Do as we say…

Sep19

Most of the early adopters amongst us have already taken the plunge and updated their devices to iOS 8. This post is for the rest of you. The cautious ones. Those who sit on the sidelines and watch the lab rats early adopters bleed. Take joy from my struggle, but heed its lessons. In my excitement to play with the shiny things, I ignored a few cardinal rules — rules that I often hear myself preaching to others — and but for the grace of the universe I could have found myself in a bit of a pickle.

Unless you're compelled to update, it might be wise to wait a week or so and let the early adopters bleed!

My first mistake was failure to manually initiate a backup on either of my devices. Truthfully, this isn't something I give much thought to on iOS as the iCloud backup system has proved flawless in my experience, but a more cautious person would have pushed a fresh backup to the cloud. Doing an additional, local backup to a computer is probably overkill but wouldn't be completely over the top. If you ignore all the rest of the rules at the very least:

Back it up!

I didn't update my apps before updating the OS. Again, this wasn't a deal breaker (and I initiated the Update All process shortly after iOS 8 was installed) but this was another oversight that could have worked out badly.

Update your Applications before updating your Operating System!

Did I mention I was anxious to play with the new stuff? I was working (for the man) all day and wasn't able to initiate the updates until I got to the Hack Factory for the wednesday night open house. As soon as I sat down I whipped out my iPad and impulsively started the update. Once that was in progress I immediately pulled out the iPhone and started its update.

Update one device and see how it goes before updating the rest of them!

The update process on the iPad was (finally!) complete. I was running through the set up process and was prompted to log in to my iCloud account. Naturally, my iCloud account requires two factor authentication. I have three options for authenticating. I can send an iMessage to my iPad (which was “stuck” on a set up screen), send an SMS message to my iPhone (which was offline downloading a software update) or enter the recovery key securely stored in Password Wallet on my iPhone, iPad and MacBook. (The MacBook wasn't immediately available to me, it was at home.)

I ducked the bullet on the that one. Once the iPhone update was complete I was able to send the SMS message back to itself. The updater automatically recognized the incoming message and authenticated my iCloud ID. After that I used the phone to authenticate my ID on the iPad. In retrospect, I also could have skipped the initial iCloud setup on my iPad and then manually configured iCloud using iMessage (which in my case uses a different Apple ID) to receive the authentication PIN.

Understand the process — and — Think it through!

“Why didn't you just skip the initial set up, open Password Wallet, copy the key, and manually initiate the iCloud login from settings?” Great idea. I tried. Unfortunately, the version of Password Wallet I had installed was crashing as soon as I entered my wallet password. To make matters worse, the iOS 8 compatible version was stuck in the App Store approval process.

Check compatibility of mission critical apps before updating!

In my defense, there was no report of the then current Password Wallet's incompatibility with iOS 8 at the time I was plowing through this—only the notice that the new version with iOS 8 support had been submitted for approval a week earlier. That being said, it would have been prudent to confirm compatibilty.

No News ≠ Good News!

The silver lining is that sometime late Thursday/early Friday the updated Password Wallet App dropped. I was only without (iOS) access to my passwords and keys for a day. I didn't quite duck the bullet, but it only grazed me. I'm having a few shakedown glitches with iOS 8 but for the most part I'm up and running. That being said,

Do as I say, not as I do!

 

Brighten your podcast day with Overcast

Aug14

Overcast is, at least for my purposes, the best podcast listening client for the iPhone. Created by Marco Arment, original author of Instapaper and The Magazine, Overcast is opinionated software. The application reflects Marco’s ideal as to what constitutes a perfect listening tool rather than trying to be all things to all people. Fortunately for me, Marco’s opinions (on this topic) largely coincide with my own.

The Overcast interface is clean and simple

Overcast allows you to create smart playlists—a feature common to many podcasting clients—and to reorder episodes within those lists at any time. Unique to Overcast is the ability to define priority podcasts within the playlist. So MacBreak Weekly and John Gruber’s The Talk Show rise to the top of my all unplayed list whenever new episodes are released.

Favorite shows get the VIP treatment and are sent to the head of the queue

Marco developed his own audio engine for Overcast, enabling two special features, Voice Boost and Smart Speed. Voice Boost normalizes the level of voices—makes them all the same volume—allowing you to more easily hear less-than-perfectly engineered podcasts under less-than-ideal listening conditions. Earlier this week I was listening to a show in which one of the hosts was talking from across the room, well away from the microphone. Driving down 494 with the windows down and the sunroof open, I had no problem following the conversational flow, and I didn’t have to crank the volume up on the car stereo.

Smart Speed intelligently reduces the natural pauses in speech, compressing the length of a podcast in a way that sounds very natural. This is Apple’s playback at 1.5x speed feature done right, and after only a week or two, I can’t imagine going back to listening to podcasts in real time.

You can set preferences for Smart Speed and Voice Boost on a show-by-show basis

One of the downsides of not using Apple’s audio engine is losing access to the built-in streaming tools. Overcast is currently download only. It also won’t work with video podcasts; this is a listening tool.

Overcast uses its own web-service sync engine, so you will need to register for a free account before using it. Although the app is currently iPhone only, it can be used on an iPad, or you can access your podcasts on the iPad or Mac using a web app.

The web app looks a lot like the iPhone App

Overcast is free to download, but there is a single-in app purchase to enable unlimited playlists and remove a time limit on Smart Speed and Voice Boost. Many will find the free version useful, but if you try to listen to a lot of podcasts regularly, Smart Speed alone is well worth the upgrade cost.

If you’re interested in the backstory, Marco has written extensively about his development vision and process on his blog at marco.org. He has also spoken at length about it on episodes of Debug, The Talk Show (Part two of that discussion is here), and in several episodes of The Accidental Tech Podcast that he co-hosts with John Siracusa and Casey Liss. Of course, the best way to listen to Marco’s musings is using Overcast.

 

Images in the Bank

Aug12

This post is the second in a series. The first post is On the road with the new digital hub

While waiting for the iPad release (oh, the sweet anticipation!) I remember dreaming of using it as a remote photo bank—replacing a smart hard disk/camera reader for storage and archive of digital photos on the road. I try to take the words of Pixel Corps Alex Linday to heart, a file doesn’t really exist until it exists in three places. For photo trips this used to necessitate carrying a laptop and one or more external hard drives or photo bank devices.

Fortunately, a 128GB iPad provides lots of room for backing up camera cards, using the Lightning to USB Camera Adaptor. This is part of my nightly routine. As soon as I’ve settled into the room, I connect the camera kit, and import all of my images from that day. I carry enough camera cards so I don’t have to reformat any until I know the images are safely archived.

Apple’s Photostream adds value and convenience to my backup process. In fact, it was the release of Photostream along with iOS 6 that convinced me to replace my original iPad with an iPad 3 just prior to my last big photo trip.

Photos are automatically added to my Photostream

Photos imported onto the iPad are added to my Photostream. Any images shot using the iPhone automatically become become part of the Photostream too. They quickly become available for editing on the iPad (assuming its connected to the Internet) and are archived on Apple’s server. Any photos that I do post-processing on are also added to the Photostream when they are saved to the iPad Camera Roll. This applies to images edited on the iPhone as well, I often do quick edits during the day to upload to Instagram on-the-spot.

Before I go to sleep I make sure the iPad is plugged in and “awake” (I’m probably using it as a bedside clock anyway) so that it can keep pumping images upstream. Once the local copy is moved up to an Apple server it is effectively backed up—at least for the moment. Photostream only backs up your 1000 most recent photos so if you’re a prolific shooter, you’ll need to take further precautions.

Back at home my MacBook Pro is running three applications. I shut everything else off while I’m away to avoid potential system conflicts. Aperture automatically imports the photos from my Photostream into my photo library. *SuperDuper!* performs a twice-daily backup to an external hard disk. Crashplan continuously backs up all of my files to their servers, providing offsite backup.

If I’m running low on camera card storage, I can check the status of the files on my Crashplan backup remotely using their iOS app to confirm that it’s safe to reformat a card. I can also check the status of the Aperture library & SuperDuper! by logging into my home computer using Remote. (I now realize that run four applications while I’m away—there’s a helper app for Remote.)

By logginUsing the Crashplan app on the iPad I confirm that this image is in my Aperture library back home and is also safely archived offsite.

Now that my RAW photos are safely backed up, it’s time to work some post production magic. I’ll cover some of my favorite photo apps in my next post, Digital darkroom.

On the road with the new digital hub

May20

In my last post I mentioned an upcoming photo safari. (Anytime you’re driving a classic Land-Rover it’s a safari!) I’ll fly to Denver. Catch a regional light rail to a Park-n-Ride, then hike to a motel where I’ll meet up with Bill, my partner in Land-Rover/photo atrocities for 18 years. From there we’ll drive—slowly—to the Grand Canyon, stopping to take photos and add oil along the way. After that we’re off to Vegas to catch Penn & Teller and keep the party goin’ until my return flight the next day. EZ-PZ. What could go wrong?

I believe in the Pack Light, Go Fast mantra. I won’t be lugging a MacBook along with me; The iPad will provide entertainment, communication and information while serving as my photo bank and digital darkroom. I thought others would be interested in my workflow for backing up, editing and sharing my photos from the road.

I use micro four thirds cameras and my iPhone 5S to capture images. I’ll write more about the MFT gear in an upcoming post. First I’m going to outline the iPhone, iPad and the apps that I use.

I’ve been an iPad user from day one and was soon convinced that I would use the device as a laptop replacement. I’ve always outfitted myself with the top of the line iPad—maximizing the memory allows ample room for photos, videos, books, comics, and music. My current iPad Air is the 128GB-Verizon version.

I choose the the cellular equipped models even though I don’t turn on mobile data very often. $24.95/night for wifi? No thanks. Oh, the promised free wifi isn’t working tonight? No worries. Either way, I’ll provide my own. If I don’t use it? Then like ketchup in a French restaurant, it’s just nice to know its’ there. Besides, I do use the GPS—only available on the cellular equipped models—for mapping and navigation.

My iPad is protected by a rooCASE Origami. I carry an eCase waterproof envelope in case of wet weather or extreme dust. I’m considering a Pelican Progear vault for adventure travel, but I don’t think I’ll be getting it in time for this trip.

Gear fetishists will appreciate that my luggage is by GORUCK. My daily carry/camera bag is a GR Echo backpack that easily accomodates my camera gear, iPad & accessories along with other travel essentials—like a Source hydration bladder. My clothes and other kit are stowed in a GR2. It meets the airline carry-on requirements (unfortunately, my hiking staff/monopod does not) and its little sister Echo slips into the front compartment so I carry only one bag on my back.)

Author using iPad resting on backpack

The GR2 and Casemate Origami serve as a makeshift desk

An Anker 5-port USB charger provides a single-Plug source for charging iPad, iPhone, Jawbone Jambox Bluetooth speaker and other USB devices. For redundancy and field use there’s an Apple iPad charger and a Griffin car charger in my ruck. On this particular journey, the Land-Rover has been equipped with several USB ports for charging on-the-move.

I bring along an Apple Wireless Keyboard that travels in a Casemate Origami case. The keyboard generally stays back in camp during the day. It won’t go into my EDC ruck unless my plan includes an all-night writing bender in a local tavern.

I often (though not on this trip) carry an AirPort Express to extend and bridge networks and an AppleTV to stream my own content to a TV screen.

That’s the basic set up. I’ll outline my backup workflow in the next installment, Images in the bank.

Get the Best out of Photo Apps

May19

If you're an iPhone/iPad photographer you'll find Dan Rubin's How to get the best out of photo apps on your smartphone video to be worth watching. I'm preparing for an upcoming photo trip to the Grand Canyon and, thanks to Dan, I just added several new tools to my pocket camera bag/darkroom.

(Note that the release of the SKRWT app for fixing lens distortion and parallax has been been delayed until later this month.)

↬ John Gruber, Daring Fireball

 

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