Touch input as the future of computing

A couple of days ago Apple released a set of videos explaining the new powers of iOS 11. Here is the first one, showing you how to use the dock on an iPad:

(The other videos in the series.)

In September 2015 Tim Cook asserted: “The iPad is the clearest expression of our vision of the future of personal computing.”

I’m not sure. Here is why: this strikes me as an argument for creating, say, 3D models in VR. It’s certainly nice to be in it, but physically it’s exhausting, like standing on a ladder and doing actual sculpting work. This is what I see in these videos above. It’s nice to have this stripped down Mac interface that allows you to do more on an iPad, but I wonder if this is the future of input.

Just imagine five finger pinching every time to see the desktop instead of doing a small flick either on the touchpad or the mouse to activate a hot corner. Selecting multiple files is the same, you need to utilize both your hands, making all these movements instead of just command clicking a couple of files and dragging them. I don’t think that’s more efficient. (But then again, you could make the same argument for using the CLI in favor of the GUI.)

Again, I’m not sure, it’s just I tried to picture myself in the future of personal computing learning all these new interaction patterns and waving with both of my hands. I see it as a different kind of input (just like VR), and touch input might prevail for the masses, just like GUI did after CLI. You’ll be able to use all of them depending how you like to work. In that sense Tim Cook may just be right.

Solitude

Someone on Twitter shared this tweet. (update: had to delete embedded tweet because video was removed)

I watched it, but seemed like one of those captioned viral videos, I have no interest in watching. The premise of this man building a lush oasis somewhere in India with elephants and tigers seemed out of whack. Turns out the story is true. Jadav Payeng has devoted his life of building this forest bit by bit.

In 2012 William Douglas McMaster made a short documentary of Jadav Payeng. If you’re interested in getting to know more about this man of nature, watch it:

Metroid II

This weekend I finished playing Metroid II for the Game Boy on my 3DS. The idea was that I complete this game before Metroid: Samus Returns (remake of this) comes out in September.

The original came out in 1991, when I started high scool at the age of 14. I didn’t play it back then, never had the Nintendo Game Boy. This metroid can feel weird at first, because the main sprite is a little too large compared to the tiny screen, but the game is all right. Here is my end screen:

What a game!

Had it not been for the save/reload console state at the emulator (my actual game time was around 10 hours), or the fact that Nintendo Power published maps in 1992, I wouldn’t have been able to finish it in a reasonable time. Although the game is largely linear, it doesn’t have an automap feature so you need to draw something on your own. It’s actually crucial as there are parts which largely resemble each other and easy to get bogged down in the backtrack hell. I also cheated at the final boss fight and read up on the easiest strategy plus watched a couple of videos on YouTube. With this arsenal I made it!

I can’t even fathom to imagine what it’d have been in 1991 to play this game as a 14 year old kid. Figuring this game out on your own would’ve been just too much trial and error.

Games back then were hard, man.

Slack app icon comparison

Yesterday I looked at my phone and something was off with the Slack icon. I didn’t know what it was, but there was this feeling about some “more”. I couldn’t put my finger on it, then I realized: Slack design team has done a facelift on the app icon. Let’s fire up the good old zoom-to-pixel rockets and see them side by side:

A little more focus was given to the letter “S”, it’s now dark gray with a dash of gradient, the pink has become a little more red. A lot more clarity, the “S” is not cramped any longer into the tablecloth pattern, can breathe – and with that I can breathe more with my online communications.

update: here is the official post on Dribbble with nice looking animations illustrating it for different platforms.

TouchBar resting stance

A month in, this is the most convenient stance for me when working with the TouchBar. I press against the edges and use my index finger to hit the “lava” keys. (I call them lava, because in 2017 you don’t want to accidentally touch the function row.) Naturally I was “hovering” over the ESC area, but that is not convenient, I need to rest my fingers on a safe place.

January 9, 2007

I remember watching the keynote 10 years ago and seeing something from the future. I bought my first iPhone about six months after it went on sale and was completely fascinated by it – especially the rubber band effect was amazing. Back then people thought this phone was too “big”, this is just too funny to ignore now.

Thoughts and observations after seeing Rogue One

I like Star Wars. Always have.

Last year I wrote that Force Awakens was good cinema. This year, after seeing Rogue One, I left the theatres unimpressed. While the visuals were gorgeous, the references to the original movies impeccable, the directing and story was boring as hell.

The franchise starts to look like what Battlefield/Assassins Creed are in video games or any of the superhero movies: year after year, predictably, something new comes along, with even better graphic and even more “tests” as to what will predictably work with a wide demographic. In Rogue One this is so clear, it just makes me sad.

I do not feel the same with Nintendo, for instance. I have good faith that the next Zelda game, Breath of the Wild, will have a lot of interesting concepts and entertainment that will provide a lot of excitement and gameplay hours. Nintendo has always put the core gameplay first. It has got to work. It has got to be fun. I could also name Pixar, whose movies traditionally are all exceptionally well written and funny.

Rogue One, on the other hand, didn’t want to be a good Star Wars movie. Sure, you would think that everything was there, the dogfights, practical effects, all the references to the originals, but if you discount those what will you have? Shallow characters, weak story and bad directing.

Take the last shot for example. Darth Vader is two corridors away, slaying down rebels while they pass along the laserdisc with the plans, while Leia is chill as fuck looking out the window? And I supposed to believe that this very vessel, that Darth even saw depart, will come back in the opening scene of the New Hope and Vader and Leia act as if none of this would have happened? Come on.

I also have doubts whether telling the story of Rogue One could work in a 130 minute format. I could see this work in the animated series, but here, in such a limited time, trying to convey so much, is just too challenging. I failed to see characters, I only saw costumes.

I’m not saying it wasn’t worth seeing, but what I do say is that I had hard time to connect with this movie. I feel it was bad precedent with the franchise and Disney is on a great track to level it with the bland superhero movies.

Test Flight by Vanja Utne

One the best pictures ever released for the Commodore 64 has got to be this one, by Vanja Utne:

vanja_1

What it looks like on the monitor:

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Released just a couple of days ago in 17th November, 2016 shows everything one can hope from craftmanship. This picture was drawn in AFLI mode, which means that the artist could only use 2 colors per line in each character block. This is more apparent if you turn on the 8×8 grid…

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…and zoom in a bit:

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No matter how hard you look, one line in one block will only have at most two different colors displayed from the fixed 16 color palette.

The picture is amazing. If you look at it, additional shades are created by mixing colors together either by dithering or switching colors every other line. (Look for the parts in the monitor photo!) Neither technique is new, but if just by glancing on it, it really displays something more than what it had been considered possible on the platform. Commodore 64 never ceases to amaze me.

Why AFLI? Vanja originally drew this picture years ago for the original MSX. Fixed 15 colors, 256×192 resolution, and, not surprisingly, same limitations as AFLI: max 2 colors per line in a char block. It was not a scan, she started to doodle a bit, then it just came to be. Here are a couple of steps of the MSX picture:

vanja_4

If you then swap the MSX picture with the C64 one, it becomes apparent what the difference is between the old and the new version:

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There is more. A scener, Carrion took the C64 version and converted it into a Plus/4 version picture. The pixel data remained the same, but he applied the platform specific colors. Here is the result:

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Sources: I used the CSDb page and Vanja Utne’s public Facebook page to dig up the information as the basis for this post. The comparisons were made in Photoshop, if you’re interested in the file, you can grab it from here.

Do things imperfectly

Sara Mauskopf on how to succeed when you don’t have time:

Force yourself to do things imperfectly

To give a very practical example, I have given myself an hour to write this post before I’m on childcare duty. I can publish the post after that hour or I can spend more time later polishing it and making it perfect. I’m forcing myself to publish the piece before the hour is up even though it probably has some typos and maybe could be written more concisely.

The extra couple hours I could spend polishing it won’t make a massive difference in the number of people who read and benefit from this post. Perfectionism is a tough habit to break so you have to set time limits and force yourself to just put things out there even if they aren’t 100% perfect.

I have this problem myself. (No, not about writing blog posts, but realizing how much work I need to put into things. I like to make it as good as I can – which is great if you have a lot of time for a lot of things, but if you have a set amount of time for a lot of things, you just need to learn how to deal with imperfections and let them pass through you.)

The new MacBook Pros are interesting

Tobias van Schneider, designer extraordinaire:

As for the new Macbook: I’m not impressed. As a “pro user”, my Macbook Pro is mostly connected to an external display which renders the new Touch Bar useless.

This is a valid point, but maybe the Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar is already in the works?

I think Apple used to be the company that shipped magical products. It used to be the company that built “computers for the rest of us”. But things have changed, Apple has changed. Today, Apple doesn’t ship magical anymore, but solid experiences that work but don’t necessarily surprise you.

Touch Bar as another dedicated channel of interacting with the screen in itself is a pretty interesting paradigm. I can’t wait to try it out (and use it!). People are demanding way too much from Apple. If you consider your view as a technology bystander, I think they’re just moving at the right speed doing the right things AT THE WRONG PRICE. 😀

Protip: exporting with transparency from After Effects

I’m logging this here so I can find it in the future. Here is how to export a movie from After Effects with transparency:

1. There is a dedicated icon to toggle transparency on and off in the viewer:

This is where you find it:

2. When exporting, make sure RGB + Alpha is selected:

Regarding straight and premultiplied alpha, I didn’t find any noticable difference. Here is a good rundown on the two. From what I can understand the straight is a better option.

(I don’t understand why there is a dedicated button for transparency in After Effects. Photoshop solves this problem nicely, eg. every layer you’re working with is transparent and if there is nothing left you see the void, aka checkerboard pattern. Here you see “black”, or the setting for your composition – there is no way to set “transparency” for your comp background, it has to be a color. I guess this used to be like this since from ages or the pro editors might make a case for this. Point being: in After Effects you need to research and learn a lot, otherwise nothing will work as expected, ie. my expectation is when I submit transparent assets, my exported video will be transparent as well.)

Protip: how to clear official app caches in iOS

Express.co.uk:

You can clear the cache in a number of preinstalled Apple apps, including App Store, iTunes, iBooks, App Store and the Apple Watch app.

Launch any of the above apps, then tap on any of the icons at the bottom of the screen 10 times in a row.

For example, launch the App Store app on your iPhone – then hit the “Featured” tab in the bottom left-hand corner ten times in a row.

Your iPhone display will then go blank as the smartphone clears the cache.

Use this when you have problems with these apps.

My iPhone 5c experiment is over

This will be my last post on my personal hardware devices, but I feel like, for the readers of this blog, I owe an explanation.

After 882 days, or 2.4 years, I’m replacing my yellow iPhone 5c 8 GB phone. It was an interesting experiment that lasted so much longer than I’d anticipated. Background: I had a 32 GB iPhone 5 and when the 5s / 5c series came around, I decided that for me the next step won’t be the 5s, but the 5c (which was roughly the same hardware as the 5) in the most basic, 8 GB version.

I did this is because I liked the looks better (I still do), and I thought that the 8 GB version will be enough for me as I won’t be installing unnecessary apps on my device – it will be a shift in my digital lifestyle, zen-state and so forth. I was wrong with this assessment. If I had bought a 16 or 32 GB version of the same phone, I wouldn’t have had to replace it just now, the storage is my primary reason.

iCloud Photos is a wonderful service where all my digital photo and movie library is displayed on all of my devices in sync. I’m archiving my library every year, so it is at a manageable size. Since my library this year was around 30 gigs in size, I thought I would be doing a clean slate, removed everything from my phone, started a new lib (you can do this by option clicking on the Photos.app icon), turned on optimize media on my device and stored all my photos and videos in the cloud against my free 5 GB cloud storage.

It was a good plan: the phone would always optimize my local copies to display a preview only, but my albums and edits would be carried over. I could move finally away from the archaic file based workflow. When my cloud storage became full, I could still update to 50 gigs for 9 SEK in Sweden, which is very affordable. Even if I did need more, I could archived my photo library and started a new one – I could work with that.

For some reason this works in theory, but in space constrained environments iCloud Photos refuse to upload the changeset to the cloud and the only way I could get around this is by removing apps to free up space and to kick in the upload process. It was a mess and a final push that I needed to move on.

It’s not a good time to pick a new phone, because the days of vibrant, colorful products are now gone. So let’s go back being dull. After some consideration I picked up a 64 GB white iPhone SE with the black leather case. Having said that I can conclude my last post on my personal hardware devices as something I was wrong about.