Article Tags: Tech

  1. The other day I read a post by Federico Viticci on moving your photos from iPhoto to Dropbox as a “management app”. I’d pondered this in the past, especially when Dropbox increased everybody’s base storage amount. I’ve never committed and gone through with it though, although I have stopped using iPhoto and replaced it with managing my own folders. When photos are coming in from potentially lots of different devices, I’d rather manage them myself.

    Plus, I was never a fan of iPhoto’s “would you like me to delete all these photos now, I’ve copied them all into my library, honestly I have” prompt. I just don’t trust it. I want to see the photos with my own eyes, before I let an app delete them forever.

    After Federico’s post, Stephen Hackett posted his own version of the approach, along with an Applescript technique for moving photos from Photostream into Dropbox. But something nagging in the back of my mind said “surely Hazel can do that?” and so I set about to see if it can.

    Turns out it’s possible, and I tweeted Stephen to let him know. I thought I’d post this as a more permenant home for the solution because, well, Twitter.

    I don’t use Hazel as much as a should. These days I have a Mac Mini running all the time as a server, so it makes sense to start getting Hazel to do more for me. Mail rules are another “thing” I need to get my head around, but that’s an entirely different post!

    So, to Photostream and Hazel. The special sauce to make this work is an option in Hazel called “run rules on folder contents”. Photostream creates subfolders on the file system for every photo; instead of…


    …you get…

    “\photostream\long guid based id\photo1.jpg”.

    You need Hazel to dig down into each folder in the top-level Photostream folder, and treat each folder it finds as a folder to process.

    To make this work I added two rules, like this:

    hazel step 1

    Then the first rule is extremely simple:

    hazel step 2

    The second rule is where Stuff Happens. Because the first fule contains “run rules on folder contents”, the second rule happens on each folder within the Photostream directory.

    hazel step 3

    Note: the iPhone Camera Roll folder in the screenshot above is just where all my iPhone photos end up. Just to clarify any “why copy from Photostream back to the camera roll?” confusion.

    This isn’t just useful for Photostream, anywhere you want Hazel to process a folder full of folders, you can use this option.

    My next trick is working out how best to take two Photostreams and mash them together for archiving.

  2. Once again the iPad Mini rumours are reaching critical mass, and once again I’m getting pretty tired of hearing about them. The question of whether Apple can do a particular thing is at this point totally redundant. From a hardware point of view, Apple can do pretty much whatever the hell they please; they have the designers, the supply chain, and the funds to build devices that surpass previously perceived limits of portable technology, and they can make a profit doing it.

    A better question, and the one that Ben Brooks is the latest to ask, is this:

    What is demonstrably better about a 7 inch tablet?

    Bingo. Apple already sell the iPad 2 at a reduced price, and as time goes by that should become even cheaper to produce, so why not just work to drop the price of that one? What does the 7 inch form factor offer that a cheaper version of the 10 inch doesn’t?

    Having used a 7 inch Samsung Galaxy Tab for a few months, I feel qualified to weigh in on this. Because qualifications always stop people weighing in on the Internet, right? I’ve ordered Google’s Nexus 7 based on the experience I had with Samsung’s offering, despite owning the latest generation iPad. Why?

    The two main reasons are portability, and preciousness.

    Let’s tackle portability first. Commuting by train takes me roughly ten minutes, so I don’t bother sitting. I’ve tried to use my iPad to read on during that time, but it’s too bulky to hold one handed while I hang on to something so I don’t flatten the person next to me as the carriage bumps along. I ended up going back to using my phone to read on, which does the job. I could read on the Kindle, which is probably the best point of reference for the 7 inch form factor, but I don’t want to read a novel for such a brief amount of time. I want to hit my Instapaper queue, or catch up on my RSS.

    It goes beyond the commute. Anyone that’s worked away from home on business will know what it’s like to sit alone in a restaurant night after night. Sitting with an iPad in a restaurant is pretty awkward. The smaller form factor fixes that. I’ve found the iPad is too big to use comfortably during long periods of air travel too, certainly when flying economy. It’s just too big and too heavy. Same thing in bed. I can’t comfortably sit and hold my iPad for extended amounts of time when reading in bed; it needs to be propped up on something, either my chest or the bed next to me.

    Ben Brooks himself mentioned on his podcast a few weeks back that the iPad was impossible to hold while nursing his new born daughter. There’s another area where the 7 inch form factor would help. There are lots of use cases where your phone (unless you’re using something freakishly large, like a Galaxy Note) is probably too small for extended comfortable use, and your iPad is too big.

    And so to preciousness. I would never, ever, under any circumstances contemplate taking my iPad to the beach with me. Not that I frequent the beach, being a pale and pasty developer type with an aversion to simple daylight let alone the sun’s scorching rays. But sand is to beautiful glass screens as Kryptonite is to Superman; it will mess him up good and proper. The iPad, despite offering superb value for its capability, is too expensive to encourage careless use. I always feel like I’m using a substantial, expensive piece of equipment that deserves to be looked after.

    Did I care with the Galaxy Tab? A little, but nowhere near as much. But by the same token it felt less precarious, less delicate. I could carry it around with one hand without worrying about it slipping to the floor. Adam Lisagor mentioned something similar when he appeared on John Gruber’s The Talk Show recently: he’s not found a tablet that he felt could be carried around with there being an real risk of dropping it.

    Would a 7 inch device encourage people to be less precious with their iPad, or would simply lowering the price of the existing 10 inch tablet have the same effect? A cheap 10 inch could still feel like it’s easily droppable.

    It seems to me like Apple could solve a lot of the above by simply making the existing iPad lighter. Except, it’s not simple. Not by any stretch of the imagination. With the retina screen, the latest generation iPad needs a significant chunk of battery, which makes it heavier. It needs a certain kind of glass, which makes it heavier. There’s no easy way to make the current generation iPad lighter. There will be, that’s almost certain. Over time newer battery technology, better glass, maybe even a different material for the case will serve to make the iPad lighter. But not in the immediate future.

    And so the simplest, cheapest way for Apple to make a lighter iPad is to make a smaller iPad, with a non-retina screen so it needs less battery and less processing grunt to power it. Maybe it serves as a test for a new case material which could ultimately make its way to the larger iPad - I seem to recall Apple tested a new kind of glass on the original Nano, much to the annoyance of pretty much anyone that owned one.

    Apple can then kill a number of birds with one 7 inch stone: they overcome any objection about the iPad being too heavy (“buy the smaller version”), or too expensive (“buy the smaller version”), and they manage to offer at least something to buyers on the market for a smaller tablet.

  3. It’s interesting to me that people write posts like this about the iPhone:

    The iPhone is the most useful computer in the world.

    Everything quoted is possible on an Android device, or some other smartphone, but it’s the Apple guys, the iPhone and iPad users, that seem to tap into the emotional aspects of owning such a powerful device.

    I’ve been using an Android device for a few days now, and while I like some of the power-user (read: geek) functionality you can tap into, I don’t feel an emotional attachment like I did my iPhone.

    I’ve been meaning to write something expressing the wonder of carrying such a powerful device around with you, but Chuck Skoda pretty much sums it up perfectly. Albeit with a focus on the wonder of Apple.

    Maybe in a couple of weeks I’ll be waxing lyrical about my Nexus S. Somehow I doubt it.

  4. Lately I’m detecting a bit of a shift in the way people are using the Internet to communicate their ideas. Certainly from the perspective of individual, personalised blogging.

    Chris Shiflett writes that “We need a blog revival”. He talks about an “Ideas of March” concept that’s intended to rejuvenate blogging. Frank Chimero responds to that with a brilliantly written post, culminating in the advice/instruction “Go write”. This is very much in keeping with the Bring Back Blogging BBB idea I posted about a while back, coined by someone I chat with on Twitter.

    Combined with that, there’s been a lot of discussion on various sites to do with Baked Blogging - that is, a blogging system that’s resilient enough to handle a massive uptick in traffic.  The long story short is this: WordPress, gloriously flexible as it is, can be made to fall over on an average cheap webhost quite easily if not tuned correctly. That’s because WordPress is dynamic, it’s database driven. If you look at the address of this post, you’ll see it’s not an html page - akin to a text file on your computer - but a php page. It’s been built out of lots of little bits of data that have been extracted from a database (think big, complicated spreadsheet).

    A “baked” system would create html files, that can be delivered to a browser without the server doing a lot of heavy lifting, and survive that spike in traffic. You could argue that it’s more environmentally friendly this way too, there are less wasted CPU cycles to generate the text you’re reading. That’s the practical advantage.

    Marco Arment, on the Build and Analyze podcast, suggests another reason for this kind of system: you own your content. If you’re publishing to the web via text files on your computer, you’ve still got those text files after you’ve posted. It doesn’t matter if the server explodes, you forget your password, or you want to publish somewhere else. You’ve got the data on your computer or DropBox.

    Another thing that Marco talks about, and something that I’ve noticed lately, is that there isn’t a fantastic way to post your writing using an iOS or Android device. There’s a WordPress app, but it doesn’t feel all that brilliant and I’ve had reliability problems with it in the past. Everyone speaks very highly about Mars Edit for the Mac, and it doesn’t feel to me like we’ve got a Mars Edit level application for mobile devices yet.

    And so, I suggest to you that we need not just a blogging revival: we need a blogging reinvention. Blogging 2.0 would be an unpleasantly lazy way of expressing it.

    There’s a certain type of person who’s moving away from Twitter, and recognises that some or all of their creative energies are being sapped by that platform. They want to express their ideas in greater details than Twitter allows. They want to create content on whatever platform they like, and be unconstrained by the particular software that they’re using. Like Twitter, this new kind of blogging should allow and encourage any kind of client.

    The cost of entry should be low. It should be personalised, single user focused, and transparent enough to allow the writing to be the key area of focus. Like recent apps OmmWriter, IA Writer, and others, it would be nice to have a blogging platform that’s enjoyable and inspiring to use. WordPress seem to recognise this, and a focus of the next release is claimed to be a more zen-like posting interface that reduces the huge number of checkboxes, menus, and input fields clamouring for your attention.

    That gives us 4 core elements:

    • Enjoyable to use

    • resilient enough to survive traffic spikes (and require a low cost of ownership in terms of hosting)

    • Place the ownership of raw content in the hands of the user, not the back-end system

    • Allow content creation and posting from any device you chose

    Who’s with me? And perhaps more importantly, who’s going to build it?!?

  5. Our American readers have probably already played with an iPad – I suspect you can stroll into your nearest Apple store and satisfy your curiosity – but as Apple have yet to reveal the all important date for worldwide availability, the rest of the world don’t have that luxury. I’m pleased to say I’ve been able to spend a short time playing with Apple’s latest gadget and thought I’d share my thoughts.

    The first thing that struck me was the screen. I wasn’t even holding the device at the time and the clarity of display, even from the angle I was seeing it, was dazzling. HD videos from iTunes look absolutely stunning, even if the iPad’s 4:3 screen resolution means the video has borders top and bottom. I don’t see this as a big deal: I don’t have a 4:3 TV, but certain aspect ratios still produce borders. It doesn’t bother me there, it didn’t bother me here. The second thing that struck me: the weight. That’s not to say it’s a brick, far from it, but for some reason it’s heavier than you expect. I think it’s down to the effortlessness with which you’ve seen people interact with the device in the videos; there’s a lightness of touch demonstrated and your brain expects the physicality of the device to mirror that. The iPad feels like a solid piece of hardware, well made, and durable.

    The iPad I sampled wasn’t crammed with apps, but what was there impressed me. Twitter needs were catered for by Twitterrific and Tweetdeck, and of the two I think I preferred Tweetdeck. Twitterrific is very pretty, but Tweetdeck better demonstrates the step up from phone class device to tablet device in it’s use of the additional width in landscape mode. Whereas the mobile version only displays one column at a time, this feels more like the desktop version and allows three columns on screen at once (with the usual swiping gestures scrolling between extra columns, naturally). I can see iPad Twitter fans loving this.

    The Marvel comics app was installed, and it’s beautiful. Viewing comics on such a fantastic screen, at a resolution that doesn’t require zooming in or panning around, really opens your eyes to the implications of a device like this for print. With the right subscription models, I think graphic novels and comics on the iPad could be huge.

    I also got to try iBooks, which on first impression is the closest any digital device has gotten to the feel of a real book. The weight of the device feels comparable with a hardback book and little graphical touches, like seeing the depth of the remaining pages, and varying page turn animations depending on whether you turn the page from the top or the bottom corner, all conspire to trick you into thinking this is old school. The only thing missing is some sort of scent attachment to give it that fresh book smell.

    The built-in apps are all suitably impressive too: the YouTube app benefits massively from the increased screen size, and the calendar is a really beautiful piece of work.

    There were a few iPhone games on the device, and they all scale up quite nicely. Particularly Broken Sword, which looked superb on the iPad. Text-heavy apps really don’t scale so well, but look nice and crisp in their native resolution.

    Perhaps one of the most mundane sounding apps, but the one that impressed me the most was Safari. Apple have said “it’s like holding the web in your hands” and it’s very easy to roll your eyes and write this off as hyperbole, but there’s something in it. Seeing a web site filling the iPad’s gorgeous screen, zoomed at a perfectly readable resolution, and requiring only the lightest touch to navigate, really does make mouse and keyboard seem primitive. Years ago we thought the introduction of the scroll-wheel onto a mouse was progress, but being able to gently brush your way through a website seems like the natural next step. You really are taking the middleman out of the equation, and letting your fingers do the walking.

    Finally, I wanted to get to grips with the onscreen keyboard. The notes app seemed like a good choice, so I set the iPad down on a flat surface and tried to touch-type. And the results were pretty damned impressive. I’m a pretty fast typist, and didn’t throttle back at all for the iPad, and at a guess I achieved roughly 95% accuracy. Sometimes the iPad compensated for my errors (which feels quite strange on what’s nearly a full size keyboard) and other times it gave me a squiggly red underline to indicate that it needed some manual intervention in determining which word to use. I’m sure with a little practice I could become quite proficient with its keyboard.

    So there we have it. I only got to spend a very short time with the device, but even at this early stage the iPad is an impressive piece of technology. I had no issues with wireless connectivity, and I didn’t detect even the faintest trace of sluggishness in all the time I used it.

    Apple are due to unveil their next mobile operating system in just a few hours, and we’ll have some thoughts on that, and what it means for the future of Apple’s devices, after the event.