listening binging on Ocean by new Minneapolis-based Tiny Deaths.
What is it about SUVs that inspire people to buy stuff for it? The used Subie we bought didn’t come with a roof rack, so I bought and installed a Yakima last weekend. Now I just need to get a ski rack for it and we’ll be ready for Tahoe!
After nearly six years of renting ski gear, last year we bit the bullet and finally bought our own stuff. We found great deals on used, last season boots and skis off Ebay and SkiButlers — all in came under $250 each.
After spending less than a week at home between ~Nov 20th and Jan 10th, it’s been nice staying at home these past two weekends. We’re re-doing the master bedroom (Chrissy wanted to try out Laurel & Wolf), and getting to all the sort of things a domesticated couple does around a house.
This inevitably led me to face all the things that are in the “backlog”. Half finished projects. Neglected tasks. Nascent seeds of ideas that have yet to germinate. Some of these are embarrassingly overdue, like finishing the last 20% of the work needed to publish photos from our New Zealand & Australia trip (from three years ago) and the Patagonia trip (from twoyears ago). Just opening Lightroom and staring at the over 2000 stills fills me with quasi dread.
Others are just blocked by one, two, or a multitude of steps or excuses. Selecting pictures to frame and send to our bridal party. The half disassembled, out-of-warranty, telephoto lens I tried fixing myself (it broke halfway through the Torres del Paine hike) but hit a devlish stripped screw in the middle. A bulging book of ticket stubs and event mementos that is dire need of organizing. Setting up those home security cams. Getting the backyard deck re-finished. I wasn’t updating this blog. It’s been forever since I’ve bothered publishing to Flickr, something i used to do often and with joy. Had I stopped because my good lens was broken, or have I just lost that creative spark?
It sounds obvious, but I was just spending more time than I’d like to admit bouncing endlessly between various social networks and websites. On the phone. On the tablet. On my computer. Was it making me that much more fulfilled or satisfied? I’m guessing no.
So I’m going to be cutting back. I’ve deleted the Twitter and Facebook apps from my phone. I’m scaling back the frequency that I browse the same old websites over and over again. Let’s see what comes out of this.
With the Iowa caucus almost here to officially kick off the 2016 presidential election, I figure now is a good time to comment on the Democratic race. (The Republican contest is a colossal joke and embarrassment to America). Much has been made in the youthful, loyalist, blue core of Burnie Sanders. I, however, remain unimpressed.
Sanders comes across as a narrow focused firebrand. His only real strength seems to be railing against unbridled capitalism, and he struggles mightily on topics that aren’t in that wheelhouse. Not only that, to a casual observer like myself, he comes across like a grumpy, angry, old uncle waving his arms around rather than an effective leader. A major role of the American President is to be a figurehead for the country, and thus presence and gravitas matter. Sanders has neither to fill those shoes.
I think he is also a terrible candidate for the general election. As absurd as it seems, most people in America have a deep distrust and loathing for anything “socialist”. Sanders openly refers to himself as one. You can just imagine the sort of GOP attack ads conjuring up a red scare. My hunch is that moderate GOP voters who might be unenthused by prospects of a Trump or Cruz candidacy will be galvanized into voting against someone they think is a socialist. And it’s not clear to me yet how large his supporter base is beyond the far left youth or the overwhelmingly white populations of Iowa and his neighbor-state of New Hampshire.
He also seems like a poor political strategist. Just as the far left liberals love to mock Republican proposals as being fiscally irresponsible, Sanders’ plans too fail to pass the responsibility test. Recently he announced some (poorly detailed and widely panned) plans for a single payer health care system. President Obama spent the first three years of his presidency on the Affordable Care Act, a hard fought battle that barely passed Congress and continued to weather attacks at the state, Congressional and Supreme Court levels for years afterward. Now Sanders wants instead to go after something even more radical to the American public? Don’t get me wrong, I firmly believe that a single payer health care system is great, but these past eight years of watching a breathtakingly obstructionist GOP-controlled Congress and a suspicious (and to be blunt, dimly aware) American public has made me skeptical that there is appetite for such radical transformations. Sanders income tax restructuring plans also seem politically damaging as well, and provides even more oppo for GOP attack ads.
I’ve been closely observing American politics at the federal level since I was in undergrad (nothing unique here). After seeing how grotesque the Republican party has become at practically all levels of government (Exhibit #1427: in my home state of North Carolina), keeping the GOP out of office is more important to me than any one candidate’s rhetoric, resume, or personality. A Presidential election is not just about who sits in the Oval Office. It’s about which party picks the leaders across the entire executive branch and most of the regulatory agencies. It’s about who nominates Supreme Court justices for lifetime appointments. It’s about which party steers the legislative agenda.
In the big picture of what the American Presidency means, Bernie Sanders just doesn’t meet the mark.
I’ve worn an Apple Watch now for almost three months. My brother-in-law Cyril gave me a stainless steel 42mm Watch as a thoughtful, generous gift. He felt that if I worked on it, I should have one — even as a memento.
For context, from August 2013 to June 2014 I was a system hardware manager on the Apple Watch program. The team I was on focused on the electricals of the product. Even though I’m no longer with Apple, I won’t discuss details of the development other than to say that I deeply admired my immediate management, loved the camaraderie and talent of my team, and found satisfaction working on the brand new technologies needed to develop the Watch. I was not involved at all with its software or user interface development.
I like wearing watches, but I’ve never had an expensive watch because I can’t justify spending hundreds of dollars on a timepiece. My daily wearer is a $30 knockoff Omega Seamaster that I bought at a Shenzhen market; I just like the way it looks. When the Apple Watch finally came out last April, I didn’t get one. Too expensive for a gadget that seemed like a luxury toy.
After using one for three months, my initial thought hasn’t changed.
Rectangular watch form factors don’t excite me, but I’ve come around to accepting the Apple Watch’s shape. It clearly shows itself as a gadget, with its rectangular slab of dark glass. Cyril chose the more expensive Watch style, and with it comes materials like polished stainless steel, sapphire, and zirconia. The fit and finish is superb, and the materials make it easily more classy and higher quality than any other smartwatch. Given the enormous amount of engineering and trouble that went into the back crystal design — with its four sapphire windows for the heart rate sensor — I’m amused at how little I ever see it or pay attention to it. The crown is smooth, if a little too slippery. Another mild annoyance is the inductive charging puck — the magnetic force between the Watch and puck is too weak in my opinion (likely the stainless steel model is heavier than the aluminum one, and it must be difficult to tune the magnets for the different weights). The puck rotates around too easily, and the weak connection doesn’t inspire confidence. The charging itself works like a charm. The much hyped taptic engine is sadly neglected by the software.
The Watch came with a high design leather loop band, but was too long to fit on my small wrists. I bought a more traditional 3rd party leather band instead.
The Software User Experience
So what, exactly, is the Apple Watch supposed to do? Based on the exhausting website about the Watch, it can apparently do a dizzying amount of things. But after three months of use, for me it only really does two things: tell time, and provide notifications. I haven’t even bothered with the fitness or Workout app, mostly because it’d feel incredibly weird to work out with a seven hundred dollar fancy watch with a nice leather band. Give me a Garmin any day. Maybe because I don’t use the Workouts app or the Maps app, I can go two days in between charging the battery.
Since getting the Watch, I spent a lot of time traveling. Two trips to Kentucky, a trip to China, and a trip to India. I loved the modular watch face where I could show four timezones. Very practical and useful to me.
Notifications? Sure, it was sometimes convenient to glance down and see an email or message that came in, or an ESPN score update. But way too often the screen wouldn’t light up when I flicked my wrist, leading me to exaggerate wrist actions or to reach over and push the crown to wake it up. And I found the Apple Watch experience quite subpar with long sleeves. But much easier than pulling out my phone? Hundreds of dollars more convenient? Absolutely not.
Here are other observations of the software and user experience as a whole:
- For as much hype the taptic engine received, it’s surprisingly under utilized and neglected. Even with strong mode enabled, I see little nuance in the alerts I receive. I wanted the ability to set taptic-only silent alarms, but the software strangely has no option for taptic-only alarms. Only way to do it is to set an alarm then mute the Watch. Huh?
- Little to no coherency in how to interact with screens. Sometimes spinning the crown scrolls up and down. Sometimes it advances the software forward and backward in time. Sometimes pushing the screen down (the Force Touch feature) reveals new actions, sometimes it does nothing. There’s no indication either way. Sometimes I swipe up and down to reveal new screens, sometimes I swipe left and right. The entire user interface is confusing.
- No built in calculator app. While traveling, it would have been useful for quick currency conversions. Sure, there’s a currency conversion app but it’s too clumsy & slow to use. So even though it’s 2015, Apple apparently didn’t learn from the iconic Casio calculator watch.
- I tried the Maps app once. One feature is that the taptic engine will alert you for an upcoming turn. But same alert is used for both right and left turns. Why? Why not use unique alerts, like two taps for a left turn, three taps for a right turn?
- I used my Watch once to pay for something. It’s awkward and I get a lot of strange looks. Not a lot of places I go to even support NFC payments, and if they do, its awkward to use a Watch with the payment terminals. The Wallet app is still confusing for gift cards and loyalty cards.
- Where are the apps? Nearly a year after launch, the app ecosystem is dreadful. I tried using the Starbucks app, but it took 10+ minutes to load. Almost every third party app suffers from slow loading times — an experience that is broken for a gadget that is all about quick interactions. Five of my colleagues have been wearing an Apple Watch for more than six months. I asked all of them what third party apps they use that I must be missing out on. The answer was none. Now, United Airlines and American Airlines deserve credit for their Apple Watch apps. They actually supported complications (small features on the watch face itself), and did provide timely information quite easily while traveling. Being able to glance down to check the time while striding off an airplane and seeing my next gate was cool. See photo above.
So what am I left with? A superbly engineered piece of hardware crippled by a confusing user interface and poorly executed software features. A luxury gadget toy that is hyped as being able to do all these amazing things but only actually a couple of things really well. What is this thing really supposed to be? A watch? A companion device to my phone? A fashion object? A health device?
I can’t think of any other $700 gadget I own that does so little of consequence and actual, unique utility. Even at the cheaper price point of the aluminum Sport model, it seems much too expensive of a toy.
I’ll conclude with this final, fitting experience with the Apple Watch. Yesterday, I tried using it in nightstand mode at my bedside, with an alarm set for the morning. The alarm volume was too soft to wake me, but it did set me into an odd dreaming state. In my dream, I could hear these chimes but couldn’t figure out where they were coming from. I ripped off my watch, threw my phone in a closet. I paced around an imaginary house, closing door after door while the chimes refused to go away. Ten minutes later, I realized with a grimace that it was the actual Watch on my nightstand, and woke up for real.
Turns out the Apple Watch is a pretty terrible alarm clock too.
For the last year, I’ve been using the excellent f.lux app for my Mac. The app uses time-of-day and geolocation to adjust the color temperature of the laptop’s display for optimal viewing at night. The blue light content of our digital displays adds strain to our eyes in the dark, so f.lux makes the light warmer — less blue, more yellow. It does this gradually, so your eyes naturally adjust to it.
I also enjoyed this feature on my Android phone as well; I could download a number of apps that offered this capability. Apple, however, chose not to open up their iOS software to support third party apps from changing the display’s color temperature. F.lux reportedly tried working with Apple for five years to get their app into iOS, to no avail. Two months ago, F.lux found an unconventional way to bring their app to iOS devices, but Apple shut them down.
Now, in the latest iOS software update, Apple is offering a “Night Shift” mode which does exactly the same thing as f.lux. Rather than supporting third party developers who want to enhance the iOS user experience, Apple often chooses instead to block them and then implement the same ideas on their own — often years later.
This behavior directly contradicts Apple’s emphasis on the user experience, but sadly is nothing new for Apple’s software team. Other examples include using the volume-button as a shutter and the embarrassing back-and-forth regarding using the mute switch as a rotation lock.
T-Mobile has received a lot of criticism lately for reducing the quality of streaming video as part of its new “BingeOn” program. As someone who rarely streams video over cellular, I couldn’t care less. And you know, I love T-Mobile. We switched to it from AT&T last year on recommendation from our friend Gurpreet, and couldn’t be happier.
At AT&T, we paid ~$115 a month for 3GB LTE data shared between two lines. For exactly the same price, with T-Mobile we get unlimited LTE data, 7GB shared tethered hotspot data, and the real kicker — free unlimited international roaming data. When traveling to Germany, South Africa, China, and India we weren’t limited to WiFi hotspots for data. It was awesome.
To me, hearing people blast T-Mobile for reducing quality of streaming video over cellular would be like Google employees complaining about the quality of their free, unlimited guacamole…
Chrissy and I spent two weeks over New Year’s in India. The purpose was two-fold: for Chrissy to meet the extended family who couldn’t attend the wedding, and for both of us to experience the sights/sounds/scents/tastes of India.
Honestly though, we were tired before the plane took off. All the travel we’d done since September – with stress from work added in – had worn us down, both mentally and physically. Honeymoon to South Africa & Mauritius. Couple trips to China. Thanksgiving and Christmas in Kentucky. And let’s face it — India is not an easy travel destination, especially for the first time visitor.
I’m very grateful and thankful to my parents for organizing it (what a wedding gift!). They came with us to show Chrissy where and how they grew up. To walk their own neighborhoods, eat at their favorite haunts that still exist 50 years later. But this trip really hammered home how much the country of their birth has changed. A decade ago, my mom longed to return to Mumbai. That feeling is gone now.
I’ll be sharing some more thoughts and pictures in the weeks to come. India is not a place you can summarize in just one post.
It’s 2016, and a time to try to kickstart this site again. I put on a fresh coat of paint in order to strip away the superfluous stuff. My goal is to post more often on trends and news, with an occasional bit of media for variety.
I’ve tried doing this on Twitter, but its 140 character limit is too limiting for how I wish to express myself. Melih’s blog continues to be an inspiration and model to follow.
Now help me find the discipline to keep this going in the new year