The Nostalgia Switch, by Nintendo

For some quick context, let me first say that I haven’t owned a proper console since the Xbox One (and I bought that for a single game — Skate). But, I’ve owned every iteration of Game Boy and DS that has come out over the last 30 years, and also had a couple of Sony PSP’s during the naughts.

That the Nintendo Switch is both a proper console and super portable, made it irresistible to me. Also, it’s made by…wait for it…Nintendo. Were it any other company I probably would have ignored its siren call (who can forget that amazing introductory commercial?), but as with most ’80s kids, Nintendo holds a special, immutable place in my nerd heart.

The Switch is…awesome. Really. I’ve been so impressed. The software, the games (need MOAR!), the delightful system sounds, the Pro Controller, the ability to easily connect and use third-party controllers (like the sweet SNES30 Controller from 8Bitdo), etc. It’s just a cool system.

The best modern game offering is Mario Kart 8 Deluxe (I’ve never been into Zelda; please don’t @me). The best retro offering is Ultra Street Fighter II, which actually includes a 16-bit mode that looks just like the early ’90s versions(!). Together with the SNES controller it’s like childhood all over again.

Overall it’s been a lot of fun and I’m very much looking forward to the addition of new games and seeing how they plan to extend this seemingly-malleable platform.


I hope eventually they will decide to make available for the Switch everything that comes with the NES Classic and SNES Classic. I want all of those games, but I don’t want more plastic, and I’m too old to take the time to hack them onto the device.

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WhatsApp is my only notification channel

Well, almost

About a year ago I started urging my friends, family, and colleagues to get onto WhatsApp.

There were three main reasons I wanted to get my entire friend/work graph on it: 1) there are no limits to the number of links I can share (and, uh, I probably send more links than anyone on earth; Messenger throttled me nearly every day 🙄); 2) Signal-based encryption (PDF) is on by default on all threads, including groups; and 3) it couldn’t be more reliable, intuitive, or consistent (I mean, it’s almost boring, and that’s a good thing). (It’s also an awesome platform for phone and video calls.)

Fast-forward to today and quite literally every single digital interaction I have is via WhatsApp (email and Twitter don’t count). And if I meet someone new it’s the first thing I offer up when asked for my contact info.

In addition, over the last year I’ve found myself slowly but surely turning off notifications for most of my apps. Note that I don’t turn them off completely, but rather set them to show only in the Notification Center. This way I don’t miss any, but they don’t interrupt me either.

So, WhatsApp, Twitter (though significantly throttled via in-app settings), and a few breaking news apps are the only ones I allow to throw something up on my screen any time they want.

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How I devour the internet’s daily data delta

Or how I swallow all the news without drowning

If you know anything about me you know that I read a lot. Like, a lot a lot. Likely more than anyone you’ve ever met. This isn’t some nerdy brag (🙄) — it’s just my life, and I have no real power over it. I’m almost never not reading something. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

RSS

Believe it or not, RSS still is at the core of my routine, and for very good reason: all these years on and it’s still the best way to curate the internet to your tastes and interests. And if, like me, you’ve been building up your list of feeds for damn near two decades, it’s hard to imagine anything else ever coming close.

For the last few years I’ve used Newsify on iOS, and Feedly on the web (Feedly is canonical; Newsify talks to it).

Nuzzel

Another trick is an app called Nuzzel. If you’re a “light” information hunter/gatherer, you actually might be able to get away with using only Nuzzel each day. I use it for two specific purposes: have breaking stuff sent immediately to me, and surface articles I might not otherwise find via my usual channels.

I have Nuzzel connected to both my Facebook and Twitter graphs, and it’s set to notify me whenever three or more of those folks link to the same article. This way, even if I’m swamped at work or whatever and am not actively devouring news, I still can stay on top of truly breaking stuff; this is especially true for my Facebook graph, because most of those folks tend to be muggles, and surface things I’d never come across.

The other main use is the friends-of-friends feature. At the end of every day I open the app and swipe left to the FoF list. This, as you might imagine, is a list of all the links shared by those who are F0F, but aren’t connected to me directly. Yes there’s a lot of duplication here, but I also find a ton of stuff that I otherwise never would.

Twitter

Twitter killed RSS for a lot of people. I never really understood that, especially after we fought so hard to get at least partial content (i.e., more than just a headline) into our favorite feeds, something that wasn’t even possible with Twitter until fairly recently, and still isn’t consistent or helpful really.

Twitter for me is kind of like a catch-all for the day. I’m always behind by a few hours and so when catching up I’ll see many things I’ve already seen elsewhere, but still it surfaces things I’d never see anywhere else, plus it gives me the quick and easy option of quoting tweets with my own thoughts.

Medium

Like Twitter, Medium can be a bit redundant because I check it at the end of the day and usually by then I’ve come across many of the articles already. That said, it does a decent job of surfacing a mix of new things from both the users/pubs and the interests I follow.

Product Hunt

I love what Product Hunt has become: a cogent distillation machine for the best apps/services that come out each day. (Yes, you can “hunt” older apps and services, but for the most part, the things showcased there are pretty new to the world.)

Often I come across things there that I missed through other channels.

Podcasts

Almost none of the podcasts I frequent help with keeping up with the edges of tech, except maybe a16z, The Future of Everything, and Singularity.FM. (Most of the podcasts I listen to are about either science or true crime.)

Newsletters

Kind of not my thing. I subscribe to quite a few, but I’d much rather just have them come to me via RSS. One thing I don’t enjoy is reading long-ass pieces inside an email client.

Facebook groups

As a function of my job I’m a member of hundreds of internal groups at Facebook. Most of them are tied directly to products we’re either building or thinking about building, but some are related to the goings-on in tech more generally. Luckily for me we have an internal dingus that lets me send all group posts to my email client, where I filter and triage them.


Be right back, I’ve 500 new articles to read.

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The inevitable ubiquity of USB-C

There will be some temporary pain, but it will be worth it

USB-C really is the one-wire dream: an industry-standard I/O interface that handles data (10Gbps via USB v3.1; 40Gbps via Thunderbolt 3), audio, video, and power (up to 100 watts), is small (enough), is reversible, is meant to be future-proof, and is fully backwards compatible (all the way back to USB v1.0).

So what’s not to like? I don’t know. Yes, we’ll all have to buy a few adapters and hubs during the transition, and have hair-pulling conversations with the muggles in our lives, but once the planet-wide conversion is complete, I think we can expect USB-C’s reign to last a long while, much like USB-A/B before it.

It’s probably safe to say that this sea change won’t begin in earnest until USB-C replaces the Lightning port on iPhones. Does that happen with the next model later this year? Probably not, but I’d be really surprised if we don’t see it on iPhones in 2018.

It won’t be long before even normals are decrying manufacturers’ use of anything other than USB-C — the “Seriously, it doesn’t use C? *eye roll*” annoyances will add up really quickly. We’re talking about ditching power bricks and/or proprietary adapters for nearly all devices (e.g., laptops, cameras, Bluetooth speakers, headphones, etc.), connecting multiple peripherals to your laptop with a single cable, and killing off USB-A, miniUSB, microUSB, HDMI, VGA, and on and on. Regular folks will get behind this, and fast, and once they do, companies will be hard-pressed to justify their device not using it.

As sure as the jobs aren’t coming back, the wired I/O interface we deserve and need is snowballing itself into our lives, and as far as I’m concerned, the sooner the better.


A few weeks ago I bought Bang & Olufsen’s latest Bluetooth speakers — the Beolit 17 and the P2 — and was pleasantly surprised to see that they both use USB-C (for charging). Expect this to become the norm over the next couple of years.

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The iPhone is old as shit

And I’ve never been more excited about it

Original iPhone after 3 years of abuse (photo credit)

The iPhone is 10 years old this week, and in that time Apple has sold more than 1,000,000,000(!) of them. Over the last decade its gains in hardware and software have far surpassed anyone’s expectations, and actually, it’s now my only computer.

After seeing a zillion retrospectives on this 10th anniversary, I was reluctant to pen one myself, but, as when it was released, my experience has been a bit different than most, and I felt compelled to jot down something.

As I went about writing this I pored over my hypertext.net archives to help refresh my recollection of how I felt after this little piece of magic was revealed and started embedding itself in every facet of my life, both personally and professionally (and holy shit did I write a ton about it). (My initial thoughts on the original iPhone, after telling everyone I wasn’t going to buy one.)

The best computer is the one you have with you

Maybe the craziest thing about the original iPhone is that none of its features were unique to it. In fact, even its combination of features wasn’t unique to it. There, of course, were “smart” phones long before the iPhone, some of which were actually pretty cool. In April 2007 I wrote:

Save the interface, iPhone v1.0 isn’t bringing anything wholly novel to the mobile space. However, it is causing consumers to think differently about what they should expect from the computer in their pocket. You kind of have to think long-term here, years down the road when your “mobile phone” is your wallet, the keys to your car and house, the…you get the idea. Apple is going to get its foot in the door (and its hands gripped on consumers’ heartstrings) with all of the fluffy, shiny chrome in iPhone v1.0, but this is just the hook into the untapped cash cow that will be mobile computing.

Raising the expectations of what a pocket computer could be probably has been the iPhone’s greatest gift to the world. Every pocket computer now is a thin rectangle of glass and plastic/metal, and is interfaced with via touch…and we expect it to do everything.

Was this inevitable? Of course. But for Apple though, I’m not sure we would be half as far along as we are now.

The transition wasn’t easy and the homogeneity was hard to swallow

I owned approximately 50(!) mobile phones before the iPhone came along. I’ve been obsessed with them since buying my first in 1998 — a Nokia 6120 — and every few months from then until 2007 I bought a new one. Whatever the latest and greatest was, I had to have it. In July 2007 I wrote:

The best part about Apple making mobile phones is that I no longer have to scour the earth looking for the “new hotness” and then hope that it’s unlocked, uses GSM, and costs less than $1000. The worst part about Apple making mobile phones is that I’ll now be the rule instead of the exception (and I think part of me kind of enjoyed being the exception).

I’m no longer going to be told, as I once was by some law school friends, that I should just “fly to Singapore and wait at the end of an assembly line.” I’m now just going to be in the Apple line with everyone else.

I used nearly every iteration of the various mobile operating systems that existed from 1998 to 2007, including Series 60, Symbian, PalmOS, Windows CE, Windows Mobile, BlackBerry OS, etc., and for a while I really missed playing with and testing them as they added this or that feature.

But gradually that changed as the mobile OS world fractured wildly and then eventually consolidated into just two real players, and the iPhone’s indispensability in my life continued to grow with each new release. The tradeoff has been more than worth it — I love the iPhone and can’t imagine my life without it.

Apple gives a shit about security and privacy

I’m a privacy nut, and I don’t think it’s controversial to say that Apple is far and away the privacy leader with respect to mobile hardware and operating systems. As this thing has burrowed ever deeper into our personal lives, I think Apple has done a fantastic job of balancing utility and security. I trust them.

I still hate the name

I’ve disliked the name since the first time I heard it, and over the years it only comes across as more and more anachronistic. What do you do the least on your pocket computer? My guess is talk on the phone. I literally never use the phone. I’d prefer almost anything to “iPhone”; hell, I’d even be OK with “iPod,” and since the iPod is dead, I don’t see why this couldn’t happen. (Yes, I realize they’ll never change the name.)

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I was wrong about the AirPods

Sort of

Let’s be honest, Apple headphones suck. They always have. I can’t remember the last time I even removed them from the iPhone box. It’s probably been nine years. Seriously — every time I sold my phone it surprised the buyer that the headphones were still wrapped up.

Mostly because of this, when the AirPods were announced I ignored them completely. Wireless, in-ear headphones? Shitty sound quality? Welcome to 2012. No thanks.

Well, it seems a lot of my assumptions were wrong. Maybe not wrong, but the sheer usefulness of these things was hard to grok fully without actually wearing them for a while.

Fit

They fit me perfectly. I can run, vigorously shake my head “no” (you know, for work), and generally just move about without them so much as reminding me they’re in my ears.

I think fit is going to be the single biggest factor in determining whether you like them or not. If they don’t fit well, you’re going to hate them and say they’re silly. If they do fit well, you’re going to want them.

Convenience

Honestly, it’s off the charts. I have some nits about invoking Siri, and the inability to change volume tangibly, but otherwise the experience is just amazing.

Their utilitarian qualities are legion: super tiny (including the smaller-than-you’re-expecting charging case), great battery life, magnets(!), fast-charging, etc. The design pragmatism and utility of these things really is difficult to capture in words.

And the W1 chip? Incredible. It shouldn’t even be called “pairing” anymore. They’re simply…connected.

A low bar for sound quality, but those mics tho

If you’re expecting to be blown away by the sound quality of these things you’re going to be sorely disappointed. I’m told they sound better than the EarPods, but let’s be honest, that bar is comically low.

Point is, buy these to get stuff done and interact with your phone, not to shut your eyes while blasting Frank Ocean’s Blonde. Do I listen to music on them? Of course. All the damn time, and in places where I never would have before (e.g., the bathroom), but it sounds mostly like ass.

The mics on the other hand are sick. In fact, they’re kind of mind-blowing. Reminds me a bit of how I felt after buying the very first Jawbone Bluetooth headset. I’m impressed.

Price

$160? I know many are balking at the cost, but honestly it seems like a steal after using them for a couple of weeks. I have a pair of Bose QC35s ($350), which I absolutely swear by when I want to drown out the world, especially on planes. I also have a pair of JH Audio JH16s ($1500), which, despite their unmatched performance, I don’t use too often these days because, you know, wires.

Anyway, I don’t feel $160 is unreasonable for the amazing (amount of) tech that’s packed into these things.

Conclusion

Apple got the AirPods right. They’re some kind of magic. Buy them — you won’t regret it (unless, of course, they don’t fit 😬).

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The books I read in 2016

Below is a list of the books I managed to power through in 2016, and below that is a list of the books I’ve either just bought or am currently reading. Yes, it’s all a little out of control, but hey, that’s me.

The big theme/obsession this time around (in addition to the usual science-heavy stuff) was serial killers (😳), or rather the “why” behind what compels them. Like modern-day religious belief, psychopathy fascinates the hell out of me, and once you start down that true-crime rabbit hole, it’s near impossible to climb out.

✭✭✭✭✭

✭✭✭✭✫

✭✭✭✫✫


In the queue

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The iPhone 7 Plus is my only computer

OK, that’s not entirely true — my non-work MacBook Pro is an amazing machine for backing up my pocket computer.

Yes, I’m being sardonic, but not entirely. I really don’t use the MBP for much of anything these days, and frankly, I’m not sure I’ll ever buy another “big” machine. (I’ve actually gone a couple months without so much as touching the MBP.)

I have a high-profile job at a high-profile company and need to use my work MBP (nearly) every day, but I’m at the point now where I’m averaging 8–12 hours a day on my pocket computer (thanks Moment!), and jump onto the MBP only when absolutely necessary.

I’ve long wanted to get to this point, and being (mostly) here now feels pretty damn good.

Much of what makes this possible is that I can delegate in one way or another most of what I think of, and can get away with being extremely terse in my emails. At this stage of my career my day-to-day job requires minimal work-product; if I was coding all day, designing websites, or researching, I probably wouldn’t be able to leverage my pocket computer the way I do, but I wouldn’t want to either.

The latest Macs

For almost 15 years I’ve pre-ordered every MacBook (Pro) and Mac Pro Apple announced, and have never not watched the keynotes or read voraciously every “hot take.”

The new machines that were launched a couple of weeks ago did absolutely nothing for me. And I do mean nothing. I didn’t watch the keynote, read nothing about them other than the hardware specs, and perhaps most tellingly, laughed at the idea of the Touch Bar.

Relatedly, my fully spec’d work MBP is long overdue for an upgrade (according to our IT policy), but I can’t even be bothered. For what purpose? I can reply to email and read documents only so quickly, and I can’t even add more RAM. ¯_(ツ)_/¯

RAW photos

If you know anything about me you know that photography may be my biggest passion these days. For a long time iOS couldn’t handle the RAW output from my “real” cameras, but now with iOS 10, Snapseed, and the SD-to-Lightning adapter, it’s totally doable. It’s not quite a breeze yet, but the process isn’t terrible either.

I love knowing that I can shoot freely with my Leica Q (or Fuji X-T1), ingest the photos into my pocket computer, post-process them there, and finally publish them to Instagram…all without touching a “real” computer.

Also, with support for wide color gamut I no longer feel guilty doing all of my post-processing (and a lot of my actual shooting) with the pocket computer.

Fuck hardware buttons

The removal of the home button on the iPhone 7 couldn’t have been more welcomed by me. It’s well known (in the tiny circles that give a shit) that I’ve had some, uh, issues with the home button over the years, and have been quick to have Apple replace multiple phones in one sitting.

I love this new home “button” — it’s solid and the feedback is consistent no matter how hard or where you press on it. Plus, you can choose how hard it needs to be pressed to activate it.

This faux-mechanical stuff needs to come to the rest of the phone. There are three buttons and a switch remaining, and they of course are prone to failure and manufacturing defects too. It’s infuriating when you have to return a pocket computer because a power/volume button doesn’t click properly. How many of these buttons have they made now? 30–40 billion? Why aren’t they perfect 99.9% of the time? (That said, kudos to Apple: they never don’t let me walk out with a new machine, and I can be…picky.)

The selfish and romanticized truth is that I want just a sheet of glass, and we’re getting close!

iPads Pro

I’ve owned both of them, and both are incredible machines. I currently have the smaller of the two, but haven’t turned it on in months (and obviously need to sell it soon) . The reason for this effectively is the same as what I said above regarding my MBP — I simply don’t have much use for it these days.

Kindle Oasis for books, pocket computer for everything else. ✌🏼


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Peak prediction, peak human?

On Twitter and here I’ve mentioned a few times that I think “science fiction” has become kind of a meaningless term — if we can think of something, we likely can achieve it. (Go ahead, try to come up with something that you think we won’t be able to realize…eventually. I’ll wait. 🙂)

The last few years I’ve been fond of saying that there really is no such thing as science fiction any more. It seems to me the term will soon become an anachronism harkening back to a time when humans (or our robot heirs) couldn’t bring every idea to fruition.

Yes, there are exceptions. Yes, there are things we don’t yet understand. Yes, I think there are things we’ll never understand; the machines — created by the machines that we create — most certainly will take the reins before we can fully unlock the universe. But, on the whole, there are few nuts we humans haven’t been able to crack, or otherwise won’t be able to soon.

Maybe at its edges the AI singularity is simply the inability for us to predict our future…at which point we will begin to struggle to maintain our dominance on Earth (and potentially other planets). It’s a completely insane time to be the organic kings of this spinning rock we call home. Enjoy it while it lasts.

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