A Watch Too Far

This was the week, the week that is said to have changed everything for Apple, the week we’ve been waiting for since Steve Jobs passed away three years ago.

The “Apple Watch” was introduced.

Touted as a “new chapter” in Apple’s history, it is said to be a revolutionary way to interact with one’s digital device. This has been coming for a long time and rumors of an Apple wearable have been around for years. I even wrote about the possibility last year, speculating on my vision of such a device. Now that it’s here and we can see Apple’s full vision, we can contemplate exactly what Apple has introduced into the world.

A Short Trip Through Computing History

Go back about forty years ago and computers were still rather large machines that resided mostly in universities, large businesses, and government institutions. The thought that a regular person could own a “personal” computer was a foreign concept. However, everything changed in the late 70s when personal computers became a reality, spurred on tremendously by the Apple II, amongst others.

This was the first big leap of a computer from the monolithic corporate installation to a device in one’s own home. It didn’t immediately take hold but slowly over the years the personal computer became ubiquitous. People had a relationship to their computer, it was a part of their lives. Yet, for many years it remained a box that sat on a desk in their house.

The next big leap occurred with the laptop computer, which allowed people to take their computing experience outside the house. Portability changed things dramatically, because a laptop made the computer more personal, more available, more connected to one’s life. But weight, size, and lack of battery life held things back. Laptops were only a step in the evolution of making a computer truly personal.

Then came the iPhone, the biggest step in that evolution so far. Suddenly a computer was in your pocket, available anytime you wanted it. It was always there, always ready to connect you to your digital world. The barriers have been broken down and smart phones have taken over our lives. Everywhere you look people are using them, at all times. They are truly personal computers, much more so than the traditional PC.

Over this time the common trajectory of computers has been from large and disconnected from humans, to small and intimately connected to us. This has tracked closely with size and portability. From the desktop to the laptop to the smart phone.

So, About That Watch

So why am I giving you a history lesson?

Because I think the Apple Watch is the natural progression of this evolution of computers. It may have seemed the smart phone was the last conqueror of our computing lives, but even it has limits. We don’t carry it in our hands at all times, and must put it in our pockets or purses on occasion. However, the Apple Watch is always there, sitting on our wrist, allowing us constant connection to our computers. Computers can be in our lives without any interruption, at all times.

But is this a good thing? Should computers become this personal? Should we want this amount of connection with no break?

Those are the questions I’ve been asking myself a lot in the past couple days. Even before this I’ve struggled with being addicted to my iPhone, with checking it too often, with ignoring people as I stared into it. It seems to sit near me at all times, ready to give me that sweet hit of a notification that my body craves.

I think many people feel the same way, although many don’t think this is a bad thing. It may just be I’m an old man at the ripe age of 32. I remember a time before iPhones, before the internet actually. I remember not having the intimate connection with my computer. I remember living more in the real world, taking more notice of things instead of my phone. But I fully admit I might be idealizing the past and the younger generation has no nostalgia for those times.

But one must ask what’s the end game, how connected will we become with our computers? While the Apple Watch is always on your wrist, it still is not as extreme as something like Google Glass, where you literally must stare at your computer at all times. I assume eventually in some far off future we will have direct neural connections with computers, allowing our very thoughts to intermingle to the point the distinction between humans and machines might be impossible to differentiate. That will truly be a personal experience.

Going back to the Apple Watch though, I think it may have crossed a line in my own mind. I don’t want my computer to be “that” personal, to the point I can’t simply put it in my pocket and be free of distraction. Maybe I’m deluding myself and I’ll get used to it, the same way I’ve gotten used to having an iPhone at all times. I don’t know, but I feel there needs to be some disconnection, some way to have a conversation with a friend and not have your wrist tingling every few minutes.

The counter argument to this is that the watch actually increases your connection to other people, because we all connect with each other so much over the internet nowadays. I appreciate this argument, but I’m not sure I’m ready to sacrifice my real world connections to such a degree for my online connections. There still seems something fundamentally different between the two. Texting someone just can’t compare to an actual real world conversation. Sharing your heartbeat may be a great gimmick, but still pales in comparison to actually feeling another human being’s touch.

There’s a clear evolution of computers that are becoming more and more personal and connected to us. However, with that connection to computers, we sacrifice more and more of our human connection. This evolution can’t be stopped though, and will continue ever further into the future. The Apple Watch is the next stop on the line, and the one where I may have to get off.

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The Daily Zen #17 “How to be Creative in One Simple Step”

I haven’t written a Daily Zen since February 28, 2014, and haven’t written any post on here since May 13, 2014. I’ve gotten a few people tweet at me as to what happened and why I stopped posting. I had been pretty consistently posting on VintageZen for about a year, but after that time it started to become a chore. I felt I was running out of ideas and getting tired of the “Apple tech scene.” So I put it on hiatus, but kept the possibility I could always come back to it some day, even if that meant continuing to pay Squarespace every month. Anyway, I’m not coming back regularly right now, but still thought I’d throw something out in the wide ocean of the internet and hopefully occupy someone’s mind for a few minutes. Let us begin.


Everywhere I see blog posts and books and podcasts about “how to be more creative.” This is big business and many people make their living teaching you all the ways you can be more creative and tap that creative potential that’s waiting to burst out from inside you. What exactly they mean by creativity is usually very ambiguous and can encompasses all kinds of things, from actually making truly unique works of art, to simply being more productive with your time.

Everything about this is bullshit.

Creativity isn’t something that can be taught. It’s not the same as teaching someone to be more productive, it’s different. I see creativity as actually thinking differently about the ways things are done, and creating new and unique ways to do those things. This is something creative people do naturally and I don’t think you can teach it. Picasso didn’t read a blog post on creativity and suddenly realize he should be painting more abstractly. James Joyce didn’t take a 10 day seminar on creativity before writing Ulysses. These people simply created things because they were creative. It wasn’t something they learned, it was something they did.

Yet people eat up these “how to be creative” articles and books and think they will suddenly be able to see the world differently and be super creative. But instead of making them creative, they simply start obsessing over theories of creativity and completely forget about actually doing creative things. It becomes a masturbatory act instead of something they do outside themselves. They start to actually think that because they read a blog post about creativity, they actually were creative that day. Usually these types of people are some of the least creative people you will meet.

Creativity is simple and being creative can be broken down into a single step:

If you want to be creative, just fucking BE CREATIVE!


Old Painting of the Day: The Starry Night by Vincent Van Gogh. Obviously a masterpiece. I saw it in person at the MOMA in New York City a few years ago. I’d highly recommend you do the same.


If you vehemently disagree with this post, please tweet me about it and start a roaring Twitter debate. Thank you!

Why I Think Apple Bought Beats

So the huge news the last few days in the tech sphere has been the rumored acquisition of Beats Electronics by Apple. After the rumor got out, the speculation has been rampant from all ends of the internet. Everyone seems to have an opinion. It’s an interesting issue to examine given Apple’s current place in the music industry. Beats has always been seen and now you are doing this. Really, you are fucking doing this all out, like a real tech blogger. The opinion piece on the news of the day that hasn’t even been officially announced. Yeah, no, go on, keep it up, lets see how this goes.

There are many questions that have arisen from this rumored acquisition, including whether the Beats brand will remain independent, what executives will move to Apple, and how exactly the two companies will merge? I personally see this acquisitions as symbolizing a new wave of come on, really? Are you a member of Apple’s board? Do you have some deep connections to the inner workings of Beats? Who the fuck are you lowly wannabe tech blogger who has some vague notions of what you think Silicon Valley is like, while you’ve never even been there.

What the fuck, stop interrupting me with your criticisms, this is my blog, not Twitter! I like talking about tech, I enjoy speculating on things, what’s wrong with that?

Ok good, I think I’ve broken you out of your head just a bit now. First, there’s nothing wrong with speculating about tech acquisitions, but is this really worth your time? Couldn’t you be doing other things, things maybe slightly more worthwhile? Writing about things you actually know about? Being creative in some way?

I just want to write about tech and what everyone I follow in the tech sphere is talking about. That’s why I got into this community in the first place! If I didn’t want to talk about this stuff, I’d leave and find a new community.

I know, I know. I’m you of course. But why not talk about it in some unique way, or talk about some tech issue that others aren’t? Why do you have to regurgitate the same talking points every other blogger is discussing? This story has been told from a thousand different angles, is your blog post really adding anything new? Or you just typing out words and thoughts that no one much cares about or will remember in a week, just on the off chance some bigger fish tech blogger might link to you.

Fuck you and your proselytizing and judgment. It’s my blog and I can write about Beats if I damn well want! Ok, lets go… so I think the acquisition is great for Apple for a couple reasons. The first is the cultural philosophies of the two companies match up very well, to the point Beats has been on record that it was tremendously inspired by Apple. Come on now. I also think the streaming music service that Beats has created is a giant missing piece in Apple’s music strategy. Really, Apple’s music strategy? Apple has been faltering with gaining the mindshare of the music culture and needs to break down those walls to reach the untapped youth market. What are you even talking about here? Have you ever sat down in front of the mirror and contemplated your life to this point and wondered if you really, deep down to your core, care about the business practices of Apple?

Why do I have to care about it deep down to my core? Why can’t I just enjoy writing and discussing this as a hobby, as a way to unwind. Why does everything have to be unique and great, some things are just things that exist in the world. So just leave me alone and troll people on Twitter, ok?

Fine, I’ll leave you to write your blog post. I’m only trying to help.

Good, thank you. Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, so the $3.2 billion asking price represents a insignificant amount from Apple’s cash hoard that might not effect its standing in Wall Street and… oh fuck, he’s right isn’t he…

Fuck You Money

I think most of us have the far off dream of somehow obtaining enough money to last us the rest of our lives, without ever having to work for “The Man” again. Some people like to refer to this kind of windfall as “fuck you money.” Usually it’s the lottery scenario where you win a $100 million Powerball jackpot. That’s the easiest scenario to imagine because it literally could happen to anyone – no skill, no work, no talent involved. You simply pluck down $2 at a convenience store and suddenly have more money than 99.9% of people in the world. Other scenarios include writing a best selling novel, forming a business that takes off, or inheriting millions from a long lost rich uncle. These all float through our minds at random points while we wonder if our lives are being wasted sitting at a desk at 2 PM on a Wednesday afternoon on a warm summer day.

I’ll freely admit I want this fuck you money. I’d love to never have to work a 40 hour a week job again. I could travel the world, meet interesting people, do things that I could never contemplate doing in my current life. Suddenly my life would gain those 40 hours back and I could use them to expand my mind and live my life to its limits. The money would be freedom to me, not simply a means to obtain gold plated silverware or a garage full of Italian sports cars. Material possessions are of course alluring, but really I crave the freedom to live my life as I would want to live.

Yet, as I write this, I can imagine a starving person in a third world country and how if they ever somehow read this they’d think I was an ungrateful, privileged American. They’d be right too. I already have a good job and make enough money to live comfortably. Yet I want even more? And not just a little more, but millions and millions more. I want enough to never work again. Isn’t that just laziness? Am I deluding myself into thinking having this money would change my life, or really do I just want to be a glutton who never has to contribute to society ever again and can live off my money until I die fat and happy?

I don’t know, and really I’ll never need to know or have to make any decisions in regards to having millions upon millions of dollars. The chances I’d ever have fuck you money are astronomically small, and it really is just a pipe dream. Even if I somehow won the lottery and got the money, would I even look back to this article and contemplate things, or just go wild and forget all about my past self? I think most adjust so quickly to having this kind of money that they literally become different people, removed from their former lives. Usually they don’t become happy, but are just faced with an entirely new set of problems to deal with.

In a lot of ways we shouldn’t wish this kind of money on ourselves. Yet, it’s almost impossible not to always want it, even if it’s secretly hidden deep in our psyches. It’s always that lingering yearning for something different than what you currently have, the dream in the distance.

I’m reminded of the story of Ronald Wayne. He was one of the original co-founders of Apple, along with Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak back in 1976. However, after a few months he worried about the liability he could have by being associated with the company and sold his 10% share for $800. Yes, you read that right – eight hundred dollars. In the years after he left, Apple skyrocketed and eventually that 10% share would have been worth literally billions of dollars.

Where is Wayne now?

He’s living in a mobile home in Nevada, where he sometimes goes to the casino or tinkers with his stamp and coin collection. He claims he is happy and doesn’t regret giving up on billions of dollars, but you wonder if secretly the dream of what could have been eats away at him. What would his life had been like? Would he have lived it more fully, explored more of the human existence, not have ended up in the a mobile home in the desert, waiting for his time to come?

That’s the gnawing thought that eats away at most of us as we go about our days. We get up early, go to work, come home tired, do chores, watch TV, and sleep. Are we really living, or merely going through the motions? Will we end up that old man in the desert some day, sitting on our porch and regretting the missed opportunities of our younger days? While it’s unlikely we could obtain billions (or even millions) of dollars, maybe there is more we could be doing. That’s what the question of fuck you money should inspire, what do you really want to be doing with your life?

Numbers

Let’s do a thought experiment – imagine if Twitter changed its service so that the number of followers one had was completely hidden from public view. So when you encountered a person on Twitter and looked at their profile, you’d have no idea if they had 5 or 50,000 followers. Would that change how you used Twitter? Would that change how you decided to follow people or what weight you gave to their tweets?

What if we went further and simply got rid of all numbers on Twitter, public or private. No one would know how many followers they themselves had, no one would know if their tweets got favorited or retweeted. People would simply talk to each other and see what they had to say, without having to worry about all the metrics that have become so commonplace on social networks. You’d still have indications of whether you were popular or if people liked things you tweeted, but they’d be more natural and less robotic.

In real life we don’t go around with the number of our friends plastered on our forehead. We don’t have metrics to figure out how many times the joke we told at a party was then retold to others. We interact more naturally than that, and it has worked for thousands of years. We actually are forced to observe others to determine if we like them, instead of distilling their entire self down to a number. We don’t know everything about everyone all the time, and that can be a good thing. The unknown can spur us on to find out more and seek out people we might not have interacted with if we saw they only had eleven followers.

However, I see the counter-argument that these numbers are simply a short-cut, a way to quickly determine social dynamics without having to really understand social dynamics. You can tell immediately if a joke is funny by the number of favs and retweets the joke gets. You don’t have to pick up on any social cues anymore, it’s simply mathematics. I’m sure this appeals greatly to people that are bad at socializing in real life and like the more simplified set-up that boils things down to clear and obvious data points. It’s probably not a coincidence that computer geeks are the ones that created these systems.

But, ultimately I don’t think this distillation of socializing down to numbers is a good thing. I do realize I might just be living in the past and have some idealized view of social interactions before the internet. However, I think these numbers are stripping a layer away from our humanity that is important. When we focus more on the numbers and less on the actual people behind the numbers, we lose something. Our interactions become skewed towards getting those numbers, and socializing becomes more a video game with a set goal, rather than simply enjoying people’s company.

What’s the solution though, can this trend be reversed?

I think if someone did create a new social network similar to my thought experiment, without any stats or metrics, that might help eliminate this phenomena. People would sign up and start interacting with others, not knowing how many followers they had on the service or whether their posts got shared or liked. They’d start to care more about the actual interactions, because that’s all there would be. I’m not sure this network would be successful, but at least it would be something different and pull us ever so slightly back into reality.

The Podcasters: James Smith

This is a continuing series in which I interview great podcasters to learn about their podcasting setups. While the content is always the most important aspect of a podcast, the technical craft in bringing that content to the listeners also deserves attention. I hope this series will illuminate that critical piece of the puzzle.

James Smith is podcast producer and sometimes host, who has a deep knowledge of the technical aspects behind making a quality podcast.

What podcasts do you host?

Currently producing The Verse podcast which is hosted by Justin Gibson with regular crew members James Griffiths and Alec Fraser. I also occasionally appear on the show. We also just recently joined Fiat Lux, the podcasting syndicate headed up by Ben Alexander

The Verse is a weekly podcast where we discuss an episode from the Whedonverse. It pretty much means anything attached to Joss Whedon is fair game. Right now we’re working our way chronologically through everything which means were just passing through season 2 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. We’ve actually mapped it out and if we keep putting out one episode a week, we’ll be going for about 8 years.

Though we haven’t put out an episode in like a year, I’d like to ressurect my first podcast, hosted with Griff, called Twobiquity. It was just a show where we could catch up and chat about what we’d done in the last week including TV, movies, music, you name it, we’d cover it.

The final podcast is Unbiquity, which is outtakes from both of those shows. Sometimes the outtakes are better than the actual show.

What’s your physical rig? (Computer, Mic, headphones, other accessories.)

So I use my MacBook Pro with retina display for all aspects of the show. It’s a beast maxed out with 16GB of RAM and a 768GB SSD. Once a show has been edited, I usually transfer it off to a Drobo FS that’s sitting on my network at home.

In terms of recording equipment, I’m using a Samson C01U which was given to me as a gift a couple of years ago. It’s a decent mic and does the job. It used to be on a static arm, but I managed to rig it up to an Ikea TERTIAL Work Lamp and use it as a boom. It’s noisy if you move it during recording but I generally set it and I’m golden for the episode

I’ve had my Sony MDR-V6 Headphones for about 6 years now and they’re still as good as when I bought them. They’re a great set of headphones and are only about $100.

What type of room do you record in?

I just record in the third bedroom in the house which we’re using as a study. It’s nothing special but there is carpet on the floor which helps to mitigate some of the echo.

What software do you use for recording and editing?

I’m using Logic Pro X to record and edit the show. We use the double-ender technique where each person records their audio locally and then we sync it via Dropbox. If I’m on the show too, I’ll record a local sync track using Audio Hijack Pro so that I can match up all the audio files a bit easier when it comes to editing. I know a lot of people like to use Skype Call Recorder but there have been way too many times when people have lost entire podcasts because it was being used as the only recording method.

Shush is also a great little Mac app which lets you assign push-to-talk or push-to-silence to a function key. iZotope RX 3 plugin works amazingly well in Logic and the Dialogue Denoiser is a lifesaver. I’ll also use iTunes to convert to Bounced AIFF from Logic to a HE-AAC (tiny file size and no discernible reduction in quality) file for the final upload.

What do you use to host your podcasts online?

Squarespace – who doesn’t. Feedpress handles the feed – need to do this if you want to move hosts, etc.

What’s your basic workflow for recording a podcast and taking it to the published stage?

It’s slightly different depending on whether or not I’m on the call. As said above we use the double-ender recording technique. It’s longer to edit because of syncing the files initially, making sure that they don’t drift, and uploading, etc. But better quality and doesn’t rely upon the Skype Gods as much.

If I’m recording with the gang, I’ll also use this nifty Logic workflow to add markers to the episode for easier editing.

Each co-host has a Dropbox folder that’s synced with me where they drop their uncompressed AIFFs of the recording. If I’m not on, someone else will also record a sync track.

In order to keep in touch, we’ve switched from private messaging in App.net and over to Slack for internal comms. Let me just say this, it works brilliantly and if you’re not using it, you should be.

Would you like to change anything about your current podcasting setup?

I’m pretty happy with everything at the moment. The only thing that I’d probably upgrade would be my mic. I hear good things about the Rode Podcaster.

Earspeakers

So, I wanted a new pair of headphones.

I had a number of random headphones laying around the house, the best being the Apple EarPods that came with my iPhone. While they were actually fairly high quality and had gotten some pretty good reviews, they were still on the lower end of the headphone spectrum. I wanted to step up to “over-ear” headphones, which most audiophiles claim produce the highest quality sound. So I began my search.

The thing about me is I have to heavily research a product before I take the dive and buy a certain model. For the type of research addict I am, the internet provides the drug I crave. Forums, review sites, blog posts, YouTube videos, etc. A person can go down some very deep rabbit holes trying to find the absolute best version of whatever product category they are seeking. For headphones, it’s a very deep hole, as there are literally hundreds of models out there and no shortage of opinions on what are the best.

I began my search where I almost always begin – Wirecutter.com. I find them to be one of the most valuable resources on buying the “best” version of something, and they are very highly respected. They had two categories for “over-ear” headphones – $150 and $300 ranges. I had a budget and didn’t want to go over $150, so stuck with that category. Their top pick were the Sony MDR-7506 headphones, which are considered a classic model. They’ve been around for over 20 years, are fairly widely praised by audio engineers, are durable, and overall produce a supposedly very balanced and high quality sound. They also were going for only $85 on Amazon. Perfect, this seemed like a can’t lose headphone, and I should have just bought them then and there.

That’s not how I do things though.

Instead, I continued the search and looked at competing models, dug through endless Amazon reviews, scoured audiophile sites, and even started asking around on Twitter for advice. My mind kept going in circles as everyone had an opinion and many times the advice was conflicting. I’d read a review stating the Sonys had too little bass, then one that said they had too much bass. I’d read someone claim Audio-Technica’s were the superior brand, then another state they sounded loose and boomy. I’d get recommended a lower cost model of something, than someone would say the higher cost model was what I really wanted. The information soon started to become an overload and making the right choice seemed close to impossible. I wasn’t going to find perfection.

After an entire weekend of research, I pretty much realized I just needed to make a decision and end my indecision. So I came back to the Wirecutter article and decided to just go with the Sony MDR-7506s. I bit the bullet and ordered them on Amazon. Two days later they came in the mail.

I was slightly nervous putting them on for the first time and queuing up a song on my iPhone. What if they sounded like crap and I made a horrible choice? What if I should have gone with the pricier brand? What if they didn’t sound any better than my EarPods? But I pressed play and my fears vanished. They were amazing – crystal clear sound, great bass, great balance on all levels. They were simply the best pair of headphones I’ve ever listened to.

So basically I could have spent five minutes reading the Wirecutter article to find what I wanted instead of two days of endless internet research. However, I don’t really see it as wasted time. While I came back to the place I started, along the way I learned a tremendous amount about headphones, and I kind of enjoyed the search. It was fun, and the minute it started to not seem as fun is when I gave in and bought the headphones. I think it’s fine to geek out on researching products, as long as you know it’s not all that necessary. You are mainly doing it for yourself, not as a way to find perfection.