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April 17 2015

April 11 2015

My experience with the new Photos app… was short

I have upgraded to OS X 10.10.3 the day it was released. Then I started to learn about the new Photos app. I’ve been trying to get answers for question like what happens with the existing iPhoto library, how does the iCloud Photo Library work, what’s the impact of using iCloud Photo Library on the very little iCloud space, etc.

I got answers to all these questions. Even if some of them were not what I’ve been wishing for, I was ready to try out the new Photo app. At least for the promised improved performance. I don’t have a huge iPhoto library, but using iPhoto has been a pain for years—truth is that I loathed firing it up and tried to do it as rare as possible.

Imagine my high expectations building with every review I read. Finally, after all this time I’ll be able to access my photos through a Mac application.

I took a long happy breath and I clicked the new Photo app. I felt like I already like the Photo app. Even its icon seemed more appealing. I chose not to use the iCloud Photo Library. Clicked next. And…

Photo app screenshot

What now?

I tried to navigate to the iPhoto library hosted by my external hard drive, but the Photo app didn’t want to recognize it. Next I tried to symlink to it from the Picture folder. Still nothing. Google it. Nada.

Oh well. I guess that was my first encounter with Photo. The promise of being fast was respected.

It feels like it came from the future and didn’t bring its ecosystem with it

Jason Snell in the review of the new 12-inch MacBook:

It’s a company that’s often designing for what it sees as the world of the future and not today. […] Using a computer that feels like it fell through a time warp from the future is fun, but if that computer drops through the wormhole without any compatible accessories then there’s going to be some aggravation, too. […] The new MacBook is one of those Apple products. It feels like it came from the future, and didn’t bring its ecosystem with it.

Triggered by John Gruber’s post, I’ve asked myself what the new MacBook is for. Jason Snell’s answer is that it’s a machine for those “prioritizing size, weight, and stylishness“.

If I’d be nitpicking, I’d say that none of these three characteristics is the immediate explanation of a single port or limited RAM.

The new MacBook: looking at it for what it is

John Gruber:

People who want this thing to have more ports and better performance aren’t looking at it for what it is — they’re looking at it for what they want it to be.

For so long consumers were forced to accept products as a, usually big, compromise between what they wanted and what they were given. In many cases simply accepting the status quo means discouraging evolution.

Apple is not a company that’s afraid to move; Jason Snell puts it very nicely: “Apple’s often been a company that pushed new technology into a world that’s reluctant to receive it”. And I doubt that John Gruber is suggesting accepting the status quo. I also hope that this is not about accepting Apple’s choices because they know what’s better—it is true though, that Apple proved capable of doing many things right by relying solely on its team’s knowledge.

It’s the very human nature to want the latest and greatest with the hope that the shiny new toy will work great for your own use cases. Apple’s lack of hints about the intended audience and use cases can create confusion and frustrations. Yes, I am irked that I cannot use the new MacBook as my main machine; and indeed, I do ask myself why it has only 1 port. I am also still confused—even after reading quite a few reviews—if I could benefit from using an Apple watch

By not providing some examples of intended usage1, Apple allows all its users to dream of these new products and try to figure how they fit in their life style. I can understand how this can look like a good idea—why would you want to reduce the addressable market?, but I can also see the unhappiness of those that cannot benefit of these new products.

Anyways, I still don’t know what John Gruber meant. And I still don’t know what the new MacBook is for.


  1. This could also hint on why some decisions were made. Why a single port? Why so little RAM? Etc. etc. 

April 10 2015

Alfred: There's a cute update notification

Yesterday while doing my normal Cmd+Space[1], I’ve noticed something cute:

Alfred update notification


Initially I couldn’t put my finger on why I liked it so much. It started to bother me… why? why did I keep smiling? why have a captured a screenshot as soon as I noticed it?

It took me a while to realize it. Launchers have such a limited screen space. And you are so used with that small input area showing up quickly, listing some results, and immediately getting off the way.

Such tools don’t really have many options to notify their users. They can use a system notification. Or they could show one of those plane dialogs. But there’s no fun in any of these options.

The reason I was smiling after seeing this Alfred cute little notification was that its developers have figured out a why to surprise me pleasantly in that small screen space they have. I appreciate that!


  1. I do use two different launch apps: Alfred and LaunchBar, each on a different machine. It’s a subject for a different post, but overall I find Alfred more intuitive, but I still like to keep an eye on competition.  ↩

April 09 2015

Darker background in iOS 8.3

As you can imagine after an iOS update with a 5 screens long list of improvements and bug fixes, there are tons of articles out there—if you are looking for a good summary check out TidBits’s “iOS 8.3 Triggers an Avalanche of Improvements”.

One thing that I noticed on my device and I couldn’t find it mentioned in these articles is what seems to be a darker background color.

Below you can see the color in the original wallpaper and a screenshot of how it looks on iOS 8.3:

originalnew

I’m wondering what led to this change? The new darker background seems to offer a slightly improved contrast, but I’m wondering if this is the main reason behind this change.

The iOS wallpaper library contains an almost equal number of dark and light wallpapers.

Considering the thoroughness with which Apple’s releases are analyzed and the lack of mentions of this change, makes me think if the majority of iOS users have a dark wallpaper. This could be an interesting data point for the designers of app icons.

February 08 2014

Unread and my reading habits

Reeder has been for a long time my go to RSS reader on the iPhone. But I wasn’t very happy with it and Reeder 2 — which I’ve assumed to be just a temporary solution — was just a iOS 7 style update1. Is Reeder missing any essential features? Not really. But I usually get worried, and a twitching feeling in my fingers, when using applications that do not get consistent updates.

After reading reviews about a new RSS reader app for iOS, that at least according to the majority of reviewers is completely changing the game and that got on their phone home screens after just a short usage period, I decided it’s time to use it myself.

Unread has a great design. It’s polished. And it comes with an interesting and well thought through new set of user interactions. But I won’t repeat all its features as you can read about these in the numerous reviews: Federico Vittici, Stephen Hackett, Shawn Blanc.

Why am I writing about Unread then?

There is one scenario that I find Unread was not designed for or at which I think it could do much better. Unfortunately this is exactly the scenario I’m using RSS readers for: sifting through 1-2 hundred items per day to find items that I want to read.

I doubt this scenario is foreign to a lot of RSS readers. But if you want to visualize it, it goes like this:

  1. I have a couple of different categories of feeds, usually grouped by areas of interest or common topics;
  2. depending on my mood, time of day, or what I want to focus on, I open one of these folders to get a complete list of items;
  3. as I go through the list of unread items, I mark as read those that I don’t care about. I either read immediately or leave unread those that I want to go back to;
  4. I do a quick folder refresh to check what’s left.

Unread isn’t optimal for 3 out of these 4 steps:

  1. by default when clicking a folder, instead of the list of new articles, I get a list of feeds. And it includes not only those that have been updated, but also those with no unread items. This mode requires quite a bit of extra interactions for sifting through items.

    After going through all the setting screens — and Unread has a special setting screen for each different view you are in — I have found a way to get the list of unread items for a folder. It is under an unexpected option, “Use buttons for counts”, which then brings up the magic option to view the unread articles list.

  2. To mark as read an item in the list view, I need to double tap it. I don’t know how good you are at double tapping with your thumb, but in my case, in 7 out of 10 times, I end up expanding the item and then having to go back to the list. As much as I tried to ignore it, this continues to frustrate me.

  3. After finally getting through the list of items and marking as read those I want to ignore, pulling to refresh does not clean up the list. Everything I’ve marked as read is still there.

None of these are insurmountable problems and they can be addressed in a future version. I’ll keep Unread around, but for now I’ll continue to use Reeder 2.


  1. Indeed Reeder 2 brought new synchronization services after Google Reader was dead. As a long time user, I took that as granted; basically I would never consider an app that cannot synchronize. Time is precious

November 08 2013

Storing photos: what, where, how?

I’m not taking tons of photos. I don’t take pro-photos. I’d probably be fine if I couldn’t find some old photos. But I don’t like losing things.

So please help me with links to:

  1. all tips, tricks, strategies, techniques, scripts for self-organizing photo libraries
  2. recommendations for the online service you are using for storing photos

A comment here or a tweet are perfect. Thanks!

Why (and how) I'm saying goodbye to Gmail

It was great while it lasted, but I finally broke up with Gmail. Though I had relied on Google’s popular email service for years, my level of satisfaction had been dropping steadily for a while, and changes in the Mavericks version of Mail (about which I’ve ranted at some length) were the last straw. Now I’m returning to a good old-fashioned IMAP server, and I’m not looking back.

An example of flawed logic.

November 03 2013

Advice needed: choosing a Transporter

External drives are great. Except for the time you don’t have them around. Which seems to happen to me most of the time.

Lately I’ve been considering getting a network attached drive I could access from anywhere in my network. A while ago I’ve learned about the Transporter which seems to be an even smarter alternative to NAS1. I also know about Synology, Drobo and alikes, but these are over my budget.

Right now the Transporter comes in 4 forms:

  • Transporter Sync: sort of your BYOD solution that allows using an external hard driver through USB 2.0 costing $99
  • 3 versions with internal storage ranging from 500GB to 2TB and costing from $199 to $399

With the current hard driver prices, what I’ve been trying to figure out is what model to get; this was triggered by the fact that at $200 you can get quite a big hard drive, definitely much larger than the $1.5TB which is what you’d get from buying the largest Transporter.

The model that tempts me is the Transporter Sync. It’s not only about its price, but also the fact that it would allow me to attach whatever drive I want.

But the way you attach the external drive to the Transported Sync is over USB2.0. The question I try to answer is: is USB2.0 good enough?

In terms of speed USB2.0 is much (x 10) slower than USB3.0. But is this really a problem? The top transfer speed for USB2.0 is 480Mbit/s while the top transfer speed for USB3.0 is 4.8Gbit/s. In a home network using a 802.11n router, you can get up to 300Mbit/s2, so basically the bottleneck will be the network. As regards transferring files over the Internet, I doubt many have connections that would come close to the USB2.0 transfer rates.

But, USB2.0 doesn’t allow bi-directional data transfers. If I’m planning to use the Transporter as an alternative to Dropbox, watching a movie would basically disable this feature.

So, what should I do? Go with the Transporter Sync with an USB2.0 external drive or get a Transporter with an internal drive (that I can probably swap with a larger driver)?


  1. The Transporter not only makes the files available on your network but also  

  2. Wikipedia says the top speed for 802.11n is 600Mbit/s 

September 26 2013

iOS 7 and the State of Podcast Apps

Every time I read a post about iOS podcast apps, like this one, I firstly scan it to see if it mentions iCatcher!. If it doesn’t, I’m deeply saddened.

iCatcher! is not a nice iOS podcast app. It’s athe perfect podcast app with a meh interface. But ask yourself: how much time do you actually spend on its interface and how much do you care about getting everything you’d ever wanted from a podcast app?

September 22 2013

Oops TouchID

The story of the unbreakable TouchID in the iPhone 5s was good… for 3 days

:

iPhone users should avoid protecting sensitive data with their precious biometric fingerprint not only because it can be easily faked, as demonstrated by the CCC team. Also, you can easily be forced to unlock your phone against your will when being arrested. Forcing you to give up your (hopefully long) passcode is much harder under most jurisdictions than just casually swiping your phone over your handcuffed hands.

Via @janl

September 13 2013

The company sets a promotional price on both the iPhone 5S -- $99 down -- and the iPhone 5C, which doesn't require any money down

T-Mobile is making it easier on the wallet on an upfront basis for iPhone buyers. Customers don’t have to put any money down on the iPhone 5C, although they will have to pay $22 a month for two years to pay off the device. The iPhone 5S will cost $99 down and $22.91 a month for two years.

You’ll stil pay the full price, but in small chuncks. Combined with iPhone 5s data plan, you could get the new iPhone for $53/month. Not bad.

September 10 2013

iPhone 5s: Choosing a plan

iPhone 5s price for 32GB model

According to Apple Store:

32GB subsidized = $300
32GB unlocked = $750

Plans

AT&T

Plan 2: 1GB data ($15 per extra GB)

att2_monthly = $85

total_att2 = subsidized + 24 * att2_monthly => $2,340

Plan 3: 2GB data ($15 per extra GB)

att3_monthly = $95

total_att3 = subsidized + 24 * att3_monthly => $2,580

Plan4: 4GB data ($15 per extra GB)

att4_monthly = $110

total_att4 = subsidized + 24 * att4_monthly => $2,940

Verizon

Plan2: 1GB data ($15 per extra GB)

v2_monthly = $90

total_v2 = subsidized + 24v2_monthly => $2,460

Plan3: 2GB ($15 per extra GB)

v3_monthly = $100

total_v3 = subsidized + 24v3_monthly => $2,700

Plan4: 4GB ($15 per extra GB)

v4_monthly = $110

total_v4 = subsidized + 24v4_monthly => $2,940

T-Mobile

Plan 2: Up to 2.5GB of high-speed data

tm2_monthly = $60

total_tm2 = unlocked + 24tm2_monthly => $2,190

Plan 3: Unlimited 4GB data

tm3_monthly = $70

total_tm3 = unlocked + 24tm3_monthly => $2,430

Conclusion

Cost wise, the choice is clear: T-Mobile. If the 2.5GB/month plan fits you, you could even get the 64GB iPhone 5s and still save money. Not to mention the advantage of having an unlocked model (for travel times and when you’ll sell the phone).

But there’s also the matter of LTE coverage. While not an expert in the area, as far as I know T-Mobile has the smallest network when compared to AT&T and Verizon. And I don’t know anything about their network quality. You’ll have to figure out this part for yourself. Here are some links that might help you with this part:

I’ve played with these prices using Calca.

Make sure you check the suggestion in the comments and also the other suggestions on this Twitter conversation.

August 30 2013

Apple deal: iPhone Buy-back with 2-year contract

Joanna Stern from ABC News:

If you are not currently on a contract or if your contract is up, customers will have to sign up for another cellular contract to take advantage of the program.

  1. I could understand this coming from a carrier.
  2. I could understand Apple requiring the acquisition of a new iPhone.

But WTF is this coming from Apple?

July 03 2013

My Information Flow - Sources, Environments, Actions and Targets

I’ve been trying to put some order in how I handle content. Here’s the result:

InformationFlow

April 27 2013

Causes and Mitigations of DNS latency

DNS lookups can become a significant bottleneck in the browsing experience. […] We believe that the cache miss factor is the most dominant cause of DNS latency, and discuss it further below.

March 28 2013

Assigning App Shortcuts to AppleScripts With BetterTouchTool

You can assign keyboard shortcuts to Automator workflows and you can overwrite specific app shortcuts in System Preferences -> Keyboard -> Keyboard Shortcuts. But there’s no easy way to assign keyboard shortcuts to AppleScripts.

If you don’t want to use a 3rd party app, one trick you could do is to create Automator workflows that execute your AppleScripts and assign keyboard shortcuts to them. It works, but it’s an extra step.

The space of 3rd party apps is wide. Here’re the top options for solving this.

There are a couple of apps I know of—and probably many more that I don’t—whose sole purpose is to provide this feature: assigning shortcuts to AppleScripts. The two I ‘ve tried: FastScripts and Aptivate are apps whose sole purpose is to address this problem. There’s also Keyboard Maestro whose breathing keyboard shortcuts for workflows.

Another option is app launchers. A couple of them provide this feature. The ones I know of to support this feature are Alfred 1 and 2, Quicksilver, Butler. Unfortunately LaunchBar, the one I’ve been using for a while mostly due to his support for presenting results from AppleScripts, doesn’t.

Finally, here’s the trick I discovered tonight and the reason of this post.

You can assign keyboard shortcuts to AppleScripts using BetterTouchTool. If you haven’t heard of it until now, do yourself a favor and download it. Now. The extra gestures that you can add to the Mac touchpad, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad will transform these into Awesomely Magical Mouse and Trackpad.

Back to AppleScripts and keyboard shortcuts though. If you go to the Keyboard tab, you can create a new Keyboard shortcut and make it trigger an Open Application/File/Script.

That’s all.

December 22 2012

Four Alternatives to Apple's Podcasts App

TidBITS’s Josh Centers reviews 4 podcast apps for iOS (Instacast, Downcast, PodCruncher, Stitcher) trying to see which of them accomplishes a list of expectations for such applications:

  • it should have a simple interface that doesn’t requrie careful tapping
  • it needs to be able to intelligently download and store episodes when I’m on Wi-Fi
  • it also needs to be able to efficiently stream those [episodes] I forget to download before leaving the house
  • I nedd to be able to easily rewind a few seconds to catch up
  • I need the capability to skip past them [ads]
  • I need lock screen and headphone controls that let me rewind and fast forward within an episode

I’ve tried a dozen of podcasting apps for iOS and there’s only one answer: iCatcher!. It is a 5 star app.

My DayOne Before and After the Word Journal

This is how DayOne looked before (October) and after I started to use the Word Journal:

Screenshot from Day One-1580x1596-201212221055

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