Apple Vision Pro demo

I'm currently in Austin, Texas for MeasureCamp so when I read you could book demos (via The Sizzle, of course) I waited until it was 7 days out and booked it in. Easily done on the Apple site, though you do need to sign up for an Apple ID.

My appointment was at a swanky mall in the Austin suburbs so it was a $15 Uber ride out and the same again back to town. Waiting outside I got asked by a Jehovah if I wanted to join a bible study. I suppose if you're camped outside the Apple Temple your chances of finding an easy mark are good.

Once my turn came up, my demo guy introduced himself and of course now I can't remember his name, but he was great. He took my glasses and put them in a machine that measures them and orders the appropriate optical inserts. Apparently there's some prescriptions they can't handle, specifically if your script has a "Prism" value which I think is people with astigmatism. My bifocals were no problem.

Next we had to measure my face using an iPhone app. A bit of a delay because I'm not in the cult and they had to find an iPhone I could use. You then do a process similar to enrolling for the face unlock feature: stare at the dot and slowly move your head left, right, up and down. Repeated again and the order for your seals around your face.

A few moments delay and out comes my demo set, ready for my head, face and eyes. Served on a platter like a fancy meal.



Detailed instructions were given of how to pick it up and put it on your head: you don't want smudges on the shiny plastic I suppose and Apple probably still feels the scar tissue from the "you're holding the phone wrong" antenna attenuation disaster.

Setup and calibration

The first phase of the demo is going through some calibration and learning the gestures. Calibration involves looking at dots and doing the tap gesture, touching your forefingers to your thumb briefly somewhere in the wide field of view of the front-firing cameras. The other two gestures are scroll which is pinching your fingers together, dragging in the appropriate direction and releasing. Zoom is two-handed tap, stretch and release. All pretty easy once you get the hang of it.

Then the magic starts. There's a knob on the top-right of the goggles they call the "crown". Pressing it functions like the home button on an iPhone while turning it dials up or down how much of the outside world you see.

Immersion

For the next bit I dialed the outside world entirely out for the full immersive experience. The environment is a stunning mountainous outdoor view with water gently moving. The windows of applications are suspended in the air in the environment. I was instructed through expanding and placing windows in that environment.

This experience is pretty amazing. I could see it being super productive: distractions dialed out and you can easily have 3 or more massive, super high res screens arrayed in front of you. Brilliant. Apparently you can bring a Mac's desktop into this environment which would be pretty sweet.

Passive immersive experiences

Next up demos of the immersive experiences. 3D photos and videos as taken by the device itself, then ones taken on iPhones. They're pretty mind blowing quality. While the 3D visuals are as expected, the bit that really blew my mind was the audio. It really comes from the point it should, even as you move your head around.

Some demos of different immersive experiences. A clip from the (execrable I hear) Super Mario film, a bunch of immersive clips of scenes from nature: a women climbing a sheer cliff, people cuddling a baby rhino, baby bears walking into a stream, sharks underwater, a singer half a metre away from you singing straight to you. All amazing.

And that's it, the demo is over and I have to take the headset off. Smart business: they definitely leave you wanting more! Yours for only $3,500 (AUD5,400). Where's a black market kidney buyer when you need one?

Wrapping up

I'm no Apple fanboi: I own a Mac because I got it from my last workplace and while they're amazing hardware, I'm not a huge fan of the OS and GUI. Better than Windows and I can bend it to my workflows with some effort, but there's clunky things I dislike,

But this? This I like. It's really quite impressive. Once they get the price down, I'd consider buying one. I'd probably want to borrow or rent one for a week or so to see what the working environment is like, but I could see it being super productive. And games are gonna be _incredible_. This is a much slicker, better rounded experience than the Oculus from the House of Zuck.

Issues

I had some minor quibbles with the device, and things I think need more exploration.

  • Focus for me wasn't perfect. The edges of vision were quite fuzzy. This can probably be tuned in though.
  • It's quite heavy! They pack an incredible amount of tech into this thing so that's not surprising, but I wonder how that goes if you wear it for hours. Ditto any visual things. I'd be curious to see how long people can use it in real world usage.
  • This was a carefully curated demo. The demo guy has an iPad where he can drag you back if you try to explore on your own. I bet there's nasty rough edges, bugs and probably even straight up crashes. This is V1 of the product. Remember how crap the original iPhone was: this is better than that, but there's still going to be bad bits.


Conclusion

It's a brilliant piece of tech. Apple should be rightly proud of it. It's interesting that they're doing these demos: I feel like it'd be quite hard to get across how damn well it works in a video or other method of demonstration. And people have been burnt with similar products in the past: everyone who tried the Google Glasses was surprised to see the screen is just a tiny piece in the corner which isn't clear in the demo videos at all. This isn't like that: full immersion!

But wow it's expensive. I'm keen to see how much it comes down with V2.




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Russian Circles

Last night's gig was Russian Circles, a "post-metal" band from the US. I've followed them since the 2000s.

It was a stinking hot night: 28° and something like 90% humidity, so of course I rode my bike in. The Metro Theatre is fortunately very well air conditioned so it was lovely inside. No zero alcohol beers available so I got a glass of tonic instead.

I caught only the last few minutes of one support band, I think they were Tangled Thoughts of Leaving. Seemed quite good. Second support, Meniscus, were a bit too clever for their own good. A cacophonous wall of noisy free jazz.

Russian Circles were great. Heavy, tight and with fantastic tracks. The lighting was particular well executed with the fog combining with lights switching between rear, front and side to great effect. You'd be watching the drummer and the lights switch to behind and suddenly he appears fuzzy, from the fog, then he's clearly illuminated and it's timed with the music. Nice one.

Fun gig. It hadn't cooled down on the way home, still sticky and hot but the roads were mercifully quiet.
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Updating ContractOrPermie.com

I've been a contractor rather than permanent employee for a good chunk of my working life. I started working in the mid-1990s when the business world had been clearly demonstrating that they had no loyalty whatsoever to their staff, so I've always felt the same loyalty in return. I've always been quite mercenary about it: I do good work and act responsibly in my employers' interest no matter how they employ me.

For a long time I used a spreadsheet to be able to convert between the daily rate recruiters would quote and the equivalent annual salary, factoring in the days you don't get paid as a contract: annual leave, sick pay and public holidays. Superannuation is also taken out of your day rate, so that's factored in too.

After being asked multiple times for copies of my spreadsheet and wanting to learn a new web framework, back in 2013 I created a little single-page app for the job, Contract or Permie? All zippy responsive design that resizes nicely on phones and everything!


Fast forward many years and I'm always bumping into fellow contractors and discovering they use it. I've let the thing languish a bit over the years. It still uses quite clunky code, was hosted from an S3 bucket without TLS so was insecure and had old, no longer working, Google Analytics tagging hardcoded in it. Some of the assumptions, particularly the mandatory superannuation rate, were outdated too.

I got a patch from Andrew Punch in December last year fixing a couple of these problems and I've just merged them in. Given I've accepted an external contribution, meaning someone else had to wade through my clunky code, I figure I should open source the damn thing and make the code public, so here it us.

While in there, I also tweaked a few things. It's not a secure site with support for HTTP/3 (thanks to Fastly making that super easy).

Future plans: I might rewrite the whole thing in a new, modern framework. Open to suggestions! While I'm in there I'll re-implement tagging using WalkerOS as I've been keen to play with it since meeting Alexander in Copenhagen last year and having a long conversation about it. Maybe even get super modern and do some automated tests, automated deployment?
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Pizza Death at The Burdekin

Quite the change of pace from Kristen Hersh the night before: three death metal bands over three hours. Pizza Death have a solid gimmick, fun banter and silly songs. Supports Head In A Jar and Carnal Viscera had better music and still solid bantz. Loads of fun!

It took me a while to get with the mosh vibe but great energy, silly music, lovely crowd. Lots of fun!

Pizza for dinner, of course.
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Kristen Hersh at The Vanguard






Last Friday night we got to see Kristen Hersh of Throwing Muses perform her solo work at The Vanguard in Newtown. I haven't been to this venue since the 1990s when it was "Top Gun".

Hersh was incredible. Her voice is so distinctive, ranging from gentle singing to a gravelly growl and everything in between. The sounds she gets from her acoustic guitar, the range of textures and tempos: she's a master at work. Absolutely incredible. Also really funny banter in between songs.


Quick dinner before the gig was Pappa's Stew Chilli Cuisine, a Hunanese place. We had a big hotpot that was rich, spicy and amazing. Alongside it we had what could be described as spicy spag bol: fat round noodles with a topping of spicy pork mince, kind of a Biang Biang type of thing.
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Cook tech: Eat Your Books

I love to cook and so I have a lot of cookbooks.


This brings about a problem. Much as I love leafing through cookbooks, sometimes you need to work out what to cook more quickly. And I'm often trying to work out what to cook with a particular ingredient we have in abundance.

I actually set myself the task of building a combined recipe index for all my cookbooks. Manually typing in every recipe and the key ingredients. Then as I looked around to see if any tools existed for this kind of thing, I stumbled upon Eat Your Books, a site that already has all the hard work done for you.

You register all your cookbooks and then you can search through all of them by ingredient or recipe name. For example, I just searched for dessert recipes with apples, cos we have a bunch right now.


For some recipes it even includes the page numbers and photos of the result. So fast and means instead of flipping, you have a shortlist of books to pull down.

I'm cooking the Spiced apple cake from Ottolenghi Simple tonight. Perfect for what I want after tonight's roast lamb.

Update: here's the cake. It was delicious.

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GoGo Penguin at City Recital Hall

Last night I finally got to see GoGo Penguin, a band from Manchester I've been following for 10 years. I've been hanging out to see them live the whole time. I love their music.




I dragged along my mate Gab who's more of a jazz head than me, particularly keen on the freer end of jazz and a bunch of the 70s smoother stuff. He was commenting that there were periods when the music seemed to be repeating without someone taking the lead.

Our conclusion is that this is techno music played on jazz instrumentation, not a more jazz sensibility. There were solos but the structure of the songs is much more like techno: big build up of tension followed by dramatic release ("the drop") with all the instruments working together to that end.


A number of the tracks incorporate complicated polyrhythms with Chris Illingworth playing two and sometimes (with delays and loops) three parts while Nick Blacka shreds like his life depends on it with the double bass. Incredible complexity and discipline.

Check out some videos of this band. They're awesome.

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Los Bitchos + These New South Whales

Last week Sydney hosted the first edition of South by Southwest located outside of Austin. Sounds like it was somewhat successful but I think it takes a while for people to understand what it was. I've heard stories of empty gigs and packed gigs, plus a lot of tickets and wristbands being given away.

I didn't manage to make it to anything until Saturday night. Life has been busy. Though given the vibe I saw, if they run it again I'd be tempted to get work to buy me the tech pass and buy myself a music pass then spend the evenings at gigs. A week of wall-to-wall gigs sounds great!

Los Bitchos
Saturday night there was a free event at The Factory in Marrickville, just around the corner from our place. Better yet it featured Los Bitchos, who I watched on the BBC coverage of this year's Glastonbury. How to describe their sound? Latin-afro inspired psych-surf fuzz? Or put more simply, the perfect sunny Glastonbury afternoon set when you've just picked up your first scrumpy and the hash cookie is starting to kick in.

Their set was awesome. Clearly these women love playing their music. The lead guitarist, Serra Petale the Aussie in the band, has the most intense facial expressions as she shreds. Totally lost in the music. Love it!

These New South Whales
My mate Michael suggested we head upstairs to see this local punk band I've barely ever heard of. There was a strong crowd of clearly die-hard fans. They had great energy but the sound in the room wasn't brilliant. I think I'd like to see them play their own set so I'll keep an eye out.


Coming up
This Thursday we're off to see GoGo Penguin and I am SUPER excited about that gig!


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Bushfire excitement

Last week we planned to travel down to our friends' property on the Far South Coast of NSW. It's a beautiful spot right on the coast with two beaches on the property and not far from the little town I grew up in.

The trip down was uneventful. Six hours of driving but the kids and dog were great and we made it there. This is the first time we've taken the dog here, under strict instructions to keep her under control to protect wildlife and stock on the farm.

Foxie loved running around on the beaches, hanging out. She really got settled in.

It's such a stunning spot. Our happy place.

Then on day 1.5, Tuesday, one of the kids spotted smoke on the horizon. This was a weird day for weather in early October: 33 degrees with a very hot wind. Earlier in the day we'd been at one of the beaches glad to be wearing wetsuits in the ice cold water, then the wind changed and we were blasted with a wind that felt like it was an open oven. Bad news for fires.


Popping down to the beach where we can get (slow) mobile reception, it looked like there was a fire up the road. Growing fast.


It was decided we'd head to the house on the farm with its satelite internet, television and power so we could keep an eye on it. We packed our dinner and planned to settle down to ride it out.

As we drove around the corner to the house, the alarm sound came on ABC South East with the news that for those up the road from us, Cuttagee and Barraga Bay, it was now too late to leave with the massive fire front bearing down on them. So we decided instead of waiting it out in the house we'd bug out to Tathra.

As we left the fire got scarier and scarier looking in the distance. With this kind of weather—especially that hot, dry wind—fires can move with insane speed and this one was evidently a big one.


We got to Tathra and it turned out in just a few hours the fire burnt through 5,000 hectares of bush and was wildly out of control. Bugging out was definitely the right move. We would have been safe and even if the worst had happened we could have popped down to the beach and been okay, but the stress of that would've been immense.


We spent a couple of nights down at a caravan park in Tathra. Had to get some emergency prescriptions for medication we'd left behind, bought some cheap clothes since we only had what we'd left wearing. We didn't even have our wallets: not something you need on a farm. Thankfully mobile payments!


This is going to be a rough Summer in Australia. After two days of huge rains, there's a lot of plant growth and we're going into an El Nino cycle which means low rainfall, high temperatures.

Lesson: always have a plan for a bug out bag and the moment anything looks iffy with what you need for a few days. Just shove it all in a pile ready to grab and go. Leaving was definitely the right decision.

We haven't had much luck with holidays this year. Our Bali holiday earlier this year saw us all get Bali Belly and spend much of the trip feeling miserable. We might have to plan a very low key holiday to get some actual downtime! This truncated holiday didn't feel particularly restful.
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