Tom & Dori

I don’t think I ever bought one of Tom Negrino’s books. The law of averages suggests that I must have, solely due to how many of the things he wrote.

(I’ve just gone to my analog library to double-check. Sure enough: one of his introductory JavaScript books. Of course.)

I always envied that kind of skill. His books are bloody good; not a bad apple in the whole barrel. Being a productive and consistently-good tech book author requires a special kind of discipline and focus. It requires good instincts, confidence in your skills, an intuitive understanding of how to deliver the greatest amount of value to a reader, and (oh, damn it, Tom) the ability to write well and not slow down the project by being oh-so-precious.

Tom has those talents in spadefuls. I have them in…

I’m stuck for a way to express the opposite of a spadeful.

Spoonful? Or would I be better off sticking with the spade and persuing the digging angle? “Tom writes as efficiently as a man digging a trench through soft loam, while I seem to approach every page as though I’m sure I must have lost a dime somewhere in all this dirt, and I’m terrified that I’ll just re-bury it unless I proceed with the utmost care and caution”?

Well. There you have it. I imagine Tom would have written “I’m a fast writer. Andy isn’t.” and then boom…on to the next clear, well-written sentence.

Books aren’t my user interface to Tom, anyway. I’ve been lucky enough to know him personally. He’s part of a big extended family of people whom I love dearly and will miss when they’re gone. He’s among the two or three dozen people I looked forward to seeing two or three times a year at Macworld Expo and, post-Macworld, at the many other watering holes where members of our tribe of nerds tend to gather.

Honest, I feel closer to Tom than some members of my actual legal family. I wouldn’t always know ahead of time that Tom would be attending a certain conference, but I always knew it was likely. One of the other members of the family would tell me “Oh, yeah, Tom and Dori are here. I said hi to them in the press room about an hour ago.” And then the ten-year-old kid in me would shout YAYYYY!!! Tom is like the cousin whose presence (and backpack full of Star Wars action figures) makes a boring grownup’s party bearable.

I simply enjoy Tom’s presence. I enjoy catching up with him. I enjoy being at a table in a restaurant with him. I enjoy the simple mutual understanding that this life is naught but a vale of tears and that humankind was born unto trouble just as surely as sparks fly upward, doubly so if one is a book author. I enjoy the shared history and the gentle reminders of the time when Mac users were all considered a slightly odd demographic, and the mild stigma bonded us into a distinct community. If I knew you were a Mac user, I knew that you were at least 80% cool. Tom and Dori are, combined, about 280%.

I also dig “Tom and Dori.” A lot. It’s not a given that two excellent, successful  writers can maintain any kind of relationship, let alone the titanic bond of warmth and mutual admiration that those two have. The phrase “peas and carrots” comes to mind. Their bond has been obvious every time I’ve seen them together and only slightly less so when I’ve seen them separately.

Tom “went public” with his terminal cancer diagnosis in a blog post last year. That’s when I learned that he was born with spina bifida. I think he’s wise enough to have leaned on friends for help and support as needed (and Lord knows he has many friends who’d do anything for him). But part of the grind of a chronic illness, I imagine, is that it’s simply a part of one’s life…part of What Must Be Handled If One Wants To Get On With It. I have the luxury of wallowing in a three-day flu. I know it’ll be completely behind me soon. So it’s a dandy excuse to knock off work and sleep for 52 hours. A person with a chronic illness, however, learns early on to Just Deal. Spina bifida is incompatible with a fulfilling, ambitious, successful, and easy life…so, Tom just got on with it, and had a fulfilling, ambitious, successful life in which his backpack contained several extra bricks that aren’t in yours or mine.

I wonder if that sort of stamina helps him as a writer? “Yes, this sucks. Yes, this is hard. Let’s just deal with it and move forward.” Whereas (and I can’t overstress this point) I’m the sort of writer who pictures himself struggling with his Muse every single moment of every single day. In my mind, I toil away in a freezing garret, alone and unknown, my only luxury a single white lily, which reminds me of the Truth and Beauty which I must achieve with each word, certain that my genius will never be understood or appreciated within my lifetime. That’s rich. Because in reality I am on the sofa with my MacBook on my lap, a remote control in my hand, snack crackers ever at the ready, and the knowledge that the next thing I write will definitely be read by a lot of people and I’ll probably get paid for it.

(The part about the single perfect lily was accurate, however. O beauty! Eternal, yet so fragile! [shed single tear] Why must I be cursed with the ability to understand it in such painful detail, even as pale, tart ugliness is lauded by those around me! Et cetera. By the time I get bored with this line of thought, all of my editors have gone home for the day and there’s not even much of a point to my starting work.)

You might have read that Tom will likely no longer be with us a week from now. As he wrote on his blog, his health has been declining precipitously, with no rescue realistically in sight. He’s decided to end his life on his own terms, and he and Dori have picked a date.

My tendency to overthink things and be oh-so-precious with words is nudging me to speak of Tom’s life as his greatest creative work. “…And now, true to form, Tom is wrapping things up, ending the project when he’s sure it’s complete. He’s content to close the back cover.”

But that’s glib. He’s ending his life because after living with cancer for a long time, his health has declined past the point where the powers of determination, family support, and medical science can push back. His choice isn’t based on “quality of life.” Tom’s life will end soon no matter what he chooses.

I’m pleased for Tom, because he’s clearly made the right choice for himself. I’m grateful that he wrote that blog post; it was a generous gift to his friends and fans. Tom has made his thoughts clear.

I can only speak for myself. It feels like Tom is choosing to “be there” when he dies. Both of my parents died from terminal illnesses. I was present during that final week or two when it was clear that their life forces were slowly tapering down to zero. They were heavily medicated to keep them out of pain.

I don’t fear death as much as I fear the idea of my death being taken out of my hands. I’d hate to die before I can tell everyone I love how much they meant to me. Or without making it clear that certain tasks, goals, principles, and even specific material objects were important and might even have defined me.

(Or without secure-erasing my browser history. Okay. Yes. Fine.)

I’m even more worried about existing as a mere memento of myself…to have a pulse and an active EEG, but little else. Once I’ve lost everything that defines me, plus the potential or the interest to define myself anew, aren’t I just hanging around the fairground after the tents and rides have been packed up and trucked away?

Willy Wonka said (in the good movie) that he wasn’t going to live forever and he didn’t want to, either. This is the man who invented lickable wallpaper. Suffice to say he’s a man of great wisdom.

I seem to be fishtailing around my emotions right now. I regret that Tom won’t be popping up in my life any more. I don’t regret Tom’s decision. I’m saddened that he’s leaving us too soon. I wish I had written and posted this earlier.

But I’m tremendously grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to tell Tom that I treasure him. It’s much more pleasant than writing a eulogy that he’ll never hear.

I feel an evening of deep sighs coming on.

I will pivot this ending with a formal declaration. If I’m hit by a bus or something and my family (not just the legally-recognized ones) has gathered around my bed in the ICU and is wondering if I’m even still in there, here’s what I want you to do:

Play either “America” from the Broadway score to “West Side Story,” or “Are You Man Enough” by the Four Tops. Or, in a pinch, the theme song from “Friends.”

If I don’t even try to do the hand claps…look, I’m sorry, but clearly I’m gone and nothing can bring me back. Start divvying up my body parts and my comic books. And please, someone delete my browser history.

 

 

 

An Idler In San Francisco

Gate-fold

You can attempt to divide by zero or take the square root of a negative number. It’s adorable that you’d even try, because it’s impossible, of course.

“Getting from downtown San Francisco to Cupertino without any fuss” is the divide by zero of Bay area logistics. It can’t be done. It’s doubly-frustrating because I’m not battering my head against eternal principles of mathematics but against lousy urban planning.

Why, yes! I am on a southbound Caltrain! How perceptive of you! Continue reading “An Idler In San Francisco”

“Fake News”

It’s the hip new PR trend of 2017! I present to you “Fake News”: the miraculous magic wand that can make any inconvenient or embarrassing public revelation disappear in a flash!

Yeah. Bad trend. I hope I’m not just being optimistic when I observe that it only seems to work on people who just want something to stick in their earholes before they clap their hands tightly to the sides of their heads and start humming loudly. To everyone else, it comes across as an act of eye-rolling desperation.

That’s not to say that “fake news” (let’s define it as “clearly non-newsworthy reporting, crafted in the service of impact and manipulation rather than actual journalism”) doesn’t exist. But the more powerful and influential you become, the less entitled you are to use “fake news” as a two-syllable dismissal of reporting. Continue reading ““Fake News””

An Apple Event in the Bizarro World

I’m going to do a “wow, you wouldn’t believe the dream I had last night” post, even though I regard those as the Brazils in the big jar of Blog Topics Mixed Nuts. I think you’ll agree why I’ve chosen to share this one.

It was an Apple keynote/media event. But one in the bizarro world, a strange dimension in which Apple is no good at running media events.

Clearly I’ve both a keen eye for what Apple does so well, and a clear memory of all of the awful media events I’ve been to in the past, hosted by other companies. The lowlights:

  • The check-in process was totally screwed up. One line for everyone and everything. A network camera crew could hold up the whole line because they need a spot in the TV pit and nobody behind the counter knows who has the list of approved media for that location.
  • The venue was a deep, narrow, flat room with a low ceiling, so it was practically impossible to see anything. There were a few live monitors scattered around, but you could barely see any of those, either.
  • The seating was all folding chairs and there weren’t quite enough to go around. So you kind of had to grab one wherever you could find one and move it to where you needed to be.
  • The event started super-late. If you milled around during the delay, it was likely that someone would steal your chair.
  • Tim Cook took the stage, but seemed to have been pushed out there without a rehearsed game plan or a specific message in mind. Phil Schiller and Craig Federighi came out along with him, but just sort of stood around sheepishly with nothing to do, making me wonder why they were out there.
  • A pointless appearance by the CEO of a company Apple was partnering with on a project. And it was via video.
  • The audio wasn’t working for the first ten minutes and they just pushed ahead instead of fixing it.
  • They also forgot to dim the house lights, so the audience’s focus was never 100% on the presentation.
  • They hired a celebrity pro wrestler (in his full ring costume and in character) to take part in a terrible little skit on the stage midway through.

I’m being awfully negative about Bizarro Apple here, so I’ll also say that the WiFi in the room was fast and rock-stable.

I’m sure that this was a dream triggered by my deep respect and gratitude for how well Apple does things, or a musing on how flying 3200 miles and losing 72 hours of productivity and spending $1000 to attend media events on the West coast might be more trouble than it’s worth. I decided to attend fewer of those events in 2015, and it seems to have worked out fine.

This definitely wasn’t one of those “o no its final exams and i never attended any of the classes and i have to write all of my test answers with a blade from a ceiling fan” dreams. The only Fail on Dream Andy’s part was bringing a terrible mobile keyboard for his iPad. It folded for pocket storage, but it wouldn’t lay flat, and the keys were mushy and terrible.

In fact, that’s what pulled me out of the dream. Even before I saw “Inception,” I noticed that my dreams usually end when something I see somehow gooses my rational brain back online. “This is impossible. Oh, wait…so this must be a dream, right?”

Still, it’s quite odd that the thing that took me out of the dream was “I had chosen to rely solely on an untested new mobile keyboard for live note-taking during an important event.” It wasn’t “Apple decided that the best way to introduce a new product would be for Tim Cook to talk about it with a pro wrestler in a huge feathered cape, reading everything awkwardly off of a prompter.”

I think this should give you an idea of just how bad some of the product introductions I’ve covered have been.

What’s Apple, these days?

The big Apple news today (masquerading as not-big-news) was a game of Musical Job Titles. A Senior Vice-President of Operations is now Apple’s Chief Operations Officer. Phil Schiller, SVP of Worldwide Marketing, used to be “as good as” in charge of the whole App Store. Now, he’s officially so, because that particularly parcel of the empire no longer overlaps with Eddy Cue’s (President of Internet Software and Services).

There were a couple of other moves. Check out what Rene Ritchie has to say about it for the full scoop.

The news has the familiar perfume of a “week before Christmas” news dump. The kind of thing where an organization has to make an announcement, but the news isn’t sufficiently good or sufficiently bad that they should particularly care how much or how little attention it gets.

Of course, we’re all provoked to speculate about what all of this means and what might have motivated any of it.

Phil’s move would seem to address two problems at once. Nobody who uses Apple Music is hearing this news and thinking “Oh, no…the executive in charge of it no longer has split his time between Apple Music and running the App Store.”

Meanwhile, verymuchmany developers are verymanymuch irked with the App Store these days. This displeasure has the sort of mainstream, populist appeal that would make even Jimmy Fallon envious. Developers’ gripes about specific shortcomings have, over the past couple of years, metastasized into dissatisfaction with the App Store in general. None of this malaise has (as far as I’ve ever been aware) been related to Eddy Cue’s involvement, but I’ve already heard from devs who see this move as a sign that Apple’s thinking about big fixes, as opposed to minor tweaks. It might be wishful thinking on their part…but there it is.

Someone far more knowledgeable about the business end of the business than I am is leaning back in his or her chair and examining these executive moves with the same grave intensity with which the fortune tellers of Ancient Rome used to prod at the liver of a sacrificial lamb. I suppose both of these kinds of people know/knew what they’re doing. It’s all a little baffling to me. To say nothing of “messy.” At least when the haruspex wraps up his or her report and collects their fee, they still have all that fresh mutton left over. Ever try to roast an Excel spreadsheet? It isn’t even half as easy as it looks on “Iron Chef America” and no amount of cumin can cover up the stink of electrons that have dripped onto the floor of the oven and burned into a leathery resin.

But, yes: a big restructuring provokes one to think about what Apple’s restructuring itself for. For instance: the company’s obviously serious about making cars. Which executive would “own” that product? And if we conclude that it can only be [name], does his or her title mean that Apple’s clearly designing a self-driving car to be sold as a part of city or corporate infrastructure, instead of something more consumer-oriented, like the current Tesla or Nissan Leaf?

Again, that’s above my pay grade. I’ll eat the lamb roast if you’ve got an empty seat at the table, though.

These days, I find myself dialing my ego back down to a new level of humility, where Apple’s future is concerned. Until fairly recently, their schedule of hardware and OS releases was steady and predictable, and their past behavior was a reliable indicator of what moves and markets they seemed likely — or unlikely — to make. Sure, the Beats acquisition came as a surprise. But after brief contemplation, it seemed like something Apple would have done: buy out a company to quickly acquire talent and technology that would have taken them far longer to develop themselves.

I still have no idea why Apple wants to get in the car game. But clearly, they do and they are. They’ve shown their cards to some top-level executives in the automotive industry, and those people have been so impressed with what they’ve seen that they’ve abandoned important careers with established carmakers to work on a project at a fruit company whose last foray into transportation was a windsurfer with an Apple logo on the sail. And yes, that was an actual product from their merch catalogue.

(The Eighties was a very strange time, kids; it was an era when Annie Lennox and Cyndi Lauper reached international prominence, but there was a dark side to the era as well. Never forget.)

(Sorry for bumming you out. Here, watch an Annie Lennox video and a Cyndi Lauper 80s video. That’ll put things right. These two talented ladies helped Young Andy to get through what Doonesbury aptly termed “a kidney stone of a decade.”)

Anyway. Apple cars.

I’ve had to stop even trying to figure it out. Fortunately, I don’t work the entrails-sniffing side of this line of work and I can keep myself quite busy just thinking and writing about stuff that’s actually shipping.

I have, however, taken away an important lesson. We’re clearly entering a new phase of Apple’s development and a change to the company’s identity. In 2010, we would have laughed off the idea Apple making a $16,000 solid gold gadget watch because the idea was completely ridiculous. Apple Watch Edition is still a ridiculous idea, but (dear God) in 2015, it exists.

We need to throw away all of our old expectations and understandings. Two or three years ago, I delivered a conference keynote in which I noted that Apple traditionally organizes their product lines into “Good/Better/Best,” and laid out my theory that Apple was changing how they market their biggest iOS device: the iPad Air is no longer the “Best iPad,” but the “Good MacBook/mobile productivity computer.”

There’s still some sense to that. But if that thought had come to me today, I’d ask myself if “Good/Better/Best” was even still part of Apple’s vocabulary. The presence of both an iPad Pro and a MacBook Nothing in the product line would have seemed like proof-positive that one, or even more, existing productivity devices would soon get axed. Now, I don’t believe that a “many products with broad, overlapping audiences” is the third rail at One Infinite Loop that it once was.

During this week’s MacBreak, Leo, Rene, me, and special guest Jim Dalrymple talked about the rumor that Apple is thinking about buying GoPro. That move doesn’t make much sense to me. GoPro cameras are a great fit for the retail Apple Stores, but why would Apple want to own a company like that? They already design, manufacture, and sell one of the most popular and successful cameras on the market, and they give away a free cellphone with each one. It seems pretty clear to me this is either analyst speculation that got out of hand, or maybe even someone’s attempt to kite up the value of GoPro stock.

But something stopped me from dismissing the rumor out of hand. I don’t think Apple would buy the company. Still…I don’t know that they wouldn’t.

There’s something about Google that isn’t part of the usual conversation about the company: they’re huge investors in other companies. Google Ventures has put $2 billion into play since it was founded in 2009, and their goal isn’t to grow tech companies into future Google (now “Alphabet”) subsidiaries. They’re actual investors. They own pieces of Uber, Slack, Medium…supposedly, they were the fourth most active venture capital firm in the world last year.

So there I was, thinking that no way does GoPro sound like the sort of company that Apple would acquire. My hand was hovering over the “this is such bullspit” button.

Then I thought, well, what if Apple believes they can make a pile of money by buying the company, maintaining it as a separate brand and company, and just adding some of their own operational and marketing expertise?

Or, what if a compact, super-rugged 4K video camera is a perfect component for the Apple Car, or an As-Yet Not Even Rumored product, and the valuation of GoPro is low enough that it makes sense just to buy ‘em and acquire of their intellectual property?

I’m not suggesting that either one of those is the actual truth. The rumor really does sound like speculation (either of the Rumor or the Stock Manipulation variety). I base this conclusion not on my flimsy knowledge of business maneuvers, but on my familiarity with the tone and velocity of these kinds of rumors.

Still, it points out how much the terrain has changed around our feet. Maybe I was foolish to ever think I could predict what Apple would or wouldn’t do under certain circumstances. Maybe not. I do know that I’m too smart to think I can predict what they’ll do today.

How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name

How Apple Is Giving Design A Bad Name:

“Good design should be attractive, pleasurable, and wonderful to use. But the wonderfulness of use requires that the device be understandable and forgiving. It must follow the basic psychological principles that give rise to a feeling of understanding, of control, of pleasure. These include discoverability, feedback, proper mapping, appropriate use of constraints, and, of course, the power to undo one’s operations. These are all principles we teach elementary students of interaction design. If Apple were taking the class, it would fail.”

(Via FastCoDesign.)

I just got around to reading last week’s editorial on Apple design, written by two legends of UI theory. Both have written classic books on user-oriented design: Don Norman wrote “The Design of Everyday Things” and practically every early Mac geek owns a copy of Bruce Tognazzini’s “Tog On Design.”

When they say that Apple’s lost the thread on effective, functional design, everyone ought to listen.

I’ve had plenty of reasons to ask myself some of the same questions…particularly in the past month. I reviewed Apple’s Magic Keyboard, and couldn’t hide my disappointment and confusion; it’s a desktop keyboard that looks great as a static object, but why on earth did they make so many tradeoffs?

Then Apple released Apple TV. The new touch-based remote has plenty of nice features. And, it’s impossible to sense if you’re holding it the right way without looking at it. And because the touchpad runs from edge-to-edge, it’s almost impossible to pick it up without unintentionally fast-forwarding through a video.

Apple TV is actually a perfect example of the sort of stuff Don and Tog point out in the article. I was seriously annoyed by the remote on the first day. Then, I discovered and read Apple’s User Guide. Now I know that if I accidentally fast-forward, I can cancel it by tapping the Menu button.

I love Apple Pencil. It works great. Even there, though, Apple’s focus on design commanded them to design a stylus that doesn’t have a clip or anything else that makes it easy to carry, no cap to protect the tip, and its glossy body is slippery enough that I dropped it when trying to get it out of the box.

(It’s also round. But it’s weighted so that it won’t roll off the table. Neat.)

I’ve always thought that good software design requires ideas that make the software easy to use during the first week, and other ideas that make it easy to use three months later. First impressions are important for a beginning user. Still, at some point this person gets experienced. That’s when he or she wants power features that allow them to get more done with fewer clicks, even if they need to go into Settings or (God forbid) actually learn something.

Few things disappoint me so much as an app that’s easy to outgrow…especially when the only reason for those limitations is “we wanted it to be clean and pretty, and [missing feature] is something that only 10% of our users would actually be interested in.” 

Don and Tog talk about how Apple has walked away from its earlier commitment to functional design. They would know (Tog, Apple Employee #66, literally wrote the book on Apple user interface design). I have to wonder if part of Apple’s problem is that they no longer have the luxury of being a niche maker.

In the Eighties and Nineties, the company made hardware and software for fans of Apple. That’s not to say that Macs weren’t objectively great computers; Apple was making stuff for their own audience. Now that they’re unquestionably a juggernaut, they’re making phones and computers for everybody. Apple’s clean design aesthetic is of limited or no value to them; therefore, they’re more keenly aware of limitations that Apple Design sometimes imposes. Like me and the Magic Keyboard, they see no aesthetic upsides. They just wish there were a visible “Back” or “Menu” button.

These things matter. I chose to spend the summer with my SIM card in an iPhone 6 Plus, so I could thoroughly test Apple Watch and also find out if I needed to widen my perspective, after two years with an Android phone as a daily driver.

iOS 9 has addressed so many of of the iPhone’s limitations over the past couple of years that I was considering switching back permanently. I still haven’t decided yet, but it seems unlikely now. Google’s new Nexus phones are outstanding.

More than that, though, I still haven’t warmed to Apple’s 2013 overhaul of the iOS interface. Even after two years with it I experience many of the problems that Don and Tog talk about in their article. The UI is so subtle and stripped down that I often find myself hunting around the screen to figure out what I need to tap to make something happen. I just like Android 6 better.

The whole article is definitely worth a read. Whether you agree with their conclusions or not, it’s a terrific primer on design theory. And I hope it spawns some serious conversations. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect users to learn new skills over time before they can get the most out of an app or piece of hardware. It’s just that, Jeez…five years ago I couldn’t have imagined myself deciding that an Android phone has a prettier, easier-to-use interface than an iPhone.

Why I wanted nothing to do with the 32 gig iPad Pro

The iPad Pro is only available in two storage capacities: 128 gigs and 32. I have to imagine that the lesser is there for enterprise (ie, “bulk”) purchasers because even after 48 hours with this thing, it’s clear that the $150 it costs to max it out is the cheapest $150 I’ve ever spent.

Here’s what I have on it:

  • 5 feature films, in 1080 HD;
  • 6 hours of TV, also in 1080 HD;
  • 4 episodes of TV in SD;
  • A 2’40” feature movie, in SD;
  • 65 comic books, in CBZ/CBR format;
  • 35 Comixology HD comics (some graphic novel-length);
  • 2 Kindle books;
  • About 1000 photos;
  • 2874 tracks of music;

…And I still have about 19 gigbytes free, for future apps and documents.

I don’t need all of this stuff. I could get by with 32 gigs of storage if I carefully picked and chose what content I loaded up, after thoughtful consideration of how I’d be using this device over the coming few days, and then, once or twice a week, adding or removing content as needed.

But what fun is is that? For $150, I can just put everything on it, and always have something right at hand.

iPad Pro – Unboxing & First Flight video

I’ve been busy, busy, busy putting my new iPad Pro through its paces since I picked it up this morning. Too busy to even blog about it, in fact!

But I did shoot some video of the unboxing, setup, and my first flight with it, through a bunch of apps that make perfect sense. Sit back for all 45 minutes.

I did all of this in front of a live Periscope audience, who got to see a bunch of stuff I played with after my Mac Mini’s camera stopped (for God knows what reason). To sum up:

  • The Kindle app works OK, with two-page spreads. But the layout looks a little bit “off” due to the app not being optimized for the larger screen. iBooks looks much better.
  • The sound from the speakers is amazing. Sure, because it’s big enough to produce actual stereo separation (and unlike other iPads, actually has stereo speakers). That said, the sound is surprisingly rich.
  • When I paired with a Logitech bluetooth keyboard and set it up on a stand? Oh, baby! iOS on a big screen and in a desktop context feels so very right.

IMG 3188

Substantive opinions will have to wait until I’ve got a lot more stick time in with the Pro. But the iPad Pro made a great first impression and I had a fine first day with it, which included using it to edit (and partially shoot) the unboxing video.

I’ve got my ears and eyes open for data on Apple’s expectations for iPad Pro. I was a little surprised by what a staffer at the Apple Store told me when I came to pick it up, first thing in the morning. I asked if they were going to be busy with iPad Pro buyers. “Probably not,” he said. The store (in a big mall in a big New England city) only got a few of them. It was therefore a good thing that I’d stayed up and ordered one almost as soon as the purchasing window opened. Sometimes the problem is “too many earlybirds” and sometimes the problem is more accurately “not a whole lot of hardware shipped.”

They didn’t have any Apple Pencils or Smart Cases, except for display. That wasn’t surprising. The night before, I’d expanded the search in the Apple Store app to all of New England and even New York, and didn’t find a single store that had the Apple Pencil available for in-store pickup today.

iPad Pro – Bought!

Twitter  Ordering Image Web

Okay! It’s done. Ordering went live for me at about 3:30 AM. The 32 gig model was available for Friday delivery. The one I wanted is either in short supply or high demand…I won’t get it until next week.

I hesitated when I saw the delivery date. In-store pickup wasn’t available when I ordered, but it’s certainly possible that they’ll be in stores before it’s on my doorstep. My Apple review unit arrives for sure on Friday, so my editorial needs are certainly covered either way.

In the end, I decided that I wanted to make the (educated) leap of faith and buy one of my own. So why not have it hand-delivered? Plus, if I’m gonna wait, I might as well have it engraved to make it easy for honest people to find me if it gets lost or stolen.

No, of course that screenshot doesn’t show the actual engraving (my name and contact info). But if Apple allowed a whole paragraph, I don’t think you could do better than to lie and claim that this $1000 device is in fact a Golden Ticket to a personal meeting with a fabulous and unambiguously-beloved Hollywood celebrity.

Update: Wow, I don’t know what happened. Maybe I ordered it too soon after everything went live? In-store pickup options weren’t available when I started the ordering process. After I posted on Twitter about my order and folks told me they’d been able to get theirs today, I went back and re-checked. Voilá!

So I canceled the first order. I expect to have this thing in my hands in just five or six hours. Yay!

(It’s worth the trouble. It means I can have almost two whole days with it and then post a good “first look” piece on Friday, with a “real” review to follow in a week or two.)

It looks as if the Pencil won’t be ready for anybody for another week. Not available for in-store pickup, and even in my rattlesnake-fast online order, it was going to ship a week after my iPad. I’ll have a Pencil on Friday (along with the keyboard case and other accessories) with my Apple review unit.

I even extended my search and the Pencil can’t be had in-store anywhere in New England! Wowzers.

Snappy Answers to (Sensible) iPad Pro Ordering Questions

I’ve answered a bunch of the same questions a bunch of times today already. So let’s save me some typing:

1) I’ve no idea when the iPad Pro pre-ordering opens up.

Best guess? Midnight, California time. But I’ll also be checking at midnight on the East Coast. Failing that, 6 AM East Coast time. If it still isn’t available, I’m just going to buy a Surface Pro 4 and send a screengrab of the receipt to Tim Cook and just watch him melt into a sad puddle of regret.

(Well, no. I’ll just go to bed and order one later. If I don’t get one the first week, that’s okay.)

2) I’ve no idea when the iPad will ship, or when it will be available in stores.

Only “sometime by the end of the week.”

3) I don’t even know which way will get an iPad Pro into your hands sooner.

It’s possible that someone who orders one tonight and pays for next-day shipping will receive it on Friday, and someone who orders one early in the AM on Thursday and selects in-store pickup will have it on Thursday.

4) If you aren’t one of the first to get one, don’t worry about it.

Apple is making plenty.

5) Which one are you buying?

Wifi, 128 gig, space gray. Pencil, but no keyboard case.

Tim Cook on the iPad Pro: | The Independent

Tim Cook: Apple CEO on the company’s latest venture – the iPad Pro:

The iPad Pro is the most expensive tablet yet, £679 and up. At a time when iPad sales are flat, was he tempted to do as some competitors have done and released, say, a £50 tablet?

“No, there are no good £50 tablets. We’ve never been about making the most, we’ve been about making the best. This was a way of making a product that people can do a lot of things with. I think it will attract a lot of PC users and people who are not currently using Apple products. And I think it will be a reason for people to upgrade who love iPad and who have been waiting for something very different and now here it is.”

(Via The Independent.)

Oh, and high school trombone players have a new role model:

“When I was younger I played the trombone and I just remember turning the pages. The score always got dog-eared and was perched on a music stand which was invariably terrible. It would fall over or pages would go flying.”

There are (who knew?) wireless foot pedals which can automatically turn the onscreen pages for you, it turns out. So would this new app be enough to rekindle the Apple CEO’s passion for playing a musical instrument? “Well, I think I’m the only person who could listen to me do that.”

Actually, if Tim decided to release a trombone album with all the proceeds going to a worthy charity (something that promotes STEM education, say) I’d buy a couple of copies. Wouldn’t you?

iPad Pro goes on sale Wednesday!

Apple – Press Info – Epic 12.9-inch iPad Pro Available to Order Online Wednesday & Arrives in Stores Later This Week:

CUPERTINO, California — November 9, 2015 — Apple® today announced iPad Pro™ is available to order online on Wednesday, November 11, from Apple.com and will arrive at Apple’s retail stores, select carriers and Apple Authorized Resellers starting later this week. Apple Pencil™ and Apple’s new Smart Keyboard, also available to order on Wednesday, bring breakthrough levels of precision and utility to iPad Pro.

(Via Apple.)

It looks like I can finally take that envelope full of money I’ve had taped to the underside of my desk since about December of last year and put ‘er to good use. I’m so glad I followed my heart and didn’t blow it on something stupid, like having water service restored to the house.

Yup, I’m planning on buying one as soon as they’re available. The full reasons are good fodder for a column, but the short version is that I’ve spent the past five years waiting for exactly this kind of device. I feel like I’m buying an early-generation Tesla. It’s both something that I have a real use for, and an investment I’d like to make in the future of a platform.

Between one thing and another, I don’t think I’ve ever bought as much personal Apple hardware in any previous year as I have in this one.

I dunno what time the ordering window opens but I’ll be keeping a close eye and a twitchy finger on the Apple Store app on my iPad Mini until it does.

Love and Hate and a CD

Due to a clerical oversight (related to the transition between the Bush and Obama administrations; just a guess), there are some albums that can only be purchased on CD. This is the brief tale of one such CD, and the two opposing emotions that it inspired.

 

“I love technology and all it stands for.”

My music library is managed by a specific Mac in my house: a 15″ MacBook that fulfills the roles of Desktop Machine and Hub Of The Whole Works. Because this Mac is gracious and accommodating (and because I’ve configured it to work this way), any music that I add to its iTunes library becomes available to me everywhere. And I mean everywhere. Everywhere in the house, because this library is linked to wireless speakers, Rokus, Apple TVs, home media servers, and Plex servers. And! Everywhere in the world, because I’ve got iTunes Match and Google Music set up on this Mac. My iPad, my iPhone, my Android phone, or any machine with a working web browser can get access to damn-near the whole works whenever I want, right from the cloud.

(This is why I buy my music from the Amazon MP3 store. The track’s a 99 cent, high-bitrate unlocked file no matter where you buy it…so buying it from Amazon puts it into three cloud music libraries with the same single mouse click. One copy in Amazon Cloud Player, one copy via iTunes Match, one copy uploaded to Google Music. All thanks to the helper app that automatically downloads my purchases and puts them in my iTunes library.)

It’s a swell system and I’m regularly reminded how cool it is to be living in 2014. I was tidying the living room and came across my “Unsung Sondheim” CD. I almost forgot I had this! I wanted to listen to it right away. But it wasn’t in my library; for some reason, I’d never ripped it.

I could have spun the disc on my DVD player, but this wouldn’t have solved my “Sondheim CD is not in my iTunes library” problem. I could have ripped it on the 13″ MacBook that I was using in the living room, but then I’d need to move the files into the other library eventually. I could have moved into the office and done my work there…but then it wouldn’t have felt like Sunday, would it?

But the system works great. I took the CD into the office, started the rip, and then went back to my lazy (but hopefully still productive) Sunday in the living room. In roughly the time it’s taken me to write these few paragraphs, the files appeared — everywhere — and I started listening to it through my wireless speakers.

I did take a moment today to reflect on how cool all of that was. I hadn’t been able to listen to this album because it was physically locked onto this one physical object, which I’d obviously misplaced shortly after it arrived in the mail. Ripping a disc hasn’t really changed much since 1998. Modern music management makes you realize that music files tied down to one music library isn’t that much of an improvement over their being tied down to a disc.

Today? Ripping it into this one library makes it available to me anywhere and everywhere, without any further action. This is exactly the way I want things to happen and it’s magically simple.

love technology.

 

“I hate technology and all it stands for.”

But I only have two external USB CD/DVD drives in the house and I knew that neither of them were attached to the office MacBook. I fetched one of them and went into my office.

Bloody drive wouldn’t mount the CD, for some reason. I could hear the motors struggling to pull the disc in, and it sounded like the device wasn’t getting enough power. Damn.

Try another USB port? Damn.

Well. My brain was set to “listen to Sondheim” mode, not “troubleshoot a problem” mode. Switching modes requires a soft reboot, so instead of trying to make this drive work I muttered a Level 2 curse (of the five intensities available) and prepared to get up and grab the other drive.

Then I remembered that this is a 2011 MacBook Pro.

It has an internal optical drive.

Goddamn Apple. It has beaten my spirit and forced me to accept their bizarre reality that people shouldn’t ever expect to find an optical drive in a laptop, because that would be insane who would ever want a laptop with an optical drive aren’t you embarrassed I know I’m embarrassed for you honey let’s just forget you said that.

I slid in the CD. My MacBook made a mechanical internal sound that I dearly miss from every other Mac I own. Remember when computers reassured you that it was working by making soothing, reassuring mechanical noises? My first computer was an Apple II. Every day I’d start it up and the CHUGGACHUGGACHUGGA swisshhh…swissshhhh…thip-thip-swisshhh told me that magic was about to happen. iTunes started crunching the music without any fuss.

I had forgotten how much I enjoy that sort of thing. Electrons only make noise when they’re very, very upset with you.

I know I’m not mad at Apple. I’m mad at myself for allowing Apple to brainwash me.

At least there’s hope: I did catch myself before I left the office to get the other drive. Still: goddamn it. I hate technology sometimes.

 

“I hate technology and all it stands for.” (postscript)

…And for some damn reason, WordPress stripped all of the paragraph breaks from this post after I made a quick edit and clicked “Update.” You wouldn’t think that restoring them by hand would be a chore, but yeah. When your attitude towards formal structure is as lighthearted as mine, however, you can become your own worst editor.

(“I did the best I could. Could you check this copy and make sure it still makes sense? To you, I mean?”)

It could have been worse. Remember the days before autosave? It’s rare when something you’ve written just flat-out disappears to the land of ghosts and winds. Still, it happens sometimes.

I marvel at how upset I get when a glitchy piece of software eats something I’ve written. It’s usually something short and eminently disposable, like an extended comment on someone’s blog post. But the fact remains that it’s three or five hundred words that I thought about, wrote, and edited, and when I got to the very end and clicked “Send,” some goddamn app said “Ha ha! No you didn’t write anything! What? Oh, really? Well, its your word against mine now, jerkface!!!”

The thing I wrote is still fresh in my mind. I could re-type it in a fraction of the time it took to write it originally (and truth be told, it’ll probably be stronger than the first version). But it’s so hard to make myself do it all over again. It feels like something was stolen from me. Words? Time? I don’t know, but that’s the mindset.

Also, I somehow bristle at the very thought that I need to put that time in all over again. It’s like walking up to the takeout counter at a sandwich shop, paying $8 for a sub, and then when they finish making it they say “That’ll be $8.” No. Go to hell! I already paid for this once and if I pay for it again, it’s like I’m telling you it’s okay for you to behave this way!

I don’t have kids and I can only imagine the level of eye-rolling that would ensue if I said “If I lost a child, would I just shrug and make another one? This is something special I took pride in and cared about. I don’t just cynically crank these things out because it’s part of a business plan or something!”

I’m a pro, so I’d probably try to take the edge off by ending it with “Who do you think I am…Kris Jenner?” Even so, I know that people without children shouldn’t compare anything in their lives to having children.

Instead, I’ll say that having to redo something I’ve written due to a software glitch is maddening and upsetting in a way that few other simple problems can madden and upset me. The closest I ever came to actually throwing a computer against a wall and jumping up and down on whatever remained was when Word ate an entire 12,000 word book chapter that I’d written in a long, joyous and grateful single day of totally-in-the-zone productivity.

I was exactly as upset as George Brett was, when his ninth inning home run was declared an out, to end and lose the game for the Royals. And for the same reasons.

 

 

But I didn’t throw anything against anything. I remembered this Mister Rogers song, or at least the message. You’re entitled to your anger sometimes, and sometimes you can’t even choose to not be angry. But you can choose what to do with your anger.

 

 

I chose to yell a whole hell of a lot and wave my arms around until my throat and my arms were a little sore, just to open up a relief valve (note that I was alone in my house). Then, I chose to take the next day off.

When I reviewed Microsoft’s first music player, my leadoff paragraph stated that using the Zune was about as pleasant as having an airbag deploy in your face. The line was so widely-quoted that it became a question on “Wait Wait…Don’t Tell Me.”

I’m not saying that this was my revenge for what Microsoft Word had done to my book chapter. I take my work too seriously to let that happen. But the book author from a few years earlier (unshaven and a little smelly after a sixteen hour workday, and still wearing the same shorts and tee shirt he’d slept in the night before) pumped his fists and cheered and promised to take me out to lunch the next day.

It wasn’t much of a gesture. We had joint bank accounts. But it was nice of him, anyway.

I am now doing a “select-all” and “copy” on this blog post so that if WordPress screws up again, I can sigh and shake my head and fix things with a simple “paste.” We live, we learn.

Push the button, Frank…

Three Pipe Problem: Alteration and invention – Raphael, Vermeer and the mashup

Rather than viewing the mashup as a modern phenomenon, it could also be described as a modern and digital re-iteration of practises long used by artists from the past. From ancient Roman copies of Greek sculpture, to Raphael’s numerous quotes from sources as diverse as a Roman sarcophagus, a  Memling portrait or a drawing by Leonardo. The determination of what constitutes influence, homage or direct plagiarism is a complex undertaking, with accompanying legal concerns raised since the fifteenth century.


via Three Pipe Problem: Alteration and invention – Raphael, Vermeer and the mashup.

A typically engaging post from Hasan Niyazi’s art history blog. It neatly presents a historical context for modern mashups.

Looking at someone else’s creative work sometimes provokes an artist into thinking what he or she would do with that same subject, or it inspires a new twist, or even the direct thought “Gee, if I ever need to draw the face of somebody shrieking their lungs out, I am definitely going to remember how da Vinci did it in his cartoon for ‘The Battle Of Anghiari’!”

Theft is theft, and when a lazy creator blandly copies the work of another, the work usually tells the tale within five seconds. But it’s no good to recognize an influence and then dismiss the second work without thinking any deeper. That reaction is ignorant of the creative process, and it’s contemptuously dismissive of the amount of hard work and innovative thinking that the original work inspires. George Lucas himself acknowledged that “A New Hope” was hugely influenced by Kurasawa’s “The Hidden Fortress.” But would anyone deny that Episode 4 is an original work?

Today, we all acknowledge that designing software and hardware is a creative, even an artistic, endeavor. That’s a welcome change in attitude. Engineers were once perceived as just a bunch of dull technicians ticking items off of a list of features and specifications under fluorescent lighting. Now, we often think of these men and women as artisans who want to make something that functions beautifully.

If we’re going to fully embrace this new perception, however, we need to acknowledge that the artistic process is universal, whether the thing the artist creates is a single painting or 10,000,000 phones. It’s the same in Jony Ive’s day as it was in Raphael’s. Software patents, as well as the most hysterical superfans of a platform, try to pretend that art is made in a vacuum and that ideas, like real estate, exist with firm boundaries and sole ownership. Hogwash on both counts.

Yes, theft is theft. Sure, a direct, lazy copy is easy to spot. But when Google pivots their new mobile OS away from keypads and towards multitouch after they see the iPhone, and then Apple changes the iPhone’s notification system after they see Android, they’re just following in the footsteps of the Old Masters. It’s fine.

iPhone 5 Photo Quiz – Part 5

Face---Mystery-Photo

Same as before. One of the photos in this group was shot with an iPhone 5. The others were shot with other phones…and one was shot with a conventional camera. For the big finale, I’ve expanded the lineup to seven perps instead of just five:

Faces-Times-7

(Click on the image to go to Flickr and embiggen. Come back to comment.)

And just like before, I haven’t made any changes to exposure, color, or sharpness. All I’ve done is crop the same section of each photo and scale it to 300×400 pixels for comparison.

Which is your favorite? And can you spot the iPhone 5 image?

Thanks for all of your comments, by the way. This isn’t a scientific test by any means, but all of these subjective reactions to these side-by-side comparisons are very useful to me.

My three-part review of the iPhone 5 begins tomorrow…with a discussion of the iPhone 5’s camera. When the column hits the web, I’ll publish the answers to each of these little quizzes.