MacBook 2015 Review: Can this thing code?

I have recently found myself in need of a personal laptop upgrade.  Work has provided me first a 15" retina and now a 13" retina, so I've had experience with some of Apple's trimmest hi-res screened machines.  While the 15" was a powerhouse (maxed to the gills) I have been rather taken with the smaller size of the 13".  Turns out that I don't max out any of my machines all that often (until I enter Google Hangouts...).

But, this would be a second machine I'd be traveling with.  I'm willing to sacrifice some (or a lot) of power for sheer portability.  

My use-case here might be different than yours.  I travel at least one week a month and I must bring along my 13" retina.  I will often pair that with an iPad Air for media consumption, but I like to work on small personal side projects (like experimenting with apps and new tools) and it's typically considered taboo to mix your work machine with these small side projects.

There really is no Mac that is more portable than the MacBook but it's not really a powerhouse, so I had questions about whether it would handle my typical coding load.  On the other hand, while the same money gets me way more machine, the thought of carrying around two 13" retinas, as light as they are, while I'm running from one gate to the next in an airport is not appealing.

So imagine my delight when I walk into my local Apple Store and find out that they have an extended holiday return window.  From now until January 8 you can return any mint-condition item you purchase.

The choice seemed pretty clear: get a MacBook, try it out and if it performed poorly while I was coding return it for a 13" retina.  I walked out with the top tier model:  8GB RAM; 1.2GHz/2.6GHz boost Intel Core M processor; 512GB SSD. 

I've been doing some light coding on the MacBook over the past few days.  Much to my delight, it has performed adequately.  Having multiple instances of XCode open is no problem whatsoever.  Simulators spin up, albeit a bit sluggishly, and don't seem to lag.  I can have many multiple tabs open in Chrome, though I've seen the occasional stutter when pulling up heavy pages.

All in all, the slowdown is not sufficient to make me rethink my purchase.

But that is not the whole story, not by a long shot.

The sheer portability of this thing is astounding!  It actually feels more portable than an iPad, and more useful.  Its thinness when closed is almost awe-inspiring.  There is something crazy about how easy this thing is to just carry from room to room.  It weighs nothing and feels even thinner.  I have coded in more places in my house with this machine in three days than I have with any other machine in three years.

It almost inspires you to move.

Of course, this is not the whole story.  There are open questions and there are definitely compromises.

First off, there is the weirdness of the single USB-C port.  You basically have to have an adapter, and the adapters are expensive, at least for the moment.  The Apple adapter which gives you a USB-C, USB and an HDMI port is $79.99.

This, however, is not as big as it seems.  The great thing about this machine is that you can move around.  If you're going to do that, you're not going to take your monitor with you.  That doesn't answer the question of things like attaching iOS devices to it, but those adapters are more common and much cheaper.

Then there is the keyboard.  It's...  different.  It's extremely shallow but very tactile.  The arrow key configuration is driving me crazy.  I have to look at them to use them.  I'm sure that will change with time, but this is a very different typing experience, so be prepared.

And finally, an open question:  How will this machine handle a full stack?  It runs XCode and the accompanying simulators just fine, but what if you have to add a Node backend to that?  I'm sure the old Flurry stack would take 5+ minutes to load itself on here.

So, in the end, I'm likely going to keep this machine.  Of course, it is a first rev, so if you can hold off, I bet that next year's model will be much improved.  But the real game-changer here is how thin, light and portable this machine is.  Every machine should be this way.

Anger

James 1:19-20
My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires.

Perhaps you are put off by quotes from the Bible.  Perhaps not.  In today's world, it is a tome fraught with controversy.  But there are good parts therein, and here is one.

I have learned recently that my anger avails nothing.  My greatest wrath brings about nothing but destruction.  My righteous anger can mean but naught in front of the righteous anger of another.

We recently faced a situation that brought out my greatest anger.  Taken advantage of, humiliated, forced into a situation which compromised my rights, my due.

In many ways, taken advantage of has been the course of the day.

But tonight, my wife, in creativity, in inspiration, in eloquence was able to right a wrong which my anger could not.  Her creativity found a solution that my anger could not.

My anger availed me nothing but angst and more anger.  It also blinded me to the solutions that lay in front of me.  Anger, my friends, is not something that builds, it is something that destroys.

We see much of it in this world.  Yes, anger at injustice can lead to change.  But often it is hard to disassociate that change from the hurt that breeds the anger.

Instead, look to your response.  In a creative and peaceful manner it can build a good situation from bad.

Tonight, my wife taught me a lesson.  I hope that I remember it the next time I'm angry.

The Cost of Switching

I am blessed enough in my job that I have the option to pick up just about any OS I want on a day-to-day basis.  I have copious test devices laying around ready for use, both Android and iOS.  I also happen to be a GSM AT&T customer, so switching is as simple as swapping a sim.

I could, say, pull out the venerable Nexus 5, or perhaps iPhone 5.  Mayhaps the Nexus 6 strikes my fancy one day or perhaps the iPhone 6.  I even have my choice in wearables!  I could rock an original Pebble, an Android Wear watch or the Apple Watch.  Choice simply abounds.

And yet, day-to-day, I keep my sim safely ensconced in my iPhone 6 Plus with an Apple Watch tentatively on my wrist.  It turns out that the cost to switch, even when the hardware is available, is too high to do on a whim.

Part of the lock in is due to the hardware itself.  The iPhone 6 Plus has the best camera of all the devices I have.  I am the most familiar with it and can have it out and moments captured quickly and easily.  But, the Nexus 6 does not have a terrible camera.  It simply lacks in some polish.

As a matter of fact, the lock in is not even app based.  All of the apps I use on iOS are available on Android.  Some of them are actually more fully-featured on Android.

In terms of aesthetics, I actually prefer the basic look of Android to iOS.  I like material design, it's a pretty way to express ideas.  iOS is not ugly by any stretch, but it is a bit... uninspiring in its ubiquity of conceptual verbs.

No, there are two things that lock me in.

First and foremost, it is an incredible pain to swap devices when all of my second factor auth is on one device.  Even if it can be done in 10 or 15 minutes, it's a pain to have to do and is not something I'd like to do on a daily basis.  It is, perhaps, just the slightest bit scary.

Secondly, there is an ecosystem developing in the Apple universe that is hard to beat.  I am purely addicted to texting from my computer while I'm sitting at my desk.  iMessage is a powerful driver in terms of lock in and other features, such as the ability to answer calls, are nothing to sneeze at.

Perhaps I am an edge case power user, but I suspect not.  Market share of Apple laptops is rising while the general PC market is declining.  iOS is recapturing ground lost to Android in markets such as China.  The Apple Watch is perhaps the best expression of a wearable to date (though by no means perfect or a necessity).

There is a lot of power in Apple's vertical integration and they are leveraging it more and more with every new OS release.  This is a serious driver in lock in and could very well keep me off of Android for the foreseeable future.

The Feel of It

Speaking of getting the notification feel right, David Pierce writes:

Apple tested many prototypes, each with a slightly different feel. “Some were too annoying,” Lynch says. “Some were too subtle; some felt like a bug on your wrist.” When they had the engine dialed in, they started experimenting with a Watch-specific synesthesia, translating specific digital experiences into taps and sounds. What does a tweet feel like?
— http://www.wired.com/2015/04/the-apple-watch/

This gives me hope that Apple may get it right.  I still maintain that it's an inflection point, and I still think that no one will have cracked prioritization of messages, but this is a step in the right direction.

Inflection Point

So, this is it.  All the cards are on the table.

Apple just had their Apple Watch event and unveiled their approach to "wearables".  Android Wear is well known (and mostly panned).  Pebble has a new iteration, with new watches and features.

If Apple doesn't pull this off, then wearables, at least as they are conceived of now, are DOA.

There are basically two interactions with wearables:  Notifications and personal tracking.  These seem to be the interactions the industry has settled on, and truth be told, it will take some time to figure out if there are more.

Everyone has their own take on it.  Pebble debuted first, as basically a notification platform, but added personal tracking (aka step counting) later.  They recently, and perhaps smartly, added the concept of traveling through notifications in a timeline manner.  Watches are originally for tracking time, this makes sense.  As to their personal tracking capabilities, folks like FitBit and their ilk have shown that it's not hard to count steps, so I suspect that Pebble will do this menial function well.

Pebble, at its base, is a simple platform.  There are no frills.  There aren't even touch screens.  You just press the buttons on the sides to navigate around.  The newest models have 64 bit color e-ink screens, the old ones are black and white.  The design is...  toyish, though the Steel is attractive, but the screens do little favor here.

Android Wear is taking the traditional Android path and fragmenting the whole thing like crazy.  Square faces, round faces, different hardware on every single device.  Some have heart-rate sensors, all of them track steps.  It's a grab-bag of design and craziness.  

It's also clumsy and non-intuitive to use.  You slide left, right, up, down, who knows which way, to interact with it.  It's a little bit like using one of those old sliding puzzles, where you try to arrange the pieces into a coherent picture, except you only get to see one tile at a time.

Apple is taking a different approach in that it has a "home screen" and offers seemingly immense personalization.  This personalization may be the defining factor, but we shall see, since very few have actually used a device yet.

The devices are attractive and range widely in pricing, with the base model being near $100 more than the average Android Wear pricing and well above the Pebble pricing.  In terms of finish, they are typical Apple, top-notch, so perhaps that is warranted.

But, why is this the last hail-Mary pass for this category?

I've used Pebble, I've used Android Wear, and both are rather infuriating in a very specific way.  Quite honestly, you can discount the personal tracking options.  They don't do much more than track if your arm is swinging and the devices I've seen have not tracked well.  Ironically, the phone in my pocket seems to track my movement more reliably though I keep my phone in my pocket constantly.

No, with personal tracking out of the way, that leaves notifications, and being pinged by every single notification on your wrist will drive you to the brink of madness.  You never quite realize how many notifications you get in a day until every single one hits your wrist in a way that you simply cannot ignore.

I have had near panic attacks as servers go down or a tweet gets picked up by 1000 people.  There is very little differentiation in the feel of a tweet or a server going down, so as your wrist lights up you just don't know what you're getting until you pull your wrist up to your face.

And you know what?  You pull your wrist up to your face on every ping.

Now, at least on some platforms, you can customize that.  But that's tedious and no one but the most die-hard geeks will do that.  As a matter of fact, having to go in and do that myself is ridiculous on the face of it.

This device in my pocket quite literally knows everything about me.  It knows who I interact with most frequently or who I put off til later.  It knows which services I am terribly addicted to and which ones I barely touch.  Why can't the OS itself do all of the personalization for me?  Or at the least start the process?

Of course, that limits the wearable manufacturer to someone that is integrated with the OS.  Sorry Pebble.

But until the problem of who gets to ping your wrist with privilege is solved in a way that doesn't require hours to set up wearables like what we're seeing here will be a niche.  Google can do it, though who knows if they will.  Apple could do it, but they seem to be against such things as a matter of principle, since it involves a lot of data.  Pebble can only do it if the OS lets it, which I doubt will happen.

I will probably get an Apple Watch just to try one.  But if my Pebble or my Android Wear devices are any indication it will be a passing fad.  The day something blows up and drives me to constant distraction, the day I start to panic as I pull my wrist to my face over and over, that day I'll take it off and put it in a drawer.

 

The Beauty of Material Design

I admit it, I'm possessed of an insatiable curiosity of what the other side of the fence looks like.  Especially when it comes to phones and mobile OSes.  So on Christmas Eve of this week, I bounced from iOS 8 to Android Lollipop.

Now, let's get one thing straight:  I'm becoming a pro at this.  At any given moment, I have around 10 devices to "try".  But I typically will only dabble and not full-scale switch all that often.  The cost of switching from iOS to Android, or vice versa, is high.

The big show-stopper recently was iMessage.  In case you had not heard, you could be held hostage to iMessage chains if you switched to Android.  This is in part because iOS would cache your number's availability as an iOS device, thus rendering all communication through iMessage only.

This had the nasty problem of effectively walling you off from iMessage only conversations if you switched from iOS to Android.  Many prominent folks have written about it, but Apple released a tool with iOS 8 to "free" your device's number from iMessage.

So, on Christmas Eve, I took the enormous step of "freeing" my number from the sticky-sweet grasp of Apple's money-soaked hands (tongue in cheek, folks, tongue in cheek), got a new SIM and put it into a Nexus 5.

Going from a 5.5" iPhone 6 Plus to a 5" Nexus 5 display was not that big a deal.  The size down was actually a bit welcome, and I'm noticing that I can just stroll around easier with this phone.  But this is not about the phones.  As a matter of fact, a Nexus 6 may make it's way to my door soon, and that is an even bigger phone than the 6 Plus.

But, and I don't say this lightly, the beauty of Android Lollipop is stunning.  iOS is not ugly, by any means, but it's a bit like walking into a room and seeing someone that suddenly redefines what your meaning of beauty is.  Everyone else looks, well, just normal.  Lollipop is like that...  Most of the time.

The fact of the matter is that any of the apps which adhere to the Google Material Design look amazing.  They flow, they pop, they are a delight to use.  Do you know what I love the most about my recent foray into Android?  Google Hangouts and the Google Contacts/Dialer.  Seriously?  WTFM8?

But there's a big, big problem:  Not many apps use Material Design yet.  Twitter makes me want to gouge my eyes out, it's so ugly and poorly designed.  LastPass is a disaster (but it kind of always has been).  Amazon just doesn't get it right.

Apps like Wunderlist are just intrinsically beautiful, but that's because they're simple.  And that brings me to something:  The really beautiful Material Design apps (in my limited experience) are very, very tightly focused.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that, while Material Design is a superior way to elucidate your UI, it puts constraints on you that are hard.

There are other things, too.  The cameras are tough.  Apple just makes a far, far superior camera and camera ecosystem.  That's a big deal for me.  I did not film my children's Christmas on the Nexus 5 and kept the 6 Plus in my pocket for a good part of the day.

So, I will likely stick this out for a few more days or weeks.  I will try to last til the Nexus 6 gets here.  I will also convert Converted (hehe) to Android via Material Design, which should keep me going for a bit.

But, even with the beauty of Material Design, the camera will pull me back, I think.

On Sony and News Coverage

Let's set the stage:  A company, one that is notorious for misunderstanding technology over the past two decades, has terrible security on their corporate network and is hacked.

There is nothing new here.  Nothing at all.

Now, corporate data is leaked, including personal information and trade secrets.  This is also nothing new.  It is unfortunate, especially the personal information.  From a financial perspective, this will surely effect this company for a long, long time.

There is nothing new here.  Nothing at all.

Now, the hack itself, which basically gutted the companies digital coffers, is perpetrated by a national entity.  You know what, not much new here, either.  Granted, it's perpetrated in the guise of national activism and there are threats leveled if demands aren't met, but still.

There is nothing new here.  Nothing at all.

And yet, this story that has nothing new in it, nothing noteworthy, is all over the front pages of all major tech journalism sites across the web.  Why?

Because the target of the hack is a fucking Seth Rogen film.

This, in the midst of a time where, nationally speaking, we are at a burgeoning cross-roads of the leveling of racial and gender equality in this nation.  

This, at a time where other important issues, such as how we're going to handle things like gun violence, or a national crisis in obesity, or global warming, or how the MPAA is trying to break the internet.  So many, many topics we could be talking about right now, so many things that are more important.

And instead, the President of the United States is holding press conferences to talk about the hacking of a fucking Seth Rogen movie.

I give up.  We are all obviously doomed.

Folks, this is not news.  This is not even noteworthy.  This happens all the time.  

But the fact that you're not going to get to see a mediocre comedy, or the fact that the idiots in control of Hollywood call each other names, is driving media coverage way out of proportion to the importance of the issue.

Let's all step back, and let's all take a deep breath.  Let's all consider what is really, truly important, and let's start having some meaningful conversations about how to make things better.  If Seth Rogen wants to join in, awesome.

But the Sony hack does not warrant this level of attention.

Transparency and Due Process

Let their be no mistake.  Apple single handedly built a multi-billion dollar business.  They did it with blood, they did it with sweat, and I'm sure they did it with tears.  It is theirs and they own it.  They should and do guard it jealously, as any company would be wise to do.  Right now, the existence of Apple is tied up in iOS.  Without iOS, Apple is not what it is today. It's not just iOS itself, though.  Look at the halo of companies and people that have grown up to play in the ecosystem that Apple has created.

There are the tools vendors, companies and individuals that build tools to support iOS.  Analytics, crash reporting, build distribution, remote debugging and many, many more tools.

Then there are the ad networks.  Multi-million dollar companies, on average, that level resources into making devs money and boosting app exposure.  The list of these is long.  It's estimated that this industry, already a multi-billion dollar industry now, will grow to be many multiple billions as time spent on devices catches an appropriate amount of advertiser spend.

There are peripheral manufacturers, the folks that make cases, pedometers, headphones and a million other doo-dads that you only know you need when you see them.  I'm not sure how big this industry is, but it cannot be insignificant or else it would not be so crowded.

But, first and foremost, there are the app developers.  Ranging from single individuals in basements all the way to other multi-billion dollar conglomerates, app development on iOS is in itself a multi-billion dollar business.  What's more, it can be argued that this is where the real allure of iOS comes from.  It's not the fact that my phone can surf the web that made iOS so attractive to so many millions of people, though that was of course revolutionary.

No, it's the fact that I can get a tide and surf report for the exact spot I'm standing on when I'm on vacation, or that I can follow along with my fantasy team while I'm at the park with my kids, getting instant updates as all the games progress, or that pregnant moms can wake up every morning to a new look at just what the child growing in them is like right now.  And so many other uses.

The people that make these delightfully useful apps are the real treasure of iOS (or any modern mobile platform).  And with that treasure comes a responsibility.

I have written about Greg's story, how an indie dev made it but had it snatched from him by unspoken rules.  I've witnessed it many times:  soulless, non-obvious rules in a document coming to life in new interpretations that strike fear into the hearts of people and industries.

This is serious business.  People make their livings on this.  Many, many people.  You want to strike fear in the heart of a man or woman?  Tell them that their way of life is being compromised.

Now, let's not forget that Apple is the sole arbiter here.  They can most certainly do whatever they would like.  It can also be argued that they're generally alright in how they govern this ecosystem.  After all, there is at least some modicum of stability that has allowed this industry to bloom.

But, they could do it better.

I believe that by adding two things they could infuse a greater level of stability into the iOS ecosystem:  transparency and due process.

First off, transparency.  Apple is a notorious black box.  Often, no one outside of Apple knows how or why a decision is made.  This leads to fear and uncertainty and, in extreme cases, panic.  Rumors of app rejections pervade these industries.  One app gets rejected for something unusual and the entire industry stands up to see if this is some new, unspoken policy that Apple is pushing.

If Apple were to publish new policies, either in conjunction with the new rounds of rejections or in advance, it would help alleviate some of the risk and uncertainty in the industry.  Others could change course and not lose valuable time and sleep guessing what things mean.

Secondly, Apple could institute some kind of due process when an app is rejected or taken down.  I'm not sure what this looks like in practice, but with stories like Greg's he was just left in the cold, with little to no recourse, staring at dreams washing away.

Setting up a process wherein Greg could at the least gain understanding of what he violated (remember, in Greg's case, the rules were unspoken until his app launched) would go a long way.  Allowing him to challenge that decision would be even better.  This doesn't guarantee his app stays in the store, but it gives him a chance to defend and speak to why it should stay in the store.  It allows him the opportunity to defend his way of life.

In the end, Apple is a dictator.  And, truthfully, they should remain so.  But becoming a bit more benevolent would do them well.  Instituting new policies and procedures of transparency and due process would reassure the industry as a whole.  It would also go a long way to protecting Apple's most valuable treasure:  the people that build the apps.

The King Makers: Apple Takes Down an Indie Dev

UPDATE:  There is a follow up post here titled Transparency and Due Process UPDATE:  If you would like to help Greg, sign his petition.

Greg Gardner is a good engineer.  In fact, he's a damn good one.  He's the kind of engineer that startup CEOs take comfort in, saying things like, "Oh, Greg has it, good."  He's the kind of engineer that you go to in the middle of the night when everything has hit the fan and you need someone that understands exactly how everything works.

I don't know this by reputation, I know this because I worked with him.  I can recall several times when he spotted issues with code that I had written, things that most people would have missed but that would have resulted in problems.  Code reviews with Greg were often not easy, but I always came away a better engineer.

But, Greg is not just a "good engineer", he's also a guy that gets it.  He has the ability to look into mobile and see gaps, then address them with some solution that is often unique and well-placed.

For instance, it has oft been lamented that app discovery is the achilles heel of both iOS and Android.  I have heard many, many times that the App Store/Play Store model is just broken and that it feeds those that pay to play but not those with the best apps.

Greg's first foray into the world of apps was an app that allowed users to more easily discover good apps.  It ultimately earned him a job at the company that I would come to work for a month later.  Greg would continue to innovate within that company for nearly three years.  He would add value and become a crucial engineer within the organization, one that would be sorely missed when he left.

So it was with some sadness, but more hope and admiration, that I heard that Greg was going to strike out on his own.  His stated goal: to make it on the App Store.  I wondered what new wrinkle Greg would add this time that would see him to another success.  And I had no doubt it would be success.

I can't say I was shocked at all when, just months after Greg being completely independent and only a couple days after iOS 8 was released, one of my friends texted me with this "killer new app" he'd discovered.  It was called Launcher - Favorites at your Fingertips from Cromulent Labs.  I laughed to myself as I realized Greg had done it again.

Just like I figured, Greg had seen his way to using widgets and app URLs to create a new type of app.  The basic premise is this:  Create custom launching icons for actions that you conduct on your device on a regular basis, then put them in the Notification Center so that they are always quickly available.  So, as you pull down the Notification Center, you can choose to call your mom, or text your wife, or launch Twitter, which is an app you're always in.  With the added emphasis on the Notification Center and widgets in iOS 8 it was a simple, yet brilliant, idea.

IMG_4480

And, boy, had he done it again.  According to Greg, he had several hundred thousand downloads in the 9 days it was on the App Store.  Several hundred thousand.

Folks, that's not a small launch.  That's a launch that most apps would kill for.  That's big, especially for a small indie dev.  Greg, through ingenuity and understanding how people use their devices, had hit it big.

Launcher vaulted straight into the top grossing productivity apps.  By September 24th, it was ranked as the 32nd top grossing app in the productivity category in the US.  The next day it was 28th, up by 4.  In South Korea, the story was even better.  On the 22nd, Launcher had achieved the top ranking in top grossing productivity apps and would stay in the top 10.

According to Greg, this translated into the dream that all indie devs have:  Supporting your family independently off of the trade you love.  "It would have supported me even if it had dropped off.  iOS 8 penetration is still under 50%, so it could have continued to rise as well.  Who knows."

Sadly, it was not meant to be.

On September 23, Apple contacted Greg and informed him that they would disallow any Notification Center widget that launched other apps.  Their only reasoning?  That it was a "misuse" of widgets.  Apple issued an ultimatum:  Release a version without app launching from the widget or else Launcher would be entirely taken down.

On September 26, Greg submitted what he believed was a valid compromise:  The click would take the user to the main Launcher app, and from there the app would call the appropriate action.

Apple rejected the update and within an hour Launcher was no longer on the App Store.

With the interest that has recently been going around about Jared Sinclair's Unread, and indie devs in general, the pervading question has been, "Can indie devs really, truly support themselves on the App Store?"  It's rather sad that, at a time when Apple really needs to reassure devs that this is the case, they have chosen to remove an ingenious app from the App Store that was obviously well received and well liked.  Apple could have held Launcher up as an example of just what needs to be done to really make it on the App Store.

Instead, Apple is being Apple and aggressively protecting things that do not need to be protected.  They do so with inscrutable and nebulous reasons that leave all involved feeling dismayed.

In the end, though, it's worth noting that this is Apple's platform and that Apple is the King Maker.  They have put into place the machinery and the tools which will allow an entire industry to thrive.  It is theirs and they guard it jealously.

Indie devs, and iOS indie devs especially, are taking a very large risk by living at the whims of Apple.  Apple can and does change its collective mind on a whim.  I've seen them pull the rug out from under entire industries without a bit of warning.  One day, the rejections just start rolling in.  The industry is left with cryptic messages and quoted clauses as they try to decipher just what caused the offense this time.  It is a volatile world in which many of the actions make sense only from within the confines of Apple.  And Apple isn't sharing those reasons.

Sadly, this can leave indie devs, and Greg specifically, in a bad place.  When asked what he will do next, Greg responded, "Not sure at this point. [I'm] not likely to develop iOS apps."

iPhone 6+ from my Perspective

There have been many, many reviews written about the iPhone 6+.  It is, perhaps, one of the most intriguing and possibly controversial devices that will be released this year.  In a world where Android manufacturers have been pushing the screen size bigger and bigger (so much so that the average size of an Android phone is creeping beyond 4.7" upwards to 5"), there was always the hold-out Apple.  Steve Jobs thought a phone that big was ridiculous. There are many reasons that Apple was slow to this game.  Not the least of which is that Apple's developers must now deal full-force with display fragmentation.  At this very moment, a universal iOS app must handle five distinct "phone" resolutions and two tablet resolutions, bringing the grand total up to seven different resolutions.  This, my friends, is a big deal.

IMG_4460
IMG_4461

But here we are.  And one of the real reasons everyone is so intrigued by the 6+ is the grand question of, "How will Apple redefine the 'phablet'?"  After all, Apple has a knack for entering spaces and redefining them, pushing the envelope and reshaping how everyone thinks about a space.  Will they do that with the 6+?

I endeavored to find an answer to that question.  In pursuit of that, I acquired a 128 GB Space Grey iPhone 6+ on launch day and have been using it for over a week now.  Let me tell you what my base criteria are for a good phone.  If one of these is not checked, I likely will not use the phone for long.

Criteria

  • Awesome camera:  I take pictures, lots of them.  I document my children, I document events, I document places.  Recently, I have begun getting "serious" about it, in the sense that I will now spend quite a bit of time after a day of snapping pictures to process those pictures and publish them.
  • All-day battery life:  By "all-day", I mean that I must be able to take the device, use it moderately to heavily, and have enough battery at the end of the day to scroll through Twitter before plugging it back in and going to bed.
  • Fast network speeds:  Basically, LTE or fast HSPA+.
  • Juggle-ability:  I have three kids between the ages of 5 and 9.  I will have a kid on my shoulders and one on my arm while at the same time sending a text to my wife about where we're going to meet next.  On occasion, I will need to break into a jog while in this configuration.  A phone must get in and out of my pocket easily.  Here is where I expected the 6+ to fail spectacularly, I must be able to use it one-handed.
  • Durable:  I don't use cases.  They are abominations.
  • Beautiful Screen:  It must, must have a beautiful, pixel dense screen.

The Camera

This one is pretty easy.  This camera is awesome.  It is the best on the market.  Between the solid hardware and the amazing, ground breaking things that Apple has done with the camera, there is nothing that even comes close.  Add to that the apps that are available for post-processing and you simply have something that is amazing.  VSCOCam, Tadaa, PhotoToaster, just to name a few, allow you to take the raw footage you shoot with the 6+ and turn images into otherworldly things.

Case in point.

IMG_4436
Processed with VSCOcam with c1 preset

Finally, with iOS 8, Apple has opened up the raw camera controls.  Now, you're going to be able to adjust the settings of the camera like you would a more high-end camera.  The point-and-shoot is dead, long live the iPhone!

One thing it's worth noting here is that, on paper, the 6+ camera is better than the 6.  The 6+ has OIS (Optical Image Stabilization) whereas the 6 does not.  All reports are that this is truly not a game-changer unless you shoot stills in near dark while mounting your phone on a tripod.

Battery

Here again, the 6+ does well.  In the first two days I had it, I made it bed to bed without needing to charge the phone.  This is a monumental feat.  Both of these days, in an effort to get the 6+ to divulge all of its secrets to me, I was picking up the phone and tinkering with it every few minutes.  No phone that I've used to date has performed this well.

On a day of typical use, it has done quite well.  This past Thursday, I traveled to Washington DC in order to see the Redskins get destroyed by the Giants at my first NFL game.  The day started at 6 AM, entailed pretty heavy use, including GPS usage, quite a bit of tweeting, picture taking and instagramming, then ended at 4 AM of the next day.  When I arrived back at home, I still had 20% battery left.  I went with 3 other guys and all of them were forced to charge at least twice.

At the time of writing, which is 11:12 PM, the battery is at 47%.  I came off the charger at 7 AM, spent several hours out and about in various network environments from a fishing pier to a mall.  I took quite a few pictures with the kids and did a bit of editing.  This battery is legit.

Network

It has LTE and 802.11 AC.  The network performance is fast, and the radios seem to do better in low signal than the iPhone 5 I have on hand.  Not much to be said here but "pass".

Juggle-ability

This now, this is where I expected to have problems.  This phone is big.  It is extremely large, both in width and height.  I am not a small guy and I have average sized hands, but I find myself holding the phone in precarious ways on occasion.

IMG_3946
IMG_3950

But the real question is, "Is it hard enough to hold?"  And beyond that, how does it do coming in and out of my pocket?  Can I get it out in a hurry?  Does it's massive size prevent me from smoothly evacuating it from my jeans?

Let me level with you:  If you wear skinny jeans or if you're small and dislike using two hands to handle a device, then get the 6.  The 6+ is very, very large.  But it is not too large...  Assuming you're willing to make some concessions.

Here are the things I noticed.

In one-handed use, in order to get to the far left side of the screen, you need to lay the phone flat on your fingers so that your hand wraps around the phone.  This allows your thumb to get to the far left side.  The problem here is two-fold:  The phone is not held firmly and the phone itself is slippery.  You're not going to be running when you do this.  You may not even be walking, depending on what your gait is.

Also, you righties, forget hitting the upper left hand side of the screen.  You're not going to do it...  But, wait!  It turns out you can.  Reachability is a thing, and it is real.  It's also very, very useful, to a point.

Reachability works like this:  You double tap the home button (in a capacitive sense, not a full on press) and the upper half of whatever screen you're on slides into the bottom half of the screen.  iOS has a penchant for putting back navigation into the upper left, and this allows that navigation to get to a position that a one-handed user can hit on this very large phone.

When I first heard about it, I thought it was a complete hack.  Turns out, it is not.  It works very well.

Except when you're five screens deep and you need to get back to the main screen.  Then it's 12 taps to get back to the original screen:  two taps for reachability and one tap for back, four times.  Then, reachability feels like an annoying hack.

Here's a quick video of the Twitter client.  Pardon the portrait nature of the video, but there is no easy way to film this in landscape.  Remember kids, portrait videos are typically the work of the devil.

[wpvideo 1YxJVhog]

As to pocketability, this is a slim, small device in every other dimension.  It slides in and out of your pockets with ease.  There are absolutely no right angles on this device, everything is rounded.  It is really, truly a joy to hold, even with it being as large as it is.  On my shorts it has no issues.  On my jeans, the bottom (I put my phones in upside-down) sticks out the top ever so slightly.

So, all in all, on one-handedness and pocketability, I'm willing to make a concession.  I'm not going to be moving fast when I use this device one handed, but I can use it one handed.  That's enough.  If you have small hands or you are tied to your skinny jeans, then look to the 6, or at least get your hands on one first to give it a test drive.

Durability

I've dropped the phone in very small drops a few times.  No damage, but this is hardly a real test.  Probably the one thing I can point to with regards to durability, and just how durable I believe this phone will show itself to be, is the "Bendgate" video.

Wait, what?!?!

Yes, in case you've been hiding under a rock, some poor unfortunate souls have managed to bend their iPhone 6+'s in their pockets.  When word of that hit the interwebs, our friends at Unbox Therapy had to jump into the fray and demonstrate that this phone can, in fact, be bent with the hands.

But there are a few things to note:  First and foremost, he's working really hard to bend this phone.  I haven't seen force requirements yet, but it sure does seem like you're going to have to fight to do this.

Apple has reported that they have seen 9 bent iPhone 6+'s so far.  Please recall that they sold 10 million phones in the pre-orders and the day of launch.  This does not seem like a very wide-spread problem.

But, secondly, and of way more importance, HE BENDS THE FREAKING PHONE AND THE SCREEN DOESN'T SHATTER!  Yes, he bends the phone and the screen deforms along with the device!  This is wild, and I doubt there are many other devices on the market that can make that claim.  This gives me hope that, in fact, the glass of the device is super durable.  This could be a very big selling point in the year to come.

In the end, don't tuck this device into the back pocket of your skinny jeans and then jump up and down on your butt.  It's a $750 aluminum phone.  Don't be stupid.

Also, don't wear skinny jeans.

The Screen

Oh, God, the screen!

This, this is why you're going to buy this device.  This screen is amazing!  It is huge, it is vibrant, it is so, so close to the glass.  It is the first screen I've seen that looks like print on paper, or like print on the glass itself.  I cannot tell you in words how gorgeous this screen is.  You just need to go see for yourselves.

Simply put, after a day, I could not bring myself to part with this screen.  Yes, it is a bit of a challenge to hold one-handed when moving fast.  But how often do you really do that?  Even me, who is known to cart kids around amusement parks, tends to put my phone away when I'm walking quickly.  I don't want to walk into people.

But this screen, so big, so vibrant, is a game-changer.  You're not going to reach for you iPad Mini, you'll just pull your phone out of your pocket.  For those that rely on screens on a day-to-day basis, this screen is a God-send.

It is very visible out doors and it is easy to type on.  Since this phone is huge, there's more space for each key.  This makes typing easier and typically translates into faster typing speeds.  Add to that the fact that there is just more screen real estate and that the keyboard doesn't take up half the screen, and you have a compelling reason for this size.

But wait, there is one wrinkle here:  app scaling.

Do you recall when the 5 was launched and developers had to rush to get their apps ready for the new screens?  In the meantime, Apple letterboxed the apps.  It was a bit of a pain, but in a few months, you didn't see letterboxed apps anymore.

Similarly here, if an app has not been prepared for the 6+, it will get scaled to fit the size.  The scaler doesn't do a bad job, but you end up with outsized apps, including an outsized keyboard.  It's not a terrible experience, but it's uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable in the sense that you know you could be getting more.

In the end, I expect this is a problem with a timespan measured in months.  Devs are already rushing to update and it's only a matter of time before they all do.

Conclusion

This phone is awesome.  The screen is a game-changer, the camera is best-in-class.  It is a bed-to-bed phone, even with heavy use.  Yes, it is large, and yes, you should consider that before you make a purchase.

However, back to the original question:  Has Apple redefined the phablet space?

I think only time will tell here, but that's not the most interesting result.  Instead of redefining the phablet, I believe that Apple has redefined iOS.  This is a new experience, one that is pleasant and fun to use.  By adding this incredible amount of real estate, iOS has become a different beast entirely.

The possibilities for user interaction are only increased with this device and that is a very good thing.

8 Hours: Game Over

The Moto 360 was released this last week.  It is the first Android wearable that is slick enough to wear as something other than utilitarian.  It looks good, it's sexy, it looks quality.  I would be excited to wear this thing!

Unfortunately, it would appear that I can't.  From the tweets I've read, you need to take this thing off every 8 hours to charge it.

According to Ars, it has a 2010 OMAP 3!  From Ars:

The 2010-era processor is old, slow, inefficient, and power hungry. Couple that with a 320mAh battery and we get around half the runtime of other Android Wear devices.

This, unfortunately, is a show-stopper.

Day-to-day, I wear a Pebble.  One of the originals.  It has become integral to how I work and use my phone.  Simply put, it is difficult for me to be without it.

It allows me many freedoms.  I don't have to have notifications on my computer anymore and I can feel free to completely mute my phone.  It's silent alarm means I can set it for 0'dark-thirty for a trip cross-country without waking up my wife.  It is, plain and simple, an intimate, personal device in a way that a phone can never be.

It may not be beautiful and there are certainly times it drives me crazy (someone favorited all of my Instagram photos the other day... My watch vibrated for 30 minutes straight) but to even be useful it needs to be on my wrist.

If it's not useful, I'm not wearing it.

Do you know what's not useful?  Something you have to charge every 8 to 9 hours.  Which is really, really sad.  I was looking forward to this device.  It's beautiful and I would love a color screen.  But if I have to take it off all the time, it's game over.

Battery tech has long been acknowledged as mobile's achilles heel, but phones are large enough to put a multi-thousand mAH battery in.  Not so, wearables, they can only have tiny batteries.

So, in the end, unless someone gets crazy (I read someone recommending putting the battery in a watch's band) wearables are going to need to use the most power-efficient components possible.

Oh, and what's acceptable for a watch? 2 to 3 days of battery life, minimum.  24 hours doesn't cut it, since it's too risky that you're going to run out of juice when you're counting on it to wake you up.

The Tom Bihn Brain Bag: A Day of Travel

Today I'm traveling cross-country with the the Brain Bag.  So far, so good.

Today's commute is from the sunny metropolis of Virginia Beach, VA to the rather shaky and only-sometimes-sunny metropolis of San Francisco, CA by way of Charlotte, NC.  As I noted in a previous post, I had received and packed out my Brain Bag a week or so ago, but today I'm testing it out in the real world.

My goals for purchasing the Brain Bag were to have a single bag to contain all of my clothing for up to four nights as well as my not-inconsiderate mobile engineering gear.  On this trip, which is Monday to Thursday, I have the following in my bag:

Clothing

  • Pair of jeans
  • 2 button up shirts
  • 2 random (and funny) t-shirts
  • 5 undershirts
  • 5 pairs of underwear
  • 3 pairs of running socks
  • 3 pairs of cotton dress socks
  • A pair of men's size 11 running shoes
  • A pair of men's size 11 Sanuks
  • Toiletries
  • Medication (including the ever important tylenol/ibuprofen combo)

Gear

  • 15" retina MBP
  • Full-sized iPad 4
  • Small notebook for notes
  • 4 phones
    • iPhone 4
    • HTC One (M7)
    • Nexus 4
    • Nokia Lumia 520
  • Audio Technica headphones w/ case
  • Various cords for power and connectivity (all in the Snake Charmer)

Food

  • Two apples and a chocolate peanut butter bar
  • Large airport purchased bottle of water

The Good

It all fits in the bag, every single bit of it.  It's even not hard getting in and out of the bag!  That's to say, sometimes you can pack a bag and you get everything in it, but you have to pack it so bass-ackwards that you can't actually access everything.  With all of the above in the brain bag I can get to whatever I need when I need it.

The bag, while heavy with this packing, is manageable and even comfortable.  It probably weighs around 25 to 30 lbs, all told.  I can walk around comfortably without bowing over like some kind of heavy-lifting serf.  

I've not had any problems getting through the airports and getting through security was a breeze with only one bag.  So far as the plane goes, everything fits in the overhead bins, which is something I was concerned about.  The one caveat here is that I haven't been on any regional commuters on this trip.  I'm still uncertain if this configuration will fit in the overhead bin on a smaller commuter jet.

Since I'm on my second (and longest) flight, I'm willing to stamp this one as "mission successful!"  I have the bag that I need, it's only one bag and getting around is much, much easier than having a heavy backpack along with a carry-on.  It's all on my back this go-round.

The Bad

It's not all roses, though.  

In particular, I'm not so sure about this middle-of-the-back water bottle thing.  There are two problems with it.  First, and foremost, I tend to not carry my own bottle and just pick up something large in the airport.  The real problem here, though, is that the loops for the water bottle are so far apart that my water bottle keeps falling out.  And, when I say falling out, it's typically when I'm putting the bag on my bag, all of the sudden I get a water bottle in the achilles.  Not pleasant.

The other niggle I have here, and this is super minor, is that I can't get to my water bottle while I'm walking around.  On my previous bag, I could do that, but this time around, I'm left taking the bag completely off.  Not a deal-breaker, by any means, but it's a bit annoying.

The final, and oh-so-who-freaking-cares-about-this problem is that the chest strap rides a bit high on my chest.  So much so that I'm having to consider, on occasion, whether someone is garroting me.  While I would like to attribute this to my overly large and so-incredibly-manly pecs, that's not the case. ;)  But, really, this is probably more of a "getting used to it" kind of thing.  The chest strap is actually making the bag easier to carry, so I'm not going to penalize anyone on this one.

If I had to recommend one optimization to the folks at Tom Bihn, I would recommend that they add a third strap for smaller water bottles.  Given that I don't have that option, I'm going to go out and purchase a larger, probably metal, reusable water bottle.

Conclusion

"The Bad" aside, this is a great bag and I recommend it without reservation.  Along with some TB packing options, this is a great bag for a minimal one-week trip.  I anticipate that I'm going to use this for quite some time and I'm already keen on the fact that I have both hands free while walking through the airport.

 

Tom Bihn Brain Bag Review

IMG_20140815_181939

I often go to San Francisco and New York for up to 5 days at a time.  I never check my bag for the flight and typically carry on a backpack and a large roller board duffel.  However, sadly, my roller board has taken quite a beating over the years and has some holes in it.  On a few occasions, I've arrived at my hotel on a rainy day with dirty clothes.  Not cool.

So, I began a search for a new roller board.  But I fell into a different hole entirely.  Much to my surprise, there are many who travel who will rely solely on a single, larger backpack in order to cut down on what they need to carry on the plane.  At the top of the list on many, many blogs is a company named Tom Bihn.

Tom Bihn is based out of Seattle, Washington.  They use high-quality and forward thinking fabrics and have some crazy designs that accomplish a surprising amount.  One of their bags in particular, the Brain Bag, caught my fancy.  The more I read and researched, the more this seemed like what I wanted.

Requirements

Here were my criteria going in:

  • It had to be capable of holding the following
    • 4 to 5 days worth of clothing
    • Running shoes
    • Sanuks
    • 15" Retina MacBook Pro
    • iPad
    • 4 phones
    • Various wires, chargers, cables, etc
    • Large noise canceling headphones case
    • Small travel power strip
    • It had to be "checkpoint friendly", which means that I would not have to completely take my laptop out of the bag when going through airport security
    • It had to look good fully packed and with only my computer equipment in it

The Bag and Extras

The Brain Bag is a backpack that can hold 36 liters worth of goods.  It has two main compartments, both of which have the nifty Tom Bihn track suspension system as well as the back-most compartment having "rails" which allow for a pouch containing the laptop to be pulled out of the bag and laid out behind the bag on a conveyer belt.  There are also two side pockets, a central smaller pocket on top and a spot in the center of the bag to hold a water bottle or other long-ish, tubular item (some folks use it to hold tripods, for instance).

When the bag is not fully loaded, you can cinch down the large inner pocket so that it's not overly large.  This allows you to get to your hotel room, unpack your clothes, then use the Brain Bag to carry just your laptop and various electronics equipment.

In addition to the bag itself, I ordered two "packing cubes", one large and one small, in order to house my clothes and shoes in a highly compact manner.  I also ordered an iPad sleeve which mounts to the walls of the bag and a two pouched bag for holding cords, wires, chargers, etc, called the Snake Charmer.  Last but not least, the bag itself comes with a sleeve for my laptop.  These sleeves are sized for the laptop specifically and are a very snug fit.

Packing it Up!

When it arrived today, I spent some time seeing if I would be able to fit everything I need in it or if I'd have to take it back.  Turns out that everything fit!  Here's what I packed (with an eye towards a 4 night stay):

  • 3 button up shirts
  • 2 t-shirts
  • a pair of jeans
  • a pair of running shorts
  • 5 pairs of underwear (always pack extra, folks, you never know what's going to happen)
  • 4 undershirts
  • 4 pairs of dress socks
  • 1 pair of running socks
  • size 11 mens running shoes
  • size 11 Sanuks

Amazingly, all of this fit!  The shirts, jeans, shorts, underwear and undershirts, along with 3 of the sock pairs, fit into the large packing cube very tidily.  Both pairs of shoes fit into the smaller packing cube, along with a pair of socks.  The cubes then went into the bag very easily, in the front of the two pouches.  Last, I slid in the last pair of socks, loose, but not a big deal.

Next, I had to put the electronics gear in.  The iPad sleeve I mounted to the back wall of the bag, then slid the iPad in.  The 15" rMBP went into its sleeve, which slid down into the bag over the iPad sleeve.  The Snake Charmer went into the bottom, beside a small notebook.  The headphone bag went in next.  This left a bit of room for something like a small toiletries bag, which I'm going to add later.

The phones went into small pockets inside the two large side pockets, two a piece.  Last but not least, the power strip went into one of the side pouches.

Once fully packed, it weighed between 20 to 25 pounds.

Wearing it Around

I threw it on my shoulders and walked around for a bit.  The straps have a strap that goes across the chest.  When it's this full, that strap is necessary.  The shoulder straps are not the most comfortable, but they are sufficient and should not prove overly problematic after a few hours of wear.

Even this heavily loaded, the bag wore well.

When not fully loaded and with the sides cinched down, it looks like a typical backpack.  It still wears comfortably then, as well.

Build Quality and Looks

The build quality is exceptional.  A lot of details have been taken care of.  For instance, not only are all of the zippers very rugged, they are also waterproof.  But, not stopping there, wherever there is a zipper, there is a fabric overlay that covers the zipper.  Your stuff is not going to get wet.

The bag is light, and all of the mounting systems in the bag are pretty awesome.  I've never seen their like before, and I can really see how they could come in handy if I needed to carry around another tablet or another computer.  I'm actually kind of hoping that they will put out some phone sleeves, so that I can mount all of my test devices in the main compartment.

All of the fabric is very heavy-duty and I doubt that you're going to get much wear and tear, even after years of use.  As a matter of fact, judging by the forums, this is how Tom Bihn does their thing.  Awesome fabrics that last a long time.

I also think it looks great.  Preferring to stand out a bit, I got the burnt orange color.  If you were looking to be a bit more subdued, the all-black version would be just right.  Even then, it's a much better looking bag than a lot that I've seen.

Conclusion

This is a pretty awesome bag.  I'll be traveling with it soon and I'm looking forward to seeing how things go.  While fully packed, it's not going to fit under the seat in front of me, but it will definitely take up a lot less space than a roller board.

All in all, I'm very pleased with my purchase.

What Would You Do?

Come with me.  I'd like to take you somewhere.  It's a place that is dark and bottomless, a place that has no boundary and is yet terribly confining.  There is very little light and almost no hope and just when you think that you have reached the bottom, vast chasms open beneath you and downward you fall.

Imagine that you wake up one morning.  You don't have any real compunction to get out of bed.  As a matter of fact, you haven't felt much like getting out of bed for a few days now.  It's almost like there's some small voice in your head that's whispering, "What's the point?"  But out of bed you get and off into your day you go.  

As you go about your day, you notice odd things.  Things that once seemed oh so incredibly interesting seem rather blasè.  Goals that you once had seem kind of ridiculous, out of reach, or just not worth putting up the effort for.  There's not one thing you can point to, and you don't even really feel bad.  But the world is a little grey.

Each morning, when you wake up, it's a little harder to get out of bed.  Each day, the world seems less interesting, less vibrant.  The colors of the world literally seem to lose their shimmer.  The sky is less blue.  When you look at your spouse, or your children, that surge of love you have always felt is diminished.  Your favorite food is just kind of so-so.  Why read your favorite type of books?  Their not really holding your interest anyways.

You start to question, "What is happening to life itself?"  That voice in your head that was just a quiet whisper is now speaking louder, still asking, "What's the point?"  

Pretty soon, you're craving bed at night, that quiet oblivion that causes a break in your day, that time when you can turn off your mind and cease to exist for just a bit.  Sleep seems easier.

At some point, right about now, the pain starts.  This is not a physical pain, though sometimes it can manifest this way.  This is a psychic pain, a pain that is unlike physical pain.  You see, your body has limits to the amount of pain it can feel.  Your mind does not.

A new voice starts up, and all it can say is, "I really want this to stop."  It begins to sing a harmony to that other voice in your head that is constantly asking, "What's the point?"  And day upon day, moment upon moment, the pain mounts.

Life, now, is hard.  Just swinging your legs out of bed every morning is one of the hardest things you have ever done in your life.  Just putting one foot in front of the other is a Herculean effort.  Just making it from bed to bed becomes an agony.  And the pain.  The pain sings in your head.

Your friends and family start to notice.  You can't keep it hidden anymore.  They have seen!  They ask what's wrong, but you don't know!  Nothing is wrong.  Everything is wrong!  This is a landscape that is completely devoid of reason.  There is no right or wrong, no why or how, there is only the pain.  

And that pain fills your world.  It sings in agony all the day long.  "Oh God, this has to stop!" intertwined with "What is the point?!?!" screams from the pinnacle of your mind, from the depths of your soul, from the bottom of your heart, because only the bottom is left.  You are being consumed.

And there is no reason.  Reason has ceased to exist.  There is no why.  If there was a why, a reason, then you could fix it.  But instead, you are left with the singing of the pain, which has now eclipsed your very existence and has eradicated your will to live.

All you want is for it to stop.

The pain has become a prison.  The walls are completely grey.  There is no alteration in the atmosphere, no changing in the light.  The world outside these walls has ceased to exist.  There is only the pain.  The pain has become your world.

All you want is for it to stop.

How can I make it stop?

Oh God, if you love me, make it stop!!!!  Why are you doing this to me?!?!

And then, one day, you realize you can make it stop.

I ask you, my friends, what would you do?


I live in fear of this grey.  Days when I wake up and I don't feel like waking up, there's a part of me that cowers and asks, "Is today the day it starts?"

I have been blessed in that I have not suffered from this type of depression for years.  And yet, it still haunts me.  You suffer through a few of these, and you learn to fear them.  They leave an indelible mark upon your soul.  It is the thing I am the most afraid of in all of the world.  In a real way, my mind is my worst enemy.

I, too, suffer from mental illness.  It is no respecter of person and there is often absolutely no reason.  It can strike at any time.  It just is, like the wind, or the rain, or an earthquake to primitive man.  It just is.  

If you are beside someone that is suffering like this, then stand beside them.  You can't fix it, it's not your fault and there is really, truly, no reason.  But if you can get them to help, if you can stand by their side as they suffer while you shepherd them to the help they so desperately need, then you have done your part.

If you find yourself identifying with what I've written, if the grey has surrounded you and you can see no escape, seek help now.  There is an escape.  It is not a quick escape, but with the right medicines and with the right people to talk to, you can escape.  The sooner you talk to someone, the sooner you can be let out of this hellish prison.

A Few Things I've Learned After 14 Years of Marriage

August 12, 2014 will mark mine and Dalynn's 14th wedding anniversary.  We are both quickly approaching the point where we've been married for longer than we were ever single.  Pretty crazy, all told. We got married at the tender ages of 22 and 23.  Neither of us had any idea what life had in store for us.

In our marriage, we have flown to the highest heights and we have seen the bottom of the world, the pits of despair.  From amazing family trips where we made extraordinary memories, to dealing with our oldest son falling prey to cancer... and surviving.  And many, many things in between.  In that time we have been at each other's throats, but much more often we have acted as a support for one another, bearing each other's burdens, giving solace when necessary and a swift kick in the ass when it wasn't.

I have to say, she is my best friend, the person I want to talk to every day.  I value her opinion and perspective above all others, so much so that I've given her the rip cord to my life's parachute.  She has pulled it on several occasions.

There are a few things I've learned in that time.  Take them as you will and consider them for your own life.  What works for us may not necessarily work for you, but I'd like to think there is some store of wisdom here after 14 years.

  1. No matter how angry you are, always consider how you can best serve the other person.  Marriage is about serving.  If you bring a selfish bent to the table, it's not going to last.  Often, taking this stance diffuses your own anger and helps you see what your spouse truly needs.
  2. When faced with supporting the world or your spouse, support your spouse.  The only time this doesn't hold true is when your spouse is engaging in self-destructive or damaging behavior.  Guys, if it comes to your mom or your wife, your wife, every damn time.
  3. Put your money where your mouth is.  Everything in one pot, everyone shares it.  Nothing can divide a house faster than "It's your turn to pay the rent."
  4. Live your life as one entity when it comes to the important things.  If your spouse sees something as sacred, you should, too.  This is not to say you can't have differing opinions on topics, or that you have to live life glued to each others hips, but it does mean that you may need to hold two opposing things sacred at one time.  This is not easy.
  5. Don't be your spouse's conscience.  You were not designed to tell them every time they are wrong, nor are you capable of judging their righteousness in all facets of life.  You are there as an advisor, a trusted confidant.  Put bluntly:  Don't nag and let your spouse make mistakes.
  6. When one of you cries, you both do.  If that's ever not true, it's time to examine your heart.
  7. A good and well placed boundary is worth a thousand comforting whispers.
  8. Give 100% without requiring or asking your spouse to do so.  The only way this thing works is if you focus on your side of the equation.  Marriage is not about two people meeting half-way.  It's about two people going all the way.  Caveat:  this does not hold true if one side is engaging in abusive behavior.

These past 14 years have seen the absolute best in my life, and the absolute worst.  I would not take a single day back.  I feel blessed to have the wife that I do and to have the marriage that we have.  My life would be a mere shadow of what it is now without her.

But it has not always been easy and every day involves some sacrifice.

(Dis) Connection (topia)

Bellows Air Force Station at sunrise, looking at the Moks.

I have recently been vacationing on the beautiful island of Oahu, a place in which I have rediscovered what it means to be disconnected.  I have to say, I did not enter that state lightly, or without trepidation.  So much so that I specifically went out and purchased new swim wear and iPhone protective gear before the trip such that I would not have to be disconnected.

Over the past few months, I've come to realize that I suffer from a phobia.  It's not overpowering, it's not all-consuming, but it's real and I deal with it almost constantly.  That phobia is being disconnected.

It exhibits itself in various ways.  Whenever I stand up to walk somewhere I immediately pat my right pocket to make sure my phone is there.  If I forget to do this and get half-way through the house, I will turn around if I've forgotten my phone.

If I find that somehow my Pebble has become disconnected from my phone, I get this sick feeling in the pit of my stomach.  "What if I missed something!?!?"

There is a feeling that I can compare it to.  When I was in college I used to strap a bunch of pads on along with a pair of roller blades and go jump off things while doing tricks.  I fell as much as I landed the tricks.  

On a few very rare occasions, I left the pads behind.  Every time I did this, I suffered some horrific skin disfigurement as I rubbed some joint along the asphalt at high speeds.  It was a feeling akin to nakedness whenever I ventured out this way.

So the same when I don't have my phone.  People depend on me, people laud me, people connect with me, all through my phone.  If I don't have my phone, I may miss any or all of this.  It is a horrible thing to think that I might go five minutes without this connection!

And yet...  Those times "critical" work emails come in during dinner and the joy I get from asking my children what the best part of their day was is washed away in a momentary fire-storm of frustration as I ponder the nature of self-sufficiency.  Or when I'm having a deep conversation with my wife and best friend and I'm torn away, ever so briefly, by the buzzing on my wrist and the moment of intimacy dissipates with my inattention.  

All of this connection is in a very real way an exceptionally self-absorbed thing.  It is the ultimate way in which I can make the whole world revolve around me.

As I've vacationed and left my phone yards or even miles from my person, I've realized that I should spend more time without a "connection".  There is so much to see and do that doesn't revolve around this artificial, digital world in which so many of us choose to make our homes.  It's not that the digital world can't travel into these places, it's more that it should be a passive observer and not a participant.  

It's incredible to capture that moment on my phone as my son conquers his fear and leaps off of a waterfall into a pool below, thus creating a moment in which I can point back to and call him courageous, a moment that is a memory he will likely have for the rest of his life, well after I (and my phone) are gone.  But I don't really need to know whether or not we've been upgraded to first class as he does that.  

This connection, this device, is not a diviner of the sacredness of moments, it can only tell everything at full volume.  Until these devices become such diviners it will become necessary for me, at least, to disconnect.  Much more often.

The Go List

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I like to go, and I like to take my family with me.  Nothing can be more fun than taking the entire family out for a memory making day.  

This past weekend, we went to First Landing park, walked the trails, then hit the beach at the narrows.  One of the best parts about the trip this weekend?  Besides all of the fun, giggles, squeals and joy, was the base price:  $5 for parking.

But, as it turns out, finding relatively inexpensive ways to make memories with the family can be difficult.  For me, taking the time to think, on the spot, about what to do without going back to the old standbys, can be tough.

This weekend, though, I came up with a great idea: The Go List.  Each day, I'm going to endeavor to write down one inexpensive family trip that I can take, one place we can all go, for less than $20.  The idea is that, when it comes time to take the family somewhere fun, I can just scan the list I've already come up with and pick one of the pre-thought-out ideas.

Here's a picture I took this weekend.  Hopefully there will be many more to come!

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Back in the Saddle (cause I'm a Cowboy)

Today I started back on the treadmill after two weeks off and it was awesome.  I'll tell you what, I had really missed it.  The day absolutely flew by and just felt more productive.  Before I knew it, I had knocked out my self-assigned task list for the day and I was diving into tomorrow's. I didn't push it hard and only logged 6 miles, but my leg held up well without any real twinges or problems.  I'll keep at about the same thing tomorrow so as to ease back into things.

I still haven't fully decided, but I may add back in some incline in August.  It's a great way to up the calorie burn.  But this time, instead of going at it for 7 miles in the first day, I'll probably log half miles at a stretch.  But slowly, ease into it.  For the time being, it'll be important to just work my muscles back into shape.

So, all in all, a great day.

Injury Time Out

I had a friend ask me today how I was doing with Project: Treadmill Desk.  He has been hearing more and more about them, but hadn't heard anything from me recently.  Sadly, I have been sidelined for the past two weeks due to injury.

Now, I will say this:  I am not without embarrassment with regards to my injury.  It's not even a good story.  It's just the kind of stupidity that a few folks warned me about, but which I didn't listen to.  There's a part of me that really wishes I could say, "Well, I wasn't paying attention and my treadmill desk turned into a head desk."  But, alas, that's not the case.

The first three weeks went really well.  I was averaging around 45 miles a week and I was down about 8 pounds.  Not bad at all.  But things had become a little blasé, truth be told.  I kept thinking, "I should push the limits again!"  So, on Monday of the fourth week, I decided to do just that by adding max incline.

I mentioned this to a colleague while in the process, and his remark was something to the effect of "Your desire to take things to the extreme is going to get you hurt."  I shrugged it off.  Another friend, upon hearing what I was doing just shook his head and cautioned that I'm not in my 20s anymore.

On Monday I did 7 miles uphill.  

Now, let me tell you, walking uphill is hard as hell.  You can burn more calories walking uphill for a mile than you can running 3 miles on level ground.  The first day, it was novel, so I didn't really notice it as much.  The second day, I decided to take it easier, so I only did 4 miles uphill.  That day, I started noticing that I was eager to finish each 1 mile uphill hike.  I then did 3, 1 and 2 miles uphill in the subsequent days.  On all but that Friday, I did ~10 miles total.

On Thursday afternoon, as I was finishing up, I had a sudden sharp, almost electrical tingle in my right outer shin, followed by a strange warm sensation and some pain.  I wrapped things up shortly after that happened, but I did keep on for a bit longer.  Then, on Friday, which was a half day due to some travel, I noticed that my outer right shin just kind of hurt.  After a few miles, I had a reoccurrence of the sharp tingling pain, but I was almost done, so I kept at it for a bit more.

When I got off the treadmill, I knew I had done something stupid.  Walking was suddenly a chore.  I then had to drive 5 hours, which required a lot of holding my right foot up on the gas pedal, and this was not a pleasant thing to have to do right then.

The weekend was pretty much agony and I began popping ibuprofen and tylenol as often as I could, to no real avail.  As the weekend wore on and quickly came to a close, I was boarding a plane to San Francisco, a city in which I walk constantly, all the time, everywhere I go.

Let me be honest, I am not a tough kind of guy.  I need to complain to get through things, at least just for a moment.  However, no one really wanted to hear it.  Turns out people don't want to commiserate with stupid people.  

Half way through the week, I found a hidden stash of celebrex, a prescription NSAID, and to my delight, it helped cut the pain.  Prior to the dose of celebrex, I was walking more like a shuffling version of semi-well dressed Frankenstein with a bad right leg.

I quickly phoned my doc's nurse (who also happens to be my wife!) and asked them to phone in a script to the Wal-Green's near 4th and Market.  Sadly, insurance was having none of it.  I basically hobbled the rest of the way through my SF trip, taking down copious amounts of ibuprofen and tylenol.

I got home, survived the weekend, then went to see my doc on Monday.  He gave me some samples of a new NSAID (Zorvolex) and ordered me to get an X-Ray to make sure I hadn't fractured my shin.  I hadn't, and the Zorvolex therapy did wonders.  By today, I was feeling much better, ready to face the day walking on Monday...  Until I took a session on the trampoline with my kids.

Did I mention that I'm not the brightest bulb in the candelabra?

So, here I sit, wondering if i'll be able to at least walk a bit next week.  I sorely need to, I miss it.  My days without walking have been much higher stress.  All of the constant energy burn really makes a huge difference when it comes to ending the day without being completely stressed out.

I guess the lesson I may take away from this is to moderate my need to do things to the extreme.  Though, truthfully, who am I kidding?  I might be able to do that 1 in 3 times...  Unless I can take not doing things to the extreme to the extreme...

Is Monetization Evil?

I'm building an app right now, my first iOS app.  It's simple, and I don't necessarily expect it to be a blockbuster.  As a matter of fact, I'm not building it to make money at all.  I'm building it for the experience, as you do.  But I'm giving a lot of thought to monetization because hey, just maybe it could get big.

My super-power is multiplicative!

Which has lead me to think quite a bit recently about monetization.  I think that in some circles, monetization is a bit of a taboo topic.  After all, shouldn't everything be free?!?!  I mean, I'm a developer, an agent for human good.  I should use these skills for the betterment of the human race!  My super-power, while still relatively uncommon, when paired with the super-powers of others is multiplicative!  In light of that, should I not do everything I possibly can to make the product of my skills as widely available as I can, and for free?

Well, yes, and no.  I should make my skills as widely available as I can, but not for free.

"But why not free?" you might ask.

If we ignore those locally in favor of those global, we do a disservice to those around us that are most in need

It's a pretty simple equation, actually:  If my family cannot eat, if they do not have a roof over their head, if they don't have the medical coverage that they need, then I have failed in my first duty, which is not to the human race, but is more specifically to my family.  How can I provide for the general human race if I cannot provide for those closest to me?  Global thinking is great, but if we ignore those locally in favor of those global, we do a disservice to those around us that are most in need.

In light of that, I can honestly say that monetization is not evil.  Monetization is a means to, instead, provide for those around us.