5 Things I Learnt By Dropping My iPhone

1. Bad Things happen at inconvenient times

Otherwise, they aren’t really ‘bad’ I suppose – just… annoying? With exams fast approaching, destroying a device I rely on so heavily wasn’t exactly a good move.

2. Always use protection

If my phone had been in a case, it surely wouldn’t have busted. My phone wasn’t even that badly damaged: no shattered glass, no missing pieces; just a tiny crack internally that destroyed 3 key functions: home button, microphone and, most unfortunately, charging.

3. iCloud isn’t all bad

Not only was my iPhone unable to charge, it couldn’t sync with iTunes via cable to backup and I had never enabled wifi sync.

I didn’t have a recent enough backup but luckily I figured out I could use my remaining battery charge to backup to iCloud over wifi. Best. Decision. Ever. It made setting up my new iPhone so much less painful.

4. Brisbane needs more Apple stores

Chermside sucks. It’s busy, out of the way and it just sucks. Please build a new one somewhere nicer. Please.

5. Even with iCloud, there are issues

However most obstacles actually exist to improve my online security. Google 2-factor authentication makes setting up all the apps that depend on your Google account a pain. I guess it’s better than losing control of my account though.

Also, Kaching by CBA requires you to call their phone service to authenticate a new iPhone if you have previously set it up on a different phone.

The moral of this story: protect your iPhone or buy something else! It’s cheaper and easier than buying and setting up a new one…

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Coding a Pocket Bookmarklet

I have never really coded in Javascript before, but I wasn’t afraid of trying to find a solution to a problem, once a quick Google returned nothing of interest. I’m talking about Pocket, and the fact that it hides the original link to a saved item in the Article view. The bookmarklet (or browser extension) I had in mind would simply swap out the ‘domain’ of the item, in favour of the original link, on a button press (bookmarklet) or in the background (browser extension).

I discovered through lots of tinkering with jQuery and HTML source code that this is probably best achieved by finding the original link and corresponding domain at http://getpocket.com/unread. These can then be matched with the domain from ‘sub’ at http://getpocket.com/a/queue/.

NB: I’ve just realized that this may not work if you have multiple items from the same ‘domain’.

Anyway, here’s what I came up with for the bookmarklet. Keep in mind this is just preliminary chicken scratch code that doesn’t do anything, but I’m sharing it in the hopes it will give someone with a better Javascript background a chance to make a useful tool.

Sample 1 – Get Domain

Sample 2 – Get Original URL

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Ultimately I hope Pocket updates to include these features by default, because it is really kind of annoying, after everything else they got right.


Giving Pocket a Second Chance

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When Read It Later presented its completely revamped self as Pocket, I dusted off my account credentials and gave it a quick look. Five minutes later and I had already turned my nose up at it, playing the role of the Instapaper I-payed-$5-for-this-app-and-now-a-better-and-free-alternative-comes-along snob.

I’m not sure why I didn’t give it a proper chance back in April, but thankfully I decided to give it a second chance today. So here are 4 reasons I favour in Pocket over Instapaper.

1. Interface | Design | Experience

Pocket is beautiful. Really, it’s pretty to look at, responds snappily like any good web app should which takes it beyond a static experience. Instapaper is static, less easy to use and somewhat ironically, has a terribly cluttered interface (in my experience).

Both the website and iOS version of Pocket have two great article display modes, one more like a magazine, and a details/ list view. I am easily able to filter articles by date, title, site, tags or media type.

2. Considerate Media Handling

The team at Pocket is actively tweaking its ‘Article View’ engine (for reading later, distraction free) so it will always display content how it is intended. Whether it be images, videos or lengthy articles from The Verge, Pocket will handle it gracefully.

Instapaper can be a bit hit and miss and while no reading view will be perfect, at least Pocket is showing it cares.

3. Search

Pocket comes with search, for free! Instapaper charges $1/month to use article search. This lets me replace my old (and pretty crappy, to be honest) system of exporting to Delicious. I don’t really use this much, but just the thought of being able to cut free from yet another service makes this a very welcome feature.

However, I found a bug (I think) when searching in the Archive. See this link.

4. Price

This isn’t really a huge issue for me any more, but for agnostics not yet devoted to either service, I’m sure it will be a huge deciding factor. Instapaper is ~$5 for the iOS app and $1/month for some other features. Pocket is all free.

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There are still some things I miss from Instapaper/ would like to see in Pocket. So here is my Pocket wishlist:

  • Better pagination on mobile. Include features like the smooth transition and bullet point progress bar from Instapaper.
  • More readily available links to original content. Currently Pocket only makes the domain available from the reading list, not the original link. You must click through to the ‘Article View’ to find the original (unless I’m missing something).
  • Business model. I don’t want to see ads start appearing in my feed, nor do I want to see Pocket fade away. How are they going to monetize their new product? I only want to support you, Pocket.

I still haven’t completely removed Instapaper from my life. It still holds a prime position in my Chrome bookmarks bar (both my Unread list and the bookmarklet) and it’s still on my iPhone’s home screen.

I think as life goes on, I will fall into the Pocket camp entirely, as they have shown they are willing to change for the better and the change will be ongoing. Instapaper, with its one man army, will struggle, I fear, to keep its position of supremacy. Pocket has opened up bookmarking to the masses it seems, as Evernote has done with note syncing and Dropbox with file sharing; by presenting it in a friendly, easy to use way, that doesn’t feel geeky. And yes… I think Pocket has the kind of potential where it is appropriate to be compared to those companies…


Digital Note Showdown | Part 2: Evernote

I have been a hot-and-cold user of Evernote for a few years now. By that, I mean I go through phases where I can’t live without it, then don’t touch it for weeks on end. I think the thing that always pulls me back though is the surrounding hype regarding Evernote. Everyone seems to love it. Every time I hear another interesting use for it, I give it a go and inevitably give up because most of the use cases require too much time investment. Is Evernote really that necessary though? I’m now going to explore the possibility of removing it entirely from my workflow.

First, lets consider how I use it now. I am not a big ‘tagger’ because this too, is too much of a time investment for me; to get a harmonious system up and running, and then implement it. I much prefer to have a couple of different notebooks and just text search for the rest.

My 7 Notebooks are:

  • Archive
Used to store articles I find online and ‘Like’ in Instapaper; Software serial keys; Personal numbers; Product warranties and guides; any other note I am not currently working on/ using.
  • Food
Recipes; beers with ratings.
  • Inbox (Default)
Bucket to collect all incoming or otherwise unsortable notes.
  • Programming
Help and links for various languages; tid bits I pick up and often forget.
  • References
Research sources for various projects, with note title being <Author, Date> to help with referencing later.
  • Travel
Contains scans of nick nacks and business cards I’ve collected in my travels, sorted by holiday.
  • Uni
Tracking which subjects I’ve completed/ need to complete.

I’ll be honest: I hardly refer back to notes anywhere other than in my Inbox. Every now and then I get in a ‘Spring Cleaning’ frame of mind and delete notes I haven’t touched since creation and don’t see myself needing in any foreseeable future. But I really get no utilitarian value out of my usage of Evernote. The reason for this is there are better ways to do many of the things I use it for, yet I continue to pursue the idea of Evernote being useful. For example, for storing links (like Archive, Food and Programming), Instapaper does a better job of formatting and making them available offline.

However there are some features that make Evernote incredibly useful. The inbuilt OCR imaging is fantastic and I am yet to find a better (and free) alternative. It isn’t the fact that images can be turned into text. It is the fact that Evernote stores an invisible database of words that appear in the image, which you can then search and locate in the original image. Secondly, the ability to add contextual information to a document such as a PDF, DOC, etc. is also incredibly useful. I can store the original, untouched file in Evernote, then append my own notes above/ below the document. The final thing that stops me from culling Evernote is the ability to create your own notes. I know this sounds kind of anti-climactic and obvious, but I seem to often overlook it. I can create rich text notes if I like, or plain text. Include images, check boxes and bullet points. I can supplement the recipes I find online with my own amendments or originals. If a saved webpage contains too much cruft, I can manually fix it.

Ultimately, it is the unique combination of rich note generation, website clipping, OCR and powerful search features that give Evernote staying power. It isn’t without its flaws, but I am prepared to put up with them because it does so may other things right. Sure, the rich text formatting is worse than most other products, and half the time the font selected isn’t actually the one being used. And sure, it isn’t as pretty or clean as Springpad or Instapaper, but it is powerful and versatile. And yes, I hate having to manage multiple services to do similar things, and yes I want an optimized workflow, but if you use a computer more than once a week, there is probably some way that Evernote can help you. Download it now and give it a go.


Digital Note Showdown | Part 1: Springpad

I recently saw this video, a first look at the new Springpad features by Robert Scoble. More found here.

This convinced me to sit down and not only give Springpad another chance, but rethink my whole digital note-taking strategy. This in turn inspired me to write this series.

I really like the idea of Springpad. Really like it. However, when I sat down and gave it another go the other day after they released a whole slew of updates I was severely disappointed. I have two main gripes (which cover most aspect of the program); 1. Usability 2. Quick Adding.

Let me address both points. Firstly and foremost, I hate that there is no downloadable app for PC. No proper Chrome extension, no desktop client. Don’t get me wrong, I love web apps, but when my patience is tested by one for no valid reason, I am left thoroughly unimpressed. Sure this recent pivot to a more social experience seems suited to the web, however I am constantly confronted with lag. Lag to load pages, lag to add notes, lag to open a note. Why so much lag? It just results in an unresponsive UI. My internet connection may not be the fastest, but I don’t struggle with any of the Google Apps, that is certain.

Now maybe I am being too harsh, so let us ignore this apparent unresponsiveness. How about the amazing semantic ‘Quick Add’ feature? Now as far as I know, this feature IS the draw card for Springpad. So why is it tucked in the top right corner, barely larger than my email displayed above it? I want it front and centre; supersized. Now, the general functioning of the ‘Quick Add’, in my experience, can be described as mediocre. In most use cases, it has required an initial prompt to add context to my search term. For example, while trying to plan an evening for my 2 year anniversary with my girlfriend, I tried adding the restaurant and movie theatre I decided on. This either returned nothing, or places in foreign countries. When I ‘searched the web’ and looked for ‘places’, it was able to find the venues. Why doesn’t the geolocate work straight from the omnibar? Once these two notes were added to my notebook, I was less than impressed by the metadata provided too. Sure, it was able to show me a Google map of where the places are, but there was no link to their websites, menu or movie times. Phone numbers, foursquare tips and Yelp reviews were all present and welcome, however I expected more from Springpad’s key feature.

I haven’t had a chance to use the new social features much yet, but I’m still optimistic about their implementation. Almost anything will beat Evernote’s (free) collaboration attempt.

Finally, here is a run down of the key points.

Springpad

Pros

  • Quick Add is great when it works and adds useful metadata
  • Lots of social features with proper privacy controls!
  • Universal
Cons
  • Very disappointing user experience
  • Quick Add could still use some fine tuning
  • Notebooks default to Public

Stay tuned for the rest of the series where I will cover Pinterest, Evernote, Plaintext, and my personal preference!


Stagnation Period: Over?

Wake Up and Live
So this is the third time I have tried writing this article… not because I have started, erased and begun again, but WordPress decided to not warn me “popping out” the post window will erase what I have already written. Scrap that! Turns out somebody was smart enough to implement an autosave drafting feature! Thank you technology. Well I have actually now typed more than my draft, so I’m just going to stop ri…

I digress. After a quick design touch up, my blog is back in action, inspiring to me to write. So in the meantime, enjoy this picture.


On the Issue of Blogging Platforms

This is a portion of a (very) lengthy comment I left on the blog at http://nathanliveblog.wordpress.com detailing my thoughts on Tumblr vs Blogger vs WordPress.

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…I’ll try and offer my breakdown of the three I have used the most: WordPress, Blogger & Tumblr.

Tumblr feels the most gimmicky to me, offering all these social features that make it feel like more of a social network than a true blogging platform. That’s fine for heaps of people, but not what I think of when I think “blogging”. I’ve seen some excellent examples of fully fledged websites built on Tumblr (http://parislemon.com), but it feels too much like a Twitter stream in most cases.

Blogger, I don’t have as much experience, but it seems to be a middle ground between some gimmicky Google social tools and a highly extensible blogging platform.

WordPress just feels right. As a blog. As a website. As a gallery. As any online medium. Make it as social and (to use my own phrase) “gimmicky” as you like, or make it your professional portfolio – WordPress will adapt to your needs.

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Just a side comparison on the issue of themes and customising. I REALLY like Tumblr’s customisation tools. Custom CSS, quality free themes, WYSIWIG editor. WordPress would definitely benefit from having an equivalent for free (the only real customisation is through the selection of themes – no custom CSS! :().

From my experience, Blogger also has some excellent customisation tools built in, but the theme development community seems to be lacking. Or is it just me? Wait… do people still use Blogger?