Reviews, Technology

The Roost Laptop Stand and an iPad Pro at CES

Last year, I supported the Roost Laptop Stand on Kickstarter. The Roost is a portable, height-adjustable stand for laptops. At home, I use a Rain Design mStand with my MacBook Pro. It’s a nice stand, but it does not travel well. The Roost appealed to me because it was lightweight, foldable, and could adjust its height, features the aluminum mStand lacks.

I’ve been at CES 2016 the entire week, and I had the opportunity to walk the showroom floor on opening day. There is a large section, sponsored by iLounge, devoted to mobile gadgets and accessories. When I turned the corner at the end of the exhibit hall, I immediately saw and recognized the Roost and its inventor, James Olander. I introduced myself as a backer and told him how eager I was to receive the Roost later this month. He graciously fulfilled my Kickstarter pledge right there on the show floor!

On this trip, I left the laptop at home and brought only my iPhone and iPad Pro. Using the iPad Pro as a drawing tablet has been a revelation, but I do notice increased neck and shoulder fatigue while illustrating because I am constantly hunched over. And, while it doesn’t replace the MacBook Pro for all my use cases, the iPad Pro can certainly function as a laptop replacement for many of my needs. If I paired it with an external Bluetooth keyboard (I am still waiting for the TextBlade to ship), the height of the iPad propped up with the Smart Cover) is still lower than I would like. The dynamic design of the Roost allows me to use the iPad Pro for both purposes, and my initial ergonomic impressions are positive.

For drawing, I place the iPad Pro, sans cover and with the volume buttons facing up, onto the Roost. When working in this position, I am more upright, and my neck and shoulders feel much better. Increased arm strain is a possibility, since my hand is now angled upwards instead of resting on the display and table.

To make the iPad Pro more suitable for use as a laptop replacement, I attach the iPad Pro’s Smart Cover and rest the folded triangle on top of the Roost’s two vertical arms.

It’s not as precarious as it sounds and might look, and I am able to tilt the Roost + iPad Pro side to side. See this animated GIF below:

The Roost has medical-grade silicone around the pivoting grips, which provide friction to keep a laptop from slipping. Two reminders when using it with the iPad Pro: first, don’t tilt the Roost towards you, as the iPad will fall out. Second, be sure not to place the Pro in the Roost such that the volume buttons get pressed accidentally in the right pivoting grip.

I’m happy that I ran into James and the Roost booth today at CES. I got my Roost early and was able to chat with the inventor. The product looks and operates exactly as it has been described. And, although it wasn’t designed with the iPad Pro in mind, it works well with it.

If you’re at CES, be sure to visit Roost at the Las Vegas Convention Center, North Hall, Booth 6635. James is sharing the space with Steve King at California Pacific Designs, who is demoing several well-designed Apple accessories. Steve showed me his BASE Apple Pencil charging stand, the FLOAT, an elegant shelf for the iMac or Cinema Displays, and a series of nice aluminum headphone (and Oculus Rift) stands. Check them out!

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.

Apple, Reviews, Technology

11.6-inch MacBook Air Thoughts

The new 11.6-inch MacBook Air on top of the 12-inch PowerBook G4 and the original PowerBook 100.Since the Apple Event announcing the new MacBook Airs, I’ve been using a loaner unit of the 11.6-inch Air. I won’t bore you with yet another standard review of the Air; instead, I’ll share some thoughts from the historical perspective of a longtime Apple laptop owner.

Steve Jobs called the new Airs as the future of laptops. No doubt, but these seeds were planted many years ago by previous laptops and mobile devices.

Read the rest of this post and see the photos »

Journal, Reviews

G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra Movie Review

Adam circa 1987 with Cobra Terror Drome toy set

When I think back about my childhood in the eighties, several things stand out, including my introduction to Apple computers, Transformers and G.I. Joe. Growing up, I had a subscription to the monthly comic book and many G.I. Joe toys, as you can see in the photo to the right. Yes, that’s me back in 1987 with the dreaded Cobra Terror Drome toy set! I also watched the cartoon, but I much preferred the more realistic comic book, written by Japanese-American writer, Larry Hama. No one ever died in the cartoon and everyone always had a parachute in their back pocket when their plane or helicopter exploded. And, don’t get me started on the G.I. Joe animated movie with Cobra-La!

As I progressed through high school, my interest in the toys and comics naturally waned, but my love for G.I. Joe never really went away. I’ve always thought a G.I. Joe movie could be awesome, but only if it took its lead from the comic book and not the cartoon. When Michael Bay’s Transformers came out, I was very disappointed; it was all special effects and eye-candy; for instance, you couldn’t tell the Autobots from the Decepticons, as grey metaled robots beat up on similarly grey metaled robots. Transformers 2 was better, but not enough to improve my thoughts on the franchise. When the initial photos of Darth Maul/Ray Park dressed as Snake-Eyes came out, I thought, “Wow, this could be a really good and faithful adaptation of G.I. Joe!” Those initial thoughts turned to WTF after seeing the rest of the Joes dressed like Matrix/X-Men characters. The initial trailer — accelerator suits and all — only served to reinforce the potential trainwreck building in my mind. The kicker was the photo of Cobra Commander’s mask. The producers basically said f-you to 27 years of Cobra Commander canon, saying the hood was too KKK-like and would scare children. Ummm… isn’t that the point?

No Expectations, No Regrets?

Despite the nagging feeling in the back of my mind, my expectations were raised after some early positive reviews from AintItCoolNews. Of course, AICN has been accused of being paid Hollywood hacks, a feeling that only intensified after hearing that Paramount decided not to screen the movie for critics. Sure enough the high rating on the Tomatometer for G.I. Joe dropped like a stone on Friday and is currently at 42%.

Before heading out to see the movie, I asked myself, “Were these movie reviewers G.I. Joe fans growing up? Did they understand the mythology, did they know by heart nearly every issue of the comic book, did they know each character’s background and motivations, and did they ever play with the toys?” Who is the target audience for the film? Over the course of marketing our own documentary, AUTUMN GEM, Rae and I have had to answer that very question; show the film to your target demographic and audience, and they will love it.

And so, on Friday, I went with Dardy… and three of my G.I. Joe action figures in my pocket, hooded Cobra Commander, Snake-Eyes (1982 version, no swivel-arm battle grip) and Snake-Eyes (1985 – the definitive version), to the nearby Winchester movie theatre to see G.I. Joe: Rise of Cobra.

Spoiler alerts to follow. If you’ve read this far, however, I think you’re hardcore enough that you’ve already seen the movie! This review is not so much a review but a free-flow of thoughts coming from 27+ years of being a G.I. Joe fanatic. You have been warned!

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Journal, Reviews

Steelcase Think Chair

Steelcase Think Chair

My new Steelcase Think chair arrived yesterday. It’s replacing a Herman Miller Aeron chair that I picked up from a dot-com bust company several years ago. The Aeron has been heralded as a great task chair, but I never felt fully comfortable in it. At the D6 conference, we were given Think chairs in the command center. The minute I sat down in it, I knew I was sitting in my next chair. Fortunately, Steelcase was offering a terrific 40% off discount for D6 attendees, and I quickly jumped on the deal once I got back from the East Coast

I’m really digging the adjustable arm rests, which can move forwards and backwards in addition to pivoting inwards and outwards. Now, I can be right up against my desk, and my forearms are supported by the armrests while typing. This wasn’t possible with the Aeron, whose armrests only pivoted inward. I also picked up the optional lumbar support and headrest, which will help to reduce neck and back strain during those 10-12 hour coding or editing sessions I frequently find myself in these days.

Apple, Journal, Rants, Reviews

Apple Wireless Keyboard Review and the Big Control Key

Apple Wireless Keyboard - fn key to control key

It’s been over a week with my new Apple Wireless Keyboard, and the experience up until now has been a mixed bag.

First off, the positives. The design of the keyboard is remarkable; I love how it’s so thin and small. Since I have three monitors — two hooked up to my tower and the other being my laptop — I find myself able to reposition the keyboard much more easily than with the corded keyboard, whose cable always seemed to get in the way of other things on my desk. The key action is pretty good as well for the main alphanumeric keys.

My single biggest peeve with the wireless keyboard is the position of the fn key. Like on their laptops, Apple has placed the fn key to the left of the control key on the left-hand side of the keyboard. Adding another modifier key results in the control and option key being smaller than their counterparts on the corded aluminum keyboard. I tend to use the control key a lot during development. Because the position and size of the control key is so different, I’ve been making a lot of mistakes.

In the Keyboard and Mouse preferences pane, you can change what the caps lock, control, option, and command keys do. I had the idea to turn the caps lock key into control, which is similar to the keyboard layout on old Sun workstations I used in college. However, Apple has modified the caps lock key to reduce accidental activation. If you set caps lock to control, you really have to press the key hard in order for the control modifier key to register. So, that trick was not going to work for me.

Update 2008-04-12: In the recent firmware updates for the Apple wireless and wired keyboards, a remapped Caps Lock key no longer has the activation delay. This means you can now safely remap your Control key to the Caps Lock key.

I did some more research and found apps that modified keyboard layouts such as Ukelele, fKeys, and uControl, but none of them panned out. Finally, I came across DoubleCommand, which provides a wide range of control for mapping one modifier key to the other. Unfortunately, the current version, 1.6.6b1, didn’t have the option to remap the right option key to fn. Because the application is Open Source, however, I recompiled the app with that option enabled. Sadly, in the Keyboard Viewer palette (System Preferences->International->Input Menu), the right-option key looks like it’s masquerading as the fn key, but pressing fn-return doesn’t output the enter key. Hopefully, a newer release of DoubleCommand will fix this issue.

Still, the biggest boon is getting the fn key to act as a second control key. To solve the problem of the space between the fn and control keys, I first tried taking a stickie, cutting it to size, and placing it on top of the keys. It didn’t look pretty, so I got back to work. I printed a sheet of labels with control written on each label (using the Myriad Pro font). I then cut a business card which would provide a firmer backing for the label. I then stuck the label and backing to the key using some tape. The end result looks much more natural — a big control key on the Apple Wireless Keyboard!

Of course, in an ideal world, I wouldn’t have to do this. Apple should provide a wireless version of their aluminum corded keyboard. If they kept the form factor of this keyboard, however, they could improve the design by moving the fn key to the right option key. Expanding the arrow keys to full-size would also be greatly appreciated, even if it meant making the keyboard a little longer or wider.

Check out the photos below!

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