RW237 - Dreamscape

This week, Dan and John talk about:

The show title refers to the movie Dreamscape that was a bit like Inception that John confused Minority Report with.

Raw notes
The segments below are raw notes that have not been edited for language, structure, references, or readability. Please do not quote these texts directly without applying your own editing first! These notes were not planned to be released in this form, but time constraints have caused a shift in priorities and have delayed editing draft-quality versions to a later point.

The 2021 MacBook Pro announcement, getting rid of the Touchbar (RW237)

Dan’s computer rebooted itself. The best kind of problems are the ones that resolve themselves all by themselves. John doesn’t like to cross the brain-Mac threshold very often, but he asks Dan if he watched the Mac announcement, and he did, but he did not feel any emotion about it whatsoever, which is very on brand for him, but he felt even less than he does normally. The new Macs are faster and they are better and they look good and they make the one that he has seem dumb and that is great because he is not in a position to buy any new Macs at all. He got a Mac Mini M1 a number of months ago to replace a much older, decrepit desktop type situation and that thing has been wonderful for all the stuff that he does and it wasn’t expensive and he connected it to the old screen and the old keyboard and the old mouse and everything is great.

Apple continues to recover from a series of significant mistakes and bad judgments and bad decisions. The current blunder that they are walking back now is the way that they completely screwed up tabs in Safari to the point where Dan had to switch browsers and he is using the Brave browser now, which is based on Chrome, but without all the spyware that Google has built in and better adblocking. Apparently on his birthday as a birthday gift they are giving him the new version of macOS, which is supposed to have walked that back.

But the biggest hardware blunder is the Touchbar that nobody wanted and nobody asked for. The person who created the Touchbar is a listener and Dan doesn’t want to offend them or hurt their feelings, but the Touchbar is probably the worst idea in computing in the last two decades. It is completely flawed! The whole idea that anyone would ever want that shows a deep failure in understanding how people use things in the world. It is so flawed at a fundamental level! They got rid of that, it is gone, and hopefully we will never see it again.

It has always fascinated John, the culture that he moonwalked into with Dan and Merlin and all of the people that are teching makes (making techs, see RL25). Dan used to talk about Macintoshes all the time and they all had programs about Macs and Merlin had his MacBook Weekly, and Dan had Macintosh by the Numbers, and those were exciting times, not that John knew anything more about Macs then than he does now because he was paying even less attention then, but it seemed like those guys were fans of a big band and they kept releasing records every September and Dan and the other guys were like: ”The new record is amazing!”

John was probably sleeping the day that the Touchbar came out and he doesn’t remember anything about it until some point in time when he accidentally navigated to Mashable for a half an hour and there was something on there where they were mad and maybe he clicked through to a second article where they were mad and then maybe once he was on an airplane and he overheard somebody saying something about a Touchbar, but that is the full extent of his understanding of it. Is it like the 1980s musical instruments called the Omnichord that had a little touch bar that if you ran your finger up it made some sounds?

The idea behind the Mac Touchbar isn’t where things are flawed, but the idea should have been scrapped before they tried to implement it, let alone foist it upon their customers, and there is no redemption for the creator, who Dan knows for a fact listens to this show, in their lifetime because too much harm has been done. Dan’s understanding, and the idea does sound neat, is: If you are standing in your kitchen and you are about to prepare a 5-course meal for 40 people, and you could pick up one utensil, and as you need it, it becomes whatever utensil you need at that time.

If you have hunted a deer and you are about to process the deer meat, it is going to start out with that one little flat thin knife that you use to separate the skin from the muscle, and then, without you setting it down or picking something up, it has become a butcher knife so that you can now chop the cuts of meat and once you are done with that, without putting the thing down, it became a set of tongs that you can use to flip the meat on your grill, and without putting it down now it is a giant salad spoon so you can mix up your salad. It becomes whatever you need and then, when it is time to sit down and eat, it becomes a fork right in your hand, all at once. That is the goal of the Touchbar: depending on what you are doing, it will take on a different role. Dan continues with more examples of what it was supposed to do.

Apple is the best at designing technology in the world, and Dan as a technologist and as a pundit of the industry, how can a company like that go so wrong? John is on a daily, sometimes hourly basis interfacing with some thing in the world that people thought was the right direction, and it seems so self-evident that the thing is wrong and that they never should have done this. Who would ask for this? You would think that of all the people… You can see why Microsoft would do this all the time, because it is an ungainly and ungovernable hive of imperialists and creepy weirdos who have to get through 17 levels of key card just to get to the pop machine, Amazon even worse, there are people with lightsabers in the elevators that won’t let them tie their shoes if they don’t have the right credential, but Apple, aren’t they riding around on hoverboards? They seem like they are all wearing white robes and they should be above this kind of mistakes!

There is a weird line to draw, especially in light of the integration and support of running iOS apps on your Mac. One of the things that Microsoft has done, they didn’t do a terrible job of it, they have worked really hard to make devices, especially their Surface line of notebooks or tablets, to be a little bit of both and to blur that line between what we think of as a tablet versus a computer. It is not in the way that iPadOS does it where there is a very different mindset with iPadOS than there is with macOS. Microsoft blurred these lines and you are able to use their operating system on a tablet, while Apple has drawn this really hard line to say: ”No, we are not doing touch screens on our Macs!”

The problem is that the way Microsoft did it is a little confusing. Are you in tablet mode? Are you not in tablet mode? What can you do when you are in tablet mode versus when you are not in tablet mode? Dan has a Surface Pro and it is great, but Apple has said they were not going to have touch screens on Macs because they say it would be too confusing. But now the top of the line keyboard you can get for the iPad features a trackpad and they have actually integrated trackpad stuff into iPadOS and it works great. But back on the Mac side the answer is still no and they will absolutely not do anything with a touch screen.

In order to give their MacBooks a little bit of an edge they added what they thought was going to bridge the gap between the Mac and wanting to touch the screen, this area of the keyboard, since your fingers are already on the keyboard, that could give you a feeling of: It is not the screen that you are touching, but it is like a screen. That was the impetus for wanting to create this thing, and within those constraints it does make sense, but that implementation is not superior to what they took away to give us that. If they had put a Touchbar on top of the buttons people would have complained that now the keyboard is too small or now the computer is too long or whatever, but they took something away and gave us something back that wasn’t as good, and that was their mistake.

Everyone who works for Apple always talks about how separated their group is from all of the other groups within Apple and apparently, unless you are at a relatively high level, 95% of people at Apple truly don’t know what the other groups are doing. Dan has a friend who was relatively high up on the Apple Podcasts side of the business, and he has often told Dan that he knew everything that was going on in Apple Podcasts, but he was just as surprised as Dan was when they announced the Apple Watch or the new camera in the iPhone or the new Mac.

The people high up know what is coming, but you have to think how many people knew about it, and Dan’s understanding is that there is a separation there and not everyone working on macOS would necessarily know about these new features to support the Touchbar. It was actually a relatively small number of people who looked at that. Dan thinks that Apple should just put a touch screen on their laptops.

Macs not having touch screens (RW237)

It happens all the time to Dan that he is reading a magazine and he reaches down to zoom with his fingers on a picture, and he feels like the biggest idiot in the world. Dan is not old, but he is not a super-young guy and he has tried the progressive lenses and for whatever reason, with his prescription and his astigmatism he can never adjust them and he can’t make it work. Don’t look at him too close and scrutinize his glasses because you will see the bifocals that are almost invisible, but they are there, but sometimes that is not enough and as Merlin would say you want to embiggen something and Dan will just reach down to the magazine and try to stretch the image and it doesn’t work.

Touching the screen with your fingers and push them apart to embiggen something and push them together to squeeze something is now seemingly embedded in everything. When you put one of these pads in front of a little child, the first time they do it they instantly intuit it and then they have no problem interacting with that surface from then on, implying that this is some innate gesture, and whoever invented it was just pulling something down out of the clouds that God intended the whole time, because no child has ever taken more than one pass at this to grok it.

When the iPhone came out and they were talking about typing on it and things like that, everyone was very upset because how could a digital keyboard even get close to being as good as the BlackBerry keyboard, and T9 text recognition software? Not having physical keys was a big thing for a little while, people all talked about it, but when the iPad came out you could have ten touch points at the same time, so you could use all ten of your fingers.

The only touch screens before that were the really crappy ones on your Garmin in your car, where you could be tapping a single button, you couldn’t have multiple points of contact, you couldn’t really detect movement or anything like swiping, pinching, or zooming. It could detect that pressure was applied in this one spot of the screen and underneath that the screen was displaying a button. It was very basic stuff. Apple was taking that technology and making it something that everyone, including our kids, could instantaneously figure out right away.

John was a dedicated T9 typer, he could write multiple paragraph documents on T9 with one thumb while driving, and he would sit in airports and write long emails and he wrote magazine articles from his T9 phone, but with the initial touch screen keyboard there was being demonstrated a new way of typing where you would swoop your fingers between letters and their text recognition software was so acute that you could just swoop your finger between letters and it would get what you were going for. John was wondering if he was going to have to learn a completely new mechanics around typing, some graceful Tom Cruise in Inception, standing around swooping instead of tapping.

John is talking to Dan through the portal of his 2014 MacBook. Dan thinks now is the best time ever to upgrade because the new MacBook Pro is amazing, but times are tight and John doesn’t have money to throw into 1000 things. John agrees 100% that touch screens are here to stay until the computers become holograms and we are standing in the police station swooping our hands around.

Inception, Minority Report, Dreamscape, Marilu Henner, movies having too little imagination about the future (RW237)

John was conflating Leonardo DiCaprio in Inception and Tom Cruise in Minority Report. Inception was the one where the streets went curved up because they were inside of a dream. They have a technology in the film that allows people to enter someone else’s dream and do things in the dream and if you are good at this you can penetrate someone’s dream and you can create an idea that you plant in their mind that makes them want to do something, such as give you the codes to the millions of dollars or whatever it is that they are trying to. The act of Inception is that implantation of an idea that can potentially wreak havoc on the person’s psyche, which is why they have a little spinning top as a little device that has to operate on regular principles of physics that will tell them if they are still in someone’s dream or in the real world.

Isn’t that basically the plot of Dreamscape starring Dennis Quaid? There is a wonderful line in that. David Patrick Kelly, the guy that says ”Warriors, come out to play!” is in that movie and he is very scary. In that movie he says: ”Let go now or draw back a stump!” when Dennis Quaid has grabbed his arm or hand or something. That is a wonderful film that is underrated and Dan has not seen it in 30 years. It is probably worth a rewatch. Eddie Albert plays the President in Dreamscape.

John watched The Conversation last night, an amazing film. Dan’s first podcast he ever did was named The Conversation because of that movie. Everybody in it is: ”Wow!”, no kidding! One of the character actors in The Conversation (Frederic Forrest) that plays the guy that is having an affair with the wife of the director was in Apocalypse Now and he was married to Marilu Henner at her absolute peak in 1980-82. John celebrates her entire catalog, including all of her crazy infomercial exercise program or powdered diet or something. She went a little bit off the rails, but John was a super-fan and to find out that that character actor was married to her seemed a little bit: ”Wow, she is out of your league!”, but he was a middle aged guy and she was still in her 20s, and that was normal back then in the movies.

What is hilarious about Minority Report is that although they are swooping their hands around, they did not conceive of the cloud, because who ever think of the cloud? Information was still encoded into discs and people carried the disc from one place to another. The disk is futuristic looking, but that was the leap that Spielberg couldn’t make, they couldn’t conceive of a time when there wouldn’t be physical media.

They continue talking about how movies just extrapolate the current situation into a futuristic world without being able to predict future developments. Currently it is all about Virtual Reality, a technology that already existed in the 1990s Star Trek universe with the Holodeck. Everybody wants to know if they could go in there and have a sex party, which they could, and this was actually in an episode where Lieutenant Barkley, played by Dwight Schultz, the wonderful actor who played Murdock in the A-Team, within his own Holodeck entertainment world had members of the bridge crew acting as different characters and different period pieces, so Diana Troy was dressed as a maiden, and so on, all subservient to him, because he was dealing with his social anxiety and other issues, which clearly even in that century we had no cure for.

In another episode, Jordy, who at this point was in charge of engineering, needed to solve some problem with the engine, with the Warp core, and he recreated a lab on Earth, including the inventor of the thing that he was having to fix, and the computer was able to completely recreate her, not exactly because they messed some things up, which is the plot point later, and he and that person hit it off and fell in love inside the holiday, but when he met her in real life she wasn’t like that.

In Minority Report Spielberg might have had the imagination to go all the way to a Holodeck, but he was trying to just take the technology far enough into the future where it seems Blade Runnery, but is still a little rinky-dink. Blade Runner got telephones that have video screens, flying cars and humanoid robots, but you still are making phone calls from a pay phone? The video phone is the highest technology that Ridley Scott can think of in terms of how we communicate with each other. We have flying cars, we go to the Tannhaeuser Gate with our robots, but we are still calling each other on pay-phones.

Maybe Steven Spielberg was trying to do that! He knew that he could have gone crazy, but he was just trying to create an intermediate future where billboards are scanning our eyeballs. We have the technology to replace someone’s eyeballs with someone else’s eyeballs in a skanky flophouse environment, but we still have billboards and computer discs. It is interesting to think what mistake would we make? John would have the pressions (?) to not do a VR headset, probably.

Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses, augmented reality, SnapChat spectacles, Surrogates, Elysium (RW237)

A couple of weeks ago there was a new Google Glass (the Facebook’s Ray-Ban Stories smart glasses), the universally reviled, weird, creepy glasses that made everybody uncomfortable, but they partnered with Ray-Ban. When John was dating Millennial Girlfriend Snap released the SnapChat glasses (SnapChat Spectacles). During the first part of their relationship they were secret plan number 7000, but she was high ranking enough that she knew about it and there was a lab there off the main drag in Venice where they were beavering away at it, and then they made 1 billion of them and they had a demo pair before they were officially released to try out around the house.

John was being astonished that Snap had done such a terrible job of envisioning this thing. SnapChat’s claim to fame was these filters that made you into a Kitty cat or made you into a birdie bird, and all you wanted was to have that be real life. It is a version of a digital Furry. You are a Furry and you want to be your Furry-self all the time. It always seemed obvious that we were headed to, and we are still headed to, a world where you can devise an avatar and enough of your life is online that you are your avatar and become your avatar. You are not your dopey pimply self, but you are your Kitty cat and everybody that you know online, which is where most of your life happens, they all know you as Kitty cat.

The next iteration of that is to put on some glasses, walk out into the world, and have other people that are wearing the same glasses see you as Kitty cat in real life, and you see them as birdie bird or doggy dog in real life. It is a separate society where all the squares, all the people who are walking around without glasses don’t have an avatar life, but the people that do have avatars and are living online will actually see themselves in real time and they won’t want to take their glasses off and see their pimply friend, but they want to see Moosey Moose and have Moosey Moose interact with them.

Here was SnapChat. They had all this technology. They had these filters and they were making these glasses. What the hell else would you do? Pour all your money into it, because as soon as you made it all of your users would want it because real time still exists. The evolution is not to have Instagram where you put your pictures, the evolution is to have your pictures be reality and your filters be reality. The original vision of Google Glass was that you would look at a Downtown library and would call up all the Wikipedia entries, like ”This library was built in 1840!”, but most people don’t want that because most people aren’t walking around already wondering when the library was built, but you would have that kind of overlay. That is not virtual reality, it was augmented reality, but most of the original vision was data. You were going to see when the next bus comes.

The augmented reality of personality of avatar seemed to John like the unevolution, it is going to be partial, it is going to be gamers or TikTokers, it is not going to be olds, John’s mom doesn’t want an avatar, but SnapChat came out with these glasses and all they were were freaking cameras, and they weren’t even good cameras. They were outward facing, there was no component of looking through the glass where it either beamed something into your eyeball that gave you any information at all or really even gave you the ability of looking through the glass to see any controls. It was just an external camera and you pushed a button. The SnapChat glasses were really handsome and very attractive. John met the woman who designed them and she made them cute and cool. They just didn’t have any functionality.

Google Glass had functionality, but they were idiotic looking. They were clearly made by engineers who were men who wanted glasses to look like something that a male engineer would wear. John said at the time: Google is so stupid! Why didn’t they just partner with Ray-Ban or Bausch + Lomb, who have in their archives 50 of the coolest-looking glasses frames that have ever been made by anybody. You could just go down the list of the best Ray-Bans, and those are the coolest sunglasses. They have everything, all the best glasses.

They finally did it! Somebody, whoever just came out with these (Facebook) partnered with Ray-Ban and now you can get a pair of Wayfarers that have digital functionality. John only heard about it because he is on a text thread with a group of people that play online Poker with each other, and he is not really super-tight with them, he got added to the group, he went on there the first night and lost $200, but he can’t afford to lose $200 to those Ding Dongs and he is still on the text thread and doesn’t have any names associated with them, just phone numbers.

One of them posted some pictures that they had taken with these new glasses, and it became evident that they worked on the program because everybody else in the text-thread was like: ”Congratulations, they are amazing! We are so proud of you!”, but John didn’t care enough to go look into it and he was wondering whether we are any closer to his vision or whether the functionality of these things is: ”Your next bus is arriving!” or whether they have zero functionality at all besides being a camera. He should know more before he dives into criticizing it, but it doesn’t seem like it is sweeping the nation if Dan, chief technologist of Road Work podcast doesn’t even know about it.

The technology needs to be emotional. Who cares about the hardware? That was the thing about Minority Report. He was using those little discs to relive his past. The connection, the click, is with feelings, and the psychology of writing an entire film where people are inhabiting their avatars in real time Ready Player One style, except it is augmented, it is not a Holodeck, they are actually out riding the bus with you and looking at each other across the bus through the glasses, they can see that there are five Furries, two Jedis, and somebody cosplaying a Mailman and then there are all these grayed-out people who are just sitting there, reading The Wall Street Journal. That seems like a fun universe, although a dystopian one.

A long time ago John thought it was going to be monocles. Like when you get eye surgery they sometimes say: ”We can give you correction for up-close vision or far-away vision, or we can do one eye far away and one eye close!”, the LASIK thing, and your brain will get used to it. Your brain will start looking long distance out of the long distance eye. John’s mom had the eye surgery and she said she has never had far away vision, she always was able to read, so why don’t you give me the surgery where she has good faraway vision, and even though her closeup vision is bad now too she can just use reading glasses.

After she had it done she regretted her choice because all she wants to do is read. Who cares if she can see an eagle flying over the ocean, she can put on glasses to see that, but she wants to be able to sit and read and do up-close things without glasses. That is where glasses are a pain in the ass. It is not like long distance glasses are hard! She wished she had done it the other way, but then John heard about this one where they do one of each. It is just like getting used to bifocals: The first couple of weeks you are like: ”What am I doing? Everything is just completely whackadoodle!”, but your brain rewires.

The idea John had a long time ago was that the future would be that we all wore monocles and in the monocle eye you were online and looking at metadata, and your other eye was living in the world, and effectively it would lobotomize us so that half of our brains… you could pick which eye was the monocle eye: Did you want to have your creative life be your left hemisphere, your right hemisphere, because your brain would be wired to the eye and you would be having a completely different experience of the world and you would have a whole hemisphere of your brain devoted to it.

John did not write that down or ever publish it anywhere so that it could be a new school of thought, except for now. Now he is entering it into the record. It doesn’t seem like anybody is headed in that direction, though. They are not even giving us the avatar life we want!

There is a Bruce Willis film, not the ”Don’t talk to me about time travel!” one with Joseph Gordon Levitt called Looper, but one called Surrogates that plays in the future in a slightly dystopian world where there are a high tech surrogate phenomenon that allows people to purchase remote controlled humanoid robots through which they interact with society who ultimately assume their life roles, enabling people to experience life vicariously from the comfort and safety of their own homes. If you are rich you can get an amazing surrogate that has essentially superpowers so that you could jump 20ft in the air or run really fast.

The main character Tom played by Bruce Willis, his surrogate gets destroyed and now he has to interact with the world without a surrogate as a regular human being and the only people who are regular human beings at this point are homeless people, people who are destitute for one reason or another, who are forced to interact with the world as themselves, disgusting regular human beings. That is a little bit what John was talking about in the sense that you can have an idealized version of yourself through which you interact with the world. Dan would just wear a top hat.

The Matt Damon movie where all the poors were left on Earth and all the riches were living in a space station is called Elysium. This is a very common theme in films that the poors all get left behind and the riches go to a special place, but the special place is either a terrible place, there is always something going to happen. You can’t just have that being a status quo. The avatar problem is always going to be that you have to buy virtual coins in order to get the extra cherry on your milkshake. Nobody is going to let you just make an avatar and make it as good as you want without having money.

John playing a Balloon Pop or Bubble Shooter mobile game (RW237)

John downloaded a little app on his phone where he gets to pop balloons. It is a balloon popping game. He was playing some other game and they asked him if he wanted to play Balloon Pop, but 99% of the time he will say: ”No!” There is a whole genre of phone game where they show you a young couple or a single mom and then it starts to really fuck with these people. It is freezing cold and single mom and her baby are going to die? What are you going to do? Or there is a cute fish, but it is out of the water and there are flames. You have got to save the fish!

These games cause John tremendous anxiety. He doesn’t want to halfassed play this game while waiting for the show to start to put this single mom and her baby into a situation where they freeze to death. What kind of sociopaths are out there playing these video games where the stakes are so incredibly high? There is another genre of them where it is like: ”Oh, there is a girl and a boyfriend either shows up for a date and she looks bad and her legs are hairy, or her boyfriend has got a new girlfriend, and she has got to get dressed up in order to win him back!”, all these project makeover things.

The boys all look like total turds, but you are torturing yourself as well as this poor digital girl who is just trying to get on with her life. Who cares about this lame boy? John doesn’t like any of those games, he likes the ones where there are a bunch of balloons and he has to pop them. This balloon popping game, every single page of it throws him through 7-8 opportunities to pay $1.99 to get more power-ups.

One time John was on a Delta flight, playing the Delta trivia game against other players on the flight, and you can see their seat numbers, so at one point there were 25 people on this flight that at some point in the middle of the night were so bored that they had found the trivia thing. You have to get it right, but you also have to answer fast, and then you get a certain number of points. Some people were way up in the scores when John jumped in and pretty soon he got really invested in it, punching his way through all of these people on the airplane that he only knew by their seat number until he was the top trivia guy, and once he was up there people were coming at him, but if you come at the King, you got to come correct, and none of them did, and John just punched them down, beating people up.

John was probably 35 at the time, and next to him was a mom who was 45, they were talking and were friends on this long flight, and at a certain point she was looking over his shoulder and asked what he was doing, and he explained he was killing everybody on the airplane playing Trivia, which was really gratifying because this is a large airplane and he was now the King of it. She said: ”Oh, interesting!” and she watched him play the game for a while and wondered how he knew all that stuff, but it was just Trivia, it has no bearing on life.

Then she went on her computer in the back of her seat, and she copied off John’s page. Every time he clicked on an answer, she looked at it and then clicked on it on hers. As they flew across the Atlantic she became a major player in this 25 person trivia contest that was happening on the airplane, but she was just copying him and he remembers it being the most dramatic example of that phenomenon of people that look up the answers to crossword puzzles. The win is disconnected from the sport for them somehow. They don’t care about the sport, they just want the win.

In these bubble games people are paying $1.99 to win a game that they downloaded to just distract them while they were waiting for their show to start, and yet they are invested in it enough that they are bankrupting themselves to win this bubble game. It might be Bubble Shooter what John is playing, they might not be balloons, they might be bubbles.

John used to spend hours playing Microsoft Minesweeper, so much so that it intruded on his relationships then. People were coming into the computer room and saying: ”Oh my God! Come to bed!” - ”I can’t! I have got to solve these mines! I have got to flag these mines or else the shipping won’t make it through!” It is such a simple and devious game and John got better and better at it, although if you look at the global records of Minesweeper there are some people out there who are playing it so fast, John has no idea how they do it. He is playing at the absolute bleeding edge of his ability and he is 14.000th in the world, but who are the 14.000? He doesn’t have the dexterity to catch them, At a certain point it becomes like running 100 yard dash. You can either do it or you can’t.

It keeps throwing up: ”Do you want to pop some bubbles?” an 99% of the time, it is not that he doesn’t care about that fish or about that family that is freezing to death, but he cares too much about them and he doesn’t want their plight thrown in his face. He picked Bubble Pop because it seemed benign. If John were able to live in an avatar world where he was actually in there shooting real bubbles with real shooters, he would do it!


Unless otherwise stated, the content of this page is licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 License