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.

Advertisements

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…

View original post 247 more words

Is it time to abandon the Mac and turn to the dark side, a.k.a. Windows?

I am currently looking to buy a new laptop.  Being an Apple user with a MacBook Pro I am primarily looking at a new MacBook Pro.  But there is no way I am forking out an extra ~£300 for a model with a Douchebar.  So I have been looking into the 2015 model that was reintroduced to the Apple Store alongside the Touchbar models.

There is no way I am forking out an extra ~£300 for a model with a Douchebar

Here are the specific problems that I am facing.  Right before the new models hit the store there was a 15 inch model available on the refurbished store that is now no longer available.  That model had a 2.5 GHz Core i7, 512 GB SSD and a discrete graphics card.  Its price was £1859.  The 2015 model now available in the main store has not had any internal upgrades since it was released in May 2015 (yes that includes the 4ᵀᴴ generation Core i7 processor (4870HQ) that was already old at the time of its initial release!).  The starting specification for the currently available model is 2.2 GHz Core i7, 256 GB SSD and no discrete graphics.  Both have 16 GB RAM and PCIe flash storage.  It is possible to configure a new Mac with a 2.5 GHz processor and 500 GB SSD, but you cannot have a discrete graphics card in it.

mbp15ex-gallery1-201610.jpeg

The details of the refurbished MacBook are still available to me in my Apple Store account after I added it as a favourite.  Here is a link to a printout from the store downloadable as a PDF: https://www.evernote.com/l/AGQmziGrwr5AzZyNw6z5efiWEIsMGww3VIc  [Accessed on 17 December 2016].

Whatever the configuration the machine is going to be significantly less powerful in comparison to the refurbished option due to the missing discrete graphics card.  But that is only part of the story.  The starting price of the “new” 2.2 GHz model with 256 GB SSD is more expensive at £1899!  If you want to match the spec of the refurbished model, minus the discrete graphics card, it’ll be a huge £2169.  Just to be clear that this is not Brexit related inflation, the price of the refurbished Mac is from November which was after Apple increased their prices by about 20% in the UK post Brexit.

This is not Brexit related inflation

Therefore, Apple arbitrarily decided in November that it would charge its customers an additional £40 for a huge reduction in power.  There is no meaningful difference between a refurbished model the same model bought new.  Both have a 12 month warranty with the option of extending that to 3 years under AppleCare.  Apple had already decided that they would accept £1859 for their mid-tier 15 inch model with discrete graphics card.  The price increase is therefore an entirely obnoxious move by Apple and sadly reinforces the notion that everything is structured by Apple to maximise profit at the expense of customer satisfaction.  This is something that I would say is a relatively new priority in my experience.

Everything is structured by Apple to maximise profit at the expense of customer satisfaction

If that refurbished model were still available to buy I’d probably not be in the position that I’m in now: contemplating my move to Windows.  I am fairly heavily invested in macOS and iOS but I don’t like the feeling that Apple are trying to manipulate people to spend a lot more money than is necessary.  Especially if it means them forcing people to buy something they don’t want – like the Douchebar at an additional £300.   There is an additional reason for me saying this.

Before considering the purchase of the MacBook I did some research into competing laptops and what I found really sets Apple’s offering in an exceptionally bad light.  Whereas in the past when I have looked at comparative laptops I have found prices for comparable Windows laptops* to be similar to Apple’s prices, the new top spec Dell XPS is a beast in comparison to the MacBook Pro.  It has a 15 inch 4K monitor, oh and it is a touchscreen monitor!  It has a proper professional grade graphics processor.  It has a sixth generation Core i7 processor.  16 GB RAM (expandable to 32 GB in the unlikely event you really need it), and 512 GB PCIe SSD.  The enclosure is machined aluminium with a carbon fibre interior at a maximum thickness of  17 mm (just 2 mm more than the 2016 MBP).  The glass is scratch resistant Corning® Gorilla® Glass.  If the 3 year extended warranty is included (with on site support) the Dell XPS will set you back £1960; it’s £1749 without the extended warranty.

What you see is that Dell’s laptop that competes directly with the 2016 MacBook Pros is way, way cheaper than the “comparable” 2015 MacBook Pro Apple are trying to shift.  It is more powerful and more functional than the 2016 models: Apple offer consumer not pro grade graphics cards for more money, Apple offer a thin strip of touchscreen for more money.

img_0004
15″ Dell XPS

It is disappointing for me to be in this position.  I could really do with laptop with more screen real estate.  I’ve long believed that Apple make great hardware, but Apple want to charge me a hefty price tag for a 15 inch screen and they also want to shaft me on the interior.  On the other hand Dell and Lenovo are offering some powerful and innovative alternatives (the Lenovo Yoga 710 2 in 1 is a great machine which is considerably cheaper than a MBP).  No wonder then that creative professionals are jumping ship to Windows.

fullsizeoutput_38c7.jpeg
14″ Lenovo Yoga 710

I will not buy a laptop with a Douchebar.  I hate it, I believe it is a gimmick.  If Apple consolidate their position on the Touchbar in future iterations of the MacBook Pro lineup I will have no choice but to abandon ship then.  So am I delaying the inevitable anyway by even considering sticking with them for another 4–5 years by buying a MacBook now?

Am I delaying the inevitable anyway?

It was also disappointing that a salesperson in an Apple Store could not give me a better reason to choose the MacBook over the Dell XPS other than: “It is a matter of preference.”  After I detailed all of the above problems with Apple’s pricing of the 2015 model, their failure to update the components and the lack of a discrete graphics card and the problem I have with the Touchbar she agreed with me that Apple could not compete with the alternative I was considering.

I like my existing workflows in macOS and iOS.  But the question for me is do I want to maintain those workflows by paying such a high premium?  Or is it time to start rebuilding new workflows in Windows?


* Not just in terms of headline specification but internal components and well constructed enclosure.  It has always been possible to get more powerful components in Windows PCs but the enclosures have not been as good.

#TouchBar a Touch of Genius? Er no.

The long term story of the Touch Bar will be, I believe, that it is a productivity killer.  This is certainly true whilst it is a novel technology with limited support from apps.  But I think it will likely be true in the future too regardless of app support.  This is for two reasons…
In the short term it will be impossible to use the Touch Bar without looking at the bar to see what buttons are available and where they are.  In the long term that may also be true because software keys can’t be navigated by touch like physical keys can.  So people who use the keyboard extensively in their workflows will be hindered by the removal of physical function keys as they will have to continually move their line of sight from their screens to the Touch Bar.
Even if someone can train themselves to use some functions without shifting visual focus to the Touch Bar there are other functions that require visual focus.  For example, if you are in a word processing app part of the Touch Bar becomes word suggestions (like on iOS).  You have to look at the word suggestions in order to check if you want to use any of them.  Given the signalled mass migration of tech. professionals away from Macs on the back of the unveiling of the new MacBook Pros, most people using them will be people using regular word processing apps.  So this will be a big part of the average user experience.
One thing that almost certainly won’t be corrected is the problem of the contextual nature of the Touch Bar.  A different set of controls is displayed depending on which app is being used.  On the one hand that is great for having dynamic controls that are appropriate to the app you are currently using.  On the other hand you lose the global nature of function keys.  A great example of useful global functionality is for music control.  People often listen to music whilst doing other things on their laptops – like write documents, spreadsheets, or code.  So you put some music on and continue writing your document.  Then you want to skip a track, or change the volume.  You can no longer access the required controls immediately because you are in the wrong context for those buttons.  You need to pause your typing, switch back to Spotify or iTunes to get those controls, then change the track or volume, then switch back to your writing.  It would have been difficult for Apple to make this process more intrusive.
Apple have released a laptop with a new component that inflated the cost by a few hundred dollars and simultaneously eats into people’s workflows so that they’re less productive and therefore less able to afford this expensive kit (hyperbole 🙂
I cannot think why Apple do something useful like make a new top end laptop with a full touch screen?  Is anyone impressed with the Touch Bar?  If you are add a comment here or on Google Plus.  If you’re not you can add a comment too 🙂

The Ridiculous and Greedy Limitations of Watching Movies in iTunes

If you want an excellent example of a ridiculous limitation imposed on customers by Apple to force them to spend more money look no further than the Lightning to HDMI adapter. You’d think that you could hook your iPhone / iPad up to a TV and stream your movie rentals from iTunes to your TV via HDMI. But no, you cannot. If you try to a message will pop up on the TV: “This screen is not authorised to play protected content.”

If you want to stream a movie from iTunes on your iOS device to a TV you need to buy an Apple TV. Let’s be clear, this is not a technological limitation; it could be done but Apple don’t want users to be able to do this without paying for more hardware. You can mirror your iPad screen to a TV via HDMI doing any number of things, including watching some TV shows (e.g. BBC shows) from iTunes, but you cannot stream movies and other TV shows.

So Apple have forced their customers into a situation in which they’d need to spend another £100 to buy the Apple TV so they can stream movies and TV shows. There is no need for this approach, it is nothing more than greed. It doesn’t protect against piracy or illegal movie displays to large audiences. If someone just needs HDMI output in order to pirate a movie they can achieve that from the Apple TV. And there is nothing to stop someone hooking their Apple TV up to a projector to show a movie to a large audience.

The fact that Apple sell a Lightning to HDMI adapter at all whilst preventing this usage scenario is ridiculous. Therefore they will lose customers, like me, who would rent movies through iTunes but who will now prefer other platforms because they can stream without an Apple TV. Platforms like Amazon Video. I have a Prime account already and so the added benefit of TV shows and movies on top of the free one day delivery is a bonus.

Amazon provides a better app for viewing TV movies; the stock videos app hasn’t had anything done to it for a long time. The Amazon app allows you to browse TV and movies as well as watch. It has 10 second skip buttons. X-ray is built into it. It’s possible to log into a different Amazon account in it. On desktop all that is needed is a web browser; no need for a proprietary app. Great if you’re visiting friends and want to watch a movie through your account. A Prime account offers a range of periodically updated TV shows and movies for no additional cost. The movies aren’t the latest movies but there is almost always a range of good choices. The TV shows are current series. Lastly Amazon’s prices are better than Apple’s. Taken altogether these make Amazon Video a far more compelling platform.

So if you want a recommendation for where to rent your next movie check out Amazon Video.

Convert IFTTT Timestamps into Date and Time Values You Can Use

If you use IFTTT to log data in Google Sheets then you might have wondered if you can make any functional use of the timestamp that goes in the first column by default.  In order to use the actual date from the timestamp I have in the past used formulae in a separate sheet (I call it the Interpreter) to duplicate the raw input data and then to extract the date and time.  The reason for needing the separate sheet is that if you include a formula in IFTTT, e.g. =LEFT(A2,LEN(A2)-11) which will give you the date from a timestamp, the cell reference A2 will become invalid after the recipe first runs.  It isn’t possible for IFTTT to compute the correct cell reference to input each time the recipe runs. But the problem with the Interpreter sheet is that you have to keep filling all the formulae down to accommodate new data, or occasionally fill down formulae a couple hundred rows in advance.  So it’s far from ideal.

The ideal situation is to design a formula that can correctly reference the cell with the time stamp without needing to enter an actual cell reference.  That way IFTTT can input it automatically every time the recipe runs.  Well here is a formula that will return the value of a cell itself:

=INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW())
That will give you a circular reference error, so don’t use that!  We can use the OFFSET() function to reference the cell to the left of itself:
=OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-1)
Or the cell to the left of that:
=OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-2)
So how can this be used to extract the date and time?  If you examine IFTTT timestamps they are all different lengths but the time part of the stamp is a constant number of characters.  Here are a couple of examples:
• February 04, 2016 at 04:09PM
• April 27, 2016 at 09:24AM
The dates are obviously different lengths but the time part is always seven characters long, e.g. “04:09PM”, they can be extracted to provide the time.  To extract the date from the timestamp we just need to cut off the time and the preceding ” at ” part of the string (that’s the last eleven characters of the string).  So the spreadsheet formulae to use are:
• Date:
=LEFT(OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-1),LEN(OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-1))-11)
• Time: 
=RIGHT(OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-2),7)

If you want to set this up in an IFTTT recipe you would have something like this, where {{OccurredAt}} is the marker for where IFTTT will insert the timestamp, and ||| is the marker for a cell division:

{{OccurredAt}} ||| =LEFT(OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-1),LEN(OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-1))-11) ||| =RIGHT(OFFSET(INDIRECT(CHAR(COLUMN()+64)&ROW()),0,-2),7) |||
Hope that’s of help to some of you wanting to work with IFTTT timestamps.
Update 12/10/16
An alternative to the above formulae is to use the IFTTT timestamp string directly in the formula, e.g.
=LEFT(“{{OccurredAt}}”,LEN(“{{OccurredAt}}”)-11)
I’ve had trouble with Google Sheets interpreting the output as a true date value (it interprets it as a string).  To get around that use DATEVALUE(), like this:
=DATEVALUE(LEFT(“{{OccurredAt}}”,LEN(“{{OccurredAt}}”)-11))