Apple computing Humour

Hello, Computer?

This is a series zero Apple Watch, charging on my nightstand because I forgot to do so last night. It’ll last a couple of days, but I try to stay in the habit of charging it overnight. Has touch display and voice commands.

This is a Seiko analogue watch, a christmas present from my parents a decade or so ago. It was my daily-wear watch until switched to smart watches.

Notably, it doesn’t respond when you ask it to turn the lights up, or set a timer.

This is Scotty attempting to talk to a PC through a mouse or, as I like to call it, a tableau of my morning.


Apple computing linux tv windows

Ripping TV Yarns

I’m in the process of ripping some boxsets of DVDs to Plex, and I thought I should probably document the process. The most obvious thing I’m not using here is Handbrake, which works really well for some people, but I am not one of them.

Physical to Digital

MakeMKV turns any DVD or Bluray I’ve thrown at it into an MKV file. The one thing it could do to make my life better would be custom tags on filenames, but the default {Directory}\{DVD Identifier}\title{nn}.mkv  is good enough. {DVD Identifier} is annoyingly unspecific most of the time, and sometimes within disks of the same box set (The thing I’m currently ripping has both WW_S4_T5_D3 and WESTWING_S4_D6 in it, as discs 1 and 6 respectively), so the next stage is to make those directory names consistent. It doesn’t matter what they are, so long as when I “ls” the directory, they are in the right order. Then, I run this:

export COUNT=1; # Start at 1
find . -name \*mkv \ # Find all files ending MKV
	| while read fle;\ # For each of those (as variable $fle)
		do mv $fle $(printf "The_West_Wing-S04E%0.2d.mkv" $COUNT);\ # Increment the filename
		COUNT=$(($COUNT + 1));\ # Add one to the filename count

Note: You’ll need to collapse that back into a single line without the comments for it to work:

export COUNT=1; find . -name \*mkv \| while read fle; do echo mv $fle $(printf "The_West_Wing-S04E%0.2d.mkv" $COUNT);COUNT=$(($COUNT + 1)); done

This gives me a directory of well-named MKV files.

Digital to MP4

Plex is happier with mp4 encoded videos than with MKV files, though, plus they’re smaller without a noticable (to me) drop in quality, so when I’ve got a few series of these built up, I’ll run this overnight:

for fle in mkv/*.mkv; do $fle; done

Where looks like this:

ffmpeg -i $file -codec:v libx264 -profile:v high -preset ultrafast -crf 16 -minrate 30M -maxrate 30M -bufsize 15M -metadata:s:a:0 language=eng -c:a ac3 -b:a 384k -threads 2 ${file%.*}.mp4

Which is a standard ffmpeg encode line, the only real weirdness being the ${file%.*}.mp4 bashism, which basically turns the $file variable from “Foobar.mkv” into “Foobar.mp4” (It will also turn “” into “Foo.mp4” though, so be careful)

MP4 to Mediacentre

Once that’s finished, I’ll get rid of the mkv files, and send them into Plex. To ensure consistency of my filenames and also get any subtitle files I need, this is done using filebot, like this:

filebot -script fn:amc --output "/media/mediashare" --log-file amc.log --action move --conflict skip -non-strict --def music=y subtitles=en artwork=y --def "seriesFormat=TV Boxsets/{n}/{'S'+s}/{s00e00} - {t}" "animeFormat=Anime/{n}/{fn}" "movieFormat=Movies/{n} {y}/{fn}" "musicFormat=Music/{n}/{fn}" --def plex=localhost .

(Filebot, rename using the (included) automediacentre script. Output to directories below my media drive mount, log to amc.log, move (don’t copy) the files, if it already exists skip it. Don’t do strict checking, download music, search for subtitles, get series artwork, send TV shows to the “TV Boxsets” directory in {Series Name}/S{Series Number}/s{Series number}e{Episode Number} – {Episode Title} format. Anime should go somewhere else, Movies somewhere else, Music somewhere else, then notify plex on the local machine. Do this on the current directory)

Operating System Notes

None of this is OS specific. Filebot, FFMPEG Plex & MakeMKV are available – and work identically – on Windows, Mac & Linux. The various bash scripts could be adapted to powershell, but I’d instead recommend Babun, which is a repackaging of cygwin with a far nicer interface and package management system that’ll give you the basic *nix commandline tools on your windows machine (all of the above up to MP4 to Mediacentre runs on my beast-sized windows gaming rig, to avoid making the puny media centre CPU cry too much)


Every Two Years

It’s new phone time again. I’m fairly statically keeping to the iPhone ecosystem for my main phone (I own android devices, but mostly for testing & backup). Having fallen out of “Smartphones” with a disappointing O2 XDA, my first experience of the first iPhone was borrowing one from the CTO of Trutap overnight, and losing it on the train home. It was an expensive day. From then I got an iPhone 3G when it arrived in the UK, switched sides to an HTC Desire when the iPhone 4 didn’t appeal to me, but after falling out with android’s lack of focus, switched back to the iPhone 4S for my next contract.  And here I’ve stayed. Two years ago I bought the iPhone 5S, and just as the battery on that is beginning to get annoying, the 6S is here.

Out with the old…

Out with the old - an iPhone 5S being put back in its box
Out with the old – an iPhone 5S being put back in its box

And in with the new…

in with the new, an iPhone 6S, cherry
in with the new, an iPhone 6S, still in plastic

…and then back in with the old

An iPhone 6S, restoring from backup
An iPhone 6S, restoring from backup

Apple, Kremlinology and Technology in action

During the cold war, a starting phrase that begins all the best topical blog posts, when the USA was on Not Speaking terms with the USSR, the only way to work out what the political situation in Russia could be was to examine the official photos of events, and take notes of who was standing closest to the leaders, and whose star appeared to be fading. This gave breath to the word “Kremlinology”, the inference of probable facts from disparate unconnected information. Since Apple are so secretive about their intentions and arcs, media covering them generally make things up based on what seems to be true. I’m going to do that in a bit, but I don’t think my guesses will be better than anyone else’s.

I’m wary, though, of anyone who has financial incentive for Apple’s stock price to change. Think-pieces on how Apple “has to launch a new product this quarter” and is “doomed” (frequently) if it doesn’t follow a specific trend. I’m frequently amazed at how many announced (unlaunched, unspecified, and some times *in research & development*) products get reported as being able to kill Apple. A lot of people stand to make a lot of money on long bets of Apple’s stock price, because – like the London property market – it has gone from a thing that is what it is, to being a Financial Item, and is therefore being played by people who have no interest in the market around it, only in the the number it is tagged with. Apple is one of the few companies in its ballpark that knows the meaning of the word “Doomed” from a business perspective. The company has seen how it happens, and it has recovered.

I’m also ignoring the Android “war” in this. I chose my ecosystem a long time ago, and I’m invested in it. Since my first iPhone in 2008, I’ve sunk hundreds of pounds into apps and daily processes that apply to it. My thoughts on “Apple’s copying what X did Y time ago” are that it’s great that my ecosystem can do some of the things yours can do, equally it’s nice that your ecosystem’s picked up tricks from Apple. Rising tide, all ships, etc. Android’s got the market share – more people own Androids than any other smartphone OS. iOS sells fewer units than Android, but Apple makes more money than HTC. Actually, the only real winner is Samsung, since they manufacture iPhone parts and also the competing Samsung phones. Neither company has refrained from bitchy comments, though. Apple’s new Android app to help you move over to iOS was introduced as “The neighbourly thing to do” in a snide comment, and Samsung buying adwords on “iPhone 6S” with bitchy comments was just as bad. The shit-slinging is just petty.

Having said that, the iPad Pro is a broadside shot against the MS Surface. I’m not a fan of the surface keyboards – I’m told there’s a newer one that might be better, but the travel on the keys has always been something that didn’t work for me. The smart-case with a built-in keyboard looks a lot nicer to type on, though I’d need to try it. The screen looks absolutely glorious, though. It was hilarious to watch them announce a keyboard that was on a direct descending line from the Surface Keyboard and then introduce Microsoft on stage to do the dull office stuff and validate use of the prefix “Pro”.

One of the main problems the iPad seems to have – at least for me – is there’s no compelling upgrade path. My phone is tied to a contract I renew every couple of years anyway, and even my laptop is on a 3/4 year obsolesce path due to hard-drive and memory upgrades, but my only compelling reason to stop using my iPad 2 was the retina screen, and even then it took me until the iPad Air to even consider the upgrade.  I’ve not even looked at Air 2 upgrades, and another “thinner, lighter, faster” speedbump upgrade wouldn’t change it. My iPad is a reading and triage device, primarily existing to watch comics/movies/TV or to triage Omnifocus tasks, email, Teamwork tickets. One of the reasons it’s not a note-taking device in general is that my soft-keyboard skills aren’t that fast, and writing on it – even with a stylus – is a pain. The Pencil and the Pro look really nice, offer a new use-case for the device, and generally turn a bigger/faster/shinier update into a fairly compelling upgrade.

Notably, though, the iPad Pro’s missed Apple’s new interaction method. From the video, they needed to rework how the screen sensors pick things up in order for the Pencil to work properly, and in the 6S they reworked the screen for 3D Touch, and I guess those things just couldn’t be reconciled into the same device yet. It’ll be interesting to see if the Pencil support makes its way down the line to the smaller devices, or is reserved for the iPad Pro line; but dollars to donuts Touch 3D climbs up from the iPhone with the next hardware revisions.

No new iPads this year, though. Apple works in cycles, and for the last few years the iPads have shared a stage with the OS X release with the October announcements, but for the first few (iPad 1 though to iPad 4) the iPads were part of their own annual announcement in Spring. This year, Spring was the Apple Watch big release (having been teased in the autumn), so I’m wondering if iPads are moving to the Spring announcement with the next Watch. The announcement of the new iPad Mini 4 crammed in at the end of the Pro announcement weirds that out a bit, but maybe they wanted to get the new Mini out in time for christmas.

Apple TV looks good. The big thing it does is aggregate all the places you *could* see a film into one searchable archive (so you find Matrix *first* before finding out it’s not on Netflix but is on iTunes). I’m hoping this has some kind of app-interface, so Plex can say “I’ve got it!” or Amazon Prime – very notable by its absence across the entire presentation – can be plugged in quickly. I’m betting not, though.

The iPhone 6S is a nicer phone in the same case with better camera. Sold. The Force Touch / 3D Touch looks interesting, but seems a little mystery-meat in its navigation. How do you know if a thing can be pushed hard on? It’s all very well to talk about “exploration” and “discovery” in apps, but it’s not accessible. Plus, does it really do anything you couldn’t have done with touch-and-hold?

The final big thing was slipped in at the end, though. Apple As A Service, where you pay a monthly subscription and get a new phone every year. Apple’s finding a way around the 24 month phone contract stranglehold, I think, in order to try and consolidate its customers on an annual loop instead of a biannual one. The implementation is kind of sketched-out and clunky on the site right now, it seems to involve a 24 month loan from a 3rd-party bank, with no mention of the upgrade at 12 months bit, and doesn’t seem to answer basic hire/purchase questions such as “Is the phone mine at the end” and “am I still liable for the rest of the 24 months if I lose or break it, even under insurance” but also missing is “is this coming to the UK” so for me, at least, the point’s moot.

As mentioned on twitter, the entire Macintosh line got the same amount of stage time today as the Lisa II. Post PC society, indeed.


Technical Gadgets That Have Not Changed My Life Episode X: The Apple Watch

I am an aspiring early adopter. I rarely have the budget to buy the newest shiniest version of a thing, but I do tend to be the first in my monkeysphere to engage with technological things.

There’s a common narrative that technologic devices change your life, or revolutionise it, and if they don’t then they obviously have failed. I find this isn’t true. Technological devices usually take something I already do and shift the context, either generalising it or specialising it, and then add functionality. Sometimes this results in a new thing I do, which might shift into another device later. That’s a bit complicated, so an example:

For my first iPhone (the 3Gs) I got an app called Sleep Cycle. The idea was that you put your phone under the sheet next to you when you went to bed, and the app used the motion trackers in the phone to measure how much you were moving around in your sleep. From there it could time your sleep cycles, tell you how well you slept, and wake you up when you were lightly sleeping within twenty minutes or so of your optimal alarm time. For a while it was my default alarm, because it helped me get up on time. On the downside, iPhone apps at the time didn’t support running in the background at all, so you could screw up the whole thing by clicking on the home button in your sleep. Plus, having the phone in the bed with you always risked accidentally sleeping on it – not great for either of you – and it didn’t work as well once Fyr moved in with me. When I drifted to Android for a couple of years I got a similar app for that – Sleep as Android – which was better at the background thing, but didn’t work as well for me. Later on I used a Fitbit for sleep tracking, which didn’t do the alarm cycles trick, and for the last six months it’s been one of the things Misfit tracked with my Pebble. Most recently, it’s what the Sense is for.

I had a Diamond Rio MP3 player when they could only hold 8 songs in terrible quality, and then a Rio 500 when they could hold almost 30. At one point in the early 2000s, I had a Palm Pilot, an IRDA connection to get it on the internet via my nokia, a no-brand MP3 player with almost a gig of usable storage and no pocket space at all. The iPhone didn’t really change what I was doing, it just put it into a single dedicated thing.

All of this is four hundred words of preamble to the following statement:

Technological devices are generally not life-changing revolutions, but different/better ways of doing things. The advancement is evolutionary, even with revolutions in technology.

A wrist, with a watch on it.
A wrist, with a watch on it.

It’s with that in mind that I bought an Apple Watch.

I’ve taken my side in the war, and I took it gladly. I signed up to the Apple ecosystem, and I’m happy with it. It’s not my first Apple device.

Left, my KS-backer original Pebble. Right, the new hotness.
Left, my KS-backer original Pebble. Right, the new hotness.

It’s not my first Smartwatch, either. I’ve been a happy user of my Pebble since I backed the Kickstarter for the first model, so the revolutionary aspect of being able to look at my wrist for notifications (and look like I’m an asshole who has somewhere he’d rather be) has replaced the aspect of looking at my phone for notifications (and looking like a more generic brand of asshole).

It’s not a revolution. It doesn’t change that I’m wearing something on my wrist – before the Pebble I wore a less-smart-watch. It doesn’t change that I have a computer on my wrist – as I say, Pebble. It doesn’t even change whether people talk to me about the Apple watch on my wrist, as that was happening while I was wearing a pebble too.

So, these are the things I use it for, and from there you can make your own judgements on whether it’s a worthwhile thing.


My standard simple watchface. The red dot means I have notifications waiting
My standard simple watchface. The red dot means I have notifications waiting

I’ve turned off most of the notifications in my life. SMSs, mentions in Slack, emails from people I care about, these things notify me, but as far as possible I’ve trimmed down the things that buzz and ping from my pocket. This is a continuing process, it was down a lot for the phone, back further for the Pebble, and the watch hardly at all, but I’ve come to like the Watch notifications. It was advertised as a “tap on the wrist”, which is a little more human than the final approach ends up being. It’s a more subtle form of haptic feedback, but it’s still mechanical. By default it still pops and pings when things happen, so I generally run it in silent mode.

Dick Tracy

Dick Tracy looms large over the concept of the smartwatch. One of the first watches I ever bought was a cheap plastic digital Dick Tracy style watch, with an LCD-rendered analog screen and a light where the speaker would be. The thing you couldn’t do with it, and even up to recently couldn’t do at all with a smartwatch, was actually take calls on it.

Which makes sense, because you don’t actually want to.

A couple of times in the last month I’ve taken calls on the watch, either because the phone was far away or the time was pressing, and while there’s certainly an element of secret-spy future-living moment, more so there’s an element of attempting to have a conversation on a small tinny speakerphone in an inconvenient location. I’m happy with the lack of video in these, too, since my nostrils don’t need that deep an investigation.

Going Around In Circles

The second big thing in the Watch’s existence-reason list is the monitoring and exercise tracker functions. One of the uses of my Pebble, and Fitbit before it was as a pedometer, encouraging me to complete my X steps a day. The watch replaces this with a series of concentric circles, encouraging you to stand once an hour, move a bit, and do 30 mins of heart-rate-rising exercise a day.

So far this is working well for me. The tap to remind me I have been sat at the same keyboard for two hours is a welcome reminder, and I’ll often make decisions about routes home based on things that will please my watch. It’s a little annoying you can’t correct it – if I don’t have it on when I go for a walk, it might as well not have happened – but its a nice bit of encouragement.

Five Second Interactions

Deliveries app informs you when stuff's likely to arrive. The white blob will be a map when it renders.
Deliveries app informs you when stuff’s likely to arrive. The white blob will be a map when it renders.

But the big thing that the smartwatch replaces, non specific to the Apple Watch, but done better by it; is the replacement of all the five-second glances at your phone. Not only the simple world of notifications, as mentioned above, but the five second “Heading home now” text message. The check on the map that you’re on the right road. The skipping of this song, changing of this playlist, pausing of the track. Is it going to rain in the next hour? Siri, remind me to take the washing in at 4 o’clock.


Full high resolution LCD displays, wifi connectivity, all this comes at the cost of power, and the battery life on the Watch isn’t great with the first version. Mine consistently hits ~30% battery life as I got to sleep at the end of the day, I can squeeze a couple of days out of it if required. The only time I’ve actually run it down was a day that started at 4am and required a lot of travelling – I was doing a fair amount of navigating by it, which is always a killer – where it hit Low Power Mode sometime near midnight on the way back to the hotel. Low Power is a mode where it turns off everything except a simple digital watch display, and will last a few days in that state. I’ve not really got an issue with having to charge it at night, it goes alongside my phone.


The Apple Watch does everything I wanted the Pebble to do, but it couldn’t due to technology or API constraints. The first hardware version – as with pretty much all r1 hardware – isn’t superb, and I wouldn’t recommend it without caveat. The future revisions of the interface (WatchOS 2 happens later this year) look like the right track, though. It’s a wrist-mounted interface to the bits of your phone you can fit in a 40mm square screen, it does that very well, and if you think that’s worth your resources, go for it. I’d recommend waiting for the Watch 2, though.

Apple computing Larp sysadmin

Sysadmin in a Field, Episode one: The tyranny of little bits of paper

For LARP events, including most recent Empire, PD relies on quite a bit of technology. With all the will in the world, keeping track of 1500 players and their characters, their medical highlights and plot highlights, is hard to do with bits of paper.

In this series of things, I’ll take you though some of the solutions we’ve found to problems in the field.

One of these is the tyranny of little bits of paper.

We run in a mock-medieval setting, of kingdoms and knights, orcs and wizards. But on the field, we generally avoid doing in-character things on computers. The refs are issued android tablets, which can be used to record the game events we need to keep track of (Rituals cast, etc.) and we’ll get to the tech of that some time later. Empire, though, has admin that happens in the field, be it the resource trading of the Bourse, or the House of Cards politics of the senate. All this happens on bits of paper, because there’s nothing quite so immersion breaking as dealing with a medieval clerk poking away at an iPad.

Plus, characters in the field communicate with off-site NPCs – and sometimes each other – with letters.

However, this leads us with important information on bits of paper that needs to be kept, and bits of paper are absolutely fucking awful. They get lost, they get muddy, they get out of order, out of place. Only one person has it at any one time, and whoever has it has to physically transport it somewhere else before it can be viewed by others. Kill it, kill it with – terrifyingly effective – fire.

We try to keep information on the wiki, one of three Mediawiki installs (A crew information one, a plot one, and a public one), so generally the first thing that happens after an event is that people try to type up their information and put it in the wiki. But typing up that kind of thing is time consuming, and is likely to lose any interesting layout or design the players have put into it, and it would be far better if we could do it in the field. And nobody has time to type up their notes in the field, we’ve got things to run.

For odyssey last year, I brought my Doxie scanner to solve this problem for the smaller game, and when that worked well, asked PD to get one themselves.

The Process

1. People who had stuff to scan fed it though the Doxie, and it went on the SD card.

A doxie promo picture. Not pictured: Mud
A doxie promo picture. Not pictured: Mud

The Doxie document scanner is a wonder of modern technology. It’s a small box, about the size of a roll of tin-foil, and you put documents in one side, and it scans them and puts them onto an SD card. It’s got rechargeable batteries, so it doesn’t need to be plugged in, and it looks like a USB Mass Storage device when you plug its USB port in. It’s the centre point of my own paperless system, which I’ll talk about in a future article.

Importantly, once the person had finished scanning stuff, they could go away and do whatever their job is supposed to be.

2. When the Doxie is plugged into my laptop, do stuff.

Sitting on my laptop was Hazel, an OS X utility to Do Things When Things Happen. It’s an awesome utility, but in this case could be replaced by anything with the ability to notice a directory has changed, and do something.

3. Specifically, run a python script to upload anything new in the directory to the Wiki

For Odyssey last year, this was a shared directory. In the field I whipped up a simple script that took a file name and sent it to mediawiki instead.

4. People tag stuff

Once it’s on the wiki, users could add categories and stuff to make sure things didn’t get lost.

What went right

  • It worked. There are a few dozen senate motions, and a load of things from the Conclave, that are sitting up on the wiki that would usually be waiting until someone had time to type them up.
  • It was easy to use. Once people got the hang of feeding stuff to the scanner, they could do so fairly quickly.

Future Improvements

  • Knowledge Transfer. I ended up being the person who used it most, partly because of the few people who knew it was there, I was the one with the most paper.
  • The Mud. There is no set of positive/negatives for last event that doesn’t feature the mud, but in this case, people were – rightfully – wary of feeding a document scanner anything that had encountered the wet and sticky ground
  • Single point of failure. Because I wrote the software for my mac, it only worked when it was plugged in to that, and my desk is a bit out of the way.
  • Power. The Doxie Go, which I have, has a built-in rechargable battery. The Doxie One, which I recommended to PD, requires NiCad batteries before that works, which we didn’t have on site, so it was tethered to my desk by a dodgy power cable.
  • Fussy Scanning. The Doxie is a bit fussy about straight edges of things going in, which isn’t great for the random edges of player-supplied paper. We can solve this by having a clear plastic wallet to put things in if the Doxie’s being picky.
  • No Preview. Stuff going directly to the wiki includes duplicates, and failures – like things that went though diagonally.

In general, though, it was a nice solution to a problem we’ve been having, and now we can make the incremental steps to make it even better…

Apple computing linux sysadmin windows

My Terribly Organised Life III:B – Technical Development

Code starts in a text editor. Your text editor might be a full IDE, custom built for your language, a vim window with more commands than you can remember, or an emacs with more metakeys than you have fingers. Nowadays, it might even be a window in a browser tab, but that’s always given me flashbacks to deploying software by pasting lines into textareas in Zope, but the lines I type are in a text editor, and currently that’s Sublime Text 3.

I used Eclipse, Netbeans and Aptana and variants on the Java-based juggernaut for years, but partly because my main development languages are PHP and Python, it never really worked that well for me. My primary development OS is OS X, on by beloved Macbook Air, but I don’t want that to matter at all. I use SublimeText because it has plugins to do most of the things I liked about IDEs (SublimeCodeIntel, some VCS plugins, and a small host of other things) and it works the same, and looks the same, across every OS I use day to day. I’ve got my prefs and package lists syncing via dropbox, even, so the plugins stay the same.

I work as a contractor for hire, most of the time, and I’m terminally addicted to new projects. So I’ve generally got upwards of a dozen different development projects active at any one time. Few of them use the same language/framework combination, and all of them need to be kept separate, and talk to each other only in the proscribed ways. Moore’s law has made that a lot easier with the advent of things like Virtualbox being able to run several things at once, but getting those all consistently setup and easy to control was always a bit of an arse. Vagrant is my dev-box wrangler of choice right now. It could do a lot more, but mostly I use it to get up and shut down development VMs as I need them, safe in the knowledge that I can reformat the environment with a single command, and – with most projects, after prep work I’ve already done – anyone can set up a fresh and working dev environment in a few minutes.

(In theory. In practice there’s always some “How up to date is your system” crap)

Plus, the command line history always looks like it’s instructions for some kind of evil gift-giving robot. Vagrant up! Vagrant Provision! Vagrant Reload! VAGRANT DESTROY!

It’s a year or so since I switched almost everything to vagrant environments, but it’s only in the last few months I’ve looked in more depth about using something other than shell-scripts to provision them. I don’t really want to run a separate server for it, I’m not working to that kind of scale, so Ansible is currently my provisioning system of choice.

Ansible technically breaks my rules on development environments being platform agnostic, since it’s fairly militantly anti-windows as a host platform, but with babun (which is a cygwin repackage, complete with a replacement for the awful cygwin interactive shell, zsh, and a full package manager. If you take away nothing else from this, never install cygwin again) it works fine.

I’m fairly lucky in that all my clients have standardized on git as their vcs of choice, as it’s my choice too. Tower absolutely shatters my platform independance rule, but it’s hands-down the best git GUI I’ve used, and its built in git-flow support makes a lot of things easier. In Windows I’m using Atlassian SourceTree for the same job, which does a passable job. I’d still not recommend a git gui unless you know how to drive the command line to some level, if only because the terminology gets weird, but at the same time I’ve really liked being able to work with cli-phobic front-end developers who could still commit directly to the repo and make changes without needing a dev to rebuild.

For that, and not much else, I’ll recommend the Github client (in both Windows and Mac forms). It’s the most easy to use git client out there, but it’s doing that by hiding a lot of complexity rather than only doing simple things. It will work with non-git repos, even, though it’s not terribly happy about the concept. Does have the massive advantage of being free, though.

For the full Rained On By The Cloud experience, current primary deploy stack for Skute backend involves pushes to Github branches automatically triggering CodeShip CI, which runs the test suite before deploying (assuming success, of course) to Heroku. Secondary stack is similar, but deploys with ansible to AWS (for Reasons. At some point in the future I’ll no doubt be doing deeper stuff on how I’ve built the backend for Skute). Leaning heavily on the cloud is, in IT as much as life, not entirely a good idea, but it’s a really good starting point, and redundancy is in place.

Heroku’s mostly been a good experience. We’ve run into some fun issues with their autodetection (They decided our flask-based frontend service should be deployed as node.js, because the asset build system had left a package.json in the root) but the nodes have been rock-solid. Anyway, I’ve drifted into specifics.

Other dev utilities I couldn’t live without? Putty, in windows, for all the normal reasons. Expandrive is a Windows/Mac util for mounting sftp services as logical drives (or, indeed, S3 buckets or a dozen other similar things). LiveReload automatically watches and recompiles CoffeeScript, SASS, LESS etc. when necessary, Sequel Pro is an OS X GUI for MySQL access… and Evernote, where go checklists and almost every other bit of writing that isn’t also code.

There’s probably more, but that’ll be another article now.


Watch the next step

New Apple announcement looks interesting. Handily, the new Macbook will been in second revision about the same time I’m looking to upgrade my work MBA, I’m impressed they got a high-res display into a fanless thiner-than-air case without too much of a hit on battery life.

Less impressed with the loss of Magsafe as a feature, though the one-port expansion will make plugging in to add power, extra monitor/s and everything all at once a bit nicer. I’m curious as to whether they’ll switch to USB-C for iPhone/iPad so soon after the Lightning transition. They’d take a PR hit on forced upgrades, but seeming as tech media appear to be reacting like someone’s set fire to the sky already, it might not make a difference.

And the Watch.

The reaction to the watch has fallen into three camps. Camp one: “That’s roughly what I thought. Cool.”. Camp two: “Why the hell would I buy a watch?”. Camp three: “Apple forces everyone to buy a $10,000 gadget that will explode in exactly one year”.

Camp One: Way to keep your cool. Proud of you.

Camp Two:

I don’t have an Apple Watch. I might – it depends on several things, including budget stuff – but what I do have is an original, Kickstarter funded, wlack & white e-Paper pebble, which I’ve written about before.

I’ve been using a smart watch, then, for a couple of years. Reading that article again, I am amused, partly that I thought that the interest in Apple Watch was reaching fever-pitch then, and mostly that my issues remain mostly intact.

The thing it mostly replaces are the day to day references to my phone. Who is calling me? What was that notification? Set a timer for five minutes. What song is this? Next track, previous track, volume controls (since my current headphones don’t have them).

More recently it’s also replaced my fitbit as an activity and sleep tracker.

There are pluses and minuses. The ability to see my notifications without looking at my phone has made me more likely to see and react to notifications, which is good and bad. The looking at my wrist makes people think I’m in a hurry or too busy to talk to them (or being desperately rude), and it’s not done by inability to disconnect many favours. On the other hand, the ability to see my current GPS route on my watch has been great, and Runkeeper’s status output to it has been handy too.

The being able to see who’s phoning is great, and access to SMS messages on the go – even without the ability to reply, on the Pebble – has been handy too.

Those are the Smartwatch features, generally, and they’re the things I expect to carry over from the Pebble to the Apple Watch.

It’s not been a life-changer, but as someone who tends to wear watches anyway (I never liked pulling out my phone to check the time), but I don’t regret my purchase.

On a more specific comparison, the battery in the Pebble lasts about six days, depending on the animatedness of the watchface you’re using. The battery on an Apple Watch is predicted at 18 hours, which means daily charge. Daily charge would be irritating, I think, but in a world where I have to do that with my phone anyway, not life-defining.

The first thing the Pebble misses that the Apple Watch provides is two way communication. In general, save acknowledging notifications and music state changes, pebble communication on iPhone is one way. This is mostly Apple’s fault, rather than Pebble’s. The Android support allows for more advanced notification responses, but iOS doesn’t have the hooks for that kind of response over bluetooth, at least not yet. It’s possible that with initiatives like carplay, and the Watch itself, that work over bluetooth, new capabilities may emerge, but holding your breath waiting for Apple to open up that kind of integration isn’t a life-saving mechanic.

The other thing is… and this is where I move from mostly-detached analysis to Apple eco-system member… design and whole-ness. The Apple Watch is still a bit chunky for a fashion item, but it’s ahead of the rest of the smart watch market by quite a way. The magnetic charger and basic design are directly comparable to the same things for the Pebble Steel, but have an elegance that is the difference between Apple’s design aesthetic and that of others. Pebble’s done a fantasic job, but against a company who hold both sides of the development API, and can dictate their will at every stage of the supply chain (They formulated a custom metal alloy for the bands, for starters. I didn’t expect to see metalurgy porn in an Apple presentation), they’re going to pale slightly.

That said, I’ve tried the Samsung Gears, and I’ve seen the Motrola and Sony attempts, and if I was a part of the Android Ecosystem to any personal degree, I wouldn’t hesitate to keep upgrading my Pebble.

Camp Three:

Don’t buy an apple watch.

It’s the same insides at £299 as it is at £12,000. I know one person in the universe who might buy an Edition, and I expect him not to at least until version two.

There was a similar thing around the time of the Cereal Cafe opening on Brick Lane, where you could buy cereal for £3/bowl, when you can buy two packets of cereal for that!!! This the other end of the street where you can pay £25 for a fuck-awful curry which you could pick the ingredients up for in the shop down the road for around£5.

It’s very nearly the same as the Daily Mail whining about people who save up their low incomes to buy a nice new TV.

Buy things you like, if if you don’t: Don’t buy an apple watch.

Apple computing Personal Projects windows

My Terribly Organised Life III:A – Home

The previous MTOL were in 2004 and 2007, and soon I’m going to get over this “I’ve been doing this too long” kick.


Google & Omnifocus, mostly. My email is google-app based, although most of my interface with it is with Mailbox, which allows me to do things like “Tell me about this in a week” or “Bother me with this when I’m on my laptop”. Google Inbox looks like a nice idea, but doesn’t work with Google Apps right now. My Calendar is Google Calendar, and even my contacts are in there. Email is reproduced to a local server, contacts less so, but they sync to most of my devices.

I made my choice between the Apple and Android ecosystems long ago, and I’m generally happy with my choice. There are good reasons to use Android, and some of them better than mine for using iOS, but none that will override the investment in app store things at this point. So I run an iPhone and an iPad.

Documents and notes generally live in Evernote, physical items are scanned with a Doxie scanner and automatically PDF’d and added to a Scans Inbox notebook, those get sorted every so often. Should I be trapped without a GUI, Geeknote is CLI access to evernote.

Files are mostly in Dropbox, which is synced to my desktop, laptop and a home server.

Tasks and Projects are the only major thing remaining without a web interface, because Omnifocus doesn’t have one (Spootnik exists. I’m not impressed, and it appears not to have been touched in a couple of years). It does have accept from email, which I use a lot.

I have a preference for platform agnosticism in my apps, for things that will work on any windows, mac or linux client I’m using, over a web connection if necessary.


Entries generally start in Evernote, Stories in Scrivener, some of them even get finished.


Photo manager is another area lacking. I’ve yet to find a decent photo manager that’s cross-platform, so everything’s still in iPhoto (Well, actually it’s in the beta of the new Photos App for OS X, which is fairly nice). Editing and creation is done in whatever’s most appropriate of Illustrator, Photoshop or Gimp.


For listening to mine, still iTunes. Partly part of the Mac-Ecosystem thing, partly because Smart Playlists are still beyond most of the alternatives. I maintain a spotify subscription, though, and to be honest most of my music listening goes through that.

Recorded in Audacity, edited in Garageband while I’m trying to get to grips with Audition.

Movies & TV

Under the TV is a server running Plex Media Server and a large external hard drive. Everything goes to that, and is watched from wherever I am. Sometimes over the web from a very long way away.


Is a whole other article 🙂


Some people are on Facebook, others Twitter, others Google+, others Ello. Some are even still on Livejournal. I miss exceptionally the days when I could say something somewhere and know that a large percentage of my friendship circle would have seen it. Nowadays a larger friendship circle *might* have seen it if Facebook liked me that day.

Despite how dead RSS is, how everyone hates it, and how it’s not viable in a post-Facebook internet, generally I read everything on Feedly except actual news News, which I read in newspaper form on my iPad, like some kind of throwback to last century.

I like the concept of Reddit, liked it even more when it was Usenet, and still haven’t written an NNTP client for reddit yet. Soon.


Pop Culture Consumerism: The iPhone 5s

2013-09-20 11.27.53 HDRGTAV tomorrow. Today:

The iPhone 5s

It’s two years  to the week since I bought an iPhone 4S on a two year contract from Three. Thus, my contract is up for renewal just as the new iPhone comes out. Syncroncity. So yes, it’s a phone. It’s a smartphone. It’s even an iPhone. You press the button and it turns on. It’s taller and lighter than the 4S, and the interface seems snappier to use. Pictures come out better, and the new slow-motion video camera is a neat trick. I can open it with my finger print. It’s the new version of the iPhone, and it’s a faster one.

TouchID is new, and works very well. A brief pause of your thumb on the lock screen is enough to open up the phone. Its theoretical security doesn’t hold up to cryptoanalysis, but to be honest if someone steals my phone, takes a high resolution perfect scan of a perfect print of the correct finger, makes a latex model of it and then uses that to reset my Bejewelled Blitz high score; all before I realise my phone is missing and use the Apple website to completely disable the thing, they have done more than it would take to guess my four digit passcode. EIther way, if they’re mugging me they’ll force me at knifepoint to unlock it first, at which point neither password nor fingerprint will save me.

Security is almost always a trade-off between risk and speed/ease of use, from door keys to deep crypto, and TouchID is better by several steps than the base level of security of most phones in the world, which is zero.


I like the new layout, I like the text based design, I even like the scrolling effects. I like a lot that Apple have taken inspiration from Android core features to add to iOS – or stolen them, if you prefer – in the form of the Control Centre and the new multitasking interface. Yes, I know Android did it first, and I liked it when I had an Android phone, but if you truly believe Android didn’t do the same with iOS features I have a bridge to sell you and no desire to have this argument.

It works less well on the iPad2, pushes the CPU a bit hard, but the new font rendering is very pretty. It does make the few Apple apps still using the old style stand out a lot – Find My Friends’ faux-leather interface is a lowlight – and I’m looking forward to my central apps adopting the new styles.