Fatherhood: Three Months On

I've tried ... I've really tried ... My daughter turned 3 months old on the 25th August and over those 3 months I've tried my hardest to not post about her constantly, turning this blog into a being a parent is tough, let me tell you all how tired I am kind of fare.

Today, however, that changes, just momentarily. The main reason for this is actually to excuse the lack of content there has been here since launching the site a few months back. According to Squarespace's analytics tools a fair few people have actually subscribed to the blog. I've no idea why you've been kind enough to do it, but for those that had I felt I owed you an explanation.

The whole point of this blog was to be an outlet for things that interested me and I felt passionately about and, like it or not, there is now nothing I love more in the world than my beautiful daughter Sofia May. Move aside iPhone’s and MacBook Pro’s, something with far more drool is vying for my attention.

The birth itself was far more traumatic than I, and especially my wife, had envisioned, which saw Sofia in intensive care for the first 4 days of her life 1 . Without going into too much detail, my first sight of my daughter involved seeing her silent body being taken over to table with 5 or 6 doctors and nurses for, what felt like a life-time, only to finally hear some weak cries finally break free. I then had to leave my wife on the operating table while I followed my daughter out into intensive care. The moments that followed will live with me forever. As I watched my helpless, yet determined little girl literally fight for her life I knew that I would be there to protect her from that moment on. This kid is going to get away with murder ...

As the days went on, and the Doctors were pleased with her impressive progress we were finally able to take our daughter home. Here is where the clichés begin. From the moment we left that hospital, life changed dramatically.

Dramatic changes such as my Wii U is now gathering dust at an alarming rate, untouched for months, and the fact I’ve managed to get to the cinema once in the last 3 months. There’s also the fact that I am now jointly responsible for the life of another person. And I thought the 150cc cups in Mario Kart 8 were intense …

  1. A day that is supposed to be the ‘best day of your life’ turned into the scariest I’ve ever experienced

I wont bore you all with the usual statements that come at this point other than to say yes, lack of sleep sucks 2 , it's scary not knowin what you're doing, right or wrong, and baby poo is as grim as you'd imagine.

  1. Though this does get a bit better, fairly quickly.

These are all things I expected, and anyone can plan for. What you cannot plan for, however, is how every one of those disgusting poos makes you feel as proud of your child as if they'd just won a Nobel Peace Prize, or their little knowing smile in the morning will brighten an otherwise bland day.

I'm looking to the future, excited about getting to know my daughter as she grows into a little person and then into adulthood. I'm looking forward to hearing her voice, and seeing what she becomes, and at having an excuse to watch Spongebob Squarepants again.

My life currently involves a lot less sitting around playing games over the weekend and a lot more vomit and urine soaked nappies, but I wouldn't have it any other way ...

 

 

Bicycles, Everywhere

During my recent mini photowalk around London I couldn' help but bump into loads of 'Boris Bikes', so stopped by for a quick snap. They aren't te most exciting of subjects, as you can imagine, but again, as before, I quite like them with this new perspective. I edited an alternative selective colour version which you may prefer.

At this point I should say that I appreciate sharing a photo doesn't really consitute a blog post, for most people. It is, however, going to consitute a blog post, from time to time, on this site.

Firstly, quite a large proportion of this site will be taken up with photography of some kind, whether it's a single image like this, or a larger, more in-depth piece. Secondly, quite honestly, I don't have a lot of time to post too much at this point in my life, while I'm busy at work, working with Appadvice and also helping my wife bring up our beautiful daughter when I'm out of work, so to me it's better to post some content here, however limited, rather than nothing at all.

According to the Squarespace metrics, which I can't really trust at this point, I have received just over 50 subscribers since launching this site a month or so ago. This sounds crazy, but if even one person has taken the time to subscribe to my RSS feed, then I at least owe that person some content. They will be aware of my previous content, so a single image post wont surprise them too much.

An Early Morning Photowalk

image.jpg

I usually get to work, in Central London, at about 7:45am, even though I'm not due to start until 9am. My reasons for doing this are varied, but it's basically because I'm up anyway, I'm used to traveling at that time having had no choice previously and I also have a very over the top need to not be late.

I usually go straight into the office and get working, but I fancied a bit of a change so headed over to Trafalgar Square to take a few pictures before the crowds started building.

image.jpg

While, as you can see, I didn't get anything to write home about, it was interesting to see the place so quiet. Visit even half and hour later and the place is teeming with tourists.

As I've said before, I'm using my photography as a way to experiment at the moment, and trying to improve my eye and composition. This, somewhat, explains what I've tried to achieve with the wonky, low angles. I'm not sure how well it's worked, but I quiet enjoyed the new perspective.

The images were taken on my Sony NEX-3, imported to my iPad and edited using Snapseed and VSCOCam. Since having the baby I just have no time, and no inclination really, to import everything to my iMac prior to editing. Hopefully this will excuse the quality, a little.

Somerset House

Every day I count myself very lucky to be working in central London. Not only is it one of my favourite cities I've ever visited, it's also, obviously, right on my doorstep.

Working here gives me an opportunity to get out, on occasion, during my lunchbreaks to see if I can find some interesing gems to shoot. These images were taken just a few yards from my office, at Somerset House

I'm a big fan of street photography, but I find it a little awkward to do. You are, after all, taking pictures of strangers while they go about their business. Being so blatantly voyeuristic and in your face is inheritantly un-British, to my mind, so I very rarely partake. The above is the cloest I could manage, on this occasion.

An Upset Baby And An Unexpected Sunset

As I've mentioned in previous posts, my wife and I recently had our first baby. All has been going swimmingly, after some initial complications during the birth.

Our daughter had to have her 8 week injections this week, which did not go down well at all. The first night was particularly difficult, and led me and my wife on a long drive, while we tried to settle her down. While driving in an almost random direction, we came across a beautiful lavender field, which also turns out to be part of the biggest lavendar farm in the UK. Crying baby or not, I couldn't resist jumping out of the car 1 and trying to get a shot. Here is the result.

  1. Okay, so I didn't actually jump out of the car, but I'm sure you get the point.

The image was taken and edited on an iPhone 5s

I only had my iPhone available for the photo, which tends to be the main camera I have to hand these days so the image is fairly noisy, however.

Shortly after taking this image my daughter finally settled down and started feeling better, for a time. All in all, the trip out with an upset baby and an unexpected sunset was a success.

Taking inspiration from Conor McClure's excellent daily photo series I am planning on taking and sharing photos more regularly on this site, so feel free to subscribe if you want to see more.

Homescreen: August 2014

A new month has arrived and with it comes a new homescreen. This months screen is looking quite different from last month's, with a move away from some of the stock apps and a new Twitter client.

A big feature of my current homescreen is productivity. I've recently moved my site over from Tumblr to Squarespace so I've added the offical app to ease posting on the move. While I'm still not posting heavily, the intention is certainly there to start increasing this. 1

To this end, the fantastic Editorial has also been added. If you're not familiar with this app, it is a feature packed text / Markdown editor. The iOS App Store has no shortage of note taking apps, but Editorial has a great USP, namely Workflows and Python script integration. With this, you can essentially write some basic scripts to do pretty much anything you'd like to do with your text. I, for example, have scripts that will easily add footnotes to my text or post my note directly to Squarespace. The app is so extensive that Federicco Viticci published a book about it. It's a smart choice if you plan to blog or write from an iOS device.

I've recently started working with the team of iOS blog Appadvice 2 . My involvement with the site has lead to quite an increase in email volume. Not only do I receive a lot more, I also need to send many emails, with very similar content. This role has given me the opportunity to start using the app Dispatch, which allows for predefined text snippets to easily be inserted into an email being composed. You can also easily pass email content into other apps, such as Fantastical, if you need to create a calendar item out of it, for example.

Speaking of Fantastical, this app has had a bit of a comeback to my homescreen. It, along with Dispatch, sees me moving away from the stock iOS apps once again. The main appeal of Fantastical is its integration with Launch Center Pro, though the stock app also has this. It does allow me to replace both Calendar.app and Reminders.app with a single item. I don't, however, think Fantastical is as great as the hype would make you believe.

I try to avoid buying a ticket on the hype train as much as possible, so I had intentions to bypass my next new app completely. I'm refering to my new podcast app of choice, Overcast. Overcast launched in the middle of July, to great fanfare. The app is the latest release from the internets own Marco Arment, the creator of Instapaper and a Tumblr founding member. Marco is an interesting guy, and is obviously extremely talented and knowledgable in his field, but I've also found him to be fairly arrogant. People that are confident in their own abilities often do come across like this, so I wont hold that against him.

I listen to a huge amount of podcasts 3 so my app of choice is very important to me. I've used the last majority of them, in the past, with Pocketcasts being my most recent favourite. That, however, has changed since Overcast was released.

Not only does Overcast look great, it also has some nice unique features. The first is Voice Boost which enhances and normalises speech volume. The second is pretty impressive, and can literally save you hours of your life. The app is able to analyse the episode that you've downloaded and cleverly adjust the playback speed to remove awkward silences or breaks in the audio. The real magic of this feature, which Marco calls Smart Speed, is that you can hardly notice it is doing anything at all, yet the results are very impressive. I've been using the app for a few weeks and, according to the settings screen, it has already saved me over 4 hours of listening time. That's 4 hours of extra content I'm able to enjoy.

The final addition to my homescreen I want to discuss is Tweetbot. This isn't a new app, by any means, but I've had a bit of an up and down relationship with this one. As with Overcast and Fantastical, the app is highly rated and raved over. I, however, have never been a massive fan. I feel it's over-engineered for the service it's been created for, feels heavy and is also quite slow. The official app, on the other hand, feels much nicer. The only thing that does appeal about Tweetbot, however, is the Tweet Marker feature which keeps my place in my stream, so I never miss a tweet. I've given into some peer pressure here, and decided to give the app another try, but I'm still not feeling it. In fact, in the process of writing this article, I think I've convinced myself to drop it once again and go back to the official app. I miss a lot of tweets, granted, but to be perfectly honest this isn't neccesarily a bad thing ...

This month sees the end of my iPhone 5s homescreens. My 5s will be sold soon, as is the usual yearly tradition, to maximise its value ahead of a new iPhone release. If the rumours are to be believed, the iPhone 6 should be interesting and I'm excited about what iOS 8 will bring to the table. I recently picked up an old iPhone 4s to use while I'm waiting for the 6, so I may well be sharing my setup on that little fella next month.

  1. In terms of both frequency and quality. That's the plan, at least.

  1. This isn't my actual job, I'm just helping the owner out with a new project in my spare time.

  1. The only thing I use on my iPhone more than a podcast app is the camera. I will most likely post seperately about all of the podcasts I'm currently enjoying.

Hardware Doesn't Matter

Since the birth of my daughter 7 weeks ago I've had absolutely no opportunity to get out and use my camera. I've taken plenty of pictures of my beautiful girl, obviously, but they are private and will only be shared with my family.

I've missed taking pictures, and need an outlet. I'm far from being a good photographer, but as is the way with any hobby, you don't have to be good at it to enjoy doing it. To this end I've been trying to at least take some photos, even if they are not with my real camera and I've been getting a lot of use out of my iPhone 5s recently. I love the camera on this device, and I think it can produce some impressive results..

One benefit, to me personally, is the option an iPhone provides for post-processing an image. My camera workflow involves taking the photo, uploading it to my iMac and Lightroom, editing and then finally sharing. With my iPhone I can load the image into Snapseed or, my personal favourite, VSCOCam and then edit and share it all on the same device, at the same time. There is a risk, however, in going either too far with the process, or editing just for the sake of editing, with no real understanding about what you're doing.

Someone I met on Twitter recently, Conor McClure isn't a big fan of mobile editing for this very reason. In a recent conversation with Conor he said:

Conor also wrote a very interesting article on the subject, which is well worth a read. When you consider how good Conor's photography is, and how poor mine is, he may well have a point!

As previously mentioned (once or twice, I know, but it bears mentioning), my photography skills leave a lot to be desired, so missing out opportunities to practice and improve need to be avoided. While photos from my iPhone wont be appearing in a Gallery any time soon, I see them as, at worse, an opportunity to improve my composition and ability to at least envision a great photo.

If you ask many photographers you'll often hear the phase 'hardware doesn't matter' While there are, of course, limitations to lower end cameras and devices, this is fundamentally true. The act of physically taking and processing an image only tells half of the story. If your composition is not right, or at least considered, you wont get a good photo, regardless of the hardware you're using.

If you take one thing away from taking the time out to read this article (thanks by the way, to anyone that has done so) let it be this: If you want to get into photography, but can't afford an expensive camera, don't let that stop you. An iPhone may not be any cheaper than a mid-range DSLR, but there are some very cheap point and shoot cameras available. These will be just as good as an SLR, if not better, when it comes to 'getting your eye in' and learning all about composition. It's the biggest obstacle I face, so I never miss an opportunity to try and fine tune this.

A cheap point and shoot will give you the benefits of having something lightweight to keep with you at all times, and the absence of advanced settings found in higher end hardware will allow you to concentrate on capturing that perfect moment. Don't miss out.

Things: Hyrule Historia

I’ve made it no secret that I have a bit of a Nintendo obsession, particularly for all things Zelda. The following image alone is enough to make me giddy with excitement:

The various games aside, there is one item that all true Zelda fans need in their lives, namely the Hyrule Historia!

According to the blurb of the book, it offers: ' … an unparalleled collection of historical information on The Legend of Zelda franchise.' The official website for the book calls it: '… the Zelda bible', and it’s not wrong.

The book is broken down into 4 sections, namely, “The First Story” or “The Legend Begins” which is an introduction to Skyward Sword and its world. this section is quite extensive. It’s a shame that Skyward Sword, a game that is arguably fairly weak among the series, is featured so heavily. The book was created to tie into this games release, however, so it makes complete sense.

The next section is very interesting as it presents a (rather loose) complete history of Hyrule. It follows the order of events of the series chronologically.

Next up we have “Creative Traces”, which holds a great amount of official and concept artwork along with various sketches.

The tome is then closed out with a lovely, but short, Skyward Sword manga. The story was created by Akira Himekawa, the leading author in charge of creating the manga of the Zelda series.

If you call yourself a Zelda fan, and you don’t have this reasonably priced book, think again!

Hardware: Nintendo Gamecube

Gamecube

I’ve developed a bit of a Nintendo obsession over recent months, ever since picking up a Wii U which I absolutely adore.

I’ve decided to start a bit of a collection of older systems, seeing as there aren’t that many (I won’t be going for all of the handheld units). After the Wii U and Wii, I now managed to find this little beauty, a Gamecube, for just £10. It works perfect, and is in very decent condition.

The device itself is surprisingly attractive, and compact. You also can’t help to appreciate the charm of a console with a carry handle built into its design. You can say a lot about Nintendo, but you can’t say they don’t take risks or experiment with some interesting designs.

If anyone has a NES, SNES or N64 they want to donate to my cause! please get in touch!

A Photography Experiment

Since having our baby a few weeks ago, my wife and I have not had a lot of time to ourselves, so my photography has tajes a bit of a backseat, unless you count 100s of photos of my daughter.

Now I’m back at work I do get a chance to get out a little during my break. I work in Central London so there are quite a few photography spots available to me, as long as I can get to them within about 30 minutes.

Due to my lack of spare time, I’ve had to look at alternatives to my usual photography process of taking the photo, importing inti Lightroom on my iMac, editing and then outputting and sharing to various sites. I’ve started experimenting with a mobile only solution.

While not as powerful as Lightroom with access to the Nik Collection, there are some quite decent options for light editing on iOS devices, such as Snapseed or VSCOCam

While my experiment continues, I still prefer to edit pictures on my computer and really take my time with it. I can now save a little time, thanks to the Lightroom iOS app. I can import images directly from my camera to my iPad and then sync them to the desktop version of Lightroom for real editing later.

Either way, as long as I’m getting out there and improving my photography that’s the main thing.

The image above is the National Gallery in London.

It was taken with my Sony NEX-3, loaded onto my iPad and edited using VSCOCam, SnapSeed and then synced back to my iMac using Lightroom mobile.

Screened: Ronnie Lutes

Welcome to another edition of my Screened series. Next up we have Ronnie Lutes, one half of the Pocket Sized Podcast. Enjoy!

Let’s start with some basics. Can you tell the readers your name and a little about yourself?

My name is Ronnie Lutes and I have an iPhone homescreen addiction, it actually borders on psychosis. I am the very lucky husband of Shawna and the proud father of two. I’ve lived in Las Vegas, Nevada, USA long enough to be considered a local.

Before we get to your setup, what is your mobile OS of choice, and why?

I enjoy Apple products. I enjoy them because of their simplicity and because they “mostly” just work. I believe that Apple cares about security and privacy and they are implementing even more measures in iOS 8, this aligns closely with my own belief system. I also have a Mac and an Apple TV so I’m fairly deeply integrated into their ecosystem.

Which device will you be sharing today?

Today I will be sharing my daily driver, a silver iPhone 5s. It’s actually my only iOS device, our family has an iPad but I very rarely use it.

Here is the device in question:

homescreen

What is your primary use case for the device?

I use my iPhone to keep me organized at work. I manage 40+ people and I need to be able to quickly get things done. I’ve used most every to do/task management app available and if I wrote this next week I might have totally different apps on my homescreen but I always seem to come back to the system I’m showing you here.

What are your top 3 ‘most used’ or ‘must have’ apps for your device?

Wow! That’s a tough question because there are so many but I guess I’ll go with the following:

  1. Launch Center Pro by Contrast is probably my most used app and it actually hides some of my other most used apps in folders on my second screen. Launch Center Pro would be hard to explain in a short interview like this but if you’d like to know more you can go to Alex Guyot’s Unapologetic or Philip Gruneich’s Blog. We’ve also done a couple of Pocket Sized Podcasts about it, one with Alex Guyot: Episode 152 and one with Phoneboy: Episode 153.
  2. GoodTask by haha Interactive is what Apple’s Reminders.app should be. GoodTask could be considered a Reminders.app client like Tweetbot is a Twitter client. It has an x-callback URL used with Launch Center Pro which is a must for me and it also has a Mac app that is nice but not necessary. At this point (I’m sure this will change in iOS 8 and extensibility), Apple’s Reminders.app is the only task management app allowed to be on the Today tab of the Notification Center and since GoodTask utilizes reminders from Reminders.app, you can mark them complete directly from Notification Center. I have tried a lot of other task management systems but only Apple’s Reminders.app clients have this ability. It’s nice to be able to swipe down in your lockscreen and complete tasks without ever opening your phone, it certainly saves a lot of time.
  3. Fantastical by Flexibits, which you won’t see on my homescreen, would have to be my final choice. I actually use Planner Plus by Appxy to view my calendar but I use a Fantastical Launch Center Pro action to input calendar events. Fantastical has the best natural language input method I’ve found but I’ve never really been fond of it’s looks, hence Planner Plus on my homescreen. Planner Plus is more powerful than just a calendar viewer but I love it’s look so that’s what I use it for.

Have you found any ‘hidden gems’ in your App Store of choice many users may have missed?

1Writer by Ngoc Luu is an exceptional writing app, in fact, I’m using it to write this post. It has a fifth row keyboard with all the commonly used Markdown functions and has a nice URL scheme, which is integral to any app I use.

And finally, do you have any final words you’d like to share, or a website for people to find out more about you?

I’m an app minimalist, which means I keep very few apps on my iPhone at any one time, however I try tons of apps. I’m @ronnielutes on Twiiter and I co-host the aforementioned Pocket Sized Podcast with my good friends, Scott Willsey and Vic Hudson of App Story Podcast.

Choice

Author Stephen Covey once said:

There are three constants in life… change, choice and principles.

It is Stephens 2nd point I want to discuss today, namely choice. You’d think this statement would be pretty obvious to most people, if not all, but if you ever spent time on any social networks like Twitter or Google+ you’d think the principle of everyone having at least some form of choice was a complete fallacy.

The Android vs. iOS / Google vs. Apple debate has been raging on since the introduction of said OS’s, and it shows little sign of letting up. There are even people that make a living out of monetizing their far from unbiased views on the subject. Let’s take, for example, a post from Google+ personalityArmando Ferreira.

The video from Mr Ferreira, which is of course monetized, promises to reveal the truth about the iPhone 5s after a whole week of use. What is this great truth that will soon be shared with the world? Will it be revealed that it was in fact an iPhone that took the shot from the Grassy Knoll in ‘63, or that Steve Jobs was at the wheel of the car when Diana passed (too soon?). No, it turns out the big reveal was, in fact, that Armando just doesn’t like the iPhone. Earth shattering stuff, I know. If you’re a glutton for punishment and read the rest of Armando’s posts you’ll see that about 90% of the posts from this Android user revolve around what Apple products can’t do, or how they are just down right terrible.

The issue isn’t isolated to this vocal individual however. A quick search across Google+ or Twitter will bring up many similar sentiments. This leads me, neatly, back to my original point about choice. The comments, aggression and annoyance from posters such as Armando are completely valid, if you don’t take into account the fact we all have a choice.

We all have a choice, within reason, of what job we decide to take to earn a living. In the same vein, we also have a choice about how we spend what’s left of that money once we’ve paid for our mortgage, bills and food. Those of us that are lucky enough to even have a few pounds left after all of the above has been taken care of then have the free will to choose any piece of technology that takes our fancy and, more importantly, fits the specific needs we have as users.

Something that also may shock many people that share Armando’s mindset is that this level of decision making even applies after you’ve decided on a device. There is a belief that, because you cannot run an app from the Google Play store on an iPhone or vice versa, you are some how locked in to that ecosystem until the end of time. This is simply not true. There is nothing stopping you from deciding that the iPhone 5s is the perfect phone for you and that your tablet needs are best served by a Nexus 10. Despite popular belief, the world will not end if you cross the streams.

The whole Product X vs. Product Y is likely as old as time itself and, as the excellent comic below from Scott Johnson shows, society always has, and always will, believe their views are so important the whole world needs to hear about them.

SharingIsCaring

Don’t get me wrong, I don’t think there is anything wrong with people sharing their views and the pros and cons of different products. In fact, I think this is very important. A healthy and educated is the only way to ensure improvements and developments take place across a fast moving industry like technology, but profiteering and even belittling people for making choices in their lives, particularly choices that affect no one but the individual making them, is both petty and rather disturbing.

To put things into context a little, I have owned various Apple and Android devices including a Nexus 4, various iPhone’s and iPad’s and even 2 Nexus 7’s. I have made my choice of devices, but am open enough to change, should I decide to, when the right device comes along.

If you take anything from this article, should you have made it this far, let it be the appreciation that personal choice is one of the few things we have control over, and you should not let the forceful views of others take that away from you. Use and learn from others experiences, absolutely, but let the choice be your own and, ultimately, do what makes you happy.

Screened: Richard Heath

I’m finally back in the swing of posting to my blog, so I wanted to get this series up and running again. The individual I’ve interviewed this time around sent me this months ago, so apologies to Richard for the delay in actually using this! Without further ado, here it is.

Let’s start with some basics. Can you tell the readers your name and a little about yourself?

I’m Richard Heath. I live in the South West of the UK with a blogger / photographer wife and a couple of boys & dogs.

I’ve worked on the web for the past few years, in marketing in the automotive industry before that, and now I’m developing my own tea brand which should be launched soon once I stop obsessing about packaging design. It’s great fun, but fairly daunting.

Before we get to your setup, what is your mobile OS of choice, and why?

iOS – I’ve used a Mac for 10+ years and an iPhone since the 3G – I love Apple and I’m institutionalised at this point.

But I really like what they’ve done with Windows Phone and would buy a Lumia … if I needed a secondary phone.

I just don’t get Android from what I’ve seen of Samsung devices, I’m afraid.

Which device will you be sharing today?

iPhone 5S, 32GB, in white / silver with a red Apple leather case.

I could probably live with a 16GB 5C, but nowadays it’s only camera I use. Touch ID isn’t quite there yet, but you can see the potential.

The leather case is certainly premium, but makes the Sleep / Wake button hard to use (though you can take a knife to the back to loosen it up).

I splashed out on a couple of Elevation Docks for my desk and bedside table – great design, classy product, but pricey (I got one in their original Kickstarter and the other as a factory second).

And here is the screen in question:

What is your primary use case for the device?

Everything, really – it’s a huge part of my life, which is sad I suppose.

It’s my only phone for work and home so I have an unlimited minutes plan, but I don’t use much data as I rarely leave the house these days! With family & friends around the world, iMessage and FaceTime are indispensable (if not totally reliable).

It’s also my only camera since I fell out of love with “formal” photography. I lost interest a little on the iPhone too, and stopped using Instagram a year ago. But I’m ready to pick it back up again and interested to explore VSCO Cam.

It remains my main reading device since our (original) iPad mini is somewhere in the kids’ playroom, covered in sticky fingerprints, and stocked with Toca Boca games.

Reading these days is less books, more articles:

I’m fully-invested in renting my music from Spotify (I didn’t get on with Rdio). I still have an iTunes library preserved only in Match, but it hasn’t been opened for over a year. I sold my CDs (and DVDs) to go digital-only, but I still buy music I really love on vinyl (as hip as I get).

I use various apps to Get Things Done: Things mainly for work projects and Clear for specific errands on a given day, then iOS Reminders for timed or location-based tasks, generally input via Siri (which is all I really use it for).

Vesper for notes has so much potential once it syncs, especially to Mac. Soulver I can’t say enough good things about.

I have a set of Philips Hue bulbs in our bedroom – such luxury and total gimmick, but so great.

What are your top 3 ‘most used’ or ‘must have’ apps for your device?

  1. Tweetbot – I’ve followed Tapbots closely since their early days, and they’ve perfected their approach with Tweetbot 3: incredibly well thought-through with well-balanced visual design.
  2. Castro, or any premium podcast client – I listen to the usual suspects (ATP, The Talk Show, Radiolab, Nerdist) plus a few from BBC R4 (Desert Island Discs, The Film Programme, The Media Show). Interested to see how Marco Arment approaches the podcast client with Overcast.
  3. Mailbox – I actually moved to Google Apps for Mailbox because it fits perfectly with the way I work and definitely has the potential to solve the email problem if you use it properly. Can’t wait to see the Mac version.

Have you found any ‘hidden gems’ in your App Store of choice many users may have missed?

Velocity – A slick speed-reading app that integrates with read later services (Instapaper, Pocket) and shows one word at a time so you can read effectively at ~400 words per minute. Amazingly, it really works (but don’t use it before bed).

Blur – Makes nice gradient wallpapers from photos in your camera roll or Flickr that fit iOS 7 perfectly. My current wallpaper is a blurred screenshot of a Clear list which you can download if you like.

And finally, do you have any final words you’d like to share, or a website for people to find out more about you?

I have a website at Space36.com which I keep meaning to write on more – seems Twitter ate it, but I’ll take it back one day. In the mean time, you can follow me on Twitter @Space36. Cheers!

Hardware: Sony NEX-3N

NEX-3N

Having spent a year or so using a Canon EOS 500D, I recently decided it was time for a change. The Canon wasn’t top of the range, by any means, but neither were my skills as a photographer, so it felt like the ideal SLR for me. While I very much enjoyed the time I spent using it, the experience was always a little forced. What I mean by this is that it always felt necessary to plan a trip out specifically to use the camera. I wrote more about this in a previous article, if you were interested.

After a photowalk with my brother to London, during which I found myself switching to just taking iPhone photos and enjoying myself far more, I decided it was time to get a camera that would fit around me, not one that I could fit around. That’s where the Sony NEX-3N comes in.

NEX-3N

The NEX-3 is, again, not a top of the range camera, but it’s perfect for my lifestyle. I work in Central London, so I can now easily (gently) throw the camera in my bag in the morning and really start getting out there and takingsomepictures.

I’ve recently picked up a new lens for the camera, the Sony 50mm F1.8 E-Mount Lens. My daughter was born just over a month ago now, so I picked up the lens specifically to try and get some decent, memorable shots of her as she grows up. So far, I have not been disappointed.

Sofia May Nicolaides

The NEX-3 has certainly done it’s job so far, and I’m getting out taking photos far more than before, and that’s just great!

Homescreen: July 2014

While I’ve not been following it for a long time, one of my favourite new blogs is The Newsprint from Joshua Ginter. Joshua has recently started a new monthly feature on his blog, sharing his current homescreen with some thoughts behind his chosen apps. I’ve always been a big fan of seeing other people’s homescreens myself, which is the reason for me starting my own ‘Screened’ series, which Joshua also featured in. To this end, I decided to shamelessly borrow the idea of sharing my homescreen. I’d like to personally see how my own develops over time, but it may also be of interest to others. So, without further ado, here is my screen for July:

This months homescreen is far more cluttered than I’m used to, having started using more of the default iOS apps such as Mail.app, Notes.app and Reminders.app. This wont be the case for long, however. Some of the key apps are:

  1. Lightroom - I’m currently trying out a 30-day trial of the Adobe Creative Cloud Photography suite, so I wanted to take this app for a spin. I’m quite impressed with it really, with the syncing to Lightroom on the desktop being particularly useful. I have an app called 645Pro from Jaggr which allows me to take multi-exposure shots. I’m unable to combine these for an HDR image however. The Lightroom app will allow me to upload these automatically back to Lightroom on my iMac for editing later.
  2. VSCOCam - VSCOcam is, by far, my favourite photo editing app currently. It took over the top spot from Snapseed also as soon as it came out. I’ve been getting some quite decent results so far, so this is definitely a keeper.
  3. Day One - This app has been another fixture of my phone since its release, and will not be going anywhere anytime soon. It’s not only beautifully designed, but it’s infinitely useful. If you haven’t already, I’d highly recommend you pick it up. It’s surprisingly rewarding to journal even everyday activities and look back on them in the months and years to come.

If Only You Had Your 'Real' Camera

I love photography. I love looking at beautiful works of art, on sites such as 500px or Flickr. On occasion, I also very much enjoying trying my hand at photography myself. While I may not be very good at it, it doesn’t stop me enjoying it. It’s my hobby.

According to Dictionary.com, the word hobby is defined as:

An activity or interest pursued for pleasure or relaxation and not as a main occupation.

Keep this in mind, it’ll be important later.

My main camera is a Canon EOS 500D. While not the newest, most powerful or generally impressive of devices, it does an admirable job, and it makes me feel like a real photographer while I’m using it. The thing is, quite often, I find my time with the camera neither pleasurableorrelaxing, so can my time using the camera really be called a hobby? My main issues with using it are as follows:

  1. Any time I take the camera out has to be a planned trip, generally specifically designed to use the camera. I have to make sure it’s somewhere I can go to with a bag1, or where I have time or the ability to stop and change lenses etc. and it has to be somewhere worth going so I can get some decent shots.
  2. The Canon camera I have isn’t huge, or particularly heavy, but it does need careful handling, to avoid bumps or dust. Heck, it feels like you could do some sort of damage to a SLR with a stern glance.
  3. Most images you see in magazines or newspapers have been edited. The best photos on 500px and similar sites have been edited also. So even after parts 1 and 2 above have been taken care of, there is still a general need to do some kind of post-processing. The images need to be uploaded to my iMac, copied into Lightroom, edited and then finally shared.

I recently went on a very fun photo walk with my brother, in London, and took my trusty Canon with me. I also had another little something in my pocket as well. A certain something that is always in my pocket, come rain or shine. While time spent with my SLR is time that needs to be carefully planned, I wouldn’t even know the time without this. It is, of course, my iPhone.

I took one or two semi-decent pictures with my SLR, but my favourites were by far those that I took with my iPhone. The photos taken with the device were easier to capture, more convenient and easily shared via Flickr, Twitter or Instagram. The following image, while again, not amazing, took a few moments to take, and allowed me to capture the family, in awe of the beautiful building, in a far more subtle and suitable way:

The Family

The image doesn’t have the required resolution for me to see it hanging in a gallery anywhere, but let’s be honest, that’s never going to happen anyway.

Don’t get me wrong, when the time is right for me to use my SLR I have a great time doing it and, while I still have a lot to learn when it comes to using my camera, a big part of photography is the composition, which can still very much be learnt whilst using an iPhone. An image doesn’t have to be 100+ megapixels in size, or pin sharp with perfect composition to be a work of art. As Ansel Adams once said:

There are no rules for good photographs, there are only good photographs.

I often share an iPhone image to Google+2 only to be greeted by the words: If only you took your proper camera.’ I’m always a little thrown by this statement. Not because I’m particularly upset or concerned by the comment, but I quess I just don’t get it. There seems to be a feeling around that the camera makes the photo, not the photographer. The following image, taken with an iPhone, by the very talented Kim Hankskamp illustrates my point perfectly:

Untitled

Kim’s image was recently awarded 1st place in the ‘People’ category in the 2013 iPhone Photography Awards, and is extremely reminiscent of a well known image of Sharbat Gula, a young Afghan girl. The image was taken by National Geographic Society photographer Steve McCurry and is undoubtedly a work of art. The image was taken in 1984, so the chances are the original negative wasn’t amazingly high resolution, yet it’s quality cannot be denied. The same can be said, in my opinion, about iPhone images. If the composition of the shot is to your liking, then the image is art. Whether anyone but you likes it is not the point at all.

My 3rd point, mentioned above, when discussing the aspects of SLR photography that frustrated me a little, was the editing required to get the most of the images. Another thing I love about iPhone photography is just how easy it is to get some very decent editing done. The new iPhoto app has some great options, such as a noise reduction brush. Some other highlights are the wonderful Snapseed from Nik Software / Google and the equally impressive VSCOCam. While I have fun, on occasion, using Lightroom, editing with an iOS device can be far more accessible and quicker.

The above commentary makes me sound extremely lazy, which I appreciate, but it also marks a point where any photography I do, be it through an iPhone or SLR, will be because I like the image and I had fun taking it. It will not be aimed at a stranger giving me a +1 on Google+3 or a like on Instagram. It’s very flattering if anyone out there likes any photo I take, that will be an added bonus and not a primary motivator. I think, by adjusting my thinking in this way, I’ll get a lot more photography done which will in turn improve my technique, even on an iPhone. This may even, eventually, lead others into getting as much enjoyment out of my photography as I do.

If you’re interested you can find some of my stuff on Flickr, 500px, Google+, Instagram and VSCO

  1. Okay, so this isn’t the most difficult thing to do, but it’s just an annoyance.  
  2. If you’re interested, you can find my profile at: http://google.com/+AndyNicolaides/
  3. That being said, any +1s are very gratefully received! 

How Nintendo Gave Me A Wizard Of Oz Moment

From an early age, my life was full of adventure and wonder. By the time I had hit my early teen years I had already been on an epic quest to save a princess, I’d visited the stars and even raced a hovercar in the year 2560 at breakneck speeds. Life was good and the future was truly bright. I could do anything.

Role forward another ten years, to early 2014, and the bright future I had been promised was nowhere to be seen. The colourful splendor of my youth had dissipated, only to be replaced with a heavy grey sheen of despair. My life was no longer full of honourable quests and laughing with friends. It was full of monotonous tasks such as keeping fit and a repetitive need to bang my head against a brick wall, metaphorically speaking. My life had become a monochromatic reflection of its former glory.

A few months into 2014, however, I had a 'Wizard of Oz' moment. My life, once devoid of hope and luminosity, once again exploded into colour. What I am trying to say, via the use of some very convoluted metaphors, is that Mr Iwata and his company Nintedo were back in my life, thanks to the purchase of both a Wii U and 3DS system.

Since its release at the end of 2012 the system has struggled to find its feet. It seems everyone has an opinion about why this is, but this isn’t a post about that. It’s about my own personal experience with the console, and about how it has revitalized my love for gaming.

I decided to pick up a Wii U whilst playing GTA V, which my wife kindly bought for me as a birthday gift. The game was undeniably great looking, but a few hours in and it was becoming increasingly repetitive and laborious. There were endless quests squeezed in for the sake of it, to drag the game out as long as possible, with no real reward.I had finally had enough of games trying to push the realism factor too high. For me, and many others, gaming is about escapism. It’s about shaking off the shackles of deal with stress at work or at home and just letting your hair down. Watching cutscenes of my in-game family arguing and running errands in GTA V did not relax me, it frustrated and bored me.

I recalled my fondest gaming memories, such as playing The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, a game that remains one of my favourite of all time, and of endless multiplayer matches of Goldeneye and Street Fighter 2 with my brother. The list went on and on, with a single, very important link (pun intended) binding my happy memories together. That link being, of course, Nintendo.

I’d had my eye on the Wii U at launch, but I considered myself a real gamer, so how could I possibly own a console like that? Where were the endless remakes of Call of Duty? Or over-hyped and under-delivering gems like Titanfall?. Some silly Mario games, and a silly controller would surely hold no appeal to someone like me, right? How wrong I was …

It was thanks to Federico Viticci and Myke Hurley that I finally bit the bullet and picked up the console. The pair, speaking on their podcast Directional, expressed such passion and enthusiasm for the company that I had to let the nostalgia take the driving seat. I’ve never looked back.

A big criticism of the console is the Gamepad. It’s a criticism I also shared, initially. It is, however, in my opinion, completely unfounded. It feels nice to hold, is responsive and the option for playing games only on the Gamepad really is useful, in the right situation. It cannot really be denied that it’s been under utilised so far, but that looks set to change in the coming months.

The point of this short article was not to review the Wii U, or to try and counter some of the criticisms that have been leveled towards it. It was more to share a thought that gamers need to start remembering what it is that drew them towards the hobby in the first place. I can appreciate that we’re a diverse race, and we all have different ideas of what is fun and enjoyable. If the best graphics and realism are key for you, then by all means keep buying the Playstation 4’s and XBox One’s of this world. If, however, you yearn for a return to pure, and unadulterated fun in your life, I think you’re doing yourself a disservice by not picking yourself up a cheap Wii U. There are bargains to be had. I defy you to fire up Mario Kart 8 and not feel a massive grin crawl across your face …

Screened: Andrew Prockter

After my last interview with the excellent Josh Ginter featuring his iOS screen, I’m back with a new Android screen for you Google fans out there.

Let’s start with some basics. Can you tell the readers your name and a little about yourself?

My name is Andrew Prockter, I am a 40 something geek, big time gadget fan, amateur photographer and gamer. I do IT support for a living.

Before we get to your setup, what is your mobile OS of choice, and why?

Android. It does pretty much all I need and allows me far more control over my smartphone than the restrictive walled garden of iOS. I would quite like to try Windows Phone 8, but the lack of apps puts me off.

Which device will you be sharing today?

My trusty Samsung Galaxy Note 3. While a lot of people scoff at the size of it, when you get to a certain age and your eyes start to let you down, a 5.7” 1080P screen makes all the difference. Another huge benefit of its size is that it has a big battery that can last me all day (you can see in the screenshot it was taken at 17:17 after being off the charger since 06:00 and it still has 54% battery left!).

Here is the device in question:

What is your primary use case for the device?

I can use pretty much anything short of full desktop PC apps on my Note 3. While I often use my PC or iPad Mini at home, for what I do regularly (email, Google+, Feedly, Pocket), I can do it just as well on the Note 3. When I am at work or travelling I have everything at hand. As I carry a Sony RX1R with me all the time, I have no interest in a phone for photography.

What are your top 3 ‘most used’ or ‘must have’ apps for your device?

Top 3 most used: 1. Feedly 2. Google+ 3. Email (I just use standard Samsung Email app_

My must have apps are: 1. Msecure (password manager) 2. BeyondPod (Podcast Manager) 3. Waze (for car Navigation as Google Maps is devolving)

Have you found any ‘hidden gems’ in your App Store of choice many users may have missed?

The main draw for Android over iOS, for me, is the customisation options on the homescreen, and as such I have two launchers that I love - Nova Prime and Action Launcher (as seen in the screenshot). They allow e to tune the phone to my needs and I have a setup that uses just one homescreen, with no scrolling around hunting for things like I had to do with iOS.

I also love Tasker. It allows a massive amount of automation and adjustment to your tastes on an Android device. I have different profiles for home, work and the car that automatically trigger, changing volumes and such. For the car it automatically starts Waze. I am only using relatively simple rules, but even so, it makes my phone seem so much smarter.

And finally, do you have any final words you’d like to share, or a website for people to find out more about you?

I can be found spouting my brand of wisdom and the occasional good picture on Google+

Geeks, You're Not As Special As You Think You Are

Apple released iOS 7 on the world in September 2013. While initially jarring to many, most agreed it was a much needed refresh. It was a big change for the OS, particularly ‘under the hood’, so bugs and issues should always be expected. And bugs there were.

Roll forward about six months, and Apple has released the first major update to iOS 7, namely iOS 7.1. Apple is so proud of this update, it even created a nice micro site extolling it’s virtues. This is a first for a point release, as far as I know, and I don’t think it’s unfounded. The update has really improved responsiveness and speed, essentially making it Apple’s Project Butter.

After months of complaints about random Springboard resets and various other bugs you think the geeks of the world would be happy now, but you’d be wrong. As soon as iOS 7.1 was released, my Twitter stream filled up with complaints about the most pathetic issue I’ve ever heard about. This complaint wasn’t about Maps getting someone lost in the Australian Outback, you know, something important. No, this issue was about the Shift key of all things …

Complaints about this actually started up during the various betas, which saw Apple revise the look with pretty much each release. This is the final look they went for, courtesy of a very patronising article from iMore:

Shift

The issue seems to be that, usually the shift key colours are inverted and the opposite of the way Apple has done it. Oh my goodness, what are we going to do? How will we ever know which is which now? When will this national nightmare end?! I am, of course, kidding. Users will, as I did, press the button just once and know exactly what each state means. A chimpanzee with no arms and a desire to win a banana could manage it after a few attempts, so I’m sure all of the self styled ‘techies’ I’ve seen complaining on Twitter can manage it.

Whoever designed the shift key on the iOS 7 keyboard is fired from all UI design until the end of time.

— Jonathan Blow (@Jonathan_Blow) March 13, 2014

This gibberish even received 83 retweets and 73 favourites (at time of writing):

The iOS 7.1 shift key is a masterful interface troll. Regular white keys turn grey when pressed, but it starts grey and turns white. Bravo.

— nilay patel (@reckless) March 13, 2014

I asked a few of the people complaining on Twitter to see if they were just playing along with the complaints that seemed to be popular, or if they genuinely had difficulty telling the difference between two different states of a button. The majority of the responses were that, of course they could understand it. What a silly question. The issue was that the normal people would be just so confused. This statement, an example of which can be seen below, really got my back up.

@AndyNico_ As a frequent user it does seem silly, but for less tech adept folks, which is a large portion of users, it is hard.

— Brian Hough (@b_hough) March 10, 2014

This isn’t the first time I’ve seen an example of the geek community online assuming they were some kind of super intelligence. A higher being that needs to protect the simple normals from their technology and themselves. I mean no personal offence to Brian and, if you look at the full conversation he has great justifications. We had a friendly conversation about it, but I’ve used it as an example here because it was the most recent example.

Both my wife and my mother in law use iOS daily, my wife on my handed down iPhone 5, and my mother in law with an iPad she received at Christmas. When iOS 7.1 was released I downloaded this for them and they’ve been using it since. They are both a dictionary definition of normal technology users. They use it when they have to, but their use case is limited and their exposure to the more technical side is non-existent. So far, they have not once mentioned any confusion over the new shift key and, with them not being complete idiots and all, I knew this would be the case.

So, if the techie types are not really confused by this, but instead fear for the poor normals, yet these same people are also clearly not so stupid they wouldn’t very quickly understand the change, why are there so many complaints flying around? I believe this is simply the Points of View effect. For those unfamiliar, Points of View is a show on BBC television here in the UK which allows moany types to write or call in to the network to air their grievances with various programmes. The show has constant examples of old, middle aged white people expressing faux disgust at how a black person may have been portrayed on Eastenders or a straight man taking umbrage about unfair treatment of homosexuals in the Snooker over on BBC2. Basically, people moaning about something that doesn’t affect them, in the vein attempt to protect the minorities, even though those same people take no offence to the same thing.

Geeks, nerds and techies need to give other people far more credit than they do currently. Devices like iPhones and tablets are far more widespread and accessible than many seem to think, so please, worry about your own problems before taking on others, especially those that don’t exist. You are not Batman. The world neither deserves, or needs you, so move along.