The iTunes problem

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Now 15 years old, Apple’s iTunes is like The Borrow in Harry Potter. As the Weasley family grew, new floors, rooms and wings were added, one on top of the other, resulting in a confounding structure that only its builders understand.

Today, “The world’s best and easiest to use jukebox software” is anything but.

Just this morning I sat at my desk and launched iTunes. My goal was to put the Monument Valley soundtrack on repeat. If only I were a wizard.

Let’s play, “How do I make an album repeat in iTunes 12.3?” Well, here’s Play and Shuffle, but no repeat:

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Perhaps it’s up here. There’s shuffle again, but no repeat:

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Weird. Maybe if I minimize the window a button will reveal itself. Nope.

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One last try. Maybe the menu bar? Oh, there it is!

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No keyboard shortcut, no button, no option in the app’s preferences to make it a button. “Repeat” is not an obscure function that most people won’t use. I shouldn’t have to spend two minutes digging to find it.

I want to love iTunes but it’s at the point where it needs to be scrapped completely and re-worked. I should’t need the Marauder’s Map to find basic functions.

The future Home Work

The Home Work podcast is about to change again, starting with weekly “Lunch Breaks.”

cover_quarterFour years ago Aaron came to me with an idea for a podcast about working from home. We produced an episode, the show went to 70 Decibels and then to 5by5. Today, after four years and 204 episodes, Aaron has left the show.

It’s a shame to see him go, as he’s a talented podcaster and he brought a lot to the show. I wish him well in his endeavors.

Talk live with me and other home workers

What does that mean for the podcast? It will continue with changes. Right now we’re on a four-week break between season two and season three. But that doesn’t mean you won’t hear from me.

This Friday, April 15, I’ll hold the first weekly “Lunch Break,” which will be a live, 30-minute chat with me on Blab, starting at 12:00 PM Eastern. If you haven’t used Blab before, it’s really cool. Join me to talk with like-minded home workers, ask questions, share advice and so on. It’s going to be great and I’m looking forward to talking with you face-to-face.

Season three of Home Work is also under production and this time the theme is back to basics: “How to successfully work from home.” The ten-episode season will feature more amazing guests (season two featured appearance by Merlin Mann, David Sparks, Mike Vardy, Kelly Guimont, Beth Dunn, Brett Kelly, Moisés Chiullán, Patrick Rhone, Mike Schmitz and Michael Drucker) talking about specific aspects of being the most successful home worker you can be.

Best of Season One Ebook

Also in the works is a “Best of Home Work Season One” ebook, which will feature the absolute top advice and insights gleaned from our show’s first season across several topics:

  1. Work spaces
  2. Assembling a team
  3. Distraction
  4. Equipment, apps and tools
  5. Productivity
  6. Dealing with time off
  7. Email
  8. Priorities
  9. Tips for telecommuters
  10. Tips for freelancers
  11. Client work

I’m combing through each episode now to find the best bits.

Home Work is evolving and I want to thank everyone who listens to the show. A podcast that has survived four years is nothing to sneeze at. I’m very eager for season three and I’ll talk you all on Friday.

Walking directions with the Apple Watch is a killer feature

IMG_1423It’s difficult to navigate an unfamiliar city on foot. You don’t want to look like a tourist (or a mark), so you pull out the internet-connected computer in your pocket, enter an address and start to follow along. It’s a logical move, but not ideal for several reasons:

  1. It’s very distracting. Staring at an iPhone while navigating a crowded sidewalk means you might bump into people, trash bins, hot dog carts…who knows what.
  2. Your more susceptible to pick-pockets and other n’er-do-wells. Nothing says “I’m a tourist!” quite like staring at a map while in Times Square, digital or not.
  3. Spoken directions from the phone can be hard to hear and annoying to others.

Conversely, the Apple Watch excels at delivering walking directions. It’s safer and more convenient than relying on an iPhone. Here’s how to get walking directions with Apple Watch.

Getting directions on Apple Watch

The first step, of course, is to get your destination’s address onto the Apple Watch. There are several ways to do this, and the fastest are these:

  1. Ask Siri for directions. The virtual personal assistant will automatically open Apple Maps with the directions ready to go.
  2. Start on Apple Maps on your iPhone. The app will automatically sync with Apple Watch. After you’ve entered the information on the iPhone app, open the watch app to view the directions.

Following a route

Once you’re ready to get moving, just tap Start. The Watch will guide you along, via clever use of Apple’s Taptic Engine:

  • A series of 12 taps means turn right at the next intersection.
  • Three pairs of two taps mean turn left.
  • A steady vibration means you’re at the last direction change.
  • A more urgent vibration (which I call “the freakout”) indicates your arrival at your destination.

Imagine walking from, say, the train station to a hotel in a city you aren’t familiar with. You’ve got a bag in your hand and a million things on your mind, like check-in, getting settled and whatever brought you there in the first place. Now you can walk with your eyes front and your head up. Perhaps you’ll even note a few landmarks along the way, to make the return stroll easier.

It’s a feature I love to use. Try it yourself.

iOS annoyance: the volume icon

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The iPhone’s big, non-transparent volume icon has got to go.

Instead of writing a wish list of iOS changes, I’ve got a single request: eliminate the huge volume icon that commandeers the center of the screen. It’s distracting and outdated. My hope for iOS 9.4 is a new volume icon.

What I carry every day

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By me, on Unclutterer:

“Today I’m looking back on what I used to carry in 2007, in 2010, and now in 2016. I’m glad to say that I’ve trimmed things down a bit, but not completely. First, let’s look at what I had on me in 2007.”

Some things have changed, some have not.

Using your iPhone is easier with these great apps

A new feature isn’t necessarily a great feature

Apple introduced 3D Touch with the iPhone 6 in September, 2014. The feature offers two new gestures, “Peek” and “Pop,” which are triggered by the amount of pressure applied to an iPhone’s screen. You can see 3D Touch in action here. It’s pretty neat and can save time, if used properly.

The usefulness of new features like 3D Touch is variable. There are plenty of “Me, too” implementations in the App Store that don’t make your iPhone easier to use, which is the ultimate goal. In the following examples, 3D Touch makes an app significantly better.

Best implementation: Workflow

workflow_3dtouchHands down, Workflow for iPhone and iPad ($2.99) features the best implementation of Apple’s 3D Touch that I’ve seen. It lets you choose what appears in the resulting pop-up menu (up to four items), ensuring that it’s as useful for you as possible. Here’s how to set it up.

  1. Tap My Workflows on the app’s main screen.
  2. Scroll to the bottom and tap Settings.
  3. Tap 3D Touch Shortcuts

From there you’ll see a list of your workflows. Now, just tap the four you’d like to appear in the 3D Touch menu.

Workflow lets you create, download and share automated, multi-step tasks for your iPhone to perform. Have your phone do anything from order a pizza to move files to services like Dropbox. The 3D Touch implementation here is so helpful that it puts an already useful app way over the top. Save serious amounts of time each day with Workflow and 3D Touch.

Notable

Spark

sparkWhile Workflow is my top pick for useful 3D Touch, it’s not the only app that’s making good use of Apple’s fun tech. Readdle’s Spark (https://sparkmailapp.com), a recent “Best of the App Store” selection, does a stellar job by featuring the app’s most common functions: calendar, attachments, search and compose a new message. Simply select any one to jump right to it.

The iconography here is nice and clear as well, and each task is blazing fast. Browsing attachment is especially useful, as they’re presented as a nice list, which is significantly faster than scrolling through a bursting inbox. Spark is a great app and is use of 3D Touch makes it even better.

Instagram

As we saw with Spark, Instagram for iPhone (free) put the most useful tasks front-and-center. I use Search and Post several times per day. But there’s much more here.

Nearly every link in the app offers Peek and Pop. Press-and-hold on a hashtag to see relevant photos. Do the same to a username for a preview of their latest posts. While holding that preview, swipe up for options like unfollow, enable notifications or share as a message. As with the other apps in this list, Instagram is made easier to use via 3D Touch. Very well done.

Camera+

cmraplsOne last selection: Camera+ ($2.99). The long-standing camera app by Tap Tap Tap lets you jump right to taking a photo, as well as the proper setting for getting a selfie or a macro shot. This saves so much time previously spend fiddling around with exposure and focus, especially when taking a macro shot.

All of these apps use Apple’s 3D Touch to make using your iPhone faster and easier. That’s just what technology like this should do. Try them out and see for yourself.

When you aren’t watching Star Wars read this post

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Holy flip, I’m tired.

It’s been a busy week. Some highlights.

I turned 45. This means I’m the oldest person at work and man, I really feel like the oldest person at work. Our meetings are held in rooms with huge, floor-to-ceiling windows that offer reflections at all kinds of unflattering angles. This week I caught sight of my bald, overweight self among a sea of people who are fit and healthy. I looked like the “before” in a room full of “afters.”

Speaking of work, there’s a lot of it. It’s a great gig to be sure. Very challenging and demanding. This is the first I’ve every had an office desk job which is crazy to think about. I went from college to teaching to IT to writing from home. Now I have a cubicle with photos of my kids and a construction paper pen cup festooned with macaroni, buttons and “I’m as lucky as can be for the world’s best dad belongs to me” in six-year-old handwriting. I’m sure I’m doing a good job but I worry that I’m doing a good job. You know?

In other slovenly news I’ve spent an inordinate amount of time playing Fallout 4 on our new X-Box. See paragraph three for there result of this behavior.

Finally, this tweet made me tear up a little. I miss you guys, too.

 

Losing hope for The Force Awakens

starAs an unapologetic Star Wars fanboy, I’ve been anticipating the forthcoming movie, The Force Awakens. The first teaser trailer was exciting, and got me enthused for the film. The second teaser was so compelling I went all in, abandoned my hesitation and succumbed to the prospect of this being the Star Wars movie I’ve wanted since 1983.

Today, all of that changed.

Note: the official poster appears after the break. I also discuss the “bad guy.” If you don’t want to see it, don’t click. You have been warned. 

Continue reading →

My changing role at Apple World Today

My role at Apple World Today has changed. As of today, I’ve handed the role of Editor in Chief to Steve Sande, and assumed role of contributing writer. Why? Time, attention and focus.

As you may know, I began work at the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) a few weeks ago. It’s been a great challenge and I’m really enjoying the work. I’ve also had to make some adjustments in my life as a result. For the first time since our kids were born, my wife and I are both working 40 hours per week outside of the house. We’re up for that challenge, and a challenge it is. Chores that I always took care of — soccer practice, ballet pick-up and drop-off, dump runs, groceries and more — now require forethought and planning, as I’m out of the house from 8:15 AM until about 5:30.

In short, I just can’t work what essentially are two full-time jobs and still be a decent husband and father. I won’t work at AWT if I can’t give it my all, as that’s not fair to Steve and Dennis, our advertisers, our patrons and our readers. So it’s time to stop being selfish and step aside.

I’ll still contribute articles here and there, so you aren’t completely rid of me. Thanks for reading and supporting the site all this time. I hope you continue to do so, as Steve and Dennis are fully dedicated.

Game over

After much heart-wrenching deliberation, I think it’s time to close Board Games Weekly down. It pains me to do so, as I love it so very much, but I don’t have the time anymore. At least, not at the scope I had imagined for it.

My goal was to produce the twice-weekly podcasts, a weekly live news show, the game play videos with my friends and a Twitch channel, as well as daily blog posts. That would have been a lot of work before I lost my job, but now it would be irresponsible for me to spend that much time on something other than billable hours as it were. Plus, my partner, Matt, has gone on to bigger and better things in the meantime (I don’t blame him), that will include many of the goals I’ve just described.

One of the things I learned while working on this project is that a podcast that features people talking about tabletop games isn’t very exciting. This topic demands video, and I don’t have the bandwidth to pull that off. So, put the dice away. It’s time to go home.

A simple, audio-only podcast supported by a Tumblr or something (or nothing, really) would be possible. Unfortunately, the fun, social hobby of tabletop gaming is not served well by that format.