Ditching jack

I’m starting to buy the logic of ditching the 3.5 mm traditional headphone jack from the iPhone 7 and using the single lightning port for headphones instead. I’m not saying I’d have voted to do it, but there’s at least a defensible argument to be made.

Before I get into that, though, let’s just stop and marvel at the totally tone-deaf claim by Phil Schiller that dropping the port was an act of “courage.” Not only is that borderline offensive in a world where real people are doing real courageous acts every day, saying it in that venue and with that attitude does nothing but perpetuate every negative stereotype of Apple being run by elite, out-of-touch individuals with an over-inflated sense of their own importance. It will end up immortalized along with “you’re holding it wrong” atop the list of inartful Apple quotes. It’s far worse than “you’re holding it wrong” because that comment was off the cuff and arguably misconstrued while “courage” was written into a presentation that’s been weeks or months in the making. It was intentional. And it was just plain dumb. Like, a flinch-when-you-hear-it kind of dumb.

Anyway, I’ve been paying a lot of attention to how I use my iPhone since the rumors started getting serious about the headphone jack going away. The design of anything (from a phone to a car to a camera app), is about tradeoffs. And those tradeoffs are about balancing the possible against use case scenarios. As in, what does the designer think the user of the product will need it to do and how is any given use case prioritized over others? In my personal experience, over the past several months, the number of times I needed to listen to my phone over its headphone jack and charge it at the same time have been zero. That was surprising to me, but it’s true. Most of the time, I listen to my phone over Bluetooth. At home, in the car, at work. Either Bluetooth or Sonos via wifi. When I use headphones, it’s in scenarios when I wouldn’t be charging it anyway (shopping, exercising, etc.). So, for me, losing the ability to charge and use headphones at the same time is will lead to essentially no impact whatsoever to my enjoyment of the product.

My bet is, I’m not unique. My bet is Apple knows exactly how many users are like me. Not a company to live and die based on focus groups, they nonetheless are very much aware of how people are using their stuff. This is probably not the very earliest time they could have dumped the jack, but it’s the earliest time they could do it where the majority of their customers wouldn’t be radically inconvenienced.

Phil said in an email to a customer that there’s a $39 fix for those who are in need of using headphones while charging. It’s the Lightning Dock. It’s probably the case that most of the use cases for needing both ports at once outside an automobile involve a stationary fixed position like sitting at a desk or laying in bed. In those cases, the dock is a good solution. I can see the need for sitting somewhere where a dock doesn’t work, like a plane or on a train, when one would want to listen to their phone and plug it into a charger at the same time. I bet in a matter of weeks (if not sooner) there will at least be announcements of if not actual releases of external battery chargers with headphones jacks on them.

The car is interesting since older models don’t have Bluetooth and are a great place to top off a charge while listening through the speakers while driving around. That’s done with a cheap cassette adapter that plugs into the headphone jack. Those folks, too, have an option, though, in that there are Bluetooth versions of cassette adapters on the market already and they’re also pretty darn cheap (under $20).

Many will lament having expensive headphones that now will require a dongle to use. I get that. I’m in the same boat. How much of a bummer that is depends a lot on what the dongle is like. Does it bend easily? Does it stay on the headphones well? Well enough that leaving them together all the time is no big deal? But the bigger question from a product design standpoint is what am I getting in exchange for this inconvenience? Here’s my list based on their presentation:

  • Longer-lasting battery. The iPhone 7’s battery lasts, on average, two hours longer than the iPhone 6s, according to Apple. Some of that is probably optimization in iOS 10, but I’m guessing a bit more space for extra ions is also contributory.
  • Non-mechanical Home button. This is a big deal in that the Home button is used, like, a zillion times on my iPhone and is often the component to fail if something does. iPhone 7 has a taptic Home button like the new MacBook’s trackpad. It’s solid. No clicker. It just feels like it clicks. The room they needed for that taptic engine is at least partially where the headphone jack used to be.
  • Water and dust resistance. No hole for a Home button or headphone jack means no access points for water and dust. This is a major new feature for the phone and one Apple is heavily promoting. It is the case that other smartphone manufacturers have made water resistance phones with headphone jacks but it’s also possible Apple’s phone is more resistant for not having that port. I don’t know for sure.

They also added a much better camera, a brighter more colorful display, and stereo speakers. None of those are in the vicinity of the headphone jack, but every open space in that case is utilized so a gain on one end probably means more space for something else in another spot.

Apple will always (always always) choose the pain of transition over holding on to “the way things have always been done” if the tradeoffs are good enough in their estimation. Apple is usually really good at timing these transitions so that the benefit of the transition makes sense to consumers once they see it in action. That list is long and goes all the way back to dropping the SCSI interface, the ADB port, or the floppy drive.

People are really pissed about this though. I’ve never seen more shitshows being thrown on social media from people I know, let alone the press, over any other decision Apple has ever made. I’m not entirely certain this will be one of those things people get over in the near term, but I do think that the idea of losing the port is more troubling to people than not having it will ultimately end up being.

What I do know is the Apple haters out there will hate Apple all that much more if, in six months, this kerfuffle goes the way of “antennagate” (i.e., nowhere). Chances are, that’s what will happen. Folks will grumble and upgrade when they need to anyway and then forget what they were complaining about once they adapt. Whatever the case, Apple should focus on selling the logic of the move and not invoking bullshit platitudes.

But yeah. Not saying I would have ditched the jack.

The other email scandal

In the field of email marketing permission is a big deal. Without it you get spam. As someone who makes a living being a responsible marketer, the way in which political parties and candidates disregard the same laws they write for us to follow is appalling.

I support Hillary Clinton in this presidential election because I’m not insane. As a result, I’ve made three $100 donations to her campaign over the past year or so. This resulted in an obscene amount of email being sent to me trying to pry more money from my bank account. Sometimes, more than one message a day. Eventually, I was able to opt-out of these messages (after more than one try) and haven’t received any more. Until last Friday. What happened on Friday? Hillary picked Tim Kaine to be her running mate.

In the past four days, I’ve received a dozen thirteen emails (in the fifteen minutes it took me to write this, I got another one) supposedly from Hillary herself, from Senator Kaine, from HillaryClinton.com, from Michelle and Barack Obama, and even one from ol’ Bill Clinton. This is simply inexcusable. If I were to do this in my work life, I’d consider it a breach of professional ethics.

This is not unique to Hillary’s campaign. Obama’s was just as bad. I also recall how my email address was seemingly passed around to any and all candidates who’d have it resulting in one memorable beseechment for donations from Charlie Rangel and communications from random pols in Colorado I’ve never head of.

I’ll probably make more donations to her campaign in the months to come, but her literal spamming of me (not to mention the incessant phone calls asking for money) leave a very bitter taste in my mouth.

#ImWithHer, for sure, but I’m certainly not with her marketing tactics.

Parsing Donald

image

The above is from Donald Trump’s Facebook page.

We grieve for the officers killed in Baton Rouge today.

As do we all. Killing is killing and leads to more killing and distrust and fear.

How many law enforcement and people have to die because of lack of leadership in our country? (Emphasis added)

Who are the “and people” part? African Americans killed by police? General bystanders? Those killed daily by the incredible number of guns in the United States? This was probably a tweet before it was a Facebook post so Trump only had so many characters, but this (to me) odd “and people” inclusion leaves more questions than it answers. I can’t tell if he’s expressing empathy with victims of violent crime and/or police misconduct or trying to make those who aren’t feel as though they may as well be.

He then does the usual “if only someone strong was in charge” thing by saying people are dying due to lack of leadership. As if all we need to fix these issues in our culture is a leader…like Donald. Not a leader with answers (he has none other than platitudes), just a leader willing to face the obvious truth and lead.

We demand law and order.

So do a lot of people. African Americans who feel their disproportionate targeting for stop, arrest, and killing by police demand those things. As do the loved ones of deceased police officers killed in deranged race-based violence.

The notion that the solution to social turmoil is “a leader” who delivers “law and order” would, I imagine, sound very familiar to those in 1918 Russia and 1933 Germany. Law and order is a byproduct of justice, a feeling of shared community, and a sense of hope for the future. It doesn’t come easy and the answers won’t be found in 140 characters.

Tomorrow’s Tomorrowland

MiceChat has an amazing overview of the scope and scale of the new Star Wars project being added to Disneyland in Anaheim. Whatever they end up calling it (“Star Wars Land” is an unofficial name, apparently), it’s so much bigger than I thought it would be based on earlier descriptions.

The northwest corner of Disneyland has always been a little sleepy. Rivers of America eats up a giant chunk of real estate and the Big Thunder Ranch area has been relatively under-utilized for decades so when they said Star Wars was going in up there, it made a certain amount of sense. But this. This is stunning.

As a Disneyland aficionado from the time I was knee-high to Jiminy Cricket, seeing that much of the original park getting chopped (about a third of the Rivers of America and the north end of Tom Sawyer’s Island) along with the railroad getting its first major reroute since 1965 made me a little queasy. But I’m not one of those “Walt would never allow this” kind of Disneyland fan. I get it has to evolve and stay relevant. I just wish it could evolve and be relevant over Toontown or something (which I still think of as new even though it’s old enough to drink now).

But this isn’t about Star Wars land. What I want to talk about is the giant hairy question mark this hangs over aimless Tomorrowland.

When I was a kid, Tomorrowland was my favorite land (with New Orleans Square a close second). It was all white and shiny and clean and still held a fair amount of Walt’s bountiful optimism about the future. Fantasyland was about things that never happened but we wished they had and the rest of the lands were about an idealized past but Tomorrowland was about the way things could be. An idealized future. Today it’s not about that. Instead of a rocket to Mars and an adventure through inner-space we have Buzz Lightyear and Star Tours. The Carousel of Progress building is an elepant of a thing with a constant hodgepodge of vertically integrated entertainment experiences going in and out. There’s nothing at all futuristic about Autopia (maybe if Tesla sponsored it and all the cars were electric, but I digress) and the submarines have lost their exploratory zeal with a Finding Nemo overlay. I mean, really. What the hell is Tomorrowland about in the 21st Century? It’s an iconic area of the world’s most famous theme park with a highly descriptive name but no real theme of its own. A mess.

And whatever it’s supposed to be about, isn’t Star Wars land going to make it look even worse? Why will there be a Star Tours ride on the opposite side of the park? As I said, Tomorrowland wasn’t originally about science fiction. It was supposed to showcase the promise of tomorrow. The promise of human ingenuity. The Peoplemover is maybe the perfect example of that. The “ride” was basically a scale-built model demonstration of a mass-transit system suitable for dense city centers. That’s it. You got on and you got off and nothing much happened in between at about six miles per hour. But it was great. How can Disney get back to that ideal? Where a ride in which nothing happens in slow motion seemed like a good way to spend ten or fifteen minutes?

The problem with the future is it keeps coming faster and faster every year. Plus, there’s a distinct wariness in the public about the idea that technology will make our lives better. We don’t trust it thanks to things like Chernobyl and GMO hysteria and global climate change and corporations too focused on profits over human beings. The great big beautiful tomorrow Walt envisioned wasn’t just a dream away, it was a dream. Maybe we’re too cynical for a place called Tomorrowland in the 21st Century. Or maybe we just need someone to show some optimism again.

If I were King of Disneyland (and don’t think I haven’t daydreamed about that), I’d go all-in on Tomorrowland. Set it in the distant future. At least 100 years. Focus on how technology will be harnessed to solve the problems we face today and didn’t know were going to exist in 1955. Lean into the cleverness of real men and women on this planet, not the swashbuckling exploits of fictional characters (fish, droid, toy or otherwise). More than anything, I think that’s what Walt was trying to capture with Tomorrowland. We can do amazing things. We can be our own heroes. We can make the world better.

Tomorrowland should throw out all the fictional characters and licensed merchandise. Tear down yesterday’s tomorrow and build a new one for today.

But keep Space Mountain. Space Mountain is cool.

Originally published on Medium

America the insane

It’s not easy for a mass murderer to get to the front of the news cycle nowadays. Just shooting a handful of innocent people isn’t enough. They have to do it in a really spectacular or public fashion. And then, like clockwork, the president comes out and sighs and shakes his head and tells us we choose to live (and die) like this and that we can do better. Then someone proposes something logical like stricter background checks or limits on magazine sizes or whatever and, invariably, those on the other side say…

“But that wouldn’t have stopped Sandy Hook / Colorado Springs / Charleston / Washington Navy Yards / San Bernardino / (pick your favorite from the ever-growing list).”

But that isn’t the damned point. As tragic and heartbreaking as these punctuation marks on the 2nd Amendment are, they aren’t the real tragedy. Since 2001, more than 400,000 Americans have lost their lives to gun violence. That comes in lots of flavors we rarely if ever hear about on TV. Random drive-bys, suicides, accidents, etc. The point of trying to pass what are really common sense checks on who can buy and own a gun is to try and make a dent in that massive pile of bodies, not necessarily stop the banner headline makers.

Today, twenty-four hours after 14 people were killed in San Bernardino, the Senate rejected a bill opposed by the NRA that would have expanded background checks and disallowed the mentally ill, felons, and those on the federal terror watch list from buying guns. How in the name of all that’s right in the world do you oppose that? Somehow, all but one Republican in the Senate (along with one Democrat) found a way.

That’s obscene. It’s repulsive. It’s nihilistic. It’s fucking un-American.

We used to be able to look at hard problems and find a way to fix them. We prided ourselves in doing the things nobody else could do. But that American resolve melts like butter in the face of this issue. The mighty NRA has weaponized the fear of Americans. Terrified them so much that they vote against anyone unwilling to tow the absolutist 2nd Amendment line. Not to defend the rights of Americans, but to defend the ability of gun manufacturers to sell their wares on the American market.

What in the hell will have to happen to change this? The killing of 20 little children didn’t do it. Dead cops and military members didn’t do it. The god-fearing shot down in their own church didn’t do it. What kind of horror will it take? How awful must things get before we do even the most simple and logical thing about firearms?

I have no honest idea. But whatever it is, we’ll deserve it for having done nothing before then.

Originally published on Medium.

Irreligious

I don’t believe in any religion. Note I didn’t say I didn’t believe in God. I don’t, but I think of them as separate issues. As someone who styles themselves a pragmatic empiricist, there’s just no way for me to know if there’s a supreme being or not. Maybe there is, but there’s no evidence that supports the premise. “Faith” is something I have a hard time with, especially when it comes to something as improbable as God, and I’ve never been willing to take someone’s word on the matter.

But I don’t have a problem with someone who wants to believe there is a God. That’s up to them. For me, the problems stem from groups of people believing all the same thing (more or less) about their version of God. Because that invariably leads to them looking askance at those in other groups who believe something different (even if only slightly). And that leads to the kind of bullshit we’re dealing with today.

From Vox:

On the Tuesday after the Paris terror attacks, a Virginia civil engineer named Samer Shalaby carried a few poster boards into Spotsylvania County’s small, low-ceilinged community forum room to present plans to replace Fredericksburg’s aging Islamic center. Shalaby’s presentation was meant to formalize his application for a zoning permit — the very dullest sort of dull civic meeting — but as a crowd filed in, filling every seat and standing shoulder to shoulder along the walls, it became clear that they were not there to discuss zoning.

“Nobody wants your evil cult in this town,” one of them shouted at Shalaby, pointing an outstretching finger. Many in the crowd clapped and cheered their affirmation.

“And I’ll tell you what,” he went on, “I will do everything in my power to make sure that this does not happen. Because you are terrorists. Every one of you are terrorists. I don’t care what you say. I don’t care what you think.” He later added, to cheers, “Every Muslim is a terrorist, period. Shut your mouth.”

As the crowd grew more hostile, a city official stepped in, first to ask them to calm down and, when they wouldn’t, to abruptly cancel the meeting.

You don’t need to be a crackpot to believe, as the owner of the outstretched finger does, that Muslims are inherently evil, violent, and seeking “our” destruction. I have friends (like, actual people I know) who feel the same way. Who say Islam is a religion that teaches hate and intolerance and is fundamentally incompatible with a free society. This boggles my mind, truly.

From where I sit, apart from both Muslims and Christians, both religions looks pretty much the same. Their acolytes profess theirs to be a religion of peace yet in both cases it’s not hard to find justification for deadly acts in their holy texts. Those books, like all works of men, are contradictory in places and teach love and acceptance alongside vengeance and violence. An unhinged individual could easily find a passage to hide their actions behind if they needed to.

Over on the Facebook, I posted a link to an article describing how a Christian evangelist named Joshua Feuerstein (whose Facebook page has nearly two million likes) called on fellow Christians to “punish Planned Parenthood” and make those who work for the organization fear for their lives. This is after Robert Dear killed three and wounded nine at a Planned Parenthood office in Colorado Springs. I asked if Feuerstein should be considered a “radical Christian” and why moderate Christians hadn’t “cleaned house” the way Muslims all over the world are called to do each time someone commits an atrocity in the name of their religion.

A friend of mine who identifies as Christian and whom I respect very much said Feuerstein “gets a little fired up sometimes and ends up putting his foot in his mouth.” Apparently, that he shouldn’t be taken seriously because his emotions get the better of him and we should expect another statement recanting his call to violence. Great, but what if that never happens? Or, if it does, that some unhinged person allows his first words to radicalize them into terrible action? We are to let this go without response because…? He’s a fellow Christian? That’s all?

Even in our own media, we seem to have a blind spot regarding people like Dear. I’ve yet to see The New York Times refer to him as a terrorist. Critics like to call out the president for refusing to say we’re battling “radical Islam” but there’s no criticism from those same people when the nation’s paper of record won’t call a spade a spade and use the president’s preferred term, “religious extremists.” Why won’t The Times call Dear and all the others who firebomb and vandalize and shoot up clinics what they are? Is it perhaps because we live in an overwhelmingly Christian nation and therefore have an understanding of the gradations of tolerance that exist within that faith? That few Christians (in fact, the vast majority) are like Feuerstien or Dear or would take up arms against innocent law-abiding health care workers or incite others to do the same?

There are 1.7 billion Muslims in the world and the overwhelming majority totally reject the actions of the religious extremists who claim to act in the name of their religion. They say Daesh is not following the tenets of Islam when they kill the innocent. Ironically, on the subject of Robert Dear who, by all accounts considered himself to be a devout Christian, my Christian friend says Dear was not one. That Christians don’t do such heinous things. That he would not defend or condemn anyone since Christianity “needs no defense.” In other words, he sounded like nearly all the Muslims on the face of the planet who disown those who would wrap their actions in faith.

Less than one percent of Americans are Muslim. Chances are, you know few if any unless you live in a large, non-Southern city. To vast numbers of Americans, Muslims are “those people” who do terrible things and hate us. They have no other frame of reference besides what they see on the TV or read on the web (and, if they’re religious conservatives, that information pool is small and shallow and invariably negative regarding Islam). It’s all too easy to demonize them as “the other.” In the exact same way radical Muslims demonize Christians and all those in the decadent, irreligious, and secular West. And it works for exactly the same reasons, only in many Muslim countries and communities poverty and hopelessness allows the hate to fester and concentrate until it lashes out explosively.

To me, Christians and Muslims are nearly identical. Untrusting of the other, scared, and in a constant crouch. All because of a mutual ignorance and unwillingness to see the other as a human first and a potential enemy second due to the other having learned about God from a different book written by different men.

And this is why I don’t believe in religion. And I never will.

Originally published on Medium.