Consolidating Some Old Posts

Just a quick note today.

In case you were following closely and thought I’d be unbelieveably productive and added lots of posts, I’ve moved over my old blog posts from my bravelocation.com site on to here.

I didn’t make sense to have two homes for my writing, so this is now the home for all my posts. Some of them date back to 2005 when they lived on my old MSDN blog and are now chiefly interesting from a historical point of view.

Blogging

A Social Media Cleanup

Revisting how I use social media to hopefully improve my mood IRL

2016 was a pretty depressing time on social media. So much political upheaval both here in the UK and the US - mostly in a bad way - has meant all sorts of problems with trolling, fake news, isolation in political bubbles. etc. etc.

Clearly I can’t do anything about these problems for everyone, but I can try to be more selective in how I use the various networks to get a more positive experience for ME.

Twitter

I’ve recently switched to using Tweetbot to access Twitter, which I’m mostly enjoying so far.

I miss Twitter cards, don’t really miss seeing Votes and had completely forgotten about Moments until I looked at the official app just now.

What I love most about Tweetbot is the filtering feature, which lets me block certain words or users. Just implement the 2 things in the image below has restored a little bit of sanity to my timeline.

Tweetbot filters

One thing Tweetbot has encouraged is reading every tweet in my timeline, so I thought it would be a good time to stop following people who I’m not interested in any more.

I spent a day reading every tweet, and removing people whose tweets I’d been regularly skipping. I also went through the complete list of people I was following and I didn’t why (or indeed who they were!). There were quite a few obsolete accounts too.

All in all I’ve removed about 20% of my following list, and will try harder to be more selective who I follow, or be more ruthless about removing people.

I’m not sure if I’ll be in more of a bubble or not going forward, but right now I don’t really care.

Facebook

To be honest I very rarely go on Facebook any more. I was a pretty early user, starting in 2006 when my friend Kurt invited me to this new thing only just open to the world.

4-5 years ago I used Facebook a lot, as many of my friends were also actively posting interesting stories. However many of them were also early adopters, and I think we all got a bit bored of sharing so much.

That meant in general the quality of posts I was seeing declined, and as more friends were coming online, the interesting stuff was either being swamped in the deluge, or in more recent years being filtered out by Facebook’s aggressive ranking algorithm and insistence of forcing it on me.

Last year, as an experiment I started on using Facebook only on Friday, and once I’d broken the habit/addiction I’ve pretty much stopped using it since.

What I’ve done today is go through the notification settings, and really dial back everything to the bare minimum. Facebook are terrible at updating their badge number/sending you app notifications for stuff you have no interest in, especially if you haven’t used the app much recently.

I have lots of friends who work at Facebook who I have a lot of respect for, but the company as a whole is really cynical at doing whatever it takes to try to get you to open their app.

I doubt whether I’m a typical user, and I see lots of people who still spend tons of time in Facebook. However I do think as more and more people reach 10 years+ on the platform, they’ll reach the same fatigue with it as me and it will just become more of a place for wishing Happy Birthday to people once a year.

Instagram

Again I used to love Instagram, but seem to use it a lot less recently.

It was always the most positive of networks, just nice pictures you could like without it meaning too much and very little/ no negative comments.

However Facebook seem determined to compete with Snapchat by changing Instagram to steal its’ features, which seems really misguided. Even though it hasn’t really changed much, as it’s easy to ignore the stories (and in my feed no-one uses the Snapchat-style editing), strangely just knowing those crappy features are there has devalued the whole product a little.

Also, getting so many spammers as followers (although maybe this has got better recently?) turned me off the platform a bit.

I also may be a bit biased after the Instagram API changes to discourage 3rd party apps ended my Pixagogo app. Not really bitter, but another signal that Instagram was concentrating on making money at some expense to the quality of their offering. Completely understandable, but a shame.

I while back during the Stories launch, I did a cleanout of many people I didn’t actually know IRL. The amount of irrelevant stories I was seeing irritated me, but now I rarely look at any stories at all. Maybe I need to follow more great photographers again.

Snapchat

I actually like Snapchat, but I’m too old for many/any of my friends to also use it, so not much point in me opening it up much.

Conclusion

I’m hoping these changes will make a more positive online 2017 for me. I get lots of value from social media, but the networks are so prevalent now I think everyone needs to be thoughtful about how they use them, so they continue to provide the tremendous and positive benefits they can do when they are at their best.

Be interesting to see if any of these changes have any effect.

Twitter Facebook Instagram

Writing a Category Index Page for Jekyll

I’ve added a Posts by Category page to the site, as now there are a few posts on here I thought it would be useful to be able to browse them quickly.

As I’ve mentioned before, this site is statically generated using Jekyll which is great but it can be challenging at times to do anything slightly different.

How Jekyll works is that each post is a Markdown file with some meta-data (also known as Front Matter) at the start. For example, this post has this meta-data:

The offline generator can then use this meta data in the templates as required.

I use the categories in two places:

  1. The category labels used at the end of each post showing the category a post is in (and linking through to a section of the index page)
  2. In the categories index page itself to group the pages by category

Templates in Jekyll use the Liquid templating system from Shopify, which is pretty flexible if a little obtuse at times.

For example, here’s the template I wrote for the category index page:

Basically what this does is a hell of a lot of work to get:

  1. A unique list of category values in a concatenated string (get_items)
  2. A count of how many categories there are (num_words)

We then go through each category name in sorted order, and go and get the posts in that category.

Clear as mud really, but luckily I’d built something very similar already on another site a while back with a lot of help from the Internet.

The one downside is that I can’t find any way to do a case-insensitive sort of the categories. According to the documentation, there should be a sort_natural which does exactly what I want, but I couldn’t get it to work 😒

The workaround is to only use lower-case categories (I couldn’t face mis-casing iPad and iOS - too ugly), which isn’t perfect but it will do for now.

[Update: I added some old posts that had title casing for the categories, so gave up on the lower-case only, and will continue to search for a case-insensitive sort soultion]

P.S. This was all written on my Mac and not on my iPad - turns out there are limits on my patience, especially when copy and pasting code between files. Don’t judge me.

Blogging Jekyll

A Short iOS 10.3 iPad Wish List

Assuming we get some iPad specific updates in the forthcoming iOS 10.3 releases, here's what I'd like to see

Many people (including me) are assuming Apple’s sticking to last year’s release cycle, and iOS 10.3 will have some new iPad only features.

I’m feeling pretty productive right now using my iPad Pro to make this site, but there are definitely improvements to be made.

None of these are very clever, but be interesting to see what we do get - if anything - in the next few weeks.

A better split view app selector

I think everyone agrees the current way of changing which app is shown in split view is really poor.

Split screen selector

The list of apps, in order of last used, really doesn’t scale when you’ve loads of apps you use regularly.

Even just having a search filter to quickly find the app you want would be better, but there must be a better way than this. @viticci’s suggestion of having a view similar to the home view makes sense, especially if you can chnage the order app icons are shown in split view.

Estimated probability: 100% (of something happening)

Picture in picture video without developer support

PiP video is great, especially for big sports watchers, like myself to be able to watch the game in the background while doing something else.

However developers have to update their apps to support PiP, and not everyone has done that - in particular I’m looking at Sky in the UK and their woeful support in their Sky Go and Sky Q apps.

Surely if the video is being shown full-screen there should be a system level facility to let me make it PiP, rather than the developers having to opt-in?

Estimated probability: 10%

Easier data transfer between apps in split view

The most common use for me of having 2 apps running in split view is transferring information between them - very often copy and paste.

Be very nice if there was a simpler way of doing this. Maybe drag and drop between the apps, or maybe an automatic option to be able to paste into the 2nd app what is highlighted in the 1st app?

Estimated probability: 75%

I’d be happy with any of these being implemented, and will be a bit disappointed if none are. However recent Apple missteps don’t give me much confidence right now 😏

iPad iOS

A Workflow to open an Amazon US page in the local Amazon site

Making it easy to switch between Amazon sites using Workflow

Quite often someone on Twitter posts a link to an interesting product on Amazon in the US, but I want to see if it’s also available on the Amazon UK site.

For a while I’ve just been hacking the URL in the address bar to change “.com” to “.co.uk”, but realised there’s an easier way to do it in Workflow.

I started by using a regular expression to extract the path and query from the URL, but obviously nobody likes RegEx 🙂. Luckily I discovered the “Get Component From URL” action which does all the fiddly parsing work, and without much effort I now have a share extension I can call to open any Amazon page in any local Amazon site.

I’ve submitted the workflow to the Workflow Gallery, so I’ll let you know if it gets accepted.

Update: The Workflow got accepted into the Gallery, and can be found at https://workflow.is/workflows/f55a44739e8945b2b20ed00e14ad5158. Hurrah!

Workflow Amazon