Daily Rumination No. 17: Sautéed Brain

During my lunch break today, I sat on a bench outside and happily listened to the latest episode of Accidental Tech Podcast through my AirPods. All of a sudden, one of the IT people from my building walked past and yelled, ‘I’ve seen you wearing those earphones quite a bit; aren’t you afraid that they’ll fry your brain?’!.

I responded matter-of-factly, ‘Well, they run on low-energy Bluetooth and they don’t have any cellular radios, so as far as I’m aware my brain should be fine. We’re surrounded by Wi-Fi in that building anyway, so there’s no escape’.

Linking back to my Daily Rumination No. 14: Unwanted Comments, this is yet another example of an interjection that I did not request. The spontaneous commentator could see that I was in the middle of enjoying my lunch and listening to something, yet felt the need to disturb me with the still unproven theory of mobile-phone-induced-brain-frying. Also in motion, I can assume the commentator was hoping to achieve the interjection-equivalent of a drive-by shooting, without a response. My answer also seemed to flummox this person, as once they continued, they had to pause awkwardly and look around the adjacent car park to remember where they had parked their vehicle.

For all I know, there could be long-term effects of wearing wireless headsets that are yet to be discovered. I’ve read much of the research on arguably riskier mobile-phone use, however, and it is still inconclusive.

What I find particularly amusing is that the spontaneous commentator is in the IT department. I have seen this person surrounded by numerous activated devices and sporting a BLUETOOTH HEADSET on Skype for much of the working day.

Until any new scientific discoveries prove such theories to be true, please excuse me if I fail to take this person seriously.

Daily Rumination No. 13: Key Leadership ‘Learnings’ of Collaborative Synergy and Digital Disruption #AI #blockchain

All social media have their advantages and disadvantages. Facebook and Instagram are great ways to keep up with people in your life… but they also decimate your online privacy. Twitter offers an efficient feed for following the latest news and trends… but has a habit of encouraging right-wing, extremist garbage. YouTube hosts the world’s most extensive video library… but has algorithmically enabled online child predators through its comment system.

I could go on and on, however I wish to discuss a less controversial network in more detail: LinkedIn. Like the aforementioned others, it has its advantages. The network provides powerful tools for job-seekers to apply for roles that suit their skills. It also enables recruiters to reach larger numbers of candidates in a more personal way. I use the network each day in my role and it is genuinely useful for sharing stories and promoting jobs.

With these advantages, however, comes a gigantic heap of daily annoyance. I’m not just talking about advertisements; I’m talking about a seemingly infinite stream of empty, meaningless content from puffed-up, narcissistic business types who all dream of being the next Steve Jobs. I have a newsflash for these people: Steve Jobs did not become Steve Jobs by desperately tracking clicks on LinkedIn… he did it by actually working.

For some time, this content has come in the form of ‘broetry’. ‘Broems’ are LinkedIn posts that usually contain some sort of inspiring story about growth, recruitment or career success by some enlightened corporate professional, however they’re typed line by line with large gaps, forcing you to expand and commit to the post. You can learn more about them here.

Nowadays, I see many more posts in the form of cheesy leadership and quotation memes, which act as cover images for clickbait articles. Some quotes are attributed and others just look like a rush job for the sake of having an attention-grabbing image the feed. Of course, many of them are accompanied by excessive hashtags to hit keywords and attract attention. In the case of really long hashtags without title case, this leads to accessibility issues.

In my spare time, I have collected a range of screenshots of such content in my LinkedIn feed. I actively dislike or report all of them and yet they still appear. Here are some examples, with the profile names of each LinkedIn user omitted.

Funnily enough, this image and its linked article had very little to say.

There’s nothing like boosting someone’s self-esteem with financial terms.

Of course, Steve Jobs had to make an appearance. It’s kind of this user to have highlighted the important bit, however, I’m sure that Steve would have been most displeased with the use of the Windows typeface Calibri.

Richard Branson’s a very popular subject and this is the meme that I see the most frequently.

Here’s another one… nothing like a truism!

Sometimes he looks like Jesus but essentially tells you to lie to others for your own gain.

I’m not sure what Jon Stewart has to do with business networking but #hashtag and #morehashtags.

Inevitably, we start to see memes about what the difference between a manager and a leader is. #inspiring

Now this is a beautiful message but let’s be honest that titles, positions and flowcharts are all that really interest these people.

Apparently, bosses are completely incapable of forming the lip movements to utter plural first-person pronouns.

This is just common sense; otherwise your restrooms will never be cleaned.

It doesn’t matter how kind you are—apparently the cost of raising a child in Australia (until the age of 17) is $297,600, so this user should check their figures.

What about the ones that say ‘pull’?

Sandra survived The Net and Speed, so she knows what she’s talking about.

I implore anyone who posts such images to stop. LinkedIn can be a genuinely interesting place and powerful tool when it’s used properly. This just turns it into an office-obsessed Facebook.

For those who don’t do this, you can help too. Don’t click on them, don’t like them and certainly don’t comment on them. That’s what they want you to do.

Daily Rumination No. 11: iPhone Feng Shui

Nerds seem to be in a permanent state of restlessness when it comes to iPhone home screens and I’m no exception. As the most personal device that we own (besides Apple Watch, of course), the iPhone is a kind of expression for our identities.

How do you organise your screen? Should icons be arranged alphabetically, by colour or by category?

How do you feel about custom icons for third-party apps?

What is your attitude to folders?

Should you use the stock Podcasts app or a third-party one?

Wallpaper or no wallpaper?

Full grid or spaces left over?

Do you shun icons with white backgrounds or borders?

You could go on forever with such questions. The only thing that’s for certain is that the arrangement will change again, in favour of different styles or new apps. I’m forever tweaking and moving things based on what I think looks the best, is most accessible for my thumb or in whatever way I think will influence healthy smartphone usage. Remove social media apps to abstain or leave them to challenge my will power?

I can seriously go back through my iCloud Photo Library and see old screenshots of how my iPhone’s home screen once looked. It’s amusing to see what was important at the time, how the icons have changed and how our screen resolutions have exploded.

So, for the purposes of history and my own personal amusement when I end up changing everything again next week, here is my current home screen…

I’ve opted for no wallpaper, as I like the way that the original iPhone look makes the icons pop. Also, whilst I once questioned the use of websites added as icons to the springboard, it is quite nice to jump straight into a preferred blog or news service without having to browse another menu or set of bookmarks.

Let’s see how long mine lasts this way…

Now ask yourself: if you’re not constantly rearranging your home screen for optimum usability and virtual attractiveness, are you really living?

Daily Rumination No. 10: Teeming with Issues

In many ways, it’s easier to work now than ever before, particularly if you’re out of the office. We’re spoilt with increasingly diverse and customisable devices and powerful, digital communication channels such as iMessage, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom, Slack and so on.

The same way that email and other apps were supposed to lead to the utopian paperless office (yeah, not sure about that), these new channels were supposed to replace email. That hasn’t really happened either, at least not yet.

At work, I use Microsoft 365 with my colleagues to ensure that all of our shared files and conversations are kept in sync. Although I’ve always been a Mac zealot, I’ve generally been impressed with the way that Microsoft has tied together Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Skype into a comprehensive online suite that works on a range of platforms. You can open things just about anywhere.

The really useful element, however, is Microsoft Teams. As a kind of front-end for SharePoint, this desktop and mobile app offers a space for team collaboration and discussion, one-on-one and group chats and also file browsing and editing. It really is a compelling replacement for email in an internal setting, as you can send links in chats to various documents and leave comments within the file system, rather than sending multiple versions back and forth as attachments.

Still, Microsoft lacks taste and common sense in its design when it comes to the file system interface. I hear numerous Apple-focused podcasters complain about the Files app on iOS but really, that feels like a considered piece of art when contrasted with Teams.

Here’s a screenshot of a file list in Teams…

Other than a column that shows the names of the creators, which I have cropped out, this is what you get in the app when you want to browse files. There is no image-preview function like Quick Look in macOS, there is no way to change the list view to an icon or thumbnail and rather than display thumbnails next to each file, you are presented with a useless, generic icon that reminds you that they’re pictures. Thanks, scoop.

In addition, if you click or tap on a file in the list, it fills the screen with the image but does not support arrow-key or swipe input to flick between files. The process is simply to open then exit, open then exit.

There isn’t even multiple-window support on the desktop! You can’t open chat, teams or file views as separate spaces to work on more than one of these interfaces at once. If this is supposed to be the way that you collaborate with your team on a daily basis, they’ve made it as narrow as possible, so that multitasking is almost unfeasible.

Arguably, whilst Teams is the same for macOS, using this file system is arguably much better on a Mac, away from the app. Whilst the saving and synchronising of files is unreliable when integrated in the Windows Explorer, it’s super-easy to include it in the Mac’s Finder. Once added, almost like you would with iCloud Drive or Dropbox, the SharePoint folder can even be added as a folder or stack to the dock, connecting to the system and opening all files in their relevant apps, with autosaving on by default.

I find it utterly baffling that Microsoft continues to offer a better experience on platforms like iOS and macOS than it does on Windows. I’m not sure of the exact cause, however, I believe that macOS as a system is simply more reliable and facilitates a smoother, more integrated experience for third parties as well.

The Paris Review: ‘Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction’

Whilst scrolling through Twitterrific on my iPhone recently, I stumbled upon the article Reading in the Age of Constant Distraction by Mairead Small Staid. The article is fantastic.

Based on Sven Birkerts’ work The Gutenberg Elegies: The Fate of Reading in an Electronic Age, the article details the ways in which long- and short-form writing (i.e. print vs. digital) not only affect the way that we read but also how we understand ourselves and the passing of time. As a person who works in digital communications, I certainly feel the inner conflict of having to engage with lots of short-form content but often wishing to sit down with a longer text like a book.

One part of Staid’s article particularly resonated with me:

I was born in 1988, two years before the development of HTML. I didn’t have a computer at home until middle school, didn’t have a cell phone until I was eighteen. I remember the pained beeping of a dial-up connection, if only faintly. Facebook launched as I finished up high school, and Twitter as I entered college. The golden hours of my childhood aligned perfectly with the fading light of a pre-internet world; I know intimately that such a world existed, and had its advantages.

Whilst I am a few years younger than Staid, I feel like my childhood also fell into a kind of in-between period. I was born in 1992 and my first computer was my family’s Power Macintosh, so I was born and raised in a time when the Internet was certainly present. I also remember the agony of waiting for webpages to load, with the dial-up modem blinking frantically in the corner.

There was no computer in my pocket or on my wrist; the only computer to which I had regular access was on a desk in the study. This highly specific physical context for computer use afforded time for me to explore other things and most importantly, read books.

Last year, I deleted my Facebook account, shut down other profiles, reduced the number of people whom I follow on Twitter and committed to writing and reading longer texts more often. This includes reading books and making an effort to maintain my Daily Ruminations here on Lounge Ruminator. They’re not super-long but they are certainly wordier than normal social media posts.

When I look at my own use of devices, I feel motivated to limit it because I remember a time when reading a computer was kind of like reading a book—you had to go to a different room and set the time aside from others.

If we want to declutter our digital lives and pick up a book, we need to do this consciously. Screen Time in iOS 12 is a great tool for this and if used properly, it can inform you about how you’re using apps and services and whether you need to cut back.

I love my iPhone and Apple Watch but I have significantly reduced the number of app notifications that I can receive. This has made a difference and I plan to continue improving my digital habits.

Poem: Happy Birthday, Mac

When I was the tender, young age of five,
My parents bought our very first Mac.
From the moment we pressed it alive,
We knew there was no looking back.

Through the classic OS I did click,
Unaware of the company’s woes.
I was in love with a GUI so slick,
It could have collapsed right under my nose.

More products then entered our homes,
So many iThings and speakers and watches!
Would you believe they wrote their own tome,
Showing all of their fine design touches?

I look back on all I’ve created,
Whether for school or for work or for fun,
And nothing could be more surely stated,
Only with Mac could it all have been done.

Years later, through transitions aplenty,
The Mac has changed in ways both big and small.
Yet after 35 years we know definitely,
Its true spirit remains for us all.

Happy birthday, Mac.

Why HomePod Is My Favourite New(er) Apple Product

It has been some time since I first wrote about HomePod. Considering the general tech news angle that HomePod hasn’t been quite the success that Apple had imagined—which we don’t actually know for sure or in any real detail—I thought that it would be good to revisit the device and discuss how I’ve been using it.

Back in February when I first wrote about it, I only had one HomePod and was really impressed by the quality of the sound and oomph that it could produce. Set-up was easy, the build quality was fantastic and the integration with Apple Music and my own library was seamless. I now have two HomePods on my television cabinet, forming what Apple calls a ‘stereo pair’. The term ‘stereo’ is used here purely to represent two HomePods that coordinate as left and right speakers. In reality, they are communicating with each other via AirPlay 2, directing sound intelligently through each of the (combined) fourteen tweeters and two subwoofers. Both devices also contain their own custom amplifiers.

‘Stereo’ is transformed into a deeper, somewhat unbelievable soundstage that fills the room without any distortion with unparalleled audio separation. Old tracks shine and vocals are directed to the gap between the HomePods, making it seem like the person singing is right there in front of you.

HomePod stereo pair accompanied by Pâté the Duck…

The stereo pair also functions as my home theatre set-up, with sound diverted from my Apple TV when streaming movies and television programmes. To expand my home audio experience without paying for yet more HomePods, I followed the wise advice of writer and podcaster Jason Snell, picking up an old AirPort Express to integrate my old iPod Hi-Fi. This plays from the other side of my home, so that music continues to be crisp and audible even when I leave the lounge room.

People often complain that Siri doesn’t hear them properly on their Apple devices and that with the HomePod, it’s unclear if their voice has been picked up. I find this to be quite the exaggeration. My HomePod stereo pair is always quick to respond to commands (with 12 combined microphones!) and the only delays that I have noticed have been caused by Internet connection issues. This is fixed by rebooting the modem. Only once have I ever had to unplug the HomePods to reset them. Whether requesting music, sending messages, conducting phone / FaceTime Audio calls or using Siri Shortcuts to start a podcast episode on Overcast, Siri on the HomePods is generally reliable and fun to use.

Whilst I am impressed with the current accessory options for HomeKit, such as smart locks, automated lights and weather stations, I haven’t felt the need to dive into this world of expensive products. Sure, it would be great to bark at my HomePods to pull up a window-shade, however, it still isn’t necessary or particularly affordable to construct a smart home in 2019. Perhaps in the future!

For some time, Rene Ritchie of iMore and Vector has discussed the notion of ‘minimal delightful product’ when discussing Apple hardware. He defines it this way:

The minimum delightful product is that version of a new product which allows customers to experience the maximum amount of affinity with the smallest feature set.

His point is that the most successful Apple offerings have been those that might not have done everything upon release, but what they did do they did very well. iPhone, iPod and AirPods are great examples of this. The Apple Watch, whilst hyped at launch, was not necessarily able to achieve this minimal delight when it was first released to the public in 2015, with a plethora of apps and functions. I love Apple Watch and have worn it since the beginning, however it’s fair to argue that it lacked focus upon release. It tried to be too much at the time, whereas now Apple focuses its marketing communication on notifications, health and fitness.

Many would disagree, I’m sure, but HomePod fits this description of minimal delight for me. The device has great expandability through Siri and HomeKit, however, these are things that don’t get in the way at all. The HomePod, by design, is minimal in appearance and function and continues to be marketed mainly as a premium music-playback device. Tap on the top to control playback and volume; use your voice to request your music.

Whilst I am no musician, to me, music is one of the absolute greatest parts about life. It helps you to escape, unwind and even think clearly, in a way that can transcend even film and books. The design of the HomePod adds to this—I believe that those who have criticised its design and even price (as a higher-quality product than the Amazon Echo, for example) have misunderstood it. Moving away from listening to music on vinyl, your Mac, CDs or even iPhone, through HomePod you get to experience music as an entirely audio-based experience, with zero visual distractions. As depicted in its now famous Welcome Home ad by Spike Jonze, you can walk into your lounge room, lie down, request some music and have it simply happen. To me, this is pure delight based on minimal interaction. I don’t have to navigate anything—it just works.

I would go so far as to say that the HomePod is my favourite new Apple product today. AirPods are awesome for music and podcasts on the go but they’re a private experience. iPhone, Mac and iPad are devices that I love but work often follows me through them. My cellular Apple Watch Series 4 liberates me from social media and other apps, as I often leave my iPhone at home when exercising, going to dinner with my wife or even ducking out to the shops. Still, as brilliant as it is, the watch still keeps you connected.

Your HomePod doesn’t ping you with emails or pop up with calendar invitations for meetings. It is the pinnacle of premium minimalism and fulfils a remarkably simple purpose. I can request almost anything that I want, whether for a private musical escape or even a goofy dance party with my wife. When Apple says that music is in its DNA, I believe it.