Wiser Web Wednesday – A nod to 100

Is it wrong to celebrate publishing my 100th post with a WWW link post? Hopefully not, given that is exactly what I have done. My son suggested I do something special for this milestone, however in the true style of not really knowing what that “something special” would be – I have decided to simply go with what was coming up next anyway.

Have I anything special to say about reaching 100 posts? Not really, perhaps with the exception of feeling some sense of accomplishment at having stuck it out and made it this far. Beyond that, a post written not so long ago reflects on my progress to date and thoughts on possible future plans.

Otherwise, I will leave it to Matt Gemmell, (one of my favourite writers on the internet), to describe one of the many truths about the process of sending your work out there:

The downside is the vulnerability and culpability, which is what makes people run for the anonymity of pseudonyms, online nicknames, or no names at all. I understand that; truly. I’m a little bit afraid every time I publish an article, and I vividly remember when I was a big bit afraid.

Read the entirety of his post (linked below) on taking credit (and assuming accountability) for the good, the bad, and… well, probably sometimes the ugly.

On with list for this week:

Shawn Blanc
As always an eloquent post from Shawn on the fairly significant update to Flickr for iPhone. I’d give you my own thoughts were it not for the fact that over the past few days I have failed to get past the login screen, changing passwords, Yahoo logins and generally encountering all manner of troubles. I am sure I will resolve these issues however repeatedly have come to the point of “I’ll just do it later”.

In spite of such challenges, from what I can see, given the 1TB storage that has been available on Flickr for some time now, it has the potential to be a very useful auto-uploading off-site photo back up:
Flickr 3.0

CJ Chilvers
Speaking of photos, perhaps given the ongoing boom-bust of many a photo management service, we should simply go back to a nice photo album for displaying those precious memories:
The Best Photo Management Tool

Reckoner
Ask not why tech blog Reckoner published a review of a slimline wallet; ask why they do not do more – James Croft on solving the age-old problem of carrying just a few too many cards. Jettison the ballast!:
Review: Capsule Wallet – The Minimalist

The Brooks Review
Although I derive enjoyment from using pen and paper, were I after a fairly minimalist (and paperless) workflow for my desk – something along the lines of this would be it:
Improving My Workflow: Desk

David Smith
If you are at all interested in how the App Store could be made a more enjoyable and functionally relevant place to visit, there are some compelling ideas in this list of fourteen recommendations:
Towards a Better App Store

The Newsprint
A view on one of my favourite writing apps, with its minimal interface, Markdown support and ability to publish directly to WordPress:
On My Screen: Byword for iPad

Matt Gemmell
A short, highly recommended read from a great writer:
Taking Credit

Away we go with iOS 7…almost

Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase
Image via CrunchBase

Today sees the release – and no doubt many a download – of iOS 7, the latest update and vastly overhauled version of Apple’s mobile software. There are numerous feature improvements that go beyond the most obvious, which is the ‘modernised’ user interface or ‘look and feel’ of the new system.

Of the many new features, I am most looking forward to Control Center (with many system settings now finally seeing the light of day, no longer requiring numerous taps to access), iTunes Radio, improved Notification Center, automatic app updates, intelligent data refreshing, better camera control, and improved photo management. However I am sure I will find compelling uses for many of the other new features I have read about or will stumble across along the way.

This update also brings a further level of complexity in relation to which Apple devices will support which version of the operating system. A recent silent update on the App Store now sees older versions of the operating system able to download legacy versions of many apps, as this article in 9to5 Mac explains. Further information around device compatibility (and an excellent table on feature support) can be found in an article by Brock Kyle, and another at TUAW.

Incidentally it does not appear both devices I currently use (iPhone 4s and iPad 2) will support all iOS 7 features, for example Air Drop and some of the advanced camera and photo features are only available in later model hardware. It is also worth noting I must wait a little longer for iTunes Radio given it is initially US only.

What should you do before you install the update? I would suggest reading this summary from TUAW, and proceeding from there.

As I finish this brief post (which in Australia is the early hours of September 19), my iPhone 4s is showing an error on attempting to commence the update. This has been entirely expected as Apple’s servers are being repeatedly slammed by the combined weight of a highly anticipated, worldwide software rollout. Should you also be experiencing this (and judging by the comments on numerous internet sites many are), keep trying – it is only a matter of time, and in any event, at 728MB, the entire process won’t be quick.

Patience is a virtue.

Human for iPhone

Human4

Human is a recently released free app for iPhone that is designed to track and encourage users to achieve at least 30 minutes of physical activity or movement per day. It joins many other systems such as the Fitbit, Jawbone Up, Nike+ Fuelband, and apps like Runkeeper currently on the market, however the philosophy differs to these offerings. The overall philosophy behind Human is to provide simple, elegant and meaningful data about your daily activity entirely through your iPhone, with an emphasis on the health benefits of achieving at least 30 minutes of daily movement (The Daily 30).

Human was released in the App Store on August 31, with a further update on September 5, said to improve both movement detection/tracking and battery life – two critical features for the success of the app. Users of these types of products expect (and rightly so) accuracy of information without excessive drain on battery life. Having just activated my account, I have not yet had the chance to determine what impact the app has on battery life though it is something I will be monitoring. From the developers:

Human is a passive tracker, which means that the software runs in the background of your phone, and tracks your activity automatically. You don’t have to check-in, log, or record anything manually. We access your phone’s location services and sensors to achieve this. Our primary concern has always been tracking activities accurately without draining too much battery life.

Why Human?

My interest in Human came about as I spend the usual work week sitting at a computer (to the detriment of my overall health and productivity), however routinely walk when I get the chance, getting off the bus two stops early in the morning (after a 45–60 minute commute), with additional walks mid morning and at lunch time. I am keen to see how much of this incidental activity actually stacks up.

To do this, I require an app I do not have to think about, one that will provide accurate results, and equally as important, something that is visually interesting and thoughtfully designed. I have said this before and will say it again now and no doubt in the future, ugly apps have absolutely zero appeal to me, regardless of the feature set (though I acknowledge the eye of the beholder). Finally, I prefer not to wear any additional receiver on my wrist or anywhere else, so using my phone for the entire process also appeals to me.

Using Human

Once an account is set up, the app really is a set and forget system, though you are obviously required to have your phone with you for measurement to occur. Checking the app a few times today showed my progress towards the 30 minutes with an elegant dial, and upon tapping this, a timeline of activities so far (see below).

Human2

Activity is logged in various categories including walking, running, biking, and transport (vehicle etc). Upon reaching 30 minutes of activity in a day, users receive a push notification advising this has been achieved. This app is not filled with excessive statistical data, nor does it provide a timeline of all activity on launch – two positive features as far as I am concerned. If I’m after more specific details around an interval workout, I will continue to use Runkeeper, however as mentioned above, I am simply looking to assess my incidental activity over the course of the day. It doesn’t hurt to receive a pat on the back once you get there either:

Human3

The beauty of Human lies in its simplicity in both measuring your movement (which goes completely unnoticed, with nothing to wear, launch or log), as well as the flexibility in allowing input of various activities (30 minute gym workout for example) or changing those that may have been inaccurately tracked. For example, an 8 minute drive was today picked up as running, which was easily corrected, though may be worth keeping an eye on for accuracy. Reverting incorrectly assigned modes of movement is easily done, and does not require you to remember what the activity was, as it is visually represented on a map within the change screen. The usual sharing options to Facebook and Twitter are also available.

An article by The Verge compares the various systems currently available for tracking and measuring both overall activity and individual workouts, and other reviews of Human can be found at Techcrunch and again at The Verge.

I am looking forward over the coming weeks to see whether my intermittent walking affords the benefits I think they are, though regardless of whether I achieve “the daily 30”, they are certainly worth their ‘head clearing’ benefits. Given my son was with me today in achieving the daily 30, I wonder if we can claim 60 all up…

Human for iPhone is available free in the App Store now.

As the Dust Settles – my RSS setup

Leading up to the shutdown of Google Reader on July 1, I gave consideration to a number of options regarding where I would turn for my RSS feed source, and whether this would in turn lead to a change in my reader of choice.

Now almost a week later, I believe I have things pretty well sorted out for my needs. Feedly’s free service has been working well as my feed source, and though their style of reader does the job well, I prefer a slightly different interface when reading my articles. As far as the performance of the free service is concerned, I have had no problems at all. Many ‘power users’ will most likely prefer the advanced features of a paid reader such as Feed Wrangler or Feedbin, however Feedly has done everything as expected for my usage pattern.

So, the readers (my consumption is entirely on iOS – I have no need for a Mac or PC application)…

iPad – Mr Reader

Mr Reader screenshot

At least 90% of my RSS feed consumption is done through my iPad, as I generally have enough time when connected to WiFi either early in the morning or evening to sync and get through my feeds (which generally number around 80–100 articles per day on average). The key features I require? Simply a UI that is appealing to me, and easy sharing, scrolling and an article view I can customise. As I have just listed features of every available reader, the choice then comes down to the overall style of the reader, and Mr Reader fits the bill here nicely.

Mr Reader. 2

iPhone – Reeder

Reeder Screenshots

Reeder had been my iPad reader of choice for some time leading up to this change, however does not at this time have Feedly support (I believe the app has been pulled from the App Store whilst under further development). A recent update to the iPhone app now integrates Feedly support, and on the odd occasion when I do use my phone to catch up on articles, Reeder does the job well, and I find the UI very well designed for use on the iPhone.

Reeder Screenshots

Conclusion

With the many services out there available for both the ‘feed’ and the ‘read’ end of RSS consumption, there is a great opportunity to try a few combinations and find a set up which suits your needs. Whilst the above system may not be for everyone, the interfaces and functionality are spot on for me at the current time. Let me know in the comments below of the system you have settled on, and how well it is working for you.

A reminder – you have until 15 July to export your list of feeds via Google Takeout, and if you haven’t done so already or migrated to another service I would strongly recommend doing so.

Via the App Store:

Podcasts

dept4 x 4

dept4 x 4 is a new category of posts, which will be a recurring series outlining my four favourite, best, most useful, or most used items in a particular area of interest. These may include products, services, sites, apps, books…you get the picture. Whenever I post a list of this nature, it will unsurprisingly contain four items, generally in no particular order, though I am sure there is a thesis somewhere proving even a random list contains some sort of hierarchy.

Hopefully these lists may prompt you to view, listen, read, test, try or otherwise “have a crack” at some of the suggestions. I believe the greatest power of the internet lies in the discovery of the new and untried, which may ultimately provide you with an opportunity to learn, or in some way improve on how you do things. Granted, you can also waste a lot of time as well, but sometimes the search (within reason) and discovery is half the fun.

Remember of course there will be many more items in a particular category I have not seen nor heard of, and the lists will be updated over time and with new discoveries, though as always we have to start somewhere. So let’s kick things off……

dept4 x 4 – Podcasts

In this post, we take a look at my four favourite podcasts, however first a little background.

My app of choice for podcast listening is Downcast, and has been for some time. I have also previously used Instacast, which is a great app and has seen some updates since my last use. The reason for my change being at the time of switching, Downcast was also available for the iPad (though I see on the App Store Instacast is now a universal app), however the number of podcasts I have listened to on my iPad number approximately…..zero. Despite this, I have not had a reason to switch back, and have continued with Downcast. I cannot comment on the Apple podcast app having never used it, though have not heard overly positive feedback, so personally I would go with one of the excellent third-party applications.

Some of the shows listed below originally began their existence on Myke Hurley’s 70Decibels network, which has this year joined the larger 5By5 network, run by Dan Benjamin. The change has been a smooth one (from a listener perspective at least), and I assume will provide improved infrastructure and resources for these shows to allow a greater focus on content, which can only be a good thing.

In no particular order, here are my current favourite Podcasts…

(Click the show name links for much more information on the shows and their hosts)

1. The Prompt

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They say: A weekly panel discussion on technology, and the culture surrounding Apple and related companies.

I say: The “UN General Assembly of Podcasting”. Spanning three countries, a trio of hosts (Myke Hurley, Stephen Hackett, Federico Viticci) discussing technology in a way that is interesting for someone such as myself, whom I consider has a ‘keen interest’ in Apple related technology, but is far from ‘tech geek’ stature in terms of ability. A transition from Stephen and Myke’s previous 512 Podcast on the 70 Decibels network. Worth it for Federico’s sublime accent? Probably yes, but as always content is king.

At the time of writing, is number three in tech podcasts in the Australian iTunes Store, having reached number one in the UK. The new format is only 1 episode old, but trust me, there are great things coming here.

2. Back to Work

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They say: Back to Work is an award winning talk show with Merlin Mann and Dan Benjamin discussing productivity, communication, work, barriers, constraints, tools, and more.

I say: After almost 10 years of online interaction, and some 122 episodes of B2W, hosts Dan Benjamin and Merlin Mann recently met for the first time and recorded episode 123 ‘in the flesh’. A good deal of humour and effortless banter ensure this has the feeling of just sitting around listening to a couple of mates have a chat. What you will walk away with however are some fantastic insights into managing some of the daily struggles of ‘corporate stoogedom’ and some strategies to more successfully navigate the mire.

Some great messages, delivered in some of the most uniquely entertaining ways. My recommendation? Give it a few episodes to get yourself in the groove – you won’t be sorry, because the first half hour or so from each episode is exactly what people tune in for.

3. Mac Power Users

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They say: Learn about getting the most from your Apple technology with focused topics and workflow guests. Creating Mac Power Users, one geek at a time since 2009.

I say: As someone with a keen interest in Apple related technology, I am always looking for guidance and helpful hints in getting the most out of my digital devices. You may consider this a strange entrant in a list created by someone who actually doesn’t own a mac (yet), however the mix of guests and topics covered (often relating to all other ‘iDevices’), are always helpful in providing tips on workflows, shortcuts, efficiencies, and using Apple technologies to overcome many of the barriers (both at work and home) to achieving what you set out to do.

4. The Pen Addict

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They say: Analog tools are often pushed aside in the digital age but The Pen Addict Podcast is bringing them back, front and center. Join Brad Dowdy, aka “The Pen Addict” and Myke Hurley each week as they discuss all things pen and paper.

I say: Worth listening to for Myke’s unique weekly introduction of Brad, which varies each episode. A podcast reaching 59 episodes on items so analog (pens, paper, stationary), that normally rely on look and physical feel to appreciate, must have something going for it – and this one certainly does. Both hosts have a passion for these non-digital tools, and provide thoughtful discussion week after week on both the philosophical and technical aspects of what is featured.

A key aspect often so rare when seeking out pen related content, is that this is far from the expensive pen collector mindset, with 90% (or more), of the discussion related to very affordable items. However, this hasn’t prevented many a listener (or host) from going mail order crazy on some of the items discussed – but really, that’s why we all listen each week.

plus one more that deserves a specific mention:

+1. Mikes on Mikes

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They say: Michael Schechter and Mike Vardy talk technology and time management, parenting and productivity and all things in between during this podcast, all while sipping on their drink of choice for each episode.

I say: This is where it all started for me. Coming fairly late into the whole productivity game, and discovering more through both hosts respective websites, this was my first podcast subscription, and I continue to listen to the two Mikes and their various guests discuss this ‘genre’, for want of a better word. Filled with tips, philosophies and workflow advice, this is indeed a great place to start (and continue), if you are looking at approaches to improve how you work.

Other honourable mentions

In Summary

I definitely find the format of a podcast useful in gaining an understanding of a large amount of content in a short period of time. An added advantage is often there will be slight or wholehearted differences in opinion by the hosts and their guests around certain topics, which can further clarify your own thinking on a certain topic, or at least provide the stimulus to seek out more information for yourself to gain a greater understanding.

So, time permitting, check out some of those listed above and see what you think.