The eli4d Gazette – Issue 034

Tech Pick

This is somewhat of an ‘anti-pick’.

When it comes to technical book publishers, O’Reilly used to be at the top of my list. Unfortunately, this is not the case anymore. I wrote a post about O’Reilly’s abandonment of DRM Free technical books and using other alternatives.

Media Pick

While listening to a recent Security Now podcast, I heard Steve Gibson rave about Ryk Brown’s Frontier’s Saga series. I found that it was available via the Kindle Owner’s Lending Library so I started reading book #1…and I was hooked. I’m on book #6, and it continues to be fantastic science fiction series. I highly recommend this series to any fan of space opera type of science fiction. So if you like Star Trek you’re very likely to really (really) like this series.

Drobo Blues

My Drobo 5N saga/sadness continues. I got a replacement, and it still doesn’t work. I’m in another round of back/forth with Drobo support. Even if I get it working, I’m not sure how much faith/trust I can have in their NAS.

Knowing what I know now I would try Synology rather than Drobo. Synology’s SHR technology seems quite comparable to Drobo’s Beyondraid, so Drobo’s previous multi-size hard disk advantage (i.e. being able to use different sized hard disks) seems moot.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 031

Tech Pick

Apple’s Worldwide Developer Conference is currently running in San Jose. Two interesting points from Monday’s keynote:

For those looking for a summary of the keynote:

Media Pick

I really enjoy the Imaginary Worlds podcast but the latest episode (Do the Voice) was really different. It was an episode that came from The Truth Podcast. The Truth podcast is about:

THE TRUTH makes movies for your ears: short stories that are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, and always intriguing. Each story is different, and usually 10 to 20 minutes long. We take you to unexpected places using only sound. For best results, use headphones!

I’ve started listening to it, and it’s quite a nice short audio trip that is weirdly worthed.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


Holiday Recommendations/Reviews – 2016

Overview

This post is inspired by this week’s Release Notes podcast that focused on holiday recommendations. I like this retrospective on items that have been battle tested through regular use. My focus will be on podcasts, iOS apps, Mac apps and some physical items. This will be a quick, broad sweep across many things that I’ve wanted to review/mention for a while but never had time.

Some Quick Notes

Holiday note: I wish you and yours a safe an happy holiday season. I’ll be back with new articles towards the end of January 2017.

Wikipedia note: Think back to the past year. Did you use Wikipedia? What if Wikipedia had ads on every page…would that have made it better? If you’ve used Wikipedia in any way, then please consider donating to this great site.

Disclaimer note: Please remember that the usual disclaimer applies – these are just my opinions.

Podcast Recommendations

I’ve decided to limit these recommendations to only 3 podcasts (my list of podcasts is way too long). These are my absolute favorites for this year and you might find them interesting.

iOS App Recommendations

These are my home screen worthy apps. You might also find them to be useful.

Overcast – the best podcast player

I’ll admit that saying “the best” is somewhat of a ridiculous thing (in the same way that many articles start with ‘finally‘), but I really really like the Overcast podcast player. Its smart speed is amazing at saving time and listening to more podcasts.

Overcast - the best podcast player

Audible – audio books, audio clips and button free awesomeness

I’ve started a new experiment in shifting half of my listening to audio books and half to podcasts (from %100 podcasts). My goal is to read more (whether through actual reading or audio books). I’ve subscribed to Amazon’s Audible service and I’ve found the Audible app to be ridiculously great. The ability to save and share audio clips is very well done and its best feature is the ‘Button-Free’ view through which an audio book can be controlled through tactile interface only.

Audible - audio books, audio clips and button free awesomeness

Due – quick reminders that are not worth putting in your todo app

I first heard about Due through a John Gruber post. John described Due as “a convenient, low-friction way to set short-term reminders and timers. Sort of like *Pester but for iPhone. Focused and thoughtful design”*. And Due does live up to John’s description (as does Due 2.0).

Due’s website describes its purpose best when it says that it is a “place where all mundane but important reminders can go.” Examples:

  • Before school put sun tan lotion on child (and maybe yourself too)
  • Take vitamins before leaving house
  • Go to Costco after work

Note: A second runner-up is Alarmed.

Due - quick reminders that are not worth putting in your todo app

Soulver – best un-spreadsheet spreadsheet program

I’ve been using Soulver on my iPhone for a long time. Whether it’s for a quick calculation or a weekly money-envelope tracking of my coffee habit – soulver is there to help me out. I also purchased the Mac version of the app which allows me to use it to keep Soulver sheets via iCloud.

I’ve also used it in complex budget tracking at work. While Excel grinds numbers into baby food, Soulver lets me see the bigger picture.

Soulver - best un-spreadsheet spreadsheet program

GoodReader – the swiss army knife of PDF and pdf-like things

I’ve mentioned GoodReader before. Its primary strength is PDF annotation but it also can play mp3 audio with the niceties of repeat loops (like when you child likes that 1 song that they want repeated over and over and over again), and specific sequences. It certainly gives PDFpen a run for its money and in my experience it has also been more stable (besides better pricing).

GoodReader - the swiss army knife of PDF and pdf-like things

Pedometer++ – great step-tracking for that 10,000 steps per day goal

There’s not much to say about Pedometer++. It does one thing and it does it very well – tracking steps. You can set a certain step goal which triggers green confetti (and double the goal step count triggers blue confetti). I know this sounds like the most ridiculous thing but it’s a reward that works well from a habit loop perspective.

Pedometer++ - great step-tracking for that 10,000 steps per day goal

Instapaper – the read anything anywhere app

I’ve used Instapaper for many years to read interesting articles that I’ve come across. I can save most web pages to be read later via Instapaper. One cool feature is that you are given a unique email address where you can send articles. This email can be used to subscribe to interesting newsletters. This way – newsletters end up right on Instapaper and can be read anywhere.

Marco Arment was its original creator and it has gone through several owners. The current owner is Pinerest who has made all its features freely available. I don’t know if this is a short-term thing. Hopefully not but time will tell. It is certainly worth trying for the price (FREE).

Instapaper - the read anything anywhere app

Glympse – like a time limited version of Find-my-Friends

Have you ever wanted to let someone know where you are or better yet – see where you are? Glympse is your solution. Whether it’s letting your spouse know where you are, or whether it is letting a friend know your location – Glympse is great in that you can set:

  • temporary visibility for your location (you can set a default of 1 hour, for example, so any ‘Glympses’ that you send will automatically expire)
  • set favorites for frequent contacts

While Apple’s Find My Friends feature is very useful, it misses one important point: your friends don’t need to know where you are all of the time. Sure you could turn it off after an activity but who does that.

Glympse - like a time limited version of Find-my-Friends

True Weight – a beautiful and simple average weight tracker

From an app perspective, I consider True Weight to be ‘perfect’ in the way it addresses the topic of weight tracking. The only issue is that it hasn’t been updated since 2013 and iOS 10 occasionally puts up a dialog of “this app may slowdown your iPhone”. Nevertheless it is a great app which I intend to use until it is obsoleted by the iPhone’s operating system.

I’ve recently searched for alternatives but they all have fallen short due to either poor UI or friction filled usage issues.

Daily Workouts – quick exercise routines that make sense

I have owned some adjustable dumbbells for a long time. I wanted a simple routine and it took me a while to find Daily Workouts (the amount of crappy exercise apps is mind boggling). The app provides you with a variety of workout that contain 10 exercises per workout. You can also choose a random workout or a custom one where you set the 10 exercises that you want.

I found it worthwhile to get the full blown version for $9.99. It plays well on the iPhone and even better on the iPad.

Daily Workouts - quick exercise routines that make sense

Mac App Recommendations

Beyond the standard macOS apps (Mail, etc..), these are apps that are dock worth.

Alinof TimerPro – countdown timer extraordinaire

Whether I’m using the Pomodoro technique, some other timeboxing technique, the 2-minute GTD inbox rule or something else requiring a countdown timer – Alinof TimerPro is perfect in providing multiple countdown timers that can stay in the background or be visible on the screen. There are lots (and lots) of crappy timers out there but I’ve found Alinof to be the best (so far).

Alinof TimerPro - countdown timer extraordinaire

Marked 2 – If you’re using Markdown then you need this Mac app

I wont go into the terrific simplicity John Gruber‘s Markdown. If you’re a Markdown practitioner then you need Marked 2. It works with any editor and it provides a realtime preview of Markdown’s output. It also has a variety of options and themes as well as export options.

Marked 2 - If you're using Markdown then you need this Mac app

Clarify 2 – stories through screenshots

Clarify allows for the creation of excellent documentation through pictures and words. If you need to convey information in a clear and visual way then you’ll find that Clarify is worth every penny. It has many export options but I’ve found its Markdown export capability to be veyr powerful.

Clarify 2 - stories through screenshots

Hardware-ish Products

In reflecting over the past year and looking over my Amazon purchases I found a few products that have withstood daily use and abuse.

Note: I have Amazon affiliate links for these products.

Koss KSC32B Fitclips Headphones

I’m not sure why Koss decided to market these headphones to women but they work well for men too. In fact, these headphones work well for anyone with ears 🙂 .

Koss KSC32B Fitclips Headphones

No Stress Chess

This chess set is great for any child that is 5 years or older. It really takes out the stress of teaching chess. If you child can pick up a playing card, then they can play No Stress Chess.

No Stress Chess

Portable Stand Laptop Holder

I’ll admit that the “Superbpag Multi-angle Non-slip Portable Stand Holder Laptop Stand For iPad 2 3 4 Air Mini Retina Tablet and Most Laptop” looks ridiculously chintzy on Amazon’s site. And yet they work ridiculously well in terms of size, weight, and resilience. They also bring some semblance of ergonomics to laptop use in a coffee shop (assuming you have a keyboard of course).

Portable Stand Laptop Holder

iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

The iBenzer Soft-Touch Series Plastic Hard Case is a light and protective cover for your Macbook. While the cover is great, my biggest surprise was the keyboard cover. The keyboard cover has been very resilient and it does not curl like Kuzy covers (which I’ve previously owned). iBenzer does a great job in both the case and the keyboard cover.

Note: Make sure to exactly match you Macbook’s model to the case since there is no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to these sort of cases and keyboard covers.

iBenzer Hard Case Cover and Keyboard Cover for Macbook

Conclusion

I hope this app/hardware retrospective is helpful. I wish you a healthy and safe holiday season and a great new year.

Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know via @eli4d on Twitter.


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 020


Issue 020: 2016-12-08

Tech Pick

The app economy is an evolving beast. In a recent episode of the Release Notes Charles and Joe interview Macpaw’s founder about a new consumer/developer service called Setapp. It’s a subscription-based approach to Mac applications. The idea is that as a consumer you pay $9.99 per month, and you have access to high-quality Mac applications without any restrictions (i.e. no ‘lite’ versions). Developers get paid on a recurring basis (based on app usage) while consumers get a decent value for their money without the “why does this app have a subscription now?” question popping up into their minds.

I’ve subscribed to the beta program (which is free until March 2017), and I have to say that it is a well-executed service. The usage experience is almost identical to the Mac app store with a clean and clear interface. Macpaw’s goal is to have 300 quality applications (I’m not sure of their exact definition of ‘quality’). Right now, the beta contains around 50 apps and right off the bat I’ve installed iStat Menus, Clean My Mac 3, and Ulysses.

Is this a future trend that Apple will adopt across its App stores? Does this approach provide a sustainable living for Indie developers? Maybe and then again maybe not. Some interesting viewpoints:

Media Pick

A short and excellent episode from the Imaginary Worlds podcast about The Man in the High Castle. It is a great Amazon produced series based on Phillip K. Dick’s book. In this episode, Eric Molinsky speaks to the producers of the show on their production approach and intent.

More Recent Articles

PS: Due to the upcoming holidays – I will not be publishing any issues until middle/end of January 2017. I wish you a great holiday season.


Thoughts? Feedback? Let me know: @eli4d on Twitter


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 019


Issue 019: 2016-11-23

Media Pick

This comes by way of Studio Neat’s newsletter. It’s a video that explores the amazing acting ability of Anthony Hopkins through a dissection of a scene in HBO’s Westworld. You can find this video here: https://m.youtube.com/watch?feature=youtu.be&v=4kSGkGKwp9U

Tech Pick

I’ve been noticing many ReactJS articles come across my various readings. While I have not had the opportunity to explore React (yet) I find React and these React-related articles quite interesting:

  • Dave Ceddia’s How To Learn React (and what to build along the way) and Your Timeline for Learning React articles are quite good in that:
    • The emphasis is on starting from fundamentals (i.e. JavaScript is step 0) and then focusing on getting going on React without the confusing overhead of associated technologies (i.e. Redux, Webpack, etc…).
    • The focus is on building small blocks that teach you about React.
    • Note: Dave is selling a book that covers React in the above ways. It’s on my list of things to buy/learn, so I will review it after I do that. The long and short of all of this is that his approach (as described by his articles) is a solid one for beginners, so my hope is that his book is solid in the same way.
  • A Study Plan to Cure JavaScript Fatigue: This article was created by the same developer that created the JavaScript survey (which I mentioned in issue 018). It is a good article to see where you can go with React, rather than an actual plan fo study React. In fact, the title itself states this because it’s a response to a JavaScript fatigue article. From a React learning point of view:
    • He has great images that show the evolution of JavaScript Apps (and web applications in general). I think that this is the great value of this article.

    • He glosses a bit about learning JavaScript indicating that you should only “know basic JavaScript syntax.” I disagree with this notion because JavaScript’s design is quite different from typical OO based languages (i.e. the functional aspects like functions being first class values, etc…). So sure – you should know syntax, but you also need to know how JavaScript ‘thinks’ due to its design. (Disclaimer: I do teach a JavaScript based beginner programming course but I would still state this even if I didn’t teach such a course)

    • “Bonus Week 5” jumps to GraphQL and bypasses REST altogether. GraphQL is still early days for most projects and for better or worse REST is a current standard. I would add a “Bonus Week 4.5” where you learn REST before worrying about GraphQL.

More Recent Articles


Thoughts? Feeback? Let me know – @eli4d on Twitter or eli4dcom on Snapchat (I’m still experimenting with Snapchat)


The eli4d Gazette – Issue 014



Issue 014: 2016-09-14

Tech Pick

I’ve been following Julia Evans’s blog for some time. She is deeply technical and enthusiastic, and her writing emphasizes her core opinion about programming (stated in her about page):

I have one main opinion about programming and it’s — understanding the underlying systems you use (the kernel, the operating system, the network layers, your database, HTTP, whatever you’re running on top of) is essential if you want to do amazing work and be able to fix hard problems. It’s served me well so far.

In line with her opinion, Julia has created some excellent zines that cover programming and debugging. They’re fun creations that are well worth reading and printing. You can find them here: http://jvns.ca/zines/

Media Pick

I accidentally came across the Defiance TV series through Amazon Prime video. It is a SyFy funded show that is well done. Even with three seasons, there are some very decent story arcs.

To me, the SyFy channel has been a mixed bag ranging from the amazing Battlestar Galactica TV series to the questionable Ghost Hunters series (questionable from a science fiction perspective).

Time will tell if SyFy has taken a path back to actual SciFi. This reminds me of a Security Now episode covering this:

STEVE: Anyway, so a number of people were happy to have that. But I wanted to answer the question, what has happened at Syfy? And there was a Wired podcast during which they recently interviewed Bill McGoldrick, who is the new head of programming at Syfy.


Then Wired writes: “For years, Syfy has tried to broaden their appeal beyond science fiction fans, populating the channel with ghost hunters, pro wrestlers, and low-budget creature features like ‘Sharknado’ and ‘Mansquito.’ And while that did pull in new viewers, it also alienated sci-fi fans.” And I’m adding, and how. “McGoldrick was brought in with a clear mandate: Lure the fans back with smart, ambitious shows. Adapting classic books is part of that plan. McGoldrick said: ‘We want to honor that core fan base that is passionate about the material. We’re really trying to focus on that core audience. And I think the way to do that is to respect the stuff that they really liked in the first place.'” Which of course is music to my ears.

What is THE canonical place for your ‘stuff’?

One of my favorite question to ask people is: “where do you store your photos – the ones that are on your phone right now?” One of my co-workers recently responded with “on the cloud…I think”. Now this was for photos of course, but it made me think of the rest of my “stuff.” For the intentional information that I send out to the world – where does that gets stored? If I tweet, then Twitter holds my posts. If I blog, then WordPress holds my posts. If I use Facebook then Facebook holds my posts (and my social graphs, and my personal information like my phone number).

I’ve been trying to answer the “what’s my canonical source of information?” question. If Twitter or Facebook were to go away tomorrow – what would happen to all of my posts…all of my ‘stuff’? While my posts may not be valuable to anyone else, they are certainly valuable to me, so I can’t rely on any publication platform that can change its rules of publication or disappear at any time (besides storing my information in a proprietary or questionably exportable way).

In a recent episode of the Post Status podcast the ‘canonical’ issue came up. The theme of the episode was about WordPress mobile apps, and this issue was a somewhat indirect result of Brian suggesting that he would want like to see an opinionated mobile app that allows his WordPress site to be the canonical source of all the information that he publishes. In other words, when he posts pictures on his WordPress site, then they automatically get posted to Instagram (based on some criteria of course), or when he posts a bite-sized post on his site then that shows up on Twitter, and so on.

While Joe suggested that the WordPress REST API would be the key to creating such an app, the key issue would still be keeping up with new social media apps (i.e. publication platforms) and whatever new developments occur around the process of publishing one’s information. Furthermore, there is also the issue of platforms like Snapchat where you can’t post your video from another service to Snapchat – you need to user their app to do so.

The pragmatic approach to this canonical issue is coming to it from the other side. Rather than find or create the one application that rules all current and future publishing platforms, it makes more sense to use services that push your information from the publishing platforms of your choice to your canonical source. While IFTTT and Zapier are proprietary in their own way, their goals are to provide connection points between various platforms (in a more narrow sense this also applies to Buffer).

So rather than going from WordPress outwards, I’ve used IFTTT to push my published information to my WordPress blog. As an example, for Twitter posts the “Post my tweets to my WordPress blog” recipe has been very useful as has the “Sending a new tweet with a certain hashtag creates a post on your WordPress blog” recipe.

Because WordPress is an open platform – I can easily export all of my content to a format that can be easily parsed by another system. This openness makes WordPress a great canonical source. Is it the perfect place? Probably not, but it’s the best solution that I have found so far.

If you have a better solution or approach to this issue – please let me know via Twitter (@eli4d).