Kindle issues, years on

April 25, 2015

I've had every generation of physical Kindle device (yes, even the DX…and I loved it) and have used every iteration of the iOS software, and still, after all of these revisions, I have a single niggle with each implementation (that doesn't exist in the other implementation).

In iOS I hate that I still can't scroll through my books. I’m instead made to page through them like it's Q12006. For whatever reason, and it may be just a feeling, I feel like I read faster when I scroll. (Maybe because I tend to keep my eyes focused on the same physical area of the device and scroll content through that area?)

With the physical devices, the thing that still really irks me is that it insists on showing the percentage of the book completed. I was hoping the Voyage would rectify this, but no dice. Amazon, no one wants to see this all of the time! You've always hidden this in the iOS app, so why not here too? You hide it in the web reader as well, and the Mac app! (UPDATE: Minutes after posting this, David Dixon reached out to me on Twitter to let me know that this information can indeed be suppressed on the physical devices. On my Voyage, I simply tap the bottom left of the screen, where by default it says “Loc XXX”; tapping there cycles through the display options, including displaying nothing!)

All of that said, I LOVE my Kindle(s), and continue to read like a crazy person.

"Blogging" with Twitter and Instapaper

April 01, 2015

With the advent of “textshots”—screenshots of text linked within tweets (and viewed inline on many Twitter clients)—I’ve decided to try something new with Twitter: “blogging”. (You can find me at jblanton.) Because Jekyll doesn’t yet run on my phone (it’s coming…I know it is…right?!), and because I’m rarely in front of my home computer these days (for personal and professional reasons), I’m having a go at using textshots for the content that usually would find its way into a “linked-list” post here (i.e., posts where I have little to nothing to add to a linked article, other than maybe calling out a particular passage and/or making a smart-ass comment).

The first solution I came across that truly automated the end-to-end generation of textshots was Federico Viticci’s Workflow, which is a dizzying string of operations. Soon after that came out, OneShot debuted and made all of this even easier, but it still required you to 1) take a screenshot from within whatever app you were using to read the content you wanted to share and 2) switch to OneShot to complete the process. Finally, Instapaper 6.2 made this easier still by building the functionality directly into the app itself, which is why last weekend I switched back to Instapaper again (from Pocket). (Ugh. Yes, I’ve done this dance many, many times.)

Using this new feature, the flow of posting a textshot to Twitter is so low friction, so delightful, and so fast, that I just feel compelled to post more links to Twitter, and thus write this post about it. (Yes, Medium recently added a similar feature, but of course that’s limited to articles shared from…Medium.) Relatedly, be sure to not miss Brian Donohue’s article re how he built this feature in 72 hours; it’s a great read.

If I had to describe a niggle I have with the textshot implementation it’s that it doesn’t automatically include the title of the linked page in the draft tweet. I think that should be the default, and then I can edit/delete as desired; as it stands now I have to manually type out the title.


As a bonus, Instapaper 6.2 also added a speed reading feature. I’ve used most of the available one-word-at-a-time apps, especially those that talk directly to Pocket and/or Instapaper, but I rarely jump into them because the archiving, deleting, and moving operations are always a little clunky, or worse, don’t exist at all. Given that this functionality is now just a two-tap, in-app process, I suspect I’ll start using it more.


I last went back to Instapaper when they announced their highlights feature, which I thought I’d find a lot of utility in with respect to linked-list posts, but for various reasons, and as mentioned above, I’m not in front of my home machine too much these days and just wasn’t using it. At some point thereafter I went back to Pocket, mainly because there were a couple of services I used that didn’t support Instapaper, but did support Pocket (e.g., Prismatic), and I felt like Pocket’s article parsing was a bit more robust.

TextBlade#

The other day on Twitter I asked about WayTools‘ TextBlade portable keyboard; it had caught my attention a few days earlier and I was curious to know if anyone had any experience with it. Turns out MacRumors did a lengthy piece on it that I encourage all of you to read. After getting through that article I immediately preordered one (and it’s shipping mid-May).

I’ve owned nearly every desktop and portable keyboard ever made (well, all of the great ones anyway ;), and am very excited about the possibility of using this thing as my only keyboard—that’s right, Mac and iPhone. I realize this may be a pipe dream, but hey, let me hold on to it for a couple of months.

Also, what an awesome and apt product name, right?

Newsweek interviews Rick Rubin#

Your taste—your ear—has been spot-on again and again, across genres. What’s the secret? I never decide if an idea is good or bad until I try it. So much of what gets in the way of things being good is thinking that we know. And the more that we can remove any baggage we’re carrying with us, and just be in the moment, use our ears, and pay attention to what’s happening, and just listen to the inner voice that directs us, the better. But it’s not the voice in your head. It’s a different voice. It’s not intellect. It’s not a brain function. It’s a body function, like running from a tiger.

Instinct.

Yes. But being open to using your instincts instead of going, “Oh, that’s not going to work.” Or listening to the part of your brain that goes, “Oh, that’s out of tune.” Or the part of your brain that says, “That’s too loud.” You have to shut off all of those voices and look for these special moments—these moments that you accept you have no control over. So much of my job is to not think—to be open to what’s there, and then use my intuition to see where it takes me.

An incredible article about an incredible talent. Though I don’t create music (unless my amazing finger drumming counts), I approach listening to it in much the same way as Rubin. Music plays—and always has played—such a huge role in my life (and the regulation of my emotions), and I’m ever quick to not dismiss any genre, because I appreciate good music and lyrics, no matter the style. Sure, I prefer certain genres to others, but I think I’ve lost myself to nearly all of them at one point or another.

LaunchBar and simple math

January 18, 2015

This is another of those super simple LaunchBar features that, it seems, most people don’t know exists. Once you invoke LaunchBar, if you start your command with a number and a mathematical operator, LaunchBar will do the math. For example, if you punch in “2+2”, LaunchBar will present “4” without any further input.

If you press return, the equation will disappear from the input bar and just the result will show there; if you then start typing an operator, the “saved” result acts as the first operand.

It’s great.

Humans drink alcohol because of evolution and bad fruit#

The results suggested there was a single genetic mutation 10 million years ago that endowed human ancestors with an enhanced ability to break down ethanol. The scientists noted that the timing of this mutation coincided with a shift to a terrestrial lifestyle. The ability to consume ethanol may have helped human ancestors dine on rotting fruit that fell on the forest floor when other food was scarce.

So, um, hrm, I, uh, put a case on my iPhone 6 Plus

January 13, 2015

I’ve owned 50+ phones since 1999 and I’ve never used a case. Not once. The iPhone 6 Plus has forced my hand.

It will surprise no one to hear that I’m not a “case guy”. They offend me, and surely they offend the designers of the device they’re meant to protect. But, every once in a while, a product comes along that requires a case, and unfortunately, the iPhone 6 Plus falls into this category.

The issue is that this phone is SLIPPERY. It’s like a wet fish. It feels like Teflon. Seriously, it’s uncomfortable to hold the phone a lot of the time—especially if your hands are dry at all (and you live in dry-ass California, like me)—for fear that it’s just going to fly off and slice someone open, or worse, hit the ground.

So, what did I buy? It’s called The Scarf (ugh), and it’s great. It’s .3mm thin (you read that right), weighs next to nothing (0.2 ounces), and fits the 6 Plus like a glove; in other words, it hardly exists at all (especially in the clear/white color I got). Moreover, it’s just  $9.99 at Amazon.

It’s finished with a slightly rough texture that provides a nice amount of friction when you hold it. Is it going to protect your phone from a 10-foot drop? Probably not, but that’s not why I bought it. I bought it to make the phone more comfortable to hold and use, and it does that exceedingly well. Plus—and maybe this is the strongest endorsement I can give—I’m not embarrassed by it.

If you’re an aesthete and a minimalist, this probably is the case for you.

The books I read in 2014

January 02, 2015

Below is a list of the books I managed to power through in 2014, and below that is a list of the books I’m currently reading.

★★★★★

★★★★☆

★★★☆☆

Currently, I’m reading the following books:

The dominant "life form" in the cosmos is probably superintelligent robots#

The reason for all this has to do, primarily, with timescales. For starters, when it comes to alien intelligence, there’s what Schneider calls the “short window observation”—the notion that, by the time any society learns to transmit radio signals, they’re probably a hop-skip away from upgrading their own biology. […]

“As soon as a civilization invents radio, they’re within fifty years of computers, then, probably, only another fifty to a hundred years from inventing AI,” Shostak said. “At that point, soft, squishy brains become an outdated model.” […]

Most of the radio-hot civilizations out there are probably thousands to millions of years older than us. […] “The way you reach this conclusion is very straightforward,” said Shostak. “Consider the fact that any signal we pick up has to come from a civilization at least as advanced as we are. Now, let’s say, conservatively, the average civilization will use radio for 10,000 years. From a purely probabilistic point of view, the chance of encountering a society far older than ourselves is quite high.”

SKEYE Nano Drone#

Meet the SKEYE Nano Drone, the world’s smallest quadcopter measuring just 4.0 x 4.0 centimer (or 1.57 x 1.57 inch)!

Ordered.

How to reset OmniFocus WebDAV logins

December 26, 2014

A few months ago I wrote about using Box’s WebDAV to sync OmniFocus across devices, and have since decided to move my OmniFocus database from my corporate Box account to my personal one. This wasn’t as easy as it should have been, and frankly, I was starting to think that the only solution was to delete and reinstall OmniFocus on OS X and iOS.

The gist of the problem is that, bizarrely, neither version of OmniFocus lets you reset the login credentials for a WebDAV account, and the WebDAV URL for Box accounts is the same no matter the login/pass. (I found just one mention of this issue on the official support forum, but there’s been no response.) In fact, even if you change the URL to something nonsensical and let the app fail when trying to sync, it will still use the old credentials when you revert back to the correct URL (i.e., it never prompts you to re-enter your credentials).

Before I started digging into system and support files to look for where the credentials might be stored (so I could delete them), I wondered if, because WebDAV was just an extension of HTTPS, I could simply inject my new credentials into the URL, like so: http://login:pass@domain. Turns out you can…sometimes, but with OmniFocus that didn’t work. In various combinations, the scheme either broke completely, or was just flat-out ignored, and the sync progressed as usual, with the old credentials.

As I was flailing around I tried using just http://:@domain (i.e., no credentials at all), and on OS X this forced the user/pass prompt! I plugged in my new credentials and it started syncing to the new account. Whew.

Unfortunately, this didn’t work on iOS. :@ is simply ignored like every other combination. Short of deleting and reinstalling the app, I was at a loss as to how to resolve this on iOS. The only solution I could come up with was resetting the database (SettingsDatabaseReset). Once you do that, you’ll finally be prompted for a login/pass when you go to the WebDAV settings. It’s not a perfect solution, but gets around you having to delete/reinstall the app and rejigger all of your settings.

Working: A Podcast#

David Plotz:

I interviewed 17 Americans about their jobs. My mission was slightly different than Terkel’s (or Scarry’s). Terkel dug into how people feel about their jobs. But I wanted to know exactly how they do their jobs. What’s the first thing she does when she gets to work in the morning? What tools does she use? How does she talk to her boss? What are the peculiar customs or lingo in her profession?

This may be my favorite new podcast of the past year (apart from Serial, of course). I’ve listened to most of the episodes and especially enjoyed the one about being a waiter.

State of the species#

Charles Mann:

Why and how did humankind become “unusually successful”? And what, to an evolutionary biologist, does “success” mean, if self-destruction is part of the definition? Does that self-destruction include the rest of the biosphere? What are human beings in the grand scheme of things anyway, and where are we headed? […]

If we follow [Georgii] Gause’s pattern, growth will continue at a delirious speed until we hit the second inflection point. At that time we will have exhausted the resources of the global petri dish, or effectively made the atmosphere toxic with our carbon-dioxide waste, or both. After that, human life will be, briefly, a Hobbesian nightmare, the living overwhelmed by the dead. When the king falls, so do his minions; it is possible that our fall might also take down most mammals and many plants. Possibly sooner, quite likely later, in this scenario, the earth will again be a choir of bacteria, fungi, and insects, as it has been through most of its history.

It would be foolish to expect anything else, [Lynn] Margulis thought. More than that, it would be unnatural.

Drone racing in the woods evokes more than a few Star Wars memories#

France’s Airgonay club recently raced flying drones through a forest using a combination of cameras and wearable displays to immerse pilots in the action. As you’ll see in the highlight video below, it’s both thrilling and more than a little challenging – racers have to both dodge around trees and other drones that could come from virtually any direction.

Getting to system-level app settings in iOS 8

November 09, 2014

One thing I don’t think I’ve seen anyone mention regarding iOS 8 is how easy it now is to get to the various system-level settings for each app. In earlier versions of iOS, when you wanted to, for example, change the notification settings for a particular app, you had to jump into Settings > Notifications and then scroll, scroll, scroll until you found the app whose settings you wanted to modify. The incredibly frustrating thing was that this list wasn’t (and still isn’t) sorted alphabetically, and so if you had a ton of apps installed it could take you forever to find the one you wanted.

With iOS 8, all of an app's system-level settings and permissions (e.g., Location, Photos, Notifications, etc.) are bundled together in an alpha-sorted list of apps that begins at the bottom of the main Settings screen. For someone like me, who changes these settings fairly often, this is a huge improvement.