Album: ‘Eternal Nightcap’

As I become more of a crusty, old curmudgeon (now at the ripe, old age of 26), I’m becoming increasingly intolerant of much of the popular music that is released today.

I often spend time thinking about what defines my musical taste and which particular genres I enjoy most… it can be difficult and is highly dependent on the mood of any given day.

An album to which I frequently listen for relaxation and general nostalgia is the great Eternal Nightcap by Australian band The Whitlams. Released in 1997, its lead single No Aphrodisiac took first place in national radio station Triple J’s Hottest 100 at the time and took the band to a high level of Australian reverence. It also features a fantastic trio of related songs under the shared moniker of Charlie, all of which deal with issues such a substance abuse and depression. There’s even a fantastic cover of Bob Dylan’s classic Tangled up in Blue.

When most people think of classic Australian bands, they mention names such as AC/DC, INXS, Midnight Oil and other typical rock outfits. To me, The Whitlams are the quintessential Australian group. Diverse in sound, cheeky and at times dry in their lyrics, they capture a feeling that makes sense to both urban and regional audiences, driven by precise piano melodies.

It’s hard to pin the band to a particular genre… kind of pop-rock, sort of folk, semi-alternative and at times easy listening and funk. Frontman Tim Freedman’s vocals are often not even akin to traditional singing; I would call his style ‘rhythmic enunciation’.

This album has always been a favourite of mine and was a staple in many long road trips when I was a child in the back seat of the family car. If you’re not familiar with the band and are after something that’s a bit different, check out this album.

Podcast: ‘When work stops working’

One of the major topics in the world of work today is the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’ or in other words, the current wave of digital automation. As computers and artificial intelligence become more complex and capable, many humans are (and will continue to be) replaced by robots and other digital systems.

Whenever I’ve heard businesspeople discuss this current revolution, it’s often expressed with an unmistakable sense of optimism…

“Think of the benefits! People won’t have to work as much anymore.”

“There will be huge efficiency gains.”

“So many new jobs will be created because someone will have to maintain the robots!”

Those are some of the typical lines that are trotted out by companies today.

I’ve never really been satisfied with any of these assertions, as they always seem to be delivered by people in high-up, managerial positions. Current CEOs and top-level managers get to enjoy their profit today and are unlikely to be affected by future automation. As the global population grows, there is a chance that not everyone will be addressed. Also, not everyone has the intelligence or inclination to become an advanced software developer or robot maintenance specialist. No amount of carry-on about the coding revolution in schools will convince me of that.

I was very pleased to listen to a recent episode of ABC RN’s The Philosopher’s Zone, titled ‘When work stops working’, which deals with some of the issues of modern work. Whilst it doesn’t (and can’t possibly) offer all the answers, it deals with the questions of what work means today in a more considered, philosophical and ethical fashion. Where are we heading? What are the ethics to consider? In a world where no one has to work, how is wealth distributed fairly? How can we change the culture of work? I’m definitely not entirely pessimistic about the future—change is good and inevitable—but the conversation needs to go deeper.

Source: ABC Australia

If you’ve ever wondered what work is actually for, have a listen to the episode. Work is such a major part of our society and it goes on to influence individuals’ personal identities. We should all take much more notice of how our jobs shape our lives.

iPhone Photography Awards 2018

The winners of the 2018 iPhone Photography Awards were announced this week and the included images are nothing short of breathtaking. From the artistic to the tragic, they all leave a very strong impression.

Source: Mateusz Piesiak/IPPA

What is perhaps most impressive as you scroll down the list and tap on each one, however, is the handsets that were used to shoot these images. Not all photos were taken with a recent iPhone X or 8 Plus; many were taken on older SE, 6s and even 5S models.

This made me reflect on just how different the art of photography is today and it’s now easy to pinpoint when this change began. We’ve just passed the tenth anniversary of the release of the iPhone 3G, which was the first truly international iPhone after the US-only first-gen model in 2007. The 3G brought the launch of the now mammoth iOS App Store along with it and at the time, it sported only a two-megapixel camera. It wasn’t even capable of taking video—a typical Apple feature omission, as when certain features aren’t up to scratch, they’re just chopped and included when ready.

The iPhone 3G was the first iPhone that I ever owned and I have bought multiple new models since. Whilst apps, messaging and full Web browsing were amazing, it was the camera that really resonated with me at the time. The idea that you had a decent camera with you everywhere that you went and that the camera came with its own pinch-to-zoom photo studio was flabbergasting.

Seeing what such tiny cameras are capable of today is a sign of just how far we’ve come since 2008. Improved aperture, secondary lenses, native software enhancements and third-party camera apps on iPhone have led many to leave their DSLR cameras at home. This is undoubtedly why Apple has so strongly pushed its yearly Shot on iPhone campaign and new support and tutorial pages. Not everyone needs a DSLR to capture the world with such precision and realistic colour; an iPhone does the job nicely indeed.

Considering all of this, check out the beautiful winning photos and maybe even take the time to look back at your own photo library from the last 10 years. Has your smartphone changed the way that you take photos? Do you take more or fewer? How do you organise them? Do you share them online? Most importantly, do you back them up? I doubt highly that there is a single person on the planet who has been untouched by the influence of the modern smartphone camera.

Never take the empowering technology in your pocket for granted.

The Conversation: ‘Apple acknowledges the iKid generation…’

Writers Michael Cowling and James Birt put together this great article on The Conversation, which is all about how Apple is tackling excessive use of its devices with the upcoming iOS 12 release later this year.

The authors discuss the powerful features that are coming in the form of ‘Do Not Disturb at Bedtime’, Screen Time app usage measurements and customisable notifications.

What stands out particularly to me, however, is this section:

And this week at WWDC, they [Apple] appeared to acknowledge some responsibility for creating balance in their lives… Parental controls can be activated through Family Sharing. They allow parents to put limits on their kids [sic] usage of individual apps, while allowing unlimited use of education apps.

Parental controls have existed in iOS for some time; it is great that Cowling and Birt are explaining the improvements that are being made in this space.

Parental Controls Icon
Parental Controls icon (Apple)

It is the idea of responsibility though that I find most interesting. Responsibility does fall on Apple to ensure healthy use of its devices, however, I believe that some parents just aren’t aware of these functions or even lack the interest in using them. More often than not, I visit restaurants where parents can be seen placating their children at the dinner table with iPads, iPhones and other competing devices.

For many, these devices have become digital babysitters. I applaud the (albeit late) effort to really enhance this functionality for families, but I believe that Apple should put even greater effort into promoting these tools, even if it takes incredibly annoying splash screens post-update or even TV and online advertisements.

Consumers (and particularly parents) are often the first to voice their annoyance with things like in-app purchases, games and children’s data privacy. Not all responsibility falls on tech companies; it is shared. I hope that adults themselves use these tools and make changes to their app usage behaviour, so that they can make better decisions and boundaries when it comes to their kids’ use of devices and apps.

Keynote Diversity

After much anticipation, the opening keynote for WWDC 2018 has been and gone, with numerous announcements surrounding performance, privacy, security and new features across all four of Apple’s software platforms.

Whilst many in the media have covered the numerous features and improvements that Apple announced (and whether it’s an exciting or ‘quiet’ year), there is one particular element of this keynote that I think deserves more attention.

Yesterday’s keynote included more women than just about any Apple keynote that I can remember. These women were not just brought on stage in a tokenistic or symbolic manner; they were brought onto the stage to discuss enhancements that they have worked on or directed themselves. The effort actually to include women began in 2015 (later than it should have been), with Jennifer Bailey (Apple Pay) and Susan Prescott (Apple News). This year, a female presenter named Jules even demonstrated new watchOS features whilst on an exercise bike in front of the crowd, finishing her segment with an ‘I love you’ message to her daughter.

Jules demonstrates watchOS 5 Workout app features. (Apple, 2018)

This is an outstanding display of company diversity and sets a fantastic example for all companies. Beyond the question of gender diversity, it also continues Apple’s trend of introducing developers and users to different people in the organisation. Back when Steve was in charge, he was often responsible for directing the entire show. Since Tim took the helm, he has adopted the role of ‘keynote bookender’, simply beginning and ending the presentation and allowing others to step forwards. This has enabled the company to highlight the hard work of many of its employees and avoid the reliance on one personality for the company’s overall success and image.

Furthermore, the videos prior to and at the end of the keynote showed a diverse range of developer stories, both in terms of gender and ethnic background.

I hope that Apple maintains its efforts in displaying a healthy mix in its public presentations. The ultimate goal is an even more diverse workforce and company leadership, the latter of which is already on the way to significant improvement with the addition of women over time such as Angela Ahrendts, Katherine Adams, Lisa Jackson, Isabel Ge Mahe and Deirdre O’Brien.

Waiting to #deletefacebook

When I first joined Facebook (towards the end of high school), I was very reluctant do so. I had witnessed others around me use various social media and networking sites — think MySpace and MSN Messenger — only for the most banal conversation. Chats that I saw consisted of nothing more than ‘What’s happening?’ and ‘LOL’. It just wasn’t for me.

The thing that finally convinced me to join was an exchange trip to Germany. I saw the value of remaining connected with friends overseas and understood that it would be useful to chat with local friends as well. Facebook was much simpler then, with a cleaner interface that focused more on actually seeing what your friends were doing and saying. As I entered university, undertaking a degree in communication, I joined even more social networks, hungry to understand more of these digital platforms.

Over the past few years, I shed almost all of those networks. Some were fun; some failed. In the end, I saw them for what they were: a waste of my time. Facebook was always the one that I wanted to delete the most, as I saw it transform into a bloated mess of advertisements and algorithmically-suggested posts.

Whenever I came close to deleting my account, I hesitated. I didn’t want to stay but my many of my friends and photo uploads were there. It seemed such a waste to discard a part of my digital history. Perhaps most importantly, I first spoke to my fiancée Natasha through Facebook, using Messenger. I eventually settled for account deactivation, keeping the account in a state of distant hibernation for quite some time.

With the recent news about Facebook’s data privacy issues with Cambridge Analytica, my frustration with the company and its practices had flared up again. Out of the blue last weekend, Natasha notified me of the Twitter conversation below.

20180320_Elon_Musk_and_Brian_Acton_Twitter

This finally pushed me over the edge. If Elon Musk, a man who runs several companies with millions of Facebook followers, could delete such an account without a moment’s hesitation, then why couldn’t I? I went straight to my study, visited Facebook on my Mac, downloaded my personal account archive and requested full account deletion. Not long afterwards, I received an email saying that it would be deleted within 14 days. Now I’m simply waiting for it to be deleted. They must be snapping the hard drives by hand.

This story of mine is in no way extraordinary, however I feel that it’s useful to share, particularly after spending approximately a decade on the network. Regardless of your level of devotion to Facebook, if you have an account, then you are in some way feeding their machine. The company has been either unwilling to change or is in complete denial that it needs to do so.

Other networks have their own issues too. I love to use Twitter and see it as the best example of social media that can democratise global conversation; it can connect you with people whom you’ve never met in person and (hopefully) expose you to new ideas. The company still has a long way to go to deal with issues of online abuse and trolls, however, and I look forward to seeing them actually do something about it.

For the moment, Instagram is safe on my iPhone, as it seems to have some degree of managerial independence from its parent, Facebook. My finger, however, is always hovering over the button.

Companies that hoard people’s data and use it inappropriately should be paying very close attention to what is happening right now.

If you have ever considered deleting your account, then ask yourself: why haven’t you done it yet? Question the value that it brings to your life. Do you just scroll aimlessly? Do you wonder why you connected with people with whom you never actually speak or meet in person? Are you comfortable with the use of your private information to deliver ‘personalised’ ads?

The time has come to delete Facebook.

Apple’s Music Strategy: Return of the ‘Pod’

Apple’s new HomePod has certainly proven to be divisive, with some reviewers lauding its superior sound quality and hardware design and others criticising Siri’s general intelligence.

I’m not going to review every element of the device; that has already been done to death. I also have no home automation accessories, so discussing HomePod’s integration with HomeKit and other smart accessories is also pointless here. I want to discuss HomePod’s audio quality and how it threads into Apple’s broader music strategy.

I am extremely impressed with the audio quality and can attest to the immersive ‘3D’ effect that HomePod projects throughout a room. It even sounds better than two other decent stereo and soundbar systems that I have at home. I have never heard the level of crispness and audio separation from any home/consumer speaker that I have experienced with this device. Bass is powerful but does not distort; vocals and higher tones are crisp and come to the fore (without sounding over-produced). Song with electronic elements really shine and I have found myself playing OK Go’s song Obsession a lot on HomePod. It sounds fantastic.

What I’m really excited about is Apple’s renewed focus on music. In the noughties, Apple transformed itself into an effective music device and service company with its iPod + iTunes strategy. People who had never owned a Mac (or any other Apple device) were exposed to an array of colourful, reliable music players and a new world of digital purchases. More people entered the Apple ecosystem and with Apple’s product ‘halo effect’, more than likely purchased a Mac and other accessories. As time went on, the torch was passed onto devices like the iPhone and iPad, as the iPod slowly faded away.

The iPod + iTunes area has already earned nostalgic status, as nowadays we enjoy the even greater convenience of streaming millions of songs instantly through our smartphones. It now seems archaic to plug a music player or smartphone into a desktop computer. Apple was also famously late to the streaming party, only now catching up to Spotify’s subscription numbers in the United States. No doubt, this delay would have been influenced by Steve Jobs’s personal views on streaming — he believed strongly in the idea of owning your own music. Remember Cover Flow in iTunes? It was all about creating the equivalent digital experience of flicking through a shelf of vinyl records.

We are now seeing Apple assert itself in the music space again, hitting the reset button after a long, gradual period of declining iTunes music sales. With HomePod and its successful AirPods, Apple is building a musical hardware experience equivalent in scope to its Siri strategy. Siri is everywhere, across all of our devices. The iPod once promised to put 1000 songs in your pocket, and now with HomePod and AirPods, Apple is continuing the ‘Pod’ moniker to show users how they get access to their music in high quality everywhere.

Of course, these great hardware experiences feed back into the success of Apple Music and its increasing number of subscribers. Apple has always said that music is ‘in its DNA’. As the iTunes app on the Mac has become more bloated, we couldn’t always be so sure that Apple had the same focus on music. I’m optimistic about where these things are heading. Perhaps the biggest wish that we all have is the final separation of iTunes’s separate components, delivering dedicated music, podcast and video apps to create true consistency with the experience on iOS.

For now, the HomePod isn’t perfect, but I’m pleased to be an early adopter and see the new software features roll in…