Duncan Davidson
“Our moral responsibility is not to stop the future, but to shape it… to channel our destiny in humane directions and to ease the trauma of transition.” —Alvin Toffler

Wednesday, November 25, 2020
Kiddo flying a kite

🪁 Mr. 4 flew a kite for the first time this last weekend. The field we flew it in was part of the Berlin Wall and the markings you see in the grass, well, those give the location of tunnels that were dug under the wall so that people could escape to the West. No matter how long I live here, it never ceases to amaze me that such a place can be reclaimed and host happy moments.

🦠 We need every happy moment we can get right now. We got the announcement today that Germany will be in partial lockdown until December 20th at the earliest. “We have two messages for the people: firstly, thank you, but secondly, that the current restrictions will not be lifted.” said Merkel in a press conference. Schools are still open here, but there’s a lot of disagreement over that. I’m thankful that our kid is young enough that we can make the decision to keep him home on our own.

💻 My Apple Silicon M1 based MacBook Pro arrived yesterday. All the hype is justified. It’s amazing, and it’s really hard to beleive that this batch of laptops are the base level of the revamped hardware line up to come. Yes, there are considerations if you’re a developer who deploys to the cloud, but those will go away in short order.

Tuesday, November 24, 2020

80

Empty swings in Mauerpark

🎂 My dad was born 80 years ago today, and it’s been almost a year since he died. What a year. I’m so glad that we weren’t dealing with COVID-19 last year during the aftermath of his stroke when I was flying back and forth between Texas and Germany every few weeks. But, I’m so sad that he’s not here right now.

🪦 Unfortunately, COVID-19 has interfered with my family’s plans to have a proper memorial. His cremated remains are still sitting in a box, waiting to be delivered to his desired resting place. One of many things that are on pause during the pandemic. At least I could say good-bye in person the day he died before the current limbo, unlike so many who are losing loved ones this year.

🚗 As soon as it’s feasible, I’ll fly back to Texas, and we’ll have one last road trip to drive him to the garden where we’ll put his ashes to rest. I hope that will be in the spring, but only time will tell.

🗳 He would have been glad to hear today’s news that the formal transition process has finally started, and would have considered that a nice birthday present. He also wouldn’t have been surprised at all that: “Trump did not concede, and vowed to persist with efforts to change the vote, which have so far proved fruitless.”

Saturday, November 21, 2020
Top of a post on a sidewalk • iPhone 12 portrait mode

💻 Monospaced fonts are something of a geeky subject, even for developers, but if you’re looking for one that sparks joy, check out Mostafa Gaafar’s list of developer fonts. Cascadia Code is my current pick, but seeing a version of Consolas with ligatures makes me think about trying it again. (via @shanselman)

👑 Katerina and I just finished watching The Queen’s Gambit on Netflix. Convinced she recognized some of the locations, Katerina dug up a list of 12 locations where The Queen’s Gambit was filmed in Berlin.

🦠 Sadly, there are a lot of people here in Berlin protesting the coronavirus restrictions. The police had to break out the water cannons. The stupid is everywhere around the world at this point.

🗳 More GOP senators have COVID than have acknowledged that Joe Biden won the election. “Rick Scott of Florida announced Friday that he has tested positive for COVID-19, making him the seventh GOP senator infected by the deadly disease. The others are Chuck Grassley (Iowa), Mike Lee (Utah), Bill Cassidy (La.), Rand Paul (Ky.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Ron Johnson (Wis.)”

Sunday, November 15, 2020
Wood fired pizza to-go in Mauerpark, Berlin • iPhone 12 Pro Max night mode

📲 My iPhone XS Pro Max arrived on Friday. By the time I unpacked it and set it up, it was after dark so I took it on a walk. I’m upgrading from an iPhone X and night mode on this new model is insane. It’s still no replacement for putting a bigger camera on a tripod and getting a long exposure — but then, the iPhone isn’t a bigger camera and it doesn’t need a tripod.

🦠 It’s time to hunker down. Zeynep Tufekci in The Atlantic: “We have reasons to celebrate, but—and you knew there was a but—a devastating surge is now under way. And worse, we are entering this dreadful period without the kind of leadership or preparation we need, and with baseline numbers that will make it difficult to avoid a dramatic rise in hospitalizations, deaths, and potential long-term effects on survivors.” (via Apple News)

🔐 Katerina and I have been talking a lot about the trend lines and watching the data here. It’s not as bad as in America, but Germany is also setting new records for new infections here. There’s been a slight flattening of the curve here, but it’s “not clear whether the perceived decline was linked to the partial lockdown or the fact laboratories doing COVID-19 testing have reached their limit.” More restrictions are probably coming, but whether they do or not, we’re going to be upping our own personal guard. Again.

😷 Stay safe. #WearAMask.

A cute little fence in Mitte, Berlin • iPhone 12 Pro Max portrait mode

This photograph is the kind of image that portrait mode on the iPhone X would have a hard time with. The iPhone 12 Pro Max, however, does a much better job. In particular, I’m impressed that in the gap between the green and yellow uprights, the system applies noticeably less blur to the trunk that shows through as compared to the background behind it.

Another area of interest are the dead leaves in the upper-left corner. There were several distinct plants standing there and you can see the image processing didn’t get thrown off and assume that all of them were at the same distance. I assume this is due to the Lidar sensor data being used in the processing.

Would I prefer the bokeh from a nice 35 mm f/1.4 full-frame lens wide open? Oh, most definitely yes. This is pretty good, however, especially consider it came from the camera that is always in my pocket.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Apple’s M1 arrives

With Apple’s event announcing the release of new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini models based on the M1 system on a chip, the Mac’s transition away from Intel and onto its very own silicon platform is now solidly underway. With initial shipments next week — my order is two weeks away, presumably because I ordered a 16 GB model with a US keyboard in Germany — it will be a few days we get true impressions of how these systems perform.

That won’t stop people from speculating. The best I’ve seen is Andrei Frumusanu’s article on Anandtech, which paints a very optimistic picture. The not so great are the takes that Apple is simply stuffing a mobile phone chip into a laptop and the Mac is heading to the same fate that befell Windows RT.

Then, there are the complaints that Apple hasn’t done enough because the enclosures are the same or whatever. The people making those complaints must not have looked at history. When Apple did the PowerPC to Intel transition, they started by changing the CPUs, leaving everything else the same. After they were safely past the point where customers believed that the transition was going to work, then they fully took advantage of what the new platform could do. The same process will play out this time.

I like Apple has approached the technical specifications for the new machines. Clock speed is nowhere to be seen. And, almost every reference to the performance of the M1 is stated in terms of power consumption — performance per watt — which equals heat. And, if you were watching the presentation closely, you may have noticed they explicitly called out in the event presentation that the MacBook Air has a 10W thermal envelope.

It doesn’t matter how awesome a chip you put into a laptop is, if you can’t keep it cool, it doesn’t make a difference. We’ve seen this in action with the last few generations of MacBook Pros. Better and theoretically faster Intel chips haven’t really moved the needle on real-world performance. Faster SSDs and other system architecture enhancements are where we’ve seen the bulk of improvement in the last few generations. Outside that, the only way to buy a faster computer has been to buy a bigger computer.

The M1 puts us on a new curve. Somebody (that I’d presume works for Apple) ran GeekBench on new MacBook Air, and the single-core numbers come in better the CPU in any available Mac. The multi-core numbers beat out the current top-of-the-line 16" MacBook Pro. Wow.

That promises a lot of potential for the future. Imagine a future 16" MacBook Pro on this performance curve. There’s a lot to look forward to. I’m curious to see the shape of the more powerful variants of the M1. Will they expand the package to hold 32 or even 64 GB of memory on-board? How many high-performance cores will they scale up to? And how will they handle memory architectures with an external GPU or multiple CPU packages? There’s a lot to look forward to.

If you’re going to go ahead and jump in now into the Apple Silicon future, how do you decide between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with the same M1 chip? For me, it was easy. For 110 grams of extra weight and a bit more money, you get a brighter screen, bigger battery, and an expanded thermal envelope which will result in longer sustained performance. Done.

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Hold on tight

😣 We’re at that point in the Interregnum where things could get really messy, very quickly. The Secretary of State made a confident statement about Trump’s second term that could have been a throw-away line, but in an administration that’s long used dog whistles and when the civilian leadership of the Department of Defense is being quickly replaced, it’s more than a bit unsettling.

🚨 Even people like Retired General Micheal Hayden are concerned. You might remember he used to head up the CIA and NSA. I get the feeling that a lot of people in the intelligence and security communities are anxious right now.

🗽 Look, this may all be a bunch of noise that passes by. It could be more. Either way, I’m going to consider America really lucky if it can successfully get through Inauguration Day.

🧘‍♀️ In the meantime, I’m going to be doing a lot of extra meditation.

Sunday, November 8, 2020

3 for Sunday

🗳 Trump proved that authoritarians can get elected in America. Zeynep Tufekci writes in The Atlantic: “Make no mistake: The attempt to harness Trumpism—without Trump, but with calculated, refined, and smarter political talent—is coming.”

👋 14 things we will lose as we usher the loser out. Joe Berkowitz in Fast Company: “We will lose the distrust of official government announcements. Each new dispatch from the White House or one of its departments will no longer be a wildly partisan and often antagonistic missive about Trump’s inherent greatness.”

⚙️ And now, let’s shift gears away from the election, at least for a moment…

🛫 #DankeTXL Today marks the last day for Berlin’s Tegal airport. It first opened in 1948 to support the Berlin Airlift with what was then the longest runway in Europe. When it wasn’t overcrowded, Tegal was a joy to fly from. From now on, we’ll be making the trek to the new airport: BER.

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Interregnum

It seems that democracy in America will live to see another cycle, and it’s such a relief to see that the system is still working. It may not be working amazingly well, granted, but at least it’s worked again this time. We all owe a debt of gratitude to state and local election officials across the country. Given the challenges, from a pandemic and foreign interference to the distrust sowed by the President himself, they’ve performed admirably.

We’re not out of the woods yet, however, not by a long stretch. Not in the short term, and definitely not in the long term. First, we’ve got to make it through the next few days of inevitable challenges and recounts. Then, assuming all goes will with that, there’s the next few months. Given President Trump’s unwillingness to deal with the reality of the election process so far, it’s hard to imagine that, even if he does concede, he will cooperate one bit in executing the transfer of power that America has managed to do so many times before.

Whether the Secret Service has to escort Trump from the White House on Inauguration Day, or less dramatically, that Trump will just disappears from the office to retreat to one of his golf courses, almost any reasonable scenario leaves the incoming administration in the very uncomfortable position of taking charge of the American government during a global pandemic without a clean handoff.

That’s going to be rough. Once we make it through that, we’ll have to consider ourselves incredibly lucky that America made it to 2021. Then, Democrats, Republicans, and independents of every stripe are going to have to come together do something to walk our country back from the brink. We have to recognize that the differences that have brought us here have so very little to do with policy and almost everything to do with absolute partisanship. If we want America to make it past 2024, there’s a lot of work to do, now. Otherwise, the next aspiring authoritarian may indeed manage to break everything.

First, however, let’s make it through this interregnum.

Thursday, November 5, 2020

Betwixt

🗽 Can you believe it? I can’t. It’s just what I expected, and yet so much worse. And we’re definitely not done yet.

❓ How are you doing? It’s ok to be not ok right now. Democrat, Republican, or Independent, we’re all biting our nails right now, all for our own reasons. For a country with two parties that are so close together on the political spectrum (center and center right), it’s incredible that there’s so much conflict and division in America that we’re on the edge of a social civil war, if not indeed a physical one.

⚫️ I’ve written and erased a few thousand words trying to put shape to my view of miasma we find our selves in. I haven’t succeeded yet. Something, something scientific versus magical thinking. Something, something fatal pugilistic partisanship. Something, something individual benefit versus social good. It’s all a mess in my head.

🦠 In good news, however, the connection to our possible COVID exposure tested negative. That means that we’re able to go from our total quarantine back to “lockdown light.”

🚀 Something else that I’m really excited about is that Senator-elect Mark Kelly hopes to bring some science to the Senate. “I think often what we find is that the people we elect are making decisions based on politics and partisanship, and not really looking at the underlying reasons. How did we come to these conclusions and these options?”

👏 More like this, please.