Do. Try. Catch. By Stuart Breckenridge

iPhone 7 at the Singapore F1 Grand Prix

Last night I was at the Singapore F1 Grand Prix and, in advance, I thought it would be a good opportunity to try out the new camera in the iPhone 7 Plus. I was in the standing area at turn 12, 15 feet away from cars travelling at over 100 miles-per-hour. Single-shot, burst mode, using camera zoom or not using camera zoom (not that that would make a difference), the cars were just too fast for the iPhone camera:

4K video, on the other hand, worked well:

A lack of good pictures from the iPhone aside, it was incredible being that close to the track and I’ve still got to look through the pictures from my Nikon to see if I managed to capture anything coming close to decent.


AssistiveTouch in Asia →

John Gruber, on AssistiveTouch usage in Asia:

Here’s what I think is going on: in countries around the world, particularly Asia (China, Korea, Singapore), and also Brazil, iPhone users don’t use their home buttons. Really. They turn on AssistiveTouch, an iOS accessibility feature designed for people with motor skill problems. AssistiveTouch allows you to navigate across the system, in and out of apps, without ever clicking the home button. Why don’t they click the home button? Because of a widespread misconception that the home button will wear out, thus reducing the resale value of the iPhone.

I moved to Singapore in early 2013 and — truth be told — most of the phones I saw people using on my commute weren’t iPhones. They were larger screened Samsungs.1 When I did see an iPhone in use, it was overwhelmingly being used with AssistiveTouch turned on. It was a feature that was alien to me, I had never seen it in use in the UK.

I don’t see AssistiveTouch in use as much now and my belief is that usage started going down with the introduction of the iPhone 5s, and TouchID, in late 2013. Subsequently, usage really plummeted with the introduction of the larger screened (and, importantly, gold2) iPhone 6 in 2014. (At this point, I also started seeing far more iPhones in use than Samsungs.)

It’ll be interesting to see if usage habits, including mine, change with introduction of this year’s force touch sensor in place of the Home Button.

  1. Which I mocked at the time.

  2. Gold is exceptionally important in Chinese culture.


New Instagram Profile

89 weeks ago I setup a separate Instagram profile and then never did anything with it. The purpose of the profile was to keep dSLR pictures separate from pictures taken with an iPhone.

I’ve finally started uploading pictures to this profile. All photos are taken with a Nikon D750, touched up in Lightroom, and uploaded to Instagram (with no filters added).

Instagram


Losing the 3.5mm Headphone Jack

I ordered an iPhone 7 Plus today, well aware of the fact that it wouldn’t have an 3.5mm headphone jack. I’m not sure what all the fuss is about as Apple have covered the whole gamut of user needs.

Continued Use of 3.5mm Headphones

This is possible using the included1 Lightning to 3.5mm headphone jack adapter. There is simply no need to abandon 3.5mm headphones at this stage. You’ll be able to charge and listen using Apple’s Lightning Dock while at a desk. On the go, things are more complicated. Using Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar in conjunction with the 3.5mm adapter, you’ll be able to charge and listen on the go. One can only imagine what this will look like:

iPhone -> Belkin Connector -> 3.5mm adapter -> Headphones

All In On Lightning

The EarPods bundled with the iPhone 7 are Lightning EarPods. If using an iPhone 7 (4.7”), I am positive you will be able to use the iPhone Smart Battery Case to charge and listen and the same time.2 Alternatively, charging and listening at the same time is also possible using Belkin’s Lightning Audio + Charge RockStar on iPhone 7 and 7 Plus.

Wireless

Coming in October, Apple will release their new AirPod wireless headphones. All I can do now is reserve judgement — I’ve not been overly impressed with any wireless headphones I’ve tried. However, their introduction does fit with Apple’s long term vison of a wireless future, as Jony Ive put it.

So, what’s the fuss about?

  1. When have Apple ever given away an adapter for free?

  2. Unconfirmed conjecture!


Dropbox' Dirty Little Security Hack →

philastokes:

If you have Dropbox installed, take a look at System Preferences > Security & Privacy > Accessibility tab. Notice something? Ever wondered how it got in there? Do you think you might have put that in there yourself after Dropbox asked you for permission to control the computer?

[…]

There’s at least three reasons why it matters. It matters first and foremost because Dropbox didn’t ask for permission to take control of your computer. What does ‘take control’ mean here? It means to literally do what you can do in the desktop: click buttons, menus, launch apps, delete files… . There’s a reason why apps in that list have to ask for permission and why it takes a password and explicit user permission to get in there: it’s a security risk.

[…]

Moreover, Dropbox is either clearly storing your Admin password in its own caches (very bad) or giving itself complete root privileges (also very bad); otherwise, it would have to ask you for the password again after you delete it from the list of apps allowed Accessibility privileges. This strikes me as not only underhand (because there’s no indication that it’s going to assume that kind of control) but also over the top.

It’s quite shocking that Dropbox would do this. It makes me want to move over to iCloud Drive. (Read the followup post to understand exactly how Dropbox are hacking their way around Apple’s security.)


iPhone 7 Prices →

Husain Sumra, writing for Macrumors:

While the iPhone 7 Plus introduced today saw a general $20 increase compared to the iPhone 6s Plus it will replace, customers in some countries are finding prices on both the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus and other products increasing by even more due to fluctuations in exchange rates.

Strangely, prices in Singapore have decreased.


On the State of U.K. Broadband Infrastructure →

As we wrap up this three month beta testing cycle for iOS 10, watchOS 3, and macOS Sierra, I estimate I’ve downloaded roughly 50GB across iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac devices. I would also estimate that it’s taken, collectively, around an hour to download all that data on my 100Mbps cable connection. These beta cycles constantly remind me of when I lived in the U.K. and had an 8Mbps (best case (i.e. never)) copper connection. An iOS beta would take up to four hours to download.

It turns out that the U.K. was very nearly going to go all in on fibre in the early 90s, until the Conservative government put an end to the process.

Jay McGregor, writing for TechRadar:

The story actually begins in the 70s when Dr Cochrane was working as BT’s Chief Technology Officer, a position he’d climbed up to from engineer some years earlier.

[…]

He was asked to do a report on the U.K.’s future of digital communication and what was needed to move forward.

“In 1979 I presented my results,” he tells us, “and the conclusion was to forget about copper and get into fibre. So BT started a massive effort - that spanned in six years - involving thousands of people to both digitise the network and to put fibre everywhere. The country had more fibre per capita than any other nation.

But, in 1990, then Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, decided that BT’s rapid and extensive rollout of fibre optic broadband was anti-competitive and held a monopoly on a technology and service that no other telecom company could do.

“Unfortunately, the Thatcher government decided that it wanted the American cable companies providing the same service to increase competition. So the decision was made to close down the local loop roll out and in 1991 that roll out was stopped. The two factories that BT had built to build fibre related components were sold to Fujitsu and HP, the assets were stripped and the expertise was shipped out to South East Asia.

“Our colleagues in Korea and Japan, who were working with quite closely at the time, stood back and looked at what happened to us in amazement. What was pivotal was that they carried on with their respective fibre rollouts. And, well, the rest is history as they say.

In this particular instance, Thatcher et al. had the collective foresight of a gazelle. The TechRadar article goes on to cover the U.S., where a similar decision was made to split AT&T, which inevitably hindered the rollout of fibre.

Indeed, reviewing Akamai’s State of the Internet[PDF] report for Q4 2015, the U.K. and the U.S. don’t feature in the top 10 for Global Average Connection Speeds:

Country Q4 2015 Avg. Mbps
South Korea 26.7
Sweden 19.1
Norway 18.1
Japan 17.4
Netherlands 17.0
Hong Kong 16.8
Latvia 16.7
Switzerland 16.7
Finland 16.6
Denmark 16.1

Seriously short-sighted decision making.


Auditing My Apps for the App Store Cleanup

As I wrote a few days ago, Apple announced that they will be implementing new review procedures for already released apps and will remove those that meet any of the following criteria:

  • no longer function as intended; or
  • no longer meet current review guidelines; and,
  • apps which have not been supported with compatibility updates for a long time.

Analysing these criteria and taking the more detailed support page into account, I believe the following will be Apple’s general policy: Apps which haven’t been updated in the last 24 months and which crash on launch or no longer meet current review guidelines will fall into scope of being removed from the App Store.

What current review guidelines are applicable? My assumption is that this review process for historical apps will be automated and that Apple will not be conducting manual reviews to ensure, for example, UI modernity.1 That said, the red flags I think Apple will be looking for as a starting point are:

  • Apps that aren’t 64-bit;2
  • Apps that have iTunes metadata that is outdated (e.g. a privacy policy that returns a 404)

It is inevitable that the criteria will be updated over time. For example, I imagine that in a few years apps which don’t contain @3x assets will be considered abandoned.

Auditing my apps based on this analysis reveals the following:

App Updated within 2 years 64-bit Crash on launch Metadata intact
The FFI List Yes Yes No Yes
Baby’s Milk Yes Yes No Yes
Primes Yes Yes No Yes
Amazing Flag Quiz No No No Yes

Even though Amazing Flag Quiz still makes a small amount of money through in-app purchases, I firmly believe that it falls foul of the new rules. (I’ll be writing a new version of Amazing Flag Quiz as my next project.)

What would really help is if Apple didn’t leave so much of this to conjecture with only two days to go until they begin implementing. I am hoping for more information at their event on the 7th.

  1. Given the sheer volume of apps, I think manual reviews are a no-go.

  2. Though not mentioned in the review guidelines, 64-bit has been required since 2015.


Apple Hiking iPhone 7 Orders Due to Samsung Recall →

Tim Hardwick, via MacRumors:

Apple has reportedly hiked orders for parts and components required for the production of the upcoming iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, according to sources from the supply chain in Taiwan (via DigiTimes).

[…]

The hike in order volumes suggests Apple is increasingly upbeat about demand for the new devices among existing iPhone owners seeking to upgrade, despite relatively subdued interest in the iPhone 7 models compared to the pre-launch buzz of previous years.

Another potential factor in Apple’s upward revision is Samsung’s global recall of its Galaxy Note 7 smartphone last week, which followed numerous complaints that the device caught fire while charging. The news arguably couldn’t have come at a worse time for Apple’s biggest rival, which has pitched its Note 7 as a direct competitor to Apple’s 5.5-inch iPhones.

“What a lovely gift token. The question is, what do we buy with it?”, pondered the Apple SVPs.


My Backup Strategy

Roughly three years ago I lost all the data on my MacBook due to a hardware failure. I had no backup and I lost the source code to Lucky Dip, Amazing Flag Quiz, and Live@Troon. (For reasons that escape me, I hadn’t committed any of the code to GitHub.) These days, I’m not quite as careless.

Local Backups

My iMac stores everything. Photos, documents, source code, you name it.

It is backed up locally, using Time Machine, to a Synology DS216+. Time Machine keeps hourly backups for the last 24 hours, daily backups for the last months, and weekly backups for all previous months. The first backup will take a very long time, so I’d recommend using ethernet or USB, instead of WiFi.

My Synology contains two 3TB hard drives in a Synology Hybrid Raid (SHR) configuration, which allows one of the two hard drives to fail without experiencing data loss. Two Time Machine backups for the price of one.

Remote Backups

My remote backups take multiple forms.

Everything is continuously backed up from both my iMac and MacBook to BackBlaze. BackBlaze will backup everything, except items on the default exclusion list, or file types you exclude manually.

Photos and videos, with the introduction of iCloud Photo Library, are also stored in iCloud.1

Source code — including this website — is also committed to GitHub.

I feel as though my data is relatively well protected with these failsafes. Having experienced data loss in the past, I wouldn’t hesitate in recommending them to you.

  1. My photos are backed up to my Synology, to BackBlaze, and to iCloud. You can never be too careful.


USPS Releasing Stamps to Celebrate Fifty Years of Star Trek →

This is pretty cool from USPS:

On September 8, 1966, Star Trek premiered. Centered on the interstellar voyages of the U.S.S. Enterprise, the prime-time television program’s mission was to boldly go where no man has gone before. With an intricate futuristic setting, multicultural cast, and story lines that touched on social issues, Star Trek pushed past the boundaries of popular science fiction and became a worldwide phenomenon.

Each of the 20 self-adhesive Star Trek stamps showcases one of four digital illustrations inspired by elements of the classic TV show: the Starship Enterprise inside the outline of a Starfleet insignia against a gold background, the silhouette of a crewman in a transporter against a red background, the silhouette of the Enterprise from above against a green background, and the Enterprise inside the outline of the Vulcan salute (Spock’s iconic hand gesture) against a blue background. The stamp sheet includes five of each design. The words FOREVER USA, separated by a small Starfleet insignia, appear along the top edge or the bottom edge of each stamp. The words SPACE… THE FINAL FRONTIER, from Captain Kirk’s famous voice-over, appear beneath the stamps against a background of stars.


Keeping Jekyll Build Times Down While Minifying Files

PageSpeed Insights annoys the hell out of me. For a long time this website was sitting — harshly, I thought — with a score in the 60s. I had a few issues:

  • Cache-Control headers not being set on images
  • Render blocking CSS
  • Unminified CSS

I resolved the Cache-Control issue by adding headers to those files using gsutil.1 I’m happy to live with render blocking CSS but I’ve minimised its impacts by moving to asynchronous loading of webfonts from TypeKit, rather than Cloud.Typography’s CSS method. Minifying CSS turned out to be a bit trickier.

I initially implemented a minifier using the Jekyll Asset Bundler plugin. This worked perfectly except for one flaw: it added around seven seconds to the build time of the website. I found that to be unacceptable, so in my search for another solution that doesn’t impact performance I came across a node package called Minifier. Minifier is able to minify CSS without impact to performance but it does require a bit more work to integrate than the Jekyll plugin I was previously using.

Integrating with the Build Script

I build my Jekyll site using a build script, so my first decision was where I want to integrate Minifier in the script. I’ve decided to add it after the Jekyll build is complete:

echo "1. Build Site"
cd ~/dotrycatch
bundle exec jekyll build

echo "2. Minifying"
cd ~/dotrycatch/public/css
minify poole.css
minify lanyon.css
minify syntax.css

echo "3. Copying Minified CSS to site"
cp poole.min.css ~/dotrycatch/_site/public/css/
cp lanyon.min.css ~/dotrycatch/_site/public/css/
cp syntax.min.css ~/dotrycatch/_site/public/css/

echo "4. Committing"
git add .
git commit -m "Commit via Script"
git push 

Reducing the Number of CSS Files

Using this approach, build time remains constant, and steps 2 and 3 take no time at all. However, there’s one further optimisation I made: combining multiple CSS files into one and then minifying the combined file. Steps 2 and 3 are updated as follows:

echo "2. Minifying"
cd ~/dotrycatch/public/css
cat poole.css lanyon.css syntax.css > combined.css

echo "3. Copying Minified CSS to site"
cp combined.min.css ~/dotrycatch/_site/public/css/

This reduces the number of requests the browser needs to make to get my CSS files and comes with no performance hit during build.

SUCCESS: These little tweaks keep the build time of this site to around two to three seconds on a 2016 MacBook (m5 CPU) and as a result of the changes above, this site now has a 91/100 score for mobile and 97/100 score on desktop.

  1. Most of the static files for this website are hosted on Google Cloud Storage. I’d recommend this approach as it will help greatly in the event you ever migrate your site to a different platform.


App Store Improvements →

Apple Developer News and Updates:

Quality is extremely important to us. We know that many of you work hard to build innovative apps and update your apps on the App Store with new content and features. However, there are also apps on the App Store that no longer function as intended or follow current review guidelines, and others which have not been supported with compatibility updates for a long time. We are implementing an ongoing process of evaluating apps for these issues, notifying their developers, and removing problematic and abandoned apps from the App Store.

This is a long overdue move from Apple which I welcome.

(I’m quite sure I’ll be getting an email soon regarding Amazing Flag Quiz. I haven’t updated it since 2013!)