Categories
tech

Holding onto that iPhone box

I’m not a pack rat by nature. I don’t often keep items “just in case;” I’m more likely to trash them, even if I may regret it later.

There’s a notable exception to this minimalist streak, though: technology packaging. In our shed, I have the original boxes for nearly every tech device we own: two laptops, two iPads, two Kindles, AirPods, two Magic Keyboards, an Apple Pencil, and more. My rule of thumb? “Keep the box if there’s any chance you’ll resell this someday.”

That strategy may not be logical. Sure, buyers sometimes pay more for a device in its original box. Oddly, however, many reseller sites don’t actually care whether you have the original packaging; they’ll pay the same amount, either way.

Still, I’ll keep squirreling away the boxes, regardless of the financial return. There’s an intangible benefit: the mild satisfaction of sealing an iPhone in its original cardboard coffin. I feel like I’ve fulfilled my duty, stewarding my device from its shrink-wrapped birth to its day of departure. ◾

(These items have sold since this tweet!)
Categories
Culture

Permanent Daylight Saving Time? No, thanks.

As we’re reminded each spring and fall, time changes are disorienting and disruptive. But the renewed movement to make Daylight Saving Time permanent is misguided—maybe even dangerous.

Yes, DST might get us home before sunset in the winter. At what cost, though? The mornings would be brutal. If Standard Time were eliminated, dawn would come ridiculously late to many North American cities:

CityDecember 21 sunrise time if DST were permanent
Chicago8:15 AM
Washington, D.C.8:23 AM
Seattle8:55 AM
Calgary9:37 AM
Anchorage11:14 AM

Few of us enjoy waking before dawn. Imagine if your morning commute and arrival at work happened in the dark, too.

That’s not just an annoyance; it could have serious public health implications. Human circadian clocks thrive when we’re exposed to early-morning sunlight—that’s why light therapy for Seasonal Affective Disorder is often administered immediately after waking.

What would happen if the entire continental population got dramatically less morning sun? The public health impact might be epidemic. ◾

Categories
movies

I still love Interstellar

Unfortunately, Interstellar’s price has risen since I tweeted this last week. But it’s still a fantastic movie!

Christopher Nolan’s 2014 space epic seems custom-tailored for me. I’m a sucker for its core elements: parental conflict (and resolution. Space exploration). Mind-bending science. Terrific music.

Interstellar also serves up some controversial ideas about Love. Some reviewers faulted the movie for these threads, which they thought clashed with the “hard” science fiction backdrop.

Not me; I liked Interstellar’s peculiar hybrid of themes. The film asks questions that have haunted me for years: “Is there anything beyond the material world?” “Is there an objective reason to value self-sacrificial love?” “Is there another, truer story, beside ‘Nature, red in tooth and claw’?”

Interstellar is unequivocal, weaving its answer (“Yes!”) with amazing production values and a heart-wrenching story. What’s not to love? ◾

Categories
internet

When remote workers get sick

Steven Kurutz, writing in the New York Times:

Working from home may sound relaxing, but the “working” part of that phrase underscores the expectations that accompany it: being available to check and respond to email, hop on a conference call and generally be productive, even if you feel lousy.

Last week, a colleague caught a nasty bug. It wasn’t hard to tell he was sick; we may live and work five states apart, but conference calls have a way of exposing congestion and coughs. His symptoms grew more severe, hour after hour, and it became clear that he should close his laptop, brew some tea, and crawl into bed.

Even in the most accommodating remote work environments, telecommuters may hesitate to call in sick. Consider the unique factors at play:

  • Online meetings are hard to cancel. After all, I can’t just pop my head over the cubicle wall the next day and get caught up. So instead of allowing the flu to wreck my agenda, I’m more likely to suck it up and just dial in. That avoids the nightmare of finding another time slot that’s open on everyone’s calendar.
  • Workers who commute to a traditional office sometimes call in sick solely out of courtesy—i.e., not because they feel particularly ill but rather to avoid infecting their colleagues. There’s no such social more at work for the remote worker; rhinovirus can’t be transmitted through Skype.
  • Even when my symptoms are miserable, working from home makes it easier to slog through and save those precious PTO hours. With a few simple adjustments, I can dial back the energy required to endure the workday. For example, just stepping off the treadmill desk eases the effort level. When you’re curled up on the couch, triaging email feels far less draining. ◾
Categories
health

Fitting a treadmill desk into a small house

I’ve owned a treadmill desk for over five years now. Those shuffling strides add up; I crossed the 10,000-mile mark earlier this year, and I lost forty-five pounds during my first year of treading.

Treadmill desk downsides

But the treadmill lifestyle has its challenges, as well. For example, my particular LifeSpan model requires a lot more maintenance than I expected. The repairman has visited at least five times, and I’m on my third motor since the purchase.

Another challenge: the treadmill desk takes up a lot of space. Legit treadmills are too heavy to store vertically; wherever you place it, there it will stay. And, up till now, my jury-rigged IKEA Galant desk made things worse; the table sits on chunky wooden crates, leaving little room for much else. We can squeeze an air mattress beside the desk, but forget about fitting in a bedside table, a lamp, or even a guest’s suitcase. It’s that tight.

Fixing it with furniture

So, in an effort to make the room more hospitable, I recently bought a small Jarvis standing desk; it arrives this Friday. If my measurements are right, the Jarvis will perfectly straddle the treadmill, freeing up something like twelve square feet of floor space.1

That might not sound like much, but in a room that’s less than 100 square feet total, it should make a significant difference. Hopefully, our air mattress—or (dare I dream?) a futon—will fit more easily, and guests won’t feel like they’re being crowded out by a monstrous Megadesk.


  1. While I’m gaining floor space, I’m sacrificing desk space with the smaller, 30” x 27” Jarvis tabletop. I use three 24” external monitors and may need to reconfigure the mounts to suit. Hopefully I’m not solving one problem by creating another! ↩︎
Categories
family

This is the happiest I will ever be—and I’m OK with that.

Shawn Blanc, fellow NaBlogWriMo participant, writing about a mess his kids left on the stairs:

One day, my boys will be grown and they will move out to live on their own. And my wife and I will finally live in a clean and quiet house. And we will miss the days, like this one, when toys were left on our steps and our boys were at home in the evenings to play and to laugh and fight about whose turn it is to brush their teeth first.

And so I try to remind myself in those moments of annoyance that the things which frustrate me now will one day be the things I will miss terribly and wish for again.

It’s hard to overstate just how tiring it is to be a parent of a young child. By 7 PM each night (my daughter’s bedtime), my wife and I are exhausted down to our bones—sometimes nearly to the point of tears.

So it is helpful to remind ourselves that we will very likely remember these few years as the happiest time in our lives. Our daughter still loves to dance with us, play with us, read stories with us, and snuggle. Those gifts ought not to be taken for granted.

And they won’t last forever. Adolescence will bring estrangement, and our daughter will eventually build an independent life. As time rolls on, we’ll hold our memories of her early childhood more and more dear.

So I’m determined to cherish those experiences now—even if I’m tired. ◾

Categories
apple

Dark mode: better on the iPhone than the Mac?

In the most recent release of iOS, Apple added dark mode, and I’m a fan. At nighttime, dark backgrounds seem less glaring; they’re also less likely to disturb my partner sleeping beside me on the bed.

But I’ve actually taken to “running dark” all the time—day and night—on my iPhone. I spend most of my time indoors, where dark mode is perfectly legible and less distracting than its older, brighter cousin.

I’m not quite as enamored with dark themes on the desktop, though. I think it’s the overlapping windows that give me trouble. In dark mode, I can’t tell apps apart at a glance; they seem less differentiated.

Why is this? For one thing, it’s difficult to paint a shadow (like the one macOS uses to mark the active window) on a background that’s already dark. It doesn’t help that I spend most of my workday in Microsoft Office. Those apps support dark mode, but when it’s turned on, the interfaces are near-identical, dropping their distinctive “light mode” colors for a uniform gray.

Dark mode works on iOS because you don’t really need to tell apps apart by their interface appearance. On the iPhone, you only have one thing open at a time; you’re probably not going to forget what app you’re currently using. Even in the app switcher, the system helpfully pins each app’s icon to its thumbnail, so there’s no mistaking one for another. ◾

Categories
apple

“And you can preorder it… today!”

With both the Apple Watch Series 5 and the AirPods Pro, Apple offered preorders on the very same day they introduced the product.

With a turnaround that short, customers face a dilemma. You can preorder the device, but you have no guarantee that the bauble will live up to Apple’s hype. There are no third-party reviews to guide your decision. Questions about the device’s capabilities inevitably linger. You’re literally buying sight unseen.

On the other hand, if you wait to order, there’s a decent chance the product will sell out and that you won’t get it on Day 1. Case in point: the AirPods Pro currently have a two-to-three week back order.

I wonder: how did Apple decide that these devices would be available for preorder immediately? Why not a few days later, as with the new iPhones? Here’s a cynical theory: maybe less expensive items (like the AirPods or the Watch) are more likely to be impulse buys. The customer doesn’t get a chance to weigh her purchase carefully. Instead, she acquiesces to the lizard-brain desire that Apple’s marketing engenders.

If that was Apple’s strategy, it worked—at least on me. ■

Categories
tech Uncategorized

Will cutting the “Ribbon” finally fix Office for Mac?

Yesterday, at its annual conference for IT pros, Microsoft revealed a new version of Outlook for Mac. The Verge published a glimpse of the app’s revamped interface, and it looks promising—simultaneously cleaner and more useful.

We’ll see more of that refined UI tomorrow. Meanwhile, let’s examine why Microsoft might be eager to dump an interface element that has dominated its software design for over a decade.


Ribbons on the Mac

I’ve generally been a fan of Microsoft’s “Ribbon” UI, which premiered in Office 2007 for Windows. It exposed features previously buried in submenus, and it simplified the productivity suite’s legendarily complex toolbars:

The Ribbon UI was successful enough that it eventually migrated to Office for Mac. Unfortunately (and ironically), on OS X, the Ribbon created the same problem it was designed to solve: interface cruft.

More specifically, the Ribbon conflicts with a permanent fixture of macOS: the menu bar. Every Office for Mac app has two similar yet contradictory menus—the operating system’s persistent menu and Office’s Ribbon. Making matters worse, some of the heading titles in these two menus are identical, while the options within those sections are not. This unfortunate mess leaves the user with no idea where to find a given feature—the Ribbon? The menu bar? Both? Neither?

Let’s visualize this problem. In each screenshot below, I’ve highlighted the duplicative menu items. First, PowerPoint for Mac, which boasts two redundant headers:

‘View’ and ‘Slide Show’ appear in both the Ribbon and the macOS menu bar.

Next, Excel, which has three:

Word:

OneNote:

Finally, there’s good (?) old Outlook:

For each menu pair, the submenus are not one-for-one identical. They have different items, different orders, and vastly different interfaces. And there’s no obvious explanation for why only some menu titles pull double duty. Why are there two “Insert” menus but only one “Format” menu?

In addition to confusing the user, these duplicative menus cramp the interface, consuming an unnecessary amount of vertical space.


A new hope?

So… does the new Outlook, with its “Ribbonless” interface, fix these problems?

Image courtesy of The Verge.

Honestly, I’m not sure it’s the perfect solution. This interface still spends a lot of vertical pixels.

On the other hand, because I’m so excited to see the redundant menus vanquished, I’m willing to give Microsoft the benefit of the doubt. I can’t wait to try the new app.

So… what about the other Office apps? Microsoft tells the Verge that “there are no plans to announce updates to the ribbon elsewhere on Office for Mac” (emphasis mine). That’s an interesting way to phrase this statement. Microsoft isn’t denying that possibility of the feature being in their pipeline; they just claim that they haven’t planned its reveal. Tricksy.

My guess: if the new Outlook app is well-received, we’ll eventually see the Ribbon (and its redundant menus) removed from Office for Mac, for good. ■

Categories
internet

Your Instagram feed makes people sad.

From MarketWatch (last year), “New study claims Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat are linked to depression”:

Why does social media make so many people feel bad? The study didn’t analyze this, but Hunt offers two explanations. The first is “downward social comparison.” You read your friends’ timelines. They’re deliberately putting on a show to make their lives look wonderful. The result: “You’re more likely to think your life sucks in comparison,” says Hunt. The second reason: FOMO, or Fear of Missing Out.

On Instagram, I filter my life through the rosiest possible light. Here’s a theoretical example: one night last winter, my family played “Go Fish” by firelight. It was totally a “’grammable” moment—if I first cleared away the clutter, staged the shot, and heavily edited the photo.

But that post would conveniently leave out the seven failed attempts to ignite the logs before they finally caught. And it wouldn’t include the tantrum my daughter threw when we refused to top off her fireside milk cup. Or mention the fact that we hadn’t touched the fireplace for years before that night.

Is it dishonest to share only the joys—and hide the annoyances and heartbreaks? And if others get jealous when scrolling through my curated feed, should I feel guilty? ■