The over due pull request

I have a pull request that’s been sitting in Github for about two weeks now. It’s for a Rails app and the pull request includes some breaking changes. I’ve done my best to limit these breaking changes but there are some parts of the application that I need to update after the deploy.

I haven’t scheduled this into my day as I know it’s going to take a chunk out of my day so I’ve just let it lie there for the last two weeks.

I can’t put it off any longer. I’ve scheduled it in for this afternoon. I just need to get it done.

Bringing back blogs

I hate to play down the benefits of blogging, but I think the author here has a point. There used to be so many blogging platforms. Google even had a filter on their search engine for blogs. Now though, it feels like there are fewer blogs out there.

But they would be the one thing I’d bring back to the internet if I could bring one thing back. They’re the thing I miss the most and the most often. They were the most valuable thing on here, besides freer availability of news, free although low quality video content on YouTube, and I guess some kinds of social media. But blogs are something you can sit down and read and get really into to the point you forget where you even are, and think about how you want to try those things maybe in your life, or just enjoy their writing, and you can read deeper into them into past blog posts, and tune back in later and see what they’ve posted since the last things you read about them.

If I could bring one thing back to the internet it would be blogs

I think this is a bit ironic me pointing this out. I’ve definitely not been blogging as much as I have in the past. I’ve been struggling with blogging frequently again for the last two years, but the want to publish just isn’t there as much as it has been in the past.

Stay focused with context

Curtis McHale offers some important productivity advice for those working from home which you can use. And yes, that includes those of you with kids at home as well!

So take some time and evaluate the context you have around you. What steps can you take within those limits to reduce your distractions and improve your focus? Make those changes so that you can have the most productive work area that’s possible.

Setting the Context for Productivity by Curtis McHale

A bird’s-eye view

I spent the morning finishing off a few components for a theme for my Caddieclix product. This is the fourth theme that I have done for the product. The idea is that organisations can select one of these themes for their websites and it will apply the theme’s look and feel to their own website, much like the way themes do for other content management systems.

This morning I was finishing off the fourth theme, but along the way, I felt that I got my intentions for the third and the fourth theme crossed over. It wasn’t until I took whole page screenshots of each of the themes and looked at them as images sized to my screen when I started to see where I was inconsistent in the layout of some of the themes. I could also see where I had applied the wrong styling for each of the components in the third and fourth themes.

In the last few months, I’ve been working at close range with each of these themes. I’ve been getting each of the components right for each theme and then moved onto the next one. I haven’t really taken a step back and seen if all the parts of each theme work together.

With these screenshots of each theme, though, I can see where I need to make changes to improve each theme and where I haven’t applied each theme’s styling consistently.

In the future, I’ve added a task to my theme review process so that I capture a whole web page screenshot of each theme. I’ll use this screenshot to ensure that each theme is adhering to its own design guidelines.

Goodbye mattisms.dev

After a few weeks of not posting to my dev blog, I’ve decided that over the weekend I will delete this blog.

I don’t see the long term value in having this resource on a seperate domain or in collating the links for this blog. Instead of posting to a blog, I’m going to start collecting web development and Rails guides and resources on a number of pages on my personal website.

Don’t worry folks, I’ll keep posting here and any major changes in this web development content will be shared here as well.

The benefits of bootstrapping

Today’s blog post from Seth Godin highlights what for me, is the most significant benefits of bootstrapping a product.

You’re not a bootstrapper because you are thinking small. You’re a bootstrapper because it offers a chance to chart your own course and to serve your customers without conflict.

Innovation almost always comes from individuals who see a chance to make things better. Instead of waiting, they go first.

The bootstrapper creates value

I really enjoyed my time freelancing. Working from home, setting my own hours, but most importantly, having more time to do meaningful work and being able to spend more time with family.

I’ve been trying to steer back towards this in the last year, and while I am making progress, I’m still not quite 100% there yet. I’m still in the early days of bootstrapping this product of mine, and I’m only now just starting to onboard the first few customers. Sure I’m spending some time at night and at weekends building this, but I’m in control of how much time I want to spend on it. It’s short-term pain for a long-term gain.

The product itself is hardly a game-changer, in fact, it is really just a content management system geared towards golf organisations. I choose this market after doing some research into current systems for this market and finding that most golf clubs and professionals are making do with poorly implemented websites. Also, some golf clubs are using a handful of third-party solutions to put together a working site. Hardly ideal.

There’s more to this than just delivering a product though. Through my product, I would like to see organisations in the golf industry prosper.

I would like to see more golf clubs attracting and retaining new members. I would like to see more golf unions promoting their junior development squads. I would like to see more local professionals succeeding as the preferred retail outlet for golfers as opposed to online outlets.

I can’t solve every problem for everyone. Still, by putting these organisations first and creating solutions for them, I hope that I can help these organisations succeed. By bootstrapping my own product, I can keep the focus on these organisations.

Bootstrapping my product will take time, energy and money. I hope that in the long term though, I will eventually have a business that will create value for organisations and in turn, allow me to create my own path.

New DualSense controllers revealed for PlayStation 5

Sony has revealed their new DualSense controllers for the PlayStation 5. A familiar look for the controller with the button layout, but what stuck out for me was the two-toned design.

Now, let’s talk about the colors. Traditionally our base controllers have a single color. As you can see, we went a different direction this time around, and decided on a two-toned design. Additionally, we changed the position of the light bar that will give it an extra pop. On DualShock 4, it sat on the top of the controller; now it sits at each side of the touch pad, giving it a slightly larger look and feel.

Introducing DualSense, the New Wireless Game Controller for PlayStation 5

I look forward to getting my hands on these when the PlayStation 5 is released.

The things I miss

We’re now into our full second week of the stay at home advice issued by the UK government. Everyone in the Lang house is doing just fine, but there are a few things we miss. Inspired by Bethany Gladhill’s post on “The Things I Miss”, I thought it would be good to do the same.

I miss the golf. We’ve had some great weather over the last few days and over the weekend the golf club would have been hosting it’s first competition weekend of the season. I would have been playing on the Saturday and Ethan and the rest of the juniors would have been playing on the Sunday. I miss the opportunity to get out and play a few holes.

I miss our favourite restaraunts. Within a ten minute drive of the house, we have a number of local restaraunts that we like to go to. We typically go to these more in the spring and summer. With Easter around the corner, we would have typically visited a number of these since the beginning of March. I miss the good food of these restaraunts and the deli counter of one.

I miss family walks. Sure we can go a walk as a family around our local streets, but I miss the walks we talk at our local country park which coincidentally sits right beside the golf club. Again, the weather would have made this an ideal time to go for these. We could drive to the country park, but I’m of the mind that there’s probably lots of other people doing this and it makes the walk crowded which isn’t great for social distancing.

I’m quite an introverted person anyway, so I’m probably equipped to handle this stay at home and social distancing quite well, but that’s not to say that I don’t miss human interaction. Just chatting with people, visiting family and friends and socialising is what I miss the most. Technology is there to help out, but there’s no replacement for good old fashioned face to face chat.

Monday firsts

First day for a number of things. Some are actual firsts and some are just reboots.

  1. Home schooling the kids while the school is closed. School has been giving out timetables for the kids to follow at home. Great to have a plan for Drew to follow.
  2. Using my new Logitech K380 keyboard. Those full-size Windows keyboards aren’t great on a desk with limited space.
  3. Seeing the Star Wars Mandalorian series on Disney Plus. I’ve been waiting a long time to see this.
  4. Committing to a blog post a day for the next week. I want to write more. I need to write more.
  5. Returning to daily logs for bullet journaling. Usually just use bullet journaling for the monthly logs and a few other things, but I’m returning to daily logs while I’m working from home.
  6. Sticking to the schedule. Scheduled a few hours today to do a few tasks. Trying to stick to these so that I’m not tempted to let the task just slide by.
  7. Skipping. Yep, bought skipping ropes as a cheap way of getting some exercise in.

Managing the firehouse of pandemic information

In light of everything that’s been happening in the world in the last two weeks, it can be easy to become overwhelmed by the volume of information that is being broadcast.

I subscribe to some news sites through RSS, and I read my Twitter timeline through RSS as well. It generally works well for me as all the content I see is listed in chronological order, and I read it at a pace that suits me. Since the end of last week, I noticed a significant rise in the number of posts that were coming through that contained information about the virus and pandemic.

I’m not suggesting in any way that all the information I am getting through these sources is all false, there are some truths in the information that I’m reading. Still, there is conflicting information about the situation and what should be done. While the situation is concerning for all of us, it can be hard to truly see the facts of the situation and not be clouded by speculative news posts and retweets of information that have no credible source.

I decided to mark all unread posts that contain information about the virus as read using Feedbin’s actions feature. A mute action if you like.

For the moment I’m getting the information I need from my government’s website and by checking in on a couple of UK news sites. It’s much easier this way as I can still get a bit of positive vibe from going through my RSS feeds without having to worrying about filtering through the volume of information about the pandemic.

New homescreen in iOS 14?

It looks like the homescreen is getting a big change in iOS 14.

Furthermore, the list view will include several different sorting options and other details. For instance, you’ll be able to filter applications such that you see all apps that currently have unread notifications. There will also be support for filtering apps by recently used, giving you better awareness of the apps you use most and least often.

iOS 14 to include new homescreen list view option with Siri suggestions and more - 9to5Mac

I could do with having less apps on my phone at the moment. However, I’m using some of my commute time to do some development with it so I do have a handful of extra apps on there.

I don’t think the number of apps that I have installed on my phone is over the top, but it would be nice to have extra options to keep my homescreen a bit more organised.

Pleasantly surprised by the Apple Watch

Pleasantly surprised.

That’s exactly how I would sum up my own personal review of the Apple Watch. I’ve been on the fence for a long time regarding the Apple Watch. Last weekend though, I bought a series 5 and I have been pleasantly surprised by the device and what it can do. According the Cult of Mac, I’m not the only one.

I often listen to podcasts when I’m cooking, cleaning, etc. Being able to skip forward in a show, or pause it, from my Apple Watch without having to stop what I’m doing and walk over to my phone is very convenient.

I thought Apple Watch was pointless but now I love it

The fitness tracking is by far the best aspect of it for me though. Getting in enough exercise and movement through the day is important, which I why I’m already won over by the three rings feature of the Activity app.

The Last of Us is coming to the small screen

The news that I’ve been waiting for. HBO is adapting The Last of Us into television series. And with Craig Mazin, the creator of Chernobly, on board, it’s off to the most positive start fans of the game could hope for.

I’ve been sticking with The Walking Dead series despite the drawn out story lines, but I’m hoping that The Last of Us will add a fresh spin to the zombie genre with its mutant Cordyceps fungus infected mutants.

Arriving at the height of the zombie media resurgence, The Last of Us pushed the subgenre forward with its emotionally resonating storyline and surprising character developments and attention to detail. The game has already been praised for its cinematic qualities pertaining to its plot, design, and vocal cast led by Troy Baker and Ashley Johnson, leading fans to wonder what more a series can do for the property, particularly within a subgenre that has largely exhausted itself on the small screen thanks to The Walking Dead and zombie shows that followed in its wake.

HBO’s ‘The Last of Us’ and the Art of Adaptation

The sequel to the game is also due to feature in the series, but the game itself won’t be out until May, so everyone is pretty much in the dark there about how the story will go.

I can’t wait to see the The Last of Us hit the small screen. As one of the highest rated games ever made, it’s a truly unique game at a time when gamers were flooded with multiplayer first-person shooters.

I hope that the series features the music of Gustavo Santaolalla as well. He created the original scores for the game which are well worth a listen.

Deactivating Facebook is good for you

I’ve had this opinion for a long time despite not having a Facebook account, but even if you do currently have one, deactivating Facebook is in fact good for you.

“Deactivating Facebook freed up 60 minutes per day for the average person in our Treatment group.” Much of this time was reinvested in offline activities, including, notably, socializing with friends and family.

Top Economists Study What Happens When You Stop Using Facebook

The study also reported that the Treatment group in this study felt less up to date with the news. Using a single platform for your source of news is never a good idea. It’s like buying the same newspaper all the time. The benefit of the web is that we can get news from multiple sources. I do have a number of websites I get my news from, but I also have a number of news websites that I check less often, just to give me a broader reach of what’s happening in the world.

First paragraph: La Belle Sauvage

Three miles up the river Thames from the centre of Oxford, some distance from where the great colleges of Jordan, Gabriel and Balliol, and two dozen others contended for mastery in the boat races, out where the city was only a collection of towers and spires in the distance over the misty levels of Port Meadow, there stood the priory of Godstow, where gentle nuns went about their holy business; and on the opposite bank from the priority there was an inn called the Trout

La Belle Sauvage by Phillip Pullman

Idea for a new website?

Are there any blogs or websites that focus on positive changes to the web and apps?

I’m thinking of topics like adopting open standards, better privacy, less tracking and sustainable business models. Anything really that respects the user’s privacy.

Would be nice to see a specific news source for this instead of it being mixed with other tech news.

First paragraph: The Falcon of Sparta

Following in the foot steps of Michael Wade and Kurt Harden, I’ve decided to start publishing the first paragraph of each book as I start it. It’s a way of telling the world what I’m reading.

I’m almost finished The Falcon of Sparta though, but better late than never.

The mountain cradled the city like a mother with a child in her lap. Before climbing the steps to the great plateau, Cyrus decided to lead his personal guard to the river. The Spartans left their armour and weapons on the bank and charged into the water, gleefully washing away the dust and sweat of four hundred miles.

— The Falcon of Sparta by Conn Iggulden

Useful writing

I’ve been trying to find a way to reboot my writing habit for a couple of years now. The trouble is, most things I have written are on too wide a range of topics. When you’re covering a wide range of topics, it feels like you’re jumping from one subject to the next. I need to narrow these topics down.

Paul Graham’s latest essay on how to write usefully got me thinking about this again.

If you narrow the topic sufficiently, you can probably find something you’re an expert on. Write about that to start with. If you only have ten readers who care, that’s fine. You’re helping them, and you’re writing. Later you can expand the breadth of topics you write about.

How to Write Usefully

I need to focus on one or two topics and start from there.

Tried and tested apps

I’ve noticed a change in the home screen of my iPhone over the last few months. There’s a number of apps on there that I’ve used in the past but for one reason or another I moved away from.

Well, those apps are back on my home screen again. It started with Reeder, which was closely followed by Trello and more recently, Streaks.

And now, I’m back to using them again. And the main reasons that I am using them again is that I have a need for them and they are tried and tested.

When you know something works, it’s good to know you can just pick it up again.

You know you’re a golfer when you start to despise the snow.

It’s not all bad though. I’ve got me and and the boys booked into the indoor studio for 90 minutes followed by some lunch.

I went with Fantastical’s annual subscription

Last night I pulled the trigger on the new Fantastical annual subscription. What was it I said a few days ago? Goodbye Fantastical? Not quite. I was skeptical about the pricing change.

I must admit, I’m a bit skeptical of the subcription move by Flexibits for their 3.0 release of Fantastical. Another app subscription is something I’m trying to avoid. I’d rather just pay for each new release of their app.

The thing about major app changes like Fantastical’s is that there’s no escaping the fact that you are going to piss people off with the change.

Being honest about the whole thing though, I wasn’t pissed off. I wasn’t angry. I wasn’t even annoyed. I was just trying to keep my app subscriptions down to a level I can manage. $35 doesn’t seem an awful lot, but taking into account other app subscriptions, it all adds up.

Despite trying out a number of alternatives (including paying for a few apps from the App Store), I decided to go with the annual subscription for Fantastical.

What finally made me take the subscription is that I’ve been using the app for a couple of years now and it does tick all the boxes with regards to what I need it to do. Sure I could have just stayed on the free plan as an existing user, but the syncing of the calendar sets and the integration with Todoist was just enough to convince me to buy.

Warming to Fantastical

I’m starting to warm to Fantastical. I hovered over the subscribe button today. I still find it expensive though, but clearly there are features in the app that Fantastical are paying for on a monthly basis as noted by John Gruber.

Among my favorite new features: complete feature-parity between platforms (previously, the Mac could do more than the iOS versions); integrated weather from a great source, AccuWeather (which is, needless to say, not a free service for Flexibits to offer); calendar sets with iCloud syncing; “interesting calendars” from SchedJoules like team schedules for your favorite sports (also not a free service for Flexibits); and full task support integrating with Apple Reminders, Todoist, and Google Tasks.

Federico Viticci’s Review of the New Fantastical

Today I downloaded Calendars 366 from the App Store. It shares a lot of the same features that Fantastical as, but as good as the interface is on Calendars 366, it doesn’t carry the same polish that Fantastical has.

Looking more into app subscriptions and Fantastical alternatives

There was much debate this week about Fantastical’s move to a subscription app and subscriptions in general. Now, I’m not against developer’s adding subscriptions to their apps, they have to make a living somehow from the software that they produce.

My concern with Fantastical is the price. I find the subscription price quite high in terms of how much I use the app and what Fantastical are offering in their premium subscription.

Is Fantastical worth it?

Just as a comparison, I decided to look at the apps on my home screen and their subscription amounts. In total, I have 12 apps on my first home screen. Given these are the apps that I use daily, then it’s apparent that I do place a lot of value on these I have subscriptions for apps on other screens, but these are used less regularly.

Here are the apps that I pay an annual subscription for that are on this first home screen:

  • Micro.blog ($50)
  • 1Password (~$60)
  • Todoist ($35.99)
  • Bear ($14.99)
  • Day One ($31.99)
  • Feedbin ($24.99)
  • Instapaper ($29.99)

Now taking these annual subscriptions into account, there is one that I can’t do without and that’s 1Password. Being able to save my logins securely and across multiple devices is such a time-saver. I’m not saying that price isn’t an issue on this one, but this app is essential.

The rest of the apps that I pay annual subscriptions for aren’t essential, but I do use them daily and usually on multiple devices. There, I do find them valuable. At the top end of the scale in terms of price are Micro.blog, Todoist, Day One, Instapaper and Feedbin. At the bottom end of the scale is Bear.

If I were to pay for Fantastical’s pricing, it would put it at the top end of the subscriptions that I have. It’s not going to break the bank, but I do find it a bit steep. And that’s why I’m not 100% convinced that Fantastical’s new subscription app is for me. Despite using Fantastical most days to manage my schedule, I would not consider it to be worth its subscription price.

It isn’t straightforward to compare apps and their usefulness as there are used differently by everyone. For example, I use Bear and Feedbin daily, and I find them both very useful, but over the year the price difference in the annual subscription is $10. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but when you consider that you might have other app subscriptions, they can quickly rack up. So while I accept that it’s hard to compare apps and their subscriptions, I still think that the price for the Fantastical subscription is quite high.

The Fantastical alternatives

Right, so we’ve established that I find the Fantastical price a bit high, so what are the alternatives?

As for alternatives, I tried Apple’s own Calendar app this week and found it sadly lacking in features. I didn’t expect a whole lot from the app as I know it’s free, but it doesn’t appear to have been updated very often.

There are other calendar apps on the App Store, but some that I have seen are free and have ads in them. You then have to pay to remove the ads. This style of pricing isn’t necessarily a bad thing in a calendar app or any app for that matter, but I’m personally not a fan of this style of pricing. I would instead prefer developers to charge a price for their apps or be free with an option to unlock features with a reasonably-priced subscription. For me, ads have no places in apps, so anything that has ads is out.

I also gave Calendars 5 a try from the app store. Sticking to the pricing argument I made earlier, I bought the app for full-price, which is $6.99. It does everything that a calendar app should do. Natural language input, different views and light and dark themes are all there. You can sync your iCloud calendars across multiple devices, and there’s an iPad version of the app too. I didn’t install this though, as I find that having a calendar app on my phone and my desktop is enough for me.

I’m also giving Timepage a run again, but the lack of calendar views does limit it a bit, and there is no equivalent app for macOS. There are however a number of things going for it that I do like. It includes weather forecasts for events, travel times and a daily briefing notification to see what’s coming up for the day. It’s also very customisable and includes several options to adjust the app including themes, font size calendar and timeline. It’s also significantly cheaper than Fantastical at just $11.99.

Making a decision

Having tried these apps out this week, I’m going to ditch Calendars 5. It’s okay as a scheduling app. However, I do like the extra effort that has gone into the user interfaces of both Fantastical and Timepage.

I’m still torn between Timepage and Fantastical though. Fantastical’s calendar group syncing is a feature I would like to have, but it’s not essential. To be able to have calendar groups sync between phones would be great, but it’s not a deal-breaker and certainly not worth the price of the app subscription as it stands at the moment. It’s more of a nice to have.

I haven’t deleted Fantastical from my phone yet. I can still use it without the annual subscription, but I know I’m going to get frustrated with the number of features that are locked out. It’s at this point where I will either cave and go for the subscription or I will delete the app. Fantastical hasn’t been too aggressive in reminding me to upgrade. Still, it feels like over time I might be nagged into upgrading.

There’s also the question of changing my subscription. If I take the Timepage subscription now, I could still change my mind and then use Fantastical. However, it will always feel like I wasted some money on a subscription that I’m not going to use. Sure, I bought the Calendars 5 app, I’m prepared to do that to find the right app to use. What I don’t want to do though is take a subscription for an app that I won’t fully use.

I can see me sticking with Fantastical in the short term. It will be interesting to see if Flexibits make any changes in the short-term based on user feedback of the jump from 2.0 to 3.0. Still, I suspect that they will leave the app subscription price as is. Most users will come round to paying the subscription. For me, though, it’s still too high a price to pay at the moment.

The man behind the Super Bowl trophy

Being a Green Bay Packers fan, I already know the legend that is Vince Lombardi. A coach who took a losing team and turned them around in a single season and led them to five titles.

In Lombardi’s second season, in 1960, the Packers reached the Championship Game only to fall to an agonising defeat by the Philadelphia Eagles. The boss pledged he would never lose another championship match. And he didn’t.

Super Bowl 2020: Vince Lombardi, the story behind the name on NFL’s biggest prize

What is perhaps less know about Lombardi was his drive to ensure that all his players were treated as equals.

Lombardi said he saw athletes as “neither black nor white but Packer green” and demanded everyone be treated equally, refusing to allow any kind of prejudice. He told players if he ever heard discriminatory language they would be “through”.

Super Bowl 2020: Vince Lombardi, the story behind the name on NFL’s biggest prize

Sadly, I’ll miss the big game on Sunday night being in the wrong timezone, but as always I’ll catch the highlights the following evening. I just wish my Packers could have made the final.

Still a European

Today is the day that Great Britain leaves the EU.

To mark the occasion, fellow Micro.blogger, Paul Robert Lloyed has published a collection of 31 images from his travels across Europe.

My favourites are the sunset over Strasbourg and the view from the Fjellstua Viewpoint in Ålesund, Norway.

Paul’s thoughts on Britain leaving the EU echo my own.

Of the countries I’ve visited, many are members of the EU while some are members of its related institutions and agreements. Throughout, I’ve learnt that we have more in common than that which divides us, and realised that I am and always will be, culturally and emotionally, European.

Look to Europe

Even though we’re leaving the EU, I’ll also still consider myself more European than British.