4th August 2019

Ever since the iPad 2 was released, I’ve owned an iPad. And one of the main things I use it for is to write. The iPad for me is a perfect writing device. And in so many ways, it’s become my favourite computer to use.

That’s slightly off-topic here though, as I want to focus on the software that I’ve been using to write. And how it’s changed over time.

I’ll focus on just three applications that I’ve used over time, that I think represent my thoughts behind my writing, and the content I do (and want to) create.


The first writing application I’ll mention is iA Writer. It’s not the first app I’ve ever used to write, but probably the one when I first became serious about writing regularly for my blog.

I used it mainly because when I was getting into writing with Markdown, it was the most popular at the time. But I kept using it because of the simplicity, and how it let me focus on the raw text, rather than a typical WYSIWYG editor would. 

Eventually, I moved to Ulysses, partially because it was becoming more popular and was recommended by a lot of writers. But the biggest reason was that it provided a kind of full writing ecosystem. It lets you write, add photos, publish to your blog, and also organise your writing, all in the one app.

That was a big deal for me at the time, as I wanted a simple writing flow. And Ulysses allowed me to separate all my writing into one place.

However, the reasons why I chose Ulysses in the first place, eventually became the reasons why I switched away from it.

Although it wasn’t far from a plain text editor, it started to feel a bit too rich for the content I was starting to create. I was beginning to lean towards more text-heavy articles, rather than ones full of links and images. It also really bugged me that you couldn’t just write Markdown, and have it leave it in its raw state.

I also realised that I wasn’t using Ulysses to its true potential and that it felt like extra baggage that I didn’t need. The way I used to publish articles was just to use the built-in publishing tools in the app, but I was slowly moving to a more automated flow using Workflow/Shortcuts. It let me to essentially just use it as a text editor with Markdown support.

That actually led me back to iA Writer, as it let me write in plain Markdown again, and also let me separate my writing app away from where my writing was stored on my device.

At the same time as the switch back, I started using more and more automation. I was creating initial outlines with templates, for things like link posts (Gruber style), and my daily journal that I used to publish here on the blog.

But eventually, iA Writer also felt like too much for the way I was writing. The raw Markdown support was the main reason why I started to use it again, but I still wanted an even simpler solution.

That led me to an app called Pretext. I’m actually using it to write this post, and at this point in time, it just feels perfect. It’s quite possibly the Markdown app on iOS with the least features. And I absolutely love that.

It integrates with the Files app, which it also uses as the backbone of the application. As when you create a new document, you are essentially inside the Files app, and then transported to the Pretext editor, where you can completely focus on writing inside the text file, away from any other distractions. It doesn’t try to interrupt you with any handy features, or visually abstract your writing away from its raw format, all you do it write.

There’s near to none customisation available to you. You can change the text size, UI theme, and the app icon. In the past, that would be nowhere near what I needed, as I tended to worry too much about the exact font I was using, the various colour styles, and in general things that took me away from what I was actually inside the app to do.

With the overall lack of features, with I think is a good thing, it feels quicker than apps like iA Writer and Ulysses. Given all you do is create/open a file, write text, and then either share or close the file, there’s really no lag between hitting the key and having text appear on the screen. It feels super responsive, and while it may be all in my head, that’s not necessarily a bad thing:

Of course it is happening inside your head, Harry, but why on earth should that mean that it is not real? – Albus Dumbledore

With the simplicity of Pretext, it doesn’t change the way I wrote using iA Writer that much, as I can still do all the automation I used to do because of two things. Firstly, the documents are just plain .md files, which I can access through the Files app, and therefore any automation that deals with files is fine. But also, because it features the native iOS share functionality, I can still use my Shortcuts that deal with my writing, like the one I use to publish articles on my blog.


What’s interesting to me, is that how the software I use to do my writing, represents the content that I want to write. With my recent focus on raw text most likely stemming from my desire to write cleaner articles, with more precision, and less fluff.

In an ideal world, the content here on this blog would feature some heavily thought out pieces of writing, side-by-side with various pieces of writing from other people that I’ve linked to, and shared opinions on.

But that’s an ideal world, not where I am right now. I’m still learning how to write better, and at the same time discovering what I want to write about. There may be a long process ahead of me in order to reach that goal, but at least this is one step in that direction.

1st August 2019
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Craig Mod wrote a great piece recently about the speed of software affects the overall perception of quality.

It’s interesting all the way through, but my favourite paragraph was where he uses a typewriter as an example:

A typewriter is an excellent tool because, even though it’s slow in a relative sense, every aspect of the machine itself operates as quickly as the user can move. It is focused. There are no delays when making a new line or slamming a key into the paper. Yes, you have to put a new sheet of paper into the machine at the end of a page, but that action becomes part of the flow of using the machine, and the accumulation of paper a visual indication of work completed. It is not wasted work. There are no fundamental mechanical delays in using the machine.

I find it all resonated with me quite a lot. I have very little patience, and that is a big factor in choosing what software I use.

1st August 2019

Thrasher Magazine have came out with a 10 minute video of some of the best skateboarders skating around a water park.

Keys to a drained water park and free rein to skate everything in sight?! Yes please! There are a lot of Epic Spots out there but this is truly Insane Terrain. And apparently upside-down ollies are a thing now…

It features skateboarders like Tony Hawk, Daewon Song, Aaron “Jaws” Homoki, and so many more! They truly make use of the use slides.

They also shared an article, where they go through the story of how they happened to actually be allowed to do this:

What started as some light trespassing turned into a week-long permission session. The powers that be rolled out the red carpet for a week of slams, jams and NBDs. Some of the gnarliest transition skaters of our time ventured out to the desert to try their luck at the Pacific Sun—a 300-foot funnel complete with a mini-mega roll in. The park is being renovated and the Sun will soon be torn out, so this was a for real Holy Grail quest with the timer ticking. No excuses—get some!

And it also contains some pretty cool photos

23rd July 2019

About a week ago, the popular mail app for iOS and Mac, Airmail, switching from being a paid upfront app to one based around a subscription. Understandably, this brought a lot of conversation online (mainly on Twitter), about the ethics of it, the App Store rules that may be broken by the switch, and general complaining. I’m obviously “late to the party” on this one, but I would like to think of this being about an app moving to subscription in general, rather than solely Airmail. Although, it has a few specific mentions.

The major issue that I’ve seen around the Internet about Airmail’s business model switch, is that it has been to a degree, forced upon users that have already purchased the app. Because when they purchased the app, it was a paid upfront app, with no notice about needing to pay for a subscription in the future. So they’ve essentially had their purchase taken back, and been told to pay a monthly ransom to keep using it.

There’s certainly the argument that if developers are constantly updating and providing support to apps, that they should be able to charge for it. But when you purchase an app, you’re more than likely not thinking about a scenario where features will suddenly be put behind another paywall. This is not to say that it’s the developers fault for providing quality updates, but instead, maybe a fault of the way app updates are handled. For example, there still isn’t a proper way to do upgrade pricing. And I think that alone would provide a better experience for everyone. Developers could have a more clearly defined line between major updates, and it would give users a real chance to evaluate an update, and even say no to them. Especially if they feel like they’d rather not get any more updates if it means not paying a subscription for features they’ve already paid for.

The two features that are being put behind a paywall with this switch, are multiple account support and push notifications. Two notable features of an email app, and for the majority of people, I would imagine these being deal-breakers.

That being said, the first feature, is still free if you had already purchased the app. So this is only no longer available for free, for future users. That’s a bit better, however, it certainly seems strange to me that such a common feature would be behind a paywall. Especially with one that costs either ~$3 a month, or ~$10 a year.

As for the latter, this also seems like such a fundamental part to an email client. Sure, there’s the possibility that this was the reason it was put behind a subscription fee, but I don’t feel like that feature alone is worth the fee. I know that there are server costs for push notifications, but is it honestly $10 a year worth?

I also think it’s worthwhile to note that if you are a paying customer already, while you still maintain access to multiple account support for free (well, free after the initial purchase), the subscription price for the remaining one feature, is the same as what new customers would pay for both features.

There are also a few sections of Apple’s App Store Review Guidelines, that also create a few questions about whether the switch also follows the rules or not.

The first one is that if you switch to being subscription-based, then you’re not allowed to force users to pay for features that they have already paid for:

If you are changing your existing app to a subscription-based business model, you should not take away the primary functionality existing users have already paid for. For example, let customers who have already purchased a “full game unlock” continue to access the full game after you introduce a subscription model for new customers.

I’m guessing they’ve handled this by maintaining multiple account support, but there’s an argument to be made that this should also apply to push notifications.

There is also a rule regarding push notifications:

Monetizing built-in capabilities provided by the hardware or operating system, such as Push Notifications, the camera, or the gyroscope; or Apple services, such as Apple Music access or iCloud storage.

However, with a response to MacRumors, Airmail state that they are “not using system push notifications of CloudKit or other operating system features, but its own server infrastructure.”. I guess they are claiming to show that this rule should not apply to their implementation.

However, regardless of any guidelines, and the ethics in general of making the switch from a paid app to a subscription-based app, it’s surely best to let customers know about the switch as soon as possible. As most complaints, I found online, seemed to come from a place where this is a surprise, and they feel that they’ve been asked for money with no reward being offered to them. Rather than functionality that they have already paid for.

The switch to a subscription app is always going to be hard, especially for an app like Airmail that has existed for so long already as a paid upfront app. As you have to make the subscription seem appealing for new users, and at the same time making existing users feel like there is also something to gain for them too.

In my opinion, this specific case seems a bit rushed. And I think a bit more care could have gone into ensuring new and existing customers had a good experience. Either it should have been coupled with a bigger update, that actually added new features to a subscription, or simply had a longer grace period for existing customers. Four months feels a bit short.

What’s worse for Airmail, is that there are other great email apps available for iOS. Including the stock Mail app that comes with iOS, which is what I use myself.

16th July 2019
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Trevor Nace, writing at Forbes:

NASA has some good news, the world is a greener place today than it was 20 years ago. What prompted the change? Well, it appears China and India can take the majority of the credit.

In contrast to the perception of China and India’s willingness to overexploit land, water and resources for economic gain, the countries are responsible for the largest greening of the planet in the past two decades. The two most populous countries have implemented ambitious tree planting programs and scaled up their implementation and technology around agriculture.

This is very encouraging. Hopefully this is something that we can start to compete on, as it will only result in a better planet for us all.

16th July 2019
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Leah Burrows, writing at the Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences blog:

People have long dreamed of re-shaping the Martian climate to make it livable for humans. Carl Sagan was the first outside of the realm of science fiction to propose terraforming. In a 1971 paper, Sagan suggested that vaporizing the northern polar ice caps would “yield ~10 s g cm-2 of atmosphere over the planet, higher global temperatures through the greenhouse effect, and a greatly increased likelihood of liquid water.”

Sagan’s work inspired other researchers and futurists to take seriously the idea of terraforming. The key question was: are there enough greenhouse gases and water on Mars to increase its atmospheric pressure to Earth-like levels?

In 2018, a pair of NASA-funded researchers from the University of Colorado, Boulder and Northern Arizona University found that processing all the sources available on Mars would only increase atmospheric pressure to about 7 percent that of Earth – far short of what is needed to make the planet habitable.

Terraforming Mars, it seemed, was an unfulfillable dream.

Now, researchers from the Harvard University, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Lab, and the University of Edinburgh, have a new idea. Rather than trying to change the whole planet, what if you took a more regional approach?

This is all rather fascinating. And I wonder if any of this stuff will actually happen in the near future? Or if it will remain in theories, and local experiments here on Earth.

13th July 2019
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BBC:

In 1986, 20-year-old Christopher Knight drove into a forest in rural Maine. He abandoned his car, and taking just some very basic camping supplies, simply walked into the woods. He didn’t come out again for 27 years.

After getting deliberately lost, Knight eventually found the site that would become his home, a small clearing in the densely wooded area surrounding a lake called North Pond. He stretched some tarpaulin between trees, put up his small nylon tent, and settled down. He was completely hidden, despite being only a few minutes’ walk from one of the hundreds of summer cabins that dotted the area.

My immediate expectation of this article, after reading the headline, was a story about how someone worked their way to having a sustainable living outside in the woods. Turns out, I was wrong, and it’s fascinating in a whole other way!

12th July 2019
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I stumbled upon this video just now, and it immediately grabbed my attention. As for some reason, the working life of others is interesting to me, and the Japanese culture, even more so.

So watch the video, and follow Makoto through a day in his life:

Japanese work day at a Japanese office for an average Japanese salaryman in a Tokyo office.
Living in Japan and working in Japan is quite a unique experience. This is a day in the life of Japanese worker, Makoto, 27 years old who lives in a Tokyo 3-story house with his family.
This Tokyo salaryman works in a small Tokyo office, but spends many of his Japan working hours traveling from client to client on the Tokyo trains.
Makoto works for a company called Mobal and as many Japanese salarymen, he entered the company straight from a Japanese University and he plans to spend his entire salaryman career at the same company.
That is the life in Japan for a salaryman. We take a look inside what it’s like to work in a small Tokyo office as well as to visit clients throughout Tokyo city area.
His job experiences maybe unique to his company, but fundamentally he is very much an average salaryman.

He commutes by train everyday to get to work and has to ride his mama-chari bike to get to the train station from his home.
This Tokyo salaryman life has him arriving to work early and working late. As a salaryman, Makoto receives a standard salary every month for all the long work hours.
The Japanese office is also configured so his boss’ desk is right in front of him, quite a Japanese style office working environment. This very average Japanese work day and work lifestyle showcases a true day in Japan work life.

11th July 2019

After just over 6 months, I’m stopping writing my daily journal entries.

Originally I was aiming to complete an entire year, and then rethink what I was going to do with it. However, it’s been about a week that I haven’t written a single entry, and surprisingly I’ve been totally fine with it. And as it’s reached the 6-month milestone, it feels like a good time to stop, have some time off, and refocus on the next thing.

Stats

Just because I can, here are a few quick stats:

  • 183 total entries
  • 30,579 total words
  • 167 averages words per post

And some additional graphs:

Average Number of Words in Each Journal Entry by Month

Number of Words in Each Journal Entry

What I’ve Learned

I’ve certainly learned a few things from the process though. Mainly that I like writing and especially personal logs, that I can write down quite easily, without a ton of research.

Something that made it really easy was automation, obviously. I’ve written about my automation before on the blog. First with “How I Automate My Daily Journal”, where I discussed the way I reminded myself to write, and also to generate a new file based upon a template. And also with “How I Automate Publishing Blog Posts”, where I go through how I take a markdown file and publish it to the blog.

However, even though it was relatively friction-free to write and publish journal entries to my blog, sometimes it just felt like a chore. Especially when a day was simply too boring to write about, where I was just forcing myself to write something.

What It Means for the Future

If I’m going to take anything away from this for the future of this blog, it’s that I enjoy writing about more personal experiences. So while I’m not promising anything, that’s the direction I want to go down.

I also want to combine that with some more photography of mine. I take tons of photos, and I just don’t feel that Instagram is a good place to host all of that. After trips, I’ve shared photos on the blog before, where I select a handful of my favourites, and this is the style I will most likely continue.

But in general, I want this blog to feel more like my blog. I’m steering away from generic tech review and Apple news. Because there are so many good writers covering that stuff already, and I’m fine with reading what they have to say, rather than me repeating most of what’s already out there. So hopefully I can start living up to the appropriately named “Chris Hannah” blog.

You’ll also notice that the Journal category has been moved from the top navigation menu to the sidebar.

2nd July 2019

Ever since the iOS/iPadOS 13 betas have been available, I’ve been running them on my main devices. That’s down to multiple reasons, but one of the main ones was the new Dark Mode that’s now available system wide.

Before this global setting, I’ve been a big fan of dark themes for everything I use. Whether it’s a Twitter client, text editor, or Xcode.

However, recently I’ve noticed myself purposefully switching back to the Light theme. And I think it’s been down to two things.

Firstly, it’s been rather sunny here in England recently, and having a dark interface just isn’t clear enough. I’ve noticed this the most when I’m outside and catching up on Twitter. Thankfully I’m using Tweetbot as my client, so I can quickly two-finger swipe between themes, until I find a light theme where I can actually read the content.

The other reason is simple because sometimes a light interface just makes content a lot clearer. Especially because I’ve noticed a trend with some dark themes where the text is light grey with a dark grey background. Whereas the light mode alternative would feature black text on a white background. So the level of contrast suffers simply because of colour choices.

This won’t exactly be a surprising realisation for some people, but ever since I’ve had the ability to have a system wide dark mode, I’ve started to actually value the light mode more.