More power

The phone in your pocket these days is massively more powerful than those from even five years ago but things need to increase even more to stop me from losing the plot and hurling my phone against the nearest wall.

Yes, I’m talking about my interactions with Siri.

The interaction itself is fine — just as long as you don’t try and do anything too complex or contextual; it is practically pointless asking any follow-up questions to your initial query. Now that Siri is listening constantly it’s actually useful to use in the kitchen to start timers for example while my hands are covered in dough. My five-year-old daughter is fascinated with asking about the weather forecast or what the time is.

I’m a big fan of Apple’s stance on privacy. This means, among other things, that a lot of the detail in my Siri “conversations” stays on the device instead of being sent to a server somewhere for processing. This does also mean that there is a trade-off in terms of the just how “smart” the AI can be.

When’s a phone not a phone?

One day the other week I was more than half-way to work and suddenly realised that I didn’t have my phone with me. I half-contemplated turning around and going home for it but dismissed this idea as an over-reaction; it was just my phone after all, right?

Wrong.

I thinned my wallet down about six years ago to avoid getting to the same situation as George Costanza. Until NFC is built into my phone and contactless payment is globally accepted, I now have a Vaultskin to carry banknotes, my security pass and a few other cards alongside my phone.

As well as being a phone, my phone is now my bus ticket, boarding pass, stills and video camera, torch, alarm clock, TV remote control, satnav, heart rate monitor and car key.

It’s a right setup

“If I had six hours to chop down a tree, I’d spend the first four hours sharpening the axe.”
— Abraham Lincoln

They say that a poor workman blames their tools. However, a good workman knows good tools and makes sure that they’ve got the best that they can get their hands on. It’s taken me a long time to research and try different development tools. Somewhat inevitably, once I’d finally settled on my professional workflow, I then changed jobs. Obviously I was keen to recreate my workflow and to make it easy to do so again should the need arise.

The first thing I needed to do with a fresh, up-to-date copy of OS X was to install Xcode and command line tools. This was a pre-requisite of building a Boxen controlled environment which would pretty much take care of everything else for me automatically.

My personal Puppet manifest contains instructions for the following:

I also use Boxen to disable the caps lock key, turn off “natural” scrolling, place the Dock on right without magnification and set to automatically hide. I can then add some spacer icons to the Dock in order to group applications logically.

Some would argue that obsessing over such minutiae is focussing on the pencil rather than the work, but I find that this familiarity helps reduce cognitive friction when switching between environments.

The last broadcast

Don’t worry, I’m not going anywhere.

After I moved in to my new flat (and once I had purchased an RF to coaxial cable) I found that the aerial didn’t actually pick up anything. Consequently I made the decision to stop watching broadcast TV; 95% of the content just doesn’t appeal to me and watching rolling news eke out non-events and struggle to make something out of nothing isn’t tremendously appealing.

Accordingly, and strictly speaking, I don’t need to pay my TV licence but in my opinion the quality of the BBC News website, iPlayer content and advert-free radio output is more than worth it. For under 40 pence per day. Somewhat annoyingly my LG doesn’t have other catch-up channels but the in-built Freeview means that I wouldn’t require another set-top box if I had reception.

Instead of just watching TV for the sake of it, I’m trying to do things instead: I’ve started a vegetable patch, I’m back cycling, running, cooking, blogging, coding and messing around with servers. I’ll maybe watch an hour or so of a box set via Netflix to relax and unwind in the evening. Kevin Spacey’s recent speech at Edinburgh Festival certainly hit on some very salient points.

Fears

Along with the standard fears of most fathers-to-be, I’m also finding myself worried that I won’t understand the technologies that will be around in 10 years time that my child will take for granted. I don’t want to experience the future equivalent of the permanently blinking VCR clock. VCRs? I feel older already.

We’re at an exciting time in the world of material sciences with the recent developments of carbon nanotubes and graphene. Some amazing things that you may think are futuristic — like Aerogel — have actually been around since the early 1930s.

Will our children get to live in a world of space elevators, invisibility cloaks, portable holes and — dare I even think it — personal jetpacks and flying cars?