Thursday, 28 April 2016

iPad Pro For Work: Almost perfect

I’ve been using an iPad Pro for a little more than a month, and it’s pretty damn close to being a laptop replacement. In terms of hardware, it’s excellent for what I need (writing, document annotation, basic graphics). Software is where it falls short – but the limitations are easily fixed, and as Apple moves ahead I hope they’ll address the issues.

Hardware

I’ve lugged around a MacBook Pro for years. 4.5 pounds doesn’t seem like much, but the weight definitely makes itself known pretty quickly when you’re traveling. I’ve been tempted to get a MacBook Air for quite a while, and was pretty close to pulling the trigger when the iPad Pro was released. Almost immediately after buying the iPad, I’m happy – ecstatic, even – with the choice.

At 1.5 pounds, it’s a dream come true. Even adding the weight of the Apple Magic Keyboard (about half a pound) keeps it below that of the Air. The Pro’s versatility also means I’ve stopped carrying around the one or two paper notebooks I usually do, because Apple’s Pencil is so damn good (with the right software).

How great the Pro is for people with more intensive hardware needs – designers, artists, etc. – I can’t say, although some reviews I’ve read by those folks seem to love the Pro as well. But as a writer, I can pretty much crown the Pro as a full-fledged laptop replacement. My MBP has sat almost unused ever since I started using the Pro. It’s still useful (and necessary) for messing around with coding and image work, but for all intents and purposes my laptop is now a desktop.

One important issue that needs to be pointed out is the battery life. Apple claims a 10 hour life, which is probably right, but charging takes a looooong time. It’s been suggested that the quickest way to fully charge it is to shut it down, but that’s kind of unacceptable considering how fast I can get my iPhone and older iPad to 100%. I know, I know, different hardware. But still.

Pencil

The awesomeness that is the Pencil can’t be understated. When I got an iPad 2, I also thought that could be a laptop replacement. While it worked fine with a keyboard, the jankiness of using a stylus kept me firmly planted in laptop/paper/pen land.

But the Pencil has changed all that. The palm rejection technology, speed and precision of the Pencil is great. While not all apps produce the handwriting results I like, it wasn’t hard to find one that did. First I tried Paper (which is designed around it’s own unique stylus), but it didn’t feel smooth. Notability, on the other hand, really works with Pencil nicely. That pairing is why I can leave notebooks at home, and no longer print out PDFs to scribble notes on.

Software

And since we’re talking about Notability, we might as well jump into the ‘not’ portion of this ‘not perfect’ assessment. Notability is great, although it suffers from a tiny case of oversimplification and fixing what ain’t broke.

What I’ve noticed is that many app developers come up with unique file organization that is different enough from standard OSX/PC conventions that it feels limiting. Notability, for example, uses a ‘subject’ and ‘divider’ scheme to organize files. With OSX/Windows I can move and manipulate files easily. I know what a folder is; I know I can move stuff between them. Subject/divider is different just enough to not feel natural, and I still haven’t completely adapted to thinking in these new terms.

A lot of that probably has to do with how apps store data in iOS. Simply put, each app basically has to create its own storage system. If you want to open a file in App A that was created in App B, it needs to be sent through some sort of middleman – Dropbox, Google Docs, etc. iOS doesn’t provide a single repository you can just put and pull stuff on/from.

This filesystem weirdness also makes opening zipped files unnecessarily complicated (in a relative sense, of course, because it’s really just an extra step or three). It’d be fantastic if I can unzip a file directly from Mail into another app, instead of having to open a 3rd party app, unzip it, then go to the app I want to use and download the file.

That said, it’s something that Apple and developers can work on, along with some other minor issues. Selecting and deleting text can be a pain, as it’s still geared towards touchscreen control. The ol’ Command-Delete to clear a bunch of text doesn’t work in iOS, and placing the cursor where you want it can be a hit and miss process.

There’s also signs of 3rd party web app issues. Namely Google. Many companies use Google apps now, but they aren’t optimized for iOS. For example, one of the new features in iOS 9 is a split screen view, where two apps can share the screen. Sadly, this isn’t supported by Google Docs. So instead of being able to keep client feedback up while working in Notability or Ulysses, I have to switch back and forth between the two. I can’t help but think this is Google’s fault, and they don’t want to fully support a competitor’s feature.

But again, all these minor problems will probably be fixed sooner or later. In the meantime, it’s just a matter of accepting things as they are – which are still pretty great.

Apps Writers Will Like

In OSX my standard tools were a combination of Scrivener (currently in iOS Beta – yay!), Google Docs and WriteRoom. With the iPad Pro, it’s all about Notability (perfect for annotation and jotting down notes with Pencil) and Ulysses. I still use a little bit of Excel on the laptop (subscribing to MS Office is a non-starter for me; I’m very anti-subscription), and will probably switch to using the included Apple Numbers at some point.

I give myself a huge pat on the back for taking the leap and getting an iPad Pro. As the line matures, I’ll have fewer reasons to get another MacBook Pro. (A MacPro, on the other hand, is a different matter…)

Solidarity Wins

SEIU, which had been negotiating a deal with Airbnb, announced that the talks were off.

The agreement would’ve had Airbnb promoting unionized cleaning services and supporting a $15/hour minimum wage in exchange for an official endorsement by SEIU. Not only was it being done without knowledge by other unions, but those unions were adamantly against it.

The argument in favor was that SEIU was doing what it was supposed to: Working for their members. But that’s an incredibly short-sighted and narrow position to take.

San Francisco (the city in which the deal was being worked) has been facing a serious problem in affordable housing. Part of that problem is due to Airbnb, whose business model encourages the removal of residential housing from the market.

This is a classic case of the chickens inviting the fox into the henhouse. Or more precisely, the chickens letting the fox kick them out and renting the shed for a tidy profit.

Thankfully, it seems other unions got SEIU to see the light. What good is getting people $15/hour when it’s going to be eaten up by higher housing costs anyway? Not to mention that $15/hour is being treated like some huge windfall when it’s really just wages catching up with reality.

And what’s really key here is that it was a bad deal. Airbnb’s “promotion” of unionized services would be just that. Home “sharers” would be under no obligation to use SEIU members, and a union endorsement of Airbnb would be worth a lot more to Airbnb than anything Airbnb would’ve done to “support” a higher minimum wage.

Unions aren’t required to stand together, but history has proven time and time again that a union is stronger when it works with other unions. They all stand together, or they all fall together.

News SFGate.com thinks is more important:

• Bay Area Bars With The Best View

• Bird Strike Leaves Large Dent On Jetliner’s Nose

• SF House for under $500k: Look inside and see why

 

Wednesday, 27 April 2016

SFGate Sucks – A Continuing Series

I need to get this out: SFgate.com, the digital component of the SF Chronicle (kind of, not really – more on that later), is a steaming pile of regurgitation, amateurism and SEO run amok. The articles are craptacular, starting with the use of inane stock photos to illustrate stories (not even bothering to change the Getty/Corbis/Shutterstock caption) and incomplete, sometimes incoherent writing.

Because the scope of how much SFGate.com sucks is so large, it’s impossible to cover in a single post. Instead, I’ll just start with what will probably be a series: A look at today’s horrible SFGate.

sfgate 042716

Breaking News – A dead body (no foul play suspected) at Apple merits the red banner, I suppose. But people probably kick the bucket at Genentech, HP and other big important area companies, too. Sadly, this is a relative good use of the alert. There’ll be examples of typical sorry SFGate use to come.

Latest News – Cruz selecting Fiorina, Hastert’s sentencing and some local items are valid. The weather? Cracker Jack toys? It wouldn’t be so bad if it weren’t for…

Main Story – SFGate thinks the most important piece of news today is that people are visiting the building used for the opening credits of a 90s sitcom. The cherry on top is the headline. How can people mob a specific place “everywhere you look”? Standard awful writing from the buffoons at SFGate.

Real Estate Ad Count – There are three real estate ads posing as news articles today. I think that’s about the average.

Bonus Reguritation – They’ve been pushing this “Detour” app story on and off for the past year. It’s a good idea for an app, but not worth repeating – unless they’re getting paid to do it, which is entirely possible.

Some News SFGate Doesn’t Think Is Important:

• Trump wins all Super Tuesday states; Clinton wins all but one

• The vile human cheeto also delivers his first foreign policy speech

• US to release report on its bombing of a Doctors Without Borders hospital

• More racist texts by SFPD discovered

SFGate sucks.

Monday, 25 April 2016

You just start

Just start pressing keys. Doesn’t matter if what you’re writing makes sense or is meaningful. Try not to use a lot of pauses in the writing. By that I mean commas and double hyphens. Pauses in thought. Interruptions between words getting on the screen. Out of your head and in front of you. Writing is half the physical act. Waiting for the thought to form is a related but still separate part. And with a lot of focus, a little patience and luck you can get to something worth reading.