Smarterbits

Duncan Davidson's Sweet Mac Setup

My desktop is an eight-core, early-2008 Mac Pro with 14GB of RAM, an upgraded ATI 4870 video card, an SSD boot drive in the bottom DVD drive bay, and 24TB of online storage across several arrays, both internal and external.

Actually had to stop reading there. My heart was already racing from envy, even if I’ll never need such power.

Coincidentally, best SMS images?

    Paraphrasing Google’s Definition of Roboto

    Google, from last nights’s ICS event, describing their new font slash design philosophy Pronto:

    Roboto has a dual nature. It has a mechanical skeleton and the forms are largely geometric. At the same time the font’s sweeping semi-circular curves give it a cheerful demeanor.

    There is a lot of big, hyperbolic jumbled words in that paragraph. What exactly is Roboto? Let’s see if we can’t paraphrase that passage into something clearer.

    Roboto has two characteristics. It is primarily a mechanical and geometric font. Thanks to it’s curved ligatures, it is also pleasing and youthful to the eye aesthetically and practically.

    Still too much font-speak.

    Roboto is a geometric and modern font, a design that is both stylized and practical.

    Getting better, but this paraphrase is lacking in meaning.

    Roboto is a font that attempts to maintain visual flair while remaining legible and useful.

    Almost there…

    Roboto is a font getting as close as possible to Helvetica Neue without having to be called Helvetica Neue.

    Hmm…

    Roboto has multiple personalities. It is edgy, techno and hip. It is also classic, understated and respectful.

    One last one.

    Roboto is Android’s way of being a little more like iOS.

    I think that get’s to the heart of the matter.

      Books in the Age of the iPad •

      Craig Mod:

      We’re losing the dregs of the publishing world: disposable books. The book printed without consideration of form or sustainability or longevity. The book produced to be consumed once and then tossed. The book you bin when you’re moving and you need to clean out the closet.

      Oldie but a goodie from Craig Mod. Had to look this up tonight for research and felt it was worth sharing. A fantastic read for those of us who love books and want to understand the potential of digital printing.

        Close Reading of Apple and Google Presentation Slides

        There is something fascinating about choosing words and the results of those choices. Why people choose a specific word over another is equally fascinating: What does it say about it’s author? What message do the chosen words convey? Who is that message addressed to?

        I thought it would be interesting to compare Android and iOS not by a checklist of features, but rather by a checklist of the words their developers choose to use on their presentation slides. From that alone so much can be inferred. For example, here are what I think the boldest statements Apple and Google made during their keynote.

        Apple simply stated:

        The most amazing iPhone yet

        Google asked:

        Can a machine have a soul?

        Talking about Siri:

        Your intelligent assistant that helps you get things done just by asking

        Describing Roboto:

        Roboto has a dual nature. It has a mechanical skeleton and the forms are largely geometric. At the same time the font’s sweeping semi-circular curves give it a cheerful demeanor. Isn’t there so much you can tell about these two companies by those words alone.

        Here’s a list of some other snippets of presentation slide text from the iPhone 4S and Ice Cream Sandwich keynotes. You can click through the links to see from which presentations they come from, but for a fun challenge, try guessing from which company’s mouth the words were spoken (or projected in this case).

        • Bold and Typographic
        • Social Integration
        • Intelligently Stored on Device
        • 33% Faster Capture
        • Zero Shutter Lag
        • Better Color Accuracy
        • Revamped UI
        • Easily Locate Friends and Family
        • Make Me Awesome
        • Full HD Capture
        • Ultra Thin Design
        • Sleek and Curved Design

        Depending on how well you guessed, you’ll have a different impression of how those words shape your perception of the company. If you were able to guess each one correctly, what does that say about the power of words in creating brand identity? Or is the opposite true? What can you surmise about each company’s different values and philosophies from those snippets alone? I would say there’s a definite contrast, nuanced as it is, between the two, but I wouldn’t go so far as to claim one is better than he other. I’m simply fascinated by how much you can learn from paying close attention to words.

          Ben Brooks on iMessage •

          Overall iMessage isn’t a feature that is going to change the world, but if you family and friends are all iPhone users (increasingly more likely), it’s a very nice tool to have.

          While I agree with Brooks counterpoint to Dr.Drang, I also disagree with his passive underestimation of its importance, especially with the 13-21 crowd. Here’s why.

          My sister, who turned 18 over the summer, sends on average a thousand text messages a month. When I asked her about it, she wouldn’t even describe herself as a heavy user amongst her friends, whom many of which, coincidentally, own iPhones or iPod Touches. As for myself, the number of texts I send per month hovers around the low hundreds, most of which are to my girlfriend, who also owns an iPhone. I’ve already dropped my $15 unlimited text messaging plan and I’m encouraging her to do the same.

          Of course, these two examples are merely anecdotal. Yet, I’ll go out on a limb and say that they aren’t uncommon. You might even recognize yourself in there.

          Not much ink has been spilt about iMessage in all the iOS 5 reviews I’ve read, other than questions about multi-device synchronization. Unfortunately, it seems their authors fail to realize how ubiquitous text messaging has become as a mode of communication; a generational gap that even takes me by surprise sometimes.

          iMessage is absolutely game changer. Blackberry’s own messaging system was already a hit amongst its users, and the iOS install base is exponentially larger, in the hundreds of millions. Apple’s entry is the tipping point: Android will surely follow suit to match the iPhone’s feature checklist, as will Windows 7. Neither would it be a stretch to imagine that future Facebook integration into mobile OSes will make messaging a standout feature. If you think iMessage is only a handy bonus, you’re missing the larger picture.

          Combine those growing platforms with ever increasing Wi-Fi coverage and commoditization of wireless data and it’s easy to see that the writing is on the wall for SMS.

          Update - 5:20pm

          Ben responded to my post, reaffirming his initial position. Perhaps we don’t see eye to eye, but I rather think we’re both approaching the issue from different angles. Like him, I do agree that in it’s current implementation, iMessage won’t take over SMS by itself. Ben makes two great points that would help iMessage really take off:

          It is integrated into Mac OS X.

          It is opened up so that other platforms can use it (Android mainly).

          I concur, but I still stand by my claim that iMessage is a game changer. Let me clarify:

          • iMessage may not be good enough to overtake SMS entirely, but I’m convinced it’s good enough for many people to reconsider their current SMS plans, perhaps even dropping to a lower - cheaper - plan. This will hurt the carriers, especially at iOS’s rate of growth.

          • iMessage has a large enough install base to make SMS alternatives viable and more importantly, popular beyond the small (in comparison)niche of BBM users. As I previously stated, Google and Microsoft will want to play a part in this as well, so I’d predict seeing something similar on Android and Windows Phone in the near future. But it doesn’t have to end with the big players; even if iMessage only stimulates interest in SMS alternatives, it’ll open the door for another third party to come up with the appropriate solution.

          • Text based messaging is a vital component of communication for a young but growing generation of kids, that will take those habits into adulthood. There’s incentive to find a free alternative to SMS. Likewise, you can expect vigorous resistance from the carriers for the same reasons.

          • The individual platforms may not want to adopt a standardized system, which would hurt adoption. Brooks is correct in pointing out the importance of interoperability. Something akin to system wide Facebook integration could be the answer: gargantuan install base and platform independence.

          iMessage is the first jab in the direction of SMS, not the final blow.

          Update - 6:01pm

          Stephen Hackett astutely brings up another vital point.

            Curate for What Ails Ya

            Ben Yagoda:

            The Web doesn’t work that way. It has developed in a such a way that raw data are sorted and organized not by human hands but by algorithms (number of page views, number of thumbs-up, Google’s secret sauce, Wikipedia’s universal access and veto power) that are certainly democratic and often useful, but just as often bring in too much noise and too much funk.

            Curating the word and curating the phenomenon suggest a welcome recognition that some situations demand expert taste and judgment. I expect major recognition come January.

            I recently talked about curation as a way to describe how we interact with our technology today.. Yagoda does an excellent job of explaining why I choose that word in particular.

              How Vimeo Lost Me

              And all this time I can’t help thinking that this was because I’m working with games. If I was a fimmaker, this is issue would never crop up. But games have to constantly defend their status as a way of creative expression. When creating games, you are by default suspected of either selling out or producing nothing of value what so ever. Or both.

              How unnecessary. Instead of, say, removing his content from Vimeo when his videos were taken down, Wajewski instead payed to upgrade his account to a Pro account. Then tried to argue he “was indie”, despite selling his game through an indie “games bundle”. Independent can still mean commercial. The two aren’t mutually exclusive. Better still, he simply could have uploaded the videos to YouTube and/or his own website. Arguably, his game would have had more of that visibility he thinks is so crucial by doing either. Yet he stubbornly continued to stick by Vimeo, on the presumption it has more “art cred”. Spare me.

              I wouldn’t even have minded that so much had he not decided to turn his own personal problems with Vimeo (since he admits other game trailers have no problem staying on the site) into some deliberation on the plight of games as a serious artistic medium. Which of course, isn’t at all what’s happening, because:

              • Creative expression isn’t only limited to non commercial endeavors.

              • Wajewski’s real problem is with the vagueness of Vimeo’s TOS. Or his inability to face the fact that he explicitly agreed to them.

              Which isn’t to say the issues about games legitimacy as an artistic medium he brings up aren’t valid. While they do in fact exist and need to be addressed, this rant is simply not the place for it.

                About Those Cheaper iPhones

                Tom Bradley:

                Before you go throwing stones at Apple or the iPhone, though, keep in mind that the same thing holds true for “free” Android smartphones, and “free” devices on other platforms as well in most cases. Even if you buy a device outright with no contract from a prepaid provider like Boost Mobile or Virgin Mobile, you still have to pay for service in order for it to serve any useful purpose

                The stones in this case are the many arguments against purchasing the free iPhone 3GS and the iPhone 4. As Brett Kelly explains, there’s only $100 difference between the iPhone 4 and 4S or between the 3GS and the 4:

                So, the moral of the story is that it will cost you an additional 5% of the total cost of owning the iPhone 4 to get the better phone. That breaks down to around $4 extra per month of your contract.

                In other words, when you consider it as part of the total cost of owning an iPhone, the extra $100 paid for the newer phone is a negligible expense. Of course, not everybody can come up with the dough to do it and I’m sensitive to that.

                In the abstract, the theory makes sense. The iPhone 4S is technically a superior phone to the 4 and is absolutely worth the $100 difference. Assuming you play the game, when does the $100 difference stop making a difference? After all, it’s only another hundred dollars to move from a 16GB 4S to a 32GB model, and only a hundred more to the 64GB. If you were considering a free 3GS, its only $100 more to the iPhone 4, but then you’re right back at the beginning; only a $100 more to a 4S. Except now you’ve spent $200 when you came into the store expecting to pay $0.

                The reality is that most people don’t shop in that way, averaging out lifetime costs in order to maximize efficiency. As Bradley correctly points out, it’s much more likely that when comparing similar products at $0 and $100, most will choose free. That’s consumer psychology. Remember, even the difference between $199 and $200 is incredibly vast to impulse buyers. $0 and $100 must seem worlds apart. And, as Kelly points out, some simply don’t have the money upfront.

                His argument is valid, only the way he frames it is misled. For as many shoppers as there are that will prefer a free option, there’s likely to be just as many who come in looking to spend less, see that there is only a $100 difference between each SKU and decide that it’s not much coin to spend to upgrade to a newer device. Not because of lifetime costs, but because some shoppers are simply less price sensitive than others.

                Apple now has 3 competent, iOS 5 driven devices attacking each segment of the market, a strategic position only Android held previously. You can appreciate why that matters.

                  In Exchange With Patrick Rhone

                  Patrick Rhone is the editor of Minimal Mac and co-host of the Enough Podcast, both of which deal with minimalist practices in the area of technology. Patrick is also the author of Keeping it Straight, a series of meditations and essays on productivity and useful living. Patrick was gracious enough to sit and talk with me about the importance of striking a balance with our technology. What follows is that exchange.

                  Patrick, I wanted to thank you first for taking time to sit and talk with me today. I’d like to discuss your writing and more specifically, the theme of “enough” that seems to be behind it all. So to start at the beginning, how did you discover this idea of “enough”?

                  Well, I think the arrival at “enough” is similar to finding one’s balance on a tight rope or balance beam. Everyone has a different and unique center of balance. In order to find it, and keep it, one must make constant adjustments. Even once one has found it, as conditions change, one must adjust accordingly.

                  Finding what is enough in one’s life is much the same. It is about searching for balance in all areas of life and knowing the right questions to ask and adjustments to make as conditions change in order to keep from falling in either direction. But, also, should one fall, knowing how to find the steps to get back up.

                  Was there a specific “aha!” moment for you, or has this philosophy always been with you?

                  I think it has grown out of my natural curiosity and desire to seek balance in all areas of life. Which, in part, is driven by my practice of Buddhist mindfulness.

                  That’s exactly what it reminds me of, this notion of spirituality. Many people will recognize you from Minimal Mac, your technology website. where this idea of balance is pervasive. It’s a rather unique perspective, because it seems to go against the current of most tech writing: more more more. New, new, new. What’s the advantage of finding a balance with our technology?

                  I’ve been re-exploring this question of “Why?” a lot lately in an effort to try to distill it. What I am coming to is the idea of allowing technology in your life (and this is about more than just tech) that is purpose driven. That is, the idea that one asks what the purpose of these items is and then intentionally chooses, tailors, and uses these items to fit that purpose.

                  For example, I recently brought this approach to my iPhone. I thought long and hard about what I use it for and how I go about doing that. Then, I examined and arranged every application installed to serve that purpose (and deleted the ones that had no discernible place within that purpose).

                  Finally, I think there is another aspect as well. That is, when one has optimized for intention and purpose, one can then focus in on other things with more balance and less friction. If my tools are purpose driven then there is less that stands between my intentions and my actions. The tool then becomes one with that connection and effectively disappears.

                  That’s what I’ve noticed too as I’ve tried to optimize my tools. And indeed, it’s my focus that’s really benefited from this. I’m more engaged and interested in what I write and I’ve stopped worrying about my workflow on a regular basis. Is that a common response you get from readers?

                  Yes. Along those lines. I think, ultimately, we want these tools to be a natural part of our connections and to facilitate them as seamlessly as possible.

                  I have a regular meeting with a good friend. We get together every Monday morning to talk about our weeks, the week ahead, what is driving us, etc. Yesterday, I had my iPad out and was telling him about a wonderful email I received. I looked it up on the iPad, passed it to him to read, he took it, read the email, and handed it back. At the time we thought nothing of this. It was as natural as handing a piece of paper back and forth to read.

                  Then later, driving home, it hit me. IT WAS AS NATURAL AS PAPER! I never once thought about the fact that we were passing a computer back and forth. All I thought about was adding to the conversation by showing him what I was discussing. No different than if I had printed it out. That is what our technology should be when purpose driven. We should not think about it. Intention flows to action naturally.

                  Absolutely. You’re getting to something I wanted to talk about. This convergence of tools and intentions seems to be best exemplified by the iPad and the iPhone. Even Apple products in general. When you think about it, It seems so elementary to want technology to feel natural. Any ideas why Apple seems to be the only company onto this idea?

                  I think it is largely driven by the values and culture that Steve Jobs fostered at Apple. In fact, with much talk about his passing and punditry about the future of Apple without him, it is the values and culture that have not been talked about enough. Because this is, in fact, his greatest and most long lasting creation. It is the reason why we will continue to see this influence in Apple products for as long as the mental eye can see.

                  This is why companies try and imitate Apple products almost down to the letter and still, something is missing. They can’t replicate it because it is not something you can capture in the design or execution. The company and culture has to be there too. Steve famously said, “It’s not just what it looks like and feels like. Design is how it works.” I think the ethos and culture drives the how it works part to a greater extent than gets discussed.

                  I wonder about that, how systemic that culture has to be. Obviously, no one at Microsoft or Google is thinking to themselves “Hey, how can we make this more complicated and less intuitive?”, but there’s always a stark difference when comparing the results. Side by side an iPhone and a Nexus One have so many technical similarities, yet you can tell there’s also a huge gulf between them in terms of experience.

                  Agreed. I actually have a very close friend who works for Apple. He is an amazing guy. The sort of guy who strives for excellence in everything he sets his mind to.

                  I’ll never forget one discussion we had about a year ago. About a year prior, he had gone to the the doctor and, well, he was read the riot act. His blood pressure was high, he was overweight, out of shape. His doctor basically told him to shape up or, with his family history, he would likely have a heart attack before he hit 40.

                  He took that advice to heart. He did a complete 180. Within a few months he was running marathons. A few months more and he was doing triathlons. Today, he is besting and placing everyone else in his class.

                  In this discussion, I said, “One of the things I really admire about you is that you are always pushing the limits of what you can do with everything you do.” He looked and me and, with no hint of humor at all, said, “What limits? I don’t believe in limits. The moment you believe in limits, even in pushing them, you have them.”

                  At that moment, I thought; Yep. That is what Apple is made of. Thousands of people who think just like him. That is what makes them different. That is what is imbued in each Mac, iPhone, iPad, and everything they make or do. Relentless-ness.

                  I imagine it’s just as challenging trying to find our own personal balance with technology. You write for a large tech savvy audience, but you also do consulting work for a variety of clients. Where do people go astray? What are some of the common misconceptions people still make today that causes them to “fall off the tight rope”, so to speak, with technology?

                  I think most people fail to ask the simplest of questions: Why? Because the why is important. If you look at every Apple commercial, they don’t show you tech and specs; they show why. Why do you want this device? Why would you use it? Why does it matter?

                  And, trust me, there are people and companies out there specifically designing to answer that why for you. They would very much like it if you did not ask that question. They would like you to just do what they think you should do.

                  There is an interesting effect called Gruen Transfer, which is the moment when a consumer enters a shopping mall and, surrounded by an intentionally confusing layout, loses track of their original intentions and thus are more likely to impulse shop. If you think a company like say, Google, is not designing this into their products, you are kidding yourself.

                  By asking why, by being purpose driven, you are less likely to be guided by someone else’s purpose for you.

                  I don’t think it ends there. Having worked at electronics stores, I can tell you first hand it doesn’t need to be as complex as the Gruen Transfer. Most sales people don’t even bother to ask why the customer came looking for a computer in the first place. Or they ask only in the most superficial of ways. As consumers, we’re told what we “need”. I’d imagine people are surprised when they hire you then?

                  I would hope people are refreshingly surprised when they hire me, especially if they have been working with another consultant. Because, I come in not to just “fix” something, take the money, and leave. I come in to find out what they want to do, why they want to do it, what they hope to achieve, and how I might help them in getting there. I listen to their intention and purpose and that desire becomes the driver for the actions we take.

                  Again, it seems so simple a concept: find out what you need. Yet, it speaks volumes about how we have an entire culture geared towards never asking ourselves “why?”. If we can say Apple has nurtured a culture that’s become they’re identity, you could say the same about society as a whole. Our example here is technology, but as you’ve explored in your work beyond Minimal Mac, the same issues arise in almost every aspect of our lives. Which goes back to what you said at the beginning of our conversation.

                  It struck me just now how your perspective takes our approach to technology as a vehicle to open a dialogue about larger issues. Is that a fair assessment?

                  I think it is. Remove the word “technology” and replace it with “clothing” or “dishes” or “books” and the concepts still stand. For me, discussing these issues within the frame of technology is just one that resonates with a lot of people right now because we are so immersed in it and, for some of us, overwhelmed by it.

                  Immersed is such a good word. There’s a Gandhi quote that goes “There is more to life than increasing its speed.” In this instance, I like to replace the word life with “technology”.

                  Exactly.

                  ** We’ve looked at one side of the coin. Let’s flip it. Is it possible to go too minimal?**

                  Yes. Like I said, the goal is not too much, or too little. The goal is having just enough. I think “minimalism” has gotten a bad rap and that people take it to its extremes. I think practicality is important. I think one omit only needless things. Things that have need, have purpose, should be treasured. Even if that need is not one that is tangible.

                  Any tangible examples of doing too little?

                  Well, I certainly went to, and thus advocated, extremes in the early days of Minimal Mac. One only need to look back to my cold war against menubar items to see that. But, here’s the thing: Sometimes we must go to such extremes in order to find out what the right balance is. To go to the balance beam metaphor again, we must hold our arms out and teeter from side to side before we can find that spot that makes us still.

                  Another example is the time tested uncluttering technique where one clears a space completely, sets a deadline and then brings items back as needed. Anything not back within that time frame was likely not needed in the space.

                  Both of these are examples of using extremes in order to find balance. In these cases, I think it OK to go to those extremes. It is a tool to ask questions and determine answers.

                  ** You talk about “minimalism” getting a bad rap. I think it’s because people consider it a pejorative. As if it means to be lacking in some way, or that’s it’s sacrificial to be minimalist. My response to that is always to think of minimal in this instance as what is essential. How do you counter the bad rap?**

                  I counter that bad rap by advocating its use as a tool and journey to the idea of enough. That our journey should revolve around that destination. And what that means, what that looks like, will be highly personal.

                  I guess, to frame it with Buddhism, that’s a good way of finding the path to liberation?

                  Perhaps. In many ways, the answer we seek as human beings, the questions that drive our search and discovery for purpose are twofold: “Is this all there is?” and “Is this all I am?”. However we answer that question, there is only one natural follow-up: Why?

                  This is an answer I seek.

                  I hope you’ll let us know the answers you find. Patrick, thanks so much for taking the time to talk with me.

                  My pleasure. Thank you. I’ve enjoyed this.