Home Screen Post: Chelsea Cook

This week’s home screen features Chelsea Cook. Chelsea is an impressive young woman. She has a physics degree from Virginia Tech, has given her very own TED talk, and happens to be blind. Chelsea enjoys astronomy, reading, and creative writing. Her ultimate goal is to become an astronaut who writes poetry in space. Chelsea also loves her iPhone. So Chelsea, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

Wow, that’s hard, as I’m always downloading and trying out new ones. I like Downcast and ooTunes for audio, FlightView for tracking flights and gates at the airport (sometimes faster than the airlines and mitigates having to ask gate agents if you know the airport), and Check the Weather because it tells you the weather forecast so precisely without having to swipe through a bunch of information. It also includes “feels like” temperatures, which is important in the high humidity-environment of the east Coast.

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

Definitely iAssociate 2. The developer has made a great effort at making the game both VoiceOver-friendly and fun to play. I bounce back and forth between different games to help me get to sleep, (another one is 2048) but I always come back to this one. When I’m in the mood for something humorous, I’ll pop open the Cracked Reader

What app makes you most productive?

Sometimes it’s more the general features of the iPhone. When I got Siri, my productivity went way up, as it was just easier to add something to my calendar or make a reminder by voice than by typing. Siri helps in my homework as well by looking up astronomical conversions for me that I just put into a calculator as she reads them back. If I had to choose an app, though, I’d say… Mail. Before the iPhone, I was chained to my computer for email, and that was not very convenient for picking up things on the other side of campus. Now, I plan my day around my inbox in real time. Mail helps me manage the deluge, but also is a quick way for professors to communicate with me if they’ve gone out for coffee and I can’t read the note on the office door. I always hated carrying cash until I got the LookTel Money Reader; I didn’t want to carry around another device just to read bills, and this app is quick and accurate. My iPhone is with me all the time, so my currency reader is with me all the time, too. (I LOVE ApplePay for so many reasons, but the convenience and privacy can’t be beat anywhere else.)

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

For sure: Workflow1Password, and blindSquare. Touch ID would probably make 1Password a whole lot easier to use. I like Workflow a lot, but have to be creative and spend some time actually thinking up things to do. And blindSquare is a multi-featured GPS solution that, combined with AppleMaps, has a lot of power and a lot of layers.

What is the app you are still missing?

The iPhone has opened up the world of apps so that as the device gets better, the apps get better; most of the specialized devices I used to carry around in a backpack now fit in my pocket. I still think the touch screen has huge potential to display mathematical content like matrices or graphs in a way that can be spatially understood by someone who is blind, similar to how you know where the icons on the home screen are. I know this is not an easy thing to code, but a VoiceOver-friendly graphing calculator or matrix manipulator would be awesome!

How many times a day do you use your iPhone/iPad?

Almost all the time. iOS is so powerful and has so much potential. I use my iPhone when I’m out and the iPad when I’m home or traveling, because of that long battery life. I love having a charged phone to get me to my destination after a long drive or flight. My poor MacBook air is usually relegated to the tasks of “heavy duty”, “long session”, or “needs hardware keyboard”. 

What Today View widgets are you using and why?

Today view is one of those underutilized features for me, because I don’t want it to get too cluttered. I mainly use Calendar and Dropbox, to see if events and assignments have appeared yet. I find the interface to be a bit clunky for some apps, and spend more time in there than I would like.

What is your favorite feature of the iPhone/iPad?

Easily the versatility of these devices. I’ve always hated carrying around many devices (worrying about charging them, losing them, not having the right one for the job), so have been firmly entrenched in that “one device to rule them all” camp. Need a GPS? iPhone. Book reader? all different books in one place on the 128 GB iPad. So for me, it’s not one feature, but all of them, nicely wrapped up in a single, shiny package.

If you were in charge at Apple, what would you add or change?

Another loaded question. I’d demolish and rework iTunes on the Mac—but that’s for another post. I wouldn’t sacrifice performance or features for thinness, particularly in some of their machines. An iPad or a laptop makes perfect sense to be thin and light; a desktop Mac does not. (Can you tell I miss the SuperDrive in the old iMacs?) I would also want desperately to fix the television interfaces, or at least unleash the content from cable providers, especially their audio-described content. I know there has been a general trend (in both blind and sighted communities) griping about apple’s software lacking in quality, and I am glad to see that they are addressing it, so hopefully my small software pain points and bugs will go away.

Do you have an Apple Watch? Show us your watch face tell us about it.

My AppleWatch is growing on me, as I figured it would. When I’m having fun or feeling geeky, I love showing off the astronomy face and entertaining questions about our universe. When I want to be practical the rest of the time, I find the Modular face for me to be a good balance of information, provided you choose your complications carefully. I can’t wait to really take the appleWatch for a walk in a big city and release the power of maps. Oh, and add “tactile way of telling the time!!!” to the Apple changes above. I love having access to Siri on my wrist for things like quick texts and cooking timers. This device has been a long time coming, and it can only get better.

What’s your wallpaper and why?

I changed it when iOS 8 dropped, so don’t exactly remember which is my home screen and which is my lock screen anymore, but I always put in the space or astronomy-themed wallpapers. Something to do with galaxies this time around.

Anything else you’d like to share?

When I say iOS devices have been life changing, I’m not understating that. I can go to a new city and navigate independently. I can take pictures of money and documents without having to ask someone to read them to me. I can use the Internet and apps to collect all kinds of information that was previously unavailable or very hard to find and I can connect to a community who really cares about interfaces and experiences. I believe all those things, and more about the iPhone. Thanks, David, for giving me this opportunity.

Oh, and if people want to find more about my work, they can watch a TEDX video of me playing with 3D math shapes.

New iCloud Storage Pricing

At last week's event, Apple announced new pricing for iCloud storage. You can now get a Terabyte for $9.99/month, which matches Dropbox. They have a lower tier at 200GB for $2.99 and 50GB for $0.99. There still is no method for family sharing, which means I'm currently paying for three people. I like that the pricing is now more in line with Dropbox and other cloud storage providers. I still think the 5GB free storage is not enough when we're buying expensive iPads and iPhones. You can see the international pricing here.

Right Pocket, Left Wrist

In a recent episode of The Talk Show, Ben Thompson talked to John Gruber about the problem with John’s watch disconnecting with his phone. Ben asked what pocket John keeps his iPhone in. This led to a discussion as to whether or not keeping your phone in the pocket opposite from your watch-bearing wrist causes a connection problem. As Ben explained, your body is a bag of water and by putting your wrist on the opposite side of your body from your phone, things get more difficult.

From personal experience I can confirm this is the case. I always carry my iPhone in my left pocket and wear my watch on my left wrist. I’ve never had any connection problems. Recently I had a pair of jeans with a hole in the left pocket. So for a few days I ended up carrying my phone in my right pocket. My watch disconnected from phone more times over those two days then I’ve had in the entire time I’ve owned the Apple Watch. If you’re carrying your phone in the opposite pocket from your wrist, you may want to rethink that strategy.

Random Thoughts and Tips for iOS 9

Every year about June, Apple announces the beta for the new update to iOS. About that time I swear off the beta, reminding myself how miserable I was last time I installed a beta iOS. Then a little fuse gets lit inside my brain. It’s long enough to burn for a few weeks and then explodes in an explosion of complete disregard for common sense leading me to install the new iOS beta on my iPhone and iPad.

This year I installed the betas in late June and have now been using iOS 9 every day for over two months. I’m not going to write a thorough review. Instead I’m going to share a few thoughts and tips I picked up over the last couple months:

  • Here are some words I thought I’d never write: One of the stars of the new iOS is the Notes app. I’d written the Notes app off entirely years ago. (Remember Marker Felt?) The new version is really impressive. You can format text, add pictures, links, drawings, and add check boxes. Moreover, getting data into Notes is easy with the Notes extension sprinkled throughout the operating system in a way that only Apple software could. Syncing has been solid and I’ve been testing it with a database in excess of 250 notes. As Mr. Plain Text guy, I haven’t decided yet what I’ll do for managing notes but Notes is absolutely a contender, especially if you’re looking to store pictures and media with your notes. (Indeed this post has been a running bit of text in Notes throughout the beta.)
  • The iPad updates, including Slide Over and Split Screen work as advertised. Once you use your iPad with two apps open, you’ll never be able to go back. The keyboard improvements and mouse cursor with two fingers are also quite handy. Don’t forget you can do that two finger mouse thingy on or off the keyboard. While these are all nice updates, it feels to me like there is still work to be done on iPad “productivity”. For instance, why can’t I drag and drop between two split screen apps? It feels to me like the Apple train is now in motion in terms of increased iPad productivity but there is still plenty of work to do. Also, if you’ve got a keyboard connected to your iPad, command-tab is golden.
  • Siri continues to improve. I won’t tell you to try Siri again if you’ve previously given up on it since I seem to do that about once a month around here but it is getting better. There are new commands, “What’s a 20% tip on $23.32”, and dictation transcription continues to improve.
  • When I first heard Spotlight was going back to a separate screen (swipe to the right), I was unhappy. I didn’t want another screen. I was wrong. the new Spotlight is significantly better with recent people, apps, places, and news.
  • The ProActive assistant stuff sounds like a great idea but I didn’t see it in action as much as I expected. Guessing at who’s calling (by comparing an incoming phone number to phone numbers found in email) is awesome. I also liked when it would give me an ETA for my trips as I got in my car but that was inconsistent. I had several flights during this period and ProActive Assistant never sussed that out. I like that Apple wants to make the phone smarter without stepping over the creepy line but I suspect that like iPad productivity, this is going to take a few years for full realization.
  • Low Power Mode is for real and saved me a few times on days where I was running out of battery. I couldn’t tell if I was getting the promised extra battery life but that’s probably going to be more apparent after iOS 9 gets out of beta. (Today!)
  • Maps is like Siri. It just keeps getting better.
  • The News app is nice and now it’s on every iPhone. I’m interested to see how many people adopt this. (MacSparky.com is an approved publisher by the way but I’m still sorting out some issues before works properly in News.)
  • You can now search settings. The nerd in me loves that.
  • The San Francisco font gives the iPhone more personality than Helvetica ever could. After using the new font for a few months, I couldn’t imagine going back to the old one.
  • You can now know when the keyboard capitalization key is on and when it is not. Hallelujah!
  • I’m all for the new six digit security code. You can turn it back to a four digit code but if you’re using TouchID, why would you?

This year’s update isn’t nearly as big as last year’s and that’s a good thing. The new iOS includes some real nice tweaks and fixes but shouldn’t turn your world upside down. I think that’s exactly what we needed this year.

XOXO Fest 2015

Over the weekend I traveled to Portland and attended the XOXO conference. I first heard about this converence years ago and was finally able to attend this year. I almost didn’t go. I’m still digging out from getting behind over the last couple months and as I was packing, I was thinking how much work I could get done if I stayed home over the weekend and pretended I was out of town. I sure am glad that I went.

The conference is fantastic. The speakers are inspirational and all of the attendees are interesting with fun stories to tell about their own goals, desires, and careers. It was a great weekend where I heard some outstanding speakers, connecting with lots of old friends, and made several new ones. Coming back it reminded me of that warm fuzzy feeling used to to get returning from Macworld.

I will definitely be going back next year if I can get in.

Sponsor: OmniPlan

This week MacSparky is sponsored by the Omni Group's project management software, OmniPlan. For years, operating project planning software has always felt like something just one step below brain surgery. That is not the case with OmniPlan. The Omni Group's top notch set of programmers and designers came up with a project planning software that actual humans can operate. It looks gorgeous and appears on all of the Apple devices including the Mac, iPad, and iPhone. It lets you simply setup projects with appropriate resources and easily maintain and track your project as you proceed forward.

I create Omni Plan documents for larger client projects and share with my clients. That way they can see what I'm up to and my projected date of completion. It makes me look great. Learn more at the OmniPlan website.

Random Thoughts Following the Apple Event

I've been thinking about the new Apple announcements at this week's event and have a few random thoughts.

  • Combining the iPad and iPhone events into one worked out okay. I can see this continuing into the future.
  • Did you see the way Tim Cook lit up while talking about the iPad. Also, watch the way he proudly carried the iPad Pro on stage? It’s increasingly clear the iPad is Tim’s thing. He's stated publicly before that he does a lot of work on his iPad. I'm guessing that will only increase with the iPad Pro.
  • Lots of people are going to attack Apple for making a stylus. I disagree. A 13" tablet is a much different animal than a phone and something that big can definitely use a stylus.
  • The Apple Pencil seems longer than most stylii I’ve seen. I’m sure there is a reason but have no clue why. I’ll be curious to see how it balances in my hand.
  • The comparison between the iPad Pro and Microsoft surface are obvious but there are some important distinctions. iPad Pro has a different screen ratio and doesn’t run OS X. To me it seems like the iPad is a tablet with PC leanings and the Surface is a PC with tablet leanings.
  • Apparently the Apple Pencil can charge remarkably fast. Apple states on its website that with 15 seconds charging, you can get 30 minutes of battery life. That’s a good thing since hanging the $99 Apple Pencil off the bottom of your iPad or the side of your Mac seems like a really easy way to break it.
  • It is strange that there’s no 3-D touch on the iPad Pro. Remember when Touch ID was on the phone but not the iPad and it made everyone a little crazy? Get ready for that again.
  • I thought it was cute how they had the email from Phil to Craig explaining the release date for El Capitan is September 30 but never directly acknowledged it.
  • I had no idea watches with bands that go around twice are a “thing”. My daughter has subsequently set me right on that account.
  • I’m assuming the 6s plus camera still has image stabilization and the 6s camera does not.
  • It is interesting that Apple chose to use big enterprise companies to demonstrate software on the iPad Pro. With the initial introduction of the iPad they also focused on productivity software but it was only Apple software (iWork). Now they’re bringing out Microsoft and Adobe.
  • Looking at split screen apps on the iPad Pro, it just begs for drag-and-drop data transfer between applications. I hope that shows up soon.
  • I’m curious to see how the fact that Apple now has its own iPhone rental program pans out. This puts them in direct competition with the carriers for phone sales. Maybe the carriers don’t care since they are about selling data more than devices but I suspect they do care and want us tied to them, not Apple,  for the phones. Either way, buying a new phone is about to change.
  • I was disappointed to see that the low-end iPhone is still 16 GB. It seems nutty that in 2015 the entry level iPhone has just 16 GB of memory. This new phone can shoot 4K video and one of its big new features is the ability to add video to every photograph you take. That’s going to be difficult to manage with just 16GB of storage.
  • I generally like the look of new Apple TV remote. I’m curious to see what one feels like in my hand. As a game controller, however, I have to wonder. I wish Apple would have made a legitimate first party game controller with buttons and joysticks. Leaving that to third parties seems a mistake.
  • It is strange how they didn’t show much of the interface for the new Apple TV. It also looked a lot like the existing interface with a new coat of paint. Maybe I just answered my own question.
  • Universal Search? Yes, thank you.
  • The inclusion of volume control from the Apple TV remote makes a lot of sense. I often have to chase down the TV remote solely for this reason. I also suspect volume control through the Apple TV was necessary for Siri. I’m guessing when you press the Siri button, the TV will mute.
  • The release of 32GB and. 64GB models is also curious. Under what circumstances will 32GB not be enough? Hopefully we’ll get a better understanding once we get our hands on the new Apple TV.
  • Even though the Apple TV got bigger, they removed the optical out cable in the back. If (like me) you’re relying on this for your sound, you’re going to have to work around that.

Sending Your Mac in For Service

Katie Floyd does a bang up job of explaining the best practices before sending your Mac in for service. The only thing I'd add is to disable your iTunes account and any other limited use licenses. If they end up replacing your logic board, iTunes will think it's being used on another computer and that could run you against a device limits issue.

Review: Inateck Aluminum Unibody USB-C 3 Port USB and Ethernet Hub

With the inclusion of the USB-C port, the new MacBook is more friendly to third party parts manufacturers than it has been in a long time. There’s already a long list of established accessory makers and upstart Kickstarters all cooking up ideas to take advantage of this new port. 

One of the first arrivals in my bag is the Inateck Unibody USB Hub (Product Page) (Amazon). This travel-friendly device features three bus powered USB 3.0 ports and an Gigabit Ethernet port. This is all in a small package less than 4 inches long and 1 inch wide. It has a 1 foot USB-C cable attached for plugging into your MacBook. I’ve been testing the Inatech against the Apple USB to USB-C adapter and find no discernable difference in data transfer speeds. While about $10 more than the Apple adapter, I think the Inatech’s two additional USB ports and Gigabit Ethernet make it the better value.

I like this device because it has a nice aluminum design that is befitting the new MacBook and gives me a lot of flexibility for just a little room in my bag.

inShort Sale, Today Only

inShort, the project planning system for Mac, iPhone, and iPad has a labor day sale. The Mac version is 50% off and the iOS version is 70% off. If you've been thinking about this app, today's your lucky day. 

The Focus Course

While I first met Shawn Blanc while wearing his nerd hat, I've been really pleased to see Shawn writing about more productivity focussed subjects. Recently, Shawn released The Focus Course. This is a course of videos and PDFs to help you figure out where you want to go and how to get there. I've only started going through the materials and they are good. If you're feeling adrift or just want to help get yourself more focussed, check this out.


Sponsor: SaneBox

This week MacSparky is sponsored by SaneBox. This only seems appropriate since over the last few days I’ve received multiple emails from MacSparky readers thanking me for the reference to SaneBox. Managing your email is harder than ever and SaneBox can make a big difference. SaneBox is a series of web-based tools that will help manage your email while you’re off doing other things.

SaneBox will filter your email for you, separating them more important from the less important. Imagine waking up to find your inbox with just six important emails instead of 150 emails with six important emails hidden inside them. SaneBox can also defer your email so if you get something that needs to wait a few days, you can defer it and it will disappear from your inbox until the designated date and time.

SaneBox can also keep track of the replies to your email so if you have an important email that doesn’t receive a reply, SaneBox will remind you. This is just a few of the many features you get with the service. I honestly don’t know how I get by without it. Learn more at SaneBox.com. Get $5 off with the links in this post. Trust me, this one can change your game.

On Illness and Content

You may have noticed things have been a little quiet around here as of late. I’ve hinted around about me getting sick but not really explained in full detail. In February, just a few days after quitting my job, I woke up in severe pain and unable to get out of bed. It turns out I had a kidney stone. It wasn’t dreadful but was causing me problems about once a week. After four months, The thing was still rattling around inside of me and I went through a small surgical procedure to take care of the problem. That was late July. Unfortunately, the procedure didn’t work and the kidney stone just got pissed off. For much of August, I was experiencing between five and eight kidney stone attacks a day, which if you’ve never had a kidney stone, I can assure you is pretty miserable. So in summary, my productivity for the last month was all shot to hell.

I am all better now and kidney stone-free. This past week I canceled this site’s sponsorship knowing that I needed to dig out on the legal side. Now I’m back to filling my fitness rings on my Apple watch while I’m still behind on email (sorry!), things are getting manageable again and next week MacSparky will be back to its regular programming.

While they are quite uncomfortable, kidney stones are not the end of the world. Once you get rid of them, you’re done. It’s not like cancer or some other chronic illness. Nevertheless, the past several months gave me new appreciation for how difficult it is for people with chronic illnesses to get by. I think about guys like Federico Viticci, who built a flourishing website while at the same time fighting off cancer, and I have more respect than ever. Thank you everyone for the well wishes as I’ve been dealing with this.