On politics

You know what they say — never talk about politics or religion? I’ll leave religion out of this one, but the current situation is too pungent to leave it unmentioned. Not trying to offend anyone, but it’s quite possible. (If you’d rather read a more economy-focused take on why a surplus isn’t necessary right now, Glen Murray has an excellent article here.)

I’m not a member of any political party, and don’t ever expect to align my beliefs fully with any one party either. There’s no chance of a party sharing all my views being elected anyway — except maybe in the Senate, where anything goes, right? — so I’ll have to vote for the option that offends least, as we all do. By writing this, I hope to nail my colours to the wall, provoke some thought, and prod a few minds into action.

What’s the purpose of government? Local government is easy: bins and dogs. Bigger than that? For starters, building things we all need which are too important to leave to private industry. Government needs to fund health, education, police, transport and much else besides. They need to regulate areas they can’t fund themselves and try to steer the country in the right direction by encouraging some investments and discouraging others.

A main purpose of government is to make sure nobody falls through the cracks left by our free market system. Unchecked, monopolies would bleed us all dry, and people who can’t afford the necessities would suffer without them. Health insurance and higher education are already getting very expensive, and if you let the market decide every price, they’ll decide on a higher price than that which is actually good for the country, and a lower wage than is actually good for its workers.

The American system is much more closely wedded to the free market, with an abysmally low minimum wage that can never lift you out of poverty, higher degrees for six figures, and the possibility of an illness sending you bankrupt. Money is blind. Incidentally, on that blind international scale of money, Australia has low debt, a AAA credit rating, and survived the GFC better than almost any other country.

Critically, governments aren’t households, and don’t need to be run in the same way. At an absolute baseline, they can print more money if they really need it — though of course too much of this can have adverse consequences. In general, most government expenditure is an investment, so a dollar which sees a return down the line was a dollar spent for good reason. Choosing simply not to spend money in order to get back into surplus is not in our long-term interests.

Unfortunately, the Commission of Audit set up by the Liberal Party (note for international readers: the Conservatives) has reported that we need to slash the minimum wage, increase taxes, raise the retirement age, charge $15 for doctor or hospital visits, and fund nannies. It’s ideology, not necessity, which drives them. The commission is staffed by ex-Liberal party ministers and owners of big business, so you couldn’t really find a group less aware of how ordinary people live. When was the last time any of them caught a bus and interacted with regular humans?

So far, the Commission of Audit report has heavily influenced Hockey’s first budget, which is pretty appalling. They’re trying: a $7 co-payment for visiting a GP (or emergency department for non-emergencies), uncapping the fees for higher education, charging research PhD students the same fees as undergraduates, killing the dole by making you wait six months before getting anything, then forcing you to work 25 hours a week for it, lifting the retirement age to 70, reducing/removing family tax benefit for many families, stripping funding from countless preventative programs and smaller investments, removing funding for non-religious chaplains in schools but more money for the others, stripped $80 billion from state health and education budgets to force them to ask for a GST increase — they couldn’t have done much worse. So what to do?

  1. Remember this nonsense next time you vote. Every election, the parties do their best to appear as similar as possible, to woo swinging voters. And each election time, someone will say “they’re all the same”. They are not the same, not even close. The ALP is hardly perfect, but their policies certainly benefit more people than the Liberal party’s policies do.
  2. Raise loud, noisy hell with your local member. Tell them very clearly that prioritising defence spending on jets the rest of the world has rejected while stopping poor people from visiting the doctor is simply wrong.
  3. If you really want to simplify things, in the goodies vs baddies style which Prime Minister Abbott himself has used, then ask yourself the question: which party is against renewable energy of any kind, against free healthcare, against public broadcasting, for mining and media billionaires, for knights and dames, against fast internet for everyone, against funding for Indigenous affairs, against funding for the disabled, against treating refugees humanely — then ask if they’re the goodies or the baddies.

Even if you really believe that everyone should support themselves (not everyone can, despite best efforts) and that everyone should pay their own way for everything (even though we all have basic needs and not everyone can afford them) then (even though that sounds pretty selfish) think about it this way. Taxes are the necessary cost of society. If you don’t provide a baseline level of support for everyone, you no longer have a functioning society. Endemic suffering leads not just to unhappiness, but to poverty, to crime, to violence, to a broken country for generations. Like Greece. Or, from another angle, like America.

To put it bluntly: if the rich keep all the money for themselves, they’ll create a country not worth living in. We are all better off if we’re all better off.

Simplicity

Here’s a lovely post about simplicity in video design. Worth a look if you do any kind of visual presentation, though of course few of us have the budget to produce work that looks like the BBC made it.

http://www.aftertheflood.co/projects/explainers-videos/

My old Macs

Yesterday was the 30th anniversary of the Mac, and Apple have gone all-out in a beautifully designed look back. I’ve been using these things for most of the time they’ve existed, and wanted one for longer. Before they were relatively affordable, I looked in magazine, skulked around dealers, and made a teenage nuisance of myself. To reminisce:

My first Mac was a Mac LC in 1991, and it was a revelation after years of an Apple II clone. It cost around $3000 for the pizza-size box alone, and we had a 12″ screen to go with it. That 512×384 screen could show 16000+ colours at once, which was amazing for the time, but my iPhone has more pixels. When I’d borrowed a maths co-processor card, I was able to do 3D rendering, and I remember setting up a 3D scene in a text file, commenting the whole thing out, then uncommenting a line at a time, describing a frame of the animation at a time, then setting it to render a tiny frame for fifteen minutes while I watched one of the Friday 13th movies. Each ad break, I’d come back upstairs, comment out the line describing the last frame, and uncomment the next. And of course, I’d made it madly complex; a bubble rising in front of a sink (with water) and two mirrors above it. Asking for trouble, indeed. But it worked, and the camera moves were nice and smooth because the numbers describing them came from sin/cos functions. These days, you’d just move some beziérs and it would render in real time, but in those days, the Mac ran at 16MHz. The Mac I’m typing on is over 2000 times faster than that.

Anyway, I eventually got a Mac SE to stick at the end of my bed to write a thesis on, then a Power Macintosh of some kind, a Mac clone, a PowerBook G3 ($7000, cost shared with work, one of the first DVD players inside), an iMac, worked on a PowerMac G4 for a while, had a sunflower iMac (awesome looking machine) at home, then a PowerBook G4 12″, a MacBook Pro 15″, a Mac Pro, a MacBook Pro, a MacBook Pro 13″ retina, and finally a top-of-the-line iMac 27″.

While I can’t recommend a Mac for every situation (specific needs can trump other considerations) they really are good computers. They aren’t the cheapest thing out there, but they’ve never been a purchase I’ve regretted.

Seeing how far they’ve come, though — I wonder what we’ll be using in another 30 years?

iOS vs Android stats

I’ve been increasing finding myself too busy to share anything but the short, sharp tidbits I’ve been sending to Twitter, but here are a few stats to refer back to next time I need to answer a question about Android vs iOS. Short answer: Android has minuscule tablet marketshare and far less influence in the phone space too.

Here’s some data from the 2013 Thanksgiving holiday in the US. It shows that those with Android spend about 20% less money each on average, and about six times as many people use iOS for shopping as use Android. Remember than iOS is iPad + iPhone, but there’s a huge gap there. There’s also some more granular data in the article, showing iPhones are still responsible for about 20% more sales than Android phones, and sales from Android tablets are about 1/10 of sales from iPads.

That leads nicely into this digital publishing tale from Mumbrella. They published a weekly iPad magazine, which has just closed down after peaking at around 1000 sales per month. They started as iPad-only, and then against the advice of their digital solution provider (Oomph, a fairly big player in the Australian market) they pursued an Android version too. It apparently wasn’t worth the effort, topping out at 48 downloads on Android (about 1/20 of the iPad version) and once as few as six downloads.

While the usage gap in phones is smaller, the gap between iPad and everything else in the market is cavernous. A big difference between the iPad and the web is that people actually design for the iPad’s known, predictable screen size. It’s like print. Designing for Android is either like designing for the web, or living with black bars on the sides. While there are plenty of reasons to embrace web-style design, many print designers simply aren’t as comfortable with it, at least not yet. A known space can be fully exploited in the same way a print design can.

Today, there seems to be little reason to bother with an Android version of an iPad app. Instead, make a good website that everyone can use, and extend that experience with a more interactive iPad version. If you do produce an Android version, be ready for very few people to download it. It looks like cheap Android tablets are probably being used to watch TV and for basic web surfing — and not very much for apps.

Save the NBN!

Leaving politics out of the picture as much as possible, here are a few reasons why the NBN currently being rolled out (Fibre to the Premises) is vastly superior to the Coalition’s proposed cheaper alternative (Fibre to the Node).

First, the Coalition’s alternative is much slower, both in downloads, how quickly you can receive a file, and in uploads, how quickly you can send one. That means that not only will you wait longer, but you simply won’t be able to do useful things like backing up your entire photo and music libraries online, or transformational things like remote medical diagnosis. Fast internet is not just about faster movie downloads. Universally fast uploads can enable new collaborative working and education practices, sharing anything you make with anyone you want, and never losing files again.

Second, it’s not much cheaper. It’s (at least) 75% of the cost for (at best) 10% of the speed — topping out at 100Mbps versus 1000Mbps — and even less upload speed. We shouldn’t be investing in an already outdated Fibre-to-the-Node system — one that New Zealand installed and is now upgrading to a Fibre-to-the-Home system — when we can do the job properly instead. Finally, the current NBN is forecast to offer a return on investment of 7.1% over its life; the alternative has not yet been costed.

Third, the Coalition’s plan doesn’t offer everyone the same speeds. Instead, it varies based on the quality of your wiring and the distance to your nearest node, using the ageing, unreliable copper network from Telstra. Because copper will always be slower than fibre, speeds only just faster than current ADSL2 technology are guaranteed. Some cable services offer 100Mbps download speeds today, but that service is not available to most people, and upload speeds aren’t nearly as good as they should be.

So, the Coalition’s alternative is slower, both up and down; not much cheaper; and gives inconsistent results. Something as important as decent internet is worth investing in, and like healthcare, it’s much cheaper if we all pay for it. Please, even if you don’t care about any of the politicians involved, vote for the NBN that’s already being built, and don’t tear it down for the sake of politics.

Writing for Europe

This hit me the other day, as I was delivering a session on digital publishing to a very nice group of designers. They currently create iPad and Android tablet versions of some of their publications, and while they’d prefer to focus on iPad, someone will inevitably ask about Android support. In some ways, it’s a fair question, and in other ways, it’s completely unfair.

If you were writing a document in English, then you might have to make a few small changes to support the world’s different kinds of English speakers, in the UK, the US, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, etc. Turns out that maps pretty well to the iOS ecosystem, with the different, yet similar users on iPad 1/2/3/4/mini running iOS 4/5/6/7. There are differences, but they’re pretty minor — especially as the vast majority of users are on the latest OS. All these devices have the same aspect ratio, and there are only two resolutions in play across all of them.

Yet, when someone asks about developing “the Android version”, it’s like they’ve just asked you to write a document “for Europe”, in French/German/Italian/Dutch/Flemish/Romansch/Ukranian/Russian/Bulgarian/etc. There is no one “Android” version. Instead, there are a multitude of different devices, with different resolutions, different aspect ratios, running different versions of the operating system. Even if you can produce an app that runs on all or most of them, you’ve still got to test.

The only two ways forward that make sense:

  • If you want to fix the aspect ratio for a more print-like design with limited interactivity, use PDF.
  • If you want a more free-form layout to take best advantage of each device, use HTML.

At the end of the day, if you need to support Android, build a good website. Desktop and mobile users can use it, and it can form the core of an app for any devices that aren’t better served with another solution like Apple’s iBooks Author or Adobe’s Digital Publishing Suite.

Busy!

Blogging is fun, but other things have been successfully competing for my attention. Coming soon, if you want to take a sneak peek, is filmeverywhere.com, which features just about all my video work that’s online. Plenty of new pieces recently for QUT up there too, and some just about breakfast, or timelapses of the Gold Coast, and my favourite pub. But don’t tell your friends until I’ve had a chance to write something about it. 🙂

Also: an app I made for Caravanning Queensland, and the ever-growing collection of articles I’ve been writing for macProVideo.com. Happily, the ever-widening range of things I do continues to widen. Living in interesting times needn’t be a curse.

Blackmagic Cinema Camera videos

I recently got my Blackmagic Cinema Camera (thanks, Rob @ Videopro!) and I’ve been shooting as much as I can. Short review: it’s fantastic, and I never want to shoot with a DSLR again. Long review: coming soon at macProVideo.com.

If you want to see the camera, head along to The Edge at SLQ tonight, where I’ll be showing it off and talking about it. Still hard to find, but apparently the backlog of orders should be clear by the end of March. Given the delays we’ve already seen, take that with as large a grain of salt as you wish. If you’re interested, here are a bunch of videos I’ve shot — too big for the blog, so view in their own windows:

All the others are here on Vimeo.

This year

Another new year. What is it they say; time flies when you’re getting old? And not that I feel old, exactly, rather, more conscious of my age. Now that some of my students were born the year I graduated high school and started using Macs, a little reflection is due.

This year in particular is set to be a different kind of experience. Hazel is off to school, and we’ll experience a whole new set of highs and lows there. Much as I’ve loved spending time with Hazel as she’s been growing up, I’ll enjoy being able to throw myself more completely into some projects. For the past few years, I’ve been working part time, spending 1-2 weekdays each week at home with her. It’s been mostly great, and with any luck I’ve laid some foundations for her to build on, but, as Tim Minchin can testify, it’s never all plain sailing.

In a few short weeks, though, she’s off to school. She was born in July, yet if she’d been born in June, this all would have happened last year. Though a child can start Year 1 early, they can’t start Prep early, and the government is entirely inflexible on this. Some kids aren’t ready for school, and they can be held back, but kids who are ready for school yet “too young” can’t go early. Most state governments in Australia have similar policies, and most of them actually require their kids to be even older than Queensland does.

The right way to do this is (to my mind) what New Zealand does. Every kid starts Reception (the local equivalent of Prep/Year 0) on their fifth birthday. If they start in the second half of the year, they’ll probably do another year of Reception, and if they start in the first half of the year, they probably won’t, but it’s the teacher’s call. Perfect. Judging kids by their capabilities and not by a number shouldn’t be a revolutionary concept.

The upshot of all of this is that Hazel lost most of her friends at the end of last year when they “graduated” and she didn’t. She’ll now be in a class with kids of widely varying abilities rather than in a class of kids mostly at the same level. And yes, I did write to the government on this, but they ignored almost everything in my letter, sending a form letter in return. Their main point was “we’ve got to draw the line somewhere”, ignoring the fact that their own rules for early Year 1 entry are, indeed, flexible. While I appreciate that they don’t want to create a “free childcare” system, I’m sure that they could find a way to address the needs of the kids more effectively while getting parents back into the workforce more quickly.

Finally, a note that other countries do things differently. The UK starts a full year earlier, for example. Hazel would have been in school after her 4th birthday, not when she’s 5 and a half. They also have an additional year longer at the end, roughly on the same level as our first year of university. Australia should, if it wants to compete internationally in the long term, should look to more education, earlier, not less education starting later.

Launching Three Things

First, I’m hosting a Movember Letterpress event called MOPRESS, on Sunday 18 November at The Scratch, the best pub in the world, at noon. If you’re reading this, you’re invited, and you can pick up an invite by clicking on the little tiles to the right.

It’s a fundraiser, where you play Letterpress against as many people as you like, and the loser of each game pays $5 to Movember. Don’t have Letterpress? (App Store link just there.) It’s free to play one game at a time, but you’ll probably want to spend $1 on the full version. Don’t have an iOS device? We’ll have some spare. Come and have a drink anyway.

Second, I’m presenting the final Brisbane InDesign User Group meeting for the year on Tuesday 20 November, talking about the new features of CS6 and how to create an iPad app directly from Creative Cloud tools. Free, but you’ll need to register.

Third, I’ve just launched a 10-minute documentary I made at the 48 Hour Game Making Challenge 2012. Good people doing crazy things in two days flat, this video was inspired by Brendan Keogh’s epic series of articles written on the event last year. Hope you like it, and if you want something similar made for your event, just drop me a line: iain [at] funwithstuff.com.