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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.

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.

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.

📱💻 Using a Commonplace Book to catalog your life’s journey, influences, and more

📱💻 Using a Commonplace Book to catalog your life’s journey, influences, and more

I’ve used Day One for years as a straightforward, personal journal. More recently, I started cataloging my work milestones and failures in a secondary Day One journal, and my internet likes in a third.

But this idea and short series from The Sweet Setup is quite interesting:

A commonplace book is a central resource or depository for ideas, quotes, anecdotes, observations and information you come across during your life and didactic pursuits.

The idea of expanding Day One (or insert your journal of choice) into these broader realms, especially things that influence me and sheer observations, is really interesting. I think I’ll give it a shot by putting it in the Dock on all my devices and see how it goes.

📱 Anti-reminders can help build healthy habits, stick to your values

📱 Anti-reminders can help build healthy habits, stick to your values

For a little while now, I’ve been focusing on building healthier habits. I’ve used a combination of creating a morning routine and the habit-tracker Streaks to regularly remind me of things I want to do. More recently, though, I’ve started tinkering with what I call ‘anti-reminders.’

The idea is to create a task or reminder in whatever app to nudge you to not do something. Don’t have your regular morning coffee before that doctor appointment. Don’t have more than two drinks at next month’s family gathering. Don’t play games next Wednesday when you really want to work on that side project. Set the reminder to ping you shortly before or during an event, and it could help keep you on track.

It isn’t about being negative. I think of it as the other side of the habit coin–there are good habits to build, and bad habits to break. Or sometimes there are just healthy or neutral routines to… sigh, ‘disrupt’ when it matters.

Siri + Reminders are my vehicles for anti-reminders right now. “Hey Siri, remind me to not have coffee next Thursday at 7:30am.” I also want to tinker with a Streaks feature called ‘Negative Tasks’–don’t smoke, don’t bite nails, don’t eat bad food, and you can make your own. These actually start each day as complete, and you only mark them if you miss your target and partake in the thing you want to avoid.

Anti-reminders have been helpful for me so far. If the idea sounds interesting, give them a try and let me know what you think here or on Tumblr or Twitter.

New habits and hobbies for 2018

New habits and hobbies for 2018

I’m not generally one for new year’s resolutions. But I do pay attention to those times one has to draw a line in the sand to start something new. I’m going through a few of those times right now, so I’d like to share some thoughts and tools that might help you with your goals.

More journaling for me

I highly recommend journaling. Learning to catalog more of my life for me, not social media, has been great for posterity, being honest with myself, and when I need help remembering how far I’ve come or grown. I occasionally feel stuck, personally or professionally, and I find that my journal entries increasingly help me get unstuck.

Speaking of getting unstuck, I need to get in a better habit. I’ll admit to sometimes thinking I don’t have time, or punking out because I thought I need a cohesive thesis or “have it all thought out.” Maybe it’s ok to have a stream of consciousness entry or even just notes about an event. I can always clean it up later. Or not.

Toward this goal, I put Day One in my Dock on both iPhone and iPad. I’ll also tinker with a couple reminders to help me get in the habit.

Another tool I added to my first home screen is One Second Every Day. It’s a clever app that collects video clips and even Live Photos. It can then build a video overview of a week, a month, or the past year of your life. Neat idea.

Temper news in and out for my health

The United States, indeed the world, are a mess right now. I don’t want to unplug and shut it out. But for the sake of my emotional health and sheer productivity, I can’t stay plugged in all the time either.

I deleted my Facebook account last year (more on that in a minute). I’m also going to try four things over the coming weeks and, likely, months:

  1. Unfollow a few news-heavy accounts on Twitter – Some people and publications use their Twitter accounts as a 24-hour play-by-play of the nightmare unfolding in the U.S., and that’s fine; I still like Twitter for some news. I also feel there’s a time and place for everything, but “always” and “Twitter” for news and politics aren’t quite my thing right now.
  2. Stop posting so much of this nightmare – People know how to find news when they need it, and I’m not Rachael Maddow. I don’t need to contribute to the nightmare, but from time to time, maybe I can contribute to spreading positive help.
  3. Filter my newsreaderFeedly is my reader of choice, and Pro accounts have the option to filter all feeds for keywords and phrases. I’m going to start using them. One catch: filters can only be set in the web app, hopefully just for now.
  4. Find a healthy way to stay informed – I don’t know if that will be some kind of periodic roundup service or what. But some balance is in order.

More conversations with people

Social media can be fun (can), even useful. But I’ll cop to letting it nudge out some of my personal, direct conversations with friends and peers. I want to reverse that this year. More real conversations. More face-to-face time, or at least FaceTime.

To that end, I have a tip I’ve started to use and want to share. I like sharing things directly with multiple people, but not always in a group chat. I use iMessage for most conversations, and there is finally an iOS app that makes it easy to send the same individual message to multiple people.

Interact Contacts for iPhone and iPad is a contact management and messaging app from Agile Tortoise. It has a number of great tricks, including actual contact group management! A handy one is its app extension, which can send just about anything you select to multiple, individual conversations. Yeah, it’s pretty great.

  • Use the Activities/Share Sheet on something, pick Interact
  • Select a few friends, use the search option if necessary
  • Tap the multi-message button at the bottom (the icon of multiple chat bubbles, not the individual icon)

Write more

Like this post. I’m going to write more on personal and professional levels. I want to help more people with tech, explore how all this stuff is affecting us, and try to share a little more about some personal struggles.

For a while now I’ve written nearly every word in Ulysses for iPad (and iPhone). It’s great for writing, organizing, and publishing directly to WordPress and Medium. Like this post.

Create art, even if it’s just for me

IPhoneography. I really enjoy mobile photography. It’s a great way to explore Chicago, I love that I can do it anywhere, and it’s a little cathartic.

These days I post more to EyeEm and my personal blog. I also just picked up a Moment Photo Case and wide lens for my iPhone X, which should make things interesting.

Tinkering with pixel art has also been surprisingly fun, and this year I want to spend more effort and maybe even create a few things worth sharing. I use Pixaki for iPad with an Apple Pencil.

I hope that helps

Even if you don’t have much more than a loose idea for something to start in 2018, I hope this can help move you one step forward.

A guide for developers who bring Mac apps to the iPad

A guide for developers who bring Mac apps to the iPad

“What do you want our iPad version to do?”

is the general question.

Even though an increasing part of my business is helping developers to answer this question and choose a path forward, I’d like to toss out some potentially self-sherlocking advice:

If we can do it on Mac, we want to do it on iPad.

It’s really that simple.

Yes, where iOS makes it possible and practical. But you really could just think of an iPad as a second laptop when it’s time to get work done. Alternatively, we could do a thought experiment:

Let’s say your Mac inexplicably disappeared right before your eyes, and was magically replaced with an iPad (Pro) and possibly a keyboard (where relevant). Your app also magically appeared on the first homescreen, and that’s all you get to use for the rest of today, this week, and this month to solve whatever problem your app tackles.

What do you want it to do?

Exactly—everything your Mac version does. And more, when you consider whether a MacBook can replace an iPad.