I wish I couldn’t write this article, because it gives away a great secret, and reading about that secret ruins it. Sadly, because the experience has been taken away, dismantled, and the chance to experience its magic has been lost, I can indeed write the article which you are already reading.
In Las Vegas, at what used to be the Hilton (no longer) there was once The Star Trek Experience. There was Quark’s Bar, an assortment of costumed staff wandering around (including a Klingon who became pleased if you said “Qapla’!”) and two separate “experiences” where live actors guided you and a small group of other guests through sets filled with other actors.
My wife and I were lucky enough to visit in 2004 while on holiday. We tackled the older of the two experiences first, the one based around Star Trek: The Next Generation. It started out in an unassuming way, where a staffer showed us to a room, we started to watch a safety video, and then the lights went out.
When the lights came back up, just a few seconds later, we were in a different room. Of course, we hadn’t moved — some trick walls had somehow been switched in — but it was silent, effective, and totally unexpected. The door opened, and we had been “transported” to the Enterprise, background hum and all.
I’ve never experienced a better illusion, and the magic of that moment carried through the rest of our tour. An officer led us to the flight deck and beyond, while he and other actors battled a Borg incursion and tried to return us home. The invisible phaser shots did poke a small hole in the facade, but still, they got us to the “shuttlecraft” safely, whereupon we flew violently back to Earth and crash-landed, conveniently, in the Las Vegas Hilton. A “cleaner” let us back into the hotel.
It was perfect. The unexpected “transportation” at the start is something I’ll never forget, and the mild cheesiness after that was forgiven at once. It’s as close as I’ll ever come to being on the Star Trek set, and utter fun. For a more thorough re-telling of that experience, read Wil Wheaton’s take.
After the Next Gen experience, there was a more modern Voyager experience too, featuring a fairly straightforward “4D” video show. It was OK, but not an interactive event with actors on sets like the first. That’s something I’ll never get to do again, except perhaps in VR in a few years time, or on some future holodeck program whose authors have decided to get all meta.
But hey, here I am with a few thoughts about my recent trip to the USA. After working for CoreMelt at the NAB video industry conference, I was lucky enough to be able to head to the Yosemite conference in Yosemite, a one-off Mac/iOS conference in one of the most beautiful places on the planet. I still need to plow through my thousands of photos to find the ones most worthy of sharing, but for now, a few thoughts on the USA. They aren’t very long, and haven’t been massaged into elegant paragraphs, but sit alone in disconnected blobs. Unfortunate, yes, but better to let them out than keep them for a perfect article I may never have time to write.
Driving on the right-hand side of the road isn’t too hard, but the hardest thing to flip is your mental map of where the car is within the lane. I was used to looking at the right side of the car to know where the car is positioned, and you have to flip that along with everything else. It’s not as obvious as driving on the other side of the road, but much more important.
Distances are huge, and freeways seem necessary even in moderately sized towns. It’s quite odd — sure, there are a few freeways in Brisbane, but we use them to get to the other side of town, not to get to the shopping mall nearby. Freeways are just built into life here, and much faster than the “surface roads” in most circumstances. On freeways especially, very few people seem to do the speed limit anywhere, and I’m sure there are speed traps somewhere but I didn’t see any. Driving felt pretty safe though, with not too many nutters.
Driving a convertible around the desert was a blast, but I wouldn’t have needed so much sunscreen if there’d been a roof on the car instead. At least we got some great footage for our stabilisation demos, and I get to say I drove a convertible around the desert.
Hoover Dam is grand in its scale and impressive to walk about, but the most striking thing is the style of both the architecture and signs. In the game Fallout New Vegas, it’s the setting for the final battle, so it definitely felt like I’d spent time there, but the art deco signage pulled me right back into Bioshock. Love it, and wish there was more of it.
NAB was great for meeting the big names in the FCP X world. Besides finally meeting CoreMelt’s Roger Bolton (who I’ve worked with for years now) I also got to meet just about every FCP X trainer I’ve heard of, to demo CoreMelt’s software to Larry Jordan, to go to several cool parties, and live it up a bit. With any luck I’ll get to do it again.
Living or visiting America feels a little like life without a seatbelt. Get injured? Become ill? Work in a job which doesn’t offer the right kind of healthcare? Well then: you’re stuffed. If you’re stuck in a job you don’t want just because you can’t afford to lose the healthcare plan they offer, you may well discover that freedom isn’t what it appears to be.
My goodness, good beer is cheap here. Not in bars, where it’s about the same as in Australia, but a six pack of interesting beer for US$10? Singles for $1.30? Please?
On the other hand, the imperial system is crazy. Miles? Pints that aren’t even the same as UK pints? Gallons? Fahrenheit? No no no.
Politics is a poisoned discussion here. Most people are actually sane, but those that aren’t are so far off the deep end compared to everyone I know back home that it’s difficult to engage. No preferential voting means there really are only two choices in elections, and I can see why people become disillusioned with the process.
Pricing is a constant surprise. I can’t quite figure out how anyone sticks to a budget here, when you usually have to add 8ish percent state sales tax and often twice that as a tip to every bill. It all ends up a bit vague, and paywave-style tapping to pay is still rare. Foreign cards don’t seem to able to use their Chip-and-PIN, and I only had my signature actually checked once in the entire trip.
There aren’t really enough staff in most places, because the numbers have been crunched to the point where nearly every shop is on the bare minimum staffing level. I visited a Quiznos with just one visible staff member and one other guy who seemed to be taking out the trash but not very quickly. Queues were very common. A point of comparison is my local shopping centre here in Australia, where the staff are unfailingly friendly, often familiar, some young, some old, and everything’s pretty easy. Fewer staff means things are harder, shelves aren’t always stocked, you can’t get help when you need it, and fewer people earning a living. But the stock price is higher, right? Exception: In and Out burger had loads of staff, all working feverishly, making pretty decent food.
Most fast food is pretty average, as you’d expect, but so’s a lot of slower food. Denny’s wasn’t to my taste; Carl’s Jr was nothing exciting; Quiznos was OK. But In-n-Out Burger was probably the best burger I had on the trip. Chipotle did a decent burrito too. Shout outs to the not-too-bad sloppy joe at the pub and the not-too-bad cheesesteak in the food court at the Riviera in Las Vegas, to the buffet at the Wynn, to the awesome (and real) Mexican food at Alta California Fonda on Pico Boulevard in LA. In general, finding anything fresh was a challenge, but doable.
In LA, my wrist-mounted iPod nano was mistaken for an Apple Watch by a guy at a cafe, and a conversation was started. Turned out he was an editor too, so we had a quick chat, and he was the editor on The Right Stuff. And The Mentalist, and lots more besides. LA, right? Where else can you help a random stranger with a question about LUTs?
LA has The Getty Center and Griffith Observatory for awesome, free days out, but everyone knows about them, so they’re busy. Still worth it, though, and free wifi at each.
Free wifi is awesome for travellers. My international roaming data is effectively free (since I roll over quite a bit of spare credit on my Australian prepaid plan) but it’s still pretty limited. So when you can get free wifi, it’s FaceTime Time! That’s glorious when your family is actually awake, the connection takes, and you can point at the blurry thing behind your head and say “that’s the Hollywood sign!”.
A good Airbnb place is so much better than a good hotel. A good hotel can’t offer an open bar, freshly squeezed orange juice and a salad of fresh vegies both from produce grown in the backyard, great conversations and a peek into what a real local’s life is like. If you’re in LA and will have a car, do yourself a favour, and stay with Sri.
Driving around the Hollywood Hills was a blast because I’ve driven those streets so many times in Grand Theft Auto V. I ended up searching for the road that Rockstar copied and placed Franklin’s house on, and I’m pretty sure I found it, too. Bonus for visitors: free parking if you want to walk around.
Yosemite National Park is an amazing, stunning place to be, to visit, to tramp around. Epic in the best and biggest sense, you simply can’t take enough photos of the place. It’s too big.
The Yosemite Conference by Cocoaconf was terrific. While I’m not a veteran conference-goer, I’ve been to a few and really enjoyed this. Great people (hi, everyone) and the chance to share a drink, a meal or simply a chat with great people you may or may not have heard of is a chance worth grabbing. How many other people can say they put a koala into Jim Dalrymple’s beard? Looking forward to keeping up with the people I met on Twitter (hi Aijaz, Corey, Dan, Liz, Maia, everyone!).
Of all the great talks, probably the one guaranteed to change my behaviour is Christa Mrgan’s talk on the Yosemite High Sierra camps and how to design app UI. As a designer myself, I knew most of the app design tips, but really valued the way in which she wove the two themes together, and I now have to trek the High Sierra camps at some point in my life.
Getting out of your comfort zone and experiencing something new is always worthwhile. If you haven’t travelled in a while, get out there. Mind you, returning home felt like stepping into warm slippers. So comfortable, so relaxing, no “bad areas” to avoid, no sense of fear or unease. Australia is, indeed, a lucky country. May it long stay that way.
PS. Pics now added. Will update with a full Flickr set when they’re ready.
InDesign’s EPUB3 Fixed Layout export is new, has serious bugs regarding embedded animations, and makes ebooks, not apps. I believe these bugs can largely be worked around, but right now the process is tricky and pretty specific, relying on beta software from third parties. It’s not mature yet.
The one silver lining of the improved EPUB export is that Android support will be possible, though of course that will make testing much harder.
Effectively, I can no longer make content-heavy apps for clients who don’t have the money (around $5000/year) for multi-issue Digital Publishing Suite apps. EPUB isn’t a true replacement, because EPUBs aren’t apps. While the difference between apps and ebooks can be explained — you view them in iBooks instead — not all clients are going to happy or willing to make the change. They, or their customers, may well prefer to have apps.
Even for those clients happy with EPUB — it’s not ready yet. Just last night I found a workaround for a bug regarding embedded HTML animations, and the built-in InDesign animation support is only about two months old.
Worse, six months is far too short a time to turn many projects around; if you’re in the middle of a large single-issue project, you’ve just had the rug pulled out from under you. It would be crazy to release a product which could stop working forever with a future iOS update, but that’s exactly what we’re looking at. (Recently, I had to re-issue all my DPS apps for iOS8.) Luckily for me, my next major project was due to start early next year, and we will no longer be using DPS. Also luckily, my next major client’s content is fairly book-like, and I don’t think EPUB will be a bad format for it. Those pushing the boundaries of app/book design will have a harder time not being apps any more.
It’s a real shame that this happened, and a big reminder that relying on hosted services always carries the danger that they can be discontinued. Standalone software that’s discontinued is painful enough, but at least you can keep using it; cloud software that someone else holds the keys to is quite another.
Given the existing anti-subscription sentiment online, I don’t see Adobe coming out of this unscathed — and that’s a shame. Ideally, the service would stay and continue to be supported. At the very least, we need more notice.
Many people seem resistant to the idea of reading books on something other than paper. And that’s OK, but there’s a quick thought experiment to figure out just how much of this is “what we’re used to” and not “what’s best”.
Imagine if books on tablets (iPad, Kindle, whatever) had been invented first, and a salesperson was now trying to introduce a newfangled paper book.
Paper Book Salesperson: “You can read in the bath, and you can sell it when you’re done with it!”
Digital Book Fan: “Well, I don’t want to read in the bath or sell it when I’m done. And hang on, you mean it’s only one book, not all my books, so I can’t carry all my books with me all the time? And I need a lamp to read in bed? And I can’t change the font, or font size, or zoom in on it, and it’s not interactive at all? And I can’t get the definition of a word I don’t understand without another heavy book? And I’ll need to dedicate a large part of my house to storing these paper books, on some kind of shelves, which will be a total pain when I move house? And I won’t be able to buy these books after a few years if they’re not popular, because they’ll run out of copies? And colour books will cost a lot more to print than black and white? And what about the environmental impact of printing and shipping all these paper books around?”
Paper books wouldn’t have a chance. It’s all about nostalgia and inertia.
So I bought Brothers for PC in the Steam sale. Looked like something interesting.
I have three different controllers, two generic PC controllers and a PS3 controller.
None work. Apparently only X360 controllers are reliable and you need to make other controllers emulate them. OK then.
I try playing the game with keyboard. It’s tricky, and one part really feels like it’s buggy with the keyboard — do I really need to hold these keys down while my on-screen characters move very slowly for at least 30 seconds? The controller is a big part of this game, as you control each of the two characters with one of the analog sticks.
So, trying again for joystick support.
Solutions online point to x360ce for generic controllers and motioninjoy for PS3.
I find x360ce, but it doesn’t initially launch.
Motioninjoy’s site is down with a 502 error.
I find a semi-dodgy looking copy on a third party download site. It’s got lots of ads, and still doesn’t work. Giving up on the PS3 controller.
Downloading an older beta of x360ce.
It at least launches, my joystick is detected, I’m able to configure it, and then the newer version will launch.
I read online that x360ce needs to be launched from the game directory itself.
Of course it does. It didn’t bother to tell me, though.
I move it there, launch it, I get a couple of errors, and… the game won’t launch at all; it’s now missing a DLL.
I go through Steam’s local integrity check, and it finds a missing file, which it says it will reacquire.
Game won’t launch.
Go through Steam’s local integrity check again. Nothing wrong.
Game won’t launch.
Oh, and Sleeping Dogs? Doesn’t work. Won’t launch at all, but it played through the first few minutes of the game several times before crashing, which is even more tedious. Other people have the same issue, but tech support won’t help because a Mac running Boot Camp is apparently an unsupported platform, even though it’s got a PC graphics card.
Seriously? No, really, seriously? Why do people actually put up with this? I’ve been mucking around with computers since I was six and I’ve had enough. To be fair, not everything’s had the same issues. Skyrim’s mostly worked, and it was fantastic. Alan Wake might not be a great game, but it launched and hasn’t stuffed itself up. Most things have been OK, but the exceptions have been the most spectacular failures.
I don’t think it’s unfair to expect that joysticks just work. I don’t think it’s unfair to expect that games just work. You shouldn’t have to Google, you shouldn’t have to install weird crap from weird sites. Until it all just works, all the time, PC gaming can never go mainstream.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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, unreliablecopper 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.