September 19th, 2014

Performance & iPhone 6 Plus

I’m disappointed. The OS still feels very much like prerelease software. I’ve had to force quit three or four apps in the 12 hours or so that I’ve had the phone.

In addition to the generally buggy feel of iOS 8 on the 6 Plus, heavy animations range from passable to downright painful. Trying to play Real Racing 3 was about as elegant as if it were being played on a resistive touch screen feature phone from 2008.

While some of this bugginess is probably the fault of individual developers, my bet is that it’s rooted in a combination of the scaling voodoo as well as the insane number of pixels this phone has to push. That’s not an excuse, though.

In my month or so running the iOS 8 beta on my iPhone 5, I never ran into graphical glitches anywhere near this severe. These are the sort of amateur-hour issues that I’ve always expected iPhones to be immune from.

Otherwise, I’m thrilled with the phone. I just picked up my old iPhone 5 to wipe it clean and what I’d previously considered to be a big screen already feels restrictively small.

September 7th, 2014

Update: “Standard Markdown”

Professor MacFarlane and I went back and forth over email a couple times. The gist of his argument was that since no code from Markdown was used in the creation of “Standard Markdown”, it didn’t qualify as a derivative under the terms of the Markdown license.

Needless to say, I disagree. Still, as promised, they’ve gone ahead and changed the name to CommonMark.

September 4th, 2014

A Letter to Professor John MacFarlane

A few minutes ago, I sent the following to John MacFarlane, Professor and Chair of the Department of Philosophy at U.C. Berkeley.

Professor MacFarlane is also one of the creators of “Standard Markdown”.

Dear Professor MacFarlane,

This year, I enrolled as a freshman at Arizona State University. Having only been here for a few weeks, I can already tell that the faculty are serious about one rule in particular: do not plagiarize. Put more simply, you might just say: don’t steal.

I would imagine that since Berkeley is so prestigious, there would be an equal or greater emphasis on that rule.

Turning a blind eye to varying degrees of plagiarism is nothing new in the online world, but by all accounts you appear to be a highly respected academic. The plagiarism in the use of the name “Standard Markdown” seems as blatant as the terms of the Markdown license seem clear. For reference:

Neither the name “Markdown” nor the names of its contributors may be used to endorse or promote products derived from this software without specific prior written permission.

From my understanding, the only attempt to gain this permission was made a week before releasing “Standard Markdown” in an email to John Gruber.

All of that being said, I’m writing to ask you one question in particular: as an academic, how did you justify violating the terms of the Markdown license in the naming of “Standard Markdown”?

I appreciate your consideration.


Alex Arena

Although I’m very interested in any response I may receive, I’ve decided not to publish it here unless I receive explicit permission from Professor MacFarlane.

Google Minus
I suspect we’ll look back on Google+ as one of the worst strategic moves Google ever made. It has cost them dearly in talent, morale, and the quality of their other products.

Arment nails it — Google Plus was a huge gamble with all that he listed and more at stake. But that’s just it, Google had to make that gamble. It’s not like they could sit back and watch Facebook eat their lunch.

At face value, Google Plus seemed to be a pretty good alternative to Facebook, but in the end attempts at “differentiation”1 like Circles were more trouble than they were worth.

Again, all this is to say that Google had to try.

For their next attempt2 at a social network to be successful, Google will need to start with something more modest. Facebook began as a place to connect with other college kids, Twitter as a place to share 140 characters of plain text, and so on.

An average user won’t spend hours learning how a new service works only to find out it’s basically Facebook. After Google has sold users on a concise vision for a better social network, they can gradually inundate users with bloat, just like the rest — but no sooner.

  1. Or could it have been a genuine attempt at improving the sharing-privacy balance on social networks? 

  2. And don’t worry, they’re going to keep at this until something sticks. 

Sonora 2 Beta

I’ve been trying out the Sonora 2 Beta for a week or so and I can easily recommend it over iTunes.

Obviously, it’s not going to sync your iPhone or play iTunes Radio, but it does a stellar job at giving you easy access to your music without having to deal with all the iTunes cruft. 1

  1. I’ve been loving my new Retina Macbook Pro, but I’ve been disappointed that even after spending upwards of $2000 on a machine, that iTunes scrolling inexplicably lags. No such issue in Sonora. 

Beamer 2 Released

My friends over at Tupil just released a very nice update to their already great app, Beamer and I was lucky enough to receive an early review copy.

Beamer lets you stream any movie file from your Mac to your Apple TV. While you could definitely accomplish this for free with AirPlay mirroring, I’ve found a few main advantages to using a dedicated app like Beamer:

1. Not having to futz around with mirroring settings.

2. The ability to keep using your Mac as usual.

3. An uncanny support for just about any video file I throw at it.

4. Integration with the Apple TV remote.

If you’re interested, there’s some sort of a limited trial available —when that’s over it’s fifteen bucks and well worth it.

Paper for Reminders

The result of a Saturday morning messing around with AppleScript. I hope you like it! 

December 12th, 2013

Saying Goodbye to AppStorm

As of December 31st, the AppStorm network of sites will no longer be updated. This is the end to around four years of publishing across six network sites. The decision was made after unsuccessful attempts to sell the network, despite its combined subscribership of around 160,000 people. While parent company Envato hasn’t yet confirmed this publicly, the email announcing this change was sent to the network’s writers yesterday.

I don’t usually post “breaking” news here, but I felt this story was worthy of an exception. Although I haven’t written for AppStorm since August, it was my first online paid writing gig as well as one of my favorite sites for app news.

As to why its shutting down, that’s a matter of speculation. My guess is this was just the result of Envato trying to trim the fat. Mac.AppStorm was great, but splitting resources between six different sites no doubt had an effect on the quality of them all. In the end - a few great things are always better than a bunch of okay ones and I think that’s a lesson Envato will be taking to heart with it’s Tuts+ and marketplace sites.

It’s been a great run for AppStorm and I wish their contributors nothing but the best in their future endeavors.

October 18th, 2013

A Listmaking Trifecta

I’ve never been satisfied with any single to do list/note taking application. Every tool I try is either too much, too little, too ugly, or just plain bad. In the past couple of weeks, though, I’ve accidentally developed a “system” for managing my notes and to do lists - here’s what it looks like.

  • Reminders takes care of anything with a hard-and-fast due date or time.
  • The new Simplenote is something of a junk drawer with lists of ideas, places to go, recipies to try, and basically everything else. It’s also where I draft longer articles, but that’s for a different post.
  • Begin is the incoming star of my setup. I won’t go into too much detail on how it works, except to say that I use it exactly how the developer intended, which is rare.

All these apps are stored in a folder in my dock called “Do” and thanks to iOS 7, it feels incredibly smooth and natural to add a task in any of these apps.

In a poor attempt to minimize the apps on my phone, I used to try to consolidate these things into a single app. The reality is that it’s better to have three apps that each do one thing great than one app that does three alright.

The End of Oval Office Speeches

It’s all just speculation, but from the point of view of a casual observer, this seems pretty spot on. We’ll just have to wait for the tell-alll in a few years to know for certain, though.