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. 

Variations on the Theme of Life

Grey Patterson

Download on the iOS App Store
I have always been fascinated by the emergent properties of mathematics: simple rules create complex structures. When you get down to it, this is how all of our modern technology works. Variations is based on that concept and was composed for performance through an application written for the iOS® operating system.
At the core of the application are cellular automata based on Conway’s Game of Life (1970), which is a grid where each square is either ‘on’ or ‘off’ and follows a strict set of rules. A square that is off (‘dead’) can become alive (be ‘born’) if it has the right number of living neighbors. A square that is alive can die if it has too few (loneliness) or too many (starvation) living neighbors. The rules are simple, yet they can create astonishingly complex patterns; there is an entire field of mathematics devoted to studying these patterns, Automata Theory.
Variations allows these patterns to play out both visually and aurally. Tap the screen to allow the grid to move through another cycle of living and dying, or just listen to the music created by a single frozen moment. No two people will ever hear the same set of sounds: the starting point for the patterns, as well as their evolution, are uniquely generated every time the Variations application is run.

(The recording above is from the premiere, in which the audience was asked to open the application simultaneously.)


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. 

“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. 

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

Switching to full-time iOS

The Brooks Review:

It’s that same allure many of us are feeling with iOS now — the idea that while the Mac is still pretty simple and mostly just works — iOS is even more simple. Like Macs in 2004, iOS either just works, or it flat out won’t work for that task. Either you can do it pretty easily, or not at all.

It’s still not something I can entirely understand. Though, perhaps that might change if I actually had an iPad.1

  1. Probably not, though – there are remote access apps for iOS, but no actual virtualization systems, and I need to be able to run Windows or Linux or something at a moment’s notice for classes sometimes. 

Panic Unlock

Business Insider:

Apple has filed a patent for a method to secretly enter “panic mode” on an iPhone when it’s unlocked with a specific finger. That could mean that the phone locks out personal information or completely resets the device.

This is a feature that I’ve long felt was a critical missing feature from the iPhone.

Products to Platforms


What is most important is ensuring that said developers have access to sustainable business models that justify building the sort of complicated apps that transform the iPad’s glass into something indispensable.
That simply isn’t the case on iOS. Note carefully the apps that succeed on the iPhone in particular: either the apps are ad-supported (including the social networks that dominate usage) or they are a specific type of game that utilizes in-app purchasing to sell consumables to a relatively small number of digital whales. Neither type of app is appreciably better on an iPad than on an iPhone; given the former’s inferior portability they are in fact worse.

Something that really concerns me, considering that my current career goals are roughly ‘independent app developer.’

Getting Rid of Stocks


Why are there apps on the iOS that I can’t delete even though I never use them? Why does Apple insist that I keep Tips and Stocks on my iPhone when I’d like nothing more than to delete them? For Cook the question seems a familiar one. “This is a more complex issue than it first appears,” he says. “There are some apps that are linked to something else on the iPhone. If they were to be removed they might cause issues elsewhere on the phone. There are other apps that aren’t like that. So over time, I think with the ones that aren’t like that, we’ll figure out a way [for you to remove them]. … It’s not that we want to suck up your real estate; we’re not motivated to do that. We want you to be happy. So I recognize that some people want to do this, and it’s something we’re looking at.”

The best part of the whole article.
(I’d guess that the issue with removing Stocks, for example, is the Siri integration – the fact that it’s included in the Today screen doesn’t matter, since that’s also available to 3rd-party developers, but nobody outside of Apple has Siri integration.)


… even when it works, freemium has a dark side. In fact, along with boatloads of cash, it’s starting to earn a bad name. Part of the problem is simply that in-app purchase and kids are a bad mix: last year the FTC forced Apple to refund $32.5 million worth of in-app purchases made by children. Since then Apple has added tools for parents to prevent this sort of thing, but you still have to marvel at the gumption of a game like Disney’s Maleficent Free Fall, a “puzzle-adventure” based on the movie, in which players can buy a “Cauldron of Magic” for $49.99.1

As far as I’m concerned, ‘freemium’ is the worst thing to happen to the gaming industry since… well, ever. The in-app purchase mentality is starting to work its way into console gaming, a development that actually made me happy about how little gaming I do anymore.

  1. From Time Magazine, June 22, 2015, The Candy-Colored Ninja Doodle Angry Flappy Baby 

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.’ 

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.