So Many Blog Posts ...

I still find it amazing that there are 2,644 blog posts on my personal site. If one includes all the other blogs that I have written for (on 10C and off), then there would be over 3000 posts written since October 2006. While this isn't anywhere near 1 post per day, it's a heck of a lot more than most other people I know.

Mind you, I probably would have written more posts by now if I still used WordPress. I created Noteworthy (and later 10C) because I was tired of dealing with WP issues. What resulted was me investing thousands of hours into a personal project that has taken time away from blogging 🙄

Of course, one of the bigger reasons I created Noteworthy was because I wanted to have a better way to write blog posts. Evernote was a pretty decent tool back in 2010~2012, and their iOS client rocked. So I used to write blog posts in Evernote on iOS (an iPod Touch) while out and about for the day job. When I got home, I'd copy from Evernote into WordPress, add some tags, then hit publish. Noteworthy cut that process out by syncing with the Evernote API and pulling in any new notes that were in a given notebook (or removing posts that were removed from the notebook).

Those were simpler times …

Indistinguishable from Magic

Earlier today Matt Gemmell wrote an impassioned article on his website where he decried the current state of Apple's software and how it makes very expensive electronics horribly frustrating to use, and even harder to justify buying. The post has been taken down1 but, in the short time that it was available, people from across the planet wanted to weigh in with their opinions about how "Apple is doomed", offer technical support, or otherwise openly mock this person who has clearly invested a great deal of time, money, and effort into this wholly artificial realm we refer to as the Apple Ecosystem. Like Mr. Gemmell, I have also invested a great deal into Apple's hardware and software over the years. I came in just as it seemed that everything Apple touched turned to gold, and I left when my rose-coloured glasses eroded, revealing that Apple's world was just as incomplete and prone to error as any other platform a person might choose.

Any Sufficiently Advanced Technology …

One of the many things I like about modern hardware is just how sleek everything has become. Smooth lines with seamless transitions between metal and glass abound. Processors thousands of times faster than anything we might have used while growing up can now be found in a wristwatch. Batteries can go on and on. And the screen resolutions available today are really nothing short of breathtaking. Our modern consumer electronics today are light years ahead of what we could have imagined 15 years ago. Looking at the sorts of complaints people have with our current range of devices, I wonder if this isn't the actual problem that we're facing: we've benefitted so much from so little in such a short amount of time that we don't realize just how much "more" we're expecting from electronics manufacturers, and these vendors are simply unable to keep up with our laundry list of expectations.

It's Time We Slow Down

When I first entered the world of Apple software, I was pretty fortunate. The iPod Touch, though a marvel of engineering, was a relatively simple device running simple software and performing simple tasks. The first version of OS X I used was 10.6 Snow Leopard, arguably one of the most refined versions of the operating system given that there were zero new features and a slew of fixes that resulted in standing ovations at Apple's Worldwide Developer's Conference all those years ago. Coming from Windows, the Apple world just felt so much more cohesive because updates rolled out at a slower pace than those from Microsoft. With more time between releases, new updates and features could be more thoroughly tested and refined, meaning that the majority of the bugs reported from people would — ideally — be more of an edge case than the rule. This is clearly not the case anymore, and not a week goes by where a semi-popular web personality doesn't lament Apple's declining software quality or lack of cloud infrastructure skill.

One might suggest that people who aren't happy with Apple should move to another ecosystem that is more in line with their values, but this isn't always realistic. One cannot simply swap out Google for Apple or Oracle for Microsoft. These sorts of migrations often take a great deal of time, planning, and money. More than this, people shouldn't be expected to always vote with their wallets. Moving from one platform to another 10 is not a feat that can be completed in a weekend nor is it an effective way to send a message. At the end of the day, the best way to send a message is to openly communicate, and I say it's time people stop demanding so much pseudo-innovation from their electronics and instead ask companies to slow down and release their hardware and software products when they're ready and not a minute before.

Traditional computers such as desktops and notebooks do not need to be replaced every year, so companies should focus on building machines to last 5+ years. Cell phones do not need to be replaced every year, either, so why push out an update that appears to be little more than an incremental update over last year's model but with a substantial price tag? Tablets and watches are in the same boat. Heck, just about every electronic device we use on a regular basis could likely switch to release a new model every three years with minor revisions to accommodate problems during the intervening months. Many people will undoubtedly disagree, but today's hardware is good enough for the vast majority of what we want to do. Why must we continually push the envelope?

With a slower hardware release cycle, software developers will have more time to focus on the less-tangible aspects of our systems and strive to make improvements. Some new things could certainly be introduced during this time, but this in-between time would really be the time for the devices to be polished and refined while people also become more accustomed to using the tools they already have.

The amount of change that we've all seen in the last fifteen years has been nothing short of amazing, and this change has resulted in some phenomenal effects on societies around the world. By slowing down we won't diminish anything that's happened thus far and we stand to gain greater benefits if the functional lifespan of our difficult-to-recycle electronics is extended thanks to a slower release schedule. Will this hurt the bottom line for a number of people who are already wealthy? No doubt. But we cannot expect our tools to continue their evolution at such a breakneck speed. We're seeing the faults and cracks in our systems already, but it's not too late to do something about it.

A three year hardware release cycle with a longer software cycle would go a long way to changing our perceptions of modern electronics from being the occasionally frustrating objects they are to devices indistinguishable from magic.

  1. Though intrepid investigators may have some luck in finding a cached version of his article, titled A Declining Trajectory.

iOS Is Not An Enterprise Answer

Adrian Kingsley-Hughes over at ZDNet has joined in the fray to ask the uninspired question "Are businesses ready to replace Windows with iOS?". This meandering piece of clickbait caught my attention when a friend passed it on saying that it was just a matter of time before iPads replaced computers at the office. While tablets do certainly have their role in the workplace and they have the processing capacity to do a lot of the tasks we currently do on notebooks and desktops, companies would be stupid to ditch their fleet of Windows-powered computers for iPads.

Using the iPad at Work

When one looks at the role of technology in the workplace, it's easy to say that one tool can easily replace another, especially when we're completely unaware of how some people do their jobs. I've invested years into studying how people work and, as a result, I can tell you that no two individuals will do the same thing the same way. People with varying degrees of technological savviness will accomplish their tasks in ways that would leave a so-called "power user" scratching their head. I see this all the time when people prefer to move their right hand to use a mouse for 0.5 seconds rather than simply tap a [tab] key or hit [Enter] to execute a command, even when they're well aware of the benefits of using various keyboard shortcuts. People want to do things in their own way, and that's perfectly fine.

Another fallacy in a lot of the "iOS is ready for the Enterprise" argument is the over-simplification of people's jobs. Where are documents kept at the office? Only on personal computers? Perhaps. In the Enterprise, documents may be kept on a network store or only accessible through various proprietary tools for "security" reasons. Try opening a file that's located on a network share with your iPad and tell me you don't want to throw the thin computer through a wall. It's incredibly frustrating because that's not how any software on Apple devices are designed. Should IT departments forgo their complex directory structures and dump everything into a big, single folder for every iPad to connect to? Maybe. It's not very realistic, though.

Search on iOS is not very useful when you're looking for things that are not on the device. Sure, extensions can be written to look at the NAS or SAN or some web service, but people will need to be prepared to wait … and wait … and wait. It's not a good experience.

Then there's the problem with all the custom software that runs in the background. Time trackers, security monitors, network tools, and the like. How about all the Windows-only software that the company has had created just for them over the last decade or so? Will someone sit down and redesign everything from the ground up to be finger-friendly and optimized for a smaller, 4:3 screen? Who will pay for that?

When it comes to software for use in the office, we are seriously bad at making it. Does anybody really like the software we use every day at the office? Anybody at all? And people like Adrian Kingsley-Hughes think that by using iOS all our interface and software problems will magically disappear?


And then there's the sheer cost of using iOS. Let's take a role that no "serious tech person" thinks about: the receptionist. People look at receptionists as having just one job, and those people are sorely incorrect. The person who works at the front desk not only answers phones, but they greet guests, arrange schedules, deal with packages, and have a whole host of other tasks that most people never realize until the desk is empty. The role varies from company to company, but that's neither here nor there for this little thought experiment. These people generally work just as much as anyone else in the office, except they're expected to do it with a smile at all times.

So let's look at what it would cost for a receptionist to move to iOS. First, they'll need an iPad. Not a tiny one, either. The screen on the Mini would give people eye strain after a few hours. So let's go with a still-small iPad Air 2. Because companies always get the lowest model anything, this will be a white iPad Air 2 with 16GB of storage. As of this moment the WiFi-only models sell for $399.

Next we'll need to supply a keyboard, because having 50% of the screen disappear for an on-screen keyboard would be infuriating. So it only makes sense to go with a Bluetooth keyboard for the iPad. There are plenty of 3rd-party keyboards that sell for as little as $20, but we'll stick with the products in the Apple Store and go for a red Logitech Canvas Keyboard Case. This will also allow the iPad to sit on an angle so that a separate stand is not required on the desk.

Some people will undoubtedly need a larger screen, too, so let's pick up a Lightning Digital AV Adapter for $49, too. This will allow an HDMI monitor (or TV) to be used with the iPad, which will definitely come in handy at some point.

For mail the receptionist can use the built-in application, and Office for iOS can be installed from the company's pool of licenses. The browser can be used for whatever internal, online software the company might use, and the receptionist will just have to get used to the fact that sometimes the browser will refresh while they're app-switching because the people who write the corporate software thought it would be cool to use a massive JavaScript library that consumes every last bit of RAM on the tablet. The receptionist will get very good at saying "Just one moment, please" because of this.

iPad Prices as on

All in all, according to today's prices, the company will spend $547.95 every five years or so to get a laptop that isn't actually a laptop and, like many corporate computers, the device will probably be chained to a desk and never actually be used as a portable device. The battery will suck in less than a year and the smudges on the screen from all the finger-touching will just be an eyesore.

I wonder. How much does a basic Dell with Windows cost?

Dell PCs

Those Dells come with a keyboard and mouse, too.

Apple is not in the business of Enterprise and, from what I've seen after nearly three years of Apple devices being used at the day job, Apple won't seriously be in the business of Enterprise until the product goes from being an individual's device to a generic tool that anybody and everybody can use and swap out. Having sleek devices in the office might look cool, and it might sound great when meeting with clients, but it won't actually enable more work to get done. Aside from cost, this is all any corporate IT department cares about.

Will the machine do what it needs to do?

iOS can do a lot for many people but, until corporate software catches up and we spend less time thinking about the technology as the centre of our business, it's just a silly thing for companies to boast about.

Is Moves Worth the Battery Drain?

In December of last year I installed a fully-featured pedometer and activity application on my phone called “Moves”. This application has allowed me to see not only how many steps I am taking in a given day, but where I happen to be based on the GPS mapping functions. All in all, it’s been a decent little tool to help motivate me to get outside and stretch my legs every so often. There’s just one rather big problem with the application: despite being in “Power Saving” mode, it consumes way too much power.

iPhone Low Battery

On the iPhone 5 I could run Moves and often go a full day on a charge. A glance at the phone come 10:00 PM when I walked in the door of my house would reveal somewhere between 25% and 30% remained. With the 5S, though, I am lucky to make it to 6:30 before hitting a quarter-charge. The loss of power is just unacceptable. How can anybody rely on a piece of technology in their pocket when the battery could be dead halfway through the day?

I tend to keep the background processes on the phone very light. Almost nothing has access to location services outside of the camera, Evernote, and Moves. Only the podcatcher and RSS reader have background updates enabled. Nothing else needs it. As I mentioned a few days ago, I shut off the cellular data connection when I’m not actively using the Internet while away from the office or home, as I don’t need to be constantly aware of what people online are saying. The only application that could be causing this drain is Moves … and the data is not something that I’m making life-changing decisions on. That’s what Sleep Cycle is for.

That said … perhaps Sleep Cycle is all I need. That application now reports the number of steps I make in a day, and that is really the only number that I use Moves for.

Give me a second.

A Moves-Free Phone Again

Let’s put this theory to the ultimate test. Moves has just been removed from my phone. If the battery life is significantly different starting tomorrow, then I’ll know for certain what application was causing the drain.

Garage Band: A Dangerously Simple Tool

While riding the train to a client’s office today I decided to fire up Garage Band on my iPhone and get to work making an introductory theme for an upcoming podcast I have in the works. The groundwork was assembled yesterday shortly before going to sleep, and the final touches were put on the short musical piece during the 38-minute ride from Nagoya Station. While the composition is nowhere near professional quality, it does sound passable — something I am quite proud to say I put together.

Like many people, I enjoy listening to music in my spare time. When time allows, I will block out the world and just focus on the sounds coming through the headphones. Each track is dissected, analysed, and appreciated. How did the musician put together the work? How many different layers are overlapping each other? What’s happening in the background that many people fail to recognise? These are all questions that I examine while truly enjoying the music. If there are lyrics to accompany the sound, then I’ll spend some time considering the meaning behind the words. This is how I digest enjoyable music, and I’m willing to bet that a good majority of others do the same.

Despite this appreciation for the art, I’ve never truly studied what goes into composition or how to effectively structure a piece of music. In junior high I played the tenor saxophone, but there’s a world of difference between playing someone else’s notes and writing your own. In high school I played with MIDI keyboards and produced some files that are better left unheard … but that’s just pressing keys without consideration. Make a mistake? Doesn’t matter! Just keep going!

That’s not composition, though.

Composing a piece of music is a lot like any other complex project. It needs to be carefully considered. Options weighed. What is the message that’s being conveyed, and what emotions are being coaxed from the listener? Perhaps it’s my lack of understanding behind the subject, but I see musical composition to be quite a bit more complicated and nuanced than writing software or a doctoral thesis. Music isn’t about fact. Music isn’t about logic. Music is about feeling and emotion

Garage Band for iOS

Or so I’ve been told. Garage Band is bringing me around to thinking that, just like just about every other art form, software will let anyone who wants to be even remotely creative express themselves in a unique and colourful way. Photography was once an impossibly expensive hobby that only the most dedicated people could enjoy. Now anybody with a cell phone camera, no matter how poor the sensors may be, can take part in the pastime. Writing software was another example of this where something that was once the realm of socially awkward individuals can be employed by just about anyone with a goal in mind. The gulf between the amateur and the professional will always be as wide as any ocean but, with just a little time and dedication, even an amateur can churn something out that isn’t half bad.

This is how I feel about the incredibly repetitive piece of music I assembled in Garage Band … on a phone. Some people are decrying the death of expertise. I see this from a different perspective, though. Anybody can try anything with a minimal investment in time and money. If the new pastime seems interesting, then the accumulation of knowledge and skill can begin.

Android Wins in a Pinch?

Today, while out at a client's office, a terrible thing happened: a student told me he had uploaded some files required for today's presentation course to the company website after the cut-off date … which meant I was unable to download them. Because everybody has an always-connected phone in their pocket, I asked the student to download the file and send it to me via Bluetooth so that we could show it on the projector. One student tried with his iPhone and failed. Another tried with his Android and finished the task in under 2 minutes. Nice.

There are a lot of things that I like about iOS, but file management has always been a pain point. Where do we download files from the Internet? How can we send files that are not images from one person to another? How can we just crack open the file system and peek inside to see where all of our limited space has gone? Sure, we can do these things on a rooted phone, but a phone is an appliance … we shouldn't have to root them and introduce instabilities just for the sake of looking at a file.

There are some instances where I actually wish I had an Android phone. This doesn't mean I'm thinking about giving up the iDevice, though.

Air or Mini?

Last week Apple unveiled a pair of new iPads for people all over the world to covet and, in a surprising move, outfitted both of them with the same internal specifications. The main difference between the iPad mini and the iPad Air is the size of the device. Inside we can find the same processor, the same amount of memory, the same storage capacities, the same cameras, and the same expected time between charges. No longer will people need to choose based on a spec check list. All that matters is the screen size. Unfortunately, this is where my problem lies.

I have never used an iPad for any serious amount of time. Aside from helping colleagues with iOS issues or playing with a display model unit at a store, I've yet to try an integrate one of these devices into my workflow. I'd love to have one at work1 and develop lesson plans that make use of the technology, but this is not likely going to happen anytime soon. How does a person in my situation choose a device they will be happy to use for several years?

The general consensus is that people who want to do a lot of writing on the device should get the larger iPad Air so that they have the extra screen real estate with the keyboard, making errors less likely. As someone who has typed several million words on an iPod Touch and iPhone, working in cramped quarters is not a problem. I should also mention that I'd like to share the iPad with the wife in a bid to get her further accustomed to using Apple devices. I believe an iPad could greatly help her with preparing for her return to university, far more than the paper notebook and stacks of photocopied materials she has currently.

Would the big one make sense when the smaller one can more easily fit into a pocket or purse? I don't know.

It's a shame we can't rent iPads.

  1. the employer will be rolling out some very locked-down iPads at the start of December, but these will not add any value to the learning process whatsoever. I need a device that I can use freely.

Déjà Vu

Something has been tugging at the back of my mind since upgrading the iDevice to iOS7, the latest in Apple's line of mobile operating system updates. My first thought was that I was confusing some of my initial impressions of the system with its stark contrast to what had come before but, with introspection, I discovered that what I was actually feeling while using iOS7 was déjà vu.

Back in early 2002 I went all out and bought a Sony Clie SJ-33 PalmOS-powered PDA. This was back in the days when a 160x160 monochrome screen was considered luxury, and you could count on your portable electronics to give you at least a week on a pair of AAA batteries. My Palm IIIxe was bumping up against its 8MB storage capacity every day with no expansion slot for me to take advantage of. Considering how the Palm device was a crucial component of my digital arsenal1, I needed something with more space … fast. My options were limited to the expensive Palm IIIc with a colour screen and 16MB RAM, or an expensive Sony Clie SJ-33 with a faster processor, the same amount of RAM, a better screen, and a Memory Stick slot. Sony won my $380.

From the moment I first powered up the Sony I was in awe. A 320x320 resolution was four times what I was accustomed to, making the text sharp and beautiful. The colour screen was amazing and had one of the best refresh rates I had ever seen in a LCD display up to then. The 33MHz processor? It just screamed.

Of course this is a far cry from today's technology, but the feeling is the same. Apple was able to take an already amazing screen and make the text feel sharper and more attractive, similar to what Sony did with PalmOS 4.1 in 2002. Unlike Sony's solution, though, we could do this with our existing hardware. The screen on the iPhone was wonderful before, and it's amazing now.

This déjà vu will eventually wear off. The joy I get from reading crisp, clear text will not.

  1. I used it to organise client data at work, and it saved my ass hundreds of times
Image from Felix

Evernote on iOS7 Needs Some Work

Apple today released the seventh version of their mobile operating system, iOS. All in all the upgrade went without a hitch, and I was gleefully swiping around the screens like a n00b less than 25 minutes after clicking the "Download" button. A lot of the applications that I use on a regular basis have been updated for the new design aesthetic of iOS7, and design is certainly the key focus a lot of developers have when it comes to putting out new versions. I couldn't be happier. That said,t here is one app that seems to have consistently gone from good to bad to worse over the course of three years: Evernote.

The Latest Evernote in iOS7

Evernote in iOS7 is not really usable when in portrait mode. This is going to cause some issues when I try to write ridiculously long blog posts. Heck, one of the reasons 10Centuries was made was so that I could write long blog posts in Evernote on my iDevice1 and have them appear automagically on my personal site without having to go through some other text editor.

I hope there will be a way to hide the formatting bar as well as the unnecessary "New Note" header in the near future. Unfortunately, looking at the amount of eye candy that's been consistently added to Evernote over the last few releases, I don't think this is going to happen.

Long Exposure Applications on iOS

Far more pictures have been added to my photo gallery in the last twelve months than at any other point in my life as I've finally had access to a camera that was portable enough to always carry, as well as provide enough clarity that I actually enjoy looking at the results. Although I am no professional at photography1, I do enjoy grabbing images from wherever I might be if the light is just right. This was the case the other night when Nozomi and I were walking through the park at night and I looked up in search of a single star in the night sky2.

I thought the light refracting off the humidity was interesting and decided to snap some pictures. First with the camera application that ships with iOS, and the second with CortexCam, a long-exposure application that merges several images into a single cohesive picture. Here are the results:

As you can see, the default application is full of artefacts and fuzz. No fun at all.

The CortexCam photo is much, much better. There are still no stars to be seen … but the city light refracting off the humidity can be seen and understood. I've taken a lot of photos with CortexCam and been pleased with the results.

I've assembled a bit of a gallery, and I'll put it online soon.