2017 Retrospective and a Ponderous List of Things Which Are Yet To Come

A question for the ages.

Is there anything which uses the word nog that is not eggnog? Are there other types of nog? Where did the word even come from? Is it derived from grog or something else? And is there any connection with nogging?

Now on to the news. 2017 was a long and chaotic year. I'd like to say it was because of President Trump, but if we are being honest every year is a long and chaotic year when you've just come out of it. Only through retrospection and distance can we determine its true nature. While we don't have distance yet, we can retrospect, which will help in ten years when we gain the distance but have forgotten everything. At least we'll always have this blog.

My 2017 in 600 seconds

Jen and I celebrated our tenth anniversary with a lovely trip to Maui, HI. I cannot overstate how beautiful and peaceful it is. I realize every place seems awesome when you've got vacation brain, but not every place has poké. Next time we'll take Jesse and stay in an apartment instead of a resort. You don't need to spend a ton to enjoy your time there; every corner grocery store has poké!

Upon returning to the continent I realized I hated my job. I still love PubNub's product, but the thought of going back to marketing was hurting my brain. So I started to look for a new position, and was laid off in the meantime. The bad news is it would be five months until I found a new job. The good news is this would be the summer of Daddy and Jesse. He went to so many Lego camps, we built so many contraptions, and we went to so many cubscout events, finishing with his first overnight adventure at Camp Baker. And he made more videos than ever for his YouTube Channel.

The other bad news is that our fence finally fell down at the same time I lost my job, but the good Lord provided. Both my severance and contracting work came in above what we expected and we were able to have a new fence built without going further into debt.

Depressed from realizing the things I'm qualified for aren't very interesting and the cool new stuff I'm interested in I'm not qualfied for; I set out on a mission. I restructured my resume around machine learning and graphics then began schooling myself in the ways of new things. I ran through a bunch of ML tutorials, discovering them not to be as magical as they first appeared. I started learning VR and AR, teaching myself AFrame and running through some Unity and Blender tutorials.

This just in: 3D modeling is really hard. Visual tools for VR and game dev are super overwhelming. I feel like there's some room there for improvement. Stay tuned.

I joined Mozilla August 15th as a senior developer evangelist for the Mixed Reality team (VR + AR). Most of the work is still in development, so you haven’t seen me publish or speak very much, but that will change in 2018.

In the fall Jesse started 1st grade, and the world has never been the same since. He complains about homework for the first time, has made lots of new friends, and begun learning to share (it's a work in progress). Also, our living room has now become the LEGO construction zone 24/7.

The year ended with a rush of events, parties, and my first Mozilla All-hands in Austin. Oh, and it snowed everywhere in the US except where we live. The snow gear we bought Jesse may go to waste, but boots are forever.

Oh, and I finally shipped my next mini game: Dungeon Dave and the Daughters in Distress, a JRPG 8bit comedy adventure game. It's kinda hard to explain.

What I want to do in 2018

I want to learn Rust. I played with it a few years ago and was impressed. Wrestling with the compiler (really the type checker) was a pain, but the general language and toolchain was pretty smooth. I know it’s only gotten smoother since then, so I’m looking forward to trying it again. Not dealing with GCC ever again would be heavenly.

Ship another mini game using my RPG editor in less than another 12 months. Who knew that game dev is hard. Everybody.

My thoughts on stuff and predictions

We are already cyborgs and its going to get better/worse/more. If I walk out the door with my phone, wallet integrated into my phone (as much as possible), car keys, and wireless earbuds; then I’m connected to the grid. My tasks are dictated by my todo list. My route is dictated by the maps app. My music is played into the car sound system while I’m driving, and switches to my earbuds when I get out. My heart rate is monitored constantly and alerts sent to my wrist. My wrist is connected directly to the notifications of the entire Internet!. I am as part of the network as technology will allow. I am a cyborg.

In the next five years the wrist info will move inside my sunglasses, my blood oxygen level will be tracked, revealing heart and lung problems as I age (I’m 42 now), and my inevitable disease diagnosis will come from a smart toilet first, not my doctor. And that’s before my AR glasses begin to filter all visual input. This has/is/will happen. There is no doubt. The quesiton is how to avoid that bad stuff that will come along with it. That’s why I joined the Mixed Reality team at Mozilla, to head of the worst of the future and encourage the best.

Containerizing all software

Making software right is hard, but updating it is easy. Making hardware right is easy (because of such longer cycles), but updating it is hard/impossible. 2018 is the year we move even more hardware into software. More work will be done by virtual machines. Web assembly will make this even easier than before. Embedded devices will run more code inside of containers. Yes, a tiny Docker on a single purpose machine. Why? Because making software right is hard, but updating it is easy. Containerizing everything accepts this reality and makes updating it even easier and faster. Hardware will become an immutable and consistent commodity, like concrete. All innovation will happen in software.

New Economic Models?

The biggest problem with hardware is that hardware makers don’t write good software and they have no incentive to do so. When you get a device, like an Android phone, the maker of the phone has no incentive to keep it up to date. All ongoing value accrues to the OS and service maker (Google or Amazon) not the phone maker. The same is true of most home IOT hardware. The smart lightbulb and smart lock makers don’t get ongoing value, so they have no incentive to update the software. The same will be true of the many smart speakers with voice assistants announced at CES. The problem isn’t the hardware itself. It’s the economics.

This economic system needs to be fixed. I see three possible solutions.

First make all hardware free but on a subscription system. You essentially rent everything. I don’t like this because it greatly encourages lock-in behavior, and increases end user costs.

Another idea is to make the service provider give kickbacks to the hardware maker. If Google earns revenue from your phone, they could share a portion of the revenue with the hardware maker. New features, and therefore new revenue streams, come from timely OS updates. The hardware makers have an incentive to keep up to date. The downside is that this gives even more power to the services vendor, which is Google.

Three: create an API ecosystem where hardware works with any service, and the hardware maker get a cut from the services you use. And it is easy to switch systems. This encourages the hardware guys to be up to date and compatible with as many services as possible, and it encourages the service guys to be compatible with as much hardware as possible. I think this could work, but requires standards and cooperation from some big companies who have an interest in not cooperating. So, I don’t see a solution yet.

Other predictions

Trump won't be impeached. The bar is too high with a unified congress. However, the midterms will be a blood bath for the Republicans and the Democrats will retake the House but not the Senate; the math is just too unfriendly thanks to Gerry P. Mander. Obamacare will stay and so will the tax cuts. There will be slight tweaks but once major legislation happens it doesn't change much later. The dreamers will get to stay and the wall won't happen, but little else will change on the immigration stalemate until 2020. Oprah won't run.

Meltdown and Spectre won't matter. We will add some timing jitters to address the worst of the issues, but CPU design won't signficantly change. Instead we will containerize more and more software so that fixes can be more dynamic.

2018 won't be the year of Desktop Linux. Sorry guys, the ship has sailed and you haven't boarded any of the later vessels either. Open Source without a corporate sponsor just isn't a good match for UX design.

More VR and AR headsets will ship but it won't be mainstream by the end of 2018. I know I know. You're thinking: but you are working on VR and AR! Yes, I know. It's going to be big but this is a slower burn. The 2D web wasn't built in a day, and neither will the 3D web. This is a new medium. We are still discovering what's useful. That's why I'm working on hard to make MR development accessible to more people, so that we can discover what the good stuff is.

Happy 2018. Have a drink!

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Posted January 20th, 2018

Tagged: rant