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Team commuting

Driven mad by the way lockdowns have given Microsoft Teams a chance to snag a portion of the enterprise software market, it seems that Microsoft may have over-reached themselves if this Wall Street Journal article about changes to Teams is anything to go by:

Microsoft Corp. is developing an update to its Teams package of workplace collaboration tools to replace one of the less-mourned losses of pandemic living: the commute to and from work.
The daily commute may have caused its share of headaches, but it at least helped workers define a start and end to their workday while offering a set time to think away from the demands and distractions of the home and office. That positive side of the commute is what Microsoft hopes to re-create. […]
The Teams update next year will let users schedule virtual commutes at the beginning and end of each shift. Instead of reliving 8 a.m. or 6 p.m. packed subway rides or highway traffic jams in virtual reality, users will be prompted by the platform to set goals in the morning and reflect on the day in the evening. [Emphasis added]

So, instead of a morning’s virtual commute in which we all get to choose our own ways to prepare for our working day, be it by contemplating the work ahead or by thinking about everything but work, Microsoft’s vision is that employers can use Teams to invite their staff to spend at least part of the commuting time we’ve been saving by working from home in setting up the day ahead’s To Do list and scheduling the day’s workload (and, in practice, reviewing our incoming emails.)

I trust Teams will also add a module which will automatically keep track of this overtime working each day and authorise additional pay accordingly. 1

Granted, back before the Current Situation pushed many of us into working from home some employees did spend at least part of their non-virtual commuting time thinking ahead and planning their working day. One of the reasons I got into the habit of having a Psion, or a Palm, or an iPad mini in my bag was that I could sketch out ideas/outlines/first drafts for what was coming once I got to work, but equally some days I’d fire up an ebook on the same device. That was my choice to spend my commute organising my thoughts, and to my mind that’s completely different from being prompted to spend time in Teams before work starts.

This notion of employers – formally or informally – expecting staff to bookend their working day with planning/reviewing the day’s work is a terrible idea. We can but hope employers won’t take the bait.

[Via Memex 1.1]


  1. I have a horrible feeling we’ll be offered credit to spend with our official employee rewards scheme instead of actual money in our bank accounts. 

Button pressed

I’m a tad unclear on whether building a device that lets you press a button in order to press another button is quite the great leap forward it’s being painted as here:

I showed this to someone and they said, “So.. you built a button that you press that will press a button? Why not just press the button?” which was a bit infuriating because they clearly missed the whole point. “Don’t you get it? This button BAD, but this button GOOD. Me want to press GOOD button.”

I suspect this makes me part of the problem rather than part of the solution. Or that I’m missing the joke…

[Via iamcal]

Incorruptible

Today seems to have turned into a day of reading speculative fiction online. There are worse ways to spend a Sunday…

I first read Incorruptible by Peter Watts a couple of years ago as part of the XPRIZE Flight #008 competition. It’s precisely as optimistic as you’d expect from Watts:

This is the moment Malika Rydman first realizes that something is seriously out of whack: when the airport cop doesn’t threaten her. […]

There’s no implied threat in his voice. He doesn’t seem to be itching for an excuse to escalate (not that Malika would ever be stupid enough to give him one – then again, sometimes they just make shit up after the fact). The words don’t even carry the tone of a command exactly, more like a – a request. […]

Believe me, it gets way darker and heavier from there. But Watts gets us there in a characteristically logical, remorseless manner.

It’s a pity Peter Watts doesn’t have the profile and awards his talent merits.

[Via a comment from MeFi user lax at MetaFilter]

A short Trek

I truly wish the folks running the Short Treks series could get behind adapting Matchmaker of Mars by Edonohana.

[End of a rejection letter from Campbell…]

As for “The Phonemes of Aldebaran,” it’s well-written but I have to pass. Astounding is a science fiction magazine and linguistics is not a science.

I mean, how can any Trekkie with a sense of the history of the genre resist a storyline which pits the combined unstoppable forces of Uhura and T’Pring against the immovable object that was John W. Campbell, Jr at the height of Astounding‘s dominance?

Think of it as a sort of companion piece for Deep Space Nine‘s Far Beyond The Stars

[Via MetaFilter]

Surface Duo (again)

I have to confess that I’m fascinated by the slow reveal of Microsoft’s Surface Duo, as reviewers have had to negotiate two separate embargoes on the reveal of first the hardware1 and then the software. 2

Part of me really hopes Microsoft have the deep pockets 3 and the patience 4 to pull off creating another form factor for portable computing, but it does sound a little bit as if early adopters are going to need to be really, really keen users of Microsoft Office to get enough joy from their shiny, expensive new devices.

Me, I’m mostly hoping, entirely selfishly, that the Surface Duo is enough of a success to nudge Apple into a serious revamp of the iPadOS multitasking model. I certainly don’t have the money to invest in a Surface Duo or a desire to wrangle my content into Microsoft Office. It is just great fun to watch from the sidelines, though…


  1. Generally considered to be slightly underpowered but very nicely put together. 
  2. Which seems to be very good as long as you stick to Microsoft’s apps which support the new form factor, but given that Microsoft are pricing the Surface Duo at a level even Apple would think twice about you have to wonder how big an incentive anyone else has to build their Android apps differently for the sake of the tiny market share the Surface Duo seems likely to command. 
  3. Fair to say they do. Whether that’s what they see – and continue to see as they see the sales figures start to come in – as the best way of spending that money, we shall see. 
  4. In these days of everyone assuring us of their passion for their product, perhaps a decade from now some future Microsoft CEO will find themselves looking back and revealing that they personally were so overwhelmed by the way the Surface Duo unlocked their multitasking abilities that they fought hard to stay the course and not give up when the whole world mostly decided it could get by with a single screen and conventional windowing/task switching on Android. 

BSG is back

Happy to see Battlestar Galactica return to BBC2 tomorrow. Looks as if the plan is for two episodes a week on Saturdays, so that’ll be something to look forward to.

Admittedly All This Has Happened Before and All This Will Happen Again, but perhaps this time knowing in advance how badly they lost their grip on certain aspects 1 of the wider story will bother me less this time round.2

The thing is, somewhat improbably given the source material, the BSG reboot still ended up delivering several seasons of high quality speculative fiction on TV. I’m delighted to have another opportunity to watch the story unfold.


  1. e.g. what happened to that whole Cylon Plan that supposedly underpinned their actions from the start? 
  2. In a perfect world Ron Moore will end his new baby, For All Mankind, well into the future with a conclusion that sees the alternate history space race sending teams off to establish a colony on Kobol and we’ll look back on that show and recognise all the sneaky connections to his earlier story that the writers slipped in this time round. (I doubt that the storyline of For All Mankind will extend that far into the future, but I can hope, can’t I?) 

Author, author!

Adrian Hon reminded me of something I’ve been puzzling over for a few months, in the wake of the Mystery of the Missing Amazon Receipts:

Chances are you’ve bought something from Amazon in the last few months (yes, we are all hypocrites, also there’s a pandemic on). Try searching your email for one of those orders. […]

No luck? You aren’t alone: Amazon stopped including item details in order confirmation and shipping notification emails a few months ago. They just show the price and order date now. For all its faults, Amazon has pretty good customer service, which makes this user-hostile change baffling to understand. Sure, you can still see your orders on Amazon’s website and download a CSV, but it’s far more cumbersome than searching your email; and if you’re a power-user, you can say goodbye to automatically generating to-do tasks from Amazon emails.

The mystery isn’t about why Amazon are doing this: I’m just wondering why I seem to have missed out?

Even as I’ve been reading about the content of Amazon’s emails changing over the last few months, my Amazon order confirmation emails have continued to include details of what I’ve ordered.1 Some of the commenters at Michael Tsai’s blog have suggested this might be a function of whether you’re using Gmail (nope) or whether you’re ordering through a business account (nope). Perhaps my Amazon UK account is just at the tail end of a very long queue and they’re destined to catch up with me, or perhaps it’s that all my recent orders from them have been for virtual items 2 not requiring postage so temporarily they’re being generated by a different sub-system that has yet to be updated in line with the new policy.3 Perhaps Amazon have decided that I buy from them so infrequently and spend so little with them that my data isn’t worth collecting. 4


In fairness, the bulk of Adrian Hon’s post is not about Amazon’s emails: it’s about the attitude of giant tech companies to the ownership of data that’s gathered through their systems and in particular the ramifications of that attitude to content collection and ownership of data if someone manages to get us all wearing AR spectacles that capture whatever’s in our field of view all day long as a matter of course. This topic needs to be thought about now, ready for the coming war for ownership of the data we look at every day.

Twenty years ago such an article might have ended with a plea that the IT giants do the right thing and not lay claim to ownership of the fruits of their users’ activity.5 In 2020 it ends with the conclusion that making the IT companies do the right thing is going to require regulatory action from the relevant governments, hopefully along with some degree of regulatory convergence.6

A reasonable strategy given where we’re starting from, but a battle destined to lead us all up several very steep hills before we’re done.


  1. I’m afraid I fail the power user test by not having bothered to set up a shortcut to automagically transfer the item details into OmniFocus for me to check off when the order arrives. I know I should do this because I can, but selecting the details of the item and using copy-and-paste (or the Share sheet) is good enough for me. I fear my lifetime stock of whatever enzyme drives some of us to be power users who get a buzz out of spending an hour writing a function to save 0.5 seconds per run is starting to run low and the extra effort just doesn’t feel worth the bother. (Yes, I should probably be banned from consuming Mac Power Users and Brett Terpstra‘s site if I can’t be bothered to follow through on life hacks like this. Sue me!) My main gripe with the emails I get from Amazon right now (at least until their change in email policy catches up with me so I don’t have the data to hand) is that for books Amazon include the title but not the author name. Given that I find myself copying this data into my accounts, it would be nice to capture the author name too at the same time as the title. Sometimes looking back I’ll see a title and not be able to bring the author’s name to mind, especially if the entry is a few years old. At 57 I should probably just get used to this mild forgetfulness, but it’d be so easy to include title and author in the email and let me capture all the relevant information in one go. (As of now, I just get round this by manually typing the author name in my note, like a caveman.) Using a portable computer as a backup brain is a big part of why I got into portable computers all those years ago when a Psion Series 3 or a Palm Pilot was the state of the art: now I’m on my second iPad Mini it’s a damn shame if our data sources are working against us by omitting information that they have right there
  2. Kindle books and the odd film rental through Prime Video. My last Amazon order that required a physical delivery was in December 2019, and the email included details of the item (Fridges Thermometer AIGUMI Digital Waterproof Fridge Freezer Thermometer With Easy to Read LCD Display and Max/ (2Pack-White)
  3. It’s weird that Amazon don’t seem to have announced this change. Did they think nobody would notice? Is this the first step in a process which ends with Amazon offering a shiny new order-status-monitoring app (Amazon Delivers?) that will pull data from Amazon’s servers and both provide all the statistical analysis of your order patterns that any geek could ask for while also integrating with your device’s reminders system to generate messages when an item is due to arrive? Proper power users will (reasonably enough) demand that the app allow them to feed this data to their chosen To Do app automagically. However, as long as the Amazon Delivers app provides a quick, simple list of items due most users will (also reasonably enough) be satisfied with that and (less reasonably, but understandably) will not care that the Amazon Delivers approach keeps that data about their orders safely inside Amazon’s app, where Amazon thinks it belongs. 
  4. A question for later consideration, in the dark and empty hours as I wait for sleep to catch up with me. Is the notion that my spending on Amazon might be so negligible that Amazon can’t even be bothered to try to protect it from data-scrapers a win or a loss for me? 
  5. From a selfish point of view: how will governments deal with their staff wearing AR goggles to work? Will civil servants be banned from wearing them in the office unless they’re an official set configured to disable the content-scraping feature? Will our office WiFi block access to the servers associated with whichever tech giant wins the AR Wars? Will all AR goggles from reputable manufacturers include a feature that they visibly indicate that they’re doing content-scraping? Come to that, how will all that operate in a world where many of us work from home? Or will there just be a law banning official information from being harvested by AR goggles that can be selectively enforced according to the whims of the government about what’s in the national interest that week? 
  6. The last thing we need is a world where the EU takes one approach and the USA takes another and China takes yet a third, and whatever remains of the UK by then is left to choose between them. 

Good news, bad news?

Amazon missed an opportunity when they failed to issue a press release announcing that their planned TV adaptation of Consider Phlebas was cancelled due to special circumstances and left it at that.

For the record, if the rights are picked up by someone else perhaps we’ll look back a decade from now and be glad that we ended up with the Wachowskis’ version of Use of Weapons instead.1


  1. I know this is not a fashionable take on Jupiter Rising and Sense8, but who else has even looked capable of rising to the challenge? 

Joking. Not joking.

Horrifying to contemplate how big a round of applause this would get at the next Conservative Party conference if it was delivered by the right member of the Cabinet:

Surface Duo

I have a feeling that lots of people are going to be confused by the Surface Duo once it gets out into the market:

I am confused. Microsoft did a press blitz for their Surface Duo device this week and… I don’t understand anything. About the product. The strategy. The goal.

Look, I think the foldable tablets on Westworld look cool too. But if this is that, it sure seems like the prehistoric version of it. Granted, I think it looks and sounds better than Samsung’s gimmicky foldable phones, but only just. At least with a phone you can make the argument that folding a big screen to be pocketable makes some conceptual sense. This is decidedly not a phone. Because Microsoft insists it’s not. Even though it runs Android and can make phone calls. Listening to Microsoft, it’s not a tablet either. It’s something new. […]

Siegler notes that "it feels like you’re paying a ton of money to beta test something", which is as true of the Surface Duo as it was of the Apple Lisa back in the day. This is what happens when you’re trying to establish a new form factor and a new user interface paradigm: someone gets to pay handsomely for the privilege of figuring out what works for them. It’s unclear whether the price in this case is a product of the need to avoid a Samsung-style fiasco when you launch a foldable device and it turns out to be a bit too fragile to survive the real world or just a case of Microsoft hoping to reap the benefits of selling this new form factor at a professional price for a bit1 before moving the design downmarket a bit if the concept has legs.

Judging by the demos of how Microsoft’s apps work in the demo it looks as if Microsoft have put a lot of effort into making their apps reasonably lever about how they display their content across one or two screens at a time. It may well be that if other app makers follow Microsoft’s lead then the adapted version of Android the Surface Duo uses will be looked back on one day as a standard-setter for the foldable twin-screen tablet format or whatever we’re destined to call it. Or it could be that users will decide that software windowing on a single screen, iPad Mini-style is what they want if they have to use something bigger than a phone.

Perhaps a year from now the Surface Duo will be a roaring success, or perhaps iPadOS will have improved the mess that is Split Screen versus Slide Over and the Surface Duo will be history. Me, I have no money for new hardware any time soon and no great desire to jump to the Android ecosystem unless I get a strong push in that direction, but I will admit to being fascinated to see someone trying to give us a Westworld-style device to play with. I hope the Surface Duo is a success and puts some pressure on Apple’s dominance of the tablet space so that Apple have to apply themselves for the next generation of iPad hardware.

Failing that, everyone will decide to give up on folding devices for a few years until someone comes up with radically more capable display hardware. We live in interesting times.


  1. The introductory video from Panos Panay is very big on this, even as he fails to note that the main reason the Surface Duo can’t display content in a two- or three-pane window is that the screen just doesn’t have the room for it. 
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