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Archive for August, 2013

Predictions For The Future

I’ve been thinking a lot about the future lately, both near and long-term. I wanted to get my predictions down in writing.

Living room

There is a war that is about to explode this Christmas over the living room. A computer will replace the cable box, and there isn’t a clear winner in the space. The winner will be as ubiquitous as the smartphone, and we’re not even close to that yet. Just as the iPhone showed us what a mobile touch operating system looks like, we are still waiting on someone to show us what an operating system looks like that we control from a couch. It’s not the same as a computer, and it’s not like anything we’ve seen yet.


Batteries limit most of the technology we use today. The reason you have annoying cords for your ear buds is due to the fact that we don’t have light, thin, long last batteries to power wireless versions. Batteries dictate the weight shape, size, and useable applications of almost all of our technology.

The problem is physics. They can’t pack electrons any tighter into lithium ion batteries. We’ve hit the ceiling and now we need something new. One promising option is a nobel prize winning substance called graphene. It’s a superconductor with power storage properties. It might not extend battery life for us, but it may reduce re-charge times to a second. In 3-5 years, graphene will be at the core of our most amazing advancements.

Wearable Computers

There is a bit of movement in this field with Up Bands, and a rumored Apple Watch. This is a just a bit of noise before the biggest paradigm shift since the Internet.

Ray Kurzweil said it best when he pointed out that looking at the Internet through a monitor is the equivalent of looking at the world through a keyhole.

Some day you will look back at picture of people sitting in front of monitors and staring at iPhones and it will look like Zack Morris on a cell phone.Zack Morris Cell Phone

When we were young we thought of the Internet in terms of “going online”. Now the Internet is just on. Ask a child the difference between online and offline and they won’t know what you’re talking about. The same is going to take place with computers. There won’t be a separation between being awake and being connected.

Google Glass is the first prototype in this field. It’s not a product that’s ready for mass consumption, but it is a necessary first step to figure out how this new paradigm is going to work. Very few people are going to wear something that looks so absurd, but soon it will look like any other pair of glasses. Eventually it will be a contact lens and at some point in the future it will likely be an implant.

I can already hear the cries of people saying that they don’t want to always be online. Take a look at the employment rate amongst people who can’t use computers. You won’t have a choice, and to be honest, you won’t want one.

Thinking about a Twitter stream projected onto your retina probably isn’t that appealing, but that’s not what this is going to be. A great deal of how we experience computers is limited by the constraint of having to displaying information in 2D on a flat screen.

Eventually information will just be overlaid onto reality. Augmented Reality is the term if you want to look it up. When we look at something online we expect there to be information and context. Prices, ratings, specs, explanations, and comparisons are standard in the digital world. Now imagine all that information overlaid onto the real world. Look at a person and their name and background will pop up.

Interfacing with our Brain

We’ve spent a lot of effort trying to make computers more brain like. It’s a lot easier to just marry our brain with a computer.

Right now our interface with computers happens tactically by typing and touching. This is incredibly inefficient way to interact with a computer.

The first challenge is to allow a machine to read the information stored in our mind. This is a lot closer to a reality than you might imagine. Watch this for a demonstration. Once a computer can interpret our thoughts, we are freed from the ball and chain of our keyboard. The visual world won’t just be augmented with extra data; our brain will literally be augmented with a computer.

If you want to remember something, you won’t have to repeat it to yourself. Think to your internal computer that you want to save it, and it will be done. Retrieval of information will be just as easy. You won’t forget anything, ever. You will able to do calculations at lightning speed. All of the daily mental power that goes to low-level mundane tasks will cease. The computer will take care of it, and you will be left to think. A million productivity apps have made this promise and failed, but that’s because it’s painful to tell the computer want you want.

Right now, when we want to create something with a computer, we need to write technical instructions for it to understand. It requires thousands of lines of code, or hours of clicks in software like Photoshop and CAD. We are translating what’s in our mind into a language the computer can read.

If the computer can read our thoughts, all of those technical instructions become unnecessary. We will think of something, and then the computer will make it so.

My Setup

Here’s a rundown of my work setup.  I’ve tested all of these products extensively and consider them indispensable.

Computer: Macbook Air-13 inch 256GB

Monitor: Thunderbolt.  For a long time I thought that this was an overpriced monitor.  I was very wrong.  It makes every other monitor I’ve used look broken in comparison.  It definitely reduces eye strain at the end of the day.

Sizeup: SizeUp allows you to quickly resize and position your windows with keyboard shortcuts.  They call it the missing window manager and I have to agree.  I mainly use it to resize windows to the left and right half of the screen.  This allows me to take advantage of all the screen real-estate on a cinema display monitor.  For keyboard mappings I have option-q = Left, option-w = Fullscreen, option-E = Right.

Jumpcut: Shows the last 10 things I copied to the clipboard.

Quicksilver: It’s similar to spotlight, but I find that it does a much better job at launching applications.  I also use it to control iTunes from the keyboard while I’m working in other apps.  I have keyboard shortcuts setup to rate tracks and display the currently playing song on the screen.

Dropbox: I save all my created documents in Dropbox so it’s always backend up and available on other computers.

Notational Velocity Alt:  I use it to take all my notes.  I find Evernote to be really heavy and it’s footprint is much too big.  Notational velocity takes up a tiny amount of screen real-estate so I can use it in conjunction with other apps while I’m working.  The Alt version adds the ability for theming.  I use a black background with white text, which reduces eyestrain.

Simplenote: I use this on my iPhone for note taking.  It works perfectly with Notational Velocity so text is always synced between my desktop and phone.

Afloat: I use afloat on Notational Velocity to keep that window on top of other windows. I often have an app open full screen, but I need to take notes or refer to them.  I hate having to switch windows, so Afloat just keeps that windows on top of all the others.

F.lux: Looking at a screen late at night when the surrounding environment is dark, increases eyestrain.   Flux gradually adds a tint to the screen at night to make it easier on the eyes.

Streambox: Having a music service like Pandora in the browser just doesn’t work.  I accidentally close it all the time, and it’s hard to find the right tab to see what’s playing.  Streambox is a Pandora app that sits in the menu bar.

Fluid: I’m a huge fan of the Hypemachine.  Since there isn’t a desktop app, I create a browser specific Hypemacine “app” with Fluid.

Airfoil: I love this app.  It allows you to beam music from your desktop to another desktop, iPhone, or Airport.

Adobe Creative Suite: Pretty standard.  I haven’t tried Cloud yet, but I really skeptical.  I’m still on CS6 desktop version.

Omnigraffle:  I use this for all my wire-framing.  It’s pretty much standard issue for UX designers.  The Kongi stencils are a must as are a number of app specific stencils from Graffletopia.

JMP: I use this for statistical data analysis.  It’s similar to R but with a usable graphic interface.  It’s ability to quickly clean data sets is unparalleled. I use it to quickly run distributions, get rid of outliers, and look for correlations in data.  There is way more in there than I know how to use. If you’re reading this you’ll probably be interested in it’s ability to do logistic regressions, and partition analysis.

Tableau: I just started using Tableau but so far I’m really impressed.  I would describe it as Excel PivotTables on crack.  It makes manipulating and visualizing data very easy.  I can almost always do the work in Excel, but Tableau does it in minutes instead of hours.  Also, when I’m dealing a very large data set, Excel chokes and Tableau handles it like a pro. Tableau is Windows only so I run it in Windows with Parallels.

Rubymine: I’ve just started to get better at programming. Rubymine is a full featured editor and it makes it a lot easier for a beginner.

Chrome Canary: I recently discovered Google’s beta version of Chrome, which they call Canary.  It’s a completely separate browser from Chrome, so I can be signed into my work account.  I use regular Chrome to sign into my personal gmail.

Skitch: I use Skitch for screen-capture and annotation.  It was a lot better before Evernote acquired it, but it’s still decent.

Pinboard: I bookmark all my web findings in Pinboard.  It’s a Delicious clone which I signed up for when it looked like Delicous was going to be shut down.

Mailbox: I use Mailbox for work email on my phone.  Their ability to snooze an email until later is perfect for work email.

37 Signals Backpack:  I used Backpack to write all my technical specs.  They unfortunately stopped supporting it and new users can’t sign up.  I am in the process of building a new version for writing specs.






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