Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Careers and Colleges are hard choices

Recently, I had the opportunity come across for me to enter into the Iron Yard Academy. The Iron Yard is a 12 week program and offers employment assistance, the programs vary from different types of development, ranging from Ruby to basic iOS. There's always the slight risk that a 12 week how to code program is going to be a dud, but when I met with the director and teacher in person, most questions of the validity of the program subsided. It checked out.

While I was speaking to the teacher of the program, I was told that most jobs out of the program would be "setting the type, and not building the printing press." That in of itself was quite fine given the time spent in the class but after that was said all I could think was "fuck building the printing press, i'd have the time of my life doing nothing but playing with type!" After a couple more questions I was given the OK by both of them and told that I do have the technical aptitude to be a candidate for such a program, all that was left was bureaucratic work.

When I went home, I spent that night and the next couple of days thinking to myself, is opting out of college to do such a program a good idea? I'm currently taking this semester off and intended to start college next semester. While I believe that there are multiple paths in life and one does not have to attend college to be successful nor does one have to take a technical class such as the one presented to me, I've just been confused on what path I should take.

What even is success?

I've always had an interest in technology and when I was in high school I taught myself basic web design, but when thinking about what one will be spending the next 10 years of their life doing, what parameters should one have in mind? No one has ever explained that to me and there's a stigma that I should have figured it out on my own, which is fucking stupid. My father didn't go to college, in fact he didn't even go to high school[^1]. But when I think of successful people in my life, he is on that list. American culture implies that financial success is the main indicator of how successful a person is, but I've read too many articles and books stating contrary to believe that success is based upon one factor alone.

The common definition of the word success is:
the accomplishment of an aim or purpose.
That is also the mindset I have when trying to figure out what steps I should take next in my life. Whatever makes me able to accomplish goals I set out for myself.  What I do in my life should make me feel successful because what truly matters at the end of the day is how I feel about my actions, right?

I like believing that, but I don't know.

Why become a web designer?

When I was pouring over the question of "should I go to this class," the question of "why do I even want to work a job creating web sites" popped up. To answer that question I thought back to why I even began teaching myself web design in the first place.

When I was 13 or 14[^2], my friend Sadiq had a blog entitled asininetech. He let me write for it after I nagged him for a couple of weeks, and this[^3] was the first blog post ever published under my name. There were a couple of blogs before then that I had started and wrote a couple of articles for, but those aren't online and I was 12 at that time, so it's safe to say that it isn't my best work.

When I was 16 I started a blog at the domain technoticraccoon.com[^4]. This is when I first started to learn web design. I used tumblr as the engine powering the site because I was poor, and I spent that entire summer learning how to build a theme for my site that was legible. The only reason I cared about learning how to make websites is because I cared about the reading experience. Even though the content I wrote wasn't of the best quality, I wanted the process of reading it to be spectacular. I cared more about fonts and colors than code.

I love writing and cannot understand why

In the first blog post I wrote for technoticraccoon[^5], I said this:
Header with a big logo and breaking links, narrow vertically scrolling text column with lots of wasted white space on the site used for even more links to things you don’t care about, ads in any place that isn't used for some other asinine thing, content that is made for skimming and nothing of real depth. Rinse. Repeat. Cycle. Money rolls in. We all win….right?
As stated in the colophon above, this blog is about what I find interesting. That is what I think “blogging” should be about. You write about what you find interesting, because when you do, the quality goes up because you have some sort of an emotion towards the medium of your content. But I could be naively speaking again.
This is getting long so I’ll conclude. I am a writer. novice or not, I want to create quality content that isn't garbage by the wash-like method that is the norm. And maybe if I’m lucky, I’ll even be able to make a living out of this.
When I was debating whether I should attend the class at The Iron Yard I reread that post, and I still believe what I wrote when I was 15. My head is telling me that I should go to school for CS and get a job as a programmer, but my gut is telling that I have some weird love for writing and i'd be much more happier doing that. I'm torn between the practical and romantic. The concept of a programmer is dirty and inelegant full of notions of people staying up all night tinkering away just to get their idea working, but the concept of a writer has been romanticized by our culture. Bill Gates is looked at as a nerd who built the future, but Hemingway is look at as the drunken romantic who could woo with nothing but a pen.

I'm naive, I'm well aware of that. But if I can't get the idea of being a writer out of my head, then i'm going to damn well try to be one. If I fail then so be it, there's nothing wrong with failing.

I've canceled my application for the Iron Yard and i've decided that I'll go to school for a writing degree. Even though journalism is one of the lowest ranking degrees currently out there, I still want to try.

[^1]: El Salvador is a poor country and that's not uncommon.
[^2]: The date on imported posts might be wrong because Sadiq sucks at maintaining servers.
[^3]: Anything with the author "TechnoticRacoon" was me, and god you do not want to read those. Seriously.
[^4]: I don't own it anymore nor do I have anything to do with the current content on that site. I promise.
[^5]: Titled "An explanation for degeneration, which I think would be an awesome line in a rap song.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Generic After Apple Keynote Think Piece on the Apple Watch

Tim Cook's legacy on Apple is going to be him making the company known as a high fashion brand.

The Apple Watch is the first mixing of fashion and tech that hasn't been a mess. The Apple watch has great ui, fashionable hardware, and a large user base of customers willing to buy it. This is something that Android OEMs have never been able to achieve. They've never shipped products that sell widely, are fashionable, and have great user experiences. It's always been a pick two out of three, or less.

The Apple Watch is rounded metal, most likely aluminum, and the biggest selling point hardware wise is the absolute plethora of styles in which you can wear it. They have sophisticated gold and real leather strap styles, sports styles which look to be out of fitbit or nikes playbook, and all sorts of styles in between. The UI is an interesting bubble based concept with different hierarchical levels literally being nothing more than how far you are zoomed in on a particular element. The custom font Apple is using seems to be similar to the one used in the camera app on iOS, and I am especially fond of the small caps variant. There is no reported battery life, no news is likely bad news as Tim Cook did say "when you charge it overnight" during the keynote indicating that at the very least you'll only get a days usage out of it which is on par with other watches.

I personally dislike the crown and think that it was added mainly because Apple wanted it to be more welcoming to people who are familiar with existing timepieces. As a millennial today was the first time I've ever seen a crown. Luckily you can navigate around the UI without having to use it much. There is a second button, used to quickly bring up your favorite contacts, where you can easily send messages to them.

The Apple Watch also is in two sizes, which is something that I very much liked. Currently watches are too large for anyone with a small wrist, and for some medium sized wrist folks still too big. Having sizes is great and every other watch maker really should do that.

I'll admit at first I was bullish on the Apple Watch and thought that it was ugly, but for a generation one product, it looks alright. I still do not like the rectangle shape for a watch, nor do I care for super polished metal that does not have any hard edges. But this is a matter of taste because well, fashion.

On Fashion and Nerds

I want to talk about "being fashionable" for a minute. The definition i'm using for fashionable is "characteristic of, influenced by, or representing a current popular trend or style." Current trends and style are in this case cultural aspects of our society. In order to be fashionable then, the item must hold cultural relevance and follow current trends. I hope this seems obvious, but most nerds tend to disregard fashion as something unimportant, most recently John Carmack[^1] wearing cargo pants and a regular t-shirt while on stage at a Samsung press briefing being a really good example of this. This isn't to say there are nerds who think fashion is important, after all i'm here, but a good amount of Apple, Beats, and other high markup product dismissal seems to stem from a general lack of care for fashion. It's ignorant to think that fashion isn't important at all. While you may not particularly care to dress following any generally agreed upon rule, most people appreciate and like being fashionable.

The biggest immediate difference from a 200$ Chromebook to a 999$ Macbook Air are the materials being used right? The Macbook Air is the more luxurious, more high end, and more fashionable laptop. For a while in tech there's been this idea that design isn't fashion and fashion isn't design [^2]. I believe that may have been true to start, but as devices get smaller and start to always be on us, fashion is extremely important to the product. People already do this with the iPhone cases. Most iPhone cases are some design that the person thinks suits them and their taste. The case is a fashion statement.

The Apple Watch surprised me because of how much it did. This is a first gen Apple with a brand new OS in a brand new category shipping with a SDK and the ability to have more than notification stuff running on the device. The amount of features Apple is shipping this with is crazy. But, I'm not sure a watch needs features like being able to browse you twitter feed or take calls from the device (note not answer, but actually use it as a microphone). It seems a bit Samsung-ish as to where it appears that they threw the kitchen sink with this device, but i'm going to wait until they start shipping to make a final judgement. I just cannot help but feel like Android Wear has a bit more cohesion and focus to the vision, which is to make you use your phone less when out and about. The Apple Watch seems to be auxiliary to your phone by replacing it for certain tasks, while the Moto 360 is made so you use the all of your devices less by not having rich UI to play around in. I'm not sure which approach wins but the differences in thinking surprised me.

Speaking of Android Wear, please have context in mind when you compare the Apple watch to it. Speaking market wise, the Apple Watch has no competition besides the pebble. Android Wear does not run on iOS, so therefore iOS users are not going to buy a Wear device. Ditto for Apple Watch with Android users. Comparing the Apple Watch to the Moto 360 and making a case for what'll sell more is stupid because to switch from one watch to another people will literally need to switch phones. We can discuss UI differences or design thought process all we want but the comparison discussion has limits before it becomes useless. Android Wear devices compete marketwise with Android Wear devices and Apple has a nice monopoly on their own wearable market.

The Apple Watch is great for iOS users, but does nothing to win over people who use Android Wear. And that's the point. These devices are nothing but auxiliary to your phone and that's also the point. However Apple Watch is a great piece of fashion whereas the Moto 360 and Asus Zen Watch are the closest thing Android Wear has to being fashionable, but because of limited styles and sizes they do not quite meet the bar of being fashionable.

The Apple Watch is going to do what the iPod did but not in the way that we all expected. The Apple Watch is going to make tech companies realize that fashion is as important as user experience.

[^1]: Still a great watch though

[^2]: Matias Duarte even said so himself!

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Binging Versus Episodic Consumption

I've been on a binge of comic books lately. When Telltale Games released the quite awesome Wolf Among Us, I got hooked on the story enough that I started to check out the series it is based upon. Fables is the name of that series, and it was the start of my new wonderful hobby, reading comics.  But reading through all the backlog of comics had me wondering about how binging on content versus waiting month to month for it changes an opinion of the work as a whole.

Fables as a series has been publishing monthly since 2002, under the DC imprint Vertigo (Sandman, The Watchmen, V for Vendetta, etc). I purchased every trade book (a collection of 5 or more issues into one volume) and essentially read them all in a weekend. As I binged through the entire series, it had me wondering how my view of the work as a whole would differ from someone who went month to month on the story.

I've read on the comment sections of a couple of blogs that around the time of Mister Dark, the series began to go into a lull. That's two or three short trades, but a year or two for those going to month to month. Years of a lull versus an hour or so of reading really gives one a different perspective on the work as a whole.

To think about it another way, if one play The Wolf Among Us, episode two was weak compared to the rest of the game. If one play all 5 episodes in order without having to wait the month or so in between releases, it is a mild speedbump on an otherwise smooth road. But if one has played it episodically, a view of the series can shift from episode to episode as it will be a month until they can play more content.

Another issue I've found is the lack of social discussion about episodes. If one binges through the entire work, the discussion is retrospective. If one follows it as the story plays out, there's the chance that the discussion can affect the content, and not just be a effect of the content. The community around the content changes. When everyone binges it is a community of people impacted by the content, when they go monthly it is a community of people impacting the content.

In my own head, as i'm playing The Wolf Among Us from episode to episode and I have read through all of Fables at once, I much prefer episodic consumption over spending a weekend of being hunched over and taking it all in. At the end of episode three of The Wolf Among Us, I was left with my jaw dropping at the floor, knowing that they ended the episode on a perfect note. In the comics when I got to the end of issue 75, I kept on reading. I didn't take the time to process what I had just read and the pivotal happenings in the story that just occurred.

Consumption of content tends to be assumed as something left up to the consumer, but there's merit in consuming it as the artist intended.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Direct versus Indirect

A common trope among those who write about Apple is that a service is somehow less of a real product when you are not paying for it directly. The biggest example of this being Google, and because of how they sell your information to advertisers, you have no influence on their product development. When one pays for a product, you have a "relationship" with the creator of said product. Without ones direct support, the product would not sustain itself and therefore wouldn't be successful.

This, as any skeptic would point out, is bullshit. The argument that giving information isn't just as direct as using a real currency sounds nice in theory, but isn't true in practice.

If one didn't give out their information to Google, then Google would have less information to sell to advertisers causing them to make less money. If one doesn't pay for a product, then the creator doesn't get their money therefore causing for them to go out of business if enough people do not pay.

Direct versus Indirect first began being prevalent around the time Google Reader was shut down. Before the shutdown, it was easy to catch occasional flares thrown around, mainly with folks like Shawn Blanc and Ben Brooks. The fact that people are able to say "I use X because I can have a 'real' relationship with the creator" and not sound silly is beyond me.

Saying that I do not have a direct relationship with Google because I do not pay with an official currency is asinine. I stop using Google, they cannot sell my information and then they do not make any money off of me. The counter argument that the amount of money they make off of me specifically is so minuscule that Google itself does not have much of a loss whenever I pull out is true. Compared to Apple however, the same is true. If I do not buy an iPhone, Apple doesn't lose any money at all. I am one person, I alone cannot do much damage.

Compared to smaller independently ran product shops though, this isn't as true. For an app that some unknown developer is trying to push to be his full time gig on the Play Store, it does matter if I pay or not. Her scale is so small that one sale can make or change their monetary goals. For those types of people, ad supported business wouldn't make much sense to begin with since one needs much higher scale in order to make the same amount of money as being paid directly, but paradoxically as they are free they tend to have an even higher scale than those that are paid directly.

Ostensibly as the Apple blogosphere is a faucet of wisdom, one could assume that they can just simply say "Hey, we like paying for products because it makes us feel good." Instead we have illogical arguments such as these, I understand that the cool thing to do these days is to snark against Google, and that it's an easy way to get people to link to you. I'm not against that. What I am against is using bullshit to get there.