After a long break, the Lounge Ruminator podcast returns! (Thanks for sticking around.) I discuss the ethical review behind my research interview show, Really Specific Stories, and reflect on the challenges of balancing family, work and academic commitments.
Although I often use Pages to refine shared documents and MarsEdit to publish posts on Lounge Ruminator, my main writing app (particularly for university) is iA Writer. It feels like a rethought TextEdit on Markdown steroids: it’s minimalistic, focused and includes a restricted set of beautiful fonts, which are named Mono, Duo and Quattro.
When iA announced that it was working on a new presentation app, I became very excited. I love Keynote but the idea of using an iA Writer-style interface to create presentation slides was fascinating to me. For a while, iA teased that it was researching what people found stressful, distracting or tedious about making presentation slides, and said that it was putting quite some effort into offering a new approach based on the feedback that was received.
What they announced was iA Presenter, which is currently in beta and available for testing by request. In short, the app is intended to strip back all of the clutter, confusion and crazy template choices that Microsoft PowerPoint and Apple’s Keynote offer. Instead of greeting you with a long list of design options and giving you a big app window with buttons, iA Presenter suggests a different approach: write and structure your presentation (using Markdown) in a way that focuses on the speech that you wish to deliver, then worry about inserting images, designing stuff and rehearsing at the end.
What I have explained here is the very short and simplistic version of iA Presenter’s philosophy; if you would like to learn more about the approach, you can read iA’s excellent and very detailed articles, titled Being Boring: What’s Wrong with PowerPoint? and How Can We Make Presentations Better? iA has also asked people not to share too much detail while it’s being refined, so I’ll refrain from that here, but you should check out the links and sign up if you’d like to learn even more.
As someone who loves typing in general, this approach of writing thoughts for a presentation before placing and resizing images really clicks for me.
The thing that makes me sad, however—now this is a first-world problem—is that I’m not sure that I would have a reason to use it and that I should even buy it once the full version becomes available.
Why is that, you ask?
Well, I rarely have to make presentations and when I do, they are generally expected to be in a very particular branded corporate template. Over time, presentations have gradually shifted from being visual aids to become *documents*. Yes, for some bizarre reason, workers these days think that the vertical document, with its logical and flowing headings and paragraphs, has become insufficient or unfashionable. Instead, all ideas should be presented in landscape with ridiculously long lines that span a great white plain, hurting your eyes in the process as they are presented next to dense flow charts and buzzword-filled diagrams. Of course, everything must also be in Arial. ALLE ANDEREN SCHRIFTARTEN SIND VERBOTEN!!!
Without a doubt, one of the major culprits responsible for ushering in and encouraging this new era of landscape-document lunacy is Microsoft Teams. As the catchphrase ‘I’ll just share my screen now’ has taken hold, more and more people are relying on PowerPoint to share visual essays in video calls. Death by PowerPoint is now fully digital for you at home, as you lose the physical audience that once suffered with you in a common physical space.
Because I’m a nerd, I will probably still buy iA Presenter and find a way to use it. It’s a wonderful app and I will find a way to justify the purchase.
Now we just have to find a way to remind people what slides are actually for: aiding and clearly communicating an idea, rather than suffocating it.
This post was originally written in August 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.
On Hemispheric Views, Andrew, Jason and I regularly discuss our own experiences with digital technology and its effects—generally with a focus on the positives. Digital devices are so much a part of our lives at this point though that we habitually want and reach for things without a moment’s consideration.
Having a baby in the house makes you think differently about all kinds of technology, whether it’s the car in which you have to install a seat, the furniture that you have to shift for safety or the various implements, utensils and toys that make their way into your home. Sometimes, a baby radically shifts the way that you use a digital device too; this time, I’m talking about Apple TV.
Natasha and I still make time to listen to music and watch TV shows, but Mac has already developed his own taste for very particular content, which is naturally now a part of our lives… and here’s the favourite.
Yes, Apple Music has a Nursery Rhyme Videos playlist that Mac absolutely loves. To be clear, we seriously limit his TV viewing time and most of the day we keep it off, with only music playing through the HomePods. Already though, he understands that the Siri Remote is this magical thing that his dad picks up to make the five little duckies appear on the screen. He sits on the mat in our lounge room, turns to me and points with a grunt at the TV, then the Siri Remote. It’s pretty hilarious.
To fulfil his wish, we play a selection of music videos from this playlist once a day, sing and dance along, then turn everything off and move on to something else.
I’ll be honest, aside from the annoying Disney Junior clips (which are too quiet), I thoroughly enjoy a chunk of this playlist and often get things stuck in my head, particularly The Wiggles’ classics Hot Potato and Toot Toot, Chugga Chugga, Big Red Car—the best kids’ song, in my opinion. During the former, Mac very enthusiastically mashes banana.
In what is undoubtedly old news for any Americans reading, I’ve been enjoying the ridiculous John Jacob Jingleheimer Schmidt. I’d never heard of it before this playlist! Natasha enjoys it too, although she does get the shits when she finally gets it out of her head and then I start singing it again.
For this article, however, I want to share four examples of the more unusual moments in this eclectic children’s playlist. Warning: some of the following content may be disturbing.
Example 1: Cringey Faux Americana
I was appalled at this clip when I first saw it, but after the 1,000th viewing, I’ve come to admire the performances of these dedicated, yet musically-untalented children. Below, you can see a bunch of Greek kids of the children’s group Zouzounia (translation: ‘The Beetles’), singing and pretending to play along to She’ll Be Coming Round the Mountain in front of a green screen that’s made to look like an authentic ‘El Rancho Grande’. It’s funny to hear Greek kids pretend to be American.
Example 2: Sugar, Poor Road Safety Education and an Unexpected Financial Institution
Kindly brought to us by HeyKids Nursery Rhymes, I had my suspicions about this music video version of The Muffin Man. Besides the fact that a woman walks around with six children, who don’t look alike, constantly leading them to unhealthy food (is she their teacher, parent or just a stranger?), all of the people look like bizarre caricatures of Westerners, through the lens of someone from somewhere else. My spidey-senses began to tingle even more when I noticed that one of the few building signs to have text on it in the whole clip was for ‘Bank of China’. Who on Earth puts ‘Bank of China’ behind a fireman in a kids’ music video? After some decent research, I discovered that HeyKids is from Hong Kong—nothing wrong with that at all, I just wanted to be right that it was secretly from somewhere other than the place that is vaguely depicted.
Anyway, the thing that disturbs me about this music video is that children are encouraged to stand in the middle of the road and hang on to the back of an ice-cream man’s bicycle esky/cooler without helmets.
Example 3: Manky Banana Dangle
In what is otherwise a great clip, The Wiggles’ rendition of Apples and Bananas, it’s somewhat off-putting to see a stringy bit of the external flesh of a banana dangling from Simon’s lip as he supports his fellow performers. Swallow it; don’t let it shake as you dance!
Example 4: Holy Hell
Let’s face it: The Farmer in the Dell is quite the ear-worm. I love singing along to this in just about any social setting in my most exaggerated American accent.
If you’re unfamiliar with the song, the former always ‘takes’ the latter… the farmer takes the wife, the wife takes the child, the child takes the cow and so on… until the mouse takes the cheese and the cheese stands alone, because it’s an inanimate hunk of curd.
How does the group named Kidsongs bring the clip to an end though? It zooms in to show the farmer’s wife using her face to fill the biggest hole in the piece of lonely cheese, through which the aforementioned mouse travelled.
I love cheese but this is the stuff of nightmares.
Anyway, where was I going with this article? Oh yeah, that’s right… quite simply, when you have a kid, you start to do, observe and enjoy things that would seem unbelievably ridiculous to the vast majority of people.
I would never have chosen to put any of these clips on by myself, but with Mac, it has become a daily ritual that I love. I will make sure to remind him of this playlist when he’s older (and probably sing the songs to annoy him).
For now, I hope that you will enjoy the linked playlist and music videos with me. Is there one that made you feel nostalgic? Anything that was more disturbing to you? Can you pick a favourite or offer something beyond this list? Let us know in the Hemispheric Discord.
This post was originally written in July 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.
Listeners will recall that in Hemispheric Views episode 059, Flip the Bit!, I revealed that I purchased an Xbox Series X. It’s my first new console purchase since I was in early high school, which was an Xbox 360. (I completely skipped the Xbox One generation.)
Since bringing the Series X home, I have been enjoying the chance to revisit the Halo franchise—remastered and in higher resolution—while playing newer games like Forza Horizon 5. Xbox Game Pass is truly impressive and it has been cool to play streamed games on devices like my iPad mini as well.
Another thing that appealed to me was the extensive list of backward-compatible games for the Series X and S, going all the way back to the original Xbox. I was impressed by the message below, which is displayed on the webpage.
Microsoft is more or less communicating that it’s a duty to keep old games running for fans and long-time customers. They call it a promise.
While this message is lovely, the reality is somewhat different from what you would expect. I checked the list for some of the old games that I already had and was disappointed that the majority of them are not supported. Excluding some of the games that my sister used to play on our old consoles, along with others that I left at home, here are the old games in my house right now that do not work on the new system.
I realise that this is a first-world problem and that while these games are important to or nostalgic for me, they may not be to others. Notably, there are some games from big media franchises in here, in particular The Simpsons: Hit and Run, Enter the Matrix and Tony Hawk’s Pro Skater 4. Not to mention, Forza Motorsport 3 is a part of the signature racing series on Xbox.
Still, this lack of compatibility for my old games did not discourage my purchase of the new console and I do not regret buying it. At some point you want to experience new graphics and gaming possibilities; old stuff unfortunately gets left behind in the process.
My question is simple though: how seriously does Microsoft take its promise? Are these games (and many others) being left behind because of licensing issues? Is there something that makes these games more difficult to update or maintain on newer systems?
Well, late last year, Microsoft answered these questions in this press release, which included the following statement:
While we continue to stay focused on preserving and enhancing the art form of games, we have reached the limit of our ability to bring new games to the catalog from the past due to licensing, legal and technical constraints. Thank you for being part of this journey with us.
I’m not sure what these constraints are specifically, however it’s saddening that so many other games will not receive the same treatment. While Apple has repeatedly left old software behind, for example, we generally receive a decent explanation about what doesn’t work anymore, such as the transition from 32-bit to 64-bit.
I express this concern about games not just as a consumer who wants to play them, but as someone who regularly pours a lot of effort into producing stuff online, such as blog posts and podcasts. How would I feel if all of these things that I have uploaded suddenly vanished or didn’t work on computers anymore? Game developers spend significant time and energy creating pieces of art that delight people around the world, then those things just aren’t maintained. Their work doesn’t receive the same level of reverence as classic films, art and albums. To those who may be blocking their maintenance or updates due to legal reasons, I ask: why? If you can refresh great assets and resell them to old and new fans alike, wouldn’t that be of interest to you? I’ve paid to see films that I already own once they’ve been remastered and brought back in retro screenings.
It’s great that Microsoft announced its intention to create an extensive library of backward-compatible games but the word ‘promise’ can be a dangerous one. If you can’t keep a promise, even if it isn’t your fault, then you probably shouldn’t make it.
Are there any old games that you enjoy which haven’t made the leap to newer systems? Is there something that you run in an emulator or an old system to keep your nostalgia alive? Let us know your story in the Hemispheric Discord #gaming channel.
This post was originally written in June 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.
Listeners of Hemispheric Views may recall that I am a fan of the reimagined series of Battlestar Galactica (2004); by extension, I also enjoyed its prequel, Caprica (2009), which portrays a hedonistic capital (of the Twelve Colonies) before its destruction by the Cylons. At the beginning of Caprica, which I don’t intend to spoil entirely, we witness the death of Zoe Graystone in a train explosion. Zoe is the daughter of brilliant inventor and businessman Daniel Graystone and she inherited much of his skill: prior to her death, she devised a way of essentially cloning herself digitally, using all of the information about her that existed in various systems, whether uploaded through their equivalent Caprican social media, online games or in her varied purchase history and accounts. After death, Zoe (or a version of Zoe) continued to exist in virtual reality as a kind of avatar.
The thought of being able to digitally clone one’s consciousness is fascinating but I find it equally intriguing to consider the wholeness (or fragmentation) of what we upload and share every day. What I mean is that every day in various social circumstances, we act as different people with discrete personas. When we go to work, we speak and approach situations differently from when we gather for a family dinner, ask a stranger for directions or purchase something over the counter. Depending on who’s with us and how much we trust them, we share more or less of ourselves, omit facts, strive to save face and even lie to protect ourselves and others. We use the Web in virtually the same way, communicating and displaying diverse (perhaps contradictory) elements of ourselves according to the networks and spaces in which we’re operating.
While Caprica portrays a perfect copy of a person (at first), assembled by myriad bits of information uploaded over a lifetime, what if the actual result of this hypothetical practice led to the total opposite?
Think about all the online accounts that you have. These could include your bank account, a governmental health login, eBay and Amazon accounts, that reward program that your signed up for to shut up a salesperson… but perhaps the best example is your social media profiles. I suggest this because they carry the greatest intentionality; while other accounts gather data purely from your mundane clicking through processes or filling out forms, social media profiles create a picture of you that is based on your deliberate publication of thoughts, feelings and milestones.
As an example, consider how some of my following accounts show disparate personas or elements of my personality, which when viewed by others in isolation or without cross-referencing, could give a totally different impression of who ‘Martin’ is:
- Personal Micro.blog and connected Hemispheric Views accounts — Martin is an amateur, independent, tech-focused podcaster and blogger who willingly makes himself known and shares personal moments and photos of his life, including family updates;
- WordPress — Martin is a pretentious writer who shares somewhat Seinfeldian rants in what he repackages as ‘ruminations’, with very few images of himself or others;
- Twitter — Martin is an academic podcaster who also talks about iPods too much and comments on threads connected to tertiary class-code hashtags;
- LinkedIn and Workplace — Martin is a ‘professional’ corporate podcaster, videographer and social media guy who shares stories about employment, branding and industry;
- Facebook — Martin is a virtually blank and faceless person who maintains an account only to manage the page for an academic journal—never to connect or communicate with others—after deleting his original personal account; and
- Discord, Slack and Patreon — depending on the group or subscription, Martin is a podcast producer or listener, a Matrix fan, a film guy, a PhD student or whatever.
Independent, academic, corporate, professional, amateur, known, faceless…
These words, when presented together, seem contradictory. Do they all represent the same person? The answer is obviously ‘yes’, as I’ve shared this with you, but it does show how we adapt our own image and switch personas, depending on the audience. I am a different person at work from what I am at home or when you hear me on Hemispheric Views. Do you really know Martin?
When I factor in all the other data that exists about me as well and circle back to the question of making a perfect digital clone, assuming that the technology could exist, would such a clone even be able to function and understand itself? As human beings, we exist in a constant state of self-contradiction and adaptation. When we reach the singularity, computers will have matched and then surpassed our cognitive abilities, but will they be able contradict themselves intentionally and unintentionally, reflexively or unreflexively, to their own advantage and detriment? Bugs aside, computers are governed by predictable systems and although we are biological machines, we have evolved to be many versions of ourselves in a way that computers can’t and may never be able to do. A digital clone may have all of one’s characteristics but would it know what to do with them? Could a perfect digital clone be imperfectly human?
Now, thinking about all the accounts that you own and social circumstances in which you find yourself every day, how many versions of you are there? Who are you?
This post was originally written in May 2022 for Hemispheric News; subscribe at the Patreon site One Prime Plus to receive this monthly newsletter and other benefits that are linked to the Hemispheric Views podcast.