WWDC 2023 keynote: My next-day lukewarm takes

Everyone is talking about the Apple Vision Pro and will keep talking about it…until the end of the week.

Here’s my list summary after watching the WWDC keynote:

  • MacBook Air 15 inch: Appears to be exactly that, the same M2 Air but with a bigger display. Price is reasonable! Keeping the M1 Air in the mine-up when it’s only $100 less than the M2 version is odd. Apple does this sort of thing a lot. Apple is odd.
  • Mac Studio with M2: Nice to see this new product getting updated. No price change on the default config, but it should still come with a 1 TB SSD standard.
  • Mac Pro: WTF LOL etc. After being very late in completing their transition to Apple Silicon because of the Mac Pro, what they released is kind of baffling. First, they re-use the Intel case from 2019. OK, no real issue there, but in terms of specs, this is a Studio with some PCI slots, a few more Thunderbolt ports and it costs…$3000 more. Also, unlike the Intel version, you can’t have separate graphics (integrated on the SoC, like the Studio) and ram is limited to 192 GB instead of 1.5 TB (!). In several important ways, this is worse than the Intel Mac Pro and unless you absolutely need PCI slots for…something (other than graphics cards), it’s a terrible value and not really expandable in the way a traditional desktop PC is. Apple should just kill the Pro, they have basically been botching it for a decade now.
  • iPadOS: The pattern is now clear: This gets one or two token new features, then last year’s leftovers from the iPhone. Apple can and should do better.
  • Speaking of better: They didn’t really show it, but Stage Manager sounds like it’s close to the state it should have been when they introduced it a year ago.
  • iOS: Some nice little things, nothing really outstanding. I think it’s due for a major redesign, but Apple is probably too conservative now to do that.
  • watchOS got a new widgets interface that look interesting. I’m not sure about devoting a button to Control Centre, considering how seldom I used it when I had various Apple Watches.
  • macOS: I had to actually edit this back in, after forgetting about the Mac completely (I am even typing this on a Mac, ironically). Again, a few nice little things added (widgets again, so Dashboard has been sort-of revived), but nothing remarkable.
  • The Home app was not mentioned and remains bad.
  • You can now say Siri instead of Hey Siri. But is Siri itself any better? They didn’t really say!
  • The Journal app1Cleverly called Journal (iPhone only) sounds kind of creepy, drawing from other apps on your phone to suggest/cajole. I don’t need my phone watching me and making suggestions on what to do or write about.
  • Craig is the only one who seems natural at presenting and obviously loves the meme-generating moments. He also has a boffo announcer-style voice.
  • The Vision Pro headset is even more expensive than the rumours suggested, at $3500. This is ultra-niche territory, and I have a hard time thinking how Apple could scale this down to something “affordable” for a non-pro version. And Apple’s idea of affordable is probably $2000, anyway.
  • The fake eyes on the Vision Pro are super creepy.
  • Apple showed nothing that came even close to a killer app for the thing. In fact, they didn’t show ANYTHING that was compelling, just “all the stuff you normally do, but now in 3D floating in front of you!” Some have suggested watching movies/TV will be the killer app, but for $3500? No.
  • The Vision Pro has two hours of battery life, which means you could watch the first two-thirds of the regular version of The Fellowship of the Ring before it dies.
  • The media is saying it’s the best VR headset out there. I mean, for $3500, it kind of better be.
  • The stuff with Bob Iger was cringy and fake. And that sweater looked weird, not causal.
  • But hey, you can now have Snoopy on your watch face.

I think Vision Pro is going to amount to a whole lot of nothing2Yes, I am ready to be openly mocked if I turn out to be completely wrong about this. It’s vastly too expensive and inessential. When Apple can shrink this down to a pair of discreet-looking glasses and cut the price by $2000, then, maybe it will become a thing. And w’re probably 10 years out from that.

Overall, lots of nice little updates and tweaks, the new hardware is fine, if unexciting (save for the Mac Pro, which they should have just sent off to join AirPower in the Apple graveyard), and the Vision Pro is, I think, going to be the first major new Apple product to not really have much impact.

EDIT: Honeybog in the comments on Ars Technica actually says some things about the Vision Pro that make sense to me. I’ve almost changed my mind. What he said is below. The Ars article is here.

I wasn’t very enthusiastic about Apple getting into AR/VR, but one thing that really impressed me with that keynote presentation was how thoroughly they made a case for using these, which is something no other company has been able to do beyond gaming. Facebook’s most compelling case was what if your employer subjected you to living in a world that was part 2006 Wii graphics and part 1984.

In some ways, Apple being able to make a case for why this space should exist is a bigger deal than the technology behind it or how many they sell.

It made me want to work on my Macbook on a plane and not have the person next to me or behind me viewing my screen.

It made me want to have a workspace with adjustable windows, have a standing desk just by standing, not have to deal with monitors.

It made me want to watch a movie on this.

It really made me want to smoke some pot, put on some music, and look through old travel photos with this.

I don’t want any of these things for $3,500, but I don’t think that matters. Apple managed to make the first non-gaming compelling case for these, and I don’t see that genie getting put back in the bottle. It’s too expensive for most people, but I think the fact that they started with “Pro” tells you everything you need to know about how this is going to get segmented. Apple is clearly starting at the high end, because they can’t afford a flop, but I have no doubt we’ll see a version below $2,000 (I think the sweet spot is $1,200) within a year or two.

Book review: Talent is Overrated

Talent is Overrated: What Really Separates World-Class Performers from Everybody Else by Geoff Colvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I thought I had reviewed Talent is Overrated years ago, when I first read it, but apparently not.

I took this as an opportunity to re-read it, so here is my review, about a decade or so late.

The book, originally based on a Fortune magazine article, presents a simple premise: That people who seem gifted with natural talent aren’t gifted at all–they just practice more and at a level most people would find untenable, allowing them to excel. The first half of the book explains how deliberate practice can make a profound difference in how adept someone is at a given skill, whether it’s playing a musical instrument, throwing a football, or something else. Author Geoff Colvin does note that physical limits can impose obvious constraints on some tasks, but that generally, if someone practices extensively (hours a day), does so in a deliberate manner (always pushing themselves to learn more, rather than getting super proficient at a certain level), they can rise to be at the top of their chosen field or endeavour.

The second half of the book then goes into the why of deliberate practice, and here it’s less about case studies and more speculation on what compels people to go well beyond what most would do in terms of time and energy investment in their chosen hobby or line of work. Colvin also holds out hope for those wanting to try out deliberate practice by saying it can yield benefits even in those older, although it’s obviously better to start younger.

Overall, I like the premise of the book. It’s logical and there’s plenty of evidence to show that smart, hard work is the not-really-secret recipe to success. It’s just such hard work that only a few will ever fully commit to it, and it’s still not entirely clear why some do. Colvin’s prose is not particularly vivid or arresting, but it gets the job done. The book, written in 2008 (I had a “2018 anniversary edition”, though I could not notice any changes from the original text I read) could probably do with an update, as smartphones and other technology were nascent when it was written, and it would be interesting to see how current tech can help or hinder deliberate practice. Still, this is a worthy and very accessible read.

View all my reviews

Run 779: Breezy kneezy

A few notes on today’s run in handy list form:

  • I had four days off, more than usual
  • It was very windy at times, once I could feel it doing that “trying to pull it off my head” thing
  • Humidity was low, so I experienced PDMS1Partial Dry Mouth Syndrome

I wasn’t sure what to expect today after the four days off. When I started, I immediately felt creaky–but more in the shins, probably because of the stretching. After a while this went away, and eventually I felt a bit of stiffness in the knees instead. Nothing horrible, but definitely there. That also seemed to diminish as the run went on.

My pace fell back from the last run, as I think I’d had just enough time off to start losing a bit of the conditioning I was gaining back. My best laps were the 2nd and last, both of which came under the six-minute mark.

I wanted to go sleeveless, to help work on my not-a-farmer’s tan, but my sleeveless running shirts fit a bit snug right now. While I slim down, I opted to wear a George shirt, which is a cotton blend. Fortunately, the high wind and not Africa hot temperature meant I didn’t really sweat, so I never had to deal with a sweat-soaked cotton shirt clinging to my body.

I noticed the construction equipment at the new playground was gone, so I went over to seek water at the fountain.

I was denied because they’re apparently not finished, and the whole area has a temporary fence around it. Even if I climbed the fence, the fountain is probably turned off right now, anyway.

I mixed things up for the walk home. After going 5K and arriving at the fountain by the dam, I ended my walk and checked the stats. My training status was rated as Productive. I noodled around for a few minutes, ventured over to the turtle nesting area, where two women were sitting on the bench, at least one of them smoking. Again, I note that I ONLY see people smoking on the trail after the FIRE DANGER No Smoking signs go up. I am convinced it works as some weird reverse psychological trigger for these people. Anyway, I then started another walk for the last 4 km home and assumed a more leisurely pace, to better preserve my tired knees.

When I got home I checked and my training status after this second walk was still Productive. Woo!

The knees don’t feel that bad right now as I type this, which is good. I get them poked and prodded tomorrow at my next physio appointment.

View from Cariboo Dam, post-run. Slightly different angle due to sun glare.


Run 779
Average pace: 6:02/km
Location: Burnaby Lake (CCW)
Start: 2:47 p.m.
Distance: 5.04 km
Time: 30:24
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 22ºC
Humidity: 37%
Wind: moderate to strong
BPM: 151
Weight: 165.3
Total distance to date: 5780 km
Devices: Garmin Forerunner 255 Music, iPhone 12, AirPods (3rd generation)
Shoes: Saucony Peregrine 12 (452 km)

Random questions and thoughts, June 4, 2023

  • If someone had a time machine, travelled back 66 million years and managed to nudge the asteroid that wiped out the dinosaurs so that it never hit Earth, would I be awkwardly typing this now with the tiny arms of an Acheroraptor?
  • Shirts with vertical stripes look weird. I can’t even explain why, they just do.
  • Why do some people litter?
  • Would interviews be better or worse if everyone in the interview was compelled by magic/technology to answer all questions with complete honesty?
  • What do billionaires think about on their deathbeds?
  • There’s a cereal you can get only in the U.S. called Quisp and when you think about it, it’s a pretty odd name. Maybe it’s a portmanteau of Quaker and crisp? Still odd.
  • If I could uninvent autotune, I probably would.
  • Male names I like (these will show up as character names for protagonists in stories of mine): Ethan, Christian, Jacob
  • Something I would never wear: Plaid shorts
  • What’s better, warm soda or a stale cookie?
  • I am still kind of amazed every time I see a jet take off and fly. I know the science, it still amazes me.
  • Why are some people mean? Do mean people litter?

Ned vs. The Fruit Flies (Not part of the MCU)

A few weeks ago, we got a blast of hot, summer-like weather. With it, seemingly out of nowhere, came fruit flies. Did they come in off a piece of fruit brought in from the grocery store? Have a secret lair with eggs waiting quietly all winter to hatch? Come up from a sink drain like some subterranean horror? All of these things?

I don’t know.

All I do know is they arrived in numbers, and at first I was content to grumble and occasionally bat at them.

No more.

Today, war was declared. Surrender was not an option for the flies, only total defeat.

First, I consulted ChatGPT, which put together a bunch of sensible-sounding options. I later confirmed these elsewhere, then set about on my counter-attack. Below is how well each option faired.

Option 1: A bowl with a mix of dish soap and cider vinegar
How it works: The flies are attracted to the vinegar, but when they make contact with the soapy combo, they have difficulty flying and will drown.
Success rate: One fly caught. Close to a bust.

Option 2: Same as above, but the bowl is filled only with vinegar, then covered with plastic wrap, poked full of holes.
How it works: Flies go in through the holes, but can’t easily get out.
Success rate: No flies caught. A complete bust. UPDATE: This one just took time to work. After a few hours, it has now caught and killed 11 flies, with three more trapped.

Option 3: A small jam jar with some cider vinegar, with plastic wrap on the top, poked with holes and the wrap secured by a rubber band.
How it works: Same as above, flies can get in, but not easily get out.
Success rate: For some reason, the smaller jar worked much better, trapping a half dozen or so flies.

Option 4: Suck them up with a vacuum cleaner.
How it works: Kind of self-explanatory.
Success rate: Hard to say. The flies would disappear when the mighty hose of the Dyson was brought near, but I could never tell if they were pulled in or managed to dart off in time. I think I got a few, though.

Option 5: Spraying them with Dawn PowerWash (basically dish soap in foamy form)
How it works: The soap either sticks the fly in place or makes it drop to the counter/floor where it can be dealt with.
Success rate: This seemed to have success about half the time. Quite often, the fly would escape the spray entirely. But the kitchen and bathrooms ended up getting slightly cleaner.

Option 6: Whacking them with a damp cloth.
How it works: Self-explanatory.
Success rate: At one point, I was two for two. At others, I was not hitting any, so literally hit-and-miss.

Option 7: Accidental trap
How it works: We have a plastic tray that the dish soap, scrubber and PowerWash bottle sit in, because they tend to leave soapy residue behind on the counter otherwise. Every week or so, I will clean this tray, which by then will have a small amount of soapy liquid in it.
Success rate: Although this was not intended to attract fruit flies, it has somehow managed to catch and kill probably around 10 or so thus far, making it the most effective trap of all. Now I’m wondering if I should just set up another one of these trays on the kitchen counter.

Verdict: So far the small jam jar has been pretty successful, so I’ll keep using that. The soap tray is just kind of working on its own, so I will periodically clean it, then let it gather more. Mostly, I wish I could just clap my hands and make them disappear. But that only works when they happen to be between my hands.

NOTE: I updated Option #2, which has actually worked well after being given more time.

A gray pipe on a sunny day

I saw this concrete pipe plunked down on the sand at Iona Beach on Saturday, and decided it was time for another addition to my black and white photo oeuvre1I used the High Contrast Blue Filter LUT in Pixelmator Photo to get the actual B&W effect. One day I’ll dip myself in black and white paint and do a gallery showing. In the meantime, enjoy!

(The full colour bird photos are coming soon™.)

These are a few of my favourite things

In no particular order:

  • Pizza
  • The number 9 (but not the song)
  • Dark pink
  • Gum Gum People
  • New running shoes
  • Showering then going to bed with clean sheets
  • Hot chocolate on a cold winter day
  • Drinking briskly cool water from a fountain after a run in summer
  • The scent of freshly cut wood
  • Songs I never get tired of, no matter how many billions of times I listen to them
  • Re-reading something I wrote years later and coming away impressed
  • Fixing up a bad drawing
  • Improvising a zinger that is way funnier than it has any right to be (this is not a common occurence)
  • Getting lost in a great novel
  • Watching a movie where characters are smart, believable and competent
  • Happy endings
  • Dioramas. They’re just cool and spiffy.

I’ll do a sequel post on this later this year. This was all off the top of my head, so there’s going to be things I missed.

Bad Design: Web page images you can’t embiggen

This has always been a pet peeve of mine and while it seems less common now, I still see it more than I’d like (which is never!)

I won’t call out specific sites since I can illustrate this directly. Observe!

Let’s say I am writing an article about how a Mac Finder window does not show the + (plus) sign to open a new tab until after you have opened at least two tabs. I provide an image to illustrate this, like so:

This is a tiny screenshot. You can probably make out that there’s a window being shown, and multiple tabs, but that little + symbol? Maybe if you have superhero vision.

But this can be solved by making the image clickable! Go on, try clicking on it.

I have not enabled the ability to do this, so it remains tiny. Some sites go halfway on this if you right-click the image and choose Open Image In New Tab. Go ahead, try it!

Nope, the image is just plain tiny and largely inscrutable. This is bad design.

Good design is making the image pop-up in a lightbox that keeps you on the same page, lets you view the image in all its loving detail, then close the image and continue reading the web page in delight and/or wonder, like so (bonus points, though this is optional, the author can add a caption to indicate you can click):

Click image to embiggen

And that’s it! Make this a priority for Web 4 or whatever is coming up before AI runs amok and destroys everything.

Walk 97: A running break

View from Cariboo Dam, mid-walk

Today would normally be a run day, but I’ve already done three runs in the past six days, so I decided to just do a walk instead.

Lightly adorned with sunblock, I headed out to the turtle nesting area at Burnaby Lake, then whimsically decided to do the Spruce Loop before turning around and heading back. I went the long way past the dog park in Hume Park, and that allowed me to get in just over 10 km. My Forerunner then told me I was overreaching again. Whoopsie.

But the knees and other body parts feel fine.

No more walks or runs until Monday, though there will be some birding and stuff before then, but no running unless I am being chased by a crazed goose.

Bonus view, just adjacent to the turtle nesting area


Walk 97
Average pace: 9:14/km
Location: Brunette River trail/Burnaby Lake
Distance: 10.08 km
Time: 1:33:05
Weather: Sunny
Temp: 22 °C
Humidity: 37%
Wind: light
BPM: 113
Weight: 165.1 pounds
Devices: Garmin Forerunner 255
Total distance to date: 729.87 km

Hold the Junuary jokes until further notice

Now, this is a 10-day forecast, and predicting the weather multiple days in advance can be a daring proposition in this region. But still, I can’t remember the last time I saw June start with nothing but sunshine in the forecast. And no Heat Domes™. Yet!

Subject to change. I mean, come on, it’s the Lower Mainland.

How not to write a newsletter for customers of your product

UPDATE, June 1, 2023: Here's a link to the original post on Mastodon by Matt Birchler that started this. If you can't follow the link, he's updated his original post to confirm from a member of the Ulysses team that this was indeed a joke and is riffing off a previous newsletter in which Fehn had raised the ire of Musk fans by criticizing Musk:

Me just opening my newsletter for updates from my writing app:

Editing for visibility: I’m choosing to assume this is a joke that didn’t land. The Ulysses newsletter has gone off the rails recently though, so it’s all just weird.

Edit 2: got confirmation this is a joke. Apparently the Elon trolls came for Marcus recently, and this was a sarcastic response to them. Sounds like many readers didn’t have that context, and this read like a normal Elon Stan letting their freak flag fly ?

This is why you don't try to be funny in a company newsletter!

I begrudgingly use Ulysses. It’s a fine app–in some ways even a great app–but I was not pleased when it went to a subscription model and mused at the time that they would have trouble adding genuinely useful features to “justify” the sub. And I think that happened.

But this post isn’t about the subscription model Ulysses uses. It’s their choice to charge a sub, just as it’s my choice to pay for it. I grumble, but for now, I pay, as I’ve yet to find another program that does everything that Ulysses does in a way I like. What this post is about is the Ulysses newsletter the company sends out periodically to its customers. More specifically, it’s about the current newsletter May 2023), which I think is attempting some ill-advised humour that may result in them actually losing customers.

I think it’s safe to say that most people don’t love email, they tolerate it. And when it comes to newsletters, I’d also reckon a lot of people may sign up for one (no harm, no foul), but then unsubscribe when they realize the newsletter isn’t providing enough value. I have culled a lot of newsletters in the past year for this very reason!

The current newsletter, which was sent out today, is written by Ulysses GmbH & Co. founder and creative director, Marcus Fehn. He is German. Is this important? Maybe, if you think some of what I’m about to highlight can be explained by differences in language, culture and things getting lost in translation.

Hello, fabulous subscriber of our newsletter,

This is Marcus from Ulysses, and I’m about to tell you something newsworthy. But first I need to make a statement:

**I love Elon Musk**. Elon is one of my favorite people on Earth, on the Moon, and of course on Mars. He’s a great innovator, probably a fantastic lover and an overall nice guy. I wish I was as smart as him. Or just 1% as smart as him. I also love Twitter and what he has done with it. Twitter was great before Elon, and it’s much better now. It’s a haven for free speech, a civilized marketplace of ideas, and it should be the blueprint for all social media apps going forward. I also applaud it for teaching kids how to behave in public.

Marcus Fehn, Ulysses founder and creative director

There is some debate on Mastodon on whether the above is:

  • Very obviously a joke and meant to be funny (the haha kind of funny)
  • Meant to be sincere praise of Musk and Twitter

There is no debate, however, on this being a baffling and just plain odd way to start out a newsletter to customers of a subscription-based markdown writing app. If it’s a joke (and I think it is), it’s executed just clumsily enough to make people think it might be legit. You could argue that just makes it more like satire, which is like funny jokes for sophisticates. Or grumps. (I like satire.) But even as satire, this is a completely tone-deaf way to start a newsletter. As a Ulysses user, I don’t care what Fehn thinks about Musk or Twitter, unless it somehow impacts Ulysses. I get that Fehn may have opinions or just likes writing things, but starting a company-based newsletter with this is bad form all around. This is why blogs exist, Marcus!

The rest of the newsletter continues in a jokey manner, with Fehn talking about 20 years of Ulysses and “20 years of hate mail, but that’s a different story” and that he’s visiting San Francisco and will be “the one in the bullet-proof vest, just in case.” I think he’s just trying hard (too hard?) to be funny, and a lot of it comes off flat or weird. The newsletter does exude with his personality, but that again is debatable on whether it’s a plus or minus.

For me, the whole thing is weird and off-putting, and it’s made me once again start looking for alternatives to Ulysses, preferably something that works on both Windows and Macs. And isn’t Scrivener. 😛