Tuesday, January 21, 2020

pay by palm and the ugly mess of tap to pay

WSJ: Cash, Plastic or Hand? Amazon Envisions Paying With a Wave. Articles linking to WSJ coverage say it might be no-touch:
A patent application dated Dec. 26, 2019 from Amazon Technologies, the company’s Mumbai-based electronic manufacturing arm, for a “non-contact biometric identification system,” describes a hand scanner, which can capture images of users’ palms with wrinkles and “deeper characteristics” like veins.
It reminds me what a stupid mess the tap-to-pay rollout has been in the USA, and how it has left the door for new solutions even wider than it would be otherwise. The problem with tap Point of Sale systems is multifold:

  1. Many places don't accept tap. Or I've seen some where they have a tablet rigged up as Point of Sale device with a magnetic strip reader, and they support tap but it's a separate dongle they have to haul out.
  2. The iconography that "tap is available" is unclear, and often the "tap target zone" isn't clearly marked, and I don't think there's a single above screen/below screen standard.
  3. The UIs sometimes have a weird wait before they're ready to go... the system needs to be in a certain state to receive the tap, which is bad enough if sort of understandable, but then the UI isn't making the procedure clear for the user.
(To be fair, "3." is an issue for chipreaders and swipe systems as well... it's ridiculous how many places make the customer play the "can I do it now?" games. It's challenging because even if when the information to wait is clear on screen, no one reads screens. Maybe some kind of universal iconography, like a green/red light -- except in the shape of a tape recorder stop/go symbol so it's colorblind friendly? Ideally there might be a physical forcing function, but that might be more expensive or prone to breaking down...)

Come to think of it- I just realized I think of tap-to-pay as a virtual wallet on phone thing, but that's not the case- I guess my cards could have a little soundwave/speaker/wifi-like logo on them if they could be used, but they don't. Still - ambiguity reigns with these things.

Of course "Wave to Pay"... it reminds me of that old Hitchhilker's Guide Line where the salesman/priest/spokesman says "Now, let us all bow our heads in payment..." I love how prescient Douglas Adams was about gesture systems in general...

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

longevity vs reincarnation for our companion gadgets

Shaun McGill of the brilliant Lost in Mobile also runs Snowflakes and Shields concerning his love of wristwatches. A while back he wrote a touching story about his father's watch and I was struck by this scene:
[My father] treasured [his Bulova Accutron Snorkel 666 feet watch] a lot and I remember watching him staring at it for much longer than he needed to when he was checking the time.
More recently Shaun wrote
When I check the time on the Omega I spend a second longer than I need to because it is such a joy to look at and to wear
That was on a piece about how he was giving up the Apple Watch even though he thinks it's a brilliant device and its tracking features aided him as he lost 100 lbs.

The funny thing is, I get the that same "linger a while, thou art so fair" effect with the iPhone - even though it is not quite the same class of engineering- still black glass and silicon is a little sterile relative to moving metal - but I get this silly little frisson of delight about seeing the calendar app and todo add a structure to my life, and then I take a moment to enjoy the heft of it (especially with my large iPhone 11 Pro Max in its substantive silicone case) by flipping it over and over a few times using one hand.

In that article Shaun also writes
Can you name one tool with a practical use that could be 50 years old and yet still perform its function perfectly every day without any intervention at all? A tool with history, provenance and which only goes up in value (both emotionally and financially) the longer you wear it? A tool that becomes so familiar that it would feel like a loss to not have it attached to you. Only a watch ticks those boxes.
I tried to think of some counter-examples: a classic ink pen has the use and longevity but not quite always with you, eyeglasses can be even more fundamental to your identity (as seen by others) but don't have the longevity, a ring or necklace might have the longevity but not the engineered functionality. So watches may be it!

But swinging back to my "pocketwatch", the iPhone - and before that, the PalmPilot which gave me similar happy gadget twinges despite being less of a physically satisfying artifact (at that point the design pleasure was how so much useful structure to my life was added by what was basically a GameBoy screen and child's toy stylus) One of the reasons I had such loyalty to both lines was longevity - not of individual devices, but with synching based continuity - gadget reincarnation, so to speak... Like, my current device holds the reincarnation of all my important information - music files that dates back to me ripping old CDs for my iPod in 2004, and (manually transferred, sadly) datebook entries from the PalmPilot in the 90s. That's pretty cool!

So I'd recommend any of Shaun's sites, of course, and if you like talking about this kind of stuff - from gadget news to more thoughtful ideas about technology, I'd invite you to seek out the companion WhatsApp group Shaun runs for it...

Monday, January 13, 2020

programming since y2k...

Half funny, half serious: How is computer programming different today than 20 years ago?  I disagree with some bits like
A pixel is no longer a relevant unit of measurement.
It's relevant; just not coherent. I think "desktop will be around 800-1000px across" will be with us for a long time.

The one that also stuck out to me:
Unit testing has emerged as a hype and like every useful thing, its benefits were overestimated and it has inevitably turned into a religion.
Hmm.

Thursday, January 9, 2020

goofy little filter shortcut

I needed to add a filter to ignore null data elements in a collection I wanted to render in react:
stuff.filter(thing=>!!thing)
worked but a coworker pointed out
stuff.filter(Boolean)
read a bit cleaner. (Though now that I think about it if the collection is large is it doing too much object creation?)

Thursday, January 2, 2020

a 2020 view of js

https://2019.stateofjs.com/ - the URL is slightly confusing, since I think it is talking about a survey done during that year (but according to the Wayback machine that URL wasn't around 'til mid-December so...)

I really love the visualization at the overview page - up and down are how many folks used it, and the X-axis is the general positive sentiment about its future, so you can get a great feel for the current vibe and direction...

Sunday, December 29, 2019

19 years a blogger

Yesterday I did a reconfiguration of some of the internals of my long-running daily blog kirk.is and I wrote up the history of the site - all 19 years of it - along with a description of the changes.