Technology, Travel

Continuing Thoughts on Portable Keyboards

I’ve been on a keyboard buying spree lately after cancelling my WayTools TextBlade order two weeks ago. While I like the iPad’s software keyboard, I can still type faster on a physical keyboard. Writing code on iOS devices prior to the iPad Pro has been a torturous exercise, with constant tapping and re-tapping of the 123 and #+= keys to access commonly used programming characters. An external keyboard makes this all so much easier.

With the money that was credited back to my account from WayTools, I now have three working keyboards that I can use with my iOS devices or Mac computers:

  • iPad Keyboard Dock (iOS only)
  • Logitech K811 Easy-Switch Keyboard
  • Microsoft Universal Foldable Keyboard (MFK)

These are in addition to my venerable Logitech K760 solar-powered keyboard which I’ve been happily using for the past four years.

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Apple, Photography

Migrating from Apple Aperture to Google Photos

In the middle of 2014, Apple announced they were ceasing further development of Aperture, the company’s professional photo management application I had been using to catalog and post-process my images since 2005.

Aperture continued to work in OS X 10.10 Yosemite, and it works more or less under OS X 10.11 El Capitan. All bets are off for OS X 10.12, so I have finally decided to take stock of my options for migrating away from Aperture. I had compiled quite a library of tagged, annotated, and organized images since I started taking digital photographs in 1999 with an Agfa ePhoto 1680, a 1.3 megapixel camera with a swivel lens).

I use iCloud Photo Library, and the majority of images there are from my iPhone camera. I have over 174,000 images in my Aperture Library totaling 1.68TB in size and only a handful of those photos have made it into my iCloud Photo Library. Apple doesn’t offer a storage tier greater than 1TB (I have the 200GB plan), but I don’t think I would sign up even if they did. As much as I like the idea of having all of my images in Photos and accessible from all of my devices, I am concerned about the performance hit of such a large library.

Exporting over 174,000 photos from Aperture took three days.

Last week, I exported all of the images in Aperture to JPEG files, a process that took three days. Last year, I purchased my 2015 Retina 15″ MacBook Pro without the discrete graphics chips expressly because I have had two laptops crap out due to overheating chipsets. The fans were on 24/7 for the entire export time, and the battery was actually discharging very slowly even though the computer was plugged into power. Knock on wood, but I hope I didn’t cause my laptop’s motherboard any permanent harm!

A little over one hundred thousand images remaining to upload.

Right now, I am uploading all of my images to Google Photos. The service offers unlimited storage if the images are downsized to 16MP. That’s a fair tradeoff for me, since I already keep multiple offsite backups of my RAW images. I am also very interested in the automatic tagging of photos, animated GIFs and panoramas that Google Photos offers. I have spent probably months manually adding metadata to my images; I am ready for a machine to do the job for me now. Yes, there are privacy concerns about giving Google access to my photos, but as with the megapixel limit, I am at peace with the tradeoff at the moment.

I did not get around to making each RAW image perfect before exporting a high-resolution JPEG in Aperture; that would have taken forever. I figure if I come across a photo in Google Photos that needs adjusting, I could edit it in Google Photos itself or open the original in Aperture (if it’s still working, otherwise Adobe Lightroom or Photoshop), dicker with it, and re-upload it to Google.

I did consider other options before choosing Google Photos, such as SmugMug and Upthere. While the megapixel limit is higher in SmugMug, there is a 5,000 images per gallery limit; I didn’t want to spend the time right now to upload my photos in 5,000 file chunks. I have some friends who work at Upthere, but I haven’t found the time to use the product. Upthere is also a startup in a space where there’s been much consolidation, and I can’t speak to its long-term prospects. While Google’s track record with new products hasn’t been the best, I don’t think Google Photos will go the way of Google Wave or Picasa; I feel reasonably confident that it will be around in some form or another for the next decade.

As far processing and organizing my RAW files moving forward, I am still looking at DAM and RAW processing products. There’s Lightroom, but I have never warmed up to its file organization system. I used to use Capture One, but I am hesitant to plunk down a few hundred dollars and have to upgrade every few years (something I’d have to do with Lightroom too). Knowing me, I’ll probably continue to poke along with Aperture until the software finally dies or until I buy a camera that Aperture doesn’t support. My Canon EOS 5D Mark II is almost 8 years ago, but it still gets the job done. That’s one piece of technology that has lasted the test of time thus far!

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Rants, Technology

Cancelling my WayTools TextBlade Order

There was a draft of this post that had been waiting to be published on this blog for over four and a half months ago. It’s time to post it and provide a four-month update.

“I’m still waiting for my WayTools TextBlade multi-touch keyboard that I ordered back in January, 2015. The company said that they would ship in February, March, April, May, June, July, August, September, and now mid-October. Unexpected hardware changes and revisions to firmware are the reasons for the delay, but WayTools keeps telling its customers that shipments are right around the corner. I’ll believe it when the TextBlades ship. Other customers are getting restless, judging from the increase in the amount of order cancellations and disappointed posts on the WayTools forum. The company has not done itself any favors with its passive aggressive attitude on the forums and its habit of cancelling orders for those customers who complain too much.”

As a way to pass the time, I drew a twelve-month calendar for 2016 called, Waiting for TextBlade.

Waiting for TextBlade

It’s now mid-February, and the TextBlade remains an elusive product for customers. At the end of December, 2015, the company released the companion app for the keyboard on the iOS App Store, which gave hope that they would ship in January. Then, at the end of January, WayTools announced the Test Release Group (TREG), which is a shipment of pre-release TextBlades to a small group of customers (hundreds). The TREG is designed “to accelerate validation and help refine the product quality and experience.” WayTools also noted yet another hardware problem with the shield layer (that protects against leaking electrical noise) that they would be fixing.

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Decluttering, Minimalism, Musings, Technology

My Tech Workspace from 2004 to 2016

Every week, The Sweet Setup interviews an Apple aficionado about his or her computing environment. I enjoy looking at the the products, software, and workspaces these people use on a daily basis; it gives me ideas on what hardware or apps I might want to try out in the future. Plus, I like looking at photos of minimalist desks!

In the process of uploading all of my photos from Aperture over to Google Photos, I came across the photo below. It shows how my computing environment looked like twelve years ago on January 10, 2004. Nearly all of the technology items in the photo are now obsolete, have been recycled, or are gathering dust in my house. The items cost many thousands of dollars in total; I got great use out of some of them, not so much for others.

My workspace circa 2004

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Decluttering, Minimalism

Minimalist Uniform Project – One Year Update

It has been one year since I began my minimalist uniform project. Previous updates featured my nearly empty closet and a check-in at month five. What’s new after a year?

A few weeks ago, I discovered a small hole in the back of my Wool & Prince button-down shirt. I sent photos to W&P customer service, and they sent me another one (which I will be altering to adjust the sleeves). Ultimately, they thought that the hole might be the result of a moth, as opposed to some defect in the shirt. In the meantime, I’m looking at ways to protect my wool shirts from being eaten by moths without using moth balls.

A moth is the likely culprit for this hole in my shirt.

A moth is the likely culprit.

When I take my other gray button-down to be altered, I’ll see if the tailor can repair the moth hole in my original.

Wool & Prince recently released a dressier version of the shirt with a spread collar. I am a bigger fan of this type of shirt over the button-down, and I see one in my future collection.

Over the past year, I bought some additional Icebreaker t-shirts that I was able to find on discount at either 6pm.com or REI Outlet. In addition to the gray short-sleeve shirt that I originally purchased, I added a red, heather gray, long-sleeved gray, and v-neck black Anatomicas to my closet. My original Anatomica shirt is showing signs of wear in the back. That’s to be expected, since I have worn it pretty much every time I went out. When it gets too shabby, I will turn it into an around-the-house or exercise shirt.

Icebreaker Black V-Neck Anatomica Shirt and Bluffworks Pants. Photo taken with prototype Light camera at Code Conference 2015.

Icebreaker Black V-Neck Anatomica Shirt and Bluffworks Pants. Photo taken with prototype Light camera at Code Conference 2015.

As for my two pairs of pants, I am surprised at how well the Levi’s Relaxed Fit 559 jeans have kept, as I haven’t washed them once since I bought it. I used to wash my jeans regularly and was frequently disappointed at (1) how quickly holes developed in the knee area and (2) how the fit got worse over time. I did lose an extra half-inch off my waistline, however, so the pants are a little looser today than when I purchased them. My Bluffworks pants have been reliable and remain relatively wrinkle-free. I still wish there was a 29/29 size option. If I were to buy them again, I’d get the 29/30 length and have the length altered to 29.

Having less clothes that also have reduced maintenance requirements has been great. Folding clothes after doing the laundry is a snap when there’s almost nothing of mine to fold! Finally, I’ve created another pile of clothes that I’ll be donating to Goodwill or Hope.

One year in, and I remain extremely pleased with the minimalist uniform project. I see no reason why I’ll stop in 2016.

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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!

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