How not to be a boy

I’m not generally big on memoirs or autobiographies, but I’ve liked a lot of things Robert Webb has done and the title “How not to be a boy” worked for me.

There’s a lot I can relate to in here. I may not have wanted to be an actor or comedian but there are definite parallels to people, like myself, who were not interested in “boys” things like football. While that’s not necessary in a memoir, it did make the more rant-y, less autobiographical parts make sense to me.

One of the things that most people wonder when they watch Peep Show is, how much of the characters are, well, characters and how much is the actor. This book doesn’t really help. There are paragraphs where you can totally imagine it coming from Jeremy. Is that Webb playing to his audience or is it really him? We still don’t know.

I guess it’s good to know that there are people out there like you, who don’t fit the social norms of what a real man is supposed to be. In that sense, maybe it’s a bit late for me (like the book for introverts, Quiet, I already know that!) but it might have been helpful to a teenage me. Then again, when I was that young I probably would never have watched Peep Show or That Mitchell and Webb Look, and therefore wouldn’t be interested in this book. A catch-22…

Overall, it’s mostly well written, there’s a narrative connecting it all together (unlike many memoirs), but I wouldn’t say that it’s “must read.”

iOS 12

As I’ve done for the past few years, here are a few thoughts on the new version of iOS that will be heading to your phone in a few days. Usual caveats: my usage patterns are probably different to yours, I have a 6s and iPad mini, not whatever weird and wonderful hardware you have. I’ve been using the beta on my iPad since early August and on my iPhone since late August.

The good

  • Stable. I’ve had a couple of minor glitches but, honestly, there have been worse release versions. (They have been fixing new APIs and suchlike so I’m not saying they should have released earlier. But I am saying that the GM version should be pretty solid.)
  • Performance. As advertised, it works well on my far-from-new devices, probably better than iOS 11. I didn’t buy into the whole battery-gate scandal but if this is the result I’m happy with it.
  • Siri suggestions. I’ve not seen the full benefits yet, since I’ve not finished writing my own and haven’t been running anyone else’s beta software. But even just with Apple’s suggestions it’s nice. I go to the gym and it suggests my “gym” notes document. I think this is going to be big when more apps support it.
  • Do not disturb. I already used it a lot and now it’s better. DND until the current meeting and DND until I leave the current location are both super useful.

The bad

  • Nothing. Really. Sure, there are things that I would change or do differently, but there’s nothing that I would really look at and say “That’s worse than iOS 11.” If you’re okay with iOS 11 there’s no good reason not to update.

The ugly

  • What’s with the time and battery indicator being jammed in the very top left and right of the iPad screen? What a waste of space.

Final words

You’ll note that “Screentime,” Apple’s answer to the accusations that people are spending too much time on their devices, is not on the list. I don’t have anything bad to say about it, but I didn’t find it very useful. I have my smartphone addiction under control. I could stop any time I want to…

Pro is not a useful label

Here is goes again. Apple announces new MacBook Pros (or there are rumours about a new Mac mini pro) and the hoards pile on it saying it’s not a “Pro” machine. But what does that actually mean?

Traditionally the label “pro” is short for professional and is used to describe people who make their living using the tool. Sadly that definition is so ridiculously broad that it’s not terribly useful. What does a video editor, a writer, a 3D modeller and a software developer have in common?

Nothing.

Some need a fast CPU, others lots of memory, or storage or ports or GPU. Others just like the “best.”

And that’s the problem. We have to stop fixating on it being short for “professional.” It’s a marketing term, nothing more. It doesn’t mean anything beyond “expensive.” Just because it’s missing a feature that you’ve grown accustomed to does not mean that it’s not usable by professionals. Maybe it makes it unusable by you but that’s not the same thing at all.

If you work on a computer, buy the one the best meets your current and anticipated future needs. Whether that’s a MacBook or a Mac Pro, a Mac mini or an iMac Pro, even a Windows PC, the name doesn’t matter.

And if none of the computers in Apple’s current line up meet your requirements, that might legitimately be a problem. But, it’s not a new problem — Apple has had a relatively limited range since at least the late 90’s — and that still has nothing to do with the name.

Real World Problems

I think it’s fair to say that a lot of people who know me In Real Life have no idea what my job is. Most think I sit in front of a computer all day, programming. That’s not really true. Well, I sit in front of a computer but I actually spend surprisingly little time actually writing code.

There are lot of ways to explain what I do, but many quickly get too technical for most people. At a high level, I’m a client-facing engineer. Most often, I sit between engineering — the people who do spend all day coding — and the end users of the product.

As I explain at job interviews, I like to solve useful problems. And being close to customers, the real end users of what products are for, I get to see both the pain and the joy when some gnarly problem is solved well. Sure, there’s an intellectual buzz when you fix or make something abstract but I find there’s something extra when I solve a real world problem.

Another aspect that I like, is that I get to see how the money is made. What I do has a direct impact. If I’m billable, every hour I spend working for a client is both helping the client and making my company money. If I’m doing pre-sales, when they sign on the dotted-line the same thing happens.

I say this not because it’s absolutely necessary to have the relationship that clear, but I do think it’s important to understand the impact you’re having.

For example, here’s a quote from an article I read earlier today:

There are certain things you do not in good conscience do to humans. To data, you can do whatever you like.

Maybe this is inevitable when you get to Facebook’s scale, but by losing track of what the company provides to end users, by losing sight of what you’re doing, much is lost. You don’t see what value you’re bringing any more; it’s all too abstract. And, by extension, you fail to see the harm that you’re potentially causing.

I’m not saying that by having to look a client in the eye you’re always going to be 100% ethical (some people don’t care either way) but I like the obviousness of the connection. I don’t have to theorise about how the product might be used as I can see it right in front of me, I’m helping people actually make it happen.

So, if you don’t know what I do, you probably still don’t have a significantly clearer idea. But you might better understand why I do it.

What if…?

What if…?” is a totally ridiculous idea for a book and pretty much perfect because of it. The concept is asking all kinds of silly questions and seeing where they go. For example, what if a the earth suddenly stopped spinning? (Spoiler alert: it’s not good.)

There’s a beauty to both asking and taking the time to answer “absurd hypothetical questions.” It’s one of those things you’ll either “get” or you’ll think is utterly stupid. (Check out the reviews on Goodreads if you have any doubt.) To be fair, the people in the latter camp are probably not wrong but they’d be missing a lot of fun.

Will you learn anything from this book? A qualified yes. Yes in the sense that you’ll learn the odds of getting full marks on the SATs and the practicality of the human computer in “The Three-Body Problem“. But it’s not a pop-science book in the sense that there’s nothing useful in it.

And, frankly, that’s what I love about it.

How to argue with a cat

Anyone else read Scott Adams’ blog? The guy who does Dilbert? He seems to have gone off the rails a bit recently with all his Trump stuff but the idea behind some of it — the art of persuasion — is potentially interesting. I wanted to learn more.

Jay Heinrichs’ “How to argue with a cat” seemed like a good introduction, in that it didn’t look too sleazy or too serious. As an added bonus, it’s also very short.

It’s well written, humorous (“But most of us humans look ridiculous when we swivel our ears,” “Cats rarely change their expression. That’s one reason they look so dignified. It also helps them hide their ploys.”), entertaining and clearly organised, so I wish I could recommend it more. However, I’m not really sure how much new I learned by reading it. If you’re truly a beginner — maybe I knew more than I thought — it’s possibly worth a read otherwise you might want to consider something a little more advanced.

Photography, opinions and other random ramblings by Stephen Darlington