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nothin’ new to see here | VariableGHz

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nothin’ new to see here

skeuomorphism

Full disclosure: this is a rant. I offer an apology in a #sorryNotSorry kind of way. Thanks for your understanding.

I registered VariableGHz.com in 2006 when I realized that I solve a lot of esoteric technical challenges. Solving these challenges are routinely necessary as part of the work I do, especially these days as a consultant. Since I have no boss, there’s nobody to teach me how to do the things that people pay me to do. So, I teach myself — and I have to document my findings somewhere. This was intended to be that archive.

Over the years, I’ve had people express interest in writing for it, and advertisers offer opportunities, changes to the style — all of that comes and goes. The end result has probably been a “profit” of about $250, not including server costs, or costs that should have been paid to my brilliant software engineer, Tim, for setting things up for me/us.

Blogging is a hilarious concept. It benefits only those websites that receive extraordinarily high levels of “unique visitors” — a metric that advertisers especially like. There’s all sorts of SEO (Search Engine Optimization) tricks to try and get your posts to have high visits, low bounce rate, lots of “likes” +1’s, re-tweets, and whatever else.

Over all of these years, I’ve seen plenty of websites with mediocre writing and coverage continue to receive a great deal of “inbound links” and the other positive social media attributes I listed above. A lot of this is simply inertia. Like Norton Anti-Virus, sometimes being first or early to something gives you all the benefit you need when it comes to digital networks. The discussion of centralization of power and computer networks is covered in great detail in the book Who Owns the Future? by Jaron Lanier (enlightened readers: no, the irony of using an Amazon link is not lost on me). If you are technically inclined in any way, I suggest you read it. If you are not technically inclined in any way, I strongly suggest you read it. :)

Watching the slow painful decline of the personal computer, especially recently, has been disappointing to say the least. There’s paradoxically more and less choice at the same time. There’s less creativity now than ever before. I’m citing Twitter, Yo, and Candy Crush as examples. I’m sure I could go on, but I bet you can think of a few yourself.

The most creative and innovative apps came out right at the beginning of the App Store in 2008. Do you remember Jelly Car? Microsoft’s SeaDragon? Early games had custom soundtracks not unlike the creativity of many old 16-bit Sega Genesis titles.

Have you tried using Office 2013? Is there anything in there that’s an improvement? Look closely. Is there anything beyond that vapid flat style that Microsoft introduced originally with Live Tiles and then ported into Windows 8? Shifting menus around for the sake of having a new product seems to be the only thing everyone is racing around to do. Limitations abound and I’m not seeing anyone take note of the irony of having the most powerful computing hardware ever all dedicated to running an “app” in full-screen — and yet still performance is a main selling feature of new phones and tablets.

I remember using my old laptop, the Compaq Armada 1585DMT (16MB RAM, 2GB HDD, Pentium 150MHz, 800×600 resolution, 1x CD-ROM, no USB ports). Fun fact: I still have it, and it still runs. If I launched a big program, like ReBirth while playing an mp3 (still pretty new at the time), the mp3 would stutter significantly while the program would load. It was so obnoxious that I would always make a habit of pausing music, loading the program, then resume playback. This kind of thing still happens all the time with apps and software, except that buffering/loading/etc. is incorporated into the software in a silent manner. How often when you click something in Mac OSX is there just silence? You have no idea whether the program is crashed or is still loading or what. It will just struggle in absolute silence, offering no feedback to the user whatsoever. That’s wishful thinking on the part of the developers and hardware designers. No HDD or I/O indicators? Network activity indicators? Nope.

To counter this (on a PC), I use a host of programs to tell me about what my software is doing: NetLimiter to keep track of upload and download speeds. This helps me with software with poor user feedback, like Bitcasa, of which I now have well over six terabytes of data in the cloud. I am almost always uploading 300+GB 7z archive files and am often unable to tell if the software is working or not — so I check with NetLimiter. Forensic software, like FTK, is often unresponsive or also provides inadequate feedback despite its enormous price tag. So, to that end, I use ProcMon with filters to provide a unique insight into whether the software is frozen, or is in fact still working.

I encourage you to explore the dot com startups from the late 90’s and early 2000’s, during the height of the crash. You’ll find more creativity yet many of similarities in absurdity as well.

I have concluded that my negativity surrounding the misguided adoption of Apple’s App Store debut  (Specifically Microsoft) has made it too difficult for me to write many positive things about computers anymore. I find myself in a constant state of negativity surrounding the launch of almost any new product, since they are almost always rehashings of old ideas already done in the dot-com bubble, or so unnecessarily dumbed down (app’d?) with artificial restrictions that they sap all the fun and creativity out of them.

I use a jailbroken iPhone 4S as my primary communication device, running iOS 6.1.2, the last stable jailbreak for iOS6 which also happens to be the last OS that incorporates skeuomorphism, an aesthetic I am unwilling to give up voluntarily. Due to Apple’s incredibly draconian encryption schemes, downgrading from any iOS is not only extraordinarily complex, but effectively impossible since there are no SHSH blobs for iOS 6.1.2 and jailbreaks are reportedly unstable with iOS 6.1.3 — therefore, if I buy a new phone, it is impossible. I have jailbroken many devices with iOS7 and it is a disappointment by comparison to 6.1.2 (e.g., since you asked: for example, important jailbreaks like iNoRotate do not work).

For as much as I can complain about iOS7, have you ever used an Android device? What a catastrophe of biblical proportions. Try typing on that keyboard. Everything about it, as Jobs once said, is “grand theft” — and I can’t help but agree. Except that Samsung lost key parts of the epic patent war, making it even worse. (since you asked: for example, there’s no “bounce-back” when you scroll to the end of a page, instead you just see an awkward fading blue rectangle…thing. It’s awful.)

There are so many variants of Android, malware galore, and many of them discontinued or otherwise abandoned in favor of the latest phones, which seem to come out every other day. If I were a software engineer I would absolutely hate to try to program a substandard app for this platform. Frankly, this sucks — and Google must have known all along that their free, open-source, Android platform would end up this way. They had to, they employ some seriously smart people, but didn’t care anyway. They let it happen like this.

So where has all this lead to? Flat, insipid designs, UX decisions that don’t have real names like the “hamburger menu,” weird gestures like clicking and dragging down from the top of an “app” to the bottom of the screen to end a process (oh, sorry, an “app”) in Windows 8, emojis to further flatten communication and the hilarious irony of the highest resolution mobile cameras and screens (ever!) to display the lowest possible pictures and videos (e.g., Snapchat.)

All this to say, there’s not much left to write about. Every new app is a variant of aggregated data in a database tied somehow with GPS, bluetooth, wifi, NFC, accelerometer/gyroscope, microphone and/or a camera. Yes, there’s lots that can be done, but the limitations are clear and six years after the introduction of the App Store — those limitations are more than evident.

Those who disagree with my particularly negative assessments are certain to keep writing about “new” apps like Facebook’s Slingshot. Have fun. By all means drop me a line if you encounter something truly unique. Until then, I’ll be back once this phase of computing is finally over.

~

Comment (1)

  1. Ryan (11ryanc)

    It is indeed very unsettling where modern tech is going at this point. 2007 from a usability point of view was at the perk of personal computing. Now it’s all about “touch screen”, or “modern” “apps”. As if logic and multitasking don’t exist anymore. Like I want to see some maximized, mobile look-alike on a 25 inch desktop. Listening, Microsoft..?
    Even Apple is taking quite a downfall. Visually just as childish and dumbed down as Windows 8.
    With where these companies are heading, Linux begins to shine more and more.
    All I can say is long live the Longhorn/Vista days, along when technology was at it’s best.

    ~Hope to see more articles in the future. Your probably the only author I’ve read with a logical perspective when it comes to computing.

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