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Apple watch – my initial reactions

I went ahead and ordered an Apple watch back in April – the 42mm stainless model with the Milanese loop band. It arrived quite a bit sooner than than I had anticipated, three days ago. I own an original Pebble, as well as an original Samsung smartwatch that we acquired for next to nothing when people didn’t buy them.

Both the Pebble and the Samsung are currently collecting dust in a drawer. Why would the Apple watch be any different?

When the watch arrived the first thing I noticed was that, as per usual, Apple is a master of packaging. While the large box felt quite wasteful, the quality of it all was clear from the beginning. The final box holding the watch is a pristine, heavy white plastic lined with a white felt. The watch itself is substantial without being too heavy, the Milanese band thin and flawless. The first, and immediately noticeable, difference between Apple’s entry into the market and the competition is that this aims to be a watch, a quality timepiece with added abilities, not a plastic wrist computer with a limited lifespan.

The weight, the craftsmanship, the beautiful fit and finish all came together to justify the purchase price just shy of $1000. It’s a beautiful, substantial bit of kit, probably the nicest Apple has ever made.

Setting the watch up didn’t take long, but was probably the most confusing experience I had so far with any Apple product. Now, given that I’ve been a Mac user since the days of the Mac Plus, my understanding of the Apple way of running a computer has long passed into muscle memory, but either I am getting old, or the process of setting the watch up, and to start using it, wasn’t as straightforward as most things Apple are.

Pairing the watch took seconds, a very cool process where a unique pattern appears on the screen of the watch that is recognized by the watch app on the iPhone via the camera. Very futuristic, seamless and cool.

But then the learning curve started, not helped by some very un_apple like hardware decisions. For example, the large button underneath the digital crown does one thing only – call up a screen from where I can either call or message a list of predefined contacts. While this is no doubt helpful, allocating a dedicated hardware button to this function feels weird.

The same thing could have been achieved in a number of different, and more elegant, ways.

The digital crown is nice, works well and is another hardware interface I rarely use. The touchscreen is fast and responsive and controls almost all aspects of the watch perfectly. In most case, the digital crown does little more than add a secondary way to control functions that can be called up perfectly well via the touch interface. It feels like Apple have lost their nerve here, trying to please everybody and predicting all eventualities.

The biggest surprise for me was how the watch has changed my use of Siri, Apple’s voice recognition solution. Before the watch, I rarely used it, but now it has become my favourite way to interact with it and, by extension, with my phone.

There’s something addicting to raising your arm and saying “Hey Siri, call my wife” or “Hey Siri, send a message to dad” and have the voice recognition do it’s job, quickly and flawlessly.

But the biggest thing about the watch isn’t in what it does, the biggest benefit is in how it does things.

After wearing it for half a day, I switched almost all notifications off. The exceptions were messages, Slack (a messaging app we use at work), Sunrise calendar and phone calls. Even here, all notifications are set to silent, haptic only.

And here’s where the watch shines, quietly.

Rather than pinging every five seconds, rather than advertising, and justifying, its presence through frantic activity, it fades into the background. But it’s the kind of background where 10 minutes before my next work meeting I get a gentle tap on my wrist. Where the watch keeps track of my activity levels and, quietly, reminds me to get moving if I’ve been sitting too long or haven’t met my daily activity goal.

Messages from my wife reach me immediately, so do personal, i.e important, mentions on Slack – while at the same time filtering out any noise.

When the phone rings, I can answer or dismiss, according to need. I can even answer and say, “hey, will call you back in ten minutes” if that what the situation calls for, without getting my phone out. Those are all genuinely helpful tools, well executed.

So for me, the Apple watch succeeds not because of what it is doing, but of how it is doing things. In the background, quietly, without making a fuss. Like a watch, not a computer.

To Dodge, or not to Dodge

After my recent conversation with Andy Thomson at CanAm I went to check out autotrader.ca to see how much a Dodge Durango would set us back.

We always buy vehicles that are off lease, for cash if possible. They’re 50% cheaper than new, and just as good as new, with a full service history and typically some manufacturer’s warranty remaining. I’ve owned one brand new vehicle in my life and that was when work paid for it – even then I hated the monthly payments. It seemed a total waste of money, even though it wasn’t my money.

The three things we need in our next car are: Space for the boys, oomph to move the Airstream and a high payload so we can pack bikes or kayaks on the roof and still stay within specs. Oh, and a decent drive. I got seduced by the space and the high payload capacity of the Ford Expedition, but driving it is an insane experience. As somebody who’s used to European cars I don’t understand how people put up with the wallowing, wandering, can’t-even-drive-in-a-straight-line-at-speed driving these body on frame vehicles deliver. The Ford was out.

The car that included all of our mandatories was the Mercedes GL class, but we had a couple of concerns. First, there’s the price, both for purchase and for servicing and repairs. I’ve owned three Mercs in my life, two classic models and one recent B-class. Cheap, they were not.

Then, there is the question of parts availability. The plan is to take time off work in a couple of years and drive across the continent for a summer. Should anything go wrong in rural Manitoba, a Mercedes isn’t the best car to be in. Parts and repair would be difficult.

So when Andy recommended the Dodge Durango, I was all ears. The Dodge and the Mercedes share the same platform, a hangover from the days when GM and Mercedes were, briefly, one company. As a result, the Dodge is pretty much a GL class Merc, but at a fraction of the cost.

There’s one big drawback however and that’s the choice of engines. The Dodge doesn’t have access to the wonderful Mercedes BlueTEC diesel power plant, which is both fuel efficient and gutsy, with oodles of torque. However, given that we don’t actually drive much most of the time, I am ok with not worrying too much about fuel efficiency. The eight cylinder hemi engine in the Dodge delivers all the grunt we could ever want to move our trailer. An added benefit is that few people want the big engine, making the car even more affordable. Andy’s take was that dealers “can’t give them away” and prices I’ve seen so far seem to corroborate that opinion.

So, if you’re interested in buying a gently used Honda Odyssey with less than 70K km on the clock annd a CanAm reinforced hitch with a Prodigy II brake controller that’s all set up for towing, drop us a line. We’re planning on making the switch next spring, but could make it anytime.

Favourite photo

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Felix, coming down the slide, a split second before splashing down into a puddle, soaking his pants. Anja, just realizing what was going to happen. Sometimes you just need to be in the right place at the right time.

For those who are thinking “bad dad”, these were swimming trunks and we had towels and a change of clothing with us.

Canada Day

After all the fun we had at Dufferin Grove last weekend, we decided to spend our Canada Day morning there as well. The second we left the house it started raining hard for ten minutes, but we decided to go on anyway.

In the end we were glad we did, as it cleared up into a bright and sunny day almost immediately. We bumped into old neighbours from Shirley Street days, we had coffee and an impromptu picnic and all the boys got suitably wet and tired.

I am having a lot of fun shooting with the GoPro Hero Three+. Out of the camera the images are a little washed out and pale, but that’s nothing a little time in Aperture and some adjustment using the Nik Collection couldn’t fix.

At the Dufferin Grove Playground

Today we spent a happy, muddy morning at the Dufferin Grove Adventure Playground. Water, sand, wood and shovels. Tasty hot dogs and macaroni cheese from a little volunteer manned cafe. It doesn’t get much better, especially in the middle of the city.

I took our waterproof GoPro Hero with me, so we could grab some pictures without worrying about a camera getting wet and muddy.

My new pocket camera – a Sony RX-100

I used to carry a Ricoh GR Digital II as a pocket and street photography camera. While it was a great camera when it came out, with a number of features specifically tailored for the street and architectural photographer, by today’s standards it is getting slow. Low light especially is a challenge for this little camera.

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Shots taken with the Ricoh.

Enter the replacement: A Sony RX-100. So far, I am extremely impressed. Flawless RAW shooting, beautiful F1.8 Zeiss lens, a huge sensor (for a pocket camera, near micro 4/3s territory), this small camera gives low end DSLRs a run for the money. As far as size is concerned, it pretty much matches the Ricoh. Both are small enough to slip in the front pocket of a pair of jeans.

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I considered selling the Ricoh, but in the end I decided to keep using it. It offers a number of features I really like that haven’t ever been matched by any other camera: Snap Focus, which is essentially a focus preset with no discernable shutter lag, the ability to switch off the viewfinder screen completely, allowing for total stealth shooting, screen can be set to preview in b/w and my absolute favourite: a square preset, my favourite shooting format.

Why I stopped buying ebooks

I jumped on the ebook bandwagon as an early adopter. I owned an early Sony reader, with a dreadful store, especially up here in Canada. I owned a Kindle and I used various readers on my iPad. I loved the portability, the convenience, the instant gratification. I told all of my friends that paper was dead, done and over.

But recently a funny thing happened. During the last year, I found myself buying fewer and fewer ebooks and returning to good old paper instead. Rather than browsing amazon, I am visiting book stores. It started as a health concern, when I learned about the correlation between evening screen time and interrupted sleep patterns. Sleep is precious to me, especially with three young children in the house. As I do a lot of my reading in the evening, this was important.

Then I read the licensing terms for ebooks and didn’t like them one bit. My paper books I own. I’ve got the right of first sale. I can legally lend them to a friend, sell them on if I feel like it. With ebooks, I own nothing. Also, short of breaking into my house, amazon will have a hard time removing books from my shelves, the way they have done from people’s kindle accounts.

But the thing that clinched the change back to paper for me was that I remembered how much I like to be surrounded by books, real books.

I like browsing a well stocked library and picking out a book for the evening. I like the smell of books, the feel of paper. I like that paper books don’t need to be recharged, they don’t go down when the power does. I like that real books age. I like that fact that ink on paper will still be around and relevant when today’s ebook standards will long be forgotten. I like that my children’s children will be able to read my books the way I read my grandfather’s books.

I still think there’s a place for ebooks. The convenience can’t be beat, especially when travelling. I still don’t understand why paper books don’t come with download codes the way music on vinyl does these days. I’d happily pay an extra dollar or two for the privilege.

But there is a pleasure in the analogue that the virtual has a hard time matching. So please excuse my while I put my iPad down, put a vinyl record on my vintage turntable and go read a good book.

Google Sketchup

Google Sketchup is a 3D modelling program. It’s awesome.

I’ve started using it at work, to show clients what their booths at trade shows will look like, and at home, to plan out the Airstream reno.

It’s amazingly powerful, it’s easy to use and it’s free. What more can you ask for.

Should I buy a Blomberg Appliance?

If you’ve perhaps typed the above into google and as a result ended up here, and if you’re looking for more information on Blomberg appliances and if you might have chatted with a sales person who gave you the German Quality spiel and if you might still be a trifle undecided:

Don’t do it.

We got talked into buying a Blomberg Dishwasher and a Blomberg fridge and have regretted both purchases. The dishwasher is four years old and finally gave up the ghost for good. In these four years our kitchen got flooded twice, for reasons unknown, the cleaning has gotten progressively worse and worse, bits fell off the baskets, the seal deteriorated, etc, etc.

Yesterday, finally, the control panel stopped working, giving us an excuse to send it to the Big Heap of Garbage in the sky, where it belongs.

The fridge is still working but produces the most amazing amount of condensation, meaning water collects at the bottom and stuff freezes to the back of the fridge.

So, if you’re asking me, no I will never buy anything made by Blomberg, ever again.