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 We shouldn’t be investing in an already outdated Fibre-to-the-Node system — one that New Zealand installed and is now upgrading to a Fibre-to-the-Home system — when we can do the job properly instead.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.


Blogging is fun, but other things have been successfully competing for my attention. Coming soon, if you want to take a sneak peek, is, 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 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

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]

Final Cut Pro X: The Free Rough Guide

Between being busy and posting on Twitter a fair bit more regularly, I haven’t posted here in a while. One of the things I’ve been busy doing is writing regular articles for The Hub, part of Here are all my articles there.

One big thing I’ve done over the past several months is to create a large (9000+ words) rough guide to editing in Final Cut Pro X. It takes you from ingest, past the rough cut, through the fine cut, to effects, transitions, export and archiving. If you’re new to editing or just to FCP X, I really hope it helps. And it’s available for FREE, serialised in six parts, starting today and for the next five days. Here’s Part One: Import and Organize.

If you like it, tell your friends. If you want video training, start with this free series by Michael Wohl. And if you want training in-person, contact me! I’m an Apple Certified Trainer, and that’s what I do for a living these days, through my site:

Food blogging is not the devil

Today, at the Noosa Food and Wine Festival, I went to a session The Courier Mail held on Social Networking, Blogging, and Mainstream Media. The panel, eight strong (and this was noted by MC David Fagan) was stacked with old media faces: food reviewers, editors, and so on. Two food bloggers were present, and they seemed both well liked and competent. Indeed, many of the panelists seemed reasonable and erudite.

However. There was a palpable bias, stemming from the fact of their employment, that old media was better, more reliable, more authoritative, more responsible, less prone to corruption, and so on. At one point, someone said the problem was that “we need to find a way to get people to pay for [it]”, where “it” stands for information about restaurants — the reviews and opinions which so many people give away for free on the internet. It’s fair to say that at least some of the panelists just don’t get it.

Here are a few points that I’d dispute:

Yes, a newspaper’s experienced reviewer can give a longer and more thorough opinion than random unpaid amateurs online.

Yes, some reviews are rigged (positively or negatively) on Urbanspoon, Tripadvisor (they do food too), Eatability and other sites, but the vast majority are not. The solution is not, as one panelist suggested, that “maybe the restaurants should start suing Urbanspoon”. The public is just about smart enough to discern a worthwhile review from a valueless one.

No, I don’t think many people really read food blogs compared to print media. Print still has the stickiness of simply being there on a table, ready to picked up and leafed through; I have to choose to visit a blog. It’s the same reason that broadcast TV survives: many people are happy to consume what they are served. The influence of “food blogging” is, I think, overestimated.

However, I think they perhaps underestimate the power of the amateur review. If I’m looking for a special occasion meal, then yes, I’ll read the opinions of the best reviewers. If I’m on holiday or really can’t be bothered cooking, I’ll just call up an app, look on a map, and find the best looking place nearby. I judge those places based on the collective wisdom of the internet, fed through my personal filters, possibly amended when I turn up and see the place. If a place has multiple negative reviews from different people and no positives, it’s unlikely that they’re all fakers from the restaurant next door. I didn’t need a professional review, just a thumbs up or down.

And that’s the thing. Print is still the place people will go for regular, informed opinions about restaurants and much else besides. They also have an important role in introducing people to new restaurants. Today, though, they’re not the only source of that information. While real foodies (and I am not) will still prefer the in-depth print review, I don’t usually need it, and can get the brief information I seek without print.

Before the internet, I would have asked a friend or taken a blind stab, and now I can ask strangers. I don’t ask food bloggers, just random users of whatever service showed up on Google and looked reasonable.

Similarly, before the internet, I wouldn’t have tracked down an old paper for a review from months prior. The mobile internet answers the “is this restaurant any good?” question in a way that print never did and answers the “what’s the best restaurant near here?” question in a way that it never can. Print never solved either problem, they only gave a restaurant something to photocopy and display next to their menu on the street.

To keep their current committed foodie audience, print media needs to ensure that their content is better than the alternatives, and that it’s just as visible. Their content’s fine, but they’re losing the visibility war that’s so important for the casual review-seeker. If print wants to remain relevant, it needs to make its content just as obvious, searchable, location-enabled and user-comment-friendly as its competitors. If not, their audience will slowly drift away. Convenience, in the end, always wins.

Magazines on the iPad

What you’d think would be relatively simple has become quite a contentious battle. Magazines, books, newspapers and anything else built of words and/or pictures is going digital. Print will survive, but not as the primary consumption method for most of us.

Amazon, with the Kindle, and others with earlier e-readers have been pushing this future for text-heavy books for some years now, and they’ve gained enough traction and done enough deals to make that future assured. Yet, if you want to read a magazine you’ll probably be wanting an iPad. A larger, colour, interactive display makes a world of difference, and a magazine is a very different game to books. Images are important, layout is important, fonts are important — and none were deemed important in the ebook world.

Zinio was one of the first companies to get the ball rolling here, back when all they had was a Mac and PC PDF-based reader app. It was painful back then, largely because reading a magazine on a computer screen was hardly the personal experience readers expected, and because the reader app was quite slow — on the desktop, it still is, thanks to AIR.

Adobe, as makers of the dominant publishing application InDesign, took their time, then produced the Digital Publishing Suite. Not based on PDF, it allowed a variety of additional multimedia widgets and could deal with horizontal and vertical layouts, to allow reading in either orientation — so long as the designers re-designed every page. (InDesign makes this process easier than it might be, but it’s hardly automatic.)

Biggest criticisms of the Adobe DPS: magazine issues are huge, often over 500MB (largely because each page is simply rendered as a flat image) and you can’t zoom in. (A competitor, MagAppZine, chose a similar delivery method, but uses more heavily compressed images at double the resolution, allows zooming, and looks good on the retina display.)

However, another important factor is that it’s completely inaccessible. As there’s no actual text present, there’s no way for the system’s text-to-speech functionality to make any sense of it. Despite all the other issues surrounding magazines-as-images, I suspect that a legal challenge from an interested organisation will put an end to this strategy in the long run. (It’s worth noting that Zinio’s solution does include full text, as text, on request.)

So how did Adobe and MagAppZine (and others) end up with just a series of images? If the layout is important, the delivery method, for now, has to be an image or a PDF. For a truly accessible, lightweight, text-rendered-by-device-quickly layout, you’d have to rebuild each magazine with HTML, and there’s no easy way to do that right now from InDesign. (It’s coming, but not ready yet. Maybe in CS6?)

Recreating print layouts in HTML would require a great deal of extra work, a whole set of skills that print designers rarely have, and that’s assuming they can clear the rights issues for distribution of their favourite fonts. It’s a non-starter for organisations already struggling to make a profit.

The biggest question for me is: why not PDF? Yes, it requires more effort to render, but it requires a whole lot less effort from the designers. And Adobe know their PDF. The big reason is that Adobe are trying to support the device first and the designers second. Like Apple, they’ve chosen to force designers, to some degree, to design specifically for the iPad (or other tablets) and not to support existing workflows, technologies and formats.

Apple’s motivation is clear and oft-stated: to ensure the best experience on their devices. Adobe’s solution, though, is hardly great for consumers, especially now that we have the retina display. What’s their motivation? To be fair, they may have done this because, like Apple, they feel that displaying unmodified magazines as zoomable PDFs on the iPad results in a poor experience for users, and they feel that repurposing the content for the medium gives much better results. (Personally, I want the magazine layout, unchanged, and I’m happy to zoom in and move about.)

Maybe they made the choice that they felt was best for consumers. However, some less charitable people may say that they saw an opportunity to make a large amount of money, to become the middle man between publishers and the App Store. Some may say that. But I couldn’t possibly comment.