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.


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.


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.


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