¶ Twenty-Sixteen: Intention and Action

Intentions make far more sense to me than resolutions. Declaring your intent sounds and feels more tangible than resolving to do something. That said, either one of those without action is simply ephemeral.

Action is the catalyst that drives us forward with our intentions.

Last year I made the distinction between intention and resolution and focused on intent. I sure intended to do quite a number of things. But I lacked action. I sat there, stalled, on far too many of my goals.

One thing did stick for me. I decided to move more. Since about March last year, I've gone for a walk every day. I've lost weight, increased my stamina, and I haven't been egregiously sick, either. I think reducing how often I am sedentary has been a big part of that. My goal for this year is to get that push in to get my weight under 300 pounds. I have less than 4 pounds to go. I think I can do it.

My long-term goals for 2016 are to reduce things that mean little to me. While I love tracking my fitness activity, I've been catering to too many apps for logging it. I used to wear a Fitbit until I lost it about a year ago. I had switched the Fitbit app to use the motion sensor in my iPhone. I also started using the excellent Pedometer++. And Apple's Health app. And the Apple Watch with its Activity rings. It's too much. Something needs to go.

So last night, after the clock rolled over to midnight and I gave my wife a kiss, I launched the Fitbit app, synced it one last time, and promptly deleted it. I still love Pedometer++ for its simplicity. It only tracks steps. And the Apple Watch's Activity rings have tangible value to my daily fitness, too. They keep me honest and motivated. But Fitbit's chapter in my fitness is over. One less thing to check every day.

An upcoming intention I plan to act on this weekend is to trim down some of the people I follow on Twitter and Facebook. I've carelessly allowed some folks who ended up being toxic to have a foothold in my attention span. Part of me has been feeling guilty about the idea of doing this, but toxicity has no place in my life, and I'd rather surround myself with people who inspire me to be a better person.

There are so many other areas where reduction is needed and I'm working to identify those and figure out the plan of action to deal with them.

Where 2015 was the year of good intentions that remained still, 2016 is a year of intentional action.

¶ The Hunchback of Cupertino

This morning Apple released the iPhone 6s Smart Battery Case. While it says 6s in the name it works fine with iPhone 6 as well. Sorry Plus-sized iPhones, your extra-hugeness has enough battery inside it to not need one of these cases.

I get it. There’s plenty of folks out there who burn through their iPhone’s battery by mid-day and need an extra charge or two to make it to bedtime. Thankfully, I’m not one of those people. It’s a rare day when I dock my iPhone at night with less than 30% on the battery meter.

But we need to talk about this case for a moment. It is well-intentioned to solve a real problem that many people experience. Well-intentioned, but hideous. Just look at that hunch on its back.

That just doesn’t look good to me. It’s like George Costanza’s wallet has been shoved into one of Apple’s lovely Silicon cases. Ged Maheux makes a great observation that this case could have used the new terraced battery tech in the MacBook to smooth out that bump a bit. Missed opportunity.

If the iPhone 6 and 6s have such small batteries that they warrant a first-party battery case, maybe it is time to say the iPhone is thin enough for a while. Not to mention the additional annoyance of having the camera stick out a bit from the back.

Instead of chasing thinness, I think it is time to shift gears and focus on extending battery life and making the camera flush with the back again.

In the meantime, if you need a battery case and like to keep things in the Apple family, $99 will cure what ails you.

Some neat Apple Watch tricks

Jonny Evans at Computerworld has some neat tips and tricks for the Apple Watch. I knew most of these already, but this one was completely new to me:

A call comes in and you check your Watch. You know you want to talk to this person but want to use your iPhone to make it. Suddenly anxious you grapple through all your pockets to find your phone and the call drops. It needn’t be this way – just use the Answer on iPhone button at the bottom of the incoming call screen (turn the Digital Crown a little and you’ll see it). The person calling will hear a repeated sound while you search for your phone. Stay cool.

This is amazingly useful and I've already used it a couple times for incoming calls.

Dave Mark at The Loop adds:

This is designed perfectly. The moment you tap the “Answer on iPhone” button, the call is answered and Siri’s voice says, “Please hold on a moment”. Then, a series of repeating tones plays, that makes it sound like you are on hold. My instinctive response was to stay on the phone. This is great.

I have no doubt I will get a lot of mileage out of this unsung hero of a feature.

¶ The Diversity of Apple Keyboards

As I walked through the glass doors, I couldn’t remember when I had last been in an Apple Store. The nearest one is a 40 minute drive from my home. While it isn’t exactly far away, it’s far enough that it isn’t high on my priority list to visit unless I need to.

While my iPhone was being serviced for a weird charging issue, I took the time to check out some of the new products from the past year that I hadn’t seen in person yet. Oddly enough, the fact that quite a few of these products had very different keyboards.

I checked out the MacBook, Magic Keyboard (and Magic Trackpad 2), iPad Pro (and Pencil), and the Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro.

MacBook

The MacBook interests me a lot. I love how thin and light my MacBook Air is, so naturally I’ve been dreaming about the thinner and lighter MacBook since it was released. Until now I’d only seen the MacBook on Apple’s website, never in person. It’s clear from folks I follow and respect that the MacBook’s keyboard is polarizing in the “love it or hate it” kind of way.

It’s definitely not what I expected. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The key travel, or lack thereof, was much more pronounced than I thought. Those keys barely move at all. But they do give a satisfying click when pressed. That makes my ears happy, even though my fingers don’t really register that much is happening underneath them.

What I truly enjoyed was how large the key caps are. I wish all of Apple’s keyboards had large keycaps like that.

I understand why some people hate this keyboard now. It is wildly different than pretty much any keyboard out there I’ve typed on. While I was surprised at how different it is, I think it is something I’d grow to love with more use.

Magic Keyboard

I’ve been going back and forth on buying a Magic Keyboard since it was released, but I’m having a hard time justifying the cost, especially when my Apple Wireless Keyboard continues to serve me well. After trying out the Magic Keyboard in person, well, I’d really like to own this keyboard soon.

The Magic Keyboard is the happy medium between the Apple Wireless Keyboard (and the keyboard built into the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro) and the MacBook’s new keyboard. The Magic Keyboard feels familiar. It has a lot of the heritage of the Apple Wireless Keyboard, but the keys are slightly larger and a heck of a lot sturdier. They don’t wiggle like the keys on my Apple Wireless Keyboard do.

I also love the lower profile of the keyboard itself. And good riddance to AA batteries. I wish the key caps were as large as the MacBook’s. I also wish it had backlighting, but I can see why it doesn’t. I can’t wait to own the Magic Keyboard. But wait I will, because $99 is a bit steep to justify a keyboard right now.

Magic Trackpad 2

A brief aside about the Magic Trackpad 2. I love my current Magic Trackpad. I love everything about the Magic Trackpad 2 even more. It’s larger footprint is great. It has a lower profile to match the Magic Keyboard. Again, goodbye AAs.

I would absolutely need to get one of these alongside a Magic Keyboard. But at $129 it is also out of the realm of possibility right now. A combined $230 for a keyboard and trackpad makes my bank account weep.

iPad Pro

This is the device everyone is talking about. I opened Notes and brought up the on-screen keyboard, which is now pretty darn equivalent to the size and layout of a laptop keyboard. It’s easily the best on-screen keyboard I’ve used, though it did take some adjustment as I’m used to the ultra compact keyboard of my iPad mini.

I could tap out words briskly and it was fun to use. Bonus points for the new iOS 9 two-finger trackpad feature being even better on that large screen.

My favorite part of the iPad Pro’s keyboard is the Tab key. Goodness, my kingdom for a tab key on other iOS devices.

Pencil

Another quick aside, the Pencil is amazing. I doodled a few things in a couple apps and it is just great. I hope this will work with future iPhones and iPad Air/mini models.

Smart Keyboard for iPad Pro

I hated the Smart Keyboard from the second I rested my fingertips on it. The keys are tiny (about the same size as my fingertip), the texture of the fabric is repulsive, and while it uses the same stainless steel mechanism as the MacBook’s keyboard, it feels squashy instead of clicky. Surprisingly I typed quite accurately on it, but I constantly felt like I was about to strike the wrong key. I just had no confidence I was actually going to press the intended key, and that made for a stressful experience.

I don’t think I can adequately describe how much I disliked the Smart Keyboard. Gross.

Final Thoughts

Between the keyboard on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro we’ve known for years, the divisive new MacBook keyboard, the Magic Keyboard being a hybrid of the preceding two, the various screen sizes of iOS devices accommodating different layouts, and the iPad Pro’s Smart Keyboard, I don’t think Apple has ever had a more diverse spread of keyboard styles among its devices.

I have to imagine future Mac laptops will move toward the MacBook style keyboard as Apple obsessively shaves millimeters off their thickness. Perhaps the MacBook Pro line will adopt the Magic Keyboard style, as the Pro has always retain a bit of thickness and heft to it compared to its non-Pro siblings. I think this would make a lot of folks happier.

Then again, Apple has always been one to push the envelope. Perhaps the low travel of the MacBook keyboard is preparing us for a no-travel Taptic keyboard, where we tap away on a sheet of glass that is also our trackpad.

Pedometer++ 2.3

Today Underscore David Smith released an update to Pedometer++ that I've been waiting a while for. Thankfully, I've been beta testing it for a while.

Version 2.3 is entirely focused around building a rich and robust integration between the Apple Watch and iPhone. Letting you track your steps and reach your step goal in a much more complete way. The update focuses around 3 main features: data sync, complications and a workout mode.

David has created a clever system that intelligently merges step count data between the Apple Watch and iPhone based on which device is giving the best data in a given moment. This is in contrast to how Apple does it, where the Health app goes by device priority, falling back to the second device in a list only if the first is unavailable.

In my testing, David's approach seems to paint a terrifically accurate picture of overall step data in a day.

The watch face complications can be nice, but I find I prefer other complications and still don't mind swiping up the app's Glance to get a peek at my progress.

Finally, Pedometer++ adds a workout mode as an alternative to the Watch's included Workout app. It works well, and the only thing I'd like to see added is a mileage goal, as I use that in the Workout app to receive a tap at the halfway point, so I know when I should turn around and head home.

Pedometer++ is free on the App Store and is ad-supported, but David includes a tip jar with varying price points in the settings to remove the ads. Any tip amount will remove the ads. I suggest going for the Amazing tip, because the app is just that good.

¶ A Whole New Level

Troy Hunt on a massive data breach at VTech:

I suspect we’re all getting a little bit too conditioned to data breaches lately. They’re in the mainstream news on what seems like a daily basis to the point where this is the new normal. Certainly the Ashley Madison debacle took that to a whole new level, but when it comes to our identities being leaked all over the place, it’s just another day on the web.

Unless it’s our children’s identities, that’s a whole new level.

When it’s hundreds of thousands of children including their names, genders and birthdates, that’s off the charts. When it includes their parents as well – along with their home address – and you can link the two and emphatically say “Here is 9 year old Mary, I know where she lives and I have other personally identifiable information about her parents (including their password and security question)”, I start to run out of superlatives to even describe how bad that is.

Make no mistake, this is bad. Our personal information and privacy is highly sought-after by advertisers, governments, and yes, even criminals. The days of saying that no one would be interested in your data are over. Everyone wants your data. It is time to start taking the security and privacy of your information seriously.

Use unique passwords everywhere with a password manager. (You can even lie on the answers to security questions and track what lie you gave a site in a password manager).

Use a Virtual Private Network (VPN) when on public Wi-Fi.

Encrypt your devices. It's easy to do on OS X and iOS.

Be cautious of who you are giving personal information to.

And most of all, care about your data.

¶ November is for Writing & Thankfulness

I've been seeing a lot of folks this past week getting ready for National Novel Writing Month, or NaNoWriMo, as aspiring authors like to call it. NaNoWriMo is an ambitious endeavor. 50,000 words in 30 days. That is roughly 1,667 words per day.

I've also seen a couple other takes on NaNoWriMo, such as what Ben Brooks is doing. Ben isn't planning to write a novel, but he is taking on the challenge of writing 50,000 words on his site. Equally ambitious, if you ask me.

I was thinking this morning about Ben's take on the NaNoWriMo challenge and a challenge that I have done each November for the past few years. While I don't write anywhere near the amount each day in November to get to 50,000 words, I do write each of the 30 days.

A few years ago, my friend Shaun Jones (sorry, he doesn't have a website) introduced me to the idea of Thanksvember. Simply record something you are thankful for each day of November. Some days I write a sentence, some days paragraphs. I record all of it in my beloved Day One. Sometimes I share an entry with others, but often I keep it to myself.

I think the great thing about doing some kind of writing each day in November is not so much about the quantity — heck, even the quality — but rather the consistency. Taking November to write daily is a great way to start the habit of writing. It's so easy to have the desire to write but to allow yourself to be blocked to actual put words to paper or pixel.

Whether you are writing the next great novel this month or simply being thankful for something each day, be sure to write.

Encrypted iTunes Backups

With iOS 9's release just a few hours away, it seems like a good time to mention that it is always a great idea to make a backup (or two) of your iOS device. More than likely, the upgrade will go smoothly for you, but in the odd chance that it doesn't, you'll be glad to have a backup (or two) handy.

I actually take two backups. The first I do is an iCloud backup via Settings > iCloud > Backup. My iOS devices are also set to do an iCloud backup when they are charging and connected to Wi-Fi, so they tend to backup every night.

But my preferred backup before updating iOS or getting a new device is an Encrypted iTunes backup. By default, iTunes does not encrypt backups. You have to enable it in iTunes' preferences. While any backup is better than no backup, there are some advantages to the encrypted variety.

  • Your data is encrypted, which is always a good thing.
  • It is a more complete backup, as it includes:
    • Your saved passwords
    • Wi-Fi settings
    • Website history
    • Health data

I'll tell you right now, the saving of Wi-Fi settings alone is worth it, but I also think retaining your Health data is extremely worth it.

While iCloud backups save me day-to-day (and are also encrypted), I like the iTunes backups because if you need to do a restore, you'll save yourself a lot of time by doing it over the USB Lightning cable than over Wi-Fi with iCloud.

So go make your backups, and happy updating!

¶ Traveling with Apple Watch

I'm not one who particularly enjoys traveling. Let me clarify, I enjoy my destination, but I am not fond of the process of travel. This sense of blah increases by an order of magnitude when it comes to air travel.

This past week I traveled to Toronto for work. Also my first trip to Canada. I was prepared to have to use paper boarding passes as it is an international flight. Passbook has only worked for me on domestic flights in the past. But to my surprise and delight, United's app allowed me to check-in in advance, and take a photo of my passport for verification. And then I saw those three glorious words: Add to Passbook.

What's even better is that the boarding passes were also available on my Apple Watch. For departure, I entered the airport, skipped United's desk, and walked straight to the security checkpoint. The agents scanned the barcode off my Apple Watch for my boarding pass, examined my passport, gave me the customary greeting of a patdown, and I was on my way.

Upon arrival in Toronto, I took a quick train to the station nearest my hotel. I was within walking distance, so I opened Maps on my watch, spoke the name of the hotel, tapped walking directions, and felt like I wasn't a complete foreigner as I turned when he watch subtly tapped my wrist in its left/right sequences. It worked perfectly, and I never had to take my phone out of my pocket.

Finally, Canada has been a bit more civilized in regard to payments for some time now. NFC is present just about everywhere. Using my Apple Watch to pay with Apple Pay just worked. Also, it was kind of fun to see the slight jealousy of Canadians when they realized I used Apple Pay, as it is not yet available in the Great White North.

As time goes on, I am finding the greatest thing about aw is the convenience it brings to my life. It is still by far not a necessity, as my iPhone can do just about everything the Watch can, but having the essentials of what I need available to me quickly and easily is terrific.