Week 29.21

  • Don’t try this at home: Kim is away in the UK this week; not the most advisable travel idea. Cases there are rising sharply and I oop, I suppose the same could be said for Singapore. A couple of clusters have formed around illegal KTV operations (the comedy of that phrase!) and a fisheries port, which has led to fishmongers and wet markets across the country becoming danger zones. We had 88 local cases on Sunday, the highest since August last year. For the record, the UK had about 56,000 cases on Saturday alone. The mind boggles.
  • So until she gets back and clears the quarantine process 🤞, I’m on a sort of Sabbatical+, where I have more freedom to eat junk food and play games well into the night. I didn’t leave the house all weekend and it was the best.
  • I finished Root Film on the Switch, and while I still enjoyed it on the whole, it became needlessly convoluted and improbable in the final acts. Pick it up on sale maybe, but bear in mind it offers no challenge whatsoever. In any case, Root Film was always going to be the appetizer for the two games under Nintendo’s Famicom Detective Club banner, which I’ll try to buy and play next.
  • Thanks to the NYT’s SF Summer reading list curated by Amal El-Mohtar, I discovered the joys of the CatNet series (just two books at the moment). Catfishing On CatNet is the first, essentially about teens hanging out in online chat rooms and getting pulled into an adventure, and it was so much fun that I blazed through it in about a day.
  • I then missed hanging out in chat rooms so much I decided to give Discord another try and joined a few servers. The quality of conversation in most was a step down from what I remember of IRC in the early days of the net. Then, spending time in chats was a main attraction, not an alleyway off the main boulevard of social media. So I was disappointed until I found a server dedicated to older people, a distasteful category I now find myself in. Ah! There, I found people speaking in complete sentences and actually communicating with one another. I may continue this.
  • I saw Black Widow and felt it unnecessary and stupid. I’m kinda over Marvel the way I’m over Star Wars, except the first episode of Loki on Disney+ worked well with the pairing of Tom Hiddleston and Owen Wilson — I thought I’d be annoyed by his usual mannerisms but it’s actually been a long time and we’re in a pandemic, so you do your thing Owen, we’re here for it.
  • Installed iPadOS 15 Public Beta 3 on my main iPad. Haven’t run into any issues yet, and I’m relieved at finally being able to customize my home screens with only the icons and widgets I want, leaving everything else in the App Library. You can also have two of the same app icons up as well, so I have Photos on my first Home Screen but also on the page I’ve dedicated to photo editing apps a few swipes away. It’s the little things!
All in a day’s work with Dreams
  • A feeling of being useless, sitting around consuming all the time without making anything, has been fermenting and I’ve consciously allowed it. Over the weekend, I made it my mission to begin prototyping a game I’ve had in mind for awhile, let’s give it a code name… Feline Fiddler? Nintendo’s Game Builder Garage was going to be where I’d learn the basics and try to start, but upon investigation, you have to use its built-in asset library, and if you can’t find what you need in there, too bad. So I ultimately went with Dreams on the PS4, and oh boy, is it a stupendously powerful tool for 3D modeling, animation, and visualization.
  • On Saturday, I started playing the demo game project that comes as part of it, Art’s Dream, which showcases what you can do with it. And then started doing a few tutorials. By Sunday afternoon, I was able to assemble something close to the scene I had in my head using models others have built and shared on the platform, light it, and walk around in it with a character. And it’s all achievable on a PS4! I don’t see any reason why there couldn’t be something like this on iPads, apart from the App Store rules. Maybe Roblox is something like this? I should check it out…

Week 24.21

Went out just once for leisure purposes; we’re in partial lockdown after all. Saw an exhibition of Chinese ink paintings by Chinese-Singaporean artist Cheong Soo Pieng.

After 35 hours of virtual oden eating and street thug harassment, I finally finished Judgment on the PS4 with most side cases solved. I usually don’t enjoy tonal inconsistency, but I can’t get enough of how the Yakuza games (I include this one) just jump from serious melodrama to comic absurdity. You can be searching a murder scene for clues but also follow the sound of mewing to find hidden cats for bonus points. Some PI cases have you spying on suspected criminals, while others have you hanging expensive lingerie up on your roof to bait a local panty thief (who uses a drone). I can’t wait to revisit these characters in the sequel later this September.

Also finished watching all 24 episodes of Steins;gate 0 at 1.25x speed. I think I would have enjoyed it a bit more had I remembered the ending of the first series a bit better (it’s been a decade). So the ending of this was an anticlimax because I didn’t follow how the big problem was being solved — tying up time travel loose ends is more work than usual.

We finally saw our last remaining episode of Izakaya Bottakuri on Netflix. It’s a rather corny and harmless Japanese drama about two sisters who run a little izakaya they inherited from their parents. Most episodes involve a regular customer’s backstory and some closeups of food being fried. The one noteworthy thing about the show is how every episode has a character describe their beverage’s selling points in great detail: usually a domestic craft beer, or regional sake made with some special process. After the end credits, the lead actress comes back to hold up the bottle and talk about tonight’s alcohol selection. It’s blatant content marketing, but I am quite alright with the idea of a TV show bankrolled by booze companies!

I enjoyed Guy Ritchie’s new film, Wrath of Man, which stars Jason Statham in the kind of badass role he’s perfected over god knows how many similar outings. But it’s probably one of his best. I appreciate what Ritchie brings to what would otherwise by a straightforward heist and revenge story: heaps of style and chronology jumping for the hell of it.

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Of course, it was also WWDC week. No new hardware products, but the curtain came back for iOS 15 and while there aren’t any big, must-have features to look forward to, some very nice quality of life upgrades all around. I’m especially looking forward to quicker on-device Siri, tags in Notes, and more intelligence in Photos. iPadOS could have gone further and pushed the new M1 chips with pro-level apps or even a goddamn calculator, but all we got were the long-awaited cleanup of the multitasking interaction model and free placement of last year’s widgets, plus everything else new on the iPhone side.

I may be remembering things wrong, but there wasn’t any news on the Apple TV apart from spatial audio support, and watchOS is just grinding out more of the same, expansion pack style, with new workout and mindful activity types.

Spatial audio is quite a big deal, though. I recently watched some Dolby Atmos enabled videos content on my new iPad with AirPods, and it really works. With the launch of Atmos music tracks on Apple Music this week, I spent some time listening to old and new tracks to put it through its paces. I tend to agree with everyone who’s observed that the rock music examples are generally terrible, and the effect works best on jazz and classical music — where even studio cuts usually strive to reproduce the context of a live performance. The new spatial remixes of vintage jazz records have more atmosphere and you can point around you to where each player seems to be seated. Perhaps it’s like colorizing old photos, gimmicky and impure to some, but bringing them closer in space and time nonetheless. I think the technology is a positive development.

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Next week: More reading. Wanna crush your Goodreads challenge? The New York Times Book Review has published a list of recommendations. I’ll be trying some of them out soon.

Week 28.20

  • I was wondering what book to read after Cryptonomicon and fell back into the easy, brainless comfort of another Jack Reacher novel by Lee Child. This time it was #16, The Affair. It stands out for being a prequel to all the others, written in the first person. Now that I’m done, I think my next book will be some kind of SF.
  • We have a baker across the street who does pricy (and good) pies, tarts, cakes, and various breads out of his little shop. And since we’re home 99% of the time now, I’ve been trying to buy more things from the neighborhood, hyperlocal spending and all that. The bakery especially, since they don’t sell on delivery services. That said, my mother is in the habit of making the 20-minute trip to buy their quiches (not to see me!) This week I started buying big slices of cake as after-dinner treats. No danger of the pandemic weight gain reversing soon.
  • Yesterday was polling day in the local elections, and we were given an afternoon window of about two hours to show up, line up, have our temperatures taken, IDs scanned, and our votes cast. There were bottlenecks in the morning, and stories of old people struggling to put on mandatory plastic gloves after having their hands sprayed with alcohol — how nobody in the Elections Department tested this and realized it would be impossible to do quickly, I don’t know. By noon, the gloves were optional. By the time we voted, the entire process was over in 60 seconds and we were headed home.
  • I caved and installed the first(!) public beta for iOS 14 on my primary phone, which I use for both work and personal purposes. I filed an Apple Music bug within the first 30 minutes, and noticed a few other issues like how the OS think it’s using 90GB of free space for “Other” temp files. According to Reddit, this is widespread but doesn’t actually mean my phone is full, so, okay. It’s surprisingly stable otherwise.
  • The way I organize my home screens has evolved over the years, particularly after folders were added, but it’s been simple: the first page is for apps I’m likely to need often, the second page is for all my camera and photo-editing apps, and the third is for games. The fourth is where junk goes. Now that there are large widgets vying for real estate (the Files widget can take up the room of 16 icons!), and an App Library where you’re meant to keep all but the most immediately needed icons, I’m having to rethink the whole approach and get comfortable with a totally different model. Of course, no one is forcing me to use widgets or change my ways, but I’ll take the opportunity to maintain some neuroplasticity.
  • A friend told me last year about services that let you gain interest on your cryptocurrency holdings, but they were small UK companies and I didn’t particularly feel like going through the trouble at the time. The premise is sensible though, if not free of risk. If you’re going to be holding currency in any form, you don’t want it stagnating and not earning interest of some sort. These companies will loan out your capital to others, and in return you get interest rates ranging from 4–8% per annum. Which is stunning compared to any traditional savings account, and makes one wonder how high the risk is. But if you’ve got money in crypto to begin with, what’s a little more risk? It seems this has now become a “mainstream” offering at several exchanges and so I’ve decided to give it a go with what little I have. Perhaps I’ll regret it.

HEIFer — iOS Shortcut for Batch-Converting Photos to HEIF/HEIC

Changelog:

v1.01 (Jan 30, 2020) — iOS 13.3.1 fixes a bug that affected the way Share Sheet imports had to take you out of the Photos app and into Shortcuts. So this is now simplified. Also added emoji graphics to make the main menu fancier.

v1.02 (Sep 5, 2020) — Updated to fix the shortcut stalling at deletion of original photos after processing. Apple changed some behavior in the Shortcuts.app.

Summary

HEIFer is a shortcut for iPhones and iPads (you can import and run it in the Shortcuts app that is part of iOS 13) that automates the batch conversion of photo to HEIF/HEIC formats. This has the benefit of making their files dramatically smaller without any visible loss of image quality.

HEIF stands for High Efficiency Image Format, and Apple introduced support for it in 2017. You can find out more about the format here.

HEIFer has three modes:

  • Converting a manual selection of photos
  • Scanning the newest 100 photos in your library, and converting any JPEG/PNG/TIFF images it finds
  • Converting the last imported batch of photos (from a camera or SD card, using an adapter)

Add HEIFer to your Shortcuts.app here (v1.02)

Why Did I Make This?

This is my first proper iOS Shortcut and I made it to learn the ropes.

I’m kinda all-in on the HEIF format, and if your iPhone is set to save at “High Efficiency” in the Camera section of Settings.app, then you’re already using it for every photo you take. The quality is great, and you can store twice as many photos in the same amount of storage space.

But… I also shoot photos with other cameras, and every manufacturer, from Canon and Nikon to Sony and Leica, seems to be years behind in the software game, and the only options they offer are usually JPEG and RAW. What’s more, the CPUs in these cameras are usually very underpowered compared to what’s in your iPhone, so they don’t try very hard to compress the images efficiently. You can typically turn a 10MB JPEG from your camera into a 3–4MB HEIF file in less than a second. It’s a tremendous waste of space, both on device and in your cloud backups, to keep the JPEGs.

When you save an edited photo out of VSCO, you’re turning a HEIF file into a JPEG

I also edit my photos with iOS apps like VSCO and Lightroom, and almost all of them save the finished photos in JPEG. So if you’re regularly editing your iPhone photos, those small .heic files are still ending up as fat .jpg files at the end of the day. It’s nuts!

So HEIFer is a way to quickly take those old-ass files, bring them into the present, and then dump the originals. For instance, if I’m shooting directly to JPEG on my cameras (why not RAW? That’s a topic for another day), all I have to do is plug in the SD card, select “Import All”, run HEIFer, and I’m done in three taps.

If your photos have proper timestamps, then you will still see them in chronological order in the “Photos” tab. However, if you go into the “Recents” photo album, it will reflect the process of converting and deleting them, i.e. it’ll be as out of order as your recollection of a big night out.

Usage

Continue reading “HEIFer — iOS Shortcut for Batch-Converting Photos to HEIF/HEIC”

iOS 10 Makes the Timeline UI a Reality

Wired: Apple May Have Figured Out the iPhone’s Most Promising Feature

3D Touch is instrumental to Apple’s newly rethought lock screen, in a way that could fundamentally change how you interact with your iPhone.

But with iOS 10, you’ll use your home screen a whole lot less.

This article from Wired today recalls the thinking of many UX designers who believe that homescreens tiled with app icons will soon give way to a new kind of smartphone UI: the timeline. Over the last few years, both iOS and Android have been making their notifications richer, with simple functions like deleting new emails, quickly replying to texts, or faving tweets, amongst others.

lockscreenBut iOS 10 looks to be taking it to a whole new level. iPhones will light up when you raise them, and interactive notifications can expand into whole widget-like apps with live maps and data, and house more complex options than a dialog box or text input field can provide. And the best place for this new timeline UI to live is on the lock screen of your phone, the starting point of any interaction, and an arguably more valuable space for accomplishing tasks than the homescreen.

And it’s 3D Touch, launched to public disinterest with last year’s iPhone 6S, that’s been the missing piece all along. Without pressure sensitivity and Apple’s Peek & Pop gestures, a self-activating lock screen might be a pretty bad place to have action buttons that can accidentally touched. I’d be interested to see how it works on phones without it, such as the new iPhone SE. Perhaps they just won’t have Raise to Wake.

Also worth remembering that this new timeline of Things That Need Your Attention Most will live beside the Today screen of widgets (swipe to the right), which should do a lot for the idea that we’ll all be unlocking our iPhones a lot less and getting stuff done quicker later this September.

iPad Pros

  
When the 12.9″ iPad Pro was first unveiled, I was pretty sure I didn’t want or need one. Then I held it in the Ginza Apple Store while on vacation and bought one later that same day. The experience of holding such a large screen in your hands and touching it directly is more impressive than it sounds. But what you won’t realize while handling one in the store is how heavy it gets once you add a Smart Cover or Smart Keyboard and a silicone case for the back, if so inclined.

In the couple of months since, I’ve merely used it like a big iPad, watching movies in bed and occasionally reading comics or news on it; that sort of thing. But I knew it was meant for more and wanted to try bringing it to work with the Pencil and Smart Keyboard. Spoiler: it’s awesome, and I could probably do a lot of my daily stuff on it while moving easily from meeting to desk. The main problem has been its weight, especially when carried in my bag with a camera and power bank and umbrella every day. It’s also too much to hold in one hand while sketching with the other.

So after a few weeks of deliberation and bugging other people with the pros and cons, I decided to pony up for the new 9.7″ size and try to see if I could make justifiable use of two iPad Pros in one life. The Smart Keyboard hasn’t arrived yet, but I expect it will be even easier to type on than the Logitech and Belkin ones I’ve had for earlier iPads. The size and weight are perfect for one-handed use with the Pencil, although the back is slippery without a silicone case. I don’t think adding one is worth the weight gain, though. The larger iPad Pro is going to stay home and try to become a desktop computer in place of my ageing 2010 iMac. It was an unnecessary and guilt-inducing expense, but the thing that helped justify this dual-iPad setup was asking why I’ve allowed the iMac to go so long without an upgrade.

I got old! Which makes one treat computers differently, not to mention the nature of the tasks have changed.

Years ago, I would replace my PC/Mac every couple of years, usually by the end of every three-year AppleCare cycle. My computer was at the center of my life, and as a student living in a single bedroom, I’d spend most of the day in front of its screen; it was TV, telephone, game console, word processor, and library. I ate meals in front of it, and I know I wasn’t the only one.

These days, I spend most of my time at the office in front of a MacBook Pro, and at all other times, the job of that home computer is being done by an iOS device or Apple TV. I have a bigger house to move around in, and I’m almost never found sitting in front of the iMac. Having a desktop for those purposes seems awfully restrictive now, and confronting the mess of my HDD and locally stored files feels tiresome and archaic. Doing everyday tasks on an iPad without that legacy is a sort of escape, and there’s some measure of security to be had in knowing I could use one of the Macs if I really needed to. Chances are, I won’t. With music and photos on iCloud and other files on Dropbox, the iPad has all it takes to be a primary computer most days. I’ve stopped editing photos in Aperture and Lightroom and do it all with an iOS workflow now. You just have to let go and not look back.

I think all of us iPad Pro owners are waiting on iOS 10 to see Apple’s grand plan to bring this post-PC vision to maturity, but in the meantime it’s not bad at all.