iPad Pro vs MacBook

It was quite a week on the work front. Anyone would think I had planned it that way.

On Wednesday I flew to Amsterdam to be on a funding panel at Casual Connect. It was well received. I heard that one senior journalist described it as the best panel he’d ever attended. Barry O’Neill was a most excellent moderator and my co-panellists were articulate and intelligent.

By the time the panel was over, news had started to hit the wires that Double 11 had appointed me as an adviser on their board of directors. I’m taking a non-executive role, and contrary to the wild speculation, this doesn’t signal a shift in direction or focus for me. I’m still making games as my main activity, but Double 11 is a great fit for me. I get to advise them on their growth with a relatively small time commitment. The directors at Double 11 were clearly also happy with my appointment and in how positively this was received.

PlayStation Spain also announced my appointment as a strategic consultant and mentor for their PlayStation Talents initiative. Again, this is not a huge commitment for me, but it allows me to continue a great relationship with the talented team in Madrid and to mentor some up and coming teams in an increasingly important part of Europe.

On Thursday I flew to Barcelona, where I was due to give a keynote at the Caixa Forum to a delegation of investors and the established and nascent development community in the region. The presentations given by the local developers, incubated by GameBCN were highly polished, ran on time, obviously well rehearsed and delivered in perfect English. My presentation was on pitching, and the feedback after the event was spectacularly good.

It was wonderful to meet some old friends, like Tony Cabello who helped my Strategic Content project at PlayStation in its nascent stages with some genius work on Spelunky and FEZ. And it was also wonderful to meet the legend Mevlut Dinc who I’d crossed paths with as it turns out many times over the years, but never actually met. We had lunch and it was like we had known each other forever.

I had worked the entire two days on my iPad Pro, despite taking my MacBook with me. I was rather surprised at this myself, as I consider myself a laptop man, but the flexibility and stability of the iPad Pro won the day, despite the MacBook being physically smaller, and having for me at least, a better keyboard. The iPad Pro keyboard is clever, but I’m never going to get on with a fabric-like key top material given that my preferred keyboards are mechanical, with Cherry Brown switches. Still, given that I can touch type, it’s better to have any physical keyboard than none at all. I didn’t find myself using the Apple Pencil. I was travelling a lot, I was worried about losing it and there is nowhere convenient on the iPad Pro to stash it when not in use. I love the Pencil when I’m scribbling in the Notes app, but when I’m cranking and busy, it stays in the bag. The Pencil works best when I’m relaxed, at home and doing creative work or brainstorming.

I found the dual window mode on the iPad Pro especially useful when working on my presentation, as it allowed me to have my deck on the left (I had to use PowerPoint sadly, not Keynote, my favoured tool for building decks) and either MindNode or Safari on the right. Two windows is enough for me, and I appreciated the larger display of the iPad Pro compared to the MacBook.

Another reason the iPad Pro had the edge over the MacBook was the built in 4G Internet. It boggles the mind how this most essential technology for 21st century work is not yet a standard feature on a MacBook. I still find tethering slower than using a data pipe on the device itself, and of course battery life on the tethered host device always takes a hit. On that note, I kept my iPhone 6s Plus in Low Power Mode throughout my trip and really didn’t notice any reduction in usefulness.

And finally, on a plane, you can’t use a laptop during take off, but you can use an iPad, even though the iPad is bigger! So I just folded away the keyboard and carried on working.

The Apple Smart Keyboard for iPad is essentially a Smart Cover with a hump where the keyboard hides. The keys have a soft feel and small travel. The keyboard doesn’t feel a precise as the MacBook, but it’s full size and so works just fine for a touch typist. It’s pretty surprising how narrow a strip the whole origami-like contraption folds up into. I love the Logitech Ultrathin on the first Retina iPad, that was by far their best keyboard, the successor for the iPad Air was compromised in key feel, quality and travel. Both the Logitechs were superior in feel to the Smart Keyboard, but frankly, the best keyboard is the one you have with you, and despite the “Ultrathin” moniker, I was always less likely to carry those as they essentially doubled the thickness of my iPad, defeating the point of the things. So when portability and real world ergonomics is the key concern, I’ll take thinness over keyboard feel for an iPad.

The keys on the Smart Keyboard have an almost chiclet quality about them. They remind me of some of the membrane keyboard on computers in the 1980s. It simply doesn’t have the satisfying keyboard action, tactility or audio feedback of the MacBook, but it does the job and doubles as a multi-function stand too.

The only time I pulled out my MacBook was on the flight home this morning as I fired up Xcode to work on my game for a couple of hours. If there was a way I could do that on the iPad, I think the MacBook might well get short shrift, and nobody would be more surprised than me.

Focus

It’s 8:52pm. I’m in the shed with just a desk lamp and the bulbs from my DAC and headphone pre-amp adding light to that emitted by my Mac’s enormous screen.

I’m listening to Kate Bush’s “Hounds of Love” through my comfortable cans and hearing it as I’ve never heard before. Eberhard Weber’s warm, lyrical fretless provides the brown satin sheets for Bush’s haunting voice.

My keyboard is responsive and having learned the lessons of 33 years of abuse, I’m using a wrist rest to keep my RSI below the threshold of incapacitating pain.

Vapour from my electronic cigarette clouds the glow from the lamp, making my desk look like the circa 1970 refugee that it is, like some aged cop show; like The Sweeney in fact.

I’m debugging a default constructor in my C++. I have been focussed today, without anxiety. Just determined, accepting, relaxed. Even if there was noise outside, I wouldn’t hear it. I have none of the tension I used to have, in anticipation of yet another London assault on the peace I’d build, minute by minute, precariously, like some greased house of rice paper cards.

This is the focus I prepared for all my life. There is nothing like it. There is no thing without it.

Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. I will be working. There will be progress. There will be creation. There will be peace. May peace be upon you.

Living the Dream

I love rising at 5am.

I used to rise late and spend the rest of the day chasing all the things I knew I had to do and never quite doing the things that mattered. Rising at 5 gives you clarity. Almost nobody is awake. Almost nobody is on social media. You have as close to a clean slate as you’re ever going to get. You can shape your day, and your life is shaped by shaped days.

I used to enjoy working late at night, but the downside is that before long, you feel tired and that fatigue seeps silently into your work.

A few hours after I woke and after I had got my highest value activities out of the way, I went out for a ride on my single speed Cannondale Bad Boy, a matt black bike that I hadn’t ridden for years out of fear that in London, like the seven bicycles I had owned before, it would be stolen. I don’t live in London anymore, and I’m still getting used to the idea that not only are you unlikely to have your bike stolen, you’re also unlikely to get crushed under the wheels of a lorry.

I got to snatch a few breaks with my family too. A few weeks ago, this would have been a highly improbable pleasure. It doesn’t take much time to keep engaged with your family, but it does take frequency. Like establishing flow in coding, or writing, or public speaking, quality increases with frequency.

I’ve started to set up a Synology, set up SSH access to bitbucket for my repos, made my code better, had a TV programme from the early 1970s on in the background, vaped at my desk, had an ice cold shower in the middle of the day (this helps with mood and alertness, the former has been established in studies, the latter is obvious, especially when it’s cold out!), had some accounting training, spoken to an old friend about business in Japan for developers, done some research and study and much more. This list would have been unthinkable within an office environment.

I miss my team and my colleagues from PlayStation, but I did what I did because of all of the above. There is enormous responsibility in such freedom, and I take that all very seriously — but not that seriously; fear is a potent anaesthetic.

I love getting up early and I love seizing the day and filling it with creativity and joy. I’m blessed to have this opportunity and I hope that from this wellspring will come good things, insha’Allah


Always Believe In

“Nothing left to make me feel small
Luck has left me standing so tall”

Name that song. And if you don’t know it, first hand, as if it was being sung right in your teenage face, just for you and only you, you can’t know the joy I feel being able to unselfconsciously blast this into my untethered headphones as I am carried home on the jammed A40 feeling the wistful pangs of love for a city I loved so differently as a child.

If I were ever to karaoke, it would be to this. All gay abandon and an infinitely unfettered trail of carefree consequences.

“Always believe in”

Woodshed

I think I need a break. I don’t mean a holiday. I mean a break. Doing something radically different. Not as long as a sabbatical, but not as short as a fortnight in the sun. A boot camp for a physical and mental skill in a totally unfamiliar environment.

Like a rock tour after a fortnight of woodshedding, something like that. Ever get that feeling?

The Box

I was never any good at thinking outside the box, but that didn’t bother me because there is so much stuff inside the box that I find interesting and that plenty of other people can’t be bothered with. That said, I think it’s time I changed the shape of the box.

Please Charge Me More!

My daughter recently bought some balloons and got them filled with helium from a local shop. Before the day was done, they’d already started dropping. By the next morning, they were on the floor. In years gone by, helium filled balloons would stay up for a few days. Now I’m not saying that the helium the shop supplied was laced with a cheaper gas, like air for example, but it wouldn’t surprise me.

I don’t mind being charged more for a product or a service, so long as that product or service is not adulterated in any way.

Take the transport network in London. All things considered, it’s just so much better than it was when I was growing up that it’s almost crazy to make any kind of comparison. From being able to track the times of trains and buses in real time to knowing that most of the time, you will not have to wait forever for a bus (though it might sometimes feel like that); from greatly improved wheelchair access to stations to having any access at all for wheelchairs and large buggies on buses, things are just considerably better. Whilst I moan at the increases, this is more an issue of wages not keeping up with rising costs than anything. The service has not been adulterated while the prices continue to rise.

In another case, take specialist hardware. The cost of production goes down over the lifecycle of a product and sometimes the shell will be replaced with something of cheaper quality. I don’t mind this as much because in general, the prices also come down, reliability goes up and the core functionality of the product has not been compromised.

Crisps however, are a case in point. No, it’s not just because I’m bigger. You get fewer crisps in number along with a corresponding reduction in weight, but the prices continue to go up. I’m not a crisp aficionado, but it is insulting.

It’s a far more serious problem when more important food is tainted.

We Muslims in particular should be careful about this. The Qur’an is explicit in its guidance on this matter:

“Give full measure, and be not of those who give less (than the due).”

26:181

I would always prefer to pay more than to be cheated on what I’m buying. Even if that means I have to go without.