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Cycling Resources: Google Maps by Erin Wade

One of the tasks that goes with cycling is sorting out routes to ride on. While it’s fun, at times, to simply pick a direction and see where the road takes you, much of the time it’s good to have an idea of where you are going, and how you are going to get there. This is especially true when you are trying to add distance to your regular routes. It’s pretty easy to use any mapping software or - if you still happen to have one about - a paper map - to sort out a five or ten mile ride. But as ride distances climb it becomes valuable to have a way to lay out clear routes that will work for the desired distance, and, particularly when riding on public roads, for safety purposes (it’s not fun to suddenly find that you’ve come to a point where your only choices are to either ride along a heavily traveled highway or backtrack).

Google Maps offers a free, readily available resource for this.

The first, simplest thing that it offers is cycling directions.

Cycling Directions

Usually this results in a route that avoids higher traffic areas, and it provides other information in a fashion that is specific to cycling - for example, travel times are at cycling speeds, and it gives a general impression of the terrain over the course of the route.

It also includes maps of biking trails and routes, identified in various shades of green lines on the map. The picture below shows biking trails in and around Rock Cut State Park in Rockford, Illinois.

Rock Cut Biking Trails

Unfortunately, it doesn’t provide a key, so you are left to interpret on your own, but the Google blog says the following about the key:

  • Dark green indicates a dedicated bike-only trail;
  • Light green indicates a dedicated bike lane along a road;
  • Dashed green indicates roads that are designated as preferred for bicycling, but without dedicated lanes

Some of the maps also show red, or perhaps brown, lines which were perhaps added in later (?). Based upon some familiarity with one of the areas they show up in, it appeared to me that these were either hiking or off-road trails, and that seems to be supported by this article on using Google maps for cycling on Lifewire.com. That article also offers step-by-step directions about how to use the cycling directions, though they appear to be specific to a desktop/laptop interface. In Google Maps for iOS, you tap the layers button in the upper right-hand corner:

Tap the Layers button...

Then select the cycling option in the menu:

...then select the cycling option

This will turn on the cycling route overlay so you’ll see bike trails and such on the map. You also want to make sure you select "biking" for the directions when you punch in your destination. This means that your directions will be set for cycling rather than driving, so if you use Google Maps for driving directions, you’ll want to remember to switch it back when you are in the car.

That Google Maps offers cycling directions isn’t new - it’s been around as a feature since at least 2010 - but it’s one of those things that you only really notice when you have a use for it.

The cycling specific directions are a great feature when you are trying to determine how to get from one specific location to another, but Google Maps offers another feature that is extremely helpful when trying to add distance to routes: the Measure Distance mode.

To turn this on using Google Maps for iOS you want to find your starting point on the map, and do a long press to drop a pin. This will bring up a menu on the left that includes "measure distance":

Measure Distance

(Note that, if you accidentally tap on a notable feature, it may not offer this option, so you may have to re-adjust your starting point slightly. I had to do that for this example, because I apparently tapped on just the right spot for Lock 2 of the Hennepin Canal for my first try).

Once you’ve selected this option, you’ll get a blue circle with a dotted line, and a distance readout at the bottom left hand corner. The trickiest part of this to get a handle on is that you don’t move the blue dot, you move the map under it. As you move the map the dotted line will extend. When you reach a turning point in the route you are exploring, you tap the "add point" button in the lower left-hand corner. This sets a marker and allows you to move the line in another direction (without it turns will get lost and the line will move at a diagonal direction - cool if you a traveling as the crow flies, but otherwise doesn’t work for the rest of us). This means that you’ll only need a few points set for a route with a few turns and mostly straightaways, but a lot more for routes that curve and turn. My example below marks out the distance for the Hennepin Canal Trail, which has a combination of straights and curves:

Hennepin Canal Trail

I’ve zoomed out a bit to give a larger picture here, but you can zoom in pretty close to make the map more precise as you are making it.

Ultimately, this lets you lay out a route for the distance you want. I find myself using it often to select routes for the distance I want in a way that avoids major thoroughfares, and takes me in a circular route from start to finish while avoiding re-covering the same territory as much as possible.

I don’t necessarily love Google products as a rule - I use Apple Maps on iOS for driving directions, don’t use their office software at all, and don’t generally use them for search. But I do generally try to use the best tool I can find for the job, all other things being equal. For cycling routes and directions, and for finding cycling trails, Google Maps is absolutely a step above.

Streamlining - Twelve South Backpack and Seagate Hard Drives by Erin Wade

At this point, probably everyone who has used a computer over the past 20 years knows about the importance of backups. Backing up a computer or mobile device on a regular basis is an insurance policy against losing all of one’s information.

This has become easier over the past few years, particularly with mobile devices which do their own periodic backups (for example, via iCloud). But for those of us that continue to press older devices into service, a structured backup system still needs to be a part of the system.

For years I’ve relied, in part, on back-up drives from Other World Computing collecting their backup information through SuperDuper!. This has worked well, and saved my bacon on more than one occasion. The OWC drives are sturdy and I’ve found them to be very long-lived. All hard drives fail eventually, of course, but I cannot recall a time when an OWC drive has left me stranded. The downside to them is that they are big and bulky. Each drive has its own power cord and brick, and this leaves them better suited for the rack system in a dedicated technology closet than it does for a home office setup. Location has long been a challenge for me with these:

Should these be on the floor?

Surviving placement on the floor is a credit to their durability, to be sure. But it’s also unsightly, and takes away from the minimalist look to which I like to think I aspire (though, honestly, minimalism often seems like a lot more work than it should be...).

I’ve had the current drives for several years, and I had ordered and installed a solid state hard drive in my 2011 iMac with a larger capacity than the backup drives would manage, so this year seemed a good time to make a change. I broke with tradition this time around, and ordered up two Seagate Backup Plus 2TB External Hard Drives, and I also ponied up for Twelve South’s BackPack - a little shelf that sits on the iMac’s stand, behind the machine and out of sight.

The Seagate drives were on sale through Amazon over the holiday season, and have the benefit of both smaller size (I don’t think I would have been able to fit two of the OWC drives on the Backpack), and of taking power through USB. This means there is only one cable to run for each drive, and no power brick to locate.

The whole kit took only a short while to put together. Probably the most challenging part was getting things cleaned up ahead of time behind the iMac and below the desk to get the old cords and cables out of the way and allow the iMac to be pulled forward from the wall.

iMac Prepared

The Backpack comes with a few different fittings (for different sizes and ages of iMac or Thunderbolt Display), and it does take a few moments with the directions to get started, but there’s not a lot to it once you get going. The Backpack can be mounted as a simple flat shelf, or you can add pegs to it to secure items to it.

All the Stuff in the Backpack

I went with the pegs to keep the hard drives in place. One there, though, they sit securely and hide away behind the display.

FullSizeRender.jpg

FullSizeRender.jpg

With this change I’ve securely fit the hard drives behind the iMac, elevated and away from my feet and any dust and debris on the floor. In addition, I was able to free up two additional outlets, and further clean up the appearance of my work area (now if I could just find a way to keep it clean...).

Vacationland - A Review by Erin Wade

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

You know who John Hodgman is. I know that you think you do not, but you do.

You’ve seen him in those "I’m a Mac..." commercials as the PC. You’ve seen him as the Resident Expert and the Deranged Millionaire (or Billionaire) on The Daily Show with John Stewart. You’ve heard him doing pieces on This American Life. He’s appeared on TV in Parks and Rec and Community and ever-so-briefly on Battlestar Galactica. You know him.

But you don’t. Not really.

For much of his entertainment career, John Hodgman has been playing characters. Over the course of the past decade or so he has written three books which purport to comprise the sum of all (fake) world knowledge. They are:

These books are delightful pieces, functionally presenting as almanacs with extensive bits of information that are entirely fabricated (though sometimes one wonders - perhaps the city of Chicago is, in fact, mythical). These aren’t just lists of made-up facts, though there is some of that, to be sure; in many cases, the concepts are woven into tiny short stories that can take on a life of their own, and presented convincingly enough that you may find yourself questioning what you think you know.

Because the theme is similar across the three - fake trivia and all - one might be forgiven for assuming that the second and third books are sequels, and more of the same. One might be forgiven, because one would be wrong - the books lay out more as a trilogy, reflecting a progression in the type of information, and in the character Hodgman plays as he writes it. It is not a spoiler (as it is on the covers of the books) to note In the first he comes to you as "a professional writer", and then as a "famous minor television personality" (the second book coming, as it did, after gaining the role as The PC). By the third book he has evolved (devolved?) into a deranged millionaire, the book coming just ahead of the Mayan predicted end of the world.

Ultimately, it’s a good bet that, if you enjoy Monty Python, you will enjoy these books (and perhaps not coincidentally, Hodgman interviewed John Cleese not too long ago).

They are made all the more enjoyable if one listens to them as Audiobooks, as this adds multiple guest appearances, including Jonathan Coulton, John Roderick), Paul Rudd, Sarah Vowell, Rickey Gervais, Brooke Shields, and others, (including Dick Cavett).

And now that I’ve provided you with this background, I have to let you know that this information isn’t a good preparation for his latest work:

Vacationland: True Stories from Painful Beaches

With Vacationland, Hodgman sets aside the fake trivia and gets real. Literally.

Vacationland is a series of essays that centers around his experiences while away with his family in rural western Massachusetts and in Maine. This is too simple an explanation, of course, because on that journey he also delves into the struggles of raising children, of finding one’s way in life, and of losing a parent, among other things.

To be clear, Vacationland, like his previous work, is funny - Hodgman has a way of finding little bits of pleasure and joy in even the most mundane of topics. For example, on growing facial hair:

And I grew my second mustache for the same reason all your weird dads grew theirs: it is an evolutionary signal that says "I’m all done." A mustache sends a visual message to the mating population of Earth that says, "No thank you. I have procreated. My DNA is out in the world, so I no longer deserve physical affection."

It is funny, but it is also wry, very candid, self-deprecating, and emotional. Like his previous works, Vacationland made me laugh, but unlike those, it also made me think and, at one particular point, literally made me cry. I can not recommend it highly enough.

This is work that is similar in vein to essayists like Tom Bodett and David Sedaris; and like David Sedaris, again made better still if you listen to the audiobook, which is read by John Hodgman himself. If you have friends who like to read (or listen) to authors like Bodett and Sedaris, this book would make an excellent gift for the holidays, or for whenever. And when they say "John Hodgman?" You can say:

"You know who John Hodgman is. I know that you think you do not, but you do..."

Old Sounds by Erin Wade

As technology advances, one of the things that I find I struggle with is this:

What does one do with the old technology?

This isn’t a new problem - rather, it’s a familiar one when one looks at things that have become functionally obsolete. Old computers are an issue for many in the first world. Who among us hasn’t come to the point where we have an older desktop or laptop computer that works perfectly well in terms of what it was originally designed to do, but has since been replaced with something newer; that replacement either because the newer device does something - has a feature, or runs newer software - that the older one does not, or simply because we wanted something new and shiny. Some companies actually offer a trade-in program for such devices, but even then, many of us still end up with one or more sad devices sitting in a drawer or on a shelf.

For myself, the recurring concern is an old stereo system. This is a setup that I spent several years on, acquiring the components, purchasing one item and then selling it in an effort to trade up to the next. Ultimately, I ended up with the following components:

For the kids out there, a cassette deck was a device that played cassette tapes. These were things that we used to contain large amounts of the music we wanted (as opposed to what a record label wanted to give us) before recordable CD’s came along. And CD’s were things that held music before we all got MP3 players. Oh, and MP3 players were things your parents listened to before we all just had the music on our phones. Phones were a different thing then too, by the way. Look, they were dark times, and we all lived like savages - let’s not bring it up again...

I’d explain the turntable, but vinyl records are, inexplicably, a thing again, so no need there.

Back when this setup it was originally assembled, speaking of CD’s, this setup also had an Onkyo 5-disk changer (I was fond of Onkyo equipment), but it was apparently mechanically more fragile than the other devices, and so it went to the great maker. But the rest of the equipment soldiers on, stalwart in its readiness to produce great sounds.

But it hasn’t produced sounds in several years.

For a long while it was part of the central sound system that was hooked up to our television, DVD player, and media pc (remember those? Kids, this was a thing... you know what, never mind - google it if you want to know), along with an aux hookup for an iPod. But then a couple of things happened. First, one of the speakers began to fail; and second, my father-in-law got a new sound system for his tv, and wanted to find a new home for his old one - a Panasonic surround-sound setup. It physically fit better into our entertainment center and offered much smaller speakers than the Advents (which I love, but which have always been a decorative thorn in MLW’s side).

So I had the speakers repaired (of course) and moved it all up to my office, planning to hook it up eventually to listen to music while I work. I figured I could hook up an Apple TV to it to allow me to stream to from an iPhone or iPad over airplay, and I’ve even purchased a converter to do this (the Apple TV’s digital audio output not being compatible with the analog inputs on the Onkyo receiver).

But eventually is a non-specific time frame. And wait-time allows for other discoveries.

One discovers while waiting, for example, that one can get a set of Bluetooth over-the-ear headphones for a fairly reasonable price. One can pair those headphones with one’s iPad almost effortlessly, and listen to whatever one wants with no one else complaining about the choice or the volume. And one can use those headphones everywhere in the house, not just in the office. And that, when one does this, one does not have to struggle to figure out where to place the speakers, nor does one have to spend time running speaker wire and sorting out how to hide it (I lack the math skills, and more importantly the will, to accurately calculate the amount of my life spent on that particular activity). And now I realize that speaker wire, also, is a thing the kids will need to google...

Now, I typically embrace new technology. And, in most respects, virtually everything about the advances that replace my old setup is better. I realize audiophiles will clear their throats to utter "well, actually" in preparation for discussing audio quality over Bluetooth, but probably their nurses will wheel them off before they can finish their sentence. The reality is that it’s generally good enough, and the rest of it is so much better. The four devices I have in my list above are effectively replaced by two - an iPhone (or iPad, or whatever) and headphones or a speaker. There are no wires to run, they are much smaller, and they can move with you from place to place.

So why am I pining over this now archaic setup? I suspect that a part of it has to do with the amount of time, effort, and energy that went into constructing it in the first place. For those of us of a certain age and inclination, putting together your audio setup was a fetish-level activity. It was important to have the right speakers, and the right equipment to drive them. Assembling the "rightness" was a scholarly activity, involving pre-internet research. This meant poring over audio magazines and the Crutchfield’s catalog in order to ensure it was all... correct. Ultimately this would give one a setup that pumped the music through the speakers loudly, but without distortion, so that you (and your family, and your neighbors, and maybe the people in the next town) could enjoy it properly.

Properly. Dammit.

And yet, here I am, myself, listening to my music on a set of Bluedio Hurricane headphones that I purchased for less than $30 on Amazon, when I should be setting up that audio system and listening to it that way.

Shouldn’t I?

Streamlining the Presentation Kit - Amaz-Play Mobile Projector and Wapow Lightening to HDMI Cable by Erin Wade

As a part of my work I give talks and do training many times a year. One of the things I learned long ago was that you cannot rely on the training venue to have all of the equipment you need to do your presentation. This is true in general - you can bank on the fact that they will fail to have a proper cable or connector or to offer an outlet for your device. The worst example of this was the "conference center" where I asked whether they had a projector I could rent, and they took me to a very dusty closet and said "you mean one of these?"

They were pointing at an overhead projector - the kind that people of a certain age will remember their teachers putting transparencies on to throw them up on a screen. This would almost be forgivable, except it was earlier this year - 2017.

Although it is getting better, historically things became even more complicated if you were bringing along your own equipment to hook up. Many places would happily direct you to the Windows laptop they have hooked up, and ask for your flash drive. I cannot count the number of times I’ve seen the smile first freeze, and then fade from their faces when I’ve pulled out my MacBook or, more recently, iPad, and indicated that I’d be plugging that in instead.

For those reasons I have, for a very long time, maintained my own presentation kit. The composition of this has varied a bit over the years, but the mainstays of it have been:

  • An Apple TV (third generation) and its remote control
  • A power strip with a 10’ cord
  • A projector - specifically a ViewSonic PJD5133
  • HDMI Cable
  • VGA Cable
  • Power cords for the ATV and the projector
  • An Anker 5-port USB charger

(The iPad and iPhone are a part of the mix, but they are always with me instead of being part of the kit).

By far the biggest item in this kit is the projector. It has served me well over the past five years, but it is nearly a foot wide, three inches thick, and weighs more than five and a half pounds. The combination of the projector and the power strip have functionally necessitated that I maintain my presentation kit in a separate bag (in my case, an old Trager Backpack). This means that, whenever I go somewhere to do training, I’m hauling in at least two backpacks. It’s a first world problem, to be sure, but a problem nonetheless.

Given that the projector is the largest part of the problem (no pun intended), that seemed a reasonable place to start. Pica projectors have been around for a while, but they typically have very low light outputs (making them hard to see in anything but a very dark room), and they had historically been expensive. However, it had been several years since I’d looked at them, so I thought I’d give it a shot.

I landed on the Amaz-Play Mobile Pico Projector.

Amaz-Play Mobile Pico Projector

This device had a few key benefits for what I was looking for:

  • It’s small - it will fit in your hand
  • It comes with its own tripod and it will mount to a standard camera tripod
  • It’s powered thru a micro-usb cable. This last part means that I can plug it in to the Anker USB charger rather than needing a slot in the power strip (I otherwise only use two slots - one for iPad and one for iPhone)

And while I was searching for the projector, I also came across this Wapow cable that sends from lightening to HDMI and also plugs in to power.

WAPOW lightening to HDMI Cable

What the cable offered was the potential ability to plug my iOS device - iPhone or iPad - directly into the projector. This meant that I could also pull the Apple TV from the kit and that everything I was using was powered thru USB, so I could also pull the power strip out and just go with the Anker charger. Even with everything plugged in I would still have two ports to spare. The direct HDMI connector also means that it will work in those cases where I’m plugging into a television rather than a projector.

By way of comparison, these are the bare essentials of the old and new projector setups side by side:

One of these things is not like the other.jpg

I’ve had the kit out a couple of times since putting it together, and so far it is working well. The Amaz-Play projector is not as bright as the ViewSonic (of course), but it does seem to be bright enough. Because I tend to be cautious with such things - don’t want a presentation to fail for lack of equipment - I’ve brought the old kit along in its backpack for each of the trainings so far. However, I haven’t needed anything out of it, so it’s looking like that will be able to be left back in the office going forward.

There is a fan in the projector, and it does make some noise, but not anything significant. It does have a speaker, but it’s small, as one might expect. If your presentation includes audio, you may want to plug in a separate speaker (and it does have an output for that). It apparently offers wireless connectivity using WiFi, and there is purportedly an app for that, but I have not used it. The reviews on Amazon mentioning that feature are not kind, and it wasn’t something I planned on using. I typically plug in one iOS device and use the other as the remote over Keynote.

The WAPOW connector does get warm around the HDMI connector but so far that does not seem to be an issue. It does bear mentioning that the connector works for screen mirroring and playing slide decks (Keynote or PowerPoint), but it won’t play protected video content. This means that you can show video thru the YouTube app, but attempts to play Netflix, Hulu, Amazon Video, or anything from iTunes is going to fail. This didn’t matter to me, but it might be a limitation for others.

Files, iWork, and Dropbox - Resolved by Erin Wade

At the beginning of the month I wrote about an issue with using Dropbox in the iOS 11 Files app with iWork documents in a shared Dropbox folder (yup - that’s a long, complex sentence to parse, made longer still by this parenthetical observation about it... sorry).

This issue appears to be resolved with the most recent update to the iOS Dropbox app, version 70.2.2,which came out earlier this week. I’ve had a chance to play with it for a few days now, including doing actual work, and it appears to be functioning perfectly.

What this means is that one can now open, edit, and save-in-place documents from iWork files that are stored in Dropbox on an iOS device. This seems a relatively simple thing - we’ve been doing it on computers for years prior to the development of the iPhone and iPad. However, it has been one of the key remaining limitations to the iPad when using it for work activities, particularly in conjunction with Dropbox. As I mentioned when I brought up this issue earlier in the month, the process for using these documents has looked like this:

Depending upon the app one uses, for much of the history of Dropbox on iOS, if one has wanted to work on a file stored in Dropbox, it’s been a multiple step process:

  • Export the file from Dropbox into the app (which typically opens a copy of the file in the app)
  • Perform the edits one wishes
  • Export (copy) the edited file back to Dropbox
  • Delete the copy from the app

The long dark winter of toiling at copy deletion on the iPad has finally come to a close!

Too dramatic?

Probably so, but in reality, it is actually a pretty significant change. I have been using an iPad for work since 2010. Initially it worked as a laptop replacement, but at this point it has largely replaced both my laptop and my desktop. I have a handful of tasks - mostly legacy activities that simply require older machines to run on - that I still need a Mac for, but the overwhelming majority of my work is done on an iPad or an iPhone. And to be clear, the multi-step process above wasn’t something that was preventing the use of these devices for work, but it was the rare, remaining activity in my regular workflow that was more complicated on iOS than on OS X.

Lack of Support (TTAKS) by Erin Wade

The 12.9" iPad Pro was released in November of 2015 - nearly two years ago. One of its many key features was a new, full-sized virtual keyboard configuration. As a regular user of the iPad for work, this was a huge leap forward in typing on glass.

Nearly two years in, as one might expect, virtually every app available for the iPad has been updated to support the full keyboard configuration. Virtually every one.

Virtually.

The standouts? On my iPad Pro there are two that are notable:

  • Facebook
  • Mint

This might - might - be considered forgivable for the Mint app, which is primarily a dashboard for looking at your financial accounts. But Facebook?

Open the Facebook app and you are greeted at the top of the timeline with a box that asks "what’s on your mind" (or whatever this month’s vapid prompt is). It immediately invites you to write something about your day. Unfortunately, if you are interacting with the Facebook app on your 12.9" iPad Pro, tapping into that box gets you a keyboard that looks like this:

Why so much space?

This ungainly laid out key formation is the one designed for the 9.7" iPad and, when displayed on the much larger iPad Pro screen, stretches the keys out to a distance that might be useful for Andre the Giant, but is quite a reach for a person with hands that are a perfectly normal size.

One might ask whether Facebook is possibly unaware that Apple released this larger version of the iPad some 23 months ago - perhaps they are busy sorting through other issues, and so have missed this development. One might think this until one has to contact someone thru Facebook Messenger.

Facebook Messenger, of course, is an app owned and operated by Facebook. An app which, incidentally, has been updated to work with the iPad Pro’s keyboard.

Messenger seems to have been updated

Ok, so, that not being the case, maybe it’s just that Facebook hasn’t had an opportunity to update the app.

Not once. Not once in the 144+ times they have updated the app since it was created...

Version 145.0...

So to be clear, this company makes an app that invites you to type things, has already written the code for the new keyboard and put it into place in another app, and updates the Facebook app approximately every other day, but can’t seem to find the time to make this change.

The living definition of a first world problem? Absolutely. But this is a company that a huge percentage of the country interacts with on a routine basis. Of course, we’re not their customers - we pay nothing for it. Facebook’s customers are the advertisers that buy space in your timeline. But they need our eyes, our attention, to sell. They might not to consider stepping up and making things more pleasant to use.

A Brief Flirtation with Google Drive by Erin Wade

As is true for most of us, I have my systems for doing things, and I get comfortable in those systems. Still, it is good to periodically check out other options to make sure one is not missing out on something better.

I've recently been exploring the possibility of changing my email service, and I was considering the option of using Google's email service - not basic gmail, but rather the email thru their G Suite service, which allows you to use email addresses based in your domain (e.g. that end with your own address rather than "gmail.com").

G Suite, as the name implies, doesn't just offer email, but an entire office suite of features, many of which present the option of potentially replacing systems I already use. They have a secure video conferencing service (Hangouts Meet), they have their suite of office software, and they have an online file storage service, Google Drive.

Some of these things are of interest to me, while others are not. For example, I'm open to exploring Hangouts Meet as an alternative to our current service, but prior experience leaves me with exactly zero interest in Google Docs, Sheets, or Slides. The feature set in Apple's iWork suite is perfect for me, and it's integration into iOS devices, particularly the iPad, makes it a solid winner for me every time. I also am well aware, both from personal experience and from the reports of others, that Google has historically been slow to update the iOS versions of their products to use the features available on the iPad.

Among the products in G Suite is Google Drive. Aside from looking up documents from my kid's school, I had very little experience with this service. I'm a long-term user of Dropbox, but as I said at the beginning, it's good not to let comfort keep one from exploring other, potentially better options. Since, like most of the free world, I have a personal Google account, I also technically have a personal Google Drive. I decided to play with it a bit and see what I thought.

I downloaded the app to my iPad and made a couple of documents to put into the drive for testing purposes. Some of what I found was what one might expect. It handled PDF documents just fine - you can render a preview of the document, export it to another location, etc, just as you might expect.

The iWork files were another story entirely.

I specifically made up a Pages document for the test. What I found initially was that there is no preview option for a Pages file - rather, Google Drive just tells you that it is an "unsupported file type".

Unsupported File Type

This isn't entirely surprising in and of itself. iWork files, as I understand them, are actually packages, and in the past that has confused some file systems. But it is inconvenient if you want to take a quick look at the document before opening it to make sure it is what you want. Dropbox and iCloud (naturally) readily render previews of these files.

While this is inconvenient, it is not necessarily a deal-breaker. I'd prefer to be able to preview my iWork files, since I use them regularly, but there isn't that much confusion between one file name and another for me.

But then something else happened: The Pages document that I had entered into Google Drive started duplicating itself. The first time I tried the app it multiplied the file into some 40 or 50 copies, and I said to myself "well, that's that, then" and deleted the app from my iPad. After a few days, and a little bit of thought, I considered the possibility that the experience might have been a fluke, so I tried it again, this time bringing files into the app in multiple ways. When I sent a copy to the app directly from Pages using "Send a Copy", it did not appear to make duplicates (though it did, inexplicably, append "-1" to the file name, despite there being no other file with that name in the folder). However, when importing from Dropbox what I found was that, it after it was sitting in Google Drive for a few minutes, it began to make multiple copies of that file without being asked to do so.

Files duplicating like bunnies

I'm not sure why this would occur, but if I were to consider Google Drive as an option for me, it would be in place of Dropbox, which would mean that I'd be sending a lot of files from Dropbox to Drive. I love The Tick), but I certainly don't need a replay of the attack of Multiple Santa to occur in my file storage.

Of course, there is also iCloud Drive on the iPad. What I found there was that any attempt to import a Pages document into Google Drive from iCloud Drive caused the file to simply hang there, with its progress bar seeming to be finished, and yet never fully resolving. This was only true for the iWork file. I was able, for example, to import a PDF from iCloud into Google Drive just fine.

One could argue that I was functionally warned up front that Google Drive wasn't going to play well with my files with the indication that the Pages document was an unsupported file type. I suppose that is true, to some degree. It's worth noting, however, that the iWork suite - Pages, Numbers, and Keynote - has been around now for over a decade, and it comes free with the iPad - this isn't a new product, nor is it obscure, so it seems reasonable to ask why a product that presents as a general storage tool would not be prepared to support these file formats properly. One suspects, if one is conspiratorially minded (as one might be) that it is because Google would prefer one to use their office suite.

A quick check of the weather finds that Hell has not, in fact, frozen over yet, so that won't be happening on my iPad.

So, as the title says, this was a brief flirtation with the product. I might have been able to live without the ability to preview my iWork files - though in retrospect, I do use that feature quiet frequently. Not being able to reliably import my files, and finding them duplicating like bunnies, however, largely seals (or, rather, breaks) the deal.

Siri is not a Morning Person by Erin Wade

I am an early riser. This wasn't always the case - into my early 30's I was a night owl, and would work or play computer games well into the wee hours. Changes in work schedules over the last decade and a half or so have required early rising by necessity, and repeated practice has resulted in a change to my overall circadian rhythm - I'm typically up by or before 6 AM whether I need to be or not.

On workdays, when I'm in the process of getting ready for work, I've gotten into the habit of asking Siri to check the time. Most often she simply pleasantly chirps out the hours and minutes in her delightful British accent (yes - my Siri has a British accent. Doesn't yours?). But I'm clearly dragging her out into the world far earlier than she'd prefer, and sometimes she lets me know this:

You Woke Me Up, Dude

Sometimes it's this simple protestation that she was still resting when I invoked her - perhaps a not-so-subtle attempt to apply a bit of a guilt trip on me. Still other times she is more explicit about her opinion on what should be occurring at the time, and I feel like she's implying that it should be true for me as well as she:

time to still be in bed

I'd be a little irritated with her if I didn't find myself actually agreeing. Of course, if she's going to have such clear opinions on how early we should be getting up, perhaps she'd like to facilitate a change by doing my work for me. When I suggested this, however, she was unequivocal:

no I can't

I'm a little hurt. Couldn't she give the common courtesy of at least suggesting she could try?

Drag and Drop on iPad: by Readdle by Erin Wade

At the World-Wide Developer's Conference (WWDC) on June 5th, 2017, Apple made a number of announcements, among them significant changes coming for the iPad in iOS 11.

One of the changes garnering the lion's share of attention is the upcoming addition of drag-and-drop capability to the iPad. This isn't entirely new - there has long been the ability to drag around items within a given app, but not between them.

This represents a significant advance for the iPad in general, and is particularly exciting for those of us who work at or near an iPad-only status. Unfortunately, it's mostly a tease at the moment. iOS 11 won't come out until the fall, and while it is possible to sign up for early beta's of the software, working with an operating system still in development on one's work devices simply is not the wisest of choices.

However, if you are looking to get some experience with how drag-and-drop works now without taking the risk of using a potentially unstable operating system on your production machines, Readdle has you covered.

Their announcement likely got a little lost in the excitement of WWDC, but back at the end of May, Readdle announced the capability to drag and drop files between their apps - specifically between Documents, Scanner Pro, PDF Expert, and Spark. I use all of these apps except Documents (PDF Expert largely replicates the capabilities of Documents while adding the PDF functionalities), and I'm pleased to say it works extremely well.

Say you've received some documents via email that you want to review and mark up. Open your email in Spark, and open PDF Expert in a split window, and simply drag the files from the email across to the folder you want in PDF Expert. It's that simple and straightforward. You can see it in their video, below:

The utility of this is quickly obvious, and Readdle has just about the perfect family of apps to use it with. Their is a brief explanation in their blog post of how they are doing it - servers opening and such - which would make it seem like something potentially clunky and slow, but it's seamless in application. The only limitation here I've seen thus far is that, because it relies on off-site servers, it doesn't work if you don't have an internet connection. Under those circumstances the file you are dragging simply stops at the window split. If you have, or go get, these apps you can test that yourself by putting your iPad into airplane mode.

Readdle has a fairly long history of developing applications that recognize and address some of the limitations in iOS, and this is a nice example of that. I actually feel a little bad for them that the announcement of this capability came such a short time ahead of the WWDC announcement, which takes Readdle's drag and drop capability and applies it system-wide. WWDC also announced a Files app, which appears to largely do everything that Documents does. Still, Readdle puts on a brave face on their blog entry about WWDC, indicating:

It’s great to see Apple focused on unleashing true iPad potential, while adding some tremendous improvements to the dev tools and kits. People will enjoy the new experience on the App Store, get more apps, and do more stuff done with their iOS devices.

We will dig deeper during the week and come up with awesome ideas on what we are going to do with iOS 11 and Readdle apps.

Based on their history thus far, I suspect they are up to it.

iPad at Work... by Erin Wade

For those like myself who use their iPads for work, it is always helpful to find out how others are using their devices. As time goes on the list of people doing this has been getting longer.

Over recent months Serenity Caldwell at iMore has begun looking into starting a column interviewing folks who use the iPad Pro for work. She interviewed herself for the first iteration of this, and gave some insights from the perspective of a person who does creative work as well as more traditional tech journalism.

Matt Gemmell, a tech writer and novelist has recently returned to the road of working on the iPad only, and has documented that series under the category iPad-only website. Like Frederico Vitticci has done over at MacStories, he chronicles both his experiences over time, and discusses using the iPad for different tasks.

I've also come across Denny Henke, writing at Beardy Guy Creative, who has put together his own ongoing series on the iPad at work, under the category iPad Journal.

For anyone looking to understand how to get more out of their iPads, and/or understanding what can be done with them and how, these sites are a good place to start, and to bookmark for future reference.


Update: The newest article in Serenity Caldwell's series on the iPad Pro at work is now out. Enjoy!

Dropbox - Moving Forward by Erin Wade

Back in January I discussed a bit about apps that had not yet been updated for the multitasking features in iOS 10. In particular, I was frustrated with Dropbox - I rely on the service heavily, and the lack of support for a feature that would make it much more useful for the device seemed problematic.

The long drought is over - Dropbox has now been updated to work with iOS multitasking.

dropbox multitasking at last

This feature has been in place for the past several weeks, and it is well implemented. My primary desire for the feature was for looking at reference materials. Dropbox for iOS offers a pretty good file viewer, making it unnecessary to open documents in a separate application if all one is going to do is read them. The lack of multitasking support meant one had to either go back and forth between the apps when looking at other documents, open them in another app that already did support multitasking (thank you, PDF Expert), or view them in Dropbox on another device. I've used it many, many times since the update was released.

There is also an additional benefit that I did not expect. With Dropbox open in the secondary pane (on the right) one can open files into the app one is using without the iPad going through the app dance - out of the app, in to Dropbox, only to watch the file open in the app. What happens now is that, when one exports the file out, it simply begins to open in the app - no switching back and forth. The same is true for saving files back to Dropbox - initiate the action in the app on the primary pane (to the left) and the save dialogue finishes up in Dropbox on the right. I don't know if any of this is technically faster than the older method (a very rough test with a stopwatch suggests not), but it absolutely feels faster.

This is headway, and finally brings to the iPad Pro app an option that was sorely lacking once multitasking came into play.

There are other capabilities that would help to round out the iOS application that are not yet present:

  • Syncing/saving folders on the device - The app has had a feature to do this with individual files for some time, but folders have been left out. This feature is apparently on the way, but won't be available until next year.
  • Edit-in-place - This is the feature on iOS that allows you to open and edit a file directly from the storage location, and have it automatically save back. There are several apps that have been developed so that the app handles this instead of the operating system, but Dropbox has not yet done the work of making it available everywhere. This means that often one has to copy a file to another app, work on it, and copy it back. This leaves stray copies of the app in each location, and adds the work of going back and deleting the strays (doesn't that sound ominous) later on.

Dropbox says that on-device folder syncing is on the way, but the copy in their announcement of the feature suggests a possible misunderstanding of its real relevance. That post uses getting caught in a train tunnel or on a bus without wifi as the reason for the feature. While these periodic inconveniences will be made less problematic with the feature, the reality is that there are entire folders I simply want immediate access to all the time. With the desktop/laptop app the option of "selective sync", allowing one to have some folders synced to the computer while others are not, has been available for quite some time. It seems clear the decision to keep virtually everything off the device for the iOS app was a nod to the smaller amount of storage spaces on the devices. However, at this point you can get your iOS device with up to 128 or 256 gigs of space. This means it is quite possible to have a iOS device with more storage than many modern laptops. If Dropbox is still thinking of iOS devices as secondary devices that might need this feature occasionally they are off base - an iPad (or iPhone, for that matter) kitted out for work can easily replace a laptop for most general work at this point.

The MacStories Review of iOS 10 by Erin Wade

Every year for the past several years Frederico Viticci at Macstories has been writing reviews of each new version of iOS just following it's release.

MacStories, as you might guess, is a website focusing on Apple products, software, and accessories. They do a nice job at all of that, and if you are interested in that sort of thing (I am, as one might guess) I can happily recommend the site for that purpose.

However, Frederico Viticci's iOS reviews are something very special indeed:

The iOS 10 Review

While it is called a "review", these articles could just as well be considered unofficial user's manuals for each new version of iOS. Frederico delves incredibly deeply into each new version of Apple's mobile operating system and describes, in detail, what is new and different, and how to use the new features, in addition to providing critique. If you've ever wanted to know how to get more out of your iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, or been uncertain whether the new version of the operating system could do a given thing, these articles are the way to get there.

At first blush the articles can seem intimidating - the review for iOS 10 is 30 pages long, and that's 30 web pages: Each page is on a specific topic, and is as long as the topic requires to cover. If it were a book (and if you are a MacStories club member, I believe you can get the review as a book) each page would essentially be a chapter. But the intimidation quickly dissipates when one realizes that the website actually has a table of contents for the article that lets you move through it at your own pace and allows you to quickly find and read the portions you are interested in when you want. Don't have an iPad? Skip the section on that device. Don't care about Apple Music right now? Move on to the next chapter.

iOS Review TOC

The review is written very clearly, in language that is not overly technical or techie oriented - it is clearly intended to help guide everyday users in how to take better advantage of their devices. Frederico was in the vanguard of people determined to use their iPad as a primary computing device, and so had strong motivation early on to find ways to wring all of the functionality out of these machines. These articles have been incredibly helpful for me in my own travels down a similar path. I strongly recommend checking it out if you are interested in learning more about what your device can do.

Minimalizing by Erin Wade

I am sitting amid chaos.

I made the decision to finally replace my old, World War II era office desk with a more modern desk arrangement. That more modern arrangement currently sits, scattered around the office, in a state of disarray. It turns out (who knew) that radically altering the work and organizational system that one has been using for 20+ years takes more than a couple of hours to do.

For most of my adult, working life I have had the same desk in my home office. The old girl is a wood office desk from the 1940's. I picked it up in the early 1990's at a rummage sale in a small office building in downtown Loves Park for $10. It was actually the second desk that I'd purchased within a few days. The first was a particleboard and veneer thing that I'd purchased from a big-box store that I thought would work fine until I brought it home and placed my computer - an IBM PS/2 - on top of it. That computer - the relatively small all-in-one design - simply dwarfed my big-box store desk, so when I saw the old girl a few days later I snapped it up and took it home... With some help from a friend (it's very, very heavy), and promptly disassembled the particleboard jobbie and returned it to said big-box store.

The big old desk has moved with me from the apartment to our first house and now to the Homestead. MLW, who has never been unclear about her feelings regarding the relative attractiveness of my old office desk, had hoped that I would set it aside when I set up the home office here - a fresh start in a new place. Still, when the time came to claim that office I went ahead and cleaned up the old girl and put her in place.

I mean come on - I got it for $10 - how does one turn one's back on a deal like that when the old girl still worked perfectly fine?

There was much (well-deserved) eye-rolling at this decision, and the old girl sat in place, doing her duty in the new office, for the past five years or so. This, while I periodically looked at desks in catalogs, online, and during trips to IKEA.

It was finally time.

Advice to the wise - if the office furniture you are moving can be disassembled, don't wonder - just disassemble it.

Part of what I am re-realizing with this process is a bit of why people use big old office desks. That array of drawers has the potential to hide a lifetime of organizational sins. Taking the things out of it is a little like watching clowns exit a tiny car - one is amazed at the volume of things that can emerge from what otherwise seemed a relatively small space.

And this is why I sit amid chaos. What I pictured as a single day of relocating things, moving a bit of furniture and placing things anew did not go strictly as planned. Most of day one involved relocating things in a fashion that makes them accessible for re-relocating later. On day two.

What it illustrates as well is the struggle of trying to work towards a more minimalist office approach. I am extremely fond of the visual and philosophical aesthetic of the minimalist workspace. The reality of it, however, is considerably harder to achieve.

If one were starting anew - as a young person without the encumbrance of years of work and accumulation of cruft - it might be relatively simple to attain and - perhaps more importantly - maintain that ideal. For someone with a couple of decades of work under one's belt, however, it involves removing that accumulated cruft. This is, of course, consistent with the concept - hell, it's a core tenet of the concept, that one is freed from being owned by the things one owns - but it also means that one has to sort through that cruft and determine what remains and what does not.

This is considerably more challenging than never having accumulated it in the first place.

For millennials and subsequent generations this might well not be the same issue. As we work towards a more digital world - one that some people continue to hold out against - the need for all of the assorted office supplies designed to manage paper will diminish and disappear.

To be clear, this - and one other item - is the bulk of the remaining struggle. As a person who began his career towards the dawn of the digital age, and working within a field that still has not entirely entered that age, my office continues to contain the paraphernalia needed to cope with King Paper. So: what to do with all of the envelopes - Manilla and otherwise - hanging files, paperclips, printer paper, etc? I cannot simply be rid of all of them (if I could, this would be much simpler) because my work still continues to require them. This is a progressively smaller and smaller need, to be sure, which I realize when I look at the astonishing pile of paperclips that I have gained as the papers they used to secure have been either digitized or simply eliminated, but how much of it will I need going forward - how much do I retain.

The one other item that enhances the challenge towards a delightfully minimalist space is the older technology. Desktop computers - even sleek, streamlined machines like Apple's iMac, a version of which sits on my desk as I write this (on my iPad), require an array of cords and cables to sustain them and their peripherals. This means that my futuristic desktop machine has attached to it an embarrassing tangle of wiring that was readily, easily hid behind the solid facade of that old desk. The iMac and I both knew it was there, of course, but we never spoke of it.

This will be manageable, of course - I've already got the cable organizers and such ready to be applied (more of day two - or perhaps three?). This is again a transitional problem. As we move ever forward towards mobile devices most of what all of that wiring does is now manageable wirelessly. But legacy requirements still present the periodic need for these wired machines, at least for my work and, I suspect, still for the work of many others.

It does seem that, in the near future, our homes and home offices will be able to achieve that clutter free ideal that you see in the IKEA catalog; or as I think about it, my Victorian-era homestead will return to the appearance that it had before the electric, and then digital, age modified it. It seems close.

But it's not here yet.

Orphan Apps by Erin Wade

Like anyone else with a smartphone, I have a lot of apps on my devices - 145 on my iPhone 6s+, 165 on my iPad Pro. Some of these are apps I use every day, some routinely, and others only on rare occasion. And - lets be honest - a few of them are leftovers from a bygone era. Did I really download and play Heads Up!, the app from the Ellen Degeneris show? I guess I did, because here it stares at me. And I'm sure I'll play Plants Vs. Zombies again, so I'll just go ahead and keep it there in my games folder...

Some of the apps on my phone, as it turns out, have become orphans - applications that are still there, that I may use with some regularity, but which are no longer being actively developed by their creators.

When one goes searching for a given type of application there are often dozens of options to choose from in each category, and prices range from free to much farther up the spectrum, with options across that price range within every category. The array of choices can make selecting an app challenging - when you have dozens of versions of the same basic thing, which do you choose? Do you go with price, with features, with...?

I've begun to select apps based, at least in part, on a pair of different features: Longevity and active development. All other things being equal, I will prefer an app that has been around for a while and which has been actively and readily updated. In iOS, this information is available in the App Store on a given item if you scroll down a bit:

PC Calc is a long-term app

PC Calc, an advanced calculator app for the iPhone and iPad has been around for a long time - it's on its third major upgrade version (e.g. Version 3.5.3), and it's been updated as recently as March of this year. This is a clear example of an app being actively maintained by a developer who has demonstrated longevity in the iOS app market. In relative terms it's not an inexpensive app - $9.99 for a calculator app will seem to many a high price when there are multiple free options in the same category. But for my money a part of what these variables indicate is that the app will be much less likely to become an orphan in future updates of the operating system.

Unfortunately this perspective comes from experience. I have one app, for example - AccuFuel, a Mileage Tracker by a company called Appigo, which also makes a fairly popular to-do productivity app called "Todo" - that I've been entering mileage into since 2007, all told, and since 2011 for my current vehicle. All told, I have nearly four years worth of mileage data entered into this app (I am, shall we say, mildly fond of data).

Unfortunately, the company stopped updating the app back in 2010 and, while it continued to work for some time, it didn't make the transition to iOS 8. Since that update the entry interface is buggy (although it works), and it is impossible to export data out of the app. The company was aware of the problem, and claimed they were working on an update to the app.. Still - that was over a year ago, and nothing has happened with it. The company could have, at the very least, honestly admitted to users that they didn't intend to update or, ideally, provided an update that at least allowed the export to work so a user could get his or her mileage data out of the the app. Instead, it's clear the app is an orphan. I've given up up on it, and set up a spreadsheet for mileage in Numbers instead. While I like to support independent developers, it seemed best to move this task to an app developed by a more stable company.

And I'll be unlikely to use anything produced by Appigo in the future.

In other cases there is a middle ground, where I can see the orphan status in the cards. I have a speedometer app called aSmart HUD by Atoll Ordenadores. The app hasn't been updated for a year and a half, and while it works under iOS 9, some features are buggy (trip time sometimes starts in the negative numbers, which makes me seem faster than I am, I suppose, but cuts down on accuracy). The developer no longer lists the original app on the website (though it does have updated versions of it), and has provided no communication regarding intention on providing further updates or supporting this version of the app going forward. It looks like this apps parents are, metaphorically speaking, preparing to drop this app off at the orphanage.

Overall, the lesson in all of this is that I've found that it pays dividends to make some evaluation of the level of support and stability of the company producing the applications you use, particularly if I they are things that you intend to use over the longer term.

Apple's New Notes by Erin Wade

With iOS 9 Apple has given some serious love to its Notes app, including many features that you often have to purchase an app to get - drawing, some rich text editing features like bold, italics, etc, and capabilities like making different types of lists (in particular I like the checklist option - great for making shopping lists).

With iOS 9.3 they have added the capability to lock individual notes so the content is kept from prying eyes.

Under lock and thumb

This is great. Because Notes is a system app, it's likely to fall to hand for marking down all sorts of information on the phone, some of which the owner might not want others to see. But its implementation of this feature is, well, a bit odd and clunky.

First, the feature has to be turned on in settings, and then an individual note has to have the locking feature enabled by tapping the share sheet. To finalize enabling it, the user has to either enter the password or use Touch ID. All of this is fine, I suppose, though a bit obscure, particularly with the enabling feature in the share sheet menu (which otherwise mostly houses ways to, you know, share things).

How to Lock a Note

What's odd here is that this process enables the lock, but doesn't lock the document. You have to then tap the little lock symbol in the upper right hand corner to formally lock the document. What's more, you also have to do that every time you exit the document in the future.

Make sure you tap the lock!

And now we're secure

What I mean is this: Say you go through the process of locking a document, and then go back to read it again, edit it, etc. When you get done with that, and navigate out of the document, it remains unlocked unless you manually choose to lock it. What's more, unlocking that note to edit it also unlocks every other locked note you have in Notes.

To their credit, there is a "lock now" button at the bottom of the document menu screen which, when tapped, locks all open notes. And when I manually lock the note I was working on, it also locks all of the other notes that I inadvertently opened as well. But why this manual process to lock? If I really am protecting sensitive information in a note, wouldn't it be better for it to lock automatically when I exit, always requiring a password or Touch ID to open it again? Then I would know it, and all of my locked notes, are always locked - there would be no need to, say, check to see if my notes were locked before I handed my phone to someone else to look at.

One suspects that this is an attempt to compromise. Other notetaking and writing apps can have a password applied, but this is typically to access the the entire app. Here you can access the Notes application itself without entering a password, but your notes themselves can be protected. One can see the value in that - I can show another person what's on a note without giving them free access to everything I've written. The same cannot be said for an app like Day One, an otherwise excellent journaling program. There, when you enter your password or Touch ID and hand your device to another person you have just granted them free access to anything you've ever written in that app. The Notes solution is better, I suppose, if you want to be able to show others selective information on your device. But honestly, those notes I want secured should automatically secure themselves when I exit them - period.

iTunes Ambiguations by Erin Wade

Before I launch into this, let me just say that I get it - this may be more my problem than it is an iTunes problem. I am a person who used to organize his cassette tapes, and then CD's, in alphabetical and chronological order - by artist and then by release date, respectively.

Because I'm not an animal.

Perhaps this is the reason why I find the episode numbering system for iTunes TV episodes so frustrating. For example, we recently started watching The Expanse (which is excellent - if you are not watching it, you should be). The picture below shows how the episodes are numbered, and the order in which they download from iTunes.

Oy!

Episode 1 - Dulcinea - is indeed the first episode of the season. But if you want to go to the second episode of the season, the second episode that contains the continuing story that you are following, you must in fact select Episode 3 - The Big Empty.

Why? Because iTunes insists on tagging "Inside the Expanse: Episode 1" with the numeric indicator slot that should be reserved for Episode 2. So it lists like this:

2 . Inside the Expanse: Episode 1

This means, of course, that the first episode of "Inside the Expanse" is actually listed as episode 2, which is confusing in and of itself. It also means the real Episode 2 is actually listed as Episode 3, and it gets progressively worse, as the third episode becomes Episode 5, the fourth is Episode 7, the fifth is Episode 9, and so on. It also means that "Inside the Expanse: Episode 2" actually refers to the numeric Episode 3, that "Inside the Expanse: Episode 3" actually refers to Episode 5, and, and... dogs and cats are living together...

How could this possibly be considered less confusing that just giving these extra episodes a three-digit designation, as they've done with the other extra features also within this show - e.g. Episode 101 - Sneak Peek, or 102 - Premise. Wouldn't it make far more sense to have something more like this:

106 Inside the Expanse: Episode 1 107 Inside the Expanse: Episode 2

Done this way, Inside the Expanse: Episode 2 would actually then - believe it or not - refer to episode number 2.

Incidentally, Apple, I hereby waive all rights to this incredibly clever, innovative numbering idea I've invented myself out of whole cloth - please feel free to just go ahead and use it.

I have to believe this approach would be clearer for the people watching the extra features as well. Which brings up another thing:

Aside from the clear organizational chaos that this causes, it is exacerbated for me by the simple fact that I don't believe I could possibly care less about whatever appears on "Inside the Expanse: Episode Unclear". I am certain there are people out there who delight in extra features (there must be, since they are all over the place), but I am not one of them. I want to watch the show, and experience it as it is presented, interpret it as I experience it. I do not want the writers telling me what they intended I feel, the set designers telling me the mood they were trying to achieve - the proof of all of that is in the pudding. If they did their jobs well, my experience will gel with their intentions and, if they did not, well, all of their protestations to the contrary won't matter.

And while I'm taking these things to task, let me also note that putting up additional extra features for a season still in production is not equivalent to putting up a new episode. Earlier this week I was greeted with the following email:

Lies!

”Finally!" I shout in my head (it echoes in there, incidentally), call LB down to partake in the latest installment of zombie gore and Ricktator shenanigans, and fire up the TV, only to find...

Lying Lies!

The email clearly states that "The Latest Episode of The Walking Dead, Season 6 is now available". Except it's not. Second tier extra content - in this case, actor interviews about their characters - does not an episode make. If it's not clear by now, that term should be reserved for a segment of content that is part of the continuing story being told by the show. As it stands, receiving the email only to find an extra feature is disappointment at best, and feels like a cruel trick at worst (oh, the agony of being denied blood and guts and interpersonal angst).

There's a lot to like about iTunes - it provides reliable access to things that are difficult to get anywhere else, and it lets you watch favorite things over and over again, without fear they will be pulled from availability. Still, one would think that a company so clearly concerned with precision in design of its products might also provide similar precision in its communication and organization.

One would, apparently, be wrong.

iPad Pro Keyboard by Erin Wade

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

iPad Pro set in portrait orientation on the left, iPad Air 2 (in a BookBook Case) in landscape orientation on the left.

I have had an iPad Pro now for a couple of weeks. I have had some difficulty incorporating it into my workflow. I knew that having it was going to be useful, and I have some ideas about how, but it will take some time to fully integrate it.

One of the more frustrating things is how long it is taking some of the app developers to update their apps for the device. In particular this means apps don’t take full advantage of the features of the device, and I am particularly struggling with the failure to integrate the iPad Pro’s new virtual keyboard (which is, in and of itself, pretty awesome - it’s essentially a full keyboard).

In part, this presents an issue because it will take me a bit of time to learn the new keyboard. After five years of typing on glass with the 9.7“ iPad I have a lot of habits based upon that device’s keyboard. For example, I use a lot of dashes in my writing, and I have a habit of hitting the little ”.?123“ button in the lower left-hand corner in order to access that item. But two things are different on the new keyboard. First, there is now a dash on the main keyboard, right where you would expect it on a typical physical keyboard. Second, the Pro reverses the location of the ”.?123“ button and the emoticon button; this means that I keep accidentally accessing the emoticon keyboard when I intend to access the ”.?123" keyboard.

One of non-updated apps in question is Day One, the journaling app I use to do the overwhelming majority of my writing. This means that, when I set the app up in landscape format, I get a comically-large version of the keyboard from the 9.7" iPad, which is spaced all wrong, making typing a challenge.

To better incorporate the new iPad Pro I considered actually pairing it with a Bluetooth keyboard, something I haven’t actually done since the first-generation iPad[1]. And then I remembered something: the size of the iPad Pro is frequently described in articles as being, in landscape, about the size of two 9.7“ iPad screens side by side. This also would mean, that in portrait the iPad Pro is about as wide as a 9.7” iPad in landscape.

Which means that the portrait version of the old keyboard on the iPad Pro is almost exactly the same size as the landscape version on the iPad Air. So I turned Day One to portrait orientation and started typing. This entire entry has been typed on the iPad Pro in portrait orientation. It’s worked quite nicely.

This won’t last, of course. Eventually Day One and the other apps I use will update to put the new keyboard in, and I will be writing on them in Landscape, and learning the new keyboard. But it’s nice to have found a work-around in the meantime.


  1. When the iPad first came out this was exactly how I pictured using it - with a keyboard paired, writing in that format all over the place. But, as often happens when a new system presents itself - in this case, the virtual keyboard - I became curious about using the new thing instead. It turns out that it’s quite possible to type very quickly and effectively on a virtual keyboard.  ↩

Old Soldiers by Erin Wade

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For the past decade we have been an Apple household. Among the reasons for this - and one that continues to surprise me - is the longevity of these machines. I may have mentioned before that my first Mac, a 2005 Power PC Mac Mini, continues to soldier on as our media server, a decade after I bought it and several years after it reached the end of its service as a work machine.

The Mini was replaced by a late 2006 iMac, which served for several years before being placed into retirement as a machine for my daughter to use for school. Still, longevity and all aside, it appeared over the past year that the iMac had finally reached the end of its useful life. It was having trouble running for any significant period of time without locking up, and varying white lines across the display suggested to me that the graphics card was on its way out. It was set off to the side, and replaced with a lightly used and well-cared for 2012 MacBook Air that I purchased from Dan Benjamin at the 5by5 Podcast network.

By "set it off to the side" I essentially mean literally that. It sat, for months, on the floor beside my desk, waiting for me to have the time to decommission it by wiping the hard drive and sending it off to the recycling center.

I finally got around to it over the weekend before Thanksgiving. I dragged the Snow Leopard disk out of one of my drawers-o'-technology, and used disk utility to do a secure wipe of the hard drive. Done right this takes a while, and I let it run for several hours (and overnight) while I did other things.

When it was done I noticed that, while running off of the install disk, none of the white lines appeared. This, despite the fact that it had been running for hours. Given this, I went ahead and did a clean install of Snow Leopard just to see what I'd get.

The iMac has been running more or less continuously since the Sunday before Turkey Day, a full two weeks now, with only a brief interruption due to a power outage. The screen is free of artifacts. Essentially, it appears that the machine itself was fine, it just needed a clean install to recover from nearly a decade of continual use.

Of course, now this leaves me wondering what to do with it. Its operating system is several generations behind (10.6.8 vs 10.11 for El Capitan), and it doesn't have some of the bells and whistles of the newer systems like Handoff, for example. However, a little exploring after the clean install finds that it does, for example, run the iWork suite just fine through iCloud.com (though, ironically, I had to install Google Chrome to do this). So, it could serve as a backup desktop system for now, I suppose, while it waits to take its turn as a media server when (if?) the Mini finally shuffled off.

Apple Music by Erin Wade

I’ve always loved music, and over the years the overwhelming majority of my listening time has been, by necessity, done in the car. Still, over the past decade my listening has become far more heavily weighted towards audiobooks and podcasts, and away from music.

Part of the difficulty is in discovery of new material. Terrestrial radio, with its ratio of something like 12 ads per each song has truly sucked for a very long time. I’ve never gotten into satellite radio - it’s always seemed a bit of a gimmick oriented towards selling higher end features on cars - and while I’ve enjoyed Pandora quite a bit, one has to take care to “like” the right songs on a given station, or your Jethro Tull station will soon be full of hip hop (which I like, but it’s not what I’m looking for when I click on the one-legged flautist). So, often, I just ended up listening to my own collection of music. That represents a fair amount of variety, but like a lot of people my age I stopped collecting new material in earnest more than a decade ago.

But in the past week I’ve listened to more music - and more unfamiliar music than I have in month prior. The reason: the release of the new Apple Music service on June 30, 2015.

There are several new features to Apple Music, most of which are detailed in many, many other locations. Beats Radio, Apple’s live, DJ operated music feed, has gotten a great deal of attention, at least in my Twitter feed. I gave it a try, but that lasted a grand total of about three minutes for me.

The feature I am loving is the For You area. Here, based upon what you both initially indicate are your artist presences, and upon the songs you “favorite” (with a heart), you are given both album and playlist recommendations. And these, so far, have been delightful. Playlists are themed along multiple different lines - some are mix of familiar material with completely unfamiliar artists or songs blended in for discovery: Rock Hits 1977 includes much of what you would expect (Carry on my Wayward Son and Paradise by the Dashboard Light are featured), but also includes a song by UFO, a relatively obscure British heavy metal band. For a Prog Rock fan like myself it offers up playlists such as The Best of British Prog 1973–1975, which is full of bands I’ve never heard of, like the Strawbs, and Caravan, and Nektar. I don’t love them all, to be sure, but I like a lot of them and I’m hearing things that I would never have encountered before.

The other type of playlist that I’m truly enjoying are the introduction to and deep cut playlists. I’ve played the Intro to Rush playlist several times - it’s given me an opportunity to listen to a healthy cross section of music by a band I’ve always been curious about, but unwilling to take the dive to purchase any given album, being unsure whether I’d enjoy it. It’s looking like I’m pretty much gonna dig some Rush.

One of the other features of Apple Music is the fact that you can save things that you like into your own library - including these playlists.

It’s not that there aren’t clunkers in the mix - Apple has access to my music library, so it should know that I don’t really require an Intro to Jethro Tull Playlist; and a foray into a deep cuts playlist on The Police has only shown me that I don’t really love The Police (though isn’t that why we explore, what we want to know?). But overall, Apple Music has me listening to far more music - and discovering far more new music - than I have in years.