Those of you who have been around for a while may remember a site called Practical Opacity that I actively maintained until several months ago. It likely could best be described as “Minimal Social” — The social media focused equivalent of Minimal Mac. As much of that posting ended up being research for my book, enough, and with planning to continue the exploration of those themes on the book’s website, I decided to abandon Practical Opacity in it’s favor.
That said, I continue to have much to say on the subject and feel that the work I had put into writing and editing Practical Opacity should have a place to be that was alive and searchable. Therefore, this morning I migrated all of the posts that were at that former site to the new site currently titled enough.
If you are at all interested in exploring simplicity, privacy, and reserve when it comes to our increasingly connected modern age — as well as the much broader investigation of the topics here — I urge you to take a look and consider adding enough to your regular reading schedule.
In an effort to combat Black Friday, a day completely manufactured by retailers to get you to buy into the idea that spending money on stuff is the greatest gift of all, here are some suggestions for replacing this idea with some things more in line with what we believe in here:
The Season of Stuff — My first essay on this subject wherein I make some alternative suggestions of what to give in the season of giving that does not involve giving people more crap they don’t need.
Black Bag Friday — How about turing this season of giving into the season of giving away. Every family member gets a black garbage bag to fill with the over-abundance they could live without.
St Jude’s Marathon — Help my friend Thomas Brand raise money for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital who give free care to children in dire need, like my friend Stephen’s son Josiah who was born with a brain tumor. St. Jude’s has given over two million dollars of care to Josiah alone — with not a single bill paid by his parents. Thomas is running in the Marathon to help raise money for St Jude’s mission. How about giving some of that Black Friday money to a far more worthy cause.
Make Something — Alex says, “Instead of buying something, make something. It’s so much more fulfilling to be a creator rather than a consumer.”
Take the Buy Nothing Challenge — Leo, of Zen Habits, challenges folks to join him in only buying the essentials in 2013. How about starting now? In fact, how about only giving the essentials this holiday season too?
I may add to this list as I find other sensible alternatives. Stay steadfast and vigilant my friends.
It’s only been two weeks since the outset of this experiment, but the results so far have been very positive. I feel by learning the OS and becoming more proficient in the interfaces that ship with the device, I have saved myself a lot of time. I am able to get in, get done what needs to be done, and get out as quickly as possible.
James challenges himself to using only the stock iOS apps with a few exceptions. But, also to selfgrade by furthering his knowledge and usage when it comes to these apps.
Could I really buy a new machine that I’d use for years with less storage than I’d had in my previous machine. I asked everyone, even Apple Store sales associate (though it was clear that I’d been using Macs for longer than he’d been alive).
So I asked myself: What do I really need?
I need access to my stuff. I don’t have to carry it with me.
With the release of the new iPad and iPad mini, the subsequent reviews mostly lauding each, and my own likely eventual purchase of a new one, I thought I would accept a challenge posed directly to me by my friend Garrick. Namely, he proposed that I should do a review of my current iPad – a first generation Wifi model with 64GB of storage. The thought being that my take on it, after less than a couple of years of ownership, might help me decide if it is ready for replacement or if it will continue to serve my needs.
When the first iPads came out, they were exciting. It was clear to anyone who used one in those early days that something groundbreaking had arrived. And, while the iPhone has certainly provided a glimpse of what was possible when touch, portability, and a robust application ecosystem were brought together, the iPad took this idea to a whole other level and a much wider audience. The iPad made obvious a present future where a device with all of those qualities, plus added screen size, could replace a PC.
I know I’m not alone when I tell you that, those of us that first bought iPads became quickly mindful of what would happen if we took them out in a public space. Such was the excitement and curiosity surrounding this device. Doing so meant a near constant stream of questions, comments, and interruptions by perfect strangers. They wanted to see it, touch it, try it out, ask a seemingly endless series of questions that, when distilled to a deeper meaning, largely centered around “Will this work for me?”. These folks wanted permission and validation in their desire to buy one for themselves and become part of this brave new post-PC world.
I admit to feeling a little bit smug about my choice to take the first leap. My stated mission, in fact, was to use the iPad as my “main machine” — mostly replacing my aging MacBook. For quite a few months I used my iPad for mostly everything. Even after replacing that MacBook with a MacBook Air, I continued to use my iPad as much as I used that more traditional machine. Heck, I even wrote a book on it. I’m using it to write this post. In times when I need to bring something more than my iPhone with me while leaving for a meeting or other appointment, the iPad remains my first choice.
In fact, every need I hoped the iPad would fulfill it still does — quite well in fact.
Sure, the screen is not as nice as those retina ones all the cool kids seem to rave about. And, the limited memory in this early device means that, with iOS 5, tabs in Mobile Safari sometimes have to refresh as opposed to maintaining the page. Sometimes, an app won’t keep up as quickly with my typing. Some newer apps I can’t run at all. And, of course, Apple is no longer supporting this device at the OS level either.
Yet, so good was this first iPad that the best thing I can say in a single word is this — It’s boring.
Yep. Boring. Which is exactly what a well made tool should, eventually, become.
What I mean is that the best tools should follow the same arc. They should initially be full of excitement. The kind of “OMG-I-Can’t-believe-I-even-deserve-to-own-this-aaarrggghhh!!!!” sort of thrill. The kind that makes strangers come like wise men baring gifts from miles away just to ask you if they can bow to it sort. But, then, as those strangers get such tools of their own and you start to see them everywhere and they become “the thing you use” and the novelty has worn off well… The mark of a great device is that it should just become sort of boring. A tool. One that is reliable. One that you just grab and use when you need it to perform the tasks for which it is built, and that you then put down satisfied that you have it even if you are no longer OMGing every time.
In fact, the less you think about such a device, the more it just is part of life, the better. I don’t think much about the iPad and it never gives me reason to good or bad. We shouldn’t have to think about our devices. We should just use them.
I’ll eventually replace it but, like my iPhone 4, the need is not a pressing one. I know that, for me, it will be like replacing a hammer whose handle has gotten a bit worn due to age and use but still can pound a nail pretty darn good all things considered. In this case, if the job is writing or surfing the web or checking the social network du jour or email or any number of other computing tasks, this iPad is still that kind of tool for me.
Consistency is important, but we should define it on our own terms. If next week I go another couple of days without posting, that will be consistent with my previous posting schedule. And if you read regularly, you’ll know that it’s because I’ve got things going on that I need to attend to. I expect you to be okay with that. I don’t know why you wouldn’t be.
Consider this my semi-regular reminder of why you don’t and likely wont see daily posts here.
Finally had a chance to try Tally — a new counting app for iPhone. It is one of those apps that does one thing really well. You may not need it all the time but, for the times you do, you’ll be glad you have it. The developer, Greg Pierce, describes it thusly:
There are quite a few counter apps in the store, but I couldn’t find one that I could reliably use without the need to look back at the phone periodically to find the right place to tap. If you are using a tally counter to handle attendance or some other function that requires you to be looking up, this is a fail – Tally addresses this with a simple gesture based interface with audio feedback.
I think that such “scratch you own itch” apps are some of the best because they are built to address a real specific personal need. The interesting thing about such needs is that if you have it, it’s likely that others do too.
“The best” isn’t necessarily a product or thing. It’s the reward for winning the battle fought between patience, obsession, and desire. It takes an unreasonably long amount of time to find the best of something. It requires that you know everything about a product’s market, manufacture, and design, and that you can navigate deceptive pricing and marketing. It requires that you find the best thing for yourself, which means you need to know what actually matters to you.
This is something I believe in strongly. The reason is simple, choosing the best is a final choice. A final choice means I never have to spend the mental energy on that choice again.
Thoughts on Google Search for iOS, Siri, and The Next Interface
I recently installed the new Google Search app on my (still great) iPhone 4. I have decided to wait as long as possible on upgrading to an iPhone 5 (no immediate compelling need) and, therefore, still have no devices that have Siri. I saw many on the Internets raving about how good and fast the speech recognition was in Google Search. In fact, everyone was saying it was better than Siri. For me, the fact that I could at least get a sense of the usefulness of such a feature on my aging-too-soon iPhone 4 was all I really needed to give it a shot.
What can I say other than that fact that it is fast? Like, really fast. Much faster than Siri. In fact, I would describe it in a way that I have yet to see Siri described: Useably fast.
Now, to be fair, Google had a big head start over Apple on the sort of data mining that is required to execute such amazing results in voice recognition. I mean, after all, that is Siri’s promise — That the more people that use it the more data Apple can capture on the server side and the better both the recognition and the results will get. But, Google has been doing the same thing for years — though not in such an obvious way.
Remember Google 411? I do. Before Siri or even smartphones as we have come to know them today, it was the best way to get sports scores, restaurant info, weather, and all sorts of other smart data all by calling a number and asking the question.
How about Google Voice? Do you use it? I do. Been using it for years (since before Google owned it and it was called Grand Central). I love that when people leave me a voice message it translates it into text and sends it to me via email.
See where this is going? Yep, that’s a big part of how Google Search is so much better and faster than Siri. They have been doing this voice recognition data mining using a host of other services for years before Apple even stepped into the game.
Another thought, seeing this in action, I imagined what things would be like if Google Search, like Siri, also had the ability to interact with other apps like Reminders and the Calendar.app. Or, if Siri were to become just as good (which is inevitable but will take some time). It immediately became clear to me — this is the next interface.
In other words, what if when we slid to unlock instead of being met with rows and pages of icons we, instead, were met with Siri? What if our primary interaction with such devices was not touch, but voice? What would that look like? What would that feel like?
I don’t have answers to any of those questions but I bet Apple is thinking them up in a lab somewhere right now. Feel free to file away for future claim chowder.
There are only 24 hours in every day — Every second of which you will never get back again. The only way to have more time for the things you should be doing is to delete the things you really don’t have to do. Twenty percent of 24 hours is 4.8 hours. That’s almost 5 hours to do the things you want to do, love to do, or really have to do but can’t seem to find the time. Problem solved. Time found.
I do have a feeling that knowing when to turn to the simple tool, or when to turn to the complex one, and knowing when my level of proficiency with either is good enough to get my work done, is a key capability of its own.
Alan advances some of my thinking (and the inherent tension) around the idea that the best upgrade is you. Worth a read.