Friday, June 26, 2015

A Perfect Gentleman's Guide to Dating

One of life's necessities when dating past your 40s.
Guys, are you having problems getting a second date with a lady? Do you ask yourself, “Why am I always struggling to meet women?” or “What’s the secret to getting past the first date?” or “Is there something I can do to improve my odds?” The good news is, yes, there are many things you can do. It took me some time, but here are the things I learned about dating.

For starters, it doesn’t matter if you’re heterosexual, homosexual, transsexual, or pan-sexual; you get good at dating by going on dates and learning the do's and don’ts. As a man, my expertise is in heterosexual relationships, so  that’s the context in which I’ll frame my advice. (It's not my intent to ignore today's historic SCOTUS decision on Obergefell v. Hodges which is a victory for same-sex marriage.)

1. Time

Don't be late to the date. No excuses. Guys, we can have six months’ notice for a date, but we don’t start getting ready until six minutes before the date. She’ll already be a little nervous about meeting you for the first time and arriving late just adds to the stress. If you’ve never been to the place where you're meeting then get there early or reconnoiter it well before the date. Don’t arrive two minutes before the date only to find that parking’s a problem. Amateurs think tactics, professionals think logistics. There’s nothing wrong with arriving an hour early to read a book while you’re waiting. You’ll be prompt and look intelligent.

2. Dress

Dress clean. Wrinkled or smelly shirts don’t cut it. Dress sharp, yet appropriate. Grunge clothes, ripped jeans, and worn out shirts are fine if that’s you – but they still should be clean. Dress for where you want to go and make sure it’s appropriate. My pet peeve is seeing a beautiful woman, dressed to the nines at a nice restaurant with a guy in dirty jeans and a decade old rock concert t-shirt.

3. Smell

You need to smell good, in body and breath. Shower as close to the date as possible, always within four hours of your date. Smell is important – very important. You have to love the way she smells and she has to love the way you smell to have a fighting chance. It doesn't matter if you’re smelling each other’s cologne, perfume, soap, detergent or simply each other; it has to be pleasant, and this is subjective. It’s part of the whole experience and less good smell is better than any bad smell. The name of the game is chemistry. Looking good opens the door, smelling good keeps you in the room.

4. Money

Guys, if you're so broke that transportation and dinner could break the bank then you may want to reconsider your dating options. Even modest, non-gold-digging ladies will find the fact that you’re a professional, white-collar adult and broke a turn off if they can sense it. Keep in mind, if you're going on a traditional date, that she'll probably expect the guy to pay. On the flip side, don't shower her with expensive gifts to show off your riches. That could make her feel like she’s being bought. Presume she wants to learn about you, not your money, three homes, boat or plane. Spending 200% of your planned budget on the date probably won't get you closer to the goalpost. Don't put a lot of pressure on your first date. Keep it low key. Lunch, coffee, or simply a walk are great options, especially if money’s an issue for you.

5. Food

Don't show up for your date starving otherwise you may get “hangry" when things aren't going perfect with parking, traffic, your dinner reservation, etc. Also, don't eat too much on the date. Nerves and disagreeable food don't go well together.

6. Drink

Watch your drinking. A couple drinks can lighten the mood and take off the edge. But don’t get sloshed or pressure her to drink more than she wants to. Also, if you think you’re only enjoyable when you're buzzed then you have to fix that before dating.

7. Talk

Talk little about yourself without being secretive or evasive. Let her dig out the fact that you're a millionaire CEO who used to be an astronaut. Actually, astronauts are the perfect role model since, when you meet them in a bar, they'll never tell you they're an astronaut (true story). They have the world’s cool job and they’re genuinely the most humble people you’ll ever meet.

Instead of talking about yourself, talk about your date, listen to her, and be genuinely supportive of her thoughts and dreams. When a lady tells you about one of her problems on a date, don't try to solve it for her on the spot. Instead, simply listen. Listen. She's not looking for you to solve her problems. She’s looking for someone to listen and be her cheerleader. Don't try to fix her.

Keep the conversation upbeat and non-controversial. Everything you tell her will fall into one of three categories. Either be positive (“Did you see last night’s beautiful sunset?”), neutral (“Would you like to order dessert?”), or negative (“My landlord is such an idiot, he never fixes anything. The world is a trash can.”) Don’t focus on the negative issues in your life lest you be a Debbie Downer. It should go without saying that pontificating on politics, religion, or sex are a no-no for a first date.

Be honest. Tell her what you think, without being confrontational or opinionated. Tell her what you like about her, just a little. Don't pressure her with anything and don't play games: "She didn't return my call or answer my texts, yesterday, so I'm ignoring her today."

As a guy, it's not about being smarter or stronger. If you think you are, then move along. Seriously, if you're so much “smarter” than all the women you meet then do you really need someone "that dumb" to complement you? Let her see how smart you are by your actions. You don't need to tell her. If you continually find yourself dating “dumber” women then I’m betting you’re really the problem with your dates, not the ladies.

Also, don’t interrupt. People on a date get nervous. We all do since we're being judged. So chill out and let her talk all she wants. If she doesn't stop herself to ask you questions then that may be a warning sign for you.

8. Chivalry

She should have to discover your blessings by your actions, not talk. Don’t tell her how wonderful you are, she should see it. Open the car door for her except when the valet's doing it. Help her put on her coat or jacket except in situations where that would be obscenely awkward. When walking down the sidewalk, put yourself between her and the street without her noticing. Like a classical novel, filled with symbolism, let her discover that you stand for chivalry. You want to be thoughtful, not show-off-full. How thoughtful and selfless can you be without being a martyr?

9. Endgame

If your date is going swimmingly then you might be the man she’s looking for, so continue thinking of her needs and desires. Be thoughtful. You’ll need to figure out her speed and match it. Too fast, with too much pressure for the next date, and you’ll scare her off. Too slow and she’ll drift away. The people you date will always be a mystery, at first. So, think like a Boy Scout: Be Prepared.

And always be a gentleman. If she was your daughter, would you want her dating a guy like you? If you want to kiss her at the end of the date then ask. Those are her lips, not yours. So ask permission. You’d be surprised how much women appreciate the advanced notice.

Remember that women want to be treated like the subject of love, not the object. To paraphrase Maya Angelou, people won't always remember what you say and they won't always remember what you do, but they will remember how you made them feel; so leave the ladies feeling lovely.

Finally, keep in mind that even if you do everything right it doesn’t mean it will always work out. Some things are not meant to be.

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

A Constitutional Amendment Addressing Technology?

The Second Amendment is the only article in the Bill of Rights that specifically addresses a rapidly changing technology. What if our forefathers wrote the Constitution today? Would the Second Amendment be the right to a car, computer, or Internet access instead of the right to bear arms?

Unlike the 18th century, technologies and issues now become outdated or irrelevant faster than ever. One needn't look past the Third Amendment to see an outdated issue in the Bill of Rights. The Third Amendment has never been the primary basis of a Supreme Court decision. And it may never be given that the United States has transitioned from a militia, to a standing army, to what now seems like a permanent war. A permanent war not against a state or government, but rather an idea: drugs, terrorism, etc. How do wars like this end? Who surrenders and signs the peace treaty leading to the release of the prisoners held in Gitmo? It seems to me that ending all terrorism in the world would be the equivalent of ending worldwide crime. A noble, yet impractical goal we should still strive for with the understanding that it cannot be fully achieved.

The key purpose of the Second Amendment was to give American citizens a daily tool while keeping the government in check. The balance of arms between the people and local communities, compared to the federal government, used to be even. Today, a rebellion by Americans against the federal government would be a disproportionate fight. Private citizens do not own or control weapons of mass destruction (nor should they). Two hundred and fifty years ago, people could not arm and stash a flintlock pistol in their pocket. Also the firearms of that time, from pistols to cannons, were single shot. Percussion cap weapons, the predecessor to bullets, weren't introduced until the 1820s.

I'm not suggesting that we add a Constitutional amendment banning firearms. Nor do I have a solution to ending gun violence. Part of my argument is that having the Constitution address a specific technology may have been a bad idea. More importantly, the Constitution is about giving rights to citizens, not restricting them. There's no place in it for banning alcohol, barring gay marriage, or restricting suffrage.

Simply because the Framers wrote the Constitution doesn't mean it's an absolute human right. Unless you think minorities shouldn't vote and alcohol should be banned. Bearing arms is a right, driving is a privilege – which is more practical in today's America? So, I leave you with no answers, only questions.

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

What is Art? What is Art's Purpose? Why?

 
Why would someone record a scene of simply eating? Why would anyone want to watch it?


What is art? What is its purpose?

Those are questions I've attempted to answer for years.

Is a Lamborghini or Apple Watch art?

It's easier to answer the second question, first: Art’s purpose is to express consciousness. That's it.

Which leads us back to the first question, "What is art?" It's been said, "Art is what you can get away with" but that's a bit nebulous.

Simply put, art is anything we create for others that can standalone. Art does not need to serve any purpose, other than existing, like a sunset.

Is a diary or personal journal art? I'd say no, since it's private. Rather, art is that poem we wrote which we shared with others, but never intended to sell. It's a photo, prose, performance, or painting that captures the moment.

What about the iPhone? Is that art?
Again, I'd say, no, it's not pure art. Art, with function, isn't so much art as it is design.
Design is art with function. It's how things work from the outside in.
Engineering is technology with function. It's how things work from the inside out.


There's nothing wrong with asking why. But, anyone who asks, "Why?" without the true intent of understanding more, doesn't get it. And that's okay. Not everybody understands everything, but at least have an open mind.

Art is so unique that it would not be missed if it were never created; yet its existence expands our experience with creative beauty. Words, paint, or notes of music, all created from nothing, for nothing, other than to exist, makes art. But that, alone, does not make great art which depends on both content and context, as the above video clip demonstrates. I reproduced the context of eating, but I can't reproduce the content of being Andy Warhol.

And who could forget when violinist Joshua Bell played at the Union Station train station in DC? Without the context of a symphony hall, no one appreciated his music.

Epilogue: Jørgen Leth speaks about his experience filming and directing Andy Warhol.

Credit: Big thank you to M. Thorsen for recording and editing this video.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Up and Running with Watch

Space Black Watch
Yesterday was my first full day with my Apple Watch. My first foray into wearable technology was 20 years ago when I purchased a Polar heart rate monitor in June 1994. Since then, on nearly every run, from training, to 5Ks and 50Ks, I have worn a heart rate monitor. But the Apple Watch is my first experience with a consumer wearable high tech device designed for daily use.

A buddy purchased an Apple Watch Sport, and, when I told him I had ordered a Space Black Apple Watch, he said, "The internals are all the same. The only difference is the casing, band and crystal." A good point. In other words, this device is more fashion than technology; just like a car.

Unbox and On Wrist

When my Apple Watch arrived, I recorded the unboxing and then played around with my new toy for a couple hours. The fit and finish is exquisite. I also ordered three bands (leather, Sport, and Milanese). The traditional wrist watch has been around for more than a century, yet it took Apple to design a simple way to swap and adjust bands. You can see, in my unboxing video, that my Apple Watch bracelet was too big and needed resizing. Instead of bringing it to a jeweler to adjust my band, I did it myself. It only took a couple minutes to pop out links from the bracelet, with my fingernail, until it was a perfect fit. Swapping out bands is even faster – simply make sure that the three rubber shims are facing up as you slide on a new band and you'll have no problem.

On the Go

New York Times, July 9, 1916
The heart rate monitors I've used required that I wear a chest strap. Before the Apple Watch, if I wanted to go for a run while listening to music, I needed to bring four things: watch, chest strap, iPod shuffle, and headphones. Since the Apple Watch can store music and monitor my heart rate without being tethered to an iPhone, I now only need two things: Apple Watch and Bluetooth headphones. 

Yesterday morning I walked to breakfast with my Apple Watch while listening to a podcast. The Apple Watch Workout app performed beautifully while tracking my heart rate during my mile and a half walk. The app lets you set a specific goal for running, walking, cycling, etc. The goals can be set for time, distance, calories, or left open with no specific goal.

In the afternoon, I took my Apple Watch for a run. During my one mile warm up run I didn't use the Workout app. I was a little concerned when I tried measuring my heart rate while warming up because it took 10 to 20 seconds to measure it. Looking down at my watch for that long, while running, seemed worse than texting while driving. 

Heart Rate Hubbub

Heart rate fonts could be larger for easier reading.
Once I was done stretching, I activated the Workout app and my heart rate measuring concerns melted away. The Workout app continuously reported my heart rate. Measuring your heart rate is the key to knowing your personal exertion levels during endurance sports. You don't want to be anaerobic if you're running a marathon because you'll bonk. On short runs, you don't want to run too slow and miss out on maximizing your training. Noticing that your heart rate is higher than normal while running at a slow pace could indicate something. Perhaps you're coming down with a cold or you haven't recovered from a previous workout.

What's the Big Deal?

The allure of wearable technology is that it physically incorporates you into its system. It's a part of you and you're a part of it.

I usually wear a traditional watch so I might as well wear one that ties in with my iPhone. Since I've only been using my Apple Watch for a couple days I still have a lot to discover. For simplicity sake, the small size of the Apple Watch necessitates limited UI interactions, so it takes a little getting used to. But, it's very handy to answer phone calls and respond to text messages without needing to carry around my phone. However, it is, yet, another device I need to have with me. And it needs to be tethered to an iPhone to use all of its features.

Time will tell, but so far it's definitely an asset. I'm pulling my phone out of my pocket far fewer times throughout the day without missing alerts, e-mails, and messages.

Friday, May 22, 2015

Advice for the USNA Class of 2015

Veep Joe Biden handing out today's diplomas.
Today, the US Naval Academy class of 2015 graduated. When I graduated, in 1993, I was ready to take on the world. My challenge, as a new second lieutenant, was that I had a lot to learn after graduation, not from books but rather from experiences. Here are a few things I wish I had learned sooner, rather than later.


1. Ask Why

No, don't ask your seniors why, ask your subordinates.

Before losing your temper with subordinates, when things aren't going right, ask, "Why?" This is Stephen Covey's fifth habit.

When I was a supply officer, we had some equipment that needed to be moved from one area of our warehouse lot to another. The warehouse chief told me that he'd take care of it while I was at a meeting. When I came back I was surprised to see that this task hadn't even been started. I was a tad unhappy when I asked, "Why wasn't the equipment moved?"

I was immediately thankful that I worded the question the way I did, rather than using a "What the hell is going on?" tone. The warehouse chief's answer to my question was something I hadn't considered, "Sir, the CO came by while you were at your meeting and told us not to move the equipment."

Every good Marine knows to follow their last order first after pointing out the conflict.

2. Answer the Question

When I was a new second lieutenant I frequently answered a superior's simple yes or no question with an explanation before giving the answer. After I was cut off, a couple times, and told, "Just answer the question...yes or no?" I got the hint. Start with the simplest answer you can give and go from there. After awhile, you'll get a feel for how much of an explanation is needed.

3. Leading vs. Staff Work

The Naval Academy is the leadership crucible. There are plenty of examples of how to lead, and how not to lead. Leading is a challenge, and outranking your subordinates makes it easier. At Annapolis, we're all the same rank. Leading peers is hard. You can fool your seniors and you can fool your subordinates. But, fooling your peers is nearly impossible since they see you when your guard is down.

The best leadership experience I had my Firstie (senior) year was being a company commander. That gave me the confidence to speak to 120 midshipmen, while standing in front of the company, everyday. I constantly reviewed my technique, delivery, message, and mistakes so I could improve.

After graduation, I was a little slow to learn a key aspect of my job in addition to leadership: managing up, known in the military as staff work.

A staff is a group of peers. Each has administrative, technical, or tactical expertise in their area of responsibility. A battalion staff is typically managed by the executive officer, who is the chief of staff. The entire staff reports to the commanding officer.

Unlike one-on-one meetings or working sessions, staff meetings are primarily used for reporting status updates and quick, simple decisions. I was slow to learn that I was expected to make recommendations to my commanding officer (CO). An example of good staff work is when you need a decision from your CO. Let's say that there are two possible choices, option A and option B, that require the CO to sign off on a memo or letter announcing their intent. When you show up for your one-on-one meeting with the CO, you may not know which choice the CO will make. So, you should draft up two separate memos for signature. One memo supports option A and the other supports option B. After you present your recommendation the CO will make a decision and sign the appropriate memo.

This example is how the process works in it's simplest form. It enables you to see other's perspectives. More importantly, it is a more efficient use of time since a second meeting isn't needed to sign the paperwork.

4. Align Tasks and Timing with the Interested Party

This is a leadership technique that's more of an art than a science. Basically, if you can get into the mindset of assigning tasks to the most interested party, you'll get the best results. This works well in most organizations whether in the military, a corporation or a family.

Timing is also an issue when delegating tasks or passing information. Don't task someone when passing them in the hallway or as as they're headed out the door for PT because they're likely to forget it. Try to control your excitement of needing to pass along information. What good is it to task someone when they're not in a good position to receive and act on that information? The reason people pass information at inopportune times is because they are worried about forgetting it, themselves. It's not about passing the buck and checking a box where, later, you can say, "I told them to do it." Rather, it's about having the task accomplished by setting people up for success.

Here are my tips for Time Management in the 21st Century.

5. Get Everything Into Your Medical Record

Marines know that they have to carry their weight, regardless if they're sick, lame, or lazy. This drives Marines to push themselves so they're not a liability. There's sometimes a perception that one should not go to sick call, when appropriate, and have an entry made in their medical record. At some point in the future you will no longer be on active duty. The VA will evaluate your health, based on your medical record, so anything that's missing will work against you. Something minor, from decades ago, could turn into something major, tomorrow, so having a record of it is important.

6. Let Him Fail

Occasionally, you have to let a subordinate fail, resulting in you or your team taking a face shot. This isn't a case of hanging someone out to dry, rather, it's that you can't step in and do someone else's job when they're failing. I've written about this in detail in Let Him Fail. When this does happen, consider the possibility that a subordinate's shortcoming may be a result of your failure to properly train them. While that may not be the case, simply think about how the problem could be avoided in the future.

7. Don't Brag That You Graduated From Annapolis

There's a very old joke:
Q: How do you know if someone went to Harvard?
A: They'll tell you.

Yes, the service academies are vastly different experiences compared to civilian colleges and universities. (And, yes, I told you in the second sentence of this blog post that I graduated from Annapolis.) But, officers from the Naval Academy aren't better people than officers from other commissioning sources. The Naval Academy may make an individual a better officer, initially, since they've spent four years on active duty by the time they're commissioned. But officers from civilian schools have faced an array of issues that midshipmen were shielded from such as college loans, rental leases, working a job, daily commutes, doing their own laundry, taking out the trash, and raising a family while studying.

8. Never Forget the Basics

Honesty, integrity, and setting the example are key. People, in the military and in the civilian world, will follow your example as I pointed out in Everyone's a Leader. And, while lying is discouraged, there are times when it's okay to be deceptive which I covered in Ethics for the Junior Officer.

Congratulations and fair winds and following seas to the US Naval Academy Class of 2015.

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Noteworthy Customer Service

Everyone loves great customer service, especially me. It's an integrity issue and it's one of my pet peeves.

I've had my Accord for more than a decade. Recently, the factory installed GPS nav system was on the fritz. Honda offered to repair my system for a couple thousand dollars, which is steep considering it's merely the GPS DVD that needed to be fixed.

Following a recommendation from a local business, I brought my car into La Jolla Audio. I'm happy to say that everything the rep, Gary, at the shop told me was wrong.

First, he told me it would cost $800 if he could repair it in the shop. But, if he had to send out the DVD it would cost closer to $1,000. After spending the day trouble shooting it, he told me that he'd have to send it out; but it would still only cost $800 because the repair prices had dropped.

Second, he told me that it typically takes at least two weeks to repair the DVD player. He was also wrong about that. Six days later, he called me back to say that he'd received the repaired DVD player and it was ready to be installed.

As soon as I hung up the phone I drove over to La Jolla Audio. He told me that it would take about an hour to install and program the repaired unit. It turns out that was wrong, too – it only took 45 minutes. Very refreshing.

I could have done the work myself for about $300, but it was worth it to have an expert do it. It might be easy to reason that his process was planned, but that wasn't the case.  He gave me his best estimates not based on the soonest the repairs could be made, but rather the average, with a couple possible delays thrown. That's the hallmark of excellent customer service.

Friday, May 8, 2015

Ideal Online Scam?

I think I've encountered the perfect online scam; or, at least I can now envision how it would work.

Over the past ten years, I've blogged a few times about my experiences in junior high school with lasers and holography. A few years ago, I read about Wicked Lasers on TechCrunch. The diode lasers they sell are spectacularly powerful – more than a thousand times more powerful than the helium neon lasers I used to make holograms in my basement as a kid. A few years ago, I began to place an order for a Wicked Laser but I stopped myself from hitting submit when I saw that the company was based in Hong Kong.

Last December, I saw that Wicked Lasers was going to stop shipping to the U.S. after the New Year, so I placed an order for a discounted laser of $375. After all, TechCrunch reported on them multiple times.

Gotcha

The gotcha that I'm seeing more and more often is that companies charge your credit card as soon as you place your order and then ship their product more than a month later. When this happens, the consumer's best avenue of recourse is to ask their credit card company to run a chargeback within 60 days if they think they're being scammed. I have yet to run a charge back for any purchase I've made, but I am seriously considering it in the future. I've most recently seen delayed shipping from Nanoleaf and Stack Social. Nanoleaf delivered my product on the 60th day and Stack Social has been replying with delayed shipping dates, but I'm still within my 60 day window.

Genius

What makes Wicked Lasers the model for online scams is that their customers will accept a two month delay since the product is coming from Hong Kong. During that time, Wicked Laser missed a few shipping dates, but their customer service team was responsive via phone and e-mail. Now, they no longer answer their phones, but their e-mail team is still responsive. Yet something is amiss. Wicked Laser's e-mail replies are written in excellent English, but vague enough to seem like a fortune cookie message or horoscope. Each response, in a vacuum, seems like it was addressed to me, or at least that's what I wanted to believe:

One month after ordering:
"Our support staff will not have any additional information regarding the shipping of your order until it ships. If you no longer want your order, we can cancel your order and process a full refund immediately."

Six weeks after ordering:
"Your order has been shipped and is on its way. You won't receive a tracking number for another 2-3 weeks because we first ship in bulk to our domestic warehouse, then directly to you."
(This is brilliant because it seems plausible and it stretches out the delivery to just about 60 days.)

Four weeks later:
"We are still waiting for the tracking information from the carrier. Orders that has shipped in February were returned by Chinese customs and shipped again after that."

Two weeks later:
"Your order will need 4-8 business weeks to be delivered from the date it has originally shipped."

April 22, 2015:
"We just received the latest update that your order is one of those that were held by customs and after trying to ship your order a few times, we can no longer ship the item to you. A refund will be made on your account. This will take 1-2 weeks before it gets credited to your account."

At the end of April when following up on my refund:
"Its mainly because we have exhausted the refund limits of our processors for the month which will replenish this May. You can check with me around Thursday next week for the transaction number."

Follow up from this past Thursday, May 7, 2015:
"We sincerely apologize for the delay in refund. Its mainly because we have exhausted the refund limits of our processors for the month of April which will replenish this month. We are doing the refunds based on the the order ID. However, I have included your order ID to be refunded as soon as the processor limit is lifted. You can check with me around Thursday next week for the transaction number."

How Will it End? Perhaps it Already Has

I'm sensing a pattern.
It's certainly plausible that everything Wicked Lasers has told me is true, but I feel like I've been scammed. It's very frustrating to chase down companies who know about order hiccups, but don't tell the customer unless the customer follows up. If I have been swindled, then I have to admire their technique of stringing customers along past two months while being responsive to customer service queries. I really wanted to believe that my shipment was on its way. In the words of Alexander Pope, "Hope springs eternal."


Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Arty Artfulness of Artistic Comments

It's been said that art is what you can get away with. But, that doesn't tell you what art is, rather, how it is perceived. Is the iPhone art in a pure sense? I would say no, but it is great design which is art with function. A better definition for art is that it's an expression of consciousness. We may sculpt marble or paint canvas with the intent of selling it, but art, in its purest sense doesn’t need to be sold. Art is that photo we snapped or that poem we wrote – the one we never intended to sell or even show someone else. We create something, where nothing previously existed, for creation's sake. We created it because we could. That's art in its absolute form… the unadulterated expression of consciousness. Unfortunately, though, this type art is too rare to be practical. 

Art is what you can get away with.
Some art is meant to shock us like Howard Stern or a woman vomiting paint on canvas. Some art can be simple, yet so powerful that it moves us to tears like Marina Abramović’s The Artist is Present when her former lover, from decades ago, makes a surprise visit. One of my favorite pieces of questionable art that stimulates discussion is from the very man who’s credited with saying, “Art is what you can get away with.”


Internet Comments: Art in the 21st Century


That brings us to a new form of art which didn't exist before the Internet which is the comment, anonymous action at a distance. Every comment, even the most mundane one, is a shot that can be heard around the world by any Internet citizen. Most people comment with the intent of expressing their consciousness even though it may have no impact. Sure, there are the know-it-all educators who try to teach us a lesson; and there are the trolls whose purpose is only to evoke a reaction. But there are many commenters who couldn’t care less about how people perceive them. They’re merely expressing their consciousness. 

I have two all-time favorite comments; neither of which was a comment on my own content. Both are lost to the Internet yet imprinted in my mind. The first one was a comment on the “questionable art” video of Andy Warhol I mentioned above where a citizen commenter wrote, “I love the part where he eats the hamburger.” That made me LOL out loud [sic].

Another comment that sticks in my mind was when someone posted this picture and asked, “What do these countries have in common?” The correct answer was, “These three countries don’t use the metric system.” But one clever commenter wrote, “These are all the countries that have put a man on the moon, plus Liberia and Myanmar.”

The thing to remember about comments, unlike popular art, is each person has their particular affection for each comment – and that’s okay. It’s like your favorite flavor of ice cream. Shock and awe doesn't require strength and dominance. Slow and simple can be just as profound and powerful like this musical performance.

Saturday, April 11, 2015

Apple Watch Impressions

I tried on the Watch, today. It's my first foray in fashionable wearable tech. For this reason, it's different than my previous experiences with consumer electronics. Since it comes in different sizes, styles, and colors I literally had to be fitted. I put the cart before the horse by ordering my Apple Watch before today's fitting. As a matter of fact, I ordered it within the first five minutes of it going on sale, yesterday. But, it's comforting to know, after today's fitting, that I ordered the right Apple Watch for me. And, if I had made a mistake, I could simply cancel my order anytime before it ships in the next four to six weeks.

The Apple Watches I tried on today only ran a demo program. But, I did have an opportunity to interact with some of the display models. The fitting was a bit anticlimactic since it's simply a watch in form factor, and I've worn watches for decades. Clothing, eyeglasses, and watches are the original wearable tech invented long ago. So, choosing one of these form factors is a perfect starting point for wearable high-tech.

All the Apple Watch models have the same internals. There's no functional difference, on any level, between a $349 Apple Watch Sport and a $17,000 Apple Watch Edition. That may sound ridiculous until you consider that this is also true for cars.

Swank

Welcome to the world of fashion. Once a technology has matured enough to become a commodity it can be fashioned.

Checking out Apple's new products, before the Apple watch, was simple: I would walk into an Apple Store and play with a demo unit. With the Apple Watch, I had to schedule a one-on-one fitting with a personal shopper. He assisted me in trying on different models and bands. This may sound like pomp and circumstance, but it was actually a necessity for efficiency and security. That made the experience more like a visit to a jewelry store rather than a consumer electronics store. With the Apple Watch on my wrist it "tapped" me with a notification, which felt like a poke on my wrist. I like that this haptic feedback is a silent and private notification, unlike when my iPhone vibrates which others can hear. The tap, followed by a causal glance at the Apple Watch, is less distracting than reaching into my pocket and pulling out my iPhone.

Tethered

The Apple Watch isn't a standalone device like Apple's other key products. Rather, it's a wearable accessory of the iPhone. It's disappointing that the Apple Watch must be paired to an iPhone for connectivity and to run third party apps. But that will change. In the mean time, Apple certainly got the fashion part right compared to the now defunct Google Glass. Putting wearable technology into a familiar form factor is the key to consumer adoption. But it isn't easy to put high-tech into clothes, glasses, and watches. Google Glass made for a great demo, but it didn't look like a normal pair of glasses. As a matter of fact, Google Glass didn't even function like eyeglasses or sunglasses at all. Rather, it looked geeky, which is the opposite of stylish. What Google Glass really did was bring heads-up displays (HUD) to the consumer along with a ubiquitous camera. And it was the camera that made people especially uneasy. Seventy years ago, Dick Tracy showed us what a high-tech watch could do. Before Google Glass, consumers weren't pining for a wearable HUD, but we did want a two-way wrist communicator. While no one was asking for a pocket-sized computer, the fact that smartphones enabled communications was key to their adoption.

Functionality

While I love the Apple Watch as fashion accessory, I've read the reviews. The Apple Watch feels a bit underpowered and sluggish with marginal battery life. But, regardless, since I already wear a watch then I might as well have one that works with my iPhone.

Here are more of my Thoughts on Apple Watch from last month.

Monday, April 6, 2015

Software Cities

Yesterday, Dave Winer posted about why in software, we're always starting over. Software engineering is about managing complexity, and it seems to be approaching an asymptotic limit of what can be managed by individuals and companies. It's not that we won't be able to create more sophisticated software, we will; but the growth will be slower and the benefits less noticeable. We're running out of low hanging fruit; we're running out of simple software that performs a useful service as software engineering becomes more prolific.

The real world problem I'm seeing today is that software is becoming so complex that it won't work as expected. Our expectations need to readjust. Yesterday, I couldn't play iTunes Radio or iTunes Match because iTunes simply skipped from song to song without playing any of them. It's not that Apple engineers are incompetent – that's far from the case. Rather, it's a two fold problem. First is what I've already mentioned: software is becoming more and more complex. Second is the fact that new engineers come into the workforce that need to understand legacy software and then either build upon it or reengineer it. Either way, it requires a lot of time and effort. And, unless there's a simplification breakthrough, it's going to result in more complexity for the software engineer.

When pondering this issue, holistically, I look for other examples where I've seen similar problems. Instead of looking at it as a software engineering issue, I look at it as a systems engineering issue. This analogy works well when breaking down problems. For example, we can think of data packets transversing the Internet as cars (packets) carrying payloads of people (data). In this example, we see the redundancy of our roads. Destroying a bridge in Syria has no effect on the roads in the U.S. Or, destroying the Internet's "single point of failure," i.e. DNS, would be the dire equivalent of removing every road sign in the world. As systems fail in ways we didn't imagine, other pathways must handle the load resulting in cyber traffic congestion or even failure to access a network node endpoint.

Gentrification of Software

Software engineering has many similarities to constructing homes and buildings. We even use the same word, architect, in both disciplines. But, in the world of software, we are no longer simply creating buildings. In other words, we are no longer simply making standalone software applications. Instead, we are building entire cities, which, like computers, are networked together. And, like a city, every road can't be open all the time – there's constant construction preventing access. Most of the time, we can plan ahead. But, similar to real world infrastructure failures, like a water main break, we have problems, usually in the form of bugs or hardware failures, in the online world. 

All software needs to be checked for bugs, either by a compiler, coder, tester, or customer. Every new line of code increases complexity, but this is an oversimplification since we usually don't want to compress four lines of code into one. Code written must be debuggable and there's a balance between engineering, over-engineering, and making code intuitive for people to read. One never wants to be too clever when writing code. Too-clever code can end up fooling everyone like debugging a multithreaded race condition. I'm not aware of a formula to compute how dense code is, but an experienced software engineer will get an intuitive feel for it with years of experience. 

As towns and cities require building codes and permits, we may see the same thing in high-tech. Obviously, a bridge failing is catastrophic while Amazon going down is comparatively minor, no one is physically hurt in the latter. Lost revenue is vastly different than lost lives, but, that will change. What if an airplane auto-pilot breaks in-flight? Or, worse, what if it begins misreporting or misinterpreting flight data? In the physical world, our building codes are about safety. Online, our issues are about security – and the two are related. Our online world focus is on attacks rather than infrastructure failings.

While I don't see a need for software performance inspections by third parties, I do see a day when software will be inspected by independent agencies for security