Apple, Comics, Journal, Musings, Technology

The Apple Pencil has Reignited my Love of Drawing

The Spider-Man drawing above was created entirely on the iPad Pro using Procreate and the Apple Pencil. After many years, my love of drawing has been reignited and transported to the digital age.

Friends of mine from childhood, high school and college remember me as someone who loved to draw. Armed with reams of continuous pin fed dot matrix computer paper from my father’s workplace, my elementary school friends and I would draw battleships and castles. Our fortresses featured various dungeons, moats and parapets to defend the inhabitants from the invading hordes. Our vessels would have multiple 16-inch cannons, missile launchers, and enough anti-aircraft, anti-missile, and anti-submarine weaponry to repel any assault on our naval fleet. As I entered middle and high school, I began reading comic books and drawing Spider-Man, Iron Man, and Batman in my sketchbooks.

Yet, as much as I loved computers, I never took a liking to drawing digitally. Tools like Illustrator still confound me to this day for anything but the most simplistic projects. I remember buying one of the first Wacon Intuos tablets, but I could never get used to the experience of looking at the screen while drawing on the tablet. It felt unnatural and I yearned for that 1:1 experience. I realize that many people have no problem with this approach, but it just wasn’t for me. I’ve tried numerous styluses, both dumb ones and those with Bluetooth for my iPhone and iPad, but none could replicate the feeling of drawing on paper.

Today, Wacom has its Cintiq line, Samsung has the Galaxy Note 5 which features a halfway decent stylus in the S-Pen (though the screen is too small for the type of drawing I would like to do) and Microsoft has Surface tablets which come with high-precision styluses. As a longtime Apple user, however, I could not bear myself to switch platforms.

With all that said, one can imagine my excitement with the announcement of the iPad Pro and the Apple Pencil. The videos depicting the Pencil in action were impressive, and I waited with great anticipation at midnight of launch day to order the Pro and Pencil. While I was able to pick up my iPad Pro on day one, my Pencil was backordered for three to four additional weeks. In some ways, this was good, because it gave me the chance to become more familiar with the differences in the iPad Pro compared with my other iPads. It features the best software keyboard that I have used to date, one that I can conceivably use for typing long form text and editing HTML documents.

I didn’t buy the iPad Pro for typing; I bought it to draw! So last week, I began calling Apple Retail stores around the peninsula, asking if they had any Pencils in stock. I was initially told that all Pencils were backordered, and that they wouldn’t be arriving for weeks. Then, I read reports that small batches were indeed arriving at retail stores, including the one nearest to my house. I went to that store on the morning of the 19th. The specialist informed me that while none were in stock at the moment, more were coming later in the day. So, back home I went and waited until after lunch. As I entered the Apple Store, my eyes went directly to the shelf  where the Pencils should have been. My heart sank when I saw an empty shelf. Fortunately, my prayers were answered; they had 10 more in the back!

Up until now, I have been using an Adonit Jot Touch Bluetooth Stylus1 and Procreate on an original iPad mini for my digital illustrations. Shown above is a page from a children’s book that I am making for my son. While the Jot Touch was certainly better than using my fingers, I have not been entirely satisfied with it. The lag, the weird plastic disc at the tip, and the buttons that I kept pressing by accident were annoying. The lack of good palm rejection in all of the iOS apps I’ve tried to date made drawing an awkward experience.

The Apple Pencil resolves all of these problems to my satisfaction. It has the least lag or latency of any stylus I’ve ever used due to the high sampling rate between the Pencil’s movements on the iPad Pro’s display. The tip of the Pencil is small and precise; where I place it is where the digital ink appears. I know Wacon tablet users love their buttons, but I like the fact that there are no buttons on the Apple Pencil; there’s nothing to accidentally press. Finally, palm rejection is extremely good across several applications like Paper, Procreate, and Notes. I am so glad to be able to place the side of my hand right on the screen without worrying that a big splotch would appear! And while there remain times when I see a stray ink mark, it happens so infrequently that it’s not a problem for me.

Procreate from Savage Interactive is an excellent painting application that offers multiple layer support, perspective tools, dozens of pre-set brushes, and an easy-to-use interface. It also records everything you do in the app, making it easy to see how I went from a blank canvas to the finished Spider-Man drawing.

It’s only been a few days, but to say that I am satisfied with the Apple Pencil is an understatement. For artists like me who never got accustomed to drawing on graphics tablets like the Wacom Intuos, didn’t want to plunk down the cash for a Cintiq, nor felt the need to switch platforms, the Apple Pencil and the iPad Pro is a game changer. And the great thing is that this technology is only going to get better. I’d welcome using the Apple Pencil on a smaller iPad for those times when I want a more portable drawing system. I’d also like to see better iCloud support in Procreate so that I can easily switch between art projects on all of my devices. I fully expect to do much more drawing in the future, now that the technology has matched my expectations.

Lastly, I pulled the old Apple Bluetooth headset dock to function as a charging stand for the Apple Pencil. I connected a 30-pin to Lightning adapter to the Pencil’s female-to-female Lightning adapter to complete the system. The port for the headset is magnetized, so the Pencil’s cap won’t roll off the table.

Here are some more articles and reviews of the Apple Pencil that are worth reading:

1 I originally wrote that I had a Jot Pro, but it’s really a Jot Touch. Mine is an older version of the one Adonit sells today, and it features a plastic disc instead of a normal looking plastic nib at the pen’s tip.

Using the iPad Pro software keyboard is remarkably  fast and accurate, as long as you can master the Shift key.
Apple, Technology

Thoughts on the iPad Pro’s Software Keyboard

A week into the release of the iPad Pro, much has been written about its use as a laptop replacement. Apple CEO Tim Cook recently said that he travels with just an iPad Pro and an iPhone. Day one iPad Pro reviewers were given two hardware keyboards to evaluate: the Apple Smart Keyboard and the Logitech Create. The media was generally positive towards the feel of the two keyboards, with most preferring the Create’s plastic keys over the Smart Keyboard’s fabric keys. They were less impressed by the extra bulk the keyboards added and the incomplete integration of external keyboards in iOS 9. For instance, there is a keyboard shortcut to initiate a Spotlight search, but there is no way (yet) to select one of the search results. As a result, one still needs to reach up and touch the screen frequently, and this can get tiring over time. When paired with the Smart Keyboard or the Create, the iPad Pro becomes larger and heavier than the 12-inch MacBook with Retina Display or the 11-inch MacBook Air it aspires to replace in the eyes of some users.

Less emphasis has been given to the iPad Pro’s software keyboard in the reviews, which is a shame because I think it’s the best software keyboard implementation I’ve used yet. Thanks to the large 12.9″ display, the Pro’s virtual keyboard is almost the same size as Apple’s Wireless Keyboard. The width of the keyboard is almost a perfect match, and the height of the soft keys is a few millimeters shorter than the physical keys.

The iPad Pro's software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.

The iPad Pro’s software keyboard, shown here next to the Apple Wireless Keyboard, is nearly full-sized.

The keyboard layout is nearly the same as the physical keyboard shown above. Instead of the Fn, Control, Option and Command keys, we have the Keyboard Layout, Alternate Key, and Dictation buttons. Also missing is the Esc key and the various function keys adorning the top row of the Apple Wireless Keyboard. The Pro’s soft keyboard even features a tab and caps lock key. It is worth noting that the number and delete keys are half the height of the alpha keys; they do take some time getting used to, as you have to be careful not to accidentally hit the Undo, Redo, Paste, Predictive suggestions or Editing buttons above them.

All this makes typing on the iPad Pro familiar and satisfying compared with the software keyboards on previous iPads. And, with a few tweaks, I was able to make the Pro’s soft keyboard function nearly identically to a physical QWERTY keyboard.

Inputing HTML on the iPad Pro

Anyone who has ever tried inputting HTML1 on iOS devices knows how maddening and time-consuming that task can be. For instance, entering the left angled bracket character takes three taps on the iOS software keyboard: 123 button, #+= button, and the < key. Editing a blog post in WordPress through Mobile Safari is an exercise in patience and not for the faint of heart2. And, while there are apps that add HTML formatting keys above the standard software keyboard (i.e. Panic’s Coda), their keyboards normally don’t transfer to other applications3.

Two frustrating things when inputting HTML, JavaScript, PHP, or any non-English terms are Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Both of these features are great when you’re typing things like emails, texts, and Facebook updates, but all bets are off if you want to write code.

Since the iPad Pro’s software keyboard looks like a real keyboard, how about configuring it as close as possible to a real keyboard? Turning off the Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correction in Settings > General > Keyboards does exactly that.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro's keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.

Turn off Auto-Correct and Auto-Capitalization to make your iPad Pro’s keyboard work more like a physical keyboard.

Check out the following 2-minute video that shows entering some basic HTML in the iPad Pro’s Notes app, with and without Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct.

  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct ON: 1 minute and 20 seconds
  • Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct OFF: 30 seconds

That’s nearly three times faster, with far fewer finger gymnastics and headaches. I’ll take it!

Don’t get me wrong, both Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct are great in most cases. Being able to turn these off and use the software keyboard like a regular keyboard, however, means I won’t dread using the iPad to make changes to webpages or to type longer passages of text. And, it lessens the need to have a physical keyboard with you in order to effectively use the iPad Pro. I do wish that long-pressing on the keyboard layout button would display additional options to toggle Auto-Capitalization and Auto-Correct. Switch modes from the keyboard is way faster than going into Settings > General > Keyboard to change the settings.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Wish there were settings to toggle Auto-Correction and Auto-Capitalization here.

Swipe Up Tip

Update: November 19, 2015: On previous iPad devices, one could swipe up on two characters on the software keyboard, the period and comma keys to output the quote and double quote characters. On the iPad Pro, this feature has been extended to all of the number and symbol keys. Swiping up from the one key will output exclamation point and swiping up on semi-colon key will output the colon character. This makes even faster to input alternate characters since one doesn’t have to press (and/or hold) the shift key.

One can also press and hold on the keys to display alternate letters, but I find swiping up to be faster in practice. Pressing and holding is required for certain alpha keys since they feature more  alternate letters.

Ergonomics Revisited

On the flipside, I recognize that typing on the iPad Pro’s keyboard in slate orientation with the Smart Cover comes with some downsides in the ergonomics department. In this setup, my neck is angled down and my back is hunched over the iPad. Prolonged typing sessions like these will make those muscles very uncomfortable.

Thus, is the best way to use an iPad Pro at the desk similar to what we do today with laptops? Hook up the iPad Pro to an external display or elevate the iPad Pro so it’s more in line with our eyes? In the first scenario, one could touch type on the iPad Pro’s while looking at the external display, looking down only to tap or swipe. Alternatively, one could use an external Bluetooth keyboard while looking at the elevated iPad or the monitor.

These two scenarios are illustrated below with the iPad Pro’s screen mirrored on an Apple Thunderbolt Display. How this is possible, one might ask, given that the iPad doesn’t have a Lightning-to-Thunderbolt adapter. It turns out that one can use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror an iOS device connected via a regular USB-to-Lightning cable.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.

Display your iPad screen on your Mac with QuickTime Player.

Use Quicktime Player's Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro's screen onto your Mac.

Use Quicktime Player’s Movie Recording feature to mirror your iPad Pro’s screen onto your Mac.

Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.

Using an external keyboard with the iPad Pro connected to my Apple Thunderbolt Display.

One can also use OS X El Capitan’s Split Screen feature to have both iOS and OS X operating side-by-side in fullscreen mode! I admit to some confusion when using this setup; I half expected the cursor on the iPad to move when I used the mouse to click in the iOS window on my Mac! Microsoft would beg to differ with its Windows 10 operating system and device lineup, but I agree with Cook that in the case of OS X and iOS, the two operating systems shouldn’t be merged into one.

Who says a Mac and an iPad can't share the same screen?

Who says a Mac and an iPad can’t share the same screen?

Future Improvements

For me, an external keyboard has always been faster at inputting data than the iPad’s software keyboard. The iPad Pro’s, however, comes closest to emulating a physical keyboard. If Apple adds the Taptic Engine and 3D Touch hardware to the iPad Pro, the software keyboard could get even better. One could imagine being able to tune the amount of force needed to signal a keypress. I’d imagine it would be a power hog, so maybe it would only work when plugged into the mains. And, it’s at least one or two generations away, but I am excited about the prospects!

27-inch iPad Ultra Pro?

I’ll end this article on a fun note. Here’s a photo of my iPad Pro’s home screen displayed on my 27-inch Thunderbolt Display in fullscreen mode. Can you imagine this is what a 27-inch iPad Ultra Pro might look like?

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!

No, Apple is not planning to create a 27-inch iPad Pro, but we can see what it would be like!

1 Old habits die hard. I’m not ashamed to admit that I normally eschew the visual, WYSIWYG editors and prefer to edit webpages in HTML.

2 The WordPress app hasn’t been optimized for the iPad Pro’s software keyboard. The app works better for stock WordPress sites, but is not optimal for those who run heavily customized WordPress installations.

3 Is there a Custom Keyboard for HTML editing on iOS? A quick search on the iOS App Store didn’t reveal much.

Glowforge 3D Laser Printer

Glowforge 3D Laser Printer Pre-ordered

Came across this intriguing 3D Laser Printer from Glowforge. It can cut a piece of wood, leather, acrylic, fabric, cardboard and paper up to a quarter-inch thick. It can engrave on metal like the back of an iPhone or MacBook laptop. I have been working on some craft ideas lately, and the Glowforge might be just the thing that can turn my crude prototypes into reality.

The company is having a 50% pre-order discount for the next twenty days. The printer is not inexpensive — the discounted prices range from $2000 to $4000 — but I would imagine making the things it can create by hand or via outsourcing would cost much more. Use the referral code to get $100 your own Glowforge; I’ll get $100 off mine as well.

Shipments are expected to start in December, 2015 to early 2016. They’ve already amassed $6 million dollars in pre-orders. The team behind the Glowforge seem more experienced when it comes to shipping products, so I’m hopeful that they will ship on-time.

New LaserJet M252dw says goodbye to the old LaserJet 6MP

The HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw – Successor to the Venerable HP LaserJet 6MP Printer

I’m finally retiring the HP LaserJet 6MP printer that I’ve had since graduating from college and replacing it with an HP Color LaserJet M252dw. Released in October, 1996, LaserJet 6MP was designed to work best with Macintosh computers. It featured a Postscript compatibility, a LocalTalk port, two Parallel Ports, and an Infrared port.

One of the earliest photos I could find of the HP LaserJet 6MP that I have used for over 16 years. Yes, that's a Ricochet wireless modem attached to my PowerBook G3 laptop.

One of the earliest photos I could find of the HP LaserJet 6MP that I have used for over 16 years. Attached to my PowerBook G3 is a Ricochet wireless modem that allowed me to get on the Internet wirelessly in the late 90s.

Now a vestige from the days of computing long past, my 6MP was kept operational over the years even as those printing interfaces became obsolete. When the LocalTalk/AppleTalk port disappeared on later Macintosh computers, I bought a Farallon EtherMac iPrint Adapter to bridge the printer to my Ethernet network. When that stopped working, I connected a Parallel port-to-USB cable to my Airport Wi-Fi base station. Out of all the technology that I still use today, it’s by far the longest serving device I’ve had. How many tech gadgets or computers do you still use that are nearly two decades old?

I was able to connect my HP LaserJet 6MP to my network using a Parallel Port-to-USB cable.

I was able to connect my HP LaserJet 6MP to my network using a Parallel Port-to-USB cable.

As the years went by, the 6MP started printing documents, especially more complex PDFs — slower. It didn’t help that the printer only has 3 Megabytes of RAM! More recently, the toner cartridge was running low, and the paper rollers had developed a nasty habit of leaving black streak marks all over the printouts. It was time to start looking in earnest for a replacement to the venerable workhorse.

Last month, I bought an HP Color LaserJet Pro MFP M277dw Printer for my parents and was impressed with the ease of setup and automatic duplex features of this multi-function printer. Because I did not require the M277dw’s scanner/copy/fax capabilities, I ordered the HP Color LaserJet Pro M252dw Printer — that doesn’t exactly roll off the tongue like the LaserJet 6MP — from Amazon. The printer supports color and duplex printing and comes with Wi-Fi, Ethernet, and AirPrint communication interfaces. In a case of three steps forward and one step back, the paper tray is measly at only 150 sheets and the multi-purpose tray only supports one sheet or a single envelope — compared to the 6MP’s 250 sheet capacity paper tray and 100 sheet or 10 envelope multi-purpose tray.

The LaserJet M252dw is connected to my network via Wi-Fi, so that's one less cable to worry about.

The LaserJet M252dw is connected to my network via Wi-Fi, so that’s one less cable to worry about.

For the most part, I expect to be printing in black and white, but having the ability to print in color will come in handy from time to time and saves me from having to buy a color inkjet (I’ve been down that road before and won’t go there again). One thing that I’m not looking forward to is paying $400 for a set of four high-capacity toner cartridges (black, cyan, magenta and yellow). That’s nearly twice as much as the printer itself! So, I’m looking forward to the day when more affordable third-party toner cartridges are available. Finally, I don’t know if they make them like they used to, but I’m hoping to get at least five to ten years out of this printer. We’ll see!

The Apple Watch and the Basis B1 without their bands.
Reviews, Technology

Apple Watch, Basis B1 Band, the Gamification of Fitness and Apps

It had been many years since I had worn a watch. The last time that I could remember wearing one was back in college, and I stopped wearing it when I started carrying a pocketable PDA or cellphone.

On my desk in 1995: a watch, my laptop, and a Newton. On my desk in 2015: a laptop, an iPhone, and an Apple Watch.

On my desk in Paris, circa 1995: a PowerBook 180, an Apple Newton MessagePad and an analog watch. On my desk in 2015: a MacBook Pro, an iPhone 6 Plus and an Apple Watch.

Prior to ordering and receiving my Apple Watch, I had been wearing a Basis B1 Band1 for the past 9 months. The Basis was on my wrist through my transformation from dad-bod to beach bod, tracking my steps, calories, resting heart rate, and sleep activity. It worked passively, meaning I didn’t have to tell the Basis what I was doing — running, walking, biking or sleeping — for it to work. Alas, it could not detect when I was doing pull-ups! Knowing that Apple was going to come out with a watch was another reason why I wore the Basis; I wanted to reacquaint myself with wearing a watch.

Body and Design

The Apple Watch is slimmer than the Basis B1 Band.

The Apple Watch is slimmer than the Basis B1 Band.

As you uffan see in the photos, the Apple Watch is thinner than the Basis. While it’s much thicker than my old analog watch, the Apple Watch actually smaller than I thought it would be (from looking at the Apple Watch webpage or watching the commercials). The Sport band is also more comfortable to wear for extended periods of time than the Basis. I found the metal buckle of the Basis annoying when it would bang against the table when trying to work. I often ended up just taking off the watch during the workday. The Sport Band also makes a noise when I place my wrists on the table to start typing, but it’s less annoying than the Basis. The fluroelastomer material in the Sport Band makes the Apple Watch more pleasant to wear throughout the day.

I find it easier to put on when I placed the band with the loop closure on the bottom rather than the top.

I find it easier to put on when I placed the band with the loop closure on the bottom rather than the top.

Sharp-eyed readers will note that I have swapped the position of the bands on my Apple Watch. I found it difficult to put it on each morning the original way the bands were oriented, so I removed the top band and installed it on the bottom. Now, when I put it on, I use my thumb to hold the free band in place; my other fingers grasp the band with the adjustment holes and pin and tuck it securely to my wrist2. While I find this much easier, your mileage may vary. I also tested rotating the Apple Watch 180 degrees so that the Digital Crown was in the bottom-left position, but I ultimately switched to back. It’s good that Apple allows this level of customization in the Apple Watch’s Settings > General > Orientation panel.

Finally, I didn’t like wearing the Basis Watch on my wrist when I was dressed in my Wool & Prince button-down shirt. The height of the watch made it difficult to fit under the cuff the left sleeve, a problem that doesn’t exist with my Apple Watch. My minimalist uniform project also informed my choice of the space gray Apple Watch with the black sport band. If a red sports band was available, I’d buy one!

Battery Life

The Basis B1 has much better battery life than the Apple Watch. I routinely can get five or more days of usage out of the Basis before having to recharge it. Admittedly, the Basis is doing a lot less than the Apple Watch, but I was quite pleased with not having to charge it every night. The increased battery life of the Basis is critical because I used it to record my sleep patterns. I would wear the Basis to sleep, and it would track how many times I woke up, my amount of REM, Light, and Deep sleep I would have. It would then tabulate all this data on the Web and give me a daily and weekly Sleep Score.

The Apple Watch, like my iPhone, requires nightly charging and does not track sleep patterns. Ultimately, it would be great if the Apple Watch would last days or weeks without needing to be recharged, but it’s not a deal-breaker for me. I usually have between 20-40% of battery life left in the evening before I go to bed; one night, I got down to 3% battery life with just one more hour left to complete my Stand goal; fortunately, I made it and was able to complete all the Activity circles for the day!

It's all on the wrist. The Apple Watch and the Basis B1 Band.

It’s all on the wrist. The Apple Watch and the Basis B1 Band.

Activity Tracking and the Gamification of Fitness

One thing that I liked with the Basis was its clever game mechanic call Habits. As I wore the Basis passively throughout the day, I would get points for the number of steps per day, the time I would go to sleep or wake up, how many calories I would burn in a day, or how long I wore the watch. As I collected more points, I unlocked additional Habits to track. A few months ago, I gathered enough points to unlock every Habit. It was at that point, however, that my motivation for wearing the watch waned, and I stopped wearing it in the month before the Apple Watch arrived.

I've been diligent at completing the three rings each and every day since getting my Apple Watch.

I’ve been diligent at completing the three rings each and every day since getting my Apple Watch.

The Activity app for the Apple Watch also lets users collect achievements for fitness tasks. Here’s the list of current achievements in the Activity app. Checkmarks denote the ones I’ve unlocked thus far:

  • First Running Workout: Awarded on your first run with the Workout app.
  • First Walking Workout: Awarded on your first walk with the Workout app.
  • Workout Record: Awarded after 5 calorie-based sessions with the Workout app, earn this award for the most calories burned doing your selected workout.
  • 7-Workout Week: Complete at least 7 workouts of any kind in a single week with the Workout app.
  • New Record: Earn this award when you set a new personal record for most calories burned in a day after your first 10 days.
  • New Award: Earn this award when you set a new personal record for most minutes of exercise in a day after your first 10 days.
  • Move Goal 200%: Earn this award every time you double your daily Move goal.
  • Move Goal 300%: Earn this award every time you triple your daily Move goal.
  • Move Goal 400%: Earn this award every time you quadruple your daily Move goal.
  • New Move Goal:Earn this award for reaching a new calorie burn goal.
  • Perfect Week (Exercise): Earn this award for reaching your Exercise goal every day of a single week.
  • Perfect Week (Stand): Earn this award for reaching your Stand goal every day of a single week.
  • Perfect Week (Move): Earn this award for reaching your Move goal every day of a single week.
  • Perfect Week (All Activity): Complete all three activity goals every day of a single week.
  • Perfect Month: Earn this award when you reach your Move goal every day of a single month, from the month’s first day to its last.
  • Longest Move Streak: Earn this award for your longest consecutive daily Move streak.
  • 100 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 100 times.
  • 365 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 365 times.
  • 500 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 500 times.
  • 1000 Move Goals: Earn this award when you reach your daily Move goal 1000 times.

Although I’ve been exercising a lot, I have not been doing it every day lately, so getting the Perfect Week achievement was a bit of a slog to get. As you can see in the screenshot above, I now have completed the Perfect Week twice. I now have my sights on the Perfect Month achievement!

The Basis B1 also gives you achievements for the following habits that you regularly maintain:

  • Wear It: Wear the watch for a certain number of hours in a day.
  • Consistent Bedtime: Set the time at which you fall asleep every night.
  • Run Club: Run for a set number of minutes.
  • Evening Lap: After 5pm, take a set number of steps.
  • Let’s Ride: Bike for a set number of minutes.
  • Regular Rising: Wake up at a set time each morning.
  • Morning Lap: Before 12pm, take a set number of steps.
  • Don’t Be A Sitter: From 9-5pm, get up every hour.
  • Torch More Calories: Burn a set number of calories each day.
  • Afternoon Lap: From 12-5pm, take a set number of steps.
  • Move It: Be active for 1 hour.
  • Step It Up: Take a set number of steps.

Basis Achievements

As I mentioned earlier, in the eight months that I wore the Basis band, I was able to accumulate enough points to unlock all of the Habits. Yet, I consistently did not complete each habit on a daily basis. Obviously, it wasn’t practical to run and bike in the same day, nor be able to go to sleep or wake up at the exact same time. Basis highlights in green which days you accomplish the goal. Progress that has yet to be completed is shown in red. Unless you’re a Basis freak, there’ll be more days when you don’t complete Habits than days that you do. This is a key difference with Apple’s Activity rings. With the Apple Watch, you see more of what you did than what you didn’t do (as with the Basis). I think this ultimately helps people maintain their motivation to keep moving, exercising, and standing day in, day out.

Fitness Accuracy of the Apple Watch

I use RunKeeper and Strava to keep track of my runs and cycling activities. In the twenty days that I’ve been using the Apple Watch, I’ve gone on fourteen runs and a handful of walks. According to Apple’s support page on calibration, the Apple Watch should have a good sense of my stride rate3 by now. Yet, I have found the Workout app to consistently underestimate the distances I’ve run compared with Strava and RunKeeper. A 3.1 mile run in Strava or RunKeeper would be interpreted as a 2.9 or 3.0 mile run by the Workout app. I’ve also found that pace as recorded by Workout is slower than both RunKeeper and Strava. Because the Watch apps for RunKeeper and Strava are not that good yet (slow to load or have usability issues), I’ll continue to use all three apps — Workout on the watch, Strava and RunKeeper on my iPhone — when I hit the trails. And, I’ll look on the bright side to Workout’s underestimation of my pace and distance; it’ll make me run faster since I’ll think I’m running too slow!

Update May 19, 2015 @ 10:00 AM: Apple released Watch OS 1.0.1, which promises to bring more accurate “distance and pace during outdoor walk and run workouts”

As for the Basis B1, I liked how I didn’t have to tell the watch what activity I was doing (run, walk, or bike). It just figured it out. On the other hand, the Basis didn’t always interpret what I was doing correctly. For instance, if I ran with the stroller, the Basis would think I did all three activities, giving me less points for running than I wanted.

Watch Apps

Third-party Watch apps currently leave much to be desired; the majority of the ones I’ve tried are useless to me because they take so long to load. It’s easier to do what I need done from my iPhone instead of pressing the Digital Crown, swiping to the app (those tap targets are small!), waiting for it to load, and hoping that the information retrieved is of some use.

This sad state of Watch Apps can be attributed to the current limitations set forth by Apple; developers have no direct access to the watch’s accelerometer, gyroscope, Bluetooth radio, Taptic engine, microphone and speaker. This will undoubtedly improve over time, as (1) developers gain more experience with the current WatchKit SDK and (2) Apple decides to allow native applications on the Apple Watch4.

As for the built-in apps supplied by Apple, I frequently use the timer and stopwatch apps. I found dictating Messages replies using Siri to be fairly accurate as long as I’m not trying to say too much. The Camera Remote app is nice, but I haven’t had the opportunity to use it beyond demoing the feature to friends and family. It’s easier to use the Remote app to control the Apple TV over the Apple TV remote — up to the point where I get tired holding my left arm out. I’ve used Apple Pay just once, and I can see it can be even more convenient than using the iPhone. I have yet to transfer any songs or playlists to the Music app.

Is It Worth It?

I’m enjoying wearing the Apple Watch, despite its current set of limitations. As a frequent early adopter of nascent technologies, I realize and accept these limitations. Right now, I’d categorize the Apple Watch as a nice to have. It’s not essential like my iPhone or my laptop. Future Apple Watch iterations will have improved battery life, be faster at loading and running applications, and feature additional sensors. At that point, I see it becoming a must-have device for myself, my family and friends.

1 I received the Basis B1 for free at a tech conference. The B1 has been superseded by the Basis Peak.

2 It’s interesting to note that the Apple Watch’s sensors are designed to work when the watch is on top of the wrist. In my youth, I preferred to wear a watch on the inside of my wrist.

3 Other people have chimed in regarding the fitness accuracy of the Apple Watch that’s worth reading.

4 Third-party applications were initially not supported on the iPhone. Steve Jobs encouraged developers to write web applications for the iPhone instead. A native-SDK was made available a year later in 2008.

Motorola Arris 6141 Cable Modem

Save Money Each Month By Buying Your Cable Modem

Late in 2014, I was making some adjustments to my Comcast plan and I realized that I was paying an additional $8.00/month to rent a cable modem for the past eight years — nearly $800! I recommend people to ditch the rental and buy your own cable modem. From Amazon, I purchased the highly regarded ARRIS / Motorola SurfBoard SB6141 DOCSIS 3.0 Cable Modem1 for $89.99 (regular price $99.99). In eleven months, the modem will have paid for itself.

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Stanford, Technology

Symbolic Systems Program 25th Anniversary

This weekend, Rae and I had the pleasure to attend the Symbolic Systems Program 25th Anniversary event in the Huang Engineering Center at Stanford. I owe a great deal of my success to the program and the lifelong friends I’ve made in classes such as Philosophy 160A. When I arrived at Stanford, my plan was to become a Chemistry major, but Chem 321 threw those plans out the window after just one quarter. In Winter quarter my freshman year, I was taking CS 106A and was introduced to the Symbolic Systems through my TA. He too was a SymSys major who had just returned from a quarter abroad in Paris, France. As a junior in high school, I had lived in France for three weeks, and I always wanted to do a study abroad program while at Stanford. He planted the seed in my impressionable frosh mind that if I were to be a SymSys major, I could go to France too (look at that logic working there!). He also had long hair. It’s clear looking back that Symbolic Systems and I were a perfect match!

Notable graduates of the program who spoke on Saturday included Marissa Mayer (Google), Scott Forstall (Apple), Matt Flannery (Kiva), James Rucker (MoveOn), Srinija Srinivasan (Yahoo), Reid Hoffman (LinkedIn), and Mike Krieger (Instagram). Lest people think that all SymSys grads go into the tech industry, we had several academics speak, including Nadeem Hussain (Stanford), Tania Lombrozo (UC Berkeley), and Erica Robles-Anderson (NYU). It was great to meet with my former SymSys and Philosophy 160A classmates too; this year is our 15-year reunion, and I’m really looking forward to October!

The weekend was a good opportunity for Rae to better understand where I came from. A common question that I always get asked is, “What is Symbolic Systems?” At our Autumn Gem screenings, I usually say something to the effect of, “I studied Symbolic Systems, a major similar to Computer Science.” The real answer is much more complicated and nuanced, so the next time you see me, ask me, “What is Symbolic Systems?”

Here are a few photos from the anniversary event this weekend.

1 No offense to Chem 32, but after taking the class, I realized that being a Chem researcher just wasn’t in the cards for me longterm.