Thoughts on tech, design, and random fun stuff.
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“It’s for a ring”
Mar 19, 2014

Good Morning America interviewed Tim Cook, Craig Federighi and Phil Schiller back in January. This was said toward the end of the first segment (around 2:23):

Interviewer: You’re making computers here in America.

Tim: We are.

How big of a deal is that to you?

It’s a big deal, but we think we can do more. We also announced a huge investment in Arizona. We haven’t said what it’s for.

Is it the sapphire glass?

It’s the sapphire, and that’s sort of all I’ll say about it.

When does that glass come off the line?

I can’t tell you that.

For bigger iPhone screens?

I can’t tell you that either.

For iWatch?

It’s for a ring. *Everyone chuckles*

You heard it here first! *They laugh*

Not saying this is very likely, but wouldn’t it be interesting if the iWatch actually was a “ring” without a blocky or circular face like the recently-announced Android Wear prototypes? Maybe the iWatch actually being more of an iRing is an internal Apple joke of some kind, and Tim accidentally let it slip (or intentionally teased what’s to come).

The current fan favorite iWatch design created by Todd Hamilton is more of a ring than a watch, isn’t it? Not the finger kind of ring, but a wristband kind of ring.

iWatch Concept Todd Hamilton

This joke reminds me of Jony Ive’s appearance on the BBC’s Blue Peter last year – a popular TV show that encourages kids to make stuff from household objects. Apparently Blue Peter challenged kids to design a “lunchbox, a school bag and a pencil case all in one.” When asked how he would’ve approached the challenge, Jony said this:

If we’re thinking of lunchbox, we’d be really careful about not having the word ‘box’ already give you a bunch of ideas that could be quite narrow, because you think of a box as being square and like a cube, and so we’re quite careful with the words we use, because those can sort of determine the path that you go down.

You can see him say this here, 10 seconds in:

So what if Ive/Apple has decided that the form factor of the watch as we know it – with a squarish or circular face on the front to accommodate the spinning clock hands – is a legacy design? In the same way Apple completely changed smartphone design by removing the legacy tactile keyboard, Ive may be thinking of changing watch design by removing the legacy ‘face’.

If the watches of the future aren’t going to have physical clock hands, why bother making one particular region of the watch the center of attention? Maybe a watch ring that’s always facing the right way, has no single focal point, is made of just one part (no band), and has a screen that’s as tall as you need it to be is actually the right approach.


Of course, I’m just thinking & speculating wildly here, like so many others on the internet. Watch ergonomics is a very tricky thing, and I don’t know how a ring/band/bracelet would compare to a more traditional-looking watch. I also don’t know if rotation of the ring around a wrist would mess with the health tracking tech Apple is putting in the device, which is another potential barrier.

Maybe a ‘ring’ is better than a traditional ‘watch’. We’ll see.

Justin Lyons’ Misguided Cash-in
Mar 19, 2014

If you’re unfamiliar with who ‘Crocodile Hunter’ Steve Irwin was and what he was all about, watch the above tribute video melodysheep made a few months back. He was an awesomely passionate conservationist and a very memorable figure from my childhood.

Justin Lyons, Irwin’s trusted cameraman, was in the water with him when a stingray attacked and tragically killed Steve in 2006. Last week Lyons appeared on the Australian morning talk show Studio 10 for an interview, and he revealed a few new details about the event that the media got wrong back then. According to him, the stingray’s barb wasn’t left behind in Steve’s heart and Steve didn’t pull it out – it simple made a 2″ gash in his chest. He also says that Steve knew the barb had at least pierced his lung, that his last words were, “I’m dying,” and that the crew kept filming even as they performed CPR – suspending disbelief and hoping that Steve would pull through.

Lyons also said that the stingray started “stabbing” upward “hundreds of times in a few seconds.” Perfect headline fodder for the media, but in reality Australians use the word “hundreds” like Americans use the word “tons”; Lyons really meant “a bunch” or a few strikes/second. Like this.

Now, I don’t want to completely vilify Lyons here. He clearly cared a lot about Steve and was a dedicated member of the tight-knit crew for 15 years, but the timing of this interview and his intentional release of new information is pretty darn slimy. It’s kinda sad, actually.

Around the three minute mark of Part 2 (after a commercial break), the conversation about Steve Irwin transitions to Lyons’ emotions after his death and how he coped with them. This is where the plug comes in. I don’t really feel like embedding it, but for your convenience, here it is:

Lyons has a new documentary out called E-Motions (which I won’t bother to link to) that covers what looks like something very close to pseudoscience to me. In the interview, he starts talking about negative emotions being trapped and “physically lodged” in the body and how the documentary has “simple techniques” that will help you remove them. Apparently they did a bunch of interviews with doctors and researchers and even quantum physicists (?), and the methods they describe have even cured cancer in some particular cases (again, ?). Psychosomatic symptoms are a real thing, but leaping from the psyche to cancer is a bit too preliminary a finding to start advertising.

Regardless of his film’s validity, doing this promotional interview has severed some ties with the Irwin family, as you can imagine. Bob Irwin (Steve’s Dad) responded to a request for comment by saying that Lyons should’ve minded his own business and didn’t have the right to reveal more than what the Irwin family was willing to say. Bob didn’t comment specifically on Lyons using Irwin’s death as a way of promoting his own documentary, but I can imagine how he feels.

The interview worked, but thankfully not in the way Lyons probably hoped. The media grabbed onto the perfect “Steve Irwin stabbed hundreds of times” headline and ran with it, and that’s what everyone read in the news last week. More than 260 online ‘journalists’ covered the interview, but the majority of them only embedded the first part and not the second. The result: 1.3 million views for Part 1, and just 83,000 for Part 2 at the time of this writing. The E-Motion trailer embedded on the home page of the site only has 22,000 views, and their official Twitter account has just 34 followers. Sales of the documentary were probably boosted by this publicity stunt – but this doesn’t seem to be a financial windfall for Lyons.

I’m glad.

Again, all I know about Lyons is that Steve Irwin trusted him greatly for 15+ years as a crew member, but that doesn’t excuse him from doing this interview against the wishes of Irwin’s family. I don’t know why the Irwin family released so few details about the way Steve died and left the public to speculate incorrectly, but it wasn’t at all Justin Lyons’ prerogative to reveal the truth. He seems like a nice guy, which is why I have a hard time understanding why he’d consciously do a “world exclusive” interview about how a deceased friend died in order to promote a personal project. I realize that the emotions he felt after Steve’s death may have led him to explore psychosomatic symptoms and lead him to make this documentary, but that still doesn’t excuse him from revealing the details of Steve’s death that he did.

Is money really so powerful? Can it really warp someone’s thought process in such a way that this becomes a logical move? It’s unlikely that Lyons would’ve been on Studio 10 if he were only willing to say on-air that he experienced emotional trauma after Steve’s death which led him to make the documentary; both Lyons and the producers knew that this interview (or at least the first half of it) needed to be worthy of international news coverage. It needed to be “exclusive” or else it wasn’t worth doing.

Relatedly, why does the media so readily echo this kind of new information without asking why it’s being revealed 8 years later (and not even timed with Irwin’s birthday or death)? According to Google News, only 26 other online sources have bothered to mention how Bob Irwin feels about all of this (again, 260+ covered the interview itself) which I would say is the more important story here.

Justin Lyons, despite being the nice guy and good friend of Steve that he is, has made a mistake here (giving him benefit of the doubt). If Studio 10 told him that he wouldn’t be put on the air without revealing details of Steve Irwin’s death, he should have said no and respected the Irwin family’s wishes. That would have been the right thing to do, money be darned.

On a happier note, seeing this story reminded me to look up how Irwin’s family has been doing recently. Based on the video below, I’d say pretty awesome. Steve’s enthusiasm and charm is clearly present in his two kids, Bindi and Robert, and his wife Terri is still running the Australia Zoo in Beerwah, Queensland.

Good on them.

“5-Hour Energy is Focus” Ad
Feb 19, 2014
Fun · Rant · Video

I’ve heard the audio version of this ad probably close to 100 times on Spotify, and I’m still dumbfounded by it.

What does this mean?

How to beat Flappy Bird
Feb 8, 2014

If this technique doesn’t work, try focusing your vision 1/2 inch in front of the bird rather than directly at the bird itself. I also tend to get farther when I think about something entirely different and don’t concentrate too much.

Also, despite making 50k/day, the game’s developer Dong Nguyen says that he’s taking the game down tomorrow because people are over-playing it. We’ll see how that goes.

The Jeopardy ‘Hacker’
Feb 6, 2014

Self-proclaimed mad genius Arthur Chu has been playing Jeopardy a bit differently these past few days.


While most players will start from the top of each column on the Jeopardy board and progress sequentially as question difficulty increases, Chu picks questions at random, using what’s called the Forrest Bounce to hunt for the three Daily Doubles, which are often scattered among the harder questions in every game. Instead of moving from the $200 question to the $400 question and so forth, Chu might bounce between all of the $1,600 or $2,000 questions—not the kind of strategy you often see on Jeopardy.

Apparently it’s working. If we wins his fifth game on February 24th he’ll get into the Tournament of Champions.

I’ve watched Jeopardy on occasion, but not enough to notice that the Doubles are typically on the lower half of the board. Knowing that fact, it’s surprising that this strategy wasn’t already the game’s standard.

OpenEmu 1.0 for OS X
Feb 2, 2014

Up until now, getting started with game emulation has meant hours of googling and downloading files from sketchy-looking sites. Now there’s this, which is pretty much iTunes for videogame emulation (except for the purchasing part, which is left for you to figure out).

Emulators are still better-optimized for Windows than OS X, but for most games you shouldn’t notice. Be sure to get the experimental version with N64 support by clicking the arrow next to the download link.

The danger of backtracking Windows 8
Jan 31, 2014

News started circulating yesterday that an update to Windows 8.1 would make PCs boot to the classic desktop instead of the Start screen by default.

The Verge:

We understand the latest internal builds of Windows 8.1 Update 1 have the boot-to-desktop option enabled by default, a change that Wzor noted earlier today. The update is still in development, and Microsoft could alter this further before it ships, but it’s currently being changed to appease desktop users. It may seem like a minor change, but the move reverses parts of Microsoft’s original vision for Windows 8. While some critics argued Microsoft simply forced the Start Screen interface onto desktop PCs with little regard for keyboard and mouse users, the company pitched its “Metro” environment as the future of Windows.

Changing the face of Windows to appease desktop users…

I am not a fan of that plan.

Thinking back to 2011

2011 was a big year. Everyone was happy with Windows 7 (which launched in 2009) and it was expected that Windows 8 would build iteratively upon that success. Microsoft was going to play it safe, make money, sell Office – the usual.

For most people, that was totally fine. Windows 7 was a ‘worthy’ successor to XP after the Vista failure, and people were comfortable using it. For many users the desktop had reached a point of near-perfection thanks to the ability to pin favorite programs to the taskbar and snap windows around.

It was fast, efficient, and people liked it. Great.

But the writing for Windows 7, and Microsoft more generally, was on the wall. The iPad (launched in 2010) proved that a full-fledged computer wasn’t always necessary, and that touch-based tablet computing was going to be the next big thing.

You would think that Microsoft would’ve been totally blindsided by the iPad, just like they were with the iPhone. The company with “a complete lack of taste” would try to convince people that Windows 7 + Tablet PC + Stylus was better than the iPad because it had full Windows on it, and the world would move past them. Again.

The enormous sense of relief that Windows 7 provided after Vista was temporary. Microsoft had gotten its footing back, but it was headed toward another fall – potentially its last – and very few people were talking about it.

So what happened?

“Holy crap, Microsoft has a vision”

It turned out that Microsoft had actually looked into the future further than 4 years and realized that Windows needed to change, even before the iPad was announced. Windows 8 was first revealed at D9 in June and detailed at BUILD 2011 that September, and it felt like looking at the future. I still remember having a “holy crap” moment when I saw the first demo.

What Microsoft was doing was incredibly ambitious. Somehow a design team with vision had taken control of Windows, and they were shaking up the entirety of Microsoft, including its mysteriously flag-shaped logo.

Windows was one experience, on all of your devices, for everything in your life. Wow.

Reimagining Windows

The sheer number of changes and improvements made from Windows 7 to Windows 8, even if you exclude Metro, was amazing. Microsoft did a ton of work between the two releases, but hardly anyone gives them credit.

The battery-sucking Aero glass effect was removed, boot times were cut to 3-10 seconds (which is still nuts), performance was even better than Windows 7, task manager was massively improved, Security Essentials was built-in, Gadgets were removed, SkyDrive was leveraged to sync settings, and everything was just, better.

From a purely technological perspective, Windows 8 is better than Windows 7. I feel absolutely no doubt in saying that. If you’re a power user (as in, you use task manager and know about the registry) then Windows 8 is better for you, absolutely.

From every other perspective, however, people have found a lot to hate.

The Backlash


Clearly, Microsoft’s decision to mix the touch and mouse/keyboard worlds was poorly-received. People hated the fact that the desktop didn’t show up when you first booted, and that the Start menu and search bar were missing entirely. These two things confused a lot of people, and for whatever reason Microsoft did a really bad job at introducing the edge gestures to new users until it was too late.

Windows 8.1 did a lot to fix these issues, but it’s still Windows *8*.1 – not a Windows 9. Until Microsoft re-numbers or re-brands the OS, the bad perception, warranted or not, is going to stick.

Heck, even the IT crew at my school hates Windows 8 – apparently students are blaming their viruses and hardware defects on the fact that their computer is simply running Windows 8. That’s a sign of terrible, irreparable damage.

The bad publicity Windows 8 has gotten isn’t the most dangerous thing though – it’s what Microsoft now appears to be doing about it.

Un-imagining Windows

You know who considers Windows 8 to be the next Vista? Microsoft itself, and that is terrible.

I’m sure that behind closed doors the design team that architected the new Windows is taking a lot of heat, and at this point it’s obvious that their hands are being forced. They’re reverting back to designing by committee, metrics, and whatever made people happy about Windows 7.

The return of the Start button (sans menu) and seamless wallpaper were good decisions, but the rumored changes in the next update to Windows – the power and search buttons on the Start screen, and the boot-to-desktop default – reveal that the designers are no longer in control of the asylum, so to speak.

These changes backtrack far too much on Windows 8′s original vision, and that is a really bad thing. The designers who were once in total control of Windows’ future now seem to building Windows 7.5, and the marketing/ad team is (as usual) not being blamed for its mistakes.

Here’s why I’m worried about these changes.

The desktop is no longer a killer “app” – it’s the second face of Windows

By not consistently booting into the Start screen on desktops and laptops by default, Windows is now 100% two-faced, just as people have made it out to be.

If the Start screen is no longer the starting place for the majority of users, then what is it? It’s not a Start screen – it’s a screen you have absolutely no incentive to customize, no desire to explore, and no reason to spend more than two seconds in. It becomes a glorified search screen with a power button. A ridiculously blown-up Start menu.

Despite what Microsoft would ever officially say, all of the design decisions made in Windows 8 and 8.1 treated the Windows desktop as just another app. A “killer app” that differentiated it from the iPad, sure, but one that was never intended to once again be the face of Windows (except for geeks who knew where to look). The advertising team reinforced that notion by focusing on Metro in their ads. They only started emphasizing the fact that the desktop is still present when 8.1 was released.

For many people, the Start screen will be nothing more than a weird distraction like OS X’s Launchpad, and they’ll still want the old start button and menu back.

Touch is becoming secondary

By de-emphasizing Metro’s importance in Windows, Microsoft is also de-emphasizing touch. Touch always has been and always will be better in Metro apps and the Start screen – not on any app that you run on the desktop. Considering how committed manufacturers have been in including touchable displays in their new laptops, a sudden switcheroo that boots these users to the desktop doesn’t make a lot of sense.

Backtracking on touch is backtracking on the future. Microsoft has a great thing going with its edge gesture idea, which makes touchscreens on laptops not suck as much as Apple had us believe, but after this update users are going to be trained to go to the Start screen and use the search button instead of swiping their screen’s edge. This change also discourages them from learning about sharing things between apps, quickly switching settings, or printing things, which are all found in that same right-hand edge menu.

Windows 8.1 Corner Tip

It’s understandable for users to have a hard time accessing what they can’t readily see, but somehow Android and iOS have managed to not have a problem with this. Users often come across Notification Center or Control Center accidentally, but once they do, they quickly learn and can repeat the same behavior. One of my family members, for example, accidentally discovered Notification Center’s “Today” view and liked it, so she continues to use it.

The same could’ve been true of Windows’ edge gestures if only Microsoft had made it more apparent that they existed. They eventually did in Windows 8.1 during the setup process and with the one-time tip shown here, but a better job could have been done when Windows 8 originally launched.

One extra implication of this change is that apps from Microsoft’s store will be de-emphasized as well, which isn’t good for anyone.

People will still hate Windows 8

Power users – the ones who use stuff life Command Prompt, Task Manager, and sometimes tiptoe around in the Registry – will still continue to hate Windows 8/8.1/8.2 despite the vast improvements to so many of the things that power users care about, which I still don’t understand. The commenters on tech blogs are all more than capable of understanding Windows 8′s Start screen and Metro UI, but refuse to do so because Windows 7 is good enough for them (and they want people to know that).

Casual users – grandpas and college kids, apparently – will still hate it because of its invisible edge gestures and lack of a tried-and-true Start menu. The new power and search icons on the Start screen are meant to help them, but I’m not convinced they’ll care or notice the change (if they even update at all).

Enterprise admins will also still hate it. Windows 7 is their clear upgrade path from XP, and I don’t think anything involving Metro and personalization/customization stuff will make them change their minds.

As for a generally happy user like myself, if these changes are implemented then yeah, I’m probably going to dislike Windows 8 more too. I don’t need the Power or Search icons to be in my Start menu – I’m completely trained at this point to hover over my screen’s corner to access those settings where they’re supposed to be. Eventually, if I ever get a touchable Windows-based device, I imagine the switch to edge gestures will feel perfectly natural.

Why I’m rooting for Microsoft’s design team

Even with this update, the people who hate Windows 8 are going to continue hating it. I wish this wasn’t the case, but it seems the designers responsible for Windows 8 don’t stand a chance – tried and true Windows users will hate anything that makes things less like Windows 7. Apparently people really friggin’ love their Start menu.

My Windows 8.1 Desktop

Unfortunately, many angry Windows users just don’t stop to consider what would’ve happened if Microsoft had stayed the course – kept improving the desktop, didn’t try to unify its platform, and decided not to bother trying to enter the “PC Plus” era at all. I know that some people consider Microsoft next-in-line after RIM/BlackBerry at the moment, but if this whole “One Microsoft” thing weren’t happening, I think they’d be much, much closer to death’s door. The tech press wouldn’t care about them, that’s for sure.

In my mind, the innovation – yes, innovation – that Windows 8 is and represents is the only thing keeping Microsoft up there with Apple and Google right now in the consumer market. The people who made Windows 8 (and Windows 7) have the ability to secure their company’s future by finishing what they started, but unfortunately they seem to be busy butting heads with Microsoft’s old guard.

Metro has to be Windows’ future, but it can’t succeed if its designers are forced to integrate the past. Microsoft needs to approach this problem not by enslaving its design team, but by changing its stance on delivering what customers need vs what customers want. Honestly, it has to pull off something Apple has done time and time again: say no (and advertise better).

Right now, under Steve Ballmer, it seems like Microsoft isn’t prepared to do that. At the risk of hurting itself permanently, the company is kneeling before its perpetually-unhappy enterprise customers and desktop loyalists and hoping to be forgiven with the next update. So long as the future involves Metro, that doesn’t seem likely.

Microsoft’s next CEO, it seems, has an important decision to make.

Is the desktop an app, or Windows itself?

My Windows 8.1 Start Screen

The Designer’s Next Steps
Jan 12, 2014

A great compilation of thoughts for up-and-coming product designers to ponder from Smashing Magazine.

Basically, designers are now being recognized as important members of product teams and should start walking their talk.

T-Mobile CEO John Legere at CES 2014
Jan 12, 2014
Link · News · Tech · Video

Really fun to watch him rip into the competition. The honesty is really refreshing.

I wish someone like this was poking and prodding the cable industry. He may be off-putting, but so are the competitors he’s constantly making fun of.

He also reminds me of Randall Boggs from Monsters Inc. Not sure why.

“You had me at scrolling”
Jan 12, 2014

The original iPhone was first shown to the public on January 9th, 2007.

That was 7 years ago. Wow.

Listen to the crowd as Steve Jobs demonstrated swipe-to-unlock, pinch-to-zoom, visual voicemail, scrolling, double-tapping, and all the basic smartphone features and interactions that we take for granted today. The presentation was carefully planned to avoid the surfacing of bugs and crashes, and it went flawlessly.

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