It Just Works?

I realize that the evolution is technology is making it more difficult to manage all the things we have going on with our devices. However, when you’re writing your own software exclusively for your own hardware, and charging a premium to be part of that experience, this should not be possible. This is not an example of “It Just Works”.

This screenshot is from the latest version of iPad Pro running the latest version of iPadOS. If user interaction elements just disappeared like this on applications built and maintained by my team at work I’d be calling meetings and having frank discussions with quality control.

There’s a reason I am reevaluating who I invest my money with to maintain my realm of technology.

Star Trek Future.

Cross-posted from Facebook.

Photo from syfy.

So I’ve been a Trekker since The Original Series. When I make my fan movie (which will live in the Voyager era) I’m using the theme from “Star Trek: The Animated Series”. In 1988 I sent storyboards to Paramount describing how the transporter should look in “Star Trek V: The Final Frontier”. (Voyager ended up with a very close representation of what I suggested but I doubt I had anything to do with it). I love the theme of hope, the better future, and the moving beyond many human failings that were depicted in all incarnations of Star Trek through “Enterprise”. 

We’ve been watching “Star Trek: Picard”. We subscribed to CBS: All Access just to watch. I wanted to love it. I was excited about Picard, Seven, and all that is Star Trek in the 24th century coming back to television. But while some of it feels familiar, I’m struggling with the swearing, the constant strife, and the use of very 21st century language. Name one place where Kirk said “groovy” or Deanna Troi said “rad” or “gnarly”. 

Why so much darkness? And don’t get me started on the vaping.

Prior to the 2010s, Star Trek has represented what we should be moving to: humanity getting better, evolving into a more caring species with a thirst for knowledge, exploration, and the betterment of the universe. Poverty, homelessness, the need for money: humans had moved beyond that. The “pew pew” was always a last resort. There were bad guys, there always will be, but Star Trek was classy and polished. I was hoping “Star Trek: Picard” would bring that back. 

I’m starting to doubt it will do that. You can put a fancy label on a cheap wine but sometimes that wine really does belong in a box.

I’ll finish this season but I hope it takes a turn for a brighter future soon.

Skant.

In the 24th century we won’t be as hung up on “gender norms” and what we’re wearing and what we’re suppose to wear and all that. At least, in the Star Trek universe it won’t be a big deal.

The first few episodes of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had crew members, both male and female, wearing the “skant”.

Apparently this look never really caught on and was abandoned about halfway through the first season of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” (before River grew a beard).

Personally I was always a fan of first season Riker’s look, but then again at the time I was just happy to have Star Trek back on the air.

The skant persisted in a modified form, making its way as a dress uniform, this time with pants underneath.

I don’t think the skant ever made it to the later uniform styles but I did enjoy it’s appearance back in the day. Even if it was just to prove that in the future we would get beyond trivial things like what men and women we’re wearing.

IDIC.

Improvements.

Apple Maps is a classic example of what happens when you don’t have the software where it needs to be upon its initial release. Despite all of the improvements Apple has made over the years, Maps still has a poor reputation. Google Maps seems to be the default choice of users, even those using iPhones and the like.

Recent improvements to Apple Maps have been impressive. Signalized intersections are now marked with a stop light icon. Speed limit data was accurate through a construction zone.

Personally I like Apple Maps and I find the quality on par with Google’s counterpart. Yelp integration is nice, the only step I’d ask Apple to take is to not require opening the Yelp app for diving into details on a location.

iHistory.

Yesterday was the 10 year anniversary of the announcement of the iPad. I remember watching the announcement with great interest but it wouldn’t be until the end of 2010 when I bought my first iPad. Oddly, I can’t easily find any photos of my first iPad in Photos, but I did run across a photo of me and my very first iPhone back in 2008.

There wasn’t an app store back then, as the plan was “apps” would be served through HTML5 web apps on Safari. Looking at the photo, two things quickly catch my eye: I had awesome sideburns (in ginger!) and the row above the dock had a right justified app icon, something you can’t do today on the iPhone or iPad.

I found an early screen shot from my iPhone 3G, after apps had been introduced to the ecosystem.

There’s plenty of familiar apps on that screen, albeit with ancient icons, but I don’t remember off the top of my head as to what “Zite” did.

** One moment.

A quick DuckDuckGo search reveals that Zite was an aggregator: news magazines, videos, blogs, and the like all came together in one app called Zite.

I still don’t remember it.

So I started this blog entry by remembering the 10 year anniversary of the iPad. Once I had an iPad I remember it took a little while for me to warm up to it. At the time I was still quite much in love with my Macs and iPhone and the iPad seemed like an intermediate device. Maybe extraneous.

Fast forward 10 years and my 2018 iPad Pro is my primary computer. I have it in tow all the time and I keep tweaking and making my personal experience better. I honest believe tablet computing, when does as well as the iPad, which is far and beyond anything else currently offered, is the future. My mom has an iPad as her primary device, my husband has an iPad, my nephew has an iPad. We don’t really need huge laptops anymore. For basic computing, when it comes to browsing the internet, tweeting, email, Facebook, and chatting with others through the various channels, iPads fit the bill, it’s simply a matter of thinking outside the box.

Happy birthday, iPad! I wish I could find a photo of my original iPad because I’ve been quite delighted since I first laid my hands on you.

Availability.

I love when technology is used for something sensible. I’m not talking about giving us the ability to watch videos of people falling down on the ice or lending voice to anonymous rage fests on social media. No, I’m talking about technology that makes our life just a little bit easier without taking over the situation completely. You know, the stuff that actually helps us.

My husband and I ventured over to “Fashion Outlets of Chicago”, a mall situated near O’Hare. As the name suggests, this mall is loaded with stores and shops of an outlet and bargain basement nature. Amongst the gaiety is situated a food court. When I ordered a “diet pop”, a perfectly natural request in the Midwest, the clerk laughed out loud and proceeded to say “pop” in unnatural tones. Apparently I was on the wrong side of town for a diet pop.

I’m digressing.

To initiate our venture to “Fashion Outlets of Chicago” we drove the car. It’s always a bit of pain driving in the city, especially in the winter when everyone forgets how an automobile works, how roads work, and how various other necessities of a motorized society works, but nevertheless I ventured us over to the parking garage attached to the “Fashion Outlets of Chicago”.

I was pleasantly surprised with the technology in use in the parking garage.

  1. Electronic signs indicated how many spots were open on any of the multiple levels of the garage
  2. LED lights over each spot showed red or green indicating the availability of the parking spot, and these lights were easily seen from all over the garage
  3. Displays at the end of each row displayed the number of open spots per row, letting you know if you should venture down a row or not looking for an available parking space.

This practical use of technology made whipping the Jeep Cherokee around this garage just a little more pleasant than it otherwise would have been. The stress of parking was reduced just enough to make the “Fashion Outlets of Chicago” a bit more pleasant of an experience.

I hope this parking technology catches on elsewhere. It’s the little things that make a difference.

Simplicity.

This is my alarm clock.

After spending time on and off my nightstand for the past weeks and months I’ve decided that it belongs on my nightstand.

This alarm clock, purchased during my senior year of high school, has worked reliably since 1986. It keeps time as well as the power grid will allow it, it can tune in both AM and FM radio stations using the antenna built into the power cable and it’s simple to set and easy to synchronize to an atomic clock.

My mid-1980s vintage General Electric alarm clock doesn’t require updates, doesn’t need to reboot, and uses LED digits that do not blind me in the middle of the night. I can’t talk to it and it doesn’t talk to me, but it does wake me up every morning with the sounds of NewsRadio WBBM.

I have flirted with other alarm clocks, especially over the past year or two. An Alexa Dot that featured a round face, the eerie laugh of Alexa in the middle of the night, and a camera pointed at my slumbering visage. I most recently tried a Lenovo Smart Clock, powered by Google Assistant. Using a miniaturized version of the Google Assistant software found on the Google Nest Home Hub, it likes to update in the middle of the night and shine LED backlighting on my eyes. Sometimes I wake up with a sunburn.

Luckily, I bought it during the holidays for over 50% off. I didn’t enjoy it as much as I thought I would.

After swapping between my old reliable GE and the Lenovo for the past week I’ve settled with sticking with the tried and true. The red digits make no impression in the darkened room when we’re sleeping and the alarm is always on time.

Sometimes you just have to keep it simple.

Privacy.

Anything I share anywhere online I do so knowing that any shred of this information could be made public at any time. Every document I save, every tweet I type, and of course every blog entry I write will have an infinite shelf life. When I type anything into a network connected computer it is being released to the wild. It may remain locked up on a hard drive or it could appear on the front page of some trashy website, but when I share it, that choice is no longer mine. I know this, and I’ve known this all of my technological life, ever since the first time I typed “Hi!” to my modem connected cousin in a chat room in 1985 using a Commodore 64, a modem, and GEnie (an ‘information sharing’ service from that era).

According to Reuters, Apple dropped plans for full end-to-end encryption of iPhone (and presumably other iOS-based device) backups after receiving complaints from the FBI. The FBI countered fully encrypting backups would harm any investigations.

Apple touts itself as a “privacy first” company and this news greatly disappoints me. However, I’m not completely taken by surprise by this.

Ever since 9/11, when the United States of America became fear-based, paranoid country of citizens, the government has rapidly eroded citizens’ privacy rights, all in the name of patriotism and safety. In the guise of “going after the bad guys”, government agencies, some out in the open and many behind closed doors, want to know anything and everything about every one of its citizens, whether you’re doing anything nefarious or not. Books have been published about this, television documentaries have shared this, movies have been made, there’s plenty of evidence out there. The U.S. Government feels they have a right to anything and everything you’re doing. Encryption prevents them from gathering this information. The Government is fearful of another attack akin to 9/11, not because of casualties or destruction, but rather because it would compromise the motto of “The Greatest Country in the World”. Another attack like that fateful day in 2001 would embarrass the Government and they’re going to do everything they can to prevent it from happening again.

“But I have nothing to hide!”. I hear this often when engaging others in a conversation along about this subject and my counterpoint is always two part: 1. It should be “But I have nothing to hide, yet!” and 2. Why don’t we just get rid of freedom of speech because perhaps “You have nothing to say”.

Aside from building your own cloud and your own ecosystem and your own encryption and the like, I still maintain Apple’s devices and ecosystems are still the safest option out there for Joe Schmoe and friends type users. This is why my family continues to invest in Apple products. Granted, today’s revelations are disappointing, and if it’s indicative of a trend I may consider building my own data fortress (because I can), but I still believe when it comes to privacy, Apple is still the best consumer choice in town.

And if you don’t want anyone accessing it, don’t put it on a computer to begin with.

4683.

I don’t know the people in this photo. This is a screen cap from a 1991 video about EPCOT Center, the second theme part to open up at Walt Disney World in Florida.

The reason I snapped this photo is because of the IBM 4683 Point of Sale terminal in the foreground. When my husband and I visited Disney in 1997 I noticed these terminals, and they’re younger siblings the 4693, 4694, and 4695 scattered all over the parks. This was not surprising, you would find IBM cash registers like this anywhere back in the day.

The IBM 4683 was the first cash register made by IBM that used fairly standard PC components, though many of the peripherals were connected through proprietary connectors. When they first came out in the late 1980s they ran on an operating system called 4680 OS which was based on FlexDOS. Like MS-DOS (which folks were running on their PCs at the time), FlexDOS was a PC-based variant that included special multitasking powers. Typically, in modern installations, there’d be two IBM PCs running in the store somewhere powering the IBM 4683 terminals you’d see at customer checkout stands.

I had a brief stint tailoring point of sale software for the IBM 4683s running General Sales Application, which was the primary software package used in non-grocery environments back in the day. It’d probably be surprising to younger software developers, but the code we wrote was in BASIC. Yes, the same commands that you entered into your PC were used on these terminals.

10 PRINT "Hello!"
20 GOTO 10

Looking back it’s amazing what we could do with the IBM 4683 given that onboard memory was still measured in kilobytes and they didn’t have a hard drive. The later IBM 4684 was more robust and could operate as a stand alone register. That’s when the DOS variant of retail software was introduced and it was called “Retail Application/PC”. I did a little work on that as well.

When I worked at Hills Department Store over one holiday season the store was converted from older NCR 255s (installed in 1978) to the IBM 4680 GSA system. Our registers looked identical to the one pictured at EPCOT Center, but we still didn’t get scanning. We’d enter the Department, SKU, Quantity (if more than one), and price of each item. Contrary to modern belief, we did not key in the UPC numbers from the back of the item’s packaging. The registers didn’t know the price back then, but they did know if the price was too low or too high for that particular department. The limited memory onboard the registers didn’t have enough room to know the price of individual items but it did know the range of the entire department the item belonged to.

It’s been years since I’ve regaled a modern times cashier with this information when they roll their eyes because an item won’t scan.

It wasn’t too long ago that I saw an IBM 4683 still out in the wild. It might have been in Canada and it was pressed into service with newer equipment. It seemed to be keeping up with the Joneses.

Let It Whip.

In 1983 my Dad decided to get a little bit ahead of the technology curve and purchased a VHS VCR for our 19-inch television. The TV was a vintage 1976 Zenith set that sat on the bookshelf in the Family Room and was our main television. It would be a few years before cable television snaked its way out our road from town, so we relied on a rooftop antenna with a motorized rotor that allowed us to tune in various stations. We generally stayed with the “basic four” of the era, NBC, CBS, ABC, and PBS. However, living close to Lake Ontario I could get that antenna on the roof swinging around and we also received CKWS from Kingston (CBC) and CJOH from Ottawa (CTV) clear as a bell. Once in a while I could tune in more distant Rochester and for some reason during one particular thunderstorm I flung the antenna around enough and I could grab the NBC station out of Orlando, Florida for a few moments.

The VHS VCR was made by General Electric, could handle both VHF and UHF channels, and looked a lot like this guy, albeit with a cover that flipped down over the channel selector on the right.

It was just this evening that I discovered Panasonic actually made this VCR for General Electric. I never knew that while growing up, but I can tell you the very first show I successfully recorded on it was the premiere of “Jennifer Slept Here” starring Ann Jillian.

There were no video rental places in town yet, but our local Rite Aid offered video rentals for $0.49 (49 cents) a night. I discovered a video featuring “Stars On 45”, the studio musicians that made medleys of older songs to a relentless four-on-the-floor beat-clap-beat-clap rhythm track, occasionally interrupted by Stars On 45 Jingles and interludes.

The Stars On 45
Keeps on turnin’
In your mind
But we can work it out
Remember ‘Twist and Shout’
You still don’t tell me why
With no reply..y…y…y

The video had none of the singers that were on the tracks so popular on the radio at the time, but was rather a one-off stage performance that featured the famous medleys and a whole bunch of other songs.

I remember my sister moaning and groaning when I decided to monopolize the only television in the house to watch the video, so I decided to wait until the next day, while Mom and Dad were at work and she was off doing whatever she did after school.

Towards the end of the performance the singers did a mash-up of Devo’s “Whip It” and The Dazz Band’s “Let It Whip” with a bunch of dancers moving along in very 1980s choreography. Chains and batons were flung around, people moved seductively, feathered hair waved.

When the three (at the time) scantily dressed guys came out I discovered a wonderful feature of the new General Electric VHS VCR made by Panasonic.

It had a PAUSE button.

My sophomore year had just kicked off, I had all these wild thoughts going on in my head, whereas I just knew I was suppose to be pausing on the (at the time) scantily dressed girls but I was really grooving on pausing on the (at the time) scantily dress guys.

Worried someone would come home while the VCR was on PAUSE, I quickly finished the video. I then decided to Be Kind and Rewind and then went up to my green painted bedroom with blue, green, and black plaid carpet and decided to think about what I just PAUSEd about.

I’ll let your imagination fill in the details that could evoke a blush.

While I was working today I found myself singing “Let It Whip / Whip It, Whip It Good” and realized it was from this video I hadn’t seen in 37 years. I was happy to find it on YouTube.

No need to PAUSE, I’m not a sophomore in high school.