About Week 1623

According to this website, I’m now in week 1623 of my life. Time to try out some weekly notes for a while. I need a way to reflect on my life. This is one attempt.

Houses / Cats
I’ve been living in Utrecht these past few weeks, in various houses, cat sitting for colleagues. In the first house I stayed in for almost three weeks. Which was quite long, but also nice because my daily commute was reduced to 15 minutes instead of something like 90. And in the heatwave that dominated the Summer so far, that was a great convenience. The cat I fed in the first house was nice but edgy. In this second house the cat is absolutely lovely. On top of all this catness, I also visited a friend on Wednesday night. She had just got a fresh new kitten (called Bella) and she was adorable and enthusiastic and playful.

Mood
The week has been a bit stressful, I guess. Counting down to the holidays comes with its own kind of stress. Finishing up things at work and knowing you won’t be able to deal with them for some time changes something in my brain. Combined with not enough sleep in the past few weeks (heatwave), let’s just say I’m happy when Friday is over and the weekend and my time off begins. After which I won’t be back at work till the second half of September.

Read
I’ve been struggling for months to focus on Haruki Murakami’s /1Q84/. Not that I don’t like it, I’m just distracted to easily by other things. I’m at 25% though. That’s something.

Listen
* Tom Speight – /Want You/. Tom has been writing enthusiastic folk pop for years now, and with his album on the way, this celebratory tune is more than welcome. If not for you, then at least for Tom himself, who was hospitalised earlier this year due to Crohn’s disease (for the second time, in fact, life’s a b*tch). Fresh out of hospital he wrote this song. I can’t wait for his album to be released.
* Iron & Wine – /Waves of Galveston/. This has been a favourite song of mine ever since hearing it live at Iron & Wine concerts. I’m glad it finally gets a release on the forthcoming EP /Weed Garden/.
* /Reply All 125: All My Pets/. What starts off as a light-hearted episode about YouTube videos, turns dark pretty quickly without being sensationalising any aspect of it. In the end it will leave you both unsatisfied and slightly alarmed. It’s nice when a podcast doesn’t throw everything in your face. I’ve decided to like his episode.
* Also listening to the new Death Cab for Cutie album (/Thank You For Today/). So far I’d describe it as Pleasant Melancholy. Stream it here.

Watch
* Me and the GF finished /Final Space/, a snarky science fiction animated comedy set in space. The action is over the top, and so are the jokes, but after the first few episodes, you get sucked into the vortex on Netflix. Make sure to watch every recap before each episode though, a lot of the fun comes from hearing Gary recount his own adventures that you’ve just watched. Chookity.
* /Better Call Saul/ is back (as well as Better Call Saul Insider, the great behind the scenes podcast). I’ve missed this show so much this year. It’s a show that inevitably gets darker as it goes on, and while there are still light-hearted moments, it more and more becomes a show about the human condition, shot brilliantly I might add. Good to have it back. It’s on Netflix in most countries outside the USA.

Tech
* Twitter did away with its old API things, which were driving some excellent Twitter apps. I’m a big Tweetbot fan, but I can only see it’s mostly appealing to hardcore Twitter users. The algorithm that Twitter uses to provide highlights to casual users (like myself, I must admit), is actually pretty decent. At least, what it shows is interesting. Admittedly I don’t know what I miss due to the algorithmic highlights. I do think it’s a mistake though, for Twitter to effectively destroy functionality in various apps. We’ll see what the future holds though. Twitter is struggling with lots of things (Alex Jones, spam and trolls, etc) and I wonder whether it can find a way forward. Then again, it’s not as if Facebook is doing that great right now.

Things I learned
* Cats love cheese, but apparently it’s too fat and salty for them. It’s like a big burger for humans: fine for every now and then but don’t eat too many of them.

Re: #Apple cutting apps from their affiliate program

I kind of get why #Apple kills their app affiliate program, but it still sucks for publishers trying to survive while offering content on popular and less popular apps and games. As engaging as the App Store editorial content is, and it is in my opinion, it’s become a lot harder to make money writing about apps now.

I guess now, as a site, you have to make deals directly with mobile app publishers to cover their content. Which may jeopardize editorial independence and turn all content into sponsored posts. Not ideal. Alternatively, these publishers now need other revenue streams, including donations.

The idealist in me hopes independent writers and publishers can stay afloat by writing unique enough, in-depth content that is worth paying for. But the realist in me sees only a very small paying audience for websites like TouchArcade.com and others in its current form. Maybe one great, in-depth review per day is worth paying for… But maybe it isn’t…

I’m curious to see how many smaller Apple news sites will be affected by this (including Dutch ones like iCulture and OneMoreThing.nl, I have no clue how much they depend on affiliate links to the App Store, but since iCulture posts daily deal threads that they might kill now, it might be a lot).

Changing my password manager: how to make it “just work”

Earlier this year I’ve decided to change my password manager. I’ve been using 1Password for my Apple products for many years now, but I have a job with a Windows pc now, and no way to install 1Password myself.

I dabbled with LastPass and looked into Dashlane, but ideally I’d wanted a free solution that didn’t sync via yet another cloud service I had to sign up for. One of these days I’ll get rid of my Dropbox (and I finally get rid of those annoying upgrade notices) too. For now I’m stuck in Apple’s iCloud (the only one for which I pay a monthly fee) and Google, mostly for Google Docs purposes and Gmail.

But as much as these big companies make excellent products for free (in exchange for your data), I figured I’d try to go independent. My 1Password (6) manager automatically synced my password vault via my Dropbox and/or iCloud. It still does, since I haven’t completely said goodbye to it yet. Ideally, my new password manager does the same. “It just works”, like the company that made my phone used to say.

In the end I decided to settle on KeePass, an open source solution to password management. I found a client for the Mac in no-time, and found different solutions for Windows as well (though admittedly I haven’t actually tried those yet). On my iPhone I use MiniKeePass, but unlike 1Password, I have to manually import the database (which is okay), and export it again if I added or changed items (which is more of a hassle). I can’t say “it just works” just yet, but it works.

Ideally I’d find an app that actually syncs to the database file on my NAS, or via a cloud service / local sync over WiFi without manually exporting and importing it every single time I change something.

For now, I’m kind of stuck using two password managers. I can’t deny the slick performance and sync of 1Password just yet, yet I also know I’m able to get this working if I find the right open source tools and eventually my credentials will be much safer for it. So I’m trying to use KeePass, but I find myself going back to 1Password on some occasions if I know it’s a password that’s still in that version of the database. Plus, I can’t get KeePass to work yet in Safari. The extension that’s available now, doesn’t work for me. So still some stuff to work out. But the nerd in me will be celebrating when I have made it all work. 🙂

Or I’ll just throw money at the problem and cave for a paid service…

Broken window

Having used mobile phones since the late nineties, I was sad to discover that I was no longer part of a fabled group of human beings. This fabled group being the humans that haven’t actually dropped their phones and damaged the screen in the process. I was proud to be a member of this group. There were no badges, but if there were I would have worn one.

The first smartphone I bought, an iPhone 4, is still in use to this very day by a good friend of mine in Sweden. These days, I’m on my third iPhone and lived damage-free until recently. The only repairs the device had to be taken in for where unexpected battery shut-downs and other Apple warranty issues, none of which where my fault.

This all changed earlier in February. I was about to enter a party hosted by in-laws and while stepping out of the car, my phone fell out of my lap and on the ground. I didn’t even properly realize what was happening. In slow-motion it must have looked nerve-wracking. Me getting out of the car, the phone launched from my lap, and – thanks to gravity – landing with a tiny bounce on the asphalt of the road.

Meanwhile, the movement of my body is still on-going, my brain hasn’t yet registered what has happened. So, my feet are placing themselves on the road too. Except, no, this is not the road, this is something that’s on the road. And it cracks. One of my feet has firmly planted itself on the phone on the road. And of course the phone is face-down on the ground. And of course the case can’t soak up the pressure. And of course the result isn’t pretty to look at.

I only bought – and used – a screen protector once: for my Nintendo Switch. It was tempered glass and it spontaneously cracked one afternoon while the Switch was in its dock. Within 8 months of buying it. So, consider me not a big fan of screen protectors.

I was sad about the state of my phone the rest of the day. And I felt stupid for forgetting my phone was in my lap in the first place. My girlfriend has been walking around with a cracked screen for almost a year now, but I can’t live that way. I need my phone fixed. Call me connected, call me conflicted, call me addicted… A phone is a window to the world, to my foreign friends, to my music and media. I wouldn’t want to look through a broken window for very long.

Thus I went to the Apple Store to get my screen fixed. My regular insurance paid for most of it, no Apple Care or special smartphone insurance needed. The guy said he could see I “took really good care” of my phone. Though that might just be to comfort me, and to make smalltalk. My girlfriend was quick enough to emphasize the idiotic move that was stepping on my fallen phone, just once more for good measure. So my phone is fully functional again. But my pride: my pride is hurt.

Technically I could still belong to that group of people that never damaged their smartphone screens by dropping in it. Because technically I didn’t. I just happened to step on my phone right after. I guess that makes me belong to a whole different group of people. People who feel like an idiot after cracking their phone screen by stepping on it.

Pleased to meet ya.

Three times the cinema: Three Billboards, The Shape of Water & Black Panther

I went to the cinema three times so far in 2018. I saw three excellent films, all in their own way. Here are my (shortened) thoughts on them, in the order I saw them.

Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

This film is the third Best Picture Oscar contender I’ve seen (the other two being Dunkirk and The Shape of Water, more on the latter below). There are more contenders that I really want to see, with The Phantom Thread being top of the list. Closely followed by Lady Bird. But yeah. Three Billboards was such a great, intense film. I liked the humanity of it, after all the dark humour and violence and exaggeration, it never tried to oversimply the characters in it. After the great and funny Seven Psychopaths, The Guard and ofcourse In Bruges, this one is both funny and thought-provoking. And Sam Rockwell keeps on growing as an actor. Loved it.

The Shape of Water

This is a lovely film in a whole other way. Like Three Billboards, it combines violent and funny elements with humanity, but it adds elements of fairytale, fantasy and cold war thrillers in the mix. The result is a very nostalgic, colorful experience that nevertheless hooks you in all the right ways. Guillermo Del Toro outputs has been meandering a bit for me, Pacific Rim didn’t do too much for me, Crimson Peak was alright, but this was a fascinating film. Call it escapism, call it a labour of love, I call it brilliant. I loved how the relationships never overtook the politics of the story. And I loved the ending too. Sally Hawkins is an absolute delight and I’d give her the Oscar, though she’s up for a whole lot of competition.

Black Panther

I must say I thought I was pretty much done with the Marvel universe for a while. The recent Netflix series were mostly disappointing after a promising start. I remember watching Doctor Strange and Guardian of the Galaxy 2 in theaters being perfectly entertained, but not that blown away when leaving the cinema. Having not seen Thor: Ragnarok yet (I did hope for this to be an improvement), I went along to see Black Panther and I came away pleasantly surprised. Yes, this is still a Marvel superhero film, but it’s also thoughtful, it has a great villain with an actual thought-provoking mission and statement. So, alongside the great visual trickery and cinematography, there’s an actual absorbing story here. And sympathetic characters. So, yea, if this is the standard from now on, consider me back in, Marvel Studios…

iPad Pro instead of a laptop: my first months

Inspired by this blog by Charles Arthur, I want to do my own write-up. After all, I bought my iPad Pro instead of buying a new laptop. So does it work for me?

Working so far

As I work in a public institution of education four days of my working week, those four days I’m confined to a Windows 10 laptop with a mediocre screen and crappy apps at best. Compared to that (and to be honest also to my good old iMac, which still serves me well after baking the graphic card in the oven last Autumn), my iPad Pro is a joy to use. It’s blazing fast, it responds well, the screen is amazing and the speakers sounds pretty good too.

Using the iPad Pro has been contained to experimenting with work setups. I’ve been a bit lazy in finding out clever ways to use it to its fullest. In the above link, the writer talks about using Workflow (which I’ve dabbled in a little), bookmarks and Python scripts (ehm, okay, you lost me there, I need to learn that stuff) to compile blog posts etc. I’ve been a bit bad when it comes to blogging so far in 2018, even on my Turin Brakes fansite. But I’ve blogged a lot on my iPad Pro, using the Logitech Slim Combo, which is great apart from the fact that sometimes it prevents my iPad from charging. This is clearly an annoying bug that needs to be fixed in iOS. Unless it’s the keyboard, which would be very annoying. I haven’t contacted Logitech support yet.

Besides blogging, I’ve been experimenting with Apple Pencil, but any experiment looks ridiculous compared to the stuff my girlfriend has been drawing in Procreate. The battery does need charging quite a lot though with such heavy use. I’ve also did some potential podcast recording with the new USB-C-Lightning-Adapter, my USB-microphone and Ferrite. I want to do this more in the coming months, and see whether I can cook up an actual podcast on this tablet. Recording guests might require additional input support which iOS lacks right now, but who knows, there might be an audio interface out there I can hook up the USB-adapter and then channel into Ferrite? It isn’t the most magical solution, but I’ll look into it.

Also, I love, love, love the camera and taking pictures of things in my house with the iPad Pro. I, in fact, love the camera with the huge screen that shows a preview sooo much that I would almost not mind the social shaming of taking pictures with a tablet. Since the camera in my iPad is, in fact, better than the one in my iPhone, it would almost make sense to do it. Almost, I’m just not ready to be a tourist with a 12.9 inch tablet in his bag. Yet.

Favourite apps

  • Writing: I quite like Bear Notes for, uhm, notes and lists. For longer form I’ve tried Ulysses, which was nice, but haven’t purchased it yet. Word feels a bit useless, at least when someone sends you an Office 365 document link, it will not open in Word, even when you try to edit it. And in the browser I got an error that it was too big to be edited.
  • Mail: Apple Mail app is clean, but also a bit useless for advanced users. Alternating between Airmail and Gmail app. Not sure yet which I prefer. I really enjoy using Airmail on macOS though.
  • Recording: Ferrite is nice so far, Garageband too but feels too focused on music.
  • Twitter: Tweetbot’s iPad interface feel so much more “pro” than Twitter’s native app. I’ve grown quite used to Twitter’s non-chronological view, which Tweetbot’s app doesn’t use. But Tweetbot on iPad makes much better use of the screen.
  • Other: Procreate for creative stuff. 1Password is ideal to use alongside Safari, as well as any note taking apps.

Needs improvement

  • I don’t like the WordPress app editor, and using the WordPress.org writing screen in Safari will get you frustrated in no-time with the cursor jumping all over when editing text. This definitely needs work. For now I prefer to write in other apps, then publish in WordPress. Putting the screenshots above next to each other proves to be impossible for me.
  • Twitter iPad app could use some extra tricks.
  • Some gestures still feel a bit weird for me. This might just mean I need more time with them. Love swiping up for the app switcher and control panel though.
  • As mentioned above, using the smart connector with a Logitech Slim Combo stops my iPad Pro from charging. This is, quite clearly, annoying and needs a fix.
  • If I ever want to get a really complex podcast show on the road, the iPad Pro in its current state might not suffice. But right now, for experimenting it definitely works.

Needs research

  • Website work – apart from the odd WordPress edit… Mostly I’ve done this on the good old iMac, it’s so far more convenient. But this is mainly habit and getting used to different ways of working. I’m open to researching this more in the future.

Conclusion

Using the iPad Pro makes me happy. It has a lot of potential that I have not explored yet, and hope to explore in the near future. I’ll report back here in a while again.

Lovesick Season 3 is back

I really really like Lovesick and I’m so happy we got a season 3. I binged the first season in a day or two, and series 2 in not much longer. I will take, for various reasons, more time to watch season 3, but after episode 1 I’m already confident that it’s gonna be a good season. No other show combines humour, heartbreak and tales of love and dating in such an accessible mix. Edgy when necessary, honest when needed, hilarious most of the time. I hope this is not the last season of Lovesick.

On Netflix now.

Things to look forward to in 2018

In no particular order, things to look forward to:

  • Great new music. Most of all the new Turin Brakes album Invisible Storm that is released on 26 January 2018.
  • Live gigs, including Turin Brakes many times, but also Iron & Wine, Susanne Sundfør and many others I don’t know about yet.
  • Spending many days with the girlfriend.
  • A late Summer wedding in the USA. See also below.
  • A late Summer holiday in the USA. See also above.
  • Filling in my fresh new bullet journal. 2017 was up and down for my bullet journal experience, but I’ve decided to keep going this year.
  • Discovering new things to cook.

Why I bought an iPad Pro

I’ve never been a real tablet user. I’ve had iPads around the house for years, mostly borrowed ones or ones from work, but I’ve never really used them properly. I tried magazine reading – but ended up with a backlog of Wired magazines, I tried watching things, but found I preferred a tv and my old iMac instead. But with no laptop and a desire to be able to write, consume and create on the go, I’ve decided to invest in an iPad anyway. An iPad Pro that is, with a proper keyboard case and a pencil. Because yes: it’s a tablet and not a real laptop with real software instead of simplified apps, but I don’t think I need those that often…

The only thing where my iPad Pro might be lacking is in the podcasting department. I’m still experimenting with how to make those properly on the device. And I’m still sort of figuring out the tricks when it comes to editing website code. But besides that, I can do most of the things I want to on the iPad. Any new Windows PC or Mac comes with a lot crap slowing you down. I mean, I like OS X but it has so many tools and bells and whistles I never use. I like the idea of a modern computer being light, and being focused on what you need. So I decide the apps I want to buy and use and there’s hardly any bloatware or crap on it.

So with my old iMac still running relatively smoothly I’ve decided to set it all up like this: intensive website work and editing I’ll do on my iMac, everything else I’ll try to do on the iPad. So far, so good, although I’ve gotten so used to a touch screen now, that I find myself pushing non-touchscreens as well before realising that it won’t work. But besides that minor inconvenience, I find this setup to work pretty well for me, a joy to use at times even. And that’s what expensive things should be: a joy to use. I could have shelled out twice as much for a sleek MacBook Pro, but instead the iPad Pro will be my companion at home and on the road.

Here’s to a productive 2018.