2017

The New Year Begins

Today is the first workday of the year for me. Over the Christmas period I thought about what I want to achieve in business and life over this year. I also looked at what was achieved in 2016 to see where I might have gone wrong and what I could have done better at. There is plenty of room for improvement. Some time was wasted by idling it away. I need to avoid social media through the day as well as news websites.

Although I don’t feel the need to share my specific goals here, what I decided to do was create a list of all things that I wanted to complete by the end of this new year as well as what I want to do each day, month, or year. I quickly realised that all items are far more than I could physically accomplish, but instead of cutting things out, I prioritised what each day would look like for me. Rather than measuring success by the number of jobs complete and the number of tasks marked as done by the last day of the year, I decided that my success this year would be measured by how I spent my time and if I did good things with my allotted time.

Some Goals

There are many things that I want to accomplish such as reading XX amount of books, but I don’t want to get inundated with the calculations of how many pages per day and what books I want to read and how many pages each are. It feels too mechanical. Instead, my goal is to simply read each day for at least a certain amount of time. If I accomplish that then I will read XX amount of books in a year. That won’t matter if it’s 10 or 50. The success will be that I managed to keep the commitment for the year.

Another goal is to create my own apps for the iPhone and Apple Watch as an indie developer. I create apps for others, but when I plan on making my own apps, I always get sidetracked in to working for others again. I have many incomplete apps that could be finished. I want to change that in 2017 and create my own apps. Just like book reading, the success for me will be measured by the amount of time each day I spend creating the apps. I may end up creating just a couple or several, but if I feel I have worked honestly each day for a few hours, then I will define that as success regardless of what the outcome is. Of course, I include promoting the apps to contribute as part of the success although creating them is the first step. I can’t promote something I haven’t created.

Some of the tracking will be done by simply looking at the contributions graph in GitHub. If I can fill Monday to Friday with green, then that will be success. There’s no point me cheating by committing a minor change to turn a square green. I will know if a green is well earned. If it looks like 2016 as seen below, I clearly will have to put a lot more effort in.

I want to become a better writer. For that reason I plan to regularly update this blog, perhaps showing my progress in some cases, as well as put more time in to my iOS tutorial website.

Writing isn’t my strong point, but I expect that writing regularly will help to change that a little.

There are several other things I want to achieve. I want to take my DSLR everywhere I go instead of relying on just my iPhone 6. I would like to learn how to use it by using it.

Family

Also, I want to spend more time with family. I am lucky with working at home but at the same time that brings challenges of not shutting off from work when the children and my wife are around. I need to do better there.

Tracking

While reading MacSparky earlier today I came across an app called Productive which helps track habits. For me I need to make a habit of writing regularly, reading regularly, and creating regularly. I also need to look after fitness as well which I expect this app would be great to encourage me not to break a streak of going to the gym.

The Evernote Privacy Problem

I was disappointed to learn recently that Evernote decided to bring in an intrusive change in to its privacy policy and then default that change as an opt-out rather than an opt-in. I first saw this reported on TechCrunch which informed me that the change was coming in to play on January 23, 2017.

The Change to the Privacy Policy

Evernote decided that they would give employees access to reading your notes stored in the service. Although this access would be given to a handful of “trusted” employees, it still gave me the shudders to think that people might be reading my personal notes.

Although there’s nothing illegal going on in my account, there is certainly some private information that I believed was private and that only I could access. Think things such as medical information and pay slips from my past employment. I don’t want someone random reading those. For Evernote to automatically opt me in to this showed to me that my notes are not my notes, despite them claiming otherwise with the first of the 3 laws of data protection which inform me that my data is mine. Likewise, the second law could also be questioned as well.

Opt-out???

What surprised me most is that Evernote would think it be acceptable to automatically opt-in all users in to their machine learning algorithm with human assistance. This should never have been opt-out. The big mistake they made was assuming that everybody would be OK with this.

As it turns out, there was a backlash on Twitter with many people cancelling their accounts. Trust was immediately lost for many. After a day or so of pressure on social media (perhaps not the pressure, but the number of people terminating their account), Evernote did the right thing and made this change an opt-in meaning that to be included in the service you will need to give permission.

An Acceptable Change

To me, this is an acceptable fix to the problem for now. However, I feel I’ve lost a lot of trust in Evernote. I decided not to jump ship for 2 reasons. First, the date for the change was January 23, 2017, so a little over a month away which gives me some time to think about this. Second, a quick jump to another service might be a bad move. Consider OneNote as an example, I have yet to read their privacy policy. Had I quickly jumped to another service I might find that my notes are even less secure or less private.

What Next?

For now, I’m sticking with Evernote. I like the service. I’ve been a premium user for maybe 5 years or more. I use it daily. I like many features such as being able to quickly sync across devices, easily scan documents with my ScanSnap scanner*, clip items from the web, store PDF’s and search them, amongst many other things. But I am on the lookout for something else where I can keep my notes to myself.

I tried Bear and although an amazing looking app (one of which I will keep on my iPhone and desktop), I didn’t feel it had all the features I needed just yet. A positive side of Bear is that it syncs with iCloud which means that Bear does not/cannot read your notes, although sync comes with the paid accounts only.

For a disappointing change, they managed to turn it around a little and settle things down somewhat. But I do need to pay more attention to privacy policies when signing up to new services and I need to regularly check for changes on any other services I use which contain important information. I don't know how long I'll be with Evernote for now, but it certainly has me a little concerned.

Hive Connected Home - Brief Review

Hive is a service that lets you control electrical items from the internet or smartphone. The central part in the home is the hub which communicates with hive online. The hub receives its instructions and then tells the smart items in the home to switch on or off. These can be controlled by smartphone or through the web app. The system allows for both manual and scheduled changes to be made.

Hive can connect to several types of smart items which include LED light bulbs, motion sensors, door sensors, as well as a thermostat to control your heating. The pack I got contained the hub and 2 dimmable LED light bulbs.

The light bulbs I got work really well. They are 9W each which is equivalent to a 50 - 55W incandescent light bulb and thus, are far more energy efficient in terms of cost to run.

Limitations

At the moment Hive only works with regular bayonet or screw type light bulb fittings. I would love to see the technology moved in to a GU10 LED light, or alternatively, a smart switch being made available where you control the power to a collection of standard GU10 fittings. I’m sure this will happen, but they are not available yet and haven’t been announced either.

Speaking about “collections”, it would be great to be able to group all my living room light bulbs (I have 4) in to one group and control them together, but retain the ability to control individually. If I need to switch on lights remotely I am stuck with having to use a schedule or by turning each bulb on individually from within the app. One up side for when being at home is that I can cut power to the bulbs and then switch them back on with the wall switch. This overrides any current settings you might have and puts them on at full brightness until any queued scheduled changes might tell it otherwise.

I haven’t received the other bulbs and parts yet, but when I do I want to explore what can be done in terms of automation. The Hive app supposedly opens up a new option to make things smarter such as switching lights on when the door opens or using motion to switch them on. I’d like to see what I can get working when all the new items arrive. Rather than having lights on in the living room while I’m upstairs, I’d like it to switch them off after detecting no movement for a determined period of time.

The Hive website says that the hub now integrates with the Alexa Echo and Alexa Dot. I don’t have an Alexa device yet, but have ordered one as a gift for when Santa visits this weekend. I noticed while using the Alexa config app that I might be able to group lights in to collections. I guess this means that I can say “Alexa, turn on all lights upstairs” or “Alexa, dim the living room lights to 50%”. I might be being optimistic with these thoughts, so I’ll put it through its paces next week and report back.

Another test I am looking forwards to is seeing what difference the thermostat makes. I like the idea of coming home from a long drive and having the house warmed up for when I get home. Likewise, I like the idea of the heating being on a thermostat instead of always on or off as it has been for the last 10 years in this home. I’m sure we can be more fuel efficient as a family by making some small adjustments to how we use our heating system.

Final Thoughts

So far I like the Hive service. I haven’t worked out any cost savings just yet as I’m sure these will take a few years to be realised, but for someone who likes nerdy stuff, a smart “ish” home is quite cool.

I’ll write more when the extras arrive and then another followup when the Alexa Dot arrives.

If you are in the UK and do use British Gas as your energy provider, you might want to check emails that came in the first 10 days of December from them to see if you have an offer for a free Hive starter kit. I checked with my Dad and he did not, so I’m not sure how the selection process worked for this.

The iPad 3 and a needed upgrade for me…

I received my iPad 3, AKA “The new iPad” on 16th March 2012. I previously owned the original iPad and an iPad 2, both of which were sold to make way for the newer version. The iPad 3 was fantastic. It was the first iPad with a retina display of which the retina display was first made available in the iPhone 4 which shipped in June of the previous year.

The iPad 3 is the last iPad I ever purchased. I still use it today, although it’s painfully slow. I think the reason I didn’t continue to upgrade each year was related to the iPad 4 being shipped just a few months after the 3 launched. I didn’t want to upgrade so soon, and then the year after I got my first MacBook Pro (the 13 inch retina). It knocked me out of the cycle of upgrades and I never got back in to that cycle.

iOS Updates on Old Devices

One of the challenges I find on any iOS device that I have owned is that after 2 major iOS releases, things begin to slow down. The upgrade for iOS 5.1 to iOS 6 was just fine, but then the update to iOS 7 was where the slowness began to show it’s ugly face. For some unknown reason to me, I continued the yearly upgrade cycle to 8 and then 9. I currently run the latest version available which is 9.3.5 and it’s just ridiculously slow for many things. I’m surprised that Apple even though it was a good idea to move past iOS 6 for this device. To give some idea of how slow it can be, I can write a note in Evernote or Day One and type a full sentence out; I then sit for 10 - 20 seconds waiting for text to appear on the screen at which point it catches up with me.

So why do I still use the iPad 3? Other than the extreme lag, I still like the screen and I still find it fairly convenient for doing some basic work on such as marking off tasks in OmniFocus, or looking up reference material. The children also love games on it which in most cases do run just fine after the initial load. I also use it to play Amazon Prime video over Air Play to my Apple TV. It’s mostly a device that I consume information on. I cannot create on it. It’s just too slow and frustrating to do that.

Time for an Upgrade?

I need to upgrade. I use the word “need” carefully as an iPad is not really a “need” in life. Perhaps I should say “I would like” instead. I would like to purchase the 12.9 inch iPad Pro, probably the wifi only model and the lowest storage, but it was released over a year ago in November 2015. If I buy now, I suspect that Apple will upgrade in the new year and thus, lower the price of the current gen. Likewise, if I buy an iPad that’s over a year old then iOS 11 will probably be the last usable OS on the device: usable meaning running without any lag at all. I could stick to iOS 11 when it launches and never upgrade, but sometimes it’s just far too tempting to hold back because of the new features available. Either way, I’d prefer to wait for the iPad pro 2 and purchase when/if that is released.

I still think the iPad is great. I know of a number of people who have switched to iPad only setups. iPad only doesn’t suit me as I need Xcode for creating apps for the iPhone, but for many day to day tasks it was a good laptop replacement when it worked well. For now, I use my MacBook Pro, but I like the idea of simplifying where I can. A MacBook Pro is often a lot more than I need.

I think the best temporary solution prior to my upgrade is that I will just switch off many of the features such as location services, background app refresh, notifications, and anything else that might cause the iPad to do a little more work than absolutely necessary. It’s a compromise, but perhaps something to keep my iPad 3 breathing a little longer.

Optimizing Image Size for Your Website

Visitors to your website are more likely to stick around and not abandon your website if the page is quick to load. Google has a whole host of information about this. There is typically no single solution that would speed a page load up on a website; instead, there are many small optimisations that can be done each shaving a few fractions of a second off of the page load.

short-pixel

While working on page speed today on my iOS tutorial blog to see if I could cut down the overall file size of all images. On that blog there’s roughly 150Mb of images and zip files in the wp-content folder. The majority of that is images. I figured that if I could shrink those image file sizes down of the several hundred images it may cause the pages to load quicker. The other benefit of course is that those viewing the site on a mobile browser won’t have as much bandwidth eaten for each page load.

To check things out and see what difference it made I opted for a plugin called ShortPixel for Wordpress (just navigate to plugins > add new > and search for ShortPixel to find it). They have a free plan that allows 100 image compressions to be performed. This allowed me to test and gauge what kind of compression I could get on each image. The statistics showed about a 40% decrease in image size on the first 100 images. Keep in mind that each image you upload has perhaps 4 or 5 different versions, so out of the 100 images about 20 unique images were compressed in the first batch.

Signing up was straight forward. I installed the plugin on WordPress, activated it, and followed the instructions to get an API key. The API key is what is used to tie your plugin to the developers website so that you can access the compression services. Don’t share it out as anyone who uses it will take from your quota.

After running the first initial test I decided to purchase a one off plan for $9.99 that includes 10,000 credits that do not expire. I plan to activate the same API key on this blog also if the rules permit it. For some reason they gave me 15,000 credits which is even better!

After all was compressed I ran some tests on a couple of pages and saw the page size reduce by quite a lot in one instance, and a bit less in another instance. Overall, the wp-content image folders went from about 150Mb down to about 65Mb. This doesn’t seem like a huge drop (although 55% is great), but if you think of the number of page loads on a blog; by knocking 55% off of the size of the images will save bandwidth, increase the page load speed, and be a better experience for your users which in turn, should keep them on your site longer (or stop them from hitting the back button).

Here are my brief results of the two pages I checked. The first number on each line is the full page size and the second number represents the size of the images on that page. The tests were performed at Pingdom. By the time all optimisations had finished on my few hundred images, I had used 1,811 credits and had reduced file size by 55%.

Page Before: 615.7KB of which 335.18KB are images. After: 532.1KB of which 253.43KB are images.

Page Before: 877.1KB of which 621.69KB are images. After: 462.5KB of which 209.03KB are images.

Although this won’t fix all page load speed issues, it is certainly one of the many vital elements that make up for a website loading quickly.