September 2016:

Apple Watch Series 2 is very likely going to be the Apple Watch I finally buy.

I did.

I’m nervous I’ll find it all a little underwhelming when I finally have it in hand

I have.


Apple Watch (even Series 2) is slow, frustrating, and hamstrung. Much of that will go away in time, but it doesn’t help me today. Here’s what I‘d like to see from Apple Watch Series 3 and watchOS 4.0.

  1. Speed. Wait times for almost anything Apple Watch can do are measured in seconds. In a race between my iPhone and my watch, nine tasks out of 10 can be done more quickly from the phone even starting with the handicap of being in my pocket. That‘s simply not a great experience. Double the speed and double it again. There is something that can be done without significant hardware and engineering improvements, however: unlock the home screen. The watch will always be faster than the phone if all you need to do is roll over your wrist. The system of pre-designed faces and limited slots to add complications severely decreases this potential. I’m under no illusions Apple is likely to decrease its control over the watch face, but it’s a misstep, in my opinion.

  2. Siri. Google and Amazon have been getting a lot of love for devices that are always listening, but Apple’s “Hey Siri” isn’t bad. I’ve been using it since the minute it came out. It took Apple a while (I had a lot to say about this six years ago), but enabling passive listening is a game changer. It’s cool to have a device that listens for your commands in your living room or your kitchen; it’s magical to have one constantly at hand. Raising your wrist and speaking a command is the killer app for Apple Watch. The display (or at least the interactive display) ought to be a secondary, almost last-resort option. It’s cumbersome at best to precisely tap something on your wrist. Interactions spanning more than a few seconds (and most do thanks to the aforementioned sluggishness of the entire experience) are so awkward as to discourage any future attempts. Using your watch is in many cases actually less convenient than using your phone. In reality, instead of having both hands to work with you end up having neither. At least with the phone you can (the rise of mega phones notwithstanding) use with one hand. Unleash Siri and the watch will begin to come into its own as a platform.

  3. Sensors and Sensibility. I walk up to my Mac, it unlocks. I go to bed, Apple Watch tracks my sleep. I run a mile, iCloud knows my heart rate, my location, my speed. What else can Apple Watch do? It can sense light and dark. If the ambient noise gets louder, it could automatically make streaming media louder. It could share more across iCloud. Timers, for example, could be synchronized. Series 2 added GPS. Will Series 3 add cellular? What’s the humidity right now? What’s the temperature? How far am I from my phone? My laptop? My wife‘s phone? Sure, some of these are ridiculous. Many more I haven’t even listed. For Apple Watch to have a unique existence apart from the iPhone rather than being simply a second smaller, less capable screen (useful as that sometimes is), it must differentiate. Be more rugged, more elegant, more playful, much less expensive. Make the microphones better, improve the speakers, make it easier to use when wet, make the battery last all week. It’s not hard to imagine ways the watch can diverge from the phone. It is, unfortunately, hard to articulate and execute a vision potentially at odds with what by any measure is already a very successful product.

  4. Smarts. Notifications as they currently exist on the watch are shockingly primitive. Not only do you have scant control over what shows up, when, and how, the very idea of manually controlling notifications is overwhelming to most people. There is ample opportunity to improve in this area. If I were to have a quick go at it, I would start with differentiating between critical, important/urgent, and unimportant. Did my Nest Protect just go off at home? That sounds borderline critical to me. Is my wife’s heartrate unexpectedly elevated? I might want to know that. My wrist is literally the best place to get my attention. Did I leave the doors unlocked at home? Did an important client just email? Is there unexpected traffic on my normal route to work? Probably something I would like to know but maybe not an actual emergency. Did someone on my VIP list text? That’s a bit different than a spam phone call from someone trying to convince me that if I give them my credit card number I can have a free night’s stay at a Marriott. Just-in-time notifications, reminders, and info/interaction screens done right could make the watch an invaluable asset. Today’s notifications are naïve at best. With another generation of design and engineering, though, we might really have something.

The Apple Watch today is not a product I can whole-heartedly recommend to most people. It simply falls down too often in too many areas. Still, I’m not unhappy with mine. My expectations have mostly been met. I can track my heartrate while lifting or running. I have a discreet alarm to wake me up in the morning. The app ecosystem is slowly growing and maturing. I like getting a sneak preview of the future, and, I guess, I’m willing to pay for it with a little discomfort. Once speed is no longer an issue and a cellular radio emancipates it from the iPhone (allowing your wallet and keys to be integrated into the one thing you take everywhere), Apple Watch will be a truly magical product.

Stray Thoughts

  • Dictation should end after a pause, like it does on the iPhone. This seems like an easy fix.
  • I love the Nike version, but it’s crazy to me that I can’t edit the Nike+ Run Club complication.
  • The app constellation metaphor strikes me as a big mess, but what do I know.
  • I’ve been using the watch constantly for six months and I still barely switch watch faces and never use the app switcher. I think this says more about the design of the watch than it does about me.
  • Apple helpfully allowed Nike’s Volt to be a color across watch faces but does allow other faces to use Futura. Ah, well.
  • You can take a call on your watch (and hear the other person), but you can’t play music, podcasts, or hear Siri talk back to you. This totally makes sense and is not weird at all.
  • I like to turn off “Wake Screen on Wrist Raise” when I go to bed. It’s an annoying several taps to get there. I wish it could be part of a scene or some other more convenient way. Who wants their watch to light up constantly while they toss and turn? Related, why can’t I set the screen to an arbitrary brightness? It‘s possible to gradually bring up the brightness when the watch is off, but you’re limited to three pre-set levels of brightness in settings. At the very least, give me a notch or two below the current darkest settings for night.

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you. You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”

Matthew 5:38–48, ESV


America is not now nor was it ever the Kingdom of Heaven. No political candidate, especially one as craven, warped, and uniquely unqualified as Trump, can change that. As a church, we are still largely in denial that our period of political dominance has ended. We’ve been reduced to anger at that dispossession and have demonstrated a shocking willingness to compromise or outright abandon our beliefs to hold on to whatever crumbs remain. The truly toxic, vile candidacy of Donald Trump is an unmistakable sign of that truth. I am deeply ashamed of his presence on the ballot, and you should be too. There is no conceivable defense for tolerating his behavior let alone cheering it. I will not be voting for President this election, and I ask you to abstain as well. Let Donald Trump be utterly, completely, and most deservedly humiliated.

It can be tremendously depressing to let go of a sentimental attachment to “the way things used to be” or some notional value of what a Christian culture looks like. The sooner we as disciples of Christ come to terms with the reality of the secular, multi-cultural world in which we live and accept our minority status within it, the sooner we can begin to grasp the abundant opportunity before us to bring hope and compassion to hurting, confused, anxious people.

I can’t remember when or why I downloaded Lastronaut, but I gave it a try on my flight to Portland today. It’s an infinite runner like Canabalt, Tiny Wings, Jetpack Joyride, Alto’s Adventure, etc.

Some stats:

  • Level: 15
  • Games Played: 54
  • Distance Travelled (Best): 2,457m
  • Kill Count (Best): 271
  • Shots Fired (Best): 8,705
  • Time Played: 36:38

Pros:

  • Sound effects are great
  • Strong pixel art

Cons:

  • My least favorite infinite runner of the ones I listed. Missing a lot of the mechanics necessary to keep players interested. It includes two ability upgrades and IAP for characters, but there are no goals or targets to embellish individual runs.

  • You lose when you get hit by a missile or run over a hazard. The game starts you with a random weapon, but you can get a new random weapon by jumping into a floating weapon bubble. Unfortunately, one weapon is substantially better than any of the others: the heat-seeking missiles. Each of the other weapons has strengths and weaknesses, but the heat-seeking missles are just unfair. If you can tap fast enough, you surround yourself with a cloud of missiles which essentially eliminates the chance of getting hit by an opposing missile. At that point, all you need to do is jump whenever you see an obstacle. This could be fixed by rate-limiting this weapon.

If Tiny Wings and Alto’s Adventure are the epitome of the infinite runner genre—fun, minimal, just enough achievable milestones to keep you playing—Lastronaut comes in somewhere in the middle: superficially nice, substantively shallow.

An itemized list of thoughts on Apple’s recent event unveiling the iPhone 7:

  1. Apple is a (publicly traded) company not a charity. Despite their frequent and much appreciated commitment to security, privacy, and usability, you and I are at best only one of their priorities. To expect every decision to be made in favor of what is best for customers is silly.

  2. The iPhone 7 looks like a great device. It’s better in every way that Apple prioritizes than any phone that came before it. If you like Apple and like iPhones, you have to admit that this is a good thing. From time to time certain decisions they make are bound to inconvenience you. If we as customers play second fiddle to Apple’s profitability, the importance attached to any individual customer’s needs (preferences) is nil.

  3. I have a bipolar relationship with technology. On the one hand, the more clever and new the better. On the other hand, the costs, both known and unknown, can be enormous. With that caveat out of the way, I’m really excited about the AirPods. When we look back in a few years it will be clear their introduction was a watershed moment. Tell me you want to live in a world of wired mice, keyboards, and Internet. Tell me how much you love tethering your laptop to your desk with a power cable. Go ahead. The devices you’re complaining no longer have a place to jack your headphones into are literally wireless telephones. Remember telephones? The things with the wires that imprisoned you in whatever room you happened to keep them in? Audio and power are two of the final wired holdouts. Their time, however, is coming. The transition will be a little bumpy (as transitions tend to be), but the wireless future Apple alluded to is as inevitable (and desirable) a future as I can imagine. I’m thrilled today with the semi-wireless earbuds I recently bought. I get the same feeling from them as I got the first time I installed an SSD: whoa. There is every reason to believe Apple’s are significantly better, and the price is totally reasonable. (Not for me, but certainly for many.) Yes, they removed the headphone jack. Once upon a time they also sealed the battery in, glued the screen together, and locked down the entire operating system. You’ll get over it.

  4. Apple Watch Series 2 is very likely going to be the Apple Watch I finally buy. I held out for Apple’s announcement of the original Apple Watch a few years ago hoping it would make the Fitbits and Fuelbands and Ups of the world obsolete. It kind of did, and it kind of didn’t. The slow, somewhat useless apps and lack of GPS made it too much gadget, too little tool for me at the time. With those concerns in the rearview mirror, I’m ready to take the plunge. Sure, cellular data and a sleeker body would be nice, but not nice enough to hold out for another two year. That said, I’m nervous I’ll find it all a little underwhelming when I finally have it in hand: I haven’t worn a watch in 15 years which makes this something of an aspirational purchase. I think I want these notifications and fitness tracking options. Time will tell.

  5. I will spare you my thoughts on Carpool Karoake, Oz: Broken Kingdom, and Sia.

Every summer when I was a kid we would get together at White Oak Park for a family reunion or church picnic. Water balloon tosses, softball games, all-you-can-drink Cherokee Red and Faygo Grape Soda, 9-on-9 volleyball, fried chicken, pasta salad, middle aged men and women spinning themselves dizzy around baseball bats before staggering off on their leg of the relay race, and, most importantly horseshoes. Uncles and dads, great uncles and grandfathers would stand under the trees pitching. When (and if) they finished, the cousins could have a turn. We weren’t good then. We’re probably worse now. You can have cornhole. I’ll take the stakes.

Some people like the city. Some like a house on a hill with a manicured lawn. Some like a big open field for football and sunshine. I like trees. I like a few trees between the road and the house to help things blend together. I like trees for hammocks and trees for shade. I like to look at trees, especially in the fall. This house has a lot of trees. Something like 50 on one acre by my count. The minute we saw the property in person I knew we had found the perfect place. Right over there, on the side of the house, that’s where we were going to put the horseshoe pits. And last week I did.

Here’s a quick rundown and some photos.

Bill of goods:

  • 0.75” 𝗑 3’ rebar (2): $10
  • 0.5” 𝗑 18” rebar (2): $4
  • 0.5” 𝗑 10” rebar (8): $12
  • 10” nails (12): $8
  • 8’ severe weather pressure treated 4 𝗑 4 lumber (6): $48
  • 50lb bag of sand (2): $8
  • St Pierre Horseshoes: $48
  • Total: $138

There’s no reason you couldn’t build something similar if less formidable for half the price. I didn’t spend a ton of time looking around the internet for horseshoe pit designs. I had to carve out some space from a hill, and I’m still wondering if I have the right ratio of sand and clay. Some people think the boxes are a little shallow and narrow. I say you gotta hit the pin to score, so what’s it matter. Anyway, I think I did alright. I think, if nothing else, I got close. And in horseshoes, that counts.