Some recent changes to the newsletter

I just posted a short roundup on Patreon of a few changes I made to the newsletter. You should check it out there, but I’ll summarize here.

First, it’s back to being free to everyone. I tried Patreon-only for a while, but subscriber growth plummeted. I get great feedback on the newsletter overall, so maybe I didn’t do something as well as I should have, or maybe I need to add something more to justify a Patreon-only tier. We’ll see.

I also switched the backend from MailChimp to Revue. It’s a newer alternative to MailChimp that focuses on things more in line with what I care about: writing and sharing good reads from around the web.

If you haven’t seen this week’s issue or are thinking about subscribing, you can check out a few past issues and subscribe here.

When you have to choose between your arm or your phone

From a friend of mine, in a chat thread about portable battery packs:

Fun fact: when we’ve had amputees test myoelectric limbs we’re developing, they often volunteer that they’d like a USB charging port so they can charge their phones from the big battery in the limb. We then explain that it’s a big engineering challenge to get the limb to last all day on a charge, as things are, so there’s not residual capacity for phone charging. They inevitably reply “If I have to choose between my arm working or my phone, I’m going to choose my phone.”

Other perspectives on the Touch Bar

I think a lot of hate for the MacBook Pro Touch Bar comes from I Hate Change-ism or just plain group-think. I think this happens with a lot of new products and tech, and I find it to be obnoxious and repetitive. There, I said it.

Anecdotally, I’ve struck up conversations with a few strangers in cafes and lounges, and they’ve had positive, unique perspectives on it. Generally they like it, they don’t miss the F keys since they “barely” or “never” used them, and they have fun discovering the new or previously hard-to-access features that apps place in the Touch Bar.

But there are also plenty of happy experiences and positive anecdotes to be found. Here’s a brief selection of links I’ve been collecting:

I hope these can help some people see how the Touch Bar is an improvement for good portion of users.

Homescreens for 2018-02-26

I like the idea of sharing occasfionally homescreens as a snapshot of the apps I use for work and play. I’d like to see yours, too. Wink, nudge, and such.

Swipe right in Ulysses to quickly star a sheet

Ulysses for iPad, iPhone, and Mac has a straightforward Favorites mechanism. You can mark any sheet (document) a favorite, no matter how many groups (folders) and sub-groups you have. Favorites then appear in a dedicated, top-level Favorites section near the top of the Sidebar. It’s a great way to keep easy access to work-in-progress sheets across multiple projects.

I wish Blendle worked more like a feed reader

Blendle is an attempt at micro-transactions for news. Whether you use the website or its iPad and iPhone app, you can pick your favorite topics and publications, dump a few bucks into your account, then skim a tailored selection of stories Blendle thinks you want to read. You get to see headlines and brief summaries. Clicking through to read an entire article will quickly and silently pull anywhere from 15¢ to 50¢ out of your balance.

As much as I want to help news get as far away from advertising as is pragmatically possible, I think Blendle’s approach to curating articles could use a pivot. Or maybe it just needs an alternative interface for people like me who want to skim all available news and cherry pick what we want to read.

In other words, I wish Blendle had the option of looking and working like a traditional newsreader a la Fiery Feeds, NetNewsWire, Feedly, and their ilk.

I have around 350 feeds in my Feedly Pro account, organized by topic across some two dozen folders. I use Fiery Feeds to read, so my typical approach is to tap a folder like Apple, Game, or Photography and skim through headlines and brief excerpts from the sites I follow for each of those topics. When a headline grabs my attention, I tap it and read.

I like this approach because it allows me to quickly get at least a basic snapshot of the happenings in any of my interests and industries at any time. Algorithmic, curated content has always proven to miss things that I deem important, whether it’s Facebook, Instagram, or Blendle.

I like Blendle’s overall mission, and I’d like to see it grow and gain more of a foothold. I’d also like to see more experiments in this space. At the least, give it a look, maybe a try, and share it with some friends who might like the way Blendle serves up news and interesting articles.

The downside of paid upgrade pricing for apps

I haven’t used a particular app in a little while. I just got a new Mac and I wanted to start fresh with it, so I had to re-download said app.

As it turns out, the app received a major paid upgrade since I last used it. The bad news is that I can’t find a download for the previous version for which I have a serial number. Now I need to spend $40 if I want to use this app again. Hooray?

By comparison, I re-downloaded a subscription app from the Mac App Store. I started it up, and it found my App Store receipt/account whatever and started working right away. No serial numbers. No $40 dead-stop paywall. No digging through email. No contacting support. It Just Worked.

I’m not trying to make a grand blanket statement about one business model or another. This is a large, complex discussion, and there is no One Business Model to Rule Them All.

But in this particular instance, I need to spend $40 I wasn’t planning on spending if I want to get back to work. From a user perspective, this sucks.

A flaw and solution for iMessage group conversations

Group iMessage conversations can get pretty notification-y, what with all the GIFs and LOLs and thumbs ups. It may be tempting to shut off notifications altogether, but then you might miss actually important messages, including those meant for you.

I think a strong solution to this problem is part technical, part cultural.

The technical part

Apple has a partial feature solution in place. But it isn’t applied evenly across macOS and iOS, and I would argue it isn’t very discoverable.

In short: Messages on macOS has a feature in Preferences > General awkwardly called Notify me when my name is mentioned. This means that, if you’re in a busy group conversation, you can click Details in the upper right, then turn on Do Not Disturb and ask people to include your first name in any messages you really need to see.

It’s like @ mentions in Slack or Discord, except you don’t need the @ in Messages. In the screenshots with this post, my brother’s message triggered the alert.

The ‘uneven’ problem comes in with iOS. While you can enable Do Not Disturb on your iPhone and iPad (although it’s strangely called ‘Hide Alerts,’ which is a separate problem), there is no “Notify me when my name is mentioned” feature. All messages, even those including your name, will arrive silently on iOS.

To me, the obvious technical solution is for Apple to bring feature parity to iOS and, ideally, pick one name.

The cultural part

I’m making an assumption, but I don’t think there is a strong culture in group messaging of “mention my name to alert me for something important.” In most apps I’ve used (Messages, Telegram, Wire, Line, Skype, etc.), you either get alerts for every message, or you don’t.

But if Apple could bring feature parity, and/or if you work mostly on a Mac, it might be worth trying to bring this idea to the table with your regular chatting friends. Group conversations could become more flexible, and we may not have to draw such a hard line between joining, staying in, or Do Not Disturb-ing them. – A letter about Google AMP

We are a community of individuals who have a significant interest in the development and health of the World Wide Web (“the Web”), and we are deeply concerned about Accelerated Mobile Pages (“AMP”), a Google project that purportedly seeks to improve the user experience of the Web.

In fact, AMP keeps users within Google’s domain and diverts traffic away from other websites for the benefit of Google. At a scale of billions of users, this has the effect of further reinforcing Google’s dominance of the Web.

A letter about Google AMP

In with a new MacBook

In with a new MacBook

In 2015, I switched from a 13-inch MacBook Pro to a first-gen, 12-inch MacBook. In my enthusiasm for iPad and all things thin and light, I figured I could get by with the tiniest retina MacBook yet, running what was basically a netbook CPU.

For a couple years, I did get by. But it can’t keep up anymore, especially since a growing amount of my client work requires more intensive tasks. Thanks to AppleInsider, I found a killer deal on a 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar (Space Gray), on which I typed this post.

This thing is amazing. I know the first gen redesign in 2016 had some keyboard problems, but I hear the 2017 model much improved on that issue. Overall, I really like what Apple did here. The 13-inch Pro body dropped at least a full pound with this form factor, which makes it nearly the same weight as a 13-inch Air.

I think I’ll need time to understand the Touch Bar. Coming from an iPad, I’m certainly interested in the potential of a section of my keyboard that can adapt to the task at hand. Already, in a couple apps, I found shortcuts in the Touch Bar for which I didn’t know the keyboard shortcut; that was quite useful.

But then, just now, I wanted to use one of my favorite shortcuts—Command + Mission Control—to shove all windows aside and get something on the desktop. But the Mission Control button wasn’t there, it was a typing suggestion bar. Yes, I can tap the keyboard control on the right side to unfurl that ‘section’ of the Touch Bar to get the Mission Control button and trigger my shortcut. And yes, it’s still faster than manually minimizing or moving everything. But it is a bit of new friction that wasn’t previously there for this somewhat infrequently used shortcut.

Update: Toph Allen on Twitter pointed out that a 4-finger pinch outward can also invoke this command. After a little practice, I’m getting that down pretty well. This might be a good solution for me.

We’ll see how this plays out. I know there are a few ways to customize the Touch Bar’s behavior, so I’ll have to explore those in the coming weeks.

I’m a day into using this, but so far I’m really happy. This new MacBook has the screen space and horsepower I need to work, and I didn’t have to sacrifice too much in size or weight to get it.

👍🏻 👍🏻 for the 2017 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar so far.