Steve Jobs on unintended uses of tools

A choice quote from an all‐around inter­est­ing inter­view:

The point is that tools are always going to be used for cer­tain things we don’t find per­son­al­ly pleas­ing. And it’s ulti­mate­ly the wis­dom of peo­ple, not the tools them­selves, that is going to deter­mine whether or not these things are used in pos­i­tive, pro­duc­tive ways.

–Steve Jobs, 1985

Why doesn’t my phone have a thermometer?

It’s get­ting pret­ty warm again (did it ever stop?) in South Flori­da, so today when I had the mis­for­tune of being out­doors, I got to won­der­ing why with all the sen­sors found in most mod­ern smart­phones, they don’t usu­al­ly include a ther­mome­ter.

It’s com­mon to find sen­sors for ori­en­ta­tion, screen contact/pressure, video, sound and even loca­tion. How­ev­er, for some rea­son, the task of telling me about the cli­mate sur­round­ing me gets out­sourced to a third‐party that is some­where com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent.

Just think about that for a sec­ond.

What we’re miss­ing is the abil­i­ty to know the actu­al con­di­tions we’re expe­ri­enc­ing. If one hap­pens to be indoors, in the shade, or some­where else entire­ly, all they’ll get from their phone is the typ­i­cal out­door tem­per­a­ture for their gen­er­al area. Even if they hap­pen to be inside of, and get recep­tion in, a walk‐in freez­er. (“It’s cer­tain­ly not 90° F in here…”)

On the oth­er hand, I can think of rea­sons why our phones tend not to han­dle their own tem­per­a­ture read­ings. Wire­less car­ri­ers obvi­ous­ly pre­fer that cus­tomers pay for data plans to use as many phone fea­tures as pos­si­ble. There’s also the mat­ter of expec­ta­tions: nobody (but me!) seems to demand the fea­ture, so why include it, even if the hard­ware couldn’t be all that pricey?

But most impor­tant­ly, the sen­sor would like­ly be undu­ly influ­enced by the tem­per­a­ture of our hand, the atmos­pher­ic con­di­tions in our pock­et, the heat gen­er­at­ed by the phone itself, and so on. Heck, I dis­tinct­ly remem­ber how wild­ly inac­cu­rate my circa‐mid‐90s Casio G‐Shock ther­mome­ter watch (same mod­el pic­tured at right) was.

But gosh, was it ever enter­tain­ing to watch that dial spin! I also used to watch that bar graph scroll through the last few hours of record­ed tem­per­a­tures and pre­tend I was in a boat watch­ing waves go by. Ah, child­hood…

I can’t quite place my fin­ger on what I would do with the abil­i­ty to keep a read­ing of my own sur­round­ings’ tem­per­a­ture over time… but I know I want it.

Lo‐fi cameras are awesome…

I loves me some crap­py dig­i­tal cam­eras.

Ten years on, my first is still my favorite, my Game Boy Cam­era. Thank you Diego, for per­haps the great­est birth­day gift ever. Sure, I had crap­py film cam­eras before, but that didn’t stop me from lov­ing my GBC like any­one does their first. Using film meant that I couldn’t go wild and exper­i­ment, take tons of pic­tures of stu­pid stuff like any kid with a cam­era does, and any self‐respecting adult with one con­tin­ues to do.

That wouldn’t exact­ly work with my Game Boy Cam­era, which only held 30 snap­shots and didn’t come with any way to, you know, trans­fer them to a com­put­er.

Details. To make do, I would delete all but my absolute favorites, the true ‘keep­ers.’ That awk­ward red car­tridge still has pho­tos from walk­ing home on the day in 2000 I got the cam­era, of good high school friends, of a duck from Kendale Lakes, and self‐portraits tak­en every few months as I grew my hair to a respectable shoul­der length in col­lege.

Last year, real­iz­ing that I was far from done tak­ing tiny, grainy, black‐and‐white pho­tos, I bought a sec­ond Game Boy Cam­era, and a cou­ple of Mad Catz PC link cables, so I could final­ly trans­fer the pho­tos. They’re cheap and plen­ti­ful on Ama­zon and eBay these days (the cam­eras, at least; the link cables are hard to find).

There was a time when mobile phones could be count­ed on to take pho­tos of this sort. Sure it might be frus­trat­ing when you actu­al­ly want­ed to take a good pho­to, but think of the washed‐out col­ors! The poor light­ing! The blur­ry faces! Alright, maybe it wasn’t so great if that was the only cam­era you had at a mem­o­rable event, but if that’s the sort of cam­era you go out of your way to use for art­sy, leisure­ly pho­tog­ra­phy, I respect that.

My first mobile phone with a cam­era was a Side­kick, and its pho­tos are by far my favorite:

I could add these effects with soft­ware, but what fun is that?

Then came my Treo, which was, unfor­tu­nate­ly, a lit­tle bit bet­ter at tak­ing pho­tos:

I won’t even men­tion my G1, which takes prac­ti­cal­ly per­fect pho­tos. How sad.

I’m glad I’ve been able to shoot with so many crap­py cam­eras, because I know one I won’t be using any­time soon. Sigh.

To be con­tin­ued…

The case of the disappearing, reappearing dictionary

I was a vora­cious read­er from a rather ear­ly age. I recall hav­ing had my read­ing lev­el, in first or sec­ond grade, assessed at that of an eighth‐grader.

My read­ing prowess could be attrib­uted to a few things, like my par­ents read­ing to me from a young age, and often encour­ag­ing me to read to them. More impor­tant­ly, if I came across a word I didn’t know and asked them what it meant, they almost always made me go look it up in the dic­tio­nary. I had a children’s dic­tio­nary that I adored, but for words that didn’t appear in there, I’d use their musty col­le­giate dic­tio­nary. This fos­tered an envi­ron­ment where lit­er­al­ly no word was beyond my com­pre­hen­sion, an empow­er­ing feel­ing for a pre‐geek with a single‐digit age!

As I grew up, I didn’t always man­age to keep read­ing with such vol­ume and tenac­i­ty, and today, while I read tons of bits and blogs from the Web, long‐form con­tent isn’t some­thing I take in a lot of. When I do, it tends to be an e‐book. (I read these, in epub for­mat, on my Android phone using the excel­lent open‐source FBRead­er. Yes, read­ing off of a small back­lit screen sucks, but this is mit­i­gat­ed by a nice serif font and the knowl­edge that, as I’m often read­ing in the dark, I wouldn’t real­ly be able to read any oth­er way.)

As I read, still I come across the occa­sion­al word I don’t know. These days, my main dic­tio­nary (either Free Dic­tio­nary Org or Lex­i­con Lite) also lives inside of my phone. FBRead­er doesn’t have its own built‐in, and to switch to anoth­er app is kind of a pain, so I’ve late­ly been find­ing myself shrug­ging off unknown terms. I have become the sort of per­son who stopped learn­ing new words.

This both­ered me, so I decid­ed that, damn the incon­ve­nience, I would start look­ing up words again. Once I tried, I learned that it actu­al­ly wasn’t so hard, after all.

The secret (if you could call it that) was to long‐hold my phone’s Home but­ton. This is the equiv­a­lent to the Alt+Tab key com­bi­na­tion in Lin­ux and Win­dows, which allows you to flip through open apps (only, in Android, it’s a list of the six most recent­ly used apps, open or oth­er­wise). As long as the dic­tio­nary is among the last six, it’ll appear in that list… as does FBRead­er, when it’s time to switch back. This is much more enjoy­able than going back to the home screen, flip­ping open the apps draw­er, etc.

I guess that’s a pass­able not‐so‐new‐anymore year’s res­o­lu­tion: to leave no word un‐lexicized.

More introduction (this time, the geek side)

I under­stand that self‐identifying as a geek in 2010 makes me nei­ther cool nor spe­cial, now that geeks are con­sid­ered… you know… cool and spe­cial. But hav­ing laid out my blog­ging cred, I’d still like to make the case for the geek side of the equa­tion (equa­tions being some­thing I actu­al­ly know very lit­tle about).

Yep, a dis­taste for math­e­mat­ics cur­tailed dreams of study­ing com­put­er sci­ence, or some­thing along those lines, in col­lege. Back in mid­dle school, how­ev­er, I was hap­pi­ly hack­ing BASIC in my school’s Apple //e lab. I had sort of a knack for it; in com­put­er class, I raced through the pack­et of pro­grams we were required to tran­scribe faster than any­one else, and began spend­ing my time writ­ing my own pro­grams, which would do things like tell my friend that his favorite foot­ball team sucked, repeat­ed­ly, through the mag­ic of 20 GOTO 10.

I didn’t real­ly apply this knowl­edge very well at the time; it would still be a cou­ple of years before I had a com­put­er at home. And even when I final­ly did, a com­plete­ly awe­some Pen­tium 166 MHz IBM Apti­va1 run­ning Win­dows 95, I didn’t quite know how to get start­ed pro­gram­ming on it.2

Anoth­er device appeared in my life a few years after the com­put­er; I received a TI‐83 graph­ing cal­cu­la­tor for use in Alge­bra II. I ini­tial­ly found that it made a great mobile Tetris machine, but it wasn’t until read­ing Bill Gates’ The Road Ahead, in which he recount­ed his ear­ly days pro­gram­ming prim­i­tive com­put­ers, that I found myself inspired to do more with it.3

The cal­cu­la­tor seemed like a good place to start pro­gram­ming, espe­cial­ly because the user man­u­al con­tained an entire chap­ter devot­ed to teach­ing the TI‐BASIC lan­guage! I picked this up pret­ty quick­ly, since I still remem­bered a lot of con­cepts from Apple BASIC. In my junior year of high school, I was soon writ­ing pro­grams to help me take short­cuts to solv­ing math and sci­ence prob­lems. But most impor­tant­ly, I want­ed to make games.

So I made a game. How I did so could be its own entry, and very well may be in the future.

This inspired me to sign up for the Com­put­er Pro­gram­ming I elec­tive in my senior year. They taught us Visu­al Basic, and the class was nei­ther inter­est­ing nor fun. This, paired with the real­iza­tion that study­ing com­put­er sci­ence in col­lege meant tak­ing lots of math (some­thing I’d always heard, but col­lege course cat­a­logs assured), made it clear that I should focus on the oth­er thing I liked doing: writ­ing.

I majored in com­mu­ni­ca­tions, and the rest is his­to­ry. Except for a fruit­less for­ay into Python a cou­ple of years ago, I haven’t pro­grammed much late­ly.

But I still embody, I think, the hack­er ethos. For me, 2005 could also have been called the myth­i­cal Year of Lin­ux on the Desk­top, thanks to the then‐nascent, but still quite amaz­ing, Ubun­tu dis­tri­b­u­tion. While it was alien to me, and didn’t quite ‘just work’ on my lap­top, I per­se­vered (smug Windows‐using friends would say I “suf­fered”) and use it to this day. I love Ubun­tu, and it still… almost just works.

Along the same geek lines, doing more with the devices I own seems to be a recur­ring theme in my life. These days. I car­ry in my pock­et a root­ed Android phone (run­ning Cyanogen­Mod), and at home have a homebrew‐enabled Nin­ten­do Wii and DS, a Canon Pow­er­Shot sport­ing CHDK, and Linksys routers run­ning the dd‐wrt and Toma­to firmwares. My (lack of) skill‐set means that you won’t find me help­ing the cause of hack­ing open a new device, but I’m glad to file the occa­sion­al bug. In short, I like to get as much as pos­si­ble out of my devices, includ­ing, quite lit­er­al­ly, my data. Back­up is a top­ic I’ll be com­ing back to, for sure.

I think that about sums up my geek side (and unin­ten­tion­al­ly makes a pret­ty good case for my navel‐gazing side).

  1. Mine looked exact­ly like the tow­er pic­tured there!
  2. Let’s remem­ber this when we talk about the iPad.
  3. My 2010‐self is a lit­tle embar­rassed by hav­ing drawn geek­spi­ra­tion from Bill Gates, but you’re read­ing a truth­ful blog.

An introduction

Hel­lo, Inter­net. It’s Everett, and I’m blog­ging. I’m sort of new at this.

And at the same time, I’m not.

See, it was 2001 when I first became aware of the fact that peo­ple on the Web were writ­ing reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed, reverse‐chronological con­tent about what they had for break­fast. I was a col­lege fresh­man. I took up my key­board and start­ed a blog1 that no longer exists, on a ser­vice that I didn’t like very much (but is still around today).

After a few months there, I start­ed a Live­Jour­nal that exists to this day, but hasn’t been reg­u­lar­ly updat­ed in a num­ber of years. I was once a paid user of Live­Jour­nal, an acknowl­edged con­trib­u­tor to the project and, sim­ply, a humon­gous fan.

Some­thing changed in my life, a few years lat­er, around the time I fin­ished col­lege. Per­haps I no longer felt the need to tell the world what I was hav­ing for break­fast (of course, today that’s Twitter’s job), or maybe my life got a lot less note­wor­thy (if it had ever been). Maybe LiveJournal’s mul­ti­ple changes in own­er­ship tar­nished its image. Or maybe all the cool kids moved on to pure social net­work­ing ser­vices, which were com­ing of age at that point.

It was prob­a­bly a com­bi­na­tion of these things, plus anoth­er big one: I was hired to work in a public‐facing role at blogging/social networking/photo sharing/etc. ser­vice extra­or­di­naire Multiply.com. To be clear, Mul­ti­ply didn’t silence me; I made sure I was allowed to con­tin­ue blog­ging else­where before tak­ing the posi­tion. But hav­ing a real job, one that had me among oth­er things, blog­ging, sim­ply wasn’t con­ducive to after‐hours blog­ging.

With all of this in the past, I think it’s time I start blog­ging again. Everyone’s cat has a blog, in which they dis­cuss what they ate for break­fast, so why don’t I?

Okay, now I do.

  1. Though I was at the time unaware of the term “blog,” which was by no means in com­mon use in 2001