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.

The DxO One iPhone Camera Plug-In

DxO, known primarily for its image processing software has got into the hardware business. For years we've been seeing a variety of bolt-on/clip-on/glue-on lenses for the iPhone. The DxO One instead plugs into the iPhone and iPad through the lightening port. The lens housing is in the unit and is s significant upgrade to the current iPhone 6 camera (or anything we'll see in the iPhone 6s). There is a 20 Megapixel, one inch sensor, and an F Stop down to 1.8. All of this adds up to better low light performance, better depth of field, and just generally better pictures at a cost of $600 and an additional thing to carry around.

The Wall Street Journal likes it, as does DPReview, Yahoo, and The Verge. I'm interested but also going to wait to see how it works with the new phone hardware later this month before committing.

MPU 275: Optimize your iPhone and iPad

Over the past several years, we've received lots of emails requesting assistance optimizing iPhones and iPads. In this episode we unloaded, explaining all the ways you can optimize your iOS experience, from wrangling notifications to extending battery life we run through a number of tips and tricks for creating a better experience when using your iPhone or iPad.


The New Apple TV

Rumor sites are reporting that at the iPhone announcement later this month, Apple will announce a new iteration of the Apple TV. The rumor comes from Mark Gurman, who is the undisputed scoop-master of new Apple gadgets as of late. According to Mark, the new version will have two pricing tiers (which may be $149 and $199). Mark does not explain what the extra $50 gets you, although my guess would be increased storage capacity. The new version is supposed to ship with an App store and Siri integration. Rumors also abound that the new Apple TV will be a hub for controlling devices in your home with home kit. While it seems a given that there will be an App store, it is not clear what types of apps will be available. Is it just going to be content channels or will there be games and utilities too? I wouldn't mind a cool utility app that displays my calendar and weather on my TV when not in use otherwise. I also would like to purchase games, but am not sure well that would work without a game controller.

In the Sparks house, the new Apple TV cannot come soon enough. We bought one of the first 720p "puck style" Apple TVs. Over the last year, Apple has dropped support for YouTube (which teenagers watch a lot) and more recently the Apple TV has started resetting itself while we are streaming Netflix and HBO. I know some of Apple's competitors, like ROKU, have made significant progress in past years but because my family has so much content in iTunes and we use AirPlay several times a week, I'd like to stick with Apple. However, even our Apple-nerd family won't wait forever.

The State of Dictation on the Mac and iOS

As we are moving toward the release of iOS 9, OS X 10.11, and Dragon Dictate is about to get an upgrade, I've been looking lately a lot at how far along we've come with the ability to dictate to our devices.

I've long been a fan of dictation but also long felt an outsider in this regard. That isn't so true anymore. This morning I was sitting in a coffee shop and saw a few people dictating into their phones. I think it was the addition of dictation anywhere on our phones that has brought a lot of people in. This afternoon I made an informal poll of other geek friends, I'm hearing that many are using the built-in iOS dictation on at least a semi-regular basis. You should. It's faster and easier than typing.

That same informal poll, however, discloses that almost nobody dictates to their Macs. While Dragon Dictate remains in the lead over the built-in Mac OS dictation, I can report that the built-in Mac dictation continues to improve. It still exhibits strange behaviors on occasion but, If nothing else, it's a free way to find out if you want to dictate more and invest in Dragon Dictate.

While we are in much better shape than a few years ago, I still don't think dictation is for everyone. We haven't got to the point where you can just speak and have full confidence your words are being properly transcribed. On iOS, you still need an Internet connection for it to work. (Wouldn't it be nice if the next iPhone put dictation on the chip so you could dictate without an Internet connection?) Correcting blundered dictation is also still more difficult than it should be.

However, if you are the type that once in awhile just needs to get that first draft of something into your computer, dictation is now definitely up to the task.

Home Screens: Maury Hill

This week's home screen features Maury Hill (Twitter). Maury spends most of his time developing CRM tools for Windows at MetaStock but also happens to be a big Mac nerd. As Maury explained to me, he does Windows development from his retina MacBook and iOS devices via Jump Desktop. Go Maury! So, show us your home screen.

What are some of your favorite apps?

OmniFocusDrafts, and iThoughts. My brain could not relax without the ability to get things off my mind, view them when necessary, and just plain lay things out before my eyes. I also love using Overcast to discover all things Apple from MPU

I have to mention Due and the harassment it delivers, helping me to get the easy to ignore, day to day things done. What would I do if I forgot my pills or laundry?

I also have to confess I’m having an affair with Siri. I talk to it all day long on all of my devices, including the Watch. 

Which app is your guilty pleasure?

TweetBot and Reeder. I spend far too much time in these apps. Reeder is essential to stay up to date, but Tweetbot lets me peer into the lives of other geeks like me. I can also complain to app developers. 

Honestly, I wish there were Desert Golf scholarships when I went to school. I just need to delete that app. 

What app makes you most productive?

This is on the verge of becoming an OmniFocus review. I have to get things off my mind to stop thinking about them. Along with Siri, this app makes it easy. OmniFocus shows me tasks when I need to see them and thanks to Review mode, which I have never found in similar apps, I can prioritize projects and focus on what’s important now. 

Continuing to regurgitate others’ posts, Drafts is also wonderful. I love it’s widget, which allows me to dump the clipboard into a new draft and use it in searches or even for processing queries in DropBox files by one of my SQL Servers, returning query results, opened via its widget. I use Hygia to accomplish that. It is “Hazel” for Windows. 

The Apple Watch helps me stay off my phone and focus on what I should be doing, which is writing more bugs. 

What app do you know you’re underutilizing?

WorkflowHazel, and Editorial. I read so much about these from MacSparky, MacDrifter, and Viticci, but I just never find the time to explore them. I think the fault rests on the shoulders of the awesome newborn boy my wife and I adopted last year. :) [That’s a pretty good reasy Maury. -Sparky]

What is the app you are still missing?

Not an app, but more Siri integration. I would like VoiceOver to be more reliable for reading out notifications, and I would love to tell Overcast to play specific podcasts, or have Workflow run specific tasks with my voice. 

How many times a day do you use your iPhone?

My wife could give you an exact count. I don’t think the phone leaves my hand. I’m definitely an addict in need of a disconnect.

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

I heard somewhere that only 20% of the features you release are used by 80% of your users. It certainly is true of the fruits of my code, so I cannot blame Apple for not adding “power user” features. But I wouldn’t mind if the track pad feature for the iPad came back for the iPhone and if Hey Siri were accessible even when not on power. 

I’m a grown up Apple. Let me drain my battery at light speed and fumble the cursor around. Just have a setting to disable it for everyone else!

Thanks Maury.

The Waterfield Vitesse Messenger Bag

I bought my first Waterfield laptop bag seven years ago. Since then, I’ve been a regular customer. Waterfield is based in San Francisco and makes excellent, rugged cases for your Apple goodies. They’re attractive and they hold up overtime. (That seven year old bag is still in service for my daughter.) 

However, my purchases have always been limited to bags specifically made for specific laptops. Just recently I went for something bigger. I got one of the new Waterfield Vitesse Messenger bags. I’ve never used a messenger bag before but now that I’m using the smaller laptop, it makes sense. I wanted a bag the could carry my MacBook along with a few other odds and ends like an iPad, a bottle of water, and even a sweatshirt without going the full-on backpack route. I also wanted something that looked good enough that I could use it in a professional environment. This messenger bag is perfect for the task. 

There’s a large main compartment and a pocket inside the Laptop. There are also three pockets on the inside where I store extra batteries and cables. The bag isn’t overwhelming and slips over my shoulder just fine and yet still holds more gear than I expected. If you’ve used to messenger bag before, you know how convenient it is to slide it around to your back and get on with your day.

There are also front zipper pockets opening to an easily accessible large pocket for easy access. Inside that large pocket is a smaller pocket lined with scratch free material that can hold your phone or your glasses.

The cover closes with a simple closure that you can close in seconds but in my month of extended usages neve come unhooked accidentally. There’s a an adjustable nylon strap to throw it over your shoulder and also a leather handle. The bag material is waxed canvas and quite sturdy.

The bag looks nice enough that I can take it anywhere. I’m finding myself using it for client meetings and afternoon trips to Disneyland. Although I’m using it with the small retina Mac book, you could carry a larger computer in this bag if you wanted. The bag is 1.9 pounds and is 16“–18” x 13“ x 4”. You can purchase it with an optional cycling strap if you are a spinner. I expecting to get many years out of this new bag. You can learn more here.

MPU 273: Workflows with Jonathan Mann

This week's Mac Power Users features Song-A-Day's Jonathan Mann. Jonathan is a talented musician that can write a song in about the same time it takes me to get my keyboard turned on and find my sheet music. Jonathan does all of this with Apple technology and he explains the whole workflow. Jonathan also made jingles for our sponsors that we included in the show. My favorite was the TextExpander one.

Sponsor: Automatic

This week I'm pleased to welcome back Automatic as a MacSparky sponsor. Automatic is a device  that plugs into your car's OBD-II port. (Just about every car made since 1996 has one.) The Automatic then has access to your vehicle's data and connects via BlueTooth to your iPhone. It gives you tons of data and new and geeky ways to interact with your car. Just a few of the things you can do with Automatic are:

  • Get extremely accurate data about fuel efficiency, trip distance, gas used, and other performance metrics.
  • Get notifications when your car's fuel level is getting low.
  • Get explanations of any alarms or other events your car reports. No longer do you need to visit a mechanic when you get a cryptic light on your dashboard.
  • Detect when the vehicle has been in a significant accident and call you, your loved ones, and emergency support.
  • Get driving feedback when you are accelerating too fast, braking too hard, and otherwise doing silly things behind the wheel.

Automatic truly lets you geek out your ride. One of my frequent uses is to keep track of mileage for my work. When I finish any trip in my car, Automatic gives me a notification to mark the trip as work-related. (The notification even displays on my Apple Watch.) If I tap the button, Automatic flags the trip and I can view it through the free Automatic App or on the web. I liked it so much that I bought two more for my wife and daughter's cars. Having automatic in their cars gives me a notification if any of the car's sensors go off and also gets me a phone call if they are in an accident.

There is no subscription fee. Once you buy your Automatic, you're good to go. Moreover, they are giving 20% off to MacSparky readers. Use this link and the usual price of $100 drops to $80. I use my Automatic every time I step in my car. I bet you would too.

Disney's Star Wars Themed Expansion

One of the advantages of having a Disney blogger wife is that I get the inside scoop on goings-ons with the company that owns Star Wars, Marvel, and a few successful theme parks. This past weekend I attended the D23 convention in Anaheim and woke up way too early to get in line for the big keynote on live action films over the next few years. It was a lot of fun. I got to see J.J. Abrams, the Star Wars episode VII cast (including Harrison Ford), Ben Kingsley, Lupita Nyong’o, and more.

They didn’t have much to add about Star Wars and weren’t ready to give us another trailer so instead, they gave us a cool movie poster and unveiled the fact that Disney is going to build 14-Acre Star Wars themed lands in Disneyland in California and Hollywood Studios in Florida. All we saw was concept art and a short video but it looks to be really fun. At several points during the presentation Bob Iger (Disney CEO) mentioned how the experience will be immersive. Not only will you go into a cantina, you’ll interact with the wretched hive of scum and villainy while you are there.

Having visited Universal’s Harry Potter World last year, I can’t help but feel that this immersive Star Wars experience is a direct response. Universal did such a great job with Harry Potter. It was the first time I was truly impressed with a non-Disney theme park and I’m sure Disney took notice. After the presentation I spoke with some Disney Imagineers and when I raised the issue of Universal’s Harry Potter you could see that they were more than a little “motiviated” to exceed it with Star Wars. Let’s hope that Disney corporate gives the Imagineers the budget and support they need to deliver.

Apple Watch Check In

I was putting on my Apple Watch this morning and thinking about how I’m using it now that I’m three months in. I’ve got several observations:

  • I still wear it every day. When I forget to put it on (rarely) I miss it.
  • The black rubber band is still just fine with me. I’ve worn it working in the yard and I’ve worn it at court and it doesn’t feel inappropriate in either place. I’ll probably buy an additional band at some point but right now I don’t feel any burning desire.
  • I was doing great with the fitness rings and then I got sick. The last three weeks or so I’ve been miserable with kidney stones. My fitness records went all to hell. I’m looking forward to getting those rings filled back up.
  • Battery life, shmattery life. I don’t even think about it. The watch always makes it through the day.
  • I also don’t think much about apps. Except for OmniFocus and Overcast, I’m not using any third party apps. I suspect that will change when we get watch OS 2.0.
  • I made this intricate set of watch faces when I first got the watch. I don’t use any of them except a minimalist version of Utility.
  • Notifications on my wrist is golden. I’m often in meetings but have many things going on. Keeping up by glancing at my wrist is unobtrusive and handy.
  • I find that I keep my phone in my pocket a lot more now that I’ve got the watch.
  • I already wrote about watch directions. All of that is still true.
  • Overall, my initial impressions haven’t changed. The Apple Watch, while not being essential, makes life for iPhone users a lot better.

Microsoft Translator

Despite having grown up in Southern California, my command of the Spanish language is pitiful. I try. My Mexican friends laugh at me. Then I try again. Given the fact that so many of my fellow Southern Californians speak Spanish exclusively, I really have no excuse. Nevertheless, where I should be Indiana Jones, I’m more like Marcus Brody.

As a result, I’m always on the lookout for a good translating application. You can imagine my surprise when I recently discovered that my new favorite translation app doesn’t come from Google but instead Microsoft. The new Microsoft Translator for iOS is aces.

It is easy to use. You can input text via keyboard or dictation. Then the app speaks the text out oud in the language of your choice or prints it across the screen. They even have a nifty Apple watch application that I’ve used to communicate with Spanish speakers and it works. It’s a free application and if you spend any time trying to communicate in other languages, this can make a huge difference for you. I’m liking this new Microsoft.

Force Touch on the iPhone

I have not said much about a force touch for iPhone. However, recent news leaks make it seem inevitable. It looks very much like the next iPhone will have a force touch screen. I enjoyed this 9 to 5 Mac coverage about force touch on the iPhone a few days ago. All of this got me thinking about exactly how big a deal force touch will be on the iPhone.

At the beginning, at least, I expect it won’t be much of a deal at all. The feature will only be available on the newest iPhones so developers will know a majority of their users won’t even have force touch. Moreover, by its very nature, force touch feels like a feature for power users are much more than for everyday users. I even see this with my wife and her Apple Watch. Rarely does she think of using a force touch the screen when she’s trying to figure out how to make a feature work.

I think it will be the same on the iPhone, only more so. People are used to seeing icons that are tied to functions in their applications. Force touch features are hidden behind a hard press on the screen and a lot of people will never think about force touching when looking for a missing feature. I think application developers that start burying key features behind force touch will do so at their own peril.

Instead, I think for the first few years force touch is going to be very much a power user feature. It will let you do things faster but I think rarely will it allow you to do exclusive things that can’t be accomplished some other way. The example in the 9 to 5 Mac article about how force touching an application icon brings it to a particular screen is a perfect example of this. Alternatively, you could manually open the application and manually navigate to the screen but being able to do both of those steps with one force touch will be much nicer. It will be an improvement on the experience for those people who want to invest the time to figure it out and set their applications accordingly. That’s not everyone by a long stretch.

Maybe in a few years when this interface function is available on all iPhones it will become a bigger deal but my expectation is that initially us nerds will love force touch and a lot of other people won’t even realize it exists.

MPU 272: Mac-Based Small Business

This week's Mac Power Users features me talking about the steps I took to set up a small business when I left "the firm" to open my sole practitioner law practice. The last several months have been some of the most exhilarating of my life and I've picked up quite a few nerd tricks along the way.

Sponsor: OmniOutliner

My thanks go this week to OmniOutliner for sponsoring MacSparky.com. OmniOutliner is THE outlining application for your Mac, iPad, and iPhone. I use it all the time. As an example I'm planning out a complex contract for client this week. My client is a windows user but that didn't stop me from making a gorgeous outline in OmniOutliner and sending it to him in PDF. (OmniOutliner makes this really simple.) So today we did our phone call and he gave me feedback and I updated the outline as we spoke and then sent him the new version as PDF as soon as I hung up. Now I've got exactly what I need to proceed forward and my client thinks I'm the most "with it" guy on the planet. Don't you want your clients thinking that?

With OmniOutliner it actually takes work to make an ugly outline. The application also gets all the fundamentals right with easy outline creation and modification and solid syncing between devices using Omni's own OmniPresence syncing engine. Go learn more here and let them know you heard about it here. Thanks Omni.