Incremental Updates

Every time Apple update something in their line-up that doesn’t quite live up to people’s expectations the finger pointing starts. Words like “incremental”, and the lack of “innovation” start being banded around along with the “should have been an S year statements”. I don’t agree with these statements in relation to the iPhone 13, however even if that is the case for you, these small steady steps forward are the best thing for everyone.

I struggle with the urge to upgrade more than most people. I obsessively get a new iPhone each year (yes even the iPhone XS) and more than occasionally look back and regret it. Each year the new phones indeed offer me something, however small, but I have come to terms with the fact that the drive for me to upgrade is one of habit and ego. When it comes to the device I use the most I just like something new, constantly. The sheer fact that I buy the pro phone each year is because it is new but being mindful of this allows me to see just how truly stupid it is.

This so called “lack of innovation” or “incremental updates” are exactly what our consumerist culture needs. Small updates each year help to dispel the myth of needing to constantly upgrade. Indeed, the actual benefits of newer models are becoming so small that when talking to others it is easier to put people off than ever. Leaving room for you to question the line up and be far more objective about stretching to upgrade. A positive further enforced by a line-up that contains overlapping features and, at least perceivably, very few compromises at each price point.

Sure, there are more capitalist ideas behind releases than I want to think about. There must be technical reasons but simple things such as moving camera lenses to new positions could be interpreted as making sure to show off the new phone. You can be sure each year there is also a new flagship colour too. However, a line up where you can get 90% of a phone at 70% of the cost is one that I applaud. Long may small incremental updates keep coming and someday even I might not feel the urge to buy, but I doubt it.

On Your Face Again

Very few times in my blogging life do I have to go extremely far back in my archives. Perhaps a year so to reference in newer posts but usually not far at all. Today I had to go right back to 2016 where I urged people not to put a computer on their face. Of course, referencing the now infamous Google Glass which had been floating around for a few years previously, but at the time the latest thing was Snapchat Glasses.

As I said previously, there are few things that really worry me when it comes to technology but being surrounded by other people’s recording devices on their face is chilling. Without doubt the improvements made to smartphones, particularly cameras have helped the world at least feel a bit safer. If you’re in any doubt you can pull out your smartphone and record what is going on. The effect being a small degradation of privacy with a positive benefit to life. Whereas Google Glass and Snapchat glasses felt like more than a step too far.

Indeed, it was like reliving the past when Zuckerberg lauded up their latest innovation along with esteemed Sunglasses brand Ray-Ban. They not only look pretty much the same as the Snapchat version, but with a much premium build quality, they are also set out to achieve the same thing – record as much of your life as possible. It’s at this point I start to think if I right in the thoughts I have about a product or am I just a grumpy old man that doesn’t ‘get it’. As much as I hate the approach of Living life through a lens, I must accept that that this is just how the world works now; but putting it on your face just doesn’t sit well with me.

I am pleased to see that thought has been placed on some of the privacy issues. An LED light when recording or taking an image at least instills some confidence in me that I am not being recorded all the time. Facebook of all people have thought about the push backs that people had against previous attempts to face computers and implemented safety as best they could. Sure, it doesn’t take much to stop the LED from working or cover it over, but this is less likely with you are stumping up at least £300 for a pair. Indeed, I do question if a pair of Ray-Bans on their face say more about the intended use than cheap plastic Snapchat ones? However, that is not only amazingly pretentious to say, but is also difficult to draw conclusions from.

Some technology I just don’t understand, and Face computers are one of the things I will never get. This is because the product is not for me, it’s for people that want to capture more things. Which in today’s world feels more understandable than it did even 5 years ago. I have no issues holding up a camera to take pictures, and I feel much more comfortable with people having to do the same. Indicating to me that my image is being recorded and making it easier for me to protest should I need to. We do indeed live in a world full of cameras, so camera glasses and no doubt AR ones are unavoidable. It’s weird that Facebook have allowed me to be at least a little more accepting of them, but I still have hope that they don’t take off.

Early Xbox Gamepass Thoughts

The future is finally here. No you still can’t work on an iPad, but game streaming is finally good and starting to remove the need for hardware. You should already know going into this that I am already well on the boat with cloud services like this, and a heavy Stadia user. It was the service that got me playing games again, and although I feel no affiliation to the service, I like it very much.

This morning for some strange reason I noticed that I can sign up for Gamepass ultimate now for a £1! Whilst still in beta, the service allows for anyone to sign up following a pretty lengthy closed beta period. I don’t own any gaming hardware at all, so cloud services are all I am really interested in currently. Despite my love of Stadia I have alway had half an eye on Gamepass Ultimate. It contains a few games that I would want to play, and seems like it should put Googles dalliance with cloud gaming into the shade.

The two services have lots of crossover parts, whilst adopting two pretty different approaches to gaming. Stadia wants to be your everything, provide you with free games for a small fee and allow you to buy others from them. Whilst Microsoft simply wants you to pay a subscription and be allowed to play games from studios it owns or works very closely with. There is no facility to buy games outside of these provided with your subscription.

With Stadia, games do rotate in and out of ‘pro’ (which costs £8.99) but once you have claimed the games you can continue to play them — as long as you keep paying the subscription of course. With Gamepass you’ll never own anything, presumably games will stay on the service and more will be added, but if you stop paying, no more gaming. Where as Google will allow you to keep playing any games you have purchased without paying a penny, all be it at 1080p and not 4K like with the pro service.

With all this said, Gamepass is actually amazing value for money, and even more so if you own an Xbox or a gaming PC. Included is Xbox Live Gold and EA Play in the £10.99 a month subscription. If you have hardware you will also get more games — for example you can play FIFA 21 on Xbox or PC, but not cloud streaming for some strange reason. However the quality of game available for free is much larger on Gamepass.

Ultimatly it all boils down to Microsofts ability to do what Google wanted to do. It has the power to make games available because it has been doing this longer, and owns its own studios. Google have shuttered all of its first party studios despite spending millions on them, and instead are to focus on partnering with others the develop or port over games, with varying success.

Although Gamepass is the much better value for money, I am reluctant to jump in without being able to buy other games. this may lead to me having both services until that happens, or as MS no doubt will hope, I buy an Xbox. I see Gamepass as a huge edition if you have an Xbox or a gaming PC, and will only get stronger over time. However for someone like me I could run out of games I actually want to play fast and then have no where to go. 

I expect Gamepass to very quickly outshine Stadia and hopefully push it to get much better. Or kill it off completely.

A Question Of Platforms

When publishing a link post yesterday about blogging feeling more away from regular social media, the main point picked up on was comments on my posts. As Curtis Hale points out there is no provision for people to leave comments on my posts, other than replies on micro.blog.

I chose micro.blog recently due to its social side and also the nature of the platform allowing me to post everything in one place. I didn’t spend any time wondering where does this go, and put short ‘tweets’, Instagram style photos and long blog posts all on one blog. Making the experience a bit more personal.

In exchange for this I get a much more rigid platform than the WordPress one I came from, and rely totally on one persons vision for what he wants. Manson does an excellent job of running micro.blog but that’s not really the point, that is to say that I have given over a large portion of control to another person. Much like Facebook and Twitter dictate what I can and can’t post, micro.blog controls the way the platform works and how it moves forwards.

When thinking about comments the only thing that works are micro.blog replies. I should be able to pull in replies from Twitter using bridg.y now, but it has never worked. I no doubt could look at other options and try and run a stand alone commenting system, but this would be hacked on rather than an integrated solution. Giving over this large level of control sometimes feels freeing at times, but in equal measures frustrating.

If the platform decides to go a direction that you don’t want to then you are at its mercy, or you pack up and leave. Something that should be easy to do, but often at times isn’t. Perhaps something more open is better suited to what I want to achieve, or where I want my blog to go.

I am lucky in the fact that I can usually mold things to get to where I want to be and if I think about comments and the potential of avoiding the trappings of social media, my current platform does not provide it. I guess its important to think about these things when you give over control, and rember that needs can change a lot faster than platforms do.

Logging Off

The past weekend we managed to grab some time away as a family. It’s been a long time coming as we booked this in March 2020, so the release to finally get away was huge. The break away wasn’t anything lavish, but even a couple of days with zero to worry about and we can enjoy some activities together was fantastic. For the long weekend I chose to not take any connective technology with me, and it can’t tell you how both weird and wonderful it felt.

The day we arrived whilst waiting to order some food, twice in fairly quick succession I raised my wrist to see what the time was. Only to see a faint tan line and in indent from my Apple Watch. I let out a small groan due to lacking the ability to check the time, and wondered why on earth all of my tech was at home a couple of hours drive away. I didn’t need it, I didn’t want it, yet my brain still tried to play through the tried and tested route of fixing a small period of boredom with a gadget.

As much as I am aware that it is not the internet that does these things to me, it is becoming harder and harder to mediate them with the reliance I have of both working online and enjoying spending time connected. I am currently managing to live in an in between space where I try and limit the time I spend with gadgets, but not miss out on what they can do for me.

Pandemic Issues

There were a few issues. When we left each other for even a small period of time, such as walking to the shop to fetch some breakfast, my wife couldn’t update me on what she needed. Of course this wasn’t a huge deal, but I also couldn’t use the NHS COVID app to track me being at several facilities, and as such felt a bit out of place. I could have done this manually, but I am not comfortable leaving my personal details on a random forms, so opted to just rely on my wife scanning the QR code.

All of the attractions we visited also required ordering of food and drink from a smartphone app which again I had to lean on my wife more than usual. The pandemic has placed a reliance on our connected lives and the smartness of our devices far outside the ability to contact with others. I am under no illusions that me being without a smartphone for a longer length of time just wouldn’t work out, but it’s nice to dream a little.

The lack of Apple Pay, messaging and everything else my phone does for me didn’t crop up as much as I thought it would. Most obstacles could be overcome with a little thought, but having a computer in your packet is just so much easier. However the silence from my need to check social media and the reduced pocket space needed made for a much more enjoyable break away. What first was an annoyance of not being able to find out the time became something I enjoyed and instead focused on other things.

I have not decided when I will return yet as I am enjoying a break away for the next week. I did open Twitter today to be greeted with 13 notifications. All of which are spam to try and get me engaged in the platform again. So I swiftly closed it again. I miss it, but not in the ways I expected. It’s great to log off for a bit every now and again.

I might realise how much I miss it…. Perhaps.

Using Craft For Daily Notes

One of the most beneficial habits I have gotten into is taking daily notes, and I really wish I had started it earlier in life. My initial foray into Roam Research gave me the inspiration to start recording my day, simply because it is right in your face whenever you open the page. This practice has gone with me to my new home on Obsidian, then a few weeks ago Craft launched something so of course I checked it out.

Craft is a strange app that I cant really work out. When it first launched it was pitched in a strange place that didn’t quite do 100% of anything I needed. It wasn’t quite a writing app that did everything a paid app should, but had a weird wiki kind of vibe to it. I can only describe it as if Notion and Bear Notes had a baby.

Having tried, and not liked very much, Craft a couple of times already, it was only the update to include daily notes that peeked my interest. While I am no stranger to jumping around apps, I wasn’t quite ready to start messing around with my set up again. However there is no harm in trying things out without getting invested and this update is a huge one.

By introducing a redesigned sidebar, Craft have allowed you to separate these notes away from everything else you want to write. Daily notes is a practice that I preach to almost anyone that will listen, the one thing that remains from my time using Roam Research. In these I record almost everything that happens during my working day, such as telephone calls, things I am thinking, interactions I have had and anything else I think I might need to refer back to later. This allows me to just get things out of my brain at the time they pop up so I can act on them later, or refer back to them if needed.

One thing that Craft now does really well is the ability to take meeting notes. After you have granted the app permission it will display any calendar events and allow you to start a meeting note with one click. Information from the calendar event is populated into this, and the note then shows up in the daily note and also the in app calendar. I like to distribute the notes I have made later to those that have attended, or invited so being able to do this in PDF, docx or whatever method you need is really handy. If you adopt Craft for work, you can also share these with the users you need to and even mention them in the doc itself.

Craft Back Links

Craft works with the now very popular method of back-linking meaning you can link notes together if needed and refer to them at later points. This is the real benefit of me being able to refer back to things I have recorded later on. This could be some bits of information that led to a meeting, or something as simple as an idea that I later turn into a blog post. In the screen shot above, I make a note at the end of the meeting to reference a new one set up (we usually agree on this and arrange the event in the meeting) so this then shows up when I start in the new meeting note. I can then open the note in split screen or a new tab and refer back really easily.

Backlinks are also really handy when building out some knowledge and making notes around topics. Amazingly handy if you are studying something, but also useful for daily life. I get ideas quite often that pop up during my morning pages that i write out when first at my desk. I can then start to link recurring topics together really easily by using [[]] and searching for the old note. This isn’t as useful as the implementation in Roam or Obsidian, but its not far away and is a little more approachable.

One update I would really love to see is the inclusion of unlinked references, and also improvements to the ability to search for individual block references inline. I don’t like taking my hands away from the keyboard when typing things out on morning pages, so this would be much better. However I realise that this isn’t Obsidian to I am happy to take some compromises.

Actions

More often referred to as tasks, Craft has inbuilt checklists for you to be able to add in meeting actions in markdown or using its / command. Although Craft is no replacement for a task manager, you can use this as a sudo one for recording things to do. Each day will highlight any outstanding tasks next to the date. You can of course put these actions into your task manager of choice, Craft works really well with Things 3 providing a link back to the note in the tasks set up.

With all that said, if you intend to use the tasks inside Craft please note that there is no easy way to see all set up items in one place. The only place these are highlighted is in the daily notes. I have reached out to the developers and they are intending to implement this soon.

There you have it, a very brief dalliance with daily notes in Craft. It isn’t as fleshed out as I would like but it’s pretty robust if you are going in with no expectations. I am sticking to Obsidian for the time being, but will have half an eye on any updates coming out.

Force Some iPad Into My Life →

When I think about all of the hardware I have owned over the last few years there are far too many in that list that I care to admit. I do switch around phones every so often for reviews, but my personal computer life takes on huge dramatic swifts every now and again. Since prosumously ditching the iPad after more than 5 years as my computer I have gone backwards and forwards switching out laptops, for iPads, and back again. I think it’s time to stop.

In fact I think it was time to stop a while ago. I am really starting to struggle with work and life separation due to only having one Mac now. So much so I don’t want to open my laptop at home. I know that I will dive in to things that I, granted need to do, but don’t need to do when I wanted to write a journal log.

I have some inspiration to thank for my meandering thoughts. Jack Batty wrote about wanting to try and make the iPad his everything, and this part particularly stuck out.

But, iOS is calmer than macOS, and right now I need a little calm. – Jack Baty

To use the word that tech commentators hate to hear — when I am ‘working’ on an iPad (e.g. writing a blog post or editing a photo), it feels different. As Jack puts it, using iPad OS is calmer, it never feels like work. Granted sometimes it’s a full time job trying to work out how you do somethings that are simple on a Mac but the simplicity is so refreshing. The iPad feels computerish without feeling like the rest of my waking life.

So, here’s the ‘forcing’ part. I am going all in again. Apart from my work day, which I can do nothing about, I am using an iPad for everything else. I haven’t spent anything, it’s a 2018 12.9″ iPad Pro with a Magic Keyboard I have had for a long time so I have nothing much to lose. I am actually quite excited.

Wheres The Downside To Mail Privacy Protection?

At Apples WWDC 2021, Apple focused very tightly on improving the security of their products. Many people dismiss this as a “marketing line” and although there are some worrying trends in the way they are going about things, this is the Apple way I approve of. One of the biggest push backs has been against their improvements to Apple Mail that removes tracking and spying tactics used by marketers.

Dubbed Mail Privacy Protection, it nullifies the tiny little trackers in emails you receive, ones that relay loads of your private information to servers without your knowledge.

Presumably Apple will route emails through a proxy and load tracking pixels on their servers before serving the email to you and I am really struggling to find a downside to this. There will be loads of people waiting to tell me how wrong I am, just as they did last time I pointed at them. I am happy to be proven otherwise, but most of they people that speak up are ingrained in a business that needs this data, but my conclusion is drawn from three areas.

  • If your newsletter is free, you don’t (or you shouldn’t) care if people read it or not, because the work involved in producing it is exactly the same.
  • If your newsletter is paid, you are paid by the people that sign up to receive it. Thus it makes no difference if people actually read it or not. The cost of production is the same, and you get paid the same regardless.
  • If you send marking emails, you will need to see if your emails are successful or not. This is the only area where tracking would matter to you, and to this is say tough. Full disclosure I am involved in this area of business and I am still happy Apple are turning off the tap to those more predatory than myself.

You see, there is nothing inherently wrong with tracking if an email is opened or not, it can be useful to know. We have it in message services such as iMessage, and you have been able to do this optionally in Exchange email for years. However these are transparent and something the end user has to agree to. Presumably using the method detailed above, all tracking pixels would be marked as opened anyway, and then it is up to the user to read it or not. However most tracking doesn’t stop at this.

Take a look at most marketers email dashboard and you will be able to see not just when it was opened and what links are clicked on but also how many times and where the person is! Data that should be protected unless a user opts in to share this with you. Pixel tracking is one of the many scourges of the internet and I trust Apple to lead the fight against it.

We cant say for sure if the open rate metric will no longer be valid, but with certainty everything else will be killed off and I for one am overjoyed!

Work And Home Digital Separation

We’ve has a huge shift at work, returning to more of an office based environment for at least a little while. I am really excited to be building up a larger team around me to push the company forward, but my trusty iMac Pro has been donated to a returning member of staff more in need.

Due to my indecision in knowing what to do I am not left with only one computer. I know ultimate first world problem right! My working machine is my personal laptop, one that is with me almost always. I do love my 13″ MacBook Pro though, I purchased it a few months before they switched to M1 and it looks awesome working on a nice big display.

Anyway I digress slightly. The point I am trying to make is that due to this shift, my computer is now everything. Personal things and working things are all done on the same laptop. So where I could separate my life slightly from my laptop to my iMac, that’s no longer possible. I never set up emails on my personal machines before and installed very few working apps. That is no longer possible, my home and office have merged, everywhere I turn working is always in my face.

For most of the time this is fine. I love the work I do, and I often have ideas for design bits or some inspiration at the weekends. Being able to jump straight into Illustrator or Figma is a blessing for those sorts of situations. For every other time when I just want to open up my laptop and do some personal tasks, my emails and other work things are just right there staring at me!

If I thought I had lots of Twitter muscle memory, I have even more for work tasks. I just find myself replying to emails on a Sunday afternoon, or managing tasks for the upcoming week without even realising it. Much like my working office being the same as where I do my personal things, it gets to the stage where there is no separation and I never feel like I am away. Some personal rules or spaces need setting up I think. Perhaps two users for my laptop. Or maybe I just need to get an iPad!

The Simplicity Of The iPad Is Its Biggest Attraction

I seem to be writing about the iPad a bit more, simply because people are thinking and talking about it more following WWDC2021. You can guarantee this always happens at two points, following release of new hardware, and after software updates. Amplify this double of Apple have released a new iPad and then talked about a software update that hasn’t met imaginary predictions. So, currently we are in the middle of a perfect storm, or I guess an imperfect one.

The common consensus seems to be that the iPad needs to move forward and be more like the Mac. There is some long held belief that the iPad Pro must start to deliver everything to everyone, becoming more like a traditional commuter — when in fact the opposite is true.

I love having a iPad because it can do everything I need. If I want to chill out on the sofa and read a bit, or I want to scribble some notes in a meeting it is perfect. I also know that of I need to draw out some design concepts, illustrate a document or connect a keyboard to write out a blog post it can do all that and more — with ease, and most of all simplicity.

I can get in depth and have side by side windows, Slideover ones and picture in picture stuff going on, but I can also open an app in full screen by default and everything else gets out my way. No docks to hide, no menu bars or anything else to worry about — a procrastinators dream.

Some of these feelings come from working on a Mac all day. The iPad feels different and more relaxed, but even when I used an iPad as my main computer I just loved the way it was simple to understand and got where I needed it to go. I wasn’t trying to force a square peg in a round hole, I wasn’t expecting it to do anything more that I needed it to, because when push comes to shove, better tools are available.

I must applaud Apple for achieving this mix of power and simplicity for iPad OS. Every time “someone familiar with the matter” starts to talk about making the iPad like a desktop computer I feel a little bit of dread that the iPad will loose its charm. Push too far towards the work, and loose its way with everything else it is great at. I wish Apple would bring the iPad out into the sun with feature parody, but it doesn’t need anything else to be a great iPad. For everything else, there’s a Mac for that.