Time Tracking and Intentional Work

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Time tracking is beneficial for context switching, and it can help you to stay on a task of your choice without breaking a focus. I was running all kind of timers and apps, trying to find out what works best for me. You might find yourself in a different situation, but I think that running a timer, especially, when trying to focus on the most important thing you are trying to accomplish has benefits for everyone. I am a huge proponent of personal time tracking. Because starting a timer gets me in the “work mode” it’s the ideal barrier for context switching. Running a timer was a critical tool that helped me to maintain high productivity output while working from home, without overworking myself.

If you want to learn more, I can recommend this episode of Focussed podcast. Both hosts are using Toggl and Timery, but I find myself running the Vitamin-R app on my Mac. I rarely look into the data, except the current week bar chart. I don’t use any sync solution, it just works locally. I prefer Pomodoro-like applications because I have problems remembering to stop a timer and countdown gives me an extra motivational kick.

Go Back to Search Results With Safari

Saturday, May 29, 2021

Safari has the SnapBack feature to go back to the search results. If your search engine uses the same tab when you click on any link, often you could lose search results and would have to click back several times. Safari caches the search results page and you can open it through the menu command: History > Search Results SnapBack. There’s a keyboard shortcut: Option-Command-S.

Listen to Lossless Music Without a Subscription

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Recently Apple announced that they are upgrading the Apple Music library into ALAC (Apple version of FLAC), Amazon followed by offering Amazon Music HD with no extra charge. For those, me included, who prefer buying their music will have to continue downloading compressed 256 kbps AAC files. This motivated me to look elsewhere. It rubs me the wrong way to continue buying music in iTunes knowing that Apple has better quality files and uses them as marketing leverage to win me over and start paying for Apple Music on a monthly basis.

The Music app supports lossless playback, but it only supports ALAC, while most people rip their CD into FLAC. Luckily there’s a free app to convert between FLAC and ALAC, called XLD. I tested it in Big Sur 11.4 and was able to convert a bunch of FLAC songs into Apple Lossless. XLD has a decent GUI and an updated Big Sur style icon. Converting between lossless formats preserves full audio quality.

XLD preferences window with Apple Lossless option selected

A lot of the albums I have in my music collection were bought and ripped. I am looking into purchasing an Audio CD again. The biggest barrier is buying an external USB drive. It still can be a good investment in the long term because Audio CD from Amazon can cost less than digital versions.

The Chemical Brothers album, MP3 £6.99, Audio CD £5.99, used £3.57

It also should be possible to rip Audio CD with the Music app directly into ALAC. The Music app still has part of old iTunes functionality to fetch album art and songs metadata, which saves time. I still like using the Music app on the Mac in pair with the iPhone version, syncing with a USB cable. The Music app on iPhone works well and I think it’s a leader in terms of UX, it even supports Siri for hands-free control.

Epic Games vs. The App Store

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

I’ve been following the standoff between Epic Games and Apple closely, there’s a lot of information and opinions on the internet. This morning I’ve read Stratechery peace by Ben Thompson. The App Store Arguments is an amazing piece of work, it offers a great perspective on the subject. If you never followed the news and want to know more — this article is everything you need to know.

The article is concluded in a tweet:

There are plenty of arguments to make about the App Store, and most of them are good ones; that’s why the best solution can only come from Apple.

Now the dust is settled, the court hearings are finished and it’s going to take a couple of months for the judge to make a decision. We expect that Apple will win the case, however, it won’t end the App Store story. We are going to watch closely what happens next, I think it out of the question that App Store policies are going to change even more. Only Apple can deliver those changes in a way that would preserve everything that makes their products better than the competition.

Unexpectedly

Wednesday, May 26, 2021

The Console app has many features, one of them is browsing recent Mac crashes. Unexpectedly — a new open-source app from Stéphane Sudre advances this area of the Console with quality of life improvements like highlighted syntax and hyperlinks. It looks gorgeous, get it.

Screenshot with the Unexpectedly 1.0 which shows syntax highlighted log with a hyperlink which offers documentation

Siri Remote, Gruber's Review

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Three generations of Apple TV remotes, side-by-side.

I wanted to take a similar shot but my aluminium remote was lost. Read the Gruber’s review, it’s good. Here are some quotes which cracked me up.

I never liked that black Siri Remote, but over the years — six! — that I’ve been using it, I’ve grown to truly resent it.

It’s black and has no backlighting, which makes it harder to see in the dark. I believe some people like to watch movies in dark rooms.

This review made me think, why we need a dedicated play/pause button at all? Apple is learning from past mistakes and reusing things that worked. The plastic version (not in the picture) had the play/pause button in the middle. The current remote still can be used this way, pressing the middle button pauses playback. Perhaps the idea behind the dedicated control is to be able to pause music playback while you are in some other app or home screen.

Version Numbers

Saturday, May 22, 2021

OmniFocus 4 for iOS is coming out soon. I like that OmniGroup only incrementing the first number when there’s a real visible change. In this case, the app was rewritten from scratch with SwiftUI. I started using OmniFocus 1 when it was Mac only, it was the first time I have invested my own money in software. I didn’t have a credit card so I had to ask my friend to pay for the license key in exchange for cash.

There’s been 4 major OmniFocus releases, each with a big rewrite. This way version number plays a part in marketing, it’s part of the application, visible to the user. In a way, it belongs to a user. You feel like you own a particular version like you would own a particular car model. Clear version divide makes a choice to jump into the next version more conscious, meaningful, and fun. It also serves great in marketing. This is not the only approach to how developers name their applications but this approach I find most useful and tasteful. I like the clear divide between versions, you can see how a product is evolving. The major release usually takes years of development and it’s a little celebration for users and developers.

Siri Remote

Saturday, May 22, 2021

We also have received new Siri Remote last Friday to use with my existing Apple TV 4K. We spend one night using it and here’s my first impressions.

  • There’s no ergonomic issues, top from bottom can be distinguished easy by touch or look
  • A bit heavier and larger body, easier to grip
  • A bit sharp but not as sharp as the previous aluminium design
  • Siri button is on a side, helps in the dark
  • I needed to look at the surface glyphs to find pause button, this should get better with training because the back button has different surface shape, so you can find it and then go one row below, no need to look
  • There’s lightning cable in the box
  • Using the power button to turn off TV is great, and apparently there’s protection from accidental input as tvOS instructed me to hold it and only then the TV went off

At first I have attempted to read the manual which has very tiny print, and the room was dark. Still I glanced through first 2 pages and have not found any information about pairing. Then I just pressed a button, don’t remember which one and a popup window appeared on my TV with a tip to hold my remote near the Apple TV box in order to finish pairing. I did just that and it paired successfully.

I am still unable to decide should I use the click only mode which is disabled by default or should I use both click and touch. Initially my motivation is to disable the touch completely as I am so sick of accidental or imprecise input. However because this remote has new navigation buttons which can be used while the touch is enabled I will give it a shot and will update this post in couple of weeks. My main idea is to use the buttons for all UI navigation except video scrubbing and my main fear that I will trigger unwanted gestures when navigating.

Mixing Music and Podcasts

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

I see some popular music players like Spotify and Yandex Music integrating podcasts feature. I think it’s a bad idea for you as a listener. It might be financially beneficial for those big companies which are getting more of your attention in their apps, but you are better off on your own using specialized podcast players.

If you getting your podcasts in Spotify, unless you like the convenience of having music and podcasts in the same place, I guarantee you that any dedicated podcasting app like Overcast or Apple Podcasts would be a much better experience. AFAIK Spotify still doesn’t offer show notes and chapters — a very basic feature any other podcast player has to have. Spotify doesn’t care about details, they are too large to care about nerdy stuff. I am using Overcast since its launch because it has great privacy, robust offline-based search, industry best sounding algorithm for speeding up voice, and unique EQ mode – Voice Boost. If you see a podcast you want to listen to, search in Overcast or any other podcasting app. It will save you time and convenience later.

Objective-C

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

This post is dedicated to Dr. Brad Cox passing. It feels special when writing in Objective-C, the language which wants you to be as expressive as possible with its long method names, no performance compromises, and opinionated of how code should be structured. Thank you, Dr. Brad, for creating this language, unlike the others.

I have published my first app during the summer of 2014. Although the app itself is not useful for anyone except me, I still remember writing it. 123 Trim still on the store, and the process of writing it was fun, it felt special. At the time my background was in Java and JavaScript and Objective-C took some time to get used to, and string manipulations required more low-level code than my first language Java. I had a goal to make an app that can scale for different screen sizes and integrated with Safari. The app was simple enough so I can learn how to make apps. It was a fruitful adventure as I still enjoy writing in Objective-C to make a living and support my family.

The Mighty mini

Wednesday, October 14, 2020

Happy to see the iPhone 12 mini. If I would need a new iPhone today, I would go with the mini for sure. Having a better grip and shutter resistance is great, for me, it’s a breakthrough moment. I used to handle around an iPhone without a case, until a slippery peace of a soap 6. It would be great to have a caseless iPhone again with a strong grip and superior shatter resistance. Let’s wait for the eventual drop tests, remaining cautiously optimistic.

HomePod mini looks attractive, however, I am eager to find out more. I am sure it would blow out of the water the Google Home mini and the Amazon Echo Dot, but it might be too far from the original HomePod sound. I’m not sure how could Apple sound engineers achieve good highs with the HomePod mini speaker pointing downwards. What I really would like to see, is a second-generation HomePod, featuring all mini improvements, preferably with a lower price tag. Or, even better, a soundbar design with integrated Apple TV, like suggested by Jason on the Upgrade podcast.

Thanks to the MacStories for inspiring me with a title.

The App Store and Apple Pay

Tuesday, October 6, 2020

I know it seems obvious, but for a long time, you couldn’t choose Apple Pay, Apple’s own payment system, when setting up your Apple ID. I needed to update my card yesterday and have noticed the new option. I am attaching the screenshot, have you noticed the Apple Pay icon? It used to say “App Store”.

App Store screenshot showing the Florence game confirm with Touch ID payment sheet, the price is £2.99

This could bring new possibilities:

  • User can provide payment details only once, configure default, and choose a different card for each purchase.
  • Hopefully, if your app supports In-App Purchase, your customers now can pay with Apple Pay. Before that, Apple Pay was only allowed for physical goods, and required complex setup. I think 30% cut remains, but it potentially can allow Apple to switch to a 0% cut and just have much smaller commission they get from banks when you use Apple Pay.
  • User can use Wallet app settings to set a default card, instead of iOS payment settings.

Putting simply, if you can use Apple Pay to pay for your commute, buy a loaf of bread, or any web purchase, you now also can use the same technology when buying software on the App Store, wonderful.

Running iOS 13.7, UK App Store. I don’t see this on the Mac.

Update, October 8

I was billed for my iCloud Storage and the payment went through my card as usual. When I tried to remove this card from Apple ID payment settings, iOS told me I have to have at least one payment method available, despite that I have a second Apple Pay option configured in the list of payment methods. I am not sure is because I am a family organiser, but, most likely, you still have to have card details entered into your Apple ID. Apple Pay won’t be used for iCloud storage billing, and, possibly, subscriptions.

I have changed the post tile from “App Store now Supports Apple Pay” to the new one and changed “This brings new possibilities:” to “This could bring new possibilities:”.

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