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Smartwatches I Have Known

When I was a kid, we used to look through the Sears catalog for our Christmas presents. They even called it a “Wish Book” and it worked like a charm. I would dog-ear the pages as flipped back and forth between all of the things I craved and the anticipation was terrible as well as fun. The pictures made the items look so good and it was easy to get swept up in them, ignoring the reality of what they represented.

One day, after reading some vintage Dick Tracy comics, I became fixated on the idea of wrist watch that could do amazing things. It just so happened that, in the Sears catalog, was a “Spy Wristradio” that looked like it would fit the bill. It has knobs and dials and a grill on the face that housed the speaker. I imagined hiding out in spots around the neighborhood picking up interesting radio stations all on my wrist. As Christmas approached I grew more and more excited about the prospect.

Christmas arrived, the presents were unwrapped and there it was. An alarmingly large box with the picture on the side that matched the one in the Sears catalog. I ripped open the package and looked on in horror as the sleek and high tech Dick Tracy wristwatch was replaced with the reality of a large plastic radio mounted on a gargantuan strap. It used four AA batteries and had no antenna to speak of. The power drained quickly as I spent hours listening to static while I turned the knobs patiently looking for any sign of life. I still remember the look on my parent’s faces when we both simultaneously realized that they spent their hard-earned money to buy me this piece of shit and I had been wishing for a Christmas dud all along.

That was my first smartwatch.

Back in 2004, before I contemplated ever owning an Apple product, I was a dyed-in-the-wool Microsoft nerd. I was building computers, playing PC games, running home servers (the hard way), and putting my Windows machines to use for both work and fun. As an unabashed gadget nerd back then, the holy grail was a working computer on my wrist – one that would tell the time as well as give me a full calendar, display upcoming appointments and, importantly, let me know when a critical email hit my inbox.

I already had the latest and greatest handheld device, the Palm Treo, so in reality the watch was redundant but when I saw the Microsoft Fossil at Best Buy, I got a little excited about it. This thing looked like what I expected from a smart device.

I bought one, at a dear cost, and spent the afternoon setting it up. It was a gigantic disappointment. The phone was need to be rebooted often, the battery drained as I watched and would need to be connected to a charging cable often, the communication was carried out via a nascent wireless service called MSN Direct which was still a bit too nascent to actually work. After three days of having to explain the ridiculous thing on my wrist to co-workers, the watch started to rattle and then eventually stopped working altogether. I wrote to Fossil and they sent me an updated model which lasted a few days longer but, by then, I realized that the smartwatch thing wasn’t all it was cracked up to be. It ended up being another device full of imagined promise but delivering none of it.

At this point, I feel as if I’ve learned my lessons on this whole smartwatch thing. Smartwatch technology just isn’t very useful or interesting and I can’t think of a good, life-changing use for it. The Pebble looks like it “works” but delivers information that’s not important enough that I need it at wrist level. Plus it is ugly.

Nothing that can be displayed on my wrist is important enough to get me to wear anything on my wrist. For now, my phone will remain in my pocket and I will check it when I need to know something but every time I see someone wearing a smartwatch, I’ll be sure to ask them the time so they can enjoy a little jolt of superiority staring at the screen of their future piece of garbage.

Horns of a Dilemma


Thanks to @tjluoma for alerting me to this update on the linked piece regarding Amazon’s removal of iOS Kindle access for certain titles. Turns out it was a glitch. Thanks, TJ.

Vertical has just been informed by Amazon that the issue with Knights of Sidonia and the company’s other manga titles on the Kindle App for iOS is due to technical issues. Amazon is working to fix these bugs and have stated the comics should be available again in the near future

Amazon understands how this may inconvenience not only Vertical but our collective costumers, so they took the time to call and explain the situation.

If the problem persists or other issues arise regarding Vertical content on the Kindle please send us an ASK with details and we will look into things.

I’m glad this story has a happy ending and that’s a good response from Amazon customer service. I am still a bit squeamish about Amazon’s handling of the Hatchette contract issues and this whole Amazon Fire Phone thing, but at least I can still (for now) read my purchased ebooks across all of my devices. Whew!

It is becoming painfully apparent that what we saw coming in bits and pieces in the last few years is coming to pass. The services that were low-cost or free are starting to exact their tolls and leaving us with some interesting choices.

The services are wide reaching and nearly ubiquitous. Google, the “don’t be evil” benefactor who provided the internet at our fingertips, is killing off widely used but hard-to-monetize products like Reader and pushing ad-driven social media experiments like Google+. Facebook was never shy about dismissing privacy concerns and made it clear that having a lot of users willingly to give them the intimate facts of their lives for free was their business model. Dropbox has hired Condoleeza Rice, clearly no advocate for protecting my privacy. It is discouraging to say the least.

I have written about my loss of trust where Google is concerned and I’ve taken steps to extricate myself from their influence wherever possible. I have dropped Gmail, use DuckDuckGo for searching the internet, moved my calenders into iCloud and have created anonymous and de-identified accounts to access links from friends (like Youtube).

Facebook was always in my doghouse. I saw it as a worthless timesink at best and a massive privacy violation at worst. I created an “anchor” account there to reserve my name but other than that, I haven’t seen a need to log into Facebook in months, if not years.

Up until now, Amazon has gotten a free pass. They sold us cheap stuff and delivered it quickly to our doorsteps. They did such a great job, we didn’t mind the Amazon Prime price hikes and we quietly seethed at the ridiculous lawsuits they goaded the DoJ into bring against Apple when Apple attempted to break Amazon’s monopolistic strongarming of publishers.

Amazon was still seen as useful despite my misgivings. Free two-day shipping has been such a normal part of the buying process for me that paying extra for shipping and waiting 4-5 days seems like an affront. When iBooks DRM made it difficult for me to move the books I purchased to Marvin which, at the time, was providing a much superior reading experience, I decided to stop buying books from Apple and moved back to Amazon. That changed when I bought a Kindle Paperwhite and was relatively happy with the experience. Bookmark sync was a powerful motivator. I could read for a few minutes on my phone or iPad, confident in the fact that when I returned to my Kindle Paperwhite, the last page I read would be remembered.

Cross-platform was the main driver for my reason to buy my books from Amazon. Being able to swap back and forth between my iPad and my Kindle was a killer feature.

But today, Twitter was buzzing with a story that certain publisher books will no longer be available on the Kindle app – just Amazon’s own Kindle devices. We can’t say for sure what Amazon is likely to do in the future but it has certainly given me pause about buying books on Amazon. Their behavior over the last few months has been thuggish at best and their quest for control has put legitimate, paying customer convenience in the back seat.

I lost trust in Google. I never trusted Facebook. I am losing trust in Dropbox. Now, I can’t trust Amazon. I guess “trust” isn’t the right word here – I never really trusted any of these companies to do anything other than act in their best interests. My mistake was thinking that their best interest was doing what was right for their customers. That’s clearly not the case. Good to know.

Losing Apple - Interesting Take

I think Sid O’Neill sums up some insightful points in this piece entitled “Losing Apple”. Admittedly I’ve been thinking a lot of the same things recently. The technology echosphere regurgitates the same facts over and over and, while I admit I read quite a bit of it, I often feel like I am reading to find support for things I’m already thinking.

Unlike O’Neill, I am truly excited and maybe too optimistic about the latest Apple news. The WWDC announcements seem pretty major to me. Some of it is marketing and it is easy to get caught in the afterglow in the afterlight of such events, but the long term effects of the announcements will be felt for years to come. I suspect, given the amount of copying that goes on in the mobile OS space, the changes will ripple through the entire mobile ecosystem in a major way.

O’Neill states:

I really am not trying to condemn anyone for having a lot of interest in the above stuff. I am speaking from a place of sympathy and empathy. My main feeling here is just one of confusion. How did I end up so interested in this? And why would anyone be interested in this?

It’s a fair point. After plowing through dozens of very similar articles I ask myself the same question. Despite the over-exposure, my interest stems from a few specific areas.

  1. I work with teams of developers who make and distribute apps on iOS. Because of this, impacts on the app functionality, distribution systems, and feature extensions have material effects on my coming year. It is a huge deal.
  2. Technology is changing the world and making certain things better. There is a lot of sappy marketing bullshit about technology (the early episodes of Silicon Valley did such a great job of skewering that whole premise) but saying it is all “marketing” is throwing the baby out with the bathwater. There is some truly life-changing things that have appeared since 2007 in large part due to what happened after iPhone 1 keynote.
  3. With Android copying Apple’s ideas, I like seeing the interesting new ways that Apple pushes the platforms into unknown waters, further differentiating their offering and making it more popular with paying, savvy consumers. That helps me as a developer. While it is clear that Android has made some advances with its latest OS releases, I think Android sucks, Android phones suck and the entire Android ecosystem sucks. I would rather have a more worthy #2 to Apple but Samsung has done such a good job catching the lowest-common-denominator market, I can’t see another #2 emerging.1

While it is true that the last couple of weeks have been a deluge of dubious information for most people, for those whose livelihood depends on the things announced in the 2014 WWDC keynote, it has been a pretty extraordinary series of revelations that we will be feeling the effects of for years to come.

One thing Sid and I can agree on – “Rumor is pointless”

Apple will release what Apple releases, when they release it. The speculation is just vapid mouth-flapping.

Now if you’re excuse me, I need to go tweak my news filters to exclude any mention of “iWatch” and “bigger iPhone”.

  1. The Android crowd has been crowing about the addition of custom keyboards and things that are more widget-like than previous iOS versions. These features represent, to me, Apple’s checking things off of a list to shut up Android devotees who continue to hold these minor features over their heads. To have them embedded as a bullet-point on a slide surrounded by more substantive and sweeping changes seems to back up that idea. “You four people who want custom keyboards? OK you got them… moving on…” What is ironic is that the extension of the keyboard may lead to even more innovation within apps which can now use them to extend their specific functionality. Also, thanks to Apple’s newest inter-app communication protocols, this is all happenening with far more security that Android’s implementation as well, which shouldn’t go unnoticed given the fact that 97% of malware exists on the Android platform (according to a Forbes 2014 report). 

Internet With A Human Face: Ceglowski's Beyond Tellerand Conference Talk

Here’s another great talk by Maciej Ceglowski. This time he talks about some topics near and dear to my heart:

  • Computer memory never forgets
  • We are willingly giving faceless and untrustworthy corporations our data
  • When confronting these facts, we throw up our hands and say “Well, what can you do?!”

He writes with humor and candor and I really love his take on some of the topics which he’s in a great position to give an opinion on. I hate throwing up my hands at the powerlessness of it all, so here are some steps that I’ve taken and maybe you should think about taking too.

  • Stop using Gmail. (use Fastmail instead) I cut the cord almost a year ago and it has been working far better than I had expected it would have. I used Gmail for so long, my mind would spin with “what-if” scenarios whenever I considered leaving the service. Now that it is in my rear view mirror, it feels like a yoke has been lifted.
  • Remove yourself from all social networks1. I still hold on to my accounts on Facebook, Google+ etc, that’s mainly to prevent someone nefarious from impersonating me on them.
  • Store all of your important stuff locally, then encrypt it and back it up (and store a copy offsite).
  • If you decide to use a social network or service, make sure they’re upfront about what they plan on doing with your data. As Maciej mentions, paranoia shouldn’t keep us from benefiting from all of this magical technology – we just need to consider the implications of exposing that data a bit more than we all have in the past. Not all data sharing is bad and not all analysis is pernicious. You just need to pick your spots and go in with your eyes wide open.

From Maciej’s talk:

I’ll use Facebook as my example. To make the argument stronger, let’s assume that everyone currently at Facebook is committed to user privacy and doing their utmost to protect the data they’ve collected.

What happens if Facebook goes out of business, like so many of the social networks that came before it? Or if Facebook gets acquired by a credit agency? How about if it gets acquired by Rupert Murdoch, or taken private by a hedge fund?

What happens to all that data?

Comforting thought, no? I wish I had given that idea more weight before I uploaded all of my pictures to Everpix. I’m sure they deleted all of the photos I uploaded to their site…right?

  1. Admittedly, I cheat on this one. I still read Twitter although I read it much less than I used to. I also have a secret and anonymous (ha!) Instagram account where I follow things I like. (disturbing fun fact: it is all tattoos, tattoo artists and knives. Take that, Facebook NSA.) 

DuckDuckGo Next Searching with Alfred

Over at The Candler Blog, Jonathan Poritsky writes about an Alfred workflow he wrote that searches DuckDuckGo’s new beta DuckDuckGo Next. DDGN is a great version of my favorite search site with a cleaner results page that combines the best search alternative to Google in existence with a gorgeous design sense. The workflow is great.

Poritsky’s workflow uses Google Suggest to suggest possibilities as you type and then the result is sent quickly to DuckDuckGo. The results are displayed in your default browser.

If you’re a DuckDuckGo fan and an Alfred user, go snag the workflow on the Candler Blog.

The iPad Mini Experiment Ends

I just bought an iPad Air. I didn’t want to and I was able to hold off for months but the iPad Mini drove me to it. I don’t think a day went by when i wasn’t frustrated or unhappy with the iPad Mini in some way.

The display was too small, the Logitech keyboard I bought for it always seemed too cramped to be comfortable. The form factor seemed like it would be well-suited for reading and media consumption but it always seemed a little too small to be good. Comic books and reading PDFs required a lot of panning and scanning and games were pinched and, frankly, ran like shit. Coming to the iPad Mini, I was used to a retina display on the iPad 3 and while I could convince myself the tiny form factor was handy (it did fit in my back pocket after all) it never looked good enough.

I probably wouldn’t have been looking at the iPad Air if the performance of the iPad Mini was up to snuff but with the processing power of an iPad 2, it was anemic at best. Opening apps was sluggish and Hearthstone (my current “most fun thing to do”) demonstrated how anemic the Mini was. All it took was a few minutes playing with an iPad Air at the Apple store to convince me that it was a worthwhile upgrade, especially since I have a big secret project coming up that will require one anyway.

The thoughts then turned to what would become of the iPad Mini. Gazelle gave me a paltry trade-in quote; hardly enough to be worthwhile. While I wasn’t happy with the Mini, I still wasn’t willing to let it go so cheaply when it could still be pressed into other service. But what other service? The text was too small and blurry to be of use to my parents (who still seem quite happy with their iPad 1). It seemed too extravagant to be a gift to my two sons. I do most of my nighttime reading on my Kindle Paperwhite so book reading seemed like a bad fit too.

For now, it sits on my desk, wiped of all settings. I think the best use of it will be (at least temporarily) as a dedicated Status Board screen at some point, when I get around to configuring it.

The iPad Air is really nice. I paired it with a Zagg keyboard on Gabe’s recommendation and it is really nice. I can type quickly on it and it feels sturdy. The ability to adjust the viewing angle makes it a better choice for me than the previous Logitech keyboards I bought for my other iPads. In the end, the iPad Air feels a lot more like a real computer than the Mini ever did. Comic books, PDFs, magazines and books (not to mention the web) all look amazing on the retina screen too.

No regrets so far (the credit card bill hasn’t come yet…).

Net Neutrality Never Had a Chance

Unsurprisingly, big business is winning out over the rest of us. Again. At this point, I have become so jaded with politics and so deeply disappointed in Obama1, I have just thrown up my hands in utter disgust.

The common comment is “You have to participate in the system to change it.” That makes some intuitive sense but again we see the futility of the gesture. Obama campaigned under the premise that he would support net neutrality yet after the election an industry lobbyist is appointed to head the FCC and now we see the laughably predictable results.

Look at how corporations treat us now and tell me what good will come of letting them define what delivering service in a “commercially reasonable manner” will look like. There is no incentive for them to provide anything approaching reasonable for some new educational start-up that wants to make our kids smarter, or Wikipedia entries, or Wolfram Alpha results.

It is hard to clearly envision what the internet will look like for my kids. Sadly, it will probably look much like any other medium that has been controlled by the people with the most money. For instance, the cable television industry who sold us on paying a monthly fee for commercial-free cable television only to later supplant it with a version of television with more ads than its terrestrial counterpart. Or the music industry that insisted we pay $16-24 for a CD for years, all the while raking in record profits and crying poor out the other side of their mouth.

Those with the most money pay for better access and delivery and those without suffer. In order to offset paying for premium delivery speeds, companies pass the extra charges on to those who buy the service. I’m no economist but I don’t think that the result with be anything other than the winners being the companies collecting the tolls and the companies paying the tolls. In the end, we will all just pay more for the same (or worse) service.

Capitalism and democracy at work.

via gruber

  1. Who I voted for. Twice. 

Bitcoin Talk Show

This podcast is a great discussion about the ins-and-outs of bitcoin with John Gruber and Glenn Fleishman. I listened to this twice not because I’m a bitcoin fanatic but because I’m a bitcoin moron and really wanted to get my head around it. Glenn does a great job breaking it down so that even I could understand it.

The Talk Show - #74

The bitcoin talk starts at around 26:00.

MindMeister: Impressive

If you use mind- or context-maps to do your thinking, you would be doing yourself a favor by checking out MindMeister. I was hesitant at first because it is a web app and I generally prefer the power of a native desktop or iOS app but MindMeister’s web interface is incredibly powerful and easy to use. The sharing and team collaboration features are nothing short of amazing.

This power comes with a price, however, but I’ve said many times that if an app is truly good, you should support it so it sticks around. The Pro plan is fairly steep $9.99 a month but there is a personal account which gives you a ton of features for $5.99 a month and they have a free plan which includes some really powerful stuff (limited to three maps) for free. If you think you’re going to be doing a lot of mind mapping, this is a great way to go.

Pinboard Approaches by Federico Viticci

Vittici posted a love story to Pinboard on Macstories yesterday. I agree with most of it and its a great article. Pinboard remains one of my most-used websites and I find I often discontinue use of apps if they don’t give me easy ways to get stuff into it.

One of the questions I often get is why would anyone use a dedicated bookmarking service when solutions like Evernote can bookmark links and even clip full webpages. The answer is obvious for me: simplicity.

On iOS, Pushpin is a damn fine Pinboard client.

As far as the Mac goes, I add things seamlessly to Pinboard using an Alfred workflow called PinAdd.

I read my unread Pinboard feed in Readkit. It’s a total reading/storage/indexing solution for my view of the web. I haven’t opened Instapaper in months.