Monthly Archives: October 2014

Tim Cook Proud to be Gay

Progress in The U.S., slow but steady! Another step today with Tim Cook: “I’m Proud to be Gay”:

I don’t consider myself an activist, but I realize how much I’ve benefited from the sacrifice of others. So if hearing that the CEO of Apple is gay can help someone struggling to come to terms with who he or she is, or bring comfort to anyone who feels alone, or inspire people to insist on their equality, then it’s worth the trade-off with my own privacy.

Well done and worth reading.

Work at Home: My Setup

After years of using only Mac laptops, the most recent being a 2011 MacBook Air, I made the decision in the winter of 2014 to transition to a desktop Mac. Kaleesha was writing her first book and needed a better laptop so I took the opportunity to make the move. My reasons were for choosing the MacMini (late 2012): price and my decision to begin sitting and standing rather than working in a reclined position. I’d tried this with the laptop but it just didn’t take. A MacMini would leave me no choice but to be at the desk.

I’d been using an iPad since the first iteration in 2010 and was pretty confident that it would serve well as a laptop replacement for my off hours browsing or any tasks that didn’t require a Mac. This has been the perfect set-up for me.

iPad Air 2 and Logitech K811 Keyboard

iPad Air 2 and Logitech K811 Keyboard

Most of my work on the Mac is either graphic design or html/css coding. All design work is taken care of with the usual Adobe apps and the web work via Panic’s excellent Coda. Other usuals: Safari, Mail, Wunderlist, Fantastical, Byword, iBank, Paperless, Pages, Numbers and Keynote. Oh, and iTunes which not only serves me but the whole house.

On the iPad 3, recently upgraded to the iPad Air 2*, my main apps are Feedly, Transmit, Byword, Drafts, Twitter, Numbers, Fantastical, Wunderlist, Scanner Pro, Kindle and iBooks. As an amateur astronomer SkySafari gets alot of use along with Numbers for recording observations with the iPad that are later transfered to FileMaker Pro on the Mac.

With Mavericks and iOS 7 the convenience of always in sync everything has been a fantastic feature making switching between devices mostly frictionless. It’s only gotten better with Yosemite and iOS 8 both of which have performed exceptionally for me. Practically everything seems to sync in one way or another. Some examples: Transmit and Coda bookmarks, Wunderlist tasks, iWork documents, Byword documents and practically everything else.

One possible change to my workflow: Pixelmator. I’ve used it a bit on the Mac but now with a new powerful iOS version I intend to become more familiar with it. That I can now do real image editing and design work on an iPad with this much power (and finally 2 GB of RAM) is a potential game changer. When combined with apps such as Transmit and extensions I anticipate that I now have a device which will make on-the-go web work that much easier as my ability to use and share files between apps and devices is a fantastic new feature of iOS8. For example, a photo emailed to me by a client is easily saved to photos, edited with a Pixelmator extension and then opened in Transmit for upload to a server.

Of course, having said all that, I don’t want to go back to my former portable-based workflow. I’m VERY happy with my standing desk and intend to continue working there but it is very helpful to now have the option of getting more work done when I need to be away from my desk.

Two other bits of gadgetry worth mentioning.

The iPhone 5C has been great for keeping up with email, twitter and RSS as well as reading books. Other tasks for the iPhone usually include scanning documents with Scanner Pro, remote control for iTunes and AppleTV. The hotspot feature has also been a real plus for getting things done while on the road.

My newest office kit is a Logitech K811 which I’ve only had for a few days. I think this is the best keyboard I’ve ever used. Bluetooth pairing with multiple devices was super simple and switching between them as fast as hitting a single button. The keyboard turns off automatically when not in use and turns on instantly when my fingers are placed on it. The slightly concave keys feel great and unlike the Apple keyboard (my previous favorite) this keyboard has backlighting. It’s not super light but light enough that I won’t mind taking it out with me. The iPad/keyboard combo is still far lighter and more compact than a MacBook Air. As I write this Kaleesha is creating a sleeve for the iPad/keyboard combo. Sweet.

  • A note about the Air 2. It was gifted to me by my aunt and uncle and I mention them because until the release of the iPad they had no intention of ever owning computers. Like several others in my family (my mother, grandmother, aunt, and a few others) had previously only ever used their desktop computers for playing those old school card games. For various reasons they had not used the internet at all or only very little. All of them are now daily users of the internet in a variety of forms. For several of them their iPads were their introductions to Apple and they now own iPhones as well.

Don’t Forget the Words

Frank Chimero, The Second Trip-Up:

A young designer is beaten over the head with typefaces, grids, and rules—and rightfully so—but typography can act as a smoke screen. There is so much to learn about the letters that it’s easy to forget about the words. Once a designer has the typographic skills in their pocket, anyone with their head on straight realizes ugly words in beautiful typefaces are still pretty dumb. I tripped over this observation while struggling to make good designs and clear illustrations for idiotic articles and muddled ideas. I then fell into something I’m still attempting to understand: words are the most explicit example of clear thinking.

Work at Home: Taking Breaks

As a freelancer I have the freedom to work at a pace that I control with as many rest breaks as I think I need. It’s one of the many great reasons to freelance and it’s not just a matter of convenience but also of health and productivity. my tendency is to work a two-three hour block between breakfast and lunch and then between lunch and dinner. Within those blocks I work 45 minutes with 15 minute breaks. I’m not using any kind of app to remind me to break so this fluctuates a bit and is usually influenced a bit by my surroundings or natural needs to take a bathroom break or to get a drink. It’s just as common for me to work thirty minutes and break for ten minutes when I feel the need.

There are days when I am between projects and on such days my rest/work pattern falls away completely. I’ll take care of miscellaneous tasks such as scanning receipts or clearing out accumulated desk clutter between extra time catching up on social media and RSS feeds. It’s not uncommon for me to have one such day durning the normal “work week”.

In short, it is a natural cycle of focused work balanced with rest and relaxation as needed. The result is a sense of productive well being and and a body of work that I and my clients are happy with.

Work at Home: Using a Standing Desk

Standing deskThis past spring, after years of working at a desk or while laying in a bed with a laptop (most recently a MacBook Air), I decided to begin standing while doing any work at the computer. I’d already transitioned from the laptop which Kaleesha was using to write her first book and had moved over to a Mac Mini at the desk full time. Two things happened shortly after this transition. The first was that the increased time sitting at the desk without the ability to move around to work led to increased back pain. This led to the second which was a bit of renewed research into the benefits of standing to work. I’d previously tried it out but had never pushed myself to make it my primary position to work and with the laptop it was too easy to just sit or lay somewhere.

In March, with increasing pain and a scale that insisted on inching slowly higher I decided to make a few changes. First was to stop sitting while working. I used a bit of extra plywood in the shed to construct a raised display shelf and, a bit lower, an adjustable shelf for my keyboard and trackpad. It took just a couple hours to put together and paint. I built it with the notion that during the transition period I might want to move the display down and sit occasionally but never did. I’ve been standing ever since. Well, I have been known to sleep on occasion and sit at the table for dinner. I also spend a bit of time lounging with the iPad on the bed or couch throughout the day but work time, 3–6 hours a day, is standing.

Six months in and I can report that I am very happy with the decision. During the first few weeks I was often aware of standing and had a little pain in my legs and feet. I could get the work done that I needed to get done but it wasn’t effortless. Today I regularly stand for 1–2 hours at a time with no thought to the fact that I’m standing. Put another way, standing has become the natural way that I work. I usually put in an hour or two between breakfast and lunch and another 1–3 hours between lunch and dinner. Occasionally I’ll need to do an hour or two in the evening. My schedule changes a bit day to day which is quite nice as it allows for some flexibility and variation between standing, sitting and reclining.

Of course it should be noted that standing is only one aspect of a healthier lifestyle. I can’t say that I’d seen any weight loss for most of this period. In fact, due to my diet I’d seen an increase over the past year which continued after I began standing. I’ve since gotten back into walking 2 miles a day and in July I began tracking my diet more closely, both practices have helped me steadily and slowly drop half of the weight I needed to drop. By January I will have achieved my goal weight and will go into the new year with the healthy habit of standing while working.

Excellence is not Perfection

imageThere’s been a good bit of hub-bub lately about how Apple has over-extended itself. Whether it’s complaints about iOS 8 bugs or a bendy iPhone 6 it all seems to be much ado about nothing. No doubt there are bugs but this is nothing new. No company releases a major new upgrade to any operating system without bugs, not even Apple. Go back through the releases of iOS or Mac OS and you’ll see that every release has bugs and most releases have at least one or two big bugs. This is nothing new so why pretend it is? Frankly, given the ever increasing complexity of the Apple hardware ecosystem, my hat’s off to them for keeping it together as well as they have. We expect excellence and I think that’s what we get. Excellence should not be confused with perfection.

The big bugs with iOS 8 that I’ve seen mentioned the most in my Rss and Twitter feeds? HealthKit needed an immediate fix so 8.01 was pushed out sooner than it should have which turned the just released iPhone 6s into iPods. No doubt a big problem which was rectified by 8.02 a day later. Aside from that I’m seeing the usual anecdotal complaints of instability. Another issue, not so much a bug as an issue of different timing for the different upgrades, are iOS 8 users upgrading to iCloud drive who were unaware of how this would effect their ability to access their iCloud documents from Mavericks-based Macs. Apple presents a warning for those choosing this option. Perhaps they could have done more? On my devices I’ve had no instability. My personal experience with iOS 8 has been nothing but excellent.

The critiques I’m seeing on iOS 8 seem to include the notion that Apple is rushing things and should slow down releases but this is a damned if they do, damned if they don’t scenario because it’s often said that they are not releasing enough. Not enough hardware, not enough software. Complaints about a lack of updates for iWork or iPhoto or iTunes being too bloated… the list goes on. I’m the first to admit that I often wish for new features or updates more often but that said I’m also usually very happy with what I have. Again, excellence not perfection. Most incremental updates have proven great. Major app rewrites such as iMovie several years ago or iWork last year have come with a bit of pain, no doubt. Not just in the adjustments needed for users to new interfaces and workflows but also in lost features (or temporarily missing features) and bugs.

With each new season of changes and updates there is a predictable outcry from the Apple using community about changes and bugs which is followed by a few weeks or months of bug fixes and, in the case of the major app rewrites, the return of many if not most missing features. The end result is that within a few weeks or a couple months everything is back to “normal”. iOS or OS X has returned to a stable state with it’s new features and everyone is happy. By January or February the end of the world has passed and by April Apple geeks are anxiously awaiting WWDC. By August they are beside themselves as they await the new iOS around the corner. The cycle repeats.

But along the way Apple has built an increasingly complex and collaborative ecosystem which is, increasingly, taken for granted. I remember the days of OS 8 and 9 and near daily crashes of my Mac. A week without a forced restart was nearly unheard of. I considered an uptime of 3 days amazing. Now? My Mac goes weeks without a restart, often months. Often restarts are only after OS updates that require it. That is absolutely fantastic. My iPad and iPhone? The same. Not only do my devices just keep running but they now work together in ways I would not have expected before. In just a few weeks even more so with the release of Yosemite.

But right now, even before Yosemite, my 2012 Mac Mini with 4 GB of RAM is my daily workhorse with 8–12 apps open at any given moment. An example: Safari, Mail, Wunderlist, iTunes, Illustrator, Photoshop, Messages, Calendar, Filemaker, and Coda. I bounce from one to the other with no crashes. None. This MacMini also functions as the household iTunes server. iTunes, often derided as bloated and somehow a problem, performs fantastically in our household. Always on, it serves 6552 songs, 170 GB of television shows, and nearly 1 TB of movies out to multiple iOS devices including 2 Apple TVs and a couple Macs. I wirelessly back-up my iOS devices to iTunes with no effort on my part beyond initial set-up. The only time I have to plug in an iOS device is to charge it or import photos into iPhoto.

I regularly open or create documents from iWork or Byword on my Mac which are then edited, seamlessly, on my iPad. Sometimes it is the other way around. Thanks to extensions in iOS 8 and apps like Panic’s Transmit I can easily use my iPad to access and edit an image or html file on my Mac Mini which I can then upload to one of my servers. With the same device and app I can share an image on my Mac’s desktop to Facebook or Twitter with just a couple taps. I can use my iPhone to control media on my AppleTV or stream a video from a Mac to AppleTV. These little sharing workflows are things we do in our household everyday, many times a day without a second thought and more often than not they work flawlessly. We just assume they will work and they do. The list goes on and will only grow as apps are updated or new ones created. With the release of Yosemite it will get better with Handoff and Continuity. I’ve already taken phone calls to my iPhone on my iPad, with Yosemite I’ll be able to take (or make) a call on my Mac.

It’s a fantastic time to be in the Apple ecosystem and I’m just as excited about the release of Yosemite as I was iOS 8. In the first weeks there will be bugs and the usual chorus of complaints will erupt on my feeds. I’m not suggesting that people should not mention the problems with Apple releasesd, be they OS, software or hardware, only that they keep a bit of perspective. Honest and factual critique helps us move forward, dramatic headlines and exagerated problems do not. Take a deep breath. Expect excellence from Apple, not perfection.