Naming the Toasters

Macs and iPhones over the years

  • Van Gough: 15″ PowerBook G4
  • da Vinci: 13″ Macbook Air
  • Eleanor: 13″ Macbook Air
  • Infinite Loop: 11″ Macbook Air
  • Eve: Mac Mini
  • Valkill: iPhone 4
  • Jeejah: iPhone 4S
  • RGB Phone: iPhone 5

I don’t remember what my first few iPhones were named, and I still need to settle on a name for my current iPhone 6 Plus. It has turned out to be the best iPhone yet by far. After using an iPhone for 8 years, I’ve finally reached a level with the iOS keyboard where I can get close to 100% accuracy without looking at the screen while taking notes in Evernote. It’s quite magical. Voice dictation is also delightfully accurate now. Editing photos is a breeze.

My phone is now my computer and most of the time my computer is a glorified TV.

I’ve watched iPhone/iOS evolve since the beginning, and it’s not an understatement for Tim Cook to say “These are the best iPhones we’ve ever made,” even if he repeats it every year.

Phone probs and thoughts

I recently switched from a Nexus 5 (which I loved) to an iPhone 6 (which I like even more). It was going to be a huge chunk of change for me, so I wanted to get the right one. I spent a lot of time weighing the options.

I think it’s pretty clear by now that to some degree our phones define us, and that other people define their perceptions of us based on our phones. It’s now part of our culture.

The main reason I’ve stuck with the white iPhone since it became an option on iPhone 4S is that with iPhone 5, the space grey model started to feel too masculine for me.

And that’s just me. Like, can you imagine me with the current Droid Razr Maxx? The one with a Kevlar back. It would be comical beyond reason. It’s probably a good phone and the right choice for some people, but not for me.

I had a space grey iPhone 5 for a few months, but even that was so sleek and unassuming it almost felt like a secret weapon. But phones aren’t weapons. I think Apple knows it too. That’s why it’s “space grey” instead of “gun metal grey.”

All things considered, iPads are an entirely different story.

Applecare Redefined

The Apple Watch I like. I just hope I can afford it when pricing is announced next year.

I hope the modularity theory discussed on The Talk Show is the model Apple chooses to adopt for Apple Watch. If not for the Sport Edition, then at least for the Apple Watch and Apple Watch Edition.

I would love for Apple Watch to become a personal legacy device that we keep around because of sentiment, made possible by the option of internal upgrades year after year.

It could turn the idea of classist consumerism on its head. Already there’s a backlash against those who upgrade to a new smartphone every year, in spite of new features and functionality.

Depletion of rare resources required to make phones, environmental destruction caused by used batteries piling up in landfills, and questionable labor practices in developing nations are all reasons cited for consciously decreasing one’s demand for high tech products.

But if you were to spend a large chunk of change up front for a device you know you’ll come to love and that will actually retain (and perhaps increase) value over the years…now that’s thinking differently.

AppleCare redefined.

Top 5 Reasons Why Apple Should Announce Smart EarPods Tomorrow

Christmas Eve for Apple Fans

For the first time in a long time, tonight feels like Christmas Eve. For those of us who have closely followed Apple for any number of years, tomorrow’s keynote can’t come soon enough. Just like when we were kids, as Christmas morning inches closer and closer, time feels to pass more slowly than it did weeks ago, when only the most meaningless details of possible new products had leaked. Judging from sentiments expressed today on Twitter, these last few hours of anticipation appear to have been rather painful for even the most apathetic tech observers, with reports pointing to a particularly nasty strain of first-world anxiety spreading with virulent efficiency among message boards and comment threads.

What makes this keynote different from any of the last handful? Again, think back to being a kid. Some years you might have had a hunch as the days ticked by that Christmas would be good. Other years (most likely due to economic factors) you knew not to expect so much. Regardless of any hunches you may have had as a result of reading your parents’ tea leaves, a truly unexpected gift always made Christmas morning better.

4 years have passed since Apple blew our minds with something truly new. Tomorrow feels like another big one. http://t.co/NoKfmskNSV

— Xeni Jardin (@xeni)
September 9, 2014

The sense I have tonight is that when Tim Cook takes the stage tomorrow morning, we’ll be rewarded with both. Not only will Apple fans be vindicated in clinging to high expectations, but that “One more thing…” moment will inevitably arrive and we’ll finally know with complete certainty what new product category Apple will venture into.Read More »

Hashtag Activism

via Urban Dictionary:

The kind of activism undertaken when you “do something” about a problem by tweeting or posting links to Facebook, without any intent of ever actually doing something. Nothing more than a nonsense feelgood gesture so that one can say they “did something about” whatever trendy cause they’re pretending to care about. Usually only lasts a week or two before the cause is completely forgotten (i.e. it stops being cool to forward/retweet on the subject).

I forwarded a video about some unspeakable atrocities in a country I didn’t know existed until I watched the video. My hashtag activism is going to accomplish something!

Hashtag activism may not be “the answer” to our problems, but it’s a pretty damn good way to follow and contribute to a dialogue that may very well result in the discovery of some worthwhile solutions.

We certainly need to go further than tweeting and writing Facebook posts simply to satisfy our egos, but that doesn’t mean you have to shit on the work that people are doing just because they include hashtags in their social media posts relating to a cause they legitimately care about.

I’ve written in greater detail about utilizing hashtags (and Twitter in general) as a tool for organizing here.

A Note About Facebook’s Walled Garden

I didn’t stop using Facebook because of a personal disagreement with its leaky privacy policy or its advertising strategy. I stopped using Facebook because of its increasing resemblance to Aol before becoming a content company. I disagree with the walled-garden approach to online life because I believe it’s harmful to the open web. If I can avoid it, I try not to invest my personal data in services where I see this happening.

I actively prefer Google+ over Facebook even though the interests of the two companies may be aligned when it comes to the monetization of user data. The difference is that Google benefits when we use the entire web—even the parts outside Google—and is thus incentivized to promote access to the open web. With Facebook it is the opposite. Less time spent on Facebook means fewer dollars pouring into the Facebook coffers.

There’s so much more to the web than Facebook, but if Facebook had its way, it would forbid users from posting links to the outside world. It already warns users when they click links that lead to non-Facebook domains.

The current state of Facebook is one that encourages users to fear links and embrace likes. The future of Facebook is one that demonizes the very standards and practices that enabled its creation in the first place.

Learn more

Emergent Virtual Constructs

The term virtual construct is used here to denote a non-physical, digital, artificial form; the interaction with which is made possible through a human/machine interface. The term software is often used to refer to virtual constructs, but in many cases proves to be of limited use. Indeed, software can be classified as virtually constructed, but the term loses much of its significance when referring to emergent virtual constructs, whose properties are difficult to pinpoint, as they extend far beyond the boundaries of the software used to create, modify, and interact with them.

There are two types of virtual constructs: discrete and emergent.

  • Discrete Virtual Constructs (DVCs)

The majority of software applications shipped today can be classified as discrete virtual constructs. Generally “feature complete” with all necessary resources contained within the application itself, examples of discrete virtual constructs include word processors, image editors, calculation engines, and even some single- and multi-player video games. Software developers may periodically issue updates to DVCs that add features or improve stability, but DVCs overall lack the ever-evolving natures of their emergent cousins.

Discrete Virtual Constructs live locally on the hard disks upon which they are installed, and carry out a user’s commands by taking advantage of the local machine’s computational resources. They may include a limited feature set requiring network access, but these are not the DVC’s defining characteristics. Most DVCs would be able to carry out their intended functions without ever connecting to the internet.

  • The Nature of Emergent Virtual Constructs (EVCs)

Virtual constructs are metaphysically unique forms in that in some sense they are otherworldly. Unlike spirits, gods, and other supernatural phenomena, virtual constructs surely exist as part of the material world, but we don’t interact with them or through them as such. Not only do virtual constructs physically appear to exist nowhere in particular, but they also have the ability to exist in more than one place at a time. They can be accessed on every desktop computer and smartphone simultaneously, yet the absence of their presence on any one of these devices in no way affects the existence of the construct as a whole. The existential nature of virtual constructs is as complex and contradictory as that of the now defunct conception of an omnipresent god-like being.

Where does a construct like Twitter or a virtual world like Minecraft exist? It can be said with certainty that they do exist, but where are they? They span vast distances, occupying disk space on servers across the world; servers that can be geographically located and physically accessed, but in no way can one point to a set of atoms and say “That is Twitter,” or “Here is Minecraft.”

Indeed, one could theoretically collect the entire complement of servers upon which every instance of World of Warcraft is stored, but even then it would be absurd to refer to an array of rack-mounted servers and claim “That is World of Warcraft.”

This is because a reductionist approach to the explanation and identification of emergent systems is absurd. For this is the very idea of emergence: that properties metaphysically necessary to the system as a whole are not, and cannot, be found in the system’s constituent parts.  Emergent virtual constructs cannot be understood by studying the interactions of particles at the atomic level of a hard disk. Nor do these constructs begin to take shape or show characteristics uniquely identifiable as virtually constructed until level upon level of complexity is added to the system.

Recall now the concept of the me in Neal Stephenson’s Snow Crash (257). In his search to understand the ancient Sumerian civilization, the novel’s hero, Hiro Protagonist, searches long-forgotten recesses of the Central Intelligence Corporation’s archives. In a conversation with the Librarian, a virtual research assistant which is itself an example of an EVC, we gain valuable insight into how emergent properties within virtual constructs can mimic those within a civilization:

HIRO: “Execution? Like executing a computer program?”

LIBRARIAN: “Yes. Apparently, they are like algorithms for carrying out certain activities essential to the society. Some of them have to do with the workings of priesthood and kingship. Some explain how to carry out religious ceremonies. Some relate to the arts of war and diplomacy. Many of them are about the arts and crafts: music, carpentry, smithing, tanning, building, farming, even such simple tasks as lighting fires.”

HIRO: “The operating system of society.”

LIBRARIAN: “I’m sorry?”

HIRO: “When you first turn on a computer, it is an inert collection of circuits that can’t really do anything. To start up the machine, you have to infuse those circuits with a collection of rules that tell it how to function. How to be a computer. It sounds as if these me served as the operating system of the society, organizing an inert collection of people into a functioning system.”

Here, the Librarian has identified the me as an emergent property of civilization, and Hiro likens it to the role an operating system plays in the overall functioning of a computer. Emergence is manifest in the society through the me, and in computers through the OS.

The me–the operating system of society–is metaphysically essential to the civilization, but it cannot be identified within any constituent part of the civilization. Without the me the civilization would cease to be. Buildings, roads, people, etc. would remain, but without the governing, life-giving force of the me, the civilization would crumble, and what would be left would be something quite different. Further, the me cannot be created nor destroyed simply by adding or removing those constituent parts. Made manifest only when the entire system works together in harmony, this emergent property, the me, is the lifeblood of the civilization. Found everywhere is evidence of its existence, yet nowhere can the property itself be isolated and identified.

Just as Hiro Protagonist interacts with and utilizes emergent virtual constructs as tools to combat the rapidly spreading virus Snow Crash, we too now live in a world of EVCs that empower us to accomplish epic feats once found only within the pages of fiction.

  • The Classes of Emergent Virtual Constructs

As opposed to the static nature of DVCs, EVCs exist in a dynamic state of agile development and constant growth. Emergent virtual constructs are defined as virtual constructs containing the property of emergence, which is manifest today in four classes of EVC.

Examples of Emergent Virtual Constructs include:

  • global social networks that empower personified thought leaders to propagate individualized epistemologies
  • expansive virtual worlds capable of single- and massively multi-player gameplay enabling the creation of virtual economies and diverse learning and/or social environments
  • software employing extensive use of cloud-based computational resources and artificial intelligence
  • vastly distributed, democratized, and collaborative knowledge projects

The rapidly increasing significance of emergent virtual constructs on our daily lives and their impact on the future progress of civilization is the defining force of the New Era of Tech.

Until next time, I hope to hear from you. Goodbye.

Joshua