In Support of (Micro)Blogging

It’s no secret that I’m a big fan of Manton Reece’s vision and passion for the future of blogging and of the open web. I’ve backed his Indie Microblogging book on Kickstarter and am really looking forward to his Micro.blog service, which he has described as “a step forward” in the direction of a more de-centralized, open web.

It’s caused me to reflect on what attracts me to Twitter and what aspects of that could be replaced by Micro.blog if a significant portion of the Apple community began using it.

When I open Twitter, my favorite things to see are:

  1. Links to thoughtful blog posts, articles and podcasts
  2. General commentary on any of the above
  3. Dog pictures and photos from the people I follow
  4. Jokes, memes, banter

I’m old enough to remember when people left the commenting feature turned on for their personal blogs. Then, when everyone became fed up with the toxicity of comment sections and the ridiculous abundance of spam, bloggers started inviting readers to contact them on Twitter (which is, arguably, only slightly less toxic). Manton hopes to successfully combat harassment on his platform, and I have faith in his ability to do so.

I can easily see myself using Micro.blog to read the thoughts, ideas and commentary from my friends and people I admire. For pictures? Most of my favorite people are on Instagram. So where does that leave Twitter?

There are a few things that Twitter really excels at, such as:

  1. Live event commentary
  2. Breaking news (even just local stuff like school closures)
  3. Jokes, memes, banter
  4. Having a huge subset of celebrities, athletes, public figures, TV writers, etc. actively using the service

I find Twitter particularly useful for the first three items (I’m not big on celebrity culture), so I’d probably keep it around.

Microblogging isn’t new. One only need look to the thriving Tumblr community to see that short form blogging is a proven concept. On Tumblr, users don’t just create their own posts; they reblog the creations of others, often providing their own commentary in the tags section (seriously, Tumblr tags are usually stream-of-consciousness sentence fragments). By doing this, users curate a selection of content that speaks to who they are and what they like. This is, in a way, similar to the “link post” format that Daring Fireball uses as well as myself and many other bloggers.

Where am I going with this? I can see kids who have grown up posting anonymously on Tumblr and ephemerally on Snapchat moving on to something like Micro.blog when they’re ready to have a public presence on the web and take serious ownership of their writing. 

I imagine Micro.blog as a vehicle for civilized, thoughtful discussion. Whether it turns out to be so is yet to be seen, but my hopes remain high that Manton will indeed rescue us from the centralized, ever-burning dumpster fires that hold captive our ideas. (Long live RSS!)

macOS’s Sticker Problem

Since iOS 10 launched, many have bemoaned the lack of feature parity between Messages on iOS and macOS. While Messages on the Mac did gain some new features such as rich previews, Tapbacks, and the ability to view stickers, it still lacks the ability to use screen and bubble effects and to send stickers.

I’ve been thinking about how Apple could add stickers to Messages on the Mac and honestly, I’m stumped. It’s a much more complicated problem than I initially imagined.

First, there’s user expectations. I don’t know about you, but I would expect that all of the apps in the Messages app drawer on my phone would also be available on my Mac. For plain vanilla sticker packs that use the sticker template in Xcode, that could potentially be an easy transition, as Xcode could simply compile something that would work on macOS.

But what about sticker packs with custom code? Or full-fledged iMessage apps such as turn-based games? Users can’t tell the difference between a bare bones sticker pack and an iMessage app. They wouldn’t understand why some stickers and apps were available and some weren’t. What then? Does Apple require that developers add a Mac target to their iMessage app projects? (Uh…nope.)

And what about the built-in store? Users would need a way to re-download purchases and to purchase new apps and stickers. But what if a user purchases an app or sticker pack that’s bundled with an iOS app? What if that user doesn’t own an iOS device? They’d be paying for something they could only get partial value from.

Maybe Apple could sync users’ currently installed iMessage apps to the Mac and omit the store entirely, requiring users to manage their stickers and apps on their iOS device. However, requiring that users have an iOS device in order to use stickers in Messages seems insane. This solution also fails to address the issue of iMessage apps even running on the Mac in the first place.

The only thing I can think of in the short term (before the great merging of the iOS and macOS SDKs that will probably happen someday), is that when a user opens the Messages app drawer on a Mac, what pops up is essentially an iOS emulator. Is that even possible? I don’t know. It’d be slow as heck probably.

Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but it certainly seems like a tough problem to solve. Fortunately, it’s Apple’s problem to solve, not mine!

Fireworks

New Year’s Fail-o-lutions (Sent with Fireworks)

I’m a big fan of setting small, achievable goals. I’m also one of those people that adds things to my to-do list that I’ve already done just to make myself feel good. Both of those things sound harmless until I remember that they actually stem directly from my monstrous, soul-crushing fear of failure. ☠️

Failure’s not so bad though, right? It’s like C.S. Lewis said: “One fails forward to success.” I have a few goals for this year, and I also have a little boy who’s on the cusp of learning to walk. So yeah, I might achieve my goals, or I might spend every waking moment pulling my toddler away from the dogs’ water or kissing bruises on his little head. (Honestly, I’m fine with both of those scenarios.)

With that said, here are some things I might fail beautifully at this year:

Blogging More

I love Twitter, but I also love my blog and I feel like I’ve been neglecting it. Also, Manton Reece’s upcoming Micro.blog service has gotten me all excited about self-hosting my thoughts again (check it out on Kickstarter!). Accomplishing this goal will require me to make a significant lifestyle change: I will no longer be able to be a Twitter timeline completionist. It’s just too time consuming! Thinking about declaring Twitter bankruptcy on a regular basis simultaneously pains me and frees me. I’m looking forward to trying it.

There’s a second part to this goal, and it’s this: I want to “be myself” more on the Internet. It’s not that I haven’t been genuine; it’s just that I’ve been a little withdrawn and I feel like my own blog posts have been lacking “voice.” Hopefully that makes sense!

Making Money

I’m becoming a competent iOS developer and that means it’s time to make some money from this gig. My goal is to make $1000 from the App Store this year. This means I’m going to have to work hard and ship some stuff. I’d love for one of those things to be Corgi Corral, however I’m not actually expecting to make any money from that. I just started working on a new project that’s of local interest, and I’m hoping it’ll help me get started toward my goal.

Reading Some Books

Here are some books I’d like to read this year:

  1. Swift Style by Erica Sadun
  2. Making Sense of Color Management by Craig Hockenberry
  3. Aqua and Bondi by Stephen Hackett
  4. A book on either animations in iOS or UI design

There are also a few non-techie books about parenting that I’d like to read (the kind that inspire you and make you feel better, not the kind that make you feel like the world’s worst parent!).

I’m sure I’ll think of some other things throughout the year, but this list is a good start. I also decided that I’m going to try to earn the New Year’s Apple Watch activity achievement. One day down, six to go! 😅

Year in Review: 2016

As 2016 comes to a close (do I hear a “hallelujah?”), I thought I’d take a look back at what I accomplished this year.

I worked on Corgi Corral

I started off 2016 six months pregnant and working obsessively on my little hobby project. Between January and March, I transformed Corgi Corral from a prototype made out of circles to an actual iOS game with art, basic menus, and sound effects. I also learned a TON about SpriteKit and GameplayKit.

I had a baby!

On March 15, my life changed forever as I welcomed my son Charlie into this world. He’s 9 months old now and blesses me every day with his sweet smile. I spend almost all of my time with him which prevents me from getting much else done, but I know these days are fleeting so I’m trying to soak them in one by one.

Charlie 9 months

I released an app

In early May, I got the itch to learn some new stuff and tackle a coding project. I was annoyed that there was no way to rotate Live Photos in iOS 9, so in the course of a month I put together an app that did just that. LiveRotate only spent a few months on the App Store, (I removed it from sale when iOS 10 was released to the public) but I learned so much in the process of creating it!

I released a sticker pack

After WWDC, I knew I wanted to have an app on the iMessage App Store. Several people suggested I make a corgi sticker pack, so I spent several weeks turning doodles into vectors for Sploot the Corgi. Despite appearing high on the list in searches for “corgi,” Sploot hasn’t sold as well as I’d hoped. On the other hand, I was able to buy a pair of AirPods with the proceeds which is pretty awesome!

Overall, it was a good year for me. In particular, my confidence as an iOS developer increased to a point where I at least feel capable of learning whatever I need to know in order to tackle whatever problem I want to solve. That’s huge for me! Just two years ago I felt way too dumb and inexperienced to ever be a successful developer.

I have several big ideas and goals for 2017, but I’ll save those for a separate post. I hope you all enjoy ringing in the new year!

13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar with real world dust

A Review of the 2016 13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar

Intro

This isn’t going to be your typical MacBook review because there are plenty of those out there and most of them are very good. This review is for people who don’t give two craps how this year’s model compares to last year’s model and instead want to know how this year’s model compares to their crusty old ThickBook Pro from five years ago because that’s the one they’re upgrading from. Cool? Cool.

Without further ado, here’s how the 13″ MacBook Pro with Touch Bar fares against the mighty 15″ MacBook Pro (Early 2011).

Size and Ports

Old and new laptops in a stack on my Christmas tablecloth

I thought my old 15″ MacBook Pro was a laptop. I was wrong. Not only did it frequently burn my lap from running too hot, it was also heavy and annoying to lug anywhere. In contrast, my new MacBook Pro stays cool and feels light as a feather.

The early 2011 15″ MacBook Pro weighed 5.6 pounds. The new 15″ models are only 4 pounds, and the 13″ inch model is actually weightless. Just kidding. But at only 3.02 pounds, it kinda feels like it! I can carry my 9-month-old son Charlie with one hand and my laptop with the other, so it doesn’t get much more portable than that.

My old laptop had a lot of ports, some of which are mysterious to me (a Kensington lock slot? Really?!). My new one has four: Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 3, Thunderbolt 3 and Thunderbolt 3. Oh, and a headphone jack that’s inexplicably on the opposite side of all previous MacBooks.

Side view of MacBook ports

So yeah, you’re gonna lose your CD drive, SD card slot, Ethernet port, flimsy old USB 2.0 ports and good ol’ FireWire 800. In exchange, you’re getting four ports that are approximately one zillion times faster at data transfer than what you had. I’d call that a win.

Sure, the loss of MagSafe is a bummer, but being able to plug in the power cable on either side of the computer is really, really convenient.

And honestly, I’m not upset about the adapter situation because the ports on this old MacBook are mostly obsolete, and because I really only need an SD card adapter, and a USB-A adapter for my Time Machine backup.

Display

The 2011 Pro models were the last to have non-Retina displays. If by chance you’ve never seen a Retina display in person yet: it alone is worth upgrading your computer. It’s like taking Claritin, or getting glasses for the first time. Everything is so crisp and clear that you’ll never be able to go back to blurland.

Note, however, that in order to enjoy the full Retina experience on the 2016 MacBooks, you’ll need to change the display’s default scaling.

In addition to being ultra clear, the display is also significantly brighter than the MacBooks of yore and can display many more colors (in technical terms: it has a wider color gamut). It really is beautiful!

Right below the display you’ll see the familiar “MacBook Pro” label in silver lettering except now it’s in the new system font, San Francisco, which looks much nicer in my opinion.

The Touch Bar

I never learned the keyboard shortcut for comparing an edited photo to its original version in Photos. I still don’t know what it is, and probably never will because there’s a button for that on the Touch Bar now.

I like the Touch Bar. I think it’s fun, and I enjoy customizing it in any app that will let me. Like adding stickers to the outside of a laptop or changing its desktop picture, choosing which functions to add to the Touch Bar makes my MacBook feel more personal to me.

I personally know several people who struggle to use computers but who always buy MacBook Pros because they understand that they’re the nicest in the line-up. These users rarely look through an application’s menus, and if they do, they’re afraid to try stuff. I think the Touch Bar helps surface some useful things for both professionals and people who aren’t particularly “good with computers.”

Keyboard and Trackpad

Once you get used to it, the keyboard on this thing will make your old MacBook Pro’s keyboard feel mushy.

The new keyboard is low and tight and snappy. That’s the only way I know to describe it. It feels really good to me, and I don’t like going back to the old one.

Some reviewers have noted (both positively and negatively) that the new keyboard seems louder. That’s true, but you can also type quietly on it. My baby wakes up if he hears a fly buzzing across the room and I was able to type sitting next to his bed without waking him…so there’s that.

The trackpad is roughly as wide as my iPhone 6s is tall (in its case!) which is to say it’s fairly ginormous. Unlike your old MacBook’s trackpad with a physical button at the bottom, you can press down anywhere on this thing. I opened my 15″ Pro the other day to find a file and was super frustrated that I couldn’t press down anywhere…and I’m normally a tap-to-click person! In other words, this trackpad is rad and I love it.

Speed

Despite moving from quad-core to dual-core, this computer can run circles around my old one. It used to take 20 minutes to copy Xcode into my Applications folder on the 2011 MacBook Pro with a 500GB spinning platter hard drive. My new 13″ Pro with Touch Bar has a 1TB SSD and I don’t even remember seeing a loading indicator when I moved Xcode. It’s fast. Everything is fast. Launching applications, compiling code, performing Spotlight and Mail searches, saving and moving files…it’s all fast.

I ran Geekbench 4 on both machines and here were the results (click or tap to enlarge):

I also ran Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, which is where you can really see a massive difference:

I had upgraded my 15″ Pro from 4GB to 8GB of RAM which is something you can’t really do on these new machines. They’re locked down tight, with an abysmal 1/10 repairability score on iFixit. Still, my new MacBook has 16GB of RAM. Even with Xcode, Simulator, Photoshop, Affinity Designer, Safari, Photos and iTunes open, I still haven’t come close to running out of memory.

Conclusion

If, like me, you’ve been waiting for a very long time to upgrade your MacBook Pro, the new models with Touch Bar are an incredibly vast improvement. And if you also enjoy being an early adopter like I do, you’re going to love playing around with the Touch Bar. I see no compelling reason to hold out for the next iteration of these machines. It’s unlikely that Apple will bring back any legacy ports, and besides the usual speed bump and the possibility of an e-ink keyboard, I’m not sure what else might change (other than the price, which will hopefully drop a bit). In other words, if you’re holding on to a four- to six-year-old machine, now’s the time to open your wallet and get yourself a great new laptop!