Cool Live Wallpapers for iPhones

A couple of months ago I designed some Live Wallpapers with science themes.  Friends enjoyed the concept of the animated lock screens but not everyone understood the content.  So It occurred to me that perhaps some new animations with a non-science theme would go down well with a broader audience.

Since then I’ve designed several new animated wallpapers for iPhone Lock Screens.  You can see a preview of them in the video below.  If these do appeal to you complete my short survey to receive a Live Wallpaper for free – I want to know if there is a market for these!

snow drift (short) GIF
Snow Drift (short) Live Wallpaper
(Low Res GIF )

 

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High Sierra now updated to version 13.1


Perhaps you’ve been delaying upgrading to High Sierra until some bugs are worked out. Or maybe, like me, waiting until APFS has got some real world mileage before jumping in. I was waiting particularly on the advice of Bombich Software who pointed out the real lack of knowledge and documentation about APFS.  Their advice was to wait until 13.1 was released. 

13.1 has now been released so I am going for it (with a couple of backups at the ready to be on the safe side).

A Problem with Wireless Charging

At first I was rather taken with the concept of wireless charging, and I still am to a certain extent. But it is now mixed with some skepticism. 

When the iPhone 8 was released and wireless charging was a key feature I thought that was a great feature to include.  The design of the phone is fantastic by the way.  But having thought about actually getting a wireless charging pad more I am not so sure about it’s greatness.  Currently when my phone is plugged in I will often still use my phone and I am sure a very high proportion of smartphone owners do the same (95% of the people I see charging their phones on a daily basis do this – the exception being when I charge my phone overnight).  

When your phone is plugged in to a cable that moves with your phone this is fine.  But when your body has to do all the moving because your phone must stay in a fixed location use of phone whilst charging becomes very inconvenient.  If you use a charging dock you’ll know what I mean.  A wireless pad gives a little more flexibility but the phone still needs to remain within a few cm of the pad to charge at all and probably within one cm for efficient energy transfer. 

So now I am unsure of how beneficial a wireless charger will be.  How about you?  Do you have one and can you share your experience or have you decided against it for another reason?  Either way please share your opinion in the comments here or on Google Plus.

Cheap and easy rubber grip for the Apple Pencil

So my Apple Pencil is all tethered up – cap secured and charging dongle thingy at the ready – now onto a rubber grip.  Am I going to pay for one?  Certainly not.  I have no idea how much one costs but I’m still going to bodge my own.

A tethered and gripped up Apple Pencil
A tethered and gripped up Apple Pencil

Rubber bands were the key when I created a tether for the cap and dongle so they shall be again.

In addition to a rubber band you’ll need some super glue and a paper clip (opened out). Oh and an Apple Pencil – but that was obvious right?
Method:

  1. Cut two or three rubber bands so they open out. 
  2. Have some super glue and an extended paper clip on hand. (Super glue does a fantastic job on rubber, I’m thinking that’s because rubber is a natural polymer … ?  But anyway I digress.)
  3. When you get to the gluing know that you will only need tiny dabs of glue.  I would advise inserting a strip of grease proof paper between rubber band and pencil for gluing also – just to be sure you don’t get glue on your shiny precision engineered stylus, which by the way is really easy to do so take my advice.
    Rubber band coiled over greaseproof paper
  4. Gently wrap one rubber band around the pencil so that the coils touch. 
  5. Pinch the coils to stop them unravelling and simultaneously apply a small amount of glue to the tip of the paper clip.
    Apply only small amounts of glue to the paper clip
  6. Dab the glue onto the rubber band where the cut end is beside the coil. Do this in a few places to ensure the end of the band is firmly glued in place.
  7. Dab some glue on other adjacent coils in several places to add some structural integrity.  Make sure you only apply glue where the greaseproof paper is below.  If your strip of paper is narrow you should be able to slide it around so that you can glue elsewhere.
    Apply glue to several places where ends of bands join
  8. Now that you have one band fixed in place time to add another.  Get your next band and place the end as neatly next to the end of the first band as possible. Might be a good idea to recut the end to match the angle of the first if necessary.
  9. Then glue the end into place trying to keep it from jutting out too much.
  10. Repeat above steps to glue adjacent coils and add a third band if you want a longer grip. Heck you could add four or five if you so desire.

I hope that if you have an Apple Pencil this proves useful.  If you’d like further elaboration or pictures of any steps then please let me know in the comments here or on Google Plus or Tweet me.

bodged rubber grip for Apple Pencil
Hey presto – one rubber grip for your Apple Pencil

Track the Important Numbers in Your Life : How to set up a Number Dashboard (#Dashboard) in Google Sheets

Number Dashboard Screenshot
Number dashboards (#dashboards) can be used to track numbers that are important to you.  They are built on Google Sheets but can be easily and quickly viewed on mobile browsers.  If you already have numbers calculated and stored in other Google Sheets you can easily copy a #dashboard into existing spreadsheets and plug in your numbers.  Or use standalone #dashboards to hook into multiple spreadsheets in a straightforward workflow and collate your numbers in a single location.

 

 

In the latest iteration of #dashboards I’ve made a small collection of background images that can be included in your #dashboard.  These images are designed to be used dynamically.  As your numbers change so does the image to reflect that change.  For example, say you are counting down to a target date, as you approach the date a circle outline can progressively be filled in.  Or say your crypto investment is on the up, then an upward graph can be displayed, or a downward graph if things aren’t going so well.  The choice is yours.  In most cases you will need to design your own spreadsheet logic to incorporate the images as you need them, but I have simplified the procedure for incorporating countdown and count up images.
Number Dashboard Images Screenshot
The following will walk you through the process of setting up your very own #dashboard.

Method 1.  Set up a#dashboard to collate numbers from multiple other Google Sheets.

  1. Make a copy of my publicly available number dashboard: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Yw7jcS8HT53zOZDz8YNnv10Q2WfNoLCX4kZRLtpgMZw/edit#gid=0
  2. On the Data tab give your number a name, e.g. “Fuel Range”, in the relevant row.
    Number Dashboard Data tab Screenshot.png
  3. Copy the spreadsheet key from the spreadsheet that hosts your number and paste it into the cell on the Data tab.
    Spreadsheet key is the string of random alpha numerals in the spreadsheet URL.  The key for the above spreadsheet is 1Yw7jcS8HT53zOZDz8YNnv10Q2WfNoLCX4kZRLtpgMZw
  4. Write out the address of the cell.  Cell Address is the name of the sheet (or tab) in the spreadsheet followed by an ! then the coordinates of the cell using column letter and row number, e.g. SheetName!B3
  5. The spreadsheet will then proceed to access the number.  But before it can display it you need to authorise the connection to the spreadsheet by hovering over the #REF error message that appears and clicking “Allow access”.
    You are only allowing the copy of the #dashboard that you created and own to access the data so you are ok here on a privacy front.
  6. Give a unit to your number if appropriate.
  7. Find an image on the web that you want to use to represent your number.  Copy the image address and paste it in.
  8. Everything else is optional: you can add a further written description, a link (to a graph or more information), and include a dynamic image (more on that below).
  9. On the Data tab you can add a link to an image that will display at the top of the #dashboard.  I find that a nice way to differentiate between my various #dashboards.  If you don’t want one, ignore that and shrink the row on the dashboard.
  10. Once you’ve added in your numbers publish the #dashboard to the web.
    File > Publish to the web > Change “Entire document” to “Dashboard”
    Also expand “Published content and settings” and change “Entire document” to “Dashboard”
  11. Copy the URL and paste it in the web browser ➝ that is your dashboard.
  12. One last bit of tidying up: add “&chrome=false” to the end of the URL and go there.  Much nicer hey?
  13. Send that URL to your phone and bookmark it or add it to your home screen for quick access.

Method 2.  Add a #dashboard to an existing Google Sheet.

  1. Open my publicly available number dashboard: https://docs.google.com/spreadsheets/d/1Yw7jcS8HT53zOZDz8YNnv10Q2WfNoLCX4kZRLtpgMZw/edit#gid=0
  2. Right click the Data tab.  Choose “Copy to …”
  3. Search for and select the Google Sheet you want to add the #dashboard into.
  4. Open that Sheet and rename the tab you copied back to “Data”.
  5. Now repeat steps 2 ➝ 3 for the Dashboard tab.
    (If you want to use the images in the Images tab then you’ll also need to copy that tab into the new Sheet too.)
  6. Now the dashboard lives in your spreadsheet.
  7. To add a number to the #dashboard simply overwrite the formula in the value column and make it point to the cell where the number is, e.g. type”=“ and navigate to the cell or type something like this “=sheetName!C3”.
  8. Type in all the details as in steps 2, 6 ➝ 9 under Method 1 above.
  9. To publish the #dashboard follow steps 10➝ 12 under Method 1 above.

Add a dynamic image to your dashboard.

  1. I have a number that is going to count up to a target value.  I want to use that fantastic circle to fill in as I approach the target!
  2. Type “Up” in the column headed: “Image counts up or down to target value?”
  3. Choose Circles from drop down menu.
  4. Type in the value to start counting from.  Usually this is the value as it is now, or 0.
  5. Then type the target value.
  6. Now the #dashboard knows to ignore the image link (if there is one) and use the dynamic circle image.
  7. The image appears automatically in column on the far right.
  8. There are ten chunks of the circle that get added as the target is approached.
    Screen Shot 2017-08-07 at 16.00.45
  9. If you are comfortable typing logical statements into spreadsheets then you can design formulae to add dynamic emoji or graphs to a number.  I included an example for you called : “Investment Gain / Loss”.  That number doesn’t change automatically so feel free so to play around with the value and see the image change.
I hope that you like the #dashboards and that they provide a useful service for you.  If you need any help setting yours up then feel free to comment below or contact me on Twitter: https://twitter.com/rapidreportsHQ

API

Looking forward to seeing how this app, Numerly, turns out. Hoping it will be a great successor to ill-fated Numerous. Will be a pity to no longer rely on my custom number dashboards in Google Sheets (something I really should have written a blog about a long time ago).

Numerly

With Numerly, the default channel when creating a number is called “Create Your Own.” The value for these types of numbers are only changed when you manually change them. You might use this to keep track of your child’s allowance, or maybe to keep a tally of calories you’ve consumed today.

You can also update these types of numbers with the API. There are three endpoints you can call to set, increment, or decrement a number. Each of these endpoints occur over secure HTTPS as a POST request using your APIKEY and refid.

The URL used in these examples might not be the final URL when the app is launched. I’m currently using Heroku as a SaaS provider and I don’t plan to change; however, the URL might change to be something a bit more official.

Authorization

Each API call requires an HTTP header named APIKEY whose value is provided from…

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Inbox by Google : Great and Annoying

I like many aspects of Inbox on iOS. It is Google’s own app so it can presumably harness the email data in ways that third party apps cannot, or at least the direct access it has to email data must give it a reliability and speed edge. Snooze to location is good. Built in actionable reminders. Google’s summary cards for standard emails. These are all great things, however the app does has some very annoying limitations.
1. No text formatting options. Five years ago this wouldn’t have been problem as most people would have been happy to be able to email whilst mobile. But these days it should be possible to add bold, italics and underline to your emails. This is all the more problematic given that even WhatsApp and Slack allow for some formatting – WhatsApp only handles bold but Slack has a range of options. If instant messengers can offer text formatting an email app absolutely should be able to do so. At times Inbox has had support for text formatting, but it is there one update and gone the next. Presently it is available, but who knows for how long?

2. No file attachments outside of Photos / Drive. Sure you can browse your file storage app and attach from there, but is it really too hard for Google to add a proper file picker? Furthermore this is no good for replying to emails; you have to start a new thread (not helpful).

3. Lack of draft saving from share sheet. When sharing files from other apps to email from Inbox, if the email fails to send or you stop composing the email you lose the email. Whereas when sharing into other apps (i.e. Spark or Outlook) the file is opened in the email app itself and attached to a new email. If you then stop composing the email you are given the option to save a draft. Inbox’s behaviour is nice in that it doesn’t switch you into the Inbox app; it overlays Inbox’s interface into the app you are sharing from. But as outlined above it is annoying if you start and email and aren’t able to complete it in one go as you’ll lose the entire email. A common problem here is that if you start composing from the share window and then need to check something in the document you’re trying to share (or another document in the same app for that matter) then there is no way to open the document without closing and losing your email. 

4. No printing! If you want to print emails you’ll need a different app. Even attachments can’t be printed unless they are a PDF. I don’t often need to print emails but when I occasionally do this is a major limitation. More often it is the need to turn an email into a PDF that I notice this lack of feature. In iOS you can turn any document / file into a PDF if it can be printed (find out how here). So the fact that I cannot print an email means that I cannot turn it into a PDF.
I hope that these lack of features will be addressed soon. Does anyone have thoughts about their favourite email app?

Google’s Rapid 2 Step Authentication Option

Google Prompt is a fast second step authentication option on iOS and Android.  Whenever a login attempt is made on your Google account Google Prompt sends a login confirmation to the Google app on your  phone.  You open the app (via push notification) and tap “Yes” to confirm a login attempt is valid (or “No” to deny a login attempt).
This login method is quite a bit faster than using an authenticator app.  I use Authy which even with its widget in the notification centre takes some time to copy the number into the field.  I like Google Prompt for its speed and simplicity.  The slight downside is that it requires your phone to have a live internet connection to use.  This is only a slight downside because if you are signing into a Google service somewhere chances are that you have an internet connection available; with some exceptions.  But Google Prompt works parallel to the other second step options available including an authenticator app, so in the absence of an internet connection on your phone you still have offline options to fall back on.  Head into your Google 2 step verification settings to set it up.
Google 2 Step Authentication Options.png
Google 2 Step Verification Options

 

From a security perspective it is hard for me to say whether this is a better or worse method than an authenticator app.  I understand the methodology behind authenticator apps, but not this one.  That said, I trust Google with my information and I trust them to have built a reliable and safe second step with Google Prompt.  Furthermore I trust that they will be on the ball enough to keep it safe.  I say this because of the numerous articles and security updates that are the result of contributions that Google has made to tech security worldwide.
In summary Google Prompt is a system I am prepared to trust and it makes my login process a great deal more streamlined whilst maintaining its integrity.  I recommend this for anyone wanting the benefits of 2 step authentication with a bit of a faster workflow.