Terence Eden, on trying to get his Amazon Echo to respond to a custom query:
I kinda thought that Amazon would hear “solar panels” and work out
the rest of the query using fancy neural network magic. Nothing
could be further from the truth. The developer has to manually
code every single possible permutation of the phrase that they
expect to hear.
This isn’t AI. Voice interfaces are the command line. But you
don’t get tab-to-complete.
Amazon allow you to test your code by typing rather than speaking.
I spent a frustrating 10 minutes trying to work out why my example
code didn’t work. Want to know why? I was typing “favourite”
rather than the American spelling. Big Data my shiny metal arse.
A voice interface that’s as rigid as the command line can still be very useful, but he’s right — it isn’t AI. (Via Charles Arthur.)
There have been a whole lot of appreciations of Tom in various places, Andy Ihnatko's appreciation was open in my tabs as I sat down to copy and paste this over from Facebook:
I had hoped to get up to visit, but this sick cough hit me and I definitely didn't want to impose anything that might be communicable.
I met Tom and Dori because we were part of that pre-2000 group of not quite journalers not quite resource directory publishers that eventually became called "webloggers". Back when Google PageRank was a number, my blog fought it out with their cat's domain for the higher rank. Being North Bay folks, we've run into each other over the years. A breakfast with tech geeks, a "hey, we happened to stop in Healdsburg, y'all up for dinner?", we always found things to talk about, perhaps because we had many of the same interests but came at it in such different ways. I think the last time we ran into them was a book signing event, probably William Gibson at Copperfield's.
Tom and I never worked together, so I don't have personal stories of how gracious he was to the poor company reps doing their best at press events gone bad, or how awesome he was working with editors, or any of the other fantastic memorials I've read over the past few days.
But as a member of the early blogging community (who are all still very much welcome to crash on my couch any time they've got an interview in the Bay Area) and a part of the the base level of running into cool people that makes living in the North Bay what it is, I'll miss him.
And I still feel like he's gonna go with me owing picking up the tab at at least one dinner. Probably more than that. Damn it.
And, Dori, I realize we've been lax in getting our butts up to Healdsburg, and I am totally not the best person for saying "Oh, hey, we should do something unasked...", but if there's anything we can do, please ask.
Honest, I feel closer to Tom than some members of my actual legal family. I wouldn’t always know ahead of time that Tom would be attending a certain conference, but I always knew it was likely. One of the other members of the family would tell me “Oh, yeah, Tom and Dori are here. I said hi to them in the press room about an hour ago.” And then the ten-year-old kid in me would shout YAYYYY!!! Tom is like the cousin whose presence (and backpack full of Star Wars action figures) makes a boring grownup’s party bearable.
I owe a debt to Tom Negrino and Dori Smith that I could never hope to repay.
You may not know this because I only talk about it all the time, but years ago I wrote a dumb fake Apple news site. It’s true. I did it for seven years and then, only five years after it stopped being funny, I stopped writing it with any regularity and went on to write other things. For money, even. The reason I could do that was because of Tom and Dori, who introduced Jason Snell and others at Macworld to my dumb site back in the day, which they inexplicably seemed to like well enough to eventually let me write for the magazine. Writing for the magazine allowed me to go on and write and do other things that were more fun than corporate IT.
I met Tom and Dori in person for the first time in 2007 when we had dinner together the night before Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone. Tom had just bought a BlackBerry Pearl I think it was and the three of us mused on how in the world Apple could make a phone that was better than that. Somehow they did, if you haven’t heard. It was in all the papers.
Tom and Dori helped grease the skids that let me to quit my day job toiling away in the SQL mines which I had come to hate. They changed my life. They made it better.
Tom is dying and will shortly leave us. But the lives that he touched, like mine, will be a lasting and heartfelt legacy. Thank you, Tom.
I don’t think I ever bought one of Tom Negrino’s books. The law of averages suggests that I must have, at least once, solely because of the law of averages and how many of the things he wrote.
I always envied that kind of skill. His books are bloody good; not a bad apple in the whole barrel. Being a productive and consistently-good tech book author requires a special kind of discipline and focus. It requires good instincts, confidence in your skills, an intuitive understanding of how to deliver the greatest amount of value to a reader, and (oh, damn it, Tom) the ability to write well and not slow down the project by being oh-so-precious.
Tom has those talents in spadefuls. I have them in…
I’m stuck for a way to express the opposite of a spadeful.
Spoonful? Or would I be better off sticking with the spade and suggesting that Tom writes as efficiently as a man digging a trench through soft loam, while I seem to approach every page as though I’m sure I must have lost a dime somewhere in all this dirt, and I’m terrified that I’ll just re-bury it unless I proceed with the utmost care and caution?
Well. There you have it. I imagine Tom would have written “I’m a fast writer. Andy isn’t” and then boom…on to the next clear, well-written sentence.
Books aren’t my user interface to Tom, anyway. I’ve been lucky enough to know him personally. He’s part of a big extended family of people whom I love dearly and will miss when they’re gone. He’s among the two or three dozen people I looked forward to seeing two or three times a year at Macworld Expo and, post-Macworld, at the many other watering holes where members of our tribe of nerds tend to gather.
Honest, I feel closer to Tom than some members of my actual extended legal family. I wouldn’t necessarily know ahead of time that Tom would be attending a certain conference, but I always knew it was likely. One of the other members of the family would tell me “Oh, yeah, Tom and Dori are here. I said hi to them in the press room about an hour ago.” And then the ten-year-old kid in me would shout YAYYYY!!!
It’s no different than when your parents dragged you along to a stupid birthday party for one of the grownups, and then you found out that your favorite cousin (the one who’s as nuts about Star Wars as you are!!!) is in the basement rumpus room with a lunchbox full of his action figures.
I simply enjoy Tom’s presence. I enjoy catching up with him. I enjoy being at a table in a restaurant with him. I enjoy the simple mutual understanding that this life is a vale of tears and that humankind was born unto trouble just as surely as sparks fly upward, doubly so if one is a book author. I enjoy the gentle reminders of the time when Mac users were all considered a slightly odd demographic, and the mild stigma bonded us into a distinct community. If I knew you were a Mac user I knew that you were at least 80% cool. Tom and Dori are, combined, about 280%.
I also dig “Tom and Dori.” A lot. It’s not a given that two excellent, successful writers can maintain any kind of relationship, let alone the titanic bond of warmth and mutual admiration that those two have. The phrase “peas and carrots” comes to mind. Their bond has been obvious every time I’ve seen them together and even when I saw them separately.
Tom “went public” with his terminal cancer diagnosis in a blog post last year. That’s when I learned that he was born with spina bifida. I think he’s wise enough to have leaned on friends for help and support as needed (and Lord knows he has many friends who’d do anything for him). But part of the grind of a chronic illness, I imagine is that it’s simply a part of one’s life, part of What Must Be Handled If One Wants To Get On With It. I have the luxury of wallowing in a three-day flu. I know it’ll be completely behind me soon. It’s a dandy excuse to knock off work and sleep for 52 hours. A person with a chronic illness learns early on to Just Deal. Spina bifida is incompatible with a fulfilling, ambitious, successful, and easy life…so, Tom just got on with it, and had a fulfilling, ambitious, successful life in which his backpack contained several extra bricks that aren’t in mine.
I wonder if that sort of stamina helps him as a writer? “Yes, this sucks. Yes, this is hard. Let’s just deal with it and move forward.” Whereas, again, I’m the sort of writer who pictures himself struggling with his Muse in a freezing garret, alone and unknown, his only luxury a single white lily, which reminds me of the Truth and Beauty which I must achieve with each word. Quite a laugh, because in reality I am on the sofa with my MacBook, a remote control, snack crackers, and the knowledge that the next thing I write will definitely be read by a lot of people and I’ll probably get paid for it.
(The party about the single perfect lily was accurate, however. O beauty! Eternal, yet so fragile! [shed single tear] Why must I be cursed with the ability to understand it in such painful detail, even as I see pale, tart ugliness lauded by those around me! Et cetera. By the time I get bored with this, there’s not even much of a point to starting work on something because all of my editors have gone home for the day.)
My tendency to overthink things and be oh-so-precious with words is nudging me to compare Tom’s life to his greatest creative work. “…And now, Tom is wrapping things up, ending the project when he’s sure it’s complete, he’s content to close the back cover.”
But that’s glib. He’s ending his life because after living with cancer for a long time, his health has declined past the powers of determination, family support, and medical science to push back. His choice isn’t based on “quality of life.” The end is closeby no matter what Tom chooses.
I’m pleased for Tom, because he’s clearly made the right choice for himself. I’m grateful that he wrote that blog post; it was a generous gift to his friends and fans. Tom has made his thoughts clear.
I can only speak for myself. It feels as if Tom is choosing to “be there” when he dies. Both of my parents died from terminal illnesses. I was present during that final week or two when it was clear that their life forces were slowly tapering down to zero. They were heavily medicated to keep them out of pain.
I don’t fear death so much as I fear the idea of my death being taken out of my hands. To die before I can tell everyone I love how much they meant to me. To die without making it clear that certain tasks, goals, principles, and even specific material objects were important and might even have defined me.
(To die without secure-erasing my browser history. Okay. Yes. Fine.)
I’m even more worried about existing as a mere memento of myself. To have a pulse and an active EEG but little else. Once I’ve lost everything that defines me, plus the potential or the interest to define myself anew, aren’t I just hanging around the fairground after the tents and rides have been packed up and trucked away?
Willy Wonka said (in the good movie) that he wasn’t going to live forever and he didn’t want to, either. This is the man who invented lickable wallpaper. Suffice to say he’s a man of great wisdom.
I seem to be fishtailing around my emotions right now. I regret that Tom won’t be popping up in my life any more. I don’t regret Tom’s decision. I’m saddened that he’s leaving us too soon. I wish I had written and posted this earlier.
But I’m tremendously grateful that I’ve had an opportunity to tell him that I treasure him. It’s much more pleasant than writing a eulogy that he’ll never hear.
I feel an evening of deep sighs coming on.
I will pivot this ending by stating officially that if I’m hit by a bus or something and my family (not just the legally-recognized ones) has gathered around my bed in the ICU and is wondering if I’m even still in there, here’s what I want you to do:
Play either “America” from the Broadway score (not the movie one) to “West Side Story,” or “Are You Man Enough” by the Four Tops. Or, in a pinch, the theme song from “Friends.”
If I don’t do the hand claps…look, I’m sorry, but clearly I’m gone and nothing can bring me back. Start divvying up my body parts. And please, someone delete my browser history.