The Web of Finger-Wags and How-Dare-Yous

Far too much of my experience of the Web is now dominated by folks pointing out with snideness or outrage just how horrible some person or persons are, in a kind of Niagara Falls of finger-wags and how-dare-yous. There is no room for human error, no space for discussion, no benefit of doubt. Sometimes these people are right about someone else’s awfulness, sometimes they’re not, but that’s not the point.

It used to be (uh-oh, already sounding like an old man) that platforms like blogs, Facebook, and Twitter were places I could find a wide variety of content, political and non-political, with ideas from every discipline and field of interest (plus cat memes and ruminations on what one was eating, as it ever shall be). But I happen to be in an indeological, political career, and I have friends and connections who are ideological and political, and it only follows that as more and more join these platforms, more and more of the content I see will lean in ideological directions. Which is fine on its own.

But somewhere we passed some kind of tipping point. Where once expressions of outrage and loathing for an opposing ideological side were just one aspect among many on these platforms, now they are, in my experience, overrunning them.

And it’s hurting me, I can feel it physiologically. You know, I pick up my iPad at the end of the day so I can decompress from a day already fraught with political and ideological battles (not to mention battles with my children to get them to eat their dinner or not physically harm me). But I can’t do that now, at least not the way I have things set up. Blogs I used to frequent are battlegrounds. Twitter is a machine gun of vitriol. Even browsing Facebook, which is supposed to be innocuous, is like walking through an infinitely-long hallway filled with angry propaganda posters. Rather than decompress, I compress further. And it's painful. It hurts. 

(And as for the battles in my professional life, yes they are part of “work,” but it’s still personal to me. I care about the surrounding issues, I care about the people involved. The stress this brings makes the ability to remove myself from it even more important.)

I may need to make a big change. It may mean that I remove people who I really like and respect from my social feeds, because despite my otherwise warm and fuzzy feelings toward them, they’re part of the torrent. At work, it can be a different story, because there I have no choice but to be aware of and conversant in current controversies and arguments. But on my own time, I think a digital shakeup may be in order. One in which I ruthlessly curate who I follow and allow to appear in my various feeds, and even make a point to silence certain topics and “upvote” others. In my reading, I can favor richer, more contemplative writing over blog wars and news bites.

So this is not a post about how I need to unplug or leave the Internet or some such silliness. But I do want to make my experience of the Internet far better than it has been of late.

You might be one of those people I like and respect who nonetheless contributes to my stress. In the case of a shakeup, I’m sorry if you’re among those who get shaken-out in the process. You probably won’t even notice. Which is good!

And if there’s something you really need me to see, I’m not hard to find.

I Don't Really Know What's Happening, So I'm Going to Call it "Emergent"

Freddie de Boer on some of the pseudoscience found in the writing and evangelism about artificial intelligence:

... there’s the notion of intelligence as an “emergent phenomenon.” That is, we don’t really need to understand the computational system of the brain because intelligence/consciousness/whatever is an “emergent phenomenon” that somehow arises from the process of thinking. I promise: anyone telling you something is an emergent property is trying to distract you. Calling intelligence an emergent property is a way of saying “I don’t really know what’s happening here, and I don’t really know where it’s happening, so I’m going to call it emergent.” It’s a profoundly unscientific argument. Next is the claim that we only need to build very basic AI; once we have a rudimentary AI system, we can tell that system to improve itself, and presto! Singularity achieved! But this is asserted without a clear story of how it would actually work. Computers, for all of the ways in which they can iterate proscribed functions, still rely very heavily on the directives of human programmers. What would the programming look like to tell this rudimentary artificial intelligence to improve itself? If we knew that, we’d already have solved the first problem. And we have no idea how such a system would actually work, or how well. This notion often is expressed with a kind of religious faith that I find disturbing.

Guiltless Gadgeteering

Let me begin by acknowledging that I have something of a problem when it comes to electronic devices. Well, that's just it, though – “problem” is too pejorative. More to the point, is that I feel a greater-than-normal enthusiasm for gadgets (meaning of course smartphones, tablets, PCs and the like), and have made something of a hobby out of playing with, thinking about, reading about, writing about, evaluating, and acquiring them. The problem, really, is that we're talking about relatively expensive items, and so the hands-on part of this enthusiasm/hobby is something of a challenge (thus making the act of browsing through a Best Buy a kind of luxury for me), the frustration of which my enthusiasm only exacerbates.

One result of this is that I spend an inordinate amount of time and energy mulling and chewing over not only imminent purchases when they are possible, but also potential purchases I might have made, sensing greener grass over every fence – but I do find it fun and interesting as well. The worst part about that, though, is that this mulling and any attempts to sate my curiosity then induce guilt.

But why should it? If we assume that my deliberations and frequent device-swapping aren't costing my family money (which we can assume because I don't make any moves unless they're more or less “revenue neutral”), what's the problem? The only real cost is trouble, the efforts to consider, decide, procure and divest. But I take them on solely, so I'm the only one dealing with it. So really, if I'm swapping devices at a higher rate than most normals, so what? Everyone's gotta have a hobby. Stamp collectors and people into Beanie Babies (is that still a thing?) don't feel guilt. I assume.

I'm thinking about this lately because of a recent internal debate about iPad Air vs. Retina mini (a debate now ended in favor of the Air, so no swaps needed), which of course recalls previous years' switcheroos, plus my recent carrier-motivated move from iPhone to Android. And now that I'm in Android, without much experience with the platform, I'm forming better ideas about the kind of device I really want (as opposed to a best guess from what was available), and thus, another swap might be on the horizon. And I don't want to have to feel guilty or decadent or frivolous about it. I just want to do it, and have some fun with it. I can do that, right?

The preceding four paragraphs are really my way of saying, I'm going to check out the Moto X for a couple of weeks pretty soon, and see if I want to swap my Nexus 5 for it.

And I'm not gonna feel the least bit bad about it. That's the goal, anyway.

Besides, my wife said it was okay.

What I Learned While Browsing Best Buy Without My Damn Kids

There is no way to browse in a retail store for personal enjoyment with a small child in one's orbit. Double that, with one toddler and one self-mobile baby, and it becomes not only impossible, but it approaches a war crime committed against oneself. Today, thanks to the mercy of my wife, I got to wander thoughtfully around a Best Buy, with no children, and familiarize myself with some of the current generation of gadgets, which I usually only read about.

Here are some of the things I learned while browsing around Best Buy without my kids:

  • Retina iPad minis are not way better than iPad Airs. Yeah they're adorable and light, but side by side it was clear I'd made the right call: iPad mini was still just too cramped and squat, and the iPad Air far more immersive. And screen typing was a nightmare on the Mini, whereas I'm typing this right now on my Air's screen without trouble.
  • In relation to the above, I need to stop listening to tech pundits and allowing their opinions to color my own considerable gadget lust. I can trust my own avaricious instincts.
  • As for tablet size and weight, I found the LG G Pad 8.3 quite compelling. The screen (at 8.3 inches, of course) is only a fraction of an inch bigger than the iPad mini's, but it felt much bigger, and I could see it being a very good compromise between the Mini and a full-size iPad or other tablet. Something like that might be where I go for my text tablet, whenever that happens, in upcoming millennia.
  • In the context of 7.9, 8.3, and 9.7-inch screen sizes, the Nexus 7 seemed a little ridiculous, like an oversize phone. While I once really liked this line of devices, now it just seems redundant.
  • Speaking of big phones, I had gotten curious about "phablets" lately, and now my curiosity has ended. In comparison to my existing 5-inch Nexus 5, phablets' displays aren't so much bigger that they make a meaningful difference, particularly with the trade-off of pocketability. I believe I will pass.
  • On the opposite end, I'm coming to realize what many have already, that the Moto X might just be the best Android device. As Joanna Stern was just saying on The Talk Show, the Moto X may actually be the perfect smartphone size: a medium-sized 4.7-inch display, but with a sufficiently reduced bezel so that it fits the hand as nicely as an iPhone. That, or an iteration of it, is likely my next phone.
  • I've been bullish on Chromebooks, and I continue to be optimistic about what they may become in the increasingly-commoditized PC market, but holy crap, the displays on the current crop look like absolute garbage (the Pixel obviously excepted, and not for sale in Best Buy). I felt like I was looking at the screen through a haze of crud.
  • On the flip side were Lenovo's laptops. I haven't even looked at a PC laptop other than by accident in a very long time, and I had no idea how good Lenovo's looked, easily rivaling Apple's hardware aesthetically. It's just that they were all running Windows 8, and damn what a shame that is.
  • Checking out the 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with Retina Display side by side was informative, if for no other reason than to see how much they overlap -- to the point where it almost seems silly to buy the Air when the Pro is at such a similar price point, weighs not much more (and the 13-inch Air is not so weightless as to make it a deal-maker), and has a far superior display. I've always presumed a 13-inch Air would be my next laptop (again, in ages to come), but now that seems like a dumb move.

All in all, I came away from my first chance to browse electronics without my kids screaming at me with a renewed sense of being "all set," that the things I have now, old and new, high-end and low-end, are really just fine, and that I'm not missing out on any crazy-great experiences. There are certainly many things to be wished for, without a doubt, but surprisingly to me, there is little to gnash one's teeth in lust and envy over. Some, but not that much. And that's good!

 

Frivolity to Grow Your Soul

These are all connected in my mind.

First, Alan Jacobs’ “commonplace Tumblr” quotes Auden (of whose work I am almost entirely ignorant): 

If a poet meets an illiterate peasant, they may not be able to say much to each other, but if they both meet a public official, they share the same feeling of suspicion; neither will trust one further than he can throw a grand piano. If they enter a government building, both share the same feeling of apprehension; perhaps they will never get out again. Whatever the cultural differences between them, they both sniff in any official world the smell of an unreality in which persons are treated as statistics. The peasant may play cards in the evening while the poet writes verses, but there is one political principle to which they both subscribe, namely, that among the half dozen or so things for which a man of honor should be prepared, if necessary, to die, the right to play, the right to frivolity, is not the least.

Still in the afterglow of this, I read this next bit from Patrick Rhone, writing about writing. First, he quotes Vonnegut:

Practice any art, music, singing, dancing, acting, drawing, painting, sculpting, poetry, fiction, essays, reportage, no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what’s inside you, to make your soul grow.*

Let’s tie it all up. Now Rhone himself:

I think a lot of people put stuff out there for a few years, just like I did. And, because success does not come after three, four, etc. years or they don’t get the attention they deserve or they don’t meet even the lowest bar they set, they feel like they are wasting their time. As if their art is a cell on a spreadsheet that needs to have some dollar sign attached to it (it does not and should not). I think there is a lesson here that could help them…

Create daily. Don’t have any other measure of success other than making something you are happy and proud of, right now, and put it out there for the world to see. Do this for twenty years. Then, even if the world does not come to see, ask yourself if this made your soul grow. Did your art get better? Is it something you can point at and be proud of? I can guarantee the answer will be yes.

And what was that twenty years for? Frivolity, play. It didn’t have to be monetized or viral or universally lauded or even read by anyone to have had value to you. You were playing. It’s that thing that civilization has blessed so many of us with, and for which, yes, we have to fight: the time to be frivolous.

The lesson: Grow your soul for twenty years, for forty, sixty, etc., by seeding it with play. And give less of a damn about your rewards for your play, and more of a damn that you are able to play at all.

I should note, I have not yet learned this lesson.

---

* Vonnegut was an atheist, so of course his "soul" is metaphorical.

When is it One Gadget Too Many?

Note: This originally appeared at The Huffington Post.

How many tech gadgets do you own? Chances are, you have a PC, Mac or Windows, desktop or laptop and a smartphone. Maybe you both kinds of PCs, a desktop workstation and a portable laptop. Maybe you have a tablet -- large or small? You might also have a Kindle e-reader. And what about that phone, is it friendly to one-handed use, or is it so big that you need two hands to do anything with it? And is that a GPS in your car? And an iPod in your pocket?

Maybe you even have all or most of the above. But even if you only have a reasonablecombination of these devices, ask yourself, are there any that get neglected? Is there at least one that, despite how cool it might be, simply becomes, well, redundant?

If you have a desktop computer and a laptop and an iPad and a smartphone, do you really need the desktop as well as the laptop? Can’t the iPad handle your on-the-go computing needs? Or maybe the iPad is redundant to the laptop and the smartphone. You don’t need the iPad in this case, because all of its functionality can be covered by the laptop and the phone. If the phone’s display is 5“ or bigger (like a "phablet"), the distinction between it and the iPad blurs even further. If that iPad is an iPad mini, further still.

Or perhaps it’s the laptop that’s the tablet’s real rival. I’m writing this on my iPad, because it’s the device I tend to have with me when I’m thinking creatively. But it’s unquestionable that it would be easier to write this on my old MacBook Air. If it wasn’t upstairs and attached to a hundred cords, maybe I would be. Zal Bilimoria recently got a lot of attention for a piece he wrote at Re/code about what he sees as the end of the very-brief tablet era, and while I think a some of it is a little overblown, he makes this good point:

It comes down to size. The vast majority of the hundreds of millions of people who use tech every day are just fine with having two primary computing devices: One for your pocket and one for your desk. Tablets are trying (and failing) to be portable enough to go everywhere, yet large enough to be multipurpose. Despite all the keyboard origami and elaborate ways to make your tablet into a laptop, it isn't one.

And it’s true, as capable as an iPad is, it’s still not a laptop. I have argued, and continue to believe, that it’s not the point of a tablet to replace a laptop, but to be a kind of device-of-choice, the computing gadget you use when you don’t have to work on your PC or fiddle with your phone, for when you have things you want to do, as opposed to the things you have to do.

But a sleek, light, eternally-batteried MacBook Air can make that a tougher sell. So, too, a large-displayed phone can feel just as “liesurely” as a tablet. Assuming we don’t want to burn money on every type of gadget possible, where does a tablet fit?

Another example: I own a Kindle Paperwhite, and it’s great. It’s light, the battery is fantastic, and the magically illuminated screen is gentle and easy to read on. I haven’t used it in ages, though. Because I also have a 5“ phone (a Nexus 5) and a full-size tablet (iPad Air). During my liesure time, I usually have that iPad in my hands, so that’s what I’m going to read off of. And for when I’m in bed, the 5” screen of the Nexus 5 is nearly the same size as the Kindle, plus it’s lighter, and the resolution is so crisp as to make text look even better than it does on a dedicated reading device.

I have a pang of principle that tells me that an e-ink reader is the superior device for reading, and this was certainly true when Kindles first came about, pre-Retina/1080p displays. But now that the pixels-per-inch on LCD displays have gone through the roof on almost all mobile devices, the Kindle’s superior battery and non-backlit display cease to be trump cards. Tablets and phones have caught up enough. And so my Kindle sits forlornly (I imagine) on my nightstand as I cradle my Nexus 5, needing only one hand, as I read a Neal Stephenson novel.

Or, to go back to the tablet as the prime liesure device. If that Kindle Paperwhite were even slightly more functional, if it could handle email, light web browsing, and maybe Twitter and Instapeper clients, then the iPad could (once again) be rendered redundant. The e-ink Kindle would be the chilling-out device, and the computing and apps would be left to the phone and the PC, the two devices you “have” to use.

We as consumers are being pushed a lot of expensive electronics that are marketed as wholly necessary for their specific niche. The phone you need for your mobile computing and communication, the PC you need for your serious work and storage, the Kindle you need for long-form reading, the tablet you need for creativity and liesure (or, as the recent iPad commercial would have it, to contribute your “verse”).

I’m a huge tech enthusiast, so I indulge in all these categories, given the chance and the funds (which is how I eliminate one big redundancy -- I can’t afford a desktop PC, so the center of my computing life is a 2.5-year-old 11“ MacBook Air, not exactly a workhorse machine). But even a fanboy like me has to take a step back and take stock of what objects I truly need in my life, and which ones I can do without, and that goes for all ”stuff," be it electronic or no. I can certainly make use of all of them, even if some, like the Kindle, get mostly ignored. I’ll almost certainly use it from time to time.

Importantly, we all have our own requirements for our devices. If I edited video for work or as a hobby, my MacBook Air wouldn’t cut it. But if I then got myself a desktop machine, I would have trouble justifying holding on to the laptop, since I have other objects that pick up most of its slack.

Many of these devices are relatively new. iPads have been around for only four years, Kindles and smartphones (the ones that aren’t awful), only seven. But in that short time, they’ve matured quite a bit, and now the contours of what they’re all actually foris just beginning to become clear. What I’m trying to figure out, as a gadget-obsessed tech enthusiast with very limited funds, is which of these things I genuinely need, which ones are just nice to have if I can square it, and which ones should find themselves in an eBay listing. As fun as all of them are, simply possessing an array of tech toys can be a source of stress – deciding which to use, and feeling guilt for having spent money on things that aren’t getting used.

It may be that merely by divesting oneself of one or some of the electronic devices (or any objects, really) whose purpose is already filled by other devices, perhaps one can achieve a level of simplicity that Jony Ive would appreciate -- even if one of those divestments is of an object of his own design.

The One Unwelcome Intrusion on the Near-Perfect "Gravity"

Having just now seen Gravity with my wife this weekend, I have a feeling that I had more faith in the movie's power than even the filmmakers did. 

I realize I’m a little late to the party, but allow me to first add to the chorus of saying that Gravity is an extraordinary film, unlike almost anything I’ve ever seen, a genuine triumph of the medium. It’s also one of those extremely rare films in which an IMAX 3D showing really does mean something to the complete work, in that it’s a gimmick, and it's not about “tricking” you into thinking what you’re looking at is actually in three dimensions, but in that it skillfully and tastefully takes advantage of the illusion of depth and change of focus to give an almost overwhelming sense of the immensity of the setting, the sheer vastness of the stage on which the film is set.

I loved it, and that’s why I’d like to see one simple but major change that I suspect (but am not sure) might have done a world of good.

I’d love to see a verion of Gravity, in its full, IMAX 3D glory, without the music, without the underscore.

 (Hereafter be spoilers!)

One of Gravity’s great strengths is how “natural” it feels. Despite any fudging of physics the filmmakers may have perpetrated, the film is harrowing and tense before anything bad has even happened. We are engrossed and tense right along with Dr. Stone from the first moments. When danger strikes, the stakes are obvious, and terrifying all by themselves. Later, when there are triumphs, they feel collossal, all on their own -- because of what is happening before our eyes and from the sounds of the events and the environment.

I felt that the music often intruded on this. There’s the vast empiness of space, the simultaneous claustrophobia and vertigo of the spacewalks, the chaos and terror of the debris invasions and impacts, the physical and psychological struggle to reach each new phase of the attempt to escape. None of it, not a whit of it, needed any help from the outside. And the underscoring came from the outside.

It felt unnecessary, for one thing. But it also felt condescending, like someone was standing at the front of the theater with signs and a bullhorn telling the audience how to feel. (“Okay, now you’re really scared! This thing that’s happening now is very bad!!!”)

So what if they had tried a version without the music? The music itself was fine, but it was in the way. I didn’t need it. Give it to us at the closing credits, fine, but not a note until then. Have a little more trust in the film you’ve already made, before adding on an artificial layer of emotional button-pushing. Believe me, it’s already a doozie.

The Loudest Voice is a Bawling Baby

Frank Rich:

...these days Fox News is the loudest voice in the room only in the sense that a bawling baby is the loudest voice in the room. In being so easily bullied by Fox’s childish provocations, the left gives the network the attention on which it thrives and hands it power that it otherwise has lost.

And this is largely why I don't watch The Daily Show or shows on MSNBC anymore. We get it, Fox is full of backward morons. They're the Westboro Baptist Church of media. They love it when you waste your time hating them.

It's part of a larger problem, like what can make Twitter so tiring -- the constant, frenetic need to be offended or feel bullied by someone, and the high horse one gets to climb when they call it out.

Don't feed the trolls, whatever their form. Don't read the comments. Rein in the snark. Get a grip, and pick the battles that are actually worth fighting.

 

Stretching Awake on the Rooftops of Tarbean

If you have ever slept the whole night without moving, then awoke in the morning, your body stiff with inaction. If you can remember how that first terrific stretch feels, pleasant and painful, then you may understand how my mind felt after all these years, stretching awake on the rooftops of Tarbean.

I spent the rest of that night opening the doors of my mind. Inside I found things long forgotten: my mother fitting words together for a song, diction for the stage, three recipes for tea to calm nerves and promote sleep, finger scales for the lute.

My music. Had it really been years since I held a lute?

image.jpg

Words by Patrick Rothfuss, art by Matt Rhodes

That's What Civilization Is

Kevin Kelly:

Most of the problems in the future are going to be created by technologies we're creating today. Technology is a means of producing new problems. It's a means of producing new solutions, but the fact that we have a choice between those two is what tips the balance very, very slightly in the favor of the good for the long term. Over civilization scale, we have this net tiny incremental accumulation of these choices over time, and that tiny accumulation is what we call progress. If you have one percent compounded annually, that can be very, very powerful. It doesn't seem like very much. What's one percent? But when you compound this accumulation of choices and options over time, that's what civilization is. It's the slow accumulation of a very tiny increase in new choices over time.

We. Are. The one-per-cent.

 

A 5 for a 5: From iPhone 5 and AT&T to Nexus 5 and T-Mobile

I now have a Nexus 5 and have traded in my iPhone, and it's not because I was desirous of a change from the Land of Apple (I've done that once already), but because it was my best option in taking advantage of a great money-saving opportunity by switching from AT&T's onerous subjugation, to being a free-range T-Mobile customer. I could have gotten an iPhone or more fancy-pants Android device like an HTC One when I switched, but their cost would have negated the whole point of the switch. Luckily, Google has priced its own flagship phone so that it's affordable without a contract. And so a couple of days ago, I came home with a Nexus 5.

There are two big changes, then, to document: the device/OS change and the mobile service change. One, obviously, is more interesting than the other. So let me get the carrier difference out of the way. I admit, I felt a bit of enthusiasm for joining T-Mobile's “revolution” and getting my service from a company whose CEO is obviously a little nuts. I'm still happy to be free of AT&T and free of a contract, but it must be said that T-Mobile's coverage in my area of Maine is acceptable, but a big step down. I get good-enough “4G” coverage in the main residential and commercial areas of my town, but in places a little on the outskirts, like my kids' daycare, I get no data coverage at all (technically a “1G” connection, meaning calls can go through, but very little else). LTE is now a happy memory until I enter a larger metro area, or until T-Mobile expands.

It'll do for now. And after my AT&T early termination fee is paid and I've been on T-Mobile for a fair-shake's bit of time, I can always unlock the phone and switch to something else if I must. But I miss those LTE speeds. On the plus side, it's unlimited data, like, for reals. Just on principle, I feel like I should suck down as much of it as possible.

Two embarrassing notes: It took over a full day to port my number to T-Mobile, which turned out to be my fault, as I had given the T-Mobile guys my AT&T pin to do the port, and wouldn't you know it, I don't have an AT&T pin, and that confused the system. When my number did move over, I got no data reception at all, which I assumed to be because T-Mobile's coverage was worse than advertised. Turned out it was because I didn't restart the phone when the port was complete, as I was instructed. So yes, it wasn't working because I didn't turn it off and turn it back on again. Yep.

Okay, let's talk about this device.

The Nexus 5 is a very nice phone. Its screen is flat-out gorgeous, and beautifully high-resolution. I didn't think I'd notice the difference between this display and the iPhone's Retina, but I do. Pixels aren't just hard to see on this screen, they're, for me, impossible. I've been trying. The display is bright, colors pop, and it's just a joy to look at. One could conceivably use this phone with its 5" screen as a suitable Kindle alternative for long-form reading.

But it's also bigger than the iPhone's, which means my tiny thumbs can't reach a good deal of the screen in one-handed use. And the more I struggle with this, the more I appreciate Apple's decision to stick so stubbornly to the iPhone's relatively small size. Given this, I almost think it would make more sense to just take it as given that these larger devices can't be used with one hand, and just get a big-ass phablet type device. I mean, why not go all the way?

Structurally, the Nexus feels like a quality piece of plastic, but chitzy if you're coming from the iPhone 5. It's very thin, very light, and with a nice matte finish. For its price, I can't complain. It doesn't feel cheap, but nor is it premium.

The camera, though bursting with megapixels, is noticably slower than the iPhone's in snapping photos (a big annoyance when you have adorable kids), and so far the indoor photos have been acceptable but not great. The iPhone 5's camera was much better, but this one will do.

As for actually just using the Nexus as a smartphone, there's very little not to like. The Android lag I have experienced with every single Android device I've ever used is not to be found here. In fact, the Nexus 5 feels weirdly smooth and fluid, but still very different from iOS. It's difficult to put my finger on it (no pun intended), but I think the difference is that the Nexus 5/Android fluidity in scrolling and moving elements around is super-specific, where things go exactly where your finger puts them, in near-real time. It's great. iOS feels more “liquid” or maybe bouncier, like the interface is ready to zip on ahead of you until you get there. Both are excellent, but feel quite different.

And there are two elements of Android that really set it apart. First is the fact that apps can share information with each other, and no apps are excluded from being able to partake in sharing menus and the like. Apple generally only allows interface with Facebook and Twitter throughout the OS.

But even better is swipe typing. I'm telling you, being able to just “draw” across the keyboard is about 1000 times more efficient for typing on a small screen than tap-tap-tapping. That in itself could almost cause one to switch by choice.

From the last time I owned an Android device (a first-generation Nexus 7 tablet), “Google Now” has come a long way, from being an experimental whiz-bang gimmicky thing to being the center of the OS's artificial intelligence. It's cool, no doubt, when looking for things of a more informational nature, and very responsive. But it's crap so far when it comes to controlling your device. In that, Siri beats the pants off of Now. For example, several attempts to get the phone to play my Toad the Wet Sprocket songs by voice command failed until I just gave up. Siri would have no trouble with that kind of thing.

And Google Now has no sense of humor. It won't tell you jokes, it won't sing to you. I miss Siri. (Luckily she still lives in my iPad, so I see her from time to time, but it's just not the same. And I think she's mad at me.)

Overall, my feeling is that this will be just fine. As I keep saying, “It'll do.” In many ways, the Nexus 5 is an excellent phone, besting the iPhone in some important ways. But iPhone, inside and out, still posesses a simplicity and a fit-and-finish that, taken as a whole, make for a superior overall experience. But this'll be fine. It'll do.

A lot of it, I know, is just unfamiliarity. I've been using an iPhone since its first generation, which I got in 2008. It's what I know. Often, I find myself frustrated by “how much worse” something is on Android, only to realize it's just different. Case in point: Unlocking the phone. I was under the impression that it was easier with iPhone, where I slide to unlock, and pop in my 4-digit pin, which opens the phone. Easy! Meanwhile, using a 4-digit pin with Android, it seemed like there was more business. But there's not, there's just no slide, but there is an “enter” key to hit after the pin.

In other words, it's 5 steps each. iPhone is slide-tap-tap-tap-tap, and Android is tap-tap-tap-tap-tap. One is not easier than the other, they're just different. But because it was new, I took the Android approach as unneccesarily more difficult.

But there's also no doubt that Android is far more fiddly than iOS, and it's already been a problem, as I couldn't for the life of me figure out how to keep Twitter notifications from making the phone vibrate. Layers and layers of settings menus revealed nothing to me, and Googling around showed me that I was not alone in this. This should not be this hard.

Most of it's not hard, of course. I think I'll enjoy the Nexus 5 a lot for the most part, but I definitely feel a twinge for the iPhone. One day I shall return. But in the meantime, I'm free of AT&T, and I saved my family a good deal of money. It's worth it, and it'll do.

A 5 for a 5 (Prologue)

There's a new thingy in my life. 

image.jpg

Rather than some new dreamy-eyed dalliance with Android, this is me trying to save a boatload of money by moving from AT&T to T-Mobile. Doing so, though, meant jumping through T-Mobile's hoops to get out of my AT&T contract and get a device I could afford. Thus, the Nexus 5 you see here has moved in. 

The phone is fine, some things about it are great, like the display, but I already miss my iPhone 5. The T-Mobile coverage here leaves much to be desired, something you can't really grasp until you take the phone to the places you normally go. So, if it really isn't working out, I can just leave T-Mobile (no contracts) and use someone else. But as I said, I'm saving a boatload this way, enough to make a big difference to my family's bottom line, so I want to make it work. 

Much to your horror, I'll be blogging aaaaaaalllllllllll about it. 

What have I done? 

Big Week for a Topaz Paragon

It’s been a busy week for me on the Internet. Let’s quickly review:

  • I have new digs at Huffington Post as a blogger, for which I am compensated $0.00 annually, minus taxes. I have Emily Hauser to thank for getting me in the door. Right now it’s all adapted or recycled material from this blog, but I’ll put new stuff there eventually. I know you don’t care.
  • A tweet I wrote that I thought was somewhat clever went viral and has now been retweeted over 1000 times, which I think means I get a prize or become President of Twitter. I’ll just wait to hear something.
  • A post I wrote at Friendly Atheist did pretty well, I suspect.

And off the Internet, the iOS game Bejewelled Blitz called me a “Topaz Paragon,” a position which I believe needs to first be confirmed by the Senate, but I’m not sure.

Follow Your Passion into Oncoming Traffic

I am sour.

Expanding on yesterday’s post on the pressure we feel to have careers that realize the “follow your passion” and “do what you love” ideals, here’s Miya Tokumitsu:

By keeping us focused on ourselves and our individual happiness, [“do what you love”] distracts us from the working conditions of others while validating our own choices and relieving us from obligations to all who labor, whether or not they love it. It is the secret handshake of the privileged and a worldview that disguises its elitism as noble self-betterment. According to this way of thinking, labor is not something one does for compensation, but an act of self-love. If profit doesn’t happen to follow, it is because the worker’s passion and determination were insufficient. Its real achievement is making workers believe their labor serves the self and not the marketplace.

As a young student actor, I can remember a time when I’d look at all the other people in the world who did something other than theatre, and wonder how they could go on. How could they find any joy in their lives if they weren’t doing what I was doing? What do you do, fix things? Drive something? Cook or clean or sit behind a desk with spreadsheets? How do you even contain your despair? How could you have gone so wrong?

I was a fucking imbecile.

I didn’t stay that way. But I sure recognize this. Here Tokumitsu riffs off of Steve Jobs’ (peace be upon him) commencement speech to Stanford, which was centered on the do-what-you-love theme:

Think of the great variety of work that allowed Jobs to spend even one day as CEO: his food harvested from fields, then transported across great distances. His company’s goods assembled, packaged, shipped. Apple advertisements scripted, cast, filmed. Lawsuits processed. Office wastebaskets emptied and ink cartridges filled. Job creation goes both ways. Yet with the vast majority of workers effectively invisible to elites busy in their lovable occupations, how can it be surprising that the heavy strains faced by today’s workers (abysmal wages, massive child care costs, et cetera) barely register as political issues even among the liberal faction of the ruling class?

It’s not even just that blue collar laborers are invisible to us, but so are all the folks who perform all the crucial intellectual and administrative and even creative jobs that we all require, but aren’t ‘disrupting’ and ‘innovating’ while living a millionaire’s version of La Vie Bohem.

So not only is follow your passion-as-career bad advice, not only is “do what you love” a cruel expectation, but it erases a blessing some of us are already mind-bogglingly lucky to have: that we are able to do at all. As I noted from a Patrick Rothfuss quote yesterday, if you have a hobby you love and you have the economic freedom to pursue it in even the smallest degree, whether or not it’s your job, you are wildly fortunate.

Here’s Barbara Ehrenreich on those who don’t have that freedom. Which is many, many, many people:

What I discovered is that in many ways, these [low-wage] jobs are a trap: They pay so little that you cannot accumulate even a couple of hundred dollars to help you make the transition to a better-paying job. They often give you no control over your work schedule, making it impossible to arrange for child care or take a second job. … in some ways, it is actually more expensive to be poor than not poor. If you can’t afford the first month’s rent and security deposit you need in order to rent an apartment, you may get stuck in an overpriced residential motel. If you don’t have a kitchen or even a refrigerator and microwave, you will find yourself falling back on convenience store food, which—in addition to its nutritional deficits—is also alarmingly overpriced. If you need a loan, as most poor people eventually do, you will end up paying an interest rate many times more than what a more affluent borrower would be charged. To be poor—especially with children to support and care for—is a perpetual high-wire act.

But you know, if they’d only do what they loved and followed their passion. I wonder how much longer we can all keep pretending our culture makes any sense.

Do Not Follow Your Passion When it Jumps off the Empire State Building

Do what you love! Sacrifice all! Wait, no.

First, Emily Hauser:

The whole notion of following one’s passion is so steeped historic, economic, and social privilege that it fairly reeks. ... when we tell people to follow their passion, and hold fabulously successful role models up to them, we’re not only misleading them, we’re actually being kind of mean...

Now, Patrick Rothfuss:

If you have a hobby, and you do it, and you love it, then you win! And then your life is full of joy! If you do a hobby and you expect to get rich and famous off it, and you don’t, then you feel like a failure and you’re miserable.

Back to Emily:

Follow your passion – for as long you possibly can, even if it doesn’t pay enough, even if it tires you out, even if it doesn’t seem to be leading anywhere, because at the end of your life, you’ll be grateful that you tried. ... Follow your passion – but know when to let go. Know that peace of mind and being able to afford to fix your car are also good, life-affirming things.

I. Am. Trying.