still should be. Spotlight can’t really compete, and I use only a handful of the abilities. Amazing that two of my top ten apps come from the same small German company.

That’s it. I’ve got all my work data and my music on this computer. I’ve got Office, search, meetings, server connections, and my own passwords and essential data. The computer’s good to go.

Almost.

After another 2 days I added two apps from the App store (that I already owned) to make my personal use better:

  1. Ulysses III - This is my main writing app, and I love it.

  2. Tweetbot - I like Twitter, but without this app only use it on my phone.

Another day at work and I added one more thing, specifically to handle the display of tasks from Exchange. I could use Microsoft’s My Day app, which comes with Office, but then it launches Outlook, which I’m trying not to use. Task display will probably determine my success with avoiding Outlook on the Mac.

  1. Fantastical - A menu bar calendar, task list, and quick input method. Available from the App Store though I already had a license. I had hoped to avoid installing this, just to reduce clutter, but it’s a great app.

Two weeks later I still haven’t installed Java or Flash player, outside of Chrome.

The amazing thing about this list is both how much has changed and how little. In 2006 I got the first Intel-based Mac, the 15″ MacBook Pro. Hot as hell and bigger than I need in a computer, but a great step up from my 2000 (Pismo) PowerBook.

In February of 2006 Twitter, Dropbox, Amazon MP3, and Chrome didn’t exist. 1Password would come out a few months later. But Little Snitch, LaunchBar, and Ulysses were among the first apps I installed.

When I think of that, installing LaunchBar on 10.4 Tiger on that brand new Intel Mac in 2006, it makes me smile. I wish I had a list of my set up steps for that machine.

iOS 7 wishes, part 1

Monday’s Apple keynote will reveal iOS 7. Many are hoping for big fixes, a total Ives-led overhaul. Not me. Sure, I’d like a much better sharing system, a looser grasp on default apps, and a faster update speed to the cloud-based Maps/Siri. But those are wishes, and I like to ask for specifics.

I’d like to see 3 annoyances fixed. That’s all. Here’s the first:

image

Open Messages in airplane mode but with Wifi on, and this alert appears. Not only is it annoying, it’s not true. Messages works on wifi, like so:

image

And it gets worse. Lock the phone, unlock, and re-open Messages:

image

Same alert. Not only is it not true, but it appears every time Messages is opened after locking the phone. And, of course, Messages still works over wifi:

image

All I’d really like from Apple in iOS 7 is an improved attention to detail. Strange to say, for a company famous for it.

Biking with a cat, part 1

Yesterday after work, with a friend’s offer of dinner in mind, I threw Mr. Squish in my backpack, with his leash tied to the top handle. Knowing he’d be unhappy eventually I put his furry bed in too, folded as a liner for the bag. And I got on my bike, helmet and all, and set off across the city. He handled it well, head poking up through the unzipped top of the bag, peeking out at the world whipping past. It was cold but not unpleasant, and we rode up through the Richmond and into Golden Gate Park, up JFK and out into the Panhandle. I was worried about him in traffic, because he doesn’t like cars much and busses even less, but he handled it fine, never moving much. He’s really a champ of a cat in most respects.

When we arrived I pulled the bike inside and he scrambled out of the pack, leashed to me while I locked up. He knows the house, having stayed there before while we were out of town, and was excited to see the resident cat. She might not have been as excited to see him, but at least they can cohabit a bit.

Going home was a different adventure. It was dark and cold and Mr. Squish was tired. He had no interest in staying put in my backpack. Halfway back through the Panhandle he was up on my shoulder, crouched with his head facing the wind. Not my ideal way to ride, as he could leap off at any moment and, because of the leash, be dragged by the bike. Once I got into the park I slowed down, and sure enough he jumped off. I did too and for a while walked the bike with him running along side, still tied to my backpack. This wasn’t too bad, we go on walks a lot, but it wasn’t a fast way home, and it was almost midnight. So I pushed him back in the bag and started off again, figuring any bit of the ride I could do on the bike would be worth it.

He scrambled out again almost immediately, up on to my shoulder. Worried about the jump but wanting to keep going I headed up onto the sidewalk, figuring I could ride slowly along it and he’d be ok.

Wrong call. About twenty feet from where I got on the sidewalk the sprinklers started. The first one hit us both in the face, him crouched by my head. No one was pleased, cold water added to the cold wind, and at least three more sprinklers ahead. I did the stupid thing and tried to keep going, grabbing Mr. Squish with my right hand and biking with my left, somehow thinking I could make it through these 3 more sprinklers and be ok. Squish wasn’t having any of it. The second one got us both, but by now I was holding him dangling by the harness as he frantically tried to avoid the third sprinkler. We never made it to the fourth one. After the third I was soaked, scratched to hell, and holding the harness but no Squish.

This is my worst fear with taking Mr. Squish out on the leash. It’s a harness that clips around his middle and neck, connected by a strap with a loop for the leash. Pretty secure, but I know from experience that if he gets really spooked he can squirm his front paws out of the thing and somehow get it off his head.

I hopped off the bike, throwing it to the ground, and headed back to him. He was squatting in the middle of the sidewalk between two sprinklers, huddled in a wet ball. I was pretty soaked too, and bleeding from my hand, though I didn’t notice then. I managed to gently grab him and pulled us both back onto the road, away from the sprinklers, where I calmed him down, somehow got the harness back on, and got him into the backpack. At this point I just desperately wanted to make it home, and I’m sure he did too. He was cold, wet, and at least a little banged up from the scramble and fall.

He stayed in the backpack, just his nose peeking out, all the rest of the way home to Tara, who took him and brushed him and put him in front of the heater.

And that’s how Mr. Squish’s first bike ride went.

Hopefully the next one will go better. And be in the daylight.

Places I slept, 2012

San Francisco, CA
Brooklyn, NY
Santa Monica, CA
Shanghai, China
Tokyo, Japan
Kyoto, Japan
Tochigi, Japan
Rochester, NY
Ithaca, NY
Cherry Hill, NJ
Anaheim, CA
Portland, OR
Salt Lake, UT
Lake Havasu, AZ
Forestville, CA
Fort Collins, CO
Billings, MT
Arcata, CA
El Paso, TX
Yangzhou, China
Davis, CA
Los Angeles, CA
Green Bay, WI
Edinburgh, Scotland
Erchless Castle, Scotland
Harrow, London
Chicago, IL
Berkeley, CA
Walden, CO

A very full year. A new country, old friends, weddings, work, and family. Longer lists than 2011, 2010, 2009. Here’s to the new year, a blank page, and friends all over the world.

Also, here’s Seth’s list. We do keep moving.

A letter to Apple part 1, iTunes Match

I have a smart playlist that is called 2012” and, as you might have guessed, contains songs released in 2012.

I have iTunes Match.

It appears as though I can simply download that playlist to my iPhone to have all the songs I own that were released in 2012 on my iPhone.

This action does not work. That’s because the playlist, when viewed through Music on my phone, contains 300 songs. Here are some questions:

Why? I don’t know.

Does it contain only songs released in 2012? No it does not.

What does it contain? A random sample of my library.

Random how? Random in that I can not figure out any thing those songs have in common.

Were they released in the same year? No they were not.

Are they by the same artist? No they are not.

Are the songs in the playlist on my iPhone the same as the songs in the playlist in iTunes on my Mac? No they are not.

What do we call this? An example of how poorly iTunes Match handles multiple devices.

What else might we call this? A broken service.

Broken how? Broken in that it does most emphatically not just work.

Why is that important? Because that’s what Apple is famous for.

Why is Apple famous for that? Because before attempting such complicated internet-related-things like Siri, Maps, and iTunes Match, Apple’s combination of software and hardware often just worked” in a way that its competitors could not match.

Why was this good? Because it made people purchase Apple hardware.

What has happened in the interim? Well, much like my problem with iTunes Match, no one knows.

Why is this? Because there is no feedback to the user, no master control list, and no way to resolve the problem.

Why is this? No one knows. But it sucks.

Apple Maps and Shanghai

Apple’s new Maps are bad. That seems like a statement of fact. Unfortunately, in the United States they are most frequently described as passable”, which is altogether too generous. Most people do not live in the United States.

Rather than a long diatribe about how international users are important, I thought I’d present some examples, from a city I know well. Per Wikipedia, Shanghai is a city of 23 million people as of 2010. Sorting by actual municipalities, that makes it the largest single city in the world. On that list New York is 19th.

So how does Shanghai look on Apple Maps in iOS 6? And how did it look on Google Maps on iOS 5?

Well, from the default zoom level in Apple Maps:

Default zoom, Apple

And Google:

Default zoom, Google

Zoom in 1 step on Apple:

Zoom in 1 step, Apple

And Google:

Zoom in 1 step, Google

Zoom in 2 steps, Apple:

Zoom in 2 steps, Apple

And Google:

Zoom in 2 steps, Google

Not only does Apple lack roads, parks, train lines, major buildings, districts, and any semblance of a sense of the city” normally apparent from a map, it lacks the river.

To reiterate: it does not show the Yellow River, the Huang Pu, a major geographical feature of the entire coast, not just Shanghai proper.

The new maps fail in the kind of way that should be impossible to fail: they lack publicly available data. City maps of Shanghai are much more accurate and correctly detailed. Geographic features are visible from satellite.

For the US-only user, these new maps may be passable. For the international traveler or those residing in non-US countries, these maps are disaster, and a true regression in device utility. Quite simply, they represent a reason to buy an Android device over a new iPhone.

Which is quite a software update.

Places I slept, 2011

San Francisco, CA
San Antonio, TX
Santa Monica, CA
San Diego, CA
Washington, D.C.
Salt Lake, UT
Medford, OR
Arcata, CA
Cherry Hill, NJ
Ithaca, NY
Queens, NY
Brooklyn, NY
El Paso, TX
Ciudad Juarez, Mexico
Poughkeepsie, NY
Shanghai, China
Hangzhou, China
Lake Shasta, CA
Moss Beach, CA
Santa Barbara, CA
Chicago, IL
Santa Cruz, CA
Manhattan, NY
Charlotte, NC
Timber Cove, CA

A lot of local adventures, thanks to the Fit, a new country, and many repeats. Here’s to more new places next year.

iPhone 4S thoughts, part 1

A preamble: Given the current uncompetitive US cellular climate and relatively atrocious level of service provided by all of the major players, a major goal of mine remains minimizing the total dollars given to my cell provider. If this is a shared goal, the optimal time for cell phone replacement, on contract, at subsidized rates, is the first moment possible.

To clarify: Apple sells unlocked iPhones for $650. AT&T sells locked iPhones for $200. That means AT&T purchases iPhones at some rate slightly lower than $650 and subsidizes some amount less than $450 to each customer to entice them into a 2-year contract with a total value somewhere north of $2,000.

This means for every iPhone sold, AT&T pays Apple up front, and earns it back over time. When the subsidy has been recovered, usually between 18 and 24 months, AT&T begins offering its customers new phones at fully subsidized rates in exchange for signing a new contract.

Because the user’s monthly bill does not decline once their subsidy is paid off, AT&T’s profit increases immediately for every customer who continues to use their old phone after it is paid off.

Thus, to avoid paying AT&T any extra money, AT&T customers should upgrade immediately upon being able to receive a full subsidy again.

Hence, 16 months after standing in line for an iPhone 4 at launch day, I have an iPhone 4S.

Replaceability

There is a feeling, which happens with greater and greater frequency as we age, that some product is perfect for us. That we will need no improvement, and that any future iteration will probably be worse.

We’d like to freeze time, to have whoever makes whatever it is continue, indefinitely.

Occasionally we are lucky, and the product is of such mass appeal that the company in question does continue to produce it, with alternate versions in addition to the key product, for decades.

Occasionally the jeans we wear are the 501, and will be available effectively forever.

Occasionally the shoes we wear are the Adidas Samba, and have been brought back by our love for them, become the uniform for thousands of men looking for flat leather sneakers that will look good with any outfit and be available for half a hundred dollars world wide.

Occasionally we are comfortable in Hanes underwear, with Dove soap, Budweiser beer, or Coca-cola.

Even then, the products will occasionally change beyond recognition, for no apparent reason, as we still purchase them in similar quantities as we have prior.

Because of these changes, because of our awareness of the temporary nature of mass production and the consumer culture, we find ourselves with a new kind of worry, a new sense of desire. Not for one of an object, a hat, a jacket, but for an infinite supply, for an immediate replacement should anything happen to our treasure.

We will wish for another Adidas Marun, and know that, were we smarter, had we more money and storage space, we would have purchased two pairs at the beginning, rather than one. We would have purchased a second, a back up, for each of these items we so love.

The idea that we should be prepared for loss, that we should no longer rely on brands or manufacturers, on stores or models, but should instead stockpile, is not crazy. In his biography we learn that Steve Jobs had hundreds of his specific mock turtleneck. This can be seen as obsession, but also as anticipation of change, and the desire to avoid it.

Is this good? Sustainable? Desirable? Should we shift tastes forever as we age, constantly accustomed to new products and new surroundings, or should, at some point, our tastes coalesce into the person we will be, and our desire to be constantly replacing things we once loved with new fade into the background, become less important than it was in our teenage years, in the years of our first job.

It’s a strange feeling, to discover a new thing and immediately be concerned with its replaceability.

Ubaldo Jimenez

Every year at their time the rumors roll in about deals that will be done, players who are available, and other nonsense. Usually I ignore them, because they’re unreliable and in a month will be forgotten. However, as I’ve recently become something of a Rockies fan, at least when they’re not playing the Cardinals, I have a few thoughts about the man whose name headlines this post.

Ubaldo is one of my favorite Rockies.  He’s also an incredibly talented pitcher. In addition, he is twenty seven years old. That is the key point for today. Any discussion of the Rockies as sellers in the baseball trade market, or at least of sellers where Ubaldo is concerned, depends on age.

Mid-market teams, like the Rockies, are usually understood to be on a build and sell cycle, where they build a core of prospects, try to add veterans around them as the youth movement reaches the Majors, and then trade or allow players to leave as they become too expensive, keeping, if they are lucky, the very best.  Thus, trading Ubaldo would make sense only if he was either about to be too expensive to keep or if the players surrounding him were not yet ready to win at the Major League level.  Neither is true. Ubaldo is only twenty seven, he is signed at a very reasonable salary until 2014, and he is part of the Rockies core group of internally developed prospects, all of whom are of similar age and many of whom, specifically Troy Tulowitski and Carlos Gonzalez, are likewise signed for the next several years.

Consider the following list of current Rockies players developed by the organization, by age and position, beginning with Ubaldo.

Starters:

  • Ubaldo Jimenez, RHP 27

  • Joulys Chacin, RHP 23

  • Jason Hammel, RHP 28

  • Juan Nicasio, RHP 24

  • Jorge De La Rosa, LHP 30 DL Tommy John

  • Esmil Rogers, RHP 25 DL oblique strain

Position players:

  • Troy Tulowitski, SS 26

  • Carlos Gonzalez, CF/LF 25 DL wrist strain

  • Dexter Fowler, CF 24

  • Seth Smith, RF 28

  • Charlie Blackmon, CF/LF/RF 25 DL broken foot

  • Chris Iannetta, C 28

  • Jonathan Herrera, 2B 26

  • Ian Stewart, 3B 26

  • Eric Young Jr, 2B/OF 26

Suddenly it becomes clear that, far from being sellers, the Rockies are at the peak of their rebuilding cycle. They should be attempting to win for the next four years with the players they have traded for and cultivated. In fact, adding Ty Wigginton (3B 33) and Mark Ellis (2B 34) were exactly the kind of small acquisitions a mid-market team should be making in a season where most of their home grown talent is between 25 and 28.

The Rockies got horribly unlucky this year when De La Rosa was lost for the season.  Starting pitching, especially at Coors, is a huge challenge for any team. His loss probably means the Rockies do not have enough starters to contend this year, even in the eminently winnable NL West division.  De La Rosa’s injury, however, simply underscores how valuable Ubaldo is to the Rockies, and what a good job they have done with Nicasio, Chacin, Rogers and Jimenez, of building a young rotation from within. Trading any of them would be madness, drastically reducing the remaining members ability to compete given their home field and the state of pitching around the league, where offense is down and many teams have multiple front line starters.

Ubaldo is, along with CarGo and Tulo and Helton (1B 37), the face of the new Rockies. 2011 has turned out far worse than they hoped, but that doesn’t mean the team should give up on winning. They have a young core most teams envy, and a bevy of talented starters on the rise. I’ve really enjoyed watching the Rockies the past few years, and Ubaldo is a big part of why. His smile, his joy in baseball, and his incredible abilities are a pleasure to see, and he most certainly should remain a Rockie through the length of his contract, given the state of the team.

Palm Pre 2 thoughts, part 2

Last of it’s kind, the Palm Pre 2 arrived in December at my office, unlocked, direct from HP.

I have been asked a dozen times why, happy with my iPhone 4, I purchased a Pre 2. The answer can be found here. It was not a joke, I firmly believed releasing unlocked hardware would help Palm. The fact that it took a near-collapse and subsequent assimilation by HP to push the new corporation (HPalm?) into releasing unlocked GSM hardware does not deter me. By all accounts the Pre 2 and webOS 2 were far superior to the originals, and I was eager. The results speak both to the Palm team’s successes and to the difficulty of their chosen task.

The Pre 2 is what I consider to be the best form factor possible. While I have gotten very comfortable typing on a touch screen over the last several years, the speed allowed by a hardware keyboard can never be equaled.  I do not mean the typing speed, though that may be true. I mean the speed of access. The iPhone has a single means of access: the screen. Although the display can function as a variety of inputs (keyboard, number pad, chooser list, etc.) the phone and OS must first be told which one of those to present.  With a single swipe left from the home screen every application, person, message, and web site is searchable. The key to that sentence is the beginning, with a single swipe left from the home screen”. Without that gesture from that particular location, there is no search.

On the Pre 2, and any other device with hardware keyboard, search can simply be a function of beginning to type. Context for the display, from an unaccessed state, does not matter. On my iPhone 4 I often attempt to swipe left while in an app only to realize I have to first return to the home screen with a button press and then swipe left. Only after that is complete will I be able to start my search query.

Likewise, storing the hardware keyboard in portrait orientation, below the screen, is a fantastic fit. It means the phone can be all screen whenever possible. It also means that when the keyboard is extended the phone feels incredibly natural to hold. Landscape keyboards unbalance phones, making them unwieldy and heavy, impossible to hold in a single hand, let alone type on with one.

The Pre 2’s small screen size does not bother me after an hour or two. In fact it is the iPhone that feels large and strangely flat upon returning to it. This is a long way of saying the Pre 2 feels great in the hand and pocket, and is easy on the eyes.

However, the Pre 2 desperately needs a rotation lock. The hardware rotation lock on the iPad (prior to iOS 4.1 or post iOS 4.2) is a brilliant feature.  Turning the Pre 2 can be a surprisingly frustrating experience, because the sensor’s calibration and response speed lag slightly, meaning that one turns the phone to landscape (when reading a web site, for example), waits, returns it back to portrait and then to landscape again very quickly, and then watches as the phone performs all 3 transformations in a disjointed manner.  The odd shake” of the phone to make the sensor adjust the screen that old (pre iOS 4.0) iPhone users knew is back with webOS.

There it is then: the Pre 2 is hardware I constantly want to touch. It looks good, it feels good, and using it is, mostly, absolutely wonderful. Every time I go back to it I’m happy, and every time I leave it I miss the small shape and the clicking keys.  WebOS is a delight to use, works as advertised and has a sense of motion and organization lacking from it’s competitors, Android and iOS.  It is a wonderful platform, and something I will watch further.

Why then do I constantly return to my iPhone 4?  There are two reasons, and they revolve around the same concept, something only my time with these two phones has made me understand.

Trust.

When I have to work on my phone, which is a more and more common occurance globally, I can’t hesitate. When I’m driving to a vendor’s office or a FedEx location I googled three minutes ago, when I’m trying to call someone from a restaurant, or when I’m looking for an email with pricing I got a month ago, I have to know that my phone will do what I want.

The Pre 2 and webOS are pretty, they multitask well, their notification system is achingly simple and wonderfully functional. And when I launch Google Maps it sometimes works.  Sometimes it sits pulsing at the launch screen for several minutes, until I use the wonderful card interface to go back to my email.  When I try to call someone from my bluetooth headset and realize that I have to find their information on the phone, because bluetooth voice dial, while listed as a feature for webOS 2.1, does not yet work on my Pre 2’s webOS 2.0.1, I miss my iPhone.

When I am going out for the afternoon and look at the battery meter on the Pre 2, it often reads 40%.  At 2 pm that is a worrisome thing, something that makes me think about my charger’s location and my ability to power the phone from my car’s USB socket.

The Pre 2 and HPs new OS are wonderful things. But they do not inspire trust. Not yet. Battery life and responsiveness are two things I used not to consider critical with smartphones. They all had poor battery life and they all were a little slow to respond.  In that market the Pre 2 looks great, because the thought that went into webOS is clearly worlds above what went into most phone operating systems. That is not the current market.

I enjoy using the Pre 2, and wish I could do so more often.  I hope that webOS 2.1 brings better performance, fewer bugs, and bluetooth voice dialing, which is a deal breaker for my 45 minute commute.  Perhaps the Pre 3 will feature a more robust battery, and a more responsive mapping application. I hope so. I would love to be able to recommend webOS, to show my friends my phone and to have them be able to buy one, from HP unlocked, from T-Mobile, AT&T, Sprint, Verizon. I would like more people to see this carefully designed OS. I think that would be good for everyone.

Maybe this summer.

Until then I’ll admire my Pre 2 and use it, with my hand-cut SIM card adaptor, on days I don’t need to do a lot of work.

Places I slept, 2010

San Francisco, CA
Santa Monica, CA
Shanghai, China
Shaoxing, China
Cherry Hill, NJ
New York, NY
Seattle, WA
Sacramento, CA
Fort Collins, CO
Duluth, MN
Green Bay, WI
Chicago, IL
Manzanita, OR
Miami, FL
Clark, Philippines
Boracay, Phillippines
Houston, TX

Another good list, and a streak kept alive. I’ve been out of this country every year for a decade now. Here’s to saying the same for the next one.

Bud Selig & the TSA

There are two things that make me very angry today.  They may seem to have nothing to do with each other.  Yet Bud Selig is exactly like the TSA.  They are both higher powers in the American landscape that are forcing their awful ideas on society.  Let me explain.

Bud Selig wants to put ten teams in the MLB playoffs, rather than the current eight, which is already an increase from the six that got in when he became Commissioner.  Six, eight, ten, why the big deal?  Mediocrity.  Baseball is the American pasttime.  It isn’t the current American sport of the moment”, nor is it something cool we made for TV.  Baseball is tough.  The season is long.  The games are played in the sun of long summer afternoons.  Pitchers take forever.  Batters grab their crotches.  Baseball is awesome.  It’s also hard. And most teams don’t make the playoffs.  I don’t mean half the teams don’t make the playoffs.  I mean most.  As in, pre-Bud, less than one out of three. One per division.  That was awesome.

Bud Selig implemented the Wild Card, which is pretty solid, as things go, though it does occasionally lead to crazy math.  The idea behind the Wild Card was that teams who happened to have another very good team in their division could still make the playoffs.  This was called the Yankee rule” or the AL East rule”, because it gave Baltimore, Toronto, Tampa Bay and even Boston some hope that, in an era when the Yankees went to the post-season almost every year, they didn’t have to beat the Yankees to get in, they just had to be better than everyone else.

I love the Wild Card rule.  I think it’s very rewarding to say hey, we didn’t win the division but we would have won most divisions, so we should keep playing.”  I like this sense of achievement.  Plus, the Cardinals won the WS as Wild Card entrants in 2006.  And the Marlins in 2003.  And 2007.  Wild Cards are good for baseball.  And eight out of thirty teams is still less than one third.  It’s still tough to get in to the playoffs in MLB.

Why is it good to have the playoffs be tough to get into? Because nothing is more disheartening than hearing a NFL fan say the following: Our team is 4-6. Maybe if Buffalo loses to Tampa and Green Bay beats Seattle and we beat Chicago, we can make the playoffs!”

That is pathetic.  It’s demeaning to the fans, and to the game. Why? Because their team is simply not any good.  Good teams make the playoffs, bad teams don’t. That’s the whole idea!  If mediocre teams make the playoffs it’s called THE REGULAR SEASON.

But Bud thinks good teams aren’t making the playoffs.  Hence the whole ten teams instead of eight thing.  Wait. What? Did any good teams miss the playoffs in 2010?  The Padres?  Not a good team.  How do I know?  They didn’t make the playoffs.  Also, their run differential was +84.  This means they scored 84 more runs than they allowed, over the course of the 2010 season. Was this good?  Well, in a word, no. The eight teams that made the playoffs were between +163 (NYY) and +100 (Texas). No team had a +100 run differential and did not make the playoffs.  The Cardinals were the only ones even close, at +95 and no playoffs.  And we all know the Cardinals weren’t very good down the stretch.

In case that last paragraph contained too many ideas and failed attempts at humor, let me clarify:

In 2010, the best eight teams made the playoffs, and those eight teams were quite noticeably better than any of the other 22 teams.

Bud Selig is not helping the sport.  He may be helping someone.  That I won’t argue.

And how is Bud like the TSA?  Well the TSA may be helping someone, but they’re not helping passengers. They’re not helping airports.  They’re not improving security. They aren’t saving money. They’re not speeding up transit. They’re not making people’s days better.

What are they doing? Keeping everyone scared.  Remember, the threat is real, they say. The threat level is orange.

The threat level has always been orange.

Airplanes got blown up before 9/11. The TSA didn’t exist. Neither did naked scanners, shoe removal, pat downs, nail clipper confiscation, belt removal, or 2 hour security lines.

Are we safer? I guess that depends on us. All I know is that Bud isn’t making the sport I love better and the TSA isn’t making the experience I love (air travel) better.  They may be helping someone, but it’s not me. I love to fly and I love baseball.  Please, Bud Selig and faceless TSA boss, stop trying to change that.

Problems with Translink/Clipper Card

Translink, recently renamed Clipper, is a contactless payment system for transit companies in the Bay Area.  It is theoretically usable on Bart, Muni, and for bridge tolls.  This seems at first to be a great idea.  Similar cards are in use in Hong Kong, Shanghai, Tokyo, and London, and work very well.

Unfortunately, San Francisco, sitting at the heart of the US tech industry, did not simply deploy one of these solutions.  Instead, they hired someone new, who gradually developed a system with the capabilities of those already in place elsewhere. This process was slow and involved many intermediate steps that would have been uneccessary had the city merely looked abroad before starting.

The first problem with Translink/Clipper is that the machines used to load value onto a card are only available in the downtown stations.  This means that a user with no value on their card at a non-downtown station has to pay cash fare, ride downtown, and then load their card.

The second problem is that the value adding machines are incredibly slow.  This slowness is due to their use of a dial-up modem to communicate with the Clipper computer network and perform credit/debit card checks.  A dial-up modem in the year 2010 for brand new machines installed in the heart of America’s tech industry seems not only stupid, but absurd.  Each transaction takes upwards of four minutes, and may fail if the dial-up connection isn’t established the first time.

To circumvent (not solve) these two problems, Clipper provides a service called Auto Load, where by the user can input a credit/debit card on their site and associate it with a Clipper card and money will be automatically added to the card when its value drops below $10.  This means the user does not need to go downtown or use those slow machines, though it does not remove the 72 hour transaction processing time, which is due to the fact that all trains do not dock every day, so their onboard terminals may not be updated for 72 hours and they may incorrectly reflect the card’s balance until then.  This is a problem only solvable if each terminal was networked, rather than only the downtown stations, which presents, I imagine, a significant cost barrier.  Thus the 72 hour transaction time is unavoidable.

However, the Clipper site is not without flaws.  First of all, it does not send out receipt emails for purchases.  Instead it sends out a generic email stating that You attempted some action with the Clipper website that will take 72 hours to process.”  This avoids claiming a successful process when none has yet taken place, but also doesn’t tell the user what the action was.  Also, when the 72 hours have elapsed, the user is not notified if their transaction was successful or not, and are not given any receipt of charges in either case.  This means that, without re-checking the site, the user has no way of knowing what Clipper has done.

Should the transaction fail and the card not be loaded with money, the user will not be able to board a train.  And here in lies the real failure of the Clipper system.  There is no solution to this problem.  The staff in the station can not do anything about Clipper cards.  The online phone support staff can not do anything without a 72 hour delay.  The only solution is to either use the slow value add machines if at a downtown station, thus forgoing the entire Auto Load feature, or purchase a physical ticket, proceed to a location with internet, log on to the site, check value, try again to add value, and wait for 72 hours.  If this fails or succeeds no email or notification will be sent.

In Clipper San Francisco finally has some semblance of a modern contact-less payment system.  However, because the city hired a third party to build one from scratch rather than purchasing one that had already been deployed, the system is slow, opaque to the user and completely unresponsive to support calls.  Because it has never been tested in a different city the residents of San Francisco are forced to deal with the growing pains of a company that does not consider the transit rider its priority, and whose computer systems are woefully behind the times.  Dial-up, 72 hour transaction processing, and no email confirmation of purchases are reminders of 1995 rather than parts of a modern contact-less payment system.

Hopefully Clipper will improve, because the city has invested in it without considering better options, and residents are now forced to live with that choice.

How Apple gets it right

I’ve been a Mac user for a long time.  The first Mac I owned was a Motorola StarMax beige tower, which means that I went off to college before the original iMac.  That’s before the time best known as Steve Jobs 2.

My dad, who I had to convince to buy me that Mac, now works on a MacBook Pro.  My roommate, who laughed at my computer and then used it to play Swoop, has been using Macs for almost a decade.

Bits, which is my place for the two things Bobert says I do best, has featured a lot of Apple ranting recently, and I am frequently asked why I stick with Apple if I don’t like their policies, or why I got a new iPhone if I hate AT&T.

The answer is simple: because every time they have the opportunity to influence my decision-making Apple does a wonderful job.

This doesn’t mean Apple is flawless. It also doesn’t mean I’m immune to competition, to news sites and friends, and to other products.  What it means is that when the ball is in Apple’s court they hit a home run.

I write this up today because today I took Tara’s iPad in to the Apple store in downtown SF.  The screen had some streaks on it that continued to re-appear after cleaning.  They looked as though the glue that holds the display in to the bezel was leaking slightly.  At first I thought they came from the glue used on the black plastic portion that houses the 3G antenna, but after a month we noticed them on the other end as well, around the home button.  They look like dirt or finger print oil, except that they originate at the black edge of the glass and streak inwards, on two sides.  After two months, we knew it was a defect, and I scheduled a Genius Bar appointment online.

I worked for several years in quality control in China. I am very aware of the realities of manufacturing defects and error rates. While it is sad to get a new product that has a defect, and while production processes can usually be improved, unless there’s a problem at a scale that warrants a recall, what matters is not the flaw, but how it’s handled.

The way we treat each other is key. What I am looking for from Apple and other companies is not products that never have problems, but companies that treat their customers well when problems are discovered.

This morning I walked in to the Apple store at 10:04 and checked in on the second level.  I waited on a bench for around five minutes for my name to be called, and then showed my Genius rep the iPad, screen off so that the streaks were immediately visible.  She took it, looked at them, asked the next Genius over if he thought wipes and alcohol would work, took it in the back and tried to clean it.  She was gone for three minutes.  When she came back she promptly told me she would replace it as cleaning it hadn’t worked.  She pulled out a new iPad, had me sign the paperwork, swapped SIM cards, wiped the old iPad, and we were done.  The total time was 25 minutes, most of which was spent activating the new iPad, wiping the old one, and swapping SIM cards.

I left the store completely happy and texted Tara to tell her the good news.

There’s no joy in finding a problem with something. Making an appointment, taking it in, being potentially without it for a few days or weeks, those are all unpleasant things. They are also almost impossible to avoid.  The only things a company can control are their products pre-sale and their treatment of their customers at all times.

To fix my problem Apple’s staff treated me kindly, listened to me respectfully, didn’t question my honesty or intelligence, and repaired the original flaw in the product promptly.

That’s why they keep getting my money.

The truth

Played some StarCraft 2 last night on Battle.net with Jorve.  Made this Penny Arcade quote sing:

It doesn’t entirely matter, though, when Gabe is across the room on this own machine, and we are - the two of us - beating on a single Easy” A.I. Zerg opponent, just as we did when we still lived in the same apartment. They say you can’t go home again, but you can, actually, if your home is an imaginary world infested with xenomorphs.

iPhone 4 thoughts, part 4

I’ve now had my iPhone 4 for several weeks, and wanted to re-visit these thoughts, to see if I’d changed my mind on anything.

First, the iPhone 4 is pretty awesome. The display is gorgeous and battery life is much, much better.  The responsiveness of the camera has me using it all the time, and the ability to multi-task, even in limited ways, is great.

The rubber Bumper case is annoying, because it clings to the fabric on the inside of my pockets, which makes the phone hard to get in and out.  This leads to me not wanting to use it, which in turn means I will have to deal with the antenna issue and the fact that I spent $30 on the case.  Apple has just dealt with the $30 portion of that problem.

Under 4.0.1 I no longer ever have 5 bars in my house.  I live in San Francisco.  Coverage has not changed.  It’s good to have a better understanding of how poor AT&T is here, and I wish I had my phone configured to display -db, as the Anandtech people do.  I’ll look into that.

The antenna issue, whatever Steve Jobs, John Gruber, et al. say, is both real and a hardware flaw.  I have now spent quite a bit of time holding other people’s iPhones, as well as the demo units in the store.  I have found phones that will drop from 5 bars all the way into Searching…” and I have found phones that, in the exact same location, will drop from 5 bars to 3 and no lower.  I do not see any way of telling them apart, other than holding multiple phones in the hand.  Note that, in order to truly tell, one must hold the phone for upwards of one minute.  In shorter amounts of time the phones look identical, as they will all drop roughly 2 bars.  Only after a longer time will some phones continue all the way down to no signal and the battery-destroying Searching…” mode.

The proximity sensor issue is also real, but very, very tricky to diagnose or understand, as it seems to only happen after the sensor has been activated.  I have only had it happen one time, where a call ended surprisingly and I looked at the phone and realized the screen was on.  I don’t spend a lot of time on the phone, making only a few brief calls a day, and encountered the issue on a more lengthy call.  I suspect this is fixable in software.

The reflective clarity of the Apple logo on the back is amazing.

The iPod app is nicer now.  I don’t use it too often, though I am starting to as I grow less afraid of my battery, but the subtle interface changes, which mostly present more details on each screen, are much appreciated.

I love being able to see the percentage of battery remaining rather than simply the icon.  This has been possible since the 3GS, but is new to me.

My best usage time on the iPhone from 100% charged to shut down is 6 hours 34 minutes of usage and 38 hours 21 minutes of standby.  That, to me, was impressive.

And, on a very specific note for one person, let me say this: don’t put your phone in the same pocket with your keys.  That would be stupid.

iPhone 4 thoughts, part 2

This morning as I was using my iPhone 4 with Bumper on in a room that normally has poor signal strength I noticed the signal dropping.  I was on wifi as well, so connectivity was fine, of course, but the bars declined in the same manner as yesterday when held without Bumper on.

I shifted the Bumper and the bars returned.  This means that, in areas where signal strength was, with the iPhone 3G, questionable, the iPhone 4 antennas are more vulnerable to the bridging interference than in strong coverage areas.  This corresponds with findings posted by others.

I then removed the bumper and the problem was easily reproducible by holding the phone in my left hand in all areas of the house, regardless of coverage strength.  I’d been debating heading back to the Apple store, and this pushed me over the edge.  I got on the bus.

When I got to Stonestown Galleria, having not used the phone at all on the cold bus ride (this is San Francisco), the problem wasn’t initially apparent.  I sat in the food court for ten minutes, debating what to do and holding the phone with full 3G signal.  I’ll note for others that when I say holding the phone” I mean lightly, not some death grip, and in a very, very standard way, not in any special fashion. My hands are not and were not wet.

After about ten minutes, while I was trying to come up with a way to explain this bug to the Apple store staff, the bars started dropping.  Note that the Galleria is much warmer than the outdoors, so I believe the antennas are more vulnerable to interference and detuning at warmer temperatures.

I went to the Apple store and demonstrated the problem to the first staffer I found.  He referred me to the Genius Bar, made me a walk-in appointment, and asked me to wait. I did, and while doing so tested the phones in the display area.  None of them dropped immediately but I did not hold any for more than a few moments, as I was trying to test them all. During this time I was not holding my iPhone 4.

When the Genius called me I explained the problem and he asked if I could show him. I pulled out the phone (sans-Bumper) and held it lightly.  The bars began to fade.  He said that this was the first time he’d seen it, and asked to try.  When either of us let go of the phone the bars come back, and when he held the phone the bars dropped.

He was impressed, and said that after hearing about the problem he’d tried to reproduce it, but hadn’t been able to on the display models.  I told him I’d tried and failed also.  He took the phone and ran tests, including restoring it from DFU mode. He also got me a new phone.

After restoring it the phone did not immediately demonstrate the problem, but once we’d held it for a few minutes the bars began to drop again, until the phone lost signal and began searching for a network.  I should note here that the Apple store has excellent AT&T coverage.

He said they’d send my old phone off to engineering, and they were excited to have one with a reproducible problem.  He and another staffer set up my new phone and activated it, and asked if I wanted to try it before leaving. I said yes, and held the phone. Having been synced with iTunes moments before it was already warm and bars began immediately dropping.  Both Apple store staff reproduced the problem with the new phone.

At this point I was very relieved to know that it wasn’t just me, or just my phone. Strange, but the fact that it’s widespread, or at least _more widely spread_ is comforting.  The Genius who’d been helping me then said that they think it’s either a firmware or a design issue, and that there wasn’t anything else he could really do, because they had to find a solution internally, and that they were learning as they went.  He was very polite and genuinely interested in solving the problem.

I said I understood and that I’d take the new phone home, and he told me to swing back by if it became a more serious problem.  He then said the most interesting thing:

I tried to reproduce the problem on the display units, but I definitely didn’t hold them for as long as we’ve held this one.”

Me neither,” I said.

Now I know how it works though,” he said, I’m glad to see it.”

The phone is awesome, and I’m glad to have it.  The Bumper seems to make the problem almost disappear.  However, the problem is both real and reproducible, and affects more than just one unit.  If you’re not seeing this, that’s wonderful, but it’s something I’d test for if I were going to buy an iPhone 4.  It’s not a deal-breaker, but it’s big enough of a problem that a) Apple should give out free Bumpers and b) you want to know if your phone does it in case there’s a widely-issued fix or recall.

iPhone 4 thoughts, part 3

My iPhone 4 says 16 GB on the box.  Under Settings > General > About it says Capacity 14.0 GB with 2.8 GB listed as available.  I checked all of the display models at the Apple store today, and they all reported the same 14.0 GB, as did my first iPhone 4.

Does this mean that the OS is taking up 2 GB?  Or that the 16 GB are actually 14 GB when formatted?  Or some combination of the two?  Strange, because my old iPhone 3G, also running iOS 4, also sold in box as a 16 GB model, currently shows a capacity of 14.5 GB.

The old phone lacks a lot of features such as multitasking, yet half a gigabyte seems like a lot. If you’ve seen anything different or have any explanation let me know.

iPhone 4 thoughts, part 1

It is very odd to hold a device that is glass on both sides. Without looking the direction it is facing isn’t apparent.  Also, coming from the 3G, it feels very, very slick.  So did the iPad initially, and the constant fear of dropping that has ebbed with familiarity.

The much-discussed problem whereby holding the phone in the left hand so as to bridge the antenna gap causes the signal to gradually degrade and disappear on 3G is definitely real and immediately obvious. If you are buying a phone in store as opposed to delivery this is something you should be checking for.  Hold the phone for 15 seconds with your palm over the gap while it is on (which requires in-store activation).  Hopefully there is a fix, but I assume that it is a hardware problem, as only some phones seem to exhibit it. The rubber Apple Bumper case fixes this, which lends more credence to it being a hardware problem, as the case is non-conductive.

[Update] This problem is not 100% reproducible. I just sat in the car and held the phone, sans-case, in my left hand and the signal did not drop. Returned to house, took case off, and the signal drops immediately when held in left hand as noted above. Could this depend on signal interference as well, such as the wifi network in my house? Will report further. [/Update]

The screen is very, very good. Almost bizarrely clear, as some text, noticeably in the Messaging app, looks far different than it did on older generations of iPhone.

The camera shutter speed is astonishingly fast… for a phone.

Call volume is startlingly loud.  This means nothing for call quality, which I haven’t tested in any serious way.

It’s still an iPhone.

That was a long line.

The iPhone 4 conundrum

I currently have an iPhone 3G. After two years of daily use it is definitely worse for the wear, with cracks in the plastic casing and dust stuck under the screen. The battery is also failing, resulting in a standard 2 hours of usage. For those curious, the cracks occur between the holes in the plastic (for volume rocker, sleep/wake button, sim tray, screws, 30-pin connector, and speakers) and the metal edge to the front of the phone. These cracks grow over time, and multiply.

Of course I’ve dropped it. I list these things as facts rather than as points of failure. In the past ten years I’ve had a number of phones. Not one survived two years without showing the wear. This is one of the reasons I take mugshots (via dailymugshot.com), to see if the wear is as visible on my body. It must be.  The point for the phone though is that two years is a long time to commit to a single object. It is a lot of hours of use, a lot of strange locations, a lot of potential drops and spills. There is no other object in my life that spends so much time with me and is so delicate. And survives. So a two-year commitment to any single phone seems an odd decision. But that is the current US cellular climate, and despite my vocal protests and Google’s attempt at direct sales, it will not be changing this week.

I am ready for a new phone. I enjoy the iPhone, and am not currently enamored of any other maker’s offering, though I watch them all. I had hope for Palm, and believe Android/HTC will tempt me repeatedly, but at the current moment, they do not. My main desires, for a faster processor, better battery life and nicer display, are all at least partially addressed by iPhone 4.

What hesitation then? Well you see it comes to this: I live in San Francisco. I spent an hour or so at the Haight Street Fair yesterday (which may or may not be spelled with an additional e’). My iPhone 3G spent that time bleeding battery into a No Service” search. A futile one, because in addition to the thousands of people who would bring down AT&T’s modest network regardless of the location, there is another problem: AT&T has no coverage on Haight Street.  This is a well-kept secret, as Haight and Ashbury are relatively high-profile streets in San Francisco, and a mainstay of the tourist circuit.

How then can AT&T simply abandon the neighborhood? Your guess is as good as mine. But the dead zone, as these things are called, extends some 100 yards up and down Haight on either side of Ashbury, and is reliable enough that, when riding a bus down Haight, I can count down to the moment my phone will lose coverage. This is not the only such spot, but it is an excellent example of why AT&T customers in San Francisco are so unhappy.

But we have the fastest 3G network,” claim the ads. But your network doesn’t work, I say. Yes, in other cities AT&T remains relatively useful.  In San Francisco, however, it is a wish and a prayer.  In my first three hours back from New York last week I made three calls to three different people from three different locations. They all failed. Perhaps this is my hardware, save that the same phone had worked fine in New York scant hours before. Perhaps it is the network.

There is one other thing. In China, to take as an example a location whose carriers and cellular industry I am at least comfortably knowledgable about, this service would not be so maddening. In China, at the end of the month, I received a bill for the number of minutes used and the amount of data transferred. If AT&T functioned in this manner (or any US carrier, for that matter) such a dead zone would not be as frustrating, because I wouldn’t be paying for service in it.

The US wireless market remains that rare combination of uncompetitive, expensive, and mediocre. And yet here I live, in San Francisco. What to do, what to do?

Luckily I have another 24 hours until iPhone 4 pre-orders to make up my mind.

Corporate confusion (choose your own adventure style)

Situation:

One evening a friend recommends a television show to you.  “It’s really funny,“ he says, and”you’d love it.”  The conversation continues, but the show comes up several more times.  Upon returning home you decide that it’s not that late and you’ll check it out.  You open your trusted laptop and type in hulu.com, and then the show’s name.  Boom, you’re in luck.  Click.  Now you’re excited, and your friend was very enthusiastic.  You scan the episode list.  Episode 12.  Episode 15.  Episode 19.  Episode 20.  Episode 17.  End.  Confused, you look around for more pages, or another link.  Nothing.  After a bit of reading you click on the Availability” link.  The following text appears:

We are able to post the last five episodes of Modern Family to air on TV. The episodes posted may vary based on ABCs on-air schedule.”

This provides you with one point of information: ABC makes this show.  You go to ABC.com.  You are greeted by a horrible Netflix pop-up, and auto-play Flash ads.  Frustrated, you eventually find the show’s page.

You discover the same five episodes.

Do you:

  1. Close both windows (and the pop-up) and go to bed

  2. Go watch something else on Hulu that you already know

  3. Trust your friend’s enthusiasm and google for a torrent or illegal stream of the show’s pilot

One of these options makes ABC view you as a criminal.  The other two result in you never seeing their product.

Letters to companies part 1, Palm

Dear Palm,

As someone who has never owned a single Palm device, but who would like to, I have some facts that I would like to bring to your attention. Currently there are 4.6 billion mobile phone subscribers on the planet. Four point six billion.

Currently your phones are available in the US as carrier-locked CDMA devices, or in a few non-English keyboard configurations on select carriers in other nations.

This decision is destroying your business. Verizon, as of September 2009, had 89 million subscribers. Sprint had 48.3 million. As a total then, Palm phones are primarily targeted at 137.3 million people.

Basic math reveals Palm’s problem. 137.3m/4.6b = 0.029. That’s right. Palm is targeting 2.9% of the global market by delivering carrier-locked CDMA devices. Suddenly Palm’s 0.7% of the global market does not seem low at all, considering Palm’s devices must compete with RIM, HTC, LG, Samsung, and Motorola for that same 2.9% (those being the other major handset makers supported by Sprint and Verizon).

Now that we have the facts out of the way, let me suggest a solution. It is simple and guaranteed to improve Palm’s sales.

Release unlocked GSM versions of your hardware for sale world wide.

To increase sales, target more people. Both in the US and out, there are a huge number of people, including myself, who have never had the opportunity to try WebOS. Give us that chance. Palm is making great software, but the decision to restrict it to 2.9% of the total phone market is, as we’ve seen from your recent guidance changes, not wise. Palm is a small company, and makes few devices (two, as of this writing). Distribute them as widely as possible.

Thank you.

Justice Stevens tells the truth

While American democracy is imperfect, few outside the majority of this Court would have thought its flaws included a dearth of corporate money in politics.”

From /Images/_08-205.pdf

Via http://www.nytimes.com/2010/01/26/us/26bar.html?hp

And a huge amount of sorrow, cynicism and distrust. No outcry at activist judges. No spotlight on corporate self-interest versus the citizenry.

2010, you sadden me.

Invent better

This post by Marco suggests that there is nowhere to place blame for the current retail practice of destroying/returning unsold merchandise.

Stating that something is an industry-wide practice does not mean that it is acceptable, or excusable, or even understandable.  Manufacturers are not pushing risky” products on retailers, especially not at the WalMart size, who then require a return policy to safeguard their profitablity.  Far from it.  Major retailers assist in the design, down to color coordination across product lines, of the products they carry.  They demand pricing, guaranteed margins, and a wide variety of discounts.  They then* demand return policies on unsold goods.

This is a way of maintaining their margins.  It is not compensation for trying” new products on the store.  Rather it leads to extensive sales, because they can return what does not sell for guaranteed margin dollars, thus forcing the manufacturer to pay for retailers discounts.

While the practice is industry-wide, and in fact spans almost every kind of retail, it is not available to smaller stores in the same way as it is to big box stores like WalMart.  Therefore Marco is wrong, and WalMart is a fair target of the original NYT piece, because they are responsible (both through sheer volume and through relative influence with suppliers) for a disproportionate amount of the destruction of un-used, un-sold, un-flawed merchandise.  While they may not like it, being the biggest will always lead journalists to use Wal*Mart as an example.  Simply saying that other retailers do it too” is not a solution.

What is a solution?  Better inventory and customer interest models?  A return policy that does not re-imburse 100% and so encourages retailers to order only what they can sell, or to sell what they order, and thus puts a price on destruction?  Smaller stores?  More regionalization of products so that they are more likely to appeal to the customer?  I do not know for sure, but certainly there is a solution.

The idea that problems are everyone’s fault, and thus no one’s, is precisely wrong. When there is no current solution it is time not to shrug and move on but to invent one.

Places I slept, 2009

Houston, TX
Lansing, NY
Ithaca, NY
Baton Rouge, LA
Austin, TX
Big Bend, TX
Los Angeles, CA
Cincinnati, OH
San Francisco, CA
Portland, OR
Sacramento, CA
Fort Collins, CO
Near Gould, CO
Incline Village, NV
Shanghai, China
Shaoxing, China

The wonderful thing is not the number of places, but that they were seen multiple times, and involved so many friends.  May 2010 bring still more.

10 things I learned yesterday

  1. IMAX 3D shows on Tuesday evenings do sell out.

  2. If someone is a good director, 10 years away from the mainstream doesn’t have to destroy their ability (which opposes the George Lucas principle, though that gives rise to the question of initial talent, which I will not discuss here).

  3.  Making Titanic doesn’t stop someone from loving science fiction.

  4.  Gollum really was a massive step in the blending of motion-captured live actors and CG creatures.

  5.  Waiting for the technology you need to be developed can work, but building it yourself is almost always the right choice.

  6.  If someone who is a good director and loves science fiction spends ten years of their life building the technology they need to make a movie, it is worth $19 to see it in IMAX 3D.

  7.  Probably twice.

  8.  Unless you have a very small nose, and so can’t comfortably wear the 3D glasses as their correct focal length is farther from your eyes than your nose will allow.

  9.  Which is not a problem I have.

  10.  However this means the 2nd time I see Avatar will probably be on a normal screen.

List of mobile phones I’ve used

A Japanese Panasonic candybar model with a monochrome screen which, being old and cheap at the time (2001) I can’t find any information about online.

Nokia J-NM02 - A model that’s very hard to find information on, but in 2002 was pretty sweet.  Flip, color, camera, web, and that wonderful antenna.

Nokia 2100 - On moving to Shanghai in 2003 I bought the cheapest phone I could.

Siemens M55 - Quite an upgrade after about a year in Shanghai.

Nokia 6681 - An incredible phone.  A little slow towards the end, but with Opera Mini and the Gmail app the best phone experience I had ever had, by far.  Also synched with my Mac via Bluetooth, which was a huge win.

HTC P4350 - Windows Mobile.  Great hardware, worst software ever.  Only lasted six months before I got tired of having the messaging app crash while texting.  No sync.

BlackBerry Curve 8300 - An incredible phone, but by 1 year the trackball was breaking. Also better with Opera Mini and Gmail app.  Qwerty keyboard was great.  Used w/ Exchange.

iPhone 3G white 16GB - Fun, versatile, but hands down the worst phone I’ve used since the… ever.  Horrible reception, prone to crashes in the phone app, generally slow, and after 1 year the plastic is cracking at the edges.  Note that this is my first time on a US post-paid contract, though I did use T-Mobile pre-paid at times on the BB and the 6681.

The test of a mobile’s keyboard

The test of a mobile’s keyboard is at what length of intended entry one gives up and waits until a laptop is available.

Pause.

For me, with the iPhone, that point arrives sooner than it has in the past.

Regardless of what Gruber says now about it being good enough” or what he said at it’s introduction, regardless of how biased I may be, and how wonderful the customization of keyboards is, the length I enjoy typing directly onto the screen is lower than it was on other devices.  List of devices used prior here.

As a related note:  has anyone else gotten worse at typing on an iPhone lately?

Letters to Mayors part 1, the N

Dear Mayor,

As someone who has recently moved to this city, I am writing you out of concern. The public transportation I was promised upon arrival is broken.  This is a bold statement, when millions of dollars are invested in it.  Yet I have an offer for you.

Please come ride the N with me for a few days.

We will be late to our meetings, yes, but we will be late together. We will be frustrated as the train we are on is taken out of service half way to our destination, the final Giants home game of the season.  Yet we will have company in this as well, said game being a popular public event scheduled long in advance.

We may watch as the train passes us at the station, empty and headed where we have promised to be, without stopping, despite NextBus’ assurances, but we will have our cell phones, and be able to explain to our colleagues, clients, friends, and, in your case, constituents that it is not our fault, that the Muni is again unreliable.

And they will understand, because they warned us about the N, and because they too live in San Francisco.

Observing America part 1, cell phones

In the year 2009 the cell phone is pretty inescapable.  Devices have improved, carrier coverage and ability has improved, and the continual investment in manufacturing has reduced the cost of entry.  Via pre-paid SIM and shared-device situations even people without a mobile are able to access the networks and services.

What remains then as the divide is the level of services, devices, and access.  While people like Jan Chipchase, FrontlineSMS and others are tracking and planning the phone’s global advancement, others are tracking the push upwards, into the realm of computers, GPS units, music players, and cameras.  These two fronts are in some ways the same, that of expanding the ability and availability of a single, always-on device carried with the user.  This expansion is truly revolutionary, and understood by both corporations and individuals.

The problem, however, is the gap between desire and implementation, made worse by the almost-identical gap between truth and marketing.

Here in America, for the most part, we are the lucky recipients of an incredible wealth of technological development.  Apple is here, Google is here, IBM and Xerox were here, Microsoft and Sun and countless others are here.  We are a test-bed for software and expensive systems.

But we are not a leader, in most cases.  And the reluctance with which we admit this, or solve it, is startling.  I do not mean to say that America as a nation is failing, or unable to address these issues.  I am simply stating that the specific technological issues which Americans face on a daily basis in the area of mobile telephony and computing are neither necessary nor shared by the rest of the globe.

Recently I have noted a number of people making a variety of arguments that can be whittled down to one idea:

[subject] is not really that bad [here].”

The subject varies, more on that in a moment.  The here, though, is implied, because most of the writers or commentators have no comparison, or make none.  They do not state that relative to another system” this one is better.  There is no comparison of advantages and disadvantages.  There is simply the statement that it’s not that bad.”

What’s not that bad?

  1.  Network coverage.

Marco, who writes very well about many things, makes the claim here:

I frequently travel to the fringes of cellular reception areas, including many areas with zero coverage from any carrier. I’ve found:

  • AT&T isn’t as bad as many people think.

  • Verizon isn’t as good as many people think.

This is classic not so bad” thinking.  Why?  Because there is no option for good.  While Marco’s experiences are completely tied to his location, being a US consumer he has only so many options.  However, in San Francisco, AT&T has far, far worse coverage than Verizon.  Not just data coverage, or just voice coverage, but coverage of any kind.  On Haight and Ashbury, a relatively central, relatively famous San Francisco location, there is a thirty meter wide dead zone where no AT&T tower reaches.  Moreover, Marco’s conclusion, while based on extensive personal experience with both networks, comes down to the very unenviable conclusion that:

my phone is a personal computer most of the time, and it’s occasionally used to make or receive phone calls. Most data is downloaded over WiFi, with occasional small transfers over the cellular network. Network flakiness hurts me less than device flakiness. For me, therefore, the device is much more important than the network, because I’m using the device much more than I’m using the network.

Suddenly the inconsistency is clear.  Marco is reviewing cell phone coverage on a variety (he also mentions Sprint) of networks, but, for him, networks are not the primary concern.

There are no good networks in America.  Sprint’s is fast, but small, and can not handle voice and data simultaneously.  It also is based on a non-global standard.  Verizon’s is large, but like Sprint’s cannot handle voice and data simultaneously, and is not based on a global standard.  AT&T’s network is large, porous, minimally 3G, and often overwhelmed.  T-Mobile’s is small and uses a unique band for 3G.

That’s it.  There are other carriers, but they are regional.  There is no good” choice.  There are no carriers that offer a truly nation-wide network that also interacts with the rest of the world.

  1.  Price

My good friend Charles has been known to state the following, which, I suspect, is a sentiment shared by many, especially those writing online about cell phones:

I don’t mind paying the $90 or $100 a month, that seems fine for unlimited data, texts, whatever, I just want service that works, all the time.

I’m paraphrasing, so should you see him in person, apologize for me.  However, the point remains.  There is a portion of the US market that does not see price as the barrier.  The absolutely mind-blowing aspect of this realization, which many have made before me, and Charles makes often, is that, despite a willingness to pay, this group is still unsatisfied. Why?

Because there is no good US network.

Yet that conclusion leads backwards, to an interesting thought: Why then is cell phone service, in the United States, so expensive?  Without comparison, domestically, this question is hard to answer.  Most US carriers offer strangely similar prices, often exactly the same.  There is very little price competition, and therefore very little in the way of media comparisons.  Yet, in most surveys, US cell phone service costs remain highest in the world.  This is not often mentioned because there exists no alternative.  Yet media pressure is an effective tool, and should be utilized.  Paying more for less is not in anyone’s interests.

There are other aspects, like international travel support, carrier locked phones, and early termination fees, that I would like to rail against.  Like pricing and network effectiveness, they are issues defended as not that bad”, and, I think, all too easy to accept without a view of places where they are not the standard.

Here in America we have a great many things, but not all of them are good, or as good as they could be.  We also have the ability to compare, the information with which to do so, and the outlets to publish our findings.  It is a shame then that so much of the current writing stays within the bounds of what is, here, rather than looking for what is elsewhere and could be, here.

Letters to Senators part 2, health care

Hello.

I am writing you on behalf of all Americans. Not because all Americans agree with me, I know they do not. However, I am writing on their behalf as well. I am writing because there is a serious disconnect in our country, specifically in our government, about those very US citizens.

Health care. There is a lot of meaning in those words, almost all of which is neglected by the current debate. The point of it all, of making people healthy, keeping them that way, and improving the human lifespan while minimizing suffering, seems completely overwhelmed by the problem: cost. What we need is not better insurance, or wider-reaching coverage. Somehow, with the floating of those two concepts, the actual need, for healthier humans, has already been removed from the stage. Cost and coverage have replaced care, prevention, and healing as the focal points of need. And that switch allows for more callous, crass and otherwise reprehensible behavior.

If the conversation were re-focused, so that the sentence deny someone coverage based on existing conditions” became do not heal someone who is already sick” the awkward nature of the argument would be more obvious. Does anyone in our country NOT want care when they are sick or injured? In a democracy, a country run by the people, for the people,” how then can we engage in such an argument, where part of society can advocate a solution that simply does not hold with their own desires?

If everyone wants to be cared for when they are ill or injured, how can anyone be against universal health care?

Please, in our current debate remember that coverage” is not care” and insurance” is not healing”. Remember those who have worked their entire lives, yet never been offered health care by an employer. Remember those who were born with a disease or a disability, even a treatable one like asthma or poor vision, and yet are forced to pay constantly for renewed prescriptions” that are simply a continuation of what they have lived with forever. Remember that no country in the world spends more, for less, and that no matter the risk, the system we have simply does not help the citizens of our country.

Thank you for your continued work for all of us.

Thoughts on words

Health care.  A lot of meaning in those words, almost all of which is neglected by the current debate.  The point of it all, of making people healthy, keeping them that way, and improving the human lifespan while minimizing suffering, seems completely overwhelmed by the problem: cost.  What we need is not better insurance, or wider-reaching coverage.  Somehow, with the floating of those two concepts, the actual need, for healthier humans, has already been removed from the stage.  Cost and coverage have replaced care, prevention, and healing as the focal points of need.  And that switch allows for more callous, crass and otherwise reprehensible behavior.

If the conversation were re-focused, so that the sentence deny someone coverage based on existing conditions” became do not heal someone who is already sick” the awkward nature of the argument would be more obvious.  Does anyone in our country NOT want care when they are sick or injured?  In a democracy, a country run by the people, for the people,” how then can we engage in such an argument, where part of society can advocate a solution that simply does not hold with their own desires?

If everyone wants to be cared for when they are ill or injured, how can anyone be against universal health care?

Letters to Senators part 1, text messaging

Hello,

I am writing you about text messaging costs. I am sure you are aware of the high cost per text message Americans pay and the sliding scale based on text message plans for what is and will remain a fixed cost service. Text messaging takes advantage of the control channel that constantly communicates a phone’s whereabouts to the network, which means that text messaging requires NO additional technology, bandwidth or infrastructure. Text messages on the carrier’s backbone are a fraction the size of voice or email traffic. Yet carriers across the United States charge up to $0.25 per message. While they argue that most people have text messaging plans that is because they are forced to buy more messages than they use to avoid such horrible over-charging. Text messaging is a low- to zero-cost feature for the carriers, regardless of the number of messages sent, so the only way to increase revenue on this aspect of their service is to incentivize the customer to pre-pay the maximum amount.

When all the major US carriers charge the same rate for what is, again, almost a zero-cost service, it is a definite sign not only of collusion but of a business that does not have the consumer’s interests at heart, which is exactly what our government is supposed to protect us from.

To make matters worse, when a consumer purchases an unlimited” data plan, that should theoretically allow unlimited” use of data on their phone, this does not include text messaging, meaning the customer who has chosen to pre-pay for unlimited access is forced into additional charges for their text messaging use, despite the absolutely minimal cost and data use of these 160-character limited messages.

Please, help us and all Americans by fighting the US cellular carriers greed and dishonesty. Thank you very much for your time and your work on behalf of New Yorkers.

Growing up Watchmen

The hardest part about Watchmen, that everyone seems (wonderfully) to understand, is that it was built as a comic book.  It references itself in the way that the best comics can, because it is so easy for the reader to flip back, having a visual guide as well as the words.  The comic book really is a wonderful medium, and Watchmen is its pinnacle.

Now, going to see this adaptation last night we knew these things:

  1.  Story is fantastic (having both read graphic in past week)

  2.  Snyder stuck to visual guide (from previews)

  3.  Story will be simplified (no pirate sections)

  4.  Snyder thinks that crunching and gasping equals fighting and sex (from 300)

  5.  If he gets anything right at all I’ll be excited because I love it (same as LotR)

Walking out three hours later, which is neither too long nor something audiences can’t stand, we remembered those points, which really helped.  Yes, the story was fantastic, and, with the exception of Dr. Manhattan, who got the 300 treatment, everyone looked good.  Rorschach and the Comedian were incredible.  Watching Dr. Manhattan drop the photograph on Mars made me so happy, as did watching his suit assemble itself on him (which I would have watched for longer).  Things like the long pull out from the statue in the rain prior to the Comedian’s burial were wonderful.

The cuts were understandable.  Hollis’ death was the last thing cut (says Wikipedia), which I understand (and am glad was the last thing to go).  The pirate ship story was of course going to go (though is supposed to be added in for the DVD).

Now we come to the personal portion of this review/examination:  Zach Snyder’s incomprehensibility.   Here we have someone who grew up with the same influences as I did, who deeply loves the same books.  I think it’s pretty impossible to see Watchmen and not think that Snyder loves the graphic.  He does, and I believe that, and I think that it’s very visible in the scenes he does not alter.

The problem is that Zach Snyder has almost no sense of subtlety.  As noted earlier, he thinks that a fight is not a fight if bones don’t come through skin.  Every punch must have an accompanying crunch sound effect so loud as to make the audience wince.  The sound track has only two volumes: loud, and REALLY LOUD, which is reserved for touching, soft, or very complicated scenes.  The visual grace that began this generation’s obsession with intricate fight scenes, that of the first Matrix and Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon, is utterly lost.  The Nite Owl is an out-of-shape 40 year-old man, and yet when he punches bones break and people crash through walls.  Zach Snyder is unable to see that people will understand a fight scene without bone crushing.  This is a flaw we were well aware of going in, because of 300, and simply hoped he would avoid as it did not hew to the source material at all.  He demonstrated no such restraint.  The prison escape is a perfect example.  Rorschach’s scenes are handled with wit and delicacy, even in their gruesome nature, but the Nite Owl and Silk Spectre II are forced into an awkward (and utterly manufactured) brawl that is both unfortunately long and ridiculously loud.  By making them so forceful Snyder removes a central portion of Moore’s idea, that these are heroes who are adventuring for the first time in years.  In Gibbon’s original art this is handled so deftly (see page 15 of issue 3).  Snyder will have none of this deftness.

Dr. Manhattan, as mentioned earlier, has the physique of a body-builder, and is more frontally nude than a) he is in the graphic or b) is necessary.  He also is needlessly shown exploding Vietnamese soldiers, another moment where Snyder looked at Moore & Gibbon’s work (which the shot otherwise mimics very closely) and was like well, this was cool, but it would have been so much better if they EXPLODED.”  In so many ways it is like watching a fifteen year-old boy’s thoughts.  More bone breaking, more nudity, and louder sound effects are always better.

I had a good time.  But every time a fight scene approached I winced, hoping we could get through it without any horrible disfigurations.  This doesn’t mean all the fighting was poorly done.  The opening fight was wonderfully done.  Most of Rorschach’s fighting was excellent.  The re-visioning of the death of the convict Rorschach ties to the cell bars was very good.  Snyder’s attempt to modernize the conflict with the inclusion of oil and energy was awkwardly welded to a cold-war plot.

In retrospect, this is a better movie than I expected from a very tasteless director.  He delivered his personal brand of utterly over-the-top and graceless fighting alongside a very tight rendition of the story.  Big props to the screenwriter.

There are only two scenes that stop the movie from being good, and something that I would go see again:

  1. Nite Owl & Silk Spectre IIs love scene in Archie.  In utter contrast to the first love scene, on the couch, which is moderate and tasteful and NOT set to absurdly loud music, this second scene is so awful and horribly over-long that most of the audience was cringing and looking at their phones.  Absolutely uncomfortable to watch is usually not what directors are going for in sex scenes.

  2. Rorschach putting a cleaver into the guy’s head.  Unlike the previous mention, which is basically straight from the book just shot & scored horribly, this scene is totally created for the movie, and alters Rorschach’s character fundamentally.  Rorschach is not a deranged psycho killer who cleaves people in two.  This scene fails in all three of the ways an adaptation can fail, that being it alters the story and characters, adds nothing, and takes unnecessary attention away from the original work.  For those who may not know or remember, in the original Rorschach cuffs the man to a chair, sets the house on fire, and throws him a hacksaw with the advice don’t bother cutting through the cuff, you don’t have time for that.” He then stands outside the house for an hour, but no one comes out.  As originally written it is evocative and characteristic without being over-the-top gory and psychotic.  But, as we all know, Snyder is unable to appreciate subtlety or simply good writing.  His mantra of more gore louder!” is impossible to miss.

Yeah.  So for all of you who have been asking me how I feel about this on Twitter/im/text, here’s your answer.  It’s good, it’s fun, it’s much better than I possibly expected Zach Snyder to do, and if it could be edited again (by someone else) it could be really wonderful.  Unfortunately, even with a supremely tasteful base text (as opposed to the incredibly simple and violent one he had with 300), Snyder is unable to resist his own urges, to everyone’s detriment.

Recommendation:  Go buy the graphic and read it before seeing this film.  The hype surrounding this movie means it is available at every major book store, and well worth your time & money.  If you saw the film first, the same advice applies.  You’ll have to trust me that the parts you’ve complained about (horrid score, awful fighting, painful sex scenes, atrocious cleaver-to-the-head shots) were Zach Snyder, and not Alan Moore/Dave Gibbons.

M83 and the album of 2008

A lot of people post about their albums of the year.  Usually they do it sometime within that year.  I don’t bother, though sometimes lengthy emails go out, those last weeks of December, extolling something to people unfortunate enough to attract my attention with similar lists.

Most of those lists, painstakingly crafted, are then forgotten, set adrift into the winds of a million similar compilations and lost forever.  Or at least until the next December, when we all vow to make better lists than last time, because some of those songs were so popular, we didn’t look indy enough at all.

Sometimes, though, we’re just right.  Looking back, months later, we can say Wow, really nailed that one, absolutely hands down the best thing to have come out of 2008, musically.”

M83 Saturdays = Youth is that rare truth.  Listening to Too Late’ as I write this it is both timeless and relaxing.  Timeless seems an odd adjective, as most reviews start with M83 is a blast of nostalgic 80’s sound done well” or some other nonsense.  Timeless in that, unlike MGMTs hits from last summer, I am not immediately transported to a place or a time.  Which is good, because that means when I hear M83 in another few months it will still sound just good, not like that one time we…”

It’s the best album of the year, it’s the best album of a long time.  If you don’t have a copy go dig it out and throw it on.

Sometimes it’s nice to be right.

Some days I party, some days I sleep

The best thing about weekends is not needing them.  Because of Marie and the impending Rice spring break several of us went to some gallery openings Friday, and then a bar for some karaoke covers of songs no one knew.  A good way to end the week, after a lot of thinking and some writing and some planning and well yeah everyone having plane tickets the next morning.

Except me, which is good for the novel and the pocketbook and bad for the whole talk to people not using the computer” portion of my life.  Which is fine, that’s what cell phones are for.

The realizations though that drive this are: going out with friends is fun, but better when not dependent on the day of week, because things are crowded on weekends.  The grocery store on Saturday is a nightmare, just like the laundry machines on a Sunday, both of which I avoid whenever possible.  I got a table at the Agora today by virtue of being early, but it was packed by four pm in a way Monday-Friday never is.

What I’m saying is that, should you not work 9-5 Mon-Fri you have a gift that few people ever have, revel in your time.

Heelys

Once upon a time I believed 29 going on to be too old for such frippery as Heelys.  I abandoned my first pair upon leaving Japan at 24, believing that Shanghai lacked   pavement suitable for wheeling.  It did, so I didn’t miss them too much, but now, back in the US and attempting to avoid the automobile, the appeal of shoes w/ wheels in the heels is impossible to avoid, and I search the internets for options.

In short, there are none.  I found one cool white/lime green pair, but unavailable in my size.  A brown/tan one likewise.  Most Heelys are black/gray and have huge horrid graphics on them, thus undermining their very purpose: James Bond-style getaways.

Yes.  The point of shoes with a wheel in the heel is NOT to broadcast the fact, but to hide it until it is needed.  The point is to blend in with pedestrians.  The main advantage of Heelys is the lack of extra crap to carry.  This is why Heelys beat skateboards, scooters, rollerblades, bicycles, cars, motorcycles, unicycles, tricycles, and four-wheelers.  When you get to where you’re rolling, you just walk in.  No sitting down, parking, packing up, unlacing, locking to a tree, or any of that.  Simply slow down and walk out of your wheel, and bam, you’ve arrived.

I miss my Heelys.  Links to any Mens 10 Heelys in a non-black non-obvious color combination greatly appreciated.

Future positions

Part of the joy of travel, of moving, is learning a new common.  Moving to Shanghai and finding that bicycle traffic exceeds car.  Living there long enough to watch car start to gain, and the massive parking problem that change creates.  Moving to Houston and finding cars a minority, compared to SUVs, and the unique kind of common created by such large vehicles.  Watching young siblings of a friend play upon their parked vehicle, it affording an easier climb and better view than the purpose-built play structure in the yard.  Learning to navigate each one, until it is time to move on again, and the new place likewise surprises, lacking trains, or cars, or electric bicycles.  Realizing that what is comfortable now is not the original, but an amalgamation of each previous situation.

So often future predictions, or visions of such, are simply the application of what is already common in one place to another, with the twist of local restrictions or desires.  Cellphones are going to incorporate electronic payment systems, claims one, having been to Japan.  Transit cards will become electronic, removing the need to swipe a MetroCard in New York through the magnetic reader, claims another, having seen Hong Kong, or London, or Shanghai, or Tokyo, or…  Everyone will have a car, says the proud new Buick owner in Shanghai, knowing America.  Discerning between the potential and the possible, the future coming and the present not yet arrived, becomes an art of guessing what people want, what local infrastructure will support.

In every projection too there is the bias of personal desire.  Thus comes the vision of a wind-powered future from those with large investments in windmills.  Likewise those building massive databases of human activity suddenly see a future where every item of identification communicates location.  Passport, cell phone, car keys, payment cards, check.  There are those who seek support for admirable visions of electronic automobiles spread wide over the landscape, asking for them to be built by those who for the past seventy years have opposed such infrastructure.  But these are not the only futures built around the personal desires of those who espouse them.  There are the dreams of authors, in whose projections worlds overcrowded, over-governed, and over-built compete with those of space-faring societies that have escaped the resource limits of a single planet, of artificial intelligences that remove burdens of daily labor, and of a variety of governments that cater to a mobile population. These are all visions of a future coming, of a world we do not inhabit but should, or will, or might soon.

The beauty of these views is not that any one is perfect, or correct, or that any of them are.  The joy of learning what is common in a new place is finding fresh tools for a personal projection of what the future will hold, of where the world could be.  Because much of the future is made up of people, and the people are made up of what they imagine and desire, what they learn and acquire.  This message is paraded around by consumer advocacy groups, by giant corporations, by friends and neighbors in a variety of forms, and is true in all of them, if slightly minimized.  For the future is not a small thing, one life is not a small thing.  On moving to Japan, seven years ago, and being shown to an apartment smaller than any of the dorm rooms I had occupied the four years prior, being forced to revisit my needs and possessions, I found roommates, colleagues, friends in similar situations.

I like the way it’s done here,” they kept saying.  About refrigerators small enough to tuck into corners that then required more frequent re-filling, from similarly smaller shops within walking distance.  About beds that were rolled up and put away in closets in the mornings to provide space for a desk and a sense of cleanliness.  About balconies on every house, for drying clothing and watching Mt. Fuji in the evening.  All these people, each moved to a new location, each discovering that what was common in Tokyo, in Saitama, was something they could live with, appreciated, and would incorporate, if able, into their own future.

There are stories like this from everywhere I have ever lived, and they blur together into nothing more than personal history, exploration and discovery.  They provide the tapestry though, the background of things I know to be common, somewhere, and can easily apply to my vision of a future.

And so, on a sunny November day in Houston I ride my tiny bicycle down tree-lined streets, arms covered in a hoodie purchased in Shanghai for its utility against very similar weather on my way to an apartment fueled only by electricity, generated mainly from wind and solar sources.   I carry a bag hand-made in Philadelphia, which holds a computer made in Taiwan and China.  And while such a listing can be displayed as a consumer badge, and is, it is also a vision of the future, of my plan for it.  The world changes every day, and the older we get the faster it seems to go, a function of both personal aging and of the era we were born to.  There are crisis and inventions, as there have always been, and our future is probably none of the grand predictions, none of the brilliant novels or simple transpositions.  The future will probably be as fragmented as today, with massive cars and extreme poverty, with starvation and luxury ocean liners.  Our choice is what common we are aiming for, what personal collection of necessary and desirable we hold dear enough to work for.

So here I am, age twenty nine, transporting myself by bicycle and airplane, communicating with laptop, cell phone and postal service, learning to appreciate and cook food common to my new location.  Uncertain whether any of these is perfect; imagining a future finely balanced out of all the visions I have seen.