Meteor impact

Summer tends to be a somewhat slower time for work in Ottawa, which is when I usually find more time to spend abstractly learning, thinking, & tinkering.  Lately, in regards to programming, I’ve been spending some time with Xcode and Meteor.js.

Xcode has so far been relatively east to get my head around, thanks to its MVC & other patterns I’m familiar with. Meteor on the other hand, while using familiar languages (JavaScript, CSS, HTML), has several “new” patterns (to me at least) that are really very interesting.

I’m a deeply visual thinker. I’ve found that the most effective way for me to understand and integrate new knowledge is to develop a visual-model analogy. It’s why I work with a sketchbook next to me at all times. This also means I seek out what Bret Victor calls “Seeing Tools”. Xcode’s upcoming Swift Playgrounds is what finally pushed me to get started; the idea of a seeing tool to scrub through code in real time is a dream come true. But Xcode still has a HUGE delay between having an idea for a program, and being able to distribute it.

Meteor on the other hand is sort of the opposite. There is almost no delay between an idea and a live program anyone can use; the meteor idea-develop-test-deploy process is really really fast. Conversely, so much of what makes Meteor development so fast is a “magic box” that you don’t see. But I find the instantaneous update of Meteor apps as you develop provides enough seeing for me to quickly tinker through to understanding. Plus I’m using the excellent Discover Meteor book to guide me.

My New Favourite Pen

I’ve been a huge fan of Pilot pens for as long as I can remember, particularly their Hi-Tecpoint V5. I’ve gone through hundreds of these. But recently I made a trip to refill my supplies of V5s, and discovered Pilot’s Frixion line of pens. Besides their silly MBA-speak name, they are awesome.

I’ve fallen for these Frixion Point pens, hard. They are as great to draw and write with as the legendary V5s, but have a new killer feature; erasability. My first thought was “yeah right, that’s gotta suck”. Nope.

They use an ink that turns transparent via friction. This makes it seem almost magical in practice. I still use pencils a lot, especially when starting to draw, when I’m still not quite sure where I’m going and erase to focus my effort. But even with the best erasers it tends to get messy as pencil lines & eraser abraded each other away, which doesn’t help with focus at all. The Frixion pens erase cleanly, the eraser does not abrade at all, and it works with the lightest touch.

Now I jump right onto a blank page with my Frixion pens, having confidence that I can adjust as I go even more effectively than with pencil. The only change I’ve had to make is around how much pressure I’m using. Any small-point instrument can easily emboss the paper as it lays down ink, and these little ruts will remain even though the Frixion ink erases so well. But it’s been easy to use a lighter touch since these pens come loaded with silky-smooth gel ink.

UPDATE #1 (May 31 2014) – Just another reason to not push too hard with these Frixion pens. I was wondering why the black lines I was laying down were not quite as black as I’d expected. Tuns out I was drawing with enough pressure to both lay down a line, and partially erase it at the same time. A lighter touch delivers the deep black I expect, but maintaining a light touch might take some getting used to when writing/drawing quickly.

UPDATE #2 (July 21 2014) – I discovered another quirk with these pens; the erasing action is caused by the heat generated by friction. This is important because if you leave your frixion-ink filled black-covered sketchbook in the sun too long the first few pages will erase! Do not store your Frixion-pen creations anywhere they might be exposed to medium-to-high heat, like a shelf that gets exposed to a lot of direct sunlight.

Wearables Today

Remember the MPMan? It was one of the first MP3 players.  It blazed trails, but in hindsight it really wasn’t all that good.


I think this is about where we are with wearables today. Fitbit, GalaxyGear, Pebble; there’s a lot of great design that’s gone into some of these products, but they’ll soon all seem as dorky as the MPMan does today.

When I was a kid MIDI greeting cards were state-of-the-art. Now dancing & singing cards are filling that space. Soon, $8 birthday cards will have Pebble-class guts.

20 years from now we will be able to carpet every square meter of a city with iPad-class, solar-powered, networked sensors & computation for less than we pay to clean up gum litter today.

“Spring” starts today.

This winter has seemed particularly bitter in Ottawa this year. But when you map last March’s temperatures with this year’s, it’s not really that different:

march-2013 vs march-2014It’s been a little colder, and maybe the interruption of  March’s warm cycle made it seem a lot worse. Those frigid night-time temps also make mornings horrible. Memories of March 2012 might also be to blame for our impatience this year. That March was  summer-like in comparison:

march-2012 vs march-2013 vs march-2014