Tag Archive for ‘Best’

iPhone Home Screen

It’s been a little while since I published my home screens. But after seeing my buddy Josh Ginter publish his, I thought I’d share what my current iPhone Home Screen is like these days. It’s undergone quite a lot of changes over the past month or two — at least by my standards.

iPhone Home Screen — February 2021

I’m using an iPhone 11 Pro with the linen wallpaper and the following apps on my Home Screen:

  • Messages
  • Fantastical — I’ve tried a lot of calendar apps, Fantastical is the best.
  • Jetpack — a shortcut that launches a modal view of site stats in the WordPress app.
  • Camera
  • Headspace — an excellent meditation and mindfulness app. Full disclosure, Automattic allows me to expense the costs of the subscription.
  • Ulysses — my favorite writing app on the platform. Everything I publish on Initial Charge starts in this app.
  • LookUp — I don’t think most people have a dictionary app on their Home Screen anymore — Siri does a lot of that work for many, I suspect. But I still prefer a dedicated app for looking up definitions and LookUp is the best one I’ve found.
  • Simplenote — I do support for Simplenote at Automattic and I may or may not be running a beta version with a different icon. I use this to store all of my work-related notes.
  • Things — there’s no to do list application that has ever clicked for me like Things has.
  • Reeder — I use this app to follow a single RSS feed — the one generated by Shaarli. I have it configured to only mark items as read manually. It syncs read status over iCloud and acts as an excellent read later client.
  • Day One — the best journaling app on the market. I use it to save thoughts, long term storage of my bests photos — with context — and to generally document my life.
  • P2s — this is a custom icon for ReadKit, setup through Launch Center Pro. I use it to read P2s, the internal weblogs that we use at Automattic for company-, team-, and division-wide communication and documentation.
  • Edit — a simple, in a good way, text editor by Kyle Dreger.
  • Photos
  • Balance — a shortcut that combines all of my finance-related apps into a single launcher. Like a folder, but with a nifty icon.
  • Bear — my personal notes app. I’m actively looking for alternatives at the moment — ideally, I’ll find something that’s self-hosted or works with markdown files on an FTP server.
  • Clock
  • Calzy — I go back and forth between this and Calcbot. I’m in a Calzy-type of mood at the moment.
  • Spark — I’ve spent far too much time switching between email clients. None of them do everything I want in exactly the way I want it to. But Spark comes the closest.
  • Prism — I’m not much for streaming audio services. I like owning my audio files. Prism, combined with Plex is the perfect setup for me.
  • Unread — my favorite RSS application. It’s the best for reading feeds. I use Tiny Tiny RSS as the backend service with the Fever API.
  • Icro — with my newfound adoration for Micro.blog, it’s only natural for me to have a client app in my dock. I’m cycling through the options now to see what one is the best.
  • Safari
  • Overcast — I’ve been getting the itch to try out other podcast clients lately. But I sort-of expect I’ll come back to Overcast when I’m done. It’s solid.
  • Pandora — I use the service for their excellent customized radio stations. I have a 90s Alternative station that has been meticulously tuned for years.
  • Maps
  • 1Password — the best password manager available.
  • iTunes Store — I default to purchasing CDs, but when I buy digital, I use iTunes. I also launch the app regularly to look up artists and albums for the previews.
  • Screens — I use this to manage our Mac Mini home server and to help out my mother-in-law with tech support.
  • TestFlight
  • Find My
  • Code Editor — I wrote Initial Charge’s WordPress theme on my iPhone and iPad, all in Code Editor. It’s also invaluable for managing files on my web server over FTP.
  • Shortcuts
  • Airport — a nifty app that allows you to discover joinable TestFlight betas.
  • App Store
  • WordPress — another app that I do support for at Automattic. I use it for work as well as publishing on a few private family sites.
  • Prologue — from the developer of Prism, Prologue is an audiobook app that syncs with Plex.
  • Settings

I’m hoping to start publishing these more regularly again. I really enjoy sharing my home screens and reading about others’ too. Perhaps doing one device at a time is the best way to lower the barrier to entry.

YouTube Over RSS

Ever since I started moving my web hosting to SiteGround, I’ve been on an open web kick — even more so than usual. I’ve been setting up my own systems to move away from the bigger centralized web services. One of the first things I did was install Tiny Tiny RSS.

I’ve used RSS readers since the Google Reader days and have moved to a number of different services throughout the years — most notably Fever and Feedbin. Tiny Tiny RSS is unlikely to be the last, but it’s the system that most recently picked up the mantle.

I’ve taken this transition as an opportunity to try and disassociate myself from social media. My hope was to move my consumption of Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube over to RSS. The ideas I’ve had for moving Twitter and Instagram over haven’t been as smooth as I’d like, but that’s a story for another day.

Moving YouTube to RSS has been perfect for me, though.

Prior to using YouTube over RSS, I would open the YouTube app on my iPhone or iPad, browse the subscriptions tab and save any video I wanted to view in my Watch Later playlist. Then I’d start watching from there.

I think that’s a fairly common usage pattern, but I had a couple of issues with that setup:

  • There was no concept of seen/unseen within the Subscriptions tab. You would always start at the top of the list, ordered by most recent, and then scroll through until you started seeing videos you’ve already looked at.
  • Since I was doing all of my viewing within the app — both watching videos and browsing for videos to watch — there was a draw toward the Home tab to find more.

YouTube over RSS solves all of that. Every single video gets fed into Tiny Tiny RSS as a feed item and synced to Unread. I scroll through the videos in the article list, moving each video I want to view into my read later system (currently Shaarli), then mark everything as “read” when I get to the bottom. I never see those feed items again unless I specifically choose to.

Shaarli, by default, publishes an RSS feed for each link saved to it, so I follow that feed in Reeder, which acts as my read later client (I have it setup to only mark things as read manually — it works great). The YouTube videos are all intermingled with the other links I save, but a quick search for “youtube” will find all of the unwatched videos, serving as my Watch Later playlist.

From Reeder, I send it through Opener to view in the YouTube app.

Does that sound a bit convoluted? Probably. And I’m certain there’s a lot of room for improvement to help streamline much of the process. But for now, this is how I watch YouTube and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

You see, I spend significantly less time on YouTube now. That second point in the list above essentially never happens anymore. Since I launch directly into the video that I plan to watch and my “watch later” list exists outside of YouTube, I don’t have the same draw to browse the Home tab.

But beyond that, it gives me a bit more freedom on the web. If another video service comes along that features creators I want to watch, as long as they offer an RSS feed, it doesn’t matter that they aren’t on YouTube. With my setup YouTube itself is insignificant, it’s just a video player app. In that way, RSS is the great equalizer.

And that’s likely why YouTube doesn’t make it easy to follow channels by RSS. They don’t offer any type of feed discovery on channel pages and the OPML download that used to be available from a difficult to find subscriptions page disappeared sometime last Fall. Each channel does still have an RSS feed, but you have to work a little bit to get it.

You can use this URL template for each feed:

https://www.youtube.com/feeds/videos.xml?channel_id=UCGYdWR8QUYn88lG0PBeJQ_g

That’s an RSS feed for my buddy Matt Birchler’s A Better Computer channel, which is excellent. If you haven’t already subscribed, I would encourage you to do so — by RSS or otherwise.

The bit after channel_id= is what you’ll need to change. The example above is A Better Computer’s channel ID, but you’ll want to change that for the given channel you’re looking to subscribe to. For many channels, the channel ID is right in the URL. For example, here is the URL for A Better Computer:

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCGYdWR8QUYn88lG0PBeJQ_g

As you can see the bit at the end matches the channel ID in the RSS feed.

For channels that have a customized URL, it’s a bit trickier. I suggest entering their URL into the YouTube Channel ID tool on Comment Picker. It’ll display some additional information, like the channel owner, start date, and some statistics, but the Channel ID part is what you’re looking for. Add that to the end of the RSS URL and enjoy following YouTube creators in the RSS client and service of your choice.

Web Hosting

SiteGround Homepage

I’ve been hosting Initial Charge and my other web projects on Media Temple since sometime in 2009. Prior to that, I was using 1&1 for hosting. I made the move at that point because I wanted something better, with an emphasis on user interface, and because I wanted to be where the cool kids were.

You see, I knew that Shawn Blanc hosted his site on Media Temple. He was, and continues to be, someone I look up to in this whole web publishing space. But after nearly twelve years with Media Temple, I’m feeling the itch to seek greener pastures again.

I have some degree of familiarity with who the big players are in this space. With my work at WordPress.com, I often interact with users that are coming from or moving to other web hosts. But that doesn’t really give me a good indication of who the good hosts are, just who is popular. So before I made a decision of who to move to, I needed to do some research.

I watched a handful of YouTube videos comparing several of the top players. Darrel Wilson has some great videos in this space, ranking the top contenders and focusing heavily on speed and reliability. I also did a bit of web searching to see what others are saying.

The web searches were mostly unfruitful. The vast majority of articles I found felt more like they were motivated by what services offer the best affiliate programs, rather than by who has the best service.

In the end, I determined SiteGround is the way to go.

The plan I chose was priced a bit higher upon renewal than my Media Temple plan — about $25–30 per month, depending on the frequency of billing, compared to the $20 I was paying Media Temple. But that doesn’t take into account the cost of SSL. You see, Media Temple can use Let’s Encrypt, but there wasn’t a way to automatically renew the certificate. So I either had to pay Media Temple for an SSL certificate or manually renew it periodically.

I was just paying for SSL certificates because the hassle of manually renewing the Let’s Encrypt certificates was too much of a hassle. But that increased my hosting costs by $79 per year for each certificate I had. With one for Initial Charge and one for #OpenWeb, that put my effective monthly payment at around $33 per month. That’s actually higher than SiteGround and if I switch hosts, I can easily add SSL to all of my other projects with automated renewal at no additional cost.

I purchased SiteGround’s GrowBig plan last week and have started moving my web projects over one-by-one. So far I’ve moved a static site, and migrated two sites to WordPress — one from Squarespace and one from Tumblr. It’s been a very enjoyable experience. SiteGround makes deploying WordPress sites quite easy and they offer a plugin — SG Optimizer — that works hand-in-hand with their hosting service to setup caching and site performance features.

I plan to migrate my remaining sites over the coming weeks — including Initial Charge, which I’ll do last so I can perfect the process and minimize any interruptions. I’m hoping their migration plugin will do the trick, but am prepared to handle things in a more manual fashion, if necessary.

But this has also given me an opportunity to build some other projects that I’ve had in my mind for a while. The first is a weblog designed to obfuscate my usage of Twitter and Instagram — mike.rockwell.mx. Essentially, most of what I publish to Twitter will be posted to my own site first and automatically shared to Twitter using IFTTT. The photos I publish there will also be cross-posted to Instagram using an iOS shortcut to streamline the process.

My goal is to think of mike.rockwell.mx as my canonical location for more personal and short-form sharing. And to think of Twitter and Instagram more as syndication channels — similar to RSS, but with built-in interaction mechanisms. Down the line, I’d like to pull those interactions back into mike.rockwell.mx, but I’m still trying to figure out the best way to do that or whether or not it is realistically feasible.

For anyone curious, the site is using the Twenty Nineteen theme with some CSS customizations alongside the Two Factor plugin, Akismet, and Jetpack for traffic statistics, backups, and some security features.

I have more projects up my sleeve, but they’re mostly for me personally. I’d like to build out my own cloud services suite, of sorts. With a self-hosted RSS reader, read-later service, and a notes system being high on the list. Depending on how that goes, I might be writing about them here in the future.

This experience has further bolstered my love of the open web. This stuff is really fun. And it feels good to have more ownership and control over what I publish online. I’d like to see others start doing the same. I think it would do a lot to improve our collective mental wellbeing and facilitate more healthy conversations in general.

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro

Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro 11-inch

I ordered the Magic Keyboard for 11-inch iPad Pro just a few hours after pre-orders became available. I had a feeling that this was going to be a transformative accessory and based on the reactions I’ve seen online so far, that hunch was correct. Now that I’ve spent a few days with it, I can confirm it’s an incredible piece of tech, but I’m not quite sure its going to change the way I personally use my iPad.

When the package arrived, it was much heavier than I was expecting. Even after seeing reviews that noted its weight, I wasn’t really prepared for it. After just a few minutes with it unboxed, though, the term “heavy” was rapidly replaced with “dense”.

The Magic Keyboard is heavier than most of us expected, sure. But it’s not really the weight itself that’s so surprising, its the accessory’s weight compared to its physical size. It feels solid, like it’s absolutely packed with technology. Albeit to a lesser degree, this is a similar feeling to what I had when I purchased the first iPhone in 2007 — I just couldn’t believe how small it was with the features it offered.

The Magic Keyboard is filled to the brim with magnets, features a comfy little trackpad, a backlit keyboard, a nifty hinge that’s reminiscent of the iMac G4, and an extra USB-C port to boot. It doesn’t seem like Apple should have been able to get this much into such a small package. But they have and it’s delightful.

The magnets in the lid are very strong. To the point where I’m not worried at all about the iPad falling off when I don’t want it to. That does make it a bit tricky to remove the iPad, though. I tend to brace the keyboard with one hand and lift up on one of the bottom corners of the iPad itself with the other. It’s a bit too easy to have the iPad slip during this process, though. Often this causes the opposite corner of the iPad to bump against the keyboard, which isn’t ideal.

It’s definitely a trade-off, but I’d rather it be a little finicky to remove than have to worry about the iPad falling out unexpectedly. And I’d place this in the nit-pick category, for sure, it’s not like it’s that difficult to gracefully remove the iPad.

The backlit keyboard feels comfortable to type on, despite some of the keys being smaller than usual. I might have made slightly different decisions when designing the layout than Apple did, specifically the narrow hyphen key, but that’s mostly because of my own typing style — I almost certainly over use em-dashes.

It also would have been nice to see a function row with an escape key, but I don’t know how often I’d really use those. It’s omission is likely because of physical design limitations, though. If a function row was added, it would often be located uncomfortably far behind the bottom edge of the iPad. Since that’s the case, it’s probably better that Apple left it out.

You can get the functionality of the escape key mapped to one of the modifier keys, though. If you navigate to Settings > General > Keyboard > Hardware Keyboard > Modifier Keys, you can select one of the modifier keys and set it to act as an escape key. I’ve done so for the globe key, since I don’t use anything other than the standard virtual keyboard on my iPad.

The trackpad below the keyboard, is what many consider to be the star of the show. It’s the hardware feature that really sets the Magic Keyboard apart from what we’ve seen with the iPad previously. It functions exactly how you’d hope it to, giving you the ability to two-finger scroll, three-finger-swipe, tap to click, and all of the other nifty trackpad features that Apple added with iPadOS 13.4.

The physical size of the trackpad isn’t as generous as we’ve seen in Apple’s MacBook-line, but that’s because of the size limitation of the iPad itself. In the first few days with the accessory, I would mouse around with my middle or index finger and then attempt to click with my thumb. That’s my normal behavior on the MacBook Air and naturally have been trying to do so on the iPad too. But too frequently I would find myself missing the bottom edge of the trackpad entirely. I’ve since adjusting my hand positioning a bit, keeping my thumb a smidge closer to my mousing finger. I’ve also been more heavily relying on tap-to-click, which has worked just fine for me.

Coming from such a large trackpad on the MacBook Air, getting used to the trackpad in the Magic Keyboard has been an adjustment, but nothing that was insurmountable. And already I’m finding myself rarely running into these issues anymore.

The trackpad might be what sets the Magic Keyboard apart from the crowd, but the hinge system is makes the accessory’s design so striking. It’s clearly designed with weight distribution in mind. Allowing the iPad to float over the keyboard means that the entire package’s center of gravity is never too far back, which would cause it to tip over too easily.

With the two hinge system, I’ve never been concerned about the device tipping over. Even when tapping at the top corners of the display with the hinge pushed as far back as it can be — this thing isn’t going to tip over unless you really want it to. And that’s while allowing for a pretty comfortable range of motion. I’m sure there will be some users that are left wanting more — especially if they are a bit taller or frequently use their iPad at a standing desk. But for me, it’s just right.

I find my fingers bumping up against the bottom edge of the iPad while typing on occasion. Typically when I’m reaching for the hyphen or delete keys. I think I type with my hands a bit higher than most, though, so some owners might never run into that issue at all. It’s not exactly bad and it’s happening far less frequently than it did when the keyboard first arrived, so perhaps it’ll simply take a bit more time to adjust for. But if you keep your hands a bit high over your keyboard while typing, it might be something to keep in mind.

Built-in to the left side of the hinge is an additional USB-C port that can be used for charging. My buddy Matt Birchler did some testing and found that the port charges the iPad Pro at nearly the same speed as the iPad’s built-in port when using the stock charger. That was surprising to me — I presumed it would charge at a much slower rate, like half of the normal speed. But this is great news for iPad users that plan to use the Magic Keyboard full time.

Many iPad owners will find it useful to have an additional port available, so they can charge their device through the Magic Keyboard while another accessory is connected through the iPad Pro’s built-in port. But I’ve never actually connected anything other than a charging cable to my iPad. And I’m in the habit of charging my iPad each night, so charging the device while I use it is a rare sight. Maybe when the battery has aged a few years I’ll make use of it, but until then, it’s superfluous for me.

The Magic Keyboard’s base is quite rigid and feels like it was built to last. That combined with the excellent weight-distribution of the double hinge, means that the Magic Keyboard gives you a great typing experience on your lap too. I wrote the entirety of this review on the Magic Keyboard and much of that time was spent with it right on my lap.

It’s not exactly as comfortable to use on your lap as a MacBook is, but that’s sort-of to be expected. Given how much of the weight is located above the keyboard, though, I think Apple did an outstanding job engineering this thing to be useable on your lap. And that’s a huge leap forward compared to what we had available to us previously.

But the biggest surprise to me about the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro and what has really shaped my thoughts about it overall is the fact that it made my iPad less inviting to use. For the first couple of days, I kept my iPad in it full time and found myself reaching for my iPhone when I typically would have been using the iPad. Perhaps because of the greater barrier to entry in opening the device with the keyboard attached — the magnets are strong and unlike MacBook’s there isn’t a cutout where you can easily open the hinge.

Or it could also be the indirect nature of interacting with the iPad through the keyboard and trackpad. It doesn’t lend itself well to touching the screen because of its mostly vertical position. And I really enjoy directly interacting with my apps through touch.

It also could have been the added weight, but whatever the specifics are, the Magic Keyboard has taught me that holding the iPad Pro in my hands is my favorite way to use the device by far. And anything that gets in the way of that tends to discourage me from actually using it.

Now that isn’t to say I don’t like the Magic Keyboard. Quite the opposite, actually — I love the Magic Keyboard. It’s my favorite accessory for the device. But for me, it isn’t something I plan to keep my iPad in permanently. The vast majority of the time, I’m going to continue using my iPad Pro exactly how I was before — setting it in Twelve South’s Compass Pro to watch videos, holding it in my hands on the couch to browse the web, tapping away on the screen to compose tweets and shorter links here on Initial Charge, and so on.

The Magic Keyboard plays an important role for me — it will become my default keyboard for the iPad Pro. Instead of getting out my Canopy by Studio Neat when I want to type for long stretches, I’ll grab Apple’s Magic Keyboard instead. This will let me enjoy the benefits of the integrated trackpad, physical keyboard, and its comfortable lap-top usage when I need it. And when I’m done writing, I can detach the iPad and use it as I always have — re-establishing the inviting nature of the platform that I’ve grown so fond of.

Is that worth the $299 price tag? It is for me. But I spent about half that on Apple’s standard Magic Keyboard alongside a Canopy. And I bought those specifically for the iPad — it’s not like I had the keyboard laying around and bought the Canopy to use with it. So I’m not above spending a bit too much money on accessories for my devices.

Considering what the Magic Keyboard for iPad Pro brings to the table, I think it’s worth it. Especially if you care a lot about the typing experience and want something that offers unmatched integration with the iPad Pro and iPadOS. It’s a slick piece of tech that every iPad Pro owner should, at the very least, consider adding to their kit.

My Day One Setup

Day One on iPhone

Around this time each year, I find myself wanting to document my life a bit more. It’s almost certainly because there are more vacations, family get-togethers, and various activities during the Summer months. This desire to document usually results in an uptick in photographs, but over the past couple of years it has also meant an increase in Day One usage.

Day One is an application that I’ve been aware of for, what seems like, forever, but I’ve only really started using more seriously over the past month or so. Previously, it was something I would dip my toes into briefly and then eventually find myself ignoring. But now that we’re starting into the Summer months and I have a baby on the way, I’d like to start building a daily habit around journaling.

There are a couple of key benefits to journaling that I’m looking to add to my life. One is to have an appreciation for the things that I’m doing. I think we all tend to dwell on our mistakes, failures, and disappointments, but I want to start journaling daily so I can document and celebrate the successes in my work and everyday life. I’m hoping this will help remind me regularly, through the use of Day One’s “On This Day” feature, of the good things in life. Which I expect will improve my overall mood.

The second is just the simple act of documenting different aspects of my life. Time feels like it’s flying by at a faster and faster pace as the years go by. And the time I’m going to have with my child in their younger years is going to feel like a blip when I look back on it in 30–40 years. I don’t want to forget all of the little things that take place. The small moments that could be taken for granted — the laughs, the cries, the funny faces, and more. I don’t want to forget any of it.

So I’ve started building the habit now. I have a reoccurring to do item in Things with a list of tasks that I do each night before I fall asleep. It’s mostly made up of mundane tasks like brushing my teeth, filling up my water bottle, laying out my clothes, and reviewing my to do list for the following day. But the most important item on that list is journaling.

It started as just an open ended item — launch Day One and start writing. I quickly realized that this was a bit too loose and in order to help increase the number of days I actually journaled, I should structure it a bit more. Now, I have a Shortcut that I use each day that asks me some stock questions, collects data from HealthKit and combines it all into a new journal entry for me.

If you’re interested, you can download the Daily Journal .shortcut file from here or use the iCloud link for all of you thrill seekers on iOS 13. You can use it to build off of for your own daily journaling shortcut or run it mostly as is. I say “mostly” because you’ll likely need to do some adjustments to the Health-related actions. I set it up for my specific setup — like grabbing some activity data only from my Apple Watch. In my experience, Shortcuts isn’t too graceful when it isn’t able to grab the expected data. So if the Shortcut crashes when you run it, take a look at those actions and edit as necessary.

But over the past week or so, I’ve upgraded my Day One setup a bit more. I started using the newly introduced Instagram feature to automatically import all of the photos that I share on Instagram and add them as entries into their own journal. This is such an excellent addition to the app because it allows me to share photos to a single location and have them automatically syndicated to all the places I want them — Twitter, Day One, and Instagram.

As I publish more photos on Instagram, I’m sure I’ll grow a larger appreciation for this feature. And that’s saying a lot because I already think it’s great.

In addition to pulling Instagram photos into Day One, I’ve also setup a number of IFTTT applets that save more of my online activity into Day One. I created a few Day One journals to house these entries — “Initial Charge”, “Twitter”, and “Archive”.

The “Initial Charge” journal is powered by an IFTTT applet that triggers each time there is a new tweet published to @initialcharge. Since that account is only used for sharing links to entries that I publish, it is essentially documenting every time I write for the site. And the benefit of saving these into Day One is that they can be surfaced for me automatically with Day One’s “On This Day” feature.

The “Twitter” journal is powered by an IFTTT applet that triggers each time I tweet from my personal @mdrockwell account. The Day One entry contains the text of the tweet and a link to the original on Twitter’s site. For now it only triggers for standard tweets and replies, but I might adjust it in the future to include retweets as well. Again, this will really pay off in a year when I start to see these entries appear in “On This Day”, but there is also a certain amount of peace of mind that comes from knowing I have a backup of all my tweets going forward.

Day One Archive Journal

The last journal, titled “Archive”, is a bit of a catch-all that houses all of the more passive online activity that I take part in. There are four IFTTT applets that create entries in that journal and they trigger when I “like” an item from their respective service:

I’m not sure if these will have as much value as the other automated journal entries, which is why I don’t actually have this journal setup to display in “On This Day”. But I’m hoping that I’ll find it useful in the future. For example, if I’m looking for something I saw online, but can’t remember where I discovered it. As long as I’ve liked the item, I can search for it in Day One to find a again.

All of this Day One automation is a bit of an experiment at this point, though. I suspect it will be something that adds value when items start showing up in “On This Day”, but the jury is still out on that. In the meantime, though, these applets are igniting interest in an application that I want to build habits around. And hopefully that will result in ingraining this journaling activity into my daily life in such a way that it becomes automatic. I eventually won’t need to be reminded to journal, it’s just something that I’ll do — that’s the goal anyway. Because memories fade over time and there are some things that you just never want to forget.