An iOS and iPadOS Shortcut for rapidly typing formatted scientific constants (in Unicode)

As a physics teacher I frequently refer to and calculate with scientific constants (like the speed of light and Planck’s constant). So when I am on my iPhone it is helpful to be able to type them easily as I refer to them in messages, notes and tweets. In a previous post I described how to use the Text Replacement feature of iOS to design brief unique phrases that automatically expand into scientific and mathematical symbols (such as μ ω ∫ σ and super and subscripts etc).

Even with these text replacement shortcuts typing scientific constants complete with scientific number formatting and correctly formatted units can be laborious. And after delving deeper into iOS Shortcuts this summer I designed a Shortcut that uses a simple iOS Note to define a whole table of scientific constants for rapid inputting into any text area on an iOS (or iPadOS) device. In addition to the nicely Unicode formatted text representations it can also output pure numbers for calculations (in calculators, spreadsheets or programming code).

Below is a video demonstration of the Shortcut in action. As I explain in the video the usage scenarios of this Shortcut are not limited to inputting scientific constants. It could be used for inputting engineering reference values, full chemical (stochiometric) equations, long mathematical equations etc. The Note is very customisable so feel free to experiment. Below the embedded video are further written instructions on the use of the Shortcut with links to the Shortcut and Note for you to download for free.

Get started with this Shortcut

Click the icon below to download the Shortcut

scientific constants shortcut widget icon

Next you need the Note which acts as the database for the Shortcut. Add the Note into your Notes app (Sorry that the link isn’t working currently, in the meantime please create a note with exactly the same layout as the one in the video, the table can be copied from this shared Evernote note). If you rename the Note remember to update the Note Title in the Shortcut.

When you add the Shortcut an import question is used to give you the option of renaming the Note Title should you wish to do so.

iOS Notes app icon

Instructions on use

These instructions are also included as a Comment block in the Shortcut itself.

The Scientific Constants Shortcut can be used in the Shortcuts widget and in Share Sheets. The shortcut prompts the user to select a scientific constant and to select whether a text representation of the value and unit or a numerical value is desired. The result is copied to the clipboard to be pasted where desired.

When used from the Widget it automatically prompts the user to pick a constant from a list.

In the Share sheet it accepts text as input. So if a symbol for a constant has already been typed into a document / note it can be selected, then run the shortcut from the Share menu and use it to get the constant for insertion into the document / note etc.

If Text output is selected the result will be a Unicode representation of the constant (with appropriate SI unit) that can be pasted into any text area / document.
If Number output is selected the result will be a number that can be used in calculators, spreadsheets etc for calculation. Numerical output can also be pasted into any text area / document if desired.

The constants are defined in a standard iOS Note which is available for copying alongside this Shortcut. The Note contains only a title (Scientific constants table) and a table, don’t add any other text outside the table. Within the table you are free to add new rows, delete rows and editing rows as you see fit.

Detailed installation instructions

Download the Shortcut to your device. (You need the Shortcuts app installed.)

2. Next add the Shortcut. When you add the Shortcut you should be prompted to set the title of the database note, if you are using my note you can leave the default text “Scientific constants table”.

3. In the shortcut settings make sure that the Widget and Share Sheet options are toggled on.

4. Add the database note to your iOS Notes app. iOS note sharing leaves much to be desired so I have as of yet been unable to create a publicly shared iOS note for download – if that changes I will add a download link here. Until then you will need to create your own copy of the database note. I have created a duplicate note in Evernote (available here) and you can copy the table from that note in a web browser and paste it into an iOS note. Create a new note, give it a title and paste the table from the Evernote webpage above (or add a three-columned table the first row of which needs to be a header row but you can customise the text of the header).

5. Now to use the shortcut from the share sheet. As you are typing type a symbol for a constant (e.g. “c” or “Nₐ” etc) and select it. The black contextual menu pops up. Swipe the menu to the left until you can see the “Share…” option. Tap that and then tap on the Shortcuts icon.

6. Scroll the list of Shortcuts until you find the Scientific Constants button and tap it.

7. The Shortcut is now running. If the symbol you selected is in your table the Shortcut will ask you if you want to look up that symbol. Tap “Yes”. You are then asked if you want to get “Text” or “Number” output. Choose one and the Shortcut will copy the result to your clipboard. Tap on OK and when you’ve returned to your document paste the result where you want it.

8. You can also call up the menu of constants to choose from by selecting any text (doesn’t have to be a symbol of a constant) and running the Shortcut from the Share sheet. (The Shortcut searches your database for whatever text you selected and if it isn’t found it will present the menu of options to choose from.)

9. To use the Shortcut from the widget. Simply swipe right on your lock screen or home screen to show the widgets screen. Scroll down if necessary to show the Scientific Constants Shortcut and tap on it. The menu of available constants is shown. Tap the constant you want. You are then asked if you want to get “Text” or “Number” output. Choose one and the Shortcut will copy the result to your clipboard. Paste the result where you want it.

An evaluation of the Measure app

The Measure app on iOS and iPadOS has the potential to be incredibly useful. I’m often in a situation in which I’d like to take a measurement but I don’t have a tape measure with me, and perhaps you are sometimes in that situation too. But these measurements only have value if they are accurate enough. This fact frequently occurred to me when using the app. So I thought it a good idea to evaluate the app’s measurement accuracy.

The tests I used are rudimentary – simply taking a simultaneous measurement with the app and a tape measure / rule. Since the app works in 3D it should also be tested in a variety of different contexts to test how well it measures at different angles and in different lighting conditions for example.

What follows is a series of screenshots from the Measure app as it is used to measure a few short distances and a few longer distances. In the images you can see a rule / tape measure, each picture was taken with the camera perpendicular to the measuring scale at the end point of the measurement. After each screenshot is a percentage difference (%Δx) calculation between the measurements of the Measure app and that of the tape measure / rule.

%Δx = (10.2 – 10.0) / 10.2 × 100 = 2.0%
%Δx = (15 – 14) / 15 × 100 = 6.7%
%Δx = 0%
%Δx = 0%
%Δx = 1/6 × 100 = 17%

Longer Distances

%Δx = (40 – 38)/40 × 100 = 5.0%
%Δx = (44.5 – 41)/44.5 × 100 = 7.9%
%Δx = (36 – 35)/36 × 100 = 2.8%
%Δx = (1.30 – 1.28)/1.30 × 100 = 1.5%

Generally speaking Measure takes measurements to within 8% of the reading from a rule or tape measure. It did go way off beam once when it tried to measure my GoPro as an area. Obviously it would be totally unwise to rely upon Measure where accuracy is of paramount importance; but if all you need is a good estimate then the app is your friend. Do take multiple measurements with a view to getting consistency and taking an average is advisable. What are your thoughts about Measure’s usefulness?

Apple Watch 5’s always on screen

The key feature that Apple touts as the first selling point of the Apple Watch 5 is its “always on screen”. This is a bad concept for a couple of reasons.

1. Rather than aim for a longer discharge cycle for the consumer (longer time between charges) Apple have seemingly increased battery capacity or improved efficiency in order to spend that extra/saved energy on keeping the screen on. This is a recurring theme for Apple – past devices and batteries got more efficient / better but they made them unnecessarily thinner which ate into battery capacity thus negating any battery improvements from the user’s perspective.

2. In these days of “climate rebellion” etc Apple have opted for an incredibly energy inefficient product. The Apple Watch can only be charged by inductive charging – aka wireless charging. This method of charging consumes ~75% more energy than by plugging a cable in (according to my measurements as explained here). Also a device’s screen is often its largest energy expenditure. So Apple have consciously decided to take a process that requires the most energy and keep it on all day on a device that only charges by the least efficient method available. It’s astonishing that Apple believe they can celebrate this!

Perhaps users will be able to opt out of the always on screen. But by making it a default you can bet that most people will keep that setting.

I have a Fitbit Versa, which I like immensely, and I appreciate that sometimes an excessive twist of the wrist is required to get the darn screen on a smart watch to turn on. But I’d disagree that an always on screen is absolutely necessary. I’m no climate change activist but I am surprised that Apple feel they can make a move like this.

What are your thoughts? Does the always on screen make the Apple Watch more or less compelling for you?

Expect to use around 75% more energy to charge your phone wirelessly

Wireless charging is all the rage these days the much touted convenience of simply placing your phone on a charging pad rather than plugging-in being a key selling point for phones and chargers. But alongside the added convenience are there any drawbacks to charging wirelessly? As part of my quest to find out I was particularly interested in how the efficiency of wireless charging compares to wired charging.

Not long after I bought an iPhone 8 I decided to buy a wireless charging pad. After noticing that the rate of charge was considerably longer than charging through a wire I decided that I should investigate how the efficiency of the two methods compared. Once I got thinking about it it seemed sensible to me that wireless charging would be less efficient since the wireless pad needs to operate with an alternating signal (AC) but the charger it is plugged into has already converted AC to DC. So the pad has to convert DC back to AC. And then the phone has to convert that AC back to DC since batteries only operate with DC.

For that reason it seemed likely to me that wireless charging would have worse efficiency than wired charging. But I wanted to make a decision on the basis of evidence rather than my opinion. I began with some straightforward web searches. That took me to Quora where I found that a number of other people were pondering the same question I was. Most of the answers stated some percentage values but without a source (usually in the range of 80% efficiency).

The absence of authoritative references piqued my interest so I continued looking but this time I looked for an authoritative source directly. I went to the Wireless Power Consortium’s (WPC) website since they are the organisation behind the Qi standard. They have a webpage dedicated to advocating wireless charging Why not a wire, the case for wireless power [Accessed 7 Aug 2018]. That webpage has since been moved to a new address [Accessed 13 March 2019]).

The content of that webpage is a presentation (produced by Texas Instruments, TI) which at the end poses the question, “As good as wired?”, probably rhetorically. The whole presentation is structured as a comparison of wireless systems with a wired benchmark with the wireless receiving favourable percentages, thus further implying that wireless charging systems are at least comparable in efficiency. The presentation is avaiable as a PDF link to PDF [Accessed 7 Aug 2018]. I read through the presentation with interest, hoping to find some evidence on which to base my decision of how to charge my phone.

The great thing about this presentation is that it addresses precisely the issue I was investigating – efficiency – and that it provides some numbers to support their claim. Obviously in reading it one has to remember that this presentation was advocating wireless charging and therefore it is possible that any unfavourable findings may not have been reported. It wasn’t long before I discovered a significant discrepancy (on slides 7 & 8). In fact this lead to noticing a further significant discrepancy which quickly broke my trust in this document. I’ll go into detail on the discrepancies below. The presentation slides are energy flow diagrams, the first flow diagram breaks down the stages of wired charging and the second wireless charging. The diagrams are accompanied with percentage efficiencies of the stages employed in each method. The headline percentage values are then used to compare wired with wireless and to claim that wireless charging can be as efficient as wired charging.

So what was the first discrepancy? The flow diagram for wired charging covers each stage of the charging method from AC mains outlet to the battery whereas the wireless diagram covers stages from the AC mains outlet to the stage before the battery. So one of the least efficient processes (85%) was included in the overall figure for wired charging but not for wireless. Of course if the reader is paying attention then they may notice this but remember that the premise of the presentation is a comparison. Slides 7 and 8 are not laid out to lead the reader to realise they need to make a comparison with values other than the headline figures they are presented with. The slide structure implies that the reader should compare wired’s efficiency of 64% with wireless’ single efficiency value of 60% as stated on the slides. Slide 19 presents data in a table and there the charger efficiency is included in the wireless value but many readers will probably not notice this. Furthermore the value used is still not a like for like comparison as I will explain below (discrepancy 2).

So one of the least efficient processes (85%) was included in the overall figure for wired charging but not for wireless

This erroneous comparison is not like for like and gives the reader the impression that wireless has a lot going for it. As the presentation continues improved wireless charging systems are discussed with efficiencies that improve upon this baseline figure. There is more to say about what TI’s efficiency values do tell us when we do a like for like comparison, but before that let’s consider the second discrepancy

The second discrepancy. There is a profoundly different approach in the stated percentages between wired and wireless charging. Whereas the benchmark values for wired charging are ranges (worst case efficiency to best case) only single value percentages were stated for wireless charging. Careful inspection of the values used and the footnotes is the only way to realise that the wireless percentages used for each stage in the flow diagram are the peak efficiency values. So the final value is the absolute best case scenario for wireless. But the wired data (rightly) includes the worst case and the best case scenarios.

Is there anything we can glean from TI’s data if we assume that it is reliable? Once we realise that the wireless efficiency value is its peak efficiency we can compare that with corresponding values from the range of the wired efficiency values. But we also need to have like for like values so we need to include the additional 85% of the charger component for the overall wireless efficiency. The overall wireless peak efficiency to the battery is 60% × 85% = 51% (slide 19 states it as 52%). The overall wired peak efficiency was given as 64% to the battery. The worst case efficiency for wired charging was stated as 50%. So we can take from this that according to TI’s data the best wireless can do is match wired’s worst case efficiency. The worst case scenario is difficult to determine since a range of values is only provided for the AC to DC conversion step (60–80%). If we use the lower value of that range with the peak values for all other steps we arrive at an efficiency of 38% (60×95×89×89×85%).¹

The best wireless can do is match wired’s worst case efficiency

What does that mean for additional energy consumption?

In terms of extra energy consumption, if we compare the median efficiency values TI stated for wired and wireless we see that charging wirelessly will use an additional 30–45% of energy than wired charging. That extra energy just gets turned into heat in the circuit.

Using TI’s data from the presentation we can conclude that wireless is markedly less efficient than wired charging – on average about 10% lower. But is that actually sufficient evidence to base an opinion on since there are no sources to support the values in the presentation? I thought about this in the context of my own wireless charging system. It consists of a wired charger with a wire leading to the wireless charging pad. This means that the wireless charging part of the system is replacing the wire in my wired system; it does not replace the rest of the wired charging system. This is significant because it means all the inefficiencies in the wired system are inherted by the new wireless set up and then it adds its own inefficiences on top of that. This will be the case for probably all consumers of a wireless charging system

All the inefficiencies in the wired system are inherted by the wireless set up and then it adds its own inefficiences on top

It is impossible to improve the efficiency of a process by adding more steps. The only way to improve efficiency is to replace inefficient stages with more efficient ones. So I decided to investigate the actual wireless set up I was using since it would be very close to what consumers in general were using.

The Energy Consumption Comparison

The investigation I carried out involved an iPhone 8. The phone was charged through a wire with an Apple iPhone charger (5V, 1A output). It was charged wirelessly with an Anker wireless charge pad connected to an Apple iPhone charger (same as above).² Measurements of duration of charge and energy consumption (in kWh) were taken with a Floureon Energy Monitor. The phone battery was run down to 20% before each charge (i.e. each charging cycle was 20➝100%). The phone was not used during the charge. Some further variables were accounted for as follows: wireless charging was conducted with the phone case off and with the case on, wired charging was conducted with the phone turned on and with the phone off. Each test scenario was conducted three times to get an average.

My Findings

The investigation yielded the following result for the charging duration: wireless charging takes on average just over 100% longer than wired charging (3h23m compared with 1h38m). There was considerable variation in the wireless results. The shortest charge time was 2h53m and was surprisingly achieved during a charge with the phone case on. The longest (also with case on) was 4h22m. Wired charging had a smaller range of results all within several minutes of each other.

As for energy consumption: on average charging the phone wireless consumed 75% more energy than charging with a wire (0.016 kWh compared with 0.009 kWh). The best result was achieved with the phone case off, 0.015 kWh, and the worst result was with the phone case on, 0.019 kWh. Wired charging ranged between 0.009 kWh (phone turned on during charge) and 0.013 kWh (phone turned off).

Charging wirelessly took just over 100% longer and consumed 75% more energy

As you can see charging my phone wirelessly was (proportionately) vastly more inefficient than doing so with a wire. Full results table and graphs are included at the bottom of this post. Charging through a wire with the phone turned on was used as the benchmark value for comparisons. I expect that results will be similar for most people using wireless charging systems.

After thinking about this issue further I thought that it would be helpful to give the differences a more concrete context. A common use of electricity (in the UK at least) is boiling a kettle, so I measured how much energy is required to boil a kettle for a cup of tea. On average 0.077 kWh of energy are used to boil my kettle at the minimum fill level. Over a period of 28 days the difference in energy consumption between the benchmark and wireless charging was at best equivalent to boiling two and half kettles (at worst it was 3.3 kettles). So if you’d be comfortable boiling two and a half kettle for no reason each month then you’d perhaps be happy with the additional energy that is wasted by wireless charging. As for charge duration, every month a phone will require an extra 2 days to charge (if the phone has a case). This may be less of an issue where charging takes place overnight.

Conclusion

I am now convinced that wireless charging is not the method for me on the basis of its appalling efficiency. There is clearly a lot of scope for wider investigations to see if my findings are replicated across a range of devices and chargers.

Additional reasons I’ve decided against wireless charging

I’d like to finish by listing a few additional reasons why I choose not to charge wirelessly.

1. Phones can only be charged wirelessly if they are turned on. As the results show wired charging is most efficient when the phone is turned on. But it is important for the long term health of a device to be able to turn it off periodically . Turning it off overnight whilst charging is the most obvious time to do so.

2. Wireless charging necessitates that a phone is left on the pad so it is close enough to hte internal coils to transmit power. So if you want to use the phone whilst it is charging you need to remove it from the pad and stop the charging sequence. With wired charging as the phone is picked up the wire moves with the phone so it can be used while it is charging. That’s a big advantage for wired charging.

3. In addition to the poor comparitive efficiency of wireless charging I found that a charging cycle also takes considerably longer. This is significant because one of the key selling points is the ability to “graze” energy. But there is little stopping someone from “grazing” energy with a wire if they are able to do so wirelessly. So if the charging cycle is longer then “grazing” energy wirelessly is a weak concept. Why not just “graze” with a wire instead? If someone has opportunity to charge their phone for say 20 minutes they will get more energy transferred to their battery with a wire than by charging wirelessly. Wireless fast chargers operate at 11 W but so do high power wired chargers (e.g. iPad chargers). So even if a fast wireless charger could charge a phone faster than a standard power wired charger it won’t charge it faster than a high power wired charger.

4. One further reason given for charging wirelessly is “wire fatigue”. This means that the wire gets worn out from repeated plugging and unplugging. Obviously this does happen since it is a mechanical connection but over what sort of time frame? A quick browse of the reviews of Apple charging cables reveals a number of people experiencing problems with build quality (according to their perspective). Also I’m a teacher for students aged 16–18 and I’ve seen a lot of their charging cables – worn out sheaths and exposed wires. I’ve only ever had a similar issue with one cable but that was subject to several drops cable side down whilst still plugged into my iPad by my children – hardly fair wear and tear! – and that cable was about four years old by the time it needed replacing.

Below is a photo of my current charging cable which is two years old. That still has a lot of life in it. My Amazon Basics cable is about four years old now and that is going strong. I have family and friends with aged cables still going strong. I know of others whose cables are suffering terribly though they are not so old, but I’ve seen the abuse said cables have endured. I submit that significant cable fatigue in a time frame less than four years is most likely the result of improper use than manufacturer failings. So even on this point I am not really convinced that wireless has anything to offer.

2 year old Lightning cable
4 year old Amazon Basics cable

There is an issue with the number of different types of wired chargers available meaning there isn’t a universal standard that all phone models can use. And Qi is a standard that will consolidate a lot of wireless charging. So the same wireless charger may charge phones from a range of manufacturers. But that is not necessarily a reason to abandon wired charging; there should instead be pressure put on manufacturers to adopt the same wired charging standard. This is in fact happening with USB-C. 

What are your thoughts on wireless charging – are you persuaded by the merits of wireless – let us know in the comments.
If you would like to contribute to a crowdsourced data set for comparison of wired and wireless charging with the results freely available to anyone then follow this link. You will need a method of measuring energy consumption for the charging process in joules or kilowatt hours. A link to the results is available if you follow the link above. I’ll be setting up the analysis of results in the coming days.

Footnotes

¹ If we use efficiency ranges for the similar steps in the wired flow chart we can get estimated worst case scenario values as LV half bridge: 85–95%, coil to coil: 79–89%, receiver: 79–89%. So the worst case scenario could be as low as: 60×85×79×79×85 = 27%. This value is certianly not comparable with wired’s worst case value of 50% it is just over half as efficient. Wireless would be a game changer for all the wrong reasons from a sustainabilty point of view.
² The investigation did not include a fast charger since it isn’t supported by iPhone 8 unless you buy an expensive charger. But a fast charger uses all the same components but at a higher power output. It is hard to see how simply using a higher power output in this context would improve the efficiency if the process is already inefficient. Usually when higher electrical power is used in a circuit that is essentially the same power losses due to heating increase, so lower efficiency is expected. But I am open to being proven wrong.

Tables and Graphs

Analysis of Texas Instruments’ Efficiency Values

Break down of wired charging steps
Break down of wired charging steps (Texas Instruments’ values)
Break down of wireless charging steps (Texas Instruments' values using my interpreted ranges)
Break down of wireless charging steps (Texas Instruments’ values using my interpreted ranges)
Energy consumption comparison is made with wired charging coutnerpart value (e.g. wireless worst case is compared with wired worst case)

Results from my energy consumption investigation

Results of my energy comparison investigation
Results of my energy comparison investigation
Graph of results of my energy comparison investigation
Graph of results of my energy comparison investigation
Comparison of measured energy consumption over 28 days

How to apply a screen protector to any device with no dust bubbles

Have you ever tried to apply a screen protector to your new smartphone only to find that a fleck of dust somehow got between the protector and screen causing a bubble to form that cannot be removed?  I feel your pain.  This happened to me once or twice until I learned the key to success: a dust free environment!

You see the problem is that when you get dust in your screen you have to pull the protector back up to remove the dust, but this only increases the risk of more dust getting in.  This was a particularly large problem for me since I always opt for screen protectors that are held on by static rather than glue (so that there’s no glue residue on removing the protector and that touch screen functions are not impaired).

Create a dust free environment in your home with ease

Getting dust trapped happened to me a couple times until I realised how to get rid of the dust in the first place.  You need to create a dust free environment to dramatically reduce the chances of dust getting in in the first place.  And if some does then you have a chance of removing it and not allowing more in.  The bathroom!  

  • Go into your bathroom and run the shower on hot for a few minutes.
  • Then turn off the shower and allow the steam to clear.
  • The steam will cling to dust increasing its weight.
  • As the steam clears all of the dust will fall to the ground.
  • Clear a surface in the bathroom and get to work applying your protector.

As you apply the protector follow the instructions provided with the protector which in summary will be:

  • Clean the screen thoroughly with a lint free cloth.
  • Remove any flecks of dust / particles with the provided sticky pad.
  • Remove backing from protector and line it up with your device.
  • Apply protector slowly.
  • Use provided card to flatten protector against screen and push any bubbles to the sides to collapse them.
  • Wipe off the protector with provided cloth.

Proof that this works?

You might be wondering if this really works!  Well, take a look at the pictures below and decide for yourself.  I bought a screen protector for my 15 inch MacBook Pro which is held on by static – this thing had a considerable amount of static attraction let me assure you!  If any screen protector was going to have a dust induced problem it was this screen protector (it is the LENTION Clear Screen Protector for MacBook Pro (Retina, 15-inch, Mid 2012 to Mid 2015)).  As you can see there are no dust bubbles under the protector, and I am left with a clear, smooth screen.¹

I hope that if you are considering applying a new screen protector that this method will help you get a bubble-free finish.  Let me know in the comments or on twitter if this has helped you.  

 

 

 

¹ I’d say that I am happy with the outcome in so far as I don’t have any unsightly bubbles.  There is one slight bubble due to a tiny crease in the protector which probably happened during application (the static attraction was enormous making it a difficult application) but no dust bubbles.  However, this particular screen protector does make my screen much more shiny than the naked screen (as you can see in the photos the screen is highly reflective).  Ideally I would have gone for a matte finish protector but I couldn’t find one that would fit my laptop.

The biggest privacy scandal in tech right now

I think that the biggest privacy scandal in tech right now is illustrated by the screenshots below…

Send other people’s contact details and potentially confidential information to a tech firm’s servers!!!

Sharing your contacts with tech services. Who honestly and rationally believes they have the right to do that? Send other people’s contact details and potentially confidential information (like dates of birth) to a tech firm’s servers!!! That can’t be right.

WhatsApp and Telegram are the worst offenders that I know of since they won’t let you start a new chat until you allow access to your contacts. What’s wrong with manually typing in a phone number? A phone number is, after all, all you need to start a chat on those apps.

I usually get a lot of privacy related articles sent to me to read but I haven’t seen anything about this and I wonder why that is. What are your thoughts about privacy concerns related to giving access to your contacts? And what about other people sharing your contact details without your explicit permission to do so? Let me know in the comments or on Google Plus.

Ringtones from sound effects of the Original Metal Gear Solid

About a week ago I was keen to try out a new message ringtone on my phone. I did a quick web search and came across a recommendation for the Alert! sound effect from the original Metal Gear Solid (Playstation game from 1998). Hearing it on my phone was pure nostalgia and prompted me to delve deeper – forcing me down a nostalgic rabbit hole. I rediscovered many other familiar sound effects from the game. From those I created a collection of MGS ringtones for my phone, iPad and Mac.

This short video shows all the tones I created with the context in which I use them for three of the tones.

If you’re a fan of the game and want the ringtones on your phone you can download them here. If you don’t have an iPhone you may need to convert the files to a different format.

To use them on your iPhone:

  1. Download the files from Dropbox to your computer.
  2. Open iTunes and import the tone files. They will auto categorise as ringtones.
  3. Sync your iPhone to iTunes on your computer.
  4. Navigate to the ringtone view for the iPhone in iTunes.
  5. Tick beside all the ringtones you want to copy to your iPhone.
  6. Click sync.
  7. On your iPhone the ringtones will show up for you to assign as text tones/ ringtones/ alert tones etc.

What’s your favourite ringtone?  Share in the comments below or on Twitter.

The Checkbox (Tick box) Has Arrived on Sheets

After a wait of several days since being announced in the latest update the checkbox has made it to Google Sheets.  NB in the UK a checkbox is called a tick box, so in the screenshots below you will see tick box instead.

So far the implementation seems to be a solid new feature.  To insert checkboxes simply select the cell(s) where you want a checkbox, then insert them from the Insert menu.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 14.43.33

When a checkbox is unticked the cell’s value becomes FALSE.  This is the default value after adding checkboxes to cells.  When the cell is checked it becomes TRUE.

Screen Shot 2018-04-17 at 14.44.26

But checkboxes are not restricted to returning TRUE/FALSE, they can return numbers or even custom strings.  In order to do that you do so via the Data Validation menu.  Make sure the cells you want these custom checkboxes inserted into are empty; i.e. do not insert checkboxes via the Insert menu first.  From the Data menu select Data Validation.  Then a pop over window appears.  In the Criteria field choose Checkbox.

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To customise the values for checked and unchecked tick the option for “Use custom cell values”.  Then below two new text fields will appear.  For the values you could use 0 and 1 as the unchecked and checked values respectively (or the reverse if you desire).  Or they could be “Yes” and “No” or even “foo” and “bar”, etc.

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If you insert checkboxes by this method then here is something to watch out for.  When the checkboxes are inserted they are inserted as unchecked just as they are for the method of insertion using the Insert menu.  However, unlike that method the cell values are not updated to what you set them in the data validation window.  That is, when you insert standard TRUE/FALSE checkboxes with the Insert menu all the cells get the value of FALSE.  But when you insert checkboxes with Data Validation the cell values remain blank until they are checked.  For example, if I used “No” as the value for unchecked then after I Save the data validation the cell values will not be changed to “No”.  In order to set the cell values to “No” they need to be manually checked and unchecked (Google may change this behaviour in the future).

Select a range of cells with checkboxes and toggle them with the space bar

Speaking of which, manually checking and unchecking large numbers of checkboxes, you can of course select a range of cells with checkboxes and toggle them all at once with the space bar.  So should you be using custom checkboxes via data validation you can fairly quickly set them to the custom unchecked value you set.

On mobile (iOS at least) you cannot add new checkboxes but you can interact with any you insert on desktop.  You can copy and paste existing checkboxes, so if you have a spreadsheet with checkboxes already set up and want to extend the range you can do it on mobile – this is true even of checkboxes with custom values.

In my opinion checkboxes on Sheets will prove to be a valuable feature, what are your thoughts – comment below or on Google+ or Twitter?

tick boxes on Sheets iOS app
You can toggle and copy and paste existing checkboxes on mobile apps

 

Update for Google Sheets brings Macros and Checkboxes (not fully rolled out yet)

Google announced an update for Google Sheets on 11 April.  The new features look very exciting with macros being the headline feature.  Macros enable you to record a series of edits to a Google Sheet that you will repeat and then save them in a menu to replay anytime to automate that series of actions.  It even generates a script that you can edit without having to re-record the macro.  This will eliminate a significant amount of tedium for big users of Sheets.  Click the link above to read Google’s update about this and to watch their demo.  Currently this is available on G Suite accounts but not regular Google Drive accounts.

Whilst macros were the headline feature, the one I am most excited about is checkboxes.  Checkboxes are a significant reason that I still use Apple’s Numbers for some of my spreadsheets.  Being able to tick items off in a spreadsheet is, in my opinion, a much more efficient user experience than having to use a drop down menu.  I am excited about this but as of yet the feature hasn’t rolled out to users as far as I can see – I can’t access them in my regular Google Drive account nor in my G Suite account.  Fingers crossed that it comes soon and is a solid implementation.

What are your thoughts about this update?  Do you make/use a lot of spreadsheets?  Will these and the other new features tempt you away from Excel and/or Numbers to Google Sheets?  Share your thoughts in the comments here, Google Plus or Twitter.