Act fast to show your support for Numerous

Numerous has been on my blog to do list for some time now.  That is, to write about how great it is – especially in conjunction with Google Forms and Sheets.  It has proven to be an incredibly functional app for me and for many others.  But they recently announced their imminent closure due to being unable to become self sufficient.

However, the are many people who find Numerous incredibly useful and yet it is a free app and service.  Perhaps there are enough of us out there willing to pay to keep Numerous going.*  If you love / rely on / appreciate Numerous take a moment to show your support by filling out this form and then follow the result on Numerous.  This method of course showcases how cool Numerous is: Google Sheets picks up input to the form and Numerous hooks into the sheet to display a number summarising the results.  Multiple cells on the spreadsheet can be linked to from Numerous so you can display multiple results.  For example, with this poll I am taking here I can display (1) how many people are willing to pay for Numerous, (2) on average how much they are willing to pay and (3) the most popular monthly fee for Numerous.

* I appreciate that getting enough revenue might in itself not be enough to keep Numerous going, but maybe just maybe it is.

UPDATE 13/2/16: 

For a more detailed analysis of responses check out the published results here.

Here are a couple of other numbers on Numerous to track results of the poll:

Average Numerous Fee
The average fee that users are willing to pay
Most popular fee
The most popular monthly fee for Numerous

Update 3/3/16:

Tweet from @NumerousApp :

@nadnosliw We’ve heard from dozens of people, which is very gratifying, but it needs to be more like 10,000 or 100,000…


Apple, please don’t shave <0.5 mm off of the next iPhone / MacBook

Apple need a significant change in their design philosophy of “thinness”.

Apple, stop making thin devices “thinner”.  Apple seems to think that it can’t sell new iPhones or laptops unless they are thinner than their predecessor. This has taken on a ridiculous manifestation now. Supreme effort is put into shaving tenths of a millimetre off of already thin devices. Practically the differences make very little difference to most people, but they are championed at Keynotes as a key selling point.

In order to achieve these reductions Apple goes to extraordinary lengths to make more room for the battery in a thinner chassis so that they can (apparently) maintain battery life. This is the other side of the fallacious coin. If you ask most people using an iPhone or MacBook they won’t tell you they hope for the same battery life – they want a longer battery life!

So rather than attempt to shave 0.2 mm off the next device I hope Apple will instead go to extraordinary lengths to make more room available for a bigger battery in a device of the same thickness.

Swipes, snoozes, services and pdf export : Welcome to Spark.

When Dropbox announced that it was closing down Mailbox I thought that was the end of email efficiency for me.  Parallel to use of Mailbox I had played around with Inbox, Boxer and Cloudmagic but never found them up to the mark for how I did email.  Part of that was certainly due to the fact that I had setup my email accounts to work well with Mailbox but there was still a significant part that was down to core features of those apps.
So I was over the moon to discover Spark.  It is an email app that incorporates all of Mailbox’s best features but then does even more on top.  In Spark you can swipe emails in your inbox to archive, delete, snooze, move or several other options.  You see that’s a particularly great thing about Spark: it is so customisable.  Swiping emails makes it super easy to process your inbox.  In the same way that Mailbox offered a short or long swipe (to the left and right) Spark does that too.

Boxer and Cloudmagic have always allowed users to hook other services directly into their email, services such as Evernote, Dropbox, Drive.  Mailbox didn’t offer that, which was a slight source of frustration to me.  Sure I could use IFTTT to hack the service in but that meant having to label emails especially for that service but that’s not necessarily the best way to actually handle your emails.  Spark offers those third party service connections too.  That doesn’t give it the edge over Boxer or Cloudmagic but it does nudge it over Mailbox and Inbox.  So now in Spark I can long swipe left and send my emails direct to Evernote.  I send shed loads of emails to Evernote so the process just got a lot faster and made more awesome by Spark.

Upon news of Mailbox’s demise I decided to set up shop in Inbox.  My most important email accounts are Gmail accounts.  Gmail is awesome.  Ever since the release of Inbox I have subconsciously willed it to be great and I do like it.  But there are some things that really irritate me about it.  Firstly, it doesn’t have a unified inbox.  Why not?  I do not know, but Google have for some reason forced us to keep our inboxes separate and made checking email across multiple accounts that much more tedious.  Secondly, if you want to check a bundle once a day Google have decided that you may only check it at the time they decide.  Well I’m sorry Google but that time does not suit me.  Thirdly, due to the non-unified inbox fiasco described above you can’t have a badge for how many emails are in your inbox.  I like to maintain inbox zero, but Inbox won’t remind me if I have emails to process.  Related to that point is that reminders are pretty much useless if I am in another account’s inbox – oops.  Fourthly, this point I understand but it is there so it should be stated: Inbox only works with Gmail accounts.  I don’t see that changing anytime soon for the obvious reason that I can’t imagine an app made by Google support Yahoo or any other mail.  I do have email accounts with other providers so this situation forces me to use multiple email apps which is undesirable.
A major persuading factor for me switching to Inbox from Mailbox was the ability to snooze emails.  I find that so useful.  (A doff of the cap to the Mailbox team for introducing this feature.)  Well Spark allows me to snooze emails too so a big tick to Spark.
After coming across news about Spark a few days ago I decided to investigate further.  I was impressed by the inclusion of features I had come to love and rely upon in Mailbox and there was more on top: Save emails as PDF, send full attachments, hook third party services directly into the app etc.  Here is a list of Spark’s killer features that have won me over:
  • Spark supports Gmail, iCloud, Exchange, Yahoo!, Outlook and other email providers.
  • With Spark you can send full file attachments not photos or links only.  Attachments are created from cloud storage services (e.g. Drive and Dropbox).  The attachment process gives you the option of sending a link to a file or sending ac copy of the file itself.
  • The services that can be hooked into your email include: Evernote, Dropbox, Drive, Box, Pocket and more.
  • Snooze your emails easily with a swipe and tap.  The list of snooze times is customisable to keep things snappy and convenient.
  • Emails can be exported as a PDF straight to any relevant services you’ve connected.
  • Spark has a smart inbox (which is optional).  It lists all your new/unread emails at the top.  As you read them they move down to a separate section for read emails.  From either section you can process emails by swiping them.
    If you want to pin an email to your inbox you can do that too.  Pinned emails are kept in their own section.
  • Want to find an attachment?  You can view a list of just attachments from your email accounts in Spark.
  • You can customise so much within Spark: which accounts contribute toward the app badge, how the sidebar is laid out, what your swipes do, what widgets are shown on the home screen of the app, you can change which actions are available in your email viewer toolbar (archive, delete or both) and more!
  • Quick replies.  Wow these are good.  At the bottom of an email you can tap an icon to send a reply such as “👍🏻 Like”, “✅ Thanks”, or “😀 Great idea”.  As you can imagine even these are customisable.  You can change the order of the list and create your own quick replies.
  • Respond to calendar invitations from emails.
Mailbox did have one feature that I found useful and that is not available in Spark, which is the ability to auto-swipe emails.  I used this to auto swipe emails from mailing lists to a Gmail label called either “Updates” or “Promotions”.  Then I had an IFTTT recipe to send me an email digest daily for Updates and weekly for Promotions.  Whilst using Inbox I had hoped the bundles would serve as the same thing, but the inability to change the time of day each bundle would be shown prevented it working for me.   So even though Spark doesn’t offer something like this Inbox doesn’t have a useful equivalent for me.
Version 1.5 was released today which allows you to change the notification actions and assign default signatures to specific email accounts.  Spark is on fire.  It is an incredibly well thought through app that is going from strength to strength.  Currently Spark is only available on iPhone, but an iPad app is slated for release in the future.  I cannot wait!

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Are you having problems posting your Instagrams to Twitter? Read on…

It seems that Twitter is not getting on too well with other social networks including Instagram.  So now if you post on Instagram and use the direct link to Twitter to post there too your picture is no longer shown natively on Twitter (this appears to be happening with YouTube too).

If native photo posting to Twitter is important to you I have some IFTTT recipes to help.  This is a two part arrangement that requires a Dropbox account.  Part 1 downloads your Instagram photo to a specific folder in Dropbox using the caption as the filename.  Part 2 is triggered by a new file upload in that Dropbox folder, it uploads the file to Twitter natively.  The file name (which was the Instagram caption) is used as the tweet text.

Please note that there are no spaces in the tweet text as this process replaces spaces with underscores.  I hope this doesn’t prove too troublesome for you.

The recipes you need are below.

Here’s example output from Twitter:

Add both of these recipes and you’re good to go.  Please note that if you want to use a different folder in Dropbox you must update the file path accordingly in both recipes.

Recipe 1

IFTTT Recipe: Save Instagrams to Dropbox

Recipe 2

IFTTT Recipe: Tweet Pictures from Dropbox

The iOS 9 results are in!

Here are the results for my iPhone 5S running iOS 9.0, they are stated below the benchmark iOS 8.4.1 results from my last post.

The benchmark results for iOS 8.4.1

  1. Reboot time: 36.30 s, 35.76 s.
  2. Memory
    Before testing.  Used: 13.7 GB; Free: 13:0 GB.
    After testing.  Used: 13.6 GB; Free: 13.1 GB.
  3. Webpage load times.
    1. Facebook: 4.50 s, 3.60 s.
    2. BBC: 2.42 s, 1.86 s.
    3. Apple: 2.63 s, 2.46 s.
  4. Photo viewer load: 1.65 s, 1.63 s.
  5. App Store load: 3.71 s, 3.83 s.
  6. Evernote camera: 2.76 s, 2.71 s.
  7. iMessage: 2.02 s, 1.83 s.
  8. Inbox: 3.76 s, 3.83 s.
  9. Tweet from LCP: 2.76 s, 2.43 s.
  10. Evernote audio from LCP: 2.85 s, 2.90 s.
  11. Waze: 6.10 s, 3.22 s.
  12. Slack login: 10.17 s, 10.92 s.
  13. Hotspot: 13.87 s, 6.38 s, 2.83 s.
  14. Scanbot download: 30.90 s, 27.48 s.

The results for iOS 9.0

  1. Reboot time: 39.43 s, 39.23 s.
  2. Memory
    Before testing.  Used: 14.0 GB; Free: 12.3 GB.
    After testing.  Used: 13.7 GB; Free: 12.6 GB.
  3. Webpage load times.
    1. Facebook: 4.06 s, 3.70 s.
    2. BBC: 3.26 s, 3.45 s.
    3. Apple: 3.68 s, 2.90 s.
  4. Photo viewer load: 1.55 s, 1.06 s.
  5. App Store load: 3.10 s, 2.92 s.
  6. Evernote camera: 3.03 s, 2.98 s.
  7. iMessage: 2.85 s, 2.75 s.
  8. Inbox: 5.22 s, 3.48 s.
  9. Tweet from LCP: 3.82 s, 3.23 s.
  10. Evernote audio from LCP: 4.23 s, 3.95 s.
  11. Waze: 3.86 s, 4.00 s.
  12. Slack login: 14.10 s, 11.56 s.
  13. Hotspot: 13.20 s, 3.76 s, 3.53 s.
  14. Scanbot download: 24.30 s, 22.52 s.
It is worth noting that I ran the tests fairly but the conditions were not as strict as might be the case in a formal lab test – I don’t claim that they are super accurate and reliable.  But they are reflective of genuine uses of an iPhone by an average person.
On the whole the test results reveal neither a significant decrease or increase in performance.  It seems that the new OS takes up more memory – up to 500 MB more.  The results do suggest that even the core functionality of the OS has not been conclusively improved as some are better and some are worse, i.e. app downloads and installs, setting up hotspots, reboots and web browsing.  General usage of my phone since the update has been positive, I like the new features available and they run fine.
Here’s a full comparison table of results and a couple of graphs.  The third run of setting up a hotspot was not included in the table.
 iPhone 5S iOS 9 - table
No Significant Changes
iPhone 5S iOS 9 - times graph
More Time Increases Than Reductions.
iPhone 5S iOS 9 - percentage graph
The above table and graphs are available in a Google spreadsheet here.

Should you install iOS 9 on an iPhone 5S?

FullSizeRender IMG_0089

It’s been impossible to find anywhere on the web with a consclusive answer as to whether an upgrade to iOS 9 on a 5S is actually a good idea from the point of view of how well the phone can actually handle it. Most answers about an upgrade to iOS 9 concerned the iPhone 4S, 5, 6 and 6+. There were several places that said “it should be fine” for the 5S and advocated an upgrade based on the new features available, but no one provided any hard data about performance. So I’ve written this and the next post for anyone else wondering about whether or not to install iOS 9 on their 5S.

I’ve decided on the basis of the new features available in iOS 9 that I think it is worth it. Notably the promise of better performance (faster and better battery life) and Wi-Fi assist.  But to help others who aren’t so sure I will collect the following data prior to the upgrade and then collect the same data after the upgrade to see how performance varies – if at all.

I’m using an iPhone 5S with 32 GB memory.  All tests were run with no apps open initially (unless of course I was running a test from within an app). I disabled login protocols / passcode requests by logging into relevant apps then closing them before running the test (except test 12, logging in to Slack).  All tests were repeated at least once.

  1. Reboot time, from when the screen goes black until the lock screen shows.
  2. Memory available.
  3. Webpage load times (from home screen web apps with Safari closed).
    1. Facebook.
    2. BBC.
    3. Apple.
  4. Photo viewer load time (from Camera activated in lock screen).
  5. App Store load time (to Featured view).
  6. Load time for Evernote camera (from Notification Centre widget).
  7. iMessage load time (from notification on lock screen).
  8. Inbox load time (from notification on lock screen).
  9. Time to Tweet from Launch Center Pro.
  10. Time to start audio recording in Evernote from LCP.
  11. Time to load directions to work on Waze from Notification Centre widget (time from tapping Go until hearing first command).
  12. Time to log into Slack using the 1Password extension (with TouchID, measured from the point after entering the team name).
  13. Time taken to establish personal hotspot from my MacBook.
  14. Time to download and install an app, Scanbot (48.6 MB).

Here are the benchmark results for iOS 8.4.1

  1. Reboot time: 36.30 s, 35.76 s.
  2. Memory
    Before testing.  Used: 13.7 GB; Free: 13:0 GB.
    After testing.  Used: 13.6 GB; Free: 13.1 GB.
  3. Webpage load times.
    1. Facebook: 4.50 s, 3.60 s.
    2. BBC: 2.42 s, 1.86 s.
    3. Apple: 2.63 s, 2.46 s.
  4. Photo viewer load: 1.65 s, 1.63 s.
  5. App Store load: 3.71 s, 3.83 s.
  6. Evernote camera: 2.76 s, 2.71 s.
  7. iMessage: 2.02 s, 1.83 s.
  8. Inbox: 3.76 s, 3.83 s.
  9. Tweet from LCP: 2.76 s, 2.43 s.
  10. Evernote audio from LCP: 2.85 s, 2.90 s.
  11. Waze: 6.10 s, 3.22 s.
  12. Slack login: 10.17 s, 10.92 s.
  13. Hotspot: 13.87 s, 6.38 s, 2.83 s.
  14. Scanbot download: 30.90 s, 27.48 s.

I’ll post results in the next post very soon.

Features that Evernote mobile apps need

  1. A dark mode would be helpful on all Evernote apps, but mobile in particular.The mobile apps could do with the option to print (or export) notes to PDF.
  2. Scan to PDF for mobile apps.  Scannable is an excellent app from Evernote which offers image and PDF export options for scans.  Scannable surely shows that this can happen!  Recent iterations of the Evernote mobile apps have included things that first appeared in Scannable.  Here’s to hoping for the ability to create PDFs with my scans!
  3. End to end or client side encryption.  Fully encrypted services are becoming more widely available and popular (Telegram Messenger, Whatsapp, and Tresorit to name a few).  Evernote following suite here would make my day!
  4. The iOS text formatting pop up menu needs fixing (and it’s needed fixing for about two years).  Whenever I want to copy and paste text in notes it is far more fiddly than it should be!  The menu is meant to appear when you tap to place the cursor somewhere.  But in Evernote the menu disappears immediately before you can actually use it.  Currently the best work-around is to select somewhere and then scroll the screen which then brings the menu back up, but this is awkward.  I hope Evernote fixes the root problem ASAP.
    A related point is that Evernote’s custom pop over menus for list items and text formatting on iPhone need fixing – they should disappear when they’re open and you tap the button again.
  5. The ability to airdrop note files (.enex files), not just a link to the note.
    1. You can appreciate how useful this would be.  It would be considerably faster than generating a note link and then directing someone to a webpage to read it.  Also what’s the point of encouraging my family and friends to use Evernote if Evernote themselves only share a webpage with co-users?  Yes I know there is Work Chat but two issues:
      (i) As far as I can tell Work Chat doesn’t actually send a note file to another user.  So if you want to collaborate with someone, all well and good.  If you want them to have a standalone copy of the note, no good.
      (ii) You still need to use the cloud to share a note with Work Chat, so what if you can’t access the cloud?  Onto my next point…
    2. This would be perfect for the (few) cases in which I’ve had notes that won’t sync up to the cloud because they’re too large and were created on an old device.  But it would also be extremely useful for cases in which you’re offline and therefore unable to sync a note to the cloud.
  6. Do checklists well.
    1. Firstly, checkboxes in Evernote iOS can be really difficult to work with.  Selecting text to the right of a checkbox in order to overwrite it can be a real pain and often results in overwriting the checkbox (even though it wasn’t selected) which additionally results in typing something like font size 6 text.  Whatever the heck is going on there it needs fixing.
    2. Secondly, I don’t know about you but I make better use of features that are visually appealing.  Right now Evernote’s checkboxes in iOS look like they really don’t belong there.  Take a look at Apple’s implementation in the Notes app for iOS 9 – they are good looking checklists!  Some work along these lines has been done with Evernote’s Mac app, perhaps it can be extended to the mobile apps?
  7. A nice feature to have would be font size options but I don’t regard it as important as the features above.

Astro–photography with an iPhone

The past couple of weeks I’ve been learning how to set up and use the telescope my physics department recently bought.  During one session I wanted to get a photograph of the Moon but it was too difficult to hold my iPhone camera steadily over the eyepiece.  So I began thinking about how to set up a rig to hold the phone over the eyepiece.

At first I looked for an object as tall as the telescope’s eyepiece, which happened to be a speaker with a thin book underneath it.  I then used my Joby tripod to (awkwardly) position the phone’s camera lens over the eyepiece.  This worked but it was incredibly tricky to work with.  In order to line up the camera and eyepiece I had to manoeuvre the speaker at floor level, which meant that I couldn’t look into the screen to know that it was correctly lined up.  So I had to use trial and error to get it correctly lined up.  Worse still than that was the fact that every time I had to readjust the telescope’s line of sight as I tracked the Moon I had to then realign the camera too!  This was very time consuming and detracted far too much from the main purpose of looking through the eyepiece!

Very Awkward Rig
Very Awkward Rig

I then decided to design a simple mount for the phone so that it would move with the telescope.  A section from a kitchen towel tube fits around the eyepiece.  Two vertical strips of cardboard support a platform for the phone.  Lastly a small ledge prevents the phone from slipping down when the telescope is at large angles to the horizontal.  It is a very low tech solution but a solution nonetheless – it works really well.

Phone Mount in Use
Phone Mount in Use

Here are some shots of the Moon using this set up.

Moon 1

Moon 2

And here is one lucky photograph to finish.  Just after making some adjustments and looking back into the eyepiece I notice some sort of a black mark across the lens.  I thought perhaps an insect had landed on the lens, but then looked closer and saw an aircraft moving in front of the Moon!  Unfortunately I didn’t react quick enough to capture the aeroplane over the Moon but I did capture its jet trails.

Jet trails across the Moon's disc
Jet trails across the Moon

Scaled Conditional Formatting Arrives in Google Sheets

Good news spreadsheet people: you can now use colour scales in the conditional formatting in Google Sheets.  So now you can get a quick visual representation of a group comparison.  As a teacher I occasionally need to rank student achievement across a whole class / cohort (the more common and important analyses are those against an individual student’s own benchmarks).  So this newly added feature should prove useful for my grade book.

G Sheets Conditional Formatting - scales

Type scientific and math symbols on your iOS device with ease

In a previous post I shared a way in which you could use symbols on your iPhone even though they are not included in the iPhone’s keyboard. I find this helpful because I teach physics and use many symbols that are not available on the keyboard.  Often symbols can be displayed on iOS devices even though they are not on the keyboard.  So if you type symbols from a Mac or PC into an app that syncs to your iPhone or into a webpage you can access them on your iPhone.  You can even copy and paste those symbols on your phone.

The method I posted previously was a clunky method for sure, involving making a list somewhere on your phone of all the symbols you need and then copying and pasting a symbol when you needed it.  Well I now have good news about a far more efficient method.

As I happened to be reading this post from Chris Hauk (Mactrast) it got me thinking about combining his method with my need to type certain symbols that aren’t available on my phone’s keyboard.  His method involved copying an emoji which is not available on the iOS keyboard from Twitter and pasting it into an iOS keyboard shortcut field and then creating a keyboard text combination for the emoji.

So I tried it out with “²”, by copying the “superscript two” symbol in as a phrase and then using “^2” as the keyboard “shortcut” and it worked!  Now I can type “^2” and my phone will replace it with “²”.  I then worked through most of my list of symbols to create key combinations for the symbols I use most frequently.  If you aren’t familiar with how to create text shortcuts on an iOS device watch the video below.

If you would like a copy of the symbols I used to copy from it is available here:  At the top of the document you will see the symbols followed by the text “shortcut” in red if I made one for the symbol to give you an idea of example text combinations.  If the symbol you want is Unicode there is a good chance it will work. Search the web and you will likely find a page where you can copy the desired symbol into your dictionary. 

One of the really helpful things about this method is that the list of symbols you have available on your iPhone is totally customisable.  So you don’t have to search through lines upon lines of symbols you don’t use in order to get to the ones you do need.

I hope this helps if you need a quick and easy way to work with symbols on your iPhone or iPad, if so let me know in the comments or over on Google +.