Categories
Future

Facebook Free

Google and Facebook are not good for the planet.

It really is as simple as that. Climate Change and Surveillance Capitalism are the two most important issues of our time.

The scariest part is that a single individual can’t really do much about it. That makes it hard to effect change. In the same way that littering once won’t destroy the ocean, scrolling your instagram feed doesn’t have any real effect on its own.

But I don’t want my kids to reside in a world destroyed by pollution, or have to sneak around in an Orwellian nightmare. I figure that if we can all pitch-in for a Plastic-Free July, then we can do the same for a Facebook-Free August.

Here’s how I removed the ever-watching eyes of Facebook and Google from my life:

Phone: I use an iPhone. Apple have a strong track record on privacy, built-in hardware encryption, and incentives aligned with keeping your data private. Android captures every little detail about your life and send it to be processed and stored indefinitely in the cloud.

Browser: I prefer Safari, but many also like Firefox. Since I’m on Mac, Safari has some great native features which I find it hard to live without.

Search: DuckDuckGo is an easy winner here. No search saving. No hidden trackers. No filter-bubble. On your phone, just go to Settings > Safari > Search Engine > DuckDuckGo, and you’re done.

Email: I use FastMail, but many also like ProtonMail. These are paid services, but then, so are reusable shopping bags. Gmail reads your emails and uses them to influence what you see online.

Social Groups: I’ve been Facebook free for a long time, and I don’t miss it. When more people are willing to be a squeaky wheel when it comes to Facebook’s “groups” feature, we’ll see alternatives become more mainstream. You can use Reddit for news and advice on specific topics. Discord is another great alternative, for communities with real-time chat.

Social Sharing: Again, this is something you can probably live without. Send photos directly to family members in an email, blog post, or iMessage. For sharing great photography, try VSCO. For beautiful video, try Vimeo. Or for inspiring digital art and design, I love Dribbble. For longer form content, create a self-hosted WordPress blog (I love Flywheel for this).

Video: There aren’t any great alternatives to YouTube. My solution was to repurpose the time I would have spent consuming video content, and use that time to be creative, instead. If you absolutely can’t live without YouTube, you can always visit it anonymously (no account needed to watch videos), and use your browser bookmarks to save your favourite channels.

Chat: iMessage is great for those with iPhones. Outside of that, consider starting a Slack or Discord for your friends – my friends have a Slack with channels for our favourite topics like VR, robotics, books, and lego.

Calendar, Contacts, Notes: I love Apple’s Calendar, Contacts, and Notes apps, with (encrypted) iCloud syncing.

Maps: Google Maps isn’t as far ahead of Apple Maps as it used to be. I’ve been using Apple Maps as my daily driver for years with barely a hitch. The Israeli startup Waze is lots of fun, but unfortunately it’s owned by Google.

News: Reddit is good here, but not as good as a variety of reliable local news. In Australia, SBS + ABC is a good combo if you can overlook a bias to the left.

Docs: Leaving Google Docs was the last and hardest step for me. Thankfully, I found Quip – which has great collaboration features, which is most of what I’m looking for. I’ve also used Apple’s Pages / Keynote / Numbers trio which have a collaborative editing feature – even in browser!

Cloud Storage: I bought a NAS, and I sync my important files to it using Synology’s CloudStation Drive app. This way, all my data is stored locally, but accessible from anywhere in the world. It’s an expensive alternative to Cloud Storage, but when you have as many photos as we do, it actually works out cheaper after about 2 years. iCloud Drive is another great option.

Video Chat: For 1:1 calls, I always prefer FaceTime if possible. Zoom is also fantastic.


Bonus: Here are some other tools I use to keep me safe and private online:

Ads: I block ads and trackers using 1Blocker (on both Mac and iOS). This only works with Safari, but it’s super-fast, efficient, and effective.

DNS: In Australia, ISP’s store all of your DNS queries, so it’s important to switch your ISP from the default. Cloudflare offer a much faster, private, and free alternative, which is so easy to setup that everyone should be using it.

VPN: I found a good deal with NordVPN, and quite like their software for Mac. Many also like ProtonVPN, which would be a great combo with a ProtonMail account.

Categories
Measure

2018 Film & TV Roundup

This year I saw 73 movies (down from 111 in 2017), and 25 full seasons of television (up from 18 in 2017).

Interestingly, the quality of the movies I watched was nearly identical between years. My average review score increased from 73% to 75%.

Top 5 Films of 2018

These are movies I watched, but weren’t necessarily released, in 2018.

5. Avengers: Infinity War (2018)

I went into this movie without having seen any trailers, and not knowing that it was the first of two parts. Besides the stunning visual effects, I left the theatre shocked at how it ended! It wasn’t until a few hours later that I realised there would be a “resolution” to follow-up in 2019.

4. Call Me By Your Name (2017)

A touching film about an Italian Jewish family, and a coming-of-age romance. This was the first full film I experienced in a virtual theatre, through Bigscreen.

3. Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse (2018)

I’ve avoided Spider-Man movies, because they’re generally poorly reviewed, and I know that if I watch one, I’ll have to watch them all. It took a while for my eyes to become accustomed to the 12 FPS animation style, but once they did, this film was sensational. I can’t wait for Talia to see it, because I think she’d just love the art-style.

2. Francs Ha (2012)

Talia and I watched all of Noah Baumbach’s films this year (in chronological order), and Frances Ha is my favourite of the lot. Greta Gerwig will always be Frances to me. If you haven’t seen it yet, please add this one to your much watch list (great for a date night!).

1. 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968)

2018 was the 50th year anniversary of the Stanley Kubrick’s pièce de résistance. This is the greatest film ever made, by the greatest filmmaker to have ever lived. I saw this movie twice this year: once on an old 70mm reel full of dust and scratches, and once on Christopher Nolan’s remastered 70mm film.

I also got to meet Keir Dullea and Gary Lockwood (the astronauts Dr. Dave Bowman and Dr. Frank Poole) in person, and got their autograph on a limited edition 2001 art print.

Top 5 Television Seasons of 2018

5. Legion (Season 1)

You wouldn’t know that this mind-bending sci-fi / thriller / horror series is set in the X-Men universe. It is bizarre, hilarious, and sometimes even scary. The best part is Jemaine Clement as Oliver Bird (Jemaine usually is the best part, isn’t he?), who brings a little levity to an otherwise serious endeavour.

4. Black Mirror (Season 4)

Who could forget the USS Callister – my favourite episode of any TV series I saw this year. This season was consistently dystopian and harrowing, which is what I love about Black Mirror. The bonus Black Museum episode was a nice touch, too.

3. The Expanse (Season 3)

The best sci-fi on TV right now. I’m a huge fan of James S.A. Corey’s The Expanse book series, and delighted to see such a great adaption for the screen. Shockingly, Syfy announced it would not renew The Expanse for a fourth season! Fans (including me) petitioned on-demand services, and in the end, Amazon picked the series up for additional seasons.

2. Star-Trek Discovery (Season 1)

Whether you’re a Trekkie (like me) or not (like Talia), Discovery is a great, modern take on Star Trek, which stays true to the original vision of progressive positivity. I couldn’t have hoped for a better start to a contemporary refresh (visual style, not story) on Trek.

1. The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel (Season 2)

Is this the only non-sci-fi title in my top 5? I guess so! If you haven’t seen it yet, this Amy Sherman-Palladino series is just hilarious, though it’s not that same brand of slapstick comedy as Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or The Office. Think Gilmore Girls, but Rory is Jewish and grows up to be a comedienne.

Categories
Work

Block Lab!

I’m super excited to announce the launch of a project I’ve been working on for a while now…

It’s live!

This has been a labour of love since July. I first had the idea during WordCamp Sydney – I was taking questions after my talk on Gutenberg, and somebody asked whether there was an easy way to build Gutenberg blocks.

The short answer is no. Building custom blocks isn’t easy at all. Even seasoned WordPress developers are required to learn a whole new skillset. Imagine then, where this leaves regular site builders.

One of the plugins that inspired Block Lab is Advanced Custom Fields. ACF makes it super easy for site builders to add custom meta data to posts, making it much easier for their clients to build out content.

But WordPress is moving away from a custom fields paradigm, and toward a block based way of thinking about content. That’s where Block Lab comes in. Block Lab makes it super easy to create custom blocks, with a Gutenberg-first focus.

A custom block in the Gutenberg editor.

Block Lab is a collaboration between myself, Rob Stinson, and Rheinard Korf. Going forward we’ll even introduce you to a few other WordPress developers who are keen to get involved.

So, if you’re somebody who builds sites for a living, take a look at how Block Lab can help you build better.

Categories
Future Immerse Work

Joining a video chat from VR

My team at work has a weekly call, codenamed “Strategy Sync”, where we chit-chat and play a few rounds of Rocket League. This week, I joined the call from the metaverse via Bigscreen, which allowed me to beam my colleagues onto a giant screen in my virtual lounge room.

The best part was, they could see me, too! Well, my virtual avatar anyway. Here’s how I set it up.

What you’ll need

How to use Bigscreen camera as a webcam

  1. Install OBS Studio and OBS-VirtualCam
  2. Launch Bigscreen
  3. In the Bigscreen menu, select Tools > Camera > Capture Mode
  4. Launch OBS Studio, and select Tools > Virtual Cam
  5. Turn on Horizontal Flip, and press Start
  6. Launch your video chat application (I used Zoom), and select OBS as your webcam

Back in Virtual Reality, you should see your Bigscreen environment, and a selfie stick camera. This camera is now be your virtual web cam!

Categories
Future

One of my concerns about Google AMP…

The Internet should not have a consistent UX.

We should be advocating for a diverse, heterogenous web with as much gusto as we have for site performance.

The only problem is that Google’s business model works best when every website has a uniform structure.

Categories
Focus

Holding an image in your mind

Further reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.

Begin practicing visualisation meditation

Learn to focus on the patterns behind your eyes. Practice holding images there for longer periods. Meditations should last 20—30 minutes.

Introduce mantra meditation to enhance the clarity of the images. Ribbono shel olam is a Jewish mantra suggested by Rabbi Nachman. Practice until images become spectacular and vivid.

Begin conjuring images to hold in the mind’s eye. Practice holding images for longer periods, and controlling what the mind sees.

Advanced visualisation experiences

Visualising images which aren’t possible to see with physical eyes, such as the “lamp of darkness” which the Zohar speaks of, or intensified beauty of mental imagery beyond our physical perception.

Panoscopic vision, where one can visualise an object from multiple perspectives simultaneously. Ezekiel’s vision of four-faced angels who do not rotate as they move may be an example of a panoscopic experience.

Synesthesia may be induced in a higher state of consciousness. This is a mixing of the senses, where one sees sounds, hears colours, or feels scents. This may have been the experience of the people’s experience when the Ten Commandments were given. The Torah describes “All the people saw the sounds”.

Visualising nothingness. This is a phenomena less associated with transcendental meditation, and more with mindfulness meditation. It is the absence of everything, including self, and including blackness or space.

Categories
Focus

States of Consciousness

Reflections on Chapter 4 of Jewish Meditation by Aryeh Kaplan.

Meditative states are usually hard, often impossible, to describe. Language is created through shared experiences, and meditation is a purely internal experience, so it makes sense that we lack the vocabulary.

Even so, it is possible to understand varying degrees of consciousness by starting with two very familiar states: Sleep and Awake.

We can expand this further – sometimes we feel drowsy, sometimes we feel alert. So we can see that there are at least two wakeful states of being. Also, we know that there are two states of sleep: NREM (quiet sleep) and REM (active sleep). So, based on this, it’s possible to understand:

  • Active sleep state
  • Quiet sleep state
  • Awake state
  • Alert state

Now that at least 4 states of consciousness are obvious to us, it’s not impossible to imagine additional states.

I don’t think of these as a ladder, gaining higher and higher states of being. Rather, think of consciousness as a tree – we can tune in (or branch out) to being more perceptive, more focused, more creative, calmer.

It appears to me as though there are two main boughs to this tree, which I refer to as hot and cold meditative states. Being hot allows you to give your full attention to a single task, laser-focused to the exclusion of all else. Being cold allows you to clear and calm your mind, allowing positive emotions and creative solutions to surface.

I have experienced a hot meditative state many times while programming. Being “in the zone”, also referred to as achieving “flow”, is a common experience for software developers, who become hyper-focused – locked-on with the whole body and mind (often ignoring hunger, thirst, and even the need to use the bathroom).

There’s a whole subreddit (unknowingly) dedicated to being in a cold meditative state: r/showerthoughts. Often our best ideas come to us we’re relaxed, with a quiet mind, such as in the shower or drifting off to sleep.

Categories
Design Immerse

Experience Design for the Blind

When creating VR games and experiences, we should design them so that they can be used by the blind.

VR for blind people may seem counterintuitive, but if you think it through it makes a lot of sense. The thought occurred to me after visiting the Notes on Blindness VR experience, followed by something Lucas Rizzotto said on the Research VR Podcast.

I hate buttons, and I hate two-dimensional interfaces… a Like button is exactly not the way to do it.

Lucas Rizzotto

It’s often said that VR is a visual medium, but with properly implemented spacial audio, VR can be an auditory medium too. There’s no reason why someone who experiences actual reality without any visual information couldn’t do the same in a virtual environment.

Thinking about our virtual worlds in this way also helps us to imagine interaction paradigms that fit better in a 3D space. For example, if 2D menus are out – what creative possibilities exist to replace them?

Some other examples:

  • If the user has no visual information to understand their position in the world, what audio cues can I provide?
  • Maybe there should be a lake rippling to one side, and the wind rustling the leaves in the trees behind?
  • How do I represent locomotion and movement with sound?
  • Are there any sounds reflecting the players status (health, stamina, or effects)?
  • How can I precisely position an obstacle or goal with audio cues?

Of course, thinking about our virtual worlds in this way will profoundly increase immersion for everyone.

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Categories
Future

Gutenberg

The current WordPress editor is a little behind the time. It hasn’t really changed since 2009!

Thankfully, the WordPress community is working on a complete reimagining of content publishing. The Gutenberg project leap-frogs competitors like Squarespace and Medium, giving WordPress users the tools to create vibrant, modern, and engaging content experiences.

I believe Gutenberg has the power to herald in a kind of “Blogging 2.0”, as authors are inspired to build new forms of medium / long-form content, and their audience is excited about interacting with something more than a wall of text.

This is great news for the open and distributed web, which will soon have the opportunity to out-class walled-garden platforms in reader engagement.

I’ve been using the preview version of Gutenberg on this blog for around six months. Although Gutenberg is slated to be included in WordPress core by August, you can start using it today.

Categories
Future

AirPods are Normal

On this day, AirPods stopped standing out to me as ugly white ear appendages.

Today, I saw a man walking with a suit, briefcase, and wired headphones, and the wires hanging from his ears struck me as odd. 

Shortly after, I boarded a train in Sydney, where AirPod density was noticeably high. 

I love my AirPods. I’ve been using Apple products since 1993, and these are up there with the original iPod and the colourful iMac range.