Fluidics 1.1: The Animation Update

The first major update to Fluidics is now available on the App Store!1 In all honesty, it was largely a ‘bug fixes and performance improvements’ update, but I’ve always hated when app updates list that, so I made sure to include a couple user-facing features so there’d be something fun to talk about, at least.
In this case, those features were animations. The most notable is the background – rather than being drawn once, the ‘water’ in the background is now animated, which I think makes the visual effect much nicer overall. Swiping between the three main pages of the app is also much smoother now; instead of a single ‘swipe’ animation being triggered by any swipe, it directly responds to your swipe, so you can change your mind about which direction to swipe halfway through, and it feels more like you’re moving things around, rather than switching pages.2
The big changes, though, are largely invisible; a whole lot of work on the internals to allow for future features I’m planning.3 The gist of it is that a lot of the internals of the app are now a separate library, which means I can share code between the widget and the main app without needing to copy-and-paste all the changes I make in one place to the other.
Past that, there were a couple little tweaks — the algorithm that calculates the water goal is a bit less aggressive with the way it handles workout time, and there’s now a little “this isn’t a doctor” disclaimer in the Settings page that I put there because the lawyer I don’t have advised that I do that.
And, the bit that turned into more of a project than I thought: VoiceOver support. VoiceOver, for those that don’t know, is one of the core accessibility features of iOS; when enabled, it basically reads the contents of the screen to the user, making it possible for visually-impaired people to use iOS. By default, any app built on UIKit has some support for VoiceOver, but the further you go from the default controls, the more broken that’ll get. The way Fluidics works, it was super broken; technically useable, but downright painful to do. After a day or two of vigorous swearing and arguing with the Accessibility framework, I’m proud to say that Fluidics is now VoiceOver-compatible.
If you’ve already got Fluidics on your phone, it’s a free update from the App Store.4 If not, the whole app is a free download from the App Store, and I’m hoping that you’ll enjoy using it. Leave a review or whatever; I’m trying not to be pushy about that.
Oh, and I’m in the process of updating the app’s website; I got such a good URL for it that I want it to look good to match.

  1. There was a bugfix update earlier, version 1.0.1, but that’s not at all exciting, so I didn’t bother writing anything about it. 
  2. If you’re curious, this involved rebuilding the entire interface, from three separate pages that’re transitioned between to a single page that’s embedded in a scroll view. 
  3. And no, I won’t be telling anybody what those are just yet; I don’t want to promise anything before I know for sure it’ll be possible. 
  4. In fact, it may have already been automatically updated — the easiest way to tell is to open the app and see if the water is moving or not. 

Open-sourcing Variations

Now that the whole concert is over, and I’ve finished going through approximately all of the WWDC sessions, I’ve decided that Variations won’t be receiving any further development — it wasn’t going to be enough of a priority for me to do it any justice, and I’d hate to half-ass it.1 The app will remain on the App Store, for now, though if it breaks in future iOS versions, I’ll probably pull it entirely. Instead, I’m releasing the source code, as-is; if you’d like to look through it, it’s right here.
I had fun building it, and I like to think that it does some interesting things with the implementations under the hood, so hopefully somebody can find some use from it.

  1. This is, hopefully, a hint about some of my other projects that are a higher priority; announcements of those will, of course, show up on this here blog. 


I made an app! I’m quite excited about it; this is, after all, the sort of thing I want to spend my career doing.

The app is called Fluidics, and it’s for tracking the amount of water you drink. As I mentioned a while back, I like to do a lot of tracking of what I’m eating and how much I’m drinking. That first part wasn’t too hard; there’s a variety of apps on the App Store for logging food, and after a while I was able to find one that wasn’t too bad.1 For water, though, nothing quite worked – Workflow came closest, but using it to do the sort of goal calculations I wanted was on the line between clunky and painful, and it’s such a general-purpose app that it felt visually lacking.
Eventually I remembered that I’m a computer science major, and why am I sitting around complaining about the dearth of options when I’ve basically got a degree in making the dang thing. Months of sketching, programming, swearing, and repeating the whole thing eventually lead to this: what I hope is the easiest water-tracking app on the App Store to use.
It’s been a fascinating process. (Here, by the way, is where I’m going to take advantage of the fact that this is my blog for rambling and start talking about what it was like making it; if you’d like to get more information on the app, I’ve put together a rudimentary website, or you can skip straight to the ‘it’s free on the App Store’ part and give it a whirl.) As it turns out, there’s a whole lot of work involved in making an app; my original sketch was the widget and two screens. Those came together pretty quickly, but I realized that probably nobody would feel comfortable using an app if the first time they opened it it just threw up a message saying “trust me!” and then asked for a bunch of health information, so I wrote up a privacy policy and started building an onboarding flow. Which then ballooned in complexity; looking at the design files, more than half of the app is screens for dealing with something having gone wrong.2
One of the most interesting debates I had with myself during the whole process was deciding what business model to use.3 The App Store has had an unfortunate tendency to be a race to the bottom; while there’s a bit of a market for pro apps, a minimalistic water-tracking app doesn’t fit into that category. There’s also no argument to be made for a subscription, so I’d narrowed it down to ‘free, because I’m turning it in as the capstone project for my computer science major’, ‘free with ads’, or ‘paid up-front’. The first one was the one I was most comfortable with; sure, ‘paid up-front’ would be nice, but I’d also get approximately zero people to download it what with all the free competitors out there. ‘Free with ads’ feels deeply gross, both because I hate online advertising in general, and because I’m doing a lot with health data, and I really don’t want to have any chance of that getting stolen. For a while, I thought it was going to be ‘free forever’, and I’d be justifying it as ‘building a portfolio’.
That wasn’t what I actually settled on, however; instead, I’m going with ‘free with in-app purchase.’ Instead of building in a paywall and locking some features behind it, though, I decided I’d go simpler; the app and all of its features are free. Starting in version 1.1, there’ll be a button in the Settings; a little tip jar.4 I probably won’t make much, but I’ll feel better about it overall, and what’s the harm?
Beyond that debate, most of the challenge of the project as a whole was just building it. I knew going in what I wanted it to look like; what I didn’t know was how to go about doing that. The way the background overlaps the text? That alone took a week of trying different things to get working right.5 A few things I wanted to include in the first version didn’t make it – the widget was originally going to be entirely different, but the way Apple has done the security on health data makes the original design significantly more difficult to do, so I switched it to the current design.6
It was definitely a learning experience, too – I’d done some iOS application design for classes before, but never gone all-in on making something that would be both functional and enjoyable for the end user. If you’re releasing something on the App Store, you can’t just include a note that says “on first run, it’ll ask for a bunch of permissions; just say yes” because nobody will read that. And getting something uploaded to the App Store is itself a whole process – the App Store page doesn’t fill itself out, after all, and copywriting definitely isn’t my strongest suit.7
But it’s done; I’ve made an app and released it to the world. 8 By the time you’re reading this, it should be available on the App Store; as I mentioned, it’s free to download, and I’d love it if you’d give it a try.

  1. That said, I’m also doing some design sketches for my own entry into the field; don’t get your hopes up, I make no promises. 
  2. I’m not talking “my code is full of bugs and something crashed” went wrong, either; it’s all “the user originally gave permission to do something, but then changed their mind and used the Health app to take it away” and other such nonsense. Computers may be finite-state machines, but “eleventy hojillion” is still a finite number. 
  3. I also talked about this a lot with my friend Chase, without whom I would’ve long ago given up on technology and disappeared into the woods to be a Bigfoot impersonator.. 
  4. Yes, I know, I’m just now releasing version 1.0, and I’m already mentioning plans for 1.1. Don’t worry, I’ve got versions 1.2 and 1.3 mapped out, feature-wise, as well, and have some rough ideas for 1.4. 
  5. For a while I thought I was going to have to write code to draw the numbers ‘by hand’; fortunately, I was able to get the drawing to work by taking advantage of layer masks, but good lord are the Interface Builder files a mess as a result. Behind The Scenes, everybody! 
  6. I do still want to get the original design working, probably as an option in the Settings page of the app; a future version is going to add watchOS support, and I believe that a lot of the work I’ll have to do for that will also apply to making the widget work like I intended, so those two will either be the same or subsequent updates. 
  7. Another shoutout to Chase, who wrote the App Store description and turned my pile of 100 disjointed screenshots into the four that’re currently on display. 
  8. Well, “done”; it’s functional and available to the public, but software, as the saying goes, is never finished, only abandoned. I’ve no plans to abandon this project anytime soon; I use it myself several times a day, so I’m pretty invested in keeping it working and making it better. 

Tidbits from Apple’s Machine Learning Journal

A short while ago, Apple launched a journal on machine learning; the general consensus on why they did it is that AI researchers want their work to be public, although as some have pointed out, the articles don’t have a byline. Still, getting the work out at all, even if unattributed, is an improvement over their normal secrecy.
They’ve recently published a few new articles, and I figured I’d grab some interesting tidbits to share.
In one, they talked about their use of deep neural networks to power the speech recognition used by Siri; in expanding to new languages, they’ve been able to decrease training time by transferring over the trained networks from existing language recognition systems to new languages.1 Probably my favorite part, though, is this throwaway line:

While we wondered about the role of the linguistic relationship between the source language and the target language, we were unable to draw conclusions.

I’d love to see an entire paper exploring that; hopefully that’ll show up eventually. You can read the full article here.
Another discusses the reverse – the use of machine learning technology for audio synthesis, specifically the voices of Siri. Google has done something similar,2 but as Apple mentions, it’s pretty computationally expensive to do it that way, and they can’t exactly roll out a version of Siri that burns through 2% of your iPhone’s battery every time it has to talk. So, rather than generate the entirety of the audio on-device, the Apple team went with a hybrid approach – traditional speech synthesis, based on playing back chunks of audio recordings, but using machine learning techniques to better select which chunks to play based, basically, on how good they’ll sound when they’re stitched together. The end of the article includes a table of audio samples comparing the Siri voices in iOS 9, 10, and 11, it’s a cool little example to play with.
The last of the three new articles discusses the method by which Siri (or the dictation system) knows to change “twenty seventeen” into “2017,” and the various other differences between spoken and written forms of languages. It’s an interesting look under the hood of some of iOS’ technology, but mostly it just made me wonder about the labelling system that powers the ‘tap a date in a text message to create a calendar event’ type stuff – that part, specifically, is fairly easy pattern recognition, but the system also does a remarkable job of tagging artist names3 and other things. The names of musical groups is a bigger problem, but the one that I wonder about the workings of is map lookups – I noticed recently that the names of local restaurants were being linked to their Maps info sheet, and that has to be doing some kind of on-device search, because I doubt Apple has a master list of every restaurant in the world that’s getting loaded onto every iOS device.
As a whole, it’s very cool to see Apple publishing some of their internal research, especially considering that all three of these were about technologies they’re actually using.

  1. The part in question was specific to narrowband audio, what you get via bluetooth rather than from the device’s onboard microphones, but as they mention, it’s harder to get sample data for bluetooth microphones than for iPhone microphones. 
  2. Entertainingly, the Google post is much better designed than the Apple one; Apple’s is good-looking for a scientific journal article, but Google’s includes some nice animated demonstrations of what they’re talking about that makes it more accessible to the general public. 
  3. Which it opens, oh-so-helpfully, in Apple Music, rather than iTunes these days. 

“What’s On My Phone,” or, “without these apps I would ACTUALLY DIE”

School has begun again in earnest, which means I’m suddenly remembering just how much I rely upon my devices for keeping me sane and, more importantly, organized. It’s something I’m apparently rather good at, and I think it’s pretty useful for just about everyone, so I figured I’d share some of the tools I use.1

Calendar (system default)

When you’re taking as many classes as I am,2 plus trying to cram in an extracurricular or two to stay ‘well-rounded,’ it can get a bit hard to remember where you’re supposed to be next. The single best piece of advice I can give you is to figure out how best to use the built-in calendar on your device. Connecting an iCloud or Google account to get it syncing across everything, and you’re golden.34

To-Do List (Things)

Following a well-organized calendar, I’d say the single most important thing to have is a good to-do list. Things is my app of choice for having a to-do list, but there’s a few other options out there – OmniFocus is the powerhouse, but it’s a good bit more expensive than the average college kid is willing to pay. I haven’t really looked into the other ones, but they should all work. The main point here is to have a to-do list. The human brain sucks at remembering things – we all think we’re good at it, and we are horribly wrong. Get into the habit of, when you think of something you have to do, putting it on the list. Doesn’t matter if it’s an app or just a page in your notebook – just get it out of your head and into something permanent.5

Mail (Airmail)

Email!6 It’s a thing, it’s basically mandatory for living in a first-world country, we can’t escape it. May as well make it fairly manageable. Apple’s Mail app is a pretty solid implementation of email, but it’s a bit lacking in integration with third party apps and customizability. Airmail is pretty great at both, and all the settings somehow do iCloud sync better than Apple’s stuff does. And, killer feature? Snoozes. Fairly common in mail apps these days, they make the whole ‘inbox zero’ thing way more manageable.

Writing (Ulysses, Drafts, and Day One)

I do a heck of a lot of writing, and I’ve found that markdown is one of the nicest ways to do it. It’s a very lightweight writing syntax – just type like normal, but if you want to italicize something, wrap it in single-asterisks, and if you want bold, do the same with double-asterisks. It’s got fancier features – links are incredibly easy, footnotes not too difficult, and lists make a lot of sense – but depending on what you’re planning to use it for, those may be all you need. So it makes sense that all the apps in this section are compatible with it.
For the majority of my writing, I use Ulysses. Their library of export themes includes fairly ready-to-use themes that make converting a paper from markdown into ‘ready to submit PDF’ just a couple of clicks, and the library organization makes my heart happy. And, with my writing style,7 the killer feature is footnotes – instead of Markdown’s default footnote syntax, I just type (fn) and it pulls up a nice overlay to write my footnote in. So delightfully easy.
Drafts is for lighter-weight writing – it’s a spin-off of the “don’t try to keep things in your head” system I mentioned under the To-Do List heading above. Not everything that I want to remember is a thing that needs to be done – sometimes it’s a scrap of an idea for a blog post or another piece of writing, or maybe it’s a nonsensical quote for my collection.8 Either way, being able to open up a new note and have it ready to type immediately is nice. That said, there’s very little organization to speak of, so for the sort of stuff I’m doing with Ulysses9 it really wouldn’t work.
Finally, Day One is a journaling app of such high quality that, I kid you not, it was one of the main factors in my deciding to switch to macOS (then OS X) after I graduated from high school. I try to write a summary of every day before I go to bed,10 and it’s nice to be able to flip back through all my old entries and see what I was thinking.11

News (Feedly, Instapaper, and Overcast)

None of my recommendations for news are algorithmically-powered – I have yet to find an algorithm that does a good job of figuring out the sort of news I want to read. So I stick with straight RSS. Feedly is the strong contender for RSS readers ever since the death of Google Reader,12 and while they provide a good API that means there’s a bit of an app ecosystem around them, I’ve found their default app (on iOS, and the web app for macOS) to be perfectly enough.
Now, as you’re reading your RSS feeds, you may come across something you want to read… but not right at this moment. Instapaper is a pretty good service for that – the app is very well-designed, and functions beautifully without internet access, so if you’ve got a cell-service-unfriendly commute, or just a limited data plan, I recommend it as a way to keep a bunch of articles ready to read.
Finally, podcasts seem to be all the rage these days. Apple’s built-in Podcasts app is… there. In case you want something that hasn’t been forgotten by the people who make it, Marco Arment’s Overcast is wonderful. He’s a big proponent of open web technologies, something I’m clearly13 in favor of, and Overcast as an app is the sort of app I’d like to make one day.14 Killer feature? Smart Speed – who has time to listen to a podcast at normal speed when you can crank it up to three times faster than normal? Overcast does that without making everyone sound like chipmunks using what I can only assume is some sort of deep audio wizardry.

Music (iTunes/Cesium)

If you’ve been around on my blog for any length of time, you’ve noticed that I post my playlist every month. As a musician, I’m not a big fan of streaming music – they still aren’t doing a great job of paying the artists, and yadda yadda you’ve heard it all before. I’m just an angry old man, shaking my cane at kids, telling them to get off my lawn with their new-fangled streaming services. I just stick with iTunes and actually buying songs for my music needs.
That said, the people designing the Music app on iOS clearly have no idea that people without Apple Music still exist, and the app is borderline hostile to users who don’t have a subscription. I got fed up with it after the last iOS update and took advantage of the ability to remove the built-in apps to replace it with Cesium, which I’d describe as “what the default Music app would be if Apple hadn’t launched Apple Music after iOS 7.”

I think that’s where I’m going to leave it – I’ve got a few more apps on my phone, obviously, but I think I’ve hit all the really useful ones, at least for the college kid trying to stay organized about the whole “oh god so many classes” thing. Good luck with the coming semester (or the rest of the quarter, if you’re one of Those Schools) and, I suppose, fire me a tweet or a message if you’ve got a suggestion of something else that really needs to be on this list.

  1. I’ll be linking to the iOS apps for most of these, but a couple are web services, and most of them have a macOS app of the same name. 
  2. I’m sitting at ‘1 credit above the 18-credit maximum,’ and working on getting signed up for an online class that’s about a 3-credit equivalent. Free time is something that happens to other people. 
  3. Hint: use the macOS Calendar app to set stuff up, it’s a bit easier to get the ‘custom repeat’ stuff to line up with what the class schedule actually looks like. 
  4. Second hint: BlackBoard Learn and, I assume, the equivalent pieces of software at other schools, have something hidden away in the settings that allows you to export an iCal feed of due dates; set that to import into your calendar for low-effort reminders of when things are due. 
  5. My organizational system is vaguely based on the Getting Things Done system, but it’s inexact because I’ve never actually read the GTD book. With Things, I have Areas set up for Home, Work, School, and Media. Tags within that keep track of what stuff is for what class. Setting the due date of assignments is quite nice, as I can have things sort by that or by class. 
  6. Or E-mail! if you prefer. 
  7. “The bastard child of Terry Pratchett and David Foster Wallace” 
  8. The photo book I put together at the end of my study abroad in Austria captioned all the photos with contextless quotes from my fellow students. 
  9. Notes and papers for classes, all of my blog posts, a manuscript or two… 
  10. Which, to be fair, sometimes consist of “I did a lot of things today, and so now I am very tired. Good night, future self.” 
  11. Plus it’s a great way to vent without spitting out a wall of sub-tweets. Journals are an underappreciated way of dealing with being mad at people. 
  12. Not that I’m still bitter or anything. 
  13. Proudly powered by WordPress! 
  14. Not literally a podcast-playing app, because that’s not a competition I want to get into, but the ideals behind the way he builds i- oh whatever, you know what I mean. 

My problem with HealthKit

This is, in a sense, a follow-up to my big “how I use HealthKit” post from… almost a month ago, now.1 One thing you might note is that I’m now referring to HealthKit and not just Health.app – there is a bit of a difference, though largely a semantic one as Health.app is basically just a GUI dropped on top of the HealthKit database. It’s more of an ‘Apple preferences’ thing – “HealthKit” is a developer term, while user-facing references should all be to “the Health app” or something similar. Ah, Brand Guidelines.
That said, I’ve got a problem with HealthKit. Namely, the complete and total lack of iCloud sync. This wasn’t really something I’d thought about until recently, when, following a six-hour stint in the Apple Store, the Genius Bar had me do a complete reset of my phone. Not a “restore from backup,” a full factory reset, install it as a new device. Which would’ve been fine, considering how very pervasive cloud computing is these days – all of my apps are easy enough to download through the App Store, and I can sync all of my music back from my laptop. Documents take a bit of time to load up, but they’re all in somebody’s cloud.2 Passwords are more annoying, if I can’t have them recover from the iCloud backup, but I know all my passwords, and Authy has a nice cloud-recovery feature that means wiping a device won’t lock you out of your accounts.3
And then I pulled up the Health app to verify that Workflow was writing data properly.4 And I was rather dismayed to find that all of the data was gone. That’s a year of water data – going back to when iOS first allowed water intake to be stored. Two years of footsteps and flights climbed. Just shy of two years of overall nutritional intake. Hundreds of Workouts. The one that was most annoying was the two months of Activity data from my Watch – I was working on a 30-day streak, and I’d almost made it to a perfect month! All those filled rings, gone. Heartbreaking.
But, for me, this is all really just an inconvenience. Sure, it sucks to lose that much data,5 but it’s not life-threatening or anything.
Except Apple had, a few days before I went to the Apple Store, announced CareKit. It’s a big turning point for Health, because now instead of just being a personal-use sort of thing, all that data that the iPhone and Apple Watch automatically collect, and anything people enter either manually or through third-party apps- all that data can be put to good use. Doctors can have apps that allow them to monitor their patients, and, in the primary use case CareKit gave, provide post-op care in an intelligent way.
Which means Apple suddenly has a huge problem. Because, in my experience, the solution to every iOS-related problem I’ve had has been “wipe the OS and install from scratch.” Which translates to “all of your data can be recovered – except the Health data, which is securely stored on only the phone and thus goes away. And suddenly you’re telling people “you can either fix this problem with your iPhone and potentially die because your phone can no longer figure out the proper post-op care regime, or you can just live with whatever’s wrong with your phone.”
Somehow I really doubt that’s the user experience Apple wants people to have.

Now, since I hate to be the sort of person who comes up with a problem without offering a solution, I’ll take a whack at how to fix this. It doesn’t seem too hard, right? Just throw the Health data into iCloud, and Bob’s your uncle, right?
Well, not quite that simple. At the scale of iOS and Apple, nothing is simple. There’s two big problems with just syncing to iCloud.
First, privacy: in the wake of the collapsed FBI suit against Apple, privacy is a Big Deal at Apple. iCloud isn’t nearly as secure as the iPhone itself – the default method for getting into an iPhone, with a warrant, is to get the phone to back up to iCloud, and then Apple downloads the backup and hands the data to law enforcement. And yes, that method would’ve gotten law enforcement into the HealthKit data store before, but I can’t shake the idea that Apple would want iCloud as a whole to be a lot more secure before they’d start advocating that people store something so personal as health data in their cloud.
The second big problem is usage patterns. For someone like me, putting Health data into iCloud is no problem at all – I’ve got an Apple Watch, an iPhone, and a MacBook. No potential conflicting data there.6 But what about people with multiple iPhones? If two phones pick up motion events at the same time, but have different datapoints for that time, which one is correct? Not an insurmountable problem, but a problem to be aware of, at least. The other big deal with usage patterns would be people like my grandparents – my grandma just recently got a new iPhone, and Grandpa got the old one as a hand-me-down.7 They’ve shared an email address since they first got one, something like fifteen years ago. And now they’re sharing an Apple ID, and thus an iCloud account. There’s no good way to deal with multiple people sharing an iCloud account if you’re trying to sync Health data, unless you just give up on the idea of syncing it and instead have a per-phone cloud-based data store, at which point you’re basically just doing regular backups.
It’s a bit of a knotty problem, I’ll admit. But Apple has the resources to fix it, and I’d argue that it’s something they absolutely need to do if they’re going to be as serious about health (and Health) as the launch of CareKit seems to indicate they want to be.

  1. Seems more recent than that; strange. 
  2. I store files in a heavily-boosted free Dropbox account, a paid OneDrive account, a couple of different FTP servers, a Creative Cloud account, and on a massive pile of external hard drives I keep in my dorm room, all run through a USB hub to a WD MyCloud NAS with ‘cloud access.’ Lots of clouds happening around here. 
  3. That, by the way, is why I switched from Google Authenticator to Authy – a GA update removed all accounts stored in the app, and I barely managed to recover all of the accounts I had TFA enabled on. It was a close shave, and I immediately ditched GA as my token-generator. 
  4. I use Workflow to quickly log the amount of water I’m drinking – two taps (“drank water”, “24 fl oz”) vs “open Health.app”, “open Water”, “tap ‘add’”, “type in a number”, “tap save.” 
  5. My HealthKit data store was in the 50 megabyte range, if I’m remembering properly. Considering how space-efficient SQLite is, especially with rigorously structured data like all the HealthKit data stores are, that is a lot
  6. Well, there is in terms of Apple Watch vs iPhone Motion Coprocessor, but all that is (rather clunkily) handled in the Bluetooth sync between the two devices, so it’s not really a problem. 
  7. His prior phone was a Motorola Razr, and text message from him (switching off at random between raw-ABC entry and T9) were always delightfully incomprehensible. 

Kindle Oasis

I saw this morning that Amazon is launching a new Kindle – the Oasis.
I’ve been a Kindle user since the first one came out, so I figure I may as well do a hot take on the release, having just read through the product release page. So, without further ado:
The Oasis is Amazon’s new top-of-the-line Kindle ebook device.1 But, based on the features in the thing, it looks like Amazon might have finally noticed what people actually liked about the original Kindle. (Not entirely, of course, because they’re categorically incapable of doing things entirely right, but they’re getting closer.) The Oasis has the optional Free 3G tier, though it defaults to WiFi-only. (Upgrading to ‘Free 3G’ adds an additional $70 to the price of the device, which I’d guess is less about the hardware difference and more about paying in advance for that ‘free’ 3G connectivity.) So, not exactly free per se, but having that connectivity links it back to how we all felt about the original Kindle.2
Where it’s really clear that Amazon paid attention to what people want for once is in the interaction model. It’s still a touchscreen device, but they finally put back the physical page turn buttons! Based on the images3 I’ve seen, they’re small little buttons, which is a bummer, but I can sort of understand why they went with the interchangeably-sized ones. The original Kindle had lovely and big page-turn buttons, with a full-screen ‘next page’ button on the right and a 2/3-1/3 split on the left, going to ‘previous page’ and ‘next page’, respectively. The Oasis has two small page turn buttons, placed at the vertical center of the screen on the right-side bezel. The sensical reason for making them small, I couldn’t tell you, but making them the same size is because the Oasis has (presumably) on onboard gyroscope that allows it to tell which way you’re holding it. If you’re a southpaw, it’ll rotate the screen and have the buttons make sense that way, while the marketing-default right-handed layout will do the same if you switch hands again. Which is a very nice feature to have, though I’d still be happier if those page turn buttons were bigger – there was something wonderfully tactile about the buttons on the original Kindle.4
All that said, the Oasis has some solid differentiation from the original – no physical keyboard, no SD expansion,5 and it doesn’t look like it’s got audio support.6 And I’m still occasionally sad about the loss of the little scroll-wheel setup the original had – it was a terrible interaction model, but it was so aesthetically pleasing.

All that said, I’m not going to be getting an Oasis. Sure, it looks like a great device, and the whole ‘smart cover is a backup battery’ thing looks nice, but it’s nearly $300 and I am a broke college student. Still, nice to see Amazon making some progress.7

  1. A specification that I didn’t actually need to make – it’s pricier than their largest Fire tablet is at the moment. 
  2. While it’d be nice to have a 4G modem built in, rather than 3G, I don’t think it’s actually a necessity – the average file size you’re loading on this thing is minuscule, since it’s a black-and-white device intended for reading text. Though I’d argue that it could do well with it now that we’ve got stuff like Project Gutenberg and Archive of Our Own, putting huge amounts of text online to read for free. 
  3. Of which there are not very many – a lot of the “sell people on a Kindle” material down the page hasn’t been updated from the Paperwhite/Voyage line of stuff, so they’re all showing old Kindles and not the new one. Interesting marketing oversight on Amazon’s part. 
  4. For reference, I no longer have that Kindle: after years and years of working perfectly, it took a hard hit in my backpack at school and the screen shattered. I was heartbroken, especially after finding out that the whole ‘physical buttons’ thing didn’t exist anymore. I’m now using what I think is a first-generation Paperwhite, which I like, but I still miss my original. 
  5. Which is sorta understandable, considering that Amazon is the absolute leader in cloud storage, except… Amazon sucks at building cloud services. They’re awesome at running servers and powering the cloud, it’s just using it that they can’t do well. 
  6. That was one of the greatest hidden features of the original – you could pop in an SD card with documents on it, but if there was any music, plugging in headphones and pressing a keyboard shortcut would start playing music. A different shortcut would skip songs. God that was an incredible device. 
  7. Not mentioned: the onboard software, which appears to be the same stuff running the Paperwhite and Voyage devices. As I use this software all the time, let me tell you that it is painfully clunky. The OS on the original Kindle was bad, which was fine because it was a first-generation device and had a weird way of interacting with it. Unfortunately, Amazon decided that they were going to reuse almost all of the code from that one when they made the rest of the Kindles, and it’s been dragging down the entire product line for years. 

Health.app and me

I wasn’t the healthiest of children. I drank soda all the time and regarded sports with the sort of distant horror that a housewife feels for a dead rat a servant mentions cleaning up.1 Running, to my mind, was something that could happen to other people.
But such things can’t last forever, especially if you spend middle school getting strangely obsessed with mortality statistics. I didn’t so much make one concerted effort to be healthy as I’ve made a sort of slow, ongoing one. There were a few big moments in this, and a surprising amount of them were related to Apple’s Health app.
The first two weren’t directly linked, though, and we may as well go in a chronological order.

1: Swimming

My mother, bless her soul, kept trying to get me to like sports. She was on the “don’t let Grey die a young, unhealthy death” team. It took her a while to get me to swim, and by that point she’d gone through all the other school sports.2 Why it took that long to get to swimming, I don’t know – she was a swimmer in high school, quite liked it, put a lot more effort into it than I ever did.3 Eventually she got to swimming, and I actually kinda liked it. I stuck with it through the last couple years of middle school and all of high school, at least.4

2: Water

To be honest, I’m not entirely sure where in the chronological order this one falls, but I’m pretty sure it was in this spot.
Y’see, in the “when I was a kid” category is “I drank a lot of soda.”5 This one isn’t attributable to my mom – she didn’t want her kids drinking caffeine, if she could avoid it, and any diet soda was Off Limits.6
My dad, on the other hand? Big fan of soda. So whenever I was at his house, I’d drink a lot of the stuff.
And then, at some point, I started to get interested in the nutrition information on stuff. And boy howdy, soda has some interesting numbers in there. All sorts of sugar, surprisingly numerous calories, and nothing of any value.
So one day I just stopped. I didn’t drink soda anymore. Sometime after that, I stopped drinking milk, but that’s unrelated,7 milk is healthy stuff. And now I only drink water.8
At some point last year, and here’s where Health.app comes in, I started keeping track of how much water I was drinking. Mostly because I like data for data’s own sake, but this was after #3 was a thing, so it fit into the stuff I was already doing. At first I was using that weird plant app to keep track, but oh god did I hate the design. It was clunky, didn’t seem to have any good way of tracking how much water you should be drinking behind the initial setup number, and it was clunky. I’ve said that twice, but it’s something that I really dislike.
Then the iOS 99 beta came out, public access, and it added the water metric to the HealthBook data store. So I dropped the crappy plant app and just started doing manual data-entry, which was only barely harder than the stupid plant thing.
Nowadays, I’m using Workflow to make the process even smoother, but I’m still not quite satisfied, and I may wind up making a project out of this. It’d be a good way to learn the HealthBook APIs. And the Apple Watch APIs, and the Today Widget APIs, and the Force Touch APIs. Basically I’d use it to learn full-stack iOS app development, why not?

3: Food

You’re expecting me to talk about how I started eating healthier in here, which sorta happened? A little bit, occasionally. It’s an ongoing project that the dining hall doesn’t make any easier. But no, that’s not what I’m talking about.
Y’see, when I was registering for classes for the first semester of college, I did a really good job of planning. I made sure I’d have a few minutes in between all the classes to get from building to building,10 plotted out the courses I’d be taking so they’d be the best way to get myself on track for all four years, and all in all had a nice setup for myself.
Then the first day of classes hit and I realized I’d forgotten about meals. I ate lunch once a week11 for that entire semester. It got to the point where I was legitimately concerned that I was going to starve myself, so I downloaded one of those dieting apps and started using it exactly wrong – making sure I was meeting a minimum of calories, rather than staying below a maximum.12
And then the semester ended and I just kept it up. If anyone asks me for a reason, I open the Health app, show them the page of graphs that is the Dashboard, and tell them that I like graphs.

4: Apple Watch

Over Christmastime I wound up with an Apple Watch. It was a mix of factors, including family members who gave me money in lieu of presents and some strong hints towards the Apple Watch,13 my sister shouting ‘YOLO’ at me, Best Buy having a good sale, and my taxes-and-budget stuff working out positively. Plus a touch of “I want to develop for iOS at some point, and WatchOS is part of all the app ideas I have at the moment, but I need to know the paradigms first.”14
Apps aside, though, the big thing that the Apple Watch has over my old Pebble is fitness tracking. It links up with the M-series chip in my phone, and supplements it with a second set of gyroscope data and a heart rate sensor. Plus some onboard processing that I can use if I want to go out for a walk or bike ride or something15 and not lug my phone along.16
And there’s the Activity app, the foremost fitness feature of the watch. It has been remarkably effective on me, which I found rather impressive. There’s the Stand Hours ring, the innermost, which ensures you spend at least a minute of at least twelve hours a day moving around. Which wasn’t too hard, considering the whole ’50 minutes of class and then walk to the next class’ schedule I’ve got going on.
Then there’s the Exercise ring, aiming for 30 minutes of ‘vigorous exercise’ a day. I put that in quotes because I’m unsure in what definition of ‘vigorous’ Apple is using. And ‘exercise,’ at that: usually I can fill this ring on walking around alone.17
And then there’s the final one, Active Calories. This is the one that’s had the biggest effect18 on me. All of them had a bit of an influence – give me a gamified system and I can’t resist trying to win. I have an overwhelming desire to fill all three of those rings every day.
The Active Calories ring started off fairly easy.19 But then it started to ramp up, because that’s what it does when you keep filling that ring. The goal is now almost twice what it was when I started, and I’m still overshooting it pretty consistently. Which has forced some changes in my life – I’m finally taking advantage of the gym on campus.20 Almost every day, I go down to the equipment room and ride one of the stationary bikes for a while.21 I’ve had a variety of sources of input all saying “go use the gym,” ranging from my own mind pointing out that it’s part of my tuition that I’m not taking advantage to my roommate who enjoys going to the gym to the various ‘dieting’ apps I’ve used.22 None of them worked. And then I got an Apple Watch, and suddenly I’m going to the gym every day just so I can fill a little red ring.

So that’s where I am, at the moment. I’m not a fitness buff, by any means.23 But I’m living a fairly healthy life, and I’m still working on improving. Who knows, maybe this time next year I’ll come back to this post and have another item or two to add.

  1. Don’t get me wrong, this is still my opinion on sports, but I’ve stopped being so vocal in my disregard for them – why ruin other people’s fun? 
  2. Except football. That one was a non-starter. 
  3. She’s the reason that I know how to prevent and/or deal with ‘hair turning green’ problem that crops up if you spend too much time in the chlorinated water. 
  4. I don’t swim in college, but I do teach swim lessons and lifeguard and stuff, so the pool is still a big thing in my life. And I’m taking scuba classes now! It’s cool. 
  5. Or pop, or cola, depending on where in the US live. 
  6. A mix of the unknown-bordering-on-carcinogenic properties of the artificial sweeteners and the fact that thy all just taste gross to her and me both. 
  7. The story there functionally consists of “I’m a Choir Nerd and milk makes your vocal chords less vocal chord-y, basically.” 
  8. And occasionally a hint of PowerAde, but that’s only because the water spigot in the dining hall is also the PowerAde spigot, and it takes a bit of time to clean out. It’s always accidental- I’ve referred to the resulting combination as “naturopathic ass-water.” 
  9. I think? Might’ve been 8, I can’t recall. 
  10. With mixed success- I didn’t realize how far the math building is from the music building, but oh well. 
  11. Technically including weekends, though only because the dining hall only serves brunch on weekends, and I’m too lazy to walk anywhere off-campus to get food. 
  12. It’s a good thing I started paying attention to that, because the way I’d been going I actually was slowly starving myself, based on the FDA’s caloric intake statistics. Whoops. 
  13. Which, to be fair, I’d been dropping strong hints about since it came out, so, y’know. 
  14. That one hasn’t worked out right yet, actually – my Apple Watch is mildly defective, doesn’t actually run any third-party apps. That’s why I haven’t done a review yet – I’m holding off while I work with Apple Support to get it fixed. The main slowdown there is me, because I haven’t had time to actually sit down and have the long phone call with them that’s necessary to get a replacement authorized. 
  15. Running is still in the “something that can happen to other people” category. 
  16. Because, y’know, an iPhone is so much work to carry around. 
  17. To be fair, I am an aggressive walker. 
  18. Or is it ‘affect?’ Dammit, why hasn’t the English language fixed this stupid affect/effect thing yet 
  19. Well, no, it didn’t, because when I first set up the watch I was like ‘sure, I’m a fairly active person’ and set it on that and then miserably failed to fill that ring for the first week. The next week, the Watch took pity on me and set it back down to the ‘barely not a couch potato’ level. 
  20. I still don’t use the weight room, because all those heavy things combined with my lack of knowledge about lifting strikes me as a great way to injure myself. 
  21. I like the stationary bike because it’s low-impact, a good calorie burn, and I can read or watch YouTube videos or whatever on my phone. None of that ‘paying attention to where I’m going’ nonsense that a real bike has. 
  22. I went through a couple – I started with Lose It!, but I found it to be too opinionated towards the whole ‘losing weight’ goal – which, I suppose, makes sense, considering the name. Now I’m using MyFitnessPal, which I like a bit better. It’s not as opinionated, and it integrates a bit better with HealthKit, as far as I can tell. 
  23. Nor can I be described as ‘buff’ at all, a play on words of which I am far too proud


Just a quick site-side note: I was fiddling around with footnotes1 and decided that, rather than write a blog post every time, I should just make a changelog.2 So I did.

  1. You may have noticed they’re slightly different, and hopefully nicer to use, now. 
  2. While I’m add it I’ll go ahead and add ‘changelog’ to the List of Words that Autocorrect Hates. 

How I Organize My Digital Life

This is written in response to a post of the same title that my friend did on her blog: normally I would’ve responded in the comments, but it seemed like such a fun concept for a post that I felt like doing my own write-up.
In a similar vein, I am fairly immersed in the Apple ecosystem, though not entirely: my primary machine is a Macbook Pro running OS X Yosemite, and I’ve also got an iPhone 6 to which I am attached. However, a lot of my sync services are handled elsewhere – I use OneDrive, Dropbox, and my own server(s), as well as Google Calendar and a variety of email services.
For the apps that keep me organized, though, the list is as follows:


Apps that I use on both my Macbook and my iPhone.
1. Calendar. Mine is a multicolored mess, but each color corresponds to a calendar for specific things. My main Google Calendar is full of obligations – work, club meetings, classes. I’ve got an iCloud calendar of practice time and meals, things that are important but not quite as critical, another iCloud calendar for my free time, and another that I use for stuff that I might do. Plus, three calendars stored on my school’s Exchange server, which I use to keep track of the hours for the dining hall, the campus mail room, and office hours of my professors.1
2. Things. I wound up with this app after it was part of a bundle of software I bought at one point, and I’ve been using it ever since. The sync is well-done, and I enjoy having a ‘per day’ sort of system rather than the specific-time setup that Apple’s native Reminders app uses.
3. Pocket. The Share extension in iOS is beautifully-implemented, and the service is very reliable. I tend to binge-add, and then read through things slowly. Pocket is what I use for all of my linked-lists style content.2
4. Excel. I use spreadsheets to keep track of my budget and which classes I’m going to take and when. They’re intense spreadsheets.
5. Day One. Not technically for keeping organized but more for keeping sane, I use Day One as my journal of choice. Every day, about an hour before I go to bed, I’ll write up anything notable that happened that day. I’m outsourcing my memory.
6. Dropbox. To be honest, I almost forgot about this one because of how seamless it is. Dropbox is the glue that binds my life together and I could not function without it.3
7. myHomework. It’s technically possible to do everything that myHomework does using a combination of other apps on this list, but the ease-of-use of having it all in one place is worth it to me. Especially considering that I’m taking about a billion classes and I need to keep track of what project is for what class.
8. Mint. It’s got less functionality than my bank’s website does (in terms of what I can actually do with accounts and stuff) but it’s helpful to put my balance next to the balance on my student loans. Keeps things in perspective.


Not available on my iPhone, unfortunately.
1. Airmail 2.4 Email is an important thing that I use a lot. Airmail 2 is host to all 8 of the email addresses – spread across six different email servers – that I use regularly.5
2. Ulysses. I do all of my writing in Markdown6 and Ulysses is my favorite editor out of all of the ones that I’ve tried. It’s got a few idiosyncrasies, but half the time they’re features that I enjoy – the footnotes, for example, are wonderfully executed. And when I say I like it, I mean “I have more than 50,000 words written in it to date.”7


Those things that are iPhone-only.
1. Outlook. The best mail app I could find that supports my varied email providers. It’s actually a pretty good app, too, not just a ‘the only thing that would work’ – I’ve got one or two things I would change, but it’s all fairly well-implemented.
2. Health. I somehow became one of those Quantified Self people, to some degree or another. I’ve been on the iOS 9 beta for a while, and I really enjoy the Health-native support for water tracking. I also using Withings HealthMate to put in my pulse sometimes, because why not, and Lose It! to track what I’m eating.8

So yeah, that’s how I keep myself organized. It’s a complicated system, but it works for me.

  1. There’s no central place where all professors list their office hours, which I find strange. It’s an idea I’m fiddling with as a potential for a capstone project in my computer science major. 
  2. The Daring Fireball-style quotes-with-links posts I’ve been doing a lot of lately. 
  3. It’s gotten to the point that I now install it on the computer I use in the Computer Science lab, in spite of the fact that the machine has Deep Freeze on it. Long story short, I install and sign in to Dropbox at least once a week in that lab. And it is worth it
  4. Apparently they’ve got an iOS app coming out soon. I am very excited. 
  5. Don’t ask why I have that many functional email addresses. It just… happened. 
  6. John Gruber has been more of an influence in my life than I thought. Hmm. 
  7. I’m guesstemating here, but I’ve got about 100,000 words stored in it overall and I did anywhere from 30,000-50,000 of that in other editors and later imported them into my Ulysses file structure. 
  8. Fun fact: I started using Lose It! during the fall of last year, not because I felt like I needed to lose weight, but because I needed a reminder to eat enough that I wasn’t starving myself. I forgot to schedule myself time to eat meals. Whoops. 

It's time to kill iTunes

iTunes has been around for a long time, it’s true. But these days it’s got a reputation for being one of the biggest pieces of bloatware in existence. At this point, I think Apple needs to admit that it’s a lost cause and start over.
And not just Internet Explorer/Edge replace, where they throw out the source code and build a modernized version of the same thing from scratch. Oh no. It’s time to Ma Bell it.
I’m thinking of a few disparate apps that it could be broken into. (I’ll take a look at the problem of syncing an iPhone with a bunch of different apps in a little bit.)


The easiest one to point out, what with the recent launch of Apple Music. Break the music stuff out into a standalone app. Maybe fix some of the rampant issues in Apple Music versus iCloud Music Library versus iTunes Match versus iTunes’ local library, while you’re at it?
And, while you’re at it, rebuild the iTunes Store. Fun fact: the iTunes store doesn’t support Apple Pay. Clearly some work needs to be done, so take this as an excuse to just rebuild the whole thing from the ground up.


Oh, hey, Apple already built a photos app. Just take the last vestiges of photo management (only ever used for iOS sync anyways) out of iTunes, and gently affix it to the brand-new Photos app.


This is where the Movies and TV Shows sections of iTunes wind up. There might be a bit of copyright issues with Microsoft, but they’re willing to license anything for the right fee, and it’s not like Apple can’t afford that.
This gets its own view into the iTunes Store, one that only includes the video aspect.1 One account, two stores.2

iTunes U

Rebrand it, since we’re killing off iTunes here. iTunes U in iTunes 12 is a mess – downloading files leaves them showing up as a local copy and a copy in the cloud, with iTunes not realizing that they’re the exact same thing. Even when the download is in process, weird crap like that happens. Classes get duplicated.
iTunes U is a great service, thanks to the member schools that create content for it. The implementation, though, feels like it was forgotten about by Apple years ago.


I would argue that both Podcasts and iTunes U should be optional downloads from the App Store. I use iTunes U on occasion, but I’ve never even opened the Podcasts app on my phone, nor the tab for it in iTunes.


iBooks is already an app of it’s own, with all the syncing (as far as I can, anecdotally, tell) already being handled by iCloud, rather than iTunes. God alone knows why it’s still a section of iTunes.

App Store

This is where things get interesting. I want to see the Mac App Store and the iOS App Store be merged.
Before you start, I am studying programming. I’m aware of how much of an awful mess3 that would create. Nonetheless, it’s something that should be done.
We’ve already got Continuity making it so that I can open a tab from Safari on my laptop in Safari on my phone. Heck, there’s even APIs for that so that third-party app developers4 can make use of that feature. We’re clearly going for the ‘everything is linked, all your apps work across all your devices’ thing. So. Why did I have to buy Things twice?
I’m not arguing for the full-on Windows 10-style universal-app thing, because that would suck to develop for. I’m just saying, let developers merge the Mac and iOS versions of their apps, so that a single purchase can get both versions. That seems like a very Apple thing to do, to me.
The actual app redesign, I’ll leave to people with more expertise than me – the current App Store on OS X doesn’t have much by way of library management, and really just feels like a web browser without the URL bar, five oversized bookmark icons, and slightly heightened access credentials.

The other two items I see in iTunes are Tones and Internet Radio, both of which can be folded into the Music app.

Oh, and before I forget, implementing sync across all of these apps. In OS X, that’s easy, just build it in at the system level. It’s gotta be partly done there, already. And for Windows users,5 since it’d be rude to just leave them with ‘iTunes (Legacy)’ or some crap like that, build it into the iCloud system service. Or just have a requirement for the download of any of the others, call it ‘iOS Sync Engine’ or something stupid like that. Most people just hit ‘next’ until they’re done with the installation, anyways.

So, there you have it: my plan for how to kill of iTunes and (hopefully) fix one of the worst messes of software in current use.

  1. Though music videos should be in the Music version, which means that the Music app has to have a bonus layer of complication there. 
  2. Although, to be fair, I’ve already got one Apple account that works in the Apple Store, the iTunes Store, and the App Store. 
  3. Can you tell that I barely avoided swearing there? 
  4. Things does it, as does Pocket. It’s handy. 
  5. Or, as I think of them, ‘those who have yet to see the light.’ 

Switching Over

I’m finally fed up enough with Google Chrome to drop it entirely. Safari, treat me well.
I figure it’s as good at time for it as any – I’m running iOS 9 on my phone, and I’ll be upgrading to El Capitan on my Macbook eventually, which’ll give it even more of a performance boost.
And hey, would you look at that, my battery life has already improved a little bit.
The UI difference is a bit of a step, and the fact that I’m sitting here with bandwidth on the order of 50 KBps downstream while trying to install the plugins that I can’t live without1 is making this a bit of an annoying first impression, but I’ll live with it.
Why did I ditch Chrome, you ask? A couple reasons.
First off, the mobile app: on iOS, there are Rules. One of these is that all web rendering has to use the OS-level WebKit engine. Which means that any benefits of Chrome that there once were – the Blink rendering engine, specifically – don’t exist. All browsers you download on your iPhone/iPad/iPod are nothing but Safari with a different coat of paint.
I was using Chrome on iOS because the sync services were better2 and because I was using Chrome on my desktop. Neither of those are very big points in favor, especially since I’m using Pocket for anything that I want moving around rapidly. Bookmarks are not something I use very frequently.
The main reason was because of the UI differences: the gestural new-tab, close-tab, and refresh thing is wonderful, I must say. And the ‘swipe to change tabs’ thing is something I use all the time.
Of course, the new-/close-tab/refresh thing works about 1/3 of the time. I haven’t the faintest clue why it doesn’t work the rest of the time, it just seems badly implemented.
And the second-to-last Chrome update got rid of swipe-to-change-tabs.3 The one after that added it back… but only on the tab bar, which entirely misses the point. Now I have to stretch my thumb or use the double-tap-home-button Reachability thing to switch tabs, and there’s no benefit to it over the tab button.
So, put simply, Google killed off the only distinguishing feature of Chrome on iOS.
That wasn’t actually the final straw for me. That little camel-back-breaking bit was opening Chrome on my laptop to find that I couldn’t get rid of the useless little ‘persona switcher’ thing. That first showed up as a beta feature months ago and I immediately disabled it. If I want multiple users on my laptop, I’ll use the built in features for that. Stop shoving Chrome OS features down my throat. I tried Chrome OS when I had a Chromebook. There’s a reason nobody who can afford a non-Chromebook buys anything but a Chromebook. It’s because your OS sucks.
So, I’m now using Safari full-time. We’ll see how this goes.

  1. Feedly, Pocket, Disconnect. First two were fine, but Disconnect is running at about 4 KBps for a 70 MB download, so… this is gonna be a while. 
  2. Though not by much – bookmark sync works fine in iCloud as well as in Google Chrome Sync, but iCloud Tabs sync about once a week whereas Google Chrome Sync tabs move around about once every 15 minutes, as far as I can tell from my anecdotal evidence. 
  3. I, of course, immediately tried to leave a bad review on the App Store to express my displeasure, but Apple has (rightly) removed the ability to leave reviews from beta versions of iOS. 

iOS 9 and Search

So, I’ve been using the iOS 9 beta for a couple weeks now. (I think? Don’t cite me on dates, I don’t keep track of time very well.)

Other than the app switcher, which I have a whole host of problems with, the biggest bit of weirdness is probably the Search from LaunchPad.1

Because the pull-down-to-search thing is still there. It’s got ‘app suggestions from Siri’ when you first open the menu, which… okay, whatever. And the search functionality itself has improved quite a bit.


That menu off to the left side, with all the suggestions? Super helpful! And… it also has a search bar? The icon for that page is even the little magnifying glass that makes everyone think of search. And using the search bar in there produces… the exact same results.

That just seems like a waste of space to me. Maybe swap it out for direct Siri integration, for those times when you don’t want to be That Guy talking into your phone, but still want to make Siri do some gruntwork for you?

Just a thought.

  1. In case you’re going ‘what is that,’ it’s the Computer Nerd name for the home screen with all the apps. 


I’m just putting together a quick couple responses to Apple’s WWDC news from the day – everything is a little bit crazy at the moment, turns out that moving is a lot of work. So, things I found interesting:

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Elevators and Loops to Space, Oh My!

I spent some time yesterday playing Cities: Skylines yesterday,1 and something caught my eye. Well, it caught my attention a good bit earlier, but it took me quite a while to meet all the requirements to unlock it in the game.

The space elevator. In-game, it’s mostly supposed to draw tourists,2 which I found to be quite a waste. I mean, my city just spent 1.5 million Local Currency Units building this massive thing, and nobody’s going to use it to start launching cargo to space? That is the entire point of a space elevator, right up until it’s time to start bringing cargo back down.
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I’d forgotten how much I enjoyed Interstellar, and then I went and watched this video. It’s a behind-the-scenes bit on TARS and CASE, the robots in the film. Those ‘bots were, of course, one of my favorite aspects of the whole thing.
They were so well-executed, and a lovely counterpoint to David in Prometheus. David was skeumorphism to the extreme, designed to look exactly like a human. When he (spoiler alert) gets damaged, you see a lot of biotech internals, nanowhatever and fluid that doesn’t look like blood, but definitely doesn’t look like oil.1
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Cities: Skylines

I may or may not have spent four hours yesterday playing Cities: Skylines. It was, to me, a worthwhile use of my time.1 The game is very enjoyable, and I’m planning to spent a lot more time playing it over the next week.2

Seriously, go check it out.3 The game’s really nice, looks great, and runs on approximately every operating system.4 I had fun gaming on my MacBook5 – it is what I refer to as a beast of a machine, because it’s got the best specs you can cram into a MacBook without doing your own modifications, and it runs the game at near-maxed settings with ease. Sure, the fan is screaming and the battery percentage drops faster than a lead weight in a vacuum, but I’m gaming on a laptop, so I really can’t expect more.

I’ve got one or two issues with the game, but they don’t come up until later – the most noticeable is the same thing that my favorite “reviewer” mentioned when he talked about it – there’s no real way to lose. No disasters, and no negative levels on the RCI demand.6 Now, I’m not really complaining about the lack of disasters – I was always too frustrated by them in SimCity 4, because the learning curve on that game was too steep for me to ever really get off the ground. Cities is distinctly easier – more ‘casual,’ I’d say. And I like that lot.

Oh, right, I said I had one other issue, although it’s not technically an issue with the game. I wanted to tinker with the sandbox-style settings, so I used the built-in mods7 to give myself unlimited money and unlock everything. Except… the ‘unlock everything’ one only pushed the population numbers to max just long enough to hit those unlocks. Plenty of things were still locked due to not having hit their prerequisites, and that really bothered me. Mostly because I just wanted to build the fusion reactor, and I couldn’t! It was very tragic.

Oh well, I got to build a space elevator at least, so I’m still happy. It’s a good game, and now I’m going to go write a paper so I can play some more. Priorities!

  1. I don’t do much gaming anymore because I’m so very busy, and I tend to find lower-time-useage ways to get rid of my stress. 
  2. Some people party over spring break. I am not one of those people. 
  3. Today the link is to the Humble Store, instead of AmazonSmile. Humble has a lovely bit in their checkout process where they split the proceeds of the sale between the developers, a bit to ‘keep the servers running,’ and the rest to charity. Plus, you get Steam keys! 
  4. I believe it’s listed as being compatible with Linux, though I’m not sure which distros. If you’re running linux, though, I figure you’re smart enough to make it work. 
  5. If you’re going to be gaming on a MacBook, though, go into Steam’s settings and disable the in-game overlay, then quit out of Steam, then use Activity Monitor to force quit the inevitable bits of Steam that locked up instead of closing, then reopen steam, then launch the game. Otherwise, it’ll crash instantly. Shoutout to Valve, you’re doing good work over there.  
  6. Okay, there’s clearly negative numbers, but they aren’t visible to the user, they’re just used to run the internals. I can tell by the way the demand for everything says ‘zero’ but the map says ‘all these buildings are being abandoned because nobody wants them.’ 
  7. Somehow that feels wrong to say. 

Planets Are Dumb

I really don’t understand why people want so badly to colonize Mars.

Okay, that’s a lie, I totally do – because it’s cool. But that’s actually a kinda terrible idea. In space… everything is super expensive. At least at the start, but considering that it costs on the order of millions of dollars to launch a satellite – not build, but launch – I’m going to say that’s a fairly accurate summary, for now.

Colonizing planets, though, that’s more expensive than usual. And for one simple reason:1 gravity wells.

The trick to putting something in space is beating a gravity well. Once you’ve got something in space, you mostly just need to refuel it every once in a while, and other than that, assuming you’ve built it well, it can be a self-sustaining system.2 So, fuel, that’s something that has to come from a planet, right?

Well… no. Modern space propulsion systems (ion drive, plasma rocket) run off of stuff that you can easily get in space. Rockets don’t run on fossil fuels, except at a couple of steps of remove.3 They run on stuff that’s easy to manufacture from raw materials, as long as you’ve got energy. You’re in space, so you’ve got either solar cells or a nuclear power plant, so we can go ahead and fiat energy requirements. Now, raw materials: asteroid mining, anyone?

That’s basically the trick, and why planets are dumb. Yeah, they’re a big source of materials, but mining for materials takes more effort as you get deeper. Plus, you’ve escaped one gravity well just to get caught in another, and a gravity well is the single hardest thing about space travel.4 Once you’re in space, just mine asteroids for anything else you need. Including living space – raw materials can be converted into anything you want, at that technology level, with just energy input, and we’ve fortunately got a lovely mass of burning hydrogen throwing plenty of energy at us, so that shouldn’t be too hard for another few million years or so.

So: stop saying we should colonize Mars. That’s a stupid idea, and the sort of vanity project we can leave until we’ve at least fired a colonization project towards another star system. No, first priority should be some permanent habitats out in space. The ISS is nice and all, but I’d love to see, say, a Stanford Torus out there. There’s a reason Interstellar didn’t have people colonizing Mars.

  1. Cue BuzzFeed offering me a writing position 
  2. This is assuming you got to space responsibly and didn’t just bum-rush for the Science Victory while ignoring stuff like, I dunno, ceramics or whatever. Oh, Civilization jokes, I’ll never get tired of you. 
  3. Step zero: rocket fuel. Step one: rocket fuel being manufactured, using electricity. Step two: Electricity being made by burning fossil fuels. 
  4. Well, that or the fact that you’re roughly a gojillion miles from anything else. (And yes, I did pick ‘gojillion’ because I’m pretty sure it isn’t a real number. That was the point.) 

In My Dock

I’ve done a post about all the different text editors I have on my laptop1, but today I’m going to talk about the general programs I’ve got. Specifically, which ones are in my Dock.

First, some of the stuff that isn’t technically in the Dock, but rather the bar at the top of the screen.2 Day One is present, followed by f.lux, Dropbox, OneDrive,3 and then the various system utilities.

Now, in the Dock itself. Finder, of course, then Chrome. Because internet addiction.

Then we’ve got Airmail 2, a lovely replacement for Mail.app, which I wound up switching to after a combination of ‘weird Yosemite bug’ and the WiFi at my work blocking Exchange servers4 rendered it unusable. Airmail has a nice interface and helps keep me organized, and it works nicely with Outlook on iOS, which I’m using as a replacement for the combination of Mail.app iOS and Google Inbox.

Next on the Dock is Things, a handy little to-do list app. The ‘add a task anywhere’ function is pretty handy, and it syncs nicely to the iOS app. It’s also very expensive, as far as apps go, and I wound up getting it as part of a bundle of software which helped me save a lot.

Following Things is Messages, which I mostly use for sending memes to people. I can’t be productive all the time.

Then there’s Typed, the new addition to the ‘text editors’ list. I’m gonna go ahead and throw in a mention for Mou here, because, while it isn’t on my Dock anymore, I still use it all the time – I tend to switch back and forth between those two all the time. I like Mou’s interface better, but Typed can maintain a framerate above ‘5 fps’ when viewing/editing large documents, so…

Then there’s iTunes, which I’ve also talked about in the past. Then there’s Day One, once again, since sometimes the widget isn’t enough.

Then Desk, another of the text editors from the previous post, which I’m actually writing this in.5

OneNote follows Desk, and I swear, one of these days I’m going to actually type up that backlog of notes I’ve got in my atrocious handwriting. Someday. Soon, I promise.

Then Calendar, which I use way too much. My calendar looks like I’ve got at least one secretary whose only job is to fill in my calendar. It’s… a bit sad, honestly.6

Finishing up, we’ve got System Preferences, because I feel like no Dock is complete without it, and Activity Monitor configured to show CPU usage in the icon, something that I have set up in some form or another on any computer I use.

So, that’s my software setup. I’ve got a lot more stuff installed, but those are the things I use enough to justify having them in my Dock. What’s your setup look like, dear reader?

  1. Which I could actually update now because I’ve got at least one new one since then… 
  2. There’s a specific term for that bar, but I can’t remember what it is and I refuse to spend ten minutes Googling that sort of thing. 
  3. When it hasn’t crashed, so… roughly 30% of the time? 
  4. That is exactly as ridiculous as it sounds. Probably more, actually. 
  5. There’s a bug in the Markdown rendering engine at the moment, so I can’t use the built-in ‘post’ functionality, but I still like the interface so much that I’m doing all my blog-post writing in Desk and then copy/paste-ing it into the WordPress installation here. 
  6. It’s also a lot of fun to show people and watch the pity appear.