MPU 253: Life on Mars and Relay.fm

This week we are joined by Dr. Ross Lockwood about the workflows he used while spending four months as part of a NASA-funded simulation studying what it would be like for humans to live on Mars. There's some great stuff in there.

We also announce in this episode that the show is moving to the Relay.fm podcast network. We've had a long run at 5by5 and I am very thankful to Dan Benjamin and 5by5 for all of those years. I'm also quite excited about our big move and the future of Mac Power Users. We have lots of great stuff in the pipe.

For now, you should go over to our new home at Relay and resubscribe to the feed. If you just want to block and copy, here you go.

http://www.relay.fm/mpu/feed

Sponsor: inShort Planning and Diagramming

This week MacSparky is sponsored by inShort (website) (Mac App Store) (iOS App Store). inShort is an iPhone/iPad/Mac application that lets you plan projects and processes graphically across all of your Apple devices. This brings a new paradigm to process and project planning and is absolutely worth checking out. 

One of the more clever features is the way it allows you to embed processes and drill down to the level of detail you need at the moment. I like to think of this as "nested" flowcharts and I think it's really smart. inShort is a great tool to sort out a process in your own mind and then explain it to others when you're done. 

inShort is actually kind of hard to describe until you lay hands on it. The developer has most recently published a very quick guide to inShort that helps explain it better. The apps continue to get regular updates taking advantage of the newest iOS and Mac OS technologies. The new versions look great on iOS 8 and Yosemite. Want to learn more? Read the developer's PDF

Two Days With the Apple Watch

 My wife’s Apple Watch showed up on Friday. My own space gray 42mm aluminum watch (ordered just a few minutes after the Apple Watch went on sale) didn’t make the launch day shipment but is now in a truck somewhere between China and my front door and, according to Deliveries, expected to arrive soon.

Feeling sorry for the geek, my wife let me borrow her 38mm aluminum Apple Watch (for science!) and I’ve spent a significant part of the last two days looking at my wrist, tapping out notifications to my fellow nerd friends, and standing up and sitting down because my Apple Watch told me to. I’ve got a few observations:

  • All of the points I made after my first 30 minutes remain true. Apple nailed so many details, especially with the the physical construction. Even the “low end” aluminum watch looks and feels great. I still find myself turning the digital crown, smitten at the way it has just enough resistance.
  • Likewise, my initial impressions of that feature where you can draw on the screen hasn’t changed. I had a series of scribbles with Katie Floyd and my daughter and none of them were intelligible beyond a basic shape or words with three letters or worse. I’ll be surprised if that feature becomes a “thing”.
  • My teenager also agrees with me that the animated 3D animations of a yellow face and hands are “not cool”. If there is any feature of this first Apple Watch OS that we’ll look back on and laugh at, I think it is those 3D faces.
  • The 38mm watch didn’t look bad on me. A grown man can certainly use one. That being said, I’m looking forward to the increased size (and readability) of the 42mm watch.
  • Siri, on the watch and in the wild, works great. I was sending texts in the middle of a crowd at Disneyland Friday night and it just worked. I do have some UI quibbles with it. Specifically, by default I’ve got to tap the watch to send after dictation. I’d prefer to do this verbally.
  • Speaking of Siri, I’ve only accidentally triggered dictation once in two days with some group of words that sounded like “Hey Siri”. I know that equates to several times a week, which is a pain, but I expected it to be worse.
  • Hearing early reviews, I was prepared for the notifications to drive me nuts. I was careful setting them up, which took all of five minutes, and now my watch just notifies me when I really have something worth notification. The net effect is my phone stays in my pocket a lot more than it used to. I guess that was the point.
  • So far, I’ve bought an iPhone accessory and groceries with the watch. The guy at the Apple Store jumped up and down. (I was his first.) The nice lady at Sprouts just commented that things just keep getting “easier and easier”.
  • I aggressively use calendars to keep my act together. I schedule meetings, calls, and even time to work on important projects. Having my next appointment show up on my wrist is super-useful.
  • After hearing initial reports, I was ready for the apps to be a hot mess. They definitely are not as snappy as a native application would be but apps, like OmniFocus, that do not need to go to the Internet for information are useful on my wrist. We are in early days with wrist based user interface and I expect things to evolve a lot in the next 6 months. Exciting times.
  • Both days I used the watch all day and ended with plenty of battery in the tank. The first day, I got down to 15%. The second day, 30%. My daughter used her watch all day today and had 40% when she took it off.

Those decreasing battery numbers are illustrative of something else. The watch will quickly just fit into your life. It was a lot of fun playing with watch faces and apps the first day but by the second day, the Apple Watch was just part of my routine. I communicated with it. I told time with it. I kept track of my activity with it. When I wasn’t doing one of those things, I wasn’t thinking about it. The iPad and iPhone both turned my life upside down for weeks after I first got them. The watch did not have the same effect. Once I sorted it out, I just started using it. I think that is a good thing.

Do you need an Apple Watch? I’d say that very few people must have an Apple Watch. It’s early in the game and we are all still figuring out where it fits and how to use it. If you’re not inclined, you’ll be just fine sitting this out. 

That being said, I’ve now reset my wife’s Apple Watch and paired it with her phone. I was watch-less most of this afternoon. I also gave my Pebble to my younger daughter and found myself frequently looking at my naked wrist this afternoon and expecting it to tell me something. 

If you do get an Apple Watch, very quickly you'll realize that it does make life with iOS easier and more streamlined. Checking a text message by glancing at your wrist rather than digging in your pocket or purse for a phone is nice and a time saver. I think there are several people that make good Apple Watch candidates. 

If you think about the number of times a day you check your phone for one reason or another and for you that number is anything significant, you probably should consider an Apple Watch. They are not intrusive and make your life easier.

If you are used to wearing a watch and want to see how much more you can get out of it, an Apple Watch may also be a good fit for you. In my case, just putting my next appointment on my wrist makes the watch worth the investment.

Finally, I'd say if you have any interest in fitness tracking, an Apple Watch can make sense. Granted, you can buy a dedicated fitness tracker for less but if you are an iOS user, the Apple Watch delivers so much more.

It's not every day Apple releases an entirely new product category. While I don't think the Apple Watch is going to turn the world upside down the same way the iPhone did, it is a really nice upgrade and addition to my iPhone. 

Sponsor - Middle Davids Artisan Candles

This week I'm pleased to welcome back Middle Davids Artisan Candles. Dan and his team at Middle Davids understand the use of rituals to help with productivity. We all like our good coffee (or tea!) and ergonomic chairs, but what about scent?

I burn candles while I write and I always feel that the ritual of lighting the candle is a way to tell myself "it is on" and get to work. After I've worked a few hours, I blow out the candle and take a break. You'll be surprised how well this works. This month I'm burning through a Cherry Blossom candle from Middle David's and one of my goals is to finish a big project before the candle burns out. It's a great little analog motivational tool.

Dan, the proprietor, is a candle geek and obsesses on candles like I do productivity apps. The candles are 100% botanical soy wax, not paraffin (which is a petrochemical) and the wicks are cotton woven (no metals).

Middle Davids has a subscription plan that gets you two candles a month with 40 hours of burn time.. You also get a box of wooden matches, and a sample of the next month's scent. Give it a try. You'll surprise yourself. Use the code "macsparky5" for $5 off. Also, check out their video, below.

Apple Watch Guided Tour Videos

If you are like me and checking to see if your watch has shipped yet, you may want to spend some time watching the guided tour videos at the Apple Watch website, which are now complete.
This is the first "new category" Apple product I've ever bought from Apple where I feel, based on these videos and my experience in store with the sample watches, completely ready to pull it out of the box, strap it on, and get back to work. At least in theory …


 

 

The TV Problem

As WWDC approaches, there is a lot of speculation about Apple releasing some sort of new Apple TV product. Most interesting, we’ve heard rumors that they are negotiating with some of the major networks so they can offer a television package where you pay some flat monthly fee and you have channels streaming through your Apple TV.

There’s a lot to like about such an idea. With most cable providers, the user interface design is an afterthought and looks like it. Navigating my cable system is a mess and I’d love to see what Apple could do. Nevertheless, I don’t think this is going to solve the“TV Problem”.

Recently I spent some time at the local corporate office of my local cable provider. It's is a big company and I’m sure they have lots of offices like this all over the country but the one I was at was gorgeous, huge, and full of employees. It is quite an enterprise. Setting up a cable network is not cheap or easy. It up takes a lot of money and manpower. In exchange for this investment, the government, more or less, gives cable providers local monopolies so they can recoup their investment. That strategy seems to be working because these companies appear to be massively profitable. This article claims that Time Warner Cable has a 97 percent profit margin on Internet service. According to the New York Times, last year Comcast reported $2 Billion in profits.Moreover, the cable companies seem intent on holding onto this advantage. Last year Comcast spent nearly $17 Million lobbying. Time Warner spent $7.8 Million. That data pipe going into your house is big business and existing cable providers are going to do everything they can to remain the only person that can give it to you.

And that is the real “TV problem”. It has nothing to do with television production or licensing at all. It’s all about that Internet pipe coming in your house. Even if Apple is able to make a deal with the content creators, you’re still going to need to pay for Internet access. The cable companies understand this is the current vector and that’s why they are suddenly pushing back against net neutrality.

I don’t see a scenario where Internet access suddenly gets much cheaper and government regulation clamps down on cable company profits. There’s too much money at stake and there’s too much lobbying going on for that to ever realistically happen. In my opinion, the only way we’re going to truly revolutionize Internet access and, in turn, television access, is when we cut the cable entirely. I think it’s going to require a technological breakthrough. 

When we can access the Internet directly from the satellite or some other wireless medium and it doesn’t involve guys driving around with trucks and ladders, then there’s a potential for competition and a much more satisfactory position for consumers. I have no idea when this will happen but I suspect it will … eventually. Until then, I don’t know if there’s any solution to the “TV Problem”.

Force Awakens Costumes, Models, and Props

While attending the Star Wars Celebration yesterday, I got the opportunity to tour an exhibit of costumes, Models, and Props from the upcoming Star Wars, The Force Awakens movie. This pushed all my nerdy Star Wars buttons and it will probably press yours too. SPOILER ALERT: Be advised these pictures most certainly contain spoilers. There are a lot of images in this gallery. Enjoy.


Apple Watch Periscope Today at 4:45 PST

I've got a full agenda of meetings today but it looks like my day ends pretty close to an Apple Store. Sounds like an excuse to go play with the demo Apple Watches to me. I'm going to be turning Periscope on at approximately 4:45 PM PST so if you are far away from an Apple Store and would like to look at the demo watches with me, check in with me on Twitter at about that time.

Sponsor: Curbi iOS Parental Controls

This week, I’m pleased to welcome back, curbi as a MacSparky.com sponsor. While the Internet can be scary for most people, it is terrifying for parents. Letting our kids enjoy the good parts of the Internet while protecting them from the nefarious parts isn’t easy. Not only can kids get into trouble over your local WiFi network, they can also get into trouble through a cellular connection or at a friend’s house. curbi solves this problem, giving you amazing parental controls for iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. You can easily block specific types of content or add a specific site list. curbi tracks (and can block) websites through Safari or any other iOS app that has a web browser. Perhaps even more importantly, the curbi blocks will work no matter how they access the Internet, even using their Pal's home WiFi on the other side of town.

curbi also lets you set boundaries. For example, you could block social networks from 3pm to 6pm and the entire Internet from 9pm to 8am. For just $6.99 a month, you can protect all of the iOS devices in your home. curbi is the only service I’ve ever seen that can protect your kids, no matter where they are. Learn more here.



30 Minutes with the New MacBook

In addition to spending 30 minutes with the Apple Watch yesterday, I also spent 30 minutes with the new MacBook. I’ve talked about the new design already on the Mac Power Users and written about it here. Now, after having spent some time behind one, I have a few additional thoughts.

  • This machine is one sexy computer. I never thought I’d see a computer that could make a MacBook Air look fat and yet the new MacBook does precisely that. It feels more like picking up an iPad than a Mac.
  • The ability to use an aluminum hinge may have engineering benefits but also looks damn nice.
  • The audio from the speakers sounds better than I expected out of a computer this small.
  • The retina screen looks like every other retina screen—beautiful and bright.
  • The additional colors of space gray and gold both look nice. The gold doesn’t look tacky but it is not for me. Space gray on the other hand…
  • The keyboard was the big question for me. Several people that I respect don’t like it, including Jason Snell. I typed about 500 words of text on it and it didn’t repel me, but it most certainly is different. The key travel is shorter and would take some getting used to. The lower amount of travel might be a deal breaker after using it for a few days but after just a half hour, it felt more strange than terrible.
  • Just one port. Since that port is both new and an industry standard, I expect we'll see an assortment of docks and other pluggy-in bits in short order but if you are buying this as your only computer right now, it will be rough sailing for awhile.

My questions about the new MacBook are not hypothetical. My current laptop is three years old and I’ve been thinking about replacing it while it still has some resell value. Since I turned my life upside down, I no longer spend every work day sitting at my laptop. I use my home iMac a lot more and my laptop a lot less. Put simply, my laptop has changed from being a a second primary computer to just a second computer. I don’t need it super powerful but do need it to write words, handle mail, outlines, mind maps, and the other tasks that I normally do on the road. Getting it down to just two pounds means I’d be able to carry it a lot easier and more often. Something this portable has a real benefit to me. I’m just not sure if I could get used to that keyboard. 

To answer that question I’ve ordered one. I’m going to use it for a week, but still keep the box and my MacBook Pro at the ready. After a week, I’ll either keep it and sell the MacBook Pro or send the MacBook back. Either way, I’ll be reporting in.