13 Aug 2016, 07:59

Things Are Moving Along

I have created a novel way to create blog posts in my new system by sending e-mail to a special address on my server. I’m not completely done, but it’s far enough along that I can actually use it.

It’s always cool to be able to create things that are actually immediately useful.

05 Apr 2016, 17:36

iPhone Follow-Up: A Couple of Months In

I was just thinking back to what my original blockers were from considering the iOS ecosystem, since at this point any reservations feel so far away to me.

iTunes was a big one, at least some time ago. I didn’t want to have to sync with iTunes. Well, my 6S has never synced with iTunes and never will. Not necessary. What changed? I merge-uploaded all my MP3s into Google Play Music All Access and manage everything using its own pinned downloads. I use iCloud backups with no concern.

I didn’t want much to do with iCloud (aside from the backups). What changed? I turned off most iCloud stuff and use Dropbox to sync photos, completely avoiding the photo stream and all that other stuff.

I didn’t want to give up my Android apps. Not so much purchases, as my paid app collection was negligible enough to re-buy without much compunction. Mostly just concern that I would have to disturb cross-platform workflows. What changed? All my Android apps, including Chrome in its bastardized but effective form, are available in iOS. I also think that the liberalization of iOS to various third-party stuff (including Chrome) was operative in keeping any related frustration at bay.

I didn’t want to give up control. This is a place where I have had to compromise, but so much less than in the past. I used to run a pretty customized Android setup. I was even running CyanogenMod for some time on the old Galaxy S. What happened here was a convergence between iOS, stock Android, and my own preferences. I started running my Android phone in a much simpler way, which then aligned better with the iOS mandates. I did give up my Google Keep screen on my Android home screen, which I would say has had a noticeable impact on my awareness of my long-term to-do list (skimming past my Keep tiles was a key way to avoid forgetting home improvement tasks over the weekend, for example). This is manageable, and honestly using Keep how I’m using it is suboptimal anyway. I just haven’t found the best next option yet.

What did I get in return?

  • Touch ID: Massive increase in confidence using the phone to its full potential. Some apps are now using it to authenticate with online services.
  • Apple Pay: I kept waiting for Wallet or Android Pay to happen, but Apple Pay is here and works darn near every time. I’ve run into a few POS terminals (looking at you, local HEB) that say they have it and don’t, but otherwise (Panera, the Coke machine in my office, others) it just works.
  • Force Touch: Just kidding, I have virtually no use for this at this point.
  • iMessage: It’s nice. Just about the same, and I don’t love read receipts, but it’s nice. Will be nice whenever I’m out of the country for some reason.
  • FaceTime: Didn’t consider this up front, but it’s fantastic. Again, great for travel, too.
  • First class app citizenship: Even though Android is almost caught up, it will always be catching up until something structural changes that. You get the best options faster on iOS.

These have all been incredible adds for me.

In terms of surprises on the negative side, it’s been all about the alarm clock (still just a persistent minor pain in my neck for my odd use case) and diminished baby monitor functionality (although we’re still using a Nexus 7 as the primary, so no direct impact there).

Size-wise, I would probably align around a 6S-minus if I could. The 5 class is a little too small for my preferences, although a chamfer version (or with a neoprene-type case) would be the best hand feel in the whole mobile world. I can’t quite get my thumb up to the top-left of the 6S with a natural hold, and Reachability takes just enough thought to make it harder than just rearranging the phone in my hand. All in all I can’t complain, since my next Android phone was likely to be within a few tenths of an inch of the 6S anyway.

25 Feb 2016, 15:07

Always Room for Improvement

I finally executed on a little idea I had been kicking around for a while. My work headset has one of those discrete USB headphone-and-microphone adapters, so the headset is just a pair of stereo plugs that plugs into that USB adapter, which then plugs into the computer. I like to listen to music and occasionally podcasts at work, and this has previously required me switching back and forth between headset and earbuds.

What I did here (pictured below) was install a 6’ USB extension cable that allowed me to snake an extended USB cord across the back of my desk starting from my docking station, hiding the little USB fob for the headset behind the desk as well. Then, since the headset ends in just analog plugs and is not hard-wired to the USB, I plugged in a 6-inch audio patch into the headphone side of the plug (the headset mic plug remains direct-plugged into the fob). This 6” jumper then plugs into the “A” port of the A/B switch you see garishly labeled “FLIP2” toward the rear of the picture. The “B” is connected to the retractable stereo cable you see there next to the switch, which then plugs into my phone. The “C” (common in or out) of the switch is then connected to the headset’s headphone plug. This allows me to bypass the USB fob’s audio out from my laptop and override it with phone audio by simply flipping the A/B over to “B”, leaving my headset on the whole time.

I also figured out I can hang the headset off of the thumbtack on that horrifying flowchart, which does wonders for my cable management.

It works well. The only little snag to it is the chance that I join a call and leave the switch on “B”. In this case they would hear me but I wouldn’t hear them. Since we use Microsoft Lync, that’s such a common occurrence it wouldn’t even raise an eyebrow.

13 Jan 2016, 21:55

iUpdate

I just can’t get over how much I miss the Android alarm clock. I say that, but I may also go ahead and get a 6S this Friday. So it’s not holding me up a whole bunch.

My core problem is that I prefer to run my alarm setup in a silly but effective manner for my personal degree and style of sloth. I have a 6:00 AM alarm and a 6:30 AM alarm running all the time, repeating every Monday through Thursday. These ideally have a 10 minute snooze available, but the exact interval value isn’t important.

Within maybe 4-5 hours of going off, Android K and beyond starts showing a notification for “Upcoming Alarm”, which contains an action button to advance-dismiss the alarm directly from the notification block. So if I’m having trouble sleeping or absolutely know I don’t need to get in early and I’m within the window, I generally can just go ahead and “dismiss” the 6 AM alarm overnight and rely solely on the 6:30 AM alarm.

Doing this absolutely does not stop the 6 AM alarm from being “on” in terms of its Monday through Thursday repetition schedule. I never turn these alarms off unless I’m on vacation or something to that effect. I will not accept the risk of turning alarms off day-by-day, because I will forget to turn them back on.

I mainly have the two alarms in case I mistakenly dismiss the 6 AM alarm. This is both the weak point of my argument and the key personal rub. I don’t want to accept the risk of a single morning alarm; I am simply not awake enough at first beep to trust that I will do the right thing.

If I get out of bed at 6 AM, or even after a single or double snooze, I can then “dismiss” the 6:30 AM backup alarm. Here’s the rub of the rub: if I am not able to dismiss the 6:30 AM alarm in this case, it will generally go off while I am in the shower, which is unacceptable.

Basically iOS has an odd but effective dismiss/snooze system, but the clever dismiss optionality I had in Android is simply not available. You can feel the Jobs answer is “have one alarm and don’t dismiss it by mistake”, but I have trouble taking that risk. I also can’t abide maintaining my dual system but shutting them off and on as needed.

I’ve been lazy enough since going to the iPhone that I’ve relied on my 6:30 AM alarm every morning so far (which is not altogether abnormal for me). But this is the best-case for iOS running the tandem setup: I dismiss 6 AM at 6 AM, then get up for the 6:30 AM. The first time I get up at 6 AM I will lack the ability to dismiss 6:30 AM and will end up having the alarm go off while I’m in the shower.

Other people clearly want this.

The current solution I’m testing:

Add a third dadgum alarm, no repetition, normally off. 6:45 AM. Label: “Reset Alarms”. No alarm sound or vibration on the alarm. Snoozable. Rule: if you dismiss an alarm early, enable this alarm, which will then remind you after both alarms have “expired” for the day that they need to be enabled again. This occurs via popup without vibration or sound, so no disturbance if in the shower.

Hmm.

07 Jan 2016, 16:47

Changes

About every six months I decide I want to build a RepRap 3D printer using parts printed on my own 3D printer, and as time goes on the landscape gets worse and worse. Several of the key companies selling kits are folding up. The RepRap wiki points to articles written 3-5 years ago and still in an unfinished state.

Basically the MakerBot I would use to print the RepRap, along with several other very good relatively inexpensive manufactured or semi-manufactured options, destroyed the market for oddball printers with smooth rod skeleton frames and exposed electronics. And I suppose that’s a good thing, but also (in a nostalgic-hipster way) kind of a pity.

Then I go to DIY CNC routers and do the ritualistic “wow, where would I put that, and my oh my that’s expensive, and I bet that wouldn’t even work that well” and fold it up until the next six month window.

I also have some cycle, wavelength/period unconfirmed at this point, of thinking about trashing my Efendi blog tool and going to a static site generator using Markdown files or something like that. But the funny thing is that I then start researching web frontends to a static site generator, since my lockdown computer here at work can’t SSH into anything and barks at me with soft blocks if I even dial up dropbox.com in a browser. So I basically need a static site generator fed by a dynamic site manager. Also known as a caching CMS, wakka wakka.

I’ve been thinking about writing/modding/finding a tool that Hoovers markdown files off Dropbox (soft blocks be damned) into a static site generator and onto my web server or GitHub pages or something like that. One of my more creative and ambitious options would be a post-by-email system, which would work great with a static site generator but would be a nightmare to figure out how to edit a post. Reply to the e-mail? That would be cute until it came time to implement it and handle rich text/MIME e-mail formats.

Efendi is devastatingly slow, even at the loads I run (which are basically limit-approaching-zero unless I get crawled by a Russian search engine). A lot of this is the cool feed merging stuff I built in to update from Google Code (defunct!), Picasa Web Albums (ruined by Google Plus!), and Cluster (near-idle!). I never bothered to optimize because (1) that’s not fun, and (2) I don’t need to optimize, but I do wish I could just deal in text files and serve flat template-driven HTML without a dynamic page build on every request.

Interestingly, the other direction I feel pulled with the blog is to get some kind of Twitter connectivity set up so I could do microblog entries on Twitter and cross-publish to the site. This is difficult to do, of course, and that ick feeling that all programmers (and probably most craftsman/artisans) know starts to set in, where the feeling goes from “let’s build this!” to “let’s avoid three months of untangling API hell and unintended consequences and forget about building this!” Plus I really don’t feel like Twitter works well for me to record anything meaningful, so it’s pretty much a red herring in the whole thing.

05 Jan 2016, 15:58

iOS: Adapting

I’ve been using Kristin’s old iPhone 5 for a number of days now and have been very impressed with my ability to adapt quickly.

Since a lot of my opinions and preconceptions about iOS were probably firmed up around the iPhone 3GS/4 era, it’s clear that a lot of helpful adjustments have been made that make switching into the ecosystem, especially for an Android head like myself, not really a big deal.

The ability to run Chrome (even though it’s just a skinned Mobile Safari) has been invaluable to keep the bookmarks synced. I gleefully disabled the vast majority of iCloud (I only see Notes, Wallet, Keychain, Find My iPhone, and the bare minimum of iCloud Drive enabled), especially the Photos stuff. After spending a few hours agonizing over iCloud Photos for Kristin’s 6S+ setup, I’d be happy to never see iCloud Photos again.

The “Back”/“Home” concept clearly still differs from Android in a pretty much not-good way for me, but clearly recent-ish improvements to iOS have sprinkled breadcrumbs throughout the navigation at tough spots. The double-press on the Home button also has gotten me out of jams without having to go through the home screen and hope it remembers my place in the other app.

I’m not using iTunes to sync music; rather, I’ve just installed Google Play Music and have relegated the built-in music functionality to my “Extras” folder on the last page of the home screen. All my MP3s are synced into Google Play Music, so I can download anything to the device whenever I want.

I’ve yet to sync with iTunes on the laptop. I imagine the first and only time I will do this is to make a local backup of the phone when I (probably) purchase my 6S. Especially since I’m not syncing media with iTunes, there’s really no reason to plug the phone into a computer unless I’m about to wipe it.

My apps are all solid, maybe a little better than the Android versions but not by much. I thought I might switch podcast clients but didn’t end up wanting to after trying out the competition.

Funnily enough, I will deeply miss Android’s alarm management features, which were deceivingly advanced and clever in terms of snoozing, deferring, temporarily suppressing, etc. I am too chicken to use a third-party alarm app, so I’ll just have to be more mindful of the alarm setup at bedtime.

I already appreciate the quality of the camera vs. my Motorola. iMessage is handy.

I miss my Android webcam monitor program, but as long as we retain that on the Android baby monitor tablet we’re fine. Amazing there isn’t a top-notch option in the App Store.

I somewhat miss the Intents setup in Android, where you can set the default app for nearly everything. It’s annoying that the “Siri Screen” railroads you into Apple Maps and Safari and Apple News without allowing changes to the defaults.

I am shocked how much faster this aging, 2.5 year old phone is compared to my relatively new Motorola. Much faster than my flagship X of about the same age as the iPhone.

It’s a little disappointing that the Wallet features are so spartan in terms of adding loyalty accounts. Looks like I’ll need to use Android to add loyalty cards, then go to a Google webpage from my phone and import them into Wallet. Since Android is also in the process of screwing up its loyalty card management, this could all just be a futile effort in a few months’ time.

Now I’m scratching my head about when to make the jump to the 6S, if at all. I want the old phone as a work e-mail drone (SIM-free), so it’s not like it will go to waste. But with TouchID and Apple Pay being the only major draws besides the bigger screen, it’s actually hard to go drop the cash to make the upgrade. I’m going to make sure the Clock app doesn’t drive me nuts with the alarms and then maybe make the jump in the next weeks or months.

06 Oct 2015, 14:03

My Pocket Is In Play

I plugged in my Moto G last night for a bump charge prior to leaving to the grocery store. It was honking at me at 12%, which is nothing to be alarmed about, and I wanted to make sure the Our Groceries list and podcasts could both survive the HEB trip. I walked back to the phone about an hour later and it said “1% Remaining, Charging”, which - as an experienced, seasoned Android user - prompted me to get very mad, blame the charge cable, but then suspect the OS instead. I rebooted the phone to discover I actually had over 70% of charge. I don’t know if the phone would have gone into crisis shutdown had I not discovered it at that point, or what.

My network connections, since the belated Stagefright update from Moto, constantly report error state (overlaid exclamation mark and no report of TX/RX status). Forums confirm the issue with no resolution at last check.

I’m due to get Marshmallow at some point (probably comfortably into next year, now that we’re General T’so Moto post-divestment). I expect solutions and new problems to come from this. And probably hampered performance.

Google Wallet is sorta-changing into Google Pay, and my loyalty accounts (the only reason I really ever even try to use Wallet) are going to Pay, but I apparently can’t use Pay unless I set up a device PIN, which is an awful thought for me. I haven’t confirmed this (maybe loyalty works sans PIN?), and the auto-update rollout I’ve been expecting hasn’t happened. Don’t know if I want it to happen.

I agree and admit that I own a marginal phone in the Android universe, which basically means I don’t have a Samsung flagship or a good Nexus. Moto is losing my confidence at this point as they shank new Moto X users on updates, and I find the much-anticipated Nexus 5 updates this year to be uninspiring. I appreciate a lot of what Samsung is doing but feel far away from ever taking the plunge into TouchWiz, despite its meteoric rise from ick over the past few flagships.

Then those damn iPhone 6S commercials come on, and I’m just thinking: Touch ID, Apple Pay, 3D Touch, things working, volume buttons on headsets working, real customer support for software updates, first-tier app support, a non-potato camera, all that stuff. Plus finally being able to pay cash or payments on an iPhone without a carrier lock. And the ability to hand my phone over to Claire without counting 3, 2, 1, and then helping her dismiss yet another random means she discovered of replacing her activity with the Google Now display, or pulling down the shade, or deleting my photos.

My table stakes for a phone platform swap are Google Play Music All Access (check), Pocket (check), Our Groceries (check), and Pocket Casts (check). I would like bookmark syncing with Chrome (pretty much check), a decent IP cam viewer (check-ish, not as good as my Android app), Google Play Newsstand (check), and a couple of other things that probably have better support in iOS (Sonos, for example).

In the end I think I’d be out about $10 to replace my investment in the Play Store ecosystem, and this cash would go to the developers of my favorite, essential apps (Pocket Casts, Our Groceries), apps I would buy multiple times over to reflect the value I derive from them.

It’s a thought. My purchase of the G was to get me a non-broken phone and figure things out later. I wonder if I’m at that point now.

17 Sep 2015, 15:09

Backlog

I finished Mad Men last night, which (spoilers) pretty much ended with the whimper I predicted. I put Mad Men in a special group of what I would call “vibe shows,” which I find to be difficult to continue interestingly past a few seasons. Being that it was a vibe show and a period piece, all the more difficult. It was fun to watch their set and costume designers gradually transition to the early-70s look, with Sterling growing the ridiculous mustache and the clothes slowly changing. The descent to a Siddhartha-style ramble-to-enlightenment worked suitably for me, although I would probably recommend reading Siddhartha over investing in all the ups-and-downs of the series to get to that end point.

Don essentially discovered that he didn’t like being Don, and we had a bit of a death-of-self moment on the way to an all-in-on-the-cliche literal Buddhist enlightenment. Sterling found a sort of pseudo-nirvana by calibrating his hedonism in the realism of his life stage, which maybe would have been the fate I would have preferred for Don. Or perhaps this was really to show us that this was the fate for Don if he had continued on in his previous oscillations, but instead he shed it all off to go “Om” by the seashore.

The final sequence was a classic Mad Men final sequence, really showing that the intelligence of the writers and producers so far outstripped the manifested intelligence of the plot. By abutting the “buy the world a Coke” commercial to Don’s meditation, with the Coke commercial pleading Coke as the “real thing” amid a faux-hippie backdrop, it was probably the most scathing judgment of the advertising industry they could conceive.

Edit: All of this is incorrect, Don uses his enlightenment experience to go back to the agency and make the Coke add. I hate this.

All the sub-major and minor characters just piddled into a linear extrapolation of the last few seasons, which really backed up my perception that these folks were just never really more than caricatures. Pete’s conversion from irritating scumbag to irritating reformed scumbag was the most satisfying of the lot, while Betty’s terminal lung cancer (they had to do it to somebody after all that smoking) prevented them from ever needing to do anything with her character. Sally gave up adventure to take care of the family (why, thematically?), the boys have essentially no consequence (and never did), Coop’s dead, Joan does her business hustle thing, Peggy finds love in a probably ten minute sequence that is the bouillon cube reduction of chick flick soup, shadow-Don disappears into a big company. Don’s second ex-wife reportedly returns to Canada, where I presume there’s no acting work, so why’s she there? Maybe I dozed.

Anyway, they just couldn’t really osmose their smarts at a high enough concentration to make it work for me, but I’m glad I saw it through.

/spoilers


Backlog is on my mind now, as I’m trying to get my podcast playlist calibrated to neither pile nor exhaust under normal steady conditions. I’ve found that commuting is so greatly helped by intelligent or humorous conversation rather than radio rattle, or even music shuffling, that this is of considerable value to me.

I feel I should enshrine my current list, as it’s so hard to discover these things, at least outside the iTunes sphere:

  • Mad Dogs & Englishmen: The National Review guys I really like
  • The Moth: People telling true stories in front of live audiences
  • The Truth: Cool and weird (especially last episode) reimagining of radio drama for the modern era
  • GLoP Culture: On my bubble list for deletion, chance to hear Goldberg from National Review and Podhoretz from Commentary talk about current events
  • Cato Daily Podcast: I let these pile up to about 50-60 unlistened and then listen to them all at 1.6x-2.0x speed for rapid-fire libertarianism
  • This American Life: This is kind of the good-tasting vegetable of my menu, I never look forward to it but almost always enjoy the NPR narration format and content
  • Stuff You Should Know: Pretty good explanatory topics most of the time (seems to be getting more obscure and less interesting recently), unlistenable for me at anything but 1.8x speed now that I’m used to it
  • Here Be Monsters: On the bad side of my bubble list, I feel like it’s indie This American Life
  • Top Four: Mid bubble list, a sort of misguided early-stage talk podcast where an internet-famous couple talks about their favorite stuff (but rarely actually develop a true top-4 list)
  • Analog(ue): I can’t understand why I listen to this, but it’s a podcast company head talking to a (podcast celebrity) friend, mostly about podcasting and life, and I like it
  • Reconcilable Differences: John Siracusa (Ars Technica) and Merlin Mann talk for a really long time about random things
  • Accidental Tech Podcast: Definitely on the bubble, I like these guys (each person is on at least one other podcast I listen to) but struggle with why I’m investing so much time in Apple-related news
  • Hardcore History: The best
  • Serial: Adnan totally did it, but I still don’t know how
  • Robot or Not: I love a 55 second podcast with a quick yes/no answer
  • You Look Nice Today: This is basically over, but it’s mostly really funny and nice to just hear guys talk about funny stuff that’s not topical

16 Sep 2015, 21:21

Come On, Man

Now they say it “apparently was a homemade experiment, and there’s no evidence to support the perception he intended to create alarm.”

So if it were an alarm clock it would be a crime? What’s he supposed to do about version 2? That’s an obvious feature to add.

Jeeeeeez, guys.

27 Aug 2015, 14:02

GPMAA

By no means do I wish to discourage them from continuing in the effort to build a vast library of humorous metadata, but the artist summaries “provided by artist representative” on Google Play Music are just hilarious.

Silversun Pickups is among the most dynamic and creative rock bands of the contemporary era, hailed far and wide for their inimitable merging of ethereal melodies and pure sonic force.

Jeeeez.