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“Open” Google

2 min read

Listening to TWiT the past week or so and they’ve been talking a lot about the Apple education event, and making a lot of comparisons to Google. Leo would consistently talk about how Google is more “open” and Apple is closed. One person during one of the shows (I can’t recall which) even said Chromebooks were better because they could have developers make web apps, but iPads required iOS developers. Did they forget that iPads have Safari?

And on the topic of Google being “open”, I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Google has done a good job convincing everyone that they’re “open”, but they really aren’t. If Google were really open, you’d be able to develop a 3rd party Google Docs client and collaborate with people using the 1st party Google Docs app. What Leo really seems to be saying is Google has more cross platform apps, but cross platform does not equal open. That would be like saying an email provider that only allowed you to email other people on their service is open as long as they made apps for all the major platforms.  

This isn’t to say Google hasn’t contributed a lot to the open source community, they have, but so has Apple

I guess all of this is to say cross platform <> open.


I ❤️ Workflow

3 min read

I use Workflow many times everyday. I really like how I can build custom, well, workflows and have my phone do something that's simple and make it even easier, or do something complex with the push of a button.

I know my phone is a computer in my pocket, but this app makes my phone really feel like a computer. Just checkout their documentation to get a sense of what Workflow can do.

I thought I'd share some of the workflows that I use pretty often.

Share on Known

This is easily my most used workflow. I can use this to share pretty much anything from any app using the iOS share sheet right to my blog. It's essentially a glorified bookmarklet, the key being I can use it from any app.

Log my weight

This simple workflow lets me log my weight from the iOS today view. It simply prompts me for my weight, displaying the number pad, and logs it to the iOS Health app.

Log water

Similar to the weight workflow, this workflow lets me log my water intake to the iOS health app. Again, I can use it directly from the IOS today widget, allowing me to select from 2 pre-defined amounts (amounts I often drink), or I can select Other and input the amount through the number pad that's displayed.

Quick reminder

This workflow lets me set a quick reminder in the iOS Reminders app. Reminders doesn't have the best interface for adding new entries that will have either a date/time or a location associated with them. So, this workflow lets me quickly select a common location (work or home) or set a time using natural language (i.e. Tomorrow @ 10am).

New Journal Entry

I used to use Dayone for journaling, but when they moved away from allowing syncing via iCloud I decided I wanted a different solution. I decided to move to the iOS Notes app. However, I like the location and weather information that Dayone adds to each new entry. To get type of information into my journal entries I created a workflow that pulls my current location and gets the current weather from the Darksky API and copies that information to the clipboard. I can then paste that into the top of the note.

Activity Report

This is a simple workflow that will show me how well I'm doing for the day in terms of number of steps and water consumption. It shows me my average steps and water consumption for the last seven days along with today's steps and water consumption. This is another one that works directly from the iOS today view.

Translate Selection

Some of the content I read online isn't always in English. This workflow lets me select some text and translate it into English using the iOS share sheet..

ETA Home

I use this one to send my wife an iMessage letting her know how long it'll be until I get home. It takes my current location and estimates the travel time based on current traffic.

So those are some of the workflows that I have and use often. I have to say I'm pretty omptimistic about Apple's acquisition of Workflow. I hope they build some of this directly into iOS and I hope they turn Workflow into something like Automator for iOS.


Safari Favicons

2 min read

John Gruber wrote recently about favicons in Safari

The gist of it is two-fold: (1) there are some people who strongly prefer to see favicons in tabs even when they don’t have a ton of tabs open, simply because they prefer identifying tabs graphically rather than by the text of the page title; and (2) for people who do have a ton of tabs open, favicons are the only way to identify tabs.

A lot of people seem to agree that Safari should display favicons as a way to quickly find a page among a sea of open tabs. Personally, I've never found that to be all that useful in finding a particular tab. Gruber makes some good points, but the way I deal with a large number of tabs is through the tab exposé feature in Safari. Just pinch on the trackpad (or use the shift-cmd-\ keyboard shortcut) to see a grid of thumbnails of all your tabs. From there, you can visually identify the page you're looking for. Alternatively, if you just start typing, the grid of thumbnails will be filtered based on the search.

I find this method to be much better than trying to remember where in a row of tabs a particular page is, or trying to identify a site based on the favicon in the tab bar, but that's just me.


Kids in the Square

1 min read

Tonight we went to Kids in the Square to see Robin Hood by The DuffleBag Theatre. It was a great show and the girls really enjoyed it.


1 min read

Can you do a titleless post on Known?


Changing Emails

2 min read

I’ve moved a lot of my email back to my personal account. My email is now I’ve setup scripts so that if I drop an email into a folder, every email from that address will go to that folder in the future. The scripts will re-generate a number of sieve filters based on the list of addresses in each folder every 30 minutes (or however often I want). This way if I want to remove a particular address from that ruleset, I just need to remove all the emails from that sender from that folder and that address will be removed. I’m not entirely sure sure if I’ll keep this setup or not, but it’s been a fun experiment.

I’ve been a Gmail user for years, over a decade actually, and it’s fine. But I find I don’t use it any different from a regular hosted email service. I rarely use the Gmail interface, search on my Mac or iPhone allow me to find what I’m looking for, so there isn’t a whole lot of incentive to stick with Gmail any longer. While on the other hand, Gmail’s IMAP interface has always been problematic and slow, filtering in Gmail is a pain, and Google is an advertising company. That last one doesn’t bother me too much at the moment, but I’ve noticed it’s been irking me more and more. I’m pretty sure one day Google will say “IMAP is no longer supported for Gmail” because they’ll want all their users going to their interface in order to serve ads. And that’s fine, I just want a bit more control.

Now some people will say that Gmail has the best spam filtering. That may be true, but there are options out there to deal with spam. Spamassassin has worked well for me the past, and services like Mailroute, which sits in front of your mail server and filters out spam, are available for a nominal monthly fee. 

Anyway, all this is to say, I’m reclaiming my email and so far I’m liking how it’s going.


Forked KnownReactions

1 min read

I forked and updated the KnowRractions plugin to quote likes the same way it quotes reposts. This way, anything I like I also have a copy of the original content.

This is the first time I've ever forked something on github. Also the first time I've really used git.

Next, I want to see if I can fix this (& this).


Switching back to RSS

4 min read

For the past few years I abandoned RSS in favour of social media, namely Twitter and Facebook. The main reason was because the number of posts to the sites I followed via RSS was simply too much to keep up with. By using social media, I didn’t have an unread count to keep up with. So, I unsubscribed from all the sites I was following and “Liked” or “Followed” them on Facebook and Twitter. I kept a few sites in my RSS reader, smaller blogs and sites I felt I wanted to read every post (Daring Fireball, Stratechery), but for the most part I unsubscribed from everything.

Twitter and Facebook have different strengths and weaknesses for following news.

Twitter lets you see a raw feed of everything as it is happening. This has the benefit of being able to see breaking news as it happens and easily follow along.

Facebook’s algorithmic timeline lets you see things you’re likely to be interested in and/or is getting a lot of engagement. This lets the good stuff bubble to the top.

My main problem with RSS was the volume of stories and the inability to sort the wheat from the chaff. Facebook solves that by showing popular stories through their algorithm while services like Nuzzel can show you the most popular links from your Twitter feed.

Still, I don’t like relying on these third party services to get my news. As apparent from this blog, the IndieWeb has peaked my interest again, and I’m looking to decouple from those social silos a bit. That doesn't mean I'll stop using them, but I don't want to rely on them as much as in the past.

I went back to Feedly to see what was new. I hadn’t stopped using Feedly, I just wasn't using their web interface much. I use Reeder on my Mac and iPhone when I want to read the few RSS feeds to which I am still subscribed.

One thing that appeared new (to me) was the ability to sort by popularity. Feedly will judge a story’s popularity based on (presumably) the number of Feedly users reading it. And the popularity is scaled based on the site’s size, so a story from The Verge won’t be considered popular if it gets 100 views, while a smaller, less trafficked blog would be considered very popular if one of its stories were to get 100 views.

The popularity numbers are then coloured. Here’s how those colours are determined:

Red means that the story is at least 7 times more popular than the average story published by this source. Orange means that the story is at least 3 times more popular than the average story published by this source. Grey is the default color.

So, I started resubscribing to a number of sites, sorting them into various folders just to see what things would look like. The first results weren’t promising. The number of stories was huge and it was difficult to see the popularity numbers.

However, changing the view of the folder pretty much solved the problem. I changed to “Title-only view” and sorted by “Popular + Latest”.

This was the result:

The “Most Popular” section at the top provides a quick look at what stories in the bunch are worth looking at, while in the “Latest” section I can quickly scroll through and look for other stories that are popular.

I’ve only been using this for a couple of days now, but I’m really liking it. I still use Facebook and Twitter, but this gives me another, quick look at the news.