Herein you’ll find articles on a very wide variety of topics about technology in the consumer space (mostly) and items of personal interest to me.
If you’d like to read my professional engineering articles and whitepapers, they can be found at Control System Space
I’ve always loved my Apple Watch. When Apple announced LTE in the Series 3 I was initially disappointed that they hadn’t given us always on screens, but also shocked that they’d managed to get energy efficient LTE into the device at all without killing the battery in 5 seconds flat. Truly impressive. Without going into the details of how I’ve routed what to where (it’s convoluted trust me) I’ve upgraded from my 42mm Silver Stainless Steel Series 2 to the equivalent Series 3 model earlier this week, and also linked it to an iPhone.
My goal: ditch my phone when outside the house and use the watch for as much as possible.
An Apple Watch paired with AirPods (or even a single AirPod) is already lighter and more convenient than a phone for phone calls since it’s more discrete and less intrusive. I’ve made phone calls both on AirPods and the speaker and they’re both passable though the AirPods are better, you could live without AirPods in a pinch. In which case, you’ve got a fully waterproof phone on your wrist that you can’t lose, is harder to break/scratch/damage, and with the sound off is totally silent when notifications come through your wrist.
I thought at length over the past month since the announcement about what I use my phone for, exactly. It’s a longer list than I initially thought, but I use my iPhone for:
- Taking photos (less these days since I bought a DSLR)
- To Do Lists (Things 2 was my favourite)
- EMail (Outlook for work, Spark for TEN, Apple Mail for Personal)
- Music (Apple Music)
- Find My Friends
- Navigation (Sygic/Apple Maps)
- Passwords (1Password)
- Stocard (Wallet reduction)
- Apple Pay
- Social media (Facebook/Twitter/Mastodon)
- Autosleep (Sleep Tracking)
- Checking the Weather (BeWeather, Rain Parrot, Weather AU)
- Calendar Appointments (Calendar/Fantastical/Outlook)
- Playing Podcasts (Overcast)
- Notetaking (Notes)
- Surfing the Web (Safari)
- Making/Receiving Phone calls
- Checking Bank Balances
That’s it. Not a trivial amount, for sure.
Of the above, I can do all of those items now, using the Apple Watch on LTE with no phone nearby, except:
- Checking Bank Balances (rare thing but could get annoying)
- Social Media (have stopped using it anyway)
- Outlook for work (I still get the notifications though, so that’s fine and my work calendar is mapped to Calendar for Fantastical anyway)
- Spark Mail (Will migrate to Mail)
- Things (migrated already to Reminders)
- Playing Podcasts (Reluctantly moving to WatchPlayer, but it works okay)
With time, developers will update their apps to use direct data interaction with servers rather than via the paired iPhone so that list should get shorter in due course.
The main idea here is that at work I’ve gone full iPad Pro anyway, and I’ll have that with me on work days and at home. When I’m out on personal errands I won’t have it, but under those circumstances, the ONLY thing that I’ll miss is web searching, and Siri can help with a small number of those searches, but that’s really the only big hole.
There are other niggly-holes though like having to abandon Overcast for podcast playback, but I know its developer (Marco Arment) is working hard on a solution as we speak (so to speak). Preparing to listen to podcasts now must be done ahead of time, preloaded, and transfer them to the Watch over WiFi (not Bluetooth) unless you’re a masochist and it works okay. (Podcast spontaneity will be on hold for now)
I had to add each song in Apple Music to a monster playlist to force it all onto my Watch but that works fine now and the 16Gb of storage is enough for the vast majority of my music collection I’d want to listen to regularly. It’s easy to add songs via my iPad and it will sync up when I get home plus WatchOS 4.1 will bring streaming to the Watch which will be very nice as well.
I realise that Apple isn’t trying to make the smartphone obsolete, and I and many others are going to use the watch as a standalone device when that’s not really its intent. But really, if it’s going to work for practically everything I need, I’ll leave my iPhone at home, plugged in and just use my Watch for everything else. In time the Watch won’t be tethered to a phone anymore, and apps will all communicate directly to servers rather than via a proxy system. At which point I probably won’t bother with a phone, but that’s probably a few more years away - and that’s okay.
I’m not the first nor will I be the last person to try this, but this is going to be a fun experiment. Let’s see how it turns out…
Today, Vic Hudson, Clay Daly and I are launching a new podcast called BubbleSort. Vic has been my most regular co-host on Pragmatic over the past four years and also hosted the wonderful App Story Podcast for 14 episodes in 2014⁄2015. Clay Daly is one of the hosts of the wonderful Cybrcast which has been running since 2014.
We all wanted to catch up to discuss what’s happening in the world of technology in a medium that was better than Twitter, Mastodon or Facebook and it turns out you can talk on Skype, press record and share it with anyone else that’s interested and you have a podcast. (Okay, maybe trim out some bits and pieces in post…)
Bubblesort is not part of TechDistortion nor part of TEN. It is its own standalone collaborative effort. We’re not trying to take the world by storm, we’re not trying to make money. We’re doing it because it’s fun, and if we’re having fun, maybe you will too.
My thanks to Vic for tackling the audio editing and musical score, to Clay for developing the artwork and to both of my co-hosts for making time in their busy schedules to catch up every two weeks or so to make a thoroughly fun and relaxing podcast.
I’ve been discontented with Twitter in the past year or two, as the company tries to become profitable it stabs the developers that made it great, ever so subtly and deeper as the gap between the official client(s) and the once leading client applications widens ever further. Not just that, the lack of action from abuse, and also the wide open nature of the platform leads to a huge spread of information, mis-information and randomness that isn’t worth the time to filter through.
I’ve been discontented with Facebook, for, well, forever. It badly attempts to insert itself between the open internet and eyeballs in a reductive, arrogant fashion that seeks to make us, the users, the product much the same way Google has done with our search data for approaching two decades.
I’ve been discontented with Linked In because of the endless (yes, I mean ENDLESS! And then some…) spamming EMails, notifications and requests to connect from random people you’ve never met, in a so-called business network. Between this and advertising it’s becoming a random wasteland of junk not worth using either.
There have been many attempts to pull off alternatives for micro-blogging that aren’t as personal as Facebook, that are decentralised, like EMail. App.Net doesn’t count because it wasn’t decentralised, but there’s been GNU Social and more recently Tent that I enjoyed using until the wheels fell off due to multiple API changes breaking then re-breaking client applications and a pivot that effectively ended its usefulness for the masses and the majority of users lost interest.
And then there is Mastodon. This is a sorta-new-kid-but-not-really on the block and it’s gathering a lot of steam in somewhat of a perfect storm of discontent with the existing platforms. I won’t list off everything about it since that’s been done elsewhere, rather I’ll highlight the current short-comings, how I’m intending to use it and why.
First some light reading…
- Welcome to Mastodon
- Two Reasons Why Organizations Should Switch to Self Hosting Social Media
- Learning From Twitters Mistakes
- The Power To Build Communities: A Response to Mark Zuckerberg
I particularly enjoyed the last link regarding Facebook.
I’ve spent a few hours and put together my own instance and taking a nod from TEN I’ve called it the engineered.space because it’s meant to be a space for engineers to hang out. It’s free, it’s never going to be huge-huge so it will have things that you can’t get anywhere else:
- A local stream from all users on the instance
- It’s free and has no advertising
- You can use your account to follow anyone else on Mastodon outside the engineered.space instance
In order to keep the local stream as focused as possible I recommend only boosting content that fits within the rules. To further support this, it’s currently going to be semi-closed, and by that I mean it’s technically closed to random drive-by sign-ups. However if you’re an engineer and you want to participate directly on engineered.space and want to have an account there, send me:
- Your preferred EMail address
- Your preferred user name on the instance
- Send either via EMail to email@example.com
- OR send via Direct Message me on Twitter though that seems odd, in retrospect…
Since Mastodon is an open source software project, there are many people excited about it’s capabilities and are actively contributing to its future. One of the many features that it lacks currently, I’m confident will be available in coming weeks and months:
- Deleting accounts yourself (currently if you want out, EMail me and I’ll delete the account on the instance)
- Invitation sign-up Links OR Moderated sign-up staging
- Easier history backup/export/import process when shifting instances
In terms of the web interface it’s really quite impressive given its stage of development. I’ll use that on my iPad Pro and my desktop at work and it’s really very good. If you’re looking for native applications on Mobile currently there are:
- Amaroq for iOS (I use this one and it’s pretty good but iPhone only for the moment)
- Tusky for Android
- Mastodon for Windows Phone
Of course it’s early days but you have to start somewhere and given that Mastodon is only 7 months into its existence at nearly 1⁄2 million accounts across 1,300+ instances, I’d say there’s some interest and it’s worth a shot.
If you’re looking for me I’m @firstname.lastname@example.org and you can follow me there on Mastodon. I’ll run the Engineered Space server for as long as I can fund it, and if it grows too big I may reconsider this but for now at least, the door is open. Drop me a line and let me know if you’re interested.