Continuing my obsession with Microsoft’s Surface Duo, interesting to read the thoughts of someone who took the plunge after a sharp price reduction:
When turned on, the Duo greets you with two separate displays, and that is exactly what you are meant to see. Unlike Samsung’s Fold series that gives you an iPad-ish display when opened, the Duo is never mistaken for anything other than two screens. In fact, it is built into how the device functions. Open an app and it will only appear on one screen, inviting you to do something else with the other.
Trying it out led to this conclusion:
Frankly, I think the problem isn’t the Duo itself, but it is how I interact with my technology these days. You see, I’ve always loved writing in Moleskine notebooks, but I haven’t done that in a good long while because my notes are more convenient when stored in the cloud. And because of that, I’ve been accustomed to writing my notes on my phone or my tablet. I’ve been accustomed to using one screen. The Surface Duo, for as excellent a device that it is, flies in the face of years of muscle memory. Sure, given time, I might be able to break that and really make the Surface Duo a useful gadget- and a strong part of me wants to give it that chance- but even at $400, and especially with an older version of Android and slow updates and lingering bugs and newer versions on the horizon, I just don’t think I can give it that chance right now.
A shame that Microsoft didn’t put their new form factor out there at a price that would encourage users to give it a try. Perhaps the Surface Duo experiment was the right idea (for users who were prepared to revise their working habits, at least) but at the wrong price point.
The news that Sir Clive Sinclair has passed away makes me sad, like a few million others who got the chance to own a microcomputer of their own for a ridiculously low price in the 1980s.
Sad that a quick search of the text in that obituary doesn’t even find a single instance of the letters "QL." Such a missed opportunity, launched right at the point when the computer-buying public was starting to look askance at the Sinclair model of launching really cheap hardware that it turned out cut a few too many corners. No denying it, for a few years in the early 1980s Sinclair’s machines hit a sweet spot and the limitations were bearable.
At one point I had expanded my Sinclair QL’s RAM capacity to a whopping 640KB and was running a utility that let me run multiple copies of Quill and Abacus and a RAM Disk and jump between them at a keystroke1 and it was GLORIOUS, particularly since there wasn’t a cat’s chance in hell that I could afford an Apple Mac.
I could have afforded a BBC Micro Model B and I’m sure I’d have liked BBC Basic, but SuperBASIC suited me nicely. Also, Quill and Abacus were really, really good home office software so I could make a Sinclair QL work for me until, a few years later, I upgraded to an Atari 520STM with a gorgeously sharp monochrome monitor. Uncle Clive started me down that road, and I suspect that an unusually high proportion of my contemporaries built a life-long interest in IT on the foundations the ZX-80, ZX-81 and ZX Spectrum provided.
Sinclair never got the second act that Steve Jobs did or the level of fame, but a lot of people like me in the UK owe him a huge debt for giving us a chance to get early hands-on experience with technology that dominated the 21st century.
- I forget which software that was. This is what I get for mentioning stuff I was using in the mid-late 1980s and haven’t thought about in almost forty years. Man, I’m getting old… ↩
Watching a feature film on commercial TV with ads earlier this evening – not something I do all that often these days – I was interested to see Samsung’s latest ad campaign referring to their new phones as : "Our toughest foldables yet."
Not the highest bar they’re setting themselves there, I thought. Then I visited their web site and found this statement:
Designed to shatter expectations
Scratches and damage are no match for this phone. The exterior front cover and back cover on Galaxy Z Flip3 5G are made of the toughest Gorilla Glass yet on Galaxy Z: Corning® Gorilla® Glass Victus™.
So, they’re hoping that tackling their earlier foldables’ bad reputation by pretending that last time wasn’t a fiasco and emphasising the "toughness" of the glass this time round as if this was just a routine marginal upgrade from one generation on materials to the next 1 will get this generation of product over the hump.2
Time will tell how that works out for them. Not sure I like their chances.
- Just like a new generation of phones coming with a slightly higher screen resolution or a moderately better camera or a slightly faster processor compared to the last one. Is incremental change really going to do the trick given how far short the last generation fell, or are Samsung just hoping that most phone buyers didn’t pay attention to the technical press in relation to the epic embarrassment they delivered last time round. ↩
- Wasn’t the problem last time round less how “tough” the glass was and more that the bits of the design that needed to be flexible turned out to need to be incapable of coping with that need without seriously degrading their performance as glass to display an image on? Will it all turn out that it depends on what you mean by “tougher”? ↩
Rob Millar provides us with an excellent explanation of why the Royal Mail let the prosecution of so many postmasters happen when the organisation couldn’t believe1 that their new IT system was screwing up so badly:
[Generally speaking,…], those at the bottom of an organisation have a fairly accurate view of what’s going on. They’re close to the detail; they know whether their area of the project is on-track, and can infer from that the state of the wider project.
Those at the top, though, have no such first-hand knowledge. They rely on the bubbling-up of information from below, in the form of dashboards and status reports. But, […] those status reports tend to produce a comically optimistic view of the state of the project. Individual contributors presented a rosy picture of what they were working on to their line managers; middle managers gave good news to their bosses; and senior managers, keen to stay on the promotion track and perhaps hopeful that other parts of the project would fail before theirs, massage the truth yet again.
A couple of decades from now, is the phrase "the thermocline of truth" destined to be part of the received wisdom about how big organisations do major IT projects?
[Via Memex 1.1]
- You’d like to think that the middle managers and their superiors would be asked some hard questions about whether they were worth their salaries if they didn’t (officially) notice a problem on this scale. ↩
I continue to be fascinated at the cack-handed way Microsoft have launched the Surface Duo. I’ve just spotted Ian Betteridge’s thoughts on the Surface Duo from March 2021:
Yes, the cost here is ridiculous – £1300 at a time when the price has been reduced to $999 in the US – but I’ve always loved Microsoft’s Surface line and was curious about it. […]
Overall I think Microsoft is on to something with this form factor, but I really wish it was larger and a tablet rather than smaller and a sort-of phone. Microsoft is absolutely correct not to market this as a smartphone, because it never really feels like one — but it does feel like a tiny, interesting and highly usable mini-tablet.
I hope Microsoft will persist with the form factor, but selfishly I mostly want them to do that to plant the idea in someone in Apple’s head that they really need to sort out1 the iOS/iPadOS windowing model.
- Not that they need to be told that, I know, but it feels as if the whole “let’s fork iOS and create an iPad variant” thing has not come close to achieving what some of us iPad users were hoping for and that’s just a crying shame. ↩
[As we join the story, Mod has decided to use some of the time afforded him by the pandemic to rebuild his personal web site…] In that spirit, as I moved my homepage I also rebuilt it as a so-called static site. A simpler version that should continue to work for the next hundred years. It looks nearly the same as it did before. With static sites, we’ve come full circle, like exhausted poets who have travelled the world trying every form of poetry and realizing that the haiku is enough to see most of us through our tragedies.
As is true for most infrastructure work, these gruntish behind-the-scenes tasks are often neglected, or derided as irrelevant, underfunded, ignored. That is, until they break, or a pandemic hits, and then we realize how infrastructure is everything, and without it our world reverts to some troglodytic cave state, or perhaps worse, an ever-widening extreme of haves and have-nots. […]
I really wish I’d taken the time to dive in and restore my older content and publish it under one roof again, rather than have the content spread around various ancient archived files, generated by umpteen different Content Management Systems over the years. That was always my plan, but somehow I let myself get distracted1 and kept putting off turning my attention to personal projects like web site rebuilds.
I can’t help but wonder whether, if I had rebuilt Sore Eyes, I’d have dared to run a link checker against all the links to external sites to see what didn’t generate a 404 response code.2 I’ve been doing this since early 2000, and I suspect I’d be horrified at the number of sites that I linked to that are no longer up (or, worse yet, which are still up but have been completely repurposed so that the content I was linking to is no longer at the URL I pointed to.)
Do I really want to do that to myself, to confirm to myself how much of that linking – and the work I might have put into restoring and republishing my content – was a waste of time?
Anyway, that’s my feeble excuse for having let Sore Eyes fall apart like this. I could start work on resolving the problem tonight, but I plan to spend much of the rest of my evening finishing a rewatch of the last four episodes of the final season of Travelers.3 A better use of my time, I think…
- It’s also partly that my working week has continued to be taken up with working from home, so lockdowns 1-3 didn’t really free up any time to spend on personal projects. I know, I’m lucky to have been in a job rather than furloughed, but still… If anything, I found myself spending spare time during lockdown thinking about how to live life under lockdown, or just resorting to watching TV programmes of varying qualities to fill up free time and distract myself from my situation. ↩
- Of course, the absence of a 404 response tells me nothing about whether the content that’s present at that URL now is still the content I was pointing to at the time. I wonder whether there’s some straightforward way to have the link-checker look for the presence of whatever blockquouted content I included in my blogpost. That sounds like one of those things that should be possible, but is almost certainly beyond my coding skills to put together. (Or, alternatively, there’s an API for doing that but it’d require me to learn to use an unfamiliar language to make it work and my brain’s no longer up to it.) ↩
- A pretty decent – though by no stretch of the imagination hard-SF – tale of time travel from some of the folks who brought us the Stargate franchise. Yes, I already know it doesn’t end particularly well for our Travelers, but I’m glad they at least got to wrap up the tale rather than just have it stop in mid-story. ↩
Matt Webb is running an interesting little experiment on his site, aiming to build an awareness that someone else is reading a given page at the same time as you are) and letting readers highlight a portion of the content on that page for other readers who happen to be around at the same moment (e.g. participants in the same meeting, looking at the same document at the same time):
There’s no reason that Social Attention shouldn’t a one-liner to add to any website, or part of the browser itself. Maybe it should be part of a suite of social tools to make the web a well-lit, neighbourly place – with, naturally, good privacy-preserving fences.
That being said, I’m trying and failing to think of a circumstance where this would be useful to me. Given that the meetings I attend online generally lack an agenda or any minute-taking and mostly don’t involve everyone accessing a common document simultaneously to discuss/critique/pick apart, perhaps I’m just not the audience for this.
Doesn’t mean that the experiment isn’t worth doing.
I’m indebted to Tim Bray for the pointer to jwz’s They Live and the secret history of the Mozilla logo, which I must have read at the time but which I don’t think I posted about here:
I’m going to draw a line through 1930s agitprop, Ronald Reagan, methane-breathing zombie space aliens, the Mozilla logo, Barack Obama and the International Communist Conspiracy. It’s a long walk, so please stick with me. […]
It’s a longish read, but it’s about ancient history about important software and one of John Carpenter’s best films: how could I resist?1
- Also, a commenter pointed to a collection of essays on They Live by Jonathan Lethem that I bought sight unseen. ↩
Further to this earlier post about how Microsoft planned to have Microsoft 365 track user productivity, Microsoft issued a graceful apology, very likely delivered through gritted teeth for that feature that someone sneaked into the software they were planning on selling to businesses everywhere they could:
Jeffrey Snover, a veteran Microsoft engineer and CTO of the company’s “modern workforce transformation” unit, praised the change and thanked Wolfie Christl, the Austrian privacy activist who first raised alarm about the feature, for the feedback.
“The thing I love most about Microsoft is that when we screw up, we acknowledge the error and fix it,” Snover tweeted. “10,000 thanks to Wolfie Christl and others for the feedback which led to this change!”
Shameless. Quite shameless. Be interesting to see what portions of that functionality remain even after this.
[Via Michael Tsai]
2000 me: Wow you still work on the web, that’s amazing. It must be so easy to publish really interesting web pages.
2020 me:Technically, well, yes. Anything you could do 20 years ago, you can do today, and you can do much, much more. It’s cheaper, faster, and just all around better than it used to be. But it’s also far more complicated, and as always, it’s how people push against constraints that makes things interesting. So the overall interestingness has gone down, while the potential has increased. […]
It’s not as if View Source… has gone away, more that the size and scope of what it’ll reveal is that bit harder to unpick than it used to be.