¶ Instagram’s New Colors

About 6 months after iOS 7’s release, I started to roll my eyes when an app would be updated and its icon still looked like it belonged on iOS 6. With Instagram, my eyes did a lot of rolling. For years.

Until yesterday.

Yesterday Instagram updated its iconic (har har) icon. And the reaction from the Internet was, as one would expect with such a drastic change, visceral. Some loved it, and most really did not.

My initial reaction was actually quite pleasant. It’s a daring departure for Instagram, but I like the approach. It’s fresh. Nonetheless, I thought I’d let my thoughts marinate overnight to have more than a 30-second knee-jerk reaction. And you know what?

I still like the icon. It looks at home on iOS. It’s not blue like so many other icons. It stands out on my home screen. I like it.

As a quick aside, Buzzfeed applied Instagram’s new gradient color to other company logos. Most of them look pretty good. I especially like it with Starbucks and Coca-Cola.

The icon isn’t the only change, though. The app itself has effectively been rid of color aside from the photos. While I wonder if the pendulum swung a bit too far on this, I don’t mind the change. The focus is really on the photos, and they really pop now. I imagine some hints of color in the interface will make their way back with time.

Overall, I am really digging the visual refresh in Instagram. The only way this update could have been better in my eyes is if Instagram added an iPad version.

Constraints Matter

I recently wrote about the value of brevity in regards to being respectful of a reader's or listener's attention, and also how brevity can help me write a bit more frequently as I often overthink things and go on for far too long.

So let's get to the point, shall we? Yesterday, my friend Aaron Mahnke tweeted a few things pointed at those of us using a ceiling word count for some writing. Thankfully, he elaborated a bit more in a blog post.

Writers love to count their words, and that’s a good thing. Let’s just get that onto the table right away.

Fair enough.

Writers count words to measure how far they’ve walked into a story. But here’s the catch: word count isn’t the end goal.

I agree with the first sentence, and somewhat agree with the second, depending on how it is viewed. It's not so cut and dry for me.

Some people, though, think it’s more important to prioritize brevity over clarity and art. […] They believe that the shorter the piece the better it is, that somehow using less words makes the work more admirable and praiseworthy. And they’re wrong.

I can see his side, but I think Aaron is being a bit one-sided here. Brevity can serve a purpose toward fostering clarity and art. I am wanting to embrace brevity more because I know embracing constraints can foster growth and maturity.

Let's look at it another way. I own two cameras. A Canon EOS 40D with a few lenses, and my iPhone 6. I used to take the 40D everywhere and try to take neat shots with it. But I fiddled too much with its various options and, more importantly, I didn't understand how light worked. I jumped in with the higher end of the photography spectrum (at least on a consumer level) and didn't have an understanding of the basics.

As the iPhone's camera kept getting better, I started leaving the 40D at home more. With the iPhone 5 I was leaving the 40D at home a lot. And by the iPhone 6 it even stopped coming along for trips. Why? Because as the iPhone's camera got better, I started using it more, despite the fact it has a ton of constraints.

Having those limitations forced me to think a bit more creatively, a bit more out of the box. I had to really start thinking about how light worked because I couldn't just adjust the aperture or shutter speed or ISO. I take better pictures because constraints left me no choice but to become observant and learn.

And let me tell you, I have had it said to me by plenty of photographers who really know their craft that "a phone camera is just a toy camera" and "that phone camera can't be used to take a good picture." But we all know that's a bunch of bulldonkey.

I mean, look at the beautiful things an iPhone can photograph.

When you write under the pretense that shorter is better, you trade art and care for economy and mathematics.

I wholeheartedly disagree with this statement. Shorter can be better, if you use it to hone the skill of art and care. Brevity does not inherently strive for economy and mathematics.

A writer should write the words necessary to tell their story — no more and no less — and then edit and craft them to fully represent the material.

I wholeheartedly agree with this statement. When I set out to write something with the intentional constraint of brevity, I keep an eye on the word count. I have a target I want to hit. I want to keep that particular writing in the ballpark of something brief. But if the topic requires more, I'm prepared to eschew brevity to complete the thought (as I've clearly done here).

Counting words has nothing to do with that whatsoever.

Word count isn’t a quality of good writing.

Again, this is not cut and dry, black and white, or mutually exclusive. Word count can and does influence writing, both poor writing and excellent writing. Working within constraints forces and fosters creativity.

Constraints matter.

¶ Brevity

Clear! Concise! Cogent!

Those were the words that graced most of my research papers from a particular professor in college. Like most professors, he had a minimum page requirement for papers, but unlike most professors he also had a ceiling limit. The idea was if you couldn't make your point in that many pages, you simply couldn't make your point.

Brevity is an important lesson to learn, but is also easily forgotten when typing away in a limitless text editor. Dancing endlessly around the point of a topic has become an epidemic on the internet today. I don't know about you, but my time is valuable. I imagine yours is, as well.

I've come to appreciate writers and podcasters who work within constraints which value the time of their audience. It's about respecting your readers' attention.

Ben Brooks proposes product reviews should have a ceiling of 1500 words:

…I don’t have time to read about a new app for 30 minutes when I could try it for myself in 5 minutes. It makes no sense to read these beastly posts when I could do the work the reviewer was supposed to do — but in less time than I would spend reading the review.

I'm a huge fan of that idea.

Other things I've come to value are podcasts that I can start and finish during a short walk. Two of my favorites are Lore and Under the Radar. Lore is typically under 30 minutes and Under the Radar is always under that.

M.G. Siegler's 500ish Words hits a sweet spot for easy reading for me. Similarly, a new favorite is Matt Gemmell's new "Briefly" format. I love the direction he is taking with it:

My guidelines for Briefly pieces are that they should be 100-200 words, and should take most people less than a minute to read.

And:

It’s my hope that the new format will allow me to write here more frequently.

I've been struggling to write. I get hung up on length versus getting to the point. I asked Matt if I could steal the Briefly idea he concisely said, "Do it."

I've already gone doubly the length of a Briefly's goals, but am firmly within 500(ish) words. Even at that, this should have taken most of you less than two minutes to read. Thanks for your moments, and I hope you enjoy reading more frequent thoughts from me.

The Need for Encryption

Tim Cook wrote a letter to Apple’s customers (and in my opinion, the entire world) regarding the United States government ordering Apple to weaken the encryption of iOS devices by adding a backdoor. And Apple is fighting it.

Some would argue that building a backdoor for just one iPhone is a simple, clean-cut solution. But it ignores both the basics of digital security and the significance of what the government is demanding in this case.

In today’s digital world, the “key” to an encrypted system is a piece of information that unlocks the data, and it is only as secure as the protections around it. Once the information is known, or a way to bypass the code is revealed, the encryption can be defeated by anyone with that knowledge.

The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.

The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.

We can find no precedent for an American company being forced to expose its customers to a greater risk of attack. For years, cryptologists and national security experts have been warning against weakening encryption. Doing so would hurt only the well-meaning and law-abiding citizens who rely on companies like Apple to protect their data. Criminals and bad actors will still encrypt, using tools that are readily available to them.

Please go read Tim Cook’s entire letter.

Make no mistake, this is a pivotal moment in our security and privacy in the digital age. It’s my opinion that Apple is fighting for citizens’ rights here, protecting us from the United States government. And if such a backdoor to encryption is forced upon us, criminals will find and use it to exploit each and every one of us.

And this is certainly about more than this single iPhone. Marco Arment has said it best in what I’ve read today:

As we’ve learned from national hero Edward Snowden and, well, almost every other high-profile action taken by law enforcement recently, this most likely has very little to do with the specific crime or iPhone that the FBI is citing in this case.

It’s their excuse to establish precedent and permanent backdoors for themselves so they can illegally spy on anyone’s data whenever they please. They’re shamelessly using a horrible tragedy to get themselves more power.

I believe in encryption. In this day and age, encryption is what gives us privacy in the digital world. In a previous age, privacy was as simple as closing your door and locking it. Yes, law enforcement can always obtain a warrant and circumvent your locks by breaking your door. But nowhere is it written that your locks must be weak enough to be broken. If your door is 12 inches of steel, well, that’s your privilege.

And for those of you who think Apple should stand aside and help the FBI by weakening encryption because you think you have nothing to hide, go and read Tim Cook’s letter again, but substitute Chinese government and Russian goverment wherever Tim writes U.S. government.

Do you still think encryption is worth weakening? If Apple is forced to capitulate to the FBI, other governments will come knocking on the encryption door, too.

¶ 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 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.

¶ Obituary

I recently linked to Eulogy, written by Matt Gemmell, in which he discusses telling those that impact you of what effect they've had on you before they've died. We store up all these lovely memories and feelings and the person who inspired that in us rarely gets to hear it.

Reflecting upon Eulogy, I began to think about something said at the last Deacon's meeting at my church. Let me introduce you to JL Schmidt. JL is a career writer, having spent much of his life thus far in journalism. He's one of those classic newspaper guys who seen and written about pretty much everything. He also leads our small band of Deacons in serving the people of our church.

During part of our meeting he issued a question and a challenge.

"Gentlemen, what's your legacy? If you want to find out, write your own obituary."

The idea seems a bit self-serving at first. But as he explained himself it became quite apparent the intent is to be other-serving.

JL's thoughts on writing your own obituary are quite similar to Matt's thoughts on eulogizing those you care about before they die. Often, this summary of your life is left until you've passed, and it is likely cobbled together by a fledgling journalist climbing the ranks, who likely never knew you. All they have to work with are some meager facts provided by those who have survived you. Your obituary, if done in this fashion, likely will not summarize your life accurately.

Write your own obituary now. Then, and this is the important part, read it. Now examine it. Is that accurate? If so, is it the legacy you want to leave behind? If someone else read it, would what is written match up with the person they know? Is there anything you think you need to change in your life? What do you want your obituary to say, and how can you start to make that happen?

You see, by writing your obituary you have a chance to see whether or not you are wasting your precious time on this earth. If you were to die in the not-too-distant future, would you be known for the ideal version of yourself you want to be known for?

By asking yourself these questions and reflecting upon them, you can then begin to change who your are now to who you want to be remembered as.

I personally want to be remembered as someone who served others selflessly, without hesitation. I have a long way to go on that as I've done a fair share of self-serving these past 30 years. But now that I know what kind of person I hope to be remembered as, I can begin to cultivate that person inside me.

What do you want your legacy to be?

ByeTunes

Last night I saw a tweet from my friend Dave Chartier that got me thinking a bit:

There's a lot of rumor about Apple introducing a new music service tomorrow at WWDC. When I saw Dave's tweet, I wondered if this may be the end of the iTunes name.

Let's be honest, does anyone really even respect the iTunes name anymore? For years I've loathed whenever I have to use it. I know a lot of folks who carry the same sentiment. iTunes has been a cumbersome app for a half decade or more.

And then I am reminded of iPhoto. How much that was being bogged down by its past and how Apple essentially scrapped it and rolled out Photos for OS X. A new, refreshed take on photos brought a new name. And I'm now wondering if the same is due for iTunes. A new, refreshed take on music with a new name.

If I were to pick a name for it, I see one of two possibilities. First, simply Apple Music. It fits the trend of Apple leveraging its own name with the general purpose of the app. Second, I could see them using the Beats name they acquired last year.

We'll see what happens tomorrow, but I sure wouldn't be surprised if Apple said bye to the iTunes name.

¶ Welcome to Full City Press

Here it is. The new chapter of my writing. Full City Press. For years, I've written about tech — primarily Apple — and it's been incredibly fun. Over the past year, however, I started to feel like I was in an echo chamber, and just murmuring the same thoughts as everyone else writing about Apple. And it burned me out to where I stopped writing publicly.

Writing is something I must do. It's almost a compulsion. If I don't put words to page every now and then, a negative effect takes root in just about every part of my life. Over the past months where I couldn't bring myself to write one more word on this site about technology, Day One became my rescue. There I could write freely about any topic. But I longed to share that here.

The former name of this site, techese, became a mental barrier for me. It just didn't feel right to write about non-tech stuff here under that name. So I did some soul searching and came up with a new name. Full City is a degree of coffee roasting (it's delicious, by the way). And Press has dual meaning as I press coffee each day, and also the link to writing. It's a perfect name for my future endeavors as a writer.

Writing about technology is still going to happen. It is too large a part of my life for it to not happen. But I'm going to take the liberty to write about any topic I choose. So let's grab a cup of coffee and get to writing again.

¶ Brewing Something New

Lately my creativity & drive for writing on this site has suffered.

I've felt like I am standing in an echo chamber. This site has been focused on tech and tech alone for its entirety. It's even in the name. And the name somewhat holds me back when I've considered broadening the scope of topics I write about here. I know this is my site and I can write whatever I want, no matter the name. But it still gives me pause (for all the wrong reasons).

I'll still write about tech, as it is a huge part of my life, but I'm done being confined to it. I'm branching out to new topics — observations and opinions about things such as productivity, leadership, growing relationships, service, family life, and even my faith. I am not a professional on any of those subjects but I want to exercise mental muscle of creativity by exploring topics I find occupying my mind.

It's time for change. I came up with a new name, registered the dot-com & snagged a twitter name, and hired a designer for a snazzy logo. Now it is time to push some pixels around on this site and flip some switches for the new hotness.

With this fresh start for the site I'm giving myself permission to write the way my heart wants to write. To venture into topics which strain my comfort level and hopefully allow me to grow as a writer.

No matter how you follow the site, everything will redirect just fine. You should not need to adjust your RSS reader, re-follow on Twitter, or anything like that. And of course, all the previous content from over the years will remain.

While I have loved the name techese it has been mentally holding me back. Say hello to Full City Press, brewing now, and being served up soon.