1. On this week’s Critically Speaking podcast: Sometimes the best topics come stright from the news of the day. This week’s episode does just that. CryEngine on SteamOS, a Crisis for the console market, and a handful of PC and iOS games fill out the discussion.

    Check it out at DYHAMB? or subscribe in iTunes.

     


  2. Consider: Checkmark 2

    A couple of weeks ago, the usual suspects were abuzz with a new app. I’ve made it a point to take a look at releases like these, as they often come with a lot of fanfare, praise, and even a few pledges to replace coveted home screen real estate. This time, the app is Checkmark 2, a to-do list with focus on location-based reminders.

    First off, and honestly the bit that I think garners Checkmark a place in lists like these to begin with, is the visual design. Animations are smooth and lively; check circles (instead of boxes) swivel like spun coins, strikethrough lines sweep across the item cell, colors shift subtly to indicate state. By most measures the app is beautiful. But that isn’t enough. This is a to-do app. And in such a popular category, the bar is already high.

    Next is Checkmark’s most impressive feature. Location-based reminders. Regardless of the rest of the app, and the rest of this review, no other app I’ve used even comes close here. In fact, were Apple to add the same functionality to its own reminders app, I can think of no greater single way that they could improve it. Here, the most important feature is the ability to add a location by dropping a pin. It’s quick, easy, and so brilliantly obvious that I find it difficult to understand why Apple hasn’t been doing it this way all along. On top of that, when you add a location, a selector comes up at the bottom of the screen indicating the size of the geofencing area. I found this incredibly useful when needing a reminder for “when I get into town.” Location based reminders are the reason I’m still using Checkmark and why I will probably continue to do so for the foreseeable future.

    I do have a couple of criticisms, however. There’s an issue (or at least I’m assuming that it isn’t intended) where the map view readjusts to a too-near zoom level when selecting the area for a new location. It’s an annoyance more than anything, but one that users will encounter frequently when first starting out with the app. The more locations added, the more unwanted zooms and re-zooms.

    The second issue I had was with location groups, a great feature with which you can select several related locations that trigger a single reminder item. The best example is the grocery store. There are likely several in your town or city, and all of them likely sell milk or eggs or whatever it is you need to pick up. With groups, Checkmark will remind you when you arrive at any store that’s grouped into that category.

    My issue was with understanding this functionality without having read a review like this one. In the app, location groups appear to be a way that you can organize your locations. For instance, I tried to drag and drop all the locations in my town into one group labeled with the town’s name. Needless to say, the behavior didn’t align with my mental model. A hint, triggered upon first use, would go a long way in remedying this situation; or, if that seems too ham-fisted, a visual cue that suggests these items will trigger together rather be grouped in a folder, sub-folder sort of way.

    Lastly, I find myself jumping around in the app too much. Most of my time is spent navigating from one section to the next when it should be a simple, drop in, check an item, drop out process (a recent update greatly improves this).

    So, I’ve labeled this post with consider rather than recommended not because I think Checkmark isn’t worth your time or money. On the contrary, it is. Just be sure you know what you’re getting: a beautiful app, like most apps that hit the usual Mac nerd blogs, but one that’s a bit high-maintenance for certain situations. If location based reminders are a staple for you, it’s easily worth the purchase price.

    For my everyday reminders, I’ll still be using Fantastical.

    You can purchase either (or both) Checkmark 2 or Fantastical 2 for $2.99 and $4.99, respectively, on the App Store.

     


  3. Linus Edwards:

    I don’t see an easy way to solve this problem. It seems users have this conflicted nature of wanting both simplicity and complexity, and app developers can’t keep both sides happy.

    A great article and idea from Linus, but I found myself shaking my head by the end, not because I think it’s a bad argument (I don’t, of course) but because I see this “churn” as a blessing rather than a problem.

    It reminds me of something Steve Jobs said in his famous Stanford address:

    Death is very likely the single best invention of Life. It is Life’s change agent. It clears out the old to make way for the new.

    As it is with life, so it is with software. The cruft of the old is swept away by the new and fresh, “unbruised” as Shakespeare might have said and unburdened by the cares of the past.

    But unlike life, at least unlike human life, software evolves at breakneck speed. The accruing complexity of an app like Castro or an operating system like iOS, is near enough to the mistakes of its forebears to learn from them.

    Simplified writing apps (about which I know a little) tend to add complexity just like any other app does. But not even the most complicated and poorly managed will ever end up with the monstrosity that is Word’s Ribbon Interface. And even though my guess would be that most of Microsoft’s designers hate the Ribbon just as much, they are faced with being the crufty and old. Their customers would never allow even a mild simplification, let alone the steps necessary to make Word into a pleasant user experience. Look no further than Windows 8 (and furthermore 8.1) for your evidence.

    It took the compound complexity of Windows and OS X to spur the development of iOS (and Windows Phone). Designers must follow the branches of the complicated in order to create the essential versions that come later.

     


  4. Just Another Guy

    At the University of Idaho, where I earned my undergraduate degree, there’s a room with two floor-to-ceiling glass-paneled sides. One of its three entrances connects to the Einstein Brothers bagel shop (which in my day was simply a campus cafe called Common Grounds). I spent many afternoons in the glass-paneled room; it has a name, but I always preferred to call it the Quiet Room. There was a no talking policy, no noise at all in fact, except for the baby grand piano in the corner, often played beautifully by an elderly man who stopped by for fifteen minutes or so every couple of days. I never asked his name.

    One day, ensconced in one of the faux-leather chairs, PowerBook in my lap, unfinished literary essay in a long since forgotten version of Word for OS X open behind my web browser, I paged idly through Slashdot or Digg or MacRumors. Glancing up from the screen, I saw a young man making his way across the room towards me.

    "So, you’re a Mac guy?" he asked, but it wasn’t really a question.

    Now, I am not what you might call comfortable in social situations and even more so with a stranger approaching me in my silent sanctuary.

    "Uh, yeah." I tried to smile in the way an affable, approachable Mac user might.

    "Nice, man." He flopped into the chair next to mine, rummaging through a messenger bag (a rarity at the time), finally producing a thin black USB hard drive, the cord wrapped in a snarl around its center. "I got into ‘em because of the music. What about you?"

    I said something about ease of use; at the time I couldn’t say what I know now—that I love hardware and software that pays an unusual amount of attention to details that average users rarely, if ever, notice.

    “We gotta stick together, you know? Check this out,” he continued.

    With a flick of his wrist, he popped open his computer (a white plastic iBook), plugged in the portable drive, and brought up the Finder. Inside were folders and folders of music, easily thousands of songs. He aimed the screen at me. “See anything you like?”

    I did.

    Now it’s important to remember that this was many years ago. My thoughts on pirated music or software have shifted greatly since then, mostly in response to my desire to become someone who makes a portion of their income from content creation. But on that day in the Quiet Room, I was a cheap, naive college student in a bizarrely high-pressure social situation.

    Whether I took the guy up on his offer or not is beside the point. We went on to talk a bit more about the Mac, until we started drawing looks from others in the room. Naturally, I wasn’t the only person who came to this place in order to get away from the noise. Eventually, he packed up his machine and headed out with a wave and a smile.

    To this day I wonder if he would’ve approached me had I been typing away on a Dell or a Sony or a (then IBM) ThinkPad.

    During the summer months I still take classes at the University of Idaho. It’s only a short walk from my house, and the course content still teaches me something new every time. And some days I sit in the Quiet Room in the same chair, wondering if someone were to come through the glass doors with a MacBook under their arm, would they see the Apple logo on my iPad and strike up a conversation? Or, in light of Apple’s recent popularity, would they see not a kindred spirit—another person who gets it—and instead see nothing at all, just a student (a little old for the university scene these days) hunched over a glowing screen, like everybody else.

    Isn’t that what 2003 me wanted? An Apple computer in virtually everyone’s hands, a diminished Microsoft, computers thin and light enough that you’d hardly notice them in a backpack, battery life that lasts all day. It was. But now, instead of being “the Mac guy,” I’m just another guy with a Mac.

    I suppose that’s better.1


    1. My inspiration for this piece comes from this post which appeared at 9to5 Mac. 

     


  5. minimalmac:

    Nothing crazy about it though, the iPad and iPhone, seem to me to be the perfect writing machines. They are regularly always with you so they allow you to start writing almost anytime and anywhere. When one can let go of the fear and let built in tools like auto-correct help, you might be surprised how fast one can become on the built in keyboard. But, as explained, part of the benefit is that it also can slow one down just enough to be more intentional with the words they choose and careful about the accuracy of the typing. I actually find I make less typos and am more quick to catch those I do when doing so in this way. In short, the iPad and iPhone help me write more often, in more situations, and write better.

    I wish I could communicate this convincingly in my day job. The iPad often requires a reconsideration of one’s approach to a task, not a limitation to whether that task is possible. And as time goes on, more and more tools appear to do incredible things with computing devices that are light, friendly, and infinitely more accessible than their forebears.